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OR, PRACTICAL DEVOTION TO THE WORK OF LIFE ALLOTTED TO US BY GOD, THE WAY TO BE ALWAYS READY FOR DEATH.
CHAPTER CONNECTION AND MEANING OF THE WORDS.
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. — 2 Timothy 4:6,7,8.
THESE words were by the Apostle Paul written to Timothy, whom he had begotten to the faith, by the preaching of the gospel of Christ; in which are many things of great concernment both for instruction and consolation, something of which I shall open unto you for your profit and edification.
But before I come to the words themselves, as they are a relation of Paul’s case, I shall take notice of something from them as they depend upon the words going before, being a vehement exhortation to Timothy to be constant and faithful in his work; which in brief may be summed up in these particulars; 1st. A solemn binding charge before God and Jesus Christ our Lord, that he be constant in preaching the word, whether in or out of season, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting with all long suffering and doctrine; and that because of that ungodly spirit that would possess professors after he was dead. “For the time will come,” saith he, “when they will not endure sound doctrine, (neither sound reproof, nor sound trial of their state and condition by the word,) but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears, (the plague that once God threatened to rebellious Israel,) and be turned unto fables.” Much like this is that prediction in the Acts of the Apostles ( Acts 20:29-31.) “For I know this, that after my departing, shall grievous wolves ‘enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them. Therefore, watch, and remember, that, by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.”
This evil then is to be prevented; 1. By a diligent watchfulness in ministers; 2. By a diligent preaching the word of the Lord; and 3. By sound and close rebukes, reproofs, and exhortations to those in whomsoever there appears any the least swerving or turning aside from the gospel.
The ministers of the gospel have each of them all that authority that belongs to their calling and office, and need not to stay for power from men, to put the laws of Christ in his church into due and full execution. This remnant of Jacob should be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men. Therefore, he adds, “Watch, thou, in all things; endure afflictions, (if thou shouldst be opposed in thy work;) do the work of an evangelist; make full proof of thy ministry.” How our time-serving and self-saying ministers will salve their conscience from the stroke that God’s word will one day give them, and how they will stand before the judgment seat to render an account of these their doings, let them see to it; surely God will require it of their hand.
But, O Timothy, says the Apostle, do thou be diligent; do thou watch in all things; do thou endure affliction; do thou the work of an evangelist; make thou full proof of thy ministry; “For I am now ready to be offered, etc.”
The words then of my text are a reason of this exhortation, to Timothy, that he should continue watchful, and abide faithful in his calling. “For I am now ready to be offered;” that is, to be put to death for the gospel.
Hence, then, learn two things.
First, That the murders and outrage that our brethren suffer at the hands of wicked men should not discourage those that live, from a full and faithful performance of their duty to God and man, whatever may be the consequence thereof. Or thus; when we see our brethren before us fall to the earth by death, for their holy and Christian profession, through the violence of the enemies of God, we should covet to make good their ground against them, though our turn should be next. We should valiantly do in this matter, as is the custom of soldiers in war: take great care that the ground be maintained, and the front kept full and complete. “Thou, therefore,” saith Paul, “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” And in another place, “we should not be moved by these afflictions,” but endure by resisting “even unto blood.” Wherefore Paul saith again, “Be not thou, therefore, ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me, his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel, according to the power of God.” Thus let the spirit of Moses rest upon Joshua, and the spirit of Elijah rest upon Elisha. Stand up, therefore, like valiant worthies, as the ministers of my God, and fly not every man to his own, while the cause, and ways, and brethren of our Lord are buffeted and condemned by the world. And remember that those that keep the charge of the Lord when most go a-whoring from under their God, when he turns the captivity of his people, shall be counted worthy to come nigh unto him, “to offer the fat and the blood, saith the Lord God.” But for the rest, though they may yet stand before the people, because they stood before them in a way of idolatry, yet it shall not be to their honor, nor to their comfort but to their shame, as the same Scripture saith.
Let this, therefore, smite with conviction those that in this day of Jacob’s trouble have been false with God, his cause and people; I say those first and especially as the chief ringleaders of this cowardliness, who have done it against light, profession, and resolution. Behold, thou hast sinned against the Lord, and be sure thy sins will find thee out; and though thou mayst now have as a judgment of God upon thee, thy right eye darkened that thou mayst not see, yet a wakening time will overtake thee, and that too between the straits, when he will show thee, to the great confusion of thy face, and the amazement of them that behold thee, how great an affront he counts it to be left by thee, in a day when his truth is cast clown to the ground. I have often thought of that prophet that went down from Judah to Bethel, to prophesy against the idolatry that was there set up by the king; who because he kept not the commandment of God, but did eat and drink in that place, at the persuasion of a lying prophet, was met at last by a lion, who slew him there in the way, where his carcase was made a spectacle of God to passengers. If thou be spiritual, judge what I say; and think not to be one of that number that shall have the harps of God, when God appears for Zion, and that shall sing that song of Moses, and also the song of the Lamb; for that is only for those who have fought the godly fight, and gotten the victory over the beast, his image, mark, number, and name.
Let this also be an awe to thee, who hast hankerings to do as the other.
Beware, and remember Judas, and the end God brought upon him; he will not always bear such things; these times have showed us already, that he beholds them with great dislike; why shouldst thou hang up in chains as a terror to all that know thee? And never object, that some have done it and yet are at peace in their souls; for peace in a sinful course, is one of the greatest of curses. “The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.” Proverbs 21:16.
The second thing to be learned from these words as they have relation to those going before, is encouragement to them that are yet in the storm; and that from three great arguments. 1. Paul’s peace and comfort now at the time of his death, which he signifieth to Timothy by these three expressions: “I have fought a good right, I have finished my course; I have kept the faith.” 2. By the blessed reward he should have for his labor, from Christ in another world, together with all those that love the appearing of the Lord, at that great and notable day. 3. That now his last act should not be inferior to any act he did for God, while he was alive and preached in the world; for his body should now be an offering, a sacrifice well pleasing to God. To all which I shall speak something in my discourse upon these words; and therefore, to come to them: “I am now ready to be offered.” In these words we have to inquire into two things. 1. What it is to be offered. 2. What it is to be ready to be offered.
I. For the first of these. “I am now ready to be offered.” Paul, by saying he was to be offered, alludeth to some of the sacrifices that of old were under the law; and thereby signifieth to Timothy, that his death and martyrdom for the gospel should be both sweet in the nostrils of God, and of great profit to his church in this world; for so were the sacrifices of old. Paul, therefore, lifts his eyes up higher than simply to look upon death, as it is the common fate of men. And he had good reason to do it, for his death was violent; it was also for Christ, for his church and truth; and it is usual with Paul thus to set out the suffering of the saints, which they undergo for the name and testimony of Jesus. Yea, he will have our prayers, a sacrifice; our praises thanksgiving, and mortification, sacrifices; alms-deeds, and the offering up of the converted Gentiles’ sacrifices, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost; and here also his death must be for a sacrifice and an acceptable offering to God.
Peter also saith, we are priests “to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ;” of which sacrifices, it seems by Paul, the death of a Christian for Jesus’ sake, must needs be counted one.
Besides, Paul further insinuates this by some other sentences in his epistles: as by that in the epistle to the Colossians, where he saith, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh, for his body’s sake, which is the church.” Colossions 1:24.
Not by way of merit, for so Christ alone, and that by once being offered himself, hath perfected forever them that are sanctified: but his meaning is, that as Christ was offered in sacrifice for his church as a Savior, so Paul would offer himself as a sacrifice for Christ’s church, as a saint, as a minister, and one that was counted faithful. “Yea,” saith he, “and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all.” This then teacheth us several things worthy our consideration.
I. That the blood of the saints that they lose for his name, is a sweet savor to God. And so saith the Holy Ghost, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” <19B615> Psalm 116:15. And again, “He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence, and precious shall their blood be in his sight.” Psalm 72:14.
Those that suffer for Christ now, are of great benefit to his church, (as the sacrifices of old were confirming and strengthening to Israel;) wherefore Paul saith his bonds encouraged his brethren, and made them much more bold in the way of God to speak his word without fear. Philippians 1:14.
The suffering, or offering of the saints in sacrifice, is of great use and advantage to the gospel; of use I say many ways: 1. The blood of the saints defends it; 2. Confirmeth it; and, 3. Recovereth that portion thereof that hath been lost in Antichristian darkness.
They do thereby defend the gospel from those that would take it from us, or from those that would impose another upon us. “I am set,” saith Paul, “for the defense of the gospel, and my sufferings have fallen out for the furtherance of it,” ( Philippians 1:17;) that is, it hath not only continued to hold its ground, but hath also got more by my contentions, sufferings, and hazards for it.
It confirms it; and this is part of the meaning of Paul in those large relations of his sufferings for Christ. “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool,) I am more: in prisons more frequent,” etc.; as he saith again, “And these things I do for the gospel’s sake.” And again, “That the truth of the gospel might be continued with you.” So again, “I suffer,” (saith he) in the gospel “as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.” Yea, saith he, “therefore I endure all things for the elects’ sakes;” ( 2 Timothy 2:9,10;) that is, that the gospel may be preserved entire, that the souls that are yet unborn may have the benefit of it, with eternal glory.
The sufferings of the saints are of a victorious virtue; for by their patient enduring and losing their blood for the word, they recover the truths of God that have been buried in Antichristian rubbish, from that soil and slur that thereby hath for a long time cleaved unto them. Wherefore it is said, “They overcame (the beast) by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” Revelation. 12:11.
The lamps of Gideon were then discovered, when his soldiers’ pitchers were broken: if our pitchers were broke for the Lord and his gospel’s sake, those lamps will then be discovered that before lay hid and unseen. Much use might be made of this good doctrine. Learn thus much: 1. The judgment that is made of our sufferings by carnal men is nothing at all to be heeded; they see not the glory that is wrapped up in our cause, nor the innocence and goodness of our conscience in our enduring of these afflictions: they judge according to the flesh, according to outward appearance. For so, indeed, we seem to lie under contempt, and to be in a disgraceful condition; but all things here are converted to another use and end. That which is contemptible when persons are guilty, is honorable when persons are clear; and that which brings shame when persons are buffeted for their faults, is thankworthy in those that endure grief, suffering wrongfully. Though to suffer for sin be the token of God’s displeasure, yet to those that suffer for righteousness, it is a token of the greatest favor.
Wherefore, matter not how the world doth esteem of thee and thy present distress, that thou bearest with patience for God and his word; but believe that those things that are both shame and dishonor to others, are glory and honor to thee. O for a man to be able to say, “For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain:” it makes his face to shine like the face of an angel, and his lips to drop like the honeycomb. Acts 28:20. 2. We learn also from hence, the reason why some in days before us have made light of the rage of the world. They have laughed at destruction when it cometh, and have gone forth to meet the armed men; and with Job’s horse, mocked at fears, and have not been affrighted, neither turned their back from the sword. “The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield;” ( Job 39:22,23;) but they have said among the trumpets, “Ha, ha!” It hath been their glory to suffer for Christ; as it is said of the saints of old, “they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.” Acts 5:41.
As Paul also saith, “I will most gladly,” (mark,) “most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake.” Let those that suffer for theft and murder hang down their heads like a bulrush, and carry it like those that are going to hanging; but let those whose trials are for the word of God, know, by these very things they are dignified. 3. Learn also in this to be confident, that thy sufferings have their sound, and a voice before God and men. First, before God, to provoke him to vengeance, when he makes inquisition for blood. Psalm 9:12; Genesis 4:9-11. The blood of Abel cried until it brought down wrath upon Cain; and so did the blood of Christ and his apostles, till it had laid Jerusalem upon heaps. Secondly, thy blood will also have a voice before men, and that possibly for their good. The faithful Christian, in his patient suffering, knows not what work he may do for God. Who knows but thy blood may be so remembered by thy children, neighbors, and enemies, as to convince them thou wert for the truth? Yea, who knows, but their thoughts of thy resolution for Christ, in thy resisting unto blood, may have so good an effect upon some, as to persuade them to close with his ways? The three children in the fiery furnace made Nebuchadnezzar cry out, there was no God like theirs. Indeed this is hard labor, but be content; the dearer thou payest for it to win the souls of others, the greater will be thy crown, when the Lord the righteous Judge shall appear; and in the mean while, thy death shall be as a sacrifice pleasing to God and his saints. “I am now ready to be offered.”
II. The second thing that I would inquire into is this: What it is to be ready to be offered? Or how we should understand this word “ready:” “I am now ready to be offered.” Which I think may be understood three manners of ways. 1. With respect to that readiness that was continually in the heart of those that hated him, to destroy him with his doctrine. 2. Or it may be understood with respect to the readiness of this blessed Apostle’s mind, his being ready and willing always to embrace the cross for the word’s sake: or, 3. We may very well understand it that he had done his work for God in this world, and therefore was ready to be gone.
For the first of these. The enemies of God and his truth never want will and malice to oppose the word of God; they are also always so far forth in readiness to murder and slaughter the saints, as the prophet cries to Jerusalem, “Behold the princes of Israel, every one were in thee to their power to shed blood,” ( Ezekiel 22:6;) that is, they had will and malice always at hand to oppose the upright in heart. And, therefore, our Lord Jesus saith, “these are they that kill the body;” he doth not say they can do it, as relating to their power merely, but that they do it, as relating to their will and their custom, if let loose: and we may understand thereby, that it is no more to them to kill the people of God, than it is to butchers to kill sheep and oxen. For though it be indeed a truth that ‘God’s hand is always safe upon the hilt of their sword,’ yet by them, “we are killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter,” ( Psalm 44:22; Romans 8:36;)that is, in their desires always, as well as by their deeds, when they are let loose. As Paul’s kinsman said to the captain, “There lie in wait for him of them more than forty men which have bound themselves with an oath, that they will neither eat nor drink until they have killed him: and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee.” Acts 23:21.
And hence it is that by the word they are called dragons, lions, bears, wolves, leopards, dogs, and the like: all which are beasts of prey, and delight to live by the death of others. Paul therefore seeing and knowing that this readiness was in his enemies to pour out his bowels to the earth, cried out to Timothy, saying, “Make thou full proof of thy ministry — for I am now ready to be slain; I am now ready to be offered up.”
These words thus understood, may be useful many ways. 1. To show us we live, not because of any good nature or inclination that is in our enemies towards us; for they, as to their wills, are ready to destroy us; but they are in the hand of God, in whose hand are also our times.
Wherefore, though by the will of our enemies we are always delivered to death, yet behold we live! 2 Corinthians 6:9. Therefore, in this sense it may be said, “Where is the fury of the oppressor?” It is not in his power to dispose of us, therefore, here it may be said again, he is not ready to destroy. Isaiah 51:13. The cup that God’s people in all ages have drank of, even the cup of affliction and persecution, is not in the hand of the enemy, but the hand of God; and he, not they, poureth out of the same. So that they, with all their raging waves, have banks and bounds set to them, by which they are limited with their range, as the bear is by his chain. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee; and the remainder of wrath thou shalt retrain.” Psalms 76:10. 2. This should encourage us, not to forsake the way of our Lord Jesus, when threatened by our adversaries; because they are in his chain. Indeed, they are ready in their wills to destroy us; but as to power and liberty to do it, that is not all with them. Who would fear to go, even by the very nose of a lion, if his chain would not suffer him to hurt us. It is too much below the spirit of a Christian to fear a man that shall die; and they that have so done have forgotten the Lord their maker, who preserveth the hairs of our head. Luke 12:7. Yea, let me tell you he that so doth, feareth to trust the Lord with his life, estate, and concernments, and chooseth rather to trust to himself, and that too out of God’s way; and though such persons may lick themselves whole now, while they are fallen senseless, they must count for these things again, and then they shall see, that fear of men and to be ashamed of Christ, will load them with no light burden. Also it is an uncomely thing for any man in his profession, to be in and out with the times: and to do this when winked at by men, that they would not do if they frowned. Do such fear God? Nay, they fear the fear of men, when they should sanctify the Lord himself, and let him be their dread, and let him be their fear. 3. Let the readiness that is in the enemies of God to destroy, provoke thee to make ready also. As I said a little before; go out to meet the armed men.
David ran to meet Goliah. Rub up man; put on thy harness; “put on the whole armor of God,” that thou mayst be ready, as well as thy adversaries, as blessed Paul was here. “I am now ready to be offered and the time of my departure is at hand.” But because this will fall in fittest under the second head, I shall, therefore, discourse of it there.
The second thing considered in the words is this, that to be “ready,” might be understood with respect to the blessed Apostle’s mind, that was graciously brought over into a willingness to embrace the cross for the word’s sake. And thus in other places he himself expounds it. “I am ready,” saith he, “not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 21:13.
That also implies as much, where he saith, “I count not my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” Acts 20:24.
As the enemies then were ready and willing in their hearts, so he was ready and willing in his. This man was like to those mighty men of Solomon, that were ready prepared for the war, and waited on the king, fit to be sent at any time upon the most sharp and pinching service. A thing fitly becoming all the saints, but chiefly those that minister in the word and doctrine.
Understand the words thus, and they also teach us many things both for conviction and for edification. 1. Here we see that a Christian’s heart should be unclenched from this world. For he that is ready to be made a .sacrifice for Christ and his blessed word, must be one that is not entangled with the affairs of this life: how else can he please him who has chosen him to be a soldier? Thus was it with this blessed man. He was brought to God’s foot with Abraham, and crucified to this world with Christ; he had passed a sentence of death upon all earthly pleasures and profits beforehand, that they might not deaden his spirit when he came to suffer for his profession. 2. This shows us the true effects of unfeigned faith and love; for they were the rise of this most blessed frame of heart. Read 2 Corinthians 4:8-12. and compare it with 2 Corinthians 12:9,10. Men may talk what they will of their faith and love to the Lord Jesus, and to his holy gospel; but if they throw up their open professing of his name for fear of those that hate him, it is evident their mouths go before their hearts, and their words are bigger than their graces. “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small,” ( Proverbs 24:10,) and so thy faith and love. Herein is love, “that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13. 3. This shows us the true effects of a right sight and sense of the sufferings that attend the gospel; that they shall become truly profitable to those that shall bear them aright. What made he “ready” for? It was for sufferings; and why made he ready for them, but because he saw they wrought out for him “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,’ 2 Corinthians 4:17. This made Moses also spurn at a crown and a kingdom; to look with a disdainful eye upon all the glory of Egypt. He saw the reward that was laid up in heaven for those that suffered for Christ. Therefore, “he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ, greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” Hebrews 11:24-27. Every one cannot thus look upon the afflictions and temptations that attend the gospel; no not every one that professeth it, as appears by their shrinking and shirking at the noise of the trumpet, and alarm to war. They can be content (as cowards in a garrison) to lie still under some smaller pieces of service, as hearing the word, entering in, to follow with loving in word and in tongue, and the like; but to “go forth unto him without the camp, hearing his reproach,” ( Hebrews 13:13) and to be “in jeopardy every hour,” for the truth of the glorious gospel, that they dare not do. Nay, instead of making ready with Paul to engage the dragon and his angels, they study how to evade and shun the cross of Christ; secretly rejoicing if they can but delude their conscience, and make it still and quiet, while they yet do unworthily. 4. By this readiness we may discern who are unfeignedly willing to find out, (that they may do,) the whole will of God; even those that are already made willing to suffer for his sake. They are still inquiring, “ Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” ( Acts 20:23, 24,) not mattering nor regarding the cross and distress that attend it. “The Holy Ghost withesseth to me,” saith Paul “that in every city, bonds and afflictions abide me; but none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy;” counting that to see and be doing heavenly things, will countervail all the trouble and sorrow that attends them. This, therefore, sharply rebuketh those that can be glad to be ignorant of the knowledge of some truths, especially of them that are persecuted; still answering those that charge them with walking irregularly, that they do but according to their light: whereas the hearts that be full of love to the name and glory of Christ, will in quiet return and come; yea, and be glad, if they find the words of God, and will eat them with savor and sweet delight; how bitter soever they are to the belly, because of that testimony they bind us up to maintain before peoples, and nations, and kings. “I am now ready to be offered.” The third and main thing to be considered in these words is this, that the Apostle, by saying, “I am now ready,” doth signify that now he had done that work that God had appointed him to do in the world, ‘I am now ready, because I have done my work.’ This is further manifest by the following words of the text; “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand;” namely, my time to depart this world. The words also that follow, are much to the same purpose, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course,” etc. much like those of our Lord Jesus, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” John 17:4.
Now then put all these things together, namely, ‘that I am to be offered a sacrifice; and for this my enemies are ready, my heart is also ready; and I have done my work. I am, therefore, every way ready.’
THE DUTY AND WISDOM OF ENTIRE DEVOTEDNESS.
THIS is a frame and condition that deserveth, not only to stand in the word of God for Paul’s everlasting praise, but to be a provoking argument to all that read or hear thereof, to follow the same steps. I shall, therefore, to help it forward according to grace received, draw one conclusion from the words, and speak a few words to it. The conclusion is this: That it is the duty and wisdom of those that fear God, so to manage the time and work that He hath allotted unto them, that they may not have part of the work to do when they should be departing the world.
This truth I might further urge from the very words of the text, they being written on purpose by Paul to stir up Timothy, and all the godly, to press hard after this very thing. But to pass that, I shall mind you of some other Scriptures that press it hard as a duty, and then proceed to some few examples of the wise and most eminent saints.
Which when I have done I shall, I. Show youREASONS for it II. Give youDIRECTIONS to it.
III. Press it with severalMOTIVES, and so conclude.
That this is the duty and wisdom of those that fear God, you may see by Christ’s exhortation to watchfulness, and to prepare for his second coming. “Therefore, be ye also ready: for in an hour when ye think not, the Son of Man cometh.” Matthew 24:44.
These words, as they are spoken to stir up the godly to be ready to meet their Lord at his coming, so because the godly must meet him in his judgment and providences here, as at his personal appearing at the last day; therefore, they should be diligent to be fitting themselves to meet him in all such dispensations. “And because,” saith God, “I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.” Amos 4:12. Now, death is one of the most certain of these dispensations; yea, and such, that it leaveth to those no help at all, or means to perform forever, that which, shouldst thou want it, is lacking to thy work. Wherefore, Solomon also doth press us to this very work, and that from this consideration, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” Ecclesiastes 9:10.
Baulk nothing of thy duty, neither defer to do it: for thou art in thy way to thy grave, and there thou canst not finish aught that by neglect thou leavest undone; therefore, be diligent while life lasts.
Another Scripture is, that in Peter’s epistle to those that were scattered abroad. “Seeing,” saith he, “that you look for such things, be diligent, that you may be found of him in peace,” etc. 2 Peter 3:14. He is there discoursing of the coming of Christ to judgment, as Christ also was in the other; and from the certainty and dread of that day he doth press them on to a continual diligence. And this is to be understood as that of Paul to Timothy, of a diligent watching in all things; that, as he saith again, they may stand complete in all the will of God; not lacking this or that of the work which was given them to do of God in this world. Much might be said for the further proof of this duty; but to give you some examples of the godly men of old, whereby it will appear, that as it is our duty to do it, so it is also our wisdom: and hence, It is said of Enoch, that “he walked with God,” Genesis 5:22; and of Noah, that he “was faithful in his generation,” and also that he “walketh with God.” Genesis 6:9. That is, they kept touch with him, still keeping up to the work and duty that every day required; not doing their duty by fits and starts, but in a fervent spirit they served the Lord. So again it is said of Abraham, that his work was to walk before God in a way of faith and selfdenial, which he with diligence performed. And, therefore, the Holy Ghost saith he “died in a good old age;” thereby insinuating, that he made both ends meet together, the end of his work with the end of his days; and so came to his grave, in a full age, as a shock of corn coming in his season.
Jacob also, when he blessed his sons, as he lay upon his death bed before them, doth sweetly comfort himself with this, after all his toil and travel, saying, “I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord.” As if he had said, ‘Lord I have faithfully walked before thee in the days of my pilgrimage, through the help and power of thy grace; and now having nothing to do but to die, I lie waiting for thy coming to gather me up to thyself and my fathers.’ “So when he had made an end of commanding his sons,” (now his bottom was wound,) “he gathered up his feet in the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.” Genesis 49:18,33. Caleb and Joshua also are said to be men of excellent spirit, because they were faithful in this their work.
David was eminent this way, and had done his work before his death day came. After he had served his own generation by the will of God,” then “he fell on sleep.” Acts 13:36. In the Old Testament his preparation is signified by three passages: 1. By his losing his heat before his death, thereby showing his work for God was done: he now only waited to die. 2. By that passage, “these are the last words of David,” even the winding up of all the doctrines of that sweet Psalmist of Israel. 3. That in the Psalms is very significant, “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.” — Psalm 72:20.
In the whole, they all do doubtless speak forth this in the main; that David made great conscience of walking with God, by laboring to drive his work before him, that his work and life might meet together: for that indeed is a good man’s wisdom. Job had great conscience also as to this very thing, as witness both God’s testimony and his own conscience for him. Elijah had brought his work to that issue, that he had but to anoint Hazael to be king of Syria, Jehu to be king of Israel, and Elisha prophet in his room, and then to be caught up into heaven. What shall I say? I might come to Hezekiah, Jehoshaphat, Josiah; with old Simeon also, whose days were lengthened chiefly, not because he was behind with God and his conscience as to his work for God in the world, but to see with his eyes now at last the Lord’s Christ: a sweet fore fitting for death! Zacharias, with Elizabeth his wife, (that good old couple also,) how tender and faithful were they in this matter, to walk in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, in a blessed, blameless way! Their son also is not to be left out, who rather than he would be put out of his way, and hindered from fulfilling his course, would venture the loss of the love of a king, and the loss of his head for a word.
All these, with many more, are as so many mighty arguments for the praise of that I asserted before, namely, that it is the duty and wisdom of those that fear God, so to manage the time and work that he here allotteth unto them, that they may not have part of their work to do when they should be departing this world.
I might urge also manyREASONS to enforce this truth upon you, as, 1. Otherwise the great and chief design of God in sending us into the world, especially in converting us and possessing our souls with gifts and graces, and many other benefits, that we might here be to the glory of his grace, is as much as in us lies, frustrate and disappointed. “This people have I formed for myself (saith he;) they shall show forth my praise:” and so again, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” John 15:16.
God never intended, when he covered thy nakedness with the righteousness of his dear Son, and delivered thee from the condemning power of sin and the law, that thou shouldst still live as do those who know not God. “This I say, therefore,” saith Paul, “and testify in the Lord; that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind.” Ephesians 4:17.
What! a Christian, and live as does the world? a Christian, and spend thy time, thy strength, and parts, for things that perish in the using? Remember, man, if the grace of God hath taken hold of thy soul, thou art a man of another world, and indeed a subject of another more noble kingdom, the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom of the gospel, of grace, of faith, and righteousness, and the kingdom of heaven hereafter. In these things thou shouldst exercise thyself; not making heavenly things, which God hath bestowed upon thee, to stoop to things that are of the world; but rather here beat down thy body, to mortify thy members; hoist up thy mind to the things that are above, and practically hold forth before all the world that blessed word of life. This, I say, is God’s design; this is the tendency, the natural tendency of every grace of God bestowed upon thee; and herein is our Father glorified, that we bring forth much fruit. 2. A second reason why Christians should so manage their time, and the work that God hath appointed them to do for his name in this world, that they may not have part thereof to do when they should be departing this world, is, because if they do not, dying will be a hard work with them, especially if God awakeneth them about their neglect of their duty. The way of God with his people is to visit their sins in this life; and the worst time for thee to be visited for them, is when thy life is smitten down, as it were to the dust of death, even when all natural infirmities break in like a flood upon thee, sickness, fainting, pains, wearisomeness, and the like. Now I say, to be charged also with the neglect of duty, when in no capacity to do it; yea, perhaps, so feeble, as scarce able to abide to hear thy dearest friend in this life speak to thee; will not this make dying hard? Yea, when thou shalt seem both in thine own eyes, as also in the eyes of others, to fall short of the kingdom of heaven for this and the other transgression; will not this make dying hard? David found it hard, when he cried, “O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.” Psalms 39:13.
David at this time was chastened for some iniquity; yea, brought for his folly to the doors of the shadow of death. But here he could not enter without great distress of mind; wherefore, he cries out for respite and time to do the will of God, and the work allotted to him. So again, “The pains of hell gat hold upon me — the sorrows of death compassed me about — and I found trouble and sorrow: then called I upon the name of the Lord.” Aye, this will make thee cry, though thou be as good as David. Wherefore learn by his sorrow, as he himself also learned at last, to serve his own generation by the will of God, before he fell asleep.
God can tell how to pardon thy sins, and yet make them such a bitter thing, and so heavy a burden to thee, that thou wouldst not, if thou wast but once distressed with it, come there again for all this world. Ah! it is easy with him to have this pardon in his bosom, when yet he is breaking all thy bones, and pouring out thy gall upon the ground; yea, to show himself then unto thee in so dreadful a majesty, that heaven and earth shall seem to thee to tremble at his presence. Let then the thoughts of this prevail with thee, as a reason of great weight to provoke thee to study to manage thy time and work in wisdom while thou art well.
Another reason why those that fear God should so manage their time and work for God in this world, that they may not have part to do when they should be departing this life, is, because loitering in thy work doth as much as in it lieth, defer and hold back the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. One thing amongst many, that delayeth the appearing of Christ in the clouds of heaven, is, that his body, with the several members thereof, is not yet complete and full; they are not all yet come to the knowledge of the Son of God, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that is, to the complete making up of his body. For as Peter saith, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” 2 Peter 3:9; and so also to the complete performance of all their duty and work they have for God in this world. And I say, the faster the work of conversion, repentance, faith, self-denial, and the rest of the Christian duties are performed by the saints in their day, the more they make way for the coming of the Lord from heaven. Wherefore Peter saith again, “Seeing then that we look for such things, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for, and hastening unto,” (or, as it is in the margin, “hastening”) “the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens, being on fire, shall be dissolved, and the elements shalt melt with fervent heat?” 2 Peter 3:11,12. When “the bride hath made herself ready,” the marriage of the Lamb is come, Revelation 19:7; that is, the Lord will then wait upon the world no longer, when his saints are fit to receive him. As he said to Lot when he came to burn down Sodom, “Haste thee to Zoar, for I can do nothing till thou be come thither,” ( Genesis 19:22;) so concerning the great day of judgment to the world, which shall be also the day of blessedness and rest to the people of God, it cannot come until the Lamb’s wife hath made herself ready; until all the saints that belong to glory are ready.
And before I go further, what might I yet say to fasten this reason upon the truly gracious soul? What! wilt thou yet loiter in the work of thy day? wilt thou still be unwilling to hasten righteousness? dost thou not know that thou by so doing deferrest the coming of thy dearest Lord? Besides, that is the day of his glory, the day when he shall come in the glory of his Father and of the holy angels; and wilt not thou by thy diligence help it forwards? Must also the general assembly and church of the first-born wait upon thee, for their full portions of glory? Wilt thou by thus doing endeavor to keep them wrapt up still in the dust of the earth, there to dwell with the worm and corruption? The Lord awaken thee, that thou mayst see thy loitering doth do this, and doth also hinder thine own soul of the inheritance prepared for thee. 4. Another reason why saints should press hard after a complete performing their work that God hath allotted unto them, is, because, so far forth as they fall short, in that they impair their own glory. For as the Lord hath commanded his people to work for him in this world, so also he of grace hath promised to reward whatever they christianly do. “For whatsoever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free:” yea, he counts it unrighteousness to forget their work of faith and labor of love, but a righteous thing to recompense them for it in the day of our Lord Jesus. This well considered, is of great force to prevail with those that are covetous of glory, such as Moses and Paul, with the rest of that spirit. As the Apostle saith also to the saints at Corinth, “Be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 15:58.
DIRECTIONS TO HELP CHRISTIAN DEVOTEDNESS.
HAVING thus given you the reasons, why God’s people should be diligent in that work which God hath allotted for them to be doing for him in this world, I shall in the next place give you some directions, as helps to further you in this work. And they are such as tend to take away those hindrances that come upon thee either by discouragement,. or by reason of hardness and benumbedness of spirit; for great hindrances overtake God’s people from both these impediments. 1. First, then, If thou wouldst be faithful to do that work that God hath allotted thee to do in this world for his name; labor to live in the savor and sense of thy freedom and liberty by Jesus Christ. That is, keep this if possible, ever before thee, .that thou art a redeemed one, taken out of this world, and from under the curse of the law, out of the power of the devil; and placed in a kingdom of grace, and forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake.
For this in the 1st of Luke is made the very ground of all good works, both as to their nature and our continuance in them; and is also reckoned there an essential part of that covenant that God made with our fathers; even “that he would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.” Luke 1:74,75. And indeed, take this away, and what ground can there be laid for any man to persevere in good works? None at all. For take away grace and remission of sins for Christ’s sake, and you leave men nothing to help them but the terrors of the law, and judgment of God, which at best can beget but a servile and slavish spirit in that man in whom it dwells; which spirit is so far off from being a help to us in our pursuit of good works, that it makes us so we cannot endure that which is commanded. Israel-like, it flieth from God even as from the face of a serpent. As Solomon saith, “A servant will not be corrected by words; for though he understand, he will not answer.” Proverbs 29:19.
Get then thy soul possessed with the spirit of the Son of God, and believe thou art set perfectly free by him from whatsoever thou by sin hast deserved at the hand of revenging justice. This doctrine unlooseth thy bands, takes off thy yoke, and lets thee go upright. This doctrine puts spiritual and heavenly inclinations into thy soul; and the faith of this truth doth show thee, that God hath so surprised thee, and gone beyond thee, with his blessed and everlasting love, that thou canst not but reckon thyself his debtor forever. “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.” Romans 8:12.
That argument of Paul to Philemon is here true in the highest degree; Thou owest to God for his grace to thee, even thy whole self besides. Philemon 19. This Paul further testifies, both in Romans 6 and Romans 7. In the one he saith we are free from sin; ( Romans 6:22;) in the other he saith we are dead to the law that our fruit might be unto holiness; that we might bring forth fruit unto God. Romans 7:4. For, as I said, if either thy ungodly lusts, or the power and force of the law, have dominion over thy spirit, thou art not in a condition now to be performing thy work to God in this world. I have heretofore marveled at the quarrelsome spirit that possessed the people that Malachi speaketh of, how they in a manner found fault with all things that were commanded them to do; but I have since observed their ungodly disposition was grounded upon this, their doubting the love of God. “Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us?” Malachi 1:2.
And indeed if people once say to God by way of doubt, “Wherein hast thou loved us?” no marvel though that people be like those in Malachi’s time, a discontented, murmuring, backward people, about every thing that is good.
Read that whole book of Malachi. 2. If thou wouldst be faithful to do that work that God hath allotted thee to do in this world for his name; then labor to see a beauty and glory in holiness, and in every good work. This tends much to the engaging of thy heart. “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.” And for thy help in this, think much on this in general, that, “Thus saith the Lord,” is the wind up of every command; for, indeed, much of the glory and beauty of duties doth lie in the glory and excellency of the person that doth command them. And hence it is, that, “Be it enacted by the King’s most excellent Majesty,” is in the head of every law because that law, should therefore be reverenced by, and be made glorious and beautiful to all. And we see upon this very account, what power and place the precepts of kings do take in the hearts of their subjects, every one loving and reverencing the statute, because there is the name of their king. “Will you rebel against the king?” is a word that shakes the world. Well, then, turn these things about for an argument to the matter in hand; and let the name of God, seeing he is wiser and better, and of more glory and beauty than kings, beget in thy heart a beauty in all things that are commanded thee of God.
And indeed, if thou do not in this act thus, thou wilt stumble at some of thy duties and work thou hast to do; for some of the commands of God are in themselves so mean and low, that take away the name of God from them, and thou wilt do as Naaman the Syrian, despise, instead of obeying. What is there in the Lord’s supper, in baptism, yea, in preaching the word, and prayer, were they not the appointments of God? His name being entailed to them, makes them every one glorious and beautiful. Wherefore, no marvel if he that looks upon them without their title-page, goeth away in a rage, like Naaman, preferring others before them. “What is Jordan? Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters in Israel? May I not wash in them and be clean?” saith he. 2 Kings 5:10,11,12. This was because he remembered not that the name of God was in the command.
Israel’s trumpets of ram’s horns, and Isaiah’s walking naked, and Ezekiel’s wars against a tile, would doubtless have been ignoble acts, but that the name of God was that which gave them reverence, power, glory, and beauty. Set, therefore, the name of God, and “Thus saith the Lord,” against all reasonings, defamings, and reproaches, that either by the world, or thy own heart, thou findest to arise against thy duty; and let his name and authority alone be a sufficient argument with thee, to behold the beauty that he hath put upon all his ways, and to inquire in his temple. 3. Wouldst thou be faithful to do that work that God hath appointed thee to do in this world for his name; then make much of a trembling heart and tender conscience. For though the word be the line and rule whereby we must order and govern all our actions, yet a trembling heart and tender conscience are of absolute necessity for our so doing. A hard heart can do nothing with the word of Jesus Christ. “Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word.” Isaiah 66:5. “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling,” Psalms 2:11.
I spake before against a servile and slavish frame of spirit, therefore, you must not understand me here, as if I meant now to cherish such a one; no, it is a heart that trembleth for, or at, the grace of God; and a conscience made tender by the sprinkling of the blood of Christ; such a conscience as is awakened both by wrath and grace, by the terror and the mercy of God; for it stands with the spirit of a son to fear before his father; yea, to fear chastisings though not to fear damnation. Let, therefore, destruction from God be a terror to thy heart, though not that destruction that attends them that perish by sin forever. Though this I might add further; it may do thee no harm, but good, to cast an eye over thy shoulder, at those that now lie roaring under the vengeance of eternal fire; it may put thee in mind of what thou wast once, and of what thou must yet assuredly be, if grace by Christ preventeth not. Keep then thy conscience awake with wrath and grace, with heaven and hell; but let grace and heaven bear sway.
Paul made much of a tender conscience, else he had never done as he did, nor suffered what we read of. “But herein,” saith he, “do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and towards men. Acts 24:16. But this could not a stony, benumbed, bribed, deluded, or a muzzled conscience do. Paul was like the nightingale with his breast against the thorn. That his heart might still keep waking, he would accustom himself to the meditation of those things that should beget both love and fear; and would always be very chary, lest he offended his conscience. “Herein do I exercise myself,” etc.
Be diligent, then, in this matter, if thou wouldst be faithful with God. A tender conscience, to some people is like Solomon’s brawling woman, a burden to those that have it: but let it be to thee like those that invited David to go up to the house of the Lord. Hear it, and cherish it with pleasure and delight. 4. If thou wouldst be faithful to do that work that God hath appointed thee to do in this world for his name; then let religion be the only business to take up thy thoughts and time. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might,” ( Ecclesiastes 9:10,) with all thy heart, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. Religion, to most men, is but a by-business, with which they use to fill up spare hours; or as a stalking horse, which is used to catch the game. How few are there in the world, that have their conversation only as becomes the gospel! Philippians 1:27. A heart sound in God’s statutes, a heart united to the fear of God, a heart moulded and fashioned by the word of God, is a rare thing! rare, because it is hard to be found, and rare because it is indeed the fruit of an excellent spirit, and a token of one saved by the Lord. But this indifferency in religion, this fashioning ourselves in our language, gesture, behavior, and carriage, to the fancies and fopperies of this world, as it is in itself much unbecoming a people that should bear the name of their God in their foreheads; so it cannot but be a very great and sore obstruction to thy faithful walking with God in this world.
Gird up then thy loins like a man. Let God and his Christ, and his word, and his people, and cause, be the chief in thy soul; and, as heretofore, thou hast afforded this world the most of thy time, and travail, and study, so now convert all these to the use of religion. “As ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness, and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.” Romans 6:19.
Holy things must be in every heart where this advice is faithfully put in practice: (1.) Daily bring thy heart and the word of God together, that thy heart may be leveled by it, and also filled with it. <19B9D3> Psalm 119:133. The want of performing this sincerely, is a great cause of that unfaithfulness that is in us to God. Bring then thy heart to the word daily, to try how thou believest the word to-day, to try how it agrees with the word to-day.
This is the way to make clean work daily, to keep thy soul warm and living daily. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” saith David, “By taking heed thereto, according to thy word.” <19B909> Psalm 119:9. So again, “Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer.” Psalm 17:4. And again, “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” <19B911> Psalm 119:11. He that delighteth in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth meditate day and night, “he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season: his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” Psalms 1:2,3. (2.) Keep up a continual remembrance that to every day thou hast thy work allotted thee; and that sufficient for that day are the evils that attend thee. Matthew 6:34. This remembrance set Paul upon his watch daily; made him die to himself and this world daily, and provoked himself also daily to wind up the spirit of his mind; transforming himself by the power of the word, from that proneness that was in his flesh to carnal things. This will make thee keep the knife at thy throat in all places, and business, and company. (3.) Let thy heart be more affected with what concerns the honor of God, and the profit and glory of the gospel, than with what are thy concernments as a man, with all earthly advantages. Matthew 6:33.
This will make thee refuse things that are lawful, if they appear to be inexpedient. Yea, this will make thee, like the Apostle of old, prefer another man’s peace and edification before thine own profit, and to take more pleasure in the increase of the power of godliness in any, than in the increase of thy corn and wine. (4.) Reckon with thine own heart every day, before thou lie down to sleep; and cast up both what thou hast received from God, done for him, and where thou hast also been wanting. This will beget praise and humility, and put thee upon redeeming the day that is past; whereby thou wilt be able through the continual supplies of grace, in some good measure, to drive thy work before thee, and to shorten it as thy life doth shorten; and in this way thou mayst comfortably live in the hope of bringing both ends sweetly together. 5. If thou wouldst be faithful to do that work that God hath appointed thee to do in this world for his name; then beware thou do not stop and stick when hard work comes before thee. It is with Christians as it is with other scholars, they sometimes meet with hard lessons; but these thou must also learn, or thou canst not do thy work. The word and Spirit of God come sometimes like chain shot to us, as if they would cut down all; as when Abraham was to offer up Isaac, and the Levites to slay their brethren. Paul also must go from place to place to preach, though he knew beforehand he was to be afflicted there. God may sometimes say to thee, as he said to his servant Moses, “Take the serpent by the tail;” or as the Lord Jesus said to Peter, “Walk upon the sea.” These are hard things, but have not been rejected when God hath called his people to do them.
Like Ephraim, here we love to tread out the corn, and to hear those pleasant songs and music that gospel sermons make, where only grace is preached, and nothing of our duty as to works of self-denial; but as for such God will tread upon their fair neck, and yoke them with Christ’s yoke; for there they have a work to do, even a work of self-denial.
Now this work sometimes lieth in acts that seem to be desperate; as when a man must both leave and hate his life, yea, all he hath for Christ, or else he cannot serve him nor be counted his disciple. Thus it seemed with Christ himself when he went his fatal journey up to Jerusalem; he went thither, as he knew, to die; and therefore trod every step as it were in his own bowels, but yet no doubt, with great temptation to shun and avoid that voyage; and therefore, it is said he set his face steadfastly to go up, ( Luke 9:51,) scorning to be invited to the contrary. And to prevent the noise of his weak disciples, “Master save thyself,” it is said, he ascended before them, ( Mark 10:32-34;) insomuch that they were amazed to see his resolution, while they themselves were afraid of that dreadful effect that might follow.
Sometimes our work lies in acts that seem to be .foolish; as when men deny themselves of those comforts, and pleasures, and friendships, and honors, of the world that formerly they used to have, and choose rather to associate themselves with the very abjects of this world, (I mean such as carnal men count so,) counting their ways and manner of life, though attended with a thousand calamities, more profitable, and pleasing, and delightful, than all former glory. Thus Elisha left his father’s house, though to pour water upon the hands of Elijah; and thus the disciples left their father’s ships and nets to live a beggarly life with Jesus Christ; as Paul did leave the feet of Gamaliel for the whip, and the stocks, and the deaths, that attended the blessed gospel. One would have thought that had been a simple way of Peter, to leave all for Christ, before he knew what Christ would give him, ( Matthew 19:27;)but Christ will have it so: he that will save his life must lose it, and he that will lose his life in this world for Christ, shall keep it to life eternal. John 12:25.
I might add many things of this nature, to show you what hard chapters God sometimes sets his best people: but thy work is, if thou wouldst be faithful, not to stop nor stick at any thing. Some when they come at the cross, will either there make a stop and go no further, or else, if they can, step over it; if not, they will go round about. Do not thou do this; but take it up and kiss it, and bear it after Jesus. “God forbid, (saith Paul,) that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Galatians 6:14.
O it is hard work to pocket up the reproaches of all foolish people, as if we had found great spoil; and to suffer all their revilings, lies, and slanders, without cursing them, as Elisha did the children; to answer them with prayers and blessings for their cursings. It is far more easy to give them taunt for taunt, and reviling for reviling; to give them blow for blow; yea, to call for fire from heaven against them. But to bless them that curse us, and to pray for them that despitefully use and persecute us, even of malice, of old grudge, and on purpose to vex and afflict our mind, and to make us break out into a rage, this is work above us. Now our patience should look up to unseen things; now remember Christ’s carriage to them that spilt his blood; or all is in danger of bursting, and thou of miscarrying.
I might here also dilate upon Job’s case and the lesson God set him; when at one stroke he did beat down all, only sparing his life, but made that also so bitter to him, that his soul chose strangling rather than it. O when every providence of God unto thee is like the messengers of Job, and the last brings more heavy tidings than all that went before him; when life, estate, wife, children, body and soul, and all at once, seem to be struck at by heaven and earth; here are hard lessons. Now, behave myself even as a weaned child; now say, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord hath taken away; and blessed be the name of the Lord.” Thus with few words Job ascribed righteousness to his Maker; but though they were but few, they proceeded from so blessed a frame of heart, as caused the penman of the word to stay himself and wonder, saying, “In all this Job sinned not with his lips, nor charged God foolishly.” What a great deal will the Holy Ghost make of that which seems but little, when it flows from an upright heart! And it indeed may well be so accounted of all that know what is in man, and what he is prone unto.
Now, for thy better performing this piece of service for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, take these directions. (1.) Labor to believe that all these things are tokens of the love of God. (2.) Remember often that thou art not the first that hath met with these things in the world. “It hated me, saith Christ, “before it hated you.” (3.) Arm thyself with a patient and quiet mind to bear and suffer for his sake. (4.) Look back upon thy provocations wherewith thou mayst have provoked God; then wilt thou accept of the punishment for thy sins, and confess it was less than thine iniquities deserve. (5.) Pray thou mayst “hear the voice of the rod,” and have a heart to answer the end of God therein. (6.) Remember the promise; “All things shall work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” 6. If thou wouldst be faithful to do that work that God hath appointed thee to do in this world for his name; then labor always to possess thy heart with a right understanding, both of the things that this world yieldeth, and of the things that shall be hereafter. I am confident that most, if not all the miscarriages of the saints and people of God, have their rise from deceivable thoughts here. The things of this world appear to us more, and those that are to come, less than they are; and hence it is that many are so hot and eager for things that be in the world, and so cold and heartless for those that be in heaven. Satan is here a mighty artist, and can show us all earthly things in a multiplying glass; but when we look up to things above, we see them as through sackcloth of hair. But take thou heed; be not ruled by thy sensual appetite that can only savor fleshly things, neither be thou ruled by carnal reason, which always darkeneth the things of heaven. But go to the word, and as that says, so judge thou. That tells thee all things under the sun are vanity, nay, worse, vexation of spirit; that tells thee the world is not, even then when it doth most appear to be. “Wilt thou set thine heart upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings, and fly away as an eagle towards heaven.” The same may be said of honors, pleasures, and the like; they are poor, low, base things to be entertained by a Christian’s heart. The man that hath most of them may in the fullness of his sufficiency be in straits; yea, when he is about to fill his belly with them, God may cast the fury of his wrath upon him: “so is every one that layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” A horse that is loaden with gold and pearls all day, may have a foul stable and galled back at night.
And woe be to him that increases that which is not his, that ladeth himself with thick clay! O man of God! throw this bone to the dogs; suck not at it, there is no marrow there. Set thine affection on things that are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1-4. Behold what God hath prepared for them that love him. And if God hath blessed thee with aught, set not thine heart upon it. Honor the Lord with thy substance; labor to be diligent in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying up in store a good foundation for the time to come, that thou mayst lay hold on eternal life. See 1 Timothy 6:17-19. Further, to lighten thine eyes a little:
First, “concerning the glory of the world. (1.) It is that which God doth mostly give to those that are not his; for, the poor receive the gospel. “Not many rich, not many mighty, not many noble are called.” (2.) Much of this world and its glory is permitted of God to be disposed of by the devil, and he is called both the prince and god thereof; yea, when Satan told Christ, he could give it to whom he would, Christ did not say ‘Thou liest;’ but answered, by the word, “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. “Implying also, that commonly when men get much of the honors and glory of this world, it is by bending the knee too low to the prince and god thereof. (3.) The nature of the best of worldly things, if hankered after, is to deaden the spirit, to estrange the heart from God, to pierce thee through with many sorrows, and to drown thee in destruction and perdition. “O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and has made a good profession,” etc.
Secondly, As to the things of God, what shall I say? The great things of his word, and Spirit, and kingdom, so far go beyond the conceivings of the heart of man, that none can utter them but the Holy Spirit. There is no deceit in them. “No lie is of the truth,” 1 John 2:21. What they promise they will perform, with additions of amazing glory. Taste them first, and then thou shalt see them. “O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.” Psalms 34:8.
To stoop low in a good work, (which is an act of thine,) if it be done in faith and love, though but by a cup of cold water; is really more worth in itself, and is of higher esteem with God, than all worldly and perishing glory.
There is no comparison; the one perisheth with the using, and for the other is laid up “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” 2 Corinthians 4:17. 7. But again, as thou shouldst labor to possess thy heart with a right understanding of the perishing nature of the riches and pleasures of this world, and of the durable riches and righteousness hid in Christ, and in all heavenly things; so thou shouldst labor to keep always in the eye what sin is, what hell is, what the wrath of God is, and everlasting burnings are.
Transfer them to thyself, as it were on a finger, that thou mayst learn to think of nothing more highly than is meet, but to give to what thou beholdest their own due weight; then thou wilt fear where thou should fear, love what is worth thy love, and slight what is of no worth. These are just weights, and even balances; now thou dealest not with deceitful weights; and this is the way to be rich in good works, and to bring thy work, that God hath appointed, to a good issue against thy dying day. 8. But again, if thou wouldst be faithful to do that work that God hath appointed thee to do in this world, for his name; then beware that thou slip not, or let pass by, the present opportunity that providence layeth before thee. Work while it is called to-day. “The night cometh when no man can work.” John 9:4.
In that parable of the man that took a far journey, it is said, as he gave to every servant his work, ( Mark 13:34, 35,) so he commanded the porter to watch, that is, for his Lord’s coming back; and in the mean time, for all opportunities to perform the work he left in their hands, and committed unto their trust.
Draw out thy breast, shut not up thy bowels of compassion, deal thy bread to the hungry, bring the poor that are cast out into thine house, hide not thyself from thine own flesh; take the opportunity that presents itself to thee, either by the eye, or the hearing of the ear, or by some godly motion that passeth over thy heart. Say not to such messengers, Go, and come again tomorrow, if thou hast it by thee; now the opportunity is put into thy hand, delay not to do it, and the Lord be with thee.
Good opportunities are God’s seasons for the doing of thy work; wherefore, watch for them, and take them as they come. Paul tells us, “he was in watchings often,” 2 Corinthians 11:27; surely it was, that he might take the season that God should give him to do this work for him; as he also saith to Timothy, “Watch thou in all things, — do the work,” etc. Opportunities as to some things come but once in one’s lifetime; as in the case of Esther, and of Nicodemus, and holy Joseph; when Esther begged the lives of the Jews, and the other, the body of Jesus; which once had they let slip or neglected, they could not have recovered it again forever. Watch then for the opportunity: (1.) Because it is God’s season; which, without doubt, is the best season and time for every purpose. (2.) Because Satan watches to spoil, by mistiming as well as by corrupting, whatever thou shalt do for God. “When I would do good,” saith Paul, “evil is present,” ( Romans 7:21;) that is, either to withdraw me from my purpose, or else to infect my work. (3.) This is the way to be profitable unto others. “Thy wickedness may hurt a man, as thou art, and thy righteousness may profit the son of man.” Job 35:8. (4.) This is also the way to be doing good to thyself. “He that watereth shall be watered also himself.” Proverbs 11:25. “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.” Ecclesiastes 11:1.
As God said to Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, “Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him? He judged the cause of the poor and needy, then it was well with him.” Jeremiah 22:15,16.
And I say, that the opportunity may not slip thee, either for want of care or provision: (1.) Sit always loose from an overmuch affecting thine own concernments, and believe that thou wast not born for thyself. “A brother is born for adversity.” (2.) Get thy heart tenderly affected with the welfare and prosperity of all things that bear the stamp and image of God. (3.) Study thy own place and capacity that God hath put thee in, in this world; for suitable to thy place thy work and opportunities are. (4.) Make provision beforehand, that when things present themselves, thou mayst come up to a good performance; be “prepared to every good work.” (5.) Take heed of carnal reasonings; keep thy heart tender, but set thy face as a flint for God. (6.) And, lastly, look well to the manner of every duty.
CHAPTER - MOTIVES TO CHRISTIAN DEVOTEDNESS.
FIRST. Wouldst thou be faithful to do that work that God hath appointed thee to do in this world, for his name; believe then, that whatever good thing thou doest for him, if done according to the word, is not only accepted by him now, but recorded, to be remembered for thee against the time to come; yea, laid up for thee as treasures in chests and coffers, to be brought out to be rewarded before both men and angels, to thy eternal comfort, by Jesus Christ our Lord. “Lay not up, (saith Christ,) treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” Matthew 6:19,20.
Luke renders it thus: “SELL THAT YOU HAVE,AND GIVE ALMS; provide yourselves bags that wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth,” ( Luke 12:33;) the latter part of the verse expounding the former.
Paul saith thus: “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they beRICH IN GOOD WORKS, ready to distribute, willing to communicate: laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life;” 1 Timothy 6:17,18,19.
Peter also acknowledgeth and asserteth this, where, in his exhortation, to elders to do their duty faithfully, and with cheerfulness, he affirms, if they do so, they “shall receive aCROWN OF GLORY that fadeth not away;” Peter 5:2-4. This Paul also calleth a reward for cheerful work, ( Corinthians 9:17;) and that as an act of justice, by the hand of a righteous judge, in the day when the Lord shall come to give reward to his servants the prophets, and to his saints, and to all that fear his name, small and great.
But before I go any further, I must answer three objections that may be made by those that read this. Objection 1. The first is this. Some godly heart may say, ‘I dare not own that what I do shall ever be regarded, much less rewarded, by God in another world, because of the unworthiness of my person, and because of the many infirmities and sinful weaknesses that attend me in every duty.’ Answer. This objection is built partly upon a bashful modesty, partly upon ignorance, and partly upon unbelief. My answer to it is as followeth.
You must look back to what but now hath been proved, namely, that both Christ and his apostles do all agree in this, that “there is a reward for the righteous,” and that their good deeds are laid up as treasures for them in heaven, and are certainly to be bestowed upon them in the last day with abundance of eternal glory.
Now, then, to speak to thy case, and to remove the bottom of thy objection, that the unworthiness of thy person, and thy sinful infirmities, that attend thee in every duty, do make thee think thy works shall not be either regarded or rewarded in another world; consider, first, as to the unworthiness of thy person. They that are in Christ Jesus are always complete before God, in the righteousness that Christ hath obtained, how infirm, and weak, and wicked soever they appear to themselves. Before God, therefore, in this righteousness thou standest all the day long, and that upon a double account; first, by the act of faith, because thou hast believed in him that thou mightst be justified by the righteousness of Christ; but if this fail, (I mean the act of believing,) still thou standest justified by God’s imputing this righteousness to thee, which imputation standeth purely upon the grace and good pleasure of God to thee, that holds thee still as just before God, though thou wantest at present the comfort thereof. Thus, therefore, thy person stands always accepted; and indeed no man’s work can at all be regarded, if his person in the first place be not respected. The Lord had respect first to Abel, and after to his offering; but he can have respect to no man before works done, unless he find them in the righteousness of Christ. For they must be accepted through a righteousness; which, because they have none of their own, therefore, they have one of God’s imputing, even that of his Son which he wrought for us when he was born of the Virgin, etc.
Secondly, As to thy sinful infirmities that attend thee in every work, they cannot hinder thee from laying up treasure in heaven, thy heart being upright in the way with God. Nor will he be unrighteous at all to forget thy good deeds in the day when Christ shall come from heaven. 1. Because by the same reason then he must disown all the good works of all his prophets and apostles; for they have all been attended with weaknessess and sinful infirmities. From the beginning hitherto there is not a man, “not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not,” Ecclesiastes 7:20; the best of our works are accompanied with sin. “When I would do good,” saith Paul, “evil is present with me.” Romans 7:21. This, therefore, must not hinder. And for thy further satisfaction in this, consider, that as Christ presents thy person before God, acceptable without thy works, freely and alone by his righteousness, so his office is to take away the iniquity of thy holy things that they also by him may be accepted of God. Wherefore it is further said, for the encouragement of the weak and feeble, that he shall not break a bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, but shall bring forth judgment unto victory.” Isaiah 13:3.
The bruised reed you know is weak; and by bruises we should understand sinful infirmities. And so also concerning the smoking flax; by smoking you must understand sinful weakness. But none of these shall either hinder the justification of thy person, or the acceptation of thy performance, they being done in faith and love, let thy temptations be ever so many, because of Jesus Christ’s priestly office now, at the right hand of God. By him, therefore, let us offer spiritual sacrifices; for they shall be acceptable to God and our Father. 2. Because otherwise God and Christ would prove false to their own word — which is horrible blasphemy once to imagine — who have promised, that when the Son of God shall come to judgment, he “shall render to every man according to his works;” ( Matthew 5:12; Luke 6:23,35; Matthew 6:1; Matthew 10:41,42;) and upon this very account encourage his servants to a patient enduring of the hottest persecutions: “For great is your reward in heaven.” From this also he bindeth his saints and servants to be sincerely liberal, and good and kind to all: first, because otherwise they have no reward of their Father which is in heaven, that is, for what they do not; but if they do it then, though it be but a cup of cold water given to a prophet or righteous man, they shall receive a prophet’s reward, a righteous man’s reward; yea, they shall receive it in any wise; “they shall in no wise lose their reward.” 3. It must be so, otherwise he would deny a reward to the work and operations of his own good, that grace he hath freely bestowed upon us. But that he will not do. He is not unfaithful to forget your work of faith and labor of love, Hebrews 6:10. And so of all other graces, our work “shall not be in vain in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 15:58. And as I said before, temptations, weaknesses, and sins, shall not hinder the truly gracious, Of this their reward, Nay, they shall further it; “you are in heaviness if need be, through manifold temptations; that the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, might be found unto praise, and honor, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:6,7. And the reason is, because the truth and sincerity of God’s grace in us doth so much the more discover itself, by how much it is opposed and resisted by weakness and sin. It is recorded to the everlasting renown of three of David’s mighties, that they did break through an host of giant-like enemies, to fetch water for their longing king; for it bespoke their valor, their love, and good will to him. The same also is true concerning thy graces and every act of them when assaulted with an host of weaknesses. Objection 2. And now I come to the second objection, and that ariseth from our being completely justified, freely, by the grace of God through Christ; and by the same means alone brought to glory; and may be framed thus: ‘But seeing we are freely justified, and brought to glory by free grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ; and seeing the glory that we shall be possessed of upon the account of the Lord Jesus, is both full and complete, both for happiness and continuing therein, what need will there be that our work should be rewarded? Nay, may not the doctrine of reward for good works be here not only needless, but, indeed, an impairing and lessening the completeness of that glory, to which we are brought (and in which we shall live inconceivably happy forever,) by free grace?’ Answer. That we are justified in the sight of the Divine Majesty, from the whole lump of our sins, both past, present, and to come, by free grace, though that one offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all, I bless God I believe it; and that we shall be brought to glory by the same grace, through the same most blessed Jesus, I thank God by his grace I believe that also. Again, that the glory to which we shall be brought by free grace, through the only merits of Jesus, is unspeakably glorious and complete, I question no more than I question the blessed truths but now confessed. But yet, notwithstanding all this, “there is a reward for the righteous,” a reward for their works of faith and love, whether in a doing or a suffering way; and that not principally to be enjoyed here, but hereafter; for “great is your reward in heaven,” as I proved in the answer to the first objection. And now I shall answer further: 1. If this reward had been an impairing or derogation to the free grace of God that sayeth us, he would never have mentioned it for our encouragement unto good works, nor have added a promise of reward for them that do them, nor have counted himself unfaithful if he should not do it. 2. The same may be said concerning Jesus Christ, who doubtless loveth and tendereth the honor of his own merits, as much as any who are saved by him can do, whether they be in heaven or earth; yet he hath promised a reward to a cup of cold water, or giving of any other alms; and hath further told us, they. that do these things, do lay up treasure in heaven, namely:, a reward when their Lord doth come, then to be received by them to their eternal comfort. 3. Paul was as great a maintainer of the doctrine of God’s free grace, and of justification from sin, by the righteousness of Christ imputed by grace, as any man that ever lived in Christ’s service, from the world’s beginning till now; and yet he was for this doctrine. He expected himself, and encouraged others also to look for such a reward, for doing and suffering for Christ, which he calls, “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Corinthians 4:17. Surely, as Christ saith, in a case not far distant from this in hand, “if it were not so, he would have told us.” John 14:1-3.
Now, could I tell what those rewards are that Christ hath prepared, and will one day bestow upon those that do for him in faith and love in this world, I should therein also say more than now I dare say in general, they are such as should make us leap to think on, and that we should remember with exceeding joy, and never think that it is contrary to the Christian faith, to rejoice and be glad for that which yet we understand not. “Beloved, now we are the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear what we shall be,” etc. But “every one that hath this hope in Him,” — namely, that he shall be more than here he can imagine, — “purifieth himself even as he is pure.” John 3:2,3. Things promised, when not revealed to be known by us while here, are therefore, not made known, because too big and wonderful. When Paul was up in paradise, he heard unspeakable words, not possible for man to utter. Wherefore, a reward I find, and that laid up in heaven; but what it is I know not; neither is it possible for any here to know it any further, than by certain general words of God, such as these, “praise,” “honor,” “glory,” “a crown of righteousness,” “a crown of glory,” “thrones,” “judging of angels,” “a kingdom,” with “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” etc.
Wherefore, to both these objections, let me yet answer thus in a few words:
Though thy modesty or thy opinion will not suffer thee to look for a reward for what thou dost here for thy Lord, by the faith and love of the gospel; yea, though in the day of judgment thou shouldst there slight all thou didst on earth, for thy Lord, saying, “When, Lord, when did we do it?” he will answer, “Then, even then when ye did it to the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.” Objection 3. But is not the reward that God hath promised to his saints for their good works, to be enjoyed only here? Answer. Not here only, though here abundantly. For, concerning holy walking, according to God’s commands, it yieldeth even here abundance of blessed fruits, as he saith, “In keeping them there is a great reward.” And again, “This man shall be blessed in his deed,” that is, now, even in this time, as he saith in another place. For, indeed, there is so much goodness and blessedness to be found in a holy and godly life, that were a man to have nothing hereafter, the present comfort and glory that lieth (as the juice in the grape,) in all things rightly done for God, it were sufficient to answer all our travail and self-denial in our work of faith and labor of love, to do the will of God.
Secondly, Dost thou love thy friends, dost thou love thine enemies, dost thou love thy family or relations, or the church of God; then cry for strength from heaven, and for wisdom, and a heart from heaven to walk wisely before them. For if a man be remiss, negligent, and careless in his conversation, not much mattering, whom he offends, displeases, or discourages, by doing this or that, so he may save himself, please his foolish heart, and get this world, or the like, this man hath lost a good report of them that are without, and is fallen into reproach and the snare of the devil. He is fallen into reproach, and is slighted, disdained, both he, him profession, and all he says, either by way of reproof, rebuke, or exhortation. “Physician, cure thyself,” say all to such a one. ‘This man is a sayer, but not a doer,’ say they; ‘he believeth not what he says; ‘yea, religion itself is made to stink by this man’s ungodly life. This is he that hardens his children, that stumbleth the world, that grieveth the tender and godly Christian. But I say, he that walketh uprightly, that tenders the name of God, the credit of the gospel, and the welfare of others, seeking with Paul, not his own profit, but the profit of others, that they may be saved; this man holds forth the word of life, this man is a good savor of Christ among them that are saved: yea, may prove by so doing, the instrument in God’s hand of the salvation of many souls.
Great is the danger that attends an ungodly life, or an ungodly action, by them that profess the gospel. When wicked men learn to be wicked of professors, when professors cause the enemies of God to blaspheme; doubtless, sad and woful effects must needs be the fruit of so doing. How many in Israel were destroyed for that which Aaron, Gideon, and Manasseh unworthily did in their day? A godly man, if he take not heed to himself, may do that in his life that may send many to everlasting burnings, when he himself is in everlasting bliss. But on the contrary, let men walk with God, and there they shall be excused; the blood of them that perish shall lie at their own door, and thou shalt be clear. “I am pure from the blood of all men,” saith Paul, Acts 20:26; and again, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean;” Acts. 18:6. Yea, he that doth thus, shall leave in them that perish an accusing conscience, even begotten by his good conversation, and by that they shall be forced to justify God, his people, and way, in the day of their visitation; in the day when they are descending into the pit to be damned.
Fourthly; This is the way to maintain always the answer, the echoing answer of a good conscience in thine own soul. Godliness is of great use this way; for the man that hath a good conscience to God-ward, hath a continual feast in his own soul. While others say there is casting down, he shall say there is lifting up: for God shall save the humble person. Some, indeed, in the midst of their profession, are reproached, smitten, and condemned of their own heart, their conscience still biting and stinging them, because of the uncleanness of their hands; and they cannot lift up their face unto God, they have not the answer of a good conscience toward him, but must walk as persons false to their God, and as traitors to their own eternal welfare; but the godly, upright man shall have the light shine upon his ways, and he shall take his steps in butter and honey. “The work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.” “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our hearts condemn us not, then we have confidence towards God.”
Fifthly, The godly man that walketh with God, that chiefly careth to do the work that God hath allotted him to do for his name in this world, hath not only these advantages, but further, he hath as it were a privilege of power with God. He can sway much with him; as it is said of Jacob, “as a prince he had power with God” to prevail in times of difficulty. Genesis 32:28.
And so again, it is said of Judah, being faithful with the saints, they ruled with God. How many times did that good man, Moses, turn away the wrath of God from the many thousands of Israel; yea, as it were, he held the hands of God, and staved off the judgments not once nor twice. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” One man that walketh much with God, may work wonders in this very thing; he may be a means of saving whole countries and kingdoms from those judgments their sins deserve. How many times, when Israel provoked the Lord to anger, did he yet defer to destroy them? and the reason of that forbearance, he tells them; it was for David’s sake; “For my servant David’s sake I will not do it.” As the Lord said also concerning Paul, “Lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee” ( Acts 27:23, 24,) that is to save their lives from the rage of the sea. Yea, when a judgment is not only threatened, but the decree gone forth for its execution, then godly upright men may sometimes cause the very decree itself to cease without bringing forth; or else may so time the judgment that is decreed, that the church shall best be able to bear it.
Sixthly, The man that is tender of God’s glory in this world, still ruling and governing his affairs by the word, and desirous to be faithful to the work and employment that God hath appointed him to do for his name; that man shall still be let into the secrets of God; he shall know that which God will reserve and hide from many. “Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I do?” said the Lord: “For I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord,” etc., Genesis 18:17,19. So again, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant.” Psalms 25:14. “And to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God.” Psalms 50:23.
Such a man shall have things new as well as old. His converse with the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit, shall be turned into a kind of familiarity; he shall be led into the word, and shall still increase in knowledge. When others shall be stinted and look with old faces, being black and dry as a stick, he shall be like a fatted calf, like the tree that is planted by the rivers of water; his flesh shall be fresh as the flesh of a child, and God will renew the face of his soul.
Seventhly, If any shall escape public calamities, usually they are such as are very tender of the name of God, and that make it their business to walk before him. They either escape by being mercifully taken away before it, or by being safely preserved in the midst of the judgment, until the indignation be overpast. Therefore, God says in one place, “The righteous is taken away from the evil to come,” ( Isaiah 57:1;) but if not so, as all be not, then they shall have their life for a prey. Caleb and Joshua escaped all the plagues that befell Israel in the wilderness, for they followed God fully. Somewhat of this you have also in that Scripture, “Seek the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger.” Zephaniah 2:3.
According to this is that in Luke, “Watch ye, therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:36. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he will make his enemies to be at peace with him.” Marvelous is the work of God, in the preservation of his saints’ (that are faithful with him) when dangers and calamities come; as Joseph, David, Jeremiah, and Paul, with many others, make appear. “He shall deliver thee in six troubles; yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee.” “In famine he shall redeem thee from death: and in war from the power of the sword. Thou shalt be hid from the scourge of the tongue; neither shalt thou be afraid of destruction when it cometh.”
Eighthly, If afflictions do overtake thee; (for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth;) yet those afflictions shall not befall thee for those causes for which they befall the slothful and backsliding Christian; neither shall they have that pinching and galling operation upon thee, as on those who have left their first love and tenderness for God’s glory in the world. 1. Upon the faithful upright man (though he also may be corrected and chatised for sin, yet I say, he abiding close with God) afflictions come rather for trial and for the exercise of grace received, than as rebukes for this or that wickedness; when upon the backsliding, heartless Christian these things shall come from fatherly anger and displeasure, and that for their sins against him. Job did acknowledge himself a sinner, and that God, therefore, might chatise him; but yet he rather believed it was chiefly for the trial of his grace, as indeed, and in truth, it was. ‘He is a perfect man,” saith God to Satan, “and one that feareth God, and escheweth evil, and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.” Job 2:3.
God will not say thus of every one when affliction is laid upon them, though they yet may be his children; but rather declareth and pronounceth, that it is for their transgressions, because they have wickedly departed from him. 2. Now, affliction arising from these two causes, their effects in the manner of their working (though grace turns them both for good) is very different one from the other. He who hath been helped to walk with God is not assaulted with those turnings and returnings of guilt when he is afflicted, as he who hath basely departed from God: the one can plead his integrity, when the other blusheth for shame. See both these cases in one person, even that godly, beloved David. When the Lord did rebuke him for sin, then he cries, “O blood-guiltiness! O cast me not away from thy presence;” Psalms 51:11.
But when he at another time knew himself guiltless, (though then also sorely afflicted,) behold with what boldness he turns his face unto God:” O Lord my God,” saith he, “if I have done this; if there be iniquity in my hands; if I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me; (yea, I delivered him that without cause was mine enemy;) let the enemy persecute my soul, and take it; yea, let him tread down my life upon the earth, and lay mine honor in the dust. Selah.” etc. Psalms 7:1-5.
This, therefore, must needs be a blessed help in distress, for a man to have a good conscience when affliction hath taken hold on him; for a man then in his looking behind and before, to return with peace to his own soul, that man must needs find honey in this lion, that can plead his innocency and uprightness. “All the people curse me,” (saith Jeremiah,) “but that without a cause; for I have neither lent nor taken on usury,” ( Jeremiah 15:10,) which by the law of Moses it seems was a sin at that day.
Ninthly, When men are faithful with God in this world, to do the work he hath appointed for them, by this means a dying bed is made easier, and that upon a double account. 1. By reason of that present peace such shall have, even in their time of languishing. 2. By reason of the good company such shall have at their departure. 1. Such souls usually abound in present peace. They look not back upon the years they have spent, with that shame that the idle and slothful Christian does. “Remember now, Lord, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart.” “Blessed is the man that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in the time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive, and he shall be blessed upon the earth; and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.” Psalms 41:1-3. Ah! when God makes the bed, he must needs lie easy that weakness hath cast thereon: a blessed pillow hath that man for his head, though to all beholders it is hard as a stone. Jacob on his death bed, had two things that made it easy. (1.) The faith of his going to rest, “I am to be gathered unto my people,” Genesis 49:29; that is, to the blessed that have yielded up the ghost before me. (2.) The remembrance of the sealings of the countenance of God upon him, when he walked before him in the days of his pilgrimage. When Joseph came to see him before he left this world, “Israel,” (saith the word,) “strengthened himself upon his bed;” and the first word that dropped out of this good man’s mouth, O how full of glory was it! “God Almighty appeared unto me,” saith he, “at Luz, in the land of Canaan, and blessed me,” etc. <014801> Genesis. 48:1-3. O blessed discourse for a sick bed, when those can talk thus that lie thereon, from as true a ground as Jacob. But thus will God make the bed of those who walk close with him in this world. 2. The dying bed of such a man is made easy by reason also of the good company such shall have at their departure; and that is, 1. The angels; 2. The good works they have done for God in the world. (1.) The angels of heaven shall wait upon them, as they did upon the blessed Lazarus, to carry them into Abraham’s bosom. I know all that go to paradise are by these holy ones conducted thither; but yet, for all that, such as die under the clouds for unchristian walking with God, may meet with darkness in that day, may go heavily hence, notwithstanding that; yea, their bed may be as uncomfortable to them as if they lay upon nothing but the cords, and their departure from it (as to appearance) more uncomfortable by far. But as for those who have been faithful to their God, they shall see before them, shall know their tabernacle shall be in peace; the everlasting gates shall be opened unto them; in all which from earth they shall see the glory.
I once was told a story of what happened at a good man’s death, the which I have often remembered, with wonderment and gladness. After he had lain for some time sick, his hour came that he must depart. And behold, while he lay, drawing on, (as we call it) to the amazement of the mourners, there was heard about his bed such blessed and ravishing music as they never had heard before; which also continued till his soul departed, and then began to cease, and grow (as to its sound) as if it was departing the house, and so still seemed to go further and further off, till at last they could hear it no longer. “Eye, hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love him.”
Behold, then, how God can make thy sickness easy! (2.) A dying bed is made easy by those good works that men have done in their life for the name of God. “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works follow them;” yea, and go before them, too. No man need be afraid to be accompanied by good deeds to heaven. Be afraid of sins; they are like bloodhounds at the heels; “and be sure thy sins will find thee out,” even thee who hast not been pardoned in the precious blood of Christ. But as for those who have submitted themselves to the righteousness of God for their justification, and who have through faith and love to his name, been frequent in deeds of righteousness, they shall not appear empty before their God; “their works,” (their good works) “follow them.” These shall enter into rest, and walk with Christ in white.
I observe when Israel had passed over Jordan, they were to go to possess between mount Ebal and mount Gerizim, from whence were to be pronounced the blessing and the cursing. The gospel meaning of which I take to be as followeth. I take Jordan to be a type of death; and these two mountains, with the cursing and the blessing to be a type of the judgment that comes on every man, so soon as he goes from hence; “And after death the judgment.” So that he that escapes the cursing, he alone goes into blessedness; but he that mount Ebal smiteth, he falls short of heaven. O! none knows the noise that doth sound in sinners’ souls from Ebal and Gerizim when they are departed hence! yet it may be they know not what will become of them till they hear these echoings from these two mountains. But here the good man is sure mount Gerizim doth pronounce him blessed. “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, for their works will follow them” till they are past all danger. These are the Christian’s train that follow him to rest; these are a good man’s company that follow him to heaven.