« PreviousContinue »
be in holy diligence, who have been so long convinced of the evil of indolence, and have confessed it on their knees a hundred and a thousand times, both in public and in private, and have told God in prayer how inexcusably they have therein offended? Should they thus confess their sin, and yet commit it, as if they told God what they would do, as well as what they have done?
Question 4. What manner of persons should those be in painful godliness, who have bound themselves to God by so many covenants as we have done, and have engaged so oft to be more diligent and faithful in his service? At every sacrament, on many days of humiliation and thanksgiving, in most of our deep distresses and dangerous sicknesses, we are ever ready to bewail our neglects, and to engage, if God will but try us once more, how diligent and laborious we will be, and how we will improve our time, and ply our work. The Lord pardon our perfidious covenantbreaking, and grant that our engagements may not condemn us!
Question 5. What manner of men should they be in duty, who have received so much encouragement as we have done by our success; who have tasted such sweetness in diligent obedience; who have found all our strivings and wrestlings with God successful, so that we never importune him in vain; who have had so many admirable deliverances upon urgent seeking; and have received almost all our solid comforts in a way of close and constant duty? How should we above all men ply our work!
Question 6. What manner of men should they be, who are yet at such great uncertainties, whether they are justified and sanctified, whether or not they are the children of God, and what shall everlastingly become of their souls, as most of the godly that I meet with are? They that have discovered the excellency of the kingdom, and yet have not discovered their interest in it, but discern a danger of perishing or losing all, and have need of that advice, "Let us fear lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest,
any of you should seem to come short of it:"-how should such men bestir themselves in time!
Question 7. What manner of persons should they be in holiness, who have so much of the great work yet undone as we have? Sins so many and so strong; graces so weak; our acquaintance and communion with Christ so small; our desires to be with him so feeble, all call for strenuous exertion. Our time is short; our enemies mighty; our hindrances many And should men in our case stand still?
Question 8. What manner of men should they be in holy diligence, whose lives and duties are so intimately connected with the salvation of the souls of others? If we slip, many are ready to stumble: if we stumble, many are ready to fall. If we admonish them daily, and faithfully, and plainly, and exhort them with bowels of pity and love, and pray hard for them, and go before them in a holy and inoffensive conversation, we may be instruments of saving many of our fellow men from everlasting perdition, and bringing them to the possession of the heavenly inheritance. On the contrary, if we neglect them, or cause them to stumble and fall, we may be occasions of their everlasting torment.
Lastly, What manner of persons should they be, on whom the glory of the great God so much depends? We bear his image, and therefore men will measure him by his representation. He is no where in the world so strongly represented, as in his saints: and shall they set him forth as a pattern of sin or idleness? All the world is not capable of honouring or dishonouring God so much as we; while the least of his honour is of more worth than all our lives.
Seeing then that all these things which I have mentioned are so, I charge thee who art a Christian, in my Master's name, to consider and resolve the question, "What manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness?" And let thy life answer the question as well as thy tongue.
PERSUADING ALL MEN TO TRY THEIR TITLE TO THE HEAVENLY REST.
I Now proceed to the third use, and because it is of very great importance, I entreat you to attend to it the more diligently, and to weigh it the more seriously.
Is there a glorious rest so near at hand, and shall none enjoy it but the people of God? What, then, mean the most of the world by living so contentedly without assurance of their interest in this rest, and by neglecting to try their title to it? When the Lord has so fully opened the blessedness of that kingdom, which none but a little flock of obedient believers shall possess, and so fully made known those torments which all the rest of the world must eternally suffer, one would think that they who believe all this to be true, would never have any quiet in themselves till they knew which of these will be their own state, and were fully assured that they were heirs of the kingdom. Most men that I meet with say, they believe the word of God to be true. How then can they sit still in such utter uncertainty, whether they shall ever live in rest or not? Lord, what a strange madness is this, that men, who know not but sickness may summon them, and death call them away, and introduce them into a world of unchangeable joy or pain, should yet live as uncertain of what shall be their doom, as if they had never heard of any such state; yea, and live as quietly and as gaily in this state of uncertainty, as if all were made sure, and nothing ailed them, and there were no danger! If they have but a weighty suit at law, how careful are they to know whether it will go with them, or against them? If they were to be tried for their life before an earthly judicature, how careful would they be to know whether
they would be acquitted or condemned? If they be dangerously sick, they will inquire of the physician, What think you, sir, shall I recover or not? But as to the business of their salvation, they are content to be uncertain. If you ask most men why they hope to be saved, they will answer, Because God is merciful, and Christ died for sinners, and the like general reasons, which any man in the world may give as well as they. But put them to prove their special interest in the saving mercy of God, and in the death of Christ, and they can say nothing from their hearts and experience. Men are desirous to know all things, save God and themselves. They will travel over sea and land, to know the situation of countries, and the customs of the world: they will go to schools and universities, and turn over multitudes of books, and read and study from year to year, to know the creatures, and to excel in the sciences: and yet they never read the book of conscience, nor study the state of their own souls, that they may make sure of living for ever. What horrible abuse of God is this, for men to pretend that they trust God with their souls, merely to cloak their own wilful negligence! I know not what thou thinkest of thy own state; but, for my part, did I not know what a carnal heart is, I would wonder how thou didst contrive to forget thy misery, and to keep off continual terrors from thy heart, such especially in cases as the following:
1. I wonder how thou canst either think or speak of the dreadful God without exceeding terror and astonishment, as long as thou art uncertain whether he be thy father or thy enemy, and knowest not but all his attributes may be armed against thee. If his "saints must rejoice before him with trembling;" if they that are sure to receive the everlasting kingdom, must yet serve Him "with reverence and godly fear," because he is "a consuming fire"-how should the remembrance of him be terrible to them that know not but this fire may for ever consume them?
2. How canst thou open a Bible, and read a chapter, without being terrified by it? Methinks every
leaf should be to thee as Belshazzar's writing upon the wall, except only that which draws thee to try and reform. If thou read the promises, thou knowest not whether they shall ever be fulfilled to thee. If thou read the threatenings, for any thing thou knowest, thou dost read thy own sentence.
3. I wonder how thou canst without terror approach God in prayer, or in any duty. When thou callest him thy Father, thou knowest not whether thou speakest truth or falsehood. When thou needest him in thy sickness, or other extremity, thou knowest not whether thou hast a friend to go to, or an enemy When thou receivest the Sacrament, thou knowest not whether thou takest thy blessing or thy bane. And who would wilfully live such a life as this?
4. What comfort canst thou find in any thing which thou possessest? Methinks friends, and honours, and houses, and lands, should do thee little good, till thou know that thou hast the love of God shed abroad in thy heart, and shalt have rest with him when thou shalt have to leave these behind thee. Offer a prisoner, before he know his sentence, music, or wealth, or preferment, and what cares he for any of these, till he know whether he shall escape with his life? for he knows, if he must die the next day, it will be small comfort to him to die rich or honourable. Methinks it should be so with thee, till thou know what shall be thine eternal state.
5. How dost thou contrive to think of thy dying hour? Thou knowest it may be near at hand, and that there is no avoiding it, nor any medicine that can prevent it. Thou knowest that death is the king of terrors, and the introduction to thine unchangeable state. The godly who have some assurance of their everlasting happiness, have yet much ado to submit to it willingly, and find, that to die comfortably is a very difficult work. How then canst thou think of it without astonishment, who hast no assurance of thy eternal felicity?
6. How dost thou contrive to preserve thy heart from horror, when thou thinkest of the judgment-day,