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you so foolish, as to be willing to lose the fruit and benefit of the difficulties, which you have already passed, only for fear of difficulties that are yet to come? If Christianity be not worthy your pains, why did you ever engage in it? and if it be, why do you sit still ? You will be guilty of extreme folly, either in this or that: for you enter upon Christianity, without sitting down, and reckoning what it will cost you: Christ himself brands you for fools: Luke xiv. 28, 29, 30. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it ? Lest, haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
If it is was not worth your pains, what a folly was it to attempt it! if you thought it worth all and more, what a:folly then was it to flag! And could you, before you came so nigh to grace and so nigh to glory, could you see such beauty and such desirableness in it at so great a distance, as to persuade you to come thus far; and, now, when you are much nearer, and can see much more of its excellency and comeliness, dare you now despise and contemn it, when you have not only the promise of God to be your encouragement, but you have also given earnest too ? for that profession, and those endeavours, and those duties, which you have already passed through, are all, as it were, the earnest of
lose: : profession, endeavours, and duty, all come to nothing, if, after all, you rest any where short of
lose which you give, if you be but almost Christians, and rest any where short of true Christianity. What extreme folly is this, for men to disquiet themselves in vain, and take so much pains to pray and hear, and to keep themselves from many sins, and perform many duties; and, yet, because they will do no more, lose the benefit of all this ! What is it, that you do all this for? is it not to obtain grace and glory? And will you do so much for such an excellent end, and yet wilfully fall short of it? You may remain graceless, without all this labour: if you are fully resolved for hell, why do you do any thing? to hell you may go, without praying or hearing ; without striving, or conflicting, or performing one duty, or resisting one sin as you do: if you are resolved for heaven, why do you not do more? all your praying, hearing, striving, and wrestling will be lost and in vain, if you
do not hold on, if you do not continue. What a folly is it, for you to have gone so far, and to have won every step of ground by clear force; to have toiled in the ways of religion, with sweat and anguish, and disquieting to your soul; and yet, at last, to lose and frustrate all this pains, through your cursed and wilful sloth and negligence! to give all away, and fall wilfully short of
and salvation !
ii. Is it not gross and inexcusable folly, TO DESIST, AFTER SO FAR PROGRESS; whereas, for ought we know, had we but proceeded a little further, we might have obtained that grace which we fall short of ?
And how know you, but that, upon your further endeavours, God might have bestowed that grace you strive for? God is not wanting in this kind : to those, who improve the power of nature which they have, he gives the power of grace which they have not. Yet, when men arrive thus far, and come as it were to the very porch of heaven, what thick and dull folly is it, when there is as it were but a step or two between them and glory, to break off their progress and sit down short! What! is it more labour, to go those few steps more, than those which you have already gone? Were you willing and contented, to do all that you have already done, for that, which is but like grace; and will you not be persuaded to do a little more, for that, which is true grace?' It may be God may convert you, by the very next prayer you make: he may convert you, by the next sermon you hear: he may give you true grace, when you next of all oppose any temptation; or when you next of all struggle against any lust: the very next step, which you take in his way, may carry you to heaven, for ought you know. Now the great probability of this, nay were it only a bare possibility, makes a man guilty of the greatest folly, who hath gone thus far towards holiness, if he neglect a further progress towards it.
iii. WHAT A DANGEROUS AND DREADFUL THING IS IT, FOR MEN TO CLIMB SO HIGH; AND YET TO HAVE NO HOLDFAST TO DEPEND UPON, NÓ FOUNDATION TO SUPPORT THEM!
Yet thus it is with every elevated carnal professor, that falls short of grace. He is like a man, that stands upon the sharp top of a towering pinacle, where he hath no other holdfast but a handful of air. But the standing of a child of God is firm:
his feet are fixed upon an immovable rock, even the Rock of Ages; and God reacheth out his hand from heaven to support him. It is disputed by some nice inquisitors, whether a man, if he were lifted up above the magnetic and attractive virtue of the earth, may not stand as safely and walk in the air as he doth now upon the earth. It is true of a child of God, when he hath got beyond the reach of earthly attractions, he may walk safely in that sublime way which leads to heaven ; but, for wicked men, that have not got beyond the malignity of the earth, it is ex ceeding dangerous: their earthly minds and affections, and their çarthly conversations, will in the end bear them down headlong; unless they climb still higher, until they have got beyond these terrene attractions. Now would it not make you tremble, to see a man borne up in the air, as the poets feign of Icarus, with waxen wings, that are subject to melt and fall off, and betray their charge to certain rụin and perdition? thus it is with every carnal professor, that has gone far in Christianity. And is it not YOU, that fly only with waxen wings, I mean the power of nature and the common works of the Holy Ghost, which may fall of and leave you in eternal ruin?
iv. And hence it follows, in the fourth place, that these mountainous professors, who have attained to a high pitch, yet fall short of grace, BECAUSE THEY WANT FIRM FOOTING TO ASSURE THEIR STANDING.
They usually either desperately tumble headlong into the commission of some foul gross sins; or else they grow brain, sick, and turn aside to the maintaining of some prodigious error. This is usually the issue of such lofty professors. As we see a cloud, that hath been sucked up by the sun, how it hovers a while in the air, but anon is wrapped and whirled about with every wind, and so is utterly lost and dissipated; or else it falls down again to the earth in storms, and is turned only into mire and dirt: even so fares it with many a professor: he is drawn up out of the earth, and above the pollutions of the world, by a common influence of the Holy Spirit, and for a while he hangs and hovers in a lofty profession; but, having no firm basis to şustain him, he is either blown up as an empty cloud, and driven away by every wind of doctrine, and lost amongst various sects and opinions; or else, after a while, he falls back again into the filthy conversation and worldly pollutions that he had escaped, and ends only in mire and dirt, and this because he hath not that incorruptible seed within him that shall never die. Indeed, true grace is of itself immortal ; but it is from that engagement, that God hath laid upon himself to preserve it in those, who are diligent in the use of those means, by which it may be maintained. But an unregenerate man is left wholly to his own power, to preserve him in that station, in which he shines : and, if the angels themselves and Adam fell from their first estate, merely through the mutability of their own will, who had power to continue in it, how much more certainly then will these carnal professors fall from their high pitch, who have less power to enable them to stand, and greater power against them to cast them down !
To aggravate the exceeding great folly and apostacy of these elevated break-neck professors, see that most dreadful place, 2 Pet. ii. 21. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. Is not the wrath of God certainly to be revealed against all those, who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of the Lord Jesus ? It is better never to have known the Gospel, and never to have gone a step in the ways of God, than afterwards wilfully to desert them and apostatize from them.
1. The fall and apostacy of those, who are great and eminent professors, carries much of malice and wilfulness in it, which is the highest rank that can be in any sin.
If there be any in the world, that commit the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost, it must be these men. There is, indeed, a great difference between sinning willingly and sinning wilfully: profane, carnal men sin willingly; but none, but those who have been forward professors in the ways of God, and have utterly deserted those ways, can sin maliciously, and merely because they will provoke and offend God by their sins. See what the Apostle saith of such, Heb. X. 26, 27. For if we sin wilfully, after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins : but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, &c. Heb. vi. 4,5,6. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance, &c. This is the first aggrayation of their sin
2. When elevated and eminent professors fall away, they usually fall lower than they were before, when they took their first rise towards Christianity and true religion.
Falling away from a profession, is like the falling down from a steep precipice; where they can have nothing to stop them till they come to the very bottom. And it is observed, that none prove more notoriously wicked, and more desperate haters and revilers of the ways of God, than apostate professors.
(1) God doth judicially give them up to commit'all manner of sin with greediness. See that black catalogue of the foulest sins that can be imagined, Rom. i. from 21 to 30. The Apostle speaks there concerning the heathen; but the case is parallel with our carnal professors, who do not like to retain God in their knowledge: therefore, God gives them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient, &c.
(2) The Devil takes possession of such men, with stronger power and force than ever; (as the unclean spirit re-entered with seven spirits worse than himself, Luke xi. 26.) to secure that soul, that hath been so likely to revolt from him; and therefore no wonder Christ saith, the last state of that man is worse than the first. So that these eminent professors, when they fall away, usually fall lower than they ever were, before their first rise and motion towards religion.
(3) Unregenerate persons not only fall lower, but they seldom return to make a profession of their deserted religion : it is impossible to renew such a one to repentance again.
Now how should these sad and dreadful considerations make every one of us to do our utmost that we are able, to get true and saving grace, if we rest any where short of it! When the winds of temptation tempestuously beat, and the floods of trial, affliction, or persecution rush in upon us, we shall fall, because we have no foundation, but have built merely upon the sands. If you stand not built upon the corner-stone, you will fall of yourselves; yea, that stone will fall upon you, and crush and grind you to powder. Nay, you fall off from a steep and slippery precipice, where there is nothing at all to stop, nothing to receive you but sin after sin ; and thus you rebound from one wickedness to another, till at last you be plunged irrecoverably into that lake, which burns with fire and brimstone.
And this is the Fourth Consideration ; discovering the folly