THE DIFFICULTY OF CONVERSION.
CONVERSION to God is not so easy and so smooth a thing, as some would have men believe it is. Why is man's heart compared to fallow ground, God's word to a plough, and his ministers to ploughmen, if the heart indeed has no need of breaking in order to the receiving of the seed of God unto eternal life? Why is the conversion of the the soul compared to the grafting of a tree, if that be done without cutting?
CONVERSION THE POWER OF GOD.
A broken heart is the handy-work of God, a sacrifice of his own preparing, a material fitted for himself. By breaking the heart he opens it, and makes it a receptacle for the graces of his Spirit; that is the cabinet, when unlocked, where God lays up the jewels of the gospel: there he puts his fear: |I will put my fear in their heart;| there he writes his law: |I will write my law in their heart;| there he puts his Spirit: |I will put my Spirit within you.|
The heart God chooses for his cabinet: there he hides his treasure; there is the seat of justice, mercy, and of every grace of God.
Here is naught but open war, acts of hostility, and shameful rebellion on the sinner's side; and what delight can God take in that? Wherefore, if God will bend and buckle the spirit of such a one, he must shoot an arrow at him, a bearded arrow, such as may not be plucked out of the wound -- an arrow that will stick fast, and cause that the sinner fall down as dead at God's foot. Then will the sinner deliver up his arms, and surrender up himself as one conquered into the hand of God, and beg for the Lord's pardon, and not till then sincerely.
And now God has overcome, and his right hand and his holy arm have gotten him the victory. Now he rides in triumph, with his captive at his chariot-wheel; now he glories, now the bells in heaven do ring, now the angels shout for joy, yea, are bid to do so: |Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.|
Thou thinkest that thou art a Christian; thou shouldst be sorry else. Well, but when did God show thee that thou wert no Christian? When didst thou see that; and in the light of the Spirit of Christ see that thou wert under the wrath of God because of original sin? Rom.5:12. Nay, dost thou know what original sin means? Is it not the least in thy thoughts? And dost thou not rejoice in secret that thou art the same that thou ever wert? If so, then know for certain that the wrath of God to this very day ahideth on thee, John 3:36; and if so, then thou art one of those that will fall in the judgment, except thou art born again and made a new creature.2 Cor.5:17
THE STRAIT GATE.
The porch, at which was an ascent to the temple, had a gate belonging to it. This gate, according to the prophet Ezekiel, was six cubits wide. The leaves of this gate were double, one folding this way, the other folding that. Ezek.40:48.
Now here some may object, and say, |Since the way to God by these doors was so wide, why doth Christ say the way and gate is narrow?|
ANSWER. The straitness, the narrowness, must not be understood of the gate simply, but because of that cumber that some men carry with them that pretend to be going to heaven. Six cubits! What is sixteen cubits to him who would enter in here with all the world on his back? The young man in the gospel who made such a noise for heaven, might have gone in easy enough, for in six cubits breadth there is room; but, poor man, he was not for going in thither unless he might carry in his houses upon his shoulders too; and so the gate was strait. Mark 10:17-23.
Wherefore, he that will enter in at the gate of heaven, of which this gate into the temple was a type, must go in by himself, and not with his bundles of trash on his back; and if he will go in thus, he need not fear but there is room. |The righteous nation that keepeth the truth, they shall enter in.|
They that enter in at the gate of the inner court must be clothed in fine linen; how then shall they go into the temple that carry the clogs of the dirt of this world at their heels? Thus saith the Lord, |No stranger uncircumcised in heart, or uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary.|
The wideness, therefore, of this gate, is for this cause here made mention of, namely, to encourage them that would gladly enter thereat according to the mind of God, and not to flatter them that are not for leaving off all for God.
Wherefore let such as would go in remember that here is room, even a gate to enter at, six cubits wide. We have been all this while but on the outside of the temple, even in the courts of the house of the Lord, to see the beauty and glory that is there. The beauty hereof made men cry out and say, |How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts; my soul longeth, yea, fainteth for the courts of the Lord;| and to say, |A day in thy courts is better than a thousand.|
COMING TO CHRIST.
QUESTION. How must I be qualified before I shall dare to believe in Christ?
ANSWER. Come, sensible of thy sins and of the wrath of God due unto them, for thus thou art bid to come Matt.11:28.
QUESTION. Did ever any come thus to Christ?
ANSWER. David came thus, Paul and the jailer came thus; also Christ's murderers came thus. Psa.51:1-3; Acts 9:6; 16:30, 31; 2:37.
QUESTION. But doth it not seem most reasonable that we should first mend and be good?
ANSWER. The whole have no need of the physician, but those that are sick; Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
QUESTION. But is it not the best way, if one can, to mend first?
ANSWER. This is just as if a sick man should say, |Is it not best for me to be well before I go to the physician?| or as if a wounded man should say, |When I am cured I will lay on the plaster.|
QUESTION. But when a poor creature sees its vileness, it is afraid to come to Christ, is it not?
ANSWER. Yes, but without ground; for he has said, |Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not;| and |to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.| Isa.35:4; 66:2.
QUESTION. What encouragement can be given us thus to come?
ANSWER. The prodigal came thus, and his father received him, and fell upon his neck and kissed him. Thus Christ received the Colossians, and consequently all that are saved. Luke 15; Col.2:13.
QUESTION. Will you give me one more encouragement?
ANSWER. The promises are so worded, that they that are scarlet sinners, crimson sinners, blasphemous sinners, have encouragement to come to him with hopes of life. Isa.1: 18; Mark 3:28; John 6:36; Luke 24:47; Acts 13:36
TEMPTATIONS OF THE SOUL COMING TO CHRIST.
No sooner doth Satan perceive what God is doing with the soul in a way of grace and mercy, but he endeavoreth what he may, to make the renewing thereof bitter and wearisome work to the sinner. O what mists, what mountains, what clouds, what darkness, what objections, what false apprehensions of God, of Christ, of grace, of the word, and of the soul's condition, doth he now lay before it, and haunt it with! whereby he dejecteth, casteth down, daunteth, distresseth, and almost driveth it quite into despair. Now, by the reason of these things, faith and all the grace that is in the soul is hard put to it to come at the promise, and by the promise, to Christ; as it is said, when the tempest and great danger of shipwreck lay upon the vessel in which Paul was, |They had much work to come by the boat.| Acts 27:16. For Satan's design is, if he cannot keep the soul from Christ, to make his coming to him and closing with him as hard, as difficult and troublesome as he by his devices can. But faith, true justifying faith, is a grace that is not weary by all that Satan can do; but meditateth upon the word, and taketh stomach and courage, fighteth and crieth; and by crying and fighting, by help from heaven, its way is made through all the oppositions that appear so mighty, and draweth up at last to Jesus Christ, into whose bosom it putteth the soul; where, for the time, it sweetly resteth, after its marvellous tossings to and fro.
And besides what hath been said, let me yet illustrate this truth unto you by this familiar similitude.
Suppose a man, a traitor, that by the law should die for his sin, is yet such a one that the king hath exceeding kindness for; may not the king of his clemency pardon this man, yea, order that his pardon should be drawn up and sealed, and so in every sense be made sure, and yet for the present keep all this close enough from the ears or the knowledge of the person therein concerned? Yea, may not the king after all leave this person, with others under the same transgression, to sue for and obtain this pardon with great expense and difficulty, with many tears and heartachings, with many fears and dubious cogitations?
Why, this is the case between God and the soul that he saveth: he saveth him, pardoneth him, and secureth him from the curse and death that are due unto sin, but yet doth not tell him so; but he ascends in his great suit unto God for it. Only this difference we must make between God and the potentates of this world: God cannot pardon before the sinner stands before him righteous by the righteousness of Christ; because he has, in judgment, and justice, and righteousness, threatened and concluded that he that lacks righteousness shall die.
TRIALS AND ENCOURAGEMENTS OF THE AWAKENED.
There are two things in special, when men begin to be awakened, that kill their thoughts of being saved.
1. A sense of sin.2. The wages due thereto. These kill the heart; for who can bear up under the guilt of sin? |If our sins he upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live?| How, indeed! it is impossible. So neither can man grapple with the justice of God. Can thy heart endure, or thy hands be strong? they cannot. A wounded spirit, who can bear? Men cannot, angels cannot; wherefore, if now Christ he hid, and the blessing of faith in his blood denied, woe be to them: such go after Saul and Judas, one to the sword and the other to the halter, and so miserably end their days. For come to God they dare not; the thoughts of that eternal Majesty strike them through.
But now present such poor dejected sinners with a crucified Christ, and persuade them that the sins under which they shake and tremble were long ago laid upon the back of Christ, and the noise and sense and fear of damning begins to cease, depart, and fly away: dolors and terrors fade and vanish, and that soul conceiveth hopes of life; for thus the soul argueth: |Is this indeed the truth of God, that Christ was made to be sin to me -- was made the curse of God for me? Hath he indeed borne all my sins, and spilt his blood for my redemption? O blessed tidings, O welcome grace! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Now is peace come, now the face of heaven is altered. Behold, all things are become new.| Now the sinner can abide God's presence, yea, sees unutterable glory and beauty in him; for here he sees justice smile. While Jacob was afraid of Esau, how heavily did he drive, even towards the promised land; but when killing thoughts were turned into kissing, and the fears of the sword's point turned into brotherly embraces, what says he? |I have seen thy face as though it had been the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me.|
So and far better is it with a poor distressed sinner, at the revelation of the grace of God through Jesus Christ. |God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.| O, what work will such a word make upon a wounded conscience, especially when the next words follow: |For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.|
Now the soul sees qualifications able to set him quiet in the sight of God -- qualifications prepared already. Prepared, I say, already, and that by God through Christ; even such as can perfectly answer the law. What doth the law require? If obedience, here it is; if bloody sacrifice, here it is; if infinite righteousness, here it is. Now then the law condemns no more him that believes before God; for all its demands are answered, all its curses are swallowed up in the death and curse Christ underwent.
OBJECTION. But reason saith, |Since personal sin brought the death, surely personal obedience must bring us life and glory.|
ANSWER. True, reason saith so, and so doth the law itself, Rom.10:5; but God we know is above them both, and he in the covenant of grace saith otherwise, to wit, |That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised hint from the dead, thou shalt be saved.|
Let reason then hold its tongue; yea, let the law with all its wisdom subject itself to him that made it; let it look for sin where God hath laid it; let it approve the righteousness which God approveth: yea, though it be not that of the law, but that by faith of Jesus Christ.
God hath made him our righteousness; God hath made him our sin; God hath made him our curse; God hath made him our blessing: methinks this word, God hath made it so, should silence all the world.
I shall leave the obstinate where I found him, and shall say to him that is willing to be saved, |Sinner, thou hast the advantage of thy neighbor, not only because thou art willing to live, but because there are those that are willing thou shouldst, to wit, those unto whom the issues of death belong; and they are the Father and the Son, to whom be glory with the blessed Spirit of grace.|
I have seen some, that have promised nothing at first setting out to be pilgrims, and that one would have thought could not have lived another day, that have yet proved very good pilgrims.
OBJECTION. I am afraid the day of grace is past, and if it should be, what shall I do then?
ANSWER. With some men indeed, the day of grace is past before their lives are at an end: or thus, the day of grace is past before the day of death is come; as Christ saith, |If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace,| the word of grace or reconciliation; |but now they are hid from thine eyes.| Luke 19:42. But for thy better satisfaction, let me ask, Doth the Lord knock still at the door of thy heart, by his word and Spirit? If so, then the day of grace is not passed with thy soul; for where he doth so knock, there he doth also proffer and promise to come in and sup, that is, to communicate of his love unto them; which he would not do were the day of grace passed with the soul. Rev 3:20.
OBJECTION. But how shall I know whether Christ doth so knock at my heart as to be desirous to come in, that I may know also whether the day of grace be passed with me or not?
ANSWER. Doth the Lord make thee sensible of thy miserable state without an interest in Jesus Christ; and that naturally thou hast no share in him, no faith in him, no communion with him, no delight in him, or the least love to him? If he hath, and is doing this, he is knocking at thy heart. Doth he, together with this, put into thy heart an earnest desire after communion with him, with holy resolutions not to be satisfied without it? Doth he sometimes give thee some secret persuasions, though scarcely discernible, that thou mayest attain an interest in him? Doth he now and then glance in some of the promises into thy heart, causing them to leave some heavenly savor, though but for a short time, on thy spirit? Dost thou at times see some little excellency in Christ, and doth it stir up in thy soul some breathings after him? If so, then fear not. The day of grace is not passed with thy poor soul; for if the day of grace should be passed with such a soul as this, then that scripture must be broken, where Christ saith, |Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise,| upon no terms whatsoever, |cast out.| John 6:37.
Get thy heart warmed with the sweet promise of Christ's acceptance of the coming sinner, and that will make thee make more haste unto him. Discouraging thoughts are like unto cold weather; they benumb the senses and make us go ungainly about our business; but the sweet and warm gleeds [Footnote: Glowing coals.] of promise are like the comfortable beams of the sun, which enliveneth and refresheth. You see how little the bee and the fly do play in the air in winter -- why, the cold hinders them from doing it: but when the wind and sun are warm, who so busy as they?
OBJECTION. But saith another, |I am so heartless, so slow, and, as I think, so indifferent in my coming, that to speak truth, I know not whether my kind of coming ought to be called a coming to Christ.|
ANSWER. I read of some that are to follow Christ in chains -- I say, to come after him in chains. Isa.45:14. Surely they that come after Christ in chains, come to him in great difficulty.
And what chain so heavy as those that discourage thee? Thy chain, which is made up of guilt and filth, is heavy; it is a wretched band about thy neck, by which thy strength doth fail. But come, though thou comest in chains; it is glory to Christ, that a sinner comes after him in chains. The chinking of thy chains, though troublesome to thee, is not, nor can be, destruction to thy salvation. It is Christ's work and glory to save thee from thy chains, to enlarge thy steps, and set thee at liberty. The blind man, though called, surely could not come apace to Jesus Christ; but Jesus Christ could stand still and stay for him.
To slight grace, to despise mercy, and to stop the ear when God speaks, when he speaks such great things so much to our profit, is a great provocation.
He offers, he calls, he woos, he invites, he prays, he beseeches us, in this day of his grace, to be reconciled to him; yea, and has provided for us the means of reconciliation himself. Now, to despise these must needs be a provoking; and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
OBJECTION. But some man may say unto me, |Fain I would be saved, fain I would be saved by Christ; but I fear this day of grace is past, and that I shall perish, notwithstanding the exceeding riches of the grace of God.|
ANSWER. To this doubt I would answer several things.
First, with respect to the day: 1. Art thou jogged and shaken and molested at the hearing of the word? Is thy conscience awakened and convinced, then, that thou art at present in a perishing state, and that thou hast need to cry to God for mercy? This is a hopeful sign that the day of grace is not past with thee.
2. Are there in thy more retired condition, arguings, strugglings, and strivings with thy spirit to persuade thee of the vanity of what vain things thou lovest, and to win thee in thy soul to a choice of Christ Jesus and his heavenly things? Take heed and rebel not, for the day of God's grace and patience will not be past with thee till he saith his Spirit shall strive no more with thee: for then the woe comes, when he shall depart from them, and when he says to the means of grace, |Let them alone.|
3. Art thou visited in the night seasons with dreams about thy state, and that thou art in danger of being lost? Hast thou heart-shaking apprehensions, when deep sleep is upon thee, of hell, death, and judgment to come? These are signs that God has not wholly left thee, or cast thee behind his back for ever.
All this while God has not left the sinner, nor is come to the end of his patience towards him, but stands at least with the door of grace ajar in his hand, as being loath as yet to bolt it against him.
4. Art thou followed with affliction, and dost thou hear God's angry voice in thy affliction? Doth he send with thy affliction an interpreter to show thee thy vileness, and why or wherefore the hand of God is upon thee and upon what thou hast, to wit, that it is for thy sinning against him, and that thou mightst be turned to him? If so, thy summer is not quite ended, thy harvest is not quite over and gone. Take heed; stand out no longer, lest he cause darkness, and lest thy feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and lest while you look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness.
5. Hast thou any enticing touches of the word of God upon thy mind? Doth as it were some holy word of God give a glance upon thee, cast a smile upon thee, let fall though it be but one drop of its savor upon thy spirit; yea, though it stays but one moment with thee? Oh, then, the day of grace is not past, the gate of heaven is not shut, nor God's heart withdrawn from thee as yet. Take heed therefore, and beware that thou make much of the heavenly gift and of that good word of God of which he has made thee taste.
Secondly, with respect to thy desires, what are they? Wouldst thou be saved? Wouldst thou be saved with a thorough salvation? Wouldst thou be saved from guilt and filth too? Wouldst thou be the servant of thy Saviour? Art thou indeed weary of the service of thy old masters, the devil, sin, and the world? And have these desires put thy soul to the flight? Hast thou through desires betaken thyself to thy heels? Dost thou fly to him that is a Saviour from the wrath to come, for life?
If these be thy desires, and if they be unfeigned, fear not. Thou art one of those runaways which God has commanded our Lord to receive, and not to send thee back to the devil thy master again, but to give thee a place in his house, even the place which thou likest best.
|But,| you say, |I am afraid I am not elect or chosen to salvation.|
At present, lay the thoughts of thy election by, and ask thyself these questions: Do I see my lost condition? Do I see salvation is nowhere but in Christ? Would I share in this salvation by faith in him? And would I be thoroughly saved from the filth as well as from the guilt? Do I love Christ, his Father, his saints, his words and ways? This is the way to prove we are elect.
Wherefore, sinner, when Satan or thine own heart seeks to puzzle thee with election, say thou, |I cannot attend to talk of this point now; but stay till I know that I am called of God to the fellowship of his Son, and then I will show you that I am elect, and that my name is written in the book of life.|
If poor distressed souls would observe this order, they might save themselves the trouble of an unprofitable labor under these unreasonable and soul-sinking doubts.
Let us therefore, upon the sight of our wretchedness, fly and venturously leap into the arms of Christ, which are now as open to receive us into his bosom as they were when nailed to the cross.
Let me tell thee, soul, for thy comfort, who art coming in to Christ panting and sighing as if thy heart would break, let me tell thee, soul, thou wouldst never have come to Christ if he had not first, by the virtue of his blood and intercession, sent into thy heart an earnest desire after Christ; let me tell thee also, that it is his business to make intercession for thee, not, only that thou mayest come in, but that thou mayest be preserved when thou art come in.
They that are coming to Jesus Christ are ofttimes heartily afraid that Jesus Christ will not receive them.
This word, |in nowise,| cutteth the throat of all objections; and it was dropped by the Lord Jesus for that very end, and to help the faith that is mixed with unbelief.
But I am a great sinner, sayest thou. I will in nowise cast out, says Christ. But I am an old sinner, sayest thou. I will in nowise cast out, says Christ. But I am a hard-hearted sinner, sayest thou. I will in nowise cast out, says Christ. But I have served Satan all my days, sayest thou. I will in nowise cast out, says Christ. But I have sinned against light, sayest thou. I will in nowise cast out, says Christ. But I have sinned against mercy, sayest thou. I will in nowise cast out, says Christ. But I have no good thing to bring with me, sayest thou. I WILL IN NOWISE CAST OUT, says Christ.
FEARS IN COMING TO CHRIST.
1. This fear that Christ will not receive thee is FOR CANT OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST. Thou knowest but little of the grace and kindness that is in the heart of Christ; thou knowest but little of the virtue and merit of his blood; thou knowest but little of the willingness that is in his heart to save thee. Slowness of heart to believe flows from thy foolishness in the things of Christ; this is evident to all that are acquainted with themselves, and are seeking after Jesus Christ. The more ignorance, the more unbelief; the more knowledge of Christ, the more faith. |They that know thy name, will put their trust in thee.|
2. Thy fears that Christ will not receive thee may be also A CONSEQUENCE OF THY EARNEST AND STRONG DESIRES AFTER THY SALVATION BY HIM. For this I observe, that strong desires to have are attended with strong fears of missing. What man most sets his heart upon, and what his desires are most after, he ofttimes most fears he shall not obtain. So, the ruler of the synagogue had a great desire that his daughter should live, and that desire was attended with fear that she would not. Therefore Christ saith unto him, |Be not afraid.|
Now thou fearest the sins of thy youth, the sins of thine old age, the sins of thy calling, the sins of thy Christian duties, the sins of thine heart, or something; thou thinkest something or other will alienate the heart and affections of Jesus Christ from thee.
But be content. A little more knowledge of him will make thee take better heart; thy earnest desires shall not be attended with such burning fears; thou shalt hereafter say, |This is my infirmity.|
3. Thy fear that Christ will not receive thee, may arise from a sense of THY OWN UNWORTHINESS. Thou seest what a poor, sorry, wretched, worthless creature thou art; and seeing this, thou fearest Christ will not receive thee. |Alas,| sayst thou, |I am the vilest of all men, a townsinner, a ringleading sinner. I am not only a sinner my self, but I have made others twofold worse the children of hell also. Besides, now I am under some awakenings and stirrings of mind after salvation, even now I find my heart rebellious, carnal, hard, treacherous, desperate, prone to unbelief, to despair; it forgetteth the word, it wandereth, it runneth to the ends of the earth. There is not, I am persuaded, one in all the world that hath such a desperate wicked heart as mine is. My soul is careless to do good; but none more earnest to do that which is evil.
|Can such a one as I am live in glory? Can a holy, a just, and a righteous God think, with honor to his name, of saving such a vile creature as I am? Saved I would be; and who is there that would not, were he in my condition? Indeed I wonder at the madness and folly of others, when I see them leap and skip so carelessly about the mouth of hell. Bold sinner, how darest thou tempt God by laughing at the breach of his holy law? But, alas, they are not so bad one way, but I am worse another; I wish myself were any body but myself. And yet, here again I know not what to wish. When I see such as I believe are coming to Jesus Christ, Oh I bless them. But I am confounded in myself, to see how unlike I am to a very good many in the world. They can hear, read, pray, remember, repent, he humble, and do every thing better than so vile a wretch as I.|
Thus the sense of unworthiness creates and heightens fears in the hearts of them that are coming to Jesus Christ. But indeed it should not, for who needs the physician but the sick? Or whom did Christ come into the world to save, but the chief of sinners? Wherefore, the more thou seest thy sins, the faster fly thou to Jesus Christ. As it is with the man that carrieth his broken arm in a sling to the bonesetter, still, as he thinks of his broken arm, and as he feels the pain and anguish, he hastens his pace to the man. And if Satan meets thee, and asketh, |Whither goest thou?| tell him thou art maimed, and art going to the Lord Jesus. If he objects thine own unworthiness, tell him, that even as the sick seeketh the physician; as he that hath broken bones seeks him that can set them; so thou art going to Jesus Christ for healing for thy sin-sick soul.
But it ofttimes happeneth to him that flies for his life, he despairs of escaping, and therefore delivers himself up into the hand of the pursuer. But up, up, sinner; be of good cheer; Christ came to save the unworthy one. Be not faithless, but believing. Come away, man. The Lord Jesus calls thee, saying, |.And him that cometh to me, I will in nowise cast out.|
4. Thy fear that Christ will not receive thee, may arise from a sense of THE EXCEEDING MERCY OF BEING SAVED. Besides, the Holy Ghost hath a way to greaten heavenly things to the understanding of the coming sinner; yea, and at the same time to greaten, too, the sin and unworthiness of that sinner. Now, the soul staggering by wonders, saying, |What! to be made like angels, like Christ; to live in eternal bliss, joy, and felicity! This is for angels, and for them that can walk like angels.|
Thus doth the greatness of the things desired quite dash and overthrow the mind of the desire. |O, it is too big, it is too big, it is too great a mercy.|
But, coming sinner, let me reason with thee. Thou sayest it is too big, too great. Well, will things that are less satisfy thy soul? Will a less thing than heaven, than glory and eternal life, answer thy desires? |No, nothing less. Yet I fear they are too big, and too good for me even to obtain.| Well, as big and as good as they are, God giveth them to such as thou. They are not too big for God to give; no, not too big to give freely. Be content; let God give like himself; he is that eternal God, and giveth like himself. When kings give, they do not use to give as poor men do. Now, God is a great King; let him give like a king; nay, let him give like himself, and do thou receive like thyself. He has all, and thou hast nothing.
5. Thy fears that Christ will not receive thee, may arise from THINE OWN FOLLY IN INVETING, yea, in thy chalking out to God a way to bring thee home to Jesus Christ. Some souls that are coming to Jesus Christ are great tormentors of themselves upon this account. They conclude that if their coming to Jesus Christ is right, they must needs be brought home thus and thus.
Now, I say, if God brings thee to Christ, and not by the way that thou hast appointed, then thou art at a loss; and for thy being at a loss, thou mayest thank thyself. God hath more ways than thou knowest of to bring a sinner to Jesus Christ; but he will not give thee before-hand an account by which of them he will bring thee to Christ.
Sometimes he hath his ways in the whirlwind, but sometimes the Lord is not there.
If God will deal more gently with thee than with others of his children, grudge not at it; refuse not the waters that go softly, lest he bring up to thee the waters of the rivers strong and many, even those two smoking firebrands, the devil and guilt of sin. He saith to Peter, |Follow me;| and what thunder did Zaccheus hear or see? |Zaccheus, come down,| said Christ; and he came down, says Luke, and received him joyfully.
But had Peter or Zaccheus made the objection that thou hast made-looking for a heavy load of guilt, or fearful temptations of Satan-and directed the Spirit of the Lord as thou hast done, they might have looked long enough before they had found themselves coming to Jesus Christ.
Poor creature! Thou criest, |If I were tempted, I could come faster and with more confidence to Jesus Christ.| Thou sayest thou knowest not what. What says Job? |Withdraw thy hand far from me, and let not thy dread make me afraid: then call thou, and I will answer; or let me speak, and answer thou me.| Job 13: 21, 22. It is not the over-heavy load of sin, but the discovery of mercy-not the roaring of the devil, but the drawing of the Father, that makes a man come to Jesus Christ. I myself know all these things.
True, sometimes they that come to Jesus Christ, come the way that thou desirest-the loading, tempted way; but the Lord also leads some by the waters of comfort. If I was to choose when to go a long journey, to wit, whether I would go it in the dead of winter or in the pleasant spring-though if it was a very profitable journey, as that of coming to Christ is, I would choose to go it through fire and water before I would lose the benefit-but I say, if I might choose the time, I would choose to go in the pleasant spring, because the way would be more delightsome, the days longer and warmer, the nights shorter, and not so cold.
Trouble not thyself, coming sinner: if thou seest thy lost condition by original and actual sin; if thou seest thy need of the spotless righteousness of Jesus Christ; if thou art willing to be found in him, and to take up thy cross and follow him, then pray for a fair wind and good weather, and come away. Stick no longer in a muse and doubt about things, but come away to Jesus Christ.
6. Thy fears that Christ will not receive thee may arise from THOSE DECAYS THAT THOU FINDEST IN THY-SOUL, even while thou art coming to him. Some, even as they are coming to Jesus Christ, do find themselves grow worse and worse. To explain myself: there is such a one coming to Jesus Christ, who, when he first began to look out after him, was sensible, affectionate, and broken in spirit, but now is grown dark, senseless, hard-hearted, and inclining to neglect spiritual duties. Besides, he now finds in himself inclinations to unbelief, atheism, blasphemy, and the like; now, he finds he cannot tremble at God's word, his judgments, nor the apprehension of hell-fire; neither can he, as he thinketh, be sorry for these things.
This man is in the wilderness among wild beasts. Here he sees a bear, there a lion, yonder a leopard, a wolf, a dragon. Devils of all sorts, doubts of all sorts, fears of all sorts haunt and molest his soul. This man feeleth the infirmity of his flesh; he findeth a proneness in himself to be desperate. Now he chides with God, flings and tumbles like a wild bull in a net, and still the guilt of all returns upon himself to the crushing of him to pieces. Yet he feeleth his heart so hard that he can find, as he thinks, no kindness under any of his miscarriages. Now, he is a lump of confusion in his own eyes, whose spirit and actions are without order. |Now, I see I am lost,| says the sinner; |this is not coming to Jesus Christ; such a desperately hard and wretched heart as mine is, cannot be a gracious one,| saith the sinner. And bid such a one be better, he says, |I cannot; no, I cannot.|
QUESTION. But what will you say to a soul in this condition?
ANSWER. I will say, that temptations have attended the best of God's people; I will say that temptations come to do us good; and I will say also, that there is a difference betwixt growing worse and worse, and thy seeing more clearly how bad thou art.
There is a man of an ill-favored countenance who hath too high a conceit of his heauty, and wanting the benefit of a glass, he still stands in his own conceit. At last a limner is sent unto him, who draweth his ill-favored face to the life. Now, looking thereon, he hegins to be convinced that he is not half so handsome as he thought he was. Coming sinner, thy temptations are these painters; they have drawn out thy ill-favored heart to the life, and have set it before thine eyes, and now thou seest how ill-favored thou art.
Some that are coming to Christ cannot lie persuaded, until the temptation comes, that they are so vile as the scripture saith they are. True, they see so much of their wretchedness as to drive them to Christ. But there is an over and above of wickedness which they see not. Peter little thought that he had had in his heart cursing and swearing and lying, and an inclination to deny his Master, before the temptation came; but when that indeed came upon him, then he found it there to his sorrow.
It may be that thy graces must be tried in the fire, that that rust which cleaveth to them may be taken away, and themselves proved, both before angels and devils, to be far better than gold that perisheth. It may be also, that thy graces are to receive special praises and honor and glory, at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to judgment, for all the exploits that thou hast acted by them against hell and its infernal crew, in the day of thy temptation.
But to conclude this, put the worst to the worst, and then things will be bad enough: suppose that thou art to this day without the grace of God; yet thou art but a miserable creature, a sinner that has need of a blessed Saviour; and the text presents thee with one as good and kind as heart can wish, who also for thy encouragement saith, |And him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.|
So the Interpreter addressed him to Mercy, and said unto her, |And what moved thee to come hither, sweetheart?|
Then Mercy blushed and trembled, and for a while continued silent.
Then said he, |Be not afraid; only believe, and speak thy mind.|
Then she began, and said, |Truly, sir, my want of experience is that which makes me covet to be in silence, and that also that filleth me with fears of coming short at last. I cannot tell of visions and dreams as my friend Christiana can, nor know I what it is to mourn for my refusing of the counsel of those that were good relations.|
INTERPRETER. |What was it then, dear heart, that hath prevailed with thee to do as thou hast done?|
MERCY. |Why, when our friend here was packing up to be gone from our town, [the city of Destruction,] I and another went accidentally to see her. So we knocked at the door and went in. When we were within, and seeing what she was doing, we asked her what she meant. She said she was sent for to go to her husband; and then she up and told us how she had seen him in a dream, dwelling in a curious place, among immortals, wearing a crown, playing upon a harp, eating and drinking at his Prince's table, and singing praises to him for the bringing him thither. Now methought, while she was telling these things unto us, my heart burned withm ran. And I said in my heart, 'If this be true, I will leave my father and my mother, and the land of my nativity, and will, if I may, go along with Christiana.'
|So I asked her further of the truth of these things, and if she would let me go with her; for I saw how that there was no dwelling, but with the danger of ruin, any longer in our town. But yet I came away with a heavy heart; not for that I was unwilling to come away, hut for thai so many of my relations were left behind. And I am come with all my heart, and will, if I may, go with Christiana to her husband and his King.|
INTERPRETER. |Thy setting out is good, for thou hast given credit to the truth; thou art a Ruth, who did, for the love she hare to Naomi and to the Lord her God, leave father and mother, and the land of her nativity, to come out and go with a people that she knew not before. 'The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.'|
FEARS AND ENCOURAGEMENTS OF THE AWAKENED.
Some men are blood-red sinners, crimson sinners, sinners of a double dye: dipped and dipped again before they come to Jesus Christ. Art thou that readest these lines such a one? Speak out, man. Art thou such a one? and art thou now coming to Jesus Christ for the mercy of justification, that thou mightest be made white in his blood and be covered with his righteousness? Fear not; forasmuch as this thy coming betokeneth that thou art of the number of them that the Father hath given to Christ; for he will in no wise cast thee out. |Come now,| saith Christ, |and let us reason together: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.|
I might tell you of the contests and battles that great sinners at their conversion are engaged in, wherein they find the besettings of Satan above any other of the saints. At which time Satan assaults the soul with darkness, fears, frightful thoughts of apparitions; now they sweat, pant, cry out, and struggle for life.
The angels now come down to behold the sight, and rejoice to see a bit of dust and ashes overcome principalities, and powers, and mights, and dominions.
But whea these come to be a little settled, they are prepared for helping others, and are great comforts unto them. Their great sins give great encouragement to the devil to assault them; and by these temptations Christ takes advantage to make them the more helpful to the churches.
The biggest sinner, when he is converted and comes into the church, says to them all by his very coming in, |Behold me, all you that are men and women of a low and timorous spirit, you whose hearts are narrow -- for that you have never had the advantage to know, because your sins are few, the largeness of the grace of God -- behold, I say, in me the exceeding riches of his grace. I am a pattern set forth before your faces, on whom you may look and take heart.| Christ Jesus makes of the biggest sinners bearers and supporters to the rest.
Christ saved the thief, to encourage thieves to come to him for mercy; he saved Magdalen, to encourage other Magdalens to come to him for mercy; he saved Saul, to encourage Sauls to come to him for mercy; and this Paul himself doth say: |For this cause,| saith he, |I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.|
When Christ was crucified and hanged up between the earth and heavens, there were two thieves crucified with him; and behold, he lays hold of one of them and will have him away with him to glory. Was not this a strange act and a display of unthought of grace? Were there none but thieves there, or were the rest of that company out of his reach? Could he not, think you, have stooped from the cross to the ground, and have laid hold of some honester man, if he would? Yes, doubtless. O, but then he would not have displayed his grace, nor have so pursued his own designs, namely, to get himself a praise and a name; but now he has done it to purpose. For who that shall read this story but must confess that the Son of God is full of grace? for a proof of the riches thereof he left behind him, when upon the cross he took the thief away with him to glory.
I have one thing more to offer for thy encouragement, who deemest thyself one of the biggest sinners; and that is, thou art as it were called by thy name, in the first place to come in for mercy. Thou man of Jerusalem, Luke 24:47, hearken to thy call: men do so in courts of judicature, and presently cry out, |Here, sir;| and then shoulder and crowd, and say, |Pray give way, I am called into the court.| Why, this is thy case, thou great, thou Jerusalem sinner; be of good cheer, he calleth thee. Why sittest thou still? Arise. Why standest thou still? Come, man, thy call should give thee authority to corne. |Begin at Jerusalem,| is thy call and authority to come; wherefore up and shoulder it, man; say, |Stand away, devil, Christ calls me; stand away, unbelief, Christ calls me; stand away, all ye discouraging apprehensions, for my Saviour calls me to him to receive of his mercy.| Men will do thus, as I said, in courts below; and why shouldst not thou approach thus to the courts above? The Jerusalem sinner is first in thought, first in commission, first in the record of names; and therefore should give attendance with expectation that he is first to receive mercy of God.
Is not this an encouragement to the biggest sinners to make their application to Christ for mercy? |Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden,| doth also confirm this thing; that is, that the biggest sinner and he that hath the biggest burden, is he who is first invited. Christ pointeth over the heads of thousands as he sits on the throne of grace, directly to such a man, and says, |Bring in hither the maimed, the halt, and the blind; let the Jerusalem shiner that stands there hehind, come to me.| Wherefore, since Christ says to thee, Come, let the angels make a lane and let all men give place, that the Jerusalem sinner may come to Christ for mercy.
DESPAIR OF MERCY UNREASONABLE.
Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners? Then this shows how unreasonable a thing it is for men to despair of mercy.
I am concerned only with the despair of those that would be saved, but are too strongly borne down with the burden of their sins. I say, therefore, to thee that art thus, And why despair? Thy despair, if it was reasonable, should flow from thee because found in the land that is beyond the grave, or because thou certainly knowest that Christ will not or cannot save thee.
But for the first, thou art yet in the land of the living; and for the second, thou hast ground to believe quite the contrary. Christ is able to save to the uttermost them that come to God by him; and if he were not willing, he would not have commanded that mercy, in the first place, should be offered to the biggest sinners. Besides, he hath said, |And let him that is athirst come, and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely| -- that is, with all my heart. What ground, now, is here for despair? If thou sayest, |The number and burden of my sins;| I answer, Nay; that is rather a ground for faith; because such a one, above all others, is invited by Christ to come unto him, yea, promised rest and forgiveness, if he come. Matt.11: 28. What ground, then, to despair? Verily, none at all Thy despair, then, is a thing unreasonable, and without footing in the word.
|But I have no experience of God's love; God has given me no comfort or ground of hope, though I have waited upon him for it many a day.|
Thou hast experience of God's love, in that he has opened thine eyes to see thy sins, and in that he has given thee desires to be saved by Jesus Christ. For by thy sense of sin, thou art made to see thy poverty of spirit, and that has laid thee under a sure ground to hope that heaven shall be thine hereafter.
Also, thy desires to be saved by Christ have put thee under another promise, Matt.5: 3, 6; so there are two to hold thee up in them, though thy present burden be never so heavy. As for what thou sayest as to God's silence to thee, perhaps he has spoken to thee once or twice already, but thou hast not perceived it. Job 33:14, 15.
Besides, God says, |They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles;| but perhaps it may be long first. |I waited patiently,| says David, |I sought the Lord;| and at length his cry was heard: wherefore, he bids his soul wait on God, and says, |For it is good| so to do |before thy saints.| Psalm 40:1; 52:9; 62:5.
And what if thou waitest upon God all thy days? Is it below thee? And what if God will cross his book and blot out the handwriting that is against thee, arid not let thee know it as yet? Is it fit to say unto God, Thou art hard-hearted? Despair not; thou hast no ground to despair, so long as thou livest in this world. It is a sin to begin to despair before one sets his foot over the threshold of hell-gates. For them that are there, let them despair, and spare not; but as for thee, thou hast no ground to do it. What, despair of bread in a land that is full of corn; despair of mercy, when our God is full of mercy; despair of mercy, when God goes about by his ministers, beseeching sinners to be reconciled to him?
Thou scrupulous fool, where canst thou find that God was ever false to his promise, or that he ever deceived the soul that ventured itself upon him? He often calls upon sinners to trust him, though they walk in darkness, and have no light. Isa.50:10. They have his promise and oath for their salvation, that flee for refuge to the hope set before them.
Despair, when we have a God of mercy and a redeeming Christ alive! For shame, forbear; let them despair that dwell where there is no God, and that are confined to those chamhers of death which can be reached by no redemption.
A living man despair, when he is chid for murmuring and complaining! Lam.3:39. Oh, so long as we are where promises swarm, where mercy is proclaimed, where grace reigns, and where Jerusalem sinners are privileged with the first offer of mercy, it is a base thing to despair.
Despair undervalues the promise, undervalues the invitation, undervalues the proffer of grace. Despair undervalues the ability of God the Father, and the redeeming blood of Christ his Son. Oh, unreasonable despair!
Despair makes man God's judge; it is a controller of the promise, a contradictor of Christ in his large offers of mercy; and one that undertakes to make unbelief the great manager of our reason and judgment, in determining about what God can and will do for sinners.
Despair! it is the devil's fellow, the devil's master; yea, the chains with which he is captivated, and held under darkness for ever: arid to give way thereto, in a land, in a state and time that flows with milk and honey, is an uncomely thing.
I would say to my soul, O my soul, this is not the place of despair; this is not the time to despair in. As long as mine eyes can find a promise in the Bible, as long as there is a moment left me of breath or life ill this world, so long will I wait or look for mercy, so long will I fight against unbelief and despair.
This is the way to honor God and Christ; this is the way to set the crown on the promise; this is the way to welcome the invitation and the inviter; and this is the way to thrust thyself under the shelter and protection of the word of grace. Never despair, so long as our text is alive; for that doth sound it out, that mercy by Christ is offered in the first place to the biggest sinner.
Let none despair, let none presume: let none despair, that are sorry for their sins and would he saved by Jesus Christ; let none presume that abide in the liking of their sins, though they seem to know the exceeding grace of Christ; for though the doors stand wide open for the reception of the penitent, yet they are fast enough barred and bolted against the presumptuous sinner. Be not deceived, God is not mocked; whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap. It cannot be that God should be wheedled out of his mercy, or prevailed upon by lips of dissimulation; he knows them that trust in him, and that sincerely come to him by Christ for mercy.
It is, then, not the abundance of sins committed, but the not coming heartily to God by Christ for mercy, that shuts men out of doors.
Is it so, that they that are coining to Jesus Christ, are ofttimes heartily afraid that he will not receive them? Then this should teach old Christians to pity and pray for young comers. You know the heart of a stranger, for you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt. You know the fears and doubts and terrors that take hold of them, for they sometimes took hold of you. Wherefore, pity them, pray for them, encourage them; they need all this.
THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL.
That Jesus Christ, by what he has done, has paid full price to God for sinners and obtained eternal redemption for them, is evident, if you consider how the preaching thereof has been from that time to this a mighty conqueror over all kinds of sinners. What nation, what people, what kind of sinners have not been subdued by the preaching of a crucified Christ? He upon the white horse with his bow and his crown has conquered, doth conquer, and goeth forth yet conquering and to conquer.
The doctrine of forgiveness of sin conquered his very murderers. They could not withstand the grace; those bloody ones that would kill him whatever it cost them, could stand no longer, but received his doctrine, fell into his bosom, and obtained the salvation which is in Christ Jesus. |They shall look upon him whom they have pierced, and mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son, and they shall be in bitterness for him as one is in bitterness for his first-born.| Now was the scripture eminently fulfilled, when the kindness of a crucified Christ broke to pieces the hearts of them that had before been his betrayers and murderers. Now was there a great mourning in Jerusalem; now was there wailing and lamentation, mixed with joy and rejoicing.
Though Paul was mad, exceeding mad against Jesus Christ of Nazareth, seeking to put out his name from under heaven; yet the voice from heaven, |I am Jesus, I am the Saviour,| how did it conquer him, make him throw down his arms, fall down at Christ's feet, and accept of the forgiveness of sins freely by grace, through redemption by faith in his blood.
How was the sturdy jailer overcome by a promise of forgiveness of sins by faith in Jesus Christ. It stopped his hand of self-murder, it eased him of the gnawings of a guilty conscience and fears of hell-fire, and filled his soul with rejoicing in God.
What shall I say? no man could as yet stand before, and not fall under, the revelation of the forgiveness of sins through a crucified Christ; as hanged, as dying, as accursed for sinners, he draws all men unto him, men of all sorts, of all degrees.
Shall I add, how have men broken through all difficulties to Jesus, when he hath been discovered to them! Neither lions, nor fires, nor sword, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor peril; |neither death nor life; nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers; nor things present, nor things to come; nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.|
I speak by experience: I was one of these verminous ones, one of these great sin-breeders; I infected all the youth of the town where I was born with all manner of youthful vanities. The neighbors counted me so; my practice proved me so: wherefore Christ Jesus took me first, and taking me first, the contagion was much allayed all the town over. When God made me sigh, they would hearken, and inquiringly say, |What is the matter with John?| They also gave their various opinions of me; but, as I said, sin cooled, and failed as to his full career. When I went out to seek the bread of life, some of them would follow, and the rest be put into a muse at home.
When it pleased the Lord to begin to instruct my soul, he found me one of the black sinners of the world; he found me making a sport of oaths, and also of lies; and many a soul-poisoning meal did I make out of divers lusts, as drinking, dancing, etc., with the wicked ones of the world. The Lord finding me in this condition, opened the glass of his law unto me, showing me so clearly my sins -- both the greatness of them, and also how abominable they were in his sight -- that I thought the very clouds were charged with the wrath of God, and ready to let fall the fire of his jealousy upon me; yet for all this I was so wedded to my sins, that I thought with myself, |I will have them, though I lose my soul,| wretch that I was. But God, the great, the rich, the infinitely merciful God, did not take this advantage of my soul to cast me away; but followed me still, arid won my heart by giving me some understanding, not only of my miserable state which I was very sensible of, but also that there might he hopes of mercy; taking away my love to lust, and placing in the room thereof a holy love to religion. Thus the Lord won my heart to some desire to hear the word, to grow a stranger to my old companions, and to accompany the people of God, giving me many sweet encouragements from several promises in the scriptures. But after this, the Lord wonderfully set my sins upon my conscience; those sins especially that I had committed since the first convictions: temptations also followed me very hard; especially such as tended to make me question the way of salvation -- whether Jesus Christ was the Saviour or not, and whether I had best to venture my soul upon him for salvation, or take some other course -- and I continued a year and upwards without any sound evidence as from God to my soul, touching salvation as it comes by Jesus Christ. But at the last, as I may say, when the set time was come, the Lord did set me down blessedly in the truth of the doctrine of Jesus Christ.
About this time the state and happiness of these poor people at Bedford was thus, in a kind of a vision, presented to me. I saw as if they were on the sunny side of some high mountain, there refreshing themselves with the pleasant beams of the sun, whilst I was shivering and shrinking in the cold, afflicted with frost, snow, and dark clouds. Methought also, between me and them I saw a wall that did compass about this mountain. Now, through this mountain my soul did greatly desire to pass; concluding that if I could, I would even go into the very midst of them and there also comfort myself with the heat of their sun.
About this wall I bethought myself to go again and again, still prying as I went, to see if I could find some way or passage by which I might enter therein; but none could I find for some time: at the last, I saw as it were a narrow gap, like a little door-way in the wall, through which I attempted to pass; now the passage being very strait and narrow, I made many offers to get in, but all in vain, even until I was well-nigh quite beat out by striving to get in; at last, with great striving, methought I at first did get in my head, and after that, by a sideling striving, my shoulders and my whole body; then was I exceeding glad, and went and sat down in the midst of them, and so was comforted with the light and heat of their sun.
Now, this mountain and wall, etc., was thus made out to me: the mountain signified the church of the living God; the sun that shone thereon, the comfortable shining of his merciful face on them that were therein; the wall I thought was that which did make separation betwixt the Christians and the world; and the gap which was in the wall, I thought was Jesus Christ, who is the way to God the Father. But forasmuch as the passage was wonderful narrow, even so narrow that I could not but with great difficulty enter in thereat, it showed me that none could enter into life but those that were in downright earnest, and unless also they left that wicked world behind them; for here was only room for body and soul, but not for body and soul and sin.
This resemblance abode upon my spirit many days; all which time I saw myself in a forlorn and sad condition, but yet was provoked to a vehement hunger and desire to be one of that number that did sit in the sunshine; now also would I pray wherever I was, whether at home or abroad, in house or field; and would also often, with lifting up of heart, sing that of the fifty-first Psalm, |O Lord, consider my distress;| for as yet I knew not where I was.
Neither as yet could I attain to any comfortahle persuasion that I had faith in Christ; hut instead of having satisfaction here, I began to find my soul to be assaulted with fresh doubts about my future happiness; especially with such as these: |Whether I was elected;| |But how if the day of grace should be past and gone?|
Now was I in great distress, thinking in very deed that this might well be so: wherefore I went up and down bemoaning my sad condition; counting myself far worse than a thousand fools for standing off thus long, and spending so many years in sin as I had done; still crying out, |O that I had turned sooner! O that I had turned seven years ago!| It made me also angry with myself to think that I should have no more wit but to trifle away my time till my soul and heaven were lost.
But when I had been long vexed with this fear, and was scarce able to take one step more, these words broke in upon my mind: |Compel them to come in, that my house may he filled; and yet there is room.| These words, but especially these, |and yet there is room,| were sweet words to me; for truly I thought that by them I saw there was place enough in heaven for me, and moreover, that when the Lord Jesus spake these words, he did then think of me; and that he knowing that the time would come that I should be afflicted with fear that there was no place left for me in his bosom, did before speak this word and leave it upon record, that I might find help thereby against this vile temptation.
How lovely now in my eyes were all those that I thought to be converted men and women. They shone, they walked like a people that carried the broad seal of heaven about them. Oh, I saw the lot was fallen to them in pleasant places, and they had a goodly heritage. But that which made me sick, was that of Christ in Mark 3:13, |He went up into a mountain, and called unto him whom he would; and they came unto him.| This scripture made me faint and fear, yet it kindled fire in my soul. That which made me fear was this, lest Christ should have no liking to me; for he called |whom he would.| But Oh, the glory that I saw in that condition did still so engage my heart, that I could seldom read of any that Christ did call; but I presently wished, |Would I had been in their clothes; would I had been born Peter; would I had been born John; or would I had been by and had heard him when he called them, how would I have cried, 'O Lord, call me also.'| But Oh, I feared he would not call me.
FEARS ABOUT ELECTION
Before thou canst know whether thou art elected, thou must believe in Jesus Christ so really, that by thy faith there shall be life begotten in thy soul -- life from the condemning of the law; life from the guilt of sin; life over its filth; life also to walk with God in his Son and ways; the life of love to God the Father, to Jesus Christ his Son, to his saints, and to his ways, because they are holy, harmless, and altogether contrary to iniquity.
In young converts, hope and distrust, or a degree of despair, do work and answer one another as doth the noise of the balance of the watch in the pocket. Life and death is always the motion of the mind then; and this noise continues until faith is stronger grown, and until the soul is better acquainted with the methods and ways of God with a sinner. Yea, was but a carnal man in a convert's heart, and could see, he should discern these two, to wit, hope and fear, to have a continual motion in the soul -- wrestling and opposing one another as do light and darkness, in striving for the victory.
And hence it is that you find such people so fickle and uncertain in their spirits; now on the mount, then in the valleys; now in the sunshine, then in the shade; now warm, then frozen; now bonny and blithe, then in a moment pensive and sad, as thinking of a portion nowhere but in hell.
In the general, all the days of our pilgrimage here are evil; yea, every day has a sufficiency of evil in it to destroy the best saint that breatheth, were it not for the grace of God. But there are also particular specious times, times more eminently dangerous and hazardous unto saints. As,
1. There are their young days, the days of their youth and childhood in grace. This day is usually attended with much evil towards him or them that are asking the way to Zion with their faces thitherward. Now the devil has lost a sinner; there is a captive has broke prison, and one run away from his master; now hell seems to be awakened from sleep; the devils are come out, they roar, and roaring they seek to recover their runaway; they tempt him, threaten him, flatter him, stigmatize him, throw dust in his eyes, poison him with errors, spoil him while he is upon the potter's wheel; any thing to keep him from coming to Jesus Christ. And is not this a needy time? Doth not such a one want abundance of grace? Is it not of absolute necessity that thou, if thou art the man thus beset, shouldst ply it at the throne of grace for mercy and grace to keep thee in such a time of need as this?
To want a spirit of prayer now, is as much as thy life is worth. Oh, therefore, you that know what I say, you that are broke loose from hell, that are fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before you, and that do hear the lion roar after you, and that are kept awake with the continual voice of his chinking chain, cry as you fly; yea, the promise is, that they that come to God with weeping, with supplication, he will lead them.
Well, this is one needy time; now thy hedge is low, now thy branch is tender, now thou art but in the bud. Pray that thou be not marred in the potter's hand.