« السابقةمتابعة »
And that this is his will for all his servants, he hath declared in that comfortable promise, (which also I have found so full of sweetness, that I value it above all the riches of the world,) "If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour." (John xii. 26.) The Spirit of Christ within you, is the earnest of all this: Be assured of your faith, and hope, and love, and you may be assured to possess the good believed, and hoped for, and loved. "The incorruptible seed, which liveth and abideth for ever," of which you are new born, (1 Peter i. 23,) doth tend to the "incorruptible crown, (1 Peter v. 4,) even the "crown of righteousness, which the righteous Judge will give to all that love his appearing." (2 Tim. iv. 8.) "And so shall we ever be with the Lord," as the apostle comfortably speaks, 1 Thess. iv. 17, and seasonably annexeth the use of such a cordial, "Wherefore comfort one another with these words." (ver. 18.)
Whether we are to die by the decay of nature, or by the storm of any violent disease, or by the hand of persecutors, or any other instruments of Satan, the difference is small : they are but several ways of landing at the shore of happiness, which we were making towards, through all the duties and difficulties of our lives. May we by any death be sent to Christ, let them domineer awhile that stay behind, and are conquerors and happy in their dream; we shall neither miss nor desire their felicity. May I die assured of the love of God, how little regardable is it, whether I be poor or rich till then; or in what manner death shall do its execution? And how little cause have blessed souls to envy them that are left on earth, in a quiet and prosperous passage to dam
And what an ease and pleasure is this to a man's mind through all his life, to be able, with well-grounded comfort, to think of death! What cares can vex him that hath secured his everlasting state? What losses should afflict him that is sure he shall not lose his soul, and is sure to gain eternal life? What fears should disquiet him that is sure to escape the wrath of God? What wants should trouble him that knoweth he is an heir of heaven? Why should the indignation or threatenings of man, be any temptation to turn him out of the way of duty, or dismay his mind,
who knoweth that they can but "kill the body," and dismiss the soul into his blessed presence, whom it loveth, and laboureth and longs to see? What should inordinately grieve that man that is certain of eternal joy? What else should he thirst for, that hath "in him the well of living waters, springing up to everlasting life?" (John iv. 14.) And what should deprive that man of comfort, that knoweth he hath the Comforter within him, and shall be for ever comforted with his master's joy? And what should break the peace and patience of him that is assured of everlasting rest? If the assurance of a happy death cannot make it welcome, and cannot make affliction easy, and fill our lives with the joys of hope, I know not what can do it.
But, alas for those poor souls that know not whither death will send them, or at least have not good grounds of hope; what wonder if " through the fear of death they be all their lifetime subject to bondage!" (Heb. ii. 15.) Methinks in the midst of their wealth and pleasure, they should not be so stupid as to forget the millions that are gone before them, that lately were as jovial and secure as they; and how short their dreaming feast will be. Methinks all the beauty of their fleshly idols should be blasted with those nipping frosts and storms, that in their serious forethoughts come in upon them, from the black and dreadful regions of death! Methinks at any time it should damp their mirth, and allay the ebullition of their frenetic blood, to remember, For all this I must die,' and it may be " this night, that the fool must deliver up his soul; and then, whose shall those things be which he hath provided!" (Luke xii. 19, 20.) Then who shall be the lord, and who the knight or gentleman? And who shall wear the gay attire? and who shall domineer, and say, 'Our will shall be done, and thus we will have it?' Then where is the pleasure of lust, and merry company, and meat, drink, and sports? Methinks, Solomon's memento, (Eccles. xi.9,) should bring them to themselves. Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment." And as the sound of these words I must shortly die,' methinks should be always in your ears; so in reason, the question Whither I must then go,' should be always as it were before your eyes, till your
souls have received a satisfactory answer to it. O what an amazing dreadful thing it is, when an unsanctified, unprepared soul must say, I must depart from earth, but I know not whither! I know not whether unto heaven or hell; here I am now, but where must I be for ever!' When men believe that their next habitation must be everlasting, methinks the question, Whither must I go?' should be day and night upon their minds, till they can say upon good grounds, 'I shall go to the blessed presence of the Lord:' O had you but the hearts of men within you, methinks the sense of this one question, Whither must I go when I leave the flesh?' should so possess you, that it should give your souls no rest till you are able to say, We shall be with Christ, because he dwelleth in us here, and hath sealed us and given us the earnest of his Spirit; or at least, till you have good hopes of this, and have done your best to make it sure.
And thus I have told you of how great importance it is to believers, to attain assurance of the love of God, and to know that Christ abideth in them. And now I think you will confess, I have proved the necessity of Self-knowledge, both to the unregenerate and the regenerate, though in se-. veral degrees: and having opened the disease, and shewed you the need of a remedy, I am next to direct you in the application for the cure.
I doubt not but there are many of the hearers, that by this time, are desirous to be instructed, how this self-knowledge may be attained: for whose satisfaction, and for the reducing of all that hath been spoken into practice, I shall next acquaint you with the hindrances of self-knowledge (the removing of them being not the least point in the cure), and with the positive directions to be practised for the attainment of it. And because the hindrances and helps are contrary, I shall open both together as we go on.
The hindrances of self-knowledge are some of them without us, and some within us; and so must be the helps. I. The external hindrances are these.
1. The failing of ministers in their part of the work, through unskilfulness or unfaithfulness, is a great cause that so many are ignorant of themselves. They are the lights of the world; and if they are eclipsed, or put under a bushel; if they are darkened by the snuff of their own cor
ruptions; or if they feed not their light by the oil of diligent studies, and other endeavours; or if they will not go along with men into the dark and unknown corners of the heart, what wonder if men's hearts remain in darkness, when those that by office are appointed to afford them light, do fail them? It is not a general dull discourse, or critical observations upon words, or the subtle decision of some nice and curious questions of the schools, (though these may be useful to their proper ends,) nor is it a neat and well-composed speech, about some other distant matters, that is likely to acquaint a sinner with himself. How many sermons may we hear (that to other ends are not unprofitable) that are levelled at some mark or other, that is very far from the hearers' hearts, and therefore are never likely to convince them, or prick them, or open and convert them? And if our congregations were in such a case, as that they needed no closer quickening work, such preaching might be borne with and commended; but when so many usually sit before us, that must shortly die, and are unprepared, and that are condemned by the law of God, and must be pardoned or finally condemned; that must be saved from their sins, that they may be saved from everlasting misery, I think it is time for us to talk to them of such things as most concern them; and that in such a manner as may most effectually convince, awake, and change them. When we come to them on their sick-beds, we talk not then to them of distant or impertinent things: of words, or forms, or parties, or by-opinions; but of the state of their souls, and their appearing before the Lord, and how they may be ready, that death may be both safe and comfortable to them: (though a superstitious miserable fellow, that knoweth no better things himself, may talk to the sick of beads, and relics, and of being on this side or that, for this ceremony or the other, and may think to conjure the unholy spirit out of him, by some affected words of devotions, uttered from a graceless, senseless heart; or to command him out by Papal authority, as if they would charm his soul to heaven, by saying over some lifeless forms, and using the Gospel as a spell: yet ministers indeed, that know themselves what faith and what repentance is, and what it is to be regenerate, and to be prepared to die, do know that they have other work to do.) The Gospel offereth men their choice, whether they
will have holiness or sin; and to be ruled by Christ, or by their fleshly lusts; and so whether they will have spiritual, or carnal, eternal, or transitory joys. And our work is to persuade them to make that choice which will be their happiness if we can prevail, and which eternal joy depends upon; whether we come to them in sickness or in health, this is our business with them. A man that is ready to be drowned, is not at leisure for a song or dance: and a man that is ready to be damned, methinks should not find himself at leisure to hear a man shew his wit and reading only, if not his folly and malice against a life of holiness: nor should you think that suitable to such men's case, that doth not evidently tend to save them. But, alas, how often have we heard such sermons, as tend more to diversion than direction, to fill their minds with other matters, and find men something else to think on, lest they should study themselves, and know their misery! And whereas there may be so much ingenuity in the sinner, as to perceive that the discourse of idle tongues, or the reading of a romance is unsuitable to one in his condition; and therefore will not, by such toys as these, be called off from the consideration of his ways. A preacher that seems to speak religiously, by a sapless, dry, impertinent discourse, that is called a sermon, may more plausibly and easily divert him: and his conscience will more quietly suffer him to be taken off the necessary care of his salvation, by something that is like it, and pretends to do the work as well, than by the grosser avocations, or the scorns of fools: and he will more tamely be turned from religion, by something that is called religion, and which he hopes may serve the turn, than by open wickedness, or impious defiance of God and reason. But how oft do we hear applauded sermons, which force us, in compassion to men's souls, to think, O what is all this to the opening a sinner's heart unto himself, and shewing him his unregenerate state! What is this to the conviction of a selfdeluding soul, that is passing unto hell with the confident expectations of heaven! To the opening of men's eyes, and turning them from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God! What is this to shew men their undone condition, and the absolute necessity of Christ, and of renewing grace! What is in this to lead men up from earth to heaven, and to acquaint them with the unseen world, and