We come to the
Use First. This is a word of reproof to four sorts of persons.
- Sort. Is a word of reproof to those that are so far from wrestling against Satan for this heavenly prize, that they resist the offer of it. Instead of taking heaven by force, they keep it off by force. How long hath the Lord been crying in our streets, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand? how long have gospel offers rung in our ears? and yet to this day many devil-deluded souls furiously drive on towards hell, and will not be persuaded back—who refuse to be called the children of God, and choose rather the devil’s bondage, than the glorious liberty with which Christ would make them free; esteeming the pleasures of sin for a season greater treasures than the riches of heaven. It is storied of Cato, who was Cæsar’s bitter enemy, that when he saw Cæsar prevail, rather than fall into his hand and stand to his mercy, he laid violent hands on himself, which Cæsar hearing of, passionately broke out into these words, ‘O Cato, why didst thou grudge me the honour of saving thy life?’ And do not many walk as if they grudged Christ the honour of saving their souls? What other account can ye give, sinners, of rejecting his grace? Are not heaven and happiness things desirable, and to be preferred before sin and misery? Why then do you not embrace them? Or are they the worse because they come swimming to you in the blood of Christ? O how ill must Christ take it to be thus used, when he comes on such a gracious embassage! May he not say to thee, as once he did to those officers sent to attach him, ‘Be ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves?’ If he be a thief, it is only in this, that he would steal your sins from you, and leave heaven in the room. O, for the love of God, think what you do; it is eternal life you put away from you, in doing of which, you judge yourselves unworthy of it, Acts 13:46.
- Sort. It reproves those who are Satan’s instruments to rob souls of what is heavenly. Among thieves there are some ye call setters, who inquire where a booty is to be had; which, when they have found, and know [that] such a one travels with a charge about him, then they employ some other to rob him, and are themselves not seen in the business. The devil is the grand setter, he observes the Christian how he walks—what place and company he frequents, what grace or heavenly treasure he carries in his bosom—which, when he hath done, he hath his instruments for the purpose to execute his design. Thus he considered the admirable graces of Job, and casts about how he might best rob him of his heavenly treasure. And who but his wife and friends must do this for him?—well knowing that his tale would receive credit from their mouths. O friends, ask your consciences whether you have not done the devil some service of this kind in your days. Possibly you have a child or servant who once looked heavenward, but your brow-beating of them scared them back, and now, may be, they are as carnal as you would have them. Or possibly thy wife, before acquainted with thee, was full of life in the ways of God, but since she hath been transplanted into thy cold soil, what by thy frothy speeches and unsavoury conversation, at best thy worldliness and formality, she is now both decayed in her graces and a loser in her comforts. O man, what an indictment will be brought against thee for this at God’s bar? You would come off better were it for robbing one of his money and jewels, than of his grace and comforts.
- Sort. It reproves the woeful negligence [which] most show in labouring for this heavenly prize. None but would be glad their souls might be saved at last; but where is the man or woman that makes it appear by their vigorous endeavour that they mean in earnest? What warlike preparation do they make against Satan, who lies between them and home? where are their arms? where their skill to use them, their resolution to stand to them, and unconscionable care to exercise themselves daily in the use of them? Alas, this is a rarity indeed, not to be found in every house where the profession of religion is hanged out at the door. If woulding and wishing will bring them to heaven, then they may come thither; but as for this wrestling and fighting, this making religion our business, they are as far from these as at last they are like to be from heaven. They are of his mind in Tully, who in a summer’s day, as he lay lazing himself on the grass, would say, ‘O that this were to work that I would lie here and do my day labour. Thus many melt and waste their lives in sloth, and say in their hearts, ‘O that this were the way to heaven!’ but will use no means to furnish themselves with grace for such an enterprise. I have read of a great prince in Germany, invaded by a more potent enemy than himself, yet from his friends and allies, who flocked in to his help, he soon had a goodly army, but had no money, as he said, to pay them; but the truth is, he was loath to part with it, for which some in discontent went away, others did not vigorously attend his business, and so he was soon beaten out of his kingdom, and his coffers, when his palace was rifled, were found thracke with treasure. Thus he was ruined, as some sick men die because unwilling to be at cost to pay the physician. It will add to the misery of damned souls, when they shall have leisure enough to consider what they have lost in losing God, to remember what means, offers, and talents they once had towards the obtaining of everlasting life, but had not a heart to use them.
- Sort. It reproves those who make a great bustle and noise in religion, who are forward in profession—very busy to meddle with the strictest duties, as if heaven had monopolized their whole hearts; but like the eagle, when they tower highest, their prey is below, where their eye is also. Such a generation there ever was and will be—that mingle themselves with the saints of God—who pretend heaven, and have their outward garb faced and fringed, as it were, with heavenly speeches and duties, while their hearts are lined with hypocrisy—whereby they deceive others, but most of all themselves. Such may be the world’s saints, but [they are] devils in Christ’s account. ‘Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil!’ And truly of all devils, none so bad as the professing devil, the preaching, praying devil. O sirs, be plain-hearted. Religion is as tender as your eye, it will not be jested with. Remember the vengeance which fell on Belshazzar, while he caroused in the bowls of the sanctuary. Religion and the duties of it are consecrated things, not made for thee to drink thy lusts out of. God hath remarkably appeared in discovering and confounding such as have prostituted sacred things to worldly ends. Jezebel fasts and prays, the better to devour Naboth’s vineyard, but was devoured by it. Absalom was as sick till he had ravished his father’s crown, as his brother Amnon, till he had done the like to his sister, and to hide his treason he puts on a religious cloak, and therefore begs leave to go and pay his vow in Hebron, when he had another game in chase; and did he not fall by the hand of his hypocrisy? Of all men their judgement is endorsed with most speed, who silver over worldly or wicked enterprises with heavenly semblances. Of this gang were those concerning whom the apostle saith, ‘their damnation slumbereth not,’ II Peter 2:3; and those to whom God saith, ‘I the Lord will answer him by myself, and I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the Lord,’ Eze. 14:7,8.