The Best of Saints Subject to Decline in Their Graces, and Why We Are to Seek a Recovery of Them
The second observable in the exhortation is taken from the verb which the apostle useth, which signifies not only to take, but to take again, or recover a thing which we have lost, or reassume a thing which for the present we have left. Now the apostle—writing to the saints at Ephesus, who, at least many of them, were not now to put on this armour by a conversion—or the first work of faith, which no doubt had already passed upon many among them —he, in regard of them and believers to the end of the world, hath a further meaning; that is, that they would put on more close where this armour hangs loose, and [that] they would recover, where they had let fall any duty, or decayed in any grace. So that the note is,
Third. The Christian wrongs himself in not endeavouring to repair his broken armour, and [to] recover his declining grace. By this he loses the evidence of his inheritance, at least so blots it that it cannot be so clearly perceived by him. A declining Christian must needs be a doubting Christian, because the common symptom of a hypocrite is to wear and waste, like a stake set in the ground, which rots, while true grace like the tree grows. Is not this the knot which the devil poseth many poor souls withal, and finds them work for many years to untie? If thou wert a Christian thou wouldst grow. Right saints go from strength to strength, and thou goest from strength to weakness. They go up the hill to Zion —every ordinance and providence is a step that bears him nearer heaven—but thou goest down the hill, and art farther from thy salvation than when thou didst first believe, as thou thoughtest. And doth it stand with thy wisdom, Christian, to put a staff into the devil’s hand, an argument into his mouth, to dispute against thy salvation with? If you held an estate by the life of a child, which upon the death of it should all go away from you, that child, I warrant you, should be well looked unto; his head should not ache, but you would post to the physician for counsel. I pray what is your evidence for that glorious estate you hope for? Is it not Christ within you? Is not this new creature—which may well be called Christ for its likeness to him—the young heir of heaven’s glory? and when that is sick or weak, is it not time to use all means for its recovery? Whilst thus, thou canst neither live nor die comfortably. Not live! a man in a consumption has little joy of his life; he neither finds sweetness in his meat, nor delight in his work, as a healthful man doth. O how sweet is the promise to faith, when active and vigorous! how easy the yoke of the command to the Christian, when his conscience is not galled with guilt, nor his strength enfeebled by temptation! But the Christian in a declining condition, he tastes not the promise, every command is grievous, and every duty burdensome to him; he goes in pain like one whose foot is out of joint, though the way be never so pleasant. And he is as unfit to die as he is to live. Such a one can like no more to hear the news of death, than a tenant that wants his rent doth to hear the quarter day. This made David beg time of God. ‘O spare me a little, that I may recover strength.’
Having shown you why the Christian should endeavour to recover his declining graces, it will be very requisite to give a word of counsel to the Christian.
First. A word of counsel to direct him how to judge of the declining state of grace, that he may not pass a false judgment upon himself therein.
Second. A word of counsel to direct him, when he finds grace to be in a declination, how he may recover it.
Doctrine. That the Christian should have an especial care to repair his broken armour—to recover his decaying graces. This armour may be battered—I might show sad examples in the several pieces. Was not Jacob’s girdle of truth and sincerity unbuckled, when he used that sinful policy to get the blessing? He was not the plain man then, but the supplanter, but he had as good have stayed God’s time—he was paid home in his own kind. He puts a cheat on his father; and did not Laban put a cheat on him, giving Leah for Rachel? What say you to David’s breast-plate of righteousness in the matter of Uriah? was it not shot through, and that holy man fearfully wounded—who lays almost a year, for aught we read of him, before he came to himself, so far as to be thoroughly sensible of his sin, till Nathan, a faithful chirurgeon, was sent to search the wound, and clear it of the dead flesh which had grown over it? And Jonah, otherwise a holy prophet, when God would send him on an errand to Nineveh, he hath his shoes to seek, I mean that preparation and readiness with which his mind should have been shod, to have gone at the first call. Good Hezekiah, we find how near his helmet of hope was of being beaten off his head, who tells us himself what his thoughts were in the day of his distress, that he should ‘not see the Lord in the land of the living,’ expecting that God would never let go his hold, till like a lion he had broke his bones, and at last made an end of him. Even Abraham himself, famous for faith, had yet his fits of unbelief and distrustful qualms coming over his valiant heart. Now in this case the Christian’s care should be to get his armour speedily repaired. A battered helmet is next to no helmet in point of present use. Grace in a decay is like a man pulled off his legs by sickness; if some means be not used to recover it, little service will be done by it, or comfort received from it. Therefore Christ gives this church of Ephesus, to whom Paul wrote this epistle, this counsel, ‘to remember from whence she has fallen, to repent and do her first works.’ How many does a declining Christian wrong at once?
First. He wrongs God, and that in a high degree, because reckons upon more honour to be paid him in, by his saints’ grace, than by all other talents which his creatures have to trade with in the world. He can in some sense better bear the open sins of the world, than the decays of his saints’ graces. They by abusing their talents, rob him but of his oil, flax, and wool; but the Christian, by the other, bereaves him of the glory which should be paid him from his faith, zeal, patience, self-denial, sincerity, and the rest. Suppose a master should trust one servant with his money, and another with his child to be looked to; would he not be more displeased to see his dear child hurt, or almost killed by the negligence of the one, than his money stolen by the carelessness of the other? Grace is the new creature—the birth of the Spirit; when this comes to any harm by the Christian’s careless walking, it must needs go nearer the heart of God, than the wrong he hath from the world, who are trusted with nothing like this.
Second. He that declines in grace, and labours not to repair it, wrongs his brethren, who have a share in one another’s grace. He wrongs his whole body that seeks not a cure for a wound in any member. We are bid to ‘love one another,’ II John 5; but how shall we show our love to one another? The very next words will direct us. ‘And this is love, that we walk after his commandments,’ ver. 6. Indeed we show little love to our brethren by sinning, whereby we are sure either to ensnare them or grieve them; and how to let grace go down and sin not go up, is [a] riddle to any that know what they both are.