Here is the necessity of divine armour to persevere till we have done all. Wherefore else bids he them to take this armour for this end, if they could do it without?
Doctrine. There can be no perseverance without true grace in the heart. A soul void of divine armour cannot persevere. What this divine armour is, I have shown, and the apostle here doth, in the several pieces of it. The sanctifying graces of God’s Spirit are this armour. One that hath not these wrought in him, will never hold out to pass all the stages of this Christian race, to fight all the battles that are to be fought before victory is to be had. Common gifts of the Spirit, such as illumination, conviction, sudden pangs, and flushing heats of affection, may carry out the creature for a while with a goodly appearance of zeal for God and forwardness in profession, but the strength these afford is soon spent. John’s hearers, mentioned in John 5:35, got some light and heat by sitting under his burning ministry, but how long did it last? ‘Ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.’ They were very beautiful colours that were drawn on them, but [they were] not laid in oil, and therefore [were] soon washed off again. The foolish virgins made as great a blaze with their lamps, and did expect as good a day when Christ should come, as the wise virgins; but, alas, their lamps are out before he appeared, and as good never a whit, as never the better. The stony ground [was] more forward than the best soil. The seed comes up immediately, as if a crop should soon have been reaped, but a few nipping frosts turn its hue, and the day of harvest proves a day of desperate sorrow. All these instances, and many more in Scripture, do evince, that nothing short of solid grace, and a principle of divine life in the soul, will persevere. How forward soever formalists and flighty professors are to promise themselves hopes of reaching heaven, they will find it too long a step for their short-breathed souls to attain. The reasons are the following:
Reason First. Such want a principle of divine life to draw strength from Christ to persevere them in their course. That by which the gracious soul itself perseveres, is the continual supply it receives from Christ, as the arm and foot is kept alive in the body by those vital spirits which they receive from the heart. ‘I live,’ saith Paul, ‘yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,’ that is, I live but at Christ’s cost. He holds, as my soul, so [also] my grace in life. Now the carnal person wanting this union, must needs waste and consume in time. He hath no root to stand on. A carcass, when once it begins to rot, never recovers; but every day grows worse, till it runs all into putrefaction. No salve or plaster will do it good. But where there is a principle of life, there when a member is wounded, nature sends supplies of spirits, and helps to work with the salve for a cure. There is the same difference between a gracious person and an ungracious. See them opposed in this respect: the righteous man ‘falleth seven times’ a day, and ‘riseth,’ but the wicked ‘falleth into mischief,’ Prov. 24:16; that is, in falling, he falls farther, and hath no power to recover himself. When Cain sinned, see how he falls farther and farther like a stone down a hill, and never stays till he comes to the bottom of despair;—from envying his brother, to malice, from malice to murder, from murder to impudent lying and brazen-faced boldness to God himself, and from that to despair; so true is that, ‘Evil men shall wax worse and worse,’ II Tim. 3:13. But now when a saint falls, he riseth, because when he falls he hath a principle of life to cry out to Christ, and such an interest in Christ as stirs him up to help. ‘Lord, save me,’ said Peter, when he began to sink, and presently Christ’s hand is put forth; he chides him for his unbelief, but he helps him.
Reason Second. An unregenerate soul hath no assurance for the continuance of those common gifts of the Spirit he hath at present; they come on the same terms that temporal enjoyments do to such a one. A carnal person, when he hath his table most sumptuously spread, cannot show any word of promise under God’s hand that he shall be provided for the next meal. God gives these things to the wicked, as we a crust or a night’s lodging to a beggar in our barn. It is our bounty, such a one could not sue us for denying the same. So in the common gifts of the Spirit, God was not bound to give them, nor is he to continue them. Thou hast some knowledge of the things of God; thou mayest for all this die without knowledge at last. Thou art a sinner in chains—restraining grace keeps thee in, [but] this may be taken off, and thou let loose to thy lusts as freely as ever. And how can he persevere that in one day may from praying fall to cursing, from [having] a whining complaining conscience, come to have a seared conscience?
Reason Third. Every unregenerate man, when most busy with profession, hath those engagements lying upon him, that will necessarily, when put to it, take him off one time or other. One is engaged to the world, and when he can come to a good market for that, then he goes away. He cannot have both, and now he will make it appear which he loved best. Demas hath forsaken us, and embraced this present world. Another is a slave to his lust, and when this calls him he must go, in spite of profession, conscience, God and all. Herod feared John, and did many things; but love is stronger than fear, his love to Herodias overcomes his fear of John, and makes him cut off at once the head of John, and the hopeful buddings which appeared in the tenderness of his conscience, and begun reformation. One root of bitterness or other will spring up in such a one. If the complexion of the soul be profane, it will at last come to it, however for a while there may some religious colour appear in the man’s face, from some other external cause.
This shows us what is the root of all final apostasy, and that is a want of a thorough change of the heart. The apostate doth not lose the grace he had, but discovers he never had any; and it is no wonder to hear that he proves bankrupt, that was worse than nought when he first set up. Many take up their saintship upon trust, and trade in the duties of religion with the credit they have gained from others’ opinion of them. They believe themselves to be Christians, because others hope them to be such, and so their great business is by a zeal in those exercises of religion that lie outmost, to keep up the credit which they have abroad, but do not look to get a stock of solid grace within, which should maintain them in their profession; and this proves their undoing at last. Let it therefore make us in the fear of God, to consider upon what score we take up our profession. Is there that within which bears proportion to our outward zeal? Have we laid a good bottom? Is not the superstructure top-heavy, jetting too far beyond the weak foundation? They say, trees shoot as much in the root underground as in the branches above, and so doth true grace. O remember what was the perishing of the seed in the stony ground. It lacked root; and why so but because it was stony? Be willing the plough should go deep enough to humble thee for sin, and rend thy heart from sin. The soul effectually brought out of the love of sin as sin, will never be thorough friends with it again. In a word, be serious to find out the great spring that sets all thy wheels on motion in thy religious trade. Do as men that would know how much they are worth, who set what they owe on one side, and what stock they have on the other, and then when they have laid out enough to discharge all debts and engagements, what remains to themselves they may call their own. Thus do they consider what thou standest engaged to, thy worldly credit, profit, slavish fear of God, and selfish desire of happiness, and when thou hast allowed for all these, see then what remains of thy fear of God, love to God, &c. If nothing, thou art nought; if any, the less there be the weaker Christian thou art; and when thou comest to be tried in God’s fire, thou wilt suffer loss of all other, which, as ‘hay’ and ‘stubble’ will be burned up.