Use Third. This truth calls for a word or two of caution. Though there is no fear of a saint’s falling from grace, yet there is great danger of others falling from the top of this comfortable doctrine into a careless security and presumptuous boldness; and therefore a battlement is very necessary, that from it we may, with safety to our souls, stand and view the pleasant prospect this truth presents to our eye. That flower from which the bee sucks honey, the spider draws poison. That which is a restorative to the saint’s grace, proves an incentive to the lust of a wicked man. What Paul said of the law we may truly of the gospel. Sin taking occasion from the grace of the gospel, and the sweet promises thereof, deceives the carnal heart, and works in him all manner of wickedness. Indeed sin seldom grows so rank anywhere as in those who water its roots with the grace of the gospel. Two ways this doctrine may be abused. 1. It may be into a neglect of duty. 2. Into a liberty to sin. Take heed of both.
- Take heed of falling into a neglect of duty upon this score—if a Christian, thou canst not fall away from grace. Take for an attitude against this, three particulars.
(1.) There are other arguments to invite, yea, that will constrain thee to a constant vigorous performing of duty, though the fear of falling away should not come in, or else thou art not a Christian. What! nothing make the child diligent about his father’s business but fear of being disinherited and turned out of doors! There is sure some better motive to duty in a saint’s heart, or else religion is a melancholy work. Speak for yourselves, O ye saints! Is self-preservation all you pray for, and hear for? Should a messenger come from heaven and tell you heaven were yours, would this make you give over your spiritual trade, and not care whether you had any more acquaintance with God till you came thither? O how harsh doth this sound in your ears! There are such principles engraven in the Christian’s bosom, that will not suffer a strangeness long to grow betwixt God and him. He is under the law of a new life, which carries him [as] naturally to desire communion with God, as the child doth to see the face of his dear father; and every duty is a mount wherein God presents himself to be seen and enjoyed by the Christian.
(2.) To neglect duty upon such a persuasion, is contrary to Christ’s practice and counsel. (a) His practice. Though Christ never doubted of his Father’s love, nor questioned the happy issue of all his temptations, agonies, and sufferings, yet he prays, and prays again most earnestly, Luke 22:44. (b) His counsel and command. He told Peter, that Satan had begged leave to have them to sift them, but withal he comforts him—who was to be hardest put to it—with this, ‘But I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.’ Sure our Saviour by this provision made for him and the rest, means to save them a labour that they need not watch or pray. No such matter. After this, as you may see, ver. 40, he calls them up to duty—‘pray that ye enter not into temptation.’ Christ’s praying for them was to strengthen their faith, when they should themselves pray for the same mercy; not to nourish their sloth that they needed not to pray, Christ’s prayers in heaven for his saints are all heard already, but the return of them is reserved to be enclosed in the answer God sends to their own prayers. The Christian cannot in faith expect to receive the mercies Christ prays for in heaven, so long as he lives in the neglect of his duty on earth. They stand ready against he shall call for them by the prayer of faith, and if they be not worth sending this messenger to heaven, truly they are worth little.
(3.) Consider, that although the Christian may be secured from a total and final apostasy, yet he may fall sadly to the bruising of his conscience, [the] enfeebling [of] his grace, and the reproach of the gospel, which sure are enough to keep the Christian upon his watch, and the more, because, ordinarily, the saints’ backslidings begin in their duties. As it is with tradesmen in the world —they first grow careless of their business, [are] often out of their shop, and then they go behind-hand in their estates—so here [Christians are] first remiss in a duty, and then fall into a decay of their graces and comforts, yea, sometimes into was that are scandalous. A stuff loseth its gloss before it wears; the Christian, the lustre of his grace in the lively exercise of duty, and then the strength of it.
- Take heed of abusing this doctrine into a liberty to sin.Shall we sin, because grace abounds?—grow loose, because we have God fast bound in his promise? —God forbid! none but a devil would teach us this logic. It was a great height of sin those wretched Jews came to, who would quaff and carouse it while death looked in upon them at the windows: ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.’ They discovered their atheism therein. But what a prodigious stature in sin must that man be grown to, that can sin under the protection of the promise, and draw his encouragement to sin from the everlasting love of God? Let us eat and drink, for we are sure to live and be saved. Grace cannot dwell in that heart, which draws such a cursed conclusion from the premises of God’s grace. The saints have not so learned Christ. The inference the apostle makes from the sweet privileges we enjoy in the covenant of grace, is not to wallow in sin, but having these promises, to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, II Cor. 7:1. It is the nature of faith—the grace that trades with promises—to purify the heart. Now the more certain report faith brings of God’s love from the promise to the soul, the more it purifies the heart, because love by which faith works, is thereby more inflamed to God, and if once this affection takes fire, the room becomes too hot to stay there.