[A twofold caution.]
- Caution. To the sincere Christian. May there be found a kind of uprightness among men that are carnal and destitute of God’s sanctifying grace? O then look you to it, in whose hearts dwells the Spirit of grace, that you be not put to shame by those that are graceless, which you must needs be when you are taken tardy in those things that they cannot be charged for. Many among them there are, that scorn to lie. Shall a saint be taken in an untruth? Their moral principles bind them over to the peace, and will not suffer them to wrong their neighbour; and can cheating, over-reaching oppression follow a saint’s hand? Except your righteousness exceeds their best, you are not Christians. And can you let them exceed you in those things, which, when they are done, leave them short of Christ and heaven? It is time for the scholar to throw off his gown, and disclaim the name of an academic, when every school-boy is able to dunce and pose him; and for him also to lay aside his profession, and let the world know what he is, yea, what he never was, who can let a mere civil man, with his weak bow only backed with moral principles, outshoot him that pretends to Christ and his grace. I confess it sometimes so falls out, that a saint under a temptation may be outstripped by one that is carnal in a particular case; as a lackey, that is an excellent footman, may, from some prick or present lameness in his foot, be left behind by one that at another time should not be able to come near him. We have too many sorrowful examples of moral men’s outstripping even a saint at a time, when under a temptation. A notable passage we meet with concerning Abimelech’s speech to Sarah, after her dissembling and equivocating speech, that Abraham was her brother. ‘And unto Sarah he said’—that is, Abimelech said to her—‘Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that are with thee, and with all other,’ Gen. 20:16. Now mark the words which follow. ‘Thus she was reproved.’ How? where lies the reproof. Here are none but good words, and money to boot also. He promiseth protection to her and Abraham—none should wrong him in wronging her—and tells her what he had freely given Abraham. Well, for all this, we shall find sharp reproof, though lapped up in these sweet words, and silvered over with his thousand pieces. First. She was reproved by the uprightness of Abimelech in that business wherein she had sinfully dissembled. That he who was a stranger to the true God and his worship, should be so square and honest, as to deliver her up untouched, when once he knew her to be another man’s wife, and not only so, but instead of falling into a passion of anger, and taking up thoughts of revenge against them, for putting this cheat upon him—which, having them under his power, had not been strange for a prince, to have done—for him to forget all this, and rather show such kindness and high bounty to them, this must needs send a sharp reproof home to Sarah’s heart. Especially it must, considering that he a heathen did all this; and she—one called to the knowledge of God, in covenant with God, and the wife of a prophet—was so poor-spirited, as, for fear of a danger which only her husband, and that without any great ground, surmised, to commit two sins at one clap—dissemble, and also hazard the loss of her chastity. The less of the two was worse than the thing they were so afraid of. These things, I say, laid together, amounted to such a reproof, as no doubt made her, and Abraham too, heartily ashamed before God and man. Again, Abimelech in calling Abraham her ‘brother,’ not her husband, did give her a smart rebuke, putting her in mind how with that word he had been deceived by them. Thus godly Sarah was reproved by a profane king. O Christians, take heed of putting words into the mouths of wicked men to reprove you withal! They cannot reprove you, but they reproach God. Christ is put to shame with you and by you. For the good name’s sake of Christ —which cannot but be dearer to you, if saints, than your lives—look to your walking, and especially to your civil converse with the men of the world. They know not what you do in your closet, care not what you are in the congregation, they judge you by what you are when they have to do with you. As they find you in your shop, bargains, promises, and such like, so they think of you and your profession. Labour therefore for this uprightness to man; by this you may win some, and judge others. Better vex the wicked world with strict walking, as Lot did the Sodomites, than set them on work to mock, and reproach thee and thy profession by any scandal, as David did by his sad fall. They that will not follow the light of thy holiness, will soon spy the thief in thy candle, and point at it.
2. Caution. The second word of caution is to those that are morally upright and no more. Take heed this uprightness proves not a snare to thee, and keeps thee from getting evangelical uprightness. I am sure it was so to the young man in the gospel. In all likelihood he might have been better, had he not been so good. His honesty and moral uprightness were his undoing, or rather his conceit of them, to castle himself in them. Better he had been a publican, driven to Christ in the sense of his sin, than a Pharisee kept from him with an opinion of his integrity. These, these are the weeds, with which, many, thinking to save themselves by them, keep themselves under water to their perdition. ‘There is more hope of a fool,’ Solomon tells us, ‘than of one wise in his own conceit;’ and of the greatest sinner, than of one conceited of his righteousness. If once the disease take the brain, the cure must needs be the more difficult. No offering Christ to one in this frenzy. Art thou one kept from these unrighteous ways wherein others walk? May be thou art honest and upright in thy course, and scornest to be found false in any of thy dealings. Bless God for it; but take heed of blessing thyself in it. There is the danger. This is one way of being ‘righteous overmuch’—a dangerous pit, of which Solomon warns all that travel in heaven road, Ecc. 7:16. There is undoing in this overdoing, as well as in any underdoing. For so it follows in the same verse, ‘why shouldst thou destroy thyself?’ Thou art not, proud man, so fair for heaven as thou flatterest thyself. A man upon the top of one hill may seem very nigh to the top of another, and yet can never come there, except he comes down from that where he is. The mount of thy civil righteousness and moral uprightness, on which thou standest so confidently, seems perhaps level in thy proud eye to God’s holy hill in heaven; yea, so nigh that thou thinkest to step over from one to the other with ease. But let me tell thee, it is too great a stride for thee to take. Thy safer way and nearer, were to come down from thy mountain of self-confidence—where Satan hath set thee on a design to break thy neck—and to go thy ordinary road, in which all that ever got heaven went. And that way is just by labouring to get an interest in Christ and his righteousness—which is provided on purpose for the creature to wrap up his naked soul in, and to place his faith on; and thus thy uprightness, which before was but of the same form with the heathen’s moral honesty, may commence, or rather be baptized Christian, and become evangelical grace. But let me tell thee this before I dismiss thee, that thou canst not lay hold of Christ’s righteousness till thou hast let fall the lie—thy own righteousness —which hitherto thou hast held so fast in thy right hand. When Christ called the ‘blind man’ to him, it is said that ‘He, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus,’ Mark 10:50. Do thou so, and then come and welcome.