It remains that the point be applied in its several branches, which are three, viz. sincerity has a preserving strength, a restoring strength, and a comforting strength. But for quick despatch we shall do it under two heads, clapping the two former into one.
Use First. Therefore, sincerity hath a strengthening virtue, whereby it either preserves the soul from falling into sin, or helps the Christian fallen to rise again.
- This affords thee, Christian, a further discovery of thy heart, whether sincere or not. Put it here upon the trial. Dost thou find a power imparted to thee, whereby thou art enabled to repel a temptation to sin, when thou hast no weapon left thee to defend thee against it, but the command forbidding it, or some arrow taken out of the quiver of the gospel, such as the love of Christ to thee, thy love to him, and the like? May be the temptation is laid so cunningly, that thou mayest sin, and save thy credit too, having a backdoor opened to let thee in to it secretly. Thou shalt hazard nothing, apparently, of thy temporal concernment; yea, rather greatly advantage it, if thou wilt hearken to the motion. Only, God stands up to oppose it. His Spirit tells thee it is against his glory, inconsistent with the duty thou owest and the love thou professest to him. Now, speak what thou thinkest of sinning, the case being thus stated. Canst thou yet stand it out valiantly, and tell Satan sin is no match for thee, till thou canst have God’s consent, and reconcile sinning against him and loving of him together? If so, bless God that hath given thee a sincere heart, and hath also opened such a window as his in thy soul, through which thou mayest see that grace to be there, which seen, is the best evidence that God can give thee for thy interest in him, and life everlasting with him. Wert thou a hypocrite, thou couldst no more resist a sin so offered, than powder fire, or chaff the wind.
2. Again, when thou art run down by the violence of temptation, what is the behaviour of thy soul in this case? Dost thou rally thy routed forces, and again make head against thy enemy so much the more eagerly, because foiled so shamefully? Or art thou content to sit down quietly by the loss, and choose rather to be a tame slave to thy lust, than to be at any further trouble to continue the war? The false heart indeed is soon cowed—quickly yields subjection to the conqueror—but the sincere Christian gets heart, even when he loseth ground. Uprightness makes the soul rebound higher in holy purposes against sin, by its very falls into sin. ‘Once have I spoken,’ he means foolishly, sinfully, ‘but I will not answer; yea, twice, but I will proceed no further,’ Job 40:5. This made holy David beg of God to be spared a little, that he might have time to recover his strength before he went hence. Loath he was to go beaten out of the field. Might he but live to recover his losses by repentance of, and some victory over, those sins that had weakened and worsted him, then death should be welcome. He felt like that brave captain who, wounded in fight, desired some to hold him up, that he might but see the enemy run before he died, and then he should close his eyes in peace. Deal therefore impartially with thy own soul. Which way do thy falls and failings work? If they wear off the edge from thy conscience, that it is not so keen and sharp in its reproofs for sin—if they bribe thy affections, that thou beginnest to comply with those sins which formerly thy contest was, and likest pretty well their acquaintance—thy heart is not right. But if still thy heart meditates a revenge on thy sin that hath overpowered thee, and it lies on thy spirit, like undigested meat on a sick stomach, thou canst have no ease and content to thy troubled soul till thou hast cleared thyself of it, as to its reigning power; truly then thou discoverest a sincere heart.
This shows of what importance it is to labour for sincerity. Without it we can neither stand against, nor rise when we fall into temptation. Whatever thou beggest of God, forget not a sincere heart. David saw need of more of this grace than he had. ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,’ Ps. 51:10; and happy was it for him he had so much as to make him desire more of it. What folly it is to build a house with beams on fire! The hypocrite’s building must needs come to nought. There is a fire unquenched—the power of hypocrisy unmortified—that will consume all his goodly profession. He carries into the field a heart that will deliver him up into his enemy’s hands. And he is sure to be overcome to whom his own side is not true.
3. Bless God, O sincere Christian, for this grace, for it is a blessing invaluable—crowns and diadems are not to be compared with it. In this, thou hast a heart after God’s own heart; a heart to his liking; yea, a heart to his likeness. Nothing makes thee liker to God in the simplicity and purity of his nature, than sincerity. Truth is that which God glories in. He is ‘a God of truth.’ When Haman was bid to say what should be done to the man that the king delighted to honour, he, thinking the king meant no other than himself, would fly as high as his ambition could carry him; and what doth he choose, but to be clothed with the king’s own apparel royal! When God gives thee sincerity, he clothes thy soul with that which he wears himself—‘who clothes himself with truth and righteousness as a garment.’ By this thou art made a conqueror greater than ever Alexander was. He overcame a world of men; but thou, a world of lust and devils. Did one bless God, at the sight of a toad, that God made him a man and not a toad? how much more thankful oughtest thou to be, who hath made thee that wert a hypocrite by nature, which is far worse, an upright Christian? It is notable saying of Lactantius,‘If,’ saith he, ‘a man would choose death, rather than to have the face and shape of a beast—though he might withal keep the soul of a man—how much more miserable is it, under the shape of a man to carry the heart of a beast?’ Yet such a one is the hypocrite; yea worse, he doth only under the shape of a man, nut in the disguise of a saint, carry a beastly filthy heart within him.