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DocT. III. The way to get up from the wilderness-world to the heavenly Canaan, is to go all along leaning on Jesus Christ by faith.
I shall illustrate and apply the first two of these doctrines distinctly, and consider the third in a word of direction in the application of the second.
DocT. I. True believers, espoused to Christ, turning their back on the world, and walking heavenward with him, are a mystery, a strange sight in the world. Who is this!
In discoursing this subject I shall,
I. Premise some things for right understanding the doctrine.
II. Shew in what respects believers are a mystery, a strange sight in the world.
III. Give the reasons of the point.
I. I shall premise some things for right understanding the doctrine.
1. Sin turned this world into an enemy's country in respect of heaven, and so into a wilderness. It was originally the seat of the friend of God, the confederate of heaven, innocent Adam; and then it was a pleasant land. But sin entering, it changed masters, so that the devil is become the god of this world, 2 Cor. iv. 4, and it a wilderness because the primitive communication betwixt heaven and it is stopped, and a new one settled betwixt hell and this world.
2. All men by their first birth are natives of this world; their father's house is in it, the people of it are the people that are theirs, Psalm xlv. 10. And home is home, be it never so homely; they love the wilderness, they desire not to change, they know no better country, and they seek none better. They are pleased with the place, the company, and the manner of living; for they are all natural to them.
3. The Lord from eternity having set his love upon some of the natives, in due time comes in the gospel into the wilderness-world, and making love to them, gains their consent, and is espoused to them in the everlasting marriage-covenant, according to Hos. ii. 19, "I will betroth thee unto me for ever, yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies." Isa. xliv. 5, "One shall say, I am the Lord's." Thus he becomes theirs, and they his, and they are engaged to follow him whithersoever he goes. Not only are they obliged by their contract of espousals to go with him, but their hearts are so set upon him, that they cannot think of parting with him again, or staying behind him.
4. Though the espousals and the feasts of espousals are held in the wilderness, yet the place set for the consummating of the marriage is Christ's Father's house in Cannan above, to which he begins immediately to carry his bride. She must no longer be a residenter in the world, a dweller in the wilderness, but must lift her heart and affections off her own people, and her father's house, and be going away homeward to Christ's Father's house, that the marriage may be consummated.
5. This her going away up from the wilderness with her espoused Husband, is a going away in heart and affections; it is the soul's motion heavenwards in this life, the last step of which is made at death. It is a gracious frame of heart shining forth in a holy, tender, and heavenly walk. Every step in the way of holiness, in mortification, vivification, and contempt of the world, is a step homeward to Christ's Father's house.
6. Lastly. Christ's bride at her waygoing, and ongoing with him thus, is a mystery, a strange sight in the world. Her own countrypeople gaze at her, to see her undertaking such a strange journey, turning her back on the beloved world, and setting out for a strange country. Sometimes believers fall out of the exercise of grace, become untender in their walk, and grow so like the world, that they do not appear to be going up out of the wilderness, but rather pitching their tents there. But when they are in the exercise of grace, holy and heavenly in their walk, then do the spectators make the question, "Who is this?" Like the Jewish rulers, who "seeing the boldness of Peter and John, and perceiving that they were ignorant and unlearned men, marvelled, and took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus;" Acts iv. 13.
II. I shall show in what respects believers are a mystery, a strange sight in the world; the power of godliness appearing in their walk at this rate, so that it is said of them, "Who is this?"
1. There is something very amiable about them, as we are told of the primitive Christians; Acts ii. 46, 47, that "they continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people." There is a conscience within worldly men, as well as corruption; and what their corruptions will condemn, their conscience will approve as lovely; 2 Cor. iv. 2. Men's corruptions may get the management of their tongue, hands, and their whole external behaviour, and may set the man to run down piety, and the party in whom it appears; yet in the meantime conscience within their breasts will be applauding and admiring the godly man, as one who has something very lovely VOL. X.
about him, as Balaam did in the case of the Israelites; Numb. xxiii. 9, 10.
2. There is something very awful about them to beholders. Paul stands at the bar and reasons, and Felix sitting on the bench trembles; Acts xxiv. 25. John Baptist lies in his grave beheaded at Herod's command, and yet there he is a terror to Herod; Matth. xiv. 1, 2. The remains of God's image on man in point of dominion, has an awe and majesty with it, that affects the brutes; Gen. ix. 2. How much more has the restored image of God in righteousness and holiness shining forth in a Christian's life, a majesty with it, procuring an internal reverence to them from beholders! They are to them like men of another world, and every view they take of such writes death to them; Heb. xi. 7.
3. There is something very mysterious about them; Zech. iii. 8. They are like foreigners in a country, apt to become a gazing-stock, a wonder, about which the natives cannot satisfy themselves. A believer marching heavenward, away from this wilderness-world, is,
(1) A mystery to the men of the world, whether professors or profane. They cannot comprehend them, for they are God's" hidden ones;" Psalm 1xxxiii. 3, not hid from their bodily eyes; ver. 4, but from the eyes of their minds. What a mystery is that man to them, who sets his feet and treads on that, which they set their hearts on and adore? who values, pursues eagerly, and by no means can be brought to part with, that which they can see no beauty in? whose principles, aims, and actions are diametrically opposite to those of theirs? They are to them like men of another mould and make, which they cannot understand. Nay, they are,
(2.) A mystery to themselves, ay, so great many times, that they know not what to make of themselves, what class to rank themselves in, whether of saints or sinners; Psalm cxxxix. 23, 24. A true Christian is indeed a bundle of mysteries; he on earth, and his head in heaven, yet really and truly united! John xv. 5; crucified with Christ, yet living; living, yet not he, but Christ living in him, Gal. ii. 20; not loitering, but labouring, yet not he, but "the grace of God with him;" 1 Cor. xv. 10. He is a man of two leading contrary principles, having a will and not a will to one and the same thing; he sins, and yet it is not he; Rom. vii. 17. He has many spots and stains on him, yet is all fair; Cant. iv. 7; "black, yet comely, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon;" chap. i. 5; wanting many things, yet complete; Col. ii. 10. What wonder that such a one should be in way of admiration inquired about, "Who is this?"
III. I shall give the reasons of the point, That true believers are a mystery, a strange sight in the world.
1. Because they are so unlike the world, they are like speckled birds among the rest, 1 Pet. iv. 4. They are cast into the new mould of regeneration, and are come forth nonconformists to the world, Rom. xii. 2. They have got another spirit, than the spirit which all their people and their father's house are acted by, which casts their whole conversation into quite another shape than theirs, Num. xiv. 24. So the unlikeness betwixt them makes them a strange sight.
2. Because they are so unlike themselves in former times. Saul among the prophets was a strange sight, 1 Sam. x. 11. But the grace of God makes a more wonderful change in a man from what he was before, as appears in Saul among the apostles, 1 Tim. i. 12, 13. What an observable change was there, that he which persecuted the saints in times past, now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed! Gal. i. 23. Grace makes lambs of lions, casts out the dumb devil, that they who cared not for praying, preaching, &c. but all these things were a burden to them, they cannot for the world live without them. It makes a new heart, a new life, a new man, all things new, 2 Cor. v. 17.
3. Because they are very rare in the world; they are but here and there one for a marvel, Jer. iii. 14. The multitude in the world prefer the wilderness to Zion, and sit still in their native land, and will not go away with Christ. They have the gospel-call, they are courted to match with Christ; but they think gospel-invitations but idle tales, and they have beloveds of their own in the wilderness, which they will not part with for him. Some say with the mouth they will take him, and subscribe with the hand at solemn ordinances; but it is not a match, for their hearts were never truly for it; so they sit still too, and go not up with him out of the wilderness, but their carcases fall there. So that they who are going up out of the wilderness, being so rare, are a strange sight.
USE I. of information. It informs us, that,
1. Serious souls need not think it strange, if they become a wonder to many, Psalm lxxi. 7. They are not meet to go up with Christ from the wilderness, that are not content to become a world's wonder for him. They must be fools for Christ that will be wise; Mark viii. ult., "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels." Worldly men wonder at seriousness now, what makes the saints so nice in points of truth and holiness; but that wonder will not last long, the world will soon see they had good reason for it all.
2. The world is no idle spectator of those who have given themselves to Christ, and profess to follow him. They take notice of them, and have their questions about them. Communicants, take heed to yourselves; many eyes are on you, as to your after-walk; God's eye is on you; the world's eyes will be upon you, they will take notice whether ye turn your back on the world, the ways and manners of it, or even sit still with themselves as before.
3. Those who shall still walk after the course of the world, continue sons of earth, not making away heavenward in the tenor of their life and conversation, are not espoused to Christ; though they have given him the hand, they have not given him the heart. The sincerity of your covenanting with God is now to be proved by your after-walk. If God be your Father, be setting homeward to his house. If Christ be your espoused husband, make away with him through the wilderness, and stay not behind. The friendship of the world is enmity with God.
4. Lastly. This world must be little worth, wherein, among such multitudes, there are so few such travellers, that they are a strange sight. There are many sad sights to be seen in the world, even after communions, but few of this sort of persons turning their backs on the world, and resolutely walking heavenwards. Take heed, Christians and communicants, that one of these three questions be not put concerning you, instead of this in the text. (1.) Who is this standing still in the wilderness? like the door on the hinges, oft moving, but never going forward, as proud, passionate, carnal, and sensual, as before? Isa. v. 6. (2.) Who is this going back from the wilderness to Egypt, to the flesh-pots there? back again to their profane and licentious courses? better ye had never known the way of righteousness. (3.) Who is this sticking in some mire, fallen into some pit in the wilderness; some gross and scandalous abomination! Many such trophy gets Satan set up.
USE II. Of exhortation. O Christians, communicants, walk so as the world may bear witness, that ye are going up out of the wilderness, leaning on your beloved; that your faces and hearts are heavenward; that ye have set off from them, and are no more theirs.
This would be much to the honour of Christ and religion, Acts iv. 13. It would be a great kindness to the world lying in wickedness, as an apt mean to bring others away with you, Zech. viii. ult. It would be the safety and comfort of your own souls, Cant. viii. 4. Ye will walk so, if ye be habitually heavenly in the frame of your heart, like Enoch walking with God. Also, if in your conversation ye manifest a contempt of the world: Germana illa bestia non curat aurum, was Luther's character from his enemies. Likewise, if ye