« AnteriorContinua »
spur to diligence. If a person, digging with great labour in the earth, was almost ready to give it over, but another comes to him, and persuades him, that if he will hold on, he would assuredly find a treasure, he would unquestionably renew his resolution, and vigorously follow it out. This I would persuade you of, in regard to religion : however small your beginnings or hopes may now be, yet persevere : "Be not weary in well-doing, for in due time ye shall reap, if ye faint not.”—To convince you as to this, consider,
1. You have God's word of promise for it: Matth. xxv. 29, For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundanco.” A man bath no more in God's account, than what he keeps and improves for God's glory and his own salvation. Now, God does not set down all his children with equal stocks. There are fathers, youths, and babes in Christ. Some get more, some less ; but there is a promise of more given to them all, on their holding their hands to what they have got. It is God's goodness to most of us, that we are held short by the head, and that any thing we get, we know well how we come by it. This is necessary that our light hearts may not grow vain, and that our careless spirits may be aroused the more. But a little thing, with a promise, will be like the five loaves that multiplied in the distribution.- Consider,
2. That it is the Lord's ordinary way in his works, to bring great things by degrees out of small beginnings. He could have made the world in a moment, but he took six days to it; at first there was but the rude mass, which day by day was brought to perfection. See an instance, 1 Kings xviii. 43, and downwards. See how another great work began, Esth. vi. 1. Both which places consult. See also in the text: “His going forth is prepared as the morning.” In his works of grace, as in the works of nature, he ordinarily keeps that way of advancing by degrees.—Consider,
3. That the works of grace in the soul ordinarily arise from very small beginnings. The grain of mustard-seed, called the smallest of seeds, is used as an emblem of this, Matth. xiii. 31, 32. It is a seed springing so leisurely, that the springing of it cannot sometimes be discerned in the time, Mark iv. 27. It springeth and groweth up, we know not how. See how low the beginning of good may be, which the Lord will cherish, and bring to perfection : Isa. xlii. 3, “ A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall ho not quench; he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.”—Consider,
4. The bountiful nature of God, who surely will not always flee from those who follow him, but will at length be found of them. If at any time he seem to flee from them, it is that they may follow him the more vigorously: if he hold meat from them a while, it is that
their appetite may be the more sharpened, Luke xxiv. 28, 29. But resolute following on cannot miss to find him. See an eminent instance of this in the Syrophenician woman, who besought Jesus to cast the devil out of her daughter, and persevered till she obtained her request, Mark vii. 25—29. For good being in its nature communicative of itself, goodness itself cannot fail to be so. The spouse had experience of this, Song iii. 1-4. Consider,
5. That no person gets a refusal from heaven, but those who court it by their own indifference : and indeed a faint way of seeking is to beg a denial. God is more ready to give, than we are to seek : Psalm lxxxi. 10, “ Open thy mouth wide,” says he, “and I will fill it.” He loves importunity, and cannot deny an importunate suitor; and though some such have stood long at his door, there was never a single individual who fell down dead at it; their long waiting was always made op by the greater incomes of favour which they experienced, Matth. xv. 21, and downwards. The richest treasure is that which lies deepest.-Consider,
6. That as importunity is usually in all cases the way to como speed, so it has special advantages in this case which promise suc
The Lord gives much to importunity; Luke xi. 9, “ And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; koock, and it shall be opened unto you.” The word in the eighth verse rendered “ importunity,” is in the Greek “shamelessness.” Pinching need makes people shameless. It is not here as with men, that a shameless seeker must get a shameless refusal; they who will not, cannot take a denial, shall not be troubled with it: and when there is enough and to spare to the deedy, this and their condition makes them shameless; both concur to make them importunate.
7. But further consider, that such followers the Lord does not bid them go back; and is not this very encouraging ? If a beggar be following a man for an alms, and he knows it, there is always hope while he does not command him away. Now, you will follow long ere the Lord bid you go away; but if there were no hope, you would soon get your answer. Thus the foolish virgins were soon answered with a “ Verily I say unto you, I know you not,” Matth. xxv. 12.Consider also,
8. That the Lord commands you to follow on : Luke xi. 19, “ And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” And is not that encouraging? I know unbelief will be ready to shape an answer to the soul, taking God's delay for a denial, that the soul may follow. no further : Jer. ii. 25, “ Withhold thy foot from being unshod,
and thy throat from thirst; but thou saidst, There is no hope ; no." It is, however, better to hang on about God's door, than go back to fill our belly with the husks which swine devour. He commands you to follow on, and he would not do it if there was no hope.-Consider farther,
9. That it is the Lord who has given you the foot to follow him : James i. 17, “Every good gift, and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” If you have any desire after him, or the least good motion, it is from himself; and though he should have no regard for you, he will regard his own work in you, if you do not put it away from you. God opens not his children's mouth to put an empty spoon in it; but he who forms the desire will satisfy.-Consider,
Lastly, That the very nature of the thing confirms it, that the more we apply ourselves to the business of religion, we shall bring it to the better account. It is true, we own that religion in the principle of it is infused into the heart; but the Christian having both to will and to do wrought in him by God, must work out his own salvation with fear and trembling, Phil. ii. 12, 13. Grace, by its exercise, increases. Whatever good motions the Lord has put into the heart, it is like a spring; the more opening which it gets, and the more it runs, the more water comes into it; whereas, if it be stopped, the water turns away, and seeks another opening.
IV. We are now to make some practical improvement,
Is it so that the way to prosper in religion is to follow on to know the Lord ? Then we may learn,
(1.) That those who have not yet begun to look and seek after the Lord, they are neither prospering in their souls, nor are they in the way to it. Hearken, 0 ye stupid souls, whose hearts within you are this day dead as stones, moving still towards the earth, but having no motion in them towards God. Your case is sad, and there is no appearance yet of its growing better; it is dark night with you, and there is no appearance of the morning light. Your hearts are shut against Christ, and there is no putting in of his hand at the hole of the door; you have not the smallest prospect of happiness. We may see,
(2.) That it is no wonder though backsliders have lean souls. How many are there this day, who, comparing their own case with what it has been formerly, may cry out, as in Isa. xxiv. 16, “ But I said, My leanness, My leanness, woe unto me." They have lost the delight they sometimes had in God; there is now little or no communication
between heaven and them. Whence does this take place? Why, they did not follow on, when they were once set fair off, but went backward. When the wind was fair for Immanuel's land, they trifled away their time, busy here and there about other things; and their fair occasions were lost.We may see,
(3.) That they are in no prospering case who are at a stand in religion. There is a generation who think they have got as much grace as will carry them to heaven, and therefore they are not pressing forward. Paul had more than ever they could pretend to, yet says he, Phil. iii. 12, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." Truly, if you continue thus, it will be an evidence that you have no grace at all; for, Prov. iv. 18, “ The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day."
(4.) You may see how the smallest spark which you now have, may be brought to a great flame. Do but follow on to know the Lord, and then you shall know, you shall make progress ; and though your stock be but small, you may come to make that blessed account of it which is in Luke xix. 16," Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.” Hold your hands to what you have got here, when you are gone from this place, and you will find it will grow in your hands; it will increase in the using.–But here some may propose an
OBJECTION : “I am a fearful backslider, who have wasted my stock which some time increased with me in that way, and can I think ever to recover it again? Answ. Return, 0 prodigal! there is yet room for thee in thy Father's house. The promise in the text concerns you as well as others. See also Hos. v. 15, and chapter vi. 1, and downwards, where there is great encouragement to returning backsliders. Are you convinced of your folly ? are you touched the heart with your backsliding ? are your souls moving for a return? as in Jer. xxxi. 18,“ I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus, Thou has chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke : turn thou me, and I shall be turned ; for thou art the Lord my God.” Then it may yet be as well with you as ever it was, Joel ii. 23–27.
Lastly, We may hence see what is the ruin of many communicants, and others who attend upon ordinances. It is not so much that they get nothing at them, as that they carry nothing away with them; or if they do, they do not hold their hands to it when they are at home. You who think that your work is over when the communion is over, you will make no good account of what you have
been doing. Would you not think him a foolish man, who would employ himself on the meadow sharping his scythe, and then lay it by when he has got it sharped? Wherefore came you here, but to get a meal for your journey heaven-ward; and if so, then go in the strength of it, go from strength to strength unweariedly, till you appear before God in Zion.-I come,
2. To an use of exhortation.
I would exhort you all to follow on, to hold your hands at religion, however small the beginnings of it may be with you; and to prevail with you, I would lay before you the following motives
Mot. 1. The way to prosper in religion is, when we find the least moving, to bestir ourselves, and hold our hands to it, as David, 2 Sam. v. 24, 25. We would all take measures for improving our bodies and estates, why not also for improving our souls? I am sure, there are sad symptoms of a spiritual consumption and decay on the generation in which we live; we have need to use the remedy for ourselves against it. These symptoms are such as the following—The stomach for our spiritual food is gone; ordinances are not prized; we look generally as if we had got a surfeit of the gospel; farms and merchandise go much nearer people's hearts than opportunities of communion with God, for which they will be loth to lose a day's work; an evidence this that we may have to fast till we find our stomachs again.—Another symptom is, that professors have generally lost their colour; their former beauty is gone. That heavenliness, spirituality, and tenderness, that savour of godliness which was sometimes about them, is also gone; and formality, worldly-mindedness, deadness and lifelessness, have come in their room; so that we may well say, "O our bones are dried !" Any growth there is, is in pride and self-conceit: like rickety children, a large head, but a poor lean body. Indeed, not a few are
turned the colour of the earth, that their profane neighbours may say, Behold, the man is become like one of us. It is a day in which God is drawing the veil from off many faces; and all this is drawing on to a national apostasy from the Lord. The alarm is sounded already to carry back this church into Egypt. Breaches are made to let in a deluge of superstition, error, and profaneness. The ruin of this church, and the covenanted work of reformation, is threatened. It is high time we were bestirring ourselves to hold our hands to the truths and ways of the Lord, handed down to us from our fore-fathers, that we may transmit them also to our posterity, by a faithful adherence to them, over the belly of all opposition, whether from open enemies or professed friends; and for that end, to be following on after the Lord's work in our own souls.