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SOUND, CONFIRMED CHRISTIAN, &c.
In the explication of the text, which I made the ground of the foregoing discourse,* I have shewed you that there is a degree of grace to be expected and sought after by all true Christians, wbich putteth the soul into a sound, confirmed, radicated state, in comparison of that weak, diseased, toitering condition, which most Christians now continue in. And I have shewed you how desirable a state that is, and what calamities follow the languishing, unhealthful state, even of such as may be saved. And indeed did we but rightly understand how deeply the errors and sins of many well-meaning Christians have wounded the interest of religion in this age; and how heinously they have dishonored God, and caused the enemies of holiness to blaspheme, and hardened thousands in popery and ungodliness, in probability to their perdition : bad we well observed when God's judgments have begun and understood what sins have caused our wars, and plagues, and flames, and worse than all these, our great heart-divisions, and church-distractions and convulsions; we should ere this have given over the flattering of ourselves and one another, in such a heaven-provoking state ; and the ostentation of that little goodness, which hath been eclipsed by such lamentable evils. And instead of these, we should have betaken ourselves to the exercise of such a serious, deep repentance as the quality of our sins, and the greatness of God's chastisements do require. It is a dolesul case, to see how light many make of all the rest of their distempers, when once they think that they have so much grace and mortification, as is absolutely necessary to save their souls; and expect that preachers should say little to weak Christians, but words of comfort, setting forth their
* This work was originally published in connection with another entitled “ Direc. tions to the converted for their establishment."-Ed. VOL. II.
happiness. And yet if one of them, when he bath the gout, or stone, or cholic, or dropsy, doth send for a physician, be. would think himself derided or abused, if his physician, instead of curing his disease, should only comfort bim, by telling him, that he is not dead. What excellent disputations have Cicero and Seneca, the Platonists and Stoics, to prove that virtue is of itself sufficient to make man happy. And yet many Christians live as if holiness were but the way and means to their felicity, or at best but a small part of their felicity itself; or as if felicity itself grew burdensome, or were not desirable in this life; or a small degree of it were as good as a greater.
And too many mistake the will of God, and the nature of sanctification, and place their religion in the hot prosecution of those mistakes. They make a composition of error and passion, and an unyielding stiffness in them, and siding with the church or party which maintaineth them, and an uncharitable censuring those that are against them, and an unpeaceable contending for them; and this composition they mistake for godliness, especially if there be but a few drachms of godliness and truth in the composition, though corrupted and overpowered by the rest.
For these miscarriages of many well-meaning, zealous persons, the land mourneth, the churches groan; kingdoms are disturbed by them; families are disquieted by them; godliness is hindered, and much dishonored by them; the wicked are hardened by them, and encouraged to hate, and blaspheme, and oppose religion ; the glory of the Christian faith is obscured by them; and the infidel, Mahometan, and heathen world, are kept from faith in Jesus Christ, and many millions of souls destroyed by them. I mean by the miscarriages of the weaker sort of Christians, and by the wicked lives of those carnal hypocrites, who for custom or worldly interest, do profess that Christianity which was never received by their hearts.
And all this is much promoted by their indiscretion, who are so intent upon the consolatory opening of the safety and happiness of believers, that they omit the due explication of their description, their dangers, and their duties.
One part of this too much neglected work I have endeavored to perform in the foregoing treatise : another I shall attempt in this
second part. There are five degrees or ranks of true Christians observable. 1. The weakest Christians, who have only the essentials of Christianity, or very little more: as infants that are alive, but of little strength or use to others. 2. Those that are lapsed into some wounding sin, though not into a state of damnation ; like men at age, who have lost the use of some one member for the present, though they are strong in other parts. 3. Those that have the integral parts of Christianity in a considerable measure, are in a sound and healthful state, though neither perfect, nor of the highest form or rank of Christians in this life, nor without such infirmities, as are the matter of their daily watchfulness and humiliation. that are so strong as to attain extraordinary degrees of grace, who are therefore comparatively called perfect, as Matt. v. 45. 5. Those that have an absolute perfection without sin ; that is, the heavenly inhabitants.
Among all these, it is the third sort or degree which I have here characterised, and upon the bye, the first sort, and the hypocrite. I meddle not now with the lapsed Christian as such, nor with those giants in holiness of extraordinary strength; nor with the perfect, blessed souls in heaven. But it is the Christian who hath attained that confirmation in grace, and composed, quiet, fruitful state, which we might ordinarily expect, if we were industrious, whose image and character I shall now present you with. I call him ofttimes a Christian indeed, in allusion to Christ's description of Nathaniel (John i. 47.), and as we commonly use that word, for one that answereth his own profession without any notable dishonor or defect; as we say such a man is a scholar indeed; and not as signifiying his mere sincerity. I mean one whose heart and life are so conformed to the principles, the rule, and the hopes of Christianity, that to the honor of Christ, the true nature of our religion is discernible in his conversation ; Matt. v. 16. In whom an impartial infidel might perceive the true nature of the Christian faith and godliness. If the world were fuller of such living images of Christ, who, like true regenerate children, represent their heavenly Father, Christianity would not have met with so much prejudice, nor had so many enemies in the world, nor would so many millions have been kept in the darkness of hea
thenism and infidelity, by flying from Christians, as a sort of people that are common and unclean.
Among Christians, there are babes, that must be fed with milk, and not with strong meat, that are “unskilful in the word of righteousness;” (1 John ii. 2, 12-14. Heb. v. 12–14.) and novices, Jolm
) , who are unsettled, and in danger of an overthrow; 1 Tim. iii. 6. John xv. 3, 5, &c. In these the nature and excellency of Christianity, is little more apparent than reason in a little child. And there are strong, confirmed Christians, who, by
of have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil,” (Heb. v. 13, 14.) and who shew forth the glory of him that hath called them out of darkness into his marvelous light; of whom God himself may say to Satan and their malicious enemies, as once of Job, “ Hast thou not seen my servant Job,” &c. This Christian indeed I shall now describe to you, both to confute the infidel's slanders of Christianity, and to unteach men those false descriptions which have caused the presumption of the profane, and the irregularities of erroneous sectaries; and to tell you what manner of persons they be, that God is honored by; and what you must be, if
you will understand your own religion. Be Christians indeed, and you will have the comforts indeed of Christianity; and will and that its fruits and joys are not dreams, and shadows, and imaginations, if you content not yourselves with an imagination, dream, and shadow of Christianity, or with some clouded spark, or buried seed.
I. 1. A Christian indeed, (by which I still mean, a sound confirmed Christian,) is one that contenteth not himself to have a seed, or habit of faith, but he liveth by faith, as the sensualist by siglit or
Not putting out the eye of sense, nor living as if he had no body, or lived not in a world of sensible objects; but as he is a reasonable creature, which exalteth him above the sensitive nature, so faith is the true information of his reason, about those high and excellent things, which must take hiin up above things sensible. He hath so firm a belief of the life to come, as procured by Christ, and promised in the Gospel, as that it serveth him for the government of
his soul, as his bodily sight doth for the conduct of his body. I say not, that he is assaulted with no temptations, nor that his faith is perfect in degree, nor that believing moveth him as passionately as sight or sense would do : but it doth effectually move him through the course and tenor of his life, to do those things for the life to come, which he would do if he saw the glory of heaven; and to shun those things, for the avoiding of damnation, which he would shun if he saw the flames of hell. Whether he do these things so fervently or not, his belief is powerful, effectual, and victorious. Let sight and sense invite him to their objects, and entice him to sin and forsake his God; the objects of faith shall prevail against them, in the bent of an even, a constant, and resolved life. It is things unseen which he taketh for his treasure, and which have his heart and hope, and chiefest labors. All things else which he hath to do, are but subservient to his faith and heavenly interest, as his sensitive faculties are ruled by his reason. His faith is not only his opinion, which teacheth him to choose what church or party he will be of; but it is bis intellectual light, by which he liveth, and in the confidence and comfort of which he dieth. “For we walk by faith, not by sight. We groan to be clothed upon with our heavenly house. Wherefore we labor, that whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him;" 2 Cor. v. 7–9. “Now the just shall live by faith ;" Heb. x. 38. “ Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen;" Heb. xi. 1. Most of the examples in Heb. xi. do shew you this truth, that true Christians live and govern their actions, by the firm belief of the promise of God, and of another life when this is ended. “By faith, Noah being warned of God of
, things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark, to the saving of his house, by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith ;” ver. 7.
6 Abraham looked for a city which had foundations, whose builder and maker is God ;” ver 10. 6 Moses feared not the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible ;” ver. 27. So the three witnesses (Dan. iii.) and Daniel himself, (chap. vi.) and all believers have lived this life, as Abraham the father of the faithful did; who, as it is said of him, “Staggered not at the promise of God through