NO CROSS NO CROWN
Wherein May Be Attained
A Discourse showing the Nature and Discipline of the Holy Cross of Christ,
If, Reader, you are such a person, my counsel to you is to retire to within yourself and take a view of the condition of your soul, for Christ has given you light with which to do it. Search carefully and thoroughly; your life is in it; your soul is at stake. It is but once to be done; if you abuse yourself in it, the loss is irreparable; the world is not price enough to ransom you. Will you then, for such a world, retard yourself, overstay the time of your salvation, and lose your soul? I grant you, this has to be done with great patience; but that also must have an end. Therefore do not provoke God that has made you, to reject you. Do you know what rejection is? It is hell, the eternal anguish of the damned. Oh! Reader, as one knowing the terrors of the Lord, I plead with you to be serious, diligent, and fervent about your own salvation. Yes, and as one knowing the comfort, peace, joy, and pleasure of the ways of righteousness too, I exhort and invite you to embrace the reproofs and convictions of Christ's light and Spirit in your own conscience, and bear the judgment who have wrought the sin. The fire burns but the stubble. The wind blows but the chaff. Yield up your body, soul, and spirit to Him who makes all things new: new heavens, and new earth, new love, new joy, new peace, new works, a new life and conduct. Men have grown corrupt and foul by sin, and they must be saved through fire, which purges it away. Therefore the word God is compared to a fire, and the day of salvation to an oven; and Christ Himself to a refiner and purifier of silver.
Come, Reader, listen to me awhile. I seek your salvation, that is my plot, you will forgive me. A Refiner has come near you, his grace has appeared to you. It shows you the world's lusts, and teaches you to deny them. Receive his leaven, and it will change you; his medicine, and it will cure you. He is as infallible as free, without money, and with certainty. A touch of his garment did it of old, and will do it still. His virtue is the same, it cannot be exhausted, for in Him the fullness dwells. Blessed is God for his sufficiency. He laid help upon Him, that He might be mighty to save all that come to God through Him. If you do so, He will change you: yes, your vile body to become like his glorious body. He is the great philosopher indeed; the wisdom of God, that turns lead into gold, vile things into things precious. For He makes saints out of sinners, and almost-gods of men. What remains for us to do, to witness his power and love? This is the Crown, but where is the Cross? Where is the bitter cup and bloody baptism? Come, Reader, be like Him. For this transcendent joy, lift up your head above the world; then your salvation will draw near indeed.
Christ's Cross is Christ's way to Christ's Crown. This is the subject of the following discourse, first written during my confinement in the Tower of London, in the year 1668, now reprinted with great enlargements of matter and testimonies, that you, reader, may be won to Christ; and if won already, brought nearer to Him. It is a path that God, in his everlasting kindness, guided my feet into in the flower of my youth, when about twenty-two years of age. Then He took me by the hand, and led me out of the pleasures, vanities, and hopes of the world. I have tasted of Christ's judgments and mercies, and of the world's frowns and reproaches. I rejoice in my experience, and dedicate it to your service in Christ. It is a debt I have long owed, and has been long expected. I have now paid it, and delivered my soul. To my country, and to the world of Christians, I leave it. My God, if He pleases, will make it effective to them all, and turn their [Christians] hearts from that envy, hatred, and bitterness, they have one against another, about worldly things; sacrificing humanity and charity to ambition and covetousness, for which they fill the earth with trouble and oppression; that, receiving the Spirit of Christ into their hearts, the fruits of which are love, peace, joy, temperance, and patience, brotherly kindness, and charity, they may in body, soul, and spirit, make a triple league against the world, the flesh, and the devil, the common enemies of mankind; and having conquered them through a life of self-denial, by the power of the Cross of Jesus, they may at last attain to the eternal rest and kingdom of God.
So desire, so pray, Friendly Reader.
Your fervent Christian Friend,
Worminghurst in Sussex, the 1st of the 6th Month, 1682
Although the knowledge of and obedience to the Cross of Christ is of infinite importance to the souls of men, since that is the only door to true Christianity, the path ever trod to blessedness by the ancient Christians; yet, with extreme sorrow I must say: it is so little understood, so much neglected, and, what is worse, so bitterly contradicted by the vanity, superstition, and intemperance of professed Christians, that we must either renounce belief of what the Lord Jesus has told us, that whoever does not bear his cross, and come after Him, cannot be his disciple (Luke 14:27); or, admit that the great mass of Christians miserably deceives and disappoints themselves in their Christianity and their own salvation.
2. For, let us never be so tender and charitable in the survey of those nations that entitle themselves to any interest in the holy name of Christ, if we will but be just too, we must acknowledge, that after all the gracious advantages of light, and obligations to fidelity, which these latter ages of the world have received by the coming, life, doctrine, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, with the gifts of his Holy Spirit; to which add the writings, labors, and martyrdom of his dear followers in all times, there seems very little left of Christianity but the name; which, being now usurped by the old heathen nature and life, makes those who name themselves Christians, nothing but true heathens in disguise. For though they don't worship the same idols [as heathens], they worship Christ with the same [evil] heart [as do the heathens]; and they can never do otherwise, while they live in the same lusts. So that the un-mortified Christian and the heathen are of the same religion. For though they direct their prayers to different objects, their adoration in both is but forced and ceremonious, and the deity they truly worship is the god of this world,* the great lord of lusts. They bow with the whole powers of soul and sense to the god of lusts. What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear? And how shall we pass away our time? Which way may we gather wealth, increase our power, enlarge our territories, and dignify and perpetuate our names and families in the earth? Which base sensuality is most pathetically expressed and comprised by the beloved Apostle John in these words: "The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life," which, says he, "are not of the Father, but of the world, " (1 John 2:16), and "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one." (John 5:19)
3. It is a mournful reflection, but an undeniable truth, that these worldly lusts fill up the study, care, and conduct of wretched Christendom! And, to make matters worse, they have grown with time. For as the world grows older, it grows worse. The example of former lewd ages, and their miserable conclusions, have not deterred, but have excited our time; so that the people of this age become more impious, and have carried evil further than ever. So instead of advancing in virtue upon better times, they have scandalously become worse than non-Christians. The Christians' pride, lustful indulgences, uncleanness, drunkenness, swearing, lying, envy, backbiting, cruelty, treachery, covetousness, injustice and oppression, are so common and committed with such invention and excess, that they have stumbled and embittered non-Christians to a degree of ridiculing Christianity,* which instead, their example should be in inspiration to good conduct.
4. In the time of the early Church the glory of Christianity was the purity of its believer; but since then, there has been a miserable departure of Christians from purity; so that one must call the Christians of today to be a greater burden on Christ than the Jews, [who called him evil and crucified Him]. For the Jews, from the power of ignorance, and the extreme prejudice they had to Christ's humble appearance, would not acknowledge Him when He came; but for two or three years persecuted, and finally crucified Him in one day. But the false Christians' cruelty has lasted longer than the crucifying Jews. With Judas, they have professed Him, and then, for these many ages, most basely betrayed, persecuted, and crucified Him, by a perpetual apostasy in manners, from the self-denial and holiness of His doctrine; their lives showing their faith to be lies. These are those who the author of the epistle to the Hebrews tells us, "Crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to open shame" (Heb 6:6); whose defiled hearts John in his Revelation styles, "The street of Sodom and Egypt, spiritually so called, where also our Lord was crucified" (Rev 11:8). And as Christ said of old, a man's enemies are those of his own house, so Christ's enemies now are chiefly those who claim to be believers; they spit upon Him, they nail and pierce Him, they crown Him with thorns, and give Him gall and vinegar to drink (Mat 27:34). Nor is this hard to understand; for those who live in the same evil nature and principle the Jews did, that crucified Him outwardly, crucify Him within themselves; since those who reject the grace now in their own hearts are one in stock and generation with the hardhearted Jews, who resisted the grace that then appeared in and by Christ.
5. Sin is of one nature the world over. For though a liar is not a drunkard, nor a swearer a whoremonger, nor either properly a murderer, yet they are all of one church; all branches of the one wicked root, all of kin. They have but one father, the devil, as Christ said to the professing Jews, the visible church of that age. He slighted their claims to Abraham and Moses, and plainly told them that "everyone who sins is a slave to sin" (John 8:34). The Jewish religious leaders did the devil's work, and therefore were the devil's children. The argument will always hold upon the same reasons, for as Paul said: you are slaves to the one whom you obey, (Rom 6:16); and said John to the church of old, "Let no man deceive you; he that commits sin is of the devil" (1 John 3:7-8). Was Judas ever the better Christian for crying, "Hail, Master," and kissing Christ? By no means; they were the signal of his treachery; the signs given so the bloody Jews could identify Him and arrest Him. Judas called Him Master, but betrayed Him; he kissed, but sold Him to be killed; the same is the result of the false Christian's religion. 43
6. Let no man deceive his own soul; "grapes are not gathered of thorns, nor figs of thistles" (Matt 7:16); a wolf is not a sheep, nor is a vulture a dove. Whatever form, people, or church you are of, it is the truth of God to mankind, that they which have even the form of godliness, but, by their unmortified lives, deny the power thereof, [to purify them and deliver them from sin] do not belong to the true church, but belong to the false church; which, though she calls herself the Lamb's bride, or church of Christ (Rev 21:2; 22:17), she is that mystery, or mysterious Babylon, fitly called by the Holy Ghost, the mother of harlots and all abominations (Rev 17:5); because she is degenerated from Christian chastity and purity, into all the enormities of heathen Babylon; a sumptuous city of old time, much noted for the seat of the kings of Babylon, and at that time the place in the world of the greatest pride and luxury. As she was then, so mystical Babylon is now, the great enemy of God's people.
7. True it is, those who are born of the flesh hate and persecute those who are born of the spirit, who are the circumcision in heart. It seems they [really born of the Spirit of God] cannot own nor worship God according to the Whore's inventions, methods and prescriptions, nor receive for doctrine her vain traditions, any more than they can comply with her corrupt fashions and customs in their conduct. Thus, the Whore is not only a false apostate, but has become a persecutor of true Christians, [drunk with the blood of the saints]. It is not enough that she herself declines from ancient purity, she forces others to impurity also. She gives no rest to those who will not participate in her degeneracy, or receive her mark. Are any wiser than she, than mother church? No, no: nor can any make war with the beast she rides upon, those worldly powers that protect her, and vow their maintenance against the cries of her dissenters. Apostasy and superstition are ever proud and impatient of dissent; all must conform or perish. Therefore the slain witnesses, and blood of the souls under the altar (Rev 6:9), are found within the walls of this mystical Babylon, this great city of false Christians, and are charged upon her, by the Holy Ghost in the Revelation. Nor is it strange that she should slay the servants who first crucified the Lord: but strange and barbarous too, that she should kill her husband and murder her savior; titles she seems so fond of, and that have been so profitable to her; and that she would recommend herself by, though without all justice. But her children are reduced so entirely under the dominion of darkness, by means of their continued disobedience to the manifestation of the divine light in their souls, that they forget what man once was, or they should now be; and know not true and pure Christianity when they meet it; yet pride themselves upon professing it. Their measures are so carnal and false about salvation, they call good evil and evil good, they make a devil a Christian, and a saint a devil. So that though the unrighteous latitude of their lives is lamentable, as to themselves it is of destruction; yet that common apprehension, that they may be children of God while in a state of disobedience to his holy commandments; and disciples of Jesus though they revolt from his cross, and members of his true church, which is without spot or wrinkle, notwithstanding their lives are full of spots and wrinkles; is, of all other deceptions upon themselves, the most disastrous to their eternal condition. For they are at peace in sin, and under a security in their transgression. Their vain hope silences their convictions, and overlays all tender motions to repentance; so that their mistake about their duty to God is as mischievous as their rebellion against him.
Thus they walk on the edges of cliffs, and flatter themselves, until the grave swallows them up, and the judgments of the great God break their lethargy, and undeceive their poor wretched souls with the anguish of the wicked, as the reward of their work.
8. This has been, is, and will be the doom of all worldly Christians. Their end is dreadful; this I know as one acquainted with the terrors of the Lord in the way and work of my own salvation. Even if I were not obligated by duty to God, or obligation to men, compassion alone motivates me to be against the world's superstitions and lusts, and to invite the professors of Christianity to the knowledge and obedience of the daily Cross of Christ. For the cross is the only way, left by him, and appointed us to receive the blessing of God. So they, who now claim the name of Christian, may actually become one, by the power of the cross, to which they are now dead, instead being dead to the world by it, may be made partakers of the resurrection that is in Christ Jesus, to newness of Life. For those who are truly in Christ, that is, redeemed by, and interested in Him, are new creatures (Gal 6:15). They have received a new will; such as do the will of God, not their own. They pray in truth, and do not mock God, when they say, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." They have new affections; such as are set on things above (Col 3:1-3), and make Christ their eternal treasure. New faith (1 John 5:4), such as overcomes the snares and temptations of the world's spirit in themselves, or as it appears through others: and lastly, new works; not of a superstitious contrivance, or of human invention, but the pure fruits of the Spirit of Christ working in them, as love, joy, peace, meekness, long-suffering, temperance, brotherly-kindness, faith, patience, gentleness, and goodness, against which there is no law; and those who have not the Spirit of Christ, and walk not in it, the Apostle Paul has told us, are none of his (Rom 8:9); but the wrath of God, and condemnation of the law, will lie upon them. For if there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ; who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, which is Paul's doctrine; those who walk not according to that Holy Spirit, by his doctrine, are not in Christ: that is, have no interest in Him, only claim salvation by Him; and consequently they are condemned.
9. And the truth is, the religion of the wicked is a lie: "there is no peace," said the prophet, "to the wicked" (Isa 48:22). Indeed there can be none; they are reproved in their own consciences, and condemned in their own hearts, in all their disobedience. Go where they will, rebukes go with them, and oftentimes terrors too; for it is an offended God that pricks them, and who, by his light, sets their sins in order before them. Sometimes they strive to appease Him by their fleshly framed devotion and worship, but in vain; for true worshipping of God is doing his will, which they transgress. The rest is a false compliment, like who said he would go and did not (Mat 21:30). Sometimes they flee to sports and company to drown the reprover's voice, and blunt his arrows, to chase away troubled thoughts, and secure themselves out of the reach of the disturber of their pleasures; but the Almighty, first or last, is sure to overtake them. There is no fleeing his final justice, for those who reject the terms of his mercy. Impenitent rebels to his law may then call to the mountains, and run to the caves of the earth, for protection, but in vain. His all-searching eye will penetrate their thickest coverings, and strike up a light in that obscurity, which shall terrify their guilty souls; and which they shall never be able to extinguish. Indeed, their accuser is with them, they can no more be rid of him than of themselves; he is in the midst of them, and will stick close to them. That spirit that bears witness with the spirits of the just will bear witness against theirs. No, their own hearts will abundantly come in against them; and "if our heart condemns us," said the Apostle John, "God is greater, and knows all things" (1 John 3:20); that is, there is no escaping the judgments of God, whose power is infinite, if a man is not able to escape the condemnation of himself.
10. Oh Christendom! My soul most fervently prays, that after all your lofty profession of Christ, and his meek and holy religion, your unsuitable and unchristian life may not cast you out at that great judgment court of the world, and lose you so a great salvation at last. Hear me once, I implore you: can Christ be your Lord, and you not obey Him? or, can you be his servant, and never serve Him? "Be not deceived, such as you sow, shall you reap" (Gal 6:7). He is not your savior while you reject his grace in your heart, by which He should save you by purification. Come, from what has He saved you? Has He saved you from your sinful lusts, your worldly affections, and vain conducts? If not, then He is not your savior! For, though He is offered a savior to all, yet He is actually a savior to those only that are saved by Him; and none are saved by Him that live in those evils by which they are lost from God, and which He came to save them from.
It is sin that Christ has come to save man from, and death and wrath, as the wages of it; but those who are not saved, (delivered by the power of Christ in their souls from the power that sin has had over them), can never be saved from the death and wrath, but they are the assured wages of the sin they live in — death.
Look how far people can obtain victory over those evil dispositions and fleshly lusts, which they have been addicted to. It can be so far that they are truly saved, and are witnesses of the redemption that comes by Jesus Christ. His name shows his work: "And you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sin" (Mat 1:21) "Behold," said John, of Christ, "the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29). That is, behold Him whom God has given to enlighten people, and for salvation to as many as receive Him, and his light and grace in their hearts, and take up their daily cross and follow Him; such who rather deny themselves the pleasure of fulfilling their lusts, than sin against the knowledge He has given them of his will, or what they know they ought not to do.
By all which has been said, O Christendom! and by that greater available help, (if you would use it), which is the light the Lord has enlightened in you; (if it is not utterly extinct), it may evidently first appear how great and full your backsliding has been, who, from the temple of the Lord, has become a cage of unclean birds; and instead of a house of prayer, a den of thieves, a synagogue of Satan, and the receptacle of every defiled spirit.
Next, that under all this exposed defection, you have nevertheless valued your corrupt self upon your profession of Christianity, and fearfully deluded yourself with expectation of salvation. The first makes your disease dangerous, but the last almost incurable.
2. Yet, there is mercy with God. Although He is to be feared, He takes no delight in the eternal death of poor sinners, no, though backsliders themselves (Eze18:20-24). He is willing all should come to the knowledge and obedience of the truth, and be saved. He has set forth his Son a propitiation, and given Him as a savior to take away the sins of the whole world; so that those who believe and follow Him and may feel the righteousness of God in the remission of their sins, and blotting out their transgressions forever (Mat 1:21; Luke 1:77; Rom 3:25; Heb 9:24-28; 1 John 2:1-2). Now, behold the remedy, an infallible cure of God's appointing: a precious elixir, indeed, that never fails; and that universal medicine which no malady could ever escape.
3. But, you will say, What is Christ? And where is He to be found?And how is this mighty cure received and applied? I tell you then, first, He is the great spiritual light of the world that enlightens every person that comes into the world; by which He exposes to them their deeds of darkness and wickedness, and reproves them for committing them. Secondly, He is not far away from you (Acts 17:27), as the Apostle Paul said of God to the Athenians: "Behold," says Christ Himself, "I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me" (Rev 3:20). What door can this be, but that of the heart of man?
4. You, like the inn of old, have been full of guests; your affections have entertained other lovers; there has been no room for your savior in your soul. Therefore salvation has not yet come into your house, though it has come to your door, and it has often been offered to you, and though you have long claimed it. But if He calls, if He knocks still, if his light yet shines, if it reproves you still, there is hope your day is not over, and that repentance is not yet hidden from your eyes; but his love still pursues you, and his holy invitation to be saved continues.
Therefore, O Christendom, believe, receive, and apply Him correctly; this is of absolute necessity, that your soul may live forever with Him. He told the Jews, "If you believe not that I am he, you shall die in your sins; and where I go, you cannot come" (John 8:21-24). And because they believed Him not, they did not receive Him, nor any benefit by Him. But those who believed Him received Him; and as many as received Him, his own beloved disciple tells us, "to them gave he power to become the sons of God, which are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13). That is, who are not children of God after the fashions, prescriptions, and traditions of men, that call themselves his church and people, which is not after the will of flesh and blood, and the invention of carnal man, unacquainted with the regeneration and power of the Holy Ghost, but of God; that is according to his will and the working and sanctification of his Spirit and word of life in them. And such were ever well versed in the right application of Christ, for He was made to them indeed propitiation, reconciliation, salvation, righteousness, redemption, and justification.
So I say to you, unless you believe that He, who stands at the door of your heart and knocks, and sets your sins in order before you, and calls you to repentance, is the savior of the world, you will die in your sins, and where He has gone you will never come. For if you believe not in Him, it is impossible that He should do you good, or effect your salvation. Christ works not against faith, but by it. It is said of old, "He could not do many mighty works in some places, because the people did not believe in him" (Mat 13:58, Mark 6:5). So that, if you truly believe in Him, your ear will be attentive to his voice in you, and the door of your heart open to his knocks. You will yield to the discoveries of his light, and the teachings of his grace will be very dear to you.
5. It is the nature of true faith to produce a holy fear of offending God, a deep reverence to his precepts, and a most tender regard to the inward testimony of his Spirit, by which his children in all ages have been safely led to glory. For, as those who truly believe receive Christ in all his tenders to the soul, it also true that they receive power to become the sons of God. They receive and accept an inward power and ability to do whatever He requires; his strength to mortify their lusts, control their affections, resist evil motions, deny themselves, and overcome the world in its most enticing appearances. This is the life of the blessed Cross of Christ, which is the subject of the following discourse, and what you, O man, must take up, if you intend to be the disciple of Jesus. Nor can you be said to receive Christ, or to believe in Him, while you reject his cross. For, as the receiving of Christ is the means appointed of God to salvation, so bearing the daily cross after Him, is the only true testimony of receiving Him, and therefore it is enjoined by Him as the great token of discipleship, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Mat 16:24).
This, Christendom, is what you have so much lacked, and the lack of which has proved the only cause of your miserable deterioration from pure Christianity. Consider this cross, for as it is your duty, so it results in your restoration.
For as the knowledge of the cause of any disease, guides the physician to make a right and safe judgment in the application of his medicine, so it will much enlighten you in the way of your recovery, to know and weigh the first cause of this spiritual lapse and malady that has befallen you. So a general view of your early Church's record is required; and consequently the work of those who first labored in the Christian vineyard; and if in this something is repeated, the weight and dignity of the subject will bear it, without the need of an apology.
6. The work of apostleship, we are told by a prime laborer in it, was to turn people "from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God" (Acts 26:18). That is, instead of yielding to the temptations and motions of Satan, who is the prince of darkness or wickedness, the one being a metaphor to the other, by whose power their understandings were obscured, and their souls held in the service of sin, they should turn their minds to the appearance of Christ, the Light and savior of the world; who by his light shines in their souls, and reproves them when and how they yield to sin; so that they might become the children of light, and walk in the path of righteousness. And for this blessed work of reformation, Christ empowered his apostles with his spirit and power, that so men might not longer sleep in a security of sin and ignorance of God, but awake to righteousness, that the Lord Jesus might give them life. So they might leave off sinning, deny themselves the pleasure of wickedness, and by true repentance, turn their hearts to God in well-doing, in which is peace. And truly God so blessed the faithful labors of these low members of society, yet his great ambassadors to mankind, that in a few years many thousands that had lived without God in the world, without a sense or fear of Him, lawlessly, very strangers to the work of his spirit in their hearts, being captivated by fleshly lusts, were inwardly struck and quickened by the word of life, and made sensible of the coming and power of the Lord Jesus Christ as a judge and lawgiver in their souls, by whose holy light and spirit the hidden things of darkness were brought to light and condemned, and pure repentance from those dead works begotten in them, that they might serve the living God in newness of spirit. So that from time forward, they lived not to themselves, neither were they carried away of those former several lusts, by which they had been seduced from the true fear of God; but "the law of the Spirit of life" (Rom 8:2), by which they overcame the law of sin and death, was their delight, and therein did they meditate day and night. Their regard towards God was not taught by the precepts of men any longer (Isa 29:13), but from the knowledge they had received by Christ's own work and impressions in their souls. They had forsaken their old masters, the world, the flesh, and the devil, and delivered up themselves to the holy guidance of the grace of Christ, that taught them to "deny ungodliness and the world's lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present life" (Titus 2:11-12): this is the Cross of Christ indeed, and here is the victory it gives to those who take it up; by this cross they died daily to the old life they had lived, and by holy watchfulness against the secret motions of evil in their hearts they crushed sin in its conceptions, yes, in its temptations. So that they, as the Apostle John advised them, "kept themselves, that the evil one touched them not" (1 John 4:18).
For the light, which Satan cannot endure, and with which Christ had enlightened them, discovered him within and all his approaches and assaults upon the mind; and the power they received through their inward obedience to the manifestations of that blessed light, enabled them to resist and vanquish him in all his stratagems. And thus it was that, where once nothing was examined, now nothing went unexamined; every thought must come to judgment, and the rise and tendency of it is also well approved, before they allowed it any room in their minds. There was no fear of entertaining enemies for friends, while this strict guard was kept upon the very gate of the soul. Now the old heavens and earth, that is, the old earthly conduct, and old carnal, that is, Jewish or shadowy worship, passed away quickly, and every day all things became new. He was no more a Jew that was one outwardly, nor that circumcision that was in the flesh; but he was the Jew that was one inwardly, and that circumcision which was of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of man, but of God (Rom 2:28-29).
7. Indeed, the glory of the cross shined so conspicuously through the self-denial of the lives of those who bore it daily, that it struck the heathen with astonishment; and in a small time so shook their altars, discredited their oracles, struck the multitude, invaded the court, and overcame their armies, that it led priests, magistrates, and generals in triumph after it, as the trophies of its power and victory.
And, while this integrity dwelt with Christians, mighty was the presence, and invincible that power that attended them; it quenched fire, daunted lions, turned the edge of the sword, outfaced instruments of cruelty, convicted judges, and converted executioners (Heb 11:32-40; Isa 43:2; Dan 3:12-30). In fact, the way their enemies took to destroy, increased them; and, by the deep wisdom of God, those who in all their designs endeavored to extinguish the truth were made great promoters of it (Dan 6:16-28). Now, not a vain thought, not an idle word, not an unseemly action was permitted; no, not an immodest look, no courtly dress, celebrant apparel, complimentary respects, or personal honors; much less those lewd immoralities and scandalous vices, now in vogue with Christians, could find either example of or consent to among them. Their care was not how to pass away their precious time in pleasures, but how to redeem it (Eph 5:5-6), that they might have enough to work out their great salvation, which they carefully did, with fear and trembling; not with balls and masks, with playhouses, dancing, feasting, and gaming; no, no; making sure of their heavenly calling and election was much dearer to them than the poor and trifling joys of mortality. For like Moses, having seen Him who is invisible, and found that his loving-kindness was better than life, the peace of his Spirit better than the favor of princes — as they feared not Caesar's wrath — so they chose rather to sustain the afflictions of Christ's true pilgrims, rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin that were but for a season; esteeming his reproaches of more value than the perishing treasures of the earth. And if the tribulations of Christianity were more eligible than the comforts of the world, and the reproaches of Christ more valuable than all the honors of the world, there was then surely no temptation in it that could shake the integrity of Christendom.
8. By this short writing of what Christendom was, you may see, O Christendom, what you are not; and consequently what you ought to be. But how did it happen that from a Christendom that was meek, merciful, self-denying, suffering, temperate, holy, just, and good, so like to Christ, whose name she bore, we find a Christendom now that is superstitious, idolatrous, persecuting, proud, passionate, envious, malicious, selfish, drunken, lustful, unclean, [sexually immoral], lying, swearing, cursing, covetous, oppressing, defrauding, with all other abominations known in the earth?
I lay this down as the undoubted reason of this degeneracy, namely, the inward disregard of your mind to the light of Christ shining in you, that first showed you your sins and reproved them, and that taught and enabled you to deny and resist them.* For as your fear towards God, and holy abstinence from unrighteousness, was, at first, not taught by the precepts of men, but by that light and grace which revealed the most secret thoughts and purposes of your heart, and searched the most inward parts, setting your sins in order before you, and reproving you for them, not suffering one unfruitful thought, word, or work of darkness to go unjudged; so when you did begin to disregard that light and grace, to be careless of that holy watch that was once set up in your heart, and did not keep sentinel there, as formerly, for God's glory and your own peace, the restless enemy of man's good quickly took advantage of this slackness, and often surprised you with temptations, whose suitableness to your inclinations made his conquest over you not difficult.
In short, you failed to take up Christ's holy yoke, to bear your daily cross; you were careless of your affections, and kept no account or check upon your actions: but did decline to audit accounts in your own conscience, with Christ your light, the great bishop of your soul and judge of your works, whereby the holy fear decayed and love waxed cold, vanity abounded, and duty became burdensome. Then up came formality, instead of the power of godliness; superstition, in place of Christ's institution. As where Christ's business was to draw off the minds of his disciples from an outward temple, and carnal rites and services, to the inward and spiritual worship of God, suitable to the nature of divinity; instead a worldly, human, pompous worship is again brought in; and a worldly priesthood, temple, and altar, are reestablished. It is like when the sons of God more saw the daughters of men were fair (Gen. 6:2); the pure eye grew dim, which repentance had opened. The eye that had seen no advantage outside of Christ, became eye of lust, opened again by the god of the world. Those worldly pleasures that make such as love them forget God, though once despised for the sake of Christ, began now to recover their old beauty and interest in your affections; and, from liking them, to become the study, care, and pleasure of your life.
True, there still remained the exterior forms of worship and a nominal and wordy reverence to God and Christ, but that was all; for the offence of the holy cross ceased, the power of godliness was denied, self-denial lost, and, though fruitful in the invention of ceremonious ornaments, yet barren in the blessed fruits of the Spirit. And a thousand shells cannot make one kernel, or many dead corpses one living man.
9. Thus religion fell from experience to tradition, and worship from power to form, from life to letter; and, instead of putting up lively and powerful requests, animated by a deep sense of want and the assistance of the Holy Spirit — by which the ancients prayed, wrestled, and prevailed with God — behold a rote false ritual, a dull and insipid formality, made up of physical kneelings and cringings, robes and grand assembly halls, incense, sermons, Bible readings, voices, and music, more appropriate for the reception of some earthly prince than the heavenly worship of the one true and immortal God, who is an eternal, invisible Spirit.
But when your heart grew carnal, your religion did too; and not liking it as it was, you fashioned it to your liking: forgetting what the holy prophet said, "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord" (Pro 15:8), and what James said, "You ask, and receive not" (James 4:3). Why? "Because you ask for evil purposes;" that is, with a heart that is not right, but insincere, unmortified, not in the faith that purifies the soul, and therefore can never receive what is asked. So that a man may say with truth, your condition is worse by your religion, because you are tempted to think yourself better for it, and are not.
10. Well, by this prospect that is given you of your foul fall from primitive Christianity, and the true cause of it — namely, a neglect of the daily Cross of Christ — it may be easy for you to inform yourself of the way of your recovery.
For, to look at the exit door, is to look at the same door you must re-enter; and, as letting fall and declining the daily cross created your loss, so taking up and enduring the daily cross will foster your recovery. It is the same way by which the sinners and apostates become the disciples of Jesus. "Whosoever," says Christ, "will come after me and be my disciple, let him deny himself and take up his daily cross and follow me" (Mat 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 14:27). Nothing short of this will do; mark that! for, as it is sufficient, so is it indispensable; no crown but by the cross, no life eternal but through death [on the cross]. It is just retribution for the holy cross of Christ to crucify all the evil and barbaric affections, which have so long crucified Christ afresh.
Oh Christendom, the daily cross has always been the way to glory. So the following section, which wholly relates to the doctrine of the cross, may appeal with the most evidence and advantage to your conscience, thereby meriting your serious consideration,--
To the first: What is the Cross of Christ?
1. The Cross of Christ is a figurative speech, borrowed from the outward tree, or wooden cross, on which Christ submitted to the will of God, suffering death at the hands of evil men. So that the cross mystical is that divine grace and power which crosses the carnal wills of men, and gives a contradiction to their corrupt affections, and that constantly opposes itself to the immoderate and fleshly appetites of their minds, and so may be justly termed the instrument of man's wholly dying to the world, and being made conformable to the will of God. For nothing else can mortify sin, or make it easy for us to submit to the divine will in things, which are very contrary to our own.
2. The preaching of the cross, therefore, in primitive times was fitly called by Paul, that famous and skilful apostle in spiritual things, "the power of God," though to those who perish, then, as now, "foolishness." To those who were truly weary and heavy laden, and needed a deliverer, to whom sin was oppressive and detestable, the preaching of the cross, by which sin was to be mortified, was the power of God, or a preaching of the divine power by which they were made disciples of Christ and children of God; and the cross worked so powerfully upon them, that no proud or immoral mockers could cause them to depart from it. But to those who walk in the broad way, in the full latitude of their lusts, and dedicate their time and care to the pleasure of their corrupt appetites, to whom any yoke or bridle is intolerable, the preaching of the cross is foolishness.
3. Where does this cross appear, and where must it be taken up?
I answer, within; that is, in the heart and soul. For where the sin is, the cross must be. Now all evil comes from within. Christ taught this: "From within," said Christ, "out of the heart of man proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evils come from within, and defile the man" (Mat 15:18).
The heart of man is the seat of sin, and where he is defiled he must be cleansed and sanctified. Where sin lives, there it must die; it must be crucified. Evil is customary in our cultures, and has made it natural for men to do evil. As the soul rules the body, so the corrupt nature sways the whole man; but still, it is all from within.
4. Experience teaches every son and daughter of Adam to conform to this; for the enemy's temptations are directed to the mind, which is within. If the temptations are denied, the soul sins not. If they are embraced, lust is quickly born, that is, inordinate desires. Lust conceived, brings forth sin. Sin acted upon brings forth death (James 1:15). Here is both the cause and the effect, the very genealogy of sin, its rise and end. In all this, the heart of evil man is the devil's mint, [his spirit is sown in man's heart] his workhouse, the place of his residence, where he exercises his power and exists. Therefore the redemption of the soul is aptly called the destruction of the works of the devil, and bringing in of everlasting righteousness (1 John 3:8; Dan 9:24). When the Jews would have defamed Christ's miracle of casting out devils, by a blasphemous imputation of it to the power of Beelzebub, He said that "no man can enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, until he first binds the strong man" (Mat 12:29). This shows the distinction between Beelzebub and the power by which Christ dispossessed him, but it also teaches us that the souls of the wicked are the devil's house, and that his goods, his evil works, can never be destroyed until first he that produced them, and guards their house, is bound. All which makes it easy to know where the cross must be taken up, by which alone the strong man must be bound, his goods spoiled, and his temptations resisted, that is within, in the heart of man.
5. How is the cross to be taken up daily?
The way, like the cross, is spiritual. It is an inward submission of the soul to the will of God, as His will is revealed by the light of Christ in the consciences of men,* though it is contrary to their own inclinations. For example, when evil is shown by the light, what shows the evil also tells them they should not yield to it; and if they listen to the light's counsel, it gives them power to escape it. But those who look and gaze upon the temptation, at last fall in with it, and are overcome by it; the consequence of which is guilt and judgment. Judgment because the Cross of Christ is that spirit and power in men, though not of men, but of God, which crosses and reproves their fleshly lusts and affections. So the way of taking up the cross is complete resignation of the soul to the discoveries and requirements of the light of Christ. In this discovery, do not entertain their worldly pleasure, or carnal ease, or interest, for such are captivated in a moment. Instead continually watch against the very appearances of evil; and by the obedience of faith, that is, of true love to, and confidence in God, cheerfully to offer up to the death of the cross, that evil part revealed. The Judas in every man's heart does not want to endure the heat of this attack on sin; and being impatient in the hour of temptation, would by its near relation to the tempter, more easily betray their souls into his hands.
6. Oh! This shows to every one's experience how hard it is to be a true disciple of Jesus. The way is narrow indeed, and the gate very strait, where not a word, no not a thought must slip the watch (Mat 24:42; 25:13; 26:38-41) or escape judgment; requiring such attention, such caution, such patience, such constance, such holy fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). This gives an easy interpretation to that hard saying, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 15:50); those who are captivated with fleshly lusts and affections: for they cannot bear the cross; and those who cannot endure the cross must never have the crown. To reign, it is necessary first to suffer (2 Tim 2:12; Rom 8:17).
BUT fourthly, What man's principal role and task with the cross?
1. This is indeed the critical time to be truly, plainly, and thoroughly answered. All the previous writing only serves to preface this; and to fail in answering is no less than misguiding the soul to blessedness. I shall therefore pursue the question with God's help, and the best knowledge He has given me in the experience of several years' discipleship.
2. The great work and business of the Cross of Christ in man is self-denial; a word of as much depth in itself as of severe contradiction to the world, little understood but less embraced by it, yet it must be borne. The Son of God has gone before us, and, by the bitter cup He drank, and the baptism He suffered, has left us an example that we should follow in his steps, (1 Pet 2:21), which made Him put that hard question to the wife of Zebedee and her two sons, upon her soliciting that one might sit at his right and the other at his left hand in his kingdom, "Are you able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" It seems their faith was strong; they answered, "We are able." Upon which He replied, "You shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with;" but their reward He left to his Father (Mat 20:21-23).
3. What was his cup He drank, and baptism He suffered? I answer, they were the denial and offering up of Himself by the eternal Spirit to the will of God, undergoing the tribulations of his life and agonies of his death upon the cross for man's salvation.
4. What is our cup and cross that we should drink and suffer? They are the denial and offering up of ourselves, by the same Spirit, to do or suffer the will of God for his service and glory, which is the true life and obedience of the cross of Jesus; narrow still, but the trail is clearly marked and trod by Christ's example. For when there was no one to help, not one to open the seals, to give knowledge, to direct the course of poor man's recovery, He came in the greatness of his love and strength; and though clothed with the infirmities of a mortal man, being within fortified with the almightiness of an immortal God, He traveled through all the straits and difficulties of humanity, and first, of all others, trod the un-trodden path to blessedness.
5. O come! let us follow Him, the most unwearied, the most victorious Captain of our salvation; to whom all the great Alexanders and mighty Caesars of the world are less than the poorest soldier of their camps could be to them. True, they were all great princes of their kind, and conquerors too, but on very different principles. For Christ made Himself of no reputation to save mankind; but these massively ruined people to enhance theirs. They vanquished others, not themselves. Christ conquered self, and that ever exceeded them. On merit, he was therefore the most excellent Prince and Conqueror. Besides, they advanced their empire by rapine and blood, but He by suffering and persuasion. He never used compulsion, they always used force. Misery and slavery followed all their victories; his brought greater freedom and happiness to those He overcame. They sought nothing but to please themselves; in all He did He aimed to please his Father, who is King of kings and Lord of lords.
6. There is a lawful and unlawful self; and both must be denied for the sake of Him, who in submission to the will of God counted nothing dear that He might save us. Although denial of lawful self is an advanced concept, which the worldly person in the beginning of the cross is not in need of understanding, being preoccupied with daily greedily sacrifices to the pleasure of unlawful self; yet for the benefit of some that are so far advanced in this spiritual warfare as to receive some service from it, I shall at least touch upon it.
7. The lawful self which we are to deny is that convenience, ease, enjoyment, and plenty, which in themselves are so far from being evil, that they are the bounty and blessings of God to us, as husband, wife, child, house, land, reputation, liberty, and life itself; these are God's favors, which we may enjoy with lawful pleasure and justly improve as our honest interest. But when God requires them, at whatever time the lender calls for them or is pleased to try our affections by our parting with them; I say, when they are brought in competition with Him, they must not be preferred, they must be denied. Christ Himself descended from the glory of his Father, and willingly made Himself of no reputation among men, that He might make us of some with God; and, from the quality of thinking it no robbery to be equal with God, He humbled Himself to the poor form of a servant; yes, the ignominious death of the cross (Phil 2:5-8).
9. This made those honest fishermen quit their lawful trades and follow Him, when He called them to it, and others that waited for the consolation of Israel to offer up their estates, reputations, liberties, and also lives, to the displeasure and fury of their kindred and the government they lived under, for the spiritual advantage that accrued to them by their faithful adherence to his holy doctrine. True, many would have excused their following Him in the parable of the feast; some had bought land, some had married wives, and others had bought yokes of oxen, and could not come (Luke 14:18-20); that is, an immoderate love of the world hindered them. Their lawful enjoyments, instead of being their servants, became their idols. They worshipped their pursuits more than God, and would not quit them to come to God. But this is recorded to their reproach; and in this we may see the power of self on the worldly man, and the danger that comes to him by the abuse of lawful things. What, is your wife dearer to you than your savior, and is your business preferred before your soul's salvation? Oh! Beware that your comforts do not prove to be first — traps, and then curses. To overrate them is to provoke, Him that gave them, to take them away again. Come, and follow Him that gives life eternal to the soul.
10. Woe to those who have their hearts in their earthly possessions, for when they are gone, their heaven is gone with them. Possessions are sin in common to the greatest part of the world, because they depend on the comforts of them. And it is lamentable to behold how their affections are mired in and entangled with their conveniences and accommodations.. The true self-denying man is a pilgrim; but the selfish man is an inhabitant of the world. The one uses it, as men do ships, to transport themselves or gear in a journey to get home; the other looks no further, (whatever he verbally claims), than to be fixed in fullness and ease here, and likes it so well, that if he could, he would not trade. However, he will not trouble himself to think of the next world, until he is sure he is about to die. But that may prove to be too late; and so go not to Abraham, but to eternal punishment like the rich man and Lazarus parable; which story is as true as sad.
11. But, on the other hand, the disciples of Jesus do not deny themselves without purpose and result; and indeed, Christ Himself had the eternal joy in his eye: "For the joy that was set before him," says the author to the Hebrews, "he endured the cross" (Heb 12:2); that is, He denied Himself, and bore the reproaches and death of the wicked; and despised the shame, namely, the dishonor and derision of the world. It made Him not afraid nor shrink; He slighted it; and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. And to their encouragement, and great consolation, when Peter asked Him, what they should have that had forsaken all to follow Him, He answered them, "Verily I say to you, that you which have followed me in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Mat 19:27-29), that were then in an apostasy from the life and power of godliness. This was the lot of his disciples, the more immediate companions of his tribulations, and first messengers of his kingdom. But the next that follows is to all: and "every one that has forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (Mat 19:29). It was this recompense of reward, this eternal crown of righteousness, that in every age has raised, in the souls of the just, a holy neglect, yes, contempt of the world. To this is owing the constancy of the martyrs, as to their blood, the triumph of the Truth.
12. Nor is this a new doctrine; it is as old as Abraham (Gen 12:1-5). In several most remarkable instances, his life was made up of self-denial. First, in quitting his own land, where we may well suppose him settled in the midst of plenty, at least sufficiency; and why? Because God called him. Indeed this should be reason enough, but such is the world's degeneracy that in fact it is not; and the same act, upon the same inducement, in any now, though praised in Abraham, would be derided. People are so prone not to understand what they commend; no, to despise those actions, when they meet them in the people of their own times, which they pretend to admire in their ancestors.
13. But Abraham obeyed. The consequence was, that God gave him a mighty land. This was the first reward of his obedience. The next was, a son in his old age; and, which greatened the blessing, after it had been, in nature, past the time of his wife's bearing of children (Gen 17:16-19). Yet God called for his darling, their only child, the joy of their age, the son of a miracle, and he upon whom the fulfilling of the promise made to Abraham did depend. For this son, I say, God called a mighty trial, which one would think might very well have overturned his faith and stumbled his integrity; at least have put him upon this dispute in himself. This command is unreasonable and cruel; it is the tempter's, it cannot be God's. For, is it to be thought that God gave me a son to make a sacrifice of him? that the father should be a butcher of his only child? Again, that He should require me to offer up the son of his own promise, by whom his covenant is to be performed; this is incredible. I say, thus Abraham might naturally enough have argued with the voice of God, and indulge his great affections to his beloved Isaac. But good old Abraham, who knew the voice that had promised him a son had not forgotten to know it when it required him back again; he disputes not, though it looked strange, and perhaps with some surprise and horror, as a man. He had learned to believe that God, that gave him a child by a miracle, could work another to preserve or restore him. His affections could not balance his duty, much less overcome his faith; for he received him in a way that would let him doubt of nothing that God had promised to him.
To the voice of this Almightiness he bows, builds an altar, binds his only son upon it, kindles the fire, and stretches forth his hand to take the knife; but the angel stopped the stroke. Hold, Abraham, your integrity is proved. What followed? A ram was sacrificed instead, and Isaac was his again. This shows how little serves, where all is resigned, and how little a sacrifice contents the Almighty, where the heart is approved. So that it is not the sacrifice that recommends the heart, but the heart that gives the sacrifice acceptance.
God often touches our best comforts, and calls for what we most love, and are least willing to part with. Not that He always take it utterly away, but to prove the soul's integrity, to caution us from excesses, and that we may remember God, the author of those blessings we possess, and live loose to them. I speak from my experience. The way to keep our enjoyments is to resign them; and though that is hard, it is sweet to see them returned, as Isaac was to his father Abraham, with more love and blessing than before. O stupid world! O worldly Christians, not only strangers, but enemies to this excellent faith! and while so, the rewards of it you can never know.
14. But Job rivals Abraham; his self-denial also was very noteworthy. For when the messengers of his afflictions came in great numbers upon him, one doleful story after another, until he was left almost as naked as when he was born; the first thing he did, he fell to the ground, and worshipped that power, and kissed that hand that stripped him; so far from murmuring, that he concludes his losses of estate and children with these words: "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return: the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). O the deep faith, patience, and contentment of this excellent man! One would have thought the repeated news of catastrophes had been enough to have overset his confidence in God; but it did not; that staid him. But indeed he tells us why; his Redeemer lived; "I know," says he, "that my Redeemer lives" (Job 19:25-26). And it appeared he did; for He had redeemed him from the world. His heart was not in his worldly comforts. His hope lived above the joys of time and troubles of mortality; not tempted by the one, nor shaken by the other; but firmly believed, that when after his skin worms should have consumed his body, yet with his eyes he should see his God. Thus was the heart of Job both submitted to and comforted in the will of God.
15. Moses is the next great example in sacred story for remarkable self-denial, before the times of Christ's appearance in the flesh. He had been saved when an infant, by an extraordinary providence, and it seems, by what followed, for an extraordinary service. Pharaoh's daughter, whose compassion was the means of his preservation, when the king decreed the slaughter of the Hebrew males (Exo 1:15-16), took him for her son, and gave him the education of her father's court. His own graceful presence and extraordinary abilities, joined with her love for him, and interest in her father to promote him, must have rendered him, if not capable of succession, at least of being chief minister of affairs under that wealthy and powerful prince. For Egypt was then what Athens and Rome were after, the most famous for learning, art, and glory.
16. But Moses, ordained for other work and guided by a higher principle, no sooner came to years of moderation, from the impiety of Egypt, and the oppressions of his brethren there, grew a burden too heavy for him to bear. And though so wise and good a man could not want those generous and grateful acknowledgments, that became the kindness of the king's daughter to him; yet he had also seen that God that was invisible (Heb 11:24-27); and did not dare to live in the ease and plenty of Pharaoh's house, while his poor brethren were required to make brick without straw (Exo 5:10).
Thus the fear of the Almighty took deep hold of his heart. He nobly refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and chose rather a life of affliction, with the most despised and oppressed Israelites, and to be the companion of their tribulations and jeopardies, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the same kind of reproaches directed at Christ. He suffered for making that unworldly choice, but seeking greater riches than all the treasures of that kingdom.
17. Nor was he as foolish as they thought. He had reason on his side; for it is said, he had an eye to the recompense of reward, he only refused a lesser benefit for a greater. In this, his wisdom transcended that of the Egyptians; for they made the present world their choice, as uncertain as the weather, and so lost the next world that has no end. Moses looked deeper, and weighed the enjoyments of this life on the scales of eternity, and found they made had weight in the next world. He governed himself not by immediate possession of something, but the nature and duration of the reward. His faith corrected his affections, and taught him to sacrifice the pleasures of self, to the hope he had more excellent reward in the future.
18. Isaiah was also a considerable example of this blessed self-denial; who as the son of royalty became a prophet, and left the worldly interests of the one for the faith, patience, and sufferings of the other. For his choice did not only lose him the favor of men, but their wickedness, enraged at his integrity to God, in his fervent and bold reproofs of them, made a martyr of him in the end, for they barbarously sawed him apart with a wooden saw in the reign of king Manasseh. Thus died that excellent man, and commonly called the evangelical prophet.
19. I shall add, of many, one example more, and that is from the fidelity of Daniel; a holy and wise young man. When his worldly advantages came into competition with his duty to Almighty God, he relinquished them all. Instead of trying to hold onto his worldly position, he was most careful how to preserve the honor of God, by his fidelity to his will; despite the danger to himself. And though at the first it exposed him to ruin, yet, as encouragement to all, that like him, they will choose to keep a good conscience in an evil time, his choice even advanced him greatly in the world; and the God of Daniel was made famous and terrible through his perseverance even in the eyes of heathen kings.
20. What shall I say of all the rest, who counted nothing of value compared to the will of God; who abandoned their worldly comforts, and exposed their ease and safety, as often as the heavenly vision called them, to the wrath and malice of degenerate princes and an apostate church? More especially Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Micah, who, after they had denied themselves, in obedience to the divine voice, sealed their testimony with their blood.
Thus was self-denial the practice and glory of the ancients, who were predecessors to the coming of Christ in the flesh; and shall we hope to go to heaven without it now, when our savior Himself has become the most excellent example of it? Despite some wishing that we did not have to bear the cross; but we must deny ourselves, and so be the true followers of his blessed example (1 Peter 2:21).
21. Whoever you are, that would do the will of God, but faint in your desires, from the opposition of worldly considerations; remember I tell you, in the name of Christ, that he who prefers father or mother, sister or brother, wife or child, house or land, reputation, honor, office, liberty, or life, before the testimony of the light of Jesus in his own conscience, shall be rejected of Him in the solemn and general inquest upon the world; when all shall be judged, and receive according to the deeds done, not the profession made, in this life. It was the doctrine of Jesus, that if your right hand offend you, you must cut it off; and if your right eye offend you, you must pluck it out (Mat 5:29-30): that is, if the most dear, the most useful and tender comforts you enjoy, stand in your soul's way, and interrupt your obedience to the voice of God, and your conformity to his holy will revealed in your soul, you are engaged, under the penalty of damnation, to part with them.
22. The way of God is a way of faith, as strange to the mind as death is to self. It is the children of obedience like Paul, who count all things dross and dung, so that they may win Christ, and know and walk in this narrow way. Presumption will not do, nor can lofty ideas enter; only the obedient eat the good of this land (Isa 1:19). Those who do his will, says the blessed Jesus, shall know of the doctrine (John 7:17); He will instruct them. There is no room for instruction, where lawful self is lord, and not servant. For self cannot receive it; what should receive instruction, is oppressed by self, fearful, and dares not. Oh! What will my father or mother say? How will my husband use me? Or finally, what will the magistrate do with me? For though I have a most powerful persuasion, and clear conviction upon my soul, of this or that thing, yet considering how unfashionable it is, what enemies it has, and how strange and singular I shall seem to them. I hope God will pity my weakness. If I sink, I am but flesh and blood; it may be in the future He may better enable me; and there is time enough. Thus selfish, fearful man.
But procrastinating is the worst; for the soul loses in no decision being made, [no decision is a decision]. The start of the process brings power with it. God has never convinced people, unless they are submissive, for which He has empowered them. He requires nothing that he has not provided the ability to perform; otherwise he would be mocking men, not saving men. It is enough for you to do your duty, that God shows you your duty; provided you consult within, that light and spirit by which He gives you knowledge. They, who seek power, are those who do not receive Christ in his convictions upon the soul, and therefore, they will always lack power; but those who seek his convictions, receive power, like those of old, to become the children of God, through the pure obedience of faith.
23. Therefore, let me implore you, by the love and mercy of God, by the life and death of Christ, by the power of his Spirit, and the hope of immortality, that you, whose hearts are established in your worldly comforts, and so lovers of self more than of these heavenly things, would let the time past suffice; that you would not think it enough to be clear of such impieties, as too many are found in, while your inordinate love of lawful things has defiled your enjoyment of them, and drawn your hearts from the fear, love, obedience, and self-denial of a true disciple of Jesus. Turn about then, and listen to the still voice in your conscience; it tells you your sins, and your misery in them; it gives a lively discovery of the very vanity of the world, and opens to the soul some prospect of eternity, and the comforts of the just, who are at rest. If you adhere to this, it will divorce you from sin and self. You will soon find that the power of its charms exceeds that of wealth, honor, and beauty of the world; and finally it will give you peace, which the storms of time can never shipwreck nor disorder. Here all your enjoyments are blessed, though small, yet great by that presence that is within them.
Even in this world the righteous have the better of it, for they use the world without rebuke, because they do not abuse it. They see and bless the hand that feeds, and clothes, and preserves them. As by beholding Him in all his works, they do not adore them, but He who made them; so the sweetness of his blessings is an advantage over those who don't see Him. Besides, those of God are not lifted up in their increase, nor are they cast down in their adversities. And why? Because by his divine presence they are moderated in the one, and comforted in the other.
In short, heaven is the throne, and the earth but the footstool of that man that has crucified self underfoot. Those who know that station will not easily be moved; such learn to number their days, so that they may not be surprised with their end; and to make the most of their time, because their days are evil (Eph 5:16); remembering they are stewards, and must deliver up their accounts to an imperial judge. Therefore they live not to self but to Him, and in Him die, and are blessed with those who die in the Lord. Thus I conclude my discourse on the right use of the lawful things of this world by self.
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