Page images
PDF
EPUB

not so careful and resolute, to avoid the ruin of his estate or name, or to avoid the plague, or sword, or famine, or the scorching flames, or death, or torments, as he is to avoid the endless torments which are threatened by the righteous God. It is a greater misery in his esteem, to be really undone for ever, than seemingly only for a time, and to be cast off by God, than by all the world; and to lie in hell, than to suffer any temporal calamity. And therefore he fears it more, and doth more to avoid it; and is more cast down by the fears of God's displeasure, than by the feelings of these present sufferings. As Noah did for his preservation from the threatened deluge, so doth the true believer for his preservation from everlasting wrath. “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 ;" Heb. xi. 7. God first giveth warning of the flood; Noah believeth it: not with a lifeless, but a working faith, that first moved in him a self-preserving fear. This fear moved Noah to obey the Lord in the use of means, and to prepare the ark; and all this was to save himself and his house from a flood, that was as yet unseen,

and of which in nature there was no appearance. Thus doth God warn the sinful world of the day of judgment and the fire that is unquenchable ; and true believers take his warning, and believing that which they cannot see, by fear they are moved to fly to Christ, and use his means to escape the threatened calamity. By this they became the “heirs of that righteousness which is by fail," and condemn the unbelieving, careless world, that take not the warning and use not the remedy.

By this time you may see that the life of faith is quite another thing, than the lifeless opinion of multitudes that call themselves believers. To say, 'I believe there is a God, a Christ, a heaven, a hell,' is as easy as it is common; but the faith of the ungodly is but an ineffectual dream. To dream that you are fighting, wins no victories. To dream that you are eating, gets no strength. To dream that you are running, rids no ground. To dream that you are ploughing, or sowing, or reaping, procureth but a fruitless harvest. And to dream that you are princes, may consist with beggary. If you do any more than dream of heaven and hell,

how is it that you stir not, and make it not appear by the diligence of your lives, and the fervour of your duties, and the seriousness of your endeavours, that such wonderful, inexpressible, overpowering things, are indeed the matters of your belief? As you love your souls, take heed lest you take an image of faith to be the thing itself. Faith sets on work the powers of the soul, for the obtaining of that joy, and the escaping of that misery which you believe. But the image of faith in self-deceivers, neither warms nor works; it conquereth not difficulties; it stirs not up to faithful duty. It is blind, and therefore seeth not God; and how then should he be feared and loved ? It seeth not hell, and therefore the senseless soul goes on as fearlessly and merrily to the unquenchable fire, as if he were in the safest way. This image of faith annihilateth the most potent objects, as to any due impression on the soul. God is as no God, and heaven as no heaven to these imaginary Christians. If a prince be in the room, an image reverenceth him not. If music and feasting be there, an image finds no pleasure in them. If fire and sword be there, an image fears them not. You may perceive by the senseless, neglectful carriage of ungodly men, that they see not by faith the God that they should love and fear; the heaven that they should seek and wait for, or the hell that they should with all possible care avoid. He is indeed the true believer that allowing the difference of degrees) doth pray as if he saw the Lord; and speak and live as always in his presence; and redeem his time as if he were to die to-morrow, or as one that seeth death approach, and ready to lay hands upon him ; that begs and cries to God in prayer, as one that foreseeth the day of judgment, and the endless joy or misery that followeth ; that bestirreth him for everlasting life, as one that seeth heaven and hell by the eye of faith. Faith is a serious apprehension, and causeth a serious conversation ; for it is instead of sight and presence.

From all this you may easily and certainly infer, 1. That true faith is a jewel, rare and precious; and not so common as nominal, careless Christians think. What say they, ' Are we not all believers? Will you make infidels of all that are not saints ? 'Are none Christians, but those that live so strictly? Answ. I know they are not infidels by profession; but what they are indeed, and what God will take them for,

24

you may soon perceive, by comparing the description of faith, with the inscription legible on their lives. It is common to say, 'I do believe ;' but is it common to find men

pray and live as those that do believe indeed? It is both in ( works of charity and of piety, that a living faith will shew itself. I will not therefore contend about the name. If you are ungodly, unjust, or uncharitable, and yet will call yourselves believers, you may keep the name and see whether it will save you. Have you forgotten how this case is determined by the Holy Ghost himself; “ What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say,' he hath faith, and hath not works? Can faith save him? Faith if it hath not works is dead, being alone. Thou believest that there is one God; thou dost well : the deyils also believe and tremble ;" James ii. 14. &c. If such a belief be it that thou gloriestsin, it is not denied thee; “But wilt thou know, O vain man! that faith without works is dead ?" &c. Is there life where there is no motion ? Had you that fạith that is instead of sight, it would make you more solicitous for the things unseen, than you are for the visible trifles of this world.

2. And hence you may obserye that most true believers are weak in faith. Alas! how far do we all fall short of the love, and zeal, and care, and diligence, which we should have if we had but once beheld the things which we do believe! Alas! how dead are our affections! how flat are our duties! how cold, and how slow are our endeavours! how unprofitable are our lives, in comparison of what one hours? sight of heaven and hell would make them be! O what. a comfortable converse would it be, if I might but join in prayer, praise and holy conference one day or hour, with a person that had seen the Lord, and been in heaven, and borne a part in the angelic praises! Were our congregations composed of such persons, what manner of worship would they perform to God! How unlike would their heavenly, ravishing expressions be, to these our sleepy, heartless duties! Were heaven open to the view of all this congregation while I am speaking to you, or when we are speaking in prayer and praise to God, imagine yourselves what a change it would make upon the best of us in our services! What apprehensions, what affections, what resolutions it would raise ; and what a posture it would cast us all into! And do we not all profess to believe these things,

as revealed from heaven by the infallible God? Do we not say, that such a Divine revelation is as sure as if the things were in themselves laid open to our sight? Why then are we no more affected with them? Why are we no more transported by them? Why do they no more command our souls, and stir up our faculties to the most vigorous and lively exercise ? and call them off from things that are not to us considerable, nor fit to have one glance of the eye of our observation, nor a regardful thought, nor the least affection, unless as they subserve these greater things? When you observe how much in yourselves and others, the frame of your souls in holy duty, and the tenor of your lives towards God and man do differ from what they would be, if you had seen the things that you believe, let it mind you of the great imperfection of faith, and humble us all in the sense of our imbecility. For though I know that the most perfect faith is not apt to raise such high affections in degree as shall be raised by the beatifical vision in the glorified, and as present intuition now would raise if we could attain it; yet seeing faith hath as sure an object and revelation as sight itself, though the manner of

apprehension be less affecting, it should do much more with us than it doth, and bring us nearer to such affections and resolutions as sight would cause.

Use 2. If faith be given us to make things to come as if they were at hand, and things unseen as if we saw them, you may see from hence, 1. The reason of that holy seriousness of believers, which the ungodly want. 2. And the reason why the ungodly want it. 3. And why they wonder at, and distaste and deride this serious diligence of the saints.

1. Would you make it any matter of wonder, for men to be more careful of their souls, more fervent in their requests to God, more fearful of offending him, and more laborious in all holy preparation for eternal life, than the holiest and most precise person that you know in all the world, if so be that heaven and hell were seen to them? Would you not rather wonder at the dulness, and coldness, and negligence of the best, and that they are not far more holy and diligent than they are, if you and they did see these things ? Why then do you not cease your wondering at their diligence ? Do you not know that they are men, that have seen the

Lord whom they daily serve ; and seen the glory which they daily seek; and seen the place of torments which they fly from ? By faith in the glass of Divine revelation they have seen them.

2. And the reason why the careless world are not as diligent and holy as believers, is, because they have not this eye of faith, and never saw those powerful objects, that believers see.

Had you their eyes, you would have their hearts and lives. O that the Lord would but illuminate you, and give you such a sight of the things unseen, as every true believer hath! What a happy change would it make upon you! Then instead of your deriding or opposing it, we should have your company in the holy path. You would then be such yourselves, as you now deride. If you saw what they see, you would do as they do. When the heavenly light had appeared unto Saul, he ceaseth persecuting, and inquires what Christ would have him to do, that he might be such an one as he had persecuted. And when the scales fell from his eyes, he falls to prayer, and gets among the believers whom he had persecuted, and laboureth and suffereth more than they.

But till this light appear to your darkened souls, you cannot see the reasons of a holy, heavenly life. And therefore you will think it hypocrisy, or pride, or fancy, and imagination, or the foolishness of crack-brained, self-conceited men. If you see a man do reverence to a prince, and the prince himself were invisible to you, would you not take him for a madman; and say that he cringed to the stools or chairs, or bowed to a post, or complimented with his shadow ? If you saw a man's action in eating and drinking, and see not the meat and drink itself, would you not think him mad ? If

you heard men laugh, and hear not so much as the voice of him that gives the jest, would you not imagine them to be brain-sick? If you see men dance and hear not the muşic; if you see a labourer threshing, or reaping, or mowing, and see no corn, or grass before him; if you see a soldier fighting for his life, and see no enemy that he spends his strokes upon; will you not take all these for men distracted? Why this is the case between you and the true believers. You see them reverently worship God, but you see not the majesty which they worship, as they do. You see them as busy for the saving of their souls, as if a hundred lives lay

« PreviousContinue »