Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments. A Song of degrees. Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in his ways.
~ Psalm 1:1-3, Psalm 112:1, Psalm 128:1
Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea:
~ Luke 6:47-48, Isaiah 48:17-18
Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
~ James 1:21-25, 1 John 3:21-24
Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
~ Revelation 22:14
A Description of True Blessedness, by Christopher Love.
But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
~ Luke 11:28
In the obscure humanity of Jesus Christ, there broke forth such a glorious lustre of His divinity that though, as to His person, He was deemed despicable and contemptible, yet the words He spoke and the works that He did declared Him to be no less than the Son of God. The words He spoke declared it, His enemies themselves being judges, “The officers answered, ‘Never man spake like this man'” (John 7:46). And the works He did, the miracles He wrought, of them it is said that “it was never done thus from the beginning of the world.” As upon His healing of the man born blind, say they, “It was never heard that a man born blind, could afterwards see.”
His miracles wrought admiration in the hearts even of those men in whom it wrought envy. The miracle He wrought in this chapter, the dispossessing of the devil out of a man who was dumb, caused the fame of Christ to have great renown though many parts of the world. And though for all this His enemies would not acknowledge the divinity of Christ, yet a certain young woman (as may be gathered from the history) came and lifted up her voice and said unto Him, “Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps that Thou hast sucked.” Now Christ, instead of giving her thanks for applauding Him, rather gives her a rebuke, a check, and said, “I will tell you who are blessed; rather blessed are they who hear the Word of God, and keep it.” Thus you have the coherence of the words.
The speech of the woman was a proverbial speech among the Jews. When any person did some achievement that was praiseworthy, they would cry out and say, “Blessed is the womb that bare Thee.” And from this proverbial speech I would note this: Good children are a great praise and blessing to their parents. This woman could bless the mother of Christ, who bare such a son as He was. Solomon says, “A wise son maketh a glad father” (Proverbs 15:20). And in many other places you read what great blessing and honour accrues to parents whom the Lord has blessed with wise and godly children. And, on the contrary, the Scripture marks those parents with a brand of reproach who bring forth wicked children into the world, children to increase the number of the damned, to fill hell and to pollute the earth. Therefore it is that you so often read in Scripture that a wicked child is a shame to his parents (Proverbs 10:1, 5).
The use is to teach you, whom God has blessed with good children, to be exceedingly thankful unto God, for it is a greater blessing unto you than if God should fill your house with silver and gold. And you whom God has thus afflicted, in suffering bad children to come out of your loins, oh, mourn under the heavy hand of God that He has made you instrumental to bring forth children into the world which shall increase the number of the damned in hell.
This much from the woman’s speech who said, “Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps that gave Thee suck.” But Christ said, “Rather blessed are they which hear the word of God and keep it.” Christ said, “rather blessed.” He does not say that His mother was not blessed, but that the woman might not too much dote on His mother, to think that she was so greatly blessed only for bearing Him in her womb. Therefore He said, “I tell you who indeed is the blessed man and woman, even they that hear the word of God and keep it.” Christ would not give way to her applause, but He gave her a mild and loving rebuke. Hence observe that you must take heed that you are not tickled with pride when you hear yourselves commended. Christ would give no way to the woman’s commendation. She thought that the Virgin Mary was the happiest woman in all the world, yet Christ put a “rather” on those who make conscience of hearing the Word of God and keeping it. A believer hearing and obeying Jesus Christ is more blessed in so doing than the Virgin Mary was merely for bringing Christ into the world, although it was the happiest birth that ever was brought forth! Oh, how should this be a spur unto you to hear, and to practice what you hear, seeing that by so doing you are thus blessed!
Now I shall observe something from the manner or form of expression that Christ here uses. It is not said, “Blessed are they which hear the Word of God,” for there are many sorts of hearers who come short of blessedness. But blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it, who incorporate it into their souls and become transformed into the image of it. There are four sorts of hearers spoken of in Matthew 13, and three of them fall short of blessedness. All hearers, although it is the Word of God which they hear, do not attain unto blessedness. It is not hearing, but keeping and observing the Word of God which makes men blessed.
Observe again that it is not said, “Blessed are you who believe.” Although it is indeed a truth that all true believers are blessed, yet it is not so said lest men should think that a naked believing is enough to make them blessed, or lest they should think that they are above hearing, praying, or receiving, which are the proud aspiring vanities of many in this age.
Neither it is said, “Blessed are you who keep the Word of God in a disjunction from hearing,” but “in a conjunction with hearing. Blessed are you that hear, and keep.” Many men pretend to a great perfection of life and conversation in keeping what Christ commands, but it is a disjunction from hearing; they leave off hearing the Word. But those only are blessed in the esteem of Jesus Christ who hear and keep the Word of God.
Again, it is not said, “Blessed shall you be who hear and keep the Word of God,” but, “Blessed are you,” to show that you shall not only be blessed when you come to heaven, but that you are blessed in so doing while you are here on earth. “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (Romans 6:22). You have your fruit, O man, if you are a holy man, even before you come to everlasting life.
Again, it is not said, “Blessed are you if you hear and keep,” but “if you hear the Word of God and keep it.” You may hear men who preach damnable errors, and keep them fast in your heart. But in this case you are nearer a cursing than a blessing. Men may be followers of sermons, but if those sermons which they hear and practice are not agreeable to the Word of God, are not grounded upon the Scriptures, they are under a curse and not a blessing by what they hear. Therefore the Holy Ghost here says, “Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.” This should teach men how they hear, whom they hear, and what they hear, that they hear nothing but the Word of God, and then keep what they hear. We read of teachers who shall bring in damnable heresies, and that many shall follow their pernicious ways. “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you; whose judgment of a long time lingereth not” (2 Peter 2:1-3). Now they are not blessed who hear men who bring in such damnable heresies. The Scripture does not entail blessing on all hearing, but on hearing the Word of God and keeping it.
Again, it is not said, “Blessed also,” but “Blessed rather.” Christ does not say, “My mother is a blessed woman, and they also are blessed who hear the Word of God and keep it.” But Christ comes in with a “rather.” It is as if He had said, “I account those men and women more blessed than My own mother, merely for being instrumental in bringing Me into the world.” Oh, how should the consideration hereof enflame your hearts, and provoke you to a diligent hearing of God’s Word, and a conscientious practicing of what you hear? There is not the like phrase in all the Bible.
It is not said, “rather blessed are they who hear My words and My sayings.” It is so said in some other places, but here it is said, “they who hear God’s Word.” For had Christ said, “rather blessed are they who hear My Word,” then people might have thought that Christ imputed blessedness only to His own preaching, and to those who personally heard Him preach. Therefore Christ said, “Rather blessed are they who hear God’s Word,” be it preached by Peter, Paul, or Apollos, by any disciple now living or by any minister of the gospel who shall live afterwards to the world’s end. “Whosoever shall hear the Word of God contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, and keep it, they are more blessed than My mother was, if she is considered only as instrumental in bringing Me into the world.” And in this expression there is a secret glory or honor put upon the ministers of the gospel by Jesus Christ, who would not limit the blessing to His own preaching, but extends it to the Word of God out of any minister’s mouth. And that is the reason (as many think) for that saying in Scripture, “He that believeth shall do greater works than Christ did.” It is not meant of the works of redemption, but of the ministerial works, that a faithful minister shall convert more souls than Christ converted by His ministry. Christ indeed could have converted all who heard Him, but He did not do it, lest men should have thought that they must have heard none but Christ.
We do not read of many who were converted by Christ’s preaching. There were more converted by Peter and other apostles than by Christ Himself. Christ did this so that people might not despise any of His ordinary ministers. If Christ had converted more than all the disciples, people then would have slighted the disciples and followed only Christ. This distemper began to grow in the apostles’ days: “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, ‘I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, and I am of Christ.’ ” The apostle blames them for saying, “I am of Christ.” The meaning is not that men were blameworthy for following the love of Christ. God forbid! It is our highest duty so to do, but there were some in the church of Corinth who were ready to say, “I care not for the hearing of Paul or Apollos, but only for hearing Jesus Christ.” This was a vain and sinful crying up of Christ. Thus for men to cry up Christ, to preach Christ, and in the mean time to cry down the ministry, is sinful; and Christ will never own this to be preaching Him, for Christ said, “Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it.” Let it be preached by any faithful minister whatsoever.
Again, it is not said, “Blessed are they for hearing and for keeping,” but “Blessed are they that hear and that keep.” Blessedness does never come with a “for,” but with an “if” or a “that.” The Lord does not bless you for your hearing, although you hear as many sermons as there are days in the year. But He blesses those who hear in obedience to His command, and practice what they hear. Thus you have eight notes from the form of the speech which Christ here used.
Now I shall come to show what is meant by keeping the Word of God which we hear. There is a double keeping of the Word of God:
First, there is a keeping of it in your memory. “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). She kept them in her memory. Our memories should be as the ark wherein the pot of manna was kept. The pot of manna is divine truths; these should be kept safe in our memories. But this is not the keeping here spoken of, for there are many men who have good memories to keep what they hear, and yet have neither good hearts or good lives, and therefore are not blessed by their keeping.
Second, there is a keeping of the Word in your practice, and that is done when there is a conscionable care to square your lives and conversations answerable to what you hear or know. Now blessed are you who hear the Word of God and thus keep it.
And thus I have opened all the difficulties that may appear in the words. The observation is this: They are more blessed who hear the Word of God, and practice what they hear, than the mother of Jesus Christ was for bringing Him into the world. It is a point I confess which well deserves a scanning, and if it had not been in the Bible it would have been incredible that Christ should put a “rather” on you, O man, or woman, in every age of the world, who shall hear the Word of God and keep it.
It is worth noticing what a different dialect is used by the woman in the text and Elizabeth, who was kinswoman to the Virgin Mary. The woman in the text said, “Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps that Thou hast sucked.” But Elizabeth cried out, “Blessed is she that believeth” (Luke 1:45). Upon these words a learned author has a very good note: “If the virgin Mary had not born Christ in her heart by faith as well as in her womb, she would not have been blessed. For Elizabeth here declares wherein the blessedness of the Virgin Mary, and of all the elect, consists.”
Now how may this confute the dotage of the church of Rome, that so excessively cries up the virgin Mary? I have read a little in some popish authors, and I find that for one tract of the dignity and glory of Christ, they have written many of the dignity of the Virgin Mary. And they relate strange stories and fooleries concerning her, such as were never heard of in former times, idolatrously to advance her frame. They say that she was free from original sin, whereas the Scripture says expressly that all that descend from Adam are polluted with original corruption, and therefore the Virgin Mary is also, being a daughter of Adam. The papists speak more honourably of the virginity, dignity, and holiness of the Virgin Mary, the mother, than they do of the righteousness, grace, and merits of Christ, the Son. And therefore they hold justification by works, and not by faith in the righteousness of Christ. Yea, they so dote on the Virgin Mary that they make her the greatest mediatress next to God the Father. A man would think it unnecessary to teach against the popish doctrine, but ministers never had more reason for it than now. For there never was more likelihood of popery spreading than in these days wherein, under the notion of a cursed toleration, priests and Jesuits publish their blasphemous and idolatrous tenets, and drive on their Jesuital designs. And God knows how soon you who will not lay your neck under Christ’s yoke may be brought under the popish yoke. This I can say from my own experience, that I never found so many to stagger towards popery as I have done of late. They who have professed the protestant religion are staggering and apostatizing from their former profession and solemn covenants, and God knows how soon they will prefer the Virgin Mary before Jesus Christ. But I hope better things of you. Therefore I shall pass this, and come to the reasons of the point, which are these:
1. They are more blessed who hear and keep the Word of God than the Virgin Mary was for bringing Christ into the world, because Christ accounts such to stand in more manifold near relations unto Him than His own natural friends were. “And He answered and said unto them, ‘My mother, and my brethren are these, which hear the Word of God and do it’ ” (Luke 8:21). Lo, here is the right way of being brought into a near relation with Christ, of becoming akin to Jesus Christ, of being accounted the brother, sister, and mother of Jesus Christ, and that is by hearing and obeying the will of Christ.
2. Your blessedness appears in this, because if you hear and practice you shall persevere unto the end while others shall apostatise and fall back from the faith. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them, I will liken him to a wise man, which built his house upon a rock, and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock; and every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand, and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof” (Matthew 7:24-28).
Those only who hear the Word of God and keep it persevere; they only have their souls built upon a rock, and stand unmovable in the time of persecution. Indeed, fall they may, and foully too (as David, Peter, and many other precious saints have done), through the violence of Satan’s temptations and the remaining corruption that is in them, but finally and irrecoverably they shall never fall because they are built upon a rock which can never fall; they are built upon a rock which can never be removed, and that rock is Christ, who is both the author and finisher of their faith (Hebrews 12:2). And He has prayed that their faith fail not utterly (Luke 22:32). And this He has procured, and therefore, though the storms and waves arise, they can never fall irrecoverably. Others fall off, and fall away, when winds and storms arise.
3. The Lord makes glorious promises to such as hear the Word of God and keep it. “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein, for the time is at hand” (Revelation 1:3). Here you see those who hear the Word of God and keep it, that is, lay it up in their hearts and express the power of it in their lives, are blessed.
4. By practicing what you hear in the Word, you may bring others unto blessedness; and happy are you who are instrumental in bringing others to heaven. “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, that if any obey not the word, they may also without the word, be won by the conversation of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1). So, “Having your conversations honest amongst the Gentiles, that whereas they speak against you as evil doers, they may, by your good works which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). Their godly conversation might be a means to bring others to heaven.
5. If you make conscience to practice what you hear, you are blessed because (although you should not bring others to heaven) you yourselves shall surely come to heaven, shall surely come to blessedness. “Here is the patience of the saints, here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, ‘Write, blessed are the dead, which die in the Lord, from henceforth, yea,’ saith the Spirit, ‘That they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them’ ” (Revelation 14:12-13). Oh, you who make conscience to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, you shall surely go to heaven, although you bring none with you but yourselves. It was a notable saying of one of the fathers that when a gospel life goes before, an angel’s life shall follow after. Oh, therefore make conscience to practice what you hear and know.
Now I come to the application:
Use of lamentation. If it is so that they who hear and keep the Word of God are more blessed than the Virgin Mary was merely for bringing Christ into the world, should not this then be for a lamentation that men will not seek after blessedness when they may have it upon such easy terms? Had God said, “I will bless you if you remove mountains, if you fulfil My law in every jot and tittle thereof,” these indeed would have been impossible works to be done. But God said, “Blessed are you if you hear the Word of God and keep it.” Therefore, if you will not practice what you hear, you refuse your own mercy. The devil could not damn you if you would not damn yourself. You, O man who has an obstinate heart, who (let the preacher say what he will) will do what you will, who makes little conscience to hear, and less conscience to practice what you hear, are inexcusable.
Now to set home this use, take these five considerations:
1. Your hearing, if you do not practice what you hear, will aggravate your condemnation another day. “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin, but now they have no cloak for their sin” (John 15:22). The fault admits of some extenuation, where there is no knowledge of the fault it is a far greater sin to condemn the known law of God than to be ignorant of the law of God. They that sin against knowledge have no cloak or excuse for their sin. “That servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes” (Luke 12:47). In Isaiah 13 we read of many nations and people against whom the Lord commands the prophet to denounce a burdensome prophecy. But in Isaiah 22 we read of the “burden of the valley of vision,” that is, of Jerusalem; and it is observed that that burden was the heaviest of all others, none so burdensome as the burden of the valley of visions. It was a place where knowledge was, where preaching was; therefore that burden was heavier than against Babylon, Tyre, Damascus, and all the rest. Though other men who live in the American part of the world shall go to hell for their disobedience, yet remember, you who live in England, where the gospel is professed and preached, shall to go hell with a heavier load on your conscience than those who have not the gospel. You shall be damned with a witness, who hear the Word of God and make no conscience to practice what you hear and what you know.
It would make one stand amazed to read that passage, “Pour out Thy fury upon the heathen that know Thee not” (Jeremiah 10:25). Now if the fury of the Lord is poured out upon poor, ignorant heathens who know not God, who have not the means of knowledge, who hear not of the gospel of Christ, what wrath shall then be poured out upon the so-called Christians who know not God? But, above all, what inexpressible fury and vengeance shall be poured out upon those so-called “Christians” who sin against the knowledge of God, who sin against the light shining clearly before their eyes, who sin against an awakened and convinced conscience? If any place in hell is hotter than another it shall be for them, for it is a far greater sin to condemn the known law of God than to be ignorant of the law of God; they that sin against knowledge have no cloak nor excuse for their sin.
2. Consider, you are void of love to God if you do not practice what you hear. “Whoso keepeth His Word, in him verily is the love of God perfected” (1 John 2:5).
3. Consider, God looks upon your profession as worth nothing unless you practice what you hear. In arithmetic, put never so many zeros together and they make no sum, but put one figure thereunto and then it makes a great sum. So make never so many prayers, and hear never so many sermons, yet all stands but for zeros unless you join therewith a conscionable course of life, answerable to what you hear and what you pray.
Consider, would you (who has been this long a professor) have God to look upon you as if you had been a profane man all your life? God looks on you as such if you do not practice what you hear and know. “Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial, they knew not the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:12). They knew not God? Surely they did! By their education they had a speculative knowledge of God and His law, for they were priests of the Lord, and God would not choose ignorant men for His priests. But they had no practical, efficacious, and saving knowledge of God, for they were men of wicked lives and conversations, and therefore God looked upon their knowledge as no knowledge, and upon their profession as no profession. So “The priests said not, ‘Where is the Lord?’ And they that handle the law knew Me not; the pastors also transgressed against Me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit” (Jeremiah 2:8). “They knew Me not.” God did not regard the knowledge they had of Him because they transgressed against Him. Remember, God will account your hearing as no hearing, your praying as no praying, your receiving the sacraments as no receiving, if you do not make conscience to obey what you hear.
4. You can have no good persuasion, nor discovery in your soul of the love of God unto you, unless you make conscience to keep what you hear. “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). And therefore you find in Scripture that the love of God is often subjoined to keeping the commandments of God: “showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:6). They are both put together to show that where there is a love of God, there will be a keeping of His commandments.
5. If we do not make conscience to practice what we hear, we shall provoke the Lord to take away the gospel from us. ” ‘And it shall come to pass in that day,’ saith the Lord God, ‘that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day’ ” (Amos 8:9). And in verse 11, “I will send a famine, not of bread and water, but of hearing of the words of the Lord.” Remember it, God will take away the Word for our not profiting by what we hear. “Therefore I say unto you, the kingdom of heaven shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matthew 21:43). By the kingdom of God we are to understand the gospel, the Word of God and the ministry thereof; this shall be taken from you and given to others, if you do not bring forth the fruits thereof.
And here we may read both our sin and judgment. For if ever any people in the world were guilty of barrenness and unfruitfulness under the means of grace, we of this nation are. We have been lifted up to heaven, and therefore we may justly expect to be cast down to hell.
Now to awaken your consciences, I shall, in the first place, lay down some demonstrations that we are extremely guilty of barrenness under the means of grace. And that therefore, in the second place, we are in great danger of having the gospel removed from us, and given to a nation that will bring forth the fruits thereof. That we are guilty of unfruitfulness under gospel ordinances may appear:
1. By the sad complaints that the most fruitful stocks and plants in God’s vineyard make, they with grief and sighing of heart complain of their unfruitfulness under gospel ordinances. Now if the trees of righteousness of the Lord’s planting, in the Lord’s vineyard, complain that they bear not fruit, surely then the trees of the forest are barren. If the trees of God’s garden bring not forth fruit, what can the trees of the wilderness do? If the people of the Lord sit down and lament because no answerable fruit is to be found in them, what cause, then, have the wicked of the world to complain, whose hearts remain as hard as the nether millstone, notwithstanding all the heavenly dew which from time to time depends upon them?
2. It appears by the sad complaints of God’s husbandmen, the ministers of Jesus Christ, who discern but little fruit appearing after all their labor, little success to attend their gospel ministry. Therefore they lie down upon their beds in sorrow, and with sadness of spirit complain, as Peter did, that they have fished all night but caught nothing, that they plow upon rocks and break their instruments, but cannot break the hearts of men, that they wear out their own lives, consume their own lungs, but cannot consume people’s lusts. And thus they complain with the prophet (in the person of Christ), “I have labored in vain” (Isaiah 49:4).
3. It may appear by comparing our times with the time in which the gospel was first planted. Says Christ, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). In those days men used a holy violence in the ways of religion, but where is that violence now to be found? When the seventy disciples had a commission from Christ to preach the gospel, it was said that they went forth preaching the Word (Luke 10:18). And what follows? God was with them, and many were converted, and “the devil like lightning did fall from heaven.” Their ministry had a most glorious success. And it is said (which is a prophecy of the first times of the gospel’s preaching), “Enlarge thy tents, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations” (Isaiah 54:2). As if there was not room enough for the converted men, therefore “enlarge your tents,” which refers to the Gentiles upon their first conversion. And, said the apostle, “Rejoice thou barren that bearest not, break forth, and cry thou that travailest not, for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath a husband” (Galatians 4:27). And it is said, “The hand of God was upon them, and a great number believed, and turned to unto the Lord” (Acts 11:21). Yea, three thousand were converted by one sermon of Peter’s, whereas now three thousand sermons will hardly convert one soul to Christ. And, says the prophet, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power, in the beauties of holiness; from the womb of the morning Thou hast the dew of Thy youth” (Psalm 110:3). The meaning of these words, “from the womb of the morning, Thou hast the dew of Thy youth,” is this: the converts upon the first preaching of the gospel should be as numerous as the drops of dew upon the grass in the morning. But nowadays the converting of souls, the bringing in of men to Jesus Christ, is not so numerous as the drops of dew, but as rare as pearls and diamonds.
4. It will appear that there is a general barrenness under all the means of grace because in these days more people are perverted from the truth and simplicity of the gospel than are converted by the power and efficacy thereof. The conversion that is wrought nowadays is but a power upon men’s heads, not upon their hearts; it works in them only fancies and notions, not practical godliness. They are like the moon (not the sun), whose influence gives light, but no heat. The Word, it may be, reclaims them from drunkenness in practice, but the devil makes them drunk with opinions and errors.
Now this being so, I shall in the next place give some demonstrations that we are in danger of having the kingdom of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, removed from us. Therefore let us not be secure, for there is great danger the gospel shall be removed, if not from the nation, yet from particular places.
1. It may appear from that implacable opposition that is in the professors of the gospel against the preachers of the gospel. Those very people who esteemed the feet of their ministers to be very beautiful now say that the mark of the beast is upon their forehead. Those people who would have pulled out their eyes to do their ministers good would now pull out their minister’s eyes. Those very people who looked upon us as the servants of Christ, and stewards of the mystery of salvation, now account us the limbs of antichrist and perverters of religion. Now there is no way more likely to drive away the gospel from us than to spurn at and oppose the gospel, and the ministers thereof. This will be the great inlet (if the Lord prevent it not) to our utter confusion, and an outlet to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I would have such men, who would rather see godly ministers in prison than in the pulpit, to consider that if God should take them away you would have worse in their room. The sectaries were weary of godly and learned Junius; therefore God suffered Arminius, that pestilent enemy to the gospel of Christ, to rise up after him. God may justly send us unable and seducing teachers for our slighting of those learned and godly ministers who are among us. When Paul and Barnabas were slighted and opposed by the unbelieving Jews, they said, “Seeing ye put away the Word of God from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). They lost the gospel by it.
2. It appears that there is danger that the gospel should be removed from us by the general wantonness and weariness of people living under it. When children are wanton with bread in their hand, the parent takes it from them and makes them fast. We have dealt with the gospel as children deal with bread when their bellies are full. We have grown wanton and have become weary of it, so that now if a minister preaches of faith, repentance, mortification, zeal, self-denial, and heavenly-mindedness, these are accounted thread-bare doctrines. Now when the Lord shall see a people grow weary of and wanton with the gospel, He will cut them short. He will make them know the worth of the gospel by the want of the gospel.
3. When the Israelites loathed manna, God quickly suffered them to be hunger-bitten. He who runs may read our sin and danger in this particular. For those very people who with delight waited upon the ordinances of Jesus Christ, oh, how they became weary of ordinances! Those people who accounted the six days tedious, and thought it long before the Sabbath came, now do not care for sanctifying a Sabbath all the year long! Those people who could not live a day without the gospel can now live not only without, but above the gospel! They are like those we read of in 1 Corinthians 1:12 who were so high flown, that they scorned Paul, Apollo, and Cephas, and cried up only Christ. Now once a people grow weary of the gospel, it will not be long before the gospel grows weary of them and departs from them.
It appears that the gospel is in danger of being removed from us by reason of the great increase of such opinions as are contrary to the gospel, as are destructive to the power and purity of it. When men shall use strong endeavours to bring in a toleration of all religions, that is the way to bring us to no religion at all. “When the people had set their threshold by God’s threshold, and their post by God’s post” (Ezekiel 43:8), that is, when they added traditions, their own inventions, to God’s precepts, then there was a wall between God and them. Their wickedness was as a wall of separation. God was departing from them. Those who plead for a licentious toleration of all opinions do as much as in them lies to put a wall of separation between God and England.
4. An increase of damnable errors and heresies is a demonstration of the gospel’s being removed. The gospel is the sun that shines in our horizon; heresies are as fogs and mists that darken the bright beams of the sun. One well observes that it was not corruption in manners that unchurched the church of Rome, but merely corruption in doctrine. When the woman was flying into the wilderness, it is said, “The serpent cast out of his mouth poured out a flood of water to drown the woman” (Revelation 12:15). This flood of water was a flood of heresies, and peculiarly the heresy of Arianism. If the Lord should suffer the dragon to pour out a flood of heresies to overflow the land, we may then justly fear the removal of the gospel from us.
5. The implacable opposition that is against the settlement of church government is a demonstration of the gospel’s remove. It is true, government is but the hedge, and the gospel is the fruit, but if you break down the hedge the fruit will be little. This is the way to have the field overrun by the wild boar. It was Luther’s saying (at his first declining from the church of Rome), that the gospel got more prejudice by seven years suspension of a well-ordered government than it could recover in forty years afterwards. And the Lord grant that it proves not thus with us.
Now by all this it may appear that we are in great danger of having the gospel taken from us. Oh, how careful then should we be to improve the means of grace while we enjoy them, for if the gospel is gone all is gone. We had better lose the light of the sun than the light of the gospel. For:
1. If the gospel goes from a people, peace goes from a people. The removal of the gospel of peace will cause the going away of your peace.
2. If the gospel goes, plenty goes as well as peace.
3. If the gospel goes, if the worship of God is taken away, our safety is gone. The ark was the Israelites’ safety. When the ark was taken away, their strength and safety was taken away. When the Jews rejected the gospel, so that it was translated to the Gentiles, then the Romans came and took away both their place and nation.
4. When the gospel goes, our civil liberty goes. When the Jews slighted the gospel, they lived no longer free men, but became slaves and tributaries to the Romans.
5. The dignity and splendour of a nation goes when the gospel goes. As old Eli said, when the ark was taken, “The glory is departed from Israel.” And it is said in Matthew 2:6 that Bethlehem was not in the least among all the princes of Judah. Yet Micah said in Micah 5:2 that Bethlehem was the least, that is, the least in regard of its situation and small number of inhabitants. But not the least, as Matthew speaks, because the Messiah was there born and the gospel there preached. The gospel of Christ made Bethlehem more than it was; and therefore it is that Capernaum is said to be lifted up to heaven because the glad tidings of the gospel were there published. Now if God should take away the gospel from us, He would leave us as Bethlehem, the least of a thousand cities. We should not measure the greatness of a city by the great trade, the great number of people therein, but by the flourishing of the gospel therein. London would be the least city of a thousand if the gospel be removed from it. Oh, then, what cause have we to know and consider this day the things that concern our peace, lest hereafter they be hidden from our eyes. Let us not content ourselves with a bare hearing of the Word, but with being doers of it, expressing the power and authority thereof in our lives and conversations.
Objection. But you will say, “If they only are blessed who hear the Word of God and keep it, who practice what they hear, then where is a blessed man to be found? For where is that man alive who can keep, who can live answerably to what he hears? I hear many a sin reproved which I cannot forbear. I hear many a duty pressed which I cannot perform. I hear many a grace persuaded unto which I cannot act. Now how can any man be blessed, seeing he cannot keep what he hears?”
Answer. If you indeed lived under a covenant of works, you could never be a blessed man because you can never keep what you hear according to that exactness which a covenant of works requires, for that commands a man to keep the whole law, to keep it perfectly, and to keep it personally. But for your comfort know that you are under a covenant of grace, which does not require a perfect, but a sincere obedience to the law of God, which accepts the will for the deed. Oh, remember that you are not under a covenant of works, but a covenant of grace, which accepts what Christ has done and suffered for you (if you are a believer) as if it were done in your own person. Though, indeed, that is true which Christ said to the young man, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17), yet you must know that Christ spoke this unto him because He knew him to be of a pharisaic temper, and that he thought to be saved by his good works. But if Christ should say thus unto any of us, “You shall go to heaven if you keep every command, and you shall never go to heaven if you break any one command,” the Lord have mercy on us! We should then all perish to eternity. But Christ said, “Believe and live.” Now promise (not work) is the object of faith (Romans 4:16). Therefore Ambrose was wont to say, “Let us hope for pardon as of faith, not of debt.”
In a word, make conscience to keep what you hear; bewail your inability to fulfill the law of God; do what you can, and mourn that you can do no better; and then God will say, “Though you cannot keep the law completely, yet My Son has kept it for you. I accept His obedience as your obedience, and His righteousness as your righteousness.” Oh, what grace and mercy is here! How may this cheer up your hearts in the midst of all discouragements that lie upon you! Again, for your comfort, know that if in sincerity of heart you endeavour to keep what you hear, in divine acceptance it is all the same as if you had perfectly kept all that you hear. If it is the desire and labor of your soul to obey God’s will and observe His commands, in divine acceptance it is looked upon as if it were actually done by you.
It is worth your noticing what is said in Scripture: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac, and he that had received the promises, offered up his only begotten son” (Hebrews 11:17). Abraham did not actually do what is said here that he did, but because Abraham did it in the purpose of his heart, because the desire and resolution of his soul was to obey God’s command, therefore the Scripture counts it as done! Oh, take this for your comfort, you who are a child of Abraham, who walk in the steps and faith of Abraham: the very desires and purposes of your heart are looked upon as if they were really and actually done. If you would pray better, hear better, and practice more than you do, in divine account this is looked upon as if you had already done it.