Be Strong

Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts: Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.
1 Timothy 1:2, 1 Timothy 1:18, 2 Timothy 1:7, Joshua 1:7, Haggai 2:4, 1 Corinthians 16:13

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
~ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
~ Ephesians 6:10, Philippians 4:13, 2 Peter 3:18, 2 Timothy 1:7

Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
~ 2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Peter 2:11, 1 Corinthians 9:27, 1 Corinthians 9:25

Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
~ 1 Corinthians 4:11-12, 1 Corinthians 6:12-13, 2 Corinthians 6:4-5, 2 Corinthians 11:27

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
~ Romans 8:13, Colossians 3:5

Grace: The Truth and Growth and Different Degrees Thereof, by Christopher Love. 1651.

This is the ninth sermon of the series, which includes its preface. Preached by that faithful and painful servant of Jesus Christ, Mr. Christopher Love, late minister of Lawrence Jury, London. The series are his last sermons he ever preached.

The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of Mustardseed which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown, it is the greatest amongst herbs, and becomes a tree, &c.
–Mat. 12. 31. 32.

Sermon at Lawrence Jury London. April 6. 1651. Sermon IX.

2 Tim. 2. 1.

—My son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

We proceed now to the second Case of conscience, concerning strength of grace, which is this:

Whether strength of grace may be consistent with strength of lust and corruption in the heart?

In the answering whereof I shall speak to these particulars:

When may corruptions be said to be strong?

Why those that have strong grace, have many times strong corruptions?

What strong corruptions are they that those that are strong in grace, are most subject unto?

In what cases, and with what limitations may strength of corruptions consist with strength of grace?

When may corruptions and lusts be said to be strong in the soule?

When sins are committed with complacency. Sin at first is like a snake that is almost starved by reason of the cold, and is very weak and feeble; but if it be laid in the bosome, then it gathers strength, and after a while sin revives and becomes a delight in the soul. If thou were at first troubled at sin, and afterwards takest pleasure in sin, its a signe that sin hath a great hand over thee. Thus God complaines of his people, What hath my beloved to doe in my house?—When thou dost evil then thou rejoycest. We may know the power and strength of corruption in us, by sins activity in us, and by our chearfulness and complacency in sin.

By the frequency of sin, as a relapse into a disease, argues the strength of that peccant humour in the body: so reiterated and multiplied acts of the same sin, argue the power and strength of that sin in our hearts. Corruption gathers strength even as grace doth by the frequent acting and exercise of it.

When sin is persisted in against the cheeks of conscience. And it argues the strength of a streame that it beares down before it whatsoever bank would check the course of it: So it also argues that there is a strong current of corruption in thy soul, that bears down before it all the warnings, checks and reproofs of conscience.

Why have those that have the strongest graces, many times also the strongest corruptions?

It ariseth from the natural temperature and constitution of the body, which doth dispose men to some sin more then another, although they have such eminency of grace; and hence it is, that those who are naturally and constitutionally passionate, and given to anger, though they may have a great measure of grace, yet what ado have they to bridle in their anger? what ado to be greatly angry, and not greatly sinful? And so such whose temperature inclines them to be lustful, though they have much grace, yet all little enough to suppresse lustfull thoughts and wanton looks in them.

God suffers this to humble his People, and to keep them humble under their great measures of grace. It is observable in nature, that those creatures which have the most excellency in them, have something also of defect and deformity in them, as if the God of nature did it to keep them humble. The Peacock hath glittering feathers, and yet black feet; The Swan hath white feathers, but under that a black skin; The Eagle hath many excellencies, quick sight, and high flight, but yet very ravenous; The Camel and Elephant are great and stately creatures, but of a deformed shape: So it is in the state of grace, God doth suffer some strong & unsubdued corruptions to remain in them, who have not only truth, but strength of grace, and this is to keep them humble. Thus Paul after his great Revelation, had a messenger of Satan to buffet him, and a thorne in the flesh to afflict and keep him humble; the thorn in the flesh did let out the impostumated matter of pride out of his heart; and the considerations of their corruptions doth much affect the hearts of the godly, that they become, 1. More condescending and compassionate to the weak. 2. They do depend lesse upon their own righteousnesse. They see it is in vain to think of establishing their own righteousnesse, and that it is too weak a foundation to lay the weight and stresse of their salvation upon: the Covering is too narrow, and the Bed is too short for them to rest quietly upon. 3. They are hereby brought to think better of others then of themselves, yea to judge themselves the least of Saints, and the greatest of sinners.

This is from Satans malice, who if he can draw out great corruptions from them who are eminent in grace;

He thereby aims to blemish Religion and to darken the honour of Profession, and in this case usually fights against none, great nor small, but the King of Israel, viz. such as are eminent for holinesse. When David fell into those great sins of murder and adultery, Satan had a main end granted him, to make the way of true Religion stink and be abhorred.

Hereby Satan hath his end to imbolden those that are weak to sin. The sins and great miscarriages of such as are great Professors are great stumbling blocks in the way of the weak to make them fall.

Hereby the peace and purity of conscience is violated; the devil will play at small game rather then at no game: and if he cannot prevail to damn thy soul, yet he will endeavour to disquiet thy conscience.

What are those great corruptions and sins unto which strong believers are incident?

To lose those strong affections which they had at their first Conversion. Holy Greenham complained, that it was very difficult to keep together his old discretion and young zeal.—Young Christians (as hath been already observed) have strong affections, and but weak judgements. Their heat is more then their light. Their present apprehension and sense is great and high, their experience little and low; And so also strong Christians, who may have much grace, yet the flood and flush of affections may be much abated, and it is the fault of old professors, that they do not labour to maintain the primitive vigour and vivacity of their first affections; they are too apt to leave their first love, yet we must know they do not decay so as to be bankerupts, in grace. In the godly the decay and declining, though it may be great, yet it is neither total nor final; though he may fail, yet he is not a banquerupt, he hath still a stock remaining which can never be quite spent, a fountaine which can never be quite dry.He hath in him a Well of water springing up to eternall life. The water of a fountain may be mudded, but it will clear it self again. It may be damm’d up in one place, but it will break out in another; so it is with grace. A tree, you know, in Winter-season, the fruit and leaves fall off, and it seems as if it were dead, but there is life in the root; so it is in Christians, their beauty and blossom may fall off, their fruit dry up, their leaves drop off, the beauty, the exercise and the fruits of grace may cease for a time, and yet the root of the matter is in them. It often fares with old Professors, as it did with old David, of whom it is said, that all the cloaths he did wear, could not get or keep beat in him: So they, all the duties they perform, and all the Ordinances they enjoy, cannot keep up that youthful heat of vigorous affections which once they had. Many of Gods children have not now as once they had, such complacency in God, such fervency in prayer, such attention in hearing, such delight in Sabbaths, such mournfulnesse and tendernesse of spirit, such hatred of sin. Now they have not such aggravating thoughts of sin, as in former times, nor the occasions unto sin, so avoided as formerly. How many are there, who heretofore look’t on every sin as an hainous evil, but now do not so: time was when every gnat seemed a camel, and every mote a beame, and every molehil a mountain, but now they can extenuate and excuse their sin. Heretofore the most pleasing sin was abominable, the smallest detestable, and the highest intolerable, but it is otherwise now through spiritual decayes and abatement in our affections. There are many heretofore when they fell into sin, were wont to walk sadly, to sigh deeply, weep bitterly, pray affectionately: but now do not these things with those warme and working affections as formerly. The time was when many Professors of Religion, prepared themselves for holy duties with more care, attended to them with more diligence, delighted in them with more complacency, and gained more profit and edification by them then now they do. And that’s the first sin, that those who have grace, both in truth and strength, are apt to fall into, viz. spiritual decay.

Such as are strong Christians are very subject to spiritual pride, and to be highly conceited of their own gifts, parts and graces. Spiritual pride is a secret spiritual corruption, that is in the most spirituall and gracious heart; it is a bad fruit that growes on the best root: there is nothing better then grace, and there is nothing more abominable then sin, and there is no sin so bad as pride, and there are none so apt to fall into this sin of pride, as they that have much grace, and there is nothing weakens a strong Christian more then pride, and nothing argues weaknesse more then this boasting.

To behave themselves with contempt and superciliousnesse towards weak Christians, is an ordinary fault of the strong. There is not any one thing in Scripture more often mentioned then this, that we should not despise or discourage the weak, which notes an aptnesse in the strong to be faulty herein.Let us not judge one another any more. The word in non-Latin alphabet notes, they were wont to do so before. Spiritual pride is a root of bitternesse, which bears these two bitter fruits. 1. An over-valuing of our selves. 2. An undervaluing of other mens persons and gifts.

Strong Christians are apt to put too much duty and task upon the weak.— Johns disciples failed in this towards the disciples of Christ about fasting. Strong Christians should deal tenderly with the weak, they should excuse their failings, conceale their weaknesses, commend their performances, cherish their forwardnesse, resolve their doubts, bear their burdens, and hereby make the way of Religion to be lovely and amiable to them, whereas by their too much austerity the weak are disheartned at their first entrance.

To be content with measures of grace. How apt are they that have grace to say in one sense, as he said in another, Soul, take thine ease, thou hast goods laid up for many years; and hereupon many grow slack and carelesse in holy duties, and do not improve ordinances for the increase of their graces. The best of Christians are apt to fall into this satiety, then which nothing can be more prejudicial to the soul. The devil tempts those that have but a little grace to thinke they have none, and those that have more grace to think they have enough. The best are apt to mistake themselves in this, to think that there is a just dimension and full growth of grace attainable in this life: Whereas indeed the best improvement of having much grace, is to desire more, and not to be satisfied with any measure of grace till we come to a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulnesse of Christ, and that’s not attainable in this life. Perfection is the aime of this life, but it is the reward of another life. We should endeavour after Perfection in grace, but we shall not attain it till grace be perfected in glory.

In what cases, and with what limitations may strength of corruptions consist with strength of grace?

The resolving of this question is of very much use to the soul: for that soul that is over-mastered with strong corruptions, may not only question the strength of his grace, but the being of it. How may I then know, that I have both the truth and strength of grace in me, though I am overpowered sometimes by strong and prevailing corruptions?

If you maintain in you a strong opposition against your corruptions. The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, but doth the Spirit lust against the flesh? though you cannot fully subdue sin, yet do you strongly oppose it? if so, there is grace and strength of grace too, which is able to make and hold up this opposition. An uncontrolled subjection unto sin, argues the strength of sin; but an irreconcileable opposition of sin argues the strength of grace. Strength of grace is not so much seen in those particular acts of suppression, and actual overcoming of it, as in that constant and habitual frame of heart in the opposition of sinne.

Though sin be strong, yet grace may be strong too in thy soul. If thou hast a strong measure of humiliation, though thy sin be great, if thy sorrow be great too, it evidenceth thy grace is so also. It was great grace in Manasseh, that he humbled himself greatly, though he had been a very great sinner.

3 If thou hast strong cryes to God against thy sins, this argues grate, though it be ready to be deflowered by thy corruptions. If when corruptions and temptations prevaile, thou prayest to the Lord with strong cryes and teares, this argues grace, yea and the strength of grace.

If thou hast strong affections that carry thee to Christ, certainly thou hast grace, though thy strong corruptions often carry thee from Christ. Peter had more infirmities and corruptions and sins, then all the disciples besides (excepting Judas.) He tooke Christ aside, gave him carnal counsel, and said as to his sufferings,Far be it from the Lord, this shall not be unto thee; for which Christ said to him, Get thee behind me, Satan. He dreams of merit, and boasts of what he had done for Christ, at it is observed of him, when he said to Christ, Behold, we have forsaken all and followed thee, what shall we have therefore? Peter of all the disciples was the most confident of his own strength; and boasts what he would do and suffer for Christ; Though all men should be offended because of thee; yet will I never be offended. And if I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Nay and presently after this confident undertaking, Peter denies Christ, and swear: and curses that he knew him not. Some observe, that Peters cursing, was not only his cursing of himselfe if he knew Christ, but that he also cursed Jesus Christ, that so he might appear to them to be none of his disciples; and yet notwithstanding all this Peter had not only truth and reality, but eminency and strength of grace: for though temptations and corruptions did sometimes prevail, yet he had strong affections towards Jesus Christ; he did and suffered that which few or none of the other disciples did.

He was the man, that of all the disciples wept most bitterly for his sins.

Peter was the first that ran to the sepulchre, and went into the sepulchre to see what was become of Christ.

He was the man, who hearing that Christ was risen and on the sea-shore, leap’t into the sea for joy.

He was the man that made the first Sermon, and first preached the Gospel after the Ascension of Christ.

He had that love to Christ which was as strong as death; for he suffered death, and was crucified, (as say Ecclesiastical Writers) but would not be crucified, but with his heels upwards, deeming it too great an honour to be crucified in the same manner that his Lord and Master was; so that the strength of his affections, did argue notwithstanding his great failings, the strength of grace in him.

To make application of what hath been spoken in this case of Conscience.—

Though in the cases before mentioned, strength of grace may be consistent with strength of corruptions; yet there are other cases wherein they are altogether inconsistent.

When the strength and worKings of corruptions are not clearly discovered to the soul; for grace alwayes, as a light set up in the soul, doth discover the darknesse of corruption.

Where corruptions are not sensibly bewailed, it is to be feared that there is not strength of grace.

Where occasions to those strong prevailing sins and corruptions are not heedfully avoided. Certainly if thou hast grace to make thee sensible of what corruptions thou art incident unto, thy grace will make thee walk so circumspectly, as to avoid all occasions leading thereunto.

If they be not strongly resisted, and the beginnings of each corruption not diligently suppressed, in this case strength of grace and strength of corruption are utterly inconsistent.

Though there may be strong grace and strong corruption in the soul, yet the reign of any one corruption is utterly inconsistent with grace and the strength of it. Let not sin reign in your mortall bodies.Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law but under grace; which is not to be understood in the Antinomisis sense, that believers are not under the mandatory power of the moral Law: But the meaning of the word (Law) as Beza interprets it, is the law of sin, and so the Apostle Paul, chap. 7. 23, mentions a law in his members that did war against the law of his minde, and did bring him into captivity to the law of sin, that is; sin would have swayed in him with the power and force of a law. And this argued grace and the strength of grace in Paul, that though he was over-born by the strength of corruption and sin, and taken Prisoner by it, yet he never yielded to it as to a lawfull Soveraign; for so he addes, vers. 29. So then with the mind. I serve the law of God, but with my flesh the law of sin. It may be said of the corruptions in Gods children, what was shewed to Daniel concerning the beasts, They had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season.

When we say there is a consistency between grace and corruption; I would be understood of spiritual and inward corruptions, as hardnesse of heart, spiritual pride, deadnesse in duties: for into grosse external, open acts of evil, strong Christians do seldom fall.

We must also be further informed, that if we consider particular acts of sin, some one lust may seem to be more strong in a godly Christian, then in a meer moral man. As for instance, in the case of lust, when we consider how David did abuse his neigh bours wife, and how Abimelech would not touch another mans wife; one would have judged David the heathen, and Abimelech the believer, and therefore the strength of grace or corruption must not be judged by any one particular act when some impetuous temptation hath prevailed.

Lastly, we are to know that a corruption may be really weak’ned when sensibly strong. As a man in a Feaver is seemingly strong, but is really weak: so corruption may be then most enfeebled when in our apprehension it is most inraged; it may rave and rage when it is in crucifying. As a cole glows most just before its going out; a candle burnt’t down in the socket gives a blaze a little before it be extinct: so it is when corruption is ready to expire. As in a meer moral man sin may be restrained when it is not subdued; corruption may be quiet where it is not mortified: So in a regenerate person it may be subdued and mortified, where yet it may rage as if unrestrained. A mans last gaspe may be the strongest breath: So when corruption is ready to give up the Ghost it may seem to breath strongest. As a bird may flutter when his neck is broken: so sin may seemingly resist grace, when the power, strength and life of it is utterly broken.