And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.
~ Luke 8:14
He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.
~ John 12:25
And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.
~ Luke 5:11
Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.
~ Luke 18:22-23
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
~ Acts 5:1-5
Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.
~ Acts 8:19-22
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
~ Philippians 3:7-8
Directions on Preventing Conversion Miscarriages, by Richard Baxter.
And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.
~ Luke 14:18
And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
~ Luke 14:25-26
So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
~ Luke 14:33
The following contains an excerpt from Directions One through Three his work, “Directions and Persuasions to a Sound Conversion. Prevention of That Deceit and Damnation of Souls, and Of Those Scandals, Heresies, and Desperate Apostacies, That Are the Consequents of a Counterfeit or Superficial for Change”.
Direct. I. Lest the work of conversion should miscarry where it seemeth to be begun, or in a hopeful way, I first advise you, ‘To labour after a right understanding of the true nature of Christianity, and the meaning of the Gospel which is sent for to convert you.’ You are naturally slaves to the prince of darkness; and live in a state of darkness, and do the works of darkness, and are hasting apace to utter darkness. And it is the light of saving knowledge that must recover you, or there is no recovery. God is the Father of Light, and dwelleth in light; Christ is the light of the world; his ministers also are the lights of the world, as under him; and are sent to turn men from darkness to light, by the Gospel which is the light to our feet and this is to make us children of light, that we may no more do the works of darkness, but may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; 2 Cor. iv. 3, 4. 1 Johni. 5. 9. James i. 17. Matt. v. 14. Acts xxvi. 18. John viii. 12. 2 Pet. i. 19. Eph. v. 8. 13. Col. i. 12. Believe it, darkness is not the way to the celestial glory. Ignorance is your disease, and knowledge must be your cure. I know the ignorant have. many excuses, and are apt to think that the case is not so bad with them as we make it to be; and that there is no such need of knowledge, but a man may be saved without it. But this is because they want that knowledge that should shew them the misery of their ignorance and the worth of knowledge. Hath not the Scripture plainly told you, that “If the Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, whose minds the God of this world hath blinded, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them; 2 Cor. iii. 4. I know that many that have much knowledge are ungodly; but what of that? Can any man therefore be godly or be saved, without knowledge? You may have a bad servant that yet is skilful enough in his work, but yet you will not mend the matter, by taking one that hath no skill at all. You may send a man on your errand that knows the way, and yet will not go it, but loiter and deceive you: but what of that, will you therefore think to mend the matter by sending one that knoweth not a step of the way, nor will learn it? Though a man of knowledge may be the servant of the devil, yet no man without knowledge (that hath the use of his reason) can be the servant of God. A man may go to hell with knowledge, but he certainly shall go to hell without it. I do not say that you must all be men of learning, and skilled in the arts and sciences, and languages: but you must have the knowledge of a Christian, though not of a scholar. Can you love or serve a God that you know not? Can you let go friends, and goods, and life, for a glory which you have no knowledge of? Can you make it the principal business of your lives to seek for a heaven whose excellencies you know not of? Can you lament your sin and misery, when you are unacquainted with it? Or will you strive against sin as the greatest evil, when you know not the evil of it? Will you believe in a Christ, whom you do not know, and trust your souls and all upon him? Will you rest upon a promise, or fear a threatening, or be ruled by a law, which you do not understand? It is not possible to be Christians without knowing the substance of Christianity: nor is it possible for you to be saved without knowing the way of salvation.
Labour, therefore, to be well acquainted with the grounds and reasons, and nature of your religion. The clearer your light is, the warmer and livelier your hearts will be. Illumination is the first part of sanctification. The head is the passage to the heart. O if you did but thoroughly know what sin is, and what a life it is to serve the flesh, and what the end of this will prove, with what detestation would you cast it away! If you did thoroughly know what a life of holiness is, how speedily would you choose it. If you did truly know what God is’; how infinitely powerful and wise, and good; how holy, and just, and true; and what title he hath to you, and authority over you; and what an eternal portion he would be to you, how is it possible that you could prefer the dirt of the world before him, or delay any longer to return unto him? If you did but truly know what Christ is, and what he hath done and suffered for you, and what that pardon, and grace, and glory are which he hath purchased for you, and offereth to you, and how sure his promise is by which it is offered, it is not possible that you should refuse to entertain him, or delay to give up your souls unto him. Do you think a man that truly knows what heaven is, and what hell is, can still be in doubt whether he should turn or not? Alas! sirs, if God would but open your eyes, to see where you are, and what you are doing, you would run as for your lives, and quickly change your minds and ways. You would no more stay in your carnal state, than you would stay in a house that were falling down on your heads, or in a ship that you perceived sinking under you, or on the sands when you see the tide coming towards you. If you did but see your chamber full of devils this night, you would not stand to ask whether you should be gone. And sure then if you knew how the devils are about you, how they deceive you, and rule you, and wait to drag you away to hell, you would never stay a night longer willingly in such a state. While men understand not what the Gospel means, nor what a minister saith to them, no wonder if they regard them not, but continue in their sin. If you see a bear or a mad dog making towards a man, and tell him of it, and call to him to be gone, if he be a man of another language, and do not understand you, he will make never the more haste; but if he understand and believe you, he will away. If people think that ministers are in jest with them, or that they are uncertain of what they say, no marvel if they hear us in jest, or as men that believe not what they hear. But if you knew that your lives lay on it, yea, your everlasting life, would you not regard it, and look about you? Now you stand deliberating and questioning the business whether you should turn, and let go sin, or no. But if you knew that you must certainly have hell with it, if you keep it, methinks your doubt should quickly be resolved, and you should be loath to give another night’s lodging to so chargeable and dangerous a guest. Now when we persuade you to holiness of life, you will demur on it, as if there were some doubtfulness in the matter. But if you knew the nature and end of holiness, you would soon be out of doubt; and if you knew but how much happier you might be with God, you would never stick at the parting with your most delightful sins. As the Jews rejected Christ, and preferred a murderer before him, and cried out ‘Crucify him,’ and all because they did not know him (1 Cor. ii. 8. John viii. 9. i. 10. Acts xiii. 27.), so you let Christ knock and call, and offer you salvation, and you stand questioning whether you should obey his call, and whether you should not prefer your lusts before him; and all because you know him not, nor the grace and glory which he tendereth to you. When men understand not the reasons of God, that should prevail with them, no wonder if they part not with that which is as dear to them as their lives. But when once they know the reasons of Christianity, those moving, weighty, undeniable reasons, that are fetched from God, and heaven, and hell, they will then stand questioning the matter no longer; but they will resign up all, even life itself. All this I speak of a spiritual, powerful, and a practical knowledge, and not of every swimming opinion and conceit.
Study, therefore, what God is, and what he is to you, and what he would be to you. Study what sin is, and what the damnation is which it deserveth. Study what Christ is, and hath done and suffered for you, and what he is willing to do, if you neglect him not. Study what the world is, and what is the utmost that sin will do for you. Study what the everlasting glory is which you may have with God, if you lose it not by your folly. And study what faith is, and what repentance is, and what love and joy, and a holy and heavenly life are, and how little reason you have to be afraid of them. If this understanding have but deeply possessed you, it will bias your hearts, and make you resolved, settled converts.
Whereas, if you seem to turn and scarce know why, and seem to take up a Christian life before you are thoroughly possessed with the nature, grounds, and reasons of it, no marvel if you are quickly lost again in the dark, and if every caviller that you meet with can nonplus you, and make you stagger, and call in question all that you have done, and ravel all your work; or if you do but run from one party to another, and follow every one that tells you a fair tale, and never know what to fix upon, nor when you are in the way, and when you are out.
The apprehensions of the mind do move the whole man. Wisdom is the guide and stay of the soul. Sinning is doing foolishly, 2 Sam. xxiv. 10. And sinners are fools; Prov. i. 22. Psal. lxxv. 4. Their mirth is but the mirth of fools, and their song the song of fools; Eccl. vii. 4. 5. Yea, the best of their services, while they refuse to hear and obey, is but the sacrifice of fools; Eccl. v. 1. And such are not fit for the house of God; “for God hath no pleasure in fools;” Eccl. v. 4. He hath need to have his wits about him, and know what he doth that will be the servant of the God of heaven, and escape the deceits of a subtle devil, and get to heaven through so many difficulties as are before him. Above all getting, therefore, get wisdom.
Direct. II. If you would not have the work of your conversion miscarry, when you understand what is offered you, then search the Scriptures daily, to see whether those things be so or not.
So did the Bereans, Acts xvii. 11.; and the text saith, that, therefore, they believed. We come not to cheat and deceive you; and, therefore, we desire not that you should take any thing from us, but what we can prove to you from the word of God to be certainly true. We desire not to lead you in the dark, but by the light to lead you out of darkness; and, therefore, we refuse not to submit all our doctrine to an equal trial. Though we would not have you wrong your souls by an unjust distrust of us, yet would we not desire you to take these great and mighty things merely upon our words; for then your faith will be in man; and then no marvel if it be weak, and ineffectual, and quickly shaken. If you trust a man to-day, you may distrust him to-morrow; and if one man be of greatest credit with you this year, perhaps another of a contrary mind may be be of more credit with you the next year. And, therefore, we desire no further to be believed by you, than is necessary to lead you up to God, and to help you to understand that word which you must believe. Our desire, therefore, is, that you search the Scripture, and try whether the things that we tell you be the truth. The word will never work on you to purpose till you see and hear God in it, and perceive that it is he, and not man only, that speaks to you. When you hear none speaking to you but the minister, no marvel if you dare despise him; for he is a frail and silly man like yourselves; when you think that the doctrine which we preach to you is merely of our own devising, and the conjecture of our own brain, no marvel if you set light by it, and will not let go all that you have, at the persuasion of a preacher. But when you have searched the Scripture, and find that it is the word of the God of heaven, dare you despise it then? When you there find that we said no more than we are commanded, and God that hath spoken this word will stand to it; then sure it will go nearer you, and you will consider of it, and make light of it no more. If we offered you bad wares, we should desire a dark shop; and if our gold were light or bad, we would not call for the balance and the touchstone. But when we are sure the things that we speak are true, we desire nothing more than trial. Beauty and comeliness hath no advantage of loathsome deformity, when they are both together in the dark, but the light will shew the difference. Error may be a loser by the light; and, therefore, shuns it; John iii. 19-21. But truth is a gainer by it, and therefore seeks it. Let Papists hide the Scriptures from the people, and forbid the reading of them in a tongue which they understand, and teach them to speak to God they know not what; we dare not do so, nor do we desire it. Our doctrine will not go off well in the dark; and, therefore, we call you to the law and to the testimony, and desire you to take our words into the light, and see whether they be according to the word of the Lord. Nothing troubleth us more than that we cannot persuade our hearers to this trial. Some of them are so hardened in their sin and misery, that they will not be at so much labour as to open their Bibles, and try whether we say true or not. Some of them will not trouble their minds with the thoughts of it. “God is not in all their thoughts;” Psal. x. 4. And some are already too wise to learn; and they will not so long abate their confidence of their former opinions; though, poor souls, their ignorance doth threaten their damnation. Andsome are so engaged in a sinful party, that their companions will not give them leave to make so much question of the way that they are in; and some will scarce take the Scripture for the rule by which they must try and be tried, but look more to custom, and the will of those in power over them. And most are unwilling to try, because they are unwilling to know the truth, and cannot endure to find themselves miserable, nor see the sin which they would not leave, nor see the duty which they love not to practise. And thus we cannot get them to try whether the things that we teach them be so.
For want of this it is that men deceive themselves, and think their case to be safe when it is miserable, because they will not try it by the word. This makes them rage, and be confident in their folly (Prov. xiv. 16.), and laugh and sing at the brink of hell, and swim as merrily down the stream to the devouring gulf as if no evil were near them. This makes them in the depth of misery to have no pity on themselves, and to do so little to escape it; though they have time, and means, and help at hand, yet there are not hearts in them to make use of them; yea, they run themselves daily further on the score; and all because we cannot get them to search the Scripture, and try whether sin be so small a matter, and whether this will not be bitterness in the end. Hence it is that they are so easily drawn by a temptation; and that they dislike a holy life, and have base thoughts of them that are most diligent for salvation, and are most precious in the eyes of God; and that they can even deride the way that they should walk in (Prov. 1. 20. Psal. i. 2.), because they will not search the Scripture, to see what it saith to these matters. The word is a light, and would do much to open their eyes, and win them over to God, if they would but come to it with a desire to know the truth. You think that the ungodly that are rich and great, are in a better condition than a godly man that is poor and despised. And why is this, but because you will not go into the sanctuary, and see in what a slippery place they stand, and what will be the end of these men? Psal. lxxiii. 16, 17. 22. In a word, this is the undoing of millions of souls. They are all their lifetime out of the way to heaven, and yet will not be persuaded to ask the way; but they run on and wink, and put it to the venture. Many a thousand are gone out of the world, before they ever spent the quantity of one day in trying by the Scripture whether their state were good, and their way were right. Nay, let their teachers tell them that they must be sanctified and take another course, they will differ from their teachers though they be never so wise or learned; and they will contradict them, and not believe or regard them. And yet we cannot get them to come to us, and put the case to a trial, and let the Scripture be the judge. Would they but do this, they could never sure have such hard thoughts of their teachers, and be offended at their plainest, closest dealing. You would then say, ‘I see now the minister says not this of himself, he speaks but that which God commandeth him; and if he would not deliver the message of the Lord, he were unworthy and unfit to be his ambassador. He were cruel to me if he would not pull me out of the fire, by the plainest, closest means;’ Jude 23. He hated me if he would not rebuke me, but suffer sin upon me;’ Lev. xix. 17. If he would please men he should not be the servant of Christ;’ Gal. i. 10. ‘I know it is no pleasure to him to trouble me, or to provoke me; but it would be his own destruction if he tell me not of my danger,’ Ezek. iii. 18. ‘And I have no reason to wish him to damn his own soul, and suffer me to do the like by mine; and all for fear of displeasing me in my sin.’ These would be your thoughts if you would but try our words by the Scripture, and see whether we speak not the mind of God.
And sure it would go somewhat deeper in your hearts, and it would stick by you, and be more before your eyes, when you once understood that it is the word of God.
This then is my request to you, sirs, that the work of your conversion may not miscarry, that you would carry all that you hear to the Scripture, and search there, and see whether it be so or not, that so you may be put out of doubt, and may be at a certainty, and not stand wavering; and that your faith may be resolved into the authority of God, and so the work may be divine, and consequently powerful and prevailing, when the ground and motive are divine. If you be not satisfied in the doctrine which the minister delivereth to you, first search the Scripture yourselves; and if that will not do, go to him, and desire him to shew you his grounds for it in the word of God, and join with you in prayer for a right understanding of it. Do you question whether there be so severe a judgment, and a heaven, and a hell, as ministers tell you? Search the Scripture, in Matt. xxv. and 2 i. 8-10. John v. 29. Matt. xiii. Do you question whether a man may not be saved without conversion, regeneration, and holiness? Open your Bibles, and see what God saith, John iii. 3. 6. Matt. xviii. 3. 2 Cor. v. 17. Rom. viii. 9. Heb. xii. 14. Do you think a man may be saved without knowledge? Let Scripture judge; 2 Cor. iv. 3, 4.
John xvii. 3. Hos. iv. 6. Do you think a man may ved that doth as the most do, and goeth in the common way of the world? Search the Scripture and see; Matt. vii. 13. xx. 16. xxii. 14. Luke xii. 32. Do you think an unhumbled soul may be saved, that never was contrite and brokenhearted for sin? Try by Isa. lvii. 15. lxvi. 2. Psal. li. 17. Luke iv. 18. Matt. xi. 28. Do you think a man can be the servant of God, that liveth a fleshly life, and will keep his sin? Try by Rom. viii. 13. John iii. 12. Ephes. v. 5, 6. `1 John iii. 9, 10. Do you doubt whether it be necessary to make so much ado to be saved, and to be so strict, and make religion our chiefest business? Try by Psal. i. 1-3. 1 Pet. iv. 18. Heb. xii. 14. Luke x. 42. Luke xiii. 24. Eph. 15, 16. Do you think a man can be saved that is a worldling, whose heart is more on earth than heaven? Try by 1 John ii. 15. Phil. iii. 19. Col. iii. 1. Luke xiv. 26. 33. Do you doubt whether you should serve God with your families, and instruct them, and pray with them? Try by Jos. xxiv. 15. Deut. vi. 6, 7. Dan. vi. 10, 11. Exod. xx. 10.
Thus if you will in all these weighty matters but go to the Scriptures, and see whether it say as your teachers say, you might soon be resolved, and that by the surest authority in the world. If you think that your ministers may be deceived, I hope you will confess that God cannot be deceived. If you think that your ministers are passionate, or self-conceited, or speak out of ill-will to you, I hope you dare not say so by the Lord; he owes you no ill-will, nor speaks a word but what is most sure. If you think us partial, sure God is impartial. What better judge can you have now, than he that is infallible, and must judge you all at the last? If any Papist put it into your head to ask, ‘Who shall be judge of the sense of Scripture?’ I answer, Who shall be judge of the Judge of all the world? The law is made to judge you, and not to be judged by you. None can be the proper judges of the sense of a law but the maker of it; though others must judge their cases by the law. Your work is to discern it, and understand and obey it; and our work is to help you to understand it; but it is neither our work nor yours to be the proper, or absolute judges of it. At least where it speaks plain it needs no judge.
Come then to the word in meekness and humility, with a teachable frame of spirit, and a willingness to know the truth, and a resolution to stand to it, and yield to what shall be revealed to you, and beg of God to shew you his will, and lead you into the truth; into the truth; and you will find that he will be found of them that seek him.
Direct. III. If you would not have the work of your conversion miscarry, my next advice is this:
‘See that you be much in the serious consideration of the truths which you understand, betwixt God and you in secret.’
I have often spoken of this heretofore; but because I apprehend it to be a work of exceeding great concernment, I shall be longer on it again than on the rest.
The greatest matters in the world will not work much upon him that will not think of them. Consideration opens the ear that was stopped, and the heart that was shut up; it sets the powers of the soul at work, and awakeneth it from the sleep of incogitancy and security. The thoughts are the first actings of the soul, that set at work the rest. Thinking on the matters that must make us wise, and do the work of God on the heart, is that which lieth on us to do in order to our conversion. By Consideration a sinner makes use of the truth, which before lay by, and therefore could do nothing. By Consideration he taketh in the medicine to his soul, which before stood by, and could not work. By Consideration a man makes use of his reason, which before was laid asleep, and therefore could not do its work. When the master is from home, the scholars will be at play. When the coachman is asleep, the horses may miss the way, and possibly break his neck and their own. If the ploughman go his way, the oxen will stand still, or make but bad, unhandsome work. So when reason is laid asleep, and out of the way, what may not appetite do? and what may not the passions do? and what may not temptations do with the soul? A wise man, when he is asleep, hath as little use of his wisdom as a fool. A learned man when he is asleep can hardly dispute with an unlearned man that is awake. A strong man that is never so skilful at his weapons, is scarce able in his sleep to deal with the weakest child that is awake. Why all the powers of your soul are, as it were, asleep, till Consideration awake them, and set them on work. And what the better are you for being men, and having reason, if you have not the use of your reason when you need it? As men are inconsiderate because they are wicked, so are they the more wicked because they are inconsiderate. The keenest sword, the greatest cannon, will do no execution against an enemy, while they lie by and are not used. There is a mighty power in the word of God, and the example of Christ, to pull down strong holds, and conquer the strongest lusts and corruptions. But they will not do this while they are forgotten and neglected. Will heaven entice the man that thinks not of it? Will hell deter the man that thinks not of it? Why is it that all the reasoning in the world will do no more good on a man that is deaf, than if you said nothing? but because the passage to his thoughts and understanding is stopt up. And if you have eyes and see not, and ears and hear not, and wilfully cast it out of your thoughts, what good can any thing do to you that is spoken? It is not holding your mouth that will nourish you, if you will not let it down: not taking it into your stomach, if you will not keep it, but presently cast it up again; but it must be kept till it be digested and distributed. So it is not the most excellent truths in the world that will change your hearts, if you let them not down to your hearts, and keep them not there by meditation, till they are digested and turned into spiritual life. The plaster must be laid upon the sore if you would be cured. The wound and sickness is at your heart; and if you will not take in the word to your heart, where the sickness is, I know not how you should expect a cure. The soul will not be charmed into holiness by the bare hearing or saying over a few good words; as wizards use to cure diseases, or seem to cure them. It must be truth at the heart that must change the heart. And if you will not think on it, and think on it again, how can you expect it should come at your hearts?
You say you would gladly have Christ and grace, and are ready to lay the blame on God, because he doth not give it you, and say, ‘We cannot convert ourselves :’ but would you have the Spirit come in, while you hold the door against him? He knocks, and desireth you to open and let him in, and you wish him to come in; but you bolt the door, and no entreaty will procure you to open it. It is Consideration of the saving doctrine of the Gospel that openeth the heart, and giveth it entertainment. Set yourselves therefore on purpose to this work, and open the doors of your heart which are now shut, and let the King of glory come in. Who will believe that you love the light, when you shut the windows, and draw the curtains? If you will set yourselves to consider of the truth, the windows of your soul will be set open, and then the light will certainly come in. Now you read over whole chapters, and hear sermon after sermon, and either they never stir you, or at least it is but a little for a fit, like a man that hath a little warmed him at the fire in the winter, and when he goes from it, is colder than before: but if you would but set yourselves to consider of what you hear and read, one line of a chapter, or one sentence of a sermon would lay you in tears, or make you groan, or at least do more than now is done. Satan hath garrisoned the heart of every carnal man: and Consideration is the principal means to cast him out. If by considering of the terrible threatenings of the word, you would discharge these cannons of God against them, what a battery would it make in the corruptions of your souls! Our God is a consuming fire, and the fire of hell is threatened in his law, as the wages of sin: by serious Consideration you may as it were, fetch fire from God and from his word, and set fire to the very gates of satan’s garrison, and fire him out of many of his holds.
But because this is so needful a point, I shall be so large upon it, as, 1. To tell you some of those things that you should consider of. 11. To tell you in what manner you should do it. And, 111. To give you some motives to put you on.
1. The first thing that I would have you oft to think on, is, The nature of that God with whom ye have to do. Consider, that if he be the most wise, it is all the reason in the world that he should rule you. If he be good, and infinitely good, there is all the reason in the world that you should love him; and there is no shew of reason that you should love the world or sin before him. If he be faithful and true, his threatenings must be feared, and his promises must not be distrusted; and there is no reason that you should make any question of his word. If he be holy, then holiness must needs be most excellent, and those that are the holiest must needs be the best, because they are like to God; and then he must be an enemy to sin, and to all that are unholy, because they are contrary to his nature. Consider that he is almighty, and there is no resisting him, or standing out against him; in the twink of an eye can he snatch thy guilty soul from thy body, and cast it where sin is better known.
A word of his mouth can set all the world against thee, and set thine own conscience against thee too; a frown of his face can turn thee into hell; and if he be thine enemy, it is no matter who is thy friend; for all the world cannot save thee, if he do but condemn thee. They are blessed whom he blesseth, and they are cursed indeed whom he curseth. He was from eternity, and thou art but as it were of yesterday thy being is from him; thy life is always in his hands, thou canst not live an hour without him, thou canst not fetch a breath without him, nor think a thought, nor speak a word, nor stir a foot or hand without him; thou mayst better live without bread, or drink, or fire, or air, or earth, or water, than without him. All the world is before him, but as the drop of a bucket, or a little sand or dust that should be laid in balance with all the earth. Hadst thou but compassed about this lower world, and seen all the nations of it, and its wonderful furniture, and seen the great deeps of the mighty ocean, and the abundance of creatures in them all: O what thoughts then wouldst thou have of God! But if thou hadst been above the stars, and seen the sun in all its glory, and seen the frame and course of those higher orbs, and seen the blessed, glorious angels, and all the inhabitants of the higher world, O then what thoughts of God wouldst thou entertain! O but if it were possible that thou hadst seen his glory, or seen but his back parts as Moses did, or seen him in Christ the now glorified Redeemer, what apprehensions wouldst thou have of him then! Then how wouldst thou abhor the name of sin, and how weary wouldst thou be of the pleasantest life that sensuality could afford thee! Then thou wouldst quickly know that no love can be great enough, and no praises can be high enough, and no service can be holy and good enough for such a God: then you would soon know, that this is not a God to be neglected, or dallied with; nor a God to be resisted, nor provoked by the wilful breaking of his laws. It is eternal life to know this God (John xvii. 3.), and for want of knowing him it is, that sin aboundeth in the world. This maketh holiness so scarce and lean men worship they care not how, because they worship they know not whom. O therefore dwell on the meditations of the Almighty. So far as he doth possess thy mind, there will be no place for sin and vanity. One would think if I should set you no further task, and tell you of no other matters for meditation, this one should be enough; for this one is in a manner all. What will not the due knowledge of God do upon the soul? That is the best Christian, and the most happy man that knoweth most of him; and that is the most vile and miserable wretch that is furthest from him, and strangest to him; it is the character of the fool of fools, to have an heart whose disposition and practice saith, “There is no God;” Psalm xiv. 1. that is, to be so affected and employed in their hearts, as if there were no God, and when God is not in all his thoughts; Psalm x. 4. It was better with man when he had less knowledge for himself, and fewer thoughts for himself, and more of God. And there is no way to restore us to sound understanding, and to perfect our knowledge, but to turn our eye upon God again; for in knowing him, we know all that is worth the knowing. Take hold then of the blessed God in thy meditations, and fill thy thoughts with him, and dwell upon those thoughts. Remember he is always with thee, and wherever thou art, or whatever thou art doing, most certainly he seeth thee. As sure as thou art there, the Lord is there. He knows thy thoughts, he hears thy words, he sees all thy ways. And is such a God as this to be provoked or despised? Were it not better to provoke and despise all the world? Is his favour to be slighted? Were it not better to lose the favour of all the world? Consider of this!
2. Another thing that I would have you oft think of, is, What end you were made for, and what business it is that you came for into the world. You may well think that God made you not in vain; and that he made you for no lower end, than for himself; and that he would never have made you, nor so long preserved you, if he had not cared what you do. He would never have endued you with a reasonable and immortal soul, but for some high, and noble, and immortal end. Surely it was that you might be happy in knowing him, that he made you capable of knowing him; for he made nothing in vain. It is useful for a horse to know his pasture, and provender, and work, and perhaps his master; but he need not know whether there be a God; and accordingly he is qualified. But it is sure man’s chief concernment to know that there is a God, and what he is, and how to serve him, and what he is and will be to us; or else we should never have been capable of such things. And he would never have made you capable of loving him, but that you should be exercised and made happy in that love. The frame, and faculties, and capacity of your souls, and the scope of Scripture, do all declare, that you were sent into this world, to seek after God, and to love him, and obey him, and rejoice in him in your measure; and to prepare for a life of nearer communion, where you may enjoy him and praise him in the highest perfection. Consider with yourselves, whether a life of sin be that which you were made for; or whether God sent you hither to break his laws, and follow your own iusts. And whether the satisfying of your flesh, and the gathering a little worldly wealth, and the feathering of a nest which you must so quickly leave, be like to be the business that you were sent about into the world.
3. The next thing that I would have you consider of, is, How you have answered the ends of your creation, and how you have done the business that you came into the world to do. Look back upon the drift of your hearts and lives; read over the most ancient records of your consciences, and see what you have been, and what you have been doing in the world till now. Have you spent your days in seeking after God, and your estates and strength in faithful serving him? Have you lived all this time in the admiration of his excellencies, and the fervent love of him, and delightful remembrance of him, and the zealous worship of him? If you have done this, you had not need of a conversion. But consider, have you not forgotten what business you had in the world, and little minded the world that you should have prepared for, and lived as if you knew not him that made you, or why he made you? Was sport and merriment the end that you were created for? Was ease and idleness, or eating, or drinking, or vain discourses, or recreation, the business that you came into the world about? Was living to the flesh, and scraping up riches, or gaping after the esteem of men, the work that God sent you hither to do? Was this it that he preserved you for, and daily gave you in provision for? What, was it to forget him, and slight him, and turn him out of your hearts, and rob him of his service and honour; and to set up your flesh in his stead, and give that to it, that was due to him? Bethink you what you have done, and whether you have done the work that you were sent to do, or not.
4. The next thing you should use to consider of, is, How grievously you have sinned, and what a case it is that your sin hath brought you into. If you take but an impartial view of your lives, you may see how far you have missed your marks, and how far you have been from what you should have been; and how little you have done of that which was your business. And O what abundance of aggravations have your sins! which I shall pass over now, because I must mention them under another head. It is not only some actually out-breakings against the bent of your heart and life, but your very heart was false and gone from God, and set in you to do evil.
O the time that you have lost; the means and helps that you have neglected; the motions that you have resisted; the swarms of evil thoughts that have filled your imaginations ; the streams of vain and idle words that have flowed from your mouth; the works of darkness, in public and in secret, that God hath seen you in! And all this while, how empty were you in inward holiness, and how barren of good works, to God or man? What have you done with all your talents, and how little or nothing hath God had of all!
And now consider what a case you are in, while you remain unconverted. You have made yourselves the sinks of sin, the slaves of satan, and the flesh; and are skilful in nothing but doing evil; if you be called to prayer or holy meditation, your hearts are against it, and you are not used to it, and therefore you know not how to do it to any purpose: but to think the thoughts of lust, or covetousness, or hatred, or malice, or revenge, this you can do without any toil. To speak of the world, or of your sports and pleasures, or against those that you bear ill will to, this you can do without any study. You are such as are spoken of, Jer. iv. 22. “My people is foolish, they have not known me: they are sottish children, and they have no understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge.” You are grown strangers to the God that made you, in whose love and service you should live and find your chief delights. Your hearts are hardened, and you are dead in your sins: the guilt of the sins of your lives are still upon you: you can neither look into your hearts and lives, no, not on one day of your lives, or the best hour that you have spent, but you must see the ugly face of sin, which deserveth condemnation. You have made God your enemy, that should have been your only felicity: and yet you are always at his mercy, and in his hands. Little do you know how long his patience will yet endure to you; or what hour he will call away your souls: and if death come, alas, what a case will it find you in! How lamentably unready are you to meet him! How unready to appear before the dreadful God whom you have offended! and what a terrible appearance do you think that will be to you! Most certainly if you die before you are converted, you will not be from among the devils and damned souls an hour. The law hath cursed you already, and the execution will be answerable, if you die in your sins. And thus you may see the gain of sin, and what it is that you have been doing all this while for your own souls; and what a case it is that you have brought yourselves into ; and what need you have speedily to look about you.
5. The next step of your Consideration should be this; Bethink yourselves what a blessed condition you might be in, if by conversion you were but recovered from this misery, and brought home to God. This moved the heart of the prodigal son to return; Luke xv. 16, 17. “When he came to himself he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough, and to spare, and I perish with hunger?” He that hath not husks to feed on with the swine, considered the plenty that he had forsaken at home. The poorest member of the household of Christ, is in a better condition than the greatest king on earth, that is unconverted. You might have lived another kind of life than you have done, for safety, and benefit, and true content, if you would have turned your minds and life to God. Were you but converted, you would be the living members of Christ, and his precious benefits would be yours; his blood would cleanse you from all your sins, and they would be all freely forgiven you; God would be reconciled to you, and become your friend, yea, your Father and your God; and will take you for his household servants, and adopted children: the Holy Ghost would dwell in you, and guide your understandings, and shew you that which flesh and blood cannot reveal, and bring you into acquaintance with the mysteries of God he will be a Spirit of light and life within you, and work your hearts yet more to God, and give you yet stronger inclinations and affections to the things above. He will help you when you are weak, and quicken you where you are dull, and be your remembrancer when you are forgetful of necessary things: he will help you in prayer, both for matter and for manner, and help you in meditation and conference, and other duties: he will warn you of your danger, and strengthen you against temptations, and cause you to overcome; and if you fall, he will cause you to rise again : he will be an indwelling comforter to you, and so effectually speak peace to you in the midst of your disquietness, that by speaking it, he will create it in you: and in the multitude of your thoughts within you, his comforts will delight your souls. O what a life might you live, if Christ by his Spirit did once live in you!