Gospel Duty

I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night. I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them? My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.
~ Song of Solomon 5:2-4

And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.
~ Luke 12:36

He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
~ John 14:21-23

And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.
~ Revelation 19:9

Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.
~ Luke 12:37

And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?
~ Luke 17:8

England’s Duty Under the Present Gospel-Liberty. From Rev 3:20. To Which is Added, Mount Pisgah; Or, A Thanksgiving Sermon for England’s Delivery From Popery. February 1688-9.

By John Flavel.

Sermon III.

Rev. iii. 20. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

Having finished Christ’s solemn preface, and cleared the manner of his presence in his churches and ordinances; I now come to a third observation which is necessarily implied in these words, “ Behold I stand at the door and knock;” and that sad truth therein implied is this, Doct. That the hearts of men are naturally locked up, and barred against Jesus Christ, their only Saviour.

If it were not so, what need were there of all that pains and patience used and exercised by Christ, in waiting patiently, and knocking importunately for entrance into the hearts of men? To keep a clear method in this point, three things must be stated in the doctrinal part.

1. How it appears the hearts of men are thus shut up,

2. What are those locks and bars that shut them up.

3. That no power of man can remove these bars. First, That all hearts are naturally shut and made fast against Christ, is a sad but certain truth; we read, John i. 11, 12. “ He came unto his own, and his own received him not,” &c. He came unto his own people, from whose stock he sprung up; a people to whom he had been prefigured in all the sacrifices and types of the law, and in whom they might all clearly discern the accomplishment of them all. His doctrines and his miracles plainly told them who he was, and whence he came; yet few discerned or received him as the Son of God, Christ found the doors of men’s hearts generally shut against him, save only a few whose hearts were opened by the Almighty power of God, in the way of faith, ver. 12, These indeed received him, but all the rest excluded and denied entrance to the Son of God. So again, John v. from ver. 53. to 40. Christ reasons with them, and gives undeniable demonstrations, that he was the Messiah come to save them; proves it from the testimony of John, ver. 33. “ Ye sent unto 6 John, and he bare witness unto the truth:” Tells them, the design of his coming among them was their salvation, ver. 34. shews them the great seal of heaven, his uncontrolable miracles, ver. 36. “ The works that I do bear witness of me, that the Father “ hath sent me:” And if that were not enough, he reminds them of the immediate testimony given of him from heaven, ver. 37. “ The Father himself which hath sent me, hath borne witness of “ me.” He did so at his baptism, Matth. iii. 17. “ And lo a voice “ from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well “ pleased.” And so again at his transfiguration, upon the holy mount, Matth. xvii. 5.“ While he yet spake, behold a bright 6 cloud overshadowed them; and behold a voice out of the cloud, 6 which said, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, “ hear ye him.” He bids them search the scriptures, and critically examine his perfect correspondence to them, John v. 39. Enough, one would think, to open the door of every man’s understanding and heart, to receive him with fullest satisfaction; and yet, after all, behold the unreasonable obstinacy and resistance of their hearts against him, ver. 40. “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life.”

Not a soul will open, with all the reasons and demonstrations in the world, till the Almighty Power of God be put forth to that end. If another come down in his own name (saith he, ver. 43.) him will ye receive; any body rather than the Son of God: Every cheat can impose upon you easily; it is to me only your hearts have such strong aversions. Now there is a twofold shutting up of the heart against Jesus Christ.

1. Natural.

2. Judicial

1. Natural.

Every soul comes into this world shut up and fast closed against the Lord Jesus. The very will of man, which is the freest and most arbitrary faculty, comes into the world barred and bolted against Christ, Rom. viii. 7. “ The carnal mind is en66 mity against God; for it is not subject unto the law of God, ” neither indeed can be,” Phil. ii. 13. “ It is God that worketh “ in you both to will and to do of his own good pleasure.” This is a dismal effect of the fall. Who feels not strong aversions, violent rebellions, and obstinate resistances in his own heart, when moving towards Christ in the first weak and trembling acts of faith?

2. There is a judicial shutting up of the heart against Christ. This is a sore and tremendous stroke of God, punishing former rebellions: Psal. Ixxxvi. 11, 12. “ Israel would have none of me, 6 so I gave them up to their own hearts lusts.” This looks like a prelude of damnation, a very near preparation to ruin. Israel would have none of me; there is the natural shutting up of the heart; so I gave them up; there is the judicial shutting up of the heart; they would not hear, they shall not hear. O fearful judgment! Thus the Lord gave up the Heathens, Rom. i. 26. they had abused their natural light, and now their minds are judicially darkened; given up to a sottish and injudicious mind, not able to distinguish duty from sin, safety from danger; a mind that should elect the worst things, and reprobate the best. This was the reprobate mind unto which God gave them up; what sadder word can the Lord speak than this, unless it be, Take him, devil! It is true, those that God shuts up he can open, and those whom justice shuts up, mercy can set free; but it is beyond all the power of angels and men to do it: Job xii. 14. “ He shutteth up a man, and there can be no “ opening.” These two closures of the heart are not always found together in the same subject; and blessed be God they are not. Christ meets with many a repulse, and endures with much patience the gainsaying of sinners, before he pronounces that dreadful sentence upon them, Isa. vi. 9, 10. “Go and tell this people, Hear ye “indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not: “ make the heart of this people fat,” &c.

But when it comes to this once, dreadful is the case of such souls; and none are in greater danger of this spiritual judicial stroke of God, than those that have sat long under the light, rebelling against it. That is the first thing, the hearts of men by nature are locked and shut up against Christ.

Secondly, In the next place, let us examine what those locks and bars are which oppose and forbid’s Christ’s entrance into the hearts of poor sinners And they will be found to be,

1. Ignorance.

2. Unbelief.

3. Pride.

4. Custom in sin.

5. Presumption.

6. Prejudices against the ways of holiness.

Bars enough to secure the soul in Satan’s possession, and frustrate all the designs of mercy, except an Almighty Power from heaven break them asunder.

1. The first bar making fast the soul of man against Christ, is ignorance, that ober infernalis, that hellish bolt, which effectually keeps Christ out of the soul.

If knowledge be the key that opens the heart to Christ, as it is plain it is from Luke xi. 52. where Christ denounceth a woe to them that took away the key of knowledge; then ignorance must needs be the shutter that makes fast the door of the heart against Christ. Upon this ground Christ told the woman of Samaria, that her infidelity grew upon the root of her ignorance; John iv. 10. “If “ thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, “ give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would — have given thee living water.” Ah, sinners, did you but know what a Christ he is that is offered to your souls in the gospel; did you see his beauty, fulness, suitableness, and feel your own necessities of him, all the world could not keep you from him: you would break through all reproaches, all sufferings, all self-denials, to come unto the enjoyment of him. But alas! it is with you, as it was with those, Cant. v. 9. “ What is thy beloved (say they to “ the spouse) more than another beloved, that thou dost so charge us?” Unknown excellencies attract not: ignorarice is Satan’s sceptre which he sways over all his kingdom of darkness, and holds his vassals in miserable bondage to him: hence the devils are called, Eph. vi. 12. “The rulers of the darkness of this world.” Alas, were the eyes of sinners but opened to see their woful state, and their remedy in Christ, he could never hold them in subjection one day longer they would break away from under his cruel government, and run over by thousands to Christ; for so they do as soon as ever Go! opens their eyes; in the saine hour they are turned fram darkness to light, they are also turned from the power of Satan to God, Acts xxviii. 16. ( that you did but know the worth of your souls, the dreadful danger they are in, and the fearful wrath that hangs over them, the willingness and ability of Christ to save them, you could not sleep one night longer in the state you are: the next cry would be, What shall I do to be saved? Who will shew me the way to Christ? Help ministers, help Christians, yea, help Lord; these would be the laments and cries of them that are now secure and quiet. But the god of this world hath blinded the eyes of them that believe not: no cries for a physician, because no sense how their souls are stabbed by sins of commission, and stabbed by sins of omission. O that the great Physician would once apply his excellent eye-salve to your understandings, which are yet darkened with gross ignorance both of your misery and remedy.

2. The second bar or lock, that shuts Christ out of men’s souls, is the sin of unbelief. This is one of the strongest holds of Satan wherein he trusteth; this is a sin that not only locks up the heart of a sinner, but also binds up the hand of a Saviour; Mat. xiii. 58.” He could do no mighty works there, because of their un“ belief.”

It obstructed his miraculous works when he was on earth, and it obstructs his gracious work, now he is in heaven. A Saviour is come into the world, but poor unbeliever, thy soul can neither have union nor communion with him till this bar of thy unbelief be removed. The gospel is come among us with mighty arguments to convince, and powerful motives to persuade, but little saving effect follows: its main design is to many frustrated, and all this through unbelief, shutting up, and hardening men’s hearts under it. The word preached did not profit them because of their un. belief. Ah cursed bar! which shuts up thy hearts, shuts out thy Saviour, and will effectually shut thee out of heaven, except the Almighty Power of God break it asunder. « They could not enter “ in because of unbelief,” Heb. iv. 2. The ruin of souls is laid at the door of unbelief; it is the damning sin, Mark xvi. 16. and truly called so, because no other sin could damn but in virtue of this sin. That is the second bar to Christ.

3. The third bar denying entrance to Christ into the hearts of sinners, is pride and stoutness of spirit. The natural heart is a proud heart; it lives upon its own stock, it cannot stoop to a sincere and universal renunciation of its own righteousness: “ Being “ ignorant of the righteousness of God, and going about to esta“ blish their own righteousness, ou uneTayoav, they have not submitted to the righteousness of God,” Rom. x. 3. Pride stiffens the will that it cannot stoop or condescend to declare their own emptiness, discover their own shame, and live wholly upon the righteousness of another. Proud nature had as live be damned, as deny itself in such a point as this is: This makes faith so exceeding difficult, because it involves such deep points of self-denial in it: To give up all to Christ, to draw all from Christ, and to be willing to part with all for Christ. What will can be brought to a deliberate consent to such things as these, unless an Omnipotent Power bow it? It is natural to men rather to eat a brown crust, or wear a coarse ragged garment which they can call their own, than to feed upon the richest dainties, or wear the costliest garments which they must receive as an alms or gift from another. O how hard is it to subdue this pride of the heart, even after light and convictions are come into the soul; to convince men of their undone condition, and the absolute necessity of another and higher righteousness than their own? When souls are in a treaty with Christ, and the match is almost made; this is the sin that makes the last opposition. Fain would they come to Christ, ten thousand worlds for a Christ; but yet they think they must not approach him without some qualifications which are yet wanting. But soul, if ever Christ and thou conclude the match, thou must deny self even in this, the most refined form and interest of it, and come as Abraham did, naked and empty-handed to him that justifieth the ungodly. Down with this house-idol, thy self, thy righteous self, trimmed up, like another Agag, with such precious pretences of humility.

4. The fourth bar, forbidding Christ’s entrance into the soul, is custom in sin. Sin hath so fixed itself by long continuance in the soul, the soul is so settled and confirmed in its course, that all arguments and persuasions to change our way are swept away by the power of custom, as straws and feathers are by the rapid course of a mighty torrent; Jer. xi. 23. “ Can the Ethiopian change his “ skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that “ are accustomed to do evil.” Soap and nitre may as soon make a blackmoor white, or fetch the spots out of the leopard’s skin (which are not accidental, but connate) as the reasonings of men can prevail to remove the mighty power of customary sin. Physi. cians find it a hard thing to cure a cachexia or ill habit of body. It is a grave and serious note of Seneca, a teneris assuescere, multum est. It is a great matter to be accustomed this way or that from our childhood; every repeated act of sin confirms and strengthens the habit; and hence it is that we see so few conversions in old age. It was a wonder in the primitive times, that Marcus Caius Victorius embraced Christianity in the sixtieth year of his age. Take an habituated drunkard, a self-righteous moralist, lay before them the necessity of a change, and you shall find it as easy to stop the course of a river with the breath of your mouth, as to stop them in a customed course of sinning. That is the fourth bar to Christ.

5. The fifth bar, opposing and resisting Christ’s entrance into the soul, is the sin of presumption; this is the sin that parts Christ and thousands of souls in the world; presuming they hope; and hoping they perish. When men presume their condition is safe already, their souls never make out after a Saviour. This was the ruin of Laodicea, Rev. iii. 17. “ Because thou sayest, I am rich, “ and increased with goods, and have need of nothing, and knowest “ not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, ” and naked.” This damning presumption is discovered in three things, (1.) Many think they have that grace which they have not, mistaking the similar for the saving works of the Spirit; a fatal mistake never rectified with many thousands till it be too late. (2.) They presume to find that mercy in God, which they will never find; for all the saving mercies of God are dispensed to men through Christ, in the way of regeneration and faith, Jude, ver. 21. (3.) They presume upon that time for repentance and faith hereafter, which their eyes shall never see. And thus presumption doth lock up the heart against Christ, and leaves sinners perishing even in the presence of a Saviour. They make a bridge of their own shadow, and so perish in the waters.

6. The sixth and last sin, barring up the heart against Christ, is a strong prejudice against holiness, and the strict duties of religion. Thus, in the very infancy of Christianity, the world was scared and driven off from religion by the common prejudices that lay upon the professors of it; As concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against, Acts xxvii. 22.

Thus Justin Martyr complains, that Christians were every where condemned ĝia on enimv, by common fame; and upon this account Christ pronounces a woe upon the world because of offences, Mat. xviii. 7. Alas! it will be the ruin of thousands; some have sucked in such prejudicate opinions and vile notions of religion, and its professors, as make them irreconcileable enemies to it. Satan hath dressed it up in their fancies in such an odious form and representation, that make them lothe both name and thing. These prejudices are drawn from various things; sometimes from the necessary duties of Christianity, which are laid as crimes upon the people of God; when I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that “ was to my reproach,” Psal. Ixix. 10. Sometimes the groundless and malicious slanders and inventions of the enemies of Christianity are the occasions of real prejudices to the world; “ Come, let us “ devise devices against Jeremiah, and let us smite him with the * tongue,” Jer. xvii. 18.

Sometimes the innocent and serious professors of godliness are censured and condemned for hypocritical professors sakes, who never heartily espoused religion. And lastly, The ways of holiness suffer for the slips and infirmities of weak Christians, who commonly give too many occasions to disgust the world against the ways of God.

By these things multitudes are kept off from attendance upon the means of grace, and multitudes more have their hearts shut up from receiving any saving benefit under them.

These are the common bars and locks by which the strong man armed secures bis possession in the souls of sinners; and these bars are too strong for any power beneath the Almighty Power and arm of God to remove or break. It is said, that the Lord opened a door of faith to the Gentiles, Acts xiv. 27. The arm of the Lord must be revealed; or none will open to Christ by faith, Isa. lii. 1

1. The iron bar of the law, that thundering terrible law, cannot force open the heart of an unbeliever; all the dreadful curses flying out of its fiery mouth, make no more impression than a tennisball against a wall of marble. You read of them that hear the words of this curse, yet bless themselves in their heart, saying, They shall have peace, though they walk in the imaginations of their hearts, to add drunkenness to thirst, Deut. xxix. 18.

They play with hell and eternal torments, rush into iniquity as the horse rusheth into the battle, act as men in love with their own death, as those that are at an agreement with hell. O the besotting, hardening, infatuating power of sin!

2. The golden key of free grace cannot, in itself; remove these bars, and open men’s hearts to Christ; “ We have piped unto you, “ but you have not danced,” Matth. xi. 17: The melodious and delicious airs of grace, mercy, peace, and pardon, affect not the dead hearts of unbelievers: like deaf adders they stop their ears at the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely. These gospel melodies only dispose them to a more quiet sleep in sin.

3. No works of providence are, in themselves, sufficient to open the hearts of men to Christ. (1.) The judgments of God cannot do it; thousands have been sick with smiting, that yet cannot be made sick for sin. “I have consumed them, but they refused to “ receive correction; they have made their faces harder than a “ rock, they have refused to return,” Jer. v. 3. Messengers of judgment are abroad, smiting some in their estates, scattering in one day the labour of many years, and therein giving a warning blow at the conscience to make sure of Christ, and the world to come, since their comfort and happiness is scattered in this world. Some are smitten in their dearest relations; death knocks at their doors, and carries out the delight of their eyes, and with the same admonisheth their souls to place their happiness in more durable comforts: some are smitten in their bodies with diseases, giving warning of the near approach of their latter end, and bidding them prepare for another habitation, but all in vain.

(2.) No mercies of God are in themselves sufficient to open the obstinate hearts of sinners to Christ. God hath heaped up mercies by multitudes upon many of you; all these mercies of God lead you to repentance, Rom. ii. 4, 5. They take you in a friendly way by the hand, and thus walk with you: Ah sinner! how canst thou grieve and dishonour that God that thus feedleth, clotheth, and comforteth thee on every side? Do you thus requite the Lord, o foolish people and unwise? Yet all will not do, neither judgments nor mercies can fright or allure the carnal heart to Jesus Christ. It is his Spirit, his Almighty Power alone, that opens these everlasting gates, and makes these strong bars give way and fly at his voice.

Infer. 1. Behold here the dismal state of nature, the woful condition of all unregenerate souls; Christ the Redeemer shut out, sin and Satan shut in. This is the horrid state of nature shut up in unbelief, Rom. iv. 32. Ah Lord, what a condition is this! we should certainly account it an unspeakable misery to be shut into a house haunted by the devil, where we should be continually scared and frighted with dreadful noises and apparitions; but alas, what is an apparition of the devil without us, to the inhabitation of the devil within us? Nay, what is the possession of a body, to Satan’s possession of the soul? Yet this is the very case of the unregenerate, Luke xi. 21. The strong man armed keepeth the palace, till Christ dispossesses him by sovereign victorious grace. Poor wretch, canst thou start at a supposed vision of a spirit, and not tremble to think that thy soul is the habitation of devils? There is a twofold misery lying upon all Christ-less, unregenerated persons; Satan is,

1. Their ruler in this world.

2. Their tormentor in that to come.

1. He is their ruler in this world, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience, Eph. i. 3. Look as the holy Spirit of God dwells and rules in sanctified souls, walks in them as in hallowed temples, guiding and comforting the souls of the saints; so Satan dwells in unregenerate hearts, actuating their lusts, inflaming them with his temptations, using their faculties and members as instruments of unrighteousness. And then,

2. He will be their tormentor in the world to come: He that tempts now, will torment then, Matth. xxv. 41. “ Depart from me “ ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his “ angels.” Flee therefore, and escape for your lives, sleep not quietly another night in so dismal and dreadful an estate. “If the Son make you free, then are you free indeed.”