Grace Abounds

And all Israel shall mourn for him, and bury him: for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found some good thing toward the LORD God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam.
~ 1 Kings 14:13

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
~ Philippians 4:8, 1 Peter 2:12

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
~ Romans 6:1-2

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;
~ 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, 2 Corinthians 1:8-10

Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.
~ 2 Corinthians 11:23-30

Grace: The Truth and Growth and Different Degrees Thereof, by Christopher Love. 1650.

This is the fourth 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.

Sermon IV. At Lawrence Jury, London. March 16. 1650/1.

Kings 14. part of the 13. verse.

—Because in him there is found some good thing towards the Lord God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam.

Before we come to the use of Caution, I shall here state a case of conscience, which is this, That if amongst God’s People there are some found that have but little grace, and but small measures found in them; Then what is the least measure of grace, less then which a man cannot be said to be in the state of grace?

This is a practical and useful case.

First: this is of great use to Christians, who are but of a lower form in Religion, and have but little grace; yet they may know that little they have: and though they have not attained strength of grace; yet they may know the truth of grace in themselves: and although they come short of strong believers, yet they shall hereby know they go beyond the hypocrite: for the least measure of grace, is better then the greatest measure of gifts.

Secondly, the knowledge of this will quicken the soule unto due indevours after a further increase. This will teach them to abound more and more.

Now that we may discover what is the lowest degree of true grace, we shall shew you it in some of these following particulars.

A light in the soul to see the evill and the mischievous nature of sin, though not an ability to mortifie sin. The entrance of God’s Word giveth light, and giveth understanding to the simple, that is, the first work of the Word upon the soul, the very beginning of converting; grace in the heart is light, whereby thou seest sin and its sinfulnesse. And it was in the first creation, the first thing that was created was light: so in the second creation, the first work is to open the eyes of the blind, and to turn them from darknesse to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. Upon the work of conversion in the souie, the first degree of grace is to be inlightned with the light of the living So that where this light is wanting; there cannot be a work of grace.

A setled and fixed purpose of heart to leave sin, and to cleave unto God.—Grace doth not consist so much in an actual mortifying of sin, as in an unfeigned and settled purpose of heart to leave every sin.

The Prodigals resolution to go to his fathers house, argued some grace in him. I will arise and go to my fathers house, that is, I will leave my wicked company and courses▪ and it is said, His father saw him afar off, and ran and met him. The Lord did work in him a purpose to leave his sin. Gregory on this saith, That remission of sin came to his heart before his Confession breake out in his speech to his father. So David, I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid;I said I will confesse my transgression to the Lord, and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.Augustine observes on this place, That David doth not say he did confesse, but he purposed to confesse his sin, and yet this his purpose was true grace, though one of the least measures of grace. That holy purpose of David argued grace in him, when he said,I have purposed and will not transgresse thy law,I have sworn and will perform it, that I wil keep thy righteous judgements. It argues grace when a soul doth cleave unto the Lord with ful purpose of heart.

Another low measure of grace is this; A sensible complaint of the want of grace. Thus he that came to Christ, and said with teares, Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief, he had grace. He doth not say, Lord help my faith, but Lord help my unbelief. His expression about his unbelief, did note not onely his want, but his sensiblenesse of his want. This is that Poverty of Spirit, which hath the first place in the Beatitudes; this is the lowest round of the ladder. The Apostle tels us, That the Spirit helps our infirmities, in sighs and groans that cannot be uttered. Observe here, that it’s not said the Spirit helps us with comforts and joyes, but with sighs and groans, whence we may learn that the Spirits help is as well in sighs and groans, and sensible complaints of our wants, as in holy ravishments. Strength of grace is seen in holy joyes and ravishments of Spirit, but truth of grace may be seen & discerned in sighs, groans and complaints of our wants; they are said to be sighes and groans which cannot be uttered, not in regard of their greatnesse; but (as Master Perkins observes) in regard of their weaknesse. God’s children at first wanting ability to expresse their own thoughts. To be sensible of the want of grace is grace; for nature cannot make a man duly sensible of the want of grace, nor sensibly to complain of that want.

Earnest desire after more grace, argues there is grace in the soul, though it be but small. I do not place the beginning of grace in an ability to exercise grace; but rather in an earnest desire after grace. Desire after grace, is accounted by God the grace it selfe we desire; for so we finde that Nehemiah’s desire to fear the Lord, is counted for actuall fearing God. Desires are the seeds of grace, and the graces themselves are the blossomes and sweet fruit that spring from thence; grace exercised is the fruit of a holy desire after grace.

That the desires after grace is in God’s acceptation grace, may be thus demonstrated.

God’s people have appealed unto God, concerning the uprightnesse of their hearts, meerly by their desires;—so saith the Church.The desire of our soul is to thy name, and the remembrance of thee; and with my soul have I desired thee in the night.

God hath made many gracious promises, not only to the acting and exercising of grace, but to the desires after grace. Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after Righteousnesse: for they shal be filled.—If any man thirst (saith Christ) let him come unto me and drink; nay there is a general and universal invitation to every one that thirsteth, to come to the waters; and God hath promised to give to him that is a thirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. The Lord hath promised to fulfil the desire of those that fear him, and wil heare the desire of the humble. So that by these promises it doth appear, that hungring and thirsting, & desires after grace, are graces in God’s account and acceptation.

Now lest men should rest in lazy and sluggish desires, and thereby neglect the exercise of grace, I shall give you an account in what sense the Scripture reckons upon desires after grace, to be grace.

They are supernatural desires. ‘Tis true there are natural desires in the soul after that which is good,—it is the language of nature,Who wil show us any good; now these desires may and do arise from the motion of the natural and unsanctified will of man; and these desires are after happinesse, and not after holinesse; such were the desires of Balaam: who said, Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his. This was but a natural desire. But true desires in the soul are after heaven, for holinesse sake.Bernard notably sets out these desires of natural men,—That they have a desire of the End, and not of the Means.

Desires after grace are joyned with holy indeavours; and therefore the Apostle joyns desire and zeal together; to intimate that true desires are alwayes joyned with zealous indeavours. Thus the Apostle also joyneth a readinesse of will, and performance together. God will never accept the will for the deed, unlesse there be an indeavour to performe, what we say we are willing to do. And therefore Solomon rightly describes, how pernicious desires are without indeavours. The desires of the flothfull (saith he) kil him, because his hands refuse to labour. Bernard describes the lazinesse to the life: Carnal men love to obtain,but love not to follow Christ: they will not indeavour to seek him whom they desire so finde.

Desires which are true and gratious are unsatisfiable; thus David speaks of his desires: My soul (saith he) breaketh for the longing it hath to thy judgments at all times; yea he further describes the ardency and unsatisfiablenesse of his desires by the Harts panting after the water-brooks. The Hart is naturally the most thirsty of all creatures, but this thirst is much increased when the poor beast is chased with dogs: even so the true desires of the soul after grace, are earnest, ardent and vehement desires.

You may know true desires after grace by their Object. Desires they are not gracious, if they be more after outward things then after God. So David, My soul thirsteth after God, after the living God.My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth after thee in a dry and thirsty land where no water is. Thus his soul longed, and did break with longing after God’s judgements.—Now therefore wouldest thou know whether thou hast any begining of grace in thy soul, examine what thy desires are; perhaps thou canst not pray, but thou desirest to pray: perhaps thou canst not mourn for sin, but dost thou mourn that thou canst not mourn? Perhaps thou dost not believe, (as thou fearest) but dost thou desire to believe? Perhaps thou canst not repent, but dost thou desire to repent, and dost thou labour to repent? Then thou mayest conclude that thou hast some beginnings of true grace in thy soul.

We may know the truth of grace though it be little, by the earnest desire after the Word and the means of grace.—Thus Peter sets forth our desires,As new born babes desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby. There is in a child a natural instinct as soon as ever it is born, to desire after the mothers breast: the Apostle makes it a resemblance of a spiritual man; a man spiritually new born, wil desire after the Word, the means of grace, that he may grow in grace.

An indeared love to those that have grace.By this you know you are past from death to life, because you love the brethren. Casuists upon this text, say, that love to God’s children is the first grace, and first appears in young converts. The natives in New England, it is observed, upon their conversion, (for God hath begun there to bring some of those poor creatures from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to himself) the first appearance of grace in them, is in their love and respect to those that are truly gracious. Thus I have shewed you an answer to the question, what are the least measures of grace, without which, or some of them, a man cannot be said to have grace, and wheresoever any of these are, that mans condition is safe, and these little measures of grace will bring a man to heaven.

I shall here lay down some cautions to prevent mis-application.—

Though these small measures of grace are saving, yet you must not content your selves with them. Take heed, lest what I have said, for the support of the weaknesse of some Christians, become not a pillow for the idleness of others; But let us strive to go on unto perfection. We must not sit down with any measure of grace. And to perswade you hereunto;

Consider, that things meerly necessary and sufficient to maintain a natural life, wil not content a man: what man is content, though he hath clothes enough to hide his nakedness, and food enough to keep life and soul together?—But he desires not onely clothes for nakedness, but ornament, & not only food for hunger and necessity, but delight. Now shall men be unbounden after their desires for outward things, and shall they sit down and say they have enough for heavenly things?

Consider, if thou contentest thy self with a small measure of grace, though thou shalt have the fruit of thy grace when thou diest, yet thou wilt want the comfort of thy grace whilest thou livest. It is strength of grace that gives assurance. Weak grace will bring thy soule to heaven, but it is the strength of grace will bring heaven into thy soul.The work of Righteousness shall be Peace, and the effect of Righteousness shall be quietness and assurance for ever. A childe of God hath seldom peace and comfort from the habit of Righteousness, but from the exercise of Righteousness. He that lacketh these things (saith Peter) is blinde, and cannot see afar off, &c. This is not spoken of wicked men who have no grace, but of such who have grace: and because they exercise it not, do not discern the comfortable fruits of grace in their souls. A little faith unexercised, is as to comfort (as we have shewed) as good as no faith.—They that adde not to the ftocke of grace, will want the comfort of grace. So that a weak Christian, who is compared by Peter to a purblinde man: He cannot see (because the eye-sight of his faith is weak) afar off; he cannot see his name writ in heaven; —He will want the comfortable evidence of grace in his heart, who contents himself with measures of grace.

The second caution is, Take not those things to be evidences of the truth of grace, which are evidences onely of the growth and strength of grace. Weak Converts do involve themselves in a Labyrinth of misery, in judging themselves by those symptomes, which are evidences only of the strength of grace. Thou must not judge thy self whether thou art in the state of grace by this; as whether thou hast ravishing joyes and comforts of the Holy Ghost; these are things that God indulgeth to some few, and those of a long standing in the school of Christ. In a School, a scholler must not compare himself with one of the highest Form: if thou wouldest judge of the truth of thy grace, judge by the lowest measure. The reason why hypocrites and low-form Christians do mistake, is this: hypocrites judge they have grace because they have gifts, and weak Christians judge they have no grace because they do not finde such measures of grace in them as are in others. We do not use to say, it is not day because it is not noon.—It is unthankfulness to God, and uncharitableness to our selves, to argue a nullity of grace from the weakness of it; & therefore if thou canst not say, I see my grace, yet it’s well if thou canst say, Blessed be God, I see my sin; If thou canst not say that thou leavest sin, yet it’s well if thou canst say, I have a full purpose of heart to do so: if thou canst but cry out for the want of grace, yet comfort thy self, and do not conclude thou hast no grace.

Do not conclude you have small measures of grace, because you have but smal measures of comfort; this is the fault of young converts, they take measure of their grace by their comfort, which is a false and deceitful rule; growth of grace is not to be measured by the working of joy: the sweet blossome of joy may fall off, when the fruit of grace may come on; yea sometimes Christians of the greatest measure of grace, may have the least measure of comfort; and all to let us know, that as the being and exercise, so the comforts of our graces comes from free grace. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was annointed above his fellows, and was full of grace and truth, yet in the time of his desertion was without comfort, when by reason of the suspension of the favour of God his Father, he cryed out, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me. And so sometimes Christians that have but little measures of grace, may have much comfort; and this is the reason of that flash of joy that young converts have; it is God’s indulgence towards them, to give them great joy at their first conversion: and indeed their joy at that time is the more taken notice of, because usually such have much trouble of minde when they pass through the pangs of the new birth, the change is then specifical, which afterwards is but gradual: and so though they have afterwards more grace, more setled joys and comforts, yet at their first conversion they may have more sense of their joyes, though afterwards they may find an increase of grace, when joy may be as real, though not so sensible; and therefore do not judge thy grace by thy comfort.

Do not conclude the measure of thy grace little, because thou hast but a little measure of gifts. Gifts are the issues of time and experience, and the fruits of studies advantaged by the strength of natural parts. A man may have a quick and pregnant invention, a profound judgement, a retentive memory, a clear elocution, and the like, and yet none of these things can be arguments of grace, but all are but natural endowments. Gifts may be high, and grace may be low: Thus it was with the Church of Corinth, they were inriched with utterance and knowledge, and they came behind other Churches in no gift; and yet the Apostle speaks of these very Corinthians, that they were very low in grace: for so he taxeth them, 1 Cor. 3 1. that they were not spiritual, but carnal men, Babes in Christ, that by reason of their envying, strife and divisions, they were carnal, and walked as men; thus the Church of Laodicea was rich, and increased in gifts, and grew proud of it too, and yet for grace was poor, and naked, and blinde, and miserable. It is with some Professors as it is with a well read Schollar, who having read many books of Geography and the Description of places, can discourse of them very well, but if he were to travel those countries, of which he hath so often read, he would soon be at a loss:— So gifts may carry men far from matter of discourse about Religion, but its only grace that inables a man to practice Religion. A childe of God that hath but a little measure of gifts, may have for all that much grace. Of all the seven Churches of Asia, it is said of Philadelphia, that she had but a little strength that is but little strength of parts and gifts, and yet that Church was very eminent for grace; for she with as much, if not more faithfulness then the other Churches, did keep the word of Christ’s patience, and did not deny his name. Judge not therefore they grace by thy gifts. It is good to covet earnestly the best gifts, but the way of true grace (though but weak) is a more excellent way.

I shall conclude this point with some further consolation to the people of God, that have but weak measures of grace.

Though thou art but weak in thy self, yet thou hast much strength from without thee, or rather it is in thee, because of the Spirit of Christ that dwels in their hearts, that do believe the devil doth all he can to make a little faith faile,—but Christ prays that it fail not. Great are the confederacies of the world, the flesh and the devil against thy little grace, but be of good comfort.Ye are of God little children (saith St. John) and have overcome them, because greater is he that is in you, then be that is in the world: and the weaker thou art, the more advantage hath God to magnifie the glory of his power in thy weaknesse.

Comfort your selves ye weak Christians, for you have a strong God. In the Lord Jehoboah is everlasting strength.—Your God is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultlesse before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. He is able through his Almighty power through faith to keep you unto salvation. —you have a strong God, fear not, his power will be magnified in your weakness.

You have a strong Saviour, though your grace is weak, yet he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him. —Christ is the Wisdom and the power of God to those that are called; Yea he is called a strong Redeemer. Our Redeemer is strong, the Lord of hasts is his name—Satan is indeed the Prince of the power of the aire: for so he is called, Eph. 2. 2 but Jesus Christ is truly the great power of God, who is able, because stronger then the strong man arm’d, to bruise Satan under the feet of his Saints.

You lie under a strong Word, which is able to carry on the work of grace, which is begun in you. The Word of God, though it bee foolishnesse to them that perish, yet it is the power of God to them that are saved; yea it is an Engine, mighty through God, to the pulling down of strong holds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth it selfe against the knowledge of God, and bringeth into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; wherefore the Apostle prayes, Now brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance amongst all them that are sanctified; so that cheer up, though faith be weak, yet the word of God is strong; it is that ingrafted Word which is able to save your soules: yea, in a word, The Word of God is profitable for doctrine, for reproofe, for correction, for instruction in righteousnesse, that the man of God may be made perfect, and throughly furnished unto all good works.

You are weak but you stand on a sure foundation. 1. It is a foundation. 2. A sure foundation. 3. It is a foundation of God: And 4. it is the foundation of God that cannot shake, but standeth firm. Now the weak believer stands by the immutable decree of God, which here the Apostle cals the foundation of God.

Weak believers are assisted by a strong spirit. The spirit of God is not only a spirit of grace and supplication, but it is also a spirit of power. And therefore let weak believers chear up themselves, though they have but little grace, yet that little grace is upheld and maintained by the great power of God unto salvation.

The truth and essence of grace is not discern’d so much by good acts, as by good affections.—How fair is my love, my sister, saith Christ to the Spouse? God reckons of our beauty by our love, and of our perfection by the sincerity of our affections. Natural abilities, to which formalists and hypocrites may come up, may and doe resemble good actions, but they cannot come up to good affections. A Painter may paint the colour of the face, but his art cannot give heat unto the picture. Good actions may give you the resemblance of a Christian. So what Jehu did resembled a true Reformer; but they are good affections that doe set out the life and heat of true grace. Judge they grace therefore by thy affections, and take comfort in this, though thou art little and low in actions, if thou art warm and working in thy affections.

The third and last comfort is this, That little grace shall be lasting grace.Adam had perfection, but had not perserverance; and thou (poor soul!) hast imperfection of grace, but hast perserverance in grace. The most violent and impetuous flood of corruption shall not quench the least measure; the least spark of true grace, the most boysterous blast of temptation shall not extinguish this poor smoaking flax, not one drop of his divine oyntment shall be spilt as water upon the ground. Comets may blaze a while, and then they fall; to shew that it was a Comet and not a Star.—True Stars doe not, cannot fall. Oh then blesse God, who though in his anger, he breaks the Nations like a Potters vessel with an iron mace; yet such is his tendernesse over weak believers, he will not break the bruised reed and though he put out the candle of the wicked, yet he will not quench the smoaking flax. The seeming graces of hypocrites shall perish and come to nothing, when true grace shall hold out.—The painted face decayes soon, but the naturall complexion lasts. A child of God may be tossed by reason of corruption and temptation in a troublesome sea, but that ship shall never be shipwrackt, whereof Christ is the Pilot, the Scriptures the Compasse, the Promises the Tacklings, Hope the Anchor, Faith the Cable, the holy Ghost the winds, and holy affections the Sailes, which are filled thus with the gales of the Spirit—&c. Fear not therefore little flock; for it is your fathers pleasure to give you a Kingdome.