And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.
~ Acts 26:29
And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
~ Ezekiel 33:31, Deuteronomy 5:29
But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
~ 2 Corinthians 4:2, James 1:23-24
Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.
~ Romans 11:18-23
And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
~ Luke 12:16-21
Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
~ Luke 13:24
But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
~ 1 Corinthians 9:27
And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
~ Romans 13:11-14
Directions to Persuasions to a Sound Conversion.
For the 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 Change.
By Richard Baxter. 1658.
The following is an except from his work.
It is a weight so unconceivable that dependeth on the soundness of conversion and sanctification, that our care and diligence cannot be too great to make it sure. As the professed atheist, heathens, and infidels without, so the self-deceiving hypocrites within the church, do wilfully cast away themselves for ever, by neglecting such a business of everlasting consequence, when they have time, and warnings, and assistance to dispatch it. Multitudes live like brutes or atheists, forgetting that they are born in sin and misery, and settled in it by wilful custom, and must be converted or condemned. These know not (many of them) what need they have of a conversion, nor what conversion or sanctification is. And some that have been Preachers of the Gospel, have been so lamentably ignorant in so great a matter, that they have persuaded the poor deluded people that it is only the gross and heinous sinners that need conversion branding them with the name of Puritans, that will; not take a dead profession joined with civility, for true sanctification; and promise salvation to those, that Christ hath with many as severations professed shall not enter into the kingdom of God. Others that confess that a thorough sanctification is a necessary thing, do delude their souls with something that is like it. Hence is the misery and dishonour of the church. Holiness itself is disgraced by the sins of them that are unholy, because they pretend to that which they have not. Hence it is, that we have thousands that call themselves Christians, that live a worldly, fleshly life, and some of them hating the way of godliness and yet think they are converted, because they are sorry when they have sinned, and wish when it is past that they had not done it, and cry God mercy for it, and confess that they are sinners; and this they take for true repentance: when sin was never mortified in their souls, nor their hearts ever brought to hate it, and forsake it; but when they have had the profit and pleasure of sin, they are sorry for the danger, but never regenerate and made new creatures by the Spirit of Christ. Hence also it is, that we have such abundance of mere opinionists, that take themselves for religious people. Because they have changed their opinions, and their parties, and can prate contentiously against those that are not of their mind, and join themselves with those that seem to be the strictest, they take themselves to be truly sanctified: and this makes such gadding from one opinion to another, and such censuring, reviling, and divisions, upon that account, because their religion is most in their opinions, and hath not mortified their carnal, selfish inclinations and passions, nor brought them to a holy, heavenly mind. Hence also it is, that we have so many sensual, scandalous professors, that seem to be religious, but bridle not their tongues, their appetites, or their lusts, but are railers, or backbiters, or tipplers, or gluttons, or filthy and lascivious, or someway scandalous to their holy profession, because they are strangers to a thorough conversion, but take up with the counterfeit of a superficial change Hence also we have so many worldlings, that think themselves religious men; that make Christ but a servant to their worldly interest, and seek heaven but for a reserve, when earth forsakes them, and have something in this world that is so dear to them that they cannot forsake it for the hopes of glory; but give up themselves to Christ, with secret exceptions and reserves, for their prosperity in the world: and all because they never knew a sound conversion, which should have rooted out of their hearts this worldly interest, and delivered them up entirely, and absolutely to Christ. Hence also it is that we have so few professors that can lay by their pride, and bear disesteem or injury, and love their enemies, and bless them that curse them, yea, or love their godly friends that cross them, or dishonour them. And so few that can deny themselves in their honour, or any considerable thing, for the sake of Christ, and in obedience, and conformity to his will. And all because they never had that saving change, that takes down self, and sets up Christ as Sovereign in the soul. And hence also it is that we have in this age so many dreadful instances of apostasy: so many reproaching the Scripture, that only they thought had converted them, and the way of holiness, that once they did profess; and denying the Lord himself that bought them; and all because they formerly took up with a superficial, counterfeit conversion. O how commonly, and how lamentably doth this misery appear among professors in their unsavoury discourse, their strife and envy, on religious pretences, their dead formality, their passionate divisions, or their selfish, proud, and earthly minds! A thorough conversion would have cured all this, at least as to the dominion of it.
Having therefore in my ” Call to the Unconverted” endeavoured to awaken careless souls, and persuade the obstinate to turn and live, I have here spoken to them that seem to be about the work, and given them some directions and persuasions, to prevent their perishing in the birth, and so to prevent that hypocrisy which else they are like to be formed into, and the deceit of their hearts, the error of their lives, and the misery at their death, which is like to follow. That they live not as those that flatter God with their mouths, and ” lie unto him with their tongues, because their heart is not right with him, neither are they steadfast in his covenant.” Lest denying deep entertainment, and rooting to the seed of life, or choaking it by the radicated, predominant love and cares of the world, they wither when the lie at of persecution shall break forth”: and lest building on the sands, they fall when the winds and storms arise, and their fall be great and so they go out from us, that they may be made manifest that they were not of us: for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.” Look therefore to this great, important business, ” and give all diligence to make your calling and election sure. And trust not your hearts too easily, or too confidently; ” but turn to the Lord with all your hearts’.” Cleave to him resolvedly, or with purpose of heart: and see that you sell all and buy the pearl: and stick not at the price, but absolutely resign yourselves to Christ, and turn to him, as Zaccheus and other primitive converts did, surrendering all that you have unto his will ‘. Leave not any root of bitterness behind; make no exceptions, or reserves; but deny yourselves: forsake all, and follow him that hath led you this self-denying way; and trust to his blood, and merits, and promise, for a treasure in heaven, and then you are his disciples, and true Christians indeed Reader, if thou heartily make this covenant and keep it, thou shalt find that Christ will not deceive thee, when the world deceiveth them that chose it, in their greatest extremity; but if thou draw back, and think these terms too hard, remember that everlasting life was offered thee, and remember why and for what thou didst reject it. And if in this life-time thou wilt have thy good things, expect to be tormented, when the believing, self-denying souls are comforted.
— Richard Baxter, May 29, 1658.
Directions to Persuasions to a Sound Conversion.
Directions to Sinners that are purposed to Turn, and are under the Work of Conversion: that it Miscarry not.
The first and greatest matter in the seeking after the salvation of our souls, is, to be sure that we lay the foundation well, and that the work of conversion be thoroughly wrought. To this end I have already used many persuasions with the unconverted to return, as thinking all further directions vain, till we have persuaded men to a consent and willingness to practise them. And in the end of that discourse I added a few directions for the use of such as are willing to be converted. But because 1 know that this is a matter of exceeding consequence, I dare not thus leave it, before I have added some further directions, to prevent the miscarrying of this work where it is begun. And lest I should losemy labour, through the unpreparedness of the reader; I shall first give you some preparing considerations, which may awaken you to the practice of the directions which I shall give you.
1. Consider first, that half-conversions are the undoing of many thousand souls. If you are but like Agrippa, (Acts xxvi. 28.) ” almost persuaded to be Christians,” yon will be but almost saved. Many a thousand that are now past help, have had the word come near them, and cast them into a fear, and made some stir and trouble in their souls, awakening their consciences, and forcing them to some good purposes and promises, yea, and bringing them to the performance of a half-reformation; but this is not it that will serve your turn. Many have been so much changed, as not to be far from the kingdom of God, that yet came short of it; Mark xii. 34. There is no promise in Scripture that you shall be pardoned if you almost repent and believe; or be saved, if you be almost sanctified and obedient; but on the contrary, the Lord hath plainly resolved, that you must turn or die, though you almost turn; and repent, or perish, though you almost repent; and that you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven, without conversion and a new birth, though you came never so near it. God hath resolved upon the terms of your salvation and it is in vain to hope for salvation upon any other terms. God will not change nor come down to your terms: it is you that must change and come quite over to his terms, or you are lost for ever. If you come never so near them, you are but lost men if you come not up to them. The Lord well knew what he did, when he made his covenant and law, and he imposed nothing on the sons of men but what his infinite wisdom told him it was fit for him to impose; and he will not now compound with sinners, and take less than he requireth; that is, less than the preeminency in their hearts; nor will he ever come down to any lower terms with you. than those which he propoundeth to you in his Gospel. And therefore, poor sinners, as you love your souls, do not stand dodging and halving with God but give up yourselves entirely to him; and do not stop at the beginnings of a conversion, but go through with it, till you are become new creatures indeed, or you are undone when you have done all. A half, unsound convert will as certainly perish as a drunkard or a whoremonger, though his torment may not be so great.
2. Consider also, that if you do not go through with the work when you are upon it, you may perhaps make it more difficult than it was before ever you meddled with it, and make it a very doubtful case whether ever it will be done.
As it is with a wound or other sore; if you tamper with it with salves tliat are not agreeable to it, or are disorderly applied; or if you skin it over before it be searched to the bottom, it must be opened again, and will cost you double pain before it be cured. Or as I have seen it with some that have had a bone broken, or out of joint, and it hath been set amiss at first: O what torments were the poor creatures fain to undergo, in having it broken, or stretched and set again! which might have been spared, if it had been thoroughly done at first. So, if you will be shrinking and drawing back, and favouring your flesh, and will not go to the quick, you will make your conversion much more difficult you must be brought to it again, and fetch your groans yet deeper than before; and weep over all your former tears your doubts will be multiplied your fears and sorrows will be increased; and all will go sorer with you than at first. O what a case will you be in, when your sores must be lanced a second time, and your bones, as it were, broken again! Then you will wish you had gone through with it at the first.
Yea, perhaps you may put God to it to fetch you in by some sharp affliction, and send out so boisterous and churl- ish a messenger to call you home as may make you wish you had hearkened to a more gentle call: when the sheep will straggle, the dog must be sent to affright them home. Many a foolish sinner makes light of the gentle invitations of grace, and they stand hovering between their sins and Christ; and sometimes they have a mind to turn, and the next tempta- tion they are off again, and then they come on again coldly and with half a heart; and thus they stand trifling with the God of heaven till he is fain to take another course with them, and resolves to use some sharper means: and when he layeth them under his rod, and they can neither fly from, nor resist him, but see that their lives and souls are at his mercy, then they begin to look about them, and see their folly, and change their minds. You can tarry, and delay, and dally with the dreadful God, in the time of your prosperity, and we may ask you over and over whether you will turn before we can have a hearty answer; but what will you do when God shall begin to frown, and when he takes you in hand by his irresistible power, and lets loose upon you the terrors of his wrath? Will you then make as light of his mercy as you do now? Have you not read, Dan. v. 6. how small an apparition of his anger did make a carousing king look pale, and his joints to tremble in the midst of his joviality? A Manasseh will be think himself and come in when he is laid in irons, though he could set light by God before; 2 Chron. xxxiii. 13. If Jonah will run away from God, he can send a boisterous messenger to arrest him, and cast him as it were into the belly of hell, and make him cry for mercy to him that he disobeyed. So if you will stand trifling with God, and will not by fair means be persuaded to yield and come away, you may shortly look to hear from him in another manner; for he hath a voice that will make the proudest face look pale, and the most stubborn heart to tremble. If an idle, stubborn child will not learn nor be ruled, the master or parent will teach him with the rod, and give him a lash, and ask him, ‘ Will you yet learn?’ and another lash, and ask him, ‘ What say you now, will you yet obey? So will God do by you, if he love you, and mean to save you: when he hath taken away your wealth, your friends, your children, will you then hearken to him or will you not? When you lie groaning on your couch, and all your parts are overwhelmed with pains, and death begins to lay hands upon you, and bids you now come and answer for your rebellions and delays before the living God, what will you do then? Will you turn or not? O the lamentable folly of sinners, that put themselves to so much sorrow, and great calamity for themselves! When sickness comes, and death draws near, you beg, and cry, and groan, and promise: when you feel the rod, what Christians will you then be? And why not without so much ado? You then think God deals somewhat hardly with you: and why will you not turn then by gentler means? You might spare yourselves much of this misery if you would; and you will not. Is it a seemly thing for a man to be driven to heaven by scourges? Is God so bad a master, and heaven so bad a place, that you will not turn to them, and mind them, and seek them, till there be no remedy, and you are, as it were, driven to it against your will? Is the world such an inheritance, and sin so good a thing, and the flesh or devil so good a master, that you will not leave them till you are whipped away? What a shameful, unreasonable course is this?
Well sirs, the case is plain before you. Turn you must atone time or other, or be the fire brands of hell. And seeing it is a thing that must be done, were it not best for you to take the easiest and the surest way to do it? Why, this is the easiest and the surest way; even to strike while the iron is hot, before it cool again; and to go through with it when God doth move you and persuade you; if you love your flesh itself, do not put him to take up the rod, and fetch you home by stripes and terrors.
But that is not the worst; for it will sorely hazard the work itself, and consequently your salvation, if you do not go through with it at the first attempt. I know there is many an one that hath been converted and saved, after many purposes, and promises, and half-conversions. But yet I must tell you, that this is a very dangerous course: for you do not know when you grieve the Spirit of grace, and set so light by mercy when it is offered you, whether that Spirit may not utterly forsake you, and leave you to your own un- godly wills, and let you take your lusts, and pleasures, and say, ‘ Let this wretch be filthy still; let him keep his drunkenness, his companions, his worldliness, and the curse of God with them, till behave tried what it is that they will do for him: let him follow his own conceits, and the pride and obstinacy of his own heart, till he find whither they will bring him: let him serve the flesh and the world, till he understand whether God or they be the better master. Seeing he will not be wise on earth, let him learn in hell, and let torments teach him, seeing mercy might not teach him.’ O poor soul! what a case art thou in, if this should once be the resolution of God!
Moreover, you may easily know that the longer you stay, the more leisure you give the devil to assault you, and to try one way when he cannot prevail by another, and to strengthen his temptations: like a foolish soldier, that will stand still to be shot at, rather than assault the enemy.
And the longer you delay, the more your sin gets strength and rooting. If you cannot bend a twig, how will you be able to bend it when it is a tree? If you cannot pluck up a tender plant, are you likely to pluck up a sturdy oak? Custom gives strength and root to vices. A blackamoor may as well change his skin, or a leopard his spots, as those that are accustomed to do evil, can learn to do well. Jer. xiii. 23. If you stick at conversion as a difficult matter to-day, it will be more difficult to-morrow, or the next month, and the next year, than it is now.
Yea, the very resistance of the Spirit doth harden the heart, and the delays and triflings of the soul do bring it to an insensibility and boldness in sin, and drive away the fear of God from the heart. Now it may be you are somewhat awakened, and begin to see that you must turn or die if you trifle and delay, this light may be gone, and leave you in greater darkness than before; and the voice that now awakeneth you, may be silent and leave you to fall asleep again. Moreover, you know that you are uncertain of the continuance of the Gospel. You known of whether you shall have such lively, serious preachers as you now have, nor you know not whether you shall have such godly neighbours and company to encourage you and help you in the work. God will remove them one after another to himself, and then you will have fewer prayers for you, and fewer warnings, and good examples, and perhaps be left wholly to the company of deceived, ungodly fools, that will do nothing but hinder and discourage you from conversion. And you are not sure that religion will continue in that reputation as now it is in. The times may turn, before you turn; and godliness may become a scorn again, and, it may be, a matter of suffering, and may cost you your lives to live as the servants of Christ must do. And therefore if you stop at it now as a difficult thing, when you have all the helps and encouragements that you can expect, and the way to heaven is made so fair; and when magistrates, and ministers, and neighbours are ready to encourage and help you; what will you do in times of persecution and discouragement? If you cannot turn when you have all these helps and means, what will you do when they are taken from you? If you cannot row with the stream, how will you row against it? If you dare not set to sea, when you have wind, and tide, and sunshine, what will you do in storms and tempests, when all is against you? O what would some of your forefathers have given to have seen the days that you see! How glad would many a thousand in other countries of the world be, to have but the helps to heaven that you have? Never look to have the way fairer and easier while you live. If you think heaven is offered you at too dear a rate now, you may even let it go, and try whether hell be better; for the next offer is like to be upon harder terms rather than easier. If you cannot now find in your hearts to turn and live a holy life, what would you have done in the days of the apostles, or ancient Christians?
And, what would you have done in Spain or Italy, where it would cost you your lives? He that will not be converted now, but thinks the terms of grace too hard, is so impious a despiser of Christ and heaven, that it is no wonder if God resolve that he shall never taste of the salvation that was offered him. Luke xiv. 24.
Moreover, you know upon what uncertainties you hold you have no assurance of them for an hour, but your lives you are sure that they are passing away whilst you delay. And will you trifle then in a work that must be done? What a case are you in, if death find you unconverted! The heart of man is not able now to conceive the misery of your case. How dare you venture to live another day in an unconverted state, lest death should find you so? Are you not afraid when you lie down at night, and afraid when you go out of your doors in the morning, lest death surprise you before you are converted? If you be not, it is long of your deadness and presumption.
And I would fain hear what it is that should thus stop you. What are you afraid of? Is God an enemy, that you are loath to come to him? Is the devil a friend, that you are so loath to leave him? Is sin a paradise? Is holiness a misery? Is it a pleasanter life to love your money, or your lands, or your meat and drink, and lusts, than to love the most blessed God, the Creator of the world, the life of our souls, and our eternal felicity? Is it better to pamper a carcase that must shortly stink as the dung, than to provide for a living immortal soul? Whether do you think that earth or heaven will be the more glorious and durable felicity?
What is it, sirs, that you stick at, that you make so many delays before you will turn? Is there any difficulty in the point? Do you think it a hard question whether you should turn or not? Why, how can you be so blind? Do you stand pausing upon the business, as if it were a doubt, whether God or the world were better, and whether sin or holiness, Christ or death, heaven or hell, were to be preferred? I pray you, consider; can you reasonably think that conversion will do you any harm? Can it bring you into a worse condition than law of God you are the slaves of the devil, you are the heirs; sure you cannot fear such a thing you are dead in sin; you are children of wrath, you are in? your blood while you are unconverted you are under the curse of the you are in of hell, and under the guilt of all your sins continued rebellion against God you are employed every day in the destroying of yourselves, in kindling the flames that must everlastingly torment you, and laying in fuel for the perpetuating of your misery; and fighting against your friends, that would deliver you, and unthankfully abusing Christ, and grace, and ministers, and friends, that would save your souls. This is the condition that every one of you is in, till you are converted. And can you fear lest conversion would bring you in to a worse condition than this? Sirs, these truths are sure and plain; and if yet you stick at it, your error is so palpably gross, that unless you are madmen, I may be bold to say it is a wilful error. And if you love to be deceived, and wilfully choose a lie, you must take that you get by it.
3. Consider further. That half-conversions do often prove an occasion of deluding men’s souls, and making them quiet in a miserable state, and so of keeping them from being converted to the last. If you had never done any thing in it, you would more easily be persuaded that your case is bad, and that there is still a necessity of your change. But when you have had some convictions, and troubles of mind, and fears, and sorrows, and so have fallen into an outside, partial reformation, and now are persuaded that you are truly converted, when it is no such matter, what a dangerous impediment to your conversion may this prove? And all because you slubber over the work, and cut it off before it reacheth to sincerity, and strive against the workings of the Spirit, and break away from your physician before he hath done the cure, and would not follow it on to the end. I know that a half-conversion, if it be known to be no more, is much better than none; and doth often prepare men for a saving work. But when this half-conversion is taken to be a true and sav- ing change, as too commonly it is, it proves one of the greatest impediments of salvation. Whenever Christ shall after- ward knock at your door, you will not know him, as thinking he dwells with you already. If you read any books that call on you to be converted, or hear any preachers that call on you to turn, you have this at hand to cozen yourselves with, and frustrate all. You will think, ‘ This is not spoken to me; for I am converted already.’ O how quietly do such poor, deluded sinners, daily read and hear their own doom your life is a and misery, and never once dream that they are the men that are meant, and therefore are never dismayed at the matter! This formeth you into a state of hypocrisy, and makes the course of your duties and your lives to be hypocritical. If another man that knows himself to be still unconverted, do but read the threatenings of the word against such, or hear of the terrors of the Lord from a minister, he may be brought to confess that this is his own case, and so to perceive the misery of his condition. But when such as you do read and hear these things, they never trouble you, for you think that they do not touch you: you are Scripture-proof, and sermon-proof: and all by the delusion of your half-conversion. O how zealously will such a man cry out against the sins of others! and tell them of their misery, and persuade them to turn, and shew them the danger that is near them if they do not: and in the meantime little thinks that it is his own case, and that he speaks all this against his own soul. How will such men applaud a sermon that drives at the conversion of a sinner, and that tells them their misery while they are unconverted! ‘ O thinks he, this touched such and such; I am glad that such a man and such a man heard it:’ and he little thinks that it as nearly touched himself. How smoothly will he go on in any discourse against wicked, unregenerate men, as David heard the parable of Nathan, and it never once entereth into their thoughts, that they speak all this against themselves; till the Judge shall tell them, when it is too late,”Thou art the man.” It will turn not only the stream of your thoughts into hypocrisy and self-deceit, but also the stream of your speeches to others; yea, and the current of your prayers, and all the rest of your religious performances. When in confession you should acknowledge and lament an unregenerate, carnal state, you will only confess that you have the infirmities of the saints, and that you have this or that sin, which yet you think is mortified. When you should importunately beg for renewing grace, you will beg only for strengthening grace, or assurance; when you should be labouring to break your hearts, you will be studying to heal them; and will be hearkening after present comforts, when you have more need of godly sorrow. It will fill your mouths in prayer with pharisaical thanksgivings for the mercies of regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, which you never received.
Little doth many a soul know what sanctification, and the several graces of the Spirit are, that use to give God thanks for them: there is many and many an one that must for ever be in hell, that were used in their prayers to give God thanks for their hopes of glory: and the common cause of all this deceit and misery, is, that men do run from under the hands of their physician, before he ever went to the bottom of their sore, and go away with a half-conversion, and so spend all the rest of their lives, in a mere delusion, as verily thinking they are converted, when they are not. How confidently will such receive the Lord’s supper, and thrust themselves into the communion of the saints, as if they had as good right as others to be there, till the Lord of the feast shall take them to task, and say, ” Friend, how camest thou in hither, not hav- ing on a wedding garment?” and then they will be speechless; Matt. xxii. 12. How many false, deceiving comforts, and perhaps even seeming raptures and assurance, may these have in themselves, as verily thinking their case is good, when, alas, they never yet laid the foundation. Yea, and it is to be observed, that satan is a friend to the comforts of this kind of men, and therefore will do all that he can to promote them; for he would willingly keep his garrison in peace Luke xi. 21. And therefore he may possibly be a comfort ing spirit to them himself, and imitate the Holy Ghost the Comforter of the saints; and, it maybe, give them such raptures as seem higher than those which the Spirit of holiness doth give. He envieth the saints their peace and comfort, because he foresees how durable they will prove: but he can be content that deluded hypocrites may have joy, because their comforts do not weaken but strengthen his kingdom within them, and he knows they are like to endure but for awhile.
And thus you may perceive, how hard it is to convert one of these half-converted men, that have strangled the new creature as it were, in the birth, and that are fortified against all the means of grace, by a false conceit that they are sanctified already. See therefore that you make sure work, and take not up in the middle, and with halves, but take your present time, and give up your souls to a total change.
4. Consider, If you take up short of a thorough conversion, you lose all your labour, and sufferings and hopes, as to the matter of your salvation.
And what pity is it that so much should be lost? Alas, to see many of our hearers touched at a sermon, and come to a minister and bewail their sin, and seem to be humbled, and promise to be new men, and yet all this to be lost; how sad a case is this to think of? To see them leave their company and former course of life, and come among the professors of holiness, and all men take them for real converts; and yet all this to be lost, and their souls lost after all: how sad a case is this! If you grow up to the greatest parts for outward duty, and be able to discourse, or pray, or preach, even to the admiration of the hearers yet if you do not ground this on a thorough conversion, all is but lost, as to your own salvation. If you keep up the highest strain of profession, and get the highest esteem in the church, so that others depend on you as oracles; yea, if the pope with all his infallibility should canonise you for saints; it were all but loss. If you should keep up the most confident persuasion of your salvation, and hope to go to heaven, to the last hour of your lives; it were all but lost if you build not all on a thorough conversion. Yea, if you should be taken by persecutors for one of the party to which you join, and should suffer for the cause of religion among them; all were but lost, without a sound conversion; 1 Cor. xiii. 1 — 3.
It is a pitiful case to see some poor unsanctified souls, how they wander and change from one opinion to another, and from party to party, to find out that which they want within. They turn to this party first, and that party next, and then to another, and then think they are sure in the way to heaven, when they never thoroughly turned to God by Jesus Christ; and therefore are certainly out of the way, whatever party it be that they join with. Some go to the giddy sects that make the highest pretences to strictness: and some go to Rome, because they think that there they shall have more company, and hear the deluding sound of unity, universality, antiquity, succession, miracles, and such like: and then they think they have hit the way. Alas, poor souls! If God were but nearest and dearest to your hearts, and Christ and his righteousness exalted within you, and your souls unfeignedly turned from your sins, you would be in the certain way to heaven, in what country, or company, or church soever you were; supposing that you believe and do nothing there, which is inconsistent with this life of grace.
(Though yet every Christian should choose that particular society, if he can, where he may not only be saved, but most certainly saved, and find the greatest helps, and least hindrances, or else where he may do God the greatest service.) But choose what company you will in the world, the strictest, the most reformed, the most splendid in outward pomp and glory, or of whatever excellency else you may imagine, you will never be saved in it yourselves, as long as your hearts are unconverted.
I know the Papists have found out many devices, by sacraments, and ceremonies, and the merits of the saints, to patch up the defect of a thorough conversion; but all are mere delusions that pretend to such a thing.
O then think of this, poor sinner: hast thou gone so far, and done so much, and »hall all be lost because thou wilt not follow it to the end? Hast thou groaned, and wept, and confessed, and be moaned thine own condition? Hast thou prayed, and read, and heard, and fasted, and changed thy company, and much of thy course of life? And shall all this be lost, for want of going to the bottom, and making a thorough work of it? What a loss will this be?
5. Consider also. What an admirable help and advantage it will be to you through the whole course of your lives, if the work of conversion be once thoroughly wrought. I will shew you this in some particulars.
(1.) It will be an excellent help to your understandings, against the grosser errors of the world, and will establish you in the truth much more than mere arguments can do for you will be able to speak for the truth from feeling and experience: he that hath the law written both in his Bible and in his heart, is likely to hold it faster than he that hath it in his Bible alone. But of this I have spoken already in my ” Treatise against Infidelity,” Part ii.
(2.) If you be but thoroughly converted, you will have that within you which will be a continual help against temptations: you have not only experience of the mischief of sinning, and the folly of those reasons that are brought for its defence; but you have also a new nature, which is against the temptation, as life is against poison: and as it is a great disadvantage to the law of Christ, that it speaks against the nature of the ungodly; so is it a disadvantage to the temptations of the devil, that they would draw a Christian against his new nature. You have that within you that will plead more effectually against sensuality, uncharitableness, pride or worldliness, or any the like sin, than learning or reason alone can do. (As in the forecited book I have further manifested.)
(3.) If conversion be thoroughly wrought, you will have within you a continual helper of your graces, and a remembrancer to put you in mind of duty, and a spur to put you on to the performance, and a furtherer of your souls in the performance itself: it is out of this spark and principle within you, that the Holy Ghost doth raise the acts of grace. This is it that the word, and prayer, and conference, and sacraments, and all the means of grace must work upon. If we see you do amiss, we have hopes that you will hear us if we plainly reprove you, we may look you should take it in good part: for you have that within you that saith as we say, and is at deadly enmity with the sin which we reprove. If we provoke you to love and to good works, we dare almost promise ourselves that you will obey; for you have that within you that disposeth you to the duty, and preacheth our sermons to you over again. O what an advantage it is to our teaching, when you are all taught of God within, as well as by his messengers without! But when we speak to the unconverted, we have little to work upon: we give physic to the dead; we speak all against the bent of their souls and every reproof and exhortation to holiness goes against their very natures; and therefore what wonder if we have the smaller hopes to prevail?
(4.) If the work be thoroughly done at first, it will help to resolve many doubts that may be afterwards cast into your minds: you need not be still at a loss and looking behind you, and questioning your foundation, but may go cheerfully and boldly on. O what an excellent encouragement is this! to know that you have hitherto made good your ground, and left all safe and sure behind you, and have nothing to do but to look before you; and press on towards the mark till you lay hold upon the prize: whereas if you be in any great doubt of your conversion, it will be stopping you and discouraging you in all your work you will be still looking behind you, and saying, ‘ What if I should yet be unconverted?’ when you should cheerfully address yourselves to prayer or sacraments, how sadly will you go, as being utterly uncertain whether you have a saving right to them; or whether God will accept a sacrifice at your hand I When you should grow and go forward, you will have little heart to it, because you know not whether you are yet in the way; and this will damp your life and comfort in every duty, when you must say, ‘ I know not whether yet I be thoroughly converted.’ O therefore stop not the work at first.
(5.) And lastly, If the work be thoroughly done at first you will persevere, when others fall away. You will have rooting in yourselves, entertaining the seed as into depth of earth; and you will have the Holy Ghost within you, and (more than so) engaged for your preservation, and the perfecting of your salvation; when they that received the word as seed upon a rock, and never give it deep entertainment, will wither and fall away in the time of trial; and from them that have not saving grace, shall be taken away, even that which they seemed to have; Matt. xiii. 12. xxv. 19.
6. And lastly. Consider, If you fall short of a true conversion at the first, the devil will take occasion by it, to tempt you at last to utter despair. When you have made many essays and trials, and been about the work again and again, he will persuade you that there is no possibility of accomplishing it. If we convince an open profane person that is unconverted, he may easier see that yet there is hopes of it, but if a man have been half-converted, and lived long in a formal, self-deceiving profession of religion, and been taken by himself and others for a godly man, as it is very hard to convince this man that he is unconverted, so when he is convinced of it, he will easily fall into desperation. For satan will tell him,’ If thou be yet unconverted after so many confessions and prayers, and after so long a course of religion, what hope canst thou have that it should yet be done? Thou wilt never have better opportunities than thou hast had. If such sermons as thou hast heard could not do it, what hope is there of it? If such books, and such company, and such mercies and such afflictions have not done it, what hope canst thou have? Canst thou hear any livelier teaching than thou hast heard; or speak any holier words than thou hast spoken? If yet the work be quite undone, it is not forsaking another sin, nor going a step further that will do it; and therefore never think of it, for there is no hope: dost thou not know how oft thou hast tried in vain? and what canst thou do more’?’ And thus you give advantage to the tempter by your first delays, and taking up in mere preparatories. And therefore I beseech you as you love your souls, take heed of resisting the Spirit of grace, and breaking off the work before it is thoroughly done, but go to the bottom, and follow it on, till it be accomplished in sincerity. And now hoping that upon these considerations you are resolved to do your best, I shall come to the thing which I principally intended; which is to give you certain Directions, which if you will obey, you may be converts and saints indeed.
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 2Cor.iv.3,4. l John i.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 know- ledge 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 intinitely 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 yon 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 ofit, 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, me thinks 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 yon 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. Rut 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. Ixxv. 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 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 manlike 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 goal 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 5 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,” 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. And some 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 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. Ixxiii. 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 though they have 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 plea- sure 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 maybe 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 28—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. i.John xvii. 3. Hos. iv. 6. Do you think a man may be saved 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 broken-hearted for sin? Try by Isa. Ivii. 16. Ixvi. 2. Psal. li. 17, Lukeiv. 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. V. 15, 16. Do you think a man can be saved that is a world- ling, 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, 1 1. 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; 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 earth at 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 curet hem. 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, i. To tell you some of those things that you should consider of. ii. To tell you in what manner you should do it. And, iii. To give you some motives to put you on.
I. 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! 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 known of 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 lusts. 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; Be think 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!