3. Let us then examine whether we put forth this holy violence for Heaven? What is an empty profession without this? Like a lamp without oil. Let us all ask ourselves, what violence do we use for Heaven?
1. Do we strive with our hearts to get them into an holy frame? How did David awaken all the powers of his soul to serve God, Psalm lxxxvii. 6. 'I myself will awake early.' The heart is like a bell that is a long while rising.
2. Do we set time apart to call ourselves to account, and to try our evidences for Heaven? Psalm lxxxvii. 6.'My spirit made diligent search.' Do we take our hearts as a watch all in pieces, to see what is amiss and to mend it? Are we curiously inquisitive into the state of our souls? Are we afraid of artificial grace, as of artificial happiness?
3. Do we use violence in prayer? Is there fire in our sacrifice? Doth the wind of the Spirit, filling our sails, cause 'groans unutterable?' Rom. viii. 25. Do we pray in the morning as if we were to die at night?
4. Do we thirst for the living God? Are our souls big with holy desires? Psalm lxxiii. 25. 'There is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.' Do were desire holiness as well as Heaven? Do we desire as much to look like Christ, as to live with Christ? Is our desire constant? Is this spiritual pulse ever beating?
5. Are we skilled in self-denial? Can we deny our ease, our aims, our interest? Can we cross our own will to fulfill God's? Can we behead our beloved sin? To pluck out the right eye requires violence.
6. Are we lovers of God? It is not how much we do, but how much we love. Doth love command the castle of our hearts? Does Christ's beauty and sweetness constrain us? 2 Cor. v. 14. Do we love God more than we fear hell?
7. Do we keep our spiritual watch? Do we set spies in every place, watching our thoughts, our eyes, our tongues? When we have prayed against sin, do we watch against temptation? The Jews, having sealed the stone of Christ's sepulcher, 'set a watch,' Matt. xxvii. 66. After we have been at the word, or sacrament, (that sealing ordinance) do we set a watch?
8. Do we press after further degrees of sanctity? Phil iii. 13. 'Reaching forth unto those things which are before.' A good Christian is a wonder; he is the most contented yet the least satisfied: he is contented with a little of the world, but not satisfied with a little grace; he would have still more faith and be anointed with fresh oil. Paul desired to 'attain unto the resurrection of the dead,' Phil. iii. 11, that is, he endeavored (if possible) to arrive at such a measure of grace as the saints shall have at the resurrection.
9. Is there an holy emulation in us? Do we labor to out-shine others in religion? -- To be more eminent for love and good works? Do we something which is singular? Matt. v. 47. 'What do ye more than others?'
10. Are we got above the world? Though we walk on earth, do we trade in Heaven? Can we say as David? Psalm cxxxxix. 17. 'I am still with thee.' This requires violence; for motions upward are usually violent.
11. Do we set ourselves always under God's eye? Psalm xvi. 8. 'I have set the Lord always before me.' Do we live soberly and godly, remembering that whatever we are doing our Judge looks on?
If it be thus with us, we are happy persons. This is the holy violence the text speaks of, and is the right way of taking the kingdom of God. And surely never did Noah so willingly put forth his hand to receive the dove into the ark, as Jesus Christ will put forth His hand to receive us into Heaven.
4. It exhorts all Christians to this holy violence for Heaven. But before I press the exhortation, let me remove some objections that may be made against this blessed violence.
1. But we have no power of ourselves to save ourselves? You bid us be violent, as if you should bid a man tied fast in fetters to walk.
'Tis true, we cannot, till grace come, effectually operate to our own salvation. Before conversion we are purely passive; and when God bids us convert and turn, this is to show us what we ought to do, not what we can do. Yet let us do what we are able.
1. We have power to avoid those rocks, which will certainly ruin our souls; I mean gross sins. A man does not need to be in bad company; he does not need to swear, or tell a lie; nor would he do it if it were by law death to swear an oath.
2. We have power to cast ourselves upon the use of means, praying, reading, holy conference. This will condemn men at the last day; that they did not act so vigorously in their sphere as they might; they did not use the means, and try whether God will give grace. God will come with that soliciting question at last, 'Why didst not thou put my money to the Exchangers?' Mat. xxv. 27. Why didst thou not improve that rower which I gave thee?'
2. Though we do not have power to save ourselves, yet we must pursue after salvation, because God hath made a promise of grace, as well as to grace. He hath promised to circumcise our hearts; to put his Spirit within us; to enable us to walk in his statutes, Ezek. xxxvi. 27. So that by prayer we are to put the bond in suit, and to press God with his own promise. Though I will not say with the Arminians, that upon our endeavor God is bound to give grace; yet he is not wanting to them that seek his grace; nay, he denies his grace to none but them that wilfully refuse it, Psalm lxxxi. 11: 'Israel would none of me.'
2. But this offering violence is hard, and I shall never be able to go through it.
Admit it to be hard, yet it is a duty, and there is no disputing duty. God hath made the way to Heaven hard.
To try our obedience. A child obeys his father, though he commands him hard things. Peter's obedience and love was tried when Christ bade him come to him upon the water.
God doth it that he may raise the price of heavenly things. Were the kingdom of glory easily obtained, we would not value its worth. Such is our nature, that we slight things which are easily come by. If pearls were common, they would soon fall in their price. If Christ and Heaven might be had without violence, these blessings of the first magnitude would not have been had in such high veneration.
But let not the difficulty be objected. -- What if salvation-work be hard.
1. Is it not harder to lay in Hell? Is not suffering vengeance worse than offering violence?
2. We do not argue so in other things. -- An estate is hard to come by; therefore we will sit still: No, difficulty doth the more whet and sharpen our endeavor; and if we take such pains for these inferior things, how should we for that which is more noble and sublime! The profit will abundantly countervail the labor.
3. Though the business of religion at first seems hard, yet when once we are entered into it, it is pleasant. When the wheels of the soul are oiled with grace, now a christian moves in religion with facility and delight, Rom. vii. 22. 'I delight in the law of God after the inward man.' Christ's yoke at the first putting on seems heavy; but when once it is on, it is easy. To serve God, to love God, to enjoy God, is the sweetest freedom in the world. The poets say the top of Olympus is always quiet. The first climbing up the rocky hill of Heaven is hard to flesh and blood; but when we are gotten up towards the top, there is peace and delight; we see a pleasant prospect, and are ready to cry out as Peter on the mount of transfiguration, It is good to be here.-- What hidden manna do we now find! This is the anticipation or foretaste of glory.
3. But if I put myself upon this violent exercise in religion, then I shall lose that pleasure I have in my sin, my mirth and melody, and I shall exchange delight for labor; and so I shall be no more Naomi, but Marah. Voluptuous persons speak as the fig tree in the parable, Judges ix. 'Shall I leave my fatness and sweetness,' all my former pleasures, and now offer violence to Heaven, live a strict mortified life? This crosseth the stream of corrupt nature.
Leave the pleasure in sin. The Scripture doth so describe sin, that one would think there should be little pleasure in it.
1. Scripture calls it a debt. Sin is compared to a debt of 'ten thousand talents' Matt. xviii. 24. A talent of gold among the Hebrews, was valued at almost four thousand pounds. Ten thousand talents is a figurative speech, to express how great a debt sin is; and do you call this a pleasure? Is it any pleasure for a man to be in debt?
2. Scripture calls sin a disease, Isa. i. 5. 'The whole head is sick.' Is it any pleasure to be sick? Though all do not feel this sickness, yet the less the distemper is felt, the more mortal it is.
3. The Scripture compares sin to 'gall and wormwood,' Deut. xxix. 18. It breeds a bitter worm in the conscience. What a worm did Spira feel? Sin stings a man with wrath, John iii. 34. And do you call this a pleasure? Sure you 'put bitter for sweet,' Isaiah v, 20.
The pleasures of sin gratify only the senses of man, and are not rational.-- Pleasures are called carnal, because they delight only the body. How absurd was that speech of the rich man in the Gospel, when he was speaking of his store of goods and his barns being full, 'soul, take thine ease,' Luke xii.19. He might have said more properly, body, take thine ease; for his soul was never the better for his riches, nor could it feel any delight in them. -- Though his barns were full, his soul was empty. Therefore, when Satan tell thee, if you use violence for Heaven, thou wilt lose all your pleasures; ask him, what pleasures are they, Satan? such as please only the. senses, they do not delight the mind; they do not comfort the conscience; they are such delights wherein the brute creatures do exceed me.
3. These sugared pleasures in sin the Scripture saith are but 'for a season,' Heb. xi. 25. like fire in straw, which makes a blaze, but is presently out. 1 John ii. 17. 'The world passeth away, and the lust thereof.' It passeth away swiftly as a ship under sail. Worldly pleasures perish in the using; like a fleeting shadow or flash of lightning; and are these to be preferred before an eternal weight of glory?
4. The present sweetness which is in sin will turn to bitterness at last. Like the book the prophet eat, Ezek. iii. 3, sweet in the mouth, but bitter in the belly. Honey is sweet, but it turns to choler. Sin is a sweet poison, it delights the palate, but torments the bowels. When once the sinner's eyes come to be opened at death, and he feels some sparks of God's wrath in his conscience, then he will cry out for horror, and be ready to lay violent hands upon himself. We may say of the pleasures of sin, as Solomon says of wine, Prov xxiii. 32. 'Look not upon the wine when it is red, when it shews its colour in the glass, afterwords it bites like a serpent.' So look not on the smiling pleasures of sin; be not delighted with its beauty, but affrighted of its sting? Do the damned in Hell feel any pleasure now in their sins? Hath their cup of wrath have one drop of honey in it? Oh remember, after the golden crowns, and women's hair, come the lions teeth, Rev. iv. 8.. Thus I have answered the first part of the objection; I shall lose all my pleasures in sin.
If I put forth this violence in religion, I shall exchange my delight for labor. I must dig away through the rock, and while I work I must weep.'
Though you must use violence, yet it is a sweet violence; it is a labor turned into delight. Psalm cxxxviii. 5. 'They shall sing in the ways of the Lord.' To send out faith as a spy to view the heavenly Canaan, and pluck a bunch of grapes there: what delight is here? Rom xv. 13. 'Joy in believing.' To love God, (in whom all excellencies are combined) how sweet is it. To love beauty is delightful. To walk among the promises as among beds of spices and to taste the fruit, oh how pleasant! The labor of a Christian brings peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Sed juvat ipse labor.
And whereas it is said that this holy violence takes away our joy, and while we work we must weep; I answer, a christian would not be without these tears. The tears of a saint (saith Benard) have more true joy in them than all worldly delights. The oil of joy is for mourners, Isaiah lxi. 3.
4. I would use this violence for Heaven, but I shall expose myself to the censure and scorn of others. They will wonder to see me so altered, and think it nothing but a religious frenzy.
Consider who will reproach thee; they are the wicked; such if Christ were alive on earth, would reproach him. They are blinded by the God of this world, 2 Cor. iv. 4. It is as if a blind man should reproach a beautiful face.
2. What do they reproach thee for? 'Tis for offering violence to Heaven. Is it a disgrace to be labouring for a kingdom? -- Tell them thou art doing the work that God hath set the about. Better they should reproach thee for working in the vineyard, than God damn thee for not working.
3. Jesus Christ was reproached for thy sake, Heb xii. 2. 'He endured the shame of the cross;' and wilt not thou be contented to bear reproaches for him? These are but the chips of the cross, which are rather to be despised than laid to heart.
If I use this holy violence, and turn religious, then I shall lose such yearly profits which my sin has brought in. As Amaziah said, 'What shall I do for the hundred talents,' 2 Chron. xxv. 9.
Is there any profit in sin? Did anyone ever thrive upon that trade? By the time you have cast up the reckoning, you will find but little profit.
1. By the incomes that sin brings in, thou treasurest up vengeance, Rom. ii. 5. --While thou puttest unjust gain in the bag, God puts wrath in his vial; and will you call this profit? Whatever money a man gets in a sinful way, he must pay interest for it in hell.
2. That cannot be for thy profit, which makes thee come off a loser at last. Thou loseth Heaven and thyr soul; and what can countervail this loss? 'What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?' Matt. xvi. 26. God (saith Chrysostom) hath given a man two eyes; if he lose one, he hath another; but he hath but one soul, and if that be lost, he is undone forever.
But I have so much business in the world that I can find no time for this holy violence. As the king of Macedon said, when they presented him with a book treating of happiness, I am not at leisure.
See the folly of this objection; what is the main business of life, but looking after the soul? And for men to say they are so immersed in the world, that they cannot mind their souls, is most absurd and irrational. -- This is to make the greater give way to the lesser. -- As if a husbandman should say, he is so busy in angling, or looking after his bees, that he has no time to plow or sow. What is his occupation but ploughing? Such madness is it to hear men say they are so taken up about the world that they have no time for their souls.
Could God find time to think of thy salvation? Could Jesus Christ find time to come into the world, and be here above thirty years in carrying on this great design of thy redemption, and canst thou find no time to look after it? Is the getting a little money that which obstructs this violence for Heaven? Your money will perish with you.
Canst thou find time for thy body? time to eat and sleep? and not find time for thy soul? Canst thou find time to use for thy recreation? and no time to use for thy salvation? Canst thou find time for idle visits? and no time to visit the throne of grace?
Oh take heed that thou goest not to Hell in the crowd of worldly business. Joshua was a commander of an army, yet his work as a soldier was not to hinder his work as a Christian: he must pray as well as fight and take the book of the law in his hand, as well as the sword, Josh. i. 8.
Thou, whoever thou art, that makest this objection about worldly business, let me ask thee, dost thou think in thy conscience that this will be a good excuse at the last day, when God shall ask thee, why didst thou not take pains for Heaven? Thou shalt say, Lord, I was so steeped in worldly business, that I was hindered. Were it a good plea for a servant to say to his master, that he was so drunk that he could not work! Truly, 'tis much like thine to say, thou wert so drunk with the cares of the world, that thou couldst not be violent for the kingdom.