(Part 8, The Christian Offering Violence to Heaven)
Fourthly, we must offer violence to Heaven. 'The kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence.' Though Heaven is given us freely, yet we must take pains for it. Canaan was given Israel freely, but they had to fight with the Canaanites. It is not a lazy wish, or a sleepy prayer, will bring us to Heaven; we must offer violence. Therefore in Scripture our earnestness for Heaven is shown by those allegories and metaphors which imply violence.
1. Sometimes by striving. Luke xiii.24. 'Strive to enter in at the strait gate.'-The Greek signifies, Strive as in an agony.
2. Wrestling, which is a violent exercise. Eph. vi. 12. We are to wrestle with a body of sin, and with the powers of hell.
3. Running in a race, 1 Cor. ix.24. 'So run that ye may obtain.' We have a long race from earth to Heaven, but a little time to run; it will soon be sunset. Therefore, so run. In a race there's not only a laying aside of all weights that hinder, but a putting forth of all the strength of the body; a straining every joint that men may press on with all swiftness to lay hold on the prize. Thus Paul pressed towards the mark. Phil. iii:14. Alas, where is this holy violence to be found?
1. Many have made themselves unfit to run this blessed race; they are drunk with the pleasures of the world. A drunken man is unfit to run a race.
2. Others neglect to run this race all their life; and when sickness and death approach, now they will begin. A sick man is very unfit to walk, much less to run a race. I acknowledge true repentance is never too late; but when a man can hardly move his hand, or lift up his eyes, now is a very unfit time to begin the race from earth to Heaven.
3. This earnestness for heaven is compared to fighting,which implies violence, 1 Tim. vi. 12. 'Fight the good fight of faith.' It is not enough to be laborers; be warriors. Indeed, in Heaven, our armor shall be hung up as a token of victory; but now it is dies praelii, a day of battle; and we must 'fight the good fight of faith.' As Hannibal forced a way for his army over the Alps and craggy rocks; so must we force our way to Heaven. We must not only pray, but pray fervently, James vi.16. This is offering violence to Heaven.
The reasons why there must be this offering violence to Heaven are:
1. God's indispensable command. He hath enacted a law, that whosoever eats of the fruit of paradise shall eat it in the sweat of his brows. 2 Peter i. 10. 'Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.'
2. God's decree. The Lord hath in his eternal decree joined the end and the means together: striving and entering, the race and the crown. And a man can no more think to come to Heaven without offering violence, than he can think to come to the end of his journey that never sets a step in the way. Who expects an harvest without plowing and sowing? How can we expect the harvest of glory without labor? -- Though our salvation with respect to Christ is a purchase, yet with respect to us, it is a conquest.
3. We must offer violence to Heaven in regard to the difficulty of the work: Taking a kingdom. First, we must be pulled out of another kingdom, 'The kingdom of darkness,' Acts xxvi.18. To get out of the state of nature is hard, and when that is done, and we are cut off from the wild olive, and implanted into Christ, there is new work still to do; new sins to mortify; new temptations to resist, new graces to quicken. A Christian must not only get faith, but go 'from faith to faith,' Rom. i. 17. This will not be done without violence.
4. We must offer violence to Heaven in regard to the violent assaults made against us.
1. Our own hearts oppose us. 'Tis is a strange paradox: man, who doth naturally desire happiness, yet opposeth it; he desires to be saved, yet hates that holy violence which would save him.
2. All the powers of hell oppose us. Satan stands at our right hand, as he did at Joshua's, Zech. iii. . Shall we not be as earnest to save our souls, as the dragon is to devour them? Without violent affections we shall never resist violent temptations.
5. We must be violent, because it is a matter of the highest importance. A man does not beat his head about trifles, but about matters wherein his life and estate are concerned. Violence is to be offered, if we consider,
1. What we shall save : the precious soul. What pains do we take for the feeding and enriching of the body, the brutish part? O then what violence should we use for the saving of the soul? The body is but a ring of clay; the soul is the diamond. The soul is the mirror wherein the image of God is seen. There are in the soul some shadows and faint representations of a deity. If Christ thought the soul was worth the shedding of His blood, well may we think it worth spending our sweat.
2. Consider what we shall gain: a kingdom. What violence is used for earthly crowns and empires; men will wade to the crown through blood. Heaven is a kingdom which should make us strive for it, Non ad sudorem tantum sed sanguinem; even to blood. The hopes of a kingdom (saith St. Basil) should carry a christian cheerfully through all labors and sufferings.
There must be an offering of violence in regard to that aptness and proneness in the best to grow remiss in religion. When they have been quickened in a duty, they are apt to grow dead again. When they have been heated at the fire of an ordinance, they are apt to freeze again; therefore they still must be offering violence. The heart, like the watch, will be apt to run down; therefore it must be continually wound up by prayer and meditation. The fire of devotion will soon go out if it is not blown up.
A christian's own experience of his inconstancy in performing good is cogent enough to holy violence.
If there must be this offering of violence, it shews us it is not so easy a thing as men imagine to get to Heaven. There are so many precepts to obey; so many promises to believe; so many rocks to avoid, that it is a difficult matter to be saved. Some fancy a fine easy way to Heaven, an idle wish, a deathbed tear, but the text tells us of offering violence. Alas, there is a great work to be done; the bias of the heart must be changed. Man by nature doth not only want grace, but hate it. He hath an envenomed spirit against goodness and is angry with converting grace; and is it easy to have the heart metamorphosed? for the proud heart to be made humble? for the earthly heart to be made heavenly? Can this be done without using violence? It is all up hill to Heaven, and it will make us sweat before we get to the top of the hill.-Indeed hell will be taken without storm: the gates of hell, like that iron gate, Acts xii. 10. open of their own accord; but if we get to Heaven, we must force our way; we must besiege it with sighs and tears, and get the scaling ladder of faith to storm it.-We must not only work, but fight. Like those Jews who built the wall of Jerusalem, Nehem. Iv. 17. 'Every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.' A christian is commanded to upon hot service; he must charge through the whole army of his lusts, every one of which is stronger than Goliath. A Christian hath no time to lie fallow; he must be either praying or watching; either upon the mount or in the valley, on the mount of faith or in the valley of humility. Worldly things are not obtained without labor: what toiling in the shop? what sweatings in the furnace? and do we think Heaven will be had without labor? Do men dig for worms, and not for gold? Those who are in Heaven are employed; much more should they who are getting thither. The angels are ministering spirits,Heb. i. 14. The wings of the seraphims are hieroglyphical; and shew us how swift they are in God's service. If the angels in Heaven are busying themselves in noble and honorable employment, how industrious should we be who are getting up the hill of God, and have not yet arrived at a state of glory? Is salvation-work so easy? Can a man be saved by a leap? Can he leap out of the Devil's arm into Abraham's bosom? Oh no, there must be offering violence.-Some think free grace will save them; but it must be in the use of means. 'Watch and pray .'Others say, the promises will bring them to Heaven, but the promises of the Word are not to be separated from the precepts. The promise tells us of a crown, but the precept saith, 'So run,' 1 Cor. ix. 24. The promises are made to encourage faith, not to cherish sloth. But others say, Christ has died for sinners; and so they leave him to do all for them and they will do nothing. Then the text would be out of date, and all the exhortations to striving and 'fighting the good fight of faith,' are in vain. Our salvation cost Christ blood; it will cost us sweat. The boat may as well get to shore without rowing, as we can get to Heaven without offering violence.
2. It shews us the great mistake of ignorant people, who think the bare doing of duties, though in an ever so slight and superficial manner, is enough. The text tells us of offering violence,
1.In the business of prayer: They think it is enough to utter over a few words though the heart be asleep all the while: what offering of violence is here? Christ was 'in an agony' at prayer, Luke xxii. 44. Many when they pray are rather in a lethargy than in an agony. Jacob wrestled with the angel in prayer, Gen. xxxii. 24.-The incense was to be laid upon burning coals, Lev. xvi. 12. Incense was a type of prayer and incense upon coals was a type of fervency in prayer. Few know what the spirit of prayer means; or what it is to have the affections boil over. When they are about the world they are all fire; when they are at prayer they are all ice.
2. In the hearing of the word: Many people think it is enough to bring their bodies to the assembly, but never look at their hearts. They satisfy themselves that they have been at church, though they have not been with God there. Others go to a sermon as to 'the Exchange, to hear news; new notions please their fancy, but they do not attend to the word as a matter of life and death. They do not go to meet with Christ in an ordinance; to have the breathings of his Spirit, and the infusions of his love. Alas, what little violence for Heaven is to be seen in most people's worship! In all the sacrifices of the law there was fire. How can those duties be accepted which have no fire in them, no offering of violence.
3. If there must be this offering of violence to Heaven, then it shews us how dangerous moderation in religion is. Violence and moderation are two different things.-- Indeed, moderation in the things of the world is commendable. We should moderate our desires here; and 'use the world as if we used it not,' 1 Cor. vii. 31. We may, as Jonathan, dip the end of the rod in honey, but not thrust it in too far. In this sense moderation is good: but moderation in matters of practical piety is sinful: it is contrary to offering violence. Moderation, in the world's sense, means not to be too zealous, not to be too fierce for Heaven. Moderation is not to venture further in religion than may coexist with self-preservation. As the king of Navarr told Beza, He would launch no farther into the sea than he might be sure to return safe to land. To keep on the warm side of the hedge is a main article in the politicians creed. Moderation in the world's sense is neutrality. The moderate person finds a medium between strictness and profaneness; he is not for debauchery, nor for purity. It was the advice Calvin gave Melanchthon, that he should not so affect the name of moderate, that at last he lost all his zeal. To be lukewarm in matters of religion, is far from offering violence to Heaven, Rev iii. 19. 'Be zealous and repent.' If any should ask us why we are so violent, tell them it is for a kingdom. If any shall ask us why we make such haste in the ways of religion, tell them we are running a heavenly race, and a softly moderate pace will never win the prize. Moderation has made many lose Heaven; they have not made haste enough; they have come too late,(like the foolish virgins) when the door has been shut.