(Part 9, Arrows of Reproof and Apostasy
Out of this text I may draw forth several arrows of reproof.
It reproves slothful Christians who are settled on their knees: they make a lazy profession of religion, but use no violence. -- They are like the lilies, which toil not, neither do they spin. The snail, by reason of its slow motion, was reckoned among the unclean, Levit. xi. 30. St. Augustine calls idleness the burial of a man alive. There are some faint wishes, oh that I had Heaven! but a man may desire venison, and want it, if he does not hunt for it. Prov. xiii. 4. ‘The soul of the sluggard wisheth and hath nothing.’
---- Neque mola, neque farina ----
Men could be content to have the kingdom of Heaven; but they are loath to fight for it. They choose rather to go in a feather bed to Hell than to be carried to Heaven in a ‘fiery chariot’ of zeal and violence. How many sleep away, and play away, their time; as if they were made like the Leviathan, to play in the sea! Psalm civ. 26. It is a saying of Seneca, ‘No man is made wise by chance.’ Sure it is, no man is saved by chance, buthe must know how he came by it, namely, by offering violence. Such as have accustomed themselves to an idle, lazy temper will find it hard to shake off, Cant. v. 3. ‘I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on?’ The spouse had laid herself upon the bed of sloth, and though Christ knocked at the door, she was loath to rise and let him in. Some pretend to be believers, but are idle in the vineyard. -- They pretend to make use of faith for seeing, but not for working; this faith is fancy. O that Christians had a spirit of activity in them, 1 Chron. xxii. 16. ‘Arise and be doing, and the Lord be with thee.’ We may sometimes learn of our enemy. The Devil is never idle; he ‘walketh about,’ 1 Peter v. 8. The world is his diocese and he is every day going on his visitation. Is satan active? Is the enemy upon his march coming against us? And are we asleep upon our guard? As Satan himself is not idle, so he will not endure that any of his servants should be idle. When the Devil had entered into Judas, how active was Judas! He goes to the high priest, from thence to the band of soldiers and with them back to the garden, and never left till he had betrayed Christ. Satan will not endure an idle servant; and do we think God will? How will the heathen rise up in judgment against slothful Christians! What pains did they take in the Olympian games: they ran for a garland of flowers, and do we stand still who run for a crown of immortality? Certainly, if only the violent take Heaven, the idle person will never come there. God puts no difference between these two, slothful and wicked, Matt. xxv. 26.‘Thou wicked and slothful servant.’
2. It reproves the formalist, who puts all his religion in gestures and vestures, emblems of devotion, and thinks this will entitle him to Heaven, Rev. iii. 1. ‘Thou hast a name to live, and are dead.’ The form and outside of Christianity is judged necessary.
1. It is a means to keep up men's credit in the world. Should they be visibly profane, such as are sober would not come near them: they would be looked upon as no better than baptized heathens; therefore they must make a show of devotion out of policy, to gain some repute and esteem among others.
2. A form serves to stop the mouth of conscience; had they not some kind of outward devotion, their conscience would fly in their face and they would be a terror to themselves; therefore they think it expedient to have a form of godliness. But alas! what is all this? The text speaks of offering violence to heaven. What violence is there in a form? Here is no taking pains with the heart: a form, but no power,2 Tim. iii. 5. Formalists are like the tombs in the church, which have their eyes and hands lifted up to Heaven, but have no soul. -- The formalist's devotion runs out most in punctilios and niceties: he neglects ‘the weightier matters of the law, faith and mercy,’ Matt. xxiii. 23. He scruples superstitious fancies, but makes no reckoning of sin: he is more afraid of a hare crossing his way than of a harlot in his bed. He hates sanctity. Christ had no such bitter enemies as the formal pharisees. The formalist is never violent, but in persecuting the power of godliness.
3. It reproves such as are violent in a bad sense:they are violent for hell; they go thither in the sweat of their brows. Jer viii. 6, ‘Every one turned to his course: as the horse rusheth into the battle.’ A war horse rusheth violently among the guns and pikes: so did they rush into sin violently. Men are violent,
1. In opposing good.
2. In pursuing evil.
1. In opposing good. Several ways. 1. They offer violence to the Spirit of God.-- The Spirit knocks at the door of sinners' hearts; he waits till his head be ‘filled with dew,’ and ‘his locks with the drops of the night; but sinners repulse and grieve the Spirit, and send away this dove from the ark of their souls. Acts vii. 51. ‘Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.’ The Spirit offers grace to the sinner, and the sinner offers violence to the Spirit, Isa. lxiii. 10. ‘They rebelled and vexed His Holy Spirit;’ and may not the Lord give up striving. God, who is willing to come in when we open to him, hath not promised to come again if we unkindly repulse Him.
2. They offer violence to conscience.-- Conscience is God's preacher in the bosom; and this preacher cannot flatter; it tells men of their pride, covetousness, abuse of mercy; but they, instead of being violent against their sins, offer violence to conscience: they silence and imprison conscience. But as the prophet Zachariah when he was dumb, called for a writing table and did write, Luke i. 63. So when conscience cannot be permitted to speak, it will write: it writes down men's sins; and when at death they shall be forced to read the hand-writing, it will make their hearts tremble, and their knees smite. This I fear is too common, for men to offer violence to their conscience; and what will be this issue? They who will not hear the voice of conscience, shall be sure to feel the worm of conscience.
3. They offer violence to God's image.The saints (who are God's lively picture) are opposed and shot at. This is a cursed violence, Gal. iv. 29. ‘As he that was born after the flesh, persecuted him that was born after the Spirit;’ even so it is now. Christ himself is struck at through believers. -- The church hayn always been in the torrid zone: the ploughers have ploughed upon her back. The earth hayh been sown with the bodies of the saints, and watered with their blood. Persecutors, I grant, are of an ancient family. The first man that was born in the world was a persecutor, namely Cain; and he has a numerous offspring: Nero, Trajan, Domitian, Dioclesian, Maximinus. Chrysostom said that the apples of his eyes fell out. Faelix, earl of Wurtemburg, being at supper Augsburg, did take an oath that before he died, he would ride up to the spurs in the blood of the Lutherans; but was afterwards choked in his own blood. Persecutors are the curse of the creation: being some of those ‘thorns and briars’ which the earth brings forth.
2. Men are violent in pursuing evil.
1. They are violent in their opinions, 2 Peter ii. 1. ‘Privily they shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them.’ Arrius was such a one; and afterwards his bowels gushed out. And truly the spirit of Arrius is yet alive at this day, when men dare deny the Deity of the blessed Son of God. Many of the heretics of old were so violent, that their opinion was to them a Bible: and some of them died maintaining their heresies. These were the Devil's martyrs.
2. They are violent in their passions. -- Anger is a short frenzy, James iii. 6. ‘The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.’ In this little member there is a great world, viz, a ‘world of sin:’ Such as would be counted sober, yet are drunk with passion. Their prayers, are cold, but their anger hot. They spit fire as the serpent doth poison. Fiery passions, without repentance, bring men to the fiery furnace.
3. They are violent for their lusts, Titus iii. 3.‘Serving divers lusts.’ Lust is an inordinate desire or impulse, provoking the soul to the gratifying of its carnal desires. -- Aristotle calls them brutish lusts, because when lusts are violent, they will not let reason or conscience be heard; but a man is carried brutishly to the satisfying of the flesh.
1. Men are violent for their drunken lusts. Though death be in the cup, they will drink it off. One having almost lost his eye-sight, the physician told him there was no cure for him, unless he would leave off his excessive drinking: then saith he, farewell sweet light: he would rather lose his eye-sight than leave his drinking.
2. They are violent for their unclean lusts. Men are said to ‘burn in lusts,’ Romans i. 27. The apostle intimateth that lust is a kind of fever. Feverish heats are not more pernicious to the body, than lust is to the soul. O what folly is it, for a drop of pleasure to drink a sea of wrath.
3. They are violent for their oppressive lusts, who wrong and defraud others, and by violence take away their right. Instead of clothing the naked, they make them who are clothed naked. These birds of prey live upon rapine. They are cruel, as if with Romulus they had been suckled with the milk of wolves. They smile at the curses of the poor, and grow fat with their tears. They have forgotten Christ's caveat, Luke iii. 14. ‘Do violence to no man.’ Ahab violently took away Naboth's vineyard, 2 Kings xxi. 11. Hell is taken by this violence, Prov. iv. 17. ‘Who drink the wine of violence.’ This wine will turn to poison at last, Psalm. xi. 5 . ‘Him that loveth violence God’s soul hates.’
4. They are violent for their covetous lusts. Covetousness is the soul's dropsy, who Amos vii. 2. ‘Who pant after the dust of the earth.’ They compass sea and land to make money their proselyte. Their god is made of gold, and to it they bow down. -- Those who bowed down on their knees to drink of the waters, were accounted unfit soldiers for Gideon, Judges vii. 6. So are those unfit for Christ, that stoop immoderately to the care of earthly things. They who are violent for the world, what have they but the wind? Eccles. v. 16. ‘What profit hath he who hath laboured for the wind?’ The world cannot enrich the soul, it cannot remove pain. If pangs of conscience come, the world can no more give comfort, than a crown of gold can cure a head-ache.
4. It reproves them who have in part left off that holy strictnessand violence in religion they once had. Their fervour is cooled and abated. What they do is so little that it cannot be called violence. They serve God, but are not fervent in spirit. -- They do not abandon duty, but they grow dead in duty. They have ‘left their first love,’ Rev. ii. 4. It is with them as a fire when it is going out; or as the sun when it is going down. Like aguish men, before they were in a paroxysm, or hot fit of zeal; but now that the cold fit hath taken them, they are formal and frozen in religion. Time was when they called ‘the Sabbath a delight,’ Isaiah. lviii. 13. How were their hearts raised in duty! How diligently did they seek him whom their soul loved! But now the case is altered; their religion doth languish, and even vanish. Time was when they were in an agony, and did send forth strong cries in prayer. Now the chariot wheels are pulled off, and the spirit of prayer is much abated. Their prayers do even freeze between their lips; a clear sign of the decay of grace. These persons are grown both lethargical and consumptive.
1. Lethargical, Cant. v. 2.‘I sleep, but my heart wakes’ Though grace was alive in her, and her heart waked; yet she was in a dull, drowsy temper - I sleep. When the heart burns in sin, and cools in duty, it is a sure sign of growing to a stupid lethargy.
2. Consumptive.There are two signs of persons in a spiritual consumption.
1. When their desire after Christ and Heaven is not as strong as it was. A consumptive man’s stomach decays. Christians have not such violent affections to heavenly things; they can desire corn and wine, and the luscious delights of the earth; but Christ is less precious; they are not in pangs of desire after him; a sad symptom their grace is in a consumption.
2. When they are not so vigorous in motion. A man is lively and stirring at his work, it is a sign he is in health; but when he is listless, and does not care to stir, or put his hand to any thing; a sign nature is declining. So when men have no heart for that which is good, they care not to put themselves upon the exercises of religion; they have lost a spirit of activity for God; they serve him in a faint sickly manner; ‘tis is a sign they are consumptive.
When the pulse can scarcely be felt, and it beats very low, men are near dying. So when those who were once violent for heaven, but now we can scarce perceive any good in them, the pulse beats low, grace is ready to die, Rev. iii. 2. To you who have abated in your holy violence, and are grown remiss in duty, let me expostulate with you, as the Lord did by the prophet, Jer. ii. 5. ‘What iniquity have your fathers found in me?’ What evil have you found in God, that you leave off your former strictness? Hath not God fed you with manna from above, and given you his Holy Spirit to be your guide and comforter? Hath he not made you swim in a sea of mercy? What evil have you found in prayer, that you are less violent in it? Have you not had sweet intercourse with God? Have you not sometimes been melted and enlarged, insomuch you have thought yourselves in the suburbs of Heaven when you have been upon this mount? Hath not the dove of prayer brought an olive-branch of peace in its mouth? What evil have you found in the word? Time was when you did take this book and eat it, and it was honey in your mouth: hath the word less virtue in it now? Are the promises like Aaron's dry rod, withered and sapless? What iniquity have you found in the ways of God, that you have abated your former violence in religion? ‘O remember whence you are fallen, and repent, and do your first works,’ Rev. ii. 5. Consider seriously,
1. The less violence for heaven, the less peace. Our consciences are never at peace in a drowsy state. It is the lively acting of grace makes the heart calm and serene. -- These two go together, walking ‘in the fear of God,’and ‘in the comforts of the Holy Ghost,’ Acts ix. 31. Christian, if once thou growest remiss in religion, conscience will chide. If thou belongest to God, he will never let thee be quiet, but will send some affliction or other to awaken thee out of thy security, and make thee recover that active lively frame of heart as once thou hadst.
2. You who grow more dead in God's service, and leave your first love, give great advantage to Satan. The less violent you are, the more violent he is; the less you pray, the more he tempts: and what a case are you now in? How can grace that is weak and sickly withstand violent temptations? Hence it is God suffers his own people sometimes to fall into sin, as a just punishment for their lukewarmness, and to make them more zealous and violent for the future.
3. Your remissness in religion, though it may not damn you, it will damage you. You will lose that degree of glory, which else you might have had. Though your remissness may not lose your crown, it will lessen it and make it weigh lighter.
4. The more lazy a Christian's desires are, the more lively his corruptions. The weaker the body grows, the stronger the disease grows. O, therefore, pray for quickening grace, Psalm cxliii. 11. Beg for fresh gales of the Spirit to blow upon you. Never leave till you have recovered that holy violence which once you had.
2. It reproves those who have nearly abandoned all violence; they have stopped reading and praying in their family. There is not so much as a face of religion to be seen; they are fallen finally. Such were Joash, Jehu, Julian. The goodly building of their profession, which others admired, now hath not one stone left upon another.
But why do men thus run retrograde in their motion, and quite throw off that violence which they seemed once to have?
1. Because they never had a principle of spiritual life. Things that move from a principle of life are constant, as the motion of the pulse, but artificial things are apt to be at a stand, and their motion ceases. As a clock when the weights are hung on, goes, but take off the weights and it stands. So the apostate never moved in religion but for gain and applause. When these weights are taken off, he is at a stand, he goes no further. That branch must needs wither that hath no root to grow upon.
2. Men throw off all violence, and degenerate into apostasy, because they never did duties of religion with delight. Paul ‘delighted in the law of God in the inward man, Rom. vii. 22. It was his Heaven to serve God. A man who delights in pleasure will never give over: but the apostate never had any true delight in the ways of God; he was rather forced with fear, than drawn with love; he served a master whom he never cared for; no wonder then that he leaves his service.
3. Men degenerate into apostasy through unbelief. Psalm lxxviii. 22. ‘They believed not in God:’ verse 41. ’They turned back, and tempted God’ Sinners have jealous thoughts of God; they distrust his love, therefore desert his service. They think they may pray, and hear, and to no purpose. Mal. iii. 14. ‘What profit is it that we have kept his ordinances?’ We may draw near to God in duty, but he will never draw near to us in mercy. Thus unbelief and atheism prevailing, the livery of religion is presently thrown off, and all former violence for Heaven ceases. Infidelity is the mother of apostasy.
4. Men leave off their former violence, and prove to be Judases and Devils because they love something else more than religion. -- There is some lust or other their heart is engaged to, and their violence for sin hath destroyed their violence for religion. Solyman, the great Turk, seeing many Christians go over to Turkism, he asked them what moved them to turn Turks. They replied, they did it to be eased of their taxes. They were drawn from God through the prevalency of covetousness. If there be any lust in the heart predominant, it will get head, and destroy all former zeal for religion. -- Abimelech, a bastard, destroyed ‘threescore and ten of his brethren upon one stone,’ Judges ix. 18. If there be any lust the heart runs after, this bastard-sin will destroy threescore and ten duties; it will murder all that violence for Heaven which a man did once seem to have.
5. Men leave off former violence out of pusillanimty: if they are violent in religion, they fear they may lose their profits and preferments; nay, even their lives. The coward never yet won the field. When carnal fear grows violent, all violence for Heaven is at an end.
Incipit esse malus, qui timet esse bonus.
Many of the Jews who were great followers of Christ, when they saw the swords and staves, left him. (Prov. xxix. 25. ‘In the fear of man there is a snare.’ Carnal fear makes sin appear less than it is, but danger greater.
6. Men leave off violence for Heaven for lack of patience. Sensible feeling of joy is withheld, and they have no patience to stay for the full recompence of reward. Hypocrites are all for present pay; and if they have not that suddenly which they desire, they bid adieu to religion; and say as that wicked king, 2 Kings vi. 33. ‘Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?’. They do not consider that God is a free agent, and will dispense his blessings in the fittest season, but they try to tie God up to their time. -- They forget that joy is a part of the reward; and would they have the reward, before their work not yet finished? Doth the servant use to receive his pay before his work is done? James v. 6. ‘The husbandman waits for the precious fruit of the earth:’ he doth not expect to sow and reap in a day. But hypocrites are always in haste: they would reap joy before they are done sowing the seed of repentance; and because comfort is a while deferred, they are offended: they will serve God no longer: their patience is at an end, therefore their violence is at an end.
7. Men leave off holy violence, and degenerate into profaneness, out of a just judgment of God, leaving them to themselves; they oft resisted the Spirit, and sent it away sad from them; and now, as a just judgment, God saith, my Spirit shallno longer strive; and if this wind doth not blow upon their sails, they cannot move. If this sun withdraw from their climate, they must needs freeze in impenitency. They before sinned against clear convictions; they silenced conscience, and God hath seared it. And now if an angel should preach to them from Heaven, it would do them no good. O how dismal is this! the thoughts of it may strike us into an holy consternation. Thus we see why men apostatize and leave off their violence for Heaven.
Well, but what do they get by this? Let us see what a purchase apostates make.
They proclaim their folly; for all their former violence for Heaven is lost. He who runs half the race and then faints, loseth the garland. Ezek. xniii. 24. ‘When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, all his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned’ All men's prayers and tears are lost. The apostate unravels all that he hath been doing. He is like a man who with a pencil draws a curious picture, and then comes with his sponge and wipes it out again. Gal. iii. 4. ‘Have ye suffered so many things in vain?’ Perhaps for religion a man hath suffered many a reproach and affront; and have ye suffered all this in vain? Here is folly indeed.
It will be bitterness in the end. Jer. ii. 19. ‘Know therefore that it is an evil and bitter thing that thou hast forsaken the Lord.’ -- Men, by leaving off their violence for Heaven, get a thorn in their conscience, a blot in their name, a curse in their souls. What got Judas get by his apostasy, but an halter? So it will be bitterness in the end. The apostate, when he dies, drops as a windfall into the devil's mouth.
5. It reproves those who put off this violence for the kingdom till old age. When they are fit for no other work, then they will begin this. No man saith, I will learn my trade when I am old. It is imprudence for one to begin to work for Heaven when he is past his labour. There is a night of sickness and death coming, and our Savior saith, ‘The night cometh when no man can work,’ John ix. 4. Sure a man can put forth but little violence for Heaven when old age, and old sins are upon him. Besides, how unworthy and disingenuous it, is to give the Devil the flower of youth, and God the dregs of old age! Therefore God rejected Cain's sacrifice, because it was stale before he brought it, Gen. iv. 3. There is little hope of their salvation, who are never violent for Heaven, till their disease grows violent.
6. It reproves those who are so far from using this violence for Heaven, that they deride it. These are your zealous ones, 2 Peter iii. 3. ‘In the last days there shall be scoffers.’ Holy walking is become the object of derision. Psalm lxix. 12. ‘I am become the song of the drunkard.’ This shows a vile heart. There are some, who, though they have no goodness themselves, yet honor them who are good. Herod reverenced John the Baptist. But what devils are they who scoff at goodness, and reproach others for doing that which God commands. This age produceth such as sit in the chair of scorners, and throw their squibs at religion. In Bohemia, when some of the martyrs were the next day to suffer, they comforted themselves with this, that was their last supper and to-morrow they should feast with Christ in Heaven; a Papist standing by, asked them in a jeer, if Christ had any cooks in Heaven to dress their supper? Oh, take heed of such an Ishmael spirit! It is a sign of a man given over to the devil. God ‘scorneth the scorner’ Prov. iii. 34.-- And sure he shall never live with God whose company God scorns.
7. It reproves them who instead of taking Heaven by force keep it off by force; as if they were afraid of being happy; or as if a crown of glory would hurt them. Such are,
1. The ignorant, who shut their eyes against the light, and refuse to be taught the way to Heaven. Hosea iv. 6. ‘Thou hast rejected knowledge.’ The Hebrew word, signifies to reject with disdain. As I have read of a Scotch bishop, who thanked God he never knew what the old and new Testaments was. I wonder where the bishop took his text.
2. The profane, who hate to be admonished, and had rather die than reform. Amos v. 10. ‘They hate him that rebuketh in the gate.’ These keep off heaven by force. -- Such were those, Acts xiii. 46. ‘Seeing you put away the word from you.’ The Greek word may be rendered, seeing you shuff it away with your shoulders. As if a sick man should bolt out the physician lest he should cure him. Job xxi. 14. ‘Who say unto the Almighty, depart from us’ God is loathe to be gone; he woos and beseeches sinners to accept his terms of mercy; he is loth to be gone, but sinners will have him gone; they say to him depart. May not we say to these, ‘quis effascinavit? who hath bewitched you? What madness beyond hyperbole is this, that you should not only forsake mercy, but fight against it; as if there were danger in going to Heaven. These who put away salvation from them, are felo de se, they do wilfully perish; they would not hear of anything that should save them. Were it not be a sad epitaph if a man had written upon his tomb-stone, here lies one that murdered himself? This is the condition of desperate sinners; they keep off Heaven by force; they are self murderers. Therefore God writes their epitaph upon their grave, Hosea xiii. 9. ‘O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself.’