Here the reader will find Bible Studies, Sermons and Articles of godly men of ages past; most of them are out of print and are not known to the contemporary church. It is my desire and prayer that today’s saints must benefit from the wisdom that is deeply drawn from the word of God and made available to all through the writings of these godly men. They were God fearing, Christ honoring, Spirit led and Bible following servants of the Lord. So take time to read and let your soul be fed with the meat of the Word.
Are you born again? This is one of life’s most important questions. Jesus Christ said, “Except a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
It is not enough to reply, “I belong to the church; I suppose I’m a Christian.” Thousands of nominal Christians show none of the signs of being born again which the Scriptures have given us many listed in the First Epistle of John.
1. No Habitual Sinning
“No one who is born of God will continue to sin” (1 John 3:9). “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin” (5:18).
A person who has been born again, or regenerated, does not habitually commit sin. He no longer sins with his heart and will and whole inclination. There was probably a time when he did not think about whether his actions were sinful or not, and he did not always feel grieved after doing evil. There was no quarrel between him and sin; they were friends. But the true Christian–hates sin, flees from it, fights against it, considers it his greatest plague, resents the burden of its presence, mourns when he falls under its influence, and longs to be completely delivered from it. Sin no longer pleases him, nor is it even a matter of indifference to him; it has become a horrible thing which he hates. However, he cannot eliminate its presence within him.
If he said that he had no sin, he would be lying (1 John 1:8). But he can say that he hates sin–and that the great desire of his soul is not to commit sin at all. He cannot prevent bad thoughts from entering his mind, or shortcomings, omissions, and defects from appealing in both his words and his actions. He knows that “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). But he can truly say, in the sight of God, that these things cause him grief and sorrow, and that his whole nature does not consent to them. What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?
2.Believing in Christ
“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God” (1 John 5:1).
A man who is born again, or regenerated, believes that Jesus Christ is the only Savior who can pardon his soul–that He is the divine person appointed by God the Father for this very purpose–and besides Him, there is no Savior at all. In himself, he sees nothing but unworthiness. But he has full confidence in Christ, and trusting in Him, he believes that his sins are all forgiven. He believes that, because he has accepted Christ’s finished work and death on the cross, he is considered righteous in God’s sight, and he may look forward to death and judgment without alarm.
He may have fears and doubts. He may sometimes tell you that he feels as if he had no faith at all. But ask him if he is willing to trust in anything instead of Christ–and see what he will say. Ask him if he will rest his hope of eternal life on his own goodness–his own works, his prayers, his minister, or his church–and listen to his reply. What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?
3. Practicing Righteousness
“Everyone that does righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29).
The man who is born again, or regenerated, is a holy man. He endeavors to live according to God’s will–to do the things that please God–and to avoid the things that God hates. He wishes to continually look to Christ as his example, as well as his Savior–and to prove himself to be Christ’s friend, by doing whatever He commands. He knows he is not perfect. He is painfully aware of his indwelling corruption. He finds an evil principle within himself, which is constantly warring against grace and trying to draw him away from God. But he does not consent to it, though he cannot prevent its presence.
Though he may sometimes feel so low that he questions whether or not he is a Christian at all, he will be able to say with John Newton, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in the eternal world. But still–I am not what I once used to be! By the grace of God I am what I am.” What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?
4. Loving Other Christians:
“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14).
A man who is born again has a special love for all true disciples of Christ. Like his Father in heaven, he loves all men with a great general love; but he has a special love for those who share his faith in Christ. Like his Lord and Savior, he loves the worst of sinners and could weep over them; but he has a peculiar love for those who are believers. He is never so much at home, as when he is in their company.
He feels they are all members of the same family. They are his fellow soldiers, fighting against the same enemy. They are his fellow travelers, journeying along the same road. He understands them, and they understand him. They may be very different from himself in many ways in rank, in station and in wealth. But that does not matter. They are his Father’s sons and daughters–and he cannot help loving them. What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?
5. Overcoming the World
“Everyone born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4).
A man who is born again, does not use the world’s opinion as his standard of right and wrong. He does not mind going against the world’s ways, ideas and customs. What men think or say no longer concerns him. He overcomes the love of the world. He finds no pleasure in things which seem to bring happiness to most people. To him they seem foolish and unworthy of an immortal being.
He loves God’s praise more than man’s praise. He fears offending God more than offending man. It is unimportant to him whether he is blamed or praised; his first aim is to please God. What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?
6. Keeping Oneself Pure
“He who is begotten of God keeps himself’ (1 John 5:18).
A man who is born again is careful of his own soul. He tries not only to avoid sin–but also to avoid everything which may lead to it. He is careful about the company he keeps. He knows that “bad company corrupts good morals” and that evil is more contagious than good, just as disease is more infectious than health. He is careful about the use of his time; his chief desire is to spend it profitable.
He desires to live like a soldier in an enemy country to wear his armor continually and to be prepared for temptation. He is diligent to be a watchful, humble, prayerful man. What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?
These are the six great marks of a born again Christian.
There is a vast difference in the depth and distinctness of these marks in different people. In some they are faint and hardly noticeable. In others they are bold, plain and unmistakable, so anyone may read them. Some of these marks are more visible than others in each individual. Seldom are all equally evident in any one person.
But still, after every allowance, here we find boldly painted–six marks of being born of God.
How should we react to these things? We can logically come to only one conclusion only those who are born again have these six characteristics, and those who do not have these marks are not born again. This seems to be the conclusion to which the apostle intended us to come. Do you have these characteristics? Are you born again?
– J. C. Ryle
Where must a man go for pardon? Where is forgiveness to be found? There is a way both sure and plain, and into that way I desire to guide every inquirers feet. That way is simply to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. It is to cast your soul with all its sins, unreservedly on Christ to cease completely from any dependence on your own works or doings, either in whole or in part and to rest on no other work but Christ’s work no other righteousness but Christ’s righteousness, no other merit but Christ’s merit as your ground of hope. Take this course and you are a pardoned soul.
Says Peter “All the prophets testify about Him, that through His name everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 10:43). Says Paul at Antioch, “Through this Man forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you, and everyone who believes in Him is justified from everything.” (Acts 13:38). “In Him,” writes Paul to the Colossians, “we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:14).
The Lord Jesus Christ, in great love and compassion has made a full and complete satisfaction for sin, by suffering death in our place upon the cross. There He offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, and allowed the wrath of God which we deserved to fall on His own head! For our sins, as our Substitute, He gave Himself, suffered, and died the just for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty that He might deliver us from the curse of a broken law, and provide a complete pardon for all who are willing to receive it. And by so doing, as Isaiah says He has borne our sins. As John the Baptist says He has taken away sin. As Paul says He has purged our sins, and put away sin. As Daniel says He has made an end of sin and finished transgression.
And now the Lord Jesus Christ is sealed and appointed by God the Father to be a Prince and a Savior, to give forgiveness of sins, to all who will have it. The keys of death and hell are put in His hand. The government of the gate of heaven is laid on His shoulder. He Himself is the door, and by Him all who enter in shall be saved. Christ, in one word, has purchased a full forgiveness, if we are only willing to receive it. He has done all, paid all, suffered all that was needful, to reconcile us to God. He has provided a garment of righteousness to clothe us. He has opened a fountain of living waters to cleanse us. He has removed every barrier between us and God the Father, taken every obstacle out of the way and made a road by which the vilest may return to God. All things are now ready, and the sinner has only to believe and be saved, to eat and be satisfied, to ask and receive, to wash and be clean.
Faith, or simple trust is the only thing required, in order that you and I may be forgiven. That we will come by faith to Jesus as sinners with our sins trust in Him and forsaking all other hope, cleave only to Him that is all and everything that God asks for. Let a man only do this, and he shall be saved. His iniquities shall be found completely pardoned, and his transgressions completely taken away!
Who, among all the readers of this paper, desires to be saved by Christ, and yet is not saved at present? Come, I beseech you! Come to Christ without delay. Though you have been a great sinner, COME! Though you have long resisted warnings, counsels, sermons, COME! Though you have sinned against light and knowledge, against a father’s advice and a mother’s tears, COME! Though you have plunged into every excess of wickedness, and lived without prayer, yet COME! The door is not shut; the fountain is not yet closed. Jesus Christ invites you. It is enough that you feel laboring and heavy-laden, and desire to be saved. COME! COME TO CHRIST WITHOUT DELAY! Come to Him by faith, and pour out your heart before Him in prayer. Tell Him the whole story of your life, and ask Him to receive you. Cry to Him as the penitent thief did, when He saw Him on the cross. Say to Him, “Lord save me also! Lord remember me!” COME! COME TO CHRIST!
– J.C. Ryle
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
That is a glorious saying, a perfect and complete text; containing all I need to know for my soul’s comfort, full of privileges and mercies for true believers and penitent sinners, and at the same time shutting the door effectually against self-righteous Pharisees and whitened sepulchers and painted hypocrites. It shows us two things: the character of real Christians, and the spiritual treasures they possess. Or, in other words, what they are to their Savior and what their Savior is to them. I propose this morning to consider these two things in order, and I pray God you may all be led to examine yourselves by the light which the text affords.
I. First, then, with respect to true Christians their names, their marks, their character what does the text say about them? “My sheep,” we read, “hear my voice and follow me.” The Lord Jesus Christ likens them to sheep; and He declares “they are mine, and they hear me and follow me.” There is matter we shall do well to consider in each of these expressions.
True Christians, then, are compared to SHEEP, and we shall find a great depth of meaning in the comparison if we look into it. Sheep are the most harmless, quiet, inoffensive creatures that God has made. So should it be with Christians: they should be very humble and lowly-minded, as disciples of Him who said, “Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” They should be known as people of a very gentle and loving spirit, who desire to do good to all around them, who would not injure anyone by word or deed; who do not seek the great things of this world but are content to go straightforward on the path of duty and take whatever it shall please God to send them. They ought to show forth in their lives and outward conversation that the Holy Spirit has given them a new nature, has taken away their old corrupt disposition and planted in them godly thoughts and purposes and desires.
When, therefore, we see people biting and devouring one another, saying and doing uncharitable things to their neighbors, fierce, and passionate and evil-tempered and angry on the slightest occasion; full of envy and strife and bitter speaking surely we are justified in saying, “You do not belong to Christ’s flock; you have yet to be born again and made new creatures; there must be a mighty change. Profess what you please, at present we can only see in you the mind of the old man, even Adam the first but nothing of the Second Adam, even Christ Jesus the Lord. We can discern the spirit of the wolf, however fair your clothing and we want instead to discover in you the spirit of the lamb.”
But again, sheep are of all animals the most useful; none are so serviceable to man, none so necessary in every way for his comforts and conveniences; and such should be the character of a true Christian. We must study to do good in our day and generation, and lay ourselves out for the spiritual and temporal advantage of our brethren. All can do much: it is not the rich alone, and the great, who are able to be useful; there are a hundred ways of conferring benefits beside the form of giving gold and silver; and each in his respective station can do good if he desires.
Has not a poor man a tongue? Then surely, if he is a sheep of Christ’s flock, he will use it for his neighbors’ profit, when occasion is afforded; he will warn and entreat and counsel and persuade; he will reason and argue, as a witness and servant of God, against sin and carelessness in every shape; he will show himself an affectionate lover of men’s souls, who would gladly impart to others the knowledge he has found valuable to himself. He will never allow wickedness to pass unnoticed if, by saying a quiet word on the Lord’s side, he may perchance restrain it. He will never allow anger and strife to continue, if he can be the means of making peace.
And then has not a poor man a feeling heart? Then surely, if he is a true sheep of Christ’s flock, he will remember those who are in adversity, as being himself in the body. He will not shun the house of mourning but strive to be a comforter, bearing in mind the proverb “A word spoken in season, how good is it.” He will weep with those who weep, as well as rejoice with those who rejoice. He will let men see that he is a real child of his Father in heaven, who does good to the just and the unjust too, and is kind even to the unthankful and the evil.
And cannot a poor man pray? Yes! And effectual fervent prayer avails much. And if he prays for the souls of others, who knows but he may draw down benefits on all around him? Oh! But a real praying Christian, a man who is constantly asking for the Spirit to come down on the place in which he dwells and convert the sleepers that man is a mighty benefactor. He is working a powerful engine, and if he is the cause of one single person being converted, he has done something that makes all heaven rejoice.
Brethren, let it be written on our minds that all can do much, and those who belong to Christ’s flock will strive to do much. No man is so really useful in a church, as a true Christian; and no one can have much real Christianity about him who does not endeavor to do good either by his advice or by his example or by his prayers. Are we indeed the sheep of Christ? Let us never forget this point of our character.
A genuine Gospel-faith has nothing selfish about it and never makes a man think only of his own salvation. It stirs him up, on the contrary, to concern about the souls of others. I always suspect that those who care nothing whether their brethren are saved or not, must in reality be ignorant or thoughtless about their own state.
Again. Sheep love to be together; they do not like being alone; there are no animals which seem to take such pleasure in being in a flock, and cling to each other’s company so faithfully. And so is it with true Christians: it is their delight to meet each other and be together, if possible. It is their continual sorrow and complaint that far too often they have to journey on alone, without any who are like-minded to commune with, about the things which their souls love most; and this is a very sore trial. Friends and relations may be kind and affectionate, they may have everything to make this world enjoyable but what Christ’s sheep sigh and crave after is to have with them people who can enter into their secret feelings, who understand the unseen workings of their inward man, who can comprehend the hidden warfare which goes on in their hearts people with whom they can take sweet counsel about their souls’ health and souls’ trials, with whom they can converse freely and unreservedly about their Lord and Master and their hopes of forgiveness through His name.
Who, indeed, can describe the pleasure with which the members of Christ’s flock do meet each other face to face? They may have been strangers before; they may have lived apart, and never been in company but it is wonderful to observe how soon they seem to understand each other, there seems a thorough oneness of opinion, and taste and judgment, so that a man would think they had known each other for years; they seem, indeed, to feel they are servants of one and the same Master, members of the same family, and have been converted by one and the same Spirit; they have one Lord, one faith, one baptism; they have the same trials, the same fears, the same doubts, the same temptations, the same faintings of heart, the same dread of sin, the same sense of unworthiness, the same love of their Savior. Oh, but there is a mystical union between true believers, which they only know who have experienced it; the world cannot understand it, it is all foolishness to them. “Whatever can you find,” they say, “to make you take such interest in each other’s society?” But that union does really exist, and a most blessed thing it is; for it is like a little foretaste of heaven.
Beloved, this loving to be together is a special mark of Christ’s flock nor is it strange if we consider they are walking in the same narrow way, and fighting against the same deadly enemies and never are they so happy as when they are in company. The unconverted know nothing of such happiness; they meet each other, and are civil and polite, and even kind in their way but how seldom do they open their whole hearts, how much of jealousy and cold suspicion there is about their very friendships, how much they conceal from their nearest acquaintances! The sheep of Christ know nothing of all this; it is their hearts’ desire to be together, and when together they have all their thoughts in common, there is no reserve, no keeping back.
No doubt there are false professors in the world, who have a form of godliness without the power tinkling cymbals whose religion consists only in talk, all sound and no substance but notwithstanding the number of these hypocrites, I still say that true believers are remarkable for their love of communion and fellowship with each other; they are ready to pine away with heaviness when separate; it is their very life-breath to be together.
The last thing I would remark about sheep is this: they are of all animals most helpless, most ready to stray, most likely to lose themselves and wander out of their pasture; and so it is with Christ’s people. They are far too ready to turn aside and go in ways that are not good; in vain they are warned and advised to be watchful and take heed to their path; they often get into a drowsy, sleepy frame, and imagine there is no danger, and so they wander down some bypath, and are only wakened by some merciful chastisement or heavy fall. They imagine that they are strong enough to get on without this constant vigilance, and so they take their eye off the Chief Shepherd, and wander on from this field to that, after their own desires, until they find themselves at last in darkness and doubt. And Christ’s sheep, too, like other sheep, do seldom return to the fold without some damage and loss, for it is far more easy to get out of the right way when you are in than to get into it when you are out.
There are some people who imagine Christians are perfect and faultless creatures but this is indeed an opinion far wide of the truth. No doubt they aim at perfection but the very best come far short of it; they would tell you that in many things they offend daily, that they are continually erring and straying and backsliding, that the most fitting prayer they could offer up would be this: “Lord, we are no better than wandering sheep. God be merciful to us unworthy sinners!”
And then, too, like sheep, true Christians are easily frightened. It takes very little to alarm them and make them fearful about their own condition; they are jealous and suspicious of danger from every quarter, and, like creatures who know their own weakness and the number of their enemies, they will often imagine there is something to be feared where no fear really is. But still this godly fear is an eminent sign of Christ’s flock it proves that they feel their own helplessness; and when a man knows nothing of it, and is full of presumptuous confidence, there is but too much reason to suspect he knows little of Christianity as he ought to know it.
Such appear to be the reasons why true believers are compared to sheep. They may not always be discerned in this corrupt and naughty world; you may often see no great difference between them and the unbelievers but still they have a nature of their own, and sooner or later, if you observe, you will see it. You may put a flock of sheep and a flock of swine together in a broad green meadow, and an ignorant man might say at first their natures were the same but drive them together in a narrow road, with a puddle at one side, and the mind of the animal will soon come out. The swine may have looked clean in the meadow but as soon as they have the opportunity they will wallow in the mud. The sheep were clean in the meadow, and when they come to the dirt they will keep clean there too if they possibly can. Just so is the case of the Christian and the world: when things run smoothly, and there is no particular inducement to sin, there seems no mighty difference between them but when there comes a temptation, and self-denial is required, immediately the disposition of the heart comes uppermost the Christian holds on his way, however narrow it may be, the worldly-minded turns down that broad lane which leads to destruction, and the real character of each is revealed.
II. The second thing to be considered in our text is that word “My.” Our Lord does not simply call His people sheep but He says also “My sheep.” It is as though Jesus would have us understand He looks upon them as His property; they are, as it were, stamped and sealed and marked as the possession of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and it is a blessed, comfortable thought that even as men are careful and tender about their earthly belongings, and will not willingly allow them to be lost and damaged, so is our Lord and Savior careful of the souls that belong to Him.
But why are Christ’s people called Mine, in this particular manner? There are many sufficient reasons. We are “His” by ELECTION. We were chosen and given to Him by the Father before the foundations of the world were laid; our names were written in the covenant of salvation before we were born, we were predestined or fore-ordained to be His people from all eternity. That is a glorious, a soul-comforting doctrine, however some abuse it: a man may doubtless get to heaven and never feel sure that he was a true sheep of Christ’s flock until he gets there; he may walk in much darkness and uncertainty all his days but to all who really feel in themselves the working of Christ’s Spirit, the doctrine that we are His by everlasting election, is full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable consolation.
But again: Christ’s people are “His “by PURCHASE. Death and hell had claims upon every one of them, they had all broken the law and forfeited eternal life but Christ has redeemed them. Christ paid the heavy price of their salvation, even His own most precious blood, and well may He call them “Mine,” for He has bought them off from captivity and Satan at the cost of His own life. He can say “They are Mine by fair purchase in time, as well as Mine by free election in eternity.”
And lastly, Christ’s people are “His” by ADOPTION. He has put His Spirit in them, and overturned the power of sin in their hearts. He has given them a child-like frame of mind, so that they cry Abba Father; they are become part of His family, the very sons and daughters of the Almighty; He looks upon them as a portion of Himself, as members of His body and flesh and bones, and loves them and cherishes them accordingly.
See then, beloved, what great things that little word “My “contains. “My sheep” is the name that Jesus gives to Christians. “Mine” by election, by purchase, by adoption. Oh, believe: you may sometimes be cast down and faint-h+earted but if you have any real interest in that blessed title, if you are really in the number of Christ’s sheep, you have indeed good reason to rejoice.
III. But I must hasten on to the third point which our text lays down in the character of true believers “My sheep,” says Jesus, “hear My voice.” This hearing of Christ’s voice, what is it? It cannot be the mere hearing of the ears, for many do that who die in their sins. It must be the hearing with the heart, the listening with attention; the believing what is heard the acting manfully on what is believed. And where may Christ’s voice be heard? It sometimes whispers in a sinner’s conscience, saying, Oh, do not these abominable things: turn, turn, why will you die? It sometimes speaks solemnly, in a visitation of providence, as a sickness or an accident or an affliction or a death, saying slowly but clearly, “Stop and think; consider your ways: are you ready to die and be judged?” But it generally is to be heard in the reading of Scripture or the preaching of the Gospel; then the voice of the Lord Jesus may be heard plain and distinct. One day it is sharp and piercing: “Except you repent you shall all likewise perish;” “You must be born again.” “Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead.” Another day it is gentle, winning, entreating: “Come unto me, O weary and heavy-laden one, and I will give you rest.” “If any man thirsts, let him come unto me and drink.” “Whoever will let him take the water of life freely.” In all these ways and manners the voice of Jesus may be heard.
And here comes in the distinction between the converted and the unconverted. Those who are converted hear Christ’s voice but they that are unconverted hear it not. The true sheep of Christ were once foolish and disobedient, serving divers lusts and pleasures, dead in trespasses and sins but they heard their Redeemer’s voice at last, and when they heard they lived; they knew not at first who called them but they heard a voice they could not disobey, and now they can tell you they are sure it was the Lord’s. They heard His voice, they listened to His invitation, they believed His promises, they confessed themselves sinners, and in Him they found peace. And now without His voice they will do nothing; His word, His saying, His command, His will is their rule of life to be taught of Him by His Spirit and His Bible is their hearts’ desire and prayer to hear about Him from His ministers is the food and drink of their souls. Their ears are like a dry soil, ever thirsting to drink in the water of life. Sometimes they may be tempted to turn aside to hear what the world can offer but they soon go back again to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His voice, with sorrow and shame and wonder for their own backslidings. The world cannot see that Christ’s voice is such a joyful sound; they dislike itit offends them; to be told they are sinners, and must repent and believe or perish, is a stumbling-block. But Christ’s sheep are never offended; day after day they listen diligently to their Shepherd’s teaching; no music is so sweet to their ears as Jesus’ voice, and whether preached or written there is nothing they love so much. It seems as if it were spoken for their own particular case, and they cannot, they dare not, they would not for all the world disregard it.
IV. I must go on to the fourth and last mark of a true believer. “My sheep,” says the text in John, “hear my voice and follow me.” To follow Christ, that is the grand mark of Christians. No man shall ever say of them, they profess and do not practice, they say and do nothing for their Master’s sake; they must not only hear their Master’s voice but follow Him. To follow Christ is to place implicit trust in Him as our Redeemer, Savior, Prophet, Priest, King, Leader, Commander and Shepherd; and to walk in His ways, straightforward. It is to take up our cross and subscribe our name among His people, to look to the Lamb as our Guide and follow Him wherever He goes. We are not to follow our own devices and trust in ourselves for salvation; we are not to follow that vain shadow of a hope, our own doings and performances but we are to fix our eyes and hearts on Christ; on Him we are to rest our faith for free and full forgiveness, to Him we are to pray for grace to help in time of need, after Him we are to walk, as the best, the brightest, the purest example. The way may be narrow and steep, we must press forward, not turning to the right hand or the left; the way may be dark, we must keep on there will be light enough in heaven.
O that Christians, the very best of them, were not so slack in following! Some stop to trifle with the perishable things of earth. Some stop to pick up the gaudy, scentless flowers by the wayside. Some stop to sleep, forgetting this is not our rest, it is enchanted ground. Some stop to pick holes and find fault with their fellow-travelers. Few of Christ’s sheep do hold on their way as steadily as they might. But still, compared with the world, they are following Christ Jesus. Oh that they would only remember, those who follow Him most fully, shall follow Him most comfortably! They are following Christ Jesus, and they know where they are going; and even in the dark river, in the valley of the shadow of death, they feel a confidence that their Shepherd will be with them, and His rod and His staff will comfort them. They would all tell you they are poor wandering sheep, less than the least of all God’s mercies, ashamed of the little fruit they bear but still, weak as they are, they are determined to follow on to the end, and to say, “None but Christ, in life and in death, in time and in eternity.”
Such is the character which the text gives of true Christians. They are compared to sheep; they are called Christ’s property; they hear His voice, and they follow Him. To go further at this time would be plainly impossible, and I therefore purpose, if the Lord will, to speak to you about the other branch of the text the privileges of Christians this evening. By God’s blessing you shall then hear what their Savior is to His people. It only remains to wind up what has been already said by PERSONAL APPLICATION.
I told you this was a text for self-inquiry; and in that light I press upon each of you now. I call upon you, O man or O woman, to put your hand upon your heart and ask that little question, “Am I a sheep of Christ’s flock or am I not? Do I hear His voice or do I not? Do I follow Him or do I not?” Does not your Redeemer and your judge say plainly, “This is the character of my people?” Does He not give you the most certain marks by which to try your state? And if you cannot see in yourself these marks, where and what are your claims to eternal life? Without them you are, for the present, no better than a lost soul. Do you not know there are only to be two sorts of characters before the judgment-seat sheep on the right hand in honor, and goats on the left hand in disgrace? And do you not know it is just the same even now? There are only two classes of people upon earthmen who hear Christ and follow Christ and are in a way to be saved; and men who neither hear nor follow Him and are in a way to be lost? And which flock do you belong to? There is no middle state. Examine yourself and be wise in time.
Think not to put off this question by saying, “I shall do as well as the rest of the world, “that well may be doing very badly. The way of the world, indeed! Bring the world to the bar, and try it by the text, “Does the world hear Christ?” Who will stand forth and say it does? Christ’s promises and invitations and warnings and threatenings and instructions and exhortations are all alike disregarded and despised; the world is deaf to them; they might never have been spoken. “Oh,” says the world, “we shall do very well without minding all that; it was not meant for us.” And who was it meant for, then?
But again, does the world follow Christ? Who will stand up and say Yes to that? No, indeed! Christ’s ways and Christ’s example, holiness and love and meekness and temperance and self-denial, are the exceptions the rare, scarce things in the world; and the things most frequent are anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, wantonness, pride, vanity, idleness, spiritual sloth, Bible-despising, prayer-neglecting, church-forgetting, worldliness, and the like. “Oh, never mind,” says the world; “we shall do very well without being so strict.” Very well in the devil’s opinion, who would love to ruin every living soul but not very well in God’s. No; indeed the world will neither follow Christ nor hear Christ, anything else sooner and yet remember it is the character of those who are to have eternal life that they hear Christ’s voice and follow Him. Sinner, remember, today I have told you.
And think not, O man, to put me off by saying, “At this rate very few will be saved.” You say very truly, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself foretold it. But let me tell you a secret: Why is it so few are likely to be saved? God would have all men brought unto the knowledge of the truth: why do so many, so very many, come short and take the broad way which leads to destruction? Simply because they will not believe what God has told them in His word; simply because they will have it God will not stand to what He has written in His Bible; they will imagine heaven is to be entered without being Christ’s sheep will have their own way and not God’s.
Remember, then, this day, I tell you, that God is willing to receive you if you will only turn to Him: if you will only resolve to think for yourself and never mind the world, if you will only hear the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ and follow Him, if you will only be in earnest and come unto Him for forgiveness and His Holy Spirit, He shall grant you your heart’s desire, and you shall never perish but have eternal life. But whether you will hear or whether you will forbear, Christ and Christ only is the way, the truth, and the life and whatever the world may tell you, no man shall ever come unto the Father but by Him.
– J. C. Ryle
“Christ is all in all.” Colossians 3:11
The philosopher says every science takes its dignity from the object; the more noble the object the more rare the knowledge. Hence it is that Jesus Christ, being the most sublime and glorious object, that knowledge which leads us to Christ must be most excellent. It is called “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ,” Philippians 3:8. So sweet is this knowledge, that Paul determined to know nothing but Christ, 1 Corinthians 2:2 And, indeed, what more did he need to know for “Christ is all in all”. In the text the apostle gives us a negative and something positively
First, NEGATIVELY. Paul tells the Colossians what will not avail them, “neither circumcision, nor uncircumcision avails.” Circumcision was a great privilege; it was a badge to distinguish the people of God from those who were foreign. It was a wall between the enclosed garden and the common field. The people of circumcision were a people who were under God’s eye and His wing. They were His household family. Rather than they should lack, God would make the heavens a granary, and rain down manna upon them. He would pierce the rock, and make it a lively spring.
How glorious was the privilege of circumcision! Romans 9:4-5. What rich jewels hung upon Israel’s crown! But, in matters of salvation, all this was nothing, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision.” From whence we may observe that external religious privileges commend no man to God; whether wise, rich, or noble one of this sets us off in God’s eye, 1 Corinthians 1:26. God does not see as man sees. We are taken with beauty and abilities but these things avail nothing with God. God lays His left hand upon these as Jacob did upon Manasseh, Genesis 48:14. God often passes by those who cast a greater splendor and luster in the world and looks upon them as an inferior alloy. The reason is “that no flesh should glory in His presence!” 1 Corinthians 1:29. If God should graft His grace only upon wisdom and abilities, some would be ready to say, “My wisdom, or my eloquence, or my nobility has saved me.” Therefore, “not many wise. . . not many noble are called.” God will have no pride or boasting in the creature.
USE 1. Do not rest in outward privileges or excellencies these are no stocks to graft the hopes of salvation upon! Many of Christ’s kindred went to hell. Paul is called “the servant of the Lord,” Romans 1:1. And James is called “the brother of the Lord,” Galatians 1:19. It is better to be the servant of the Lord than the brother of the Lord. The virgin Mary was saved not because she was the mother of Christ but because she was the daughter of faith. It is grace, not blood which gives acceptance with God. A heart which has Christ formed in it is God’s delight.
Second, the apostle sets down something POSITIVELY; but “Christ is all in all.” Note the sentence structure:
The subject “Christ”. His name is sweet it is “as ointment poured forth,” Song of Solomon 1:3. It was Job’s wish, “O that my words were now written! That they were engraved with an iron pen and lead in the rock forever!” Job 19:23-24. And it is my wish that this name, this sweet name of Christ, were not written, that it were engraved with the pen of the Holy Spirit in our hearts forever. “The name of Christ has in it,” said Chrysostom, “a thousand treasuries of joy.”
The predicate “all in all”. Christ is all fullness, all sweetness. He is all that is imaginable, all that is desirable. He who has Christ can have no more for Christ is all. The proposition out of the words is that Jesus Christ is the quintessence of all good things; He is all.
Sometimes faith is said to be all, Galatians 5:6. Nothing avails but faith. Faith is all as it is the instrument to lay hold on Christ, whereby we are saved as a man is saved by catching hold on a bough.
Sometimes the new creature is said to be all, Galatians 6:15. Nothing avails but a new creature. The new creature is all as it qualifies and fits for glory. “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord,” Hebrews 12:14. It is a saying of Chrysostom that, at the day of judgment, God will ask that question, as our Savior did, Matthew 22:20, “Whose image and superscription is this?” So will God say, “Whose image is this?” If you cannot show Him His image consisting in holiness, He will reject you. Thus the new creature is all.
Here in the text Christ is said to be all but in what sense is Christ all?
Christ is all by way of eminency. All good things are eminently to be found in Him as the sun virtually contains in it the light of the lesser stars.
Christ is all by way of derivation. All good things are transmitted and conveyed to us through Christ. As our rich commodities, such as jewels and spices come to us by sea so all heavenly blessings sail to us through the red sea of Christ’s blood! Romans 11:36, “For everything comes from Him; everything exists by His power and is intended for His glory. To Him be glory evermore! Amen.” Christ is that spiritual pipe through which the golden oil of mercy empties itself into the soul!
Christ must be all, for “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead,” Colossians 2:9. He has a partnership with God the Father. John 16:15, “All things that the Father has, are Mine.” So there is enough in Him to scatter all our fears, to remove all our burdens, to supply all our needs. There can be no defect in that which is infinite.
USE 2. Information. It shows us the glorious fullness of Jesus Christ. He is all in all. Christ is a treasury and storehouse of all spiritual riches. You may go with the bee from flower to flower, and suck here and there a little sweetness but you will never have enough until you come to Christ, for He is all in all. Now, in particular, Christ is all in six respects:
1. Christ is all-in regard of RIGHTEOUSNESS. 1 Corinthians 1:30, “He is made to us, righteousness.” The robe of our innocence, like the veil of the Temple, is rent asunder. Ours is a ragged righteousness. Isaiah 64:6, “Our righteousness is as filthy rags.” As under rags, the naked body is seen so under the rags of our righteousness the body of death is seen. We can defile our duties but they cannot justify us; but Christ is all in regard of righteousness. Romans 10:4, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, to everyone who believes.” That is, through Christ, we are as righteous as if we had fully satisfied the law in our own persons. Jacob got the blessing in the garment of his elder brother. So, in the garment of Christ, our older brother, we obtain the blessing. Christ’s righteousness is a coat woven without seam. “We are made the righteousness of God in Him,” 2 Corinthians 5:21.
2. Christ is all-in regard of SANCTIFICATION. 1 Corinthians 1:30, “He is made to us, sanctification.” Sanctification is the spiritual enamel and embroidery of the soul; it is nothing else but God’s putting upon us the jewels of holiness. The angels glory in it. We are made as the king’s daughter, “all glorious within,” Psalm 45:13. This tunes and prepares the soul for heaven. It turns iron into gold; it makes the heart, which was Satan’s picture into Christ’s living epistle. The virgins in Esther 2:12 had their “days of purification.” They were first to he perfumed and anointed and then they were to stand before the king. So we must have the anointing of God, 1 John 2:27, and be perfumed with the graces of the Spirit, those sweet fragrances and then we shall stand before the King of heaven! There must be first our days of purification, before our days of glorification. What a blessed work is this!
A soul beautified and adorned with grace is like the sky, bespangled with glittering stars. Oh, what a metamorphosis is there! I may allude to that passage in Song of Solomon 3:6. “Who is this that comes out of the wilderness of sin, perfumed with all the graces of the Spirit?” Holiness is the signature and engraving of God upon the soul. But where does this come from? From Christ who is all in all. He is made to us sanctification. It is He who sends His Spirit into our hearts to be a refiner’s fire, to burn up our dross and make our graces sparkle like gold in the furnace! Christ arises upon the soul “with healing in His wings,” Malachi 4:2. He heals the understanding and says, “Let there be light.” He heals the heart by dissolving the stone in His blood. He heals the will by filing off its rebellion. Thus He is all in regard of sanctification.
3. Christ is all-in regard of ACCEPTANCE with God. Ephesians 1:6. “He has made us favorites,” as some render it. Through Christ, God is propitious to us and takes all we do in good part. A wicked man, being out of Christ, is out of God’s favor. Even his plowing is sin, Proverbs 21:4. God will not come near him; his breath is infectious. God will hear his sins and not his prayers. But now, in Christ, God accepts us. As Joseph presented his brethren before Pharaoh and brought them into favor with the king, Genesis 47:2; so the Lord Jesus carries the names of the saints upon His breast and presents them before His Father, thus bringing them into repute and honor. Through Christ, God will treat and parley with us. Through the red glass everything appears a red color; through the blood of Christ we look of a sanguine complexion, ruddy and beautiful in God’s eyes.
4. Christ is all-in regard of divine ASSISTANCE. A Christian’s strength lies in Christ, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”Philippians 4:13. How is a Christian able to do duty, to resist temptation but through Christ’s strengthening? How is it that a spark of grace lives in a sea of corruption, the storms of persecution blowing but that Christ holds this spark in the hollow of His hand? How is it that the roaring lion of hell has not devoured the saints? Because the Lion of the tribe of Judah has defended them! Christ not only gives us our crown but our shield. He not only gives us our garland when we overcome but our strength whereby we overcome. Revelation 12:11, “They overcame him that is, the accuser of the brethren by the blood of the Lamb.” Christ keeps the royal fort of graces that it is not blown up. Peter’s shield was bruised but Christ ensured that it was not broken. “I have prayed for you that your faith fail not,” Luke 22:32, that it be not a total falling away. The crown of all the saints’ victories must he set upon the head of Christ
5. Christ is all-in regard of PEACE with God. When conscience is in agony, and burns as hell in the sense of God’s wrath now Christ is all. He pours the balm of His blood into these wounds, He makes the storm calm. Christ not only makes peace in the court of heaven but in the court of conscience. He not only makes peace above us but within us, John 16. Said Cyprian, “All our golden streams of peace flow from this fountain!” John 15:27, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” Jesus Christ not only purchased peace for us but speaks peace to us. He is called the Prince of peace, Isaiah 9:6. Thus Christ is all in regard of peace. He makes peace for us and in us; this honey and oil flow out of the rock Christ.
6. Christ is all-in regard of REMUNERATION. It is He who crowns us after all our labors and sufferings. He died to advance us. His lying in the wine-press was to bring us into the banqueting house! He is gone before to take possession of heaven in the name of all believers. Hebrews 6:20, “Where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus.” Christ has gone to prepare a place for the saints, John 14:2. He makes heaven ready for them and makes them ready for heaven. Thus Christ is all in regard of remuneration. Revelation 22:12, “Behold, I come quickly and My reward is with Me.”
USE 3.If Christ is all, it shows what a vast disproportion there is between Christ and the creature. There is as much difference as between something and nothing. Christ is all in all and the creature is nothing at all. Proverbs 23:5, “Will you set your eyes on that which is not?” The creature is a nonentity. Though it has a physical existence, yet, considered theologically, it is nothing. It is but a gilded shadow, a pleasant dream. When Solomon had sifted up the finest flour and distilled the spirit of all created excellency, here is the result, “All was vanity,” Ecclesiastes 2:11. We read that the earth in creation was void, Genesis 1:2. So are all earthly comforts void. They are void of that which we think is in them. They are void of satisfaction; therefore, they are compared to wind, Hosea 12:1. A man can no more fill his heart with the world than he can fill his belly with the air he draws in. Now the creature is said to be nothing, in a threefold sense:
1. It is nothing to a man in trouble of spirit. If the spirit is wounded, outward things will no more give ease than a crown of gold will cure the headache.
2. The creature is nothing to a man who has heaven in his eye. When Paul had seen that light shining from heaven, surpassing the glory of the sun, Acts 26:13, though his eyes were open, “he saw no man,” Acts 9:8. So he who has the glory of heaven in his eye, is blind to the world. He sees nothing in it to allure him or make him willing to stay here.
3. The creature is nothing to one who is dying. A man at the hour of death is most serious, and is able to give the truest verdict of things. Now at such a time the world is nothing. It is in an eclipse. The sorrow of the world is real but the joy of the world imaginary. Oh, then, what a vast difference is there between Christ and the creature! Christ is all in all, and the creature nothing at all; yet how many damn their souls for nothing?
USE 4. It shows where the soul is to go in the lack of all. Go to Christ who is all in all. Do you lack grace? Go to Christ. Colossians 2:3, “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Christ is the great Lord treasurer; go then to Christ. Say, “Lord, I am indigent of grace but in You are all my fresh springs. Fill my cistern from Your spring. Lord, I am blind; You have eye-salve to anoint me. I am defiled; You have water to cleanse me. My heart is hard; You have blood to soften me. I am empty of grace; bring Your fullness to my emptiness.” In all our spiritual needs, we should resort to Christ as Jacob’s sons did to their brother Joseph. “He opened all the storehouses,” Genesis 42:25. Thus, the Lord has made Christ our Joseph. Colossians 2:3, “In whom are hidden all treasures.” Oh, then, sinners, make out to Christ! He is all in all; and, to encourage you to go to Him, remember there is in Him not only fullness, but freeness. “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters!” Christ is not only full as the honeycomb but He drops as the honeycomb.
USE 5. If Christ is all, see here the Christian’s richness. How rich is he, who has Christ! He has all that may make him completely happy. The wife of Phocion, being asked where her jewels were, answered, “My husband and his triumphs are my jewels!” So, if a Christian is asked where his riches are, he will say, “Christ is my riches!” A true saint cannot be poor. If you look into his house, perhaps he has scarcely a bed to lie on. 1 Corinthians 4:11, “Even to this present hour, we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and have no certain dwelling-place.” Come to many a child of God and bid him make his will, and he will say as Peter, Acts 3:6, “Silver and gold have I none.” Yet he can at the same time make his triumph with the apostle, 2 Corinthians 6:10, “As having nothing yet possessing all.” He has Christ, who is in all. When a believer can call nothing his, he can say all is his.
The Tabernacle was covered with badgers’ skins, Exodus 25:5, yet most of it was of gold; so a saint may have a poor covering, such as ragged clothes but he is inlaid with gold. Christ is formed in his heart and so he is all glorious within.
How a Christian should sit down satisfied with Christ! “Christ is all.” What? Though he lacks other things is not Christ enough? If a man has sunshine, he does not complain that he lacks the light of a candle. Has he not enough, who has “the unsearchable riches of Christ?” I have read of a godly man who, being blind, was asked by his friend if he was not troubled for the lack of his sight. He confessed he was. “Why,” said his friend, “are you troubled because you lack that which flies have when you have that which angels have?” So I say to a Christian, “Why are you troubled for lacking that which a reprobate has when you have that which the glorified saints have? You have Christ with all His benefit and royalties!”
Suppose a father should deny his son furniture for his house but should will all his land to him. Has he any cause to complain? If God denies you a little furniture in the world but in the meantime wills His land to you; if He gives you the field wherein the pearl of price is hidden, have you any cause to repine? A Christian who lacks necessities, yet has Christ, has the one thing needful. Colossians 2:10, “You are complete in Him.” What! complete in Christ and not content with Christ? Luther said, “The sea of God’s mercy should swallow up our particular afflictions.” Surely this sea of God’s love in giving us Christ should drown all our complaints and grievances. Let the Christian take the harp and the violin and bless God.
USE 6. If Christ is all, see the deplorable condition of a Christ less person. He is poor; he is worth nothing. Revelation 3:17, “You are wretched, miserable and poor.” The sadness of a man who lacks Christ, will appear in these seven particulars:
1. He who lacks Christ, lacks justification. What a glorious thing it is, when a poor sinner is absolved from guilt and is declared to be acquitted of all charges of sin! But this privilege flows from Christ; all pardons are sealed in His blood. Acts 13:39, “By Him all who believe are justified;” so that he who is out of Christ is unjustified. The guilt of sin cleaves to him. He must be responsible to justice in his own person, and the curse stands in full force against the sinner.
2. He who lacks Christ, lacks the beauty of holiness. Jesus Christ is a living spring of grace. John 1:14, “Full of grace and truth.” Now a Christ less person is a graceless person; he does not have one shred of holiness. The sapling must first be engrafted into the stock before it can receive sap and influence from the root. We must first be engrafted into Christ before we can of His fullness receive grace for grace, John 1:16. A man out of Christ is red with guilt and black with filth. He is an unhallowed person and, dying in that condition, is rendered incapable of seeing God, Hebrews 12:14.
3. He who lacks Christ, has no true nobility. It is through Christ that we are akin to God and of the royal blood of heaven. It is through Christ that “God is not ashamed to be called our God,” Hebrews 11:16. But out of Christ, we are looked upon as ignoble people. The traitors’ blood runs in our veins. A man out of Christ is base born. Whoever is his natural father the devil is his spiritual father, John 4:48.
4. He who lacks Christ, lacks his freedom. John 8:36, “If the Son sets you free you shall be free indeed.” A man out of Christ is a slave, even when he sins most freely.
5. He who lacks Christ, has no ability for service. When Samson’s locks were cut, his strength was gone from him. He lacks a vital principle; he cannot walk with God. He is like a dead member in the body, which has neither strength nor motion. John 15:5, “Without Me you can do nothing.” The flute will make no sound, unless you blow in it. So, unless Christ by His Spirit breathes in the soul it cannot make any harmony or put forth strength to any holy action.
6. He who lacks Christ, has no consolation. Christ is called “the consolation of Israel,” Luke 2:25. A Christ less soul is a comfortless soul. How can such a one have comfort, when he comes to die? He is in debt and has no surety. His wounds bleed and he has no physician. He sees the fire of God’s wrath approaching and has no screen to keep it off. He is like a ship in a tempest. Sickness begins to make a tempest in his body, sin begins to make a tempest in his conscience and he has nowhere to put in for harbor. Oh, the terror and anguish of such a man at the hour of death! Isaiah 13:8, “Their face shall he as flames” is an appropriate expression. The meaning is such fear and horror shall seize upon sinners in the evil day that their countenances shall change and be as pale as a flame.
What are all the comforts of the world to a dying sinner? He looks upon his friends but they cannot comfort him. Bring him bags of gold and silver and they are as smoke to sore eyes. It grieves him to part with them. Bring him music? What comfort is the harp and violin to a condemned man? There are in Spain tarantulas, venomous spiders; and those who are stung with them are almost dead but are cured with music. But those who die without Christ, who is the consolation of Israel, are in such hellish pangs and agonies that no music is able to cure them!
7. He who lacks Christ, has no salvation. Ephesians 5:23, “He is the Savior of the body.” He saves none but those who are members of His body mystical, a strong Scripture against the doctrine of universal redemption. Christ leaped into the sea of His Father’s wrath only to save His spouse from drowning! He is the Savior of the body, so that those who die out of Christ, are cut off from all hopes of salvation.
USE 7. It reproves those who busy themselves about other things and neglect of Christ. Isaiah 55:2, “Why do you spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfies not?” If you get all the world, you are but golden beggars, without Christ. The physician finds out deadly bodily diseases but is ignorant of soul diseases. While he gets remedies to cure other she neglects the remedy of Christ’s blood, to cure himself. The lawyer, while he clears other men’s titles to their land, he himself lacks a title to Christ. The tradesman is buried in buying and selling but neglects to trade for the pearl of great price. He is like Israel, who went up and down to gather straw, or like the loadstone that draws iron to it but refuses gold. Those who mind the world so as to neglect Christ their work is but spider-webs. “They work so hard but all in vain!” Habakkuk 2:13
1. If Christ is all, then set a high valuation upon Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:7, “To you who believe, He is precious.” If there were a jewel which contained in it the worth of all jewels, would you not prize that? Such a jewel is Christ. So precious is Christ, that Paul counted all things dung that he might win Christ, Philippians 3:8. Oh, that I could raise your appreciation of Jesus Christ! Prize Christ above your estates, and above your relations. That man does not deserve Christ at all, who does not prize Christ above all. Jesus Christ is an incomprehensible blessing. Whatever God can require for satisfaction, or can desire for salvation is to be found in Christ. Oh, then, let Him be the highest in our esteem! “No writing shall please me,” said Bernard, “if I do not read the name of Christ there.” The name of Christ is the only music to a Christian’s ear and the blood of Christ is the only cordial to a Christian’s heart!
2. If Jesus Christ is all, then make sure of Christ; never leave trading in ordinances until you have gotten this pearl of great price. In Christ there is the aggregation of all good things. Oh, then, let not your souls be quiet until this bundle of myrrh lies between your breasts! Song of Solomon 1:13. In other things we strive for property: “this house is mine, these jewels are mine.” Why not, “this Christ mine!” There are only two words which will satisfy the soul: Deity and property. What, was it better for the old world, if they had an ark as long as they did not get into the ark?
“The unsearchable riches of Christ.” Ephesians 3:8. That I may persuade all to get Christ let me show you what an enriching blessing Christ is:
1. Christ is the most SUPREME good. Put what you will in the balance with Christ He infinitely outweighs it. Is life sweet? Christ is better. He is the life of the soul, Colossians 3:4. “His loving-kindness is better than life,” Psalm 63:3. Are relations sweet? Christ is better. He is the friend who “sticks closer than a brother.”
2. Christ is the most sufficient good. He who has Christ needs no more. He who has the ocean needs not the cistern. If one had a manuscript which contained all knowledge in it, having all the arts and science she need look in no other book. So he who has Christ needs look no further. Christ gives both grace and glory, Psalm 84:11; grace to cleanse us and glory to crown us. As Jacob said, “It is enough, Joseph my son is yet alive,” Genesis 14:28. So he who has Christ may say, “It is enough, Jesus is yet alive!”
3. Christ is the most SUITABLE good. In Him dwells all fullness, Colossians 1:19. Christ is whatever the soul can desire. Christ is beauty to adorn, gold to enrich, balm to heal, bread to strengthen, wine to comfort, and salvation to crown. If we are in danger, Christ is a shield; if we are disconsolate, He is a sun. He has enough in His wardrobe, to abundantly furnish the soul.
4. Christ is the most SANCTIFYING good. He makes every condition happy to us; He sweetens all our comforts and sanctifies all our crosses.
Christ sweetens all our comforts. He turns them into blessings. Health is blessed; estate is blessed; relations are blessed. Christ’s love is like pouring sweet water on flowers, which makes them give a more fragrant perfume. A wicked man cannot have that comfort in outward things which a godly man has. He may possess more but he enjoys less. He who has Christ may say, “This mercy is given to me by the hand of my Savior; this is a love-token from Him, a pledge of glory!”
Christ sanctifies all our crosses. They shall be medicinal to the soul; they shall work sin out and work grace in. God’s stretching the strings of His violin is to tune it and make the music better. Christ sees to it that His people lose nothing in the furnace, but their drossy impurities.
5. Christ is the most RARE blessing; there are but few who have Him. The best things, when they grow common, begin to he slighted. When silver was as common in Jerusalem as stone, 1 Kings 10:27, it was apt to be trod upon. Christ is a jewel that few are enriched with, which may both raise our esteem of Him and quicken our pursuit after Him. Those to whom God has given both the Indies, He has not given them Christ. They have the fat of the earth but not the dew of heaven. And, among us Protestants, many hear of Christ but few have Him. Read Luke 4:25. There are many in this city who have Christ sounded in their ears but few who have Christ formed in their hearts. Oh, how should we labor to be of this few! They who are Christians should be restless.
6. Christ is the most choice good. God shows more love in giving us Christ than in giving us crowns and kingdoms. God may give a man many worldly things and hate him; but in giving Christ to a man He gives him the blessings of the throne. What if others have a crutch to lean on if you have a Christ to lean on? Abraham sent away the sons of the concubines with gifts but “he gave all he had to Isaac,” Genesis 25. God may send away others with a little gold and silver but if He gives you Christ, He gives you all that ever He had, for “Christ is all, and in all.”
7. Without Christ, nothing else is good. Without Christ, health is not good; it is fuel for lust. Riches are not good; they are golden snares. Ordinances are not good; though they are good in themselves, yet not good to us. They do not profit. They are as breasts without milk, as bottles without wine. Nay, they are not only a dead letter but a savor of death. Without Christ, they will damn us. For lack of Christ, millions go loaded to hell with ordinances.
8. Christ is the most ENDURING good. Other things are like the lamp which, while it shines, it spends itself. The heavens “shall wax old like a garment,” Psalm 102:26. But Jesus Christ is a permanent good; with Him are durable riches, Proverbs 8:18. They last as long as eternity itself lasts.
9. Christ is a DIFFUSIVE, communicative good. He is full not only as a vessel but as a spring. He is willing to give Himself to us. Now, then, if there is all this excellency in Jesus Christ, it may make us ambitiously desirous of an interest in Him.
Question 1. But how shall I get a part in Christ?
Answer 1. See your need of Christ. Know that you are undone without Him. How obnoxious are you to God’s eye! How odious to His pure and holy nature! How obnoxious to His justice! Oh, sinner, how near is the sergeant to arrest you! The furnace of hell is being heated for you and what will you do without Christ? It is only the Lord Jesus who can stand as a screen to keep the fire of God’s wrath from burning you! Tell me, then, is there no need of Christ?
Answer 2. Be importunate after Christ. “Lord, give me Christ or I die!” As Achsah said to her father Caleb, Joshua 15:19, “You have given me a south land give me also springs of water”; so should a poor soul say, “Lord, You have given me an estate in the world but this south land will now quench my thirst. Give me also springs of water; give me those living springs which run in the Savior’s blood! You have said, ‘Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life!’ Lord, I thirst after Jesus Christ; nothing but Christ will satisfy me. I am dead. I am damned without Him. Oh, give me this water of life!”
Answer 3. Be content to have Christ, as Christ is offered as both a Prince and a Savior, Acts 5:31. Be sure you do not barter with Christ. Some would have Christ and their sins too. Is Christ all, and will you not part with something for this all? Christ would have you part with nothing, but what will damn you namely, your sins. There are some who bid fair for Christ; they will part with some sins but keep a secret reserve of darling sins. Does that man think he shall have Christ’s love who feeds sin in secret? Oh, part with all for Him who is all! Part with your lusts, nay, and your life if Christ calls you to that! This exhorts us not only to get Christ, but to labor to know that we have Christ. 1 John 2:3, “This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him.”
Now, concerning this knowledge that Christ is ours, which is the same as assurance, I shall lay down these corollaries or conclusions:
First, realize that this knowledge is attainable it may be gotten. 1 John 5:13, “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Why else does God bid us make our calling and election sure, 2 Peter 1:10, if assurance may not be had? And why does God bid us make to prove ourselves, whether we are in the faith, 2 Corinthians 13:5, if we cannot come to this knowledge that Christ is ours?
What are all the signs which the Scripture gives of a man in Christ but so many ciphers if the knowledge of this interest may not be had? 1 John 3:14 and 1 John 4:13.
There are some duties enjoined in Scripture which are utterly impossible to perform if the knowledge of an interest in Christ is not attainable. We are bid to rejoice in God, Philippians 4:4, and to rejoice in tribulation, 1 Peter 4:13. How can he rejoice in suffering who does not know whether Christ is his or not?
Why has Christ promised to send the Comforter, John 14:16, whose very work it is to bring the heart to this assurance, if assurance that Christ is ours, may not be had?
Some of the saints have arrived at this certainty of knowledge; therefore, it may be had. Job knew that his Redeemer lived, Job 19:25. And Paul had this assurance, 2 Timothy 1:12 and Galatians 2:20. Yes, some might say that Paul was an eminent believer, a Christian of the first magnitude; so it is no wonder he had this jewel of assurance! Nay but the apostle speaks of it as a case incident to other believers, Romans 8:35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Not me but us! So that by all it appears that a believer may come to spell out his interest.
Caution 1. Not that saints have always the same certainty, or that they have such an assurance as excludes all doubtings and conflicts. There will be flowings and ebbings in their comforts as well as in their graces. Was it not so in David? Sometimes we hear him say that God’s loving-kindness was before his eyes, Psalm 26:3. But at another time, “Where are Your former loving-kindnesses?” Psalm 89:49. These doubtings and convulsions God allows in His children, sometimes, that they may long the more for heaven where they shall have a constant springtime of joy.
Caution 2. Not that all believers have the same assurance. Assurance is rather the fruit of faith than faith itself. Now, as the root of the rose or tulip may be alive, where the flower is not visible so faith may live in the heart where the flower of assurance does not appear.
Assurance is difficult to be obtained. It is a rare jewel, hard to come by. Not many Christians have this jewel. God sees it good, sometimes, to withdraw assurance from His people that they may walk humbly. Satan does what he can to waylay and obstruct our assurance; he is called the red dragon, Revelation 12:3. If he cannot blot a Christian’s evidence, yet sometimes lie casts such a mist before his eyes, that he cannot read his evidence. The devil envies that God should have any glory or the soul any comfort.
That we lack assurance is, for the most part, our own fault. We walk carelessly, neglect our spiritual watch, let go our hold of promises, and comply with temptations. No wonder, then, if we walk in darkness, and are at such a loss that we cannot tell whether Christ is ours or not. Assurance is very sweet; this wine of paradise cheers the heart.
Assurance is very useful, it will put us upon service for Christ. It will put us upon active obedience. Assurance will not, as the Papists say, breed carnal security in the soul but agility. It will make us mount up with wings as eagles in holy duties. Faith makes us living; assurance makes us lively. If we know that Christ is ours we shall never think we can love Him enough or serve Him enough. 2 Corinthians 5:14, “The love of Christ constrains us!” Assurance will put us upon patient suffering for Christ. Romans 5:3-5, “We glory in tribulation, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.” Mr. Foxe, in his Book of Martyrs, speaks of a woman in Queen Mary’s days who, when the adversaries threatened to take her husband from her, answered, “Christ is my husband!” When they threatened to take away her children she answered, “Christ is better to me than ten sons!” When they threatened to take away all from her, said she, “Christ is mine, and you cannot take Him away from me!” No wonder Paul was willing to be bound and die for Christ, Acts 21:13, when he knew that Christ loved him and had given Himself for him, Galatians 2:20. Though I will not say Paul was proud of his chain, yet he was glad for it; he wore it as a chain of diamonds!
Question 2. But how shall I get this jewel of assurance?
Answer 1. Seek Christ diligently. When the spouse sought Christ diligently, she found Him joyfully, Song of Solomon 3:4.
Answer 2. Preserve the virginity of conscience. When the glass is full you will not pour wine into it, only when it is empty. Just so, when the soul is cleansed from the love of every sin, then God will pour in the sweet wine of assurance. Hebrews 10:22, “Let us draw near in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.”
Answer 3. Be much in the actings of faith. The more active the child is in obedience, the sooner he has his father’s smile. If faith is ready to die, Revelation 3:2, if it is like armor hung up, or like a sleepy habit in the soul, never think that you can have assurance in such a state.
Answer 4. If Christ is all, then make Him so to you.
Make Christ all-in your understanding. Be ambitious to know nothing but Christ, 1 Corinthians 2:2. What is it to have knowledge in medicine? To be able, with Galen, to discourse of the causes and symptoms of a disease and what is proper to apply and, in the meantime, to be ignorant of the healing under Christ’s wings? What is it to have knowledge in astronomy, to discourse of the stars and planets and to be ignorant of Christ, that bright morning-star which leads to heaven? What is it to have skill in a shop and be ignorant of that commodity which both enriches and crowns? What is it to he versed in music and to be ignorant of Christ, whose blood makes atonement in heaven, and music in the conscience? What is it to know all the stratagems of war and to be ignorant of “the Prince of Peace”?
Oh, make Christ all! Be willing to know nothing but Christ. Though you may know other things in their due place yet know Christ in the first place. Let the knowledge of Jesus Christ have the pre-eminence, as the sun among the lesser planets. This is the crowning knowledge. Proverbs 14:18, “The prudent are crowned with knowledge.” We cannot know ourselves, unless we know Christ. It is He who takes us into our hearts and shows us the spots of our souls, whereby we abhor ourselves in dust and ashes. Christ shows us our own emptiness and poverty. Until we see our own emptiness, we are not fit to be filled with the golden oil of mercy. We cannot know God but through Christ, 2 Corinthians 4:6.
Make Christ all-in your affections. Desire nothing but Christ. He is the aggregation of all good things. “You are complete in Him,” Colossians 2:10. Christ is the Christian’s perfection. Why should the soul desire less? How can it desire more? Love nothing but Christ. Love is the choicest affection; it is the richest jewel the creature has to bestow. Oh, if Christ is all, love Him better than all!
Consider, first, if you love other things, when they die your love is lost; but Christ lives forever to requite your love
Consider, second, you may love other things in excess but you cannot love Christ in excess.
Consider, third, when you love other things, you love that which is worse than yourselves. If you love a fair house, a pleasant garden, a skillfully drawn picture, these things are worse than yourselves. If I would love anything more intensely and ardently, it should be something which is better than myself, and that is Jesus Christ. He who is all, let Him have all. Give Him your love who desires it most, and deserves it best.
Make Christ all-in your abilities; do all in His strength. Ephesians 6:10, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” When you are to resist a temptation, or to mortify a corruption do not go out in your own strength, but in the strength of Christ. Be strong in the Lord. Some go out to duty in the strength of their abilities, and go out against sin in the strength of their resolutions and they both come home foiled. Alas! What are our resolutions but like the green cords which bound Samson! A sinful heart will soon break these. Do as David when he was to go up against Goliath. He said, “I come to you in the name of the Lord.” So say to your Goliath lust, “I come to you in the name of Christ.” Then we conquer, when the Lion of the tribe of Judah marches before us.
Make Christ all-in your aims; do all to His glory, 1 Peter 4:11.
Make Christ all in your trust. Trust none but Christ for salvation. The Papists make Christ something, but not all. And is there not naturally a spice of popery in our hearts? We would be grafting happiness upon the stock of our own righteousness. “Every man,” said Luther, “is born with a pope in his heart!” Oh, make Christ all in regard of reliance! Let Him be your city of refuge to flee to, your ark of salvation.
Make Christ all in your joy. Galatians 6:14, “God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Oh, Christian, have you seen the Lord Jesus? Has this morning-star shone into your heart with its enlightening, quickening beams? Then rejoice and be exceeding glad! Shall others rejoice in the world and will not you rejoice in Christ! How much better is He than all other things! It reflects disparagement upon Christ when His saints are sad and drooping. Is not Christ yours? What more would you have!
Objection. But, says one, “I am low in the world, and that takes off the chariot wheels of my joy, and makes me drive heavily.”
Answer. But have you not Christ? And is Christ all? Psalm 16:5-6.
Objection. If indeed I knew Christ were mine, then I could rejoice; but how shall I know that?
Answer 1. Is your soul filled with pantings after Christ? Do you desire water out of Christ’s side to cleanse you as well as blood out of His side to save you? These sighs and groans are stirred up by the
Spirit of God. By the beating of this pulse, judge of the life of faith in you.
Answer 2. Have you given up yourself by an universal subjection to Christ? This is a good sign that Christ is yours.
Answer 3. Be thankful for Christ. God has done more for you in giving you Christ than if He had set you with the princes of the earth, Psalm 118:8, or had made you angels, or had given you the whole world. In short, God cannot give a greater gift than Christ, for, in giving Christ, He gives Himself to us, and all this calls aloud for thankfulness.
Here is a breast of comfort to every man who has Christ: Christ is all. It is good lying at this fountainhead. When a Christian sees a deficiency in himself, he may see an all-sufficiency in his Savior! “Happy is that people whose God is the Lord!” Psalm 144:15. That servant has no lack who has his master’s full purse at command. He who has Christ, has no lack for “Christ is all and in all.” What if the fig-tree does not flourish if you have Christ, the Tree of Life, and all fruit growing there? In the hour of death, a believer may rejoice; when he leaves all, he is possessed of all. As Ambrose said to his friend, “I fear not death because I have a good Lord”, so may a godly man say, “I fear not death, because I have a Christ to go to! Death will but carry me to that torrent of divine pleasure which runs at His right hand forevermore.”
I will end with 1 Thessalonians 4:18 “Comfort one another with these words.”
– Thomas Watson
That Satan labours might and main, by false teachers, which are his messengers and ambassadors, to deceive, delude, and forever undo the precious souls of men (Acts 20:28-30; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Eph. 4:14; 2 Tim. 3:4-6; Titus 1:11,12; 2 Peter 2:18,19): “I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria; they prophesied in Baal, and caused my people Israel to err” (Jer. 23:13). “The prophets make my people to err” (Micah 3:5). They seduce them, and carry them out of the right way into by-paths and blind thickets of error, blasphemy, and wickedness, where they are lost forever. “Beware of false prophets, for they come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Mat. 7:15). These lick and suck the blood of souls: “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision” (Phil. 3:2). These kiss and kill; these cry, Peace, peace, till souls fall into everlasting flames, &c., Proverbs 7.
Now, the best way to deliver poor souls from being deluded and destroyed by these messengers of Satan is, to discover them in their colors, that so, being known, poor souls may shun them, and fly from them as from hell itself.
Now you may know them by these characters following:
THE FIRST CHARACTER
False teachers are men-pleasers (Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:1-4). They preach more to please the ear than to profit the heart: “Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophecy not unto us right things: speak to us smooth things; prophecy deceits”‘ (Isa. 30:10). “A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means, and my people love to have it so. And what will you do in the end thereof?” (Jer. 5:30,31). They handle holy things rather with wit and dalliance (playful come-on) then with fear and reverence. False teachers are soul-undoers. They are like evil chirurgeons, that skin over the wound, but never heal it. Flattery undid Ahab and Herod, Nero and Alexander. False teachers are hell’s greatest enrichers. Non acerba, sed blanda, Not bitter, but flattering words do all the mischief, said Valerian, the Roman emperor. Such smooth teachers are sweet soul-poisoners (Jer. 23:16,17).
THE SECOND CHARACTER
False teachers are notable in casting dirt, scorn, and reproach upon the persons, names, and credits of Christ’s most faithful ambassadors. Thus Korah, Dathan, and Abiram charged Moses and Aaron that they took too much upon them, seeing all the congregation was holy (Num. 16:3). You take too much state, too much power, too much honour, too much holiness upon you; for what are you more than others, that you take so much upon you? And so Ahab’s false prophets fell foul on good Micaiah, paying of him with blows for want of better reasons (1 Kings 22:10-26). Yea, Paul, that great apostle of the Gentiles, had his ministry undermined and his reputation blasted by false teachers: “For his letters”‘ say they, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak and contemptible” (2 Cor. 10:10). They rather contemn him than admire him; they look upon him as a dunce rather than a doctor. And the same hard measure had our Lord Jesus from the Scribes and Pharisees, who laboured as for life to build their own credit upon the ruins of his reputation. And never did the devil drive a more full trade this way than he does in these days (Matt. 27:63). Oh! the dirt, the filth, the scorn that is thrown upon those whom the world is not worthy. I suppose false teachers mind not that saying of Austin, Quisquis volens detrahit famae, nolens addit mercedi meae, He that willingly takes from my good name, unwillingly adds to my reward.
THE THIRD CHARACTER
False teachers are inventors of the devices and visions of their own heads and hearts. “Then the Lord said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent then not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophecy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart (Jer. 14:14); “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Harken not unto the words of the prophets that prophecy unto you; they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord” (Jer. 23:16). Are there not multitudes in this nation whose visions are but golden delusions, lying vanities, brain-sick phantasies? These are Satan’s great benefactors and such as divine justice will hang up in hell as the greatest malefactors, if the physician of souls does not prevent it.
THE FOURTH CHARACTER
False teachers easily pass over the great and weighty things both of law and gospel, and stand most upon those things that are of the least moment and concernment to the souls of men. “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned; from which some have swerved, have turned aside unto vain jangling, desiring to be teachers of the law, and understand neither what they say nor whereof they affirm” (1 Tim. 1:5-7). “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matt. 23:2,3). False teachers are nice in the lesser things of the law, and as negligent in the greater. “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strife of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself” (1 Tim. 6:3-5). If such teachers are not hypocrites in grain, I know nothing, Romans 2:22. The earth groans to bear them, and hell is fitted for them, Matt. 24:32.
THE FIFTH CHARACTER
False teachers cover and color their dangerous principles and soul-impostures with very fair speeches and plausible pretenses, with high notions and golden expressions. Many in these days are bewitched and deceived, viz. illumination, revelation, deification, fiery triplicity, &c. As strumpets paint their faces, and deck and perfume their beds, the better to allure and deceive simple souls (Gal. 6:12; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Rom. 16:17,18; Mat. 16:6,11,12; 7:15), so false teachers will put a great deal of paint and garnish upon their most dangerous principles and blasphemies, that they may the better deceive and delude poor ignorant souls. They know sugared poison goes down sweetly; they wrap up their pernicious, soul-killing pills in gold.
THE SIXTH CHARACTER
False teachers strive more to win over men to their opinions, than to better them in their conversations. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matt. 24:17). They busy themselves most about men’s heads. Their work is not to better men’s hearts, and mend their lives; and in this they are very much like their father the devil, who will spare no pains to gain proselytes.
THE SEVENTH CHARACTER
False teachers make merchandise of their followers. “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not” (2 Peter 2:1-3). They eye your goods more than your good; and mind more the serving of themselves, than the saving of your souls. So they may have your substance, they care not though Satan has your souls (Rev. 18:11-13). That they may the better pick your purse, they will hold forth such principles as are very indulgent to the flesh. False teachers are the great worshippers of the golden calf (Jer. 6:13).
Now, by these characters you may know them, and so shun them, and deliver your souls out of their dangerous snares; which that you may, my prayers shall meet-yours at the throne of grace.
– Thomas Brooks
Direction 1. Labor to know God, and to be affected with his attributes, and always to live as in his sight.
No man can know sin perfectly, because no man can know God perfectly. You can no further know what sin is than you know what God is, whom you sin against; for the malignity of sin is against the will and attributes of God. The godly have some knowledge of the malignity of sin, because they have some knowledge of God who is wronged by it. The wicked have no practical knowledge of the malignity of sin, because they have no such knowledge of God. Those who fear God will fear sinning. Those who in their hearts are bold irreverently with God, will, in heart and life, be bold with sin. The atheist, who thinks there is no God, thinks there is no sin against him. Nothing in world will tell us so plainly and powerfully of the evil of sin, as the knowledge of the greatness, wisdom, goodness, holiness, authority, justice, truth, etc. of God. The sense of his presence, therefore, will revive our sense of sin’s malignity.
Direction 2. Consider well of the office, the bloodshed, and the holy life of Christ.
His office is to expiate sin, and to destroy it. His blood was shed for it. His life condemned it. Love Christ, and you will hate that which caused his death. Love him, and you will love to be made like him, and hate that which is so contrary to Christ. These two great lights will show the odiousness of darkness.
Direction 3. Think well both how holy the office and work of the Holy Spirit is, and how great a mercy it is to us.
Shall God himself, the heavenly light, come down into a sinful heart, to illuminate and purify it? And yet shall I keep my darkness and defilement, in opposition to such wonderful mercy? Though all sin against the Holy Spirit is not the unpardonable blasphemy, yet all is aggravated hereby.
Direction 4. Know and consider the wonderful love and mercy of God, and think what he has done for you; and you will hate sin, and be ashamed of it.
It is an aggravation which makes sin odious even to common reason and sincerity that we should offend a God of infinite goodness, who has filled up our lives with mercy. It will grieve you if you have wronged an extraordinary friend: his love and kindness will come into your thoughts, and make you angry with your own unkindness. Here look over the catalogue of Gods mercies to you, for soul and body. And here observe that Satan, in hiding the love of God from you, and tempting you under the pretense of humility to deny his greatest, special mercy, seeks to destroy your repentance and humiliation, also, by hiding the greatest aggravation of your sin.
Direction 5. Think what the soul of man is made for, and should be used forever to love, obey, and glorify our Maker; and then you will see what sin is, which disables and perverts it.
How excellent, and high, and holy a work are we created for and called to! And should we defile the temple of God? And should we serve the devil in filthiness and folly when we should receive, and serve, and magnify our Creator?
Direction 6. Think well what pure and sweet delights a holy soul may enjoy from God, in his holy service; and then you will see what sin is, which robs him of these delights, and prefers fleshly lusts before them.
O how happily might we perform every duty, and how fruitfully might we serve our Lord, and what delight should we find in his love and acceptance, and the foresight of everlasting blessedness if it were not for sin; which brings down the soul from the doors of heaven to wallow with swine in the mire!
Direction 7. Bethink you what a life it is which you must live forever, if you live in heaven; and what a life the holy ones there now live; and then think whether sin, which is so contrary to it, be not a vile and hateful thing.
Either you would live in heaven, or not. If not, you are not those I speak to. If you would, you know that there is no sinning; no worldly mind, no pride, no fleshly lust or pleasures there. Oh, did you but see and hear one hour how those blessed spirits are taken up in loving and magnifying the glorious God in purity and holiness, and how far they are from sin, it would make you loathe sin ever after, and look on sinners as insane men wallowing naked in their dung. Especially, to think that you hope yourselves to live forever like those holy spirits; and therefore hate all sin.
Direction 8. Look but to the state and torment of the damned, and think of the difference between holy angels and devils, and you may know what sin is.
Angels are pure, devils are polluted; holiness and sin do make the difference. Sin dwells in hell and holiness in heaven. Remember that every temptation is from the devil to make you like himself. Likewise every holy motion is from Christ to make you like himself. Remember when you sin, that you are learning and imitating of the devil and are so far like him, John 8:44. And the end of all is, that you may feel his pains. If hell-fire is not good then sin is not good.
Direction 9. Look always on sin as one who is ready to die, and consider how all men will judge of it at the last.
What do men in heaven say of sin? And what do men in hell say of it? And what do men at death say of it? And what do converted souls, or awakened consciences, say of it? Is it then followed with delight and fearlessness as it is now? Is it then applauded? Will any of them speak well of it? Nay, all the world speaks evil of sin in the general now, even when they love and commit it. Will you sin when you are dying?
Direction 10. Look always on sin and judgment together.
Remember that you must answer for sin before God, and angels, and all the world; and you will the better know it.
Direction 11. Look now but upon sickness, poverty, shame, despair, death, and rottenness in the grave and it may a little help you to know what sin is.
These are things within your sight or feeling; you need not faith to tell you of them. And by such effects, you have knowledge of the cause.
Direction 12. Look but upon some eminent, holy people upon earth; and upon the mad, profane, malignant world; and the difference may tell you in part what sin is.
Is there not amiableness in a holy, blameless person, who lives in love to God and man, and in the joyful hopes of life eternal? Is not a beastly drunkard or whoremonger, and a raging swearer, and a malicious persecutor a very deformed, loathsome creature? Is not the mad, confused, ignorant, ungodly state of the world a very pitiful sight? What then is the sin, which all this consists in?
Though the principal part of the cure is in turning the will to the hatred of sin, and is done by this discovery of its malignity; yet I shall add a few more directions for the executive part, supposing that what is said already has had its effect.
Direction 1. When you have found out your disease and danger, give up yourselves to Christ as the Savior and Physician of souls, and to the Holy Spirit as your Sanctifier, remembering that he is sufficient and willing to do the work which he has undertaken. It is not you that are to be saviors and sanctifiers of yourselves (unless as you work under Christ). But God who has undertaken it, takes it for his glory to perform it.
Direction 2. Yet must you be willing and obedient in applying the remedies prescribed you by Christ, and observing his directions in order to your cure. And you must not think that his remedy is too bitter, and that is too sharp; but trust his love, and skill, and care, and take it as he prescribes it, or gives it you, without any more ado. Say not, ‘It is grievous, and I cannot take it!’ For he commands you nothing but what is safe, and wholesome, and necessary. If you cannot bear his remedy think whether you can bear the fire of hell! Are humiliation, confession, restitution, mortification, and holy diligence worse than hell?
Direction 3. See that you take not part with sin; and wrangle not, or strive not against your Physician, or any that would do you good. Excusing sin, and persisting in sin, and extenuating it, and striving against the Spirit and conscience, and wrangling against ministers and godly friends, and hating reproof are not the means to be cured and sanctified. Excusing sin, and persisting in sin, and extenuating it, and striving against the Spirit and conscience, and wrangling against ministers and godly friends, and hating reproof are not the means to be cured and sanctified.
Direction 4. See that malignity in everyone of your particular sins which you can see and say is in sin in general. It is a gross deceit of yourselves, if you will speak a great deal of the evil of sin, and see none of this malignity in your pride, and your worldliness, and your passion and peevishness, and your malice and uncharitableness, and your lying, backbiting, slandering, or sinning against conscience for worldly gain. What self-contradiction is it for a man in prayer to aggravate sin and when he is reproved for it, to justify or excuse it! This is like him who will speak against treason and the enemies of the king but because the traitors are his friends and kindred, will protect, and hide and feed them.
Direction 5. Keep as far as you can from those temptations which feed and strengthen the sins which you would overcome. Lay siege to your sins, and starve them out, by keeping away the food and fuel which is their maintenance and life.
Direction 6. Live in the exercise of those graces and duties which are contrary to the sins which you are most in danger of. For grace and duty are contrary to sin, and kill it, and cure us of it as heat cures us of cold, or health of sickness.
Direction 7. Hearken not to weakening unbelief and distrust, and cast not away the comforts of God, which are your cordials and strength. It is not a frightful, dejected, despairing frame of mind which is fittest to resist sin; but it is the encouraging sense of the love of God, and thankful sense of grace received (with a cautious fear).
Direction 8. Be always suspicious of carnal self-love, and watch against it. For that is the fortress of sin, and the common patron of it; ready to draw you to it, and ready to justify it. We are very prone to be partial to our own sins. Our own passions, our own pride, our own censures, or backbitings, or injurious dealings, our own neglects of duty seem small, excusable, if not justifiable things to us. Whereas we could easily see the faultiness of all these in another, especially in an enemy. But we should be best acquainted with our own selves and sins and therefore hate our own sins most.
Direction 9. Bestow your first and chief labor to kill sin at the root. Cleanse the heart, which is the fountain; for out of the heart come the evils of the life. Know which are the master-roots; and expend your greatest care and industry to mortify these. They are especially these: 1. Ignorance. 2. Unbelief. 3. Inconsiderateness. 4. Selfishness and pride. 5. Fleshliness, in pleasing a brutish appetite, lust, or fantasy. 6. Senseless hard-heartedness and sleepiness in sin.
Direction 10. Account the world and all its pleasures, wealth, and honors, no better than indeed they are, and then Satan will find no bait to catch you. Esteem all as dung with Paul, Philippians 3:8. No man will sin and sell his soul for that which he accounts but as dung.
Direction 11. Keep up above in heavenly thoughts. Then your souls will be always in the light, and as in the sight of God, and taken up with those businesses and delights which put them out of relish with the baits of sin.
Direction 12. Let Christian watchfulness be your daily work. Nourish a preserving, though not a distracting and discouraging fear.
Direction 13. Take heed of the first approaches and beginnings of sin. Oh how great a matter does a little of this fire kindle! And if you fall, rise quickly by sound repentance, whatever it may cost you.
Direction 14. Make God’s word your only rule and labor diligently to understand it.
Direction 15. And in doubtful cases, do not easily depart from the unanimous judgment of the generality of the most wise and godly of all ages.
Direction 16. In doubtful cases be not passionate or rash, but proceed deliberately, and prove things well, before you fasten on them.
Direction 17. Be acquainted with that sin which you are most inclined to; and what sin also your calling or living situation leave you most open to, that there your watch may be the stricter.
Direction 18. Keep in a life of holy order, such as God has appointed you to walk in. For there is no preservation for stragglers who keep not rank and file, but forsake the order which God commands them. And this order lies principally in these points: 1. That you keep in union with the universal church. Separate not from Christ’s body upon any pretense whatever. With the regenerate church hold spiritual communion, in faith, love, and holiness. 2. If you are not teachers, live under your particular, faithful pastors, as obedient disciples of Christ. 3. Let the godliest, if possible, be your familiar friends. 4. Be laborious in an outward calling.
Direction 19. Turn all Gods providences, whether of prosperity or adversity, against your sins. If he gives you health and wealth, remember he thereby obliges you to obedience, and calls for special service from you. If he afflicts you, remember that it is sin that he is offended at, and searches after; and therefore take it as his medicine, and see that you hinder not, but help on its work, that it may purge away your sin.
Direction 20. Wait patiently on Christ until he has finished the cure, which will not be until this trying life is finished. Persevere in attendance on his Spirit and means; for he will come in season, and will not tarry. “Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” Hosea 6:3. Though you have often said, “There is no healing.” Jeremiah 14:19. “He will heal your backslidings, and love you freely.” Hosea 14:4. “Unto you who fear his name, shall the Sun of righteousness arise, with healing in his wings.” Malachi 4:2. “Blessed are all those who wait for him.” Isaiah 30:18.
Thus I have given such directions as may help for humiliation under sin, or hatred of it, and deliverance from it.
– Richard Baxter
“O how love I your law!”
A godly man loves the Word
Chrysostom compares the Scripture to a garden set with ornaments and flowers. A godly man delights to walk in this garden and sweetly solace himself. He loves every branch and part of the Word:
1. He loves the counseling part of the Word, as it is a directory and rule of life. The Word is the direction sign which points us to our duty. It contains in it things to be believed and practiced. A godly man loves the directions of the Word.
2. He loves the threatening part of the Word. The Scripture is like the Garden of Eden: as it has a tree of life in it, so it has a flaming sword at its gates. This is the threatening of the Word. It flashes fire in the face of every person who goes on obstinately in wickedness. “God will wound the head of His enemies, the hairy scalp of the one who still goes on in his trespasses.” (Psalm. 68:21). The Word gives no indulgence to evil. It will not let a man halt half-way between God and sin. The true mother would not let the child be divided (1 Kings 3:26), and God will not have the heart divided. The Word thunders out threats against the very appearance of evil. It is like that flying scroll full of curses (Zech.5:1).
A godly man loves the threatenings of the Word. He knows there is love in every threat. God would not have us perish; he therefore mercifully threatens us, so that he may scare us from sin. God’s threats are like the buoy, which shows the rocks in the sea and threatens death to such as come near. The threat is a curbing bit to check us, so that we may not run in full career to hell. There is mercy in every threat.
3. He loves the consolatory part of the Word – the promises. He goes feeding on these as Samson went on his way eating the honeycomb (Judges 14:8,9). The promises are all marrow and sweetness. They are reviving to us when we are fainting; they are the conduits of the water of life. “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” (Psalm. 94:19). The promises were David’s harp to drive away sad thoughts; they were the breast which gave him the milk of divine consolation.
A godly man SHOWS his love to the Word:
(a) By diligently reading it. The noble Bereans “searched the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11). Apollos was mighty in the Scriptures (Acts 18:12). The Word is our Magna Carta for heaven; we should be daily reading over this charter. The Word shows what is truth and what is error. It is the field where the pearl of price is hidden. How we should dig for this pearl! A godly man’s heart is the library to hold the Word of God; it dwells richly in him (Col.3:16). It is reported of Melanchthon that when he was young, he always carried the Bible with him and read it greedily. The Word has a double work: to teach us and to judge us. Those who will not be taught by the Word shall be judged by the Word. Oh, let us make ourselves familiar with the Scripture! What if it should be as in the times of Diocletian, who commanded by proclamation that the Bible be burned? Or as in Queen Mary’s days, when it spelled death to have a Bible in English? By diligent conversing with Scripture, we may carry a Bible in our heads.
(b) By frequently meditating on it. “It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm. 119:97). A pious soul meditates on the truth and holiness of the Word. He not only has a few transient thoughts, but leaves his mind steeping in the Scripture. By meditation, he sucks from this sweet flower and ruminates on holy truths in his mind.
(c) By delighting in it. It is his recreation: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.” (Jer 15:16) Never did a man take such delight in a dish that he loved as the prophet did in the Word. And indeed, how can a saint choose but take great pleasure in the Word? All that he ever hopes to be worth is contained in it. Does not a son take pleasure in reading his father’s will and testament, in which he bequeaths his estate to him?
(d) By hiding it. “Your word I have hidden in my heart” (Psalm 119:11) – as one hides a treasure so that it should not be stolen. The Word is the jewel; the heart is the cabinet where it must be locked up. Many hide the Word in their memory, but not in their heart. And why would David enclose the Word in his heart? “That I might not sin against you.” As a man would carry an antidote about him when he comes near an infected place, so a godly man carries the Word in his heart as a spiritual antidote to preserve him from the infection of sin. Why have so many been poisoned with error, others with moral vice, but because they have not hidden the Word as a holy antidote in their heart?
(e) By defending it. A wise man will not let his land be taken from him but will defend his title. David looked upon the Word as his land of inheritance: “Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart.” (Psalm 119:111) And do you think he will let his inheritance be wrested out of his hands? A godly man will not only dispute for the Word but die for it: “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God.” (Rev 6:9)
(f) By preferring it above things most precious: (1) Above food: “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” (Job. 23:12). (2) Above riches: “The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of coins of gold and silver.” (Psalm. 119:72). (3) Above worldly honor. Memorable is the story of King Edward the Sixth. On the day of his coronation, when they presented three swords before him, signifying to him that he was monarch of three kingdoms; the king said, “There is still one sword missing.” On being asked what that was, he answered, “The Holy Bible, which is the ‘sword of the Spirit’ and is to be preferred before these ensigns of royalty.”
(f) By talking about it. “My tongue shall speak of your word.” (Psalm. 119:172). As a covetous man talks of his rich purchase, so a godly man speaks of the Word. What a treasure it is, how full of beauty and sweetness! Those whose mouths the devil has gagged, who never speak of God’s Word, indicate that they never reaped any good from it.
(g) By conforming to it. The Word is his compass, by which he sets his life, the balance in which he weighs his actions. He copies out the Word in his daily walk: “I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul kept the doctrine of faith, and lived the life of faith.
Question: WHY is a godly man a lover of the Word?
Answer: Because of the excellence of the Word.
1. The Word written is our pillar of fire to guide us. It shows us what rocks we are to avoid; it is the map by which we sail to the new Jerusalem.
2. The Word is a spiritual mirror through which we may see our own hearts. The mirror of nature, which the heathen had, revealed spots in their lives, but this mirror reveals spots in the imagination; that mirror revealed the spots of their unrighteousness, this reveals the spots of our righteousness. “When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” (Rom. 7:9). When the Word came like a mirror, all my opinion of self-righteousness died.
3. The Word of God is a sovereign comfort in distress. While we follow this cloud, the rock follows us. “This is my comfort in my affliction, For Your word has given me life.” (Psalm. 119:50). Christ is the fountain of living water, the Word is the golden pipe through which it runs. What can revive at the hour of death but the word of life (Phil.2:16)?
A godly man loves the word, because of the efficacy it has had upon him
A godly man loves the Word preached, which is a commentary upon the Word written. This day-star has risen in his heart, and ushered in the Sun of righteousness. The Scriptures are the sovereign oils and balsams; the preaching of the Word is the pouring of them out. The Scriptures are the precious spices; the preaching of the Word is the beating of these spices, which causes a wonderful fragrance and delight. The Word preached is “the rod of God’s strength” (Psalm. 11O:2) and “the breath of his lips” (Isa. 11:4). What was once said of the city of Thebes, that it was built by the sound of Amphius’ harp, is much more true of soul conversion. It is built by the sound of the gospel harp. Therefore the preaching of the Word is called “the power of God to salvation” (Rom1:16). By this, Christ is said now to speak to us from heaven (Heb. 12:25). This ministry of the Word is to be preferred before the ministry of angels.
A godly man loves the Word preached, partly from the good he has found by it – he has felt the dew fall with this manna – and partly because of God’s institution. The Lord has appointed this ordinance to save him. The king’s image makes the coin current. The stamp of divine authority on the Word preached makes it an instrument conducive to men’s salvation.
Let us test by this characteristic whether we are godly–Are we lovers of the Word?
1. Do we love the Word? What sums of money the martyrs gave for a few pages of the Bible! Do we make the Word our bosom friend? As Moses often had ‘the rod of God’ in his hand, so we should have ‘the Book of God’ in our hand. When we need direction, do we consult this sacred oracle? When we find corruptions strong, do we make use of this “sword of the Spirit” to hew them down? When we are disconsolate, do we go to this bottle of the water of life for comfort? Then we are lovers of the Word! But alas, how can they who are seldom conversant with the Scriptures say they love them? Their eyes begin to be sore when they look at a Bible. The two testaments are hung up like rusty armor which is seldom or never made use of. The Lord wrote the law with his own finger, but though God took pains to write, men will not take pains to read. They would rather look at a deck of cards than at a Bible.
2. Do we love the Word preached? Do we prize it in our judgments? Do we receive it into our hearts? Do we fear the loss of the Word preached more than the loss of peace and trade? Is it the removal of the ark that troubles us?
3. Again, do we attend to the Word with reverential devotion? When the judge is giving his charge from the bench, all attend. When the Word is preached, the great God is giving us his charge. Do we listen to it as to a matter of life and death? This is a good sign that we love the Word.
4. Again, do we love the holiness of the Word? (Psalm. 119:140) The Word is preached to beat down sin and advance holiness. Do we love it for its spirituality and purity? Many love the Word preached only for its eloquence and notion. They come to a sermon as to a performance (Ezek. 33:31,32) or as to a garden to pick flowers, but not to have their lusts subdued or their hearts bettered. These are like a foolish woman who paints her face but neglects her health.
5. Again, do we love the convictions of the Word? Do we love the Word when it comes home to our conscience and shoots its arrows of reproof at our sins? It is the minister’s duty sometimes to reprove. He who can speak smooth words in the pulpit, but does not know how to reprove, is like a sword with a fine hilt but without an edge. “Rebuke them sharply” (Titus 2:15). Dip the nail in oil, reprove in love, but strike the nail home. Now Christian, when the Word touches on your sin and says, “You are the man”, do you love the reproof? Can you bless God that “the sword of the Spirit” has divided between you and your lusts? This is indeed a sign of grace and shows that you are a lover of the Word.
A corrupt heart loves the comforts of the Word, but not the reproofs: “They hate the one who rebukes in the gate.” (Amos 5:1O). “Their eyes flash with fire!” Like venomous creatures that at the least touch spit poison, “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.” (Acts 7:54). When Stephen touched them to the heart, they were mad and could not endure it.
Question: How shall we know that we love the reproofs of the Word?
Answer 1: When we desire to sit under a heart-searching ministry. Who cares for medicines that will not work? A godly man does not choose to sit under a ministry that will not work upon his conscience.
Answer 2: When we pray that the Word may meet with our sins. If there is any traitorous lust in our heart, we would have it found out and executed. We do not want sin covered, but cured. We can open our breast to the bullet of the Word and say, “Lord, smite this sin.”
Answer 3: When we are thankful for a reproof: “Let the righteous strike me; It shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; It shall be as excellent oil; Let my head not refuse it. For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked.” (Psalm. 141:5). David was glad for a reproof. Suppose a man were in the mouth of a lion, and another should shoot the lion and save the man, would he not be thankful? So, when we are in the mouth of sin, as of a lion, and the minister by a reproof shoots this sin to death, shall we not be thankful? A gracious soul rejoices when the sharp lance of the Word has pierced his abscess. He wears a reproof like a jewel on his ear: “Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to an obedient ear.” (Prov. 25:12).
To conclude, it is convincing preaching which must do the soul good. A nipping reproof prepares for comfort, as a nipping frost prepares for the sweet flowers of spring.
– Thomas Watson
One of our most heinous and palpable sins is PRIDE. This is a sin which has too much sway in most ministers, but which is more hateful and inexcusable in us than in other men. Yet is it so prevalent in some of us, that it fills our discourses, it chooses our company, it forms our countenances, it puts the accent and emphasis upon our words. It fills some men’s minds with aspiring desires, and designs. It possesses them with envious and bitter thoughts against those who stand in their light, or who by any means eclipse their glory, or hinder the progress of their reputation. Oh what a constant companion, what a tyrannical commander, what a sly and subtle insinuating enemy, is this sin of pride! It goes with men to the draper, the mercer, the tailor: it chooses them their cloth, their trimming and their fashion. Fewer ministers would ruffle it out in the fashion in hair and habit, if it were not for the command of this tyrannous vice.
I wish that this were all, or the worst. But, alas, how frequently does PRIDE go with us to our study, and there sit with us and do our work! How oft does it choose our subject, and, more frequently still, our words and ornaments! God commands us to be as plain as we can that we may inform the ignorant; and as convincing and serious as we are able that we may melt and change their hardened hearts. But pride stands by and contradicts all, and produces its toys and trifles. It pollutes, rather than polishes. And, under presence of laudable ornaments, dishonors our sermons with childish things, as if a prince were to be decked in the clothes of a stage-player, or a painted fool. Pride persuades us to paint the window, that it may dim the light, and to speak to our people that which they cannot understand, to let them know that we are able to speak unprofitably. If we have a plain and cutting passage, it takes off the edge, and dulls the life of our preaching, under presence of filing off the roughness, unevenness, and excess. When God charges us to deal with men as for their lives, and to beseech them with all the earnestness that we are able; this cursed sin controls all, and condemns the most holy commands of God, and says to us, ‘What! Will you make people think you are mad? Will you make them say you rage or rave? Cannot you speak soberly and moderately?’ And thus does pride make many a man’s sermons! And what pride makes the devil makes, and what sermons the devil will make and to what end, we may easily conjecture. Though the matter is of God yet if the dress, and manner, and end is from Satan we have no great reason to expect success.
And when pride has made the sermon in the study it goes with us into the pulpit and forms our tone, animates us in the delivery, takes us off from that which may be displeasing, howsoever necessary, and sets us in pursuit of vain applause! In short, the sum of all is this pride makes men, both in studying and preaching to seek themselves, and deny God when they should be seeking God’s glory, and denying themselves! When they should inquire, “What shall I say, and how shall I say it to please God best, and do most good?” pride makes them ask, “What shall I say, and how shall I deliver it, to be thought a learned able preacher, and to be applauded by all that hear me?”
When the sermon is done, pride goes home with them, and makes them more eager to know whether they were applauded, than whether they did prevail for the saving of souls. Were it not for shame, they could find in their hearts to ask people how they liked them and to draw out their commendations. If they perceive that they are highly thought of, they rejoice, as having attained their end; but if they see that they are considered but weak or common men, they are displeased, as having missed the prize they had in view!
But even this is not all, nor the worst, if worse may be. Oh, that ever it should be said of godly ministers, that they are so set upon popular air, and on sitting highest in men’s estimation; that they envy the talents and names of their brethren who are preferred before them. As if all were taken from their praise, that is given to another; and as if God had given them his gifts to be the mere ornaments and trappings of their persons, that they may walk as men of reputation in the world, and as if all his gifts to others were to be trodden down and vilified, if they seem to stand in the way of their honor!
What! A saint, a preacher of Christ, and yet envy that which has the image of Christ, and malign his gifts for which he should have the glory, and all because they seem to hinder our glory? Is not every true Christian a member of the body of Christ, and, therefore, partaker of the blessings of the whole, and of each particular member thereof? And does not every man owe thanks to God for his brethren’s gifts, not only as having himself a part in them, as the foot has the benefit of the guidance of the eye, but also because his own ends may be attained by his brethren’s gifts, as well as by his own? For if the glory of God, and the Church’s felicity, be not his end, he is not a Christian. Will any workman malign another, because he helps him to do his master’s work? Yet, alas, how common is this heinous crime of envy and pride among the ministers of Christ! They can secretly blot the reputation of those that stand in the way of their own; and what they cannot for shame do in plain and open terms, lest they be proved liars and slanderers, they will do in generals, and by malicious intimations, raising suspicions where they cannot fasten accusations. And some go so far, that they are unwilling that anyone who is abler than themselves, should come into their pulpits, lest they should be more applauded than themselves! A fearful thing it is, that any man, who has the least of the fear of God, should so envy God’s gifts, and had rather that his carnal hearers should remain unconverted, and the drowsy unawakened, than that it should be done by another who may be preferred before him!
Yes, so far does this cursed vice prevail, that in large congregations, which have need of the help of many preachers, we can scarcely, in many places, get two of equality to live together in love and quietness, and unanimously to carry on the work of God. But unless one of them be quite below the other in abilities, and content to be so esteemed, or unless he is willing to be ruled by him, they are contending for precedency, and envying each other’s interest, and walking with coldness and jealousy towards one another, to the shame of their profession, and the great wrong of their people!
I am ashamed to think of it, that when I have been laboring to convince people of the great necessity of more ministers than one in large congregations, they tell me, “they will never agree together!” I hope the objection is unfounded as to the most, but it is a sad case that it should be true of any. Nay, some men are so far gone in pride, that when they might have an equal assistant to further the work of God, they had rather take all the burden upon themselves, though more than they can bear, than that anyone should share with them in the honor, or that their interest in the esteem of the people should be diminished!
Hence also it is, that men do so magnify their own opinions, and are as censorious of any who differ from them in lesser things, as if it were all one to differ from them, and from God. They expect that all should conform to their judgment, as if they were the rulers of the Church’s faith; and while we cry down papal infallibility, too many of us would be popes ourselves, and have all stand to our determination, as if we were infallible! It is true, we have more modesty than expressly to say so. We pretend that it is only the evidence of truth in our reasons, that we expect men should yield to, and our zeal is the truth and not for ourselves. But as that must needs be taken for truth which is ours, so our reasons must needs be taken for valid. And if they be but freely examined and be found fallacious, as we are exceedingly backward to see it ourselves, because the opinions are ours so we are angry that our errors should be disclosed to others. We so espouse the cause of our errors, as if all that were spoken against them were spoken against our persons, and we were heinously injured to have our arguments thoroughly confuted, by which we injured the truth and the souls of men.
So high indeed are our spirits, that when it becomes the duty of any one to reprove us we are commonly impatient both of the matter and the manner. We love the man who will say as we say, and be of our opinion, and promote our reputation, though in other respects, he is less worthy of our esteem. But we think that one is ungrateful to us if he differs from us and deals plainly with us as to our errors, and tells us of our faults. Especially in the management of our public arguings, where the eye of the world is upon us, we can scarcely endure any reproof or plain dealing. I know that railing language is to be abhorred, and that we should be as tender of each other’s reputation, as our fidelity to the truth will permit. But our pride makes too many of us think all men condemn us who do not admire us, yes, and admire all we say, and submit their judgments to our most obvious mistakes! We are so tender that a man can scarcely touch us but we are hurt. We are so high-minded, that a man who is not versed in complimenting and skilled in flattery, can scarcely tell how to speak to us, without us being offended at some word, which our proud hearts will fasten on and take as injurious to our honor.
I confess I have often wondered that this most heinous sin should be made so light of, and thought so consistent with a holy frame of heart and life, when far less sins are by ourselves, proclaimed to be so damnable in our people! And I have wondered more, to see the difference between godly preachers and ungodly sinners, in this respect. When we speak to drunkards, worldlings, or ignorant unconverted persons, we disgrace them to the utmost, and lay it on as plainly as we can speak, and tell them of their sin, and shame, and misery. And we expect that they should not only bear all patiently, but take all thankfully. And most that I deal with do take it patiently; and many gross sinners will commend the closest preachers most, and will say that they care not for hearing a man that will not tell them plainly of their sins. But if we speak to ministers against their errors or their sins, if we do not honor them and reverence them, and speak as smoothly as we are able to speak, yes, if we mix not commendations with our reproofs, and if the applause is not predominant, so as to drown all the force of the reproof, they take it as almost an insufferable injury!
Brethren, I know this is a sad confession, but that all this should exist among us should be more grievous to us than to be told of it. Could the evil be hidden, I would not have disclosed it, at least so openly in the view of all. But, alas, it has been so long open to the eyes of the world. We have dishonored ourselves by idolizing our honor; we print our shame, and preach our shame, thus proclaiming it to the whole world. Some will think that I speak over-charitably when I call such persons godly men, in whom so great a sin as pride does so much prevail. I know, indeed, that where it is predominant, not hated, and bewailed, and mortified in the main there can be no true godliness; and I beseech every man to exercise a strict jealousy and search of his own heart. But if all be graceless who are guilty of any pride, or of most of the fore-mentioned discoveries of pride, the Lord be merciful to the ministers of this land, and give us quickly another spirit, for grace is then a rarer thing than most of us have supposed it to be.
Yet I must needs say, that I do not mean to involve all the ministers of Christ in this charge. To the praise of Divine grace be it spoken, we have some among us who are eminent for humility and meekness, and who, in these respects, are exemplary to their flocks and to their brethren. It is their glory, and shall be their glory; and makes them truly honorable and lovely in the eyes of God and of all good men, and even in the eyes of the ungodly themselves. O that the rest of us were eminent for humility and meekness! But, alas, this is not the case with all of us.
O that the Lord would lay us at his feet in the tears of sincere sorrow for this sin of pride! Brethren, may I expostulate this case a little with my own heart and yours that we may see the evil of our sin, and be reformed! Is not pride the sin of devils, the first-born of hell? Is not pride, that wherein Satan’s image does much consist? And is pride to be tolerated in men who are so engaged against him and his kingdom as we are? The very design of the gospel is to abase us, and the work of grace is begun and carried on in humiliation. Humility is not a mere ornament of a Christian, but an essential part of the new creature. It is a contradiction in terms to be a Christian, and not humble. All who will be Christians must be Christ’s disciples, and ‘come to him to learn’; and the lesson which he teaches then, is, to ‘be meek and lowly.’ Oh, how many precepts and admirable examples has our Lord and Master given us to this end. Can we behold him washing and wiping his servants’ feet and yet be proud and self-important? Shall he converse with the poorest of the people, and shall we avoid them as below our notice, and think none but people of wealth and honor fit for our society? How many of us are oftener found in the houses of gentlemen than in the cottages of the poor who most need our help? There are many of us who would think it below us, to be daily with the most needy and beggarly people, instructing them in the way of life and salvation, as if we had taken charge of the souls of rich people only!
Alas, what is it that we have to be proud of? Is it of our body? Why, is it not made of the like materials as the brutes, and must it not shortly be as loathsome and abominable as a carcass? Is it of our graces? Why, the more we are proud of them the less we have to be proud of. When so much of the nature of grace consists in humility, it is a great absurdity to be proud of it. Is it of our knowledge and learning? Why, if we have any knowledge at all, we must know how much reason we have to be humble! And if we know more than others, how much must more reason have we to be humble. How little is it that the most learned know, in comparison of that of which they are ignorant! To know that things are past your reach, and to know how ignorant you are, one would think should be no great cause of pride. However, do not the devils know more than you? And will you be proud of that in which the devils excel you? Our very business is to teach the great lesson of humility to our people; and how unfit, then, is it that we should be proud ourselves? We must study humility, and preach humility; and must we not possess and practice humility? A proud preacher of humility is a self-condemning man.
What a sad case is it, that so vile a sin is not more easily discerned in us! Many who are most proud can see it in others and yet take no notice of the pride in them! The world takes notice of some among us that they have proud hearts, and seek for the highest place, and must be the rulers, and bear the sway wherever they are or else there is no living with them. In any dialog, they come not to search after truth, but to dictate to others who, perhaps, are fit to teach them! In a word, they have such arrogant domineering spirits, that the world sees it plainly and yet they will not see it in themselves!
Brethren, I desire to deal closely with my own heart and yours. I beseech you to consider whether it will benefit us to speak of the grace of humility while we possess it not; or to speak against the sin of pride while we indulge in it? Have not many of us cause to inquire diligently, whether sincerity will consist with such a measure of pride as we have in our hearts? When we are telling the drunkard that he cannot be saved unless he becomes temperate, and the fornicator that he cannot be saved unless he become chaste; have we not as great reason if we are proud, to say to ourselves that we cannot be saved unless we become humble? Pride, in fact, is a greater sin than drunkenness or whoredom; and humility is as necessary as sobriety and chastity.
Truly, brethren, a man may as certainly, and more slyly, make haste to hell, in the way of earnest preaching of the gospel, and seeming zeal for a holy life as in a way of drunkenness and filthiness. For what is holiness, but devotedness to God and a living to him? And what is a damnable state, but devotedness to carnal self and a living to ourselves? And does anyone live more to himself, or less to God, than the proud man? And may not pride make a preacher study for himself; and pray and preach, and live to himself even when he seems to surpass others in the work? It is not the work without the right principle and end which will prove us upright. The work may be God’s, and yet we may do it, not for God, but for ourselves! I confess I feel such continual danger on this point that if I do not watch, lest I should study for myself, and preach for myself, and write for myself, rather than for Christ I would soon miscarry; and after all, I justify not myself, when I must condemn the sin.
Consider, I beseech you, brethren, what baits there are in the work of the ministry to entice a man to self-exaltation, even in the highest works of piety. The fame of a godly man is as great a snare as the fame of a learned man. But woe to him that desires the fame of godliness, instead of godliness! ‘Truly I say unto you, they have their reward in full.’ When the times were all for learning and empty formalities, the temptation of the proud did lie that way. But now, when, through the unspeakable mercy of God, the liveliest practical preaching is in credit, and godliness itself is in credit, the temptation of the proud is to pretend to be zealous preachers and godly men. Oh, what a fine thing is it to have the people crowding to hear us, and affected with what we say, and yielding up to us their judgments and affections! What a fine thing is it to be cried up as the ablest and godliest man in the country, to be famed through the land for the highest spiritual excellencies! Alas, brethren, a little grace combined with such inducements will serve to make you join yourselves with the forwardest in promoting the cause of Christ in the world. Nay, pride may do it without grace!
Oh, therefore, be jealous of yourselves, and, amidst all your studies, be sure to study humility. ‘He who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.’ I commonly observe that almost all men, whether good or bad, do loathe the proud, and love the humble. So far indeed does pride contradict itself, that, conscious of its own deformity it often borrows the homely dress of humility? We have the more cause to be jealous of it, because it is a sin most deeply rooted in our nature and is the most stubborn sin to be extirpated from the soul.
– Richard Baxter
Addressed to the theological students at Andover, Yale, Princeton, and the Union Seminary, 1867.
Dear Brethren. You are looking forward to the most responsible, yet most honorable and delightful of all occupations. Having myself been engaged in the Christian ministry upwards of twenty-five years, I can truly say that there is no social position, no kind of work, for which I would exchange it. Whatever the emoluments, whatever the honors, which may allure in other directions, he who, with pure motives and an ordinary degree of efficiency, enters on this service will never regret the step he has taken. The work itself, and its own appropriate results, apart from all worldly considerations, will be a sufficient reward, and enough to satisfy the largest ambition. In other spheres of activity, however lawful and honorable, you may sometimes feel that the time and toil expended are too great for the end in view, even when that end is attained; much more when expended only for a hope which fails. This can never be so in the ministry. We are always a “sweet savor of Christ.” Whether men receive our testimony or not, we are still witnesses for truth, and love, and holiness, and God. It is worthwhile to acquire the largest stores of learning, to cultivate the mind to the utmost limit, to spend the longest life, and develop the greatest energy of our nature in a work like this. And when we consider the interests at stake, the possible influence which may be exerted on the present character and future destiny of one immortal soul, who will ever have cause to feel that this is a work on which too much labor can be expended—which is not worthy of the highest powers and the utmost zeal?
In accepting your kind request to address you, I feel I have no right to your consideration, except that arising from the actual experience I have had in the work to which you are looking forward. All that I can say can be said, and has often been said, by your own professors and others; and much; if not all, might occur to your own minds. But I remember well how pleasant and profitable it was to myself, when a student, to listen to those who were actually engaged in the work for which I was then being trained; just as a soldier fresh from the battlefield might interest and stimulate those who were training for the war under teachers far wiser and more learned in the art than he who had thus casually visited them, but who spoke out of the fullness of a heart roused by the scenes he had just witnessed, and the struggles in which he was bearing, however humble, a part! Thus alone do I venture to ask your indulgent attention to a few words of counsel, which it may be well to arrange under these three topics: The call to the ministry, the preparation for it, and the work of it.
I. THE CALL TO THE MINISTRY. The ministry is not a profession, but a vocation. This distinction is most important. A young man enters a profession with a view to his comfort, status, and worldly prosperity. Whether he chooses the law, or medicine, or commerce, or a military life, he is perfectly justified in calculating his chances of advancement, and the probability of securing wealth, position, fame, and at length ease and retirement. If he is disappointed in one profession, he is at liberty to change it for another. No one will blame him for securing in the best way his worldly interests.
But the ministry is a divine vocation, which we enter from a conviction of duty to God, and which, so long as we have capacity to exercise it, we are not at liberty to relinquish, whatever the worldly disadvantages which may be connected with it. If God calls us to do a certain work we must do it because He calls, and not because that work is supposed to be respectable or profitable—because it may bring us fame, or leisure, or the opportunity of indulging a literary taste. To enter the ministry, and then to abandon it, not because there is not ability and opportunity to prosecute it, but because of the obscurity, difficulties, and poverty attending it; or to prosecute it only so long as it supplies us with the temporal comforts we need, and can get nowhere else, and then to give it up when from some unexpected source, wealth pours in upon us, and renders us no longer dependent on our own exertions for the supply of our needs—this conduct shows that the ministry was entered on as a mere profession, and from secular motives.
Far different will it be in the case of one who feels he is called of God, and who says, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” Without this call let no one venture upon this work. Choose any other instead. Disappointment must certainly result. There can be no happiness in it. God’s blessing cannot rest on such an intruder upon holy ground. He is committing sacrilege. He is usurping a post to which he has no right. He is engaging to do a work for which he has not the essential qualification. He is injuring the souls of those to whom he professes to minister as the servant of God, but whom he cannot rightly teach and train when he himself is not animated by right motives in undertaking the work.
If, then, any of you are thinking of the ministry as a profession to which you are inclined by such motives as would be quite admissible in other spheres of activity, I beseech you, as you would not incur great guilt, and bring vexation on yourself and injury on others, draw back at once; and though you are here professedly studying for the ministry, seek some other avocation in which you may be both useful and happy; but enter not on this sacred office without a call from God.
What is this call? I shall say nothing that savors of enthusiasm. These are not days when we are to expect a divine revelation, as of old, when prophets were summoned from the pastures and the cornfields to carry the message of God. Still it is not difficult to discover whether or not we are called of God to this ministry. The following are elements of such a call:
First. There must be, of course, true conversion. If a man is not himself a follower of Christ, how can he persuade others to follow? Can the blind lead the blind? Can the dead become instruments of life? Whatever the learning, the eloquence, the degrees of a clergyman, if he is not himself a converted man he is not within the church at all. How, then, can he be a minister of it? He is not one of the people of God. How, then, can he be a teacher and a guide?
Secondly. There should be an earnest desire to make known the truth to others. This desire to be useful to others is an element in all real piety. But in those who are “called” to the ministry, we look for this desire in a very strong and abiding degree. Such a person is anxious to do good. The condition of sinners is a grief to him. He longs to make known Christ to perishing souls.
Thirdly. This desire will be indicated in appropriate actions. The person thus called will be “moved” by the Spirit to do what he can. He will not wait to be invested with the outward signs of office. Unconsciously he will begin his ministry before he thinks it is ministry. His hand will find to do what his heart prompts him to do, and he will do it “with his might.” In some way—by tract distribution, by sunday-school teaching, by quiet words of comfort or remonstrance to his companions, or to strangers whom he may casually meet—he will indicate this call.
Fourthly. Where it is a call, not simply to usefulness—for all Christians should have this—but to the ministerial office, there will be the possession of the requisite natural gifts. God calls no one to an office for which he is not qualified. The work of the ministry at the present day is not one for which every zealous Christian is fitted. There must be some intellectual power to keep up with the age, and to contend with varied forms of error. There must be some power of speech to arrest attention. A bishop must be “apt to teach.” The aptitude required in one actually engaged in the work, is not to be expected in one who is only preparing for it; but there are natural gifts which must exist in order to be cultivated. Many young men, with pure motives, have entered on the ministry and failed, because destitute of those natural faculties of mind and speech which are necessary for the exercise of the ministerial office.
Fifthly. There should be the concurrent testimony of wise friends. Let those who know the candidate well, counsel him faithfully. We are bad judges in our own case, especially when our desires are strongly in favor of a particular course. But if wise, kind, conscientious friends, who have opportunities of judging of the character and the talents of the aspirant to the ministry, consider that, after due training, he might be well qualified for the ministry, then let him take another step in advance. This further step might be taken in response to the act of the church of which he has been a member, sending him, with their sanction, to some school of the prophets; or, in the absence of this, in response to the invitation of the authorities of such school.
Finally. Opportunity to exercise the ministry confirms the call to it. The call of a Christian church to become its pastor, their acknowledgment of the candidate’s qualifications—this is the best outward ratification of the inward call of God. All may be summed up under these three essentials—desire, ability, opportunity. A pure desire thus to serve God, the possession of the necessary ability, the opportunity afforded by Providence and in the desire of the church to accept the service offered—these three are a sufficient warrant for the hope that we are called of God to the ministry. If any of you have reason to doubt that the two former exist in your case, I beseech you to pause before you proceed.
Nothing is more important for your future comfort than a solid assurance you are doing right in undertaking this office. Examine yourselves as to your motives. Are you seeking the ministry because of the ease, or the income, or the popularity, or the status it may give you? Or are you seeking it for the opportunity it will afford of making known Christ, and saving the souls of men? You are not asked to be indifferent altogether to other considerations, but what is it which weighs most with you? Would you accept the ministry for its own sake only? If God gives you a comfortable income, with popularity and social influence, you may receive this thankfully, and use it all for Him. But supposing He does not give it; would you accept the ministry itself as a greater boon than all these adventitious circumstances? Would you rather be a minister of Christ with none of those advantages, than possess all those advantages in some other pursuit?
I well remember how, during many months, my own mind was painfully exercised on this subject. I shared the ambition of youth. I loved mental pursuits. I admired oratory in others. The ministry, as a profession, was most attractive to me. On this account I feared it was not to me a divine vocation. I almost wished that books and oratory had no charm for me, so that I might be certain that my motives were pure. Yet I did earnestly long to be useful, and this was my chief motive. During many months previous to entering college, I earnestly prayed, saying, “If Your presence go not with me, carry me not up hence.” And I sought advice from several friends. At length my mind was relieved by this counsel: “If you had no relish for mental pursuits, this would show you were not qualified for a work which requires such pursuits; therefore your natural tastes confirm the evidence of a divine call, if only you desire the ministry chiefly for its true ends, and not because of this congeniality between some of its duties and your mental tastes.” And then, when I came to the assurance that although I desired whatever was congenial to natural taste, and pleasing to a youthful ambition, yet that I would rather exercise the ministry in a secluded village, or down in a coal-mine, than enjoy literary leisure, and rank, and fame in any other pursuit, then it was I ventured to go forward.
And so I say to you, Be sure your motives are right and pure—that you seek the ministry for its own sake, and not for its adventitious circumstances; otherwise only vexation, disappointment, and remorse are before you. But if with a pure purpose you wish to devote yourselves to this ministry, and thus far have reason to hope you are called to it by God, then diligently avail yourselves of the advantages of your college life to prepare for the exercise of that ministry hereafter. This leads me to ask you to listen to a few remarks on
II. THE PREPARATION FOR THE MINISTRY. You are at college chiefly for the cultivation of the mind and the acquisition of knowledge. To this, therefore, at present, your energies should be chiefly directed. You may have very little time hereafter for these pursuits. You may be thrown, as I was, very early in your ministry, into the midst of some large population, making incessant demands on your time. God may manifestly give you work to do in the field of your holy warfare, which may disarrange all your plans for the prosecution of a studious life, and for attaining eminence in any branch of learning. The present is your golden opportunity; and on the mental proficiency attained during your college career will greatly depend the mental power you will be able to employ in your subsequent ministry. Do not be diverted, then, by trifles from your present duty. Work hard as students that you may work efficiently as ministers. And do not too curiously inquire what special advantage this or that study may prove to you in your sacred calling. Leave the selection of those studies to more experienced and better judges. The amount of learning stored up is not so important as the culture of your mental powers, and the habits of attention, discrimination, reasoning, and perseverance you will acquire. Resolve, then, to be eminent as students.
But do not, meanwhile, forget you are ministers. Some have done this. They have lost sight of the object while cultivating the means. They have become scholars, and ceased to be missionaries; good classics, but bad teachers; eminent mathematicians, but negligent pastors; sound theologians, but dull preachers. Many have entered college warm-hearted and zealous workers for Christ, who have left it cold critics and heartless philosophers. It would have been well for some men that colleges had not existed. In a passion for learning, in ambition for literary degrees, they have gradually lost their first love for Christ. Let it not be so with you. Study hard; but study for the ministry. Study hard; but remember you are here especially as the consecrated servants of Christ.
Therefore, pray hard. Cultivate your personal piety. Do not be tempted to neglect private prayer and the daily devout reading of the Bible. Do not cease to “speak one to another” concerning your personal relations to the Savior and the great work for which you are preparing. There is no necessity that diligence in study should divert your thoughts from the great object of that study, whatever the immediate subject before you. Is it mathematics? Study diligently, that, by clearness of thought and correct reasoning, you may be the better able, hereafter, to explain and defend the gospel. Is it classics? Study diligently, that, by familiarity with the laws of language, you may be the better able to interpret the Scriptures, and to enforce their lessons. Is it metaphysics? Study hard, that you may better know the powers and susceptibilities of the human mind, to influence which for God is to be your great employment. Is it science or history? Study hard, that you may the better illustrate one department of God’s government by references to others. Thus will your diligence as students be promotive of your ministerial spirit; not diverting you from your great object, but helping you to keep that object in view. For in every classroom you will be animated by the holy passion of saving souls; feeling that, instrumentally, the more successful you are as students, the more useful you will be when you exercise the powers cultivated in these halls of learning.
I would also suggest that, during your college course, you keep yourselves in practice as evangelists. Every week visit some of the poor and the sick. Conduct cottage meetings. Go together in bands of half a dozen, and hold open-air services, at which each can speak for five or ten minutes. If the opportunity is presented, preach. But do not labor to produce elaborate or eloquent discourses. If you choose, take some great model as a study of style, but do not victimize a congregation by exhibiting your poor imitation in their presence. And do not, while students spend much time in making sermons. Your present duty is to cultivate your powers, so that you may make good sermons hereafter. Much time spent at college in making sermons is generally wasted, and the sermons themselves useless.
When you preach, be as simple and natural as possible. Let your sermons be the result of feeling and prayer rather than of elaborate composition; and let your topics be the great simple truths of the gospel, rather than any speculative or peculiar theme. You will thus be far better appreciated in your occasional ministrations as students, and your appropriate studies will not be interrupted.
Let me especially recommend you, while at college, to cultivate extemporaneous speech. There are occasions when sermons may be read with advantage. But habitual reading in the pulpit is very prejudicial to impression and usefulness. What effect would political speeches exert on great meetings if they were read? Would a lawyer be likely to get verdicts from juries if he read his appeal for his client? So preaching, to be effective, must, for the most part, be an address spoken, and not a composition read. Some people can be more effective with a manuscript than without, but these cases are very rare. Besides, the time required so to write out sermons as that they shall be legible for pulpit delivery, is very great, and will often interfere with the pastor’s other duties. He is sometimes so unexpectedly occupied with pressing engagements, or so indisposed for the labors of composition, that he cannot prepare his manuscript in time for the service, and thus great anxiety and difficulty may result. But if he is able to express his thoughts extemporaneously, he will be spared much unnecessary toil, will have more time for other departments of ministerial labor, and be more effective as a preacher. This habit should be acquired at college. Discussion classes are useful in this respect. Students might also, in private, cultivate this faculty. Whatever the difficulty, it will yield to persevering effort.
Thus improve to the utmost this season of ministerial training, and as its close draws near, do not be hindered in your present duties by anxious thoughts respecting your future settlement. Leave that to God. Lose none of the advantages, neglect none of the work, of today by taking thought of tomorrow. Up to the last day of college life do well the work of college, and then commit yourself to God as regards your sphere of labor. Make no conditions with Him. Be ready to go wherever it may seen that Providence directs. Do not be ambitious to take an important charge at once. It might crush your energies, by excessive demands on them, before they are matured. You may gain a higher degree eventually by beginning lower than might be within your grasp. Be simply anxious to do the will of God, and He will show you what it is His will that you should do. “Commit your way unto the Lord, and He will direct your steps.”
III. THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY. The ministry has many duties, but the chief of all is preaching the gospel. This is God’s principal instrument for the conversion of sinners, and the building up of His church. To this your chief attention should be directed. Neglect no other method of usefulness; but, above all, labor and pray that in the pulpit you may be “apt to teach,” and “workmen needing not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Do you ask what is the end of preaching? Is it to display your own learning, or genius, or eloquence? You will not think so if you are divinely called to the ministry. What is it but to expound and enforce the truths of the gospel, to lead men to repentance towards God, and to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ? Do not confound theology with Christ. Do not confound the doctrine of justification with the Justifier. It is possible to preach orthodox sermons, from which shall be absent, not indeed the name of Jesus, but Jesus Himself. Let Him be alpha and omega in your addresses. Try to set Him forth, so that your hearers may see, admire, love Him. Often may discourses be heard which are full of sound Christian doctrine; but they are cold, dry, formal, hard, and repulsive. It is Jesus Himself who is to subdue the hearts of men.
Never forget that you are ministers of the gospel. You are not merely philosophers, or moralists, but ambassadors of mercy from a God of love; and your great business is to make known that mercy which is revealed to us by Christ, “who died for our sins.” Preaching must always be defective when it is not the preaching of the gospel, since this is its very essence. A discourse without Christ may be a good lecture, or essay, or argument, but it cannot be a good sermon; for it is no sermon at all, in the true sense of the term. I do not mean that no topic is to be treated of in the pulpit but the death of Christ for our sins and our justification by faith. Every holy lesson of the Bible is to have its place in a course of pastoral teaching—its true and proportionate place. A truth which is subordinate may become an error by exaggeration, and by undue prominence. But every truth has its claims to attention. Yet every truth must be viewed in relation to the great central truth of salvation by Christ.
Is it said that you cannot always introduce the gospel when you are speaking on the varied truths collateral with it? As well might you say that you cannot study some particular planet of our solar system, and also refer to the sun. The fact is, you cannot properly study any one planet, and leave out some reference to that central orb which regulates all the motions of that planet, and from which that planet derives all its light. So the great truth of salvation by a crucified Savior is the center of the Christian system, and while there are a multitude of revolving planets, all demanding attention, not one of these can be understood when viewed apart from that great central “Sun of Righteousness.”
An anecdote is related of the great Andrew Fuller which illustrates this point. A young minister, who had preached in his presence and was anxious for his approval, asked the learned divine what he thought of his sermon. “It was carefully prepared, well thought out, and well delivered; but, sir, there was no gospel in it.” “No, sir,” replied the youth; “but then the subject did not lead to it.” “Not lead to it?” said Andrew Fuller; “there is not a by-lane in this country that does not lead out into the king’s highway.”
The gospel must not only be preached, but preached so as to be understood and felt. The effect of a sermon is immediate, or it is nothing. A book is different. You may read a paragraph and not understand it; but you can refer to it again and again, until the meaning becomes clear. Not so with a sermon. If it is not understood and felt as you utter it, your hearers cannot go back to reconsider what you said, nor can you pause while they do this, nor can you repeat what you said. It is idle to pretend that you have prepared something so profound and clever that it requires deep thought and mature meditation properly to appreciate it. A spoken address is for the ear, for the ear at the moment, for conviction at once, for producing assent and emotion at once; and if it fails in this, as a sermon it fails entirely.
Remember of what class of people an ordinary congregation is composed. There may be a few people of eminent genius or learning, a few professional men, accustomed to continued and abstract thought. But the majority are people actively engaged in daily toils, whether as merchants and tradesmen, or in factories, or in the occupations of the house and the family. Many are people unaccustomed to any severe taxing of their intellectual powers. Many are weighed down with trouble. Many are sorrowful women, and many are young children. You have to consider them all. Should not your addresses be such that all may understand them? Suppose you went to preach to a barbarous race; would you speak to them in your own language, because you regard it superior? Of what avail would be an “unknown tongue” as an instrument of instruction? Just so we must speak so as to be understood. This is a primary condition of successful preaching.
Do not misunderstand me. I do not advocate vulgarisms in the pulpit, but I do advocate plainness of speech. Is our English Bible vulgar in its style? Is it not the purest and grandest specimen of the language? Yet how simple it is! so that, however difficult some of its mysteries, the difficulty does not arise from the obscurity of the words, but from the unavoidable profoundness of the theme. People of inferior education and intellect do not desire, are not pleased with, a vulgar style of speech. But an address may be of the very purest and most classic English, and yet perfectly simple, so that the least cultured can understand it.
Moreover, the men of highest culture also will admire sermons of this kind far more than those which are sometimes preached for their special edification. I heard lately of a person who was high in office in this country, and who was one day, contrary to his habit, late in his attendance at a Cabinet council. He said, in explanation, that on his way he had stopped for a minute to listen to a preacher who was at the time exciting much popular attention, though a man of no culture. This statesman said, “I went in just for a minute, but I could not get away; it was the best preaching I ever heard, for it drove me up into the corner of the seat, and made me feel what a sinner I was.”
Another case was recently told me. One of your clergymen was interested in the accession to his congregation of a man of great intellect and learning, and at once began to prepare discourses which he thought would be worthy of the learned hearer’s attention. After some time this gentleman went off to the ministry of another clergyman of very inferior culture, and whose sermons were remarkable for their simplicity. Surprise being expressed at the change he had made, he said, “O, I was wearied with everlasting arguments and dissertations. I have enough of that sort of thing in my own study. On Sundays I come to church for my heart to be made to feel, not to have my brain taxed.“
I can state another fact under my own experience in the old country. It was my privilege to be engaged in the erection of the church at Scarborough. While the pastorate was as yet vacant, the pulpit was occupied by various clergymen “with a view to settlement.” The chief supporter of the church was a dear friend and connection of my own�a man of some social rank and considerable mental culture. It seemed as if many of the preachers had imagined that all the congregation were of the same stamp, and that they�at least that he�would be delighted with what is called “intellectual preaching.” I know that he was utterly wearied with it. Sunday after Sunday he used to long for some simple, warm utterances of gospel truth, which came from the heart and went to the heart. When my friend came to visit Scarborough, fresh from college, but fresh from communion with his Savior, and evidently determined not to know anything but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, he was at once called to the pastorate, and has had, during many years, one of the most influential and cultured congregations of the denomination to which he belongs, the town of Scarborough being one of our most frequented and fashionable watering-places.
What all men want in church and on Sunday is to have their hearts warmed with the love of God in Christ; to be cheered amid daily troubles; to be fitted for daily duties; to be strengthened against daily temptations. They do not want elaborate essays and profound argumentations. The multitude cannot understand them, and the few do not wish them. It is a grand mistake to preach exclusively for the learned or distinguished few. If a judge or a governor comes to your church, let him come and be addressed as one of the crowd; don’t preach at the governor. If a scholar comes, don’t give him some learned treatise; he can get this from one of his own books much better done. If a learned professor comes, don’t try to show him how much, or how little, you know. Don’t you think he knows all about it much better than you? But what you can do is to send him away with fresh feelings, with renewed humility, or faith, or love, or zeal.
When your hearers go away, saying, “What a grand sermon! What an eloquent preacher!” depend upon this that you have failed. The object of preaching is not to fix attention on the preacher, but on the subject of the preaching; not to lead men to admire the servant, but to adore the Master; not to lead them to say, “What a fine discourse we have had!” but, “What a sinner I am! What a Christ I have! What must I do to be saved? Lord, what will you have me to do?”
I ask you, my brethren, not to suppose, from these remarks, that I recommend carelessness in preaching, or depreciate genius and learning. All I mean is, that the object of preaching should be to make the hearers then and there feel the power of gospel truth; and therefore that your genius and learning should be devoted to this end. Your powers are perverted when they exhibit themselves rather than Christ. Indeed, it often happens that mere smatterers are much more grandiloquent and obscure, and pass with the superficial hearers, as more learned than men of real culture. It is easy to cram big terms into a sentence. Any fool can do this. It is not so easy by plain and simple words to make great truths understood and felt, and old subjects to be ever assuming some new phase.
Cultivate learning, but do not parade it. Employ all your resources of criticism to discover the true meaning of your text, but do not waste precious time in the pulpit by giving the names and conflicting opinions of commentators. Give the results of your study, but not the process. Put forth the burning truths you have arrived at in your meditation, but do not weary your hearers with fencing them on all sides against all the subtle objections which occurred to you as conceivable. Would a man keep up the scaffolding when the house is built, just to show his ingenuity? This would be to hide the house: and thus many preachers hide the Savior.
There is no learning, no genius, no imagination, no logical power, no rhetorical art which may not be consecrated to the great work of preaching. Cultivate every power of thought and speech to the utmost, but let all these powers have this for their chief aim and glory�to make saving truths understood and felt by all people. Was Christ, as a preacher, superficial because “the common people heard Him gladly”? Was He not worthy to be listened to by the learned, because His speech was that of the multitude also, and because His illustrations were drawn from familiar scenes? Abjure, then, the false ideas too prevalent in regard to “Intellectual Preaching.” Be as intellectual, and as learned, and as eloquent as possible, but be sure that it becomes inferior intellect, and inferior learning, and inferior eloquence, when it fails in the great object to which it should be devoted.
Do not misunderstand what I say respecting simple preaching. I don’t mean that you are to preach without preparation. I don’t want to give a pretext for laziness. Read hard�think hard�if you please, write hard. Do your very best; put forth all the powers you possess. But let the object of all this effort be to make truth simple and forcible, so as to be understood and felt by all. I’ve no patience with indolent preachers, who think anything will do for the pulpit, however dreary, stale, wordy, and then, as an excuse for pouring out such shallow teaching, say it is the simplicity of the gospel! No! Do your very best every time you preach, but let your object be to exalt, not yourself, but the Savior; to save, not your reputation, but men’s souls.
The great interests at stake should forbid trifling in the pulpit. Remember you are preaching to dying men. How often there is someone before us listening to the last sermon he will ever hear! Sometimes the hearer of one Sunday is dead on the next, as was the case with a merchant in Boston, who heard me preach the other day on the words, “This day you shall be with Me in paradise,” and who was in eternity before the week was ended. But besides such cases, it is constantly happening that people are hearing their last sermon; for before the next Sunday an illness may begin from which they will not recover; or they may thenceforth neglect altogether the house of God. We may always feel that it is very probable there is someone before us whom we have the opportunity for the last time of warning against sin for the last time of directing to Christ for salvation.
Let, then, the value of the immortal soul stimulate us to zeal and fidelity. No work can be more important than to “save a soul from death.” It is worth the longest life, the largest powers, the most devoted labors. No other work suggests such motives for diligence. And “the love of Christ constrains us.” Let us then “watch for souls as those that must give account,” and strive and pray that at the great day, our Lord and Master may pronounce this benediction on us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
– Newman Hall