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own arm hath brought about our salvation. But a few years ago we were fearing a flood of Popery, which seemed to be coming with a mighty force. Often hath the Lord disappointed our enemies, and yet how little have we, who pretend to be his friends, been won over to him! Doth holiness appear more in us now, when the Lord hath so obliged us, than it did before? Are there any more praying families, more praying in secret, more giving up themselves to Christ, and endeavouring to walk so as becomes the gospel? It is to be feared things are not so. Doth not this bespeak our present state to be very unsafe? Did holiness thrive and flourish more among us, could we see more real and practical godliness, not only countenanced, but vigorously promoted, we should have better grounds to hope for England's preservation and prosperity. Could we see the spirit of holiness reviving, of profaneness perishing, more zeal for God, and more love to his ways, we should be hoping to hear of the downfall of the man of sin. Reformation is the safest way for a nation, if they expect security, and so it is for particular persons. If we would not suffer with others, we must not sin with them: we must look to our duty, and then we shall deliver our own souls. Whilst we keep our way, the angels, yea, the God of angels, will keep us; fear losing your way more than any thing; for it is sin that exposes to misery.
6 Infer. Then it greatly concerns every soul, closely and seriously to inquire, whether or not they be of the number of real saints?
Shall we hear so much of the saint's safety, and not be concerned to know whether we are like to partake of it or not? There are some in the world, that are really the people of God, whom the Lord will protect against all the rage and malice both of hell and earth; but are we of this number? One would think, that it should be every one's immediate care to turn in upon himself, and consider how it is with him? Am I under God's special care; or, am I one of his enemies? What evidence have I to prove that I belong unto the Lord? Look into thy heart; turn over the book of thy life, and the book of God; see how the case stands. These are matters of eternal importance; a mistake is more than possible, and exceedingly dangerous. Labour to understand whether or not you are sincere; whether your pretences to piety are any more than mere pretences. Doth your holiness appear in every thing you do? Is the holy and good will of God acceptable to your souls, though you cannot rise up with like readiness to the performance of all duties? Are you for the precepts as well as the
promises? Some are only for the advantages of religion, for that which is mostly for the advancement of their secular interest and worldly grandeur; but are you for those duties that have most of self-denial in them? To perform public duties, by which you may get some reputation and come off with applause, is no great matter; to come and shew yourselves in the assembly, and seem attentive an hour or two, is no great piece of difficulty; but how stand your hearts affected to those duties, which you must perform in secret, and men never know of? Some have no religion, but what every one sees or hears: these will be self-deceivers at last. If thy heart be right with God, thou wilt have frequent business with him in secret, that thou wouldest not have the dearest friend thou hast in the world privy to.
Are you for holiness at all times, whatever may be the aspect of providence? Or, are you cautious and wary, and will venture no further than may be consistent with your worldly advantage, and so as you may easily retreat? We had need be very critical and exact; we cannot be upon too sure grounds for eternity. It will not repent thee when thou comest to die, that thou hast employed thy strength to this end. Set time apart on purpose for this work; away with the trifling impertinences of time and sense, and let thy thoughts dwell upon the great concerns thou camest into the world chiefly to secure. Art thou renewed and sanctified, or rotten at heart? Art thou really holy, or an old creature in a new creature's dress? Let not thy questions be so much, "what shall I eat and drink, and wherewithal shall I be clothed ?" but, "what must I do to be saved?" How may I get my sins pardoned, and my peace made with God? Not what clothes shall I put on ? how shall I follow such a fashion? but how shall I follow the Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left me an example how I ought to walk? Be not too confident of thy state: we read of some professors famous in their day, who dropt into hell at last! May it be the lot of none here.
Secondly, The subject of the text authorizes us to reprove sharply,
1. Such as are quietly satisfied in their unrenewed state.
Those that are not yet in the way of holiness, neither are concerned about it, but are under the dominion of sin, and the power of their lusts, cannot be expected to maintain the power of godliness in their lives. Where sin reigns it makes sad work; for however it may be varnished and coloured over, it will be bitterness in the end; for wickedness and wretchedness must meet: where sin goes before, punishment will follow.
How many are there in the world, in the same state they were when they first came upon the stage; and yet are very well content? They are busily following the world, loading themselves with thick clay, providing for themselves and those that shall come after them; but the durable,riches and righteousness of Christ, never come under consideration: their religion is only on God's day, and but a very little then either; and so they go dreaming through the world, till at last they drop down into the grave, yea, and what is worse, into hell.
2. It reproves the close, self-deluding hypocrite.
It is real sanctity, and not a counterfeit show, which is the way to safety so that the hypocrite is here justly reproved. Let not any be deceived, God is not mocked; the hypocrite though he pass long unsuspected, yea, and be well thought of, yet at last will be found out. Now he can personate a saint, and can be much in the performance of duties; we see him every Lord's day at the public assembly, and there is none more devout, there is not a more serious person in all the congregation, to look upon, than he is; and yet, take off the mask which covers his deformity, and you would not think that it was the same person. You cannot escape the accurate search of God; "there is no darkness nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves: for all things are naked and opened to him, with whom we have to do:" and it is prodigious folly once to imagine, that thou shalt ever escape the righteous judgment of God; he will bring to light “every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” The Lord taketh special notice of what we do out of the sight of our fellow-creatures; this will be for the comfort of his own people, and the terror of all rotten-hearted professors.
Art thou really serious and sincere? The Lord observes and remembers all thy secret devotion, those many duties which the world never knew any thing of; and the Lord who sees in secret, will reward thee openly. It may be, thou canst sometimes get into a corner, when those of the same family know not where thou art, nor what thou art doing; there thou canst humble thyself before the Lord; there thou canst plead with him for quickening and strengthening grace; thou canst tell God what a heart thou hast, and that thou dost need his grace, and the help of his Spirit to soften it; there thou canst lament thy barrenness and unprofitableness under the means of grace, and acknowledge thy ingratitude and unkindness to the Lord Jesus Christ; there thou canst beg that God would shed abroad his love in thy heart, thou canst open thy burdened soul, and get help against thy corruptions: though men know not of
it so as to commend thee for it, yet it shall not be lost labour; the Lord sees and he will reward thee. But it is terrible to the hypocritical pretender; for the Lord knows that when he draws near him with his mouth, and honours him with his lips, his heart is far from him; he knows what spiritual impurities are within, and at last, if repentance do not take place, he will lay them open before angels and men.
3. This reproves scoffers at holiness, holy things, and holy people.
If holiness be the way to safety, then surely it is not safe to laugh at it, or those that follow it. There are some who are so far from being holy themselves, that they deride and reproach those they take to be so: these are far from being in the way of sanctity. Some cannot be merry, but it must be with scripture; if they want a little diversion, the saints must be the subject of their discourse; they can vent their profane jests upon the word of God, this is their pastime over their cups upon the ale-bench. How ready they are with their contumelious reflections; they have learnt their father's dialect, they are accusers of the brethren, their speech bewrays them to be Hellians. You know, that in ordinary, we can tell what countryman a person is by his speech, every country having almost a peculiar idiom: so it is here, these scoffers at religion by speaking the language of hell, let us understand whence they are. They have, it may be, a little wit, which they set off with a sort of an air in rhetorical raillery; and O how quick and sharp when they are upon this subject! These scoffing Ishmaelites are seated in the devil's chair, somewhat above their brethren in iniquity, as most deserving the place; and there is less ground to hope that such persons will be savingly wrought upon, who arrive at such a height in sin as to make a mock of it, and to sport with holiness, than others. Persons are got a great way towards hell, when they mock at what is serious, and that with delight. This the Lord will visit for in his due time; for he knows who they are that so dishonour him by reproaching those that are his.
4. This reproves such, as out of a design to be safe in times of danger, have left the ways of holiness.
There are abundance that follow Christ only for loaves, as he himself speaks. When there is something to be had, religion then hath many courtiers; but few will turn to, yea, few that have owned it will cleave to persecuted christianity. There are many summer Christians, who seem to be forward and zealous, when backed with abundance of outward encouragements, but when these are removed, they turn their backs and you see VOL. V. 2 H
them no more; in the warm sun they flourish a little, but when nipped with the winter of persecution, they wither and die. Where is the person that dares to be holy in spite of men and devils?
If holiness be the way to safety, surely they are out of their way, that leave it with an expectation to find safety somewhere else. Some are afraid of losing their worldly substance in times of hazard and sufferings, and rather than part with that, they will venture their souls for eternity: Demas-like, they forsake the Lord, "having loved this present world." Sometimes it is a day of trial, and the Lord doth (as it were) say, Who is on my side? When the tree is shaken, rotten fruit falls. We are told by our Lord himself in the parable of the sower, that such as "receive the seed into stony places, receive the word with joy, but not having root, they endure for a while, for when tribulation and persecution arise because of the word, by and by they are offended." Is it likely to get out of the way of danger, by going out of the way of God?" When we meet with sufferings in the way of duty, they are more easily borne, and it is some support to think, that we were acting according to the will of God, as far as we could understand it; but when we run out of the way and afflictions overtake us, and we smart for our folly, this is more close and pressing. Surely it cannot be, that they choose wisely, who incur the displeasure of the infinite God, who is a consuming fire, to avoid the consequence of man's displeasure? Is it not folly to run upon the point of a sword to avoid the scratch of a pin? That is the case here.
HOLINESS THE WAY OF SAFETY.
1 PETER III. 13.
And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?
WE now come, thirdly, to the exhortation. And here I shall address myself,