Classic Rock at its best!
Classic Rock at its best!
But why doth God impose this upon the saints, that they should pray for what he hath purposed and promised to give?
The design of God is to make every saint like Christ. This was resolved from eternity Rom. 8:29. So the father aims to conform us to Christ in his suffering, in grace, and in glory: yet so that Christ hath the pre-eminence in all. As the promises made to him were performed on his prayer to his Father, so promises made to his saints are given to them in the same way of prayer. ‘Ask of me,’ saith God to his Son, ‘and I shall give thee,’ Ps. 2:8. And the apostle tells us, ‘Ye have not because ye ask not.’ God had promised support to Christ in all his conflicts: ‘Behold my servant, whom I uphold,’ Isaiah 42:1. Yet he prays ‘with strong crying and tears,’ when his feet stood within the shadow of death. A seed is promised to him, and victory over his enemies; yet, for both these, he is at prayer now in heaven. Christ towards us acts as a king, but towards his Father as a priest. All he speaks to God is on his knee by prayer and intercession. In like manner the saints. The promise makes them kings over their lusts, conquerors over their enemies; but it makes them priests towards God, by prayer humbly to sue out those great things given in the promise.
That God may give the good things of the promise with safety to his honour. The very life of God is bound up in his glory. Now, that this his glory may be seen and displayed, is the great end he propounds both in making and ordering of the world: ‘The Lord hath made all things for himself,’ Prov. 16:4. If there were any one occurrence in the world which could no way be reducible to the glory of God, it would make the being of a deity to be questioned. But the all‑wise God hath so made, and doth so order, all his creatures with their actions, that the manifestation of his glory is the result of all. Indeed, he forceth it from some, and takes it by distress, as princes do their taxes from disobedient subjects. Thus the very wrath of his enemies shall praise him, Ps. 76:10. But he expects the saints should be active instruments to glorify him, and, like loyal loving subjects, pay him the tribute of his praise freely, with acclamations of joy and gratitude; which, that they may do, he issueth out his mercies in such a way as may best suit with this their duty. And that is to give the good things he hath purposed and promised to them upon their humble address in prayer to him. Now two ways the glory of God is secured by this means.
Prayer highly glorifies God. Prayer, is a means of worship, whereby we are to do homage to God, and give him the glory of his deity. By this we give him ‘the glory of his power.’ Prayer is a humble appeal from our impotency to God’s omnipotence. None begs that at another’s door which he can pleasure himself with at home. And if we thought not God able, we would go to another, not to him. We give him the glory of his sovereignty and dominion and acknowledge that he is not only able to procure for us what we ask, but can give us a right to, and the blessing of, what he gives. Therefore Christ closeth his prayer with, ‘Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,’ &c., as a reason why we direct our prayers to God; because he alone is the sovereign Lord that can invest us in, and give us title to, any enjoyment. By directing our prayers to God the Father, we honour him as the source and fountain of all grace and mercy. We honour the Son in presenting our prayers in his name to the Father, thereby acknowledging him the purchaser of the mercies we beg. And the Holy Ghost, he receives the honour of that assistance which we acknowledge to receive from him for the duty of prayer. For as we pray to the Father through the Son, so by the help of the Spirit.
As God is honoured in the very act and exercise of his duty duly qualified, so by it the Christian is deeply engaged, and also sweetly disposed, to praise God for, and glorify him with, the mercies he obtains by prayer.
Prayer engageth to praise God because of his mercies. In prayer we do not only beg mercy of God, but vow praise to God for the mercies we beg. Prayers are called ‘vows,’ ‘Thou, O God, hast heard my vows;’ Ps. 61:5; that is, my prayers, in which I solemnly vowed praise for the deliverance I begged. It is no prayer where no vow is included. We must not think to bind God and leave ourselves free. God ties himself in the promise to help us; but the condition of the obligation on our part, is, that we will glorify him. And upon no other terms doth God give us leave to ask any mercy at his hands. ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me,’ Ps. 50:15. Now, what a strong tie doth this lay upon the praying Christian’s heart, to use the mercies he receives holily, and to wear with thankfulness what he wins by prayer! The Christian who would be loath to be taken in a lie to man, will much more fear to be found a liar to God. ‘Surely they are my people,’ saith God; ‘children that will not lie; so he was their Saviour,’ Isa. 63:8.
Prayer is a means to dispose the heart to praise. When David begins a psalm with prayer, he commonly ends it with praise. From whence things have their original, thither they return. From the sea the riverwater comes, and no mountains can hinder, but back again to the sea it will go. That spirit which leads the soul out of itself to God for supply, will direct it to the same God with his praise. By prayer the Christian’s enjoyments are sanctified, and the mercies received by prayer, become nourishment to the saints’ graces, that corrupt and turn to noisome lusts in the prayerless sinner.
God will have his people pray for what he hath purposed and promised, to show the great delight he takes in their prayers. As a father, though he can send to his son who lives abroad the money he hath promised for his maintenance, yet let him not have it except he comes over at set times for it. And why? Not to trouble his son, but delight himself in his son’s company. God takes such content in the company of his praying saints, that to prevent all strangeness on their part, he orders it so that they cannot neglect a duty but they shall lose something by it. ‘Ye have not, because ye ask not.’ And the more they abound in prayer the more they shall with blessings. The oftener Joash had ‘smote upon the ground,’ the fuller his victory over Syria had been. As the arrows of prayer are that we shoot to heaven, so will the returns of mercy from thence be. He doth all this on a design to draw out the graces of his Spirit in his children, the voice and language of which in prayer makes most sweet melody in the ear of God.
Never was faithful prayer lost at sea. No merchant trades with such certainty as the praying saint. Some prayers indeed have a longer voyage than others; but then they come with the richer lading at last into the port. In trading, he gets most by his commodity that can forbear his money longest. So does the Christian that can with most patience stay for a return of his prayer. Such a soul shall never be ashamed of his waiting. ( I John 3:22) This little word Father, lisped forth in prayer by a child of God, has great effects.
We read of taking heaven ‘by force,’ Matt. 11:12. If ever this may be said to be done it is in prayer. This holy violence we offer to God in prayer is very pleasing to him. Surely, if it were not, he would neither help the Christian so in the work, nor reward him for it when it is done. Whereas he doth both. He helped Jacob to overcome: ‘By his strength he had power with God,’ Hosea 12:3. That is, not by his own, but by the strength he had from God. And then he puts honour upon him for the victory, ‘Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed,’ Gen. 32:28. It were easy here to expatiate into a large history of the great exploits which prayer is renowned for in holy writ. James 5:17; Isa. 37; Dan 2:18; II Sam. 15:31; Acts 12:5; John 11:41; Jonah 2:2; Joshua 10:12, 14; II Kings 20:10; Ps. 106:23; Ezek. 22:30. This is the key that hath opened and again shut heaven. It hath vanquished mighty armies, and unlocked such secrets as passed the skill of the very devil himself to find out. It hath strangled desperate plots in the very womb wherein they were conceived, and made those engines of cruelty prepared against the saints recoil upon the inventors of them; so that they have inherited the gallows which they did set up for others. At the knock of prayer, prison doors have opened, the grave hath delivered up its dead; the sea’s monster hath been made to vomit up again what it swallowed. It hath stopped he sun’s chariot in the heavens, yea made it go back. And that which surpasseth all, it hath taken hold of the Almighty, when on his full march against persons and people, and hath put him into a merciful retreat. Indeed, by the power prayer hath with God, it comes to prevail over all the rest.
He that hath a key to God’s heart cannot be shut out, or stopped at the creature’s door. Now prayer moves God and overcomes him, not by causing any change in the divine will, and making God to take up new thoughts of doing that for his people which he did not before intend. No, God is immutable, and what good he doth in time for his people he purposed before any time was. But prayer is said to more than overcome God; because he then gives, what from eternity he purposed to give upon their praying to him. For when God decreed what he would do for his saints, he also purposed that they should pray for the same. ‘I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them,’ Ezek. 36:37. Prayer’s midwifery shall be used to deliver the mercies God purposeth and promiseth. Hezekiah understood this when he calls the prophet to the church’s labour, and bids because ‘the children’—that is, deliverance —stuck in her birth, that he should therefore ‘lift up a prayer,’ Isa. 37:3, 4. And when Daniel had found the full reckoning of the promise—how long it had to go with the deliverance promised for their return from captivity—perceiving it hastened, he therefore falls hard to prayer, knowing God’s purpose to give doth not discharge us from our duty to ‘ask,’ Dan. 9:3.
(1.) By this near access to God, the soul is put the more into a holy awe and fear of that pure and piercing eye of God which he sees looking on him. It is true, God is ever near us. Pray or not pray, we cannot rid ourselves of his presence. But never hath the soul such apprehensions of his presence as when it is set before God in prayer. Now the soul speaks to God as it were mouth to mouth; and considering how holy that majesty is with whom he hath to do in prayer, he must needs reverence and tremble before him. Now the natural issue of this holy fear, what can it be but a care to approve itself to God? And this care cherishes every grace. They are carried in its arms, as the child in its nurse’s. It keeps the girdle of truth buckled close about his loins. ‘O,’ saith the soul, ‘I must either leave praying, or leave doubling and juggling with God by hypocrisy!’ It will strengthen the breastplate of holiness. It is not possible that a Christian should walk loosely all day, and be free and familiar with God at night. He that waits on the person of a prince will be careful to carry nothing about him that should be offensive to his eye;
(2.) By the soul’s near access to God in prayer, it receives sweet influences of grace from him. All grace comes from the God of grace; not only the first seed of grace, but its growth and increment; and God usually sheds forth his grace in a way of communion with his people. Now, by prayer the Christian is led into most intimate communion with God. And from communion follows communication. As the warmth the chicken finds by sitting under the hen’s wings cherisheth it, so are the saints’ graces enlivened and strengthened by the sweet influences they receive from this close communion with God. The Christian is compared to a tree, Ps. 1. And those trees flourish most, and bear sweetest fruit, which stand most in the sun. The praying Christian is, placed in the sun. He stands nigh to God, and hath, God nigh to him in all that he calls upon him for. And therefore you may expect his fruit to be sweet and ripe, when another stands as it were in the shade, and at a distance from God (through neglect of, or infrequency in, this duty), will have little fruit found on his branches, and that but green and sour. ‘Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing,’ Ps. 92:13, 14.
Prayer help to evidence the truth of grace (give us assurance), and also advances its growth.
Satan aims to make us doubt our salvation. Now, in prayer, the Christian stands at great advantage to find out the truth of his state, and that upon a double account.
Thus we see spirit of prayer is both an argument of true grace, and a means to draw out that true grace into act, whereby its truth may be the better exposed to view. A ‘spirit of grace and of supplications’ are both joined together, Zech. 12:10. The latter doth indicate the former. What is prayer but the breathing forth of that grace which is breathed into the soul by the Holy Spirit? When God breathed into man the breath of life, he became a living soul. So, when God breathes into the creature the breath of spiritual life, it becomes a praying soul. ‘Behold he prayeth,’ saith God of Paul to Ananias, Acts 9:11. As if he had said, ‘Be not afraid of him; he is an honest soul; thou mayest trust him for he prays.’ Praying is the same to the new creature as crying is to the natural. The child is not learned by art or example to cry, but instructed by nature; it comes into the world crying. Praying is not a lesson got by forms and rules of art, but flowing from principles of new life itself.
The duty of prayer, as it is a means to evidence, so to increase, grace. The praying Christian is the thriving Christian; whereas he that is infrequent or slothful in praying, is a waster. He is like one that lives at great expense, and drives little or no trade to bring wherewithal to maintain it. Now prayer helps toward the increase and growth of grace in these two ways:—1. As it draws the habits of grace into act, and exerciseth them. 2. As it sets the soul nigh to God.
(1.) Exercise is good for the body. Prayer is the saint’s exercise‑field, where his graces are breathed; as bellows to the fire, which clears the coals of those ashes that smother them.
(2.) Exercise whets the appetite to that food which must be taken before strength can be got. The hone that sets the edge on the husbandman’s scythe, helps him to mow the grass. None comes so sharp‑set to the word—which is the saint’s food to strengthen his grace—as the Christian that takes prayer in his way to the ordinance. Now, as exercise stirs up the natural heat of the body, so prayer excites this spiritual heat of love in the saint’s bosom to the word. Cornelius is an excellent instance for it. We find him hard at prayer in his house, when behold a vision that bids him send for Peter, who should preach the gospel to him—a happy reward for his devotion! Now, see what a sharp appetite this praying soul hath to the word. He upon this presently posts away messengers for Peter, and before he comes, gathers an assembly together—no doubt all of his friends that he could get. There he sits with a longing heart waiting for the preacher. As soon as ever he sees his face, he falls down at his feet, receiving him with that reverence and respect as if he had been an angel dropped out of heaven. Presently he sets Peter to work, though some may think he passed good manners in putting him to labour after so long a journey, before he had refreshed him with some collation or other; but the good man was so hungry to hear the message he brought, that he could not well pacify his soul to stay any longer, and like a man truly hunger-bit, he is ready to catch at any truth—though never so bitter—which shall be set before him. ‘Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God,’ Acts 10:33. And when the sermon is done, so savoury and sweet was the meal, that he is loath to think of parting with Peter before he gets more from him; and therefore beseeches him to stay some days with him. One sermon did but make his teeth water for another.
1) Because prayer is linked to putting on all the other armour.
2) Because of the influence that prayer hath upon all our graces.
3) Because prayer prevails with God.
The first reason is because prayer is linked to putting on all the other pieces of armour by divine appointment. He that bids us take the girdle of truth, breastplate of righteousness etc., commands also not to neglect this duty. Now what God joins we must not sever.
The second reason is taken from the influence that prayer hath upon all our graces. And that in a double respect. It will help to evidence the truth of grace, and also advance its growth. The duty of prayer, frequently and spiritually performed, will be a means to evidence the truth of our graces i.e. assure us of our salvation. Now, in prayer, the Christian stands at great advantage to find out the truth of his state, and that upon a double account.
God doth commonly reveal himself when his people are pouring out their souls to him, to open his heart to them, and to give his testimony both to their persons and graces. God hath his sealing hours, in which his Spirit comes and bears witness to his children’s state and grace. And this of prayer is a principal one. Where was it that God so marvellously dignified, and if I may so say, knighted Jacob with that new title of honour, ‘Thou shalt be called Israel,’ but in the field of prayer? What was the happy hour in which the angel knocked at Daniel’s door to let him know how God loved him? was it not when he was knocking at heaven door by his prayer? ‘At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved,’ Dan. 9:23. When got the woman of Canaan the sight of her faith, not only that it was true, but also strong—‘O woman, great is thy faith!’ but when her heart was carried forth so vehemently in prayer? Yea, Christ himself heard that miraculous voice from heaven, ‘This is my beloved Son,’ when he was lifting up his eyes in prayer to heaven, Luke 3:21.
The duty of prayer affords a demonstrative argument for the truth of that soul’s grace which spiritually performs it. The Spirit of God, when he testifies to the truth of a saint’s grace, useth to join issue with the saint’s own spirit, ‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit,’ Rom. 8:16. Now the testimony which the Christian’s own spirit gives for him, is taken from those vital acts of the new creature that operate in him—such as sincerity, godly sorrow for sin, love of holiness, and other of this nature are. Now, no way do these and other graces more sensibly discover themselves to the Christian’s view than in prayer. Here sincerity shows itself in the Christians’ plain‑heartedness to confess all his sins freely, without reservation—when there is no false box in the cabinet of the soul to lock up a darling sin in. Holy David, Ps. 32, having, ver. 1, pronounced him ‘blessed’ that had no sin imputed to him, and, ‘in whose spirit there is no guile,’ gives ver. 5, this instance of his own sincerity, that he ‘acknowledged his sin, and did not hide his iniquity;’ as also how well he sped thereby, ‘And thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.’ Again, here [i.e. in prayer] doth the Christian give vent to his heart, aching with inward grief for sin. Prayer is the channel into which godly sorrow pours forth itself, and runs down in brinish tears, while the Christian is accusing himself of, and judging himself for, his abominations, with deep shame and self‑abhorrency. In a word, here the soul’s love to holiness flames forth in his fervent vehement desires and requests for grace that can bear no denial, but even breaks for the longing it hath to it.
Thus we see spirit of prayer is both an argument of true grace, and a means to draw out that true grace into act, whereby its truth may be the better exposed to view. A ‘spirit of grace and of supplications’ are both joined together, Zech. 12:10. The latter doth indicate the former. What is prayer but the breathing forth of that grace which is breathed into the soul by the Holy Spirit? When God breathed into man the breath of life, he became a living soul. So, when God breathes into the creature the breath of spiritual life, it becomes a praying soul. ‘Behold he prayeth,’ saith God of Paul to Ananias, Acts 9:11. As if he had said, ‘Be not afraid of him; he is an honest soul; thou mayest trust him for he prays.’ Praying is the same to the new creature as crying is to the natural. The child is not learned by art or example to cry, but instructed by nature; it comes into the world crying. Praying is not a lesson got by forms and rules of art, but flowing from principles of new life itself.
The Christian’s armour will rust except it be furbished and scoured with the oil of prayer. What the key is to the watch, that [is] prayer to our graces—it winds them up and sets them agoing. In the words observe,
FIRST. The duty commanded, ‘prayer;’ with the end for which it is appointed, viz. as a help to all his graces and means to carry on his war against sin and Satan: ‘praying.’
SECOND. A directory for prayer; wherein we are instructed how to perform this duty in six distinct divisions of the subject. First. The time for prayer—‘praying always.’ Second. The kinds and sorts of prayer—‘with all prayer and supplication.’ Third. The inward principle of prayer from which it must flow—‘in the Spirit.’ Fourth. The guard to be set about the duty of prayer—‘watching thereunto.’ Fifth. The unwearied constancy to be exercised in the duty—‘with all perseverance.’ Sixth. The comprehensiveness of the duty, or persons for whom we are to pray—‘for all saints.’
‘Praying’ (Eph. 6:18).
We begin with the first, the duty in general, together with the connection it hath with the whole preceding discourse of the armour, implied in the participle —‘praying.’ That is, furnish yourselves with the armour of God, and join prayer to all these graces for you defence against your spiritual enemies. Let us take the three following branches of the subject. First. Prayer as a necessary duty to the Christian. Second. Why it is so necessary a means, with our other armour, for our defence. Third. Satan’s designs against prayer.
Prayer a necessary duty to the Christian in his spiritual warfare.
We lay down as the point deducible from what we have said the following doctrine. That prayer is a necessary duty to be performed by the Christian, and used with all other means in his spiritual warfare. This is the ‘silver trumpet,’ by the sound of which he is to alarm heaven, and call in God to his succour, Num. 10:9. The saints’ enemies fall when God riseth; and God is raised by their prayers. ‘Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered,’ Ps. 68:1. Prayer, it is a catholic (universal) duty, and means to be made use of in all our affairs and enterprises. Whatever our meal is, bread and salt are set on the board; and whatever our condition is, prayer must not be forgot. (Or as others have said , “Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath.” We can no more live but by breathing and maintain our spiritual life but by praying!-JK). As we dip all our morsels in salt, and eat them with bread; so we are to act every grace, season every enjoyment, mingle every duty, and oppose every temptation, with prayer. It hath been the constant practice of the saints in all their dangers and straits, whether from enemies within or without, from sin, devils, or men, to betake themselves to the throne of grace, and draw a line of prayer about them; accounting this the only safe posture to stand in for their defence. When God called Abraham from Haran into a strange country, where he wandered from place to place amidst strangers, who could not but have him in some suspicion —considering the train and retinue he had—and this their suspicion create many dangers to this holy man from the kings round about, it is observable what course Abraham takes for his defence when he moves from place to place. The memorable thing recorded of him is, that ‘he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord,’ Gen. 12:7, 8; 13:3, 4. This was the breastwork he raised and entrenched himself in. When he had once by prayer cast himself into the arms of God for protection, then he made account that he was in his castle. But what need Abraham have put himself so often to this trouble? Had he not the security of God’s promise when he set forth, that God would bless them that blessed him, and curse them that cursed him? And had he not faith to believe God would be a God of his word to perform what he had promised? We confess both. But neither God’s promise, nor Abraham’s faith thereon, negated his duty in prayer. The promise is given as a ground of faith, and faith as an encouraging help in prayer; but neither [are] intended to discharge us of our duty, and save us the labour of that work.
And what Abraham did, the same have all the saints ever done. The great spoils which they ever got from their enemies was in the field of prayer. If Moses sent Joshua into the valley against Amalek, himself will be on the mount to storm heaven by his prayer, while he is engaged in fight with the enemy below; and the victory it is plain was not got by Joshua’s sword, so much as Moses’ prayer. Jehoshaphat, when he had near a million of men mustered for the field, besides his garrisons that were all well appointed, yet we find him as hard at prayer as if he had not had a man on his side: ‘We know not what to do, but our eyes upon thee,’ II Chr. 20:12. Now if these worthies when they had but flesh and blood—men like themselves—to contest with, did yet fetch in their help from heaven, and make such use of prayer’s auxiliary force—and that when other helps were not wanting—lest they should be found under the neglect of an indispensable duty and prevalent means in order to their defence, how much more doth it behove the Christian, both in point of duty and prudence, to take the same course in his spiritual war against principalities and powers! For the saint’s graces, when best trained and exercised, are, without prayer, far less able to stand against Satan than they, with their military preparation, were to repel the force of men like themselves. ‘Watch and pray,’ saith our Saviour, ‘that ye enter not into temptation,’ Matt. 26:41. The not keeping this pass gave the enemy Satan a fair occasion to come in upon them. For we see, not taking Christ’s counsel, they were all, though holy men, shamefully foiled. Most of them shifted for themselves by a cowardly flight, while they left their Lord in his enemy’s hands. And he that thought to show more courage than his fellows, at last came off with deeper guilt and shame than them all, by denying his Master, who was even then owning him in the face of death, yea his Father’s wrath. And it is observable that, as they were led into temptation through their own neglect of prayer, so they were rescued and led out of it again by Christ’s prayer, which he mercifully laid in beforehand for them. ‘I have prayed…that thy faith fail not,’ Luke 22:32.
But that which above all commends this duty to us, is Christ’s own practice; who, besides his constant exercise in it, did, upon any great undertaking wherein he was to meet opposition from Satan and his instruments, much more abound in it. At his baptism, being now to enter the stage of his public ministry, and to make his way thereunto through the fierce and furious assaults of Satan—with whom he was to grapple as it were hand to hand after his forty days’ solitude—we find him at prayer, Luke 3:21. Which prayer had a present answer, heaven opening, and the Spirit descending on him, with this voice, saying, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased,’ ver. 22. And now Christ marcheth forth undauntedly to meet his enemy, who waited for him in the wilderness. Again, when he intended to commission his apostles, and send them forth to preach the gospel —which he knew would bring the lion fell and mad out of his den, as also derive the world’s wrath upon those his messengers—he first sets his disciples on praying, Matt. 9:38, and then spends the whole night himself in the same work before their mission, Luke 6:12. But above all, when he was to fight his last battle with the prince of this world, and also conflict with the wrath of his Father, now armed against him, and ready to be poured upon him for man’s sin—whose cause he had espoused—on the success of which great undertaking depended the saving or losing his mediatory kingdom, O how then did he bestir himself in prayer! It is said, ‘He prayed more earnestly.’ As a wrestler that strains every vein in his body, so he put forth his whole might, ‘with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard,’ Heb. 5:7, so that he won the field, though himself slain upon the place. The spoils of this glorious victory believers do now divide, and shall enjoy it to all eternity. And what is the upshot of all this, but to show us both the necessity and prevalency of prayer? Without this, no victory to be had, though we have our armour; but this, with that, will make us conquerors over all.
To the ministers—into your hand this sword of the word is given in an especial manner who will publicly preach the gospel. He ‘hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation,’ II Cor. 5:19.‘O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust,’ I Tim. 6:20. You are ambassadors from the great God to treat poor sinners concerning their eternal peace upon those articles which are contained in the gospel. You are his shepherds, to lead and feed his flock, and that in no other than these ‘green pastures.’ If the sheep wander, or die of the rot through thy neglect, who shall pay for the loss but the idle shepherd? Now, in order to the discharge of this your public trust, I shall only point at two duties incumbent on you both, with a reference to this word left in your hands—one to be performed in your study, the other in your pulpit.
First Duty. In your study acquaint yourselves with the word of God. That which may pass for diligence in a private Christian’s reading and search into the Scripture, may be charged as negligence upon the minister. The study of the Scriptures is not only a part of our general calling in common with him, but of our particular also, in which we are to be exercised from one end of the week to the other. The husbandman doth not more constantly go forth with his spade and mattock, to perform his day labour in the field, than the minister is to go and dig in this mine of the Scripture. It must be his standing exercise—his plodding work. Give up ourselves to the study of the word. Paul’s charge to Timothy, ‘Give attendance to reading,’ I Tim. 4:13. Follow thy book close, O Timothy, and ‘Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them,’ ver. 15. ‘That thy profiting may appear to all;’ that is, that thou mayest appear to be a growing preacher to those that hear thee. O how shall the people grow if the minister doth not? And how shall he grow, if he doth not daily drink in more than he pours out? Study and pray: pray and study again. Think not your work is done for all the week when the Sabbath is past. Take a little breath, and return to thy labour; You faithful labourers in the congregation,. Help them in their study for you, by easing them of their worldly cares for themselves.
Second Duty. In the pulpit use no other sword but this, and handle it faithfully. Deliver it, 1. Purely. 2. Freely.
(1.) Pure from error. Think it not enough your text is Scripture, but let your whole sermon be also such—I mean agreeable to it. Thou art an ambassador, and as such bound up in thy instructions. Take heed of venting thy own dreams and fancies in God’s name. ‘He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully,’ Jer. 23:28—that is, purely, without mingling it with his own dreams. Better feed thy people with sound doctrine.
(2.) Pure from passion. The pulpit is an unseemly place to vent our discontent and passions in. Beware of this strange fire. The man of God must be gentle and meek, and his words with meekness of wisdom. Be as rough to thy people’s sins as thou canst, so thou art gentle to their souls. Dost thou take the rod of reproof into thine hand? Let them see that love, not wrath, give the blow.
(3.) Pure from levity and vanity. The word of God is too sacred a thing, and preaching too solemn a work, to be toyed and played with, as is the usage of some, who make a sermon nothing but a matter of wit, and to flaunt it forth in a garish discourse. The naked sharp sword is the only way to pierce your people’s consciences, and fetch blood of their sins. ‘Because the preacher was wise,…he sought to find out acceptable words,’ Eccl. 12:9. As they were ‘acceptable words,’ so upright, ‘words of truth,’ ver. 10.
When you have claimed the promise act out thy faith on the power and truth of God for the performance of it; and that against sense and reason, which rise up to discourage thee. For, as thy faith is feeble or strong on these, so wilt thou draw little or much sweetness from the promises. The saints’ safety lies in the strength and faithfulness of God who is the promiser; but the present comfort and repose of an afflicted soul is fetched in by faith relying on God as such. Hence it is, though all believers are out of danger when in the saddest condition that can befall them, yet too many, alas! of them are under fears and dejections of spirit, because their faith acts weakly on a mighty God, timorously and suspiciously on a faithful God. ‘Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?’ Matt. 8:26. It is vital to have faith in the power and truth of the promises. And if thou meanest to do this, banish sense and reason from being thy counsellors. How came Abraham not to stagger in his faith, though the promise was so strange? The apostle resolves us: ‘He considered not his own body now dead,’ Rom. 4:19. And what made Zacharias reel? He made sense his counsellor, and thought he was too old for such news to be true. This is the bane of faith, and consequently of comfort in affliction. We are too prone to carry our faith, with Thomas, at our fingers’ ends; and to trust God no further than our hand of sense can reach.
These three, sense, reason, and faith, are distinct, and must not be confounded. Paul knew by faith, in that dismal sea-storm where all of being saved was taken away—that is, sense and reason being judges—not a man should lose his life. ‘Be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me,’ Acts 27:25. When the angel smote Peter on the side, and bade him ‘arise up quickly…and follow me,’ he did not allow sense and reason to reply and cavil at the impossibility of the thing. How can I walk that am in fetters? Or to what purpose when an iron gate withstands us? But he riseth, and his chains fall off —he follows, and the iron gate officiously opens itself to them.
Say not, poor Christian, ‘It is impossible to bear this affliction, or pass that temptation.’ Let faith follow the promise, and God will loose these knots that sense and reason tie. Luther bids, crucify that word, how? Obey the command, and ask not a reason why God enjoins it. It is necessary to bid the Christian, in great afflictions and temptations, to crush the question how shall I go through this trouble—hold out in that assault? Away with this ‘how shall I?’ Hath not the great God who is faithful given thee promises enough to ease thy heart of these needless fears and cares, in that he tells thee, ‘He will never leave thee or forsake thee, his grace shall be sufficient for thee?’ Nothing ‘shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ And a hundred more comfortable assurances from the lip of truth to stand betwixt thee and all harm. Why then dost thou trouble thyself about this improbability and that mountainous difficulty that sense and carnal reason heave up and interpose to eclipse thy comfort from thy approaching deliverance? Judge not by sense, but by faith on an omnipotent God; and these bugbears will not scare thee. It is the highest act of love, for Christ’s sake to take pleasure in those things that bring pain and shame with them. For as in mortifying the flesh we deny ourselves the satisfaction of our carnal desires, so, in the latter we deny our carnal reasonings, that would be disputing against God’s power and strength.
Plead the promises at the throne of grace. Meditation filleth the heart with heavenly matter, but prayer gives the discharge and pours it forth upon God, whereby he is implored to give the Christian his desired relief and succour. The promise is a bill or bond, wherein God makes himself a debtor to the creature. Now, though it is some comfort to a poor man that hath no money at present to buy bread with, when he reads his bills and bonds, to see that he hath a great sum owing him, yet this will not supply his present wants and buy him bread. By meditating on the promise thou comest to see there is support in, and deliverance out of, affliction. But none will come till thou commencest thy suit, and by the prayer of faith callest in the debt. ‘Your heart shall live that seek God,’ Ps. 69:32. ‘They looked unto him, and were lightened,’ Ps. 34:5. God expects to hear from you, before you can expect to hear from him. If thou restrainest prayer, it is no wonder the mercy promised is retained. Meditation, it is like the lawyer’s studying the case in order to his pleading it at the bar. When, therefore, thou hast viewed the promise, and affected thy heart with the riches of it, then ply thee to the throne of grace, and spread it before the Lord. Thus David, ‘Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope,’ Ps. 119:49.
Take some pains to sort the promises, as thou readest the Scriptures, and reduce them to their proper heads. There is great multiplicity of trials and temptations which God is pleased to exercise his saints with: ‘Many are the afflictions of the righteous,’ Ps. 34:19. And there is variety of promises provided to administer suitable comfort to their several sorrows. The Scriptures are a spiritual physic-garden, where grows an herb for the cure of every malady. Now it were of admirable use to t he Christian if he would gather some of every sort, such especially as he hath found most to affect his heart, and say this portion of Scripture is mine, and then to write such down, as the physician doth his receipts for this and that disease, by themselves. believers ought to know where to find the promises needed. The wise Christian will store himself with promises in health for sickness, and in peace for future perils. It is too late for a man to think of running home for his cloak when on his way he is caught in a storm. ‘A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished,’ Prov. 22:3.
Observe the full latitude of the promises. The covenant of grace comprehends the weak Christian as well as the strong, ‘if children, then heirs,’ Rom. 8:17. Not if children grown to this age, or that stature, but ‘if children.’ Christ hath in his family children of all sizes, some little, and others tall Christians. If thou art a child, though in the cradle, the promise is thy portion. ‘All the promises of God in him are yea, and in him amen,’ II Cor. 1:20. ‘There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,’ Rom. 8:1. See here, it is the state and relation the creature stands in, that gives him his title to the promise. Some saints have more grace from Christ than others, and so have more skill to improve these promises than their weaker brethren, whereby their present profits and incomes from the promise are greater. But they have no more interest in Christ than the other, and consequently the title of the weak Christian is as true to the promise as [that] of the strong. Shall the foot say, ‘Because I am the lowest member of the body, therefore the tongue will not speak for me, or the head take care of me?’ We will grant thee to be of the least and lowest rank of Christians; yet thou art in Christ, as the foot is in the body. And Christ hath made provision in the promise for all that are in him, they belong to all: ‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life,’ John 3:36.
Be much in meditation of the promises. Whence is it that the poor Christian is so distressed with the present affliction that lies upon him, but because he museth more on his trouble than on the promise? There is that in the promise which would recreate his spirit, if he could but fix his thoughts upon it. When the crying child once fastens on the teat, and begins to draw down the milk, then it leaves wrangling, and falls asleep at the breast. Thus the Christian ceaseth complaining of his affliction when he gets hold on the promise, and hath the relish of its sweetness upon his heart. ‘In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul,’ Ps. 94:19. The Christian in the apprehension of the present affliction or temptation that lies upon him need to settle his heart again upon the promise, and then he recovers his former peace and composure. Hence the Spirit of God sounds a retreat to the troubled thoughts of afflicted saints, and calls them off from poring on that which roils them, into God, where alone they can be quiet and at ease. ‘Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him,’ Ps. 37:7. And David, finding his soul, like the dove while flying over the waters, without all repose, calls it back into the meditation of God and his promise, as the only ark where it could find rest. ‘Return unto thy rest, O my soul,’ Ps. 116:7. Such there are, God knows, whom Satan and their own pensive hearts keep such close prisoners, that no comfortable meditation is suffered to speak or stay with them.
And again, on the other hand then the promise works effectually, when it is bound upon the Christian’s heart, when he wakes with it and walks with it. No pain he feels, no danger he fears, can pluck him from his breast; but, as Samson went on his way eating of the honeycomb, so he feeding on the sweetness of the promise. Here is a Christian that will sing when another sighs, will be able to spend that time of his affliction in praising God, which others—whose thoughts are scattered and split upon what they suffer —too commonly bestow on fruitless complaints of their misery, and discontented speeches which reflect dishonourably upon God himself. Let it be thy care therefore, Christian, to practice this duty of meditation. Invite the promise, as Abraham did the angels, Gen. 18, not to pass away till thou hast more fully enjoyed it. Yea, constrain it as the disciples did Christ, to stay with thee all the night of thy affliction. This is to ‘acquaint’ ourselves indeed with God, the ready way to be at peace. This is the way the saints have taken to raise their faith to such a pitch, as to triumph over the most formidable calamities. ‘My beloved,’ saith the spouse, ‘shall lie all night between my breasts.’ That is, when benighted with any sorrowful afflicting providence, she shall pass away the night comfortably in the meditation of his love and loveliness, his beauty and sweetness.
When the soul stands upon this Pisgah of meditation, looking by an eye of faith through the perspective of the promise upon all the great and precious things laid up by a faithful God for him, it is easy to despise the world’s love and wrath. O let us all cry out, as once David, ‘Lead me to the rock that is higher than I!’ And with him in another place, ‘Who will bring me into the strong city?…wilt no thou, O God?’ Spread thou thy sails and the Spirit will fill them with his heavenly breath. Be but thou the priest to lay the wood and sacrifice in order, and fire from heaven will come down upon it. Be thou but careful to provide fuel—gather from the promises matter for meditation, and set thy thoughts awork upon it—and the Spirit of God will kindle thy affections. ‘While I was musing,’ saith David, ‘the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue,’ Ps. 39:3. Isaac met his bride in the fields; and the gracious soul her beloved, when she steps aside, to walk with the promise in her solitary thoughts.
First: Be sure you have a right to depend on the promises. He that hath his title to the promise proved from the word to his own conscience, will not be wrangled easily out of his comfort. But how do we know we have a right to the promises?
First. Inquire whether thou art united to Christ by faith or no. The promises are not a common for swine to root in; but Christ’s sheep-walk, for his flock to feed in. ‘And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise,’ Gal. 3:29. The promise cannot be had but by taking the person of Christ in marriage. And faith is the grace by which the soul closes with Christ as he is proclaimed in the gospel. faith is called, therefore, a receiving of Christ, John 1:12. There is no doubt but thou hast often been wooed in the ministry of the word by Christ’s spokesmen, and that question hath been put to thee for Christ, which was once to Rebekah, concerning her taking Isaac to husband, ‘Wilt thou go with this man?’ They have from the word set him forth in his glories before thee, who he is, and what he brings. Thou hast heard the articles upon which he is most willing to proceed to marriage, and take thee as his beloved into his bed and bosom.
Remember he will endure no competitor or partner with him in thy affections. That thou like his law as well as his love. Christ will not be husband where he may not be master also. That thou take him for better and for worse, with his cross as well as with his crown—to suffer for him as well as to reign with him. Canst thou freely pack away thy once darling lusts to gain him? and leap out of the arms of all thy carnal delights and sinful pleasures, to be taken into his embraces? Art thou as willing he should be thy Lord, as thy love? and as content to bow to his sceptre as lie in his bosom? In a word, art thou so enamoured with him, that thou now canst not live without him, nor enjoy thyself except thou mayest enjoy him? Thy heart is wounded with the darts which his love and loveliness have shot into it, and he himself carries the balm about him which alone can heal it. Let him now require what he will at thy hands, nothing he commands shall be denied. If he bids thee leave father and father’s house, thou wilt go after him, though it be to the other end of the world. If he tells thee though must be base and poor in the world for his sake, thou art resolved to beg with him rather than reign without him, yea die for him than live without him. Come forth, thou blessed of the Lord, and put on the bracelets of the promises; they are the love-tokens which Christ’s hand deliver..
Second. Inquire what effect the promises have on thy soul. All who have right to the promises are transformed by the promise. As Satan shed his venomous seed into the heart of Eve by a promise, ‘Ye shall not surely die,’ Gen. 3:4—whereupon she presently conceived with sin, and was assimilated into the likeness of his diabolical nature, wicked as was the devil himself—so God useth the promises of the gospel—called therefore the ‘incorruptible seed’—to beget his own image and likeness in the hearts of his elect. ‘Exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature,’ II Peter 1:4, that is, be partakers of such heavenly holy qualities and dispositions as will make you like God himself. The promises of the gospel have in them a fitness, and, when by the Spirit of God applied, a virtue to purify the heart, as well as to pacify the conscience. ‘Now ye are clean,’ saith Christ to his disciples, ‘through the word which I have spoken unto you,’ John 15:3. Have the promises had a sanctifying transforming virtue upon thee? If the seal of the promise leaves not the impress of God’s image on thee, it ratifies no good to thee. If it produceth no holiness in thee, it brings no joy to thee. In a word, if the promise be not to thee a seed of grace, it is no evidence for glory. But if thou canst find it leaves the superscription of God upon thee, then it assures the love and favour of God to thee.
Third. Inquire in what posture thy heart stands to the word of command. Thou smilest on the promise, but when put in mind of thy duty to the command, then haply thy countenance is changed, and a frown sits on thy brow, as if God were some austere master that breaks his servants’ backs with heavy burdens. We have a comfortable promise, Ps. 50:15 but a guard is set about it, that no disobedient wretch should gather its sweet fruit: ‘But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do,…that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth, seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee,’ ver. 16, 17. On the other hand, if thou canst in truth say that it is not the holy command thou art offended with, but with thyself, because thou canst obey it no more perfectly—that it is not grievous to thee to keep, but break the laws of God; and, though thy foot too often slips, yet thy heart cleaves to them, and will not let thee lie where thou fallest, but up thou gettest to mend thy pace, and mind thy steps better—for thy comfort know, poor soul, this sincere respect thou hast to the commandment is a most comfortable evidence for thy true title to the promise. When David was able to vouch his love to the command he did not question his title to the promise; Ps. 119:113, there he asserts his sincere affection to the precepts: ‘I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.’ Mark, he doth not say he is free from vain thoughts, but he hates them. He likes their company no better than one would a pack of thieves that break into his house. Neither saith he that he fully kept the law; but he loved the law, even when he failed exact obedience to it. Now from this testimony his conscience brought in for his love to the law, his faith acts clearly and strongly on the promise in the next words, ‘thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word,’ Ps. 119:114.
Fourth. Concerning the promises, he that is heir to one hath right to all. May be, when thou readest that promise, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God,’ Matt. 5:8, the remainders of corruption, not yet fully mortified in thy heart, scare thee from applying it to thyself as thy portion. Hence it is we are called ‘heirs of promise,’ Heb. 6:17. Not heirs of this promise or that, but ‘of promise’—that is, of the covenant, which comprehends all the promises of the gospel. So that, as he hath hold of the man’s whole body that hath fast hold of his hand—though it be but one member of it—because it is knit to the rest, and by it he may draw the rest to him; so, if thou hast hold of any one promise thou hast hold of all other, and mayest infer thy right from this to them. And as one may draw out the wine of a whole hogshead at one tap, so may a poor soul derive the comfort of the whole covenant to himself through one promise which he is able to own and apply. ‘We know,’ saith Saint John, ‘that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren,’ I John 3:14. Eternal life is the cream and top of all covenant‑blessings. Now, a poor Christian may, upon the inward feeling of this one grace of love in his heart—being the condition annexed to this promise—know that he is in a state of life and happiness. And why? Because wherever this grace is in truth there are all other saving graces. Christ is not divided in these, and consequently he that can apply this promise hath a right to all.
I come now to give some little help, by way of direction, how the Christian may use this sword of the word for his defence against the fourth enemy and the last, but not the least—an army made up of many bands of afflictions, which from without invade, and from within distress, him. The Christian in this world stands not as you may see some houses, so fenced and shadowed with hills or woods that the wind beats but upon one side of them. No, he lies open to storms and tempests from all quarters of the heaven. We read of a strange kind of wind that at once ‘smote the four corners of the house’ in which Job’s children were. Truly, thus the Christian’s afflictions beset him round: no corner left unassaulted. And very often he is smitten on all sides at once; crossed in his estate, feeble in his body, and afflicted in his spirit all at once. And when so many seas of sorrows meet, it is no easy work for the poor Christian’s heart to stand unbroken amidst the concurrent violence of their waves. Though this is most certain, that those dejections and perturbations with which the minds of the best saints are so discomposed and ruffled, yea sometimes dismayed and distressed, cannot be charged upon any deficiency of the gospel’s principles for their support and comfort; but rather on their own impotence and unskillfulness to apply them.
So how may we use and wield this sword of the word for our defence and comfort in any affliction without, or distress of spirit from within, that may assault us. The word prepared and provided for the soul’s comfort in all its discomforts and distresses—is contained in the promises. These well studied and improved, can alone make thee a comfortable Christian. Now, if thou wouldst improve the promises, so as not to be run down and trampled upon by Satan in any day of distress that comes upon thee, but comfortably lift up thy head in hope and confidence above the waves of thy present sorrows, then hearken to what follows in a few general rules or directions, prepared for thy help.
First. Let it be thy first and chief care to get thy interest in and right to the promises cleared up. Second. Take some pains to sort the promises and reduce them to their proper heads. Third. Observe the breadth of the promises. Fourth. Be much in meditation on the promises. Fifth. Plead the promises at the throne of grace. Sixth. When thou hast sued the promise, act thy faith on the power and truth of God for the performance of it.
CPRC Men’s BS
Plot to kill Paul.
Forty Jews, local or from Asia or a mixture, it’s hard to ascertain, bound themselves under a curse to kill Paul. They believed if they failed, God would curse them because they had sworn by his name, so this was serious. The Sanhedrin were accomplices. Saul foolishly bound himself and his men similarly and even Peter invited curses when denying Christ. I did a word study on “curse/cursed” which I will append.
Paul’s sister’s son somehow heard about the plot, told Paul and then bravely told the captain, this was providence. Paul who by this time commanded some respect got the captain to listen to him. Lysias amassed a small army of 400 foot soldiers and 70 horsemen to accompany Paul to his superior, governor Felix in Caesarea some 50 miles away.
Felix was the Roman governor, based at the Roman capital. Lysias exaggerates and tells lies in the letter to make himself look good but he did disclose Paul was a Roman citizen and clearly he was fearful for his safety. He believed Paul had broken some Jewish law and commanded the Sanhedrin to come and testify.
The expedition left at 9pm as the plotters would not be expecting that. Because of the distance and numbers involved the foot soldiers returned from Antipatris (half way point) so that the horsemen and Paul could more quickly reach Caesarea. Felix asked Paul from which province he was and kept him in Herod’s courtroom in the Roman fortress.
Tertullus, a Greek orator was employed as accuser probably as the Jews spoke little Greek. He flattered Felix with lies and accused Paul of sacrilege (Jewish law), sedition and sectarianism (Roman law). The whole accusation was false without proof.
Started at the fall (Gen.3:14,17) as a result of sin the whole universe became corrupt (it’s waxing old and winding down), with weeds, disease and death, Satan especially being cursed. Then we have Cain and Canaan cursed by God. A curse is the opposite of a blessing and means defeat, ill will, disease and death to the one cursed with it being effectual by God himself (remember Mt Ebal and Gerezim in Deut. 11 and 27). Elisha and Nehemiah also cursed effectively. Proverbs e.g. (3:33) say much about cursing and of course Christ was made a curse (Gal.3:13). Interestingly the man who committed incest in 1 Cor.5 (Deut.27:20) was cursed but through repentance and re-acceptance received back into covenant blessing.
Next study (DV) Sat. July 11th we hope at my house (77 Murob Park, Ballymena) but if not by Zoom.
Subject Acts 24:10-25:6.
We are to plead the promise against sin at the throne of grace.
Direction Fourth. Plead the promise against sin at the throne of grace. He that hath law on his side, we say, may sue the king; and he that hath a promise on his side may, with a humble boldness, commence his suit with God. Precepts in the word have promises to empower the Christian with strength for his duty. Is there a command to pray? There is also a promise to enable for prayer, Zech. 12:10; Rom. 8:26. Doth God require us to give him our heart? ‘My son, give me thine heart,’ Prov. 23:26. The promise saith, ‘A new heart also will I give you,’ Ezek. 36:26. Doth he command us to mortify our corruptions? And doth he not promise, ‘Sin shall not have dominion over us?’ Rom. 6:14. Now, to obtain this promise, thou must plead and press it believingly at the throne of grace—what the precept commands, the prayer of faith begs and receives. Look, therefore, thou takest God in thy way. First besiege heaven, and then fear not overcoming sin and hell, when thou hast conquered heaven. Now thou warrest at God’s cost, and not thy own. David was a man at arms, and could handle his weapon against this enemy as well as another, yet dares not promise himself success till he hath made God his second. ‘Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me,’ Ps. 119:133. But if thou thinkest to steal a victory by the strength of thy own resolution, expect an overthrow. And it will be a mercy thou shouldst be so served; for a foil will learn thee humility for the future, but a victory would increase thy pride. And that is a sad victory, when one sin carries away the spoils which thou hast taken from another. Jehoshaphat took the right course to speed, who, though he had almost a million men he could draw into the field—and that without draining his garrisons—yet bespeaks God’s help, as if he had not a man to fight for him: ‘We have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee,’ II Chr. 20:12. Jehoshaphat, a holy humble man, was instructed. He knew a host signifieth nothing which hath not the Lord of hosts with them; and that the most valiant can find neither heart nor hand in the day of battle without his leave who made both. Nor wilt thou, Christian, be able to use thy grace in an hour of temptation, without new grace from God to excite and enforce what thou hast already received from him. And if thou expectest this from him, he expects to hear from thee. Neither speaks it God unwilling to give what he hath promised, because he pays not the debt of the promise until it be sued for at the throne of grace. No, God takes this method, only to secure his own glory in the giving, and also to greaten our comfort by receiving it in this way of prayer, which is a fit expedient to attain both.
We are to hide the word in our heart, for our defence against the temptations to sin.
Hide the word in thy heart. This was David’s preservative. ‘Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee,’ Ps. 119:11. It was not the Bible in his hand to read it; not the word on his tongue to speak of it; nor in his head to get a notional knowledge of it; but the hiding it in his heart, that he found effectual against sin. It is not meat in the dish, but [in the] stomach, that nourisheth; not physic in the glass, but taken into the body, that purgeth. Now ‘heart’ in Scripture, though it be used for all the faculties of the soul, yet, principally, it is put for the conscience, and the affections.
First. Heart in Scripture, is often put for the conscience. ‘For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things,’ I John 3:20. That is, if our conscience condemn us justly, to be sure our case is sad, because God knows by us more than we by ourselves, and can charge us with many sins that conscience is not privy to.
Now thus, Christian, labour to hide the word in thy heart—that is, in thy conscience; let it there have a throne, and it will keep thee in a holy awe.
Finally having shown how Satan tempts to sin in secret, Gurnall now exposes the bad example of others as another of Satan’s ruses.
May be thou art tempted to sin, by the example of others. Indeed, though example be an inartifical argument, yet it is of great force with many, especially if the persons quoted in favour of a sin be either the most, or thought to be the best. When most, they carry presently with them those that are false-hearted or weak-headed—as dead fishes and light straws swim with the stream; for which such, shame strikes the greatest stroke, and a multitude to bear one company in a sin, takes away the shame of it. Where all go naked, few will blush. Now, in this case, consult with the word, and it will bring thee off this temptation.
This meditation was written by Rev. James Slopsema in the February 15, 2000 issue of the Standard Bearer.
Isaiah was the prophet of God to Judah in her apostasy.
We read of this apostasy in chapter 42. Judah had trusted in graven images and said to molten images, Ye are our gods (v. 17). Not surprisingly, we find harsh words of judgment for Judah. Because of her unfaithfulness the Lord would give Judah over as spoils to robbers (vv. 22–24). This was a prophecy of the Babylonian captivity that would soon uproot Judah from the land.
Now follow words of comfort and hope. “But now saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not….”
How important these words were to Judah as she faced the harsh realities of captivity under God’s judgment.
And how important these words are today for the church and her members as she faces the harsh realities of life.
Passing through water and fire!
Water and fire speak of God’s judgment upon the wicked. Thus, for example, the world in Noah’s day was destroyed by the waters of a universal flood. This was God’s judgment upon a wicked world that had filled the cup of iniquity. In turn, the destruction of the world by the waters of the flood serve as a type or picture of the final judgment of God upon the wicked by fire (2 Pet. 3:5–7).
To pass through the waters and to walk through fire, therefore, is to live through the time of God’s judgment.
But water and fire are also connected to persecution of the church. Thus, for example, in the time of Israel’s persecution in the bondage of Egypt, Israel was required to walk through the waters of the Red Sea as Pharaoh pursued them out of the land. For their refusal to bow before Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, the three friends of Daniel were thrown into the burning, fiery furnace.
To pass through the waters and to walk through fire, therefore, is also to live under the persecution of the world.
When thou passest through the waters. When thou walkest through the fire. It’s not a matter of “if,” but of “when.” Certainly we will pass through the waters and fire of God’s judgment. For the judgment of God is upon the world in which we live. This dreadful judgment comes in the form of natural catastrophes (earthquakes, tornadoes, famine, etc.), plagues (AIDS), wars and rumors of wars, lawlessness and the breakdown of society…. The very fact that we live in the midst of an evil world under these judgments of God means that we too pass through the waters of God’s judgment upon sinful society.
But sometimes the judgment of God falls directly upon the church. For repeatedly the church and her members stray into sin. The judgment of God is also upon the unfaithfulness of his own people. This was the case with Judah in the time of Isaiah. For her departure from his word the Lord took Judah into captivity. No less is this true for the church and her members today. In judgment God has taken his word from many churches that have refused to honor it. The judgment of God also falls upon individuals and families in the church for their personal sins, judgment such as marital and family problems, poverty, sickness, etc. Through these waters of God’s judgment every one of us passes sooner or later.
But the saints must also pass through the waters and fires of persecution.
The wicked world always hates and opposes the church. For the church is Christ’s church; and the world hates this church for Christ’s sake.
Consequently, the church will always walk through the fires of persecution. The Old Testament church of Israel did. She was repeatedly attacked by the surrounding nations. And although this was often the judgment of God upon Israel for her unfaithfulness, it was also the attempt of the wicked world to destroy the church of God. Even today there are places where the church is severely persecuted for Christ’s sake. Also in this country the world attacks the church of God and her members through slander, mockery, limiting our business and career opportunities….
When thou passest through the waters….
When Old Testament Israel passed through the waters, they were often afraid. Certainly the true Israel that believed the prophecy of Isaiah concerning captivity in Babylon was afraid. What would become of the nation? What would become of God’s covenant and his promises?
We also tend to be afraid when we pass through the waters. We often fear when war looms; when we are opposed for Christ’s sake; when we see the moral decline of the nation and the consequences for the church of the future; when there is lingering, debilitating sickness; when there is death.
When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee.
What a dreadful thing, to pass through the waters alone. Imagine having to deal with war, poverty, sickness, death, and all the harsh realities of life alone! This is what the world does. They pass through the waters of God’s judgment upon their sin alone. Consequently, the waters overflow them. The fires of God’s wrath set them ablaze and burn them. In other words, they perish under the judgment and wrath of God.
But the Lord promises to go with us, his people.
When we pass through the water of God’s judgment, whether that is God’s judgment upon the world’s sin or our own, the Lord will go with us. And when we walk through the fire of affliction and persecution, we walk with the Lord at our side.
For that reason the waters will not overflow us, nor will the fire set us ablaze so that we are burned. This does not mean that we will never suffer earthly or physical loss. We may lose many things, even our physical life, as we pass through the waters. But because of the Lord’s presence we will never be overcome spiritually. As we will walk through the fires of persecution, we will never lose our faith or our salvation. As we pass through the waters of God’s judgment upon sin, we will not suffer the eternal ruin of the world.
We are safe and secure.
For the Lord our God is with us.
The Lord is he that created Jacob and formed Israel.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, calling them into being out of nothing. Part of this creative work was to form man carefully out of dust of the ground. What an astounding work! It is a work that magnifies the greatness, power, and glory of God.
In a similar manner the Lord also created and formed Israel.
He created Israel as a nation by leading them out of the bondage of Egypt and organizing them into a nation by the laws of Sinai. More importantly, by these same laws the Lord formed Israel into a spiritual nation, a covenant people. This is to be compared to the original work of creation, making something glorious out of nothing.
This great work of creating Israel as his covenant people became a reality as the Lord redeemed Israel and called her by her name.
I have redeemed thee. To redeem is to deliver from the power of another through the payment of a price. Years before, the Lord had through Moses redeemed Israel from 400 years of bondage in Israel. That redemption from Egypt’s bondage was of greatest importance in that it pointed Israel ahead to her deeper, spiritual redemption through one who would be greater than Moses, namely, Jesus Christ. Even as the Lord redeemed Israel from earthly, physical bondage through Moses, so the Lord would one day redeem the same Israel from her spiritual bondage to sin through the Christ that was to come. I have redeemed thee. Although this great redemption lay in the future, it is described as already having taken place, in order to indicate its certainty.
I have called thee by thy name.
The nation of Judah was known by the name of its first father. The father of the nation was called Jacob, meaning “heel holder,” to indicate that he was the one who sought by faith to lay hold of the birthright blessing. Later Jacob’s name was changed by God to “Israel” to indicate that Jacob had prevailed in his quest for the blessing of God.
I have called thee by thy name. Through the call of the gospel that came through the prophets the Lord made the nation that which he had called her, namely, a nation who seeks the Lord’s blessings in faith and prevails.
Indeed, the Lord had created the nation.
And so she belonged to the Lord.
Could the people ever pass through the waters alone, or walk through the fires alone? The Lord their Creator, their Redeemer, would certainly go with them.
The church today is not an entity different from Old Testament Israel but a continuation of Israel in the New Testament era.
She too has been created by the Lord and formed by his hand to be his own. This has been accomplished through the work of redemption in the blood of Jesus Christ and the great call of the gospel which forms the church into those who seek the Lord’s blessings and prevail.
The church and her members belong to the Lord. Certainly he will also go with us as we pass through the waters and walk through the fire. Nor will the waters overflow us; the fires shall not consume us.
We are safe and secure in the Creator and Redeemer who accompanies us.
We have seen how Satan tries to tempt to just one (little!) sin, now Gurnall exposes how opportunity is given to sin in secret.
Temptations to sin in secret are listed in Scripture like the gullible young man in Proverbs 7, Saul in consulting the witch, Christ in the wilderness. But Christ was victorious by the sword of the word. Take thou, Christian, therefore the same weapon up to defend thyself against the same enemy. Remember the word will tell thee that God is privy to thy most secret sins. ‘Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance,’ Psalm 90:8. He doth not only see and know them, but he sets them before him as a mark to shoot his arrows of vengeance at. So, Prov. 15:3, ‘the eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.’ As he sees when thou shuttest thy closet to pray in secret, and will reward thy sincerity; so he seeth when thou dost it to sin in secret, and will reward thy hypocrisy. He notes Cain’s bloody murder of his brother—‘Thy brother’s blood crieth,’ Gen. 4:10.
The word will inform thee of an informer that thou hast in thy own bosom—thy conscience, I mean, which goes along with thee, and is witness to all thy fine-laid plots, and what it sees it writes down, for it is a court of record. Thou canst not sin so fast but it can write after thee. And the pen with which conscience writes down our sins hath a sharp nib; it cuts deep into the very heart and soul of the sinner. The heathens, their thoughts are said to accuse them, Rom 2:15. And no torment in the world comparable to an accusing conscience. ‘The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?’ Prov. 18:14. Who? Not men, not angels, no eye affrights a sinner more than his own; it is that which he most desires to run from, but least can. Read those sad instances of Cain, Saul, and Judas, with others upon Scripture record, who have been on this rack, and thou wilt be afraid to sin where conscience stands by.
Consult ‘the word,’ and thou wilt find that God usually hath put them to shame in this world, that have promised themselves most secrecy in their sinning. It is one of God’s names to be a ‘revealer of secrets,’ Dan. 2:47. And among other secrets, he forgets not to ‘bring to light’ these ‘hidden things of darkness, I Cor. 4:5—those sins that are forged in a darker shop than others—and that often in this world. In these men speak what base thoughts they have of God, as if he were a God of the day and not of the night; therefore to vindicate this attribute, and to strike an inward fear thereof into the hearts of men, he doth dig these foxes out of their holes wherein they earth themselves, and expose their sins to the view of the world, which they thought none should have known besides themselves and their partners in the sin. Such an effect had the discovery of Ananias and Sapphira’s secret sin. ‘And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things,’ Acts 5:11, 13.
See therefore how God hath exposed men when they have sought to hide their sins, to hide them from the world’s eye. The patriarchs tried to conceal their unnatural sin against their brother. What a fair probable tale do they tell the old man their father, who believed all, and inquired no further! How true were they among themselves, though so many in the plot; that none of them should blab it out, at one time or another, was strange. How long did this sleep before discovered? And what a strange providence to bring their wickedness to light! So Gehazi played his part cunningly enough, one would think, which made him so bold to come before his master, and impudently lie to his head, not dream the least that he was privy to his sin. Yet this man is found out, and for the garments he got of Naaman by a lie, he had another given of the Lord, which he was to wear as a livery of his sin—for he was clothed with a leprosy—a garment not as others, to hide his shame, but to discover it to all the world—a garment more lasting than the two change of suits he had from the Syrian; for this lasted him all his life; neither was it then worn out, but to be put on by his children after him, II Kings 5:27. In a word, be he never such a saint, yet if he goes about to save himself from the shame of a sin by any secret plot of wickedness, he takes the direct way to bring that upon him which he contrives to keep off. Uriah’s blood was shed only as a sinful expedient to save David’s credit, that would have suffered if his folly with Bathsheba should become a town-talk. And how sped he with this his plot? Ah, poor man! all comes out to his greater shame. David shall know that God will be as tender of his own honour, as he is of his credit; ‘for thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun,’ II Sam. 12:12. Yea, David himself at last is sick of his own plot, and was not at first more studious to hide his sin, than he was afterwards willing to acknowledge it; and therefore we find him, Ps. 51, standing as it were in a white sheet, and doing voluntary penance for his sin in all the churches of God so long as the Scriptures shall be read in their assemblies to the end of the world.
Scripture answers to Satan’s false reasonings.
Sometimes Satan insinuates himself into a soul by endeavouring to make one sin appear of no account. Second. By giving an opportunity of committing a sin in secret. Third. By the example of others.
First Instance. Sometimes Satan thus insinuates himself into a soul—‘what, man, will one sin, if yielded to, so much hurt thee? One mole doth not mar the beauty of the face, nor can one sin spoil the beauty of thy soul; and it is no more than I am a suitor for. If I bade thee wallow in every puddle, thou mightst well abhor the motion; but why art thou so afraid of one spot being seen on thy garment? The best jewel hath its flaw, and the holiest saint his failing.’ Now to refel this motion, when so mannerly and modestly proposed
(1.) He that yields to one sin casts contempt upon the authority that made the whole law, and upon this account, breaks it all. ‘Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all,’ James 2:10. And he gives the reason in the next words, ‘for he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill.’ Now, if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill thou art a transgressor of the law. Not that he is guilty of all distributively. but collectively, as Estius well notes. For the law is one copulative. One commandment cannot be wronged, but all are interested in the same; as the whole body suffers by a wound given to one part: ‘God spake all these words,’ Ex. 20. They are ten words, but one law.
(2.) By allowing one sin we disarm and deprive ourselves of having a conscientious argument to defend ourselves against any other sin. He that can go against his conscience in one, cannot plead conscience against any other. For, if the authority of God awes him from one, it will from all. ‘How can I do this,…and sin against God?’ said Joseph. I doubt not but his answer would have been the same if his mistress had bid him lie for her, as now when she enticed him to lie with her. The ninth commandment would have bound him as well as the seventh. Hence the apostle exhorts not to ‘give place to the devil, Eph. 4:27—implying, that by yielding to one we lose our ground, and what we lose he gains; and let him alone to improve advantages.
(3.) Allow one sin and God will give you over to other sins. ‘Wherefore God also gave them up unto uncleanness,’ Rom. 1:24. The Gentiles gave themselves to idolatry, and God gave them up unto other beastly lusts, ver. 22. Judas’ treason was a punishment for his thievery. He allowed himself in a secret sin, and God gave him up to one more open and horrid. But,
(1.) That thou wouldst be a servant to that one sin. ‘His servants ye are to whom ye obey,’ Rom. 6:16; and consequently the devil’s servants, whose kingdom you endeavour to hold up by defending though this one castle, against God your Maker. Neither will it excuse thee to say thou intendest not so. Haply, covetousness is thy sin, and it is thy profit thou aimest at, not siding with the devil against God. Though this is not thy express end who sinnest, yet it is the end of the sin which thou committest, and of Satan that puts thee upon the work, and so will be charged upon thee at last. Ahab sold himself ‘to work evil in the sight of the Lord,’ I Kings 21:20. And yet we read not that he made any express covenant with the devil. But the meaning is, he did that which in effect amounted to no less. He knew that if he sinned he should pay his soul for it, and he would have his lust, notwithstanding he was acquainted with its price; and therefore, interpretatively, he sold his soul that he might enjoy his sin.
(2.) Thou mayest learn from the word that thou canst not be a servant to any one sin and to God at the same time. ‘No man can serve two masters; ye cannot serve God and mammon,’ Matt. 6:24. By mammon is meant one particular lust, covetousness. One body may as well have two souls, as one soul two masters. One soul hath but one love, and two cannot have the supremacy of it. I have heard, indeed, of a wretch that said, ‘He had one soul for God, and another for the devil also.’ But, if he hath one soul in hell, I am afraid he will not find another for heaven. And one sin will certainly send thee thither as a thousand. ‘Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters,’ &c., ‘shall inherit the kingdom of God.’ He doth not only exclude him that is all these, but any of these. It is certain that all men shall die, but all do not die of the same disease. And as certain all impenitent sinners shall be damned, but one is damned for one sin, and a second for another. But all meet at last in the same hell.
“Father forgive them for they know not what they do” Luke 23:34. Jesus prayed for the elect among his persecutors and killers and as a result they were forgiven and saved (many on Pentecost). Acts 5:31 “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”
Who are we to forgive? Are there conditions to forgiveness? Often we hear testimonies of people whose loved ones have been butchered, murdered by Islamists who testify they have forgiven those evil men. But are they commanded to do so? There is no doubt that every believer is to forgive a brother or sister who sins against them and repents. Luke 17:4 “And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” Clear examples are the incestuous Corinthian who repented: 2 Corinthians 2:7 “So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.” Paul’s teaching is clear: Ephesians 4:32 “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” But remember God’s forgiveness of us is, and was conditional: 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
What about enemies and unbelievers? Unconditional forgiveness? I say no! Scripture says no! Peter preached to Christ’s killers at Pentecost: Acts 2:38 “ Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Here is another clear example, the hypocrite Simon Magus: Acts 8:22 “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” Repentance and confession of sin is mandatory for God’s forgiveness and for human forgiveness, whether it be for a fellow believer or rank enemy and unbeliever. Correct me if I am wrong!
The properties of sin discovered by the word of God.
I shall content myself with three.
1. A defiling property.
2. A disturbing property.
3. A damning property.
First, therefore, Take some pains to collect out of the word the several lineaments with which the Spirit of God doth paint out the deformity of sin, that so thou mayest make it the more odious and hateful to thy thoughts. Second. Provide thyself with Scripture answers to Satan’s false reasonings. Third. Hide the word in thy heart. Fourth. Plead the promise against sin at the throne of grace.
Direction First. Take some pains to collect out of the word the several lineaments with which the Spirit of God doth paint out the deformity of sin, that so thou mayest make it the more odious and hateful to thy thoughts, when, by laying them together, thou shalt see in its true picture and portraiture—drawn by so skilful and faithful a hand. Now, that thou mayest, Christian, the better see the ugly shape of this monster sin, observe from the word of God these four particulars concerning it. First. The birth and extraction of it. Second. The names given it. Third. Its nature. And, Fourth. Its properties.
Four particulars concerning sin, taken from the word of God.
First Particular. The birth and extraction of sin. Who is its father, and from whom is it descended? The holy God disowns it. The sun can as soon beget darkness, as God, who is ‘the Father of lights,’ be the author of sin. From him comes ‘every good and perfect gift,’ James 1:17. But, O sin, whence art thou? Thou art not his creature; he neither made thee, nor ever moved any to thy production. Certainly if it were from him he would like and love it. Every one loves his own child, though never so black. Much more doth God like what is his. We find him looking back upon every day’s work of the creation, and upon all at last, pleased with what he had done, all ‘was very good,’ Gen. 1:31. But of sin what he thinks, see Deut. 7:25, 26; Prov. 6:16; Rev. 2:6, 15, where he expresseth his detestation and hatred of it, from which hatred proceed all those direful plagues and judgments thundered from the fiery mouth of his most holy law against it. Nay, not only the work, but the worker also, of iniquity, becomes the object of his hatred, Ps. 5:5. So that if God were the author of sin, he would be a hater of himself. Well, at whose door then doth God lay this brat to find a father? Surely at the devil’s: ‘Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do,’ John 8:44. And again in the same place, ‘When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.’ Sin is a brat which calls the devil both father and mother. For of himself, even of his own free will—the womb wherein it was conceived—did he beget it; and having begot it, put it out to nurse to man. And is not man, who was made to serve and enjoy the great God his Maker, highly set up, to suckle and carry this his infernal child about in his arms? Ah, poor man, whence art thou fallen? It is strange that the very remembering whose offspring thyself wert doth not strike thee into a horror, to see thy precious soul debased unto such servitude as to fulfil the lusts of that cursed spirit. Never let us spit at the witch for suffering the devil’s imps to suck on her body, while we can prostitute our souls to any of his lusts.
2. Sin’s names: If God call it folly, then there is no wisdom to be found in it. The devil indeed teacheth sinners to cover foul practices with fair names (gay today means homosexual/sodomite, termination means abortion, euthanasia means killing of the weak and frail, inclusivity means we must accept perversion etc-JK).
But canst thou be content, poor soul, to be so easily cheated? Will the fire burn thee the less, into which thou art emboldened to put thy finger, because a knave that owes thee ill tells thee that it will not hurt thee? Hear rather what the God of truth saith of sin, and by what names he calls it, and you shall find that whatever is dreaded by us, or hated, feared, or loathed, in all the world, they are borrowed, and applied to sin—the vomit of dogs; the venom of serpents; the stench of rotten sepulchres; dunghills; the deadliest diseases and sores, gangrenes, leprosies, and plague, attributed to it, II Peter 2:22; Luke 3:7; Rom. 3:13; II Tim. 2:17; I Kings 8:38; yea, hell is raked for an expression to set it out—it being compared to the very fire of hell itself, James 3:6. Now what shall be done to the thing that the great God thus loathes, and loads with such names of dishonour, thereby to signify his abhorrence of it? What? Every gracious heart will soon resolve, that he should pursue it with fire and sword, till we have executed upon it the judgement written in its utter ruin and destruction.
3. The nature of sin, as the word defines it. See its description, ‘sin is the transgression of the law,’ I John 3:4—a few words, but of weight enough to press the soul that commits it to hell, yea to press sin itself to death in the heart of a saint, if laid on with these considerations—
The third enemy we are to fight is made up of an army of lusts lodged within our own bosoms, which have Satan to head and lead them forth against us. And who that believes he hath a soul to lose or save can be unwilling to engage against this cursed combination of lusts and devils? The Romans were said, when in war with other nations, to fight for honour and glory; but against the Carthaginians for their very life and being. In this war against sin and Satan both lie at stake. This, this is the most noble war of all other.
It is noble, because just. This, without abusing the name, may be called, ‘the holy war.’ It is a noble war, because hard and difficult. This is an enemy stout and stubborn, such as will try both our skill and strength to the uttermost. Fighting with men and storming of castles is but children’s play to this encounter, where devils and lusts are to be repelled. ‘He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city,’ Prov. 16:32. ‘Better,’ because he overcomes a worse enemy, infinitely more potent. Few, alas! of the world’s swordsmen, so famed for their conquests, but have lived and died slaves to sin!—cowardly submitting the neck of their souls to draw the iron chariot of a base lust. Thus Alexander succumbed to drunkenness-JK.
You have a God on your side, who gives you the consecrated sword of his word for your defence—a weapon whose edge Satan hath already felt, and therefore trembles whenever faith draws it forth. He that made this leviathan, as is said of the other, Job 40:19, can make this his sword to approach to him, and the heart of all thy lusts also. But I forbear; my task in this place being not to excite you to, but direct you in, the management of your fight with this your enemy, and that also only by teaching you the use of this one weapon, the word of God, in order to repelling motions to sin from within, or temptations to it from Satan without.
Repeat 3-5 times if you can.
1). Let the dread of those scriptures which set forth the danger of errors and false doctrines fall upon thee, so you realise the great danger when praying to be preserved from them. Many think they shall not pay so dear for an error in judgment (doctrine) as for a sin in practice. Some even think that a man may be saved in any religion—an idea that makes them careless and profane. How comes fornication to abound so much among the Romish clergy, but because it is counted so petty a sin by them? And I wish that error and heresy—which are the fornication of the mind—were not believed to be so petty. Godly fear preserveth the soul from the infection of sin.
Now that thou mayest the more stand in fear of drinking in the poison of any corrupt and unsound doctrine, let thy mind ponder on a few scriptures, which show both their detestable, and also damning nature of them. Gal. 5:19, there heresy is called ‘a work of the flesh,’ and reckoned among those sins which shut the doors of them out of heaven; ‘they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God,’ ver. 21. They are called ‘doctrines of devils,’ I Tim. 4:1. And if they come from the devil, whither must they lead but to hell? Such as are against the fundamental principles of the gospel are inconsistent with the love and favour of God. He that ‘abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God,’ II John 9. And who, think you, shall have him that hath not God? Were there no other scripture against this kind of sin, but that one, II Peter 2:1, it were enough to strike the heretic through his loins, and make the knees of every seducer, like Belshazzar’s at the sight of the ‘handwriting on the wall,’ to knock one against the other. ‘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.’ So that if a man hath a mind to get the start of other sinners, and desires to be in hell before them, he need do no more than open his sails to the wind of heretical doctrine, and he is like to make a short voyage to hell of it; for these bring upon their maintainers ‘swift destruction.’ Nay, the Spirit of God, the more to aggravate their deplored state brings in three most dreadful instances of divine vengeance that ever was executed upon any sinners, viz. the destruction of the apostate angels from heaven to hell, the drowning of the old world, and the conflagration of Sodom and Gomorrah by raining hell, as it were, out of heaven upon them. I say, he brings these as patterns and pledges of that vengeance which shall certainly befall this kind of sinners. And by this time I hope thou wilt be warm in thy prayer against this dangerous enemy.
2). When thou hast thus possessed thy heart with the dread of being led into any corrupt opinion, then strengthen then thy faith from those comfortable scriptures which assure thee that no sincere saint shall be left to fall finally into any soul-damning error. Christ is as able for, and faithful in, his prophetic and kingly offices, as his priestly. Surely he will not have the least care of his people’s understanding, which is guide to their whole man, and is that faculty which he first practiseth upon in the work of conversion. Thou hast therefore as strong ground to believe he will preserve thee from damnable principles as damnable practices. It would be little advantage to be kept from one enemy, and left open to the will and power of another. Christ’s hedge comes round about his people. Solomon tells us, ‘The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the Lord shall fall therein,’ Prov. 22:14. And so is the mouth of the seducer, who comes with strange doctrines—whorish opinions. Satan’s design, is a trap chiefly laid to catch the saint; he would, if possible, ‘deceive the very elect.’ His greatest ambition is to spread his banners in this temple of God, and defile them whom God hath washed. But if we eye God’s intention, it is a pit he suffers to be made for hypocrites and false gospellers—such who would never heartily close with Christ and his truth. These are they whom God abhors, and therefore they are left by him to become a prey to those that go a birding for souls with their corrupt doctrines. ‘Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved; and for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness,’ II Thes. 2:10-12. It is the outward court (of professing believers) that is left to be trampled underfoot, Rev. 11:2. And in the fore-quoted place in the epistle to the Thessalonians —though he gives up hypocrites to be deceived by false teachers, he speaks comfortably to the elect, and shows that the same decree which appointed them to salvation provided also for their embracing the truth, as the necessary means leading thereunto. ‘But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.’ And if God had got possession of the head by his truth, and of the heart by his sanctifying grace, he will keep them out of Satan’s clutches.
Go, therefore, and plead the promise for thy preservation. The promise improved by faith at the throne of grace will be thy best antidote in these times of general infection. Never fear speeding when the promise bids thee ‘go and prosper.’ The mercy is granted before thou askest it; only God will have thee by prayer lay claim to it, before thou beest possessed of it. And for thy help I have set down some sweet promises of this nature, with which, if thou acquaintest thyself, thou mayest be furnished both with grounds for thy faith, and arguments for thy prayer in this case, Matt. 24:24; John 7:12; 10:5, 29; I Cor. 11:19; Phil. 3:15; I John 2:19, 20.
3). Compare scripture with scripture. False doctrines, like false witnesses, agree not among themselves. Their name may be called ‘Legion, for they are many.’ But truth is one; it is homogeneal. One scripture sweetly harmonizeth with another. Hence it is, though there were many penmen of sacred writ, and those of several ages, one after another, yet they all are said to have but one mouth; ‘As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began,’ Luke 1:70. All had one mouth, because they accord so perfectly together. The best way, therefore, to know the mind of God in one text is to lay it to another. The lapidary useth one diamond to cut another. So should we one place of Scripture to interpret another. Scriptures compared, like glasses set one against another, cast a light each to the other. ‘They (i.e. the Levites) read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading,’ Neh. 8:8. —they gave them the meaning of what they read, by the Scripture itself.
Now, in comparing scripture with scripture, be careful thou interpretest obscure places by the more plain and clear, and not the clear by the dark. Error creeps into the most shady obscure places, and there takes sanctuary. ‘Some things hard to be understood, which they that are unstable wrest.’ No wonder they should stumble in those dark and difficult places, when they turn their back on that light which plainer scriptures afford to lead them safely through. ‘He that is born of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not,’ I John 5:18. This is a dark place, which some run away with, and from it conclude there is a perfect state free from all sin attainable in this life; whereas a multitude of plain scriptures testify against such a conclusion, I Kings 8:38; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20; Job 9:20; Phil. 3:12; I John 1:8-10, with many more. So that it must be in a limited and qualified sense that he ‘that is born of God sinneth not.’ He sins not finally or comparatively, not as the carnal wretch doth. ‘And the wicked one toucheth him not,’ —not so as to transfuse his own nature and disposition into him; as the fire toucheth the iron or wood it comes near, assimilating them to its own nature. This rule of using plain scriptures to be a key for to unlock obscure, will hold in all other instances. And blessed be God, though to tame our pride he hath inserted some knotty passages, yet the necessary saving truths are of easy access even to the weakest understanding—there is enough in the plain places of Scripture to keep the weak from starving, and in the obscure to lift them above contempt of the strongest.
4). Consult with thy faithful guides (elders/minister) which God hath set over thee in his church. Though people are not to pin their faith on the minister’s sleeve, yet they are to ‘seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts,’ Mal. 2:7. Christ directs his kids for their safety, that they turn not aside into by‑paths of error, and fall not into the hands of false teachers—those cheating companions—that they go ‘go forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed…beside the shepherds’ tents,’ Song 1:8. The devil knows too well—‘send away the shepherd and he may soon catch the sheep.’ And these times prove sadly that he is not mistaken. When were people’s affections more withdrawn from their ministers? And when were their judgments more poisoned with error? Are they not such who would sooner hearken to a stranger—may be a Jesuit in a buff‑coat or with a blue apron before him? Our Saviour was so willing to satisfy his disciples concerning the doctrine he publicly preached, that in private he opened it to them more fully, so ought to be your minister.
Now the second enemy that comes forth against the Christian is the heretic or seducer, who is so much more to be feared than the former by how much it is worse to part with God’s truth than our own life; to be corrupted in our minds than to be tortured in our members; in a word, to have our souls damned by God than our bodies killed by man. If the martyrs had feared death more than heresy, they would not have leaped into the persecutors’ flames rather than consent to their doctrine. Find out the true sense and meaning of the Spirit in his word and wield it your self. Rev. 2:7. We are to listen what the Spirit saith in the word as we hear or read it. And he that hath an ear for the Spirit will not have an ear for the seducer.
Now to help thee in thy search for the sense and meaning of the word, these directions, I hope, may stand thee in some stead. First. Take heed thou comest not to the Scriptures with an unholy heart. Second. Make not thy own reason the rule by which thou measurest Scripture truths. Third. Take heed thou comest not with a judgment pre-engaged to any party or opinion. Fourth. Go to God by prayer for a key to unlock the mysteries of his word. Fifth. Compare scripture with scripture. Sixth. Consult with thy faithful guides which God hath set over thee in his church.
Take heed thou comest not to the Scriptures with an unholy heart. If ever you know the mind of God in his word, the Spirit must impart it to you. The wicked have the word of God, but the holy soul hath ‘the mind of Christ,’ I Cor. 2:16. Therefore the same apostle exhorts us that we ‘be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God,’ Rom. 12:2. And what amounts this to, but if we will have truth for our guest, and be acquainted with the mind and will of God, we must prepare a holy heart for its lodging? They commonly are taken captive by seducers who were before prisoners of their lusts, ‘and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,’ II Tim. 3:6, 7. When David would beg understanding in the word, he makes his purpose for a holy life the argument with which he urgeth God: ‘Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart,’ Ps. 119:33, 34.
Make not thy own reason the rule by which thou measurest Scripture truths. Much truth is not only above sense, for eye hath not seen them, nor ear heard them; but also above the ken of reason? being such as never ‘entered into the heart of man,’ I Cor. 2:9. Indeed the whole system of gospel truths speaks in a foreign and outlandish tongue to reason; it can make no sense of them, except faith be the interpreter. The Scriptures are like the Red Sea, through which the Israelites by faith passed safely, but the Egyptians attempting to do it, for want of that guide were drowned. This was the Sadducees’ ground on which they went for their denying the resurrection of the dead. They owned the book of Moses for the word of God, and yet denied the resurrection asserted therein; because it seemed so impossible a thing to their reason that our bodies, after so many alterations into slime and dust, should stand up in life. This their reason laughed at; for so our Saviour’s answer plainly shows, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God,’ Matt. 22:29.
When thou consultest with the word, take heed thou comest not with a judgment pre-engaged to any party and opinion. It is a just judgment of God, that such should not see the truth when it lies fair before them, but be given up to an injudicious heart, to believe the word favours their fancies, and chimes as they think. ‘I the Lord will answer him…according to the multitude of his idols: that I may take the house of Israel in their own heart,’ Eze. 14:4, 5. And when is a man taken in his own heart, if not when ensnared in the fancies and follies which his erroneous mind hath weaved?
Go to God by prayer for a key to unlock the mysteries of his word. It is not the plodding but the praying soul that will get this treasure of Scripture-knowledge. St. John got the sealed book opened by weeping, Rev. 5:5. God oft brings a truth to the Christian’s hand as a return of prayer, which he had long hunted for in vain with much labour and study; there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, Dan. 2:22. And where doth he reveal the secrets of his word but at the throne of grace? ‘From the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words,’ i.e. for thy prayer, Dan. 10:12. And what was this heavenly messenger’s errand to Daniel but to open more fully the Scripture to him? as appears by ver. 14, compared with ver. 21. This holy man had got some knowledge by his study in the word, and this sets him a praying, and prayer fetched an angel from heaven to give him more light. If ever we know the mind of God, we must be beholden to the Spirit of God for it. ‘When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth,’ John 16:13. And the Spirit is the fruit of Christ’s intercession: ‘I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter,’ &c. Now there must be a concurrence of our prayers with his intercession.
Acts 23:12-35 and 24:1-9.
The plan to kill Paul defeated.
What did some of the Jews do and what did binding themselves under a curse mean? How serious was this vow?
Who were co-conspirators?
How did they intend to execute their plan?
Who was Paul’s nephew and what did he find out? How did he know this? Does it matter?
What did Paul do immediately?
How could Paul get an audience with Claudius Lysias without difficulty?
What did the young man tell Lysias?
What admonition was he given when leaving?
What orders did Lysias give and why?
Who was Felix?
Why did Lysias write to him?
What exaggeration did he use and what falsehood? Why?
What did Lysias write regarding Paul’s status? Why was Paul not released?
Of what action did Lysias inform Felix?
Paul’s journey from Jerusalem to Caesarea.
When did the expedition leave? Why?
Why did the foot-soldiers return next day?
Why did Felix ask where Paul came from?
Where was Paul kept till his accusers arrived?
Accusations of the Jews against Paul
Who spoke for the Jews? Why?
How did Tertullus begin? Why?
Any truth in his words?
What charge was levelled at Paul? Did the Jews have the right to judge Paul according to their law?
What were the more serious charges? Whose law was he accused of violating?
Was Tertullus’ version of events true?
Did Tertullus or the Jews offer any proof for their accusations?
Thoughts from the Cross
My God and my Father, so great is my pain, the thud of the hammer, again and again.
Both my hands they have nailed, now they’re nailing my feet, but I’ll suffer it all and death will be sweet.
I went to the garden, I prayed and I wept, and all my beloved disciples, they slept.
They’re lifting me now, I can feel my flesh tear, I have no- one but you in this hour of despair.
They stand around staring, some jeer and some boo, forgive them they know not the thing that they do.
My body is screaming, each joint pulled apart, but you know dear Father, the pain in my heart.
It’s the burden of sin that I just cannot bear, but pour out your wrath on me, show them we care.
It’s finished now Father, I come to your side, and salvation to all who believe why I died.
He hangeth the earth upon nothing and sits on the circle of the earth.
Proof the earth is a sphere: article
Fortify thy faith on those promises which have an especial respect to such a condition as persecution. This is the saints’ victory over the world, even their faith.
First. Believers are at times prone to be troubled for their own persons . To meet this there is in the promises an ample provision. Acquaint thyself with those promises that concern thyself as a sufferer. Know for thy comfort, if thy strength be too weak to carry thee through them, thou shalt never be called to such hot service and hard work. The promise assures thee as much, he ‘will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able,’ I Cor. 10:13.
God considers our weakness. The Israelites cannot yet bear war, and therefore they shall not be tried with it until more hardened for it, so they were not taken by the land of the Philistines into Canaan. But if you are called into the field to encounter bloody fiery trials, the promise takes the whole care and charge of the war off thy hands: ‘When they deliver you up, take no thought’—that is, disquieting, distrustful—‘how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak,’ Matt. 10:19; and, it is ‘the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you,’ ver. 20. There is no mouth that God cannot make eloquent; no back so weak which he cannot make strong. And he hath promised to be with thee wherever thy enemies carry thee; fire and water shall not part thee from his sweet company. These promises make so soft a pillow for the saints’ heads that they have professed, many of them, never to have lain at more ease than when most cruelly handled by their merciless enemies. One dates his letter ‘from the delectable orchard his prison;’ another subscribes herself, ‘Your loving friend, as merry as one bound for heaven.’ They have been so far from pitying themselves in their sufferings, that their chief sorrow hath been, that they could be no more thankful for them. And whence had they their strength? Where drew they their joy? Had they not both from the same Spirit applying the promises to them?
Second. Believers are at times prone to be troubled for the cause of Christ which they bear testimony unto, lest that should miscarry. As for this trouble, though God takes the good-will to his cause and church very kindly, from which those thy fears arise, yet there is no need of tormenting thyself, believer, with that which is sure never to come to pass. The ark may shake, but it cannot fall; the ship of the church may be tossed, but it cannot sink, for Christ is in it, and will awake time enough to prevent its wreck. The church, that is built upon a rock, is impregnable. ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail against it,’ Matt. 16:18. It hath been oft in the sea, but never drowned; seldom out of the fire, but never consumed; sometimes swallowed up to reason, but, like Jonah in the whale’s belly, cast up again, as too heavy a charge for the strongest stomach that ever persecutor had to digest.
The faith of this hath carried the blessed martyrs to the grave, when they swam to it in their own blood with joy, because they knew the church should have the day at last, and that they left others behind in pursuit of the victory on earth, while themselves were taken out of the field to triumph in heaven. Yea some, by prophetic spirit have foretold the very time when the persecuted truths, that were then buried with so much ignominy and scorn, should have a happy resurrection and victory over their proud enemies. Thus John Huss cited his enemies to answer him a hundred years after, comforting himself, that though they then ‘burned the goose’—alluding to his own name—‘a swan’ would come in his stead, that should fill the air with his sweet singing, which was fulfilled in Luther, whose doctrine went far and near, and charmed the hearts of multitudes everywhere.
Thus both the individual believer and the church are victorious through persecution. In Christ we overcome the world.
HOW TO USE THE SWORD OF THE WORD.
‘And the sword of the Spirit,’ c. (Eph. 6:17).
1. How we are to use the spiritual sword against the persecutor. 2. Against the heretic. 3. Against the army of lusts lodged within our own bosoms. 4. Against the bands of afflictions which from without invade, from within distress, him.
We shall begin with the persecutor, the shock of his furious assault, when he breathing slaughter to the church and flock of Christ, if they will not let him trample upon all their glory, by defiling their consciences, and renouncing their faith at the lust of his imperious command.
Get clear Scripture ground for those principles and practices of thine which stir up the persecutor’s rage against thee. Remember those scriptures which teach us to dread God more and fear man less. Be sure thou givest up thy lusts to the sword of the Spirit, before thy life is in any danger from the sword of the persecutor. Fortify thy faith on those promises which have an especial respect to persecution.
Get clear Scripture grounds for those principles and practices of thine which stir up the persecutor’s rage against thee. They believe they are serving God and we are evil doers. Now thou wilt never be able to bear up under the weight of this their heavy charge except thou beest fully persuaded in thy own conscience that thou sufferest for righteousness’ sake. But if thou standest clear in thy own thoughts concerning thy cause, thou wilt easily wipe off the dirt they throw upon thee, and sweetly entertain thyself with the comfort which thy own conscience will bring to thee through the reproaches of thy enemies. Remember those scriptures which teach us to dread God more and fear man less. Every man is most loath to fall into his hands whom he fears most. So that, if God hath once gained the supremacy of thy fear, thou wilt rather skip into the hottest fire the persecutor can make, than make God thy enemy. ‘Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word,’ Ps. 119:161.‘Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell,’ Matt. 10:28. Be sure thou givest up thy lusts to the sword of the Spirit before thy life is in any danger from the sword of the persecutor. He is not likely to be free of his flesh for Christ, when called to suffer at man’s hand, that is dainty of his lusts, and cannot bear the edge of the Spirit’s sword, when he comes to mortify them. Canst thou be willing to lay down thy life for Christ, and yet keep an enemy in thy bosom out of the hand of justice, that seeks to take away the life of Christ? Persecutors tempt as well as torture, Heb. 11. Now, if thy love to the world be not mortified, it is easy to tell what choice thou wilt make, even the same that Demas did, thou wilt embrace the ‘present world,’ and leave Christ in the plain field. Or if thou shouldst through a natural stoutness bear up under sufferings, even to give thy body to be burned, rather than renounce the true religion thou professest, yet if any lust should at last be found to have been fostered by thee, thou shalt have no more thanks at Christ’s hands than he who in the law offered up an unclean beast to God. It is possible for one to die in the cause of Christ and not be his martyr. Thy heart must be holy thou sufferest with as well as the cause holy thou sufferest for. Thy behaviour must be gracious in suffering, as well as the cause just that brings thee to suffer. He alone is Christ’s martyr that suffers for Christ as Christ himself suffered. For he hath not only left us his truth to maintain to blood when called thereunto, but his example to follow also in our sufferings. ‘If when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God; for even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps;…who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not,’ I Peter 2:20, 21, 23.
This is hard work indeed, in the very fire to keep the spirit cool, and clear of wrath and revenge towards those that throw him so unmercifully into the devouring flames! But it makes him that by grace from above can do it, a glorious conqueror. Flesh and blood would bid a man call for fire from heaven, rather than mercy to fall upon them that so cruelly handle them. He that can forgive his enemy is too hard for him, and hath the better of him: because his enemy’s blows do but bruise his flesh, but the wounds that love gives pierce the soul and conscience. Thus a holy charitable spirit, by forgiving an enemy, if it doth not prevail to turn an enemy’s heart to him in love, yet then it turns an enemy’s conscience against himself, and forceth him to condemn himself, and justify him whom he persecutes wrongfully.
Will you give this answer to Christ thy judge upon this matter? Does not thy heart quake within thy breast to think how he will knit his brow, and throw this thy apology with disdain and wrath upon thy face? Did so much anger sit on the countenance of meek Jesus when on earth, and such a dreadful doom proceed from his sweet lips against those that made their farms and oxen as a mannerly excuse for not coming to his supper, sentencing them never to taste thereof? O what then will glorious Christ say—when, mounted on his tribunal, not to invite, but to judge sinners—to such an excuse as this? Could God find heart and time to pen and send this love-letter to thee, and thou find none to read and peruse it? You are like a sick man ignoring the doctor’s prescription! You are like the condemned malefactor ignoring his prince’s letter of grace, wherein a pardon is tendered to him! Is all your time spent making money? Thou and thy money perish with thee! Is not God the Lord of thy time? Is it not given by him to be laid out for him? He allows thee indeed a fair portion thereof for the lower employments of this life; Why did you not read my word and meditate thereon? will Christ say at that day. Darest thou then to be so impudent as to say, ‘Lord, I was overcharged with the cares, and drunk with the love, of the world, and therefore I could not?’ Well, if this be the thief that robs thee of thy time, get out of his hands as soon as thou canst, lest it also rob thee of thy soul. The devil can desire no greater advantage against thee. He hath thee sure enough in his trap. He may better boast over thee than Pharaoh could over Israel. ‘He is entangled, in the wilderness of the world, and shall not escape my hands.’
This ordinarily is but a cover to men’s sloth. If they had hearts, they would find time to converse with the word in the greatest throng of their worldly occasions. These can find time to eat and sleep, to sport and recreate themselves, but no time for God and his word. Would they but allow their souls those broken ends of time to search the Scripture, which they spend in pastimes, idle visits, reading of empty pamphlets, it would not be long but they might give a happy account of their proficiency in their spiritual knowledge. What calling more encumbering than a soldier’s? And of all soldiers the general’s, to whom all resort? Such a one was Joshua, yet a strict command to study the Scripture: ‘This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night,’ Joshua 1:8. Must Joshua, in the midst of drums and trumpets, and distractions of war, find time to meditate on the law of God? ‘Then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.’
2. But I cannot understand it!
Answer. Take heed this objection comes not from thy sluggish heart, which gets this fair pretence to ease thee of a duty thou fearest will be troublesome unto thee. When thou wentest first to be an apprentice, what skill hadst thou in thy trade? Didst thou therefore despair and run away? No, but by thy diligence didst learn the mystery of it in a few years, so as to maintain thyself comfortably upon it; and will not thy industry to learn that, condemn thy sloth in not studying the word, which is able to bring in a better livelihood to thy soul than thy trade can do for thy body?
But, poor soul, if what thou sayest indeed ariseth from the deep sense thou hast of thy own weakness, then ponder upon this twofold encouragement.
Let this provoke you to the study of the word, that you may thereby have a familiar acquaintance with it. For this the Bereans obtained a mark of honour as a nobler sort of people than others, because they ‘searched the Scriptures,’ Acts 17:11. Shall God leave but one book to his church’s care and study, and shall it not be read? Shall we be told there is so rich a treasure laid up in this mine, and we continue so beggarly in our knowledge rather than take a little pains by digging in it to come by it? Have zealous believers in the past not counted it above rubies and precious stones? But, lest you should think I set you upon a needless work, you are to understand there is an indispensable necessity of Scripture knowledge; and that is double: —a necessity of command and a necessity of means.
(1.) There is a necessity of command: ‘Search the Scriptures,’ John 5:39. Indeed, were there not such an express word for this duty, yet the very penning of them, with the end for which they are written considered, would impose the duty upon us. Christ fastens condemnation on the ignorance of men where means for knowledge is afforded: ‘This is the condemnation, and men loved darkness,’ John 3:19. They will not know the rule, because they have no mind to walk by it. Now if ignorance of the word be condemned where its light shines, then sure he commands us to open our eyes, whereby we may let in the knowledge it sheds forth; for a law must be transgressed before a condemning sentence be pronounced. It is the heathen that shall be judged without the written word; but thou that livest within its sound shalt be judged by it; whether thou wilt know it or not, II Thess. 1:8. And if thou shalt be judged by it, then surely thou art bound to be instructed by it. The Jews once had the word deposited in their hands, ‘unto them were committed the oracles of God,’ and do you think they had well discharged their trust by locking them up safely in the ark, and never looking into them? Surely, you cannot but think God intended another chest, even that in their own breasts, where he would principally have them bestowed. They were committed to them, and now to us, as a dying father doth his will and testament to his son whom he makes his executor, not to throw it aside among his waste papers, but carefully and curiously to read and observe it, that thereby nothing therein contained might be left unperformed. It is called ‘the faith once delivered unto the saints,’ Jude 3, that is, delivered to their study and care. If any of us had lived when Christ was here in the flesh, and he—when taking his farewell of the world—should have left to us some one thing in special charge to be done for his sake after he was gone to heaven, would we not religiously have performed the will of our dying Saviour, as did St. John, to whom he left the care of his mother, who therefore took her home to his own house? Behold here a greater charge deposited in his saints’ hands—‘the faith which was once delivered to them,’ that is, ‘once’ for all, to be by them kept and transmitted from one generation to another while this world lasts. So that, if thou takest thyself to be one of the saints’ number, thou art concerned with the rest to take it home with thee, and see that it dwells in the richly, as becomes such a guest bequeathed by so dear a friend.
(2.) There is a necessity of means. The word contains the whole counsel of God for the bringing of poor sinners to eternal life, and none besides this —only as they borrow their notions out of it. If you will not search the Scripture, and sit here at the feet of the Spirit—who fits his scholars for heaven by this one book—where wilt thou meet another master? In whose works else wilt thou find the words of eternal life? Of Apollos, who was a man ‘mighty in the Scriptures,’ it is said, that Aquila and Priscilla ‘expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly,’ Acts 18:26. An exposition presupposeth a ‘text.’ The meaning is, they opened the Scripture more perfectly to him. This is ‘the way of God’ to lead us to God; yea, the only way. In other journeys we may miss the right way, and yet come at last to the place we intended, though not so soon; but no way will bring us to God but this of the word; neither can we walk in this way of God, if we be ignorant of it. A man may in his other journeys be in his right way, and, though he knows not he is right, may yet come safe home. But we can have no benefit from this way of God if wholly ignorant of it, because we can do nothing in faith. O labour therefore to study this book, though thou beest a dunce in all besides! What is it thou wouldst learn? Is it the true knowledge of God? thou mayest tumble over all the philosophers that ever wrote, and, when thou hast done, not be able to frame a right notion of him. The best of them all were but brutish in their highest knowledge of God. Indeed, God left the wise world to run into a thousand follies and vanities, while they were by their own wisdom shaping a religion to themselves, that, having proved them dunces, he might send them and the whole world to learn this lesson in another school, and that is the ministry of the gospel, which is naught else but the explication and application of the word. ‘After that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe,’ I Cor. 1:21.
Wouldst thou come to the true knowledge of sin? This also is a notion to be found nowhere else. The Scripture alone dissects the whole body of sin, and reads to us a perfect anatomy lecture upon its most minute and secret parts. This discovers the ulcers of our wicked hearts, which thousands die of, and through ignorance of the Scriptures can never come to know what their disease is. If lust comes not out in spots and sores, to be seen in the outward conversation, the philosopher pronounceth him a clear man. The plague of the heart, though an old disease and epidemical, yet never was found out, or treated of, but by this sacred book, and this doth it fully, yea, acquaints us where and from whom we got this infection: even from Adam, by whom the whole world was tainted. In a word, wouldst thou be helped out? Thou must then be beholden to the Scripture to do this kind office for thee. Thy own cordage is too short to reach, and too weak to draw thee thence. If thou takest not hold of this cord of love which God lets down unto thee in his word, thy case is desperate. And now, having set life and death before thee, I leave thee to thy choice. If yet thou art resolved to reject the knowledge of the Almighty, and put thy soul in launch into eternity without this chart to direct thee, not caring whether thou sinkest or swimmest, at what port thou arrivest at in another world, heaven or hell; then prepare to take up thy lodgings among the damned, and harden thy stout heart, if thou canst, against those endless flames which are kindled for all those ‘that know not God, and that obey not his gospel,’ II Thess. 1:8. And to thy terror know that, in spite of thy now wilful ignorance, thou shalt one day understand the Scriptures to the increase of thy torment. Here thou shuttest out their light, but then it will shine full on thy face, when it would give thee some ease if thou couldst forget that ever thou didst hear of such a book as the Bible is, but then against thy will thou shalt carry the remembrance thereof to hell with thee, that thy scornful neglect of it on earth may be continually pouring new horror—as so much fire and brimstone—into thy guilty conscience. How must it needs then fill thee with amazement to think of thy folly and madness, to sell thy soul for a little ease and sloth? Hell from beneath would be moved for thee, to meet thee at thy coming thither. It will stir up the dead for thee; and the poor heathens, whom thou shalt find prisoners there, will come flocking about thee, and with their taunts reproaching thee, saying, ‘Art thou also become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us? Thou perish for thy ignorance, who hadst the key of knowledge at thy girdle, and at so easy a rate might have been instructed in the way of life! We, poor heathens, cannot bring an action against God for false imprisonment, though we never heard of such a thing as the gospel, for we did not walk up to our little light; and might have known more of God had we not darkened our own foolish minds by rebelling against the light we had; but never were we at such cost to damn our souls as you, who have rejected the word of God, and broke through all the threatenings and promises thereof, to come hither!’
Many years ago I made this my verse for life: “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” Ezra 7:10.
Gurnall now exhorts us to be thankful for the word and to study it diligently.
1. Let us bless God for furnishing us with this sword for our defence.
2. Let us study the word, so that we may make use of this weapon to defend ourselves against the many potent enemies that are in the field against us.
Let us be excited and provoked to bless God for this sword, with which he hath furnished us so graciously, whereby we may stand on our defence against all our bloody enemies. If a man had a kingdom in his possession, but no sword to keep the crown on his head, he could not expect to enjoy it long. This is a world that there is no living or holding anything we have in safety, without the help of arms. Least of all, could our souls be safe if naked and unarmed, which are here in the mouth of danger, and can no way pass to the place of bliss and happiness in heaven prepared for them, but through their enemies’ quarters. When Israel took their march out of Egypt towards the promised land, few or none would trust them to travel through their country, but all rose up in arms against them. The Christian will find his march much more troublesome and dangerous to heaven. Satan is not grown tamer than he used to be, nor the wicked world better affected than it was wont to the people of God. O what a mercy is it, that we have this sword by our side, which puts us out of danger from any of them all! This is thy hand, Christian, as the rod was in Moses’. What though an army of devils be behind thee, and a sea of sins before thee roaring upon thee, with this sword, by faith wielding it, thou mayest cut thy way through the waves of the one, and set thyself out of the reach of the other. Truly, the Scripture is a mercy incomparably greater than the sun in the heavens. Without the sun we would just die, but if the word be missing from the church salvation would be impossible, our souls must needs miss the right way to happiness, and stumble inevitably upon hell, while we think we are going to heaven, unless a miracle should interpose to prevent the same. But more particularly, bless God for these three mercies in reference to the Scriptures.
(1.) For their translation into many tongues.
(2.) For the ministry of the word.
(3.) For the efficacy of the word and its ministry hath had upon thy heart.
(1.) Bless God for the translation of the Scriptures. The word is our sword. By being translated, this sword is drawn out of its scabbard. What use, alas! could a poor Christian, that hath but one tongue in his head—that understands but one language, I mean, which his mother taught him—make of this sword when presented to him as it is sheathed in Greek and Hebrew? Truly, he might even fall a weeping with John at the sight of the sealed book, because he could not read it, Rev. 5:4. O bless God that hath sent not angels, but men, furnished by the blessing of God on their indefatigable labours and studies, with ability to roll away the stone from the mouth of this fountain! And were it not sad to see the water of life brought to you with the expense of their spirits and strength (wasted in the work), to be spilled on the ground, and basely undervalued by you, so as hardly to be put into the catalogue of mercies which you praise God for? Bugenhagius—whom Luther used, with others, for his help in translating the Bible—when the work was brought to a happy period, he was so affected with the incomparable mercy therein to the churches of Christ in Germany, that every year he invited his friends to a solemn feast that day whereon the work was finished, which they called, ‘The feast of the translation of the Bible.’
When Queen Elizabeth, our English Deborah, opened the prisons at her coming to the crown an ingenious man told her, that there were yet some good men left in prison undelivered, and desired they might also partake of her princely favour, meaning the four evangelists, and Paul, who had been denied to walk abroad in the English tongue when her sister swayed the scepter. To this she answered, ‘They should be asked, whether they are willing to have their liberty;’ which soon after appearing, they had their jail-delivery, and have ever since had their liberty to speak to you in your own tongue at the assemblies of your public worship; yea, to visit you in your own private houses also. Now is that happy day come, and long hath been, which holy Mr. Tyndal told a popish doctor of, when a poor ploughman should be able to read the Scriptures, and allowed to as freely converse with them, as any doctor of them all! A blessed day indeed it is to the souls of men!
Now, Christian, when thou art prisoner to God’s providence, and kept by his afflicting hand at home, thou hast the word of God to bear thee company in thy solitude; and so, though thou canst not sit up with thy brethren and sisters at thy Father’s table in the public ordinances, yet thou dost not wholly go without thy meal. Thou canst not, it is like, carve so well for thyself as the minister useth to do for thee, yet it is an incomparable mercy thou hast liberty to pick up out of the word for thy present counsel and comfort, as thou art enabled by the Spirit of God upon thy humble prayer for his assistance. Admirable hath been the support the saints have found from this holy book in their confinements. God hath graciously ordered it, that the most useful and necessary truths for afflicted saints hang, as I may so say, on the lower boughs of this tree of life, within the reach of a poor Christian who is of but an ordinary stature in knowledge. O think, and think again, of those sad times when the bloody sword of persecutors was drawn to keep off the people of God from coming near this tree, and then you will the better conceive of your present privilege. Yea, look back unto those times of popish ignorance, when this cellar of cordial waters was locked up in the original tongues, and not one in a whole town could be found that had a key, by whom poor souls in their fainting fits and agonies of spirit could have it opened, so as to come by any of their sweet consolations to restore their swooning souls; and then you will surely bless God, who hath given you so free an access unto them, when others cannot have access to you to communicate their help unto you.
(2.) Bless God for the ministry of the word, which is the public school he opens to his people, that in it they may learn the use of this their weapon. If once a man thinks he needs no longer go to the Spirit’s school, he shall find, whoever he is, that he takes the ready way to deprive himself of the Spirit’s teaching at home. ‘Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings,’ I Thes. 5:19, 20. They are coupled together. He that despiseth one loseth both. If the scholar be too proud to learn of the usher, he is unworthy to be taught by the master.
But I turn to you humble souls, who yet sit at the feet of Jesus in your right minds. Speak the truth and lie not; are you not well paid for your pains? David we are sure did not forgot to carry his Bible with him into the wilderness, loving the word so dearly as he did. ‘My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is,’ Ps. 63:1. Why, David? what is the matter thou thus complainest? Hast thou not the word to read in secret? Canst thou not let down thy bucket, and by meditation draw what thou wilt out of the well of the word? Why then dost thou say thou art in a ‘thirsty land where no water is?’ He means, therefore, comparatively. The sweetest refreshings he enjoyed in his private converse with the word, were not comparable to what he had met in public. And can you blame a sick child for desiring to sit up with his brethren at his father’s table, though he is not forgot in his chamber where he is prisoner, but hath something sent him up? It was the sanctuary —there to ‘see God, his power and glory, as of old’ —that David’s heart longed for, and could not well live without.
God threatens to bring ‘a famine of hearing the words of the Lord,’ Amos 8:11. Mark, not a famine of reading the word, but of hearing the word. If the word be not preached, though we have the Bible to read in at home, yet it is a famine; and so we ought to judge it. ‘And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision,’ I Sam. 3:1. The strongest Christians would find a want of this ordinance in time. We see in a town besieged, though it be well laid in with corn, yet when put to grind with private hand‑mills all they spend, what straits they are soon put to. And so will the best grown saints, when they come to have no more from the word for their souls to live on, than what they grind with their own private meditation and labour, then they will miss the minister, and see it was a mercy indeed to have one whose office it was to grind all the week for him. And if the stronger Christian cannot spare this office, because yet not perfect; what shift shall the weaker sort make, who need the minister to divide the word, as much as little children their nurse’s help to mince their meat and cut their bread for them? To leave them to their own improving the word, is to set a whole loaf among a company of little babes, and bid them help themselves. Alas! they will sooner cut their fingers with the knife than fill their bellies with the bread.
(3.) Bless God for the efficacy of the word upon thy soul. Did ever its point prick thy heart? its edge fetch blood of thy lusts, and cut off any rotten member of the body of sin? Bless God for it. You would do as much for a surgeon for lancing a sore, and severing a putrefied part from thy body, though he put thee to exquisite torture in the doing of it. And I hope thou thinkest God hath done thee a greater kindness than so. Solomon tells us, ‘faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful,’ Prov. 27:6. The wounds that God thus gives are the faithful wounds of a friend; and the kisses sin gives come from an enemy. God’s wounds cure, sin’s kisses kill. The Italians say that, ‘play, wine, and women consume a man laughing.’ It is true of all pleasurable sins; and as sin kills the sinner laughing, so God saves poor souls weeping and bleeding under the wounds his word gives them. Happy soul, thou that hast made such an exchange to get out of the enchanting arms of thy lusts that would have kissed thee to death, and to fall into the hands of a faithful God, that means thee no more hurt by all the blood he draws from thee than the saving of thy soul’s life! How far mightst thou have gone, and not met with such a friend and such a favour! There is not another sword like this in all the world that can cure with cutting; not another arm could use this sword to have done thus much with it, besides the Spirit of God. The axe does nothing till the hand of the workman lifts it up; neither can every one—may be none else —do with his tools what himself can. To be sure, none can pierce the conscience, wound the spirit, and hew down the lusts that there lie skulking in their fastness, but God himself. And this he doth not for every one that reads and hears it, which still greatens thy mercy. There were many widows in Israel when God sent his prophet to her of Sarepta. And why to her? Was there never a drunkard, swearer, or unbeliever, beside thee in the congregation at the same time that God armed his word to smite thee down, and graciously prick thy heart? O cry out in admiration of this distinguishing mercy, ‘Lord, how is it thou wilt manifest thyself to me and not unto the world!’
C.H. Spurgeon: ” Divine grace like a smoothly flowing, fertilising, full, and never failing river, yields refreshment and consolation to believers. This is the river of the water of life, of which the church above as well as the church below partakes evermore. It is no boisterous ocean, but a placid stream, it is not stayed in its course by earthquakes or crumbling mountains, it follows its serene course without disturbance. Happy are they who know from their own experience that there is such a river of God… As soon as the first ray of light proclaims the coming day, at the turning of the morning God’s right arm shall be outstretched for his people. The Lord is up betimes. We are slow to meet him, but he is never tardy in helping us. Impatience complains of divine delays, but in very deed the Lord is not slack concerning his promise. Man’s haste is often folly, but God’s apparent delays are ever wise; and when rightly viewed, are no delays at all. Today the bands of evil may environ the church of God, and threaten her with destruction; but ere long they shall pass away like the foam on the waters, and the noise of their tumult shall be silent in the grave. The darkest hour of the night is just before the turning of the morning; and then, even then, shall the Lord appear as the great ally of his church” (Treasury of David, vol. 1, pp. 340-341).
Grace, as in the attribute of Gods beauty which he puts upon us, (Ezekiel 16:14) we grow in grace, in his beauty. Thus, it is enlarged upon us through sanctification. Brian Crossett.
Wickedness of those who uplift the sword of the Spirit in defence of any sin.
This condemns those of prodigious wickedness, that, instead of using this sword to defend them against sin and Satan, lift it up audaciously for their defence in their wicked and abominable practices. Thus the heretic, he takes up the word to justify his corrupt tenets, forcing it, in favour of his way, to bear witness against itself. And many wretches we meet with, who, to ward off a reproof, will dare to seek protection for their ungodly courses from the word, which they have at their tongue’s end, and interpose to break the blow that is made at them. Tell the sensualist of his voluptuous, brutish life, and you shall have him sometimes reply, Solomon was not so precise and scrupulous, who saith, ‘A man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry,’ Eccl. 8:15. As if Solomon, yea God himself that directed his pen, meant to fill the drunkard’s quaffing‑cup for him, and were a friend of gluttons and wine-bibbers! Whereas, ‘to eat and drink, and be merry’ in Solomon’s mouth there, amounts to more than to serve God with gladness in the abundance of those good things which God gives us to enjoy, in the mouth of Moses, Deut. 28:47.
Such is the desperate wickedness of man’s heart, that the sweetest and comfortablest portions of Scripture are most wrested by many to serve their lusts. The declarations of God’s free‑grace, made on purpose to melt sinners’ hearts, and draw them from their lusts to Christ, how oft are they abused to wedge and harden them in their sins, and keep them from him! Examples of holy men’s falls, recorded merely to make them fear that stand, and to preserve hope of mercy alive in those that have fallen, whereby they are in danger of being swallowed up with despair, how are they perverted by many, who lie like beasts wallowing in their own dung, and think all is well because such eminent saints fell so foully, and yet came off so fairly at last, with their sins pardoned and souls saved! The good success that late repentance hath now and then had in a few, yea very few Scripture-instances, it is strange to think what use and advantage Satan makes of them, to beg time of the sinner, and make him linger still in the Sodom of his sins. ‘The eleventh hour,’ saith he, ‘is not yet come; why will you repent so long before you need?’ Why should he set out in the morning, who may despatch his journey well enough an hour before night? The penitent thief, that, as one saith, stole to heaven from the cross, hath, I fear, been an occasion—though on God’s part an innocent one—to bring many a sinner to the gallows; yea, well, if not to a place of a longer execution in another world! O, take heed of this, sinners, as you love your souls! Is it not enough to have your lusts, but you must also fetch your encouragement from the word, and forge God’s hand to bear you out? The devil indeed thus abuseth Scripture, Matt. 4:4, thinking thereby to make Christ more readily hearken to his accursed motion; and wilt thou tread in his steps? By this thou makest one sin two, and the last the worst. To be drunk was a fearful sin in Belshazzar; but to quaff in the cups of the sanctuary was far worse. No sin is little, but the least sin amounts to blasphemy when thou committest it on a Scripture pretence. The devil cannot easily desire a greater occasion of glorying over God, than thus to wound his name with his own sword. He that fetcheth an argument from the holy Scriptures to countenance any corrupt opinion or practice, what doth he but go about to make God fight against himself? He shoots at him with an arrow out of his won quiver. He sins, and then doth as it were say, God bids him do it. If there be a man on the face of the earth that God will single out as a mark for his utmost wrath, this is he who shelters his wickedness under the wing of the holy Scriptures, and so makes God patron of his sin.
More reproof of the Church of Rome for the insufficiency it imputes to the Scriptures.
This falls heavy upon them that charge the holy Scriptures with insufficiency, as not containing all things necessary to salvation. What a horrid blasphemy is this, and reproach to the great God, that he should send his people into the field, and put such a wooden sword into their hand as is not sufficient to defend them and cut their way through their enemies’ powers to heaven, whither he orders them to march. And doth not God himself highly commend this sword of the Scripture to his people, when he tells Timothy it is ‘able to make thee,’ as a Christian, ‘wise unto salvation,’ II Tim. 3:15, and as a ‘man of God,’ or minister of the gospel, ‘perfect,’ and ‘thoroughly furnished unto all good works?’ ver. 17. Yea, doth he not also forbid us the use of any other weapon but what the Scripture furnisheth us withal? ‘To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them’ he tells us, Isa. 8:20, and makes it clear that there is nowhere else to look for counsel or protection than to his written word.
Surely, that which is intended by God to be to his people the standard rule to measure all doctrines by, is itself exact and sufficient. But the world, by this time, knows where the insufficiency of the Scriptures lies. Sufficient they are enough for God’s ends, but not for the pope’s ends. They are able to furnish every true Christian in the world with wisdom enough how he should save his soul. But the pope finds himself grieved, that they are not so useful to help him to save the triple crown on his head, and do not furnish him with grounds from which he may defend the lordly power and godlike infallibility he claims, with the other doctrines held forth by him. And so with this defect he charges the Scriptures with he adds traditions. When traditions go up, the written word is sure to go down. Ye have made, saith Christ to the Pharisees, the commandment of none effect by your tradition, Matt. 15:6, you have supplanted its authority in the minds of men, who leave the word to hearken to your traditions.
The proven truth that the Scriptures are the sword of the Spirit of God means the Church of Rome is guilty of cruelty and presumption because it disarms the people of this spiritual sword.
Is the word the sword of the Spirit whereby the Christian vanquishes his enemies? Then we may justly charge the Church of Rome of cruelty to the souls of people, in disarming them of that weapon with which they alone can defend themselves against their enemies, that seek their eternal ruin. It is true, they have some fig-leaves with which they would fain hide this their shameful practice, making the world believe they do it in mercy to the people, lest they should cut their fingers and wound themselves with this weapon. ‘We see,’ say they, ‘how many errors and heresies the world swarms with, by the mistakes of the vulgar.’ Yea, Peter himself saith that there ‘are some things hard to be understood’ in Paul’s epistles, ‘which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction,’ II Peter 3:16. And therefore the Scripture, which is so dangerous for ordinary people to meddle with, they judge it safest to lay out of their reach, as we do a sword or edge‑tool from children, though they cry never so much for it. See what a fair glove they draw over so foul a hand. But did Peter, because some unlearned and unstable souls wrested the Scripture, forbid them, or any other, how weak soever, to read the Scripture? This had carried some weight with it indeed. But we find just the contrary. For in the following verses, the counsel he gives Christians, that they may not be led away with the error of the wicked, is to ‘grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,’ ver. 18. Light is the chariot that conveys the influences of the sun. So the knowledge of Christ brings with it the influences of his grace into the heart. And how did Peter mean they should grow in the knowledge of Christ, if he would not have them read the Scriptures, which is the only book where it is to be learned? The Scriptures are also light. But the Papists would have their people learn their knowledge of Christ from their teaching of him, and not from the Scriptures, which they cannot so safely converse with. But,
Paul addressed his audience in Jerusalem as “men, brethren, and fathers” in respect for them and to emphasise his relationship as a fellow Jew. He spoke in Hebrew (Aramaic actually) to further identify with them (1 Cor.9:20) and this caused a deep silence and attentiveness. He mentioned his upbringing in Jerusalem and under Gamaliel to show that he was a respectable, privileged Jew who had a strict upbringing. His sister also lived there (Acts 23:16). His genuine Jewishness was further supported by his zeal in persecuting the church under the Jewish Sanhedrin (Phil.3:5,6. 1 Cor.15:9). He described his conversion factually and miraculously but added details to the Acts 9 account mentioning Ananias’ reputation and his sharing God’s commission with the apostle. He also mentioned the vision he had in the temple as further proof of divine revelation. The content of this vision was the order to leave Jerusalem because the Jews would not hear him and go to the Gentiles. Paul replied with admission of his guilt in persecuting the church perhaps thinking it disqualified him from this call.
The crowd went mad because of their prejudice against Gentiles wanting to kill Paul as unbelievers who were happy to make Jewish proselytes but despised the taking of the gospel to the Gentiles. The chief captain Lysias (23:26) commanded Paul be taken inside the fortress bound and to be examined by scourging to find out why he was being hounded which was un-lawful so Paul protested. We guess that because Paul spoke such good Greek coming from Tarsus without a Jewish accent that they believed he was a true Roman a privilege Lysias likely previously a servant had bought at a price. Immediately the Roman soldiers withdrew from Paul.
Lysias set up a trial the next morning with Paul and the Sanhedrin to establish the accusations against him. Paul began his defence appealing to his good conscience (c.f. 24:16) which seemed to offend Ananias perhaps because he had a grossly defiled conscience (John 8) who out of malice and envy commanded that Paul be struck. This was unlawful. Paul responded sharply calling Ananias a hypocrite (whited wall) much as Jesus himself had done (Matthew 23:27). He was then accused of reviling God’s high priest which he said he had done ignorantly quoting Exodus 22:28.
This he did sincerely. Paul knowing the composition of the Sanhedrin now pitted Pharisees against Sadducees defining the issue as his belief and preaching concerning the resurrection of the dead, saying he was a Pharisee. Because the Pharisees believed in things supernatural they sided with Paul and went as far as saying God may well have appeared to him. The Sadducees were landed gentry, liberal politicians and materialists who denied anything supernatural. Once again Lysias pulled Paul out of the situation to save him from assault and that night Christ encouraged him with a message that he would testify in Rome (c.f. Acts 18:10).
Afflictions, outward and inward, are overcome by the ‘word of God.’
A fourth enemy that meets the Christian, is an army made up of many bands of afflictions, both outward and inward, sometimes one, sometimes another, yea, of a whole body of them pouring their shot together upon them. This was Paul’s case, ‘without were fightings, within were fears,’ II Cor. 7:5. He endured a great fight of external afflictions and buffetings within his own bosom at once. This is oft the condition of the best saints, to have both the rod on their backs, and rebukes from God in their spirits, at once. ‘When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth,’ Ps. 39:11.
God sometimes corrects with outward crosses, but smiles with inward manifestations; the whip of the rod AND the comfort of the staff. The one sweetens and alleviates the other. At another time he sends a cross, and incloseth a frown in it. He whips with outward affliction, and, as an angry father, every lash he gives his child, tells him, ‘this is for that fault,’ which exceedingly adds to the smart of the correction, to see his father so much displeased with him. And when the poor Christian lies thus under the hand of an afflicting God, or under the rebukes of a frowning God, Satan will not be long from the Christian, or wanting to throw his salt and vinegar into the wounds that God hath made in his flesh or spirit, thereby to increase his pain, and so lead him further into temptation one way or other, if he can have his will. Indeed, God often sends so many troops of various afflictions to quarter upon some one Christian, that it puts him hard to it to bid them all welcome, and entertain them with patience; yea, it would pose any one—that knows not what service the word of God doth the Christian, and the supplies it brings him in—to conceive how his spirit should be kept, and his faith from being eaten up, and swallowed into despair by them. But by the word of God, he is able to bear as this is his counsellor and comforter. David tells us plainly his heart had died within him but for it: ‘Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction,’ Ps. 119:92. The word was his spiritual Abishag, from which his soul got all its warmth. All the world’s enjoyments heaped on him would have left him cold at heart if this had not lain in his bosom to bring him a kindly heat of inward peace and comfort: ‘This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me,’ ver. 50. A word of promise is more necessary at such a time to a poor soul, than warm clothes are to the body in cold weather.
When Adam was thrust out of paradise into the cold blasts of a miserable world—where, from his own guilty conscience within, and crosses without, he was sure to meet with trouble enough —then God gave him a word of promise, as you may observe, to fence his soul, before he made coats to clothe his body, Gen. 3:15, compared with ver. 21. The Lord knew full well how indispensably necessary a word of promise was to keep him from being made a prey the second time to the devil, and from being swallowed up with the dismal sight of those miseries and sorrows in which he had thrown himself and posterity; and therefore puts the sword of a promise into his hand, that with it he might defend and comfort his sorrowful heart in the midst of all his troubles. ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,’ Matt. 11:28, the messenger to open his dungeon of soul‑trouble, and bring him into the light of inward joy—‘that he had better be without meat, drink, light, air, earth, life, and all, than without this one comfortable scripture.’ If one single promise, like an ear of corn rubbed in the hand of faith, and applied by the Spirit of Christ, can afford such a full satisfying meal of joy to a hunger‑bitten, pining soul, O what price can we set on the whole field of the Scripture, which stands so thick with promises, every way as cordial as this!
There is more riches and treasure to be had in one promise than all the gold and silver of the Indies are worth; ‘exceeding great and precious promises,’ II Peter 1:4; by them a poor believer may lay claim to heaven and earth at once; for godliness hath the promise of this life and the other also. But that which in this place I would commend their excellency from, is the admirable service they do, and succour they afford a poor soul in the day of his greatest distress. They are, in a word, ‘the fair havens’ and safe road into which the tempted soul puts his weather‑beaten ship, where it lies secure till the heavens clear, and the storm is over, which the world, sin, and Satan raise upon him. Yea, when death itself approacheth, and the devil hath but one cast more for the game, one skirmish more to get or lose the victory for ever, then faith on the promise carries the Christian’s soul out of the garrison of his body—where he hath endured so hard a siege—with colours flying, and joy triumphing to heaven, leaving only his flesh behind in the hands of death, and that also with an assured hope of having it redeemed out of its power ere it be long, at the day of resurrection and restitution of all things.
Corruptions and lusts are overcome by the ‘word of God.’
Our own lusts make the next adversary we have to grapple with. These are more formidable than both the former, partly because they are within us— lusts of our own bosom that rise up against us, and partly because they hold correspondence with a foreign foe also—the devil himself—who, as he did beat man at first with his own rib, so he continues to do us the worst mischief with our own flesh. The fire of lust is ours, but the flame commonly is his, because his temptations are the bellows that blow it up. And when such a fire meets with such a strong wind to spread and carry it on its wings, whither will it fly? A whole legion of devils are as soon cast out of the body, as one lust out of the soul; yea, sooner. Now the word is the only weapon. The word of God can master our lusts when they are in their ruff and pride. If ever lust rageth more than other, it is when youthful blood boils in our veins. Youth is heady, and lust then hot and impetuous. When David would give the young man a receipt to cure him of his lusts—not one, but all—how he may cleanse his whole course and way, he bids him only wash in this Jordan, Ps. 119.9. By what means or ‘wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.”
’ By this he smites their consciences, cleaves the rocks of their hard hearts, divides the waves of their lusts, and brings poor sinners from under the power of sin and Satan. Never could Augustin get a jail‑delivery from his lusts till he heard that voice, take, read; upon which, as himself tells us, he presently took up the Bible, and that one place, Rom. 13, to which his eye was directed, once read, like a mighty earthquake did so shake all the powers of his soul that the prison doors of his heart immediately flew open, and those chains of lusts which, with all his skill and strength, he could never file off, did now on a sudden fall off, and he became so strangely metamorphosed, that those lusts, to lose which all he feared, now to pack them away was his joy. Never man, by his own confession, was more slave to his lusts, and tied with a stronger chain of delight to them, than himself was. He did, as he saith, he tumbled in the puddle of his filthy lusts with as much delight as if he had been rolling in a bed of spices, and anointing himself with the most precious ointments; yet this one word came with such a commanding power to him, that it tore them out of his very heart, and turned his love into a cordial hatred of them, who before would have let his heart sooner been plucked out of his bosom than these taken out of his heart. “ Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” Romans 13:13,14.
And as the word is the weapon by which he, with a strong hand, brings poor sinners out of the power of Satan and sin into a state of freedom, so he useth it to defend his saints from all after‑storms of temptations, by which Satan, now thrown out of his kingdom, endeavours to recover the same. Can we go against sin and Satan with a better weapon than Christ used to vanquish the tempter with? And certainly Christ did it by way of example, to set us an example how we should come armed into the field against them; for Christ chose rather to conceal the majesty of his divinity, and let Satan come up closer to him, that so he might confound him with the word, and thereby give a proof of that sword to his saints which he was to leave with them for their defence against the same enemy. The devil is set out by the ‘leviathan,’ Isa. 27:1, him God threatens to punish with his ‘strong sword;’ Thus the devil, the great devourer of souls, who sports himself in the sea of this world, even as the leviathan in the waters, and swallows the greatest part of mankind without any power to make resistance against him, is himself vanquished by the word. When he hath to do with a saint armed with this sword, and instructed how to use this weapon, he then, and not till then, meets his match.
The word of God overcomes HERETICS and HERESY
The seducer is another enemy the Christian hath to cope with, and no less dangerous than the other: nay, in this respect, far more formidable—the persecutor can kill only the body, but the seducer comes to poison the soul. Better to be slain outright by his sword, than to be ‘taken alive,’ as the apostle phraseth it, ‘in this snare of the devil,’ which these whom he sends forth privily lay snares for the unwary, even where they are oft least suspected. When Paul fell into the mouth of the persecutor, he could yet glory, and rejoice that he had escaped the latter: ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness,’ II Tim. 4:7, 8. See how this holy man triumphs and flourisheth his colours, as if the field were fought and the day won; whereas, good man, he was now going to lay his head on the block under the hand of bloody Nero’s headsman, as you may perceive, ‘I am now ready to be offered up,’ ver. 6, alluding to the kind of death, it is like, he was shortly to undergo. But you will possibly say, What great cause had he then to cry victoria —victory, when his affairs were in such a desperate and deplored condition? Yes, this made him triumph, he had ‘kept the faith;’ and that was a thousand times more joy and comfort to him than the laying down his life was trouble. If he had left the faith by cowardice, or chopped it away for any false doctrine, he had lost his soul by losing of that; but having kept the faith, he knew that he did but part with his life to receive a better at God’s hands than was taken from him by man’s.
It seems, though the sword of war in the hand of a barbarous bloody enemy be a heavy judgment to a people, yet the propagation of cursed errors is a greater. We may be cut off by an enemy’s sword and not be hurt; but we cannot drink in their false doctrine, and say so. Now, the word of God is the sword whereby the Spirit enables the saints to defend themselves against this enemy; yea, to rout and ruin this subtle band of Satan. We read of Apollos, Acts 18:28, that ‘he mightily convinced the Jews.’ He did, as it were, knock them down with the weight of his reasoning. And out of what armoury fetched he the sword with which he so prevailed? See ver. 28. ‘Showing by the Scriptures’—not their cabala —‘that Jesus was Christ;’ and therefore he is said to be ‘mighty in the Scriptures,’ ver. 24, a mighty man of valour, and so expert, through his excellent knowledge in them, that the erroneous Jews could not stand before him holding this sword in his hand.
When Paul warns Timothy to stand upon his defence carefully against seducers by sending him to the Scriptures, and bidding him shut himself up within these, as in a town of war. ‘But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned,’ II Tim. 3:14; and in the next verse he opens himself, and shows what lesson he means that he had learned, by telling him, that from a child he had known the holy Scriptures, which were able to make him wise unto salvation; and by consequence, wiser than all his enemies, if he stuck close to them. Out of this armoury came those weapons Paul tells us are so ‘mighty through God, casting down imaginations,’ or reasonings, by which an ancient will have the Greek Philosophers’ syllogisms to be meant. Indeed, he that hath the word on his side, and a holy skill to use it, hath as much advantage of his adversary that comes with other armour.
All error dreads the light of the word, and fears more to be examined by that, than a thief does to be tried before a strict judge. To have expounded the doctrines of heretics is to have overcome them. Unfold them, or bring them and the word face to face, and, like Cain, they hang down their head; they are put to shame. This is the only certain ordeal to try suspected opinions at. If they can walk upon this fiery law unhurt, unreproved, they may safely pass for truths, and none else. Paul tell us of some that ‘will not endure sound doctrine,’ II Tim. 4:3. He is most wise makes the word of God his counsel. The Papist he hath his thicket and wood also—antiquity and traditions—to which he flees before the face of the Scripture for sanctuary, as Adam did to a bush when God came walking to him. As if any antiquity were so authentic as God’s own oracles; and any traditions of men to be laid in the balance with the Scripture.
A modern divine saith, ‘Most heresies have sprung either from pride, ignorance, or the sophistry of reason’—the last of which seems to be the shelf on which Paul himself observes some to have split, ‘and to have erred concerning the faith,’ I Tim. 6:21; and therefore so affectionately exhorts Timothy to keep off this dangerous shore, and steer his course by the word, ‘O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust,’ for this which is here committed to him, I take for no other than ‘the form of sound words’ he exhorts him to hold fast in II Tim. 1:13.
Also see II Peter 2:2 where it is clear that false teachers are morally wicked unregenerate men-JK
Objection. But we see heretics quote Scripture for their most prodigious errors, and draw this sword for their defence, as well as the orthodox; how then is it such a powerful instrument and engine against error?
Answer. What will not men of subtle heads, corrupt hearts, and bold faces, dare to do for the carrying on their wicked party, when once they have espoused an error or any sinful way? Korah and his ungodly company dare give out that ‘the Lord is among them,’ and they have as much to do with the priesthood as Aaron himself, on whom the holy oil was poured, Num. 16:3. And Zedekiah, that arch‑flatterer, fears not to father his lie on the God of truth himself. He ‘made him horns of iron: and he said, Thus saith the Lord, With these shalt thou push the Syrians, until thou have consumed them,’ I Kings 22:11; whereas God never spake such a word. It is no marvel then, that they cry they have Scripture on their side. By this impudence they may abuse credulous souls into a belief of what they say, as a cheater may pick the purses of ignorant people by showing them something like the king’s broad seal, which was indeed his own forgery. Yea, God may suffer them to seduce others of more raised parts and understanding, as a just judgment on them for rebelling against the light of their own consciences. As Pharaoh, by the false miracles of the magicians, was set off further from any compliance with Moses. And those of the antichristian faction, who ‘because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved, and for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie,’ II Thes. 2:10, 11. But sincere souls that search humbly for the truth, and have no other designs in their inquiry after it but that they may know the will of God and obey it, shall find on their faithful prayers to God, a light most clear shining from the Scripture, to guide them safe from those pitfalls of damning errors into which others fall, towards whom the dark side of this cloud stands. ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: Ps. 111:10.
Thus heretics, for to shelter their errors, will crowd in among Scripture truths, and by their fair colours and false glosses, make them seem to be of their company, but they cannot so perfume their rotten opinions but their rank scent and savour will be smelt and discerned by those who have their senses exercised. Never any heretic got by appealing to the Scriptures. What Christ saith in another case, ‘All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword,’ Matt. 26:52, is most true of all heretics. They are confounded and confuted by that very sword of the word which they lift up to defend them withal.
Gurnall forgets that Scripture interprets scripture and that is the way errors are exposed-JK
The word of God overcomes: PERSECUTORS, HERETICS, LUSTS, and AFFLICTIONS
First Enemy. The bloody persecutor, who breathes slaughter against the saints, and pursues them with fire and faggot (brushwood for fires). Such a race of giants there ever was, and will be as long as the devil hath any kindred alive in the world, who, when it lies in their power, to maintain their father’s kingdom of darkness, will not fear to trample under their feet those stars of heaven whose light acquaints the world with their horrid impieties, and so hazards the weakening of the devil’s interest in the minds of men. Hence those bloody wars raised, cruel fires of martyrdom kindled, and massacres practised on the saints—with many devilishly witty inventions of torments, that these innocent souls might linger in their pains, and stay the longer in the jaws of death, thereby to ‘feel themselves to die,’ as one of them barbarously and inhumanly said! Out of this ‘brook’ (of the Scriptures) they take those ‘smooth stones’ by which they prostrate these Goliaths. This sort of the church’s enemies are overcome two ways: —either by their conversion or destruction. Now, the word of God is the sword that effects both. It hath two edges, Heb. 4:12, and so cuts both sides.
The sword of the Spirit converts the elect persecutors, who, for a time, through ignorance and prejudice, are joined with the saints’ enemies, as busy sticklers and bloody persecutors as the worst of the pack. The word as a sword by converting grace, makes them an offering acceptable unto God, as the apostle excellently showeth, Rom. 15:16. Thus the murderers of our blessed Lord, we find them by one sermon of Peter so strongly cut to the heart that they throw down their persecuting arms, and most freely enter their names into his muster‑roll, whose life but a few days before they had so cruelly taken away, about three thousand of them at one clip being baptized in his name, Acts 2:41. Yea, Paul himself, who did so much mischief to the church of Christ, what hook did he use to strike him with but the word? Never had Christ a more furious enemy in the world than this man. His heart was so inflamed with a rage against the saints, that the fiery steam thereof came out of his lips, as from the mouth of a hot furnace, breathing slaughter against them wherever he went, Acts 9:1. Now what force of arms, besides the word preached, did Christ send to take in the castle of this bloody man’s heart? First. Christ himself took him immediately to task, preaching such a thundering sermon from his heavenly pulpit, as dismounted this proud rider, and sent him bound in the fetters of his own troubled soul, prisoner even to that place where he thought to have clapped up others, and then left his Spirit to carry on the work of his conversion, by applying and keeping the plaster of the word close to his heart. How powerfully this wrought on him he himself tells us, ‘When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died,’ Rom. 7:9. That is, when the law came by the convictions of the Spirit to pierce his conscience, then sin revived those lusts which like a sleepy lion slumbered in him. Now, however, in his awakened conscience they roared so dreadfully that he was as it were struck dead with the terror of them had not the joyful news of gospel grace been by the same word and Spirit applied seasonably, to bring him to the life of hope and comfort again. Thus was this boisterous furious enemy of the saints chained and tamed by the terrors of the law, changed and renewed by the gentleness and mercy of the gospel, and he became no more like himself than a ravening wolf is to the innocent lamb, more ready to lay down his own life now for the defence of the gospel, than before conversion to take away their lives that professed it.
The sword of the Spirit ruins and destroys the saints’ persecuting enemies. Indeed, if they continue impenitent, and harden themselves against the truths and servants of God, that is the end they must all look to come to. They are like ravenous beasts—‘made to be taken and destroyed,’ II Peter 2:12, and they may know beforehand, as the certainty of their ruin, so what shall procure it, and that is the word of God. ‘And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed,’ Rev. 11:5. It is spoken of those that shall dare to oppose and persecute the faithful preachers of the gospel —that fire comes out of their mouths to destroy them. Though they have their will on the bodies of the saints, butchering and burning them, yet the word they preach will be their destruction. God is resolved they must and shall in this manner be killed, the word must give them the fatal stroke.
O this sword of the word, it hath a long reach; it is at the breast of every enemy God and his saints hath in the world, and though at present they cannot see whence their danger should come (they are so great and powerful, so safe and secure, as they think), yet the word of God having set down their doom already, God will sooner or later open one door or other to let in their destruction upon them. Examples were the Philistines, ‘Woe unto the inhabitants of the sea coast,… the word of the Lord is against you,’ Zeph. 2:5. As if he had said, You are a lost undone people; the whole world cannot save you; for ‘the word of the Lord is against you.’ The threatening of the word, like lightning or mildew, blasts wherever it goes, and its curse burns to the very root. Hence all the seven nations of Canaan fell into the mouth of the Israelites like ripe fruit into the mouth of him that shakes the tree. The word of the Lord cursing them, had gone before them to make their conquest certain and easy. ‘I have set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down,…to build, and to plant,’ Jer. 1:10. Indeed, the whole earth is God’s ground; and who hath power to build on his ground, or pull down, but himself? And in his word he hath given his mind what he will have done to his enemies, and for his saints, and therefore all the mercies they have, they receive and acknowledge them as gracious performances of the promise, so all the judgments executed on all their enemies as accomplishments of the threatenings of the word, called therefore ‘the judgment written,’ Ps. 149:9.
I confess I would not mind looking like this guy but at my age it’s pretty far fetched! Recent MRI is strongly suggestive of the need of at least a half right knee replacement.
‘The sword of the Spirit’ (Eph. 6:17).
Why the word of God is compared to a ‘sword.’ Why this sword is attributed to the Spirit, and bears his name, ‘the sword of the Spirit.’
Why is the word of God compared to a ‘sword?’ For this inquiry let this suffice. The sword, being both of general and constant use among soldiers, and also that weapon with which they not only defend themselves, but do the greatest execution upon their enemies, it most fitly sets forth the necessity and excellent use of the word of God, by which the Christian both defends himself, and offends, yea cuts down before him all his enemies.
Why is the sword attributed to ‘the Spirit?’ ‘The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty’—that is, spiritual, II Cor. 10:4. Indeed, Satan bring a spirit, must be fought with spiritual arms. And such is the word, a spiritual sword.
The sword of the Spirit because he is the Author of it. A weapon it is which his hand alone formed and fashioned; it came not out of any creature’s forge, ‘holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,’ II Peter 1:21.
The Spirit is the only true interpreter of the word. The Scriptures must be read, and can be understood, by that Spirit alone by whom they were made. He that made the lock can alone help us to a key that will fit its wards and open its fence. ‘No prophecy of the scripture is of private interpretation,’ II Peter 1:20. And why not? It follows—because it came not from any private spirit at first. ‘For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man,’ ver. 21. And who knows the mind of the Spirit so well as himself?
It is only the Spirit of God can give the word its efficacy and power in the soul. It is his office to seal the soul with the impress of things believed. Except he lays his weight on the truths we read and hear, to apply them close, and as it were cut the very image in our minds and hearts, they leave no more impression than a seal set upon a stone or rock would do;—still the mind fluctuates, and the heart is unsatisfied, notwithstanding our own and others’ utmost endeavours to the contrary. It was not the disciples’ rowing, but Christ’s coming, that could lay the storm or bring them to shore. Not all our study and inquiry can fix the mind, or pacify the heart in the belief of the word, till the Spirit of God comes.
The written word, or if you will, the Scripture, is the sword by which the Spirit of God enables his saints to overcome all their enemies. The Spirit will do nothing for them without the word, and they can do nothing to purpose without him. The word is the sword, and the Spirit of Christ the arm which wields it in for the saints. All the great conquests which Christ and his saints achieve in the world are got with this sword. When Christ comes forth against his enemies, this sword is girded on his thigh, ‘Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty,’ Ps. 45:3. His victory over them too is ascribed to it, ver. 4, ‘And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth,’—that is, the word of truth. We find, Rev. 1:6, Christ holding ‘seven stars in his right hand,’ intimating the choice care he hath over his people, particularly the ministers, who are more shot at than any other. And how doth he protect them, but by this ‘sharp two‑edged sword coming out of his mouth?’ This is the great privilege which the poorest believer in the church hath by the covenant of grace —such a one as Adam had not in the first covenant. He, when fallen, had a flaming sword to keep him out of paradise, but had no such sword, when innocent, to keep him from sinning, and so from being turned out of that happy place and state. No, he was left to stand upon his own defence, and by his own vigilancy to be a lifeguard to himself. But now the word of God stands between the saints and all danger. This will the better appear if we single out the chief enemies with whom the saint’s war is waged, and show how they all fall before the word, and receive their fatal blow from this one sword
First. The bloody persecutor who breathes slaughter against the saints, and pursues them with fire and faggot. Second. The seducer and heretic. Third. Our own lusts. Fourth. An army of afflictions, both outward and inward. TBC
The converting power of the word attests its divine origin.
The word of God hath the power of conversion, which none but God—who is the ‘God of all grace’—can produce. When John’s disciples came to Christ to be resolved who he was, whether the Messiah or not, Christ neither tells them he was, or was not he; but sends them to take their answer from the marvellous works he did. ‘Go,’ saith he, ‘and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see; the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them,, Matt. 11:4, 5—that is, they are transformed by the very nature of the gospel, and acted by the spirit which breathes in the gospel. By all these instances Christ’s drift was to give an ocular demonstration of their faith, that he, who did such miracles, could be no other than he whom they sought. And that which brings up the rear, is the converting power of the word —not set last because the least among them, but rather because it is the greatest wonder of them all, and comprehends in it all the other. When souls are converted, ‘the blind receive their sight.’ You were ‘darkness,’ but now ‘light in the Lord.’ ‘The lame walk,’ in that the affections—the soul’s feet—are set at liberty, and receive strength to run the ways of God with delight. Lepers are cleansed, in that filthy lusts are cured, and foul souls are sanctified. And so of the rest. Now, though the former miracles cease, yet this, which is the greatest, still accompanying the word, affords such a demonstration of its divinity, as reason itself cannot oppose. Is it not beyond he skill and strength of the mightiest angel to make the least pile of grass in the field? Much more the new creature in the heart, the noblest of God’s works.
That therefore which doth thus new‑mould the heart, and make the creature as unlike to his former self as the lamb is to the wolf, and the ox to the lion —the one meek and harmless, the other fierce and ravenous—that must needs be from God. And such changes are the daily product of ‘the word.’ How many have you known—once under the power of their lusts, throwing like madmen their firebrands about, possessed with so many devils as sins, and hurried hither and thither by these furies—yet at the hearing of one gospel sermon, have you not seen them quite metamorphosed, and, with him in the gospel, out of whom the devil was cast, sitting at Jesus’ feet in their right mind, bitterly bewailing their former course, and hating their once beloved lusts, more than ever they were fond of them? I hope some of you that read these lines can say thus much concerning yourselves, as the apostle doth of himself and others of his brethren: ‘We ourselves were also sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures,’ ‘But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, he saved us, by the washing of regeneration,’ Titus 3:3, 4. And can you, who are the very epistle of Christ, writ not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, in the fleshly tables of your hearts, stand yet in doubt whether that word came from God, which is thus able to bring you home to God? The heart itself is no safe sanctuary for sin to sit in. The word will take it thence—as Joab from the horns of the altar—to slay it.
I cannot give a better instance of the converting power of the word, than by presenting you with the miraculous victories obtained by it over the hearts of men, when the apostles were sent out first to preach, the grace of Christ, and, as it were, to begin the combination of the gospel ministry. Wherever they came, they found the world up in arms against them, and the black prince of it, the devil, at the head of their troops, to make their utmost resistance against them; yet what unheard‑of victories were got by them? Was it not strange that without drawing any other sword than ‘the everlasting gospel,’ they should turn the world upside down, as their enemies themselves confessed?
Gurnall further shows the power of the word in that the apostles were unlearned poor men and their doctrine so new and contrary to the humour of man’s corrupt nature, that it hath not one thought in the sinner’s heart to befriend it. Gurnall contrasts this with Islam’s man-centred teaching pleasing to man’s carnal palate. in the which we are soon wooed to espouse that for truth which gratifies the flesh, and easily persuaded to deliver up ourselves into the hands of such opinions as offer fair quarter to our lusts, yea, promise them satisfaction. Indeed, we cannot much wonder to see Christianity itself generally and readily embraced, when it is presented in Rome’s whorish dress, with its purity adulterated, and its power emasculated.
But, take the doctrine of the gospel in its own native excellency, before its falls into these hucksters’ hands, and it is such as a carnal heart cannot like, because it lays the axe to the root of every sin, and bids defiance to all that take part with it. It is a doctrine believed and embraced that is pure nonsense to carnal reason, teaching us to be saved by another’s righteousness, wise with another’s wisdom, to trust in him as a God that was himself a child, to rely on him to deliver us from the power of sin and Satan that fell himself under the wrath of men. O how great a gulf of objections which reason brings against this doctrine, must be overcome before a man come to believe it! And yet this doctrine to find such welcome, that never any prince at the beat of his drum had his subjects flock more in throngs to list themselves in his muster‑roll, than the apostles had multitudes of believers offering themselves to come under baptism—the military oath given by them to their converts. Add but one more.
Consider how little worldly encouragement this word they preached gave to its disciples; and you will say, ‘God was in it of a truth.’ Had it been the way to thrive in the world to turn Christian, or had it won the favour of kings and princes to have been their disciple, and taught them how to climb the hill of honour, we could not have wondered to have seen so many to worship the rising sun. But, alas! the gospel which they preached comes not with these bribes in its hand. No golden apples thrown in the way to entice them on. Christ bids his disciples stoop not to take up crowns for their heads, but a cross for their backs; ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me,’ Luke 9:23. They must not dream of getting the world’s treasure, which they have not, but prepare to part with what they have. And the doctrine they preached allows neither, but teaches them when they have done their best, and suffered the worst that their enemies’ wrath can inflict for the cause of God, then to renounce the honour of all, and write themselves unprofitable servants. All these considerations twisted together, make a strong cord to draw any that have staggered in this particular to a firm belief of the divine parentage of the Scriptures.