C H R I S T
By J O H N.B U N Y A N.
Published by E. Chandler, J. Wilson,
and C. Doe, 1692.
Published four years after John Bunyan's death.
[III. THE PERSONS INTERESTED IN THE INTERCESSION OF CHRIST.]
HIRD, The third particular is to show WHO ARE THE PERSONS INTERESTED IN THIS INTERCESSION OF CHRIST; and they are those that come to God by him. The words are very concise, and distinctly laid down; they are they that come, that come to God, that come to God by him. 'Wherefore he is able also to save them, to save to the uttermost them that come to God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.'
[Of coming to God by Christ.]—A little, first, to comment upon the order of the words, 'that come unto God by him.'
There are that come unto God, but not 'by him'; and these are not included in this text, have not a share in this privilege. Thus the Jews came to God, the unbelieving Jews, 'who had a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.' (Rom 9:30-34, 10:1-4) These submitted not to Christ, the righteousness of God, but thought to come to him by works of their own, or at least, as it were, by them, and so came short of salvation by grace, for that reigns to salvation only in Christ. To these Christ's person and undertaking were a stumbling stone; for at him they stumbled, and did split themselves to pieces, though they indeed were such as came to God for life.
As there are that come to God, but not by Christ, so there are that come to Christ, but not to God by him: of this sort are they, who hearing that Christ is Saviour, therefore come to him for pardon, but cannot abide to come to God by him, for that he is holy, and so will snub their lusts, and will change their hearts and natures. Mind me what I say. There are a great many that would be saved by Christ, but love not to be sanctified by God through him. These make a stop at Christ, and will go no further. Might such have pardon, they care not whether ever they went to heaven or no. Of this kind of coming to Christ I think it is, of which he warneth his disciples when he saith, 'In that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.' (John 16:23) As who should say, when you ask for anything, make not a stop at me, but come to my Father by me; for they that come to me, and not to my Father, through me, will have nothing of what they come for. Righteousness shall be imputed to us, 'if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.' (Rom 4:24,25) To come to Christ for a benefit, and stop there, and not come to God by him, prevaileth nothing. Here the mother of Zebedee's children erred; and about this it was that the Lord Jesus cautioned her. Lord, saith she, 'Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.' But what is the answer of Christ? 'To sit on my right hand and on my left, is not mine to give, but for whom it is prepared of my Father.' (Matt 20:21-23) As who should say, Woman, of myself I do nothing, my Father worketh with me. Go therefore to him by me, for I am the way to him; what thou canst obtain of him by me thou shalt have; that is to say, what of the things that pertain to eternal life, whether pardon or glory.
It is true, the Son has power to give pardon and glory, but he gives it not by himself, but by and according to the will of his Father. (Matt 9:6, John 17:22) They, therefore, that come to him for an eternal good, and look not to the Father by him, come short thereof; I mean, now, pardon and glory. And hence, though it be said the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins—to wit, to show the certainty of his Godhead, and of the excellency of his mediation; yet forgiveness of sin is said to lie more particularly in the hand of the Father, and that God for Christ's sake forgiveth us. (Eph 4:32)
The Father, as we see, will not forgive unless we come to him by the Son. Why, then, should we conceit that the Son will forgive these that come not to the Father by him?
So then, justifying righteousness is in the Son, and with him also is intercession; but forgiveness is with the Father; yea, the gift of the Holy Ghost, yea, and the power of imputing of the righteousness of Christ is yet in the hand of the Father. Hence Christ prays to the Father to forgive, prays to the Father to send the Spirit, and it is God that imputeth righteousness to justification to us. (Luke 23:34, John 14:16, Rom 4:6) The Father, then, doth nothing but for the sake of and through the Son; the Son also doth nothing derogating from the glory of the Father. But it would be a derogation to the glory of the Father if the Son should grant to save them that come not to the Father by him; wherefore you that cry Christ, Christ, delighting yourselves in the thoughts of forgiveness, but care not to come by Christ to the Father for it, you are not at all concerned in this blessed text, for he only saves by his intercession them that come to God by him.
There are three sorts of people that may be said to come to Christ, but not to God by him.
1. They whose utmost design in coming is only that guilt and fear of damning may be removed from them. And there are three signs of such an one—(1.) He that takes up in a belief of pardon, and so goes on in his course of carnality as he did before. (2.) He whose comfort in the belief of pardon standeth alone, without other fruits of the Holy Ghost. (3.) He that, having been washed, can be content to tumble in the mire, as the sow again, or as the dog that did spue to lick up his vomit again.
2. They may be said to come to Christ, but not to God by him, who do pick and choose doctrines, itching only after that which sounds of grace, but secretly abhorring of that which presseth to moral goodness. These did never see God, what notions soever they may have of the Lord Jesus, and of forgiveness from him. (Matt 5:8)
3. They surely did never come to God by Christ, however they may boast of the grace of Christ, that will from the freeness of gospel grace plead an indulgence for sin.
[Manner of coming to God.]—And now to speak a few words of coming to God, or coming as the text intends. And in speaking to this, I must touch upon two things—1. Concerning God. 2. Concerning the frame of the heart of him that comes to him.
1. Of God. God is the chief good. Good so as nothing is but himself. He is in himself most happy; yea, all good; and all true happiness is only to be found in God, as that which is essential to his nature; nor is there any good or any happiness in or with any creature or thing but what is communicated to it by God. God is the only desirable good, nothing without him is worthy of our hearts. Right thoughts of God are able to ravish the heart; how much more happy is the man that has interest in God. God alone is able by himself to put the soul into a more blessed, comfortable, and happy condition than can the whole world; yea, and more than if all the created happiness of all the angels of heaven did dwell in one man's bosom. God is the upholder of all creatures, and whatever they have that is a suitable good to their kind, it is from God; by God all things have their subsistence, and all the good that they enjoy. I cannot tell what to say; I am drowned! The life, the glory, the blessedness, the soul-satisfying goodness that is in God is beyond all expression.
2. Now there must be in us something of a suitableness of spirit to this God before we can be willing to come to him.
Before, therefore, God has been with a man, and has left some impression of his glory upon him, that man cannot be willing to come to him aright. Hence it is said concerning Abraham, that, in order to his coming to God, and following of him aright, the Lord himself did show himself unto him—'Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee.' (Acts 7:2,3, Gen 12:1)
It was this God of glory, the sight and visions of this God of glory, that provoked Abraham to leave his country and kindred to come after God. The reason why men are so careless of, and so indifferent about, their coming to God, is because they have their eyes blinded, because they do not perceive his glory. God is so blessed a one, that did he not hide himself and his glory, the whole world would be ravished with him. But he has, I will not say reasons of state, but reasons of glory, glorious reasons why he hideth himself from the world, and appeareth but to particular ones. Now by his thus appearing to Abraham, down fell Abraham's vanity, and his idolatrous fancies and affections, and his heart began to turn unto God, for that there was in this appearance an alluring and soul-instructing voice. Hence that which Moses calls here an appearing, Christ calls a hearing, and a teaching, and a learning—'It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man, therefore, that hath heard and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me,' that is, to God by me. But, I say, what must they hear and learn of the Father but that Christ is the way to glory, the way to the God of glory. This is a drawing doctrine; wherefore that which in this verse is called teaching and learning, is called, in the verse before, the drawing of the Father—'No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him'; that is, with powerful proposals, and alluring conclusions, and heart-subduing influences. (John 6:44,45)
Having thus touched upon this, we will now proceed to show you what kind of people they are that come to God by Christ; and then shall draw some inferences from this also.
[Who are the people that come to Christ.]
There are, therefore, three sorts of people that come to God by Christ. First, Men newly awakened. Second, Men turned from backsliding. Third, The sincere and upright man.
[Of the newly awakened coming to Christ.]
First, Men newly awakened. By awakened, I mean awakened thoroughly. So awakened as to be made to see themselves, what they are; the world, what it is; the law, what it is; hell, what it is; death, what it is; Christ, what he is; and God, what he is; and also what judgment is.
A man that will come to God by Christ aright must needs, precedent to his so coming, have a competent knowledge of things of this kind.
1. He must know himself, what a wretched and miserable sinner he is, before he will take one step forward in order to his coming to God by Christ. This is plain from a great many scriptures; as that of the parable of the prodigal, (Luke 15); that of the three thousand, (Acts 2); that of the jailer, (Acts 16), and those of many more besides. The whole have no need of the physician. They were not the sound and whole, but the lame and diseased that came to him to be cured of their infirmities; and it is not the righteous, but the sinners that do well know themselves to be such, that come to God by Christ.
It is not in the power of all the men on earth to make one man come to God by Christ, because it is not in their power to make men see their state by nature. And what should a man come to God for, that can live in the world without him? Reason says so, experience says so, the Scripture beareth witness that so it is of a truth. It is a sight of what I am that must unroost me, that must shake my soul, and make me leave my present rest. No man comes to God by Christ but he that knows himself, and what sin hath done to him; that is the first. (Job 21:7-15)
2. As he must know himself, and what a wretch he is, so he must know the world, and what an empty thing it is. Cain did see himself, but saw not the emptiness of this world; and therefore instead of going to God by Christ, he went to the world, and there did take up to his dying day. (Gen 4:16) The world is a great snare to the soul, even to the souls of awakened sinners, by reason of its big looks, and the fair promises that it makes to those that will please to entertain it. It will also make as though it could do as much to the quieting of the spirit as either sermon, Bible, or preacher. Yea, and it has its followers ready at its heels continually to blow its applause abroad, saying, 'Who will show us any [other] good?' (Psa 4:6) and though 'this their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings.' (Psa 49:13) So that unless a man, under some awakenings, sees the emptiness of the world, he will take up in the good things thereof, and not come to God by Christ. Many there be now in hell that can seal to this for truth. It was the world that took awakened Cain, awakened Judas, awakened Demas. Yea, Balaam, though he had some kind of visions of God, yet was kept by the world from coming to him aright. See with what earnestness the young man in the gospel came to Jesus Christ, and that for eternal life. He ran to him, he kneeled down to him, and asked, and that before a multitude, 'Good master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?' (Mark 10:17-24) And yet when he was told he could not come, the world soon stepped betwixt that life and him, and persuaded him to take up in itself; and so, for aught we know, he never looked after life more.
There are four things in the world that have a tendency to lull an awakened man asleep, if God also makes him not afraid of the world.
(1.) There is the bustle and cumber of the world, that will call a man off from looking after the salvation of his soul. This is intimated by the parable of the thorny ground. (Luke 8:14) Worldly cumber is a devilish thing; it will hurry a man from his bed without prayer; to a sermon, and from it again, without prayer; it will choke prayer, it will choke the Word, it will choke convictions, it will choke the soul, and cause that awakening shall be to no saving purpose.
(2.) There is the friendship of this world, to which, if a man is not mortified, there is no coming for him to God by Christ. And a man can never be mortified to it unless he shall see the emptiness and vanity of it. Whosoever makes himself a friend of this world is the enemy of God. And how, then, can he come to him by Christ? (James 4:4)
(3.) There are the terrors of the world, if a man stands in fear of them, he also will not come to God by Christ. The fear of man brings a snare. How many have, in all ages, been kept from coming to God aright by the terrors of the world? Yea, how many are there to one's thinking have almost got to the gates of heaven, and have been scared and driven quite back again by nothing but the terrors of this world? This is that which Christ so cautioneth his disciples about, for he knew it was a deadly thing. Peter also bids the saints beware of this as of a thing very destructive. (Luke 12:4-6, 1 Peter 3:14,15)
(4.) There is also the glory of the world, an absolute hindrance to convictions and awakenings, to wit, honours, and greatness, and preferments: 'How can ye believe,' said Christ, 'which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only.' (John 5:44) If therefore a man is not in his affections crucified to these, it will keep him from coming to God aright.
3. As a man must know himself, how vile he is, and know the world, how empty it is, so he must know the law, how severe it is; else he will not come to God by Jesus Christ our Lord.
A man that is under awakenings, is under a double danger of falling short of coming to God by Christ. If he knows not the severity of the law, he is either in danger of slighting its penalty, or of seeking to make amends to it by doing of good works; and nothing can keep him from splitting his soul upon one of these two rocks, but a sound knowledge of the severity of the law.
(1.) He is in danger of slighting the penalty. This is seen by the practice of all the profane in the world. Do they not know the law? Verily, many of them can say the Ten Commandments without book. But they do not know the severity of the law; and therefore when at any time awakenings come upon their consciences, they strive to drive away the guilt of one sin, by wallowing in the filth of another.
But would they do thus if they knew the severity of the law? they would as soon eat fire. The severity of the law would be an intolerable, insupportable burden to their consciences; it would drive them, and make them fly for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before them.
(2.) Or if he slights not the penalty, he will seek to make amends to it by doing of good works for the sins he has committed. This is manifest by the practice of the Jews and Turks, and all that swerve on that hand—to wit, to seek life and happiness by the law. Paul also was here before he meet with Jesus in the way. This is natural to consciences that are awakened, unless also they have given to them to see the true severity of the law; the which that thou mayest do, if my mite will help, I will cast in for thy conviction these four things—
(a.) The law charges thee with its curse, as well for the pollution of thy nature, as for the defilements of thy life; yea, and if thou hadst never committed sinful act, thy pollution of nature must stand in thy way to life, if thou comest not to God for mercy by Christ.
(b.) The law takes notice of, and chargeth thee with its curse, as well for sinful thoughts as for vile and sinful actions. 'The [very] thought of foolishness is sin,' (Prov 24:9), though it never breaks out into act, and will as surely merit the damnation of the soul as will the greatest transgression in the world.
(c.) If now thou couldst keep all the commandments, that will do thee no good at all, because thou hast sinned first: 'The soul that sinneth shall die.' Unless, then, thou canst endure the curse, and so in a legal way overcome it for the sins that thou hast committed, thou art gone, if thou comest not to God by Christ for mercy and pardon.
(d.) And never think of repentance, thereby to stop the mouth of the law; for the law calleth not for repentance, but life; nor will it accept of any, shouldst thou mourn and weep for thy sins till thou hast made a sea of blood with tears. This, I say, thou must know, or thou wilt not come to God by Christ for life. For the knowledge of this will cause that thou shalt neither slight the severity of the law, nor trust to the works thereof for life. Now, when thou doest neither of these, thou canst not but speed thee to God by Christ for life; for now thou hast no stay; pleasures are gone, all hope in thyself is gone. Thou now diest, and that is the way to love; for this inward death is, or feels like, a hunger-bitten stomach, that cannot but crave and gape for meat and drink. Now it will be as possible for thee to sleep with thy finger in the fire, as to forbear craving of mercy so long as this knowledge remains.
4. As a man must know himself, the emptiness of this world, and the law, so it is necessary for him to know that there is a hell, and how insupportable the torments of it are; for all threatenings, curses, and determinations to punish in the next world will prove but fictions and scarecrows, if there be no woeful place, no woeful state, for the sinner to receive his wages in for sin, when his days are ended in this world. Wherefore, this word 'saved' supposeth such a place and state. He is able to save from hell, from the woeful place, from the woeful state of hell, them that come unto God by him.
Christ, therefore, often insinuated the truth of a hell in his invitations to the sinners of this world to come to him; as where he tells them they shall be saved if they do, they shall be damned if they do not. As if he had said, there is a hell, a terrible hell, and they that come to me I will save them from it; but they that come not, the law will damn them in it. Therefore, that thou mayest indeed come to God by Christ for mercy, believe there is a hell, a woeful, terrible place. Hell is God's creature, 'he hath made it deep and large'! The punishments are by the lashes of his wrath, which will issue from his mouth like a stream of burning brimstone, ever kindling itself upon the soul. (Isa 30:33) Thou must know this by the Word, and fly from it, or thou shalt know it by thy sins, and lie and cry in it.
I might enlarge, but if I did, I should be swallowed up; for we are while here no more able to set forth the torments of hell, than we are whole here to set forth the joys of heaven; only this may, and ought to be said, that God is able, as to save, so to cast into hell. (Luke 12:5) And as he is able to make heaven sweet, good, pleasurable, and glorious beyond thought; so he is able to make the torments of hell so exquisite, so hot, so sharp, so intolerable, that no tongue can utter it, no, not the damned in hell themselves. (Isa 64:4) If thou lovest thy soul, slight not the knowledge of hell, for that, with the law, are the spurs which Christ useth to prick souls forward to himself withal. What is the cause that sinners can play so delightfully with sin? It is for that they forget there is a hell for them to descend into for their so doing, when they go out of this world. For here usually he gives our stop to a sinful course; we perceive that hell hath opened her mouth before us. Lest thou shouldst forget, I beseech thee, another time, to retain the knowledge of hell in thine understanding, and apply the burning- hot thoughts thereof to thy conscience; this is one way to make thee gather up thy heels, and mend thy pace in thy coming to Jesus Christ, and to God the Father by him.
5. It is also necessary that he that cometh to God by the Lord Jesus, should know what death is, and the uncertainty of its approaches upon us. Death is, as I may call it, the feller, the cutter down. Death is that that puts a stop to a further living here, and that which lays man where judgment finds him. If he is in the faith in Jesus, it lays him down there to sleep till the Lord comes; if he be not in the faith, it lays him down in his sins till the Lord comes. (Heb 11:13, 1 Thess 4:14, Job 20:11) Again; if thou hast some beginnings that look like good, and death should overtake thee before those beginnings are ripe, thy fruit will wither, and thou wilt fall short of being gathered into God's barn. Some men are 'cut off as the tops of the ears of corn,' and some are even nipped by death in the very bud of their spring; but the safety is when a man is ripe, and shall be gathered to his grave, as a shock of corn to the barn in its season. (Job 24:20-24, 5:26)
Now if death should surprise and seize thee before thou art fit to die, all is lost; for there is no repentance in the grave, or rather, as the wise man has it, 'Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.' (Eccl 9:10)
Death is God's sergeant, God's bailiff, and he arrests in God's name when he comes, but seldom gives warning before he clappeth us on the shoulder; and when he arrests us, though he may stay a little while, and give us leave to pant, and tumble, and toss ourselves for a while upon a bed of languishing, yet at last he will prick our bladder, and let out our life, and then our soul will be poured upon the ground, yea, into hell, if we are not ready and prepared for the life everlasting. He that doth not watch for, and is not afraid lest death should prevent him, will not make haste to God by Christ. What Job said of temporal afflictions, such an one will death be if thou art not aware—'When I looked for good, then evil came - The days of affliction prevented me.' (Job 30:26,27) If thou lookest, or beginnest to look for good, and the day of death shall cut thee off before thou hast found that good thou lookest for, all is lost, soul, and life, and heaven, and all. Wherefore it is convenient that thou conclude the grave is thy house, and that thou make thy bed once a day in the grave; also that thou say unto corruption, 'Thou art my father; to the worm, thou art my mother and my sister.' (Job 17:13,14) I say, be acquainted with the grave and death. The fool puts the evil day far away, but the wise man brings it nigh. Better be ready to die seven years before death comes, than want one day, one hour, one moment, one tear, one sorrowful sigh at the remembrance of the ill-spent life that I have lived. This, then, is that which I admonish thee of; namely, that thou know death, what it is, what it doth when it comes. Also, that thou consider well of the danger that death leaves that man in, to whom he comes before he is ready and prepared to be laid by it in the grave.
6. Thou must also be made by thy awakenings to see what Christ is. This is of absolute necessity; for how can or shall a man be willing to come to Christ that knows not what he is, what God has appointed him to do? He is the Saviour, every man will say so; but to sense, smell, and taste, what saving is, and so to understand the nature of the office and work of a Saviour, is a rare thing, kept close from most, known but by some. Jesus of Nazareth is the Saviour or the reconciler of men to God in the body of his flesh through death. (Col 1:19-21) This is he whose business in coming from heaven to earth was to save his people from their sins. Now, as was said, to know how he doth this, is that which is needful to be inquired into; for some say he doth it one way, some, he doth it another; and it must be remembered that we are now speaking of the salvation of that man that from new or first awakenings, is coming to God by Christ for life. (1.) Some say he doth it, by giving of us precepts and laws to keep, that we might be justified thereby. (2.) Some say that he doth it, by setting himself a pattern for us to follow him.(3.) Some again hold, that he doth it by our following the light within.
But thou must take heed of all these, for he justifies us by none of these means, and thou dost need to be justified. I say, he justifieth us, not either by giving laws unto us, or by becoming our example, or by our following of him in any sense, but by his blood shed for us. His blood is not laws, nor ordinances, nor commandments, but a price, a redeeming price. (Rom 5:7-9, Rev 1:5) He justifies us by bestowing upon us, not by expecting from us; he justifies us by his grace, not by our works. (Eph 1:7) In a word, thou must be well grounded in the knowledge of what Christ is, and how men are justified by him, or thou wilt not come unto God by him.
As thou must know him, and how men are justified by him, so thou must know the readiness that is in him to receive and to do for those what they need that come unto God by him. Suppose his merits were never so efficacious, yet if it could be proved that there is a loathness in him that these merits should be bestowed upon the coming ones, there would but few adventure to wait upon him. But now, as he is full, he is free. Nothing pleases him better than to give what he has away; than to bestow it upon the poor and needy. And it will be convenient that thou who art a coming soul shouldst know this for thy comfort to encourage thee to come to God by him. Take two or three sayings of his, for the confirming of what is now said. 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' (Matt 11:28) 'All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.' (John 6:37) 'I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.' (Mark 2:17) 'This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.' (1 Tim 1:15)
7. As a man that would come to God by Christ must, antecedent to his so coming, know himself, what he is; the world, how empty it is; the law, how severe it is; death, and what it is; and Christ, and what he is; so also he must know God. 'He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.' (Heb 11:6) God must be known, else how can the sinner propound him as his end, his ultimate end? For so doth every one that indeed doth come to Christ aright; he comes to Christ because he is the way; he comes to God because he is the end. But, I say, if he knows him not, how can he propound him as the end? The end is that for the sake of which I propound to myself anything, and for the sake of which I use any means. Now, then, I would be saved; but why? Even because I would enjoy God. I use the means to be saved; and why? Because I would enjoy God. I am sensible that sin has made me come short of the glory of God, and that Christ Jesus is he, the only he, that can put me into a condition of obtaining the glory of God; and, therefore, I come to God by him. (Rom 3:23, 5:1,2)
But, I say again, who will propound God for his end that knows him not, that knows him not aright? yea, that knows him not, to be worth being propounded as my end in coming to Jesus Christ; and he that thus knows him must know him to be above all, best of all, and him in whom the soul shall find that content, that bliss, that glory and happiness that can by no means be found elsewhere. And, I say, if this be not found in God, the soul will never propound him to itself as the only, highest, and ultimate end in its coming to Jesus Christ. But it will propound something else, even what it shall imagine to be the best good; perhaps heaven, perhaps ease from guilt, perhaps to be kept out of hell, or the like. I do not say but a man may propound all these to himself, in his coming to Jesus Christ; but if he propound these as his ultimate end, as the chiefest good that he seeks; if the presence and enjoyment of God, of God's glorious majesty, be not his chief design, he is not concerned in the salvation that is propounded in our text—'He is able,' and so will 'save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him.'
What is heaven without God? what is ease without the peace and enjoyment of God? what is deliverance from hell without the enjoyment of God? The propounding, therefore, these, and only these, to thyself for thy happiness in thy coming to Jesus Christ is a proposal not a hair's breadth higher than what a man without grace can propound. What or who is he that would not go to heaven? What or who is he that would not also have ease from the guilt of sin? And where is the man that chooseth to go to hell? But many there be that cannot abide God; no, they like not to go to heaven, because God is there. If the devil had a heaven to bestow upon men, a vicious and a beastly heaven, if it be lawful thus to speak, I durst pawn my soul upon it, were it a thousand times better than it is, that, upon a bare invitation, the foul fiend would have twenty to God's one. They, I say, cannot abide God; nay, for all, the devil has nothing but a hell for them; yet how thick men go to him, but how thinly to God Almighty. The nature of God lieth cross to the lusts of men. A holy God, a glorious holy God, an infinitely holy God, this spoils all. But to the soul that is awakened, and that is made to see things as they are; to him God is what he is in himself, the blessed, the highest, the only eternal good, and he without the enjoyment of whom all things would sound but emptily in the ears of that soul.
Now, then, I advise thee that hast a mind to come to God by Christ, that thou seek the knowledge of God—'If thou seekest wisdom as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures, then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.' (Prov 2:4,5) And to encourage thee yet further, he is so desirous of communion with men, that he pardoneth sins for that. Hence he is called not only loving, but love. 'God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.' (1 John 4:16)
Methinks, when I consider what glory there is at times upon the creatures, and that all their glory is the workmanship of God; O Lord, say I, what is God himself? He may well be called the God of glory, as well as the glorious Lord; for as all glory is from him, so in him is an inconceivable well-spring of glory, of glory to be communicated to them that come by Christ to him. Wherefore, let the glory, and love, and bliss, and eternal happiness that is in God allure thee to come to him by Christ.
8. As thou shouldst, nay, must, have a good knowledge of all these, so thou must have it of judgment to come. They that come to God by Christ are said to 'flee from the wrath to come'; to 'flee for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before them.' (Matt 3:7, Heb 6:18)
This judgment to come is a warm thing to be thought of, an awakening thing to be thought of; it is called the eternal judgment, because it is and will be God's final conclusion with men. This day is called the 'great and notable day of the Lord,' (Acts 2:20); the day 'that shall burn like an oven,' (Mal 4:1); the day in which the angels shall gather the wicked together, as tares, into bundles, to burn them; but the rest, into his kingdom and glory. This day will be it in which all the bowels of love and compassion shall be shut up to the wicked, and that in which the floodgates of wrath shall be opened, by which shall a plentiful reward be given to evil-doers, but glory to the righteous. (Psa 31:23) This is the day in which men, if they could, would creep into the ground for fear; but because they cannot, therefore, they will call and cry to the mountains to fall upon them, but they shall not; therefore, they stand bound to bear their judgment.
This day will be the day of breaking up of closet-councils, cabinet- councils, secret purposes, hidden thoughts; yea, 'God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing.' (Eccl 12:14) I say he shall do it then; for he will both 'bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart.' (1 Cor 4:5) This is the day that is appointed to put them to shame and contempt in that have, in this world, been bold and audacious in their vile and beastly ways. At this day, God will cover all such bold and brazen faces with shame. Now they will blush till the blood is ready to burst through their cheeks. (Dan 12:2) Oh! the confusion and shame that will cover their faces while God is discovering to them what a nasty, what a beastly, what an uncomely, and what an unreasonable life they lived in the world. They shall now see they contemned God, that fed them, that clothed them, that gave them life and limb, and that maintained their breath in their nostrils. But, oh, when they see the gulf before them, and all things ready to receive them in thither; then, then they will know what sinning against God means!
And, I say, thou that art for coming to God by Christ must know this, and be well assured of this, or thou wilt never come to God by him.
What of the glory of God shall be put upon them that do indeed come to him will also help in this spiritual journey, if it be well considered by thee. But, perhaps, terror and unbelief will suffer thee to consider but little of that. However, the things afore- mentioned will be goads, and will serve to prick thee forward; and if they do so, they will be God's great blessing unto thee, and that for which thou wilt give him thy thanks for ever. (Eccl 12:10,11)
Thus I have, in few words, spoken something as to the first sort of comers to God by Christ, namely, of the coming of the newly- awakened man. And I say again, if any of the things afore-named be wanting, and are not with his heart, it is a question whether, notwithstanding all the noise that he may make about religion, he will ever come to God by Christ. 1. If he knows not himself and the badness of his condition, wherefore should he come? 2. If he knows not the world, and the emptiness and vanity thereof, wherefore should he come? 3. If he knows not the law, and the severity thereof, wherefore should he come? 4. If he knows not hell, and the torments thereof, wherefore should he come? 5. If he knows not what death is, wherefore should he come? 6. And if he knows not the Father and the Son, how can he come? 7. And to know that there is a judgment to come is as necessary to his coming as most of the rest of the things propounded. Coming to God by Christ is for shelter, for safety, for advantage, and everlasting happiness. But he that knows not, that understands not the things afore-mentioned, sees not his need of taking shelter, of flying for safety, of coming for advantage to God by Christ. I know there are degrees of this knowledge, and he that has it most warm upon him, in all likelihood, will make most haste; or, as David saith, will hasten his escape 'from the windy storm and tempest'; and he that sees least is in most danger of being the loiterer, and so of losing the prize; for all that run do not obtain it; all that fight do not win it; and ALL that strive for it have it not. (Psa 55:8, 1 Cor 9:24-26, 2 Tim 2:4,5)
[Of the backslider's return to Christ.]
Second, I shall now come to the second man mentioned; to wit, the man that is turning back from his backsliding, and speak something also about his coming again to God by Christ.
There are two things remarkable in the returning of a backslider to God by Christ. 1. The first is, he gives a second testimony to the truth of all things spoken of before. 2. He also gives a second testimony of the necessity of coming to God by Christ. Of the manner of his coming to God by Christ perhaps I may also speak a word or two. But,
1. The returning again of the backslider gives a second testimony to the truth of man's state being by nature miserable, of the vanity of this world, of the severity of the law, certainty of death, and terribleness of judgment to come. His first coming told them so, but his second coming tells them so with a double confirmation of the truth. It is so, saith his first coming. Oh! it is so, saith his second. The backsliding of a Christian comes through the overmuch persuading of Satan and lust, that the man was mistaken, and that there was no such horror in the things from which he fled, nor so much good in the things to which he hasted. Turn again, fool, says the devil, turn again to thy former course; I wonder what frenzy it was that drove thee to thy heels, and that made thee leave so much good behind thee, as other men find in the lusts of the flesh and the good of the world. As for the law, and death, and an imagination of the day of judgment, they are but mere scarecrows, set up by politic heads, to keep the ignorant in subjection. Well, says the backslider, I will go back again and see; so, fool as he is, he goes back, and has all things ready to entertain him; his conscience sleeps, the world smiles, flesh is sweet, carnal company compliments him, and all that can be got is presented to this backslider to accommodate him. But, behold, he doth again begin to see his own nakedness, and he perceives that the law is whetting his axe. As for the world, he perceives it is a bubble; he also smells the smell of brimstone, for God hath scattered it upon his tabernacle, and it begins to burn within him. (Job 18:15) Oh! saith he, I am deluded; oh! I am ensnared. My first sight of things was true. I see it is so again. Now he begins to be for flying again to his first refuge; O God, saith he, I am undone, I have turned from thy truth to lies! I believed them such at first, and find them such at last. Have mercy upon me, O God!
This, I say, is a testimony, a second testimony, by the same man, as to the miserable state of man, the severity of the law, the emptiness of the world, the certainty of death, and the terribleness of judgment. This man hath seen it, and seen it again.
A returning backslider is a great blessing, I mean intended to be so, to two sorts of men—1. To the elect uncalled. 2. To the elect that are called, and that at present stand their ground. The uncalled are made to hear him, and consider; the called are made to hear him, and are afraid of falling. Behold, therefore, the mystery of God's wisdom, and how willing he is that spectators should be warned and made take heed. Yea, he will permit that some of his own shall fall into the fire, to convince the world that hell is hot, and to warn their brethren to take heed that they slip not with their feet. I have often said in my heart that this was the cause why God suffered so many of the believing Jews to fall; to wit, that the Gentiles might take heed. (Rom 11:21) O, brethren! saith the backslider that is returned, did you see how I left my God? did you see how I turned again to those vanities from which some time before I fell? O! I was deluded, I was bewitched, I was deceived; for I found all things from which I fled at first still worse by far when I went to them the second time. Do not backslide. Oh! do not backslide. the first ground of your departing from them was good; never tempt God a second time.
2. And as he gives us a second testimony, that the world and himself are so as at first he believed they were, so by this his returning he testifies that God and Christ are the same, and much more than ever he believed at first they were. This man has made a proof before and a proof after conviction of the evil of the one and good of the other. This man has made a proof by feeling and seeing, and that before and after grace received. This man God has set up to be a witness; this man is two men, has the testimony of two men, must serve in the place of two men. He knows what it is to be fetched from a state of nature by grace; but this all Christians know as well as he. Ay, but he knows what it is to be fetched from the world, from the devil, and hell, the second time; and that but few professors know, for few that fall away return to do again. (Heb 6:4-8) Ay, but this man is come again, wherefore there is news in his mouth, sad news, dreadful news, and news that is to make the standing saint to take heed lest he fall. The returning backslider, therefore, is a rare man, a man of worth and intelligence, a man to whom the men of the world should flock, and of whom they should learn to fear the Lord God. He also is a man of whom the saints should receive both caution, counsel, and strength in their present standing; and they should, by his harms, learn to serve the Lord with fear, and to rejoice with trembling. (1 Cor 10:6-13, Isa 51:11-13, Luke 22:32)
This man has the second time also had a proof of God's goodness in his Christ unto him, a proof which the standing Christian has not—I would not tempt him that stands to fall; but the good that a returning backslider has received at God's hands, and at the hand of Christ, is a double good, he has been converted twice, fetched from the world, and from the devil, and from himself twice; oh, grace! and has been made to know the stability of God's covenant, the unchangeableness of God's mind, the sure and lasting truth of his promise in Christ, and of the sufficiency of the merits of Christ, over and over.
[The manner of a backslider's return.]—Of the manner of this man's coming to God by Christ I shall also speak a word or two. He comes as the newly-awakened sinner comes, and that from the same motives and the knowledge of things as he hath over and above (which he had as good have been without), that which the newly-awakened sinner has not; to wit, the guilt of his backsliding, which is a guilt of a worse complexion, of a deeper dye, and of a heavier nature than is any guilt else in the world. He is also attended with fears and doubts that arise from other reasons and considerations than do the doubts and fears of the newly-awakened man; doubts builded upon the vileness of his backsliding. He has also more dreadful scriptures to consider of, and they will look more wishfully in his face, yea, and will also make him take notice of their grim physiognomy, than has the newly-awakened man. Besides, as a punishment of his backsliding, God seems to withdraw the sweet influences of his Spirit, and as if he would not suffer him to pray, nor to repent any more, (Psa 51:11), as if he would now take all away from him, and leave him to those lusts and idols that he left his God to follow.
Swarms of his new rogueries shall haunt him in every place, and that not only in the guilt, but in the filth and pollution of them. (Prov 14:14) None know the things that haunt a backslider's mind, his new sins are all turned talking devils, threatening devils, roaring devils, within him. Besides, he doubts of the truth of his first conversion, consequently he has it lying upon him as a strong suspicion that there was nothing of truth in all his first experience; and this also adds lead to his heels, and makes him come, as to sense and feeling, more heavy and with the greater difficulty to God by Christ. As faithfulness of other men kills him, he cannot see an honest, humble, holy, faithful servant of God, but he is pierced and wounded at the heart. Ay, says he within himself, that man fears God, that man hath faithfully followed God, that man, like the elect angels, has kept his place; but I am fallen from my station like a devil. That man honoureth God, edifieth the saints, convinceth the world, and condemneth them, and is become heir of the righteousness which is by faith. But I have dishonoured God, stumbled and grieved saints, made the world blaspheme, and, for aught I know, been the cause of the damnation of many! These are the things, I say, together with many more of the same kind, that come with him; yea, they will come with him, yea, and will stare him in the face, will tell him of his baseness, and laugh him to scorn, all the way that he is coming to God by Christ—I know what I say!—and this makes his coming to God by Christ hard and difficult to him. Besides, he thinks saints will be aware of him, will be shy of him, will be afraid to trust him, yea, will tell his Father of him, and make intercession against him, as Elias did against Israel, (Rom 11:2), or as the men did that were fellow-servants with him that took his brother by the throat. (Matt 18:31) Shame covereth his face all the way he comes; he doth not know what to do; the God he is returning to, is the God that he has slighted, the God before whom he has preferred the vilest lust; and he knows God knows it, and has before him all his ways. The man that has been a backslider, and is returning to God, can tell strange stories, and yet such as are very true. No man was in the whale's belly, and came out again alive, but backsliding and returning Jonah; consequently, no man could tell how he was there, what he felt there, what he saw there, and what workings of heart he had when he was there, so well as he.
[The sincere Christian's coming to God by Christ.]
Third, I come now to the third man—to wit, to the sincere and upright man that cometh to God by Christ. And although this may, in some sense, be applicable to the two former, for his coming is not worthy to be counted coming to God, that is, not in sincerity and uprightness, yet by such an one I now mean, one that has been called to the faith, and that has in some good measure of sincerity and uprightness therein abode with God.
This man also comes to God by Christ; but his coming is to be distinguished, I mean in the main of it, from the coming of the other two. The other come for the knowledge of forgiveness, a thing that the upright and faithful Christian for the most part has a comfortable faith of, and that for which he is often helped to give thanks to God. I do not say he doubteth not, or that he has not his evidences sometimes clouded; nor do I say that the knowledge of his reconciliation to God by Christ Jesus is so high, so firm, so fixed, and steadfast, that it cannot be shaken, or that he needs no more. I will then explain myself. He comes not to God as an unconverted sinner comes; he comes not as a backslider comes when he is returning to God from his backslidings; but he comes as a son, as one of the household of God, and he comes as one that has not, since correction, wickedly departed from his God.
1. He then comes to God with that access and godly boldness that is only proper to such as himself, that is, to them that walk with God. (Rom 5:2) Thus every one that shall be saved doth not do; thus every one that shall be saved cannot do—to instance the two spoken of before.
2. He comes to God by Christ constantly by prayer, by meditation, by every ordinance. For therefore he maketh use of ordinances, because by them through Christ he getteth into the presence of God. (Psa 27:4)
3. He comes to God through Christ, because he judgeth that God only is that good, that blessedness, that happiness, that is worth looking after; that good and that blessedness that alone can fill the soul to the brim; that good and that happiness that is worthy of our hearts and souls and spirits. Hence David expresseth his coming to God by panting, by thirsting, by tears, saying, 'My soul panteth after thee, O God.' And again, 'My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God, when shall I come and appear before God?' (Psa 42:1,2) And again, 'I will go to the altar of God, unto God, my exceeding joy.' (Psa 43:4) And hence it was that he so envied the swallow and sparrow, even because they could come to the altar of God, where he had promised to give his presence, when he, as I think, by the rage of Saul, was forced to abide remote. 'My soul longeth,' saith he, 'yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. Yea, the sparrow hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God: Blessed are they that dwell in thy house, they will be still praising thee.' Then after a few more words he saith, 'For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper,' I would choose rather to sit at the threshold of thy house, 'than to dwell in the tents of wickedness'; and then renders the reason—'For the Lord is a sun and shield: the Lord gives grace and glory,' &c. (Psa 84)
The presence of God, and the glory and soul-ravishing goodness of that presence, is a thing that the world understands not, nor can they as such desire to know what it is.
4. These good men come to God upon other accounts also; for so it is that they have many concerns with God.
[Concern for themselves.]—(1.) They come to him for a more clear discovery of themselves to themselves, for they desire to know how frail they are, because the more they know that, the more they are engaged in their souls to take heed to their ways, and to fear lest they should tempt their God to leave them. (Psa 39:1-8)
(2.) They come to God by Christ for the weakening of their lusts and corruptions; for they are a sore, yea, a plague to a truly sanctified soul. Those, to be rid of which, if it might be, a godly man chooseth rather to die than to live. This David did mean when he cried. 'Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,' (Psa 51:10); and Paul, when he cried out, 'O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?' (Rom 7:24)
(3.) They come to God by Christ for the renewing and strengthening of their graces. The graces that the godly have received are, and they feel they are, subject to decay; yea, they cannot live without a continual supply of grace. This is the meaning of that, 'Let us have grace,' and, 'Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.' (Heb 4:16)
(4.) They come to God by Christ to be helped against those temptations that they may meet withal. (Matt 6:13) They know that every new temptation has a new snare and a new evil in it; but what snare and what evil, that at present they know not; but they know their God knows, and can deliver out of temptation when we are in, and keep us out while we are out.
(5.) They come to God by Christ for a blessing upon that means of grace which God has afforded for the succour of the soul, and the building of it up in the faith; knowing that as the means, so a blessing upon it, is from God. (2 Thess 3:1) And for this they have encouragement, because God has said, 'I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread.' (Psa 132:15)
(6.) They come to God by Christ for the forgiveness of daily infirmities, (Psa 19:12), and for the continuing them in the light of his countenance notwithstanding. Thus he also would always accept them and their services, and grant that an answer of peace may be returned from their Father into their bosoms; for this is the life of their souls. There are a great many such things that the sincere and upright man comes to God for, too many here to mention. But again,
[Concern for the church and others.]—(1.) This man also comes to God to beseech him for the flourishing of Christ's kingdom, which he knows will never be until Antichrist is dead, and till the Spirit be more plentifully poured upon us from on high. Therefore he also cries to God for the downfall of the first, and for the pouring out of the other.
(2.) He comes to God for the hastening the gathering in of his elect; for it is an affliction to him to think that so many of those for whom Christ died should be still in a posture of hostility against him. (Psa 122:6)
(3.) He comes to God for a spirit of unity to be poured out among believers, for, for the divisions of Reuben he has great thoughts of heart.
(4.) He comes to God to pray for magistrates, and that God would make speed to set them all to that work that is so desirable to his church—that is, to 'hate the whore,' 'to eat her flesh,' to 'make her desolate,' 'and burn her with fire.' (1 Tim 2:1, Rev 17:16)
(5.) He comes to God to beg that he would hasten that great and notable day, the day of the coming of our Lord Jesus, for he knows that Christ will never be exalted as he must be till then; yea, he also knows that God's church will never be as she would, and shall, till then. (Rev 22:20)
(6.) But the main meaning, if I may so call it, of this high text is this, that they that come to God by him—that is, by Christ, are those that come by Christ to God to enjoy him by faith and spirit here, and by open vision and unspeakable possession of him in the next world. This is the great design of the soul in its coming to God by Jesus Christ, and it comes to him by Jesus Christ because it dares not come by itself, and because God himself has made him the way, the new and living way. Here, as I said, the Father meets with that which pleaseth him, and the soul with that which saveth her. Here is righteousness and merits to spare, even righteousness that can justify the ungodly. Here is always, how empty soever we be, a fullness of merit always presented to God by Christ for my obtaining of that which at any time I want, whether wisdom, grace, Spirit, or any good thing soever; only, since I was upon this subject, I thought a little to touch upon things in this order, for the enlarging of thy thoughts, for the conviction of thy spirit, for the stirring of thee up to God, and for the showing of thee the good signs of grace where it is, where is abused, and where any are seeking after it.
[Inferences from thus coming to God by Christ.]
And now I come to draw some inferences from this point also, as I have already done from those going before it. You see that I have now been speaking to you of the man that cometh to God, both with respect to the way he comes, as also with respect to the manner of spirit in which he comes; and hence I may well infer,
First, That he is no fool, no fool according to the best judgment, that cometh to God by Christ. The world indeed will count him one; for the things that be of the Spirit of God are foolishness to them; but indeed, and in the verdict of true judgment, he is not so.
1. For that he now seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom. He has chosen to be concerned with the very head and fountain of wisdom; for Christ is the wisdom of God, and the way to the Father by Christ, is the greatest of mysteries; and to choose to walk in that way, the fruits of the most sage advice; wherefore he is not a fool that thus concerns himself. (Prov 18:1, 1 Cor 1)
2. It is not a sign of foolishness timely to prevent ruin, is it? They are the prudent men that foresee an evil, and hide themselves; and the fools, that go on, and are punished. (Prov 18:8, 27:12) Why, this man foresees an evil, the greatest evil, sin, and the punishment of the soul for sin in hell; and flies to Christ, who is the refuge that God has provided for penitent sinners; and is this a sign of a fool? God make me such a fool, and thee that readest these lines such a fool, and then we shall be wiser than all men that are counted wise by the wisdom of this world. Is it a sign of a fool to agree with one's adversary while we are in the way with him, even before he delivereth us to the judge? Yea, it is a piece of the highest wisdom.
Is he a fool that chooseth for himself long lasters, or he whose best things will rot in a day? Sinners, 'before your pots can feel the thorns [before you can see where you are], God shall take you away as with a whirlwind, both living, and in his wrath.' (Psa 58:9) But this man has provided for things; like the tortoise, he has got a shell on his back, so strong and sound that he fears not to suffer a loaden cart to go over him. The Lord is his rock, his defence, his refuge, his high tower, unto which he doth continually resort.
Was the unjust steward a fool in providing for himself for hereafter? for providing friends to receive him to harbour when others should turn him out of their doors? (Luke 16:8,9) No more is he that gets another house for his harbour before death shall turn him out of doors here.
3. As he that cometh to God by Christ is no fool, so he is no little- spirited fellow. There are a generation of men in this world that count themselves men of the largest capacities, when yet the greatness of their desires lift themselves no higher than to things below. If they can, with their net of craft and policy, encompass a bulky lump of earth, oh what a treasure have they engrossed to themselves! Meanwhile, the man in the text has laid siege to heaven, has found out the way to get into the city, and is resolved, in and by God's help, to make that his own. Earth is a drossy thing in this man's account; earthly greatness and splendours are but like vanishing bubbles in this man's esteem. None but God, as the end of his desires, none but Christ, as the means to accomplish this his end, are things counted great by this man. No company now is acceptable to this man but the Spirit of God, Christ and angels, and saints, as fellow-heirs with himself. All other men and things he deals with as strangers and pilgrims were wont to do. This man's mind soars higher than the eagle or stork of the heavens. He is for musing about things that are above, and their glory, and for thinking what shall come to pass hereafter.
4. But as I have showed you what he is not, so now let me, by a few words, tell you what he is.
(1.) Then he is a man concerned for his soul, for his immortal soul. The soul is a thing, though of most worth, least minded by most. The souls of most lie waste while all other things are enclosed. But this man has got it by the end, that his soul is of more value than the world, wherefore he is concerned for his soul. Soul concerns are concerns of the highest nature, and concerns that arise from thoughts most deep and ponderous. He never yet knew what belonged to great and deep thoughts that is a stranger to soul concerns. Now the man that comes to God by Christ, is a man that is engaged in soul concerns.
(2.) He is a man whose spirit is subjected to a suitableness to spiritual things, for a carnal mind cannot suit with and be delighted in these things: 'The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.' (Rom 8:7) This is the man that God has tamed, and keeps tame by himself, while all other run wild, as the assess upon the mountains. If birds could speak, surely they would tell that those that are kept in the cage have with them another temper than they that range the air, and fly in the fields and woods. Yea, and could those kept tame express themselves to the rest, they would tell that they have white bread and milk, and sugar; while those without make a life out of maggots and worms. They are also in place where there are better things, and their companions are the children of men; besides, they learn such notes, and can whistle such tunes, as other birds are strangers to. Oh! the man whose spirit is subjected to God, betwixt whom and God there is a reconciliation, not only as to a difference made up, but also as to a oneness of heart; none knows what lumps of sugar God gives that man, nor what notes and tunes God learns that man: 'He hath put a new song in my mouth,' saith David, 'even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.' (Psa 40:3)
Second. Is there a man that comes to God by Christ? Thence I infer that there is that believes there is a world to come. No man looks after that which yet he believes is not; faith must be before coming to Christ will be; coming is the fruit of faith. He that comes must believe antecedent to his coming; wherefore it is said, 'we walk by faith'—that is, we come to God through Christ by faith. (Heb 11:7, 2 Cor 5:7) And hence I learn two things:—1. That faith is of a strong and forcible quality. 2. That they who come not to God by Christ have no faith.
1. Faith is of a strong and forcible quality, and that whether it be true or false.
(1.) A false faith has done great things; it has made men believe lies, plead for them, and stand to them, to the damnation of their souls. 'God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie,' to their damnation. (2 Thess 2:11,12) Hence it is said, men make lies 'their refuge.' Why? Because they 'trust in a lie.' (Jer 28:15) A lie, if believed, if a man has faith in it, it will do great things, because faith is of a forcible quality. Suppose thyself to be twenty miles from home, and there some man comes and possesses thee that thy house, thy wife and children, are all burned with the fire. If thou believest it, though indeed there should be nothing of truth in what thou hast heard, yet will this lie 'drink up thy spirit,' even as if the tidings were true. How many are there in the world whose heart Satan hath filled with a belief that their state and condition for another world is good? and these are made to live by lying hope that all shall be well with them, and so are kept from seeking for that which will make them happy indeed. Man is naturally apt and willing to be deceived, and therefore a groundless faith is the more taking and forcible. Fancy will help to confirm a false faith, and so will conceit and idleness of spirit. There is also in man a willingness to take things upon trust, without searching into the ground and reason of them. Nor will Satan be behind hand to prompt and encourage to thy believing of a lie, for that he knows will be a means to bring thee to that end to which he greatly desireth thou shouldst come. Wherefore let men beware, and, oh, that they would, of a false and lying faith!
(2.) But if a false faith is so forcible, what is a true? What force, I say, is there in a faith that is begotten by truth, managed by truth, fed by truth, and preserved by the truth of God? This faith will make invisible things visible; not fantastically so, but substantially so—'Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.' (Heb 11:1) True faith carrieth along with it an evidence of the certainty of what it believeth, and that evidence is the infallible Word of God. There is a God, a Christ, a heaven, saith the faith that is good, for the Word of God doth say so. The way to this God and this heaven is by Christ, for the Word of God doth say so. If I run not to this God by this Christ, this heaven shall never be my portion, for the Word of God doth say so. So, then, thus believing makes the man come to God by him. His thus believing, then, it is that carries him away from this world, that makes him trample upon this world, and that gives him the victory over this world. 'For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.' (1 John 5:4-6)
2. Now if this be true, that faith, true faith, is so forcible a thing as to take a man from his seat of ease, and make him to come to God by Christ as afore, then, is it not truly inferred from hence that they that come not to God by Christ have no faith. What! is man such a fool as to believe things, and yet not look after them? to believe great things, and yet not to concern himself with them? Who would knowingly go over a pearl, and yet not count it worth stooping for? Believe thou art what thou art; believe hell is what it is; believe death and judgment are coming, as they are; and believe that the Father and the Son are, as by the Holy Ghost in the Word they are described, and sit still in thy sins if thou canst. Thou canst not sit still; faith is forcible. Faith is grounded upon the voice of God in the Word, upon the teaching of God in the Word. And it pleases God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe; for believing makes them heartily close in with, and embrace what by the Word is set before them, because it seeth the reality of them.
Shall God speak to man's soul, and shall not man believe? Shall man believe what God says, and nothing at all regard it? It cannot be. 'Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.' And we know that when faith is come, it purifies the heart of what is opposite to God, and the salvation of the soul.
So, then, those men that are at ease in a sinful course, or that come not to God by Christ, they are such as have no faith, and must therefore perish with the vile and unbelievers. (Rev 21:8)
The whole world is divided into two sorts of men—believers and unbelievers. The godly are called believers; and why believers, but because they are they that have given credit to the great things of the gospel of God? These believers are here in the text called also comers, or they that come to God by Christ, because whoso believes will come; for coming is a fruit of faith in the habit, or, if you will, it is faith in exercise; yet faith must have a being in the soul before the soul can put it into act.
This therefore further evidences that they that come not, have no faith, are not believers, belong not to the household of faith, and must perish—'For he that believes not, shall be damned.'
Nor will it be to any boot to say, I believe there is a God and a Christ, for still thy sitting still doth demonstrate that either thou liest in what thou sayest, or that thou believest with a worse than a false faith. But the object of my faith is true. I answer, so is the object of the faith of devils; for they believe that there is one God and one Christ, yet their faith, as to the root and exercise of it, is notwithstanding no such faith as is that faith that saves, or that is intended in the text, and that by which men come to God through Christ. Wherefore still, oh, thou slothful one, thou deceivest thyself! Thy not coming to God by Christ declareth to thy face that thy faith is not good, consequently, that thou feedest on ashes, and thy deceived heart has turned thee aside, that thou canst not deliver thy soul, nor say, 'Is there not a lie in my right hand?' (Isa 44:20)
Third. Is there a man that comes to God by Christ? Thence I infer that the world to come is better than this; yea, so much better as to quit cost and bear charges of coming to God, from this, by Christ, to that. Though there is a world to come, yet if it were no better than this, one had as good stay here as seek that, or if it were better than this, and would bear charges if a man left this for that, and that was all, still the one would be as good as the other. But the man that comes to God by Christ, has chosen the world that is infinitely good; a world, betwixt which and this there can be no comparison. This must be granted, because he that comes to God by Christ is said to have made the best choice, even chose a city that has foundations. (Heb 11:10) There are several things that make it manifest enough that he that comes to God by Christ has made the best market, or chose the best world.
1. That is the world which God commendeth, but this that that he slighteth and contemneth. (2 Thess 1:5,6) Hence that is called the kingdom of God, but this an 'evil world.' (Gal 1:4) Now let us conclude, that since God made both, he is able to judge which of the two are best; yea, best able so to judge thereof. I choose the rather to refer you to the judgment of God in this matter, for should I put you upon asking of him as to this, that is, coming to God by Christ, perhaps you would say, he is as little able to give an account of this matter as yourselves. But I hope you think God knows, and therefore I refer you to the judgment of God, which you have in the Scriptures of truth—'Heaven is his throne, and the earth is his footstool.' I hope you will say here is some difference. The Lord is the God of that, the devil the god and prince of this. Thus also it appears there is some difference between them.
2. That world, and those that are counted worthy of it, shall all be everlasting; but so shall not this, nor the inhabiters of it. The earth with the works thereof shall be burned up, and the men that are of it shall die in like manner. (2 Peter 3) 'But Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.' (Isa 45:17) This world, with the lovers of it, will end in a burning hell; but the world to come fadeth not away. (1 Peter 1:3,4)
3. The world that we are now in, has its best comforts mixed either with crosses or curses; but that to come with neither. There shall be no more curse: and as for crosses, all tears shall be wiped from the eyes of them that dwell there. There will be nothing but ravishing pleasures, and holy; there will be no cessation of joys, nor any speck of pollution. 'In thy presence is fullness of joy, at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.' (Psa 16:11)
4. There men shall be made like angels, 'neither can they die any more.' (Luke 20:35,36) There shall they behold the face of God and his Son, and swim in the enjoyment of them for ever.
5. There men shall see themselves beyond all misery, and shall know that it will be utterly impossible that either anything like sorrow, or grief, or sickness, or discontent, should touch them more.
6. There men shall be rewarded of God for what they have done and suffered according to his will for his sake; there they shall eat and drink their comforts, and wear them to their everlasting consolation.
7. They are all kings that go to that world, and so shall be proclaimed there. They shall also be crowned with crowns, and they shall wear crowns of life and glory, crowns of everlasting joy, crowns of lovingkindness; yea, 'In that day the Lord of hosts himself shall be for a crown of glory to those that are his people.' (Heb 2:7, Isa 28:5, 35:10, Psa 103:4) Now, if this world, though no more could be said of it that is said in these few lines, is not infinitely far better than what the present world is, I have missed it in my thoughts. But the coming man, the man that comes to God by Christ, is satisfied, knows what he does; and if his way, all his way thither, were strewed with burning coals, he would choose, God helping him, to tread that path rather than to have his portion with them that perish.
Fourth, If there be a world to come, and such a way to it so safe and good, and if God is there to be enjoyed by them that come to him by Christ; then this shows the great madness of the most of men, madness, I say, of the highest degree, for that they come not to God by Christ that they may be inheritors of the world to come. It is a right character which Solomon gives of them, 'The heart,' saith he, 'of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.' (Eccl 9:3) A madman is intent upon his toys, upon anything but that about which he should be intent; and so are they that come not to God by Jesus Christ. A madman has neither ears to hear, nor a heart to do, what they that are in their right wits advise him for the best, no more have they that come not to God by Christ. A madman sets more by the straws and cock's feathers by which he decks himself, than he does by all the pearls and jewels in the world. And they that come not to God by Christ set more by the vanishing bubbles of this life than they do by that glory that the wise man shall inherit; 'The wise shall inherit glory, but shame,' says Solomon, 'shall be the promotion of fools.' What a shame it is to see God's jewels lie unregarded of them that yet think none are wiser than themselves.
I know the wise men of this world will scorn one should think of them that they are mad; but verily it is so, the more wise for this world, the more fool in God's matters; and the more obstinately they stand in their way, the more mad. When Solomon gave himself to backsliding, he saith he gave himself to folly and madness. (Eccl 1:17, 2:12) And when he went about to search out what man is since the fall, he went about to search out foolishness and madness. (Eccl 7:25-29) And is it not said, that when the Jews were angry with Jesus for that he did good on the Sabbath, that that anger did flow from their being filled with madness? Doth not Paul also, while he opposed himself against Christ, the gospel, and professors thereof, plainly tell us that he did it even from the highest pitch of madness? 'And being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.' (Acts 26:11) Now if it is exceeding madness to do thus, how many at this day must be counted exceeding mad, who yet count themselves the only sober men? They oppose themselves, they stand in their own light, they are against their own happiness, they cherish and nourish cockatrices in their own bosoms; they choose to themselves those paths which have written upon them in large characters, These are the ways of death and damnation. They are offended with them that endeavour to pull them out of their ditch, and choose rather to lie and die there than to go to God by Christ that they may be saved from wrath through him; yea, so mad are they, that they count the most sober, the most godly, the most holy man, the mad one; the more earnest for life, the more mad; the more in the Spirit, the more mad; the more desirous to promote the salvation of others, the more mad. But is not this a sign of madness, of madness unto perfection? And yet thus mad are many, and mad are all they that while it is called to-day, while their door is open, and while the golden sceptre of the golden grace of the blessed God is held forth, stand in their own light, and come not to God by Christ. (John 10:20, Acts 26:24) That is the fourth inference.
Fifth, A fifth inference that I gather from this text is, that the end that God will make with men will be according as they come or come not to God by Christ. They that come to God by Christ have taken shelter and have hid themselves; but they that come not to God by Christ lay themselves open to the windy storm and tempest that will be in that day. And the wind then will be high, and the tempest strong, that will blow upon them that shall be found in themselves; 'Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people.' (Psa 50:3,4) And now, what will be found in that day to be the portion of them that in this day do not come to God by Christ? None knows but God, with whom the reward of unbelievers is.
But writing and preaching is in vain as to such; let men say what they will, what they can, to persuade to come, to dissuade from neglecting to come, they are resolved not to stir. They will try if God will be so faithful to himself and to his Word, as to dare to condemn them to hell fire that have refused to hear and comply with the voice of him that speaketh from heaven.
But this is but a desperate venture. Several things declare that He is determined to be at a point in this matter—
1. The gallows are built—hell is prepared for the wicked. 2. There are those already in chains, and stand bound over to the judgment of that day, that are, as to creation, higher and greater than men, to wit, the angels that sinned. (2 Peter 2:4) Let sinners, then, look to themselves. 3. The Judge is prepared and appointed, and it hath fallen out to be HE that thou hast refused to come to God by; and that predicts no good to thee; for then will he say of all such, 'Those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.' (Luke 19:27)
But what a surprise will it be to them that now have come to God by Christ to see themselves in heaven indeed, saved indeed, and possessed of everlasting life indeed. For alas! what is faith to possession? Faith that is mixed with many fears, that is opposed with many assaults, and that seems sometimes to be quite extinguished; I say, what is that to a seeing of myself in heaven? Hence it is said, that he shall then come to be admired in them that now believe, because they did here believe the testimony; then they shall admire that it was their lot to believe when they were in the world. (2 Thess 1:10) They shall also admire to think, to see, and behold, what believing has brought them to, while the rest, for refusing to come to God by Christ, drink their tears mixed with burning brimstone.
Repentance will not be found in heaven among them that come to God by Christ; no, hell is the place of untimely repentance; it is there where the tears will be mixed with gnashing of teeth, while they consider how mad, and worse, they were in not coming to God by Jesus Christ.
Then will their hearts and mouths be full of, 'Lord, Lord, open unto us.' But the answer will be, Ye shut me out of doors; 'I was a stranger, and ye took me not in'; besides, you refused to come to my Father by me, wherefore now you must go from my Father by me. (Matt 25)
They that will not be saved by Christ, must be damned by Christ; no man can escape one of the two. Refuse the first they may, but shun the second they cannot. And now they that would not come unto God by Christ will have leisure and time enough, if I may call it time, to consider what they have done in refusing to come to God by Christ. Now they will meditate warmly on this thing, now their thoughts will be burning hot about it, and it is too late, will be, in each thought, such a sting, that, like a bow of steel, it will continually strike him through.
Now they will bless those whom formerly they have despised, and commend those they once contemned. Now would the rich man willingly change places with poor Lazarus, though he preferred his own condition before his in the world. The day of judgment will bring the worst to rights in their opinions; they will not be capable of misapprehending any more. They will never after that day put bitter for sweet, or darkness for light, or evil for good any more. Their madness will now be gone. Hell will be the unbeliever's bedlam house, and there God will tame them as to all those bedlam tricks and pranks which they played in this world, but not at all to their profit nor advantage; the gulf that God has placed and fixed betwixt heaven and hell will spoil all as to that. (Luke 16:23-26)
But what a joy will it be to the truly godly to think now that they are come to God by Christ! It was their mercy to begin to come, it was their happiness that they continued coming; but it is their glory that they are come, that they are come to God by Christ. To God! why, he is all! all that is good, essentially good, and eternally good. To God! the infinite ocean of good. To God, in friendly-wise, by the means of reconciliation; for the other now will be come to him to receive his anger, because they come not to him by Jesus Christ. Oh! that I could imagine; oh! that I could think, that I might write more effectually to thee of the happy estate of them that come to God by Christ.
But thus have I passed through the three former things, namely, 1. That of the intercession of Christ. 2. That of the benefit of intercession. 3. That of the persons that are interested in this intercession.