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his ancient seat and possession, he finds the heart swept and garnished : swept from the filth of common sins, and garnished with common graces, as its ornaments; so that there seems no re-admission or re-entrance to this unclean spirit: and then he goes and takes to himself seven other spirits worse than himself, that is, as I conceive, stronger temptations and more prevailing lusts; and, by them, he enters, and dwells there, and defiles that clean-swept house, and not only keeps the sinner from being better, but make his latter end worse than his beginning.
v. When men have gone far towards Christianity, NATURAL CONSCIENCE THEN LEAVES THEM, AND CEASES TO EXCITE AND PROVOKE THEM TO A FURTHER PROFICIENCY.
Conscience is the spur, that quickens wicked men to make that progress, which they do make : now when it hath brought them past common sins to known and common duties, then it leaves them, and urges them no further; and so they sit down far short of true grace and Christianity, which they endeavoured after. Let me say to such men, as St. Paul to the Galatians, chap. v. 7. Ye did run well : who hindered you? was it the difficulty of religion, or the strength of temptation, or the flatteries and allurements of the world, or the violence and rage of your own lusts? But might you not, nevertheless, have armed yourselves with peremptory resolutions ? might you not undauntedly and victoriously have broke through all these? were you not able, when you stood still, or when you gave back as frighted and terrified at these things, to make one step, and another step still forwards ? could you not proceed still further, and press onwards through all these ? Yes: you might have gone much further, if you would: you might have made a further progress, though all hell had armed itself against you: therefore, if you perish, there will be cause and reason to blame yourselves : you can only charge your damnation on your own wilful sloth and negligence.
This may suffice for an Answer to the Third General : Whence it is, that professors, that have gone far towards Christianity, yet fall short of grace, and of being true Christians. They were too nice to encounter difficulties: they were apt and forward to think well of themselves : they were too faint-hearted to cope with temptations, loth to disoblige the world, and would not proceed further than spurred on by natural conscience; and, therefore, wilfully fell short, through their own sloth and negligence, of grace here, and of glory hereafter.
IV. The Last General propounded, was to shew you THE FOLLY AND EXTREME MISERY OF THOSE, WHO PROCEED THUS FAR AS TO BE ALMOST-CHRISTIANS, AND YET WILL NOT BE PERSUADED TO BE SUCH ALTOGETHER.
The Apostle seems to be very passionate, Gal. iii. 1, 3. O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you. Are ye so foolish ? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? What! are you mad? are you besotted ? are you bewitched out of your common reason and understanding; that, having begun in the Spirit, and made so far progress in the ways and knowledge of Christ, after all this, you should fall back again to carnal, fleshly rudiments ? Why, the same may I say to many: You, that are professors, who hath bewitched you? why are you so foolish, as, when you have not only begun, but proceeded far towards holiness and true grace, that yet you should give over, and sit down in a state of nature and unregeneracy short of it?
Consider but your folly and misery in these particulars.
i. Is it not extreme folly, madness, and misery, WILFULLY TO FALL SHORT OF THAT, WHICH YOU HAVE ALREADY TAKEN SO MUCH PAINS TO ATTAIN?
What! after all the labour, and hardships, and difficulties that you have already gone through to obtain grace, now to sit down short of it, and lose all! Will you wilfully lose all your prayers, and all your tears ? all your convictions, and all your conflicts ? Shall all these be so much labour in vain? Is not this much below the ingenuousness of your resolutions in inferior matters? Do not you use to quicken your endeavours by such arguments as these: “ I have spent so much upon it, I have taken so much pains about it, therefore I will see the end of it, and go through with it?" Do you think much to lose your labour in any thing but salvation; but in working out the salvation of your precious, immortal souls? What though it be hard and difficult to go further : consider, was it not hard and difficult to arrive at that, which you bave already attained unto? and are
you so foolish, as to be willing to lose the fruit and benefit of the difficulties, which you have already passed, only for fear of difficulties that are yet to come? If Christianity be not worthy your pains, why did you ever engage in it? and if it be, why do you sit still ? You will be guilty of extreme folly, either in this or that: for you enter upon Christianity, without sitting down, and reckoning what it will cost you: Christ himself brands you for fools: Luke xiv. 28, 29, 30. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest, haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
If it is was not worth your pains, what a folly was it to attempt it! if you thought it worth all and more, what a:folly then was it to flag! And could you, before you came so nigh to grace and so nigh to glory, could you see such beauty and such desirableness in it at so great a distance, as to persuade you to come thus far; and, now, when you are much nearer, and can see much more of its excellency and comeliness, dare you now despise and contemn it, when you have not only the promise of God to be your encouragement, but you have also given earnest too? for that profession, and those endeavours, and those duties, which you have already passed through, are all, as it were, the earnest of your further progress : this earnest you lose: profession, endeavours, and duty, all come to nothing, if, after all, you rest any where short of grace: you lose your earnest which you give, if you be but almost Christians, and rest any where short of true Christianity. What extreme folly is this, for men to disquiet themselves in vain, and take so much pains to pray and hear, and to keep themselves from many sins, and perform many duties; and, yet, because they will do no more, lose the benefit of all this! What is it, that you do all this for? is it not to obtain grace and glory? And will you do so much for such an excellent end, and yet wilfully fall short of it? You may remain graceless, without all this labour: if you are fully resolved for hell, why do you do any thing? to hell you may go, without praying or hearing ; without striving, or conflicting, or performing one duty, or resisting one sin as you do: if you are resolved for heaven, why do you not do more? all your praying, hearing, striving, and wrestling will be lost and in vain,
if you do not hold on, if you do not continue. What a folly is it, for you to have gone so far, and to have won every step of ground by clear force; to have toiled in the ways of religion, with sweat and anguish, and disquieting to your soul; and yet, at last, to lose and frustrate all this pains, through your cursed and wilful sloth and negligence! to give all away, and fall wilfully short of grace and salvation !
ii. Is it not gross and inexcusable folly, TO DESIST, AFTER SO FAR PROGRESS; whereas, for ought we know, had we but proceeded a little further, we might have obtained that grace which we fall short of ?
And how know you, but that, upon your further endeavours, God might have bestowed that grace you strive for? God is not wanting in this kind : to those, who improve the power of nature which they have, he gives the power of grace which they have not. Yet, when men arrive thus far, and come as it were to the very porch of heaven, what thick and dull folly is it, when there is as it were but a step or two between them and glory, to break off their progress and sit down short! What! is it more labour, to go those few steps more, than those which you have already gone? Were you willing and contented, to do all that you have already done, for that, which is but like grace; and will you not be persuaded to do a little more, for that, which is true grace?' It may be God may convert you, by the very next prayer you make: he may convert you, by the next sermon you hear: he may give you true grace, when you next of all oppose any temptation; or when you next of all struggle against any lust : the very next step, which you take in his way, may carry you to heaven, for ought you know. Now the great probability of this, nay were it only a bare possibility, makes a man guilty of the greatest folly, who hath gone thus far towards holiness, if he neglect a further progress towards it.
iii. WHAT A DANGEROUS AND DREADFUL THING IS IT, FOR MEN TO CLIMB SO HIGH; AND YET TO HAVE NO HOLDFAST TO DEPEND UPON, NO FOUNDATION TO SUPPORT THEM!
Yet thus it is with every elevated carnal professor, that falls short of grace. He is like a man, that stands upon the sharp top of a towering pinacle, where he hath no other holdfast but a hiandful of air. But the standing of a child of God is firm:
his feet are fixed upon an immovable rock, even the Rock of Ages; and God reacheth out his hand from heaven to support him. It is disputed by some nice inquisitors, whether a man, if he were lifted up above the magnetic and attractive virtue of the earth, may not stand as safely and walk in the air as he doth now upon the earth. It is true of a child of God, when he hath got beyond the reach of earthly attractions, he may walk safely in that sublime way which leads to heaven ; but, for wicked men, that have not got beyond the malignity of the earth, it is ex ceeding dangerous: their earthly minds and affections, and their çartbly conversations, will in the end bear them down headlong; unless they climb still higher, until they have got beyond these terrene attractions. Now would it not make you tremble, to see a man borne up in the air, as the poets feign of Icarus, with waxen wings, that are subject to melt and fall off, and betray their charge to certain rùin and perdition ? thus it is with every carnal professor, that has gone far in Christianity. And is it not you, that fly only with waxen wings, I mean the power of nature and the common works of the Holy Ghost, which may fall off and leave you in eternal ruin?
iv. And hence it follows, in the fourth place, that these mountainous professors, who have attained to a high pitch, yet fall short of grace, BECAUSE THEY WANT FIRM FOOTING TO ASSURE THEIR STANDING.
They usually either desperately tumble headlong into the commission of some foul gross sins; or else they grow brain, sick, and turn aside to the maintaining of some prodigious error. This is usually the issue of such lofty professors. As we see a cloud, that hath been sucked up by the sun, how it hovers a while in the air, but anon is wrapped and whirled about with every wind, and so is utterly lost and dissipated; or else it falls down again to the earth in storins, and is tumed only into mire and dirt : even so fares it with many a professor: he is drawn up out of the earth, and above the pollutions of the world, by a common influence of the Holy Spirit, and for a while he hangs and hovers in a lofty profession; but, having no firm basis to şustain him, he is either blown up as an empty cloud, and driven away by every wind of doctrine, and lost amongst various sects and opinions; or else, after a while, he falls back again into the filthy conversation and worldly pollutions that he had escaped, and ends only in mire and dirt, and this because he hath not that