The Christian Soldier; or Heaven Taken by Storm (Part 1, taking heaven by violence)
Matthew XI. 12 The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
John the Baptist, hearing in prison of the fame of Christ, sends two of his disciples to Him with this question, Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another? verse 3. Not (as Tertullian thinks) that John Baptist knew not that Jesus Christ was the true Messiah, for he was confirmed in this both by the Spirit of God and by a sign from heaven (John i:33). But John Baptist hereby endeavored to correct the ignorance of his own disciples who had a greater respect for him than for Christ.
In the fourth verse Christ answers their question, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, &c. Jesus Christ demonstrates Himself to be the true Messiah by His miracles which were real and occular proofs of His divinity. John’s disciples being departed, Christ falls into a high praise and commendation of John Baptist, Verse 7. What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? As if Christ had said, John Baptist was no unconstant man, fluctuating in his mind and being shaken as a reed from one opinion to another; he was no Reuben, unstable as water, but was fixed and resolute in religion, and a prison could make no alteration in him.
Verse 8. But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? John did not indulge his senses; he wore not silks, but camel’s hair; nor did he affect to live at court, but in a wilderness, Matt. iii. 3,4.
Again, Christ commends John as being His forerunner who prepared the way before him; verse 10. He was the morning star which did precede the Sun of Righteousness; and that Christ might sufficiently honor this holy man, He does not only parallel him with, but prefers him before, the chief of the prophets. Verse 9. What went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet” Verse 11. Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: he was eminent both for dignity of office and perspicuity of doctrine; and so our text is ushered in: From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. In these words there is,
1. The preface, or introduction: from the days of John the Baptist until now. John Baptist was a zealous preacher, a Boanerges, or son of Thunder; and after his preaching, people began to be awakened out of their sins.
Hence learn, what kind of ministry is likely to do most good, namely, that which works upon the consciences of men. John Baptist lifted up his voice like a trumpet, he preached the doctrine of repentance with power, Matt. iii. 2. Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand: He came hewing and cutting down men’s sins, and afterwards preached Christ to them. First, he poured in the vinegar of the law, then the wine of the gospel. This was that preaching which made men studiously seek after heaven. John did not so much preach to please as to profit; he chose rather to discover men’s sins than to show his own eloquence. The best mirror is not that which is most gilded, but that which shows the truest face. — That preaching is to be preferred which makes the truest discovery of men’s sins and shows them their hearts. John Baptist was a burning and shining light; he did burn in his doctrine and shine in his life; and therefore men pressed into heaven. Peter, who was filled with a spirit of zeal, humbled his hearers for their sins and opened to them a fountain in Christ’s blood, they were pricked in their heart, Acts ii. 37. ‘Tis the greatest mercy to have a soul-searching ministry. If one had a desperate wound, he would desire to have it searched to the bottom. Who would not be content to have their souls searched so they may have them saved?
2. The matter in the text: the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
What is meant by the kingdom of heaven?
Some interpret it as the doctrine of the gospel which reveals Christ and heaven. — So Erasmus.
But I rather, by the kingdom of heaven, understand glory; and so learned Beza and others.
This kingdom ‘suffereth violence.’
‘Tis a metaphor from a town or castle that holds out in war, and is not taken but by storm. So the kingdom of heaven will not be taken without violence: ‘The violent take it by force.’
The earth is inherited by the meek Matt. v: 5. Heaven is inherited by the violent. Our life is military. Christ is our Captain, the gospel is the banner, the graces are our spiritual artillery, and heaven is only taken in a forcible way. These words fall into two parts.
1. The combat,– suffereth violence,
2. The conquest, — the violent take it by force.
The right way to take heaven is by storm; or thus, none get into heaven but violent ones.
This violence has a double aspect.
It concerns men as magistrates; they must be violent,
1. In punishing the guilty. When Aaron’s Urim and Thummim will do no good, then must Moses come with his rod. The wicked are the bad humours and surfeit of the commonwealth which, by the care of magistracy, are to be purged out. God has placed governors ‘for the terror of evildoers,’ 1 Peter ii. 14. They must not be like the sword-fish which has a sword in his head but is without a heart. They must not have a sword in their hand, but no heart to draw it out for the cutting down of impiety. Connivance in a magistrate supports vice, and by not punishing offenders he adopts other men’s faults and makes them his own. Magistracy without zeal is like the body without spirit. Too much leniency emboldens sin and doth but shave the head which deserves to be cut off.
2. In defending the innocent. The magistrate is the asylum or altar of refuge for the oppressed to fly to. Charles, Duke of Calabri, was so in love with doing justice that he caused a bell to be hung at his palace gate, and whosoever would ring it, was sure presently to be admitted into the duke’s presence, or have some officers sent out to hear his cause. Aristides was famous for his justice, of whom the historian saith that he would never favor any man’s cause because he was his friend nor do injustice to any because he was his enemy. The magistrate’s balance is the oppressed man’s shield.
This violence concerns men as Christians. Though heaven be given us freely, yet we must contend for it, Eccles. ix. 10. ‘What thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.’ Our work is great, our time short, our Master urgent. We have need therefore to summon together all the powers of our souls and strive as in a matter of life and death, that we may arrive at the kingdom above: We must not only put forth diligence, but violence. For the illustrating and clearing of this proposition, I will shew.
1. What violence is not meant here: The violence in the text excludes, 1. An ignorant violence; to be violent for that which we do not understand, Acts xvii. 23. ‘As I passed by and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, to the unknown god.’ These Athenians were violent in their devotions, but it might be said to them, as Christ said to the woman of Samaria, John iv. 22. ‘Ye worship ye know not what.’ Thus the Catholics are violent in their religion. Witness their penance, fasting, dilacerating themselves till the blood comes, but it is a zeal without knowledge; their mettle is better than their eye-sight.– When Aaron was to bum incense upon the alter, he was first to light the lamps, Exod. xxv. 7. When zeal like incense burns, first the lamp of knowledge must be lighted.
2. It excludes a bloody violence, which is twofold: First, when one goes to lay violent hands upon himself. The body is an earthly prison where God has put the soul; we must not break prison, but stay till God by death lets us out. The centinel is not to stir without permission from his captain; nor must we dare to stir hence without God’s permission. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost, 1 Cor. Vi.19.; When we offer violence to them, we destroy God’s temple: The lamp of life must bum so long as any natural moisture is left, like oil, to feed it.
Secondly, When one takes away the life of another. There’s too much of this violence nowadays. No sin has a louder voice than blood, Gen iv. 10. The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground. If there is a curse for him that smiteth his neighbour secretly, Deut. xxvii. 24, then he is doubly cursed who kills him. If a man had slain another unawares, he might take sanctuary and fly to the altar, but if he had done it willingly, the holiness of the place was not to protect him, Exod, xxi ,14, “If a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.” Joab, being a man of blood, King Solomon sought to slay him even though he caught hold on the horns of the altar, 1 Kings viii. 29. In Bohemia, formerly, a murderer was to be beheaded and put in the same coffin with him whom he had killed. Thus we see what violence the text excludes.
2. What violence is meant here – it is a holy violence. This is twofold. 1. We must be violent for the truth. Here Pilate’s question will be cited, “What is truth?” Truth is either the blessed Word of God which is called the Word of truth; or those doctrines which are deduced from the Word, and agree with it as the dial with the sun or the transcript with the original; as the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the creation, the doctrine of free grace, justification by the blood of Christ, regeneration, resurrection of the dead, and the life of glory. These truths we must be violent for, which is either by being advocates for them or martyrs.
Truth is the most glorious thing; the least filing of this gold is precious: what shall we be violent for, if not for truth? Truth is ancient; its grey hairs may make it venerable; it comes from him who is the ancient of days. Truth is unerring, it is the Star which leads to Christ. Truth is pure, Psalm cxix. 140. It is compared to silver refined seven times, Psalm xii. 6. There is not the least spot on truth’s face; it breathes nothing but sanctity. Truth is triumphant; it is like a great conqueror; when all his enemies lie dead, it keeps the field and sets up its trophies of victory. Truth may be opposed but never quite deposed. In the time of Dioclesian things seemed desperate and truth ran low. Soon after was the golden time of Constantine, and then truth did again lift up its head. When the water in the Thames is lowest, a high tide is ready to come in. God is on truth’s side and so long as there is no fear it will prevail: The heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, 2 Peter iii. 12. but not that truth which came from Heaven, 1 Peter. i. 25.
Truth has noble effects. Truth is the seed of the new birth. God does not regenerate us by miracles or revelations, but by the word of truth, James i. 18. As truth is the breeder of grace, so it is the feeder of it, 1 Tim. iv. 6. Truth sanctifies: John xvii. 17. Sanctify them through Thy truth. Truth is the seal that leaves the print of its own holiness upon us; it is both speculum and lavacrum, a glass to show us our blemishes and a laver to wash them away. Truth makes us free, John xviii. 32. it bears off the fetters of sin and puts us into a state of Sonship, Rom. viii.11, and Kingship, Rev. i. 6. Truth is comforting; this wine cheers. When David’s harp and viol could yield him no comfort, truth did, Psalm cxix. 50. ‘This is my comfort in my affliction, for thy word hath quickened me.’ Truth is an antidote against error. Error is the adultery of the mind; it stains the soul, as treason stains blood. Error damns as well as does vice. A man may as well die by poison as by pistol; and what can stave off error but truth? The reason so many have been tricked into error is because they either did not know, or did not love, the truth. I can never say enough in the honor of truth. Truth is basis fidei, the ground of our faith; it gives us an exact model of religion; it shows us what we are to believe. Take away truth and our faith is fancy. –Truth is the best flower in the church’s crown; we have not a richer jewel to trust God with than our souls, nor He a richer jewel to trust us with than His truths. Truth is insigne honoris, an ensign of honor; it distinguishes us from the false church, as chastity distinguisheth a virtuous woman from an harlot. In short, truth is ecclesiae praesidium, that is, the bulwark a nation: 2 Chron. xi. 17. it is said, the Levites (who were the antesignani, that is, the ensignbeaners of truth) strengthened the kingdom. Truth may be compared to the capitol of Rome, which was a place of the greatest strength; or the Tower of David, on which ‘there hang a thousand shields,’ Cant. iv. 4. Our forts and navies do not so much strengthen us as truth. Truth is the best militia of a kingdom; if once we part with truth and espouse popery, the lock is cut where our strength lies. What then should we be violent for, if not for truth? We are bid to contend as in an agony ‘for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints,’ Jude verse 3. If truth once be gone, we may write this epitaph on England’s tomb-stone, Thy glory is departed.
2. This holy violence is also when we are violent for our own salvation, 2 Peter i. 10. ‘Give diligence to make your calling and election sure’ The Greek word signifies anxious carefulness, or a serious bearing of one’s thoughts about the business of eternity, such a care as sets head and heart at work. In this channel of religion all a Christian’s zeal should run.
3. The third thing is, what is implied in this holy violence? It implies three things:
1. Resolution of will.
2. Vigor of affection.
3. Strength of endeavor.
1. Resolution of the will. Psalm cxix. 6. ‘I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments.’ Whatever is in the way to heaven, (though there be a lion in the way) I will encounter it like a resolute commander that charges through the whole body of the army. The Christian is resolved, come what will, he will have heaven. Where there is this resolution, danger must be despised, difficulties trampled upon, terrors contemned. This is the first thing in holy violence: resolution of will; I will have heaven whatever it costs me, and this resolution must be in the strength of Christ.
Resolution is like the bias to the bowl, which carries it strongly. Where there is but half a resolution, a will to be saved and a will to follow sin, it is impossible to be violent for Heaven. If a traveller be unresolved, sometimes he will ride this way, sometimes that; he is violent for neither.
2. Vigor of the affections. The will proceeds upon reason; the judgment being informed of the excellency of a state of glory and the will being resolved upon a voyage to that holy land, now the affections follow and they are on fire in passionate longings after heaven. The affections are violent things, Psalm xlii. 2. ‘My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.’ The Rabbins note here, that David saith not, My soul hungereth, but thirsteth, because naturally we are more impatient with thirst than hunger. See in what a rapid, violent motion David’s affections were carried after God. Affections are like the wings of the bird which make the soul swift in its flight after glory; where the affections are stirred up, there is offering violence to heaven.
3. This violence implies strength of endeavor, when we strive for salvation as though a matter of life and death. ‘Tis easy to talk of Heaven, but not to get to Heaven; we must operam navare, put forth all our strength, and call in the help of heaven to this work.
4. The fourth thing is, how many ways a Christian must offer violence: namely, four ways;
He must offer violence,
1. To Himself,
2. To the World,
3. To Satan,
4. To Heaven.