The Christian Soldier ( More Exhortation )
The more violence we put forth in religion, the greater measure of glory we shall have.
14. The more violence we put forth in religion, the greater measure of glory we shall have. That there are degrees in glory in Heaven seems to me beyond dispute.
1. There are degrees of torment in Hell; therefore, by the rule of contraries, there are degrees of glory in Heaven.
2. The Scripture speaks of a prophet’s reward, Matt. x. 41. which is a degree above others.
3. The saints are said to shine as the stars, Dan. xii. Now one star differeth from another in glory. So that there are gradations of happiness; and of this judgment is Calvin; as also many of the ancient fathers. Consider then seriously, the more violent we are for Heaven, and the more work we do for God, the greater will be our reward. The hotter our zeal, the brighter our crown. Could we hear the blessed souls departed speaking to us from Heaven, surely they would say, Were we to leave heaven awhile and to dwell on the earth again, we would do God a thousand times more service than we have ever done; we would pray with more life, act with more zeal; for now we see that the more we have labored, the more astonishing is our joy and the more flourishing our crown.
15. Upon our violence for the kingdom God hath promised mercy. Matt. vii. 7. — Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
1. Ask. Ask with importunity. A faint asking begs a denial. King Ahasuerus stood with his golden scepter and said to queen Esther, ask, and it shall be given, to the half of the kingdom. But God saith more; ask and he will give you the whole kingdom, Luke xii. 32. It is observable, that the door of the tabernacle was not of brass, but had a thin covering, a veil, that they might easily enter into it: So the door of Heaven is made easy through Christ’s blood, that our prayers put up in fervency may enter. — Upon our asking, God has promised to give his spirit, Luke xi.13. And if he gives his Spirit, he will give his kingdom; the Spirit first anoints, 1 John ii. 27, and after his anointing oil comes the crown.
2. ‘Seek, and ye shall find.’ But, is it not said, ‘Many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able?’ Luke xiii. 24. I answer, that that is because they seek in a wrong manner.
1. They did seek ignorantly, setting up an altar to the unknown god. It is ill seeking pearls in the dark. Ignorant people seek Heaven by their good meanings; they seek in the dark, and no wonder they miss salvation.
2. They did seek proudly. They sought Heaven by their own merits; whereas we are to seek the kingdom in Christ’s strength, and in his Name.
3. They did seek lazily; as the spouse sought Christ on her bed and found him not, Cant. iii. 1. So many seek Christ in a supine manner; they seek, but they do not strive.
4. They did seek hypocritically; they would have Heaven and their lusts too. — Like that protestant prince Cambden speaks of, who set up one altar in the same church to the true God and another to the idol. — But let not such seekers ever think to find happiness; let them not think to lie in Delilah’s lap and go to Abraham’s bosom when they die.
5. They did seek inconstantly: Because mercy did not come presently, they gave over seeking.
But else if we seek the kingdom of Heaven cordially, God hath pawned his truth in a promise, and we shall find, Jer xxix. 13. – ‘Then shall ye find me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart.’
3. ‘Knock, and it shall be opened.’ — Knocking implies violence. But we must do as Peter, Acts xii. 16. ‘He continued knocking,’ We must continue knocking by prayer, and Heaven-gate shall be opened. How may this be as oil to the wheels? how may it encourage holy violence when we have so gracious a promise of mercy upon our earnest seeking of it.
1. This holy violence will not hinder men in their secular employments. Violence for the kingdom, and, diligence in a calling, are not inconsistent. Christians, you may work for Heaven, yet work in a trade. God hath given you a body and a soul and he has allotted you time to provide for both. he has given you a body, therefore be diligent in your calling, he has given you a soul, therefore be violent for Heaven. These two may well stand together – providing for a family and praying in a family. He that does not exercise himself in some honest employment, is guilty of the breach of that commandment, six days shalt thou labor. God never sealed warrants for idleness. The sluggard shall be indicted at the day of judgment for letting his field be over-run with thorns. — They are hypocrites who talk of living by faith but refuse to live in a calling. Only remember that the pains you take in religion must exceed the other, Matt. vii.33. -‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God.’ First, in order of time, before all things; and first in order of affection, above all things. Your soul is the nobler part, therefore that must be chiefly looked after. In your calling show diligence; in religion, violence.
But some may say, we are so encumbered in the world that all time for religion is swallowed up; we cannot get a break from our calling to read or pray?
If your trade be such that you cannot allow yourselves time for your souls, then your trade is unlawful. There are two things that make a trade unlawful.
1. When persons deal in such commodities as they know cannot be used without sin, such as selling on the black market or selling idolatrous pictures and crucifixes.
2. When their trade doth so involve them in worldly business, that they cannot mind eternity, or make out one sally to the throne of grace. They are so much in the shop, that they cannot be in the closet. If there be such a trade to be found, doubtless it is unlawful; but let not men lay this problem upon their trade, but upon themselves; their trade would give them leave to serve God, but their covetousness will not give them leave. O how many put a fallacy upon their own souls and cheat themselves into hell.
17. There is but a short space of time granted us, therefore, work the harder for Heaven before it be too late. Indeed we are apt to dream of a long life, as if we were not sojourners but natives, and were here always. The blossom of childhood hopes to come to the budding of youth; and the bud of youth hopes to come to the flower of age; and the flower of age hopes to come come to old age: and old age hopes to renew its strength as the eagle: but if we measure life by a pair of scripture-compasses, it is very short: it is compared to a ‘flying shadow,’ Job viii. 17, to a ‘handbreadth,’ Psalm xxxix. 5. as if there were but a span between the cradle and the grave — parum abest a nihilo. — Is the time of life so short, and maybe shorter than we are aware? — what need is there to zealously improve it before it be slipped away? If time runs, let us ‘so run,’ 1 Cor. ix. 24. He that hath a great business in hand, and the time allotted for doing it is but short, should not lose any of that time. A traveller that hath many miles to ride, and the night is ready to approach, had need spur on the harder, that the night doth not overtake him: so we have a long journey, the night of death is drawing on, how we should use spurs to our sluggish hearts, that we may go on more swiftly!
18. A man’s personal day of grace may be short. There is a time in which the sceptre of grace is held forth, 2 Cor vi. 2. ‘Now is the accepted time.’ The Lord hath prefixed a time wherein the means of grace shall or shall not work. If a person come not in by such a time, God may say, ‘Never shall fruit grow on you anymore.’ A sign that this day of grace, is past is when conscience no longer speaks and God’s Spirit hath done striving. Whether this day may be longer or shorter, we cannot tell; but because it may transpire so soon, ’tis wisdom to take the present opportunity, and use all violence for Heaven. The day of hastens away. No man can (like Joshua) bid this ‘sun stand still;’ and if this critical day be once past, it cannot be recalled. The day of grace being lost, the next is a day of wrath. Jerusalem had a day, but she lost it, Luke xix. 44. ‘If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace, but now they are hid from thine eyes.’ After the expiration of the day of grace, no means or mercies shall prove effectual. Now, ‘they are hid from thine eyes.’ Which is like the ringing of a doleful knell over a dying person; therefore, put forth all violence for Heaven and do it in this ‘thy day,’ before it be too late and the decree be gone forth.
19. If you neglect the offering of violence, now, there will be no help for you after death. — When men shall open their eyes in another world and see into what a damned condition they have sinned themselves, O now what would they not do, What violence would they not use, if there were a possibility they might be saved! When once the door of mercy is shut, if God would make new terms far harder than before, they would readily seal to them. If God should say to the sinner after death, wouldst thou be content to return to the earth, and live there under the harrow of persecution a thousand years for my sake? ‘Yes, Lord, I will subscribe to this, and endure the world’s fury, may have but thy favor at last. But, will you be content to serve an apprenticeship in Hell a thousand years, where you shall feel the worm gnawing and the fire burning? Yes, Lord, even in Hell I submit to thee; so that after a thousand years I may have a release and that ‘bitter cup’ may pass away from me.
But, wilt thou, for every lie thou hast told endure the rack? wilt thou for every oath that thou hast sworn, fill a bottle of tears? wilt thou for every sin thou hast committed lie ten thousand years in sackcloth and ashes? “Yes, Lord, all this and more if thou requirest, I will subscribe to; I am content now to use any violence if I may but at last be admitted into thy kingdom. No, God will say, there shall be no such condition proposed to thee, no possibility of favor, but thou shalt lie forever among the damned; and who is able to dwell with everlasting burnings? Oh, therefore be wise in time, now while God’s terms are more easy, embrace Christ and Heaven, for after death there will be nothing to be done for your souls. The sinner and the furnace shall never be parted.
20. How without all defense will you be left, if you neglect this violence for Heaven! Methinks I hear God thus expostulating the case with sinners thus at the last day: Why did you not take pains for Heaven? Hath there not been a prophet among you? Did not my ministers lift up their voice like a trumpet? did not they warn you? did not they persuade you to use this violence, telling you that your salvation depended upon it? But the most melting rhetoric of the gospel would not move you. Did I not give you time to look after your souls? Rev. ii. 21. ‘I gave her space to repent’ Did not you promise in your vow in baptism, that you would take Heaven by force? ‘fighting under my banner against world, flesh, and Devil?’ Why then did you not use violence for the kingdom? It must be either sloth or obstinacy. You could be violent for other things, for the world, for your lusts, but not for the kingdom of Heaven: What can you say for yourselves, as to why the sentence of damnation should not pass? O how will men be confounded, and left speechless at such a time, and God’s justice shall be cleared in their condemnation! Psalm li. 4. ‘That thou mightest be clear when thou judgest.’ Though the sinner shall drink a sea of wrath, yet shall he not drink one drop of injustice.
21. What a vexation it will be at the last to lose the kingdom of glory for lack of a little violence. When one shall think with himself, I did something in religion, but I was not violent enough; I prayed, but I should have brought fire to the sacrifice. I heard the word, but I should have received the truth in love; I humbled myself with fasting, but I should with humiliation have joined reformation; I gave Christ’s poor good words; I did bid them be warmed, but I should have clothed and fed them; and for lack of a little more violence I have lost the kingdom. The prophet bade the king of Israel smite upon the ground, 2Kings xiii. 18. And he ‘Smote thrice, and stayed and; the man of God was wroth with him, and said, thou shouldest have smitten five or six times; then hadst thou smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it.’ So a man doth something in religion, ‘he smites thrice and then stays; whereas had he but put forth a little more violence for Heaven he would have been saved. What a mischief is this but to half do one’s work, and by shooting short, to lose the kingdom! O how will this cut a man to the heart when he is in hell to think, had I but gone a little further it had been better with me than it is now; I had not been tormented thus in the flame.
22. The examples of the saints of old, who have taken heaven by force. David broke his sleep for meditation Psalm cxix. 148. His violence for heaven was boiled up to zeal, Psalm cxix. 39. ‘My zeal hath consumed me.’ And St. Paul ‘did reach forth unto those things which were before.’ The Greek word signifies to stretch out the neck: it is a metaphor taken from racers, that strain every limb, and reach forward to lay hold upon the prize. We read of Anna, a prophetess, Luke ii. 37. ‘She departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.’ How industrious was Calvin in the Lord’s vineyard. When his friends persuaded him for his health’s sake, to remit a little of his labors, saith he, ‘Would ye have the Lord find me idle when he comes?’ Luther spent three hours a day in prayer. It is said of holy Bradford, that preaching, reading, and prayer were his whole life. I rejoice (said Bishop Jewel) that my body is exhausted in the labours of my holy calling. How violent were the blessed martyrs! They wore their fetters as ornaments; they snatched up torments as crowns, and embraced the flames as cheerfully as Elijah did the fiery chariot that came to fetch him to Heaven. Let racks, fires, pullies, and all manner of torments come, so I may win Christ, said Ignatius. These pious souls resisted unto blood. How should these provoke our zeal! Write after these fair copies.
23. If the saints with all their violence have much ado to get to heaven, how shall they come there who use no violence? 1 Peter ix. 18. ‘If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?’ If they that strive as in an agony can hardly get in at the strait gate, what shall become of them that never strive at all? If St. Paul did ‘keep under his body,’ by prayer, watching, and fasting, 1 Cor. ix. 27, how shall they be saved that wholly let loose the reins to the flesh, and bathe themselves in the luscious streams of carnal pleasure.
24. This sweating for Heaven is not to endure long. 1 Peter v. 10. ‘After that ye have suffered a while.’ So after you have offered violence a while, there shall be an end put to it. Your labour shall expire with your life. It is but a while and you have done weeping, wrestling, and praying; it is but a while and the race will be over, and you shall receive ‘the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls,’ 1 Pet. i. 9. It is but a while and you shall have done your weary marches, you shall put off your armor and put on white robes. How should this excite a spirit of holy violence! It is but a few months or days and you shall reap the sweet fruit of your obedience. The winter will be past, and the spring flowers of joy shall appear. Doctor Taylor comforted himself when he was going to the stake, ‘I have but two stiles to go over, and I shall be at my Father’s house.’ Christians, you have but a little way to go, a little more violence, a few more tears to shed, a few more Sabbaths to keep, and then your hopes shall be crowned with the beatifical sight of God. When the vapour is blown away, then we may see the sun clearly: so when this short vapor of life is blown away, then we shall behold Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, in all his glory, 1 John iii. 2. ‘We shall see him as he is.’
25. If you are not violent for Heaven, you walk antipodes to your own prayers. You pray that God’s will may be done by you on earth, ‘as it is done in Heaven.’ Now how is God’s will done in Heaven? Are not the angels swift in doing the will of God, like the stars above the equinoctial that are moved many millions of miles in an hour. The seraphims are described with wings, to shew how swift and winged they are in their obedience, Isa. vi. 2. Now if you are not violent in your spiritual motion, you live in a contradiction to your own prayers. — You are far from being as angels; you creep as snails in the way to Heaven.
26. This holy and blessed violence would make Christians willing to die. What is it makes men so loathe to die? They are as a tenant that is loathe to go out of a house. Why so? Because their conscience accuseth them that they have taken little or no pains for Heaven: They have been sleeping, when they should have been working, and now death looks ghastly; they are afraid death will carry them as prisoners to hell. Whereas the Christian that hath been active in religion, and has spent his time in the service of God can look death in the face with comfort. He who hath been violent for Heaven in this life need not fear a violent death. Death shall do him no hurt; it shall not be a destruction, but a deliverance; it shall purge out sin and perfect glory. — What made St. Paul say, Cupio dissolvi, ‘I desire to dissolved,’ Phil. i. 23. Surely the reason was, that he had been a man of violence; he did spend himself for Christ, and laboured more than all the other Apostles. 1 Cor. xv. 10. And now he knew there was a crown laid up for him. Augustus desired that he might have a quiet, easy death. If anything will make our pillow easy at death and we go out of the world quietly, it will be this holy violence that we have put forth in the business of religion.
27. If for all that hath been said you will either sit still, or keep your sweat for something else than Heaven, know, that there is a time coming shortly when you will wish you had used this violence. When sickness seizeth you, and your disease begins to grow violent, and you think God’s sergeant is at the door, what wishes will you make, O that I had been more violent for heaven! O that I had been praying when I was dancing and making merry! O that I had had a bible in my hand when I had a hand of cards! How happy then might I have been! But alas, my case is miserable! What shall I do! I am so sick, that I cannot live, and so sinful, that I dare not die? O that God would respite me a little longer, that he would put a few more years in my lease, that a little space might be granted me to recover my lost hours! As one said on her death-bed, Call time again; but time will not be called back again. At the hour of death sinners will awaken out of their lethargy and fall into a frenzy of horror and despair: and shall not all these arguments prevail with men to be violent for the kingdom? what a hardened piece is a sinner’s heart! We read that at Christ’s passion, the rocks rent, Matt. xxvii. 51. But nothing will move a sinner. The rocks will sooner rend than his heart. If all that I have said will not prevail, it is a sign ruin is at hand, 1 Sam ii. 25. ‘They hearkened not unto the voice of their Father, because the Lord would slay them.,’
Yet this caution I must necessarily insert, Though we shall not obtain the kingdom without violence, though we shall also not be obtained for our violence. — When we have done all, look up to Christ and free grace. Bellarmine saith, we merit Heaven ex congruo. No, though we are saved in the use of means, yet it is by grace too, Ephes. ii. 5. ‘By grace ye are saved.’ — Heaven is a donative, Luke xii. 32. ‘It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ Why may one say, I have used violence for it, I have wrought for the kingdom: I, but it is a gift that free grace bestows. We must look up to Christ for acceptance: not our sweat, but his blood saves: our labouring qualifies us for Heaven, but Christ’s dying purchased Heaven. Alas, what is all that we can do in comparison with glory? What is the shedding of a tear compared to a crown? Therefore we must renounce all in terms of our justification, and let Christ and free grace carry away the glory of our salvation. God must help us in our working, Phil ii. 11. ‘It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do.’ How then can we merit by our working, when it is God who helps us in our working?