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.
Having answered these objections, let me reassume the exhortation, pressing all christians to this violence for the heavenly kingdom. As David’s three worthies ventured their lives, and brake through the host of the Philistines for water, 2 Sam. xxiii. 46, — Such a kind of violence must we use, breaking through all dangers for obtaining the ‘water of life.‘
1. Consider the deplorable condition we are in by nature; a state of misery and damnation; therefore what violence should we use to get out of it? Were one plunged into quicksands, would he not use violence to get out? Sin is a quicksand, and is it not wisdom to extricate ourselves out? David being encomÂpassed with enemies, said ‘His soul was among lions,’ Psalm lvii. 4. ‘Tis true in a spiritual sense, our soul is among lions. Every sin is a lion that would devour us, and if we are in the lion’s den, should not we use violence to get out? The angels used violence to Lot; they laid hold on him and pulled him out of Sodom, Gen. xix. 16. Such violence must be used to get out of the spiritual Sodom. It is not safe to stay in the enemy’s quarters.
2. It is possible that in the use of means we may arrive at happiness. Impossibility destroys endeavor; but here is a door of hopeopened. The thing is feasible. It is not with us as with the damned in hell; there is a tomb-stone rolled over them. But while we are under the sound of Aaron’s bell, and the silver trumpet of the gospel is blown in our ears, while the spirit of grace breathes on us, and we are on this side of the grave, there is great hope that by holy violence we may win Paradise. An absolute impossibility of salvation is only for those who have sinned against the Holy Ghost, and cannot repent; but who these are is a secret sealed up in God’s book: else here is great encouragement to all to be serious and earnest in the matters of eternity, because they are yet in a capacity of mercy, no final sentence is already passed; God hath not yet taken up the drawbridge of mercy. Though the gate of Paradise is strait, yet it is not shut. This should be as oil to the wheels, to make us lively and active in the business of salvation. — Therefore as the husbandman plows in hope, James v. so we should pray in hope; do all our work for heaven in hope; for the white flag of mercy is yet held forth. So long as there was corn to be had in Egypt, the sons of Jacob would not sit starving at home, Gen. xliii. 3. So there is a kingdom to be obtained; therefore let us not sit starving in our sins any longer.
This violence for Heaven is the grand business of our lives: What did we come into the world for else? We did not come here only to eat and drink, and wear fine clothes; but the end of our living is, to be violent for the kingdom of glory. Should the body only be tended, this were be to trim the scabbard, and let the blade rust; to preserve the lumber, and let the child be burnt. God sends us into the world as a merchant sends his goods to trade for him beyond the seas. — So God sends us here to follow a spiritual trade, to serve him and save our souls. If we spend all our time aut aliud agendo, aut nihil, in dressing and pampering our bodies, or idle visits, we shall give but a sad account to God, when he shall send us a letter of summons by death and bid us give an account of our stewardship. Were not he much to be blamed who would have a great deal of timber given him to build a house if he only cut all this brave timber into chips? Just so is the case of many; God gives them precious time in which they are to provide for a kingdom, and they waste this time of life and cut it all into chips. Let this excite violence in the things of God. It is the main errand of our living here and shall we go through the world and forget our errand?
Examination and Objections
3. Let us then examine whether we put forth this holy violence for Heaven? What is an empty profession without this? Like a lamp without oil. Let us all ask ourselves, what violence do we use for Heaven?
1. Do we strive with our hearts to get them into an holy frame? How did David awaken all the powers of his soul to serve God, Psalm lxxxvii. 6. ‘I myself will awake early.’ The heart is like a bell that is a long while rising.
2. Do we set time apart to call ourselves to account, and to try our evidences for Heaven? Psalm lxxxvii. 6.’My spirit made diligent search.’ Do we take our hearts as a watch all in pieces, to see what is amiss and to mend it? Are we curiously inquisitive into the state of our souls? Are we afraid of artificial grace, as of artificial happiness?
3. Do we use violence in prayer? Is there fire in our sacrifice? Doth the wind of the Spirit, filling our sails, cause ‘groans unutterable?’ Rom. viii. 25. Do we pray in the morning as if we were to die at night?
4. Do we thirst for the living God? Are our souls big with holy desires? Psalm lxxiii. 25. ‘There is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.’ Do were desire holiness as well as Heaven? Do we desire as much to look like Christ, as to live with Christ? Is our desire constant? Is this spiritual pulse ever beating?
5. Are we skilled in self-denial? Can we deny our ease, our aims, our interest? Can we cross our own will to fulfill God’s? Can we behead our beloved sin? To pluck out the right eye requires violence.
6. Are we lovers of God? It is not how much we do, but how much we love. Doth love command the castle of our hearts? Does Christ’s beauty and sweetness constrain us? 2 Cor. v. 14. Do we love God more than we fear hell?
7. Do we keep our spiritual watch? Do we set spies in every place, watching our thoughts, our eyes, our tongues? When we have prayed against sin, do we watch against temptation? The Jews, having sealed the stone of Christ’s sepulcher, ‘set a watch,’ Matt. xxvii. 66. After we have been at the word, or sacrament, (that sealing ordinance) do we set a watch?
8. Do we press after further degrees of sanctity? Phil iii. 13. ‘Reaching forth unto those things which are before.’ A good Christian is a wonder; he is the most contented yet the least satisfied: he is contented with a little of the world, but not satisfied with a little grace; he would have still more faith and be anointed with fresh oil. Paul desired to ‘attain unto the resurrection of the dead,’ Phil. iii. 11, that is, he endeavored (if possible) to arrive at such a measure of grace as the saints shall have at the resurrection.
9. Is there an holy emulation in us? Do we labor to out-shine others in religion? — To be more eminent for love and good works? Do we something which is singular? Matt. v. 47. ‘What do ye more than others?’
10. Are we got above the world? Though we walk on earth, do we trade in Heaven? Can we say as David? Psalm cxxxxix. 17. ‘I am still with thee.’ This requires violence; for motions upward are usually violent.
11. Do we set ourselves always under God’s eye? Psalm xvi. 8. ‘I have set the Lord always before me.’ Do we live soberly and godly, remembering that whatever we are doing our Judge looks on?
Out of this text I may draw forth several arrows of reproof.
It reproves slothful Christians who are settled on their knees: they make a lazy profession of religion, but use no violence. — They are like the lilies, which toil not, neither do they spin. The snail, by reason of its slow motion, was reckoned among the unclean, Levit. xi. 30. St. Augustine calls idleness the burial of a man alive. There are some faint wishes, oh that I had Heaven! but a man may desire venison, and want it, if he does not hunt for it.� Prov. xiii. 4. ‘The soul of the sluggard wisheth and hath nothing.’
—- Neque mola, neque farina —-
Men could be content to have the kingdom of Heaven; but they are loath to fight for it. They choose rather to go in a feather bed to Hell than to be carried to Heaven in a ‘fiery chariot’ of zeal and violence. How many sleep away, and play away, their time; as if they were made like the Leviathan, to play in the sea! Psalm civ. 26. It is a saying of Seneca, ‘No man is made wise by chance.’ Sure it is, no man is saved by chance, buthe must know how he came by it, namely, by offering violence. Such as have accustomed themselves to an idle, lazy temper will find it hard to shake off, Cant. v. 3. ‘I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on?’ The spouse had laid herself upon the bed of sloth, and though Christ knocked at the door, she was loath to rise and let him in. Some pretend to be believers, but are idle in the vineyard. — They pretend to make use of faith for seeing, but not for working; this faith is fancy. O that Christians had a spirit of activity in them, 1 Chron. xxii. 16. ‘Arise and be doing, and the Lord be with thee.’� We may sometimes learn of our enemy. The Devil is never idle; he ‘walketh about,’ 1 Peter v. 8. The world is his diocese and he is every day going on his visitation. Is satan active? Is the enemy upon his march coming against us? And are we asleep upon our guard? As Satan himself is not idle, so he will not endure that any of his servants should be idle. When the Devil had entered into Judas, how active was Judas! He goes to the high priest, from thence to the band of soldiers and with them back to the garden, and never left till he had betrayed Christ. Satan will not endure an idle servant; and do we think God will? How will the heathen rise up in judgment against slothful Christians! What pains did they take in the Olympian games: they ran for a garland of flowers, and do we stand still who run for a crown of immortality? Certainly, if only the violent take Heaven, the idle person will never come there. God puts no difference between these two, slothful and wicked, Matt. xxv. 26.‘Thou wicked and slothful servant.’ (more…)
Fourthly, we must offer violence to Heaven. ‘The kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence.’ Though Heaven is given us freely, yet we must take pains for it. Canaan was given Israel freely, but they had to fight with the Canaanites. It is not a lazy wish, or a sleepy prayer, will bring us to Heaven; we must offer violence. Therefore in Scripture our earnestness for Heaven is shown by those allegories and metaphors which imply violence.
1. Sometimes by striving. Luke xiii.24. ‘Strive to enter in at the strait gate.’-The Greek signifies, Strive as in an agony.
2. Wrestling, which is a violent exercise. Eph. vi. 12. We are to wrestle with a body of sin, and with the powers of hell.
3. Running in a race, 1 Cor. ix.24. ‘So run that ye may obtain.’ We have a long race from earth to Heaven, but a little time to run; it will soon be sunset. Therefore, so run. In a race there’s not only a laying aside of all weights that hinder, but a putting forth of all the strength of the body; a straining every joint that men may press on with all swiftness to lay hold on the prize. Thus Paul pressed towards the mark. Phil. iii:14. Alas, where is this holy violence to be found?
2. We must offer violence to Satan. Satan opposeth us both by open violence, and secret treachery. By open violence, so he is called the Red Dragon; by secret treachery, so he is called the Old Serpent. We read in Scripture of his snares and darts; he hurts more by his snares than by his darts.
1. His Violence. He labours to storm the castle of the heart; he stirs up passion, lust, and revenge. These are called ‘fiery darts,’ Ephes. vi.16 because they oft set the soul on fire. Satan in regard to his fierceness is called a Lion, 1 Peter iv. 6. ‘Your adversary the Devil is a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour.’ Not (saith Chrysostom) whom he may bite, but devour.
2. His Treachery. What he cannot do by force, he will endeavor to do by fraud. Satan hath several subtle policies in tempting.
In suiting his temptations to the complexion and temper of the body, Satan studies physiognomy, and lays suitable baits. — He knew Achan’s s covetous humour, and tempted him with a wedge of gold. He tempts the sanguine man with beauty.
2. Another subtlety is to draw men to evil, sub specie boni, under a pretence of good. — The pirate doeth mischief by hanging out false colours; so does Satan by hanging out the colours of religion. He puts some men upon sinful actions, and persuades them much good will come of it. He tells them in some cases that they may dispense with the rule of the Word, and stretch their conscience beyond that line, that they may be in a capacity of doing more service. As if God needed our sin to raise his glory.
3. Satan tempts to sin gradually. As the husbandman digs about the root of a tree, and by degrees loosens it, and at last it falls. Satan steals by degrees into the heart: he is at first more modest: he did not say to Eve at first, Eat the apple; no, but he goes more subtly to work; he puts forth a question. Hath God said? Sure Eve, thou art mistaken; the bountiful God never intended to debar one of the best trees of the garden. Hath God said? Sure, either God did not say it; or if he did, he never really intended it. Thus by degrees he wrought her to distrust and then she took of the fruit and ate. Oh, take heed of Satan’s first motions to sin, that seem more modest — principiis obsta. He is first a fox, and then a lion.
The Christian Soldier; or Heaven Taken by Storm (Part 6, by sanctifying the Lord’s Day and holy conversation)
The sixth duty wherein we must offer violence to ourselves, is the religious sanctifying of the Lord’s day. That there should be a day of holy rest dedicated to God appears from its institution. ‘Remember to keep holy the Sabbath.’ Our Christian Sabbath comes in the room of the Jewish Sabbath: it is called the Lord’s day, Rev. i.10. from Christ the author of it. Our Sabbath is altered by Christ’s own appointment. He arose this day out of the grave, and appeared on it often to His disciples, 1 Cor. xvi. 1: to intimate to them (saith Athanasius) that he transferred the Sabbath to the Lord’s day. And St. Austin saith that by Christ’s rising on the first day of the week, it was consecrated to be the Christian Sabbath, in remembrance of his resurrection. This day was anciently called dies lucis, the day of light, as Junius observes. The other days of the week would be dark, were it not for the shining of the sun of righteousness on this day. This day hath been called by the ancients, regina dierum, the queen of days. And St. Hierom prefers this day above all solemn festivals. The primitive church had this day in high veneration: it was a great badge of their religion: for when the question was asked, servasti dominicum?, keepest thou the Sabbath?; the answer was, Christianus sum, I am a Christian; I dare not omit the celebration of the Lord’s day! What great cause do we have to thankfully remember this day! As the benefit of Israel’s deliverance from the Babylonish captivity was so great that it drowned the remembrance of their deliverance from Egypt, Jer. xvi. 14: so the benefit of our deliverance from Satan’s captivity and the rising of Christ after finishing the glorious work of our redemption are so famous, that in respect of his other benefits, receive as it were in diminution. Great was the work of creation; but greater the work of redemption. It cost more to redeem us than to make us. In the one, there was only the speaking a word, Psalm cxlviii. 5: in the other, the shedding of blood, Heb. ix. 22. The creation was the work of God’s fingers, Psalm viii. 3: the redemption, the work of his arm, Luke i. 5. In creation God gave us ourselves; in redemption he gives us himself. So that the Sabbath, putting us in mind of our redemption, ought to be observed with the highest devotion. — Herein we must offer holy violence to ourselves.
When this blessed day approacheth, we should labour, that as the day is sanctified, so may our hearts be sanctified. (more…)
5. The fifth duty wherein we are to offer violence to ourselves, self-examination; a duty of great importance: it is a parleying with one’s own heart, Psalm lxxxvii. 7. ‘I commune with mye own heart.’ David did put interrogatories to himself. Self-examination is the setting up a court in conscience and keeping a register there, that by strict scrutiny a man may know how things stand between God and his own soul. Self-examination is a spiritual inquisition; a bringing one’s self to trial. A good Christian doth as it were begin the day of Judgment here in his own soul. Self-searching is a heart-anatomy. As a Chirurgeon, when he makes a dissection in the body, discovers the intestina, the inward parts, the heart, liver, and arteries, so a Christian anatomizeth himself; he searcheth what is flesh and what is spirit; what is sin, and what is grace, Psalm lxxvii. 7. ‘My spirit made diligent search:’ As the woman in the Gospel did light a candle, and search for her lost groat, Luke xv. 8. so conscience ‘is the candle of the Lord,’ Prov. xx. 27. A Christian by the light of this candle must search his soul to see if he can find any grace there. The rule by which a Christian must try himself, is the Word of God. Fancy and opinion are false rules to go by. We must judge of our spiritual condition by the canon of Scripture. This David calls a ‘lamp unto his feet,’ Psalm cxix. 105. Let the word be the umpire to decide the controversy, whether we have grace or no. We judge of colours by the sun. So we must judge of the state of souls by the light of Scripture.
Self-examination is a great, incumbent duty; it requires self-excitation; it cannot possibly be done without offering violence to ourselves. 1. Because the duty of self-examination in itself is difficult: 1. It is actus reflexivus, a work of self-reflection;it lies most with the heart. ‘Tis hard to look inward. External acts ofreligion are facile; to lift up the eye to Heaven, to bow the knee, to read aprayer; this requires no more labor than for a Catholic to tell over his beads;but to examine a man’s self, to turn in upon his own soul, to take the heart asa watch all in pieces, and see what is defective; this is not easy. — Reflective acts are hardest. The eye cansee everything but itself. It is easy to spy the faults of others, but hard tofind out our own. (more…)
3. The third duty wherein we are to offer violence to ourselves, is in prayer. Prayer is a duty which keeps the trade of religion flowing. When we either join in prayer with others, or pray alone, we must use holy violence; not eloquence in prayer, but violence carries it. Theodorus, speaking of Luther, ‘once (says he) I overheard him in prayer: but, (good God), with what life and spirit did he pray! It was with so much reverence, as if he were speaking to God, yet with so much confidence, as if he had been speaking to his friend.’ There must be a stirring up of the heart,
1.To prayer. 2. In prayer.
1. A stirring up of the heart to prayer, Job xi. 13. ‘If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands toward him.’ This preparing of our heart by holy thoughts and ejaculations. The musician first tunes his instrument before he plays.
2. There must be a stirring up of the heart in prayer. Prayer is a lifting up of the mind and soul to God, which cannot be done aright without offering violence to one-self. The names given to prayer imply violence. It is called wrestling, Gen. xxxii. 24. and a pouring out of the soul, 1 Sam. i. 15. both of which imply vehemency. The affection is required as well as invention — The apostle speaks of an effectual fervent prayer, which is a parallel phrase to offering violence.
Alas, how far from offering violence to themselves in prayer, 1. That give God a dead, heartless prayer. God would not have the blind offered, Mal. i. 8; as good offer the blind is as offering the dead. Some are half asleep when they pray, and will a sleepy prayer ever awaken God? Such as mind not their own prayers, how do they think that God should mind them? Those prayers God likes best which come seething hot from the heart.
1. We must provoke ourselves to reading of the word. What an infinite mercy it is that God hath honoured us with the Scriptures! The barbarous Indians have not the oracles of God made known to them; they have the golden mines, but not the Scriptures which are more to be desired ‘than much fine gold,’ Psalm xix. 10. Our Savior bids us ‘search the Scriptures’, John v.39. We must not read these holy lines carelessly, as if they did not concern us, or run over them hastily, as Israel ate the passover in haste; but peruse them with reverence and seriousness. The noble Bereans did ‘search the Scriptures daily,’ Acts xvii.11. The Scripture is the pandect of divine knowledge; it is the rule and touchstone of truth; out of this well we draw the water of life. To provoke to a diligent reading of the word, labor to have a right notion of Scripture.
Read the word as a book made by God Himself. It is given ‘by divine inspiration’ 2 Tim. iii.16. It is the library of the Holy Ghost. The prophets and apostles were but God’s amanuenses or notaries to write the law at his mouth. The word is of divine original, and reveals the deep things of God to us. There is a numen, or sense of deity engraven in man’s heart and is to be read in the book of the creatures; quaelibet herba Deum; but who this God is, and the Trinity of persons in the Godhead, is infinitely, above the light of reason; only God Himself could make this known. So for the incarnation of Christ; God and man hypostatically united in one person; the mystery of imputed righteousness; the doctrine of faith: what angel in heaven, who but God himself, could reveal these things to us? How this may provoke to diligence and seriousness in reading the word which is divinely inspired. Other books may be written by holy men, but this book is indicted by the Holy Ghost. (more…)
1. He must offer violence to himself — This self-violence consists in two things:
1. Mortification of sin.
2. Provocation to duty.
1. Offering violence to one’s self, in a spiritual sense, consists in mortification of sin: Self is the flesh; this we must offer violence to. Hierom,, Chrysostom, and Theophilact, do all expound taking Heaven by force, the mortifying of the flesh; the flesh is a bosom traitor; it is like the Trojan horse within the walls which doth all the mischief. The flesh is a sly enemy; at first it is dulce venenum, afterwards scorpio pungens, it kills by embracing. The embraces of the flesh are like the ivy embracing the oak; which sucks out the strength of it for its own leaves and berries: So the flesh by its soft embraces, sucks out of the heart all good, Gal. v. 17. The flesh lusteth against the spirit. The pampering of the flesh, is the quenching of God’s spirit. The flesh chokes and stifles holy motions: the flesh sides with Satan and is true to its interest. There is a party within that will not pray, that will not believe. The flesh inclines us more to believe a temptation than a promise. There needs no wind to blow to sin when this tide within is so strong to carry us thither. The flesh is so near to us, its counsels are more attractive: no chain of adamant which binds so fast as the chain of lust. Alexander, who was victor mundi, conqueror of the world, was captious vitiorum, led captive by vice. Now a man must offer violence to his fleshly desires if he will be saved, Col. iii. 5. ‘Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth.’ The mortifying and killing sin at the root, is when we not only forbear the acts of sin, but hate the inbeing. Plurimi peccata radunt non eradicant. Bern.
Nay, where sin has received its deadly wound, and is in part abated, yet the work of mortification is not to be laid aside. The Apostle persuades the believing Romans to ‘mortify the deeds of the flesh, Rom. viii.13. In the best of saints there is something which needs mortifying; much pride, envy, and passion; therefore mortification is called crucifixion, Gal. v. 24. which is not done suddenly: every day some limb of the ‘body of death’ must drop off. Nothing harder than a rock, (saith Cyrill), yet in the clefts thereof some weed or other will fasten its roots. None stronger than a believer, yet do what he can, sin will fasten its roots in him, and spring out sometimes with inordinate desires. There is always something needs mortifying. Hence it was St. Paul did ‘beat down his body,’ by prayer, watching, and fasting, 1 Cor. ix. 27.