THE FALSE PROFESSOR TRIED AND CAST.
"Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian."
Acts xxvi. 28.
REV. MATTHEW MEAD.
TO THE READER.
KNOW how customary it is for men to ascend the public stage with
premised apologies for the weakness and unworthiness of their labors,
which is an argument that their desires (either for the sake of others'
profit, or their own credit, or both) are stretched beyond the bounds
of their abilities; and that they covet to commend themselves to the
world's censure, in a better dress than common infirmity will allow.
For my own part, I may truly say with Gideon, "Behold, my thousand is
the meanest," my talent is the smallest, "and I am the least in my
Father's house;" and therefore this appearance in public is not the
fruit of my own choice, which would rather have been on some other
subject, wherein I stand in some sense indebted to the world, or else
somewhat more digested, and possibly better fitted for common
acceptation. But this is but to consult the interest of a man's own
name, which, in matters of this concern, is no better than a "sowing to
the flesh," and the harvest of such a seed−time will be "in
Thou hast here one of the saddest considerations imaginable presented
to thee, and that is, "How far it is possible a man may go in a
profession of religion, and yet, after all, fall short of salvation;
how far he may run, and yet not so run as to obtain." This, I say, is
sad, but not so sad as true; for our Lord Christ doth plainly attest
it: "Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you,
will seek to enter in, and shall not be able."
My design herein is, that the formal, sleepy professor may be awakened,
and the close hypocrite discovered; but my fear is, that weak believers
may be hereby discouraged; for, as it is hard to show, how low a child
of God may fall into sin, and yet have true grace, but that the sinner
will be apt thereupon to presume; so it is as bard to show how high a
hypocrite may rise in a profession, and yet have no grace, but that the
believer will be apt thereupon to despond. The prevention whereof I
have carefully endeavored, by showing, that though a man may go thus
far, and yet be but almost a Christian, yet a man may fall short of
this, and be a true Christian notwithstanding. Judge not, therefore,
thy state by any one character thou findest laid down of a false
professor; but read the whole, and then make a judgment; for I have
cared, as not to "give children's bread to dogs," so not to use the
dog's whip to scare the children; yet I could wish that this book might
fall into the hands of such only whom it chiefly concerns, who "have a
name to live, and yet are dead;" being busy with the "form of
godliness," but strangers to the "power of it." These are the proper
subjects of this treatise: and the Lord follow it with his blessing
wherever it comes, that it may be an awakening word to all such, and
especially to that generation of profligate professors with which this
age abounds; who, if they keep to their church, bow the knee, talk over
a few prayers, and at a good time receive the sacra went, think they do
enough for heaven, and hereupon judge their condition safe, and their
salvation sure; though there be a hell of sin in their hearts, "and the
poison of asps is under their lips;" their minds being as yet carnal
and unconverted, and their conversations filthy and unsanctified. If
eternal life be of so easy attainment, and to be had at so cheap a
rate, why did our Lord Christ tell us, "Strait is the gate and narrow
is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it?" And
why should the apostle perplex us with such a needless injunction, "to
give diligence to make our calling and election sure?" Certainly,
therefore, it is no such easy thing to be saved, as many make it; and
that thou wilt see plainly in the following discourse. I have been
somewhat short in the application of it; and therefore let me here be
thy remembrancer in five important duties:
First, "Take heed of resting in a form of godliness; as if duties, ex
opere operato, could confer grace. A lifeless formality is advanced to
a very high esteem in the world, as a "cab of dove's dung" was sold in
the famine of Samaria at a very dear rate. Alas! the profession of
godliness is but a sandy foundation to build the hope of an immortal
soul upon for eternity. Remember, the Lord Jesus Christ called him a
foolish builder, "that founded his house upon the sand," and the sad
event proved him so, "for it fell, and great was the fall of it." O
therefore lay thy foundation by faith upon the rock Christ Jesus; look
to Christ through all, and rest upon Christ in all.
Secondly, "Labor to see an excellency in the power of godliness," a
beauty in the life of Christ, If the means of grace have a loveliness
in them, surely grace itself hath much more; for, "the goodness of the
means lies in its suitableness and serviceableness to the end." The
form of godliness hath no goodness in it any farther than it steads and
becomes useful to the soul in the power and practice of godliness. The
life of holiness is the only excellent life; it is the life of saints
and angels in heaven; yea, it is the life of God in himself. As it is a
great proof of the baseness and filthiness of sin, that sinners seek to
cover it; so it is a great proof of the excellency of godliness that so
many pretend to it. The very hypocrite's fair profession pleads the
cause of religion, although the hypocrite is then really worst, when he
is seemingly best.
Thirdly, "Look upon things to come as the greatest realities;" for
things that are not believed work no more upon the affections than if
they had no being; and this is the grand reason why the generality of
men suffer their affections to go after the world, setting the creature
in the place of God in their hearts.
Most men judge of the reality of things by their visibility and
proximity to sense; and, therefore, the choice of that wretched
cardinal becomes their option, who would not leave his part in Paris
for his part in Paradise. Sure, whatever his interest might be in the
former, he had little enough in the latter. Well may covetousness be
called idolatry, when it thus chooses the world for its god.
O! consider − eternity is no dream; hell and the worm that never dies,
is no melancholy conceit. Heaven is no feigned Elysium; there is the
greatest reality imaginable in these things; though they are spiritual,
and out of the ken of sense, yet they are real, and within the view of
faith. "Look not therefore at the things which are seen, but look at
the things which are not seen; for the things that are seen are
temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
Fourthly, "Set a high rate upon thy soul." What we lightly prize, we
easily part with. Many men sell their souls at the rate of profane
Esau's birth−right, for a morsel of bread;" nay, "for that which," in
the sense of the Holy Ghost, "is not bread." O consider thy soul is the
most precious and invaluable jewel in the world; it is the most
beautiful piece of God's workmanship in the whole creation; it is that
which bears the image of God, and which was bought with the blood of
the Son of God; and shall we not set a value upon it, and count it
The apostle Peter speaks of three very precious things:
1. A precious Christ.
Now, the preciousness of all these lies in their usefulness to the
soul. Christ is precious, as being the redeemer of precious souls, − the
Promises are precious, as making over this precious Christ to precious
souls, − Faith is precious, as bringing a precious soul to close with a
precious Christ, as he is held forth in the precious promises. O take
heed that thou art not found overvaluing other things, and undervaluing
thy soul. Shall thy flesh, nay thy beast, be loved, and shall thy soul
be slighted? Wilt thou clothe and pamper thy body, and yet take no care
of thy soul? This is, as if a man should feed his dog, and starve his
child. "Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats; but God will
destroy both it and them." O let not a tottering, perishing carcass
have all your time and care, as if the life and salvation of thy soul
were not worth the while.
2. Precious Promises.
3. Precious Faith.
Lastly, "Meditate much on the strictness and suddenness of that
judgment−day, through which thou and I must pass into an everlasting
state; wherein God, the impartial judge, will require an account at our
hands of all our talents and intrustments." We must then account for
time, how we have spent that; for estate, how we have employed that;
for strength, how we have laid out that; for afflictions and mercies,
how they have been improved; for the relations we stood in here, how
they have been discharged; and for seasons and means of grace, how they
have been husbanded. And look, how "we have sowed here, we shall reap
Reader, these are things that of all others deserve most of, and call
loudest for, our utmost care and endeavors, though by the most least
minded. To consider what a spirit of atheism of we may judge the tree
by the fruits, and the principle by the practice) the hearts of most
men are filled with, who live, as if God were not to be served, nor
Christ to be sought, nor lust to be mortified, nor self to be denied,
nor the Scripture to be believed, nor the judgment−day to be minded,
nor hell to be feared, nor heaven to be desired, nor the soul to be
valued; but give up themselves to a worse than brutish sensuality, "to
work all uncleanness with greediness," living without God in the
world − this is a meditation fit enough to break our hearts, if at least
we were of holy David's temper, who "beheld the transgressors, and was
grieved," and had "rivers of waters running down his eyes, because men
kept not God's laws."
The prevention and correction of this soul−destroying distemper, is not
the least design of this Treatise now put into thy hand. Though the
chief virtue of this receipt lies in its sovereign use to assuage and
cure the swelling tympany of hypocrisy, yet it may serve also, with
God's blessing, as a plaster for the plague−sore of profaneness, if
timely applied by serious meditation, and carefully kept on by constant
Reader, expect nothing of curiosity or quaintness, for then I shall
deceive thee; but if thou wouldst have a touch−stone for the trial of
thy state, possibly this may serve thee. If thou art either a stranger
to a profession, or a hypocrite under a profession, then read and
tremble, for thou art the man here pointed at.
− Mutato nomine de te
But if the kingdom of God be come with power into thy soul; if Christ
be formed in thee; if thy heart be upright and sincere with God, then
read and rejoice.
Fabula narratur. − Horat.
I fear I have transgressed the bounds of an epistle. The mighty God,
whose prerogative it is to teach to profit, whether by the tongue or
the pen, by speaking or writing, bless this tract, that it may be to
thee as a cloud of rain to the dry ground, dropping fatness to thy
soul, that so thy fleece being watered with the "dew of heaven," thou
mayest "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour
Jesus Christ." In whom I am thy
Friend and Servant,
London, October, 1661,
"Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian."
Acts xxvi. 28.
N this chapter, you have the apostle Paul's apology and defensive plea,
which he makes for himself against those blind Jews which so
maliciously prosecuted him before Agrippa, Festus, Bernice, and the
council. In which plea he chiefly insists upon three things.
1. The manner of his life before conversion.
How he lived before conversion, he tells you, ver. 4−13. How God wrought on him to
conversion, he tells you, ver. 13−18. How he lived after conversion, he
tells you, ver. 19−23. Before conversion he was very pharisaical. The
manner of his conversion was very wonderful. The fruit of his
conversion was very remarkable.
2. The manner of his conversion.
3. The manner of his life after conversion.
Before conversion he persecuted the gospel which others preached, but after
conversion, he preached the gospel which himself had persecuted.
While he was a persecutor of the gospel, the Jews loved him; but now
that, by the grace of God, he was become a preacher of the gospel, now
the Jews hate him, and sought to kill him.
He was once against Christ, and then many were for him; but now that he
was for Christ, all were against him; his being an enemy to Jesus, made
others his friends; but when he came to own Jesus, then they became his
enemies. And this was the great charge they had against him, that of a
great opposer he was become a great professor. Because God had changed
him, therefore this enraged them: as if they would be the worse,
because God had made him better. God had wrought on him by grace, and
they seem to envy him the grace of God. He preached no treason, nor
sowed no sedition; only he preached repentance, and faith in Christ,
and the resurrection, and for this he was "called in question."
This is the breviate and sum of Paul's defence and plea for himself,
which, you find in the sequel of the chapter, had a different effect
upon his judges.
Festus seems to censure him, ver. 24. Agrippa seems to be convinced by
him, ver. 28. The whole bench seem to acquit him, ver. 30,31. Festus
thinks Paul was beside himself. Agrippa is almost persuaded to be such a
one as himself.
Festus thinks him mad, because he did not understand the doctrine of
Christ and the resurrection: "much learning hath made thee mad."
Agrippa is so affected with his plea, that he is almost wrought into
his principle: Paul pleads so effectually for his religion, that
Agrippa seems to be upon the turning point to his profession. "Then
Agrippa said to Paul, almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian."
"Almost." − The words make some debate among the learned. I shall not
trouble you with the various hints upon them by Valla, Simplisius,
Beza, Erasmus, and others. I take the words as we read them, and they
show what an efficacy Paul's doctrine had upon Agrippa's conscience.
Though he would not be converted, yet he could not but be convinced his
conscience was touched, though his heart was not renewed.
Observation. There is that in religion, which carries its own evidence
along with it even to the consciences of ungodly men.
"Thou persuadest me." − The word is from the Hebrew, and it signifies
both suadere and persuadere; either to use arguments to prevail, or to
prevail by the arguments used. Now it is to be taken in the latter
sense here, to show the influence of Paul's argument upon Agrippa,
which had almost proselyted him to the profession of Christianity.
"Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian."
"A Christian." − I hope I need not tell you what a Christian is, though
I am persuaded many that are called Christians, do not know what a
Christian is, or if they do, yet they do not know what it is to be a
Christian. A Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ, one that believes
in, and. follows Christ. As one that embraces the doctrine of Arminius,
is called an Arminian; and he that owns the doctrine and way of Luther,
is called a Lutheran; so he that embraces, and owns, and follows the
doctrine of Jesus Christ, he is called a Christian.
The word is taken more largely, and more strictly: more largely, and so
all that profess Christ come in the flesh, are called Christians, in
opposition to heathens that do not know Christ; and to the poor blind
Jews, that will not own Christ; and to the Mahometan, that prefers
Mahomet, above Christ. But now in Scripture, the word is of a more
strict and narrow acceptation, it is used only to denominate the true
disciples and followers of Christ; "the disciples were first called
Christians at Antioch; if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be
ashamed;" that is, as a member and disciple of Christ; and so in the
text, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian."
The word is used but in these three places, as I find, in all the New
Testament, and in each of them it is used in the sense afore−mentioned.
The Italians make the name to be a name of reproach among them, and
usually abuse the word Christian to signify a fool. But if, as the
apostle saith, "the preaching of Christ is to the world foolishness,"
then it is no wonder that the disciples of Christ are to the world
fools. Yet it is true; in a sound sense, that so they are; for the
whole of godliness is a mystery. A man must die, that would live; he
must be empty, that would be full; he must be lost, that would be
found; he must have nothing, that would have all things; he must be
blind, that would have illumination; he must be condemned, that would
have redemption; so he must be a fool that would be a Christian. "If
any man among you seems to be wise, let him become a fool, that he may
be wise." He is the true Christian that is the world's fool, but wise
Thus you have the sense and meaning of the words briefly explained. The
text needs no division, and yet it is a pity the almost should not be
divided from the Christian. Though it is of little avail to divide them
as they are linked in the text, unless I could divide them as they are
united in your hearts; this would be a blessed division, if the almost
might be taken from the Christian that so you may not be only
propemodum, but admodum; not only almost, but altogether Christians.
This is God's work to effect it, but is our duty to persuade to it; and
O that God would help me to manage this subject so, that you may say,
in the conclusion, "Thou persuadest me, not almost, but altogether to
be a Christian!"
The observation that I shall propound to handle is this:
Doctrine. There are very many in the world that are almost, and yet but
almost Christians; many that are near heaven, and yet are never the
nearer; many that are within a little of salvation, and yet shall never
enjoy the least salvation; they are within sight of heaven, and yet
shall never have a sight of God.
There are two sad expressions in Scripture, which I cannot but take
notice of in this place. The one is concerning the truly righteous. The
other is concerning the seemingly righteous.
It is said of the truly righteous, he shall "scarcely be saved;" and it
is said of the seemingly righteous, he shall be almost saved: "Thou art
not far from the kingdom of God."
The righteous shall be saved with a scarcely, that is, through much
difficulty; he shall go to heaven through many sad fears of hell. The
hypocrite shall be saved with an almost, that is, he shall go to hell
through many fair hopes of heaven.
There are two things which arise from hence of very serious meditation.
The one is, how often a believer may miscarry, how low he may fall, and
yet have true grace. The other is, how far a hypocrite may go in the
way to heaven, how high, he may attain, and yet have no grace.
The saint may be cast down very near to hell, and yet shall never come
there; and the hypocrite may be lifted up very near to heaven, and yet
never come there. The saint may almost perish, and yet be saved
eternally; the hypocrite may almost be saved, and vet perish finally.
For the saint at worst is really a believer, and the hypocrite at best
is really a sinner.
Before I handle the doctrine, I must premise three things, which are of
great use for the establishing of weak believers, that they may not be
shaken and discouraged by this doctrine.
First, There is nothing in the doctrine that should be matter of
stumbling or discouragement to weak Christians. The gospel doth not
speak these things to wound believers, but to awaken sinners and
As there are none more averse than weak believers, to apply the
promises and comforts of the gospel to themselves, for whom they are
properly designed; so there are none more ready than they to apply the
threats and severest things of the word to themselves, for whom they
were never intended. As the disciples, when Christ told them, "One of
you shall betray me;" they that were innocent suspected themselves
most, and therefore cry out, "Master, is it I?" So weak Christians,
when they hear sinners reproved, or the hypocrite laid open, in the
ministry of the word, they presently cry out, "Is it I?"
It is the hypocrite's fault to sit under the trials and discoveries of
the word, and yet not to mind them: and it is the weak Christian's
fault to draw sad conclusions of their own state from premises which
nothing concern them.
There is indeed great use of such doctrine as this is to all believers:
1. To make them look to their standing, upon what foundation they are,
and to see that the foundation of their hope be well laid, that they
build not upon the sand, but upon a rock.
These duties, and such as these, make this doctrine of use to all
believers; but they ought not to make use of it as a stumbling−block in
the way of their peace and comfort.
2. It helps to raise our admiration of the distinguishing love of God,
in bringing us into the way everlasting, when so many perish from the
way, and in overpowering our souls into a true conversion, when so many
take up with a graceless profession.
3. It incites to that excellent duty of heart−searching, that so we
approve ourselves to God in sincerity.
4. It engages the soul in double diligence, that it may be found not
only believing, but persevering in faith to the end.
My design in preaching on this subject, is not to make sad the souls of
those whom Christ will not have made sad; I would bring water not to
"quench the flax that is smoking," but to put out that false fire that
is of the sinner's own kindling, lest walking all his days by the light
thereof, he shall at last "lie down in sorrow." My aim is to level the
mountain of the sinner's confidence, not to weaken the hand of the
believer's faith and dependence; to awaken and bring in secure formal
sinners, not to discourage weak believers.
Secondly, I would premise this; though many may go far, very far in the
way to heaven, and yet fall short, yet that soul that hath the least
true grace shall never fall short; "the righteous shall hold on his way."
Though some may do very much in a way of duty, as I shall show
hereafter, and yet miscarry; yet that soul that doth duty with the
least sincerity, shall never miscarry; "for he saveth the upright in heart."
The least measure of true grace is as saving as the greatest; it saves
as surely, though not so comfortably. The least grace gives a full
interest in the blood of Christ, whereby we are thoroughly purged; and
it gives a full interest in the strength and power of Christ, whereby
we shall be certainly preserved.
Christ keeps faith in the soul, and faith keeps the soul in Christ; and
so "we are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation."
Thirdly, I would premise this; they that can hear such truths as this,
without serious reflection and self−examination, I must suspect the
goodness of their condition.
You will suspect that man to be next door to a bankrupt, that never
casts up his accounts nor looks over his book; and I as verily think
that man a hypocrite, that never searches nor deals with his own heart.
He that goes on in a road of duties without any uneasiness or doubting
of his state, I doubt no man's state more than his.
When we see a man sick, and yet not sensible, we conclude the tokens of
death are upon him. So when sinners have no sense of their spiritual
condition, it is plain that they are dead in sin; the tokens of eternal
death are upon them. These things being premised, which I desire you
would carry along in your mind while we travel through this subject, I
come to speak to the proposition more distinctly and closely.
Doctrine. That there are very many in the world that are almost, and
yet but almost Christians.
I shall demonstrate the truth of the proposition, and then proceed to a
more distinct prosecution.
I. I shall demonstrate the truth of the proposition; and I shall do it
by scripture−evidence, which speaks plainly and fully to the case.
First, The young man in the gospel is an eminent proof of this truth;
there you read of one that came to Christ to learn of him the way to
heaven: "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have
eternal life?" Our Lord Christ tells him, "If thou wilt enter into
life, keep the commandments:" and when Christ tells him which, he
answers, "Lord, all these I have kept from my youth up; what lack I yet?"
Now do but see how far this man went.
1. He obeyed − he did not only hear the commands of God, but he kept
them; now the Scripture saith, "Blessed is he that hears the word of
God, and keeps it."
Second, A second proof of it is that of the parable of the virgins in
St. Matthew: see what a progress they make, how far they go in a
profession of Christ.
2. He obeyed universally − not this or that command, but both this and
that; he did not halve it with God, or pick and choose which were
easiest to be done, and leave the rest; no, but he obeys all: "All
these things have I kept."
3. He obeyed constantly − not in a fit of zeal only, but in a continual
series of duty; his goodness was not, as Ephraim's, "like the morning
dew that passes away;" no, All these things have I kept from my youth up."
4. He professeth desire to know and do more − to perfect that which was
lacking of his obedience: and therefore he goes to Christ to instruct
him in his duty; "master, what lack I yet?" Now would you not think
this a good man? Alas! how few go this far? And yet as far as he went,
he went not far enough; "he was almost, and yet but almost a
Christian;" for he was an unsound hypocrite; he forsakes Christ at
last, and cleaves to his lust. This then is a full proof of the truth
of the doctrine.
1. They are called "virgins." − Now this is a name given in the
Scripture, both in the Old Testament and the New, to the saints of
Christ: "The virgins love thee:" so in the revelation, the "one hundred
forty and four thousand" that stood with the Lamb on Mount Zion, are
called "virgins." They are called virgins, because they are not defiled
with the "corruptions that are in the world through lust." Now these
here seem to be of that sort, for they are called virgins.
It was a desire of true grace, but it was not a true desire of grace;
it was not true, because not timely; unsound, as being unseasonable; it
was too late. Their folly was in not taking oil when they took their
lamps; their time of seeking grace was when they came to Christ; it was
too late to seek it when Christ came to them. They should have sought
for that when they took up their profession: it was too late to seek it
at the coming of the bridegroom. And therefore "they were shut out;"
and though they cry for entrance, "Lord, Lord, open to its;" yet the
Lord Christ tells them, "I know you not."
2. They take their lamps − that is, they make a profession of Christ.
3. They had some kind of oil in their lamps. They had some convictions
and some faith, though not the faith of God's elect, to keep their
profession alive, to keep the lamp burning.
4. They went − their profession was not an idle profession; they did
perform duties, frequented ordinances, and did many things commanded:
they made a progress − they went.
5. They went forth − they went and outwent, they left many behind them;
this speaks out their separation from the world.
6. They went with the "wise virgins" − they joined themselves to those
who had joined themselves to the Lord, and were companions of them that
were companions of Christ.
7. They go "forth to meet the bridegroom" − this speaks out their owning
and seeking after Christ.
8. When they heard the cry of the bridegroom coming, "they arose and
trimmed their lamps;" they profess Christ more highly, hoping now to go
in with the bridegroom.
9. They sought for true grace. Now do not we say, the desires of grace
are grace? and so they are, if true and timely; if sound and
seasonable. Why lo here a desire of grace in these virgins, "Give us of
You see how far these virgins go in a profession of Jesus Christ, and
how long they continue in it, even till the bridegroom came; they go to
the very door of heaven, and there, like the Sodomites, perish with
their hands upon the very threshold of glory. They were almost
Christians, and yet but almost; almost saved, and yet perish.
You that are professors of the gospel of Christ, stand and tremble: if
they that have gone beyond us fall short of heaven, what shall become
of us that fall short of them? If they that are virgins, that profess
Christ, that have some faith in their profession, such as it is, that
have some fruit in their faith, that outstrip others that seek Christ,
that improve their profession, and suit themselves to their
profession − nay, that seek grace; if such as these be
but almost Christians, Lord, what are we?
Third, If these two witnesses be not sufficient to prove the truth, and
confirm the credit of the proposition, take a third; and that shall be
from the Old Testament, Isaiah lviii. 2. See what God saith of that
people; he gives them a very high character for a choice people, one
would think: "They seek me daily; they delight to know my ways, as a
nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their
God; they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in
approaching to God."
See how far these went; if God had not said they were rotten and
unsound, we should have taken them for the "he−goats before the flock,"
and ranked them among the worthies. Pray observe,
1. They seek God. − Now this is the proper character of a true saint − to
seek God. True saints are called, "seekers of God." "This is the
generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob;" or, O
God of Jacob. Lo, here a generation of them that seek God; and are not
these the saints of God? − Nay, farther,
"No man," saith our Lord Christ, "puts new wine into old bottles, lest
the bottles break and the wine run out." New wine is strong, and old
bottles weak; and the strong wine breaks the weak vessel: this is a
reason Christ gives, why his disciples, who were newly converted, and
but weak as yet, were not exercised with this austere discipline. But
this people here mentioned were a people that fasted often, afflicted
their souls much, wore themselves out by frequent practices of
humiliation. Sure therefore this was "new wine in new bottles;" this
must needs be a people strong, in grace; there seems to be grace not
only in truth, but also in growth. And yet, for all this, they were no
better than a generation of hypocrites; they made a goodly progress,
and went far, but yet they went not far enough; they were cast off by
God after all.
2. They seek him daily. − Here is diligence backed with continuance, day
by day; that is, every day, from day to day. They did not seek him by
fits and starts, nor in a time of trouble and affliction only, as many
do. "Lord, in trouble have they visited thee; they poured out a prayer
when thy chastening was upon them." Many when God visits them, then
they visit him, but not till then; when God poureth out his
afflictions, then they pour out their supplications. This is seamen's
devotion; when the storms have brought them to "their wits' end, then
they cry to the Lord in their trouble." Many never cry to God, till
they are at their wits' end; they never come to God for help, so long
as they can help themselves. But now these here, whom. God speaks of,
are more zealous in their devotion; the others make a virtue of
necessity, but these seem to make conscience of duty; for, saith God,
"they seek me daily." Sure this is, one would think, a note of
sincerity. Job saith of the hypocrite, "Will he always call upon God?"
Surely not; but now this people call upon God always, "they seek him
daily;" certainly these areno hypocrites.
3. Saith God, "They delight to know my ways." Sure this frees them from
the suspicion of hypocrisy; for, they say not unto God, "Depart from
us; we desire not the knowledge of thy ways."
4. They are "as a nation that did righteousness." Not only as a nation
that spake righteousness, or knew righteousness, or professed
righteousness; but as a nation that did righteousness, that practised
nothing but what was just and right. They appeared, to the judgment of
the world, as good as the best.
5. They forsook not the ordinances of their God − They seem true to
their principles, constant to their profession, better than many among
us, that cast off duties, and forsake the ordinances of God: but these
hold out in their profession; "they forsook not the ordinances of God."
6. "They ask of me," saith God, "the ordinances of justice." They will
not make their own will the rule of right and wrong, but the law and
will of God: and therefore, in all their dealings with men, they desire
to be guided and counselled by God: "They ask of me the ordinances of justice."
7. They take delight in approaching to God. Sure this cannot be the
guise of a hypocrite. "Will he delight himself in the Almighty?" saith
Job: − no, he will not. Though God is the chief delight of man, (having
everything in him to render him lovely, as was said of Titus
Vespasian,) yet the hypocrites will not delight in God. Till the
affections are made spiritual, there is no affection to things that are
spiritual. God is a spiritual good, and therefore hypocrites cannot
delight in God. But these are a people that delight in approaching to God.
8. They were a people that were much in fasting: "Wherefore have we
fasted," say they, "and thou seest not?" Now this is a duty that doth
not suppose and require truth of grace only in the heart, but strength
I hope by this time the truth of the point is sufficiently avouched and
confirmed; "that a man may be, yea, very many are, almost, and yet no
more than but almost Christians."
Now for the more distinct prosecution of the point.
1. I shall show you, step by step, how far he may go, to what
attainments he may reach, how specious and singular a progress he may
make in religion, and yet be but almost a Christian when all is done.
2. I will show whence it is, that many men go so far as that they are
3. Why they are but almost Christians when they have gone thus far.
4. What the reason is, why men that go thus far as to be almost
Christians, yet go no farther than to be almost Christians.
How far may a man go in the way to heaven, and yet be but almost a Christian?
Answer. This I will show you in twenty several steps.
I. A man may have much knowledge, much light; he may know much of God
and his will, much of Christ and his ways, and yet be but almost a Christian.
For though there can be no grace without knowledge, yet there may be
much knowledge where there is no grace; illumination often goes before,
when conversion never follows after. The subject of knowledge is the
understanding; the subject of holiness is the will. Now a man may have
his understanding enlightened, and yet his will not at all sanctified.
He may have an understanding to know God, and yet want a will to obey
God. The apostle tells us of some, that, "when they knew God, they
glorified him not as God."
To make a man altogether a Christian, there must be light in the head,
and beat in the heart; knowledge in the understanding, and zeal in the
affections. Some have zeal and no knowledge; that is, blind devotion;
some have knowledge and no zeal; that is, fruitless speculation: but
where knowledge is joined with zeal, that makes a true Christian.
Objection. But is it not said, This is life eternal − to know thee, the
only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent?"
Answer. It is not every knowledge of God and Christ, that interests the
soul in life eternal. For why then do the devils perish; they have more
knowledge of God than all the men in the world; for though, by their
fall, they lost their holiness, yet they lost not their knowledge. They
are called daimones, from their knowledge, and yet they are diaboloi,
from their malice, devils still.
Knowledge may fill the head, but it will never better the heart, if
there be not somewhat else. The Pharisees had much knowledge: "Behold,
thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of
God, and knowest his will," &c., and yet they were a generation of
hypocrites. Alas! how many have gone loaded with knowledge to hell!
Though it is true, that it is life eternal to know God and Jesus
Christ; yet it is as true, that many do know God and Jesus Christ, that
shall never see life eternal. There is, you must know, a twofold
knowledge; the one is common, but not saving; the other is not common,
but saving: common knowledge is that which floats in the head, but does
not influence the heart. This knowledge, reprobates may have; "Balaam
saw Christ from the top of the rocks, and from the hills."
Naturalists say, that there is a pearl in the toad's head, and yet her
belly is full of poison. The French have a berry which they call uve de
spine, the grape of a thorn. The common knowledge of Christ is the
pearl in the toad's head − the grape that grows upon thorns;
it may be found in men unsanctified.
And then there is a saving knowledge of God and Christ, which includes
the assent of the mind, and the consent of the will; this is a
knowledge that implies faith; "By his knowledge shall my righteous
servant justify many." And this is that knowledge which leads to life
eternal: now whatever that measure of knowledge is, which a man may
have of God, and of Jesus Christ, yet if it be not this saving
knowledge − knowledge joined with affection and application − he is but
almost a Christian.
He only knows God aright, who knows how to obey him, and obeys
according to his knowledge of him: "A good understanding have all they
that do his commandments." All knowledge without this makes a man but
like Nebuchadnezzar's image, with "a head of gold, and feet of clay."
Some know, but to know.
Now, to know, but to know − that is curiosity.
Some know, to be known.
Some know, to practise what they know.
To know, to be known − that is vain glory.
But to know, to practise what we know − that is gospel duty. This makes
a man a complete Christian; the other, without this, makes a man
almost, and yet but almost a Christian.
II. A man may have great and eminent gifts, yea, spiritual gifts, and
yet be but almost a Christian.
The gift of prayer is a spiritual gift. Now this a man may have, and
yet be but almost a Christian: for the gift of prayer is one thing; the
grace of prayer is another. The gift of preaching and prophesying is a
spiritual gift; now this a man may have, and yet be but almost a
Christian. Judas was a great preacher.; so were they that came to
Christ, and said, "Lord, Lord, we have prophesied in thy name, and in
thy name have cast out devils," &c.
You must know that it is not gifts, but grace, which makes a Christian:
1. Gifts are from a common work of the Spirit. Now a man may partake of
all the common gifts of the Spirit, and yet be a reprobate; for
therefore they are called common, because they are indifferently
dispensed by the Spirit to good and bad; to them that are believers,
and to them that are not.
They that have grace have gifts; and they that have no grace, may have
the same gifts; for the Spirit works in both; nay, in this sense he
that hath no grace, may be under a greater work of the Spirit (quod
hoc) as to this thing, than he that hath most grace; a graceless
professor may have greater gifts than the most holy believer: he may
out−pray, and out−preach, and out−do them; but they in sincerity and
integrity out−go him.
2. Gifts are for the use and good of others, they are given in ordinem
alium, as the schoolmen speak, for the profiting and edifying of
others: so says the apostle, "they are given to profit withal." Now a
man may edify another by his gifts, and yet be unedified. himself; he
may be profitable to another, and yet unprofitable to himself.
The raven was an unclean bird: God makes use of her to feed Elijah;
though she was not good meat, yet it was good meat she brought. A lame
man may with his crutch point to the right way, and yet not be able to
walk in it himself. A crooked tailor may make a suit to fit a straight
body, though it fit not him that made it, because of his crookedness.
The church (Christ's garden inclosed) may be watered through a wooden
gutter; the sun may give light through a dusky window; and the field
may be well sowed with a dirty hand.
The efficacy of the word doth not depend upon the authority of him that
speaks it, but upon the authority of God that blesses it. So that
another may be converted by my preaching, and yet I may be cast away
notwithstanding. Balaam makes a clear and rare prophecy of Christ, and
yet he hath no benefit by Christ: "There shall come a star out of
Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel;" − but yet Balaam shall
have no benefit by it: "I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold
him, but not nigh."
God may use a man's gifts to bring another to Christ, when he himself,
whose gifts God uses, may be a stranger unto Christ; one man may
confirm another in the faith, and yet himself may be a stranger to the
faith. Pendleton strengthens and confirms Sanders, in Queen Mary's
days, to stand in the truth he had preached, and to seal it with his
blood, and yet afterwards plays the apostate himself.
Scultetus tells us of one Johannes Speiserus, a famous preacher of
Augsburg in Germany, in the year 1523, who preached the gospel so
powerfully that divers common harlots were converted, and became good
Christians; and yet himself afterwards turned papist and came to a
miserable end. Thus the candle may burn bright to light others in their
work, and yet afterwards go out in a stink.
3. It is beyond the power of the greatest gifts to change the heart; a
man may preach like an apostle, pray like an angel, and yet may have
the heart of a devil. It is grace only that can change the heart; the
greatest gifts cannot change it, but the least grace can; gifts may
make a man a scholar, but grace makes a man a believer. Now if gifts
cannot change the heart, then a man may have the greatest gifts, and
yet be but almost a Christian.
"The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness." Them
that perish, who are they? Who I the wise and the learned, both among
Jews and Greeks; these are called "them that perish." A great bishop
said, when he saw a poor shepherd weeping over a toad: "The poor
illiterate world attain to heaven, while we with all our learning fall
4. Many have gone laden with gifts to hell; no doubt Judas had great
gifts, for he was a preacher of the gospel; and our Lord Jesus Christ
would not set him to work, and not fit him for the work; yet "Judas is
gone to his own place:" the Scribes and Pharisees were men of great
gifts, and yet, "where is the wise? where is the scribe?"
There are three things must be done for us, if ever we would avoid
We must be thoroughly convinced of sin.
Now, the greatest gifts cannot stead us in any of these.
We must be really united to Christ.
We must be instated in the covenant of grace.
They cannot work thorough convictions.
And consequently, they cannot preserve us from eternally perishing; and
if so, then a man may have the greatest gifts, and yet be but almost a Christian.
They cannot effect our union.
They cannot bring us into covenant−relation.
5. Gifts may decay and perish: they do not lie beyond the reach of
corruption; indeed grace shall never perish, but gifts will: grace is
incorruptible, though gifts are. not; grace is "a spring, whose waters
fail not," but the streams of gifts may be dried up. If grace be
corruptible in its own nature, as being but a creature, yet it is
incorruptible in regard of its conserver, as being the new creature; he
that did create it in us, will conserve it in us; he that did begin it
will also finish it.
Gifts have their root in nature, but grace hath its roots in Christ;
and therefore though gifts may die and wither, yet grace shall abide
forever. Now if gifts are perishing, then, though he that hath the
least grace is a Christian, he that hath the greatest gifts may be but
almost a Christian.
Objection. But doth not the apostle bid us "covet earnestly the best
gifts?" Why must we covet them, and covet them earnestly, if they avail
not to salvation?
Answer. Gifts are good, though they are not the best good; they are
excellent, but there is somewhat more excellent, so it follows in the
same verse, "Yet I show unto you a more excellent way," and that is the
way of grace. One dram of grace is more worth than a talent of gifts:
gifts may make us rich towards men, but it is grace that makes us "rich
towards God." Our gifts profit others, but grace profits ourselves;
that whereby I profit another is good, but that by which I am profited
myself is better.
Now because gifts are good, therefore we ought to covet them; but
because they are not the best good, therefore we ought not to rest in
them: we must covet gifts for the good of others, that they may be
edified; and we must covet grace for the good of our own souls, that
they may be saved; for whosoever be bettered by our gifts, yet we shall
miscarry without grace.
III. A man may have a high profession of religion, be much in external
duties of godliness, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Mark what our Lord tells them, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord,
Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven;" that is, not every one
that makes a profession of Christ, shall therefore be owned for a true
disciple of Christ. "All are not Israel that are of Israel;" nor are
all Christians that make a profession of religion.
What a godly profession had Judas! he followed Christ, left all for
Christ, he preached the gospel of Christ, he cast out devils in the
name of Christ, he eat and drank at the table of Christ; and yet Judas
was but a hypocrite.
Most professors are like lilies, fair in show, but foul in scent; or
like pepper, hot in the mouth, but cold in the stomach. The finest lace
may be upon the coarsest cloth.
It is a great deceit to measure the substance of our religion by the
bulk of our profession, and to judge of the strength of our graces by
the length of our duties. The Scriptures speak of some who having "a
form of godliness, yet deny the power thereof." Deny the power; that
is, they do not live in the practice of those graces to which they
pretend in their duties; he that pretends to godliness by a specious
profession, and yet doth not practise godliness by a holy conversation,
he hath a form, but denies the power." Grotius compares such to the
ostrich, which hath great wings, but yet flies not. Many have the wings
of a fair profession, but yet use them not to mount upward in spiritual
affections, and a heavenly conversation.
But to clear the truth of this, that a man may make a high profession
of religion, and yet be but almost a Christian, take a fourfold evidence.
1. If a man may profess religion, and yet never have his heart changed,
nor his state bettered, then he may be a great professor, and yet be
but almost a Christian. But a man may profess religion, and yet never
have his heart changed, nor his state renewed. He may be a constant
hearer of the word, and yet be a sinner still; he may come often to the
Lord's table, and yet go away a sinner as he came; we must not think
that duties can confer grace.
Many a soul hath been converted by Christ in an ordinance, but never
was any soul converted by an ordinance without Christ. And doth Christ
convert all that sit under the ordinances? Surely not; for to some,
"the word is a savor of death unto death." And if so, then it is plain,
that a man may profess religion, and yet be but almost a Christian.
2. A man may profess religion, and live in a form of godliness in
hypocrisy. "Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the
name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah; which
swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel,
but not in truth, nor in righteousness." What do you think of these?
"They make mention of the name of the Lord, there is their profession
but not in truth; nor in righteousness," there is their dissimulation:
and indeed there could be no hypocrisy in a religious sense, were it
not for a profession of religion; for he that is wicked and carnal, and
vile inwardly, and appears to be so outwardly, he is no hypocrite, but
is what he appears, and appears what lie is. But he that is one thing
really, and another thing seemingly, is carnal and unholy, and yet
seems to be good and holy, he is a hypocrite.
Thus the Casuists define hypocrisy to be a counterfeiting of holiness;
and this fits exactly with the Greek word, which is, to counterfeit.
And to this purpose, the Hebrews have two words for hypocrites; panim,
which signifies faces; and chanepim, which signifies counterfeits; from
chanaph, to dissemble: so that he is a hypocrite that dissembles
religion, and weareth the face of holiness, and yet is without the
grace of holiness. He appears to be in semblance, what he is not in
substance; he wears a form of godliness without, only as a cover of a
profane heart within. He hath a profession that he may not be thought
wicked; but it is but a profession, and therefore he is wicked. He is
the religious hypocrite; religious, because he pretends to it; and yet
a hypocrite, because he doth but pretend to it. He is like many men in
a consumption, that have fresh looks, and yet rotten lungs; or like an
apple that hath a fair skin, but a rotten core. Many appear righteous,
who are, only righteous in appearance. And if so, then a man may
profess religion, and yet be but almost a Christian.
3. Custom and fashion may make a man a professor; as you have many that
wear this or that garb, not because it keeps them warmer, or hath any
excellency in it more than another, but merely for fashion.
Many must have powdered hair, spotted faces, feathers in their caps,
&c. for no other end, but because they would be fools in fashion. So,
many profess Christianity − not because the means of grace warm the
heart, or that they see any excellencies in the ways of God above the
world, but − merely to follow the fashion! I wish I might not say, it
hath been true of our days, because religion hath been uppermost,
therefore many have professed; it hath been the gaining trade, and then
most will be of that trade.
Religion in credit makes many professors, but few proselytes; but when
religion suffers, then its confessors are no more than its converts;
for custom makes the former, but conscience the latter. He that is a
professor of religion merely for custom−sake, when it prospers, will
never be a martyr for Christ's sake, when religion suffers. He that
owns the truth, to live upon that, will disown it, when it comes to
live upon him.
They say, that when a house is decaying or falling, all the rats and
mice will forsake it; while the house is firm, and they may shelter in
the roof, they will stay, but no longer; lest, in the decay, the fall
should be upon them, and they that lived at top should die at bottom.
My brethren, may I not say, we have many that are the vermin, the rats
and mice of religion, that would live under the roof of it, while they
might have shelter in it; but when it suffers, forsake it, lest it
should fall, and the fall should be upon them? I am persuaded this is
not the least reason why God hath brought the wheel upon the profession
of religion; namely to rid it of the vermin. He shakes the foundations
of the house, that these rats and mice may quit the roof; not to
overturn it, but to rid them of it; as the husbandman fans the wheat,
that he may get rid of the chaff. The halcyon days of the gospel
provoke hypocrisy, but the sufferings for religion prove sincerity.
Now, then, if custom and fashion make many men professors, then a man
may profess religion, and yet be but almost a Christian.
4. If many may perish under a profession of godliness, then a man may
profess religion and yet be but almost a Christian.
Now, the Scripture is clear, that a man may perish under the highest
profession of religion. Christ cursed the fig−tree, that had leaves and
no fruit. It is said, that "the children of the kingdom shall be cast
out into outer darkness." Who were these, but they that were then the
only people of God in the world by profession, that had made a
"covenant with him by sacrifice" − and yet these were cast out.
In St. Matthew, you read of some that came and made boast of their
profession to Christ, hoping that might save them. "Lord," say they,
"have we not prophesied in thy name, cast out devils in thy name, done
many wonderful works in thy name?" Now what saith our Lord Christ to
this? "Then I will profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me."
Mark, here are they that prophesy in his name, and yet perish in his
wrath; in his name cast out devils, and then are cast out themselves;
in his name do many wonderful works, and yet perish for wicked workers.
The profession of religion will no more keep a man from perishing, than
calling a ship the Safe−guard, or the Good−speed, will keep her from
drowning. As many go to heaven with the fear of hell in their hearts,
so many go to hell with the name of Christ in their mouths. Now then,
if many may perish under a profession of godliness, then may a man be a
high professor of religion, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Objection. But is it not said by the Lord Christ himself, "He that
confesses me before men, him will I confess before my Father in
heaven?" Now, for Christ to say, he will confess us before the Father,
is equivalent to a promise of eternal life: for if Jesus Christ confess
us, God the Father will never disown us.
True, they that confess Christ, shall be confessed by him; and it is as
true, that this confession is equivalent to a promise of salvation. But
now you must know, that professing Christ, is not confessing him: for
to profess Christ is one thing − to confess Christ is another.
Confession is a living testimony for Christ, in a time when religion
suffers; profession may be only a lifeless formality, in a time when
religion prospers. To confess Christ, is to choose his ways, and own
them. To profess Christ, is to plead for his ways, and yet live beside
them. Profession may be from a feigned love to the ways of Christ; but
confession is from a rooted love to the person of Christ. To profess
Christ, is to own him when none deny him; to confess Christ, is to
plead for him, and. suffer for him, when others oppose him. Hypocrites
may be professors; but the martyrs are the true confessors. Profession
is a swimming down the stream. Confession is a swimming against the
stream. Now many may swim with the stream, like the dead fish, that
cannot swim against the stream, with the living fish. Many may profess
Christ, that cannot confess Christ; and so, notwithstanding their
profession, yet are but almost Christians.
IV. To come yet nearer; a man may go far in opposing his sin, and yet
be but almost a Christian.
How far a man may go in this work, I shall show you in seven gradual instances.
First, A man may be convinced of sin, and yet be but almost a Christian: for,
1. Conviction may be rational, as well as spiritual; it may be from a
natural conscience enlightened by the word, without the effectual work
of the Spirit, applying sin to the heart.
Secondly, A man may mourn for sin, and yet be but almost a Christian.
So did Saul; so did Esau, for the loss of his birthright, which was his
sin, and therefore he is called, by the Spirit of God, "profane Esau;"
yet, "he sought it again carefully with tears."
2, Convictions may be worn out; they many times go off, and end not in
sound conversion. Saith the church, "We have been with child, we have
been in pain, we have brought forth wind." This is the complaint of the
church, in reference to the unprofitableness of their afflictions; and
it may be the complaint in most, in reference to the unprofitableness
of their convictions.
3. Many take conviction of sin, to be conversion from sin; and to sit
down and rest in their convictions. That is a sad complaint God makes
of Ephraim "Ephraim is an unwise son; for he should not stay long in
the place of the breaking forth of children." Now then, if convictions
may be only from natural conscience; if they may be worn out, or may be
mistaken, and rested in for conversion, then a man may have
convictions, and be but almost a Christian.
Objection. But doth not Christ pronounce them blessed that mourn?
"Blessed are they that mourn." Sure then, if a man mourn for sin, he is
in a good condition: you see, saith Nazianzen, that salvation is joined
Solution. I answer, it is true, that they who mourn for sin, in the
sense Christ there speaks of, are blessed; but all mourning for sin,
doth not therefore render us blessed.
1. True mourning for sin must flow from spiritual convictions of the
evil, and vileness, and damnable nature of sin. Now, all that mourn for
sin, do not do it from a thorough work of spiritual conviction upon the
soul; they have not a right sense of the evil and vileness of sin.
Thirdly, A man may make large confession of sin, to God, to others, and
yet be but almost a Christian.
2. True mourning for sin, is more for the evil that is in sin, than the
evil that comes by sin; more because it dishonors God, and wounds
Christ, and grieves the Spirit, and makes the soul unlike God, than
because it damns the soul. Now there are many that mourn for sin, not
so much for the evil that is in it, as for the evil that it brings with
it; there is mourning for sin in hell; you read of "weeping and
wailing" there. The damned are weeping and mourning to eternity; there,
is all sorrow, and no comfort. As in heaven there is peace without
trouble, joy without mourning; so in hell there is trouble without
peace, mourning without joy, weeping and wailing incessantly; but it is
for the evil they feel by sin, and not for the evil that is in sin; so
that a man may mourn for sin, and yet be but almost a Christian: it may
grieve him to think of perishing for sin, when it does not grieve him
that he is defiled and polluted by sin.
How ingenuously doth Saul confess his sin to David? "I have sinned,"
saith he, "thou art more righteous than I! Behold, I have played the
fool, and have erred exceedingly." So Judas makes a full confession: "I
have sinned in betraying innocent blood." Yet Saul and Judas were both
rejected of God; so that a man may confess sin, and yet be but almost a
Objection. But is not a confession of sin a character of a child of
God? Doth not the apostle say, "If we confess our sins, God is just and
faithful to forgive them;" no man was ever kept out of heaven for his
confessed badness, though many are kept out of heaven for their
Judah, in. Hebrew, signifies confession; now Judah got the kingdom from
Reuben; confession of sin is the way to the kingdom of heaven.
There are some that confess sin, and are saved; there are others that
confess sin, and perish.
1. Many confess sin merely out of custom, and not out of conscience;
you shall have many that will−never pray, but they will make a long
confession of sin, and yet never feel the weight or burden of it upon
Many men use their confession as Lewis the eleventh of France did his
crucifix; he would swear an oath, and then kiss it; and swear again,
and then kiss it again. So many sin, and then confess they do not well,
but yet never strive to do better.
2. Many will confess lesser sins, and yet conceal greater; like the
patient in Plutarch, that complained to his physician of his finger,
when his liver was rotten.
3. Many will confess sin in the general, or confess themselves sinners;
and yet see little, and say less of their particular sins; an implicit
confession, as one saith, is almost as bad as an implicit faith.
Where confession is right, it will be distinct, especially of those
sins that were our chief sins. So David confesses his blood−guiltiness
and adultery: so Paul his blasphemy, persecution, and injury against
the saints. It is bad to hear men confess they are great sinners, and
yet cannot confess their sins. Though the least sin be too bad to be
committed, yet there is no sin too bad to be confessed.
4. Many will confess sin, but it is only under extremity, that is, not
free and voluntary. Pharaoh confesses his sin, but it was when judgment
compelled him. "I have sinned against the Lord," saith he; but it was
when he had had eight plagues upon him.
5. Many do by their sins as mariners do by their goods, cast them out
in a storm, wishing for them again in a calm. Confession should come
like water out of a spring, which runs freely; not like water out of a
still, which is forced by fire.
6. Many confess their sins, but with no intent to forsake sin; they
confess the sins they have committed, but do not leave the sins they
Mr. Torsel tells a story of a minister he knew, that would be often
drunk, and when he came into the pulpit, would confess it very
lamentingly; and yet no sooner was he out of the pulpit, but he would
be drunk again; and this would he do as constantly as men follow their trades.
Now then, if a man may confess sin merely out of custom; if he may
confess lesser sins, and yet conceal greater; if he may confess sin
only in the general, or only under extremity, or if he may confess sin
without any intent to forsake sin, then surely a man may confess sin,
and yet be but almost a Christian.
Fourthly, A man may forsake sin, and yet be but almost a Christian; he
may leave his lust, and his wicked ways, which he sometimes lived in,
and in the judgment of the world become a new man, and yet not be a new
creature. Simon Magus, when he hears Philip preaching concerning the
kingdom of God, leaves his sorcery and witchcraft, and believes.
Objection. But you will say, this seems contrary to Scripture; for that
says, "He that confesseth and forsaketh sin, shall have mercy;" but I
confess sin, yea, not only so, but also I forsake sin; sure therefore
this mercy is my portion, it belongs to me.
Answer. It is true, that where a soul forsakes sin from a right
principle, after a right manner, to a right end; where he forsakes sin
as sin, as being contrary to God, and the purity of his nature − this
declares that soul to be right with God, and the promise shall be made
good to it, "He shall find mercy."
But now pray mind, there is a forsaking sin that is not right, but
1. Open sins may be deserted, and yet secret sins may be retained; now
this is not a right forsaking; such a soul shall never find mercy. A
man may be cured of a wound in his flesh, and yet may die of an
imposthume in his bowels.
There may be a cessation of arms between enemies, and yet the quarrel
may remain on foot still: there may be a making truce, where there is
no making peace.
2. A man may forsake sin, but not as sin; for he that forsakes sin as
sin, forsakes all sin. It is impossible for a man to forsake sin as
sin, unless he forsakes all that he knows to be sin.
3. A man may let one sin go to hold another the faster; as a man that
goes to sea, would willingly save all his goods; but if the storm
arises that he cannot, then he throws some overboard to lighten the
vessel, and save the rest. So did they, Acts xxvii. 38. So the sinner
chooses to keep all his sins; but if a storm arises in his conscience,
why then he will heave one lust overboard, to save the life of another.
4. A man may let all sin go, and yet be a sinner still; for there is
the root of all sin in the heart, though the fruit be not seen in the
life; the tree lives, though the boughs be lopped off. As a man is a
sinner, before ever he acts sin, so (till grace renews him) he is a
sinner, though he leaves sin; for there is original sin in him enough
to damn and destroy him.
5. Sin may be left, and yet be loved; a man may forsake the life of
sin, and yet retain the love of sin: now, though leaving sin makes him
almost a Christian, yet loving sin shows he is but almost a Christian.
It is a less evil to do sin, and not love it, than to love sin and not
do it; for to do sin may argue only weakness of grace, but to love sin
argues strength of lust. "What I hate, that I do." Sin is bad in any
part of man, but sin in the affection is worse than sin in the
conversation; for sin in the conversation may be only from infirmity,
but sin in the affection is the fruit of choice and unregeneracy.
6. All sin may be chained, and yet the heart not changed; and so the
nature of the sinner is the same as ever. A dog chained up, is a dog
still, as much as if he was let loose to devour.
A sinner may lay the weapons of sin out of his hand, and yet the enmity
against God still remain in his heart. There may be a truce − he may not
sin against him; but there can be no peace till he be united to him.
Restraining grace holds in the sinner, but it is renewing grace that
changes his nature. Now. many are held in by grace from being open
sinners, that are not renewed by grace, and made true believers.
Now then, if a man may forsake open sins, and retain secret sins; if he
may forsake sin, but not as sin; if he may let one sin go, to hold
another the faster; if a man may let all sin go, and yet be a sinner
still; if sin may be left, and yet be loved: finally, if all sin may be
chained, and yet the heart not changed; − then a man may forsake sin,
and yet be but almost a Christian.
V. A man may hate sin, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Absalom hated Amnon's uncleanness with his sister Tamar: yea, his
hatred was so great, that he slew him for it; and yet Absalom was but a
Objection. But the Scripture makes it a sign of a gracious heart, to
hate sin; yea, though a man do, through infirmities, fall into sin, yet
if he hates it, this is a proof of grace. Paul proves the sincerity of
his heart, and the truth of his grace, by this hatred of sin, though he
committed it: "What I hate, that I do." Nay, what is grace but a
conformity of the soul to God; to love as God loves, to hate as God
hates? Now God hates sin: it is one part of his holiness to hate all
sin. And if I hate sin, then am I conformed to God: and if I am
conformed to God, then am I altogether a Christian.
Answer. It is true, that there is a hatred of sin, which is a sign of
grace, and which flows from a principle of grace, and is grace. As for
To hate sin, as it is an offence to God, a wrong to his majesty; to
hate 'sin, as it is a breach of the command, and so a wicked
controlling of God's will, which is the only rule of goodness; to hate
sin, as being a disingenuous transgression of that law of love
established in the blood and death of Christ, and so, in a degree, a
crucifying of Christ afresh. To hate sin, as being a grieving and
quenching the Spirit of God, as all sin in its nature is. − Thus to hate
sin, is grace; and thus every true Christian hates sin.
But, though every man that hath grace hates sin, yet every man that
hates sin hath not grace: for, a man may hate sin from other
principles, not as it is a wrong to God, or a wounding Christ, or a
grieving the Spirit; for then he would hate all sin; for there is no
sin but hath this in the nature of it. But,
1. A man may hate sin for the shame that attends it, more than for the
evil that is in it. Some sinners there are, "who declare their sin as
Sodom, and hide it not." They are set down in the seat of the scornful;
"they glory in their shame." But now others there are who are ashamed
of sin, and therefore hate it, not for the sin's sake, but for the
shame's sake. This made Absalom hate Amnon's uncleanness, because it
brought shame upon him and his sister.
Now then, if a man may hate sin for the shame that attends it; if he
may hate sin more in others than himself; if he may hate one sin as
being contrary to another; − then he may hate sin, and yet be but almost
2. A man may hate sin more in others, than in himself: so doth the
drunkard − he hates drunkenness in another, and yet practises it
himself! the liar hates falsehood in another, but likes it himself. Now
he that hates sin from a principle of grace, hates sin most in himself;
he hates sin in others, but he loathes most the sins of his own heart.
3. A man may hate one sin as being contrary to another. There is a
great contrariety between sin and sin, between lust and lust; it is the
excellency of the life of grace, that it is a uniform life; there is no
one grace contrary to another. The graces of God's Spirit are
different, but not differing. Faith, and love, and holiness, are all
one: they consist together at the same time, in the same subject; nay,
they cannot be parted. There can be no faith without love, no love
without holiness; and so, on the other hand, no holiness without love;
no love without faith. So that this makes the life of grace an easy and
excellent life; but now the life of sin is a distracting contradictious
life, wherein a man is a servant to contrary lusts: the lust of pride
and prodigality is contrary to the lust of covetousness, &c. Now, where
one lust gets to be the master−lust of the soul, then that works a
hatred of its contrary. Where covetousness gets the heart, there the
heart hates pride; and where pride gets uppermost in the heart, there
the heart hates covetousness. Thus a man may hate sin, not from a
principle of grace, but from the contrariety of lust. He does not hate
any sin, as it is sin; but he hates it, as being contrary to his
VI. A man may make great vows and promises − he may have strong purposes
and resolutions against sin, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Thus did Saul; he promises and resolves against his sin: "Return, my
son David," saith he, "for I will no more do thee harm." What promises
and resolves did Pharaoh make against that sin of detaining God's
people? − saith he, "I will let the people go, that they may do
sacrifice to the Lord." And again, "I will let ye go, and ye shall stay
no longer." And yet Saul and Pharaoh both perished in their sins. The
greatest purposes and promises against sin will not make a man a
1. Purposes and promises against sin, never hurt sin: we say,
"threatened folks live long;" and truly so do threatened sins. It is
not new purposes, but a new nature, that must help us against sin:
purposes may bring to the birth, but without a new nature, there is no
strength to bring forth. The new nature is the best soil for holy
purposes to grow in; otherwise, they wither and die, like plants in an
Now these three together − the workings of conscience; the sight of the
goodness of the law; a desire to be saved, − may bring forth in a man
great purposes against sin, and yet he may have no heart to perform his
own purposes. This was much like the case of them − say they to Moses,
"Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say: and tell
thou it to us, and we will hear it, and do it." This is a fair promise,
and so God takes it: "I have heard the words of this people; they have
well said all they have spoken." So said, and so done, had been well;
but it was better said than done; for though they had a tongue to
promise, yet they had no heart to perform; and this God saw: therefore
said he, "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear
me, and keep my commandments always, that it might be well with them!"
They promised to fear God, and keep his commandments; but they wanted a
new heart to perform what an unsanctified heart had promised. It fares
with men in this case, as it did with that son in the gospel, that
said, He would go into the vineyard, but went not."
2. Troubles and afflictions may provoke us to large purposes and
promises against sin for the future. What more common, than to vow, and
not to pay? to make vows in the day of trouble, which we make no
conscience to pay in the day of grace? Many covenant against sin, when
trouble is upon them; and then sin against their covenant, when it is
removed from them. It was a brave rule that Pliny, in one of his
epistles, gave his friend to live by, "That we should continue to be
such when we are well, as we promise to be when we are sick." Many are
our sick−bed promises, but we are no sooner well, than we grow sick of
3. Purposes and resolves against sin for the future, may be only a
temptation to put off repentance for the present. Satan may put a man
on to good purposes, to keep him from present attempts. He knows
whatever we purpose, yet the strength of performance is not in
ourselves. He knows, that purposes for the future are a putting God off
for the present; they are a secret will not, to a present opportunity.
That is a notable passage, "Follow me," saith Christ, to the two men.
Now see what answers they gave to Christ; − "Suffer me first to go and
bury my father," says one. This man purposes to follow Christ, only he
would stay to bury his father. Says the other, "Lord, I will follow
thee, but let me first go and bid them farewell which are at my house:"
I will follow thee, but only I would first go and take my leave of my
friends, or set my house in order; and yet we do not find that ever
they followed Christ notwithstanding their fair purposes.
4. Nature unsanctified may be so far wrought on, as to make great
promises and purposes against sin.
1st, A natural man may have great convictions of sin, from the workings
of an enlightened conscience.
2d, He may approve of the law of God.
3d, He may have a desire to be saved.
Now then, if purposes and promises against sin, never hurt sin; if
present afflictions may draw out large promises; if they may be the
fruit of a temptation − or, if from nature unsanctified surely then a
man may promise and purpose much against sin, and yet be but almost a
VII. A man may maintain a strife and combat against sin in himself, and
yet be but almost a Christian. So did Balaam when he went to curse the
people of God, he had a great strife within himself. "How shall I
curse," saith he, "whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy whom
the Lord hath not defied?" And did not Pilate strive against his sin,
when he said to the Jews, "Shall I crucify your king? what evil hath he
done. I am innocent of the blood of this just man."
Objection. But you will say, "Is not this an argument of grace, when
there is a striving in the soul against sin? for what should oppose sin
in the heart but grace? The apostle makes "the lusting of the flesh
against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh," to be an
argument of grace in the heart. Now I find this strife in my heart,
though the remainders of corruption sometimes break out into actual
sins, yet I find a striving in my soul against sin.
Answer. It is true, there is a striving against sin, which is only from
grace, and is proper to believers; and there is a striving against sin,
which is not from grace, and therefore may be in them that are not
believers.. There is a strife against sin in one and the same faculty;
the will against the will − the affection against the affection; and
this is that which the apostle calls "the lusting of the flesh against
the spirit;" that is, the striving of the unregenerate part against the
regenerate; and this is ever in the same faculty, and is proper to
An unbeliever never finds this strife in himself. This strife cannot be
in him; it is impossible, as such; that is, while he is on this side a
state of grace. But then there is a striving against sin in divers
faculties; and this is the strife that is in them that are not
believers. There, the strife is between the will and the conscience;
conscience enlightened and terrified with the fear of hell and
damnation − that is against sin the will and affection, not being
renewed, they are for sin. And this causes great tugging and combats
many times in the sinner's heart. Thus it was with the Scribes and
Pharisees. Conscience convinced them of the divinity of Christ, and of
the truth of his being the Son of God; and yet a perverse will, and
carnal affections, cry out, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" − Conscience
pleaded for him. He had a witness in their bosoms; and yet their wills
were bent against him: and therefore they are said "to have resisted
the Spirit;" namely, the workings and convictions of the Spirit in
their consciences. And this is the case of many sinners: when the will
and affections are for sin, and plead for it, conscience is against it,
and many times frights the soul from the doing of it. And hence men
take that which opposes sin in them to be grace, when it is only the
work of a natural conscience. They conclude the strife is between grace
and sin − the regenerate and unregenerate part; when, alas.! it is no
other than the contention of a natural conscience against a corrupt
will and affections. − And if so, then a man may have great strifes and
combats against sin in him; and yet be but almost a Christian.
5. A man may desire grace, and yet be but almost a Christian. So did
the five foolish virgins: "Give us of your oil." What was that but true
grace? It was that oil that lighted the wise virgins into the
bridegroom's chamber. They do not only desire to enter in, but they
desire oil to light them in. Wicked men may desire heaven − desire a
Christ to save them; there is none so wicked upon earth, but desire to
be happy in heaven. But now here are they that desire grace as well as
glory, and yet these are but almost Christians.
Objection. But is it not commonly taught that desires of grace are
grace? nay, doth not our Lord Christ make it so? − "Blessed are they
that hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled."
Answer. It is true, that there are some desires of grace which are
1. When a man desires grace from a right sense of his natural state;
when he sees the vileness of sin, and the woful, defiled, and loathsome
condition he is in by reason of sin; and therefore desires the grace of
Christ to renew and change him, − this is grace. This some make to be
the lowest degree of saving faith.
But though all true desires of grace, are grace yet all desires of
grace, are not true: for,
2. When a man joins proportionable endeavors to his desires; doth not
only wish for grace, but work for grace; such desires are grace.
3. When a man's desires are constant and incessant, that cease not but
in the attainment of their object; such desires are true grace. They
are a part of the especial work of the Spirit. They do really partake
of the nature of grace; now it is a known maxim, "that which partakes
of the nature of the whole, is a part of the whole;" the filings of
gold are gold. The sea is not more really water, than the least drop;
the flame is not more really fire than the least spark.
1. A man may desire grace, but not for itself, but for somewhat else;
not for grace's sake, but for heaven's sake: he doth not desire grace,
that his nature may be changed, his heart renewed, the image of God
stamped upon him, and his lusts subdued in him. These are blessed
desires, found only in true believers. The true Christian only can
desire grace for grace's sake; but the almost Christian may desire
grace for heaven's sake.
Objection. But is not that a note of sincerity and truth of grace, to
tremble at the word? Both not God say, "To him will I look that is of a
poor and contrite spirit, and trembles at my word?"
2. A man may desire grace without proportionable endeavors after grace;
many are good at wishing, but bad at working; like him that lay in the
grass on a summer's day, crying out, "O that this were to work?"
Solomon saith, "The desire of the slothful kills him." How so? "For his
hands refuse to labor;" He perisheth in his desires. The believer joins
desires and endeavors together: "One thing have I desired of the Lord,
and that will I seek after."
3. A man's desires of grace may be unseasonable: thus the foolish
virgins desired oil when it was too late. The believer's desires are
seasonable; he desires grace in the season of grace, and seeks in a
time when it may be found. "The wise man's heart knows both time and
judgment." He knows his season, and hath wisdom to improve it. The
silly sinner doth all his works out of season he sends away the seasons
of grace, and then desires grace when the season is over. The sinner
doth all too late; as Esau desired the blessing when it was too late,
and therefore he lost it; whereas, had he come sooner, he had obtained
it. Most men are like Epimetheus, wise too late, they come when the
market is done; when the shop is closed, then they have their oil to
get. When they lie upon their death−beds, then they desire holy hearts.
4. Desires of grace in many are very inconstant and fleeting, like the
"morning dew, that quickly passes away:" or like Jonah's gourd, that
springs up in a night, and withers in a night: they have no root in the
heart, and therefore quickly perish. Now, if a man may desire grace,
but not for grace's sake; if desires may be without endeavors; if a man
may desire grace when it is too. late; if these desires may be but
fleeting and inconstant; then may a man desire grace, and yet be but
almost a Christian.
5. A man may tremble at the word of God and yet be but almost a
Christian, as Belshazzar did at the handwriting upon the wall.
Answer. There is a two−fold trembling.
1. One is, when the word discovers the guilt of sin, and the wrath of
God that belongs to that guilt; this, where conscience is awake, causes
trembling and amazement: thus, when Paul preached of righteousness and
judgment, it is said Felix trembled.
Objection. But is it not made a character of a godly man, to delight in
the word of God? Doth not David say, "He is a blessed man that delights
in the law of the Lord?"
2. There is a trembling which arises from a holy dread and reverence of
the majesty of God, speaking in his word; this is only found in true
believers, and is that which keeps the soul low in its own eyes.
Therefore mark how the words run: "To him will I look that is of a poor
and contrite spirit, and trembles at my word." God does not make the
promise to him that trembles at the word; for the devils believe and
tremble; the word of God can make the proudest, stoutest sinner in the
world to shake and tremble, − but it is "to the poor and contrite spirit
that trembles." Where trembling is the fruit of a spirit broken for
sin, and low in its own eyes; there will God look. Now many tremble at
the word, but not from poverty of spirit, not from a heart broken for
sin, and low in its own eyes;, not from a sense of the majesty and
holiness of God: and therefore, notwithstanding they tremble at the
word, yet they are but almost Christians.
3. A man may delight in the word and ordinances of God, and yet be but
almost a Christian: "They take delight in approaching to God." And it
is said of that ground, that it "received the word with joy," and yet
it was but "stony ground."
Answer. There is a delighting in the word, which flows from grace, and
is a proof of blessedness.
1. He that delights in the word, because of its spirituality, he is a
Christian indeed; the more spiritual the ordinances are, the more doth
a gracious heart delight in them.
But there may be a delight in the word, where there is no grace.
2. When the word comes close to the conscience, rips up the heart, and
discovers sin, and yet the soul delights in it notwithstanding; this is
a sign of grace.
3. When delight arises from that communion that is to be had with God
there, this is from a principle of grace in the soul.
1. There are many who delight in the word because of the eloquence of
the preacher: they delight not so much in the truth delivered, as in
the dress in which they are delivered. Thus it is said of the prophet
Ezekiel, that he was to them "as a very lovely song of one that hath a
Now then, if a man may delight in the word, more because of the
eloquence of the preacher, than because of the spirituality of the
matter; if he may delight to hear the word, and yet not delight to do
it, − then he may delight in the word, and yet be but almost a
2. There are very many who delight to hear the word, that yet take no
delight to do it: so saith God of them, "They delight to hear my words,
but they do them not."
VIII. A man may be a member of the church of Christ, he may join
himself to the people of God, partake with them in all ordinances, and
share of all church privileges, and yet be but almost a Christian.
So the five foolish virgins joined themselves to the wise, and walked
together. Many may be members of the church of Christ, and yet not
members of Christ, the head of the church. There was a mixed multitude
came up with the church of Israel out of Egypt: they joined themselves
to the Israelites, owned their God, left their own country, and yet
were in heart Egyptians notwithstanding; "All are not Israel, that are
The church in all ages hath had unsound members: Cain had communion
with Abel; Ishmael dwelt in the same house with Isaac; Judas was in
fellowship with the apostles; and so was Demas with the rest of the
disciples. There will be some bran in the finest meal: the drag−net of
the Gospel catches bad fish as well as good; the tares and the wheat
grow together, and it will be so till the harvest.
God hath a church where there are no members but such as are true
members of Christ, but it is in heaven, it is the "church of the
first−born;" there are no hypocrites, nor rotten, unsound professors,
none but the "spirits of just men made perfect:" all is pure wheat that
God layeth up in that garner; there the chaff is separated to
But in the church on earth the wheat and the chaff lie in the same heap
together; the Samaritans will be near of kin to the Jews when they are
in prosperity: so while the church of God flourisheth in the world,
many will join to it; they will seem Jews, though they are Samaritans;
and seem saints, though yet they are no better than almost Christians.
IX. A man may have great hopes of heaven, great hopes of being saved,
and yet be but almost a Christian.
Indeed there is a hope of heaven which is "the anchor of the soul sure
and steadfast," it never miscarries, and it is known by four
First, It is a hope that purifies the heart, purges out sin: "He that
hath this hope, purifies himself even as God is pure." That soul that
truly hopes to enjoy God, truly endeavors to be like God.
Secondly, It is a hope which fills the heart with gladness: "We rejoice
in hope of the glory of God."
Thirdly, It is a hope that is founded upon the promise: as there can be
no true faith without a promise, so, nor any true hope. Faith applies
the promise, and hope expects the fulfilling the promise: faith relies
upon the truth of it, and hope waits for the good of it; faith gives
interest, hope expects livery and seisin.
Fourthly, It is a hope that is wrought by God himself in the soul; who
is therefore called, "the God of hope," as being the Author as well as
the Object of hope. Now, he that hath this hope shall never miscarry.
This is a right hope; the hope of the true believer: "Christ in you,
the hope of glory." But then, as there is a true and sound hope, so
there is a false and rotten hope; and this is much more common, as
bastard−pearls are more frequently worn than true pearls.
There is nothing more common, than to see men big with groundless hopes
of heaven: as,
1. A man may have great hope that hath no grace; you read of the "hope
of hypocrites." The performance of duties is a proof of their hope; the
foolish virgins would never have done what they did, had they thought
they should have been shut out after all. Many professors would not be
at such pains in duties as they are, if they did not hope for heaven.
Hope is the great motive to action: despair cuts the sinews of all
endeavors. That is one reason why the damned in hell cease acting
toward an alteration of their state, because despair hath taken hold of
them: if there were any hope in hell, they would up and be doing there.
So that there may be great hope where there is no grace; experience
proves this; formal professors are men of no grace, but yet men of
great hopes; nay, many times you shall find that none fear more about
their eternal condition, than they that have most cause of hope, and
none hope more than they that have most cause of fear. As interest in
hope may sometimes be without hope, so hope in God may be without
Now it is presumption, and therefore sin, to hope in the mercy of God,
otherwise than by eyeing the promise; for the promise is the channel of
mercy, through which it is conveyed; all the blessedness the saints
enjoy in heaven, is no other than what is the fruit of promise relied
on, and hoped for here on earth. A man hath no warrant to hope in God,
but by virtue of the promise.
2. A man may hope in the mercy, and goodness, and power of God, without
eyeing the promise; and this is the hope of most: God is full of mercy
and goodness, and therefore willing to save; and he is infinite in
power, and therefore able to save; why therefore should I not rest on
3. A man may hope for heaven, and yet not cleanse his heart, nor depart
from his secret sins; that hope of salvation that is not accompanied
with heart−purification, is a vain hope.
Now then, if a man may have great hope of heaven, that hath no grace;
if he may hope in mercy, without eyeing the promise; if he may hope
without heart−purifying; if he may hope for heaven, and yet do the work
of hell; surely then a man may have great hopes of heaven, and yet be
but almost a Christian.
4. A man may hope for heaven, and yet be doing the work of hell; he may
hope for salvation, and yet be working out his own damnation, and so
perish in his confidences. This is the case of many, like the water−man
that looks one way, and rows another; many have their eyes on heaven
whose hearts are in the earth; they hope in God, but choose him not for
a portion; they hope in God, but do not love him as the best good, and
therefore are like to have no portion in him, nor good by him; but are
like to perish without him, notwithstanding all their hopes: "What is
the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God takes away
X. A man may be under great and visible changes, and these wrought by
the ministry of the word, and yet be but almost a Christian, as Herod
was. It is said, "when he heard John Baptist, he did many things, and
heard him gladly." Saul was under a great change when he met the Lord's
prophets; he turned prophet too. Nay, it is said, verse 9th of that
chapter, that "God gave him another heart." Now, was not this a work of
grace? and was not Saul here truly converted? One would think he was;
but yet indeed he was not. For though it is said, God gave him another
heart, yet it is not said, that God gave him a new heart. There is a
great difference between another heart, and a new heart; God gave him
another heart to fit him for a ruler, but gave him not a new heart to
make him a believer; another heart may make another man, but it is a
new heart that makes a new man.
Again Simon Magus is a great proof of this truth: he was under a great
and visible change; of a sorcerer he was turned to be a believer; he
left his witchcrafts and sorceries, and embraced the gospel; was not
this a great change? If the drunkard doth but leave his drunkenness,
the swearer his oaths, the profane person his profaneness, they think
this is a gracious change, arid their state is now good. Alas! Simon
Magus did not only leave his sins, but had a kind of conversion; for,
he believed, and was baptized."
Objection. But is not that man that is changed, a true Christian?
Answer. Not every change makes a man a Christian: indeed there is a
change, that whoever is under it is a true Christian.
When a man's heart is so changed, as that it is renewed: when old
things "are done away, and all is become new:" when the new creature is
wrought in the soul, when a man is "turned from darkness to light, from
the power of Satan to God;" when the mind is enlightened, the will
renewed, the affections made heavenly: then a man is a Christian
But now you must know that every change is not this change. For,
1. There is a civil change, a moral change, as well as a spiritual and
Many men are changed in a moral sense, and one may say, they are become
new men; but they are in heart and nature the same men still. They are
not changed in a spiritual and supernatural sense, and therefore it
cannot be said of them, they are become new creatures.
Restraining grace may cause a moral change; but it is renewing grace
that must cause a saving change. Now, many are under restraining grace,
and so changed morally, that are not under the power of saving grace,
and so changed savingly.
2. There is an outward change, as well as an inward change: the outward
change is often without the inward, though the inward change is never
without the outward. A man's heart cannot be sanctified, but it will
influence the life; but a man's life may be reformed, and yet never
affect or influence the heart.
Now then, if a man may be changed morally, and yet not
spiritually − outwardly, and yet not inwardly, from a course of
profaneness to a lifeless form of godliness; then a man may be under
great and visible changes, and yet be no more than almost a Christian.
3. A man may be converted from a course of profaneness, to a form of
godliness; from a filthy conversation, to a fair profession; and yet
the heart be the same in one and the other. A rotten post may be gilt
without, and yet unsound within. It is common to have the "outside of
the cup and platter" made clean, and yet the inside foul and filthy.
I do not speak this to discountenance any change, short of that which
is spiritual; but to awaken you to seek after that change which is more
than moral. It is good to be outwardly renewed, but it is better to be
savingly renewed. I know how natural it is for men to take up with
anything like a work of conversion, though it be not conversion and
resting in that, they eternally perish.
Beloved, let me tell you, there is no change, no conversion, can stead
your souls in the day of judgment, on this side that saving work, which
is wrought on the soul by the Spirit of God, renewing you throughout:
the sober man, without this change, shall as surely go to hell, as the
foolish drunkard. Morality and civility may commend us to men, but not
to God. They are of no value in the procurement of an eternal
A man may go far in an outward change, and yet be not one step nearer
heaven, than he that was never under any change; − nay, he may be, in
some sense, further off; as Christ saith, the Scribes and Pharisees
were further from heaven, with all their show of godliness, than
publicans and harlots, in all their sin and uncleanness. Because,
resting in a false work, a partial change, we neglect to seek after a
true and saving change. There is nothing more common than to mistake
our state, and by overweening thoughts, misjudge our condition, and so
perish in our own delusions. The world is full of these foolish
builders, that lay the foundation of their hopes of eternal salvation
upon the sand.
Now, my brethren, would you not mistake the way to heaven, and perish
in a delusion? Would you not be found fools at last? for none are such
fools as the spiritual fool, who is a fool in thy; great business of
salvation. Would you not be fools for your souls, and for eternity? O
then labor after, and pray for, a thorough work of conversion! Beg of
God that he would make a saving change in your souls, that ye may be
altogether Christians! All other changes below this saving change, this
heart change, make us but almost Christians.
XI. A man may be very zealous in the matters of religion, and yet be
but almost a Christian.
Jehu did not only serve God, and do what he commanded him, but was very
zealous in his service: "Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord of
hosts!" and yet in all this Jehu was a very hypocrite. Joash was a
great reformer in Jehoiada's time it is said, "He did that which was
right in the sight of the Lord, all the days of Jehoiada the priest."
But when Jehoiada died, Joash's zeal for God died with him, and he
becomes a very wretch.
Objection. But the apostle makes zeal to be a note of sound
Christianity: "It is good to be zealously affected in good things;"
nay, it seems to be the non−such qualification for obtaining eternal
life; "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take
it by force."
Answer. It is true, there is a zeal which is good, and which renders
the soul highly acceptable to God − a zeal, that never misses of heaven
and salvation. Now this is a zeal which is a celestial fire; the true
temper and heat of all the affections to God and Christ. It is a zeal
wrought and kindled in the soul by the Spirit of God, who first works
it, and then sets it on work. It is a zeal that hath the word of God
for its guide, directing it in working, both in regard of its object
and end, manner and measure. It is a zeal that checks sin, and forwards
the heavenly life. It is a zeal that makes the glory of God its chief
end; which swallows up all by−ends: "The zeal of thy house hath eaten
But now all zeal is not this kind of zeal: there is a false zeal, as
well as a true: every grace hath its counterfeit. As there is fire,
which is true heavenly fire, on the altar, so there is strange fire:
Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire upon God's altar.
There are several kinds of zeal, none of which are true and sound, but
false and counterfeit.
I shall instance in eight particulars
First, There is a blind zeal, a zeal without knowledge. "They have a
zeal," saith the apostle, "but not according to knowledge." Now as
knowledge without zeal is fruitless, so zeal without knowledge is
dangerous. It is like wild−fire in the hand of a fool; or, like the
devil in the man possessed, that threw him sometimes into the fire,
sometimes into the water.
The eye is the light of the body, and the understanding is the light of
the soul. Now, as the body, without the light of the eye, cannot go
without stumbling; so the soul, without the light of the mind, cannot
act without erring. Zeal without knowledge, is like an ignis fatuus in
a dark night, that leads a traveller out of his way, into the bogs and
mire. This was the zeal of Paul, while he was a Pharisee: "I was
zealous towards God, as ye are all this day; and I persecuted this way
unto the death." And again, "I verily thought with myself, I ought to
do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth." And,
"Concerning zeal, persecuting the church." Such a zeal was that in
John, "They shall put you out of the synagogue," − silence you, you
shall not be suffered to preach; − "yea, the time comes, that whoever
kills you, will think that he doth God service." This is great zeal,
but yet it is blind zeal; and that God abhors.
Secondly, There is a partial zeal: in one thing, fire hot − in another
key−cold; zealous in this thing, and yet careless in another. Many are
first−table Christians, zealous in the duties of the first−table, and
yet neglect the second. Thus the Pharisees were zealous in their
Corban, and yet unnatural to their parents, suffering them to starve
and perish. Others are second−table Christians, zealous in the duties
of the second−table, but neglect the first; more for righteousness
among men, than for holiness towards God. But now he whose religion
ends with the first−table, or begins with the second, he is a fool in
his profession; for he is but almost a Christian.
The woman that was for the dividing the child, was not the true mother;
and he that is for dividing the commands, is not a true believer.
Jehu was zealous against Ahab's house, but not so against Jeroboam's
calves; many are zealous against sin of opinion, that yet use no zeal
against the sins of their conversation.
Now, as we know that the sweat of the whole body is a sign of health,
but the sweat of some one part only, shows a distemper, and therefore
physicians do reckon such a heat to be symptomatical. So where zeal
reaches to every command of God alike, that is a sign of a sound
constitution of soul; but where it is partial, where a man is hot in
one part, and cold in another, that is symptomatical of some inward
Thirdly, There is a misplaced zeal; fixed upon unsuitable and
disproportionable objects. Many are very zealous in trifling things
that are not worth it, and trifling in the things that most require it;
like the Pharisees that were diligent tythers of mint, anise, and
cummin, but neglected the "weightier matters of the law; judgment,
mercy, and faith." They had no zeal for these, though very hot for the
other; many are more zealous for a ceremony, than for the substance of
religion; more zealous for bowing at the name of Jesus, than for
conformity to the life of Jesus; more zealous for a holy vestment, than
for a holy life; more zealous for the inventions of men, than for the
institutions of Christ. This is a superstitious zeal, and usually found
in men unconverted, in whom grace never was wrought. Against such men
heathens will rise up in judgment. When. was it that Paul was so
"exceeding zealous of the traditions of his fathers.," as he saith, but
only when he was in his wretched and unconverted state? as you may see
in the next verses: "But when it pleased God to call me by his grace,
then I conferred not with flesh and blood." Paul had another kind of
zeal then, actuated by other kind of principles.
Fourthly, There is a selfish zeal, that hath a man's own end for its
motive; Jehu was very zealous, but it was not so much for God, as for
the kingdom; not so much in obedience to the command, as in design to
step into the throne; and therefore God threatens to punish him for
that very thing he commands him to do: "I will avenge the blood of
Jezreel upon the house of Jehu:" because he shed that blood, to gratify
his lust, not to obey God. So Simeon and Levi pretend great zeal for
circumcision, seem very zealous for the honor of God's ordinances, when
in truth their zeal was covetousness, and revenge upon the Shechemites.
Fifthly, There is an outside zeal: such was that of the Scribes and
Pharisees; they would not eat with unwashed hands, but yet would live
in unseen sins; they would wash the cup often, but the heart seldom;
paint the outside, but neglect the inside. Jehu was a mighty outside
reformer, but he reformed nothing within, for he had a base heart under
all. "Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord with all his
heart." Though his fleece was fair, his liver was rotten. Our Lord
Christ observes of the Pharisees, "They pray, to be seen of men;" and
fast, so "that they may appear to men to fast."
Sixthly, There is a forensic zeal, that runs out upon others; like the
candle in the lantern, that sends all the heat out at the top; or as
the lewd woman Solomon mentions, whose "feet abide not in her own
Many are hot and high against the sins of others, and yet cannot see
the same in themselves; like the Lamiae, that put on their spectacles
when they went abroad, but pulled them of within doors.
It is easy to see faults in others, and as hard to see them in
ourselves. Jehu was zealous against Baal and his priests, because that
was Ahab's sin; but not against the calves of Bethel, because that was
his own sin. This zeal is the true character of a hypocrite; his own
garden is overrun with weeds, while he is busy in looking over his
Seventhly, There is a sinful zeal: all the former may be called sinful
from some defect; but this I call sinful in a more special notion,
because against the life and chief of religion. It is a zeal, against
zeal, that flies not at profaneness, but at the very power of
godliness; not at error, but at truth; and is most hot against the most
spiritual and important truths of the times. Whence else are the
sufferings of men for the truth, but from the spirit of zeal against
the truth? This may be called a devilish zeal; for as there is the
faith of devils, so there is the zeal of devils: "Therefore his rage is
great, because he knows his time is short."
Eighthly, there is a scriptureless zeal, that is not butted and bounded
by the word, but by some base and low end. Such was Saul's zeal, when
God bids him destroy Amalek, "and spare neither man nor beast;" when
contrary to God's command, he spares the best of the sheep and oxen,
under pretence of zeal for God's sacrifice. Another time, when he had
no such command, then he slew the Gibeonites "in zeal to the children
of Israel and Judah."
Many a man's zeal is greater then and there, when and where he hath the
least warrant from God. The true spirit of zeal is bounded by
Scripture; for it is for God and the concerns of his glory: God hath no
glory from that zeal that hath no scripture−warrant.
Now then, if the zeal of a man in the things of God may be only a blind
zeal, or a partial zeal, or a misplaced zeal, or a selfish zeal, or an
outside zeal, or a forensic zeal, or a sinful zeal, or a scriptureless
zeal; then it is evident, that a man may be very zealous in the matters
of religion, and yet be but almost a Christian.
XII. A man may be much in prayer − he may pray often, and pray much; and
yet be but almost a Christian. So did the Pharisees, whom yet our Lord
Christ rejects for hypocrites.
Objection. But is not a praying−frame an argument of a sincere heart?
Are not the saints of God called "the generation of them that seek the
face of God?"
Answer. A man is not therefore a Christian, because he is much in
prayer. I grant that those prayers that are from the workings and
sighings of God's Spirit in us; from sincere hearts lifted up to God;
from a sense of our own emptiness, and God's infinite fulness; that are
suited to God's will, the great rule of prayer; that are for spiritual
things, more than temporal; that are accompanied with faith and
dependence, − such prayers speak a man altogether a Christian. But now a
man may be much in prayer, and yet be a stranger to such prayer; as,
1. Nature may put a man upon prayer; for it is a part of natural
worship. It may put a child of God upon prayer − did Christ: "He went
and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father! if it be
possible, let this cup pass from me." This was a prayer of Christ which
flowed from the sinless strugglings of nature, seeking its own
The Jews have this sentence written upon the walls of their synagogues:
"Prayer, without the intention of the mind, is but a body without a
2. A man may pray in pretence, for a covering to some sin: so did those
devout Pharisees: "Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye
devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: therefore
ye shall receive the greater damnation." So the Papists seem very
devout to pray a rich man's soul out of purgatory; but it is to cheat
the heir of much of his estate, under pretence of praying for his
3. A man may pray, and yet love sin; as Austin before conversion prayed
against his sin, but was afraid God should hear him, and take him at
his word. Now, God hears not such prayers: "If I regard iniquity in my
heart, God will not hear my prayer."
4. A man may pray much for temporal things, and little for spiritual
things; and such are the prayers of most men, crying out most for
temporal things. More for, "Who will show us any good?" than for,
"Lord, lift upon us the light of thy countenance." David copies out the
prayer of such: "That our sons may be as plants, and that our daughters
may be as corner−stones, polished after the similitude of a palace:
that our garners may be full, &c. Happy is the people that is in such a
case!" This is the carnal prayer; and this David calls vanity − "They
are strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity."
5. A man may pray, and yet be far from God in prayer: "This people draw
nigh to me with their mouths, and honor me with their lips, but their
heart is far from me." A man may pray, and yet have no heart in prayer;
and that God chiefly looks at: "My son, give me thy heart."
It is not enough to be conscionable to use prayer, but we must be
conscionable to the use of prayer. Many are so conscientious that they
dare not but pray; and yet so irreligious, that they have no heart in
prayer. A common work of God may make a man conscionable to do duties,
but nothing less than giving grace in the heart, will make a man
conscionable in the doing of them.
6. A man's prayer may be a lie. As a profession without sanctity is a
lie to the world, so prayer without sincerity, is a lie to God. It is
said of Israel, that they "sought God, and inquired early after him."
They were much in prayer, and God calls all but a lie. "Nevertheless,
they did flatter him with their mouths, and they lied to him with their
tongues, for their heart was not with him." − "Hearken to my prayer,
that goeth not out of feigned lips," saith David.
Now then, if nature may put a man upon prayer; if a man may pray in
pretence, and design; if a man may pray, and yet love sin; if a man may
pray mostly for temporal things; if a man may pray, and yet be far from
God in prayer; if prayer may be a lie, or it may be only the cry of the
soul under affliction, − sure then a man may be much in prayer, and yet
be but almost a Christian.
7. Affliction and the pressure of outward evils, will make a man pray,
and pray much. "When he slew them, then they sought him, and returned,
and inquired early after God." The heathen mariners called every man
upon his God when in a storm: when they fear drowning, then they fall
to praying, Jonah i. 5. Mariners are for the most part none of the
devoutest, nor much addicted to prayer. They will swear twice, where
they pray once; and yet it is said, "They cry to the Lord in their
trouble:" and hence you have a proverb, "He that cannot pray let him go
to sea." − "They poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them."
Objection. But suppose a man pray, and prevail with God in prayer,
surely that is a witness from heaven of a man's sincerity in prayer:
now, I pray, and prevail; I ask, and am answered.
Answer. A man may pray, and be answered; for God many times answers
prayers in judgment. As God is sometimes silent in mercy, so he speaks
in wrath; and as he sometimes denies prayer in mercy, so he sometimes
answers in judgment: when men are over−importunate in something their
lusts are upon, and will take no nay, then God answers in judgment. "He
gave them their own desire." They had desired quails, and God sent
them: but now mark the judgment − "While the meat was in their mouths,
the wrath of God came upon them, and slew them."
Objection. But suppose a man's affections are much stirred in
prayer − how then? Is not that a true note of Christianity? Now my
affections are much stirred in prayer.
Answer. So was Esau's, when he sought the blessing. "He sought it
carefully with tears." A man may be affected with his own parts in a
duty, while good notions pass through his head, and good words through
his lips: some good motions also may stir in his heart, but they are
but sparks which fly out at the tunnel of the chimney, which suddenly
vanish; so that it is possible a man may pray, and prevail in prayer;
pray, and be affected in prayer − and yet be but almost a Christian.
XIII. A man may suffer for Christ in his goods, in his name, in his
person; and yet be but almost a Christian.
Every man that bears Christ's cross on his shoulders, doth not,
therefore, bear Christ's image in his soul.
Objection. But doth not our Lord Christ make great promises to them
that suffer, or lose anything for him? Doth he not say, "Every one that
hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or
wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an
hundred fold, and shall inherit everlasting life?" Sure they are true
Christians to whom Christ makes this promise!
Answer. There is a suffering for Christ, that is a note of sincerity,
and shall have its reward. That is, when a man suffers for a good
cause, upon a good call, and with a good conscience, for Christ's sake,
and in Christ's strength; when his sufferings are a filling up "that
which is behind of the sufferings of Christ;" when a man suffers as a
Christian, as the apostle hath it, "If a man suffers as a Christian,
let him not be ashamed;" when a man thrusts not himself into
sufferings, but stays God's call, such suffering is a proof of
But now, every suffering for Christ is not suffering as a Christian:
1. A man may suffer for Christ, for that profession of religion that is
upon him; the world hates the show of religion. Times may come, that it
may cost a man as dear to wear the livery of Christ, as to wear Christ
himself. Alexander had like to have lost his life for the gospel's
sake, yet he was that Alexander, as is generally judged, that
afterwards made shipwreck of faith, and greatly opposed Paul's
Love to Christ is the only noble ground of suffering; but a man may
suffer much upon other ends.
2. A man may suffer for Christ, and yet have no true love to Christ.
This is supposed: "Though I give my body to be burned, and have not
charity, it profits nothing."
1. Out of opinion of meriting by our sufferings, as the Papists; or,
Now then, if a man may suffer for Christ, from the profession that is
upon him, or suffer for Christ, and yet not truly love him; then a man
may suffer for Christ, and yet be but almost a Christian.
2. Out of vain glory, or for applause among professors: some have died,
that their names might live; or,
3. Out of a Roman resolution, or stoutness of spirit.
4. Out of a design of profit, as Judas forsook all for Christ, hoping
to mend his market by closing with him; or,
5. Rather to maintain an opinion, than for truth's propagation.
Socrates died for maintaining that there was but one God; but whether
he died rather for his own opinion, than for God's sake, I think it is
no hard matter to determine. Thus, a man may suffer for professing
Christ, and yet suffer upon wrong principles.
XIV. A man may be called of God, and embrace this call, and yet be but
almost a Christian.
Judas is a famous instance of this truth: he was called by Christ
himself, and came at the call of Christ; and yet Judas was but almost a
Objection. But is not the being under the call of God, a proof of our
interest in the predestinating love of God? Doth not the apostle say,
"Whom he predestinated, them he called?" Nay, doth he not say, in the
next verse, "Whom he called, them he justified?" Nay, doth not God call
all whom he intends to save?
Answer. Though God calleth all those that shall be saved, yet all shall
not be saved whom God calleth. Every man under the gospel is called of
God in one sense or other, but yet every man under the gospel shall not
therefore be saved: "For many are called, but few chosen."
There is a twofold call of God − internal, and external.
1. There is an internal call of God. Now, this call is a special work
of the Spirit, by the ministry of the word, whereby a man is brought
out of a state of nature, into a state of grace; "out of darkness into
light, from being vessels of wrath, to be made heirs of life." I grant,
that whoever is under this call of God, is called effectually and
savingly, to be a Christian indeed. "Every man that hath heard and
learned of the Father, comes to me."
Now every man that lives under the preaching of the gospel, is thus
called. God calls every soul of you to repent, and lay a sure
foundation for heaven and salvation, by the word you hear this day.
2. There is a call of God which a man may have, and yet not be this
call: there is an external call of God, which is by the ministry of the word.
But now every man that is thus called, is not therefore a Christian: for,
1. Many under the call of God, come to Christ, but are not converted to
Christ, have nothing of the grace and life of Christ; such as he, who,
when Christ sent out his servants to bid guests unto the marriage, came
in at the call of Christ, but yet "had not on the wedding garment;"
that is, had none of the grace and righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Now then, if many are only under this external call of God; if many
that come to Christ are not converted to Christ, but fall away from
Christ; then a man may be called of God, and yet be but almost a
2. Many that are under the call of the gospel, come to Christ, and yet
afterwards fall away from Christ; as Judas and Demas did. It is said,
when Christ preached a doctrine that his disciples did not like, that
"from that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more
XV. A man may have the spirit of God, and yet be but almost a
Balaam had the Spirit of God given him when he blessed Israel: "Balaam
saw Israel abiding in tents, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him."
Judas had; for by the Spirit he cast out devils; he was one of them
that came to Christ, and said, "Lord, even the devils are subject to
us." Saul had − "Behold, a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit
of God came upon him, and be prophesied among them."
Objection. But you will say, "Can a man have the Spirit of God, and yet
not be a Christian?" Indeed, the Scripture saith, "If any man have not
the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his;" but surely if any man have
the Spirit of Christ, he is his!
Answer. There is a having the Spirit, which is a sure mark of
saintship. Where the Spirit is an effectual prevailing principle of
grace and sanctification, renewing and regenerating the heart: where
the Spirit is a potent worker, "helping the soul's infirmities: where
the Spirit is so as to "abide forever." But now every man that hath the
Spirit, hath not the Spirit in this manner: for,
1. A man may have the Spirit only transiently, not abidingly. The
Spirit may be in a man, and yet not dwell in a man: the Spirit is
wherever he dwells, but he does not dwell wherever he is; he is in all,
but dwells in saints only. The hypocrite may have the Spirit for a
season, but not to abide in him forever.
This Spirit may be, and often is, without saving grace: this operation
of the Spirit was in Cain and Judas. There are none that receive the
Spirit of adoption, but they first receive the Spirit of bondage: yet
many receive the Spirit of bondage, that never receive the Spirit of
2. A man may have the Spirit, and yet not be born of the Spirit. Every
true Christian is born of the Spirit. A hypocrite may have the gifts of
the Spirit, but not the graces: the Spirit may be in him by the way of
illumination, but not by way of sanctification; by way of conviction,
but not by way of conversion. Though he may have much common grace for
the good of others, yet he may have no special grace for the good of
himself; though his profession be spiritual, yet his state and
condition may be carnal.
3. A man may have the Spirit only as a Spirit of bondage. Thus, many
have the Spirit working only to bondage. "The Spirit of bondage is an
operation of the Holy Ghost by the law, convincing the conscience of
sin, and of the curse of the law, and working in the soul such an
apprehension of the wrath of God, as makes the thoughts of God a terror
4. A man may have the Spirit of God working in him, and yet it may be
resisted by him. It is said of the Jews, "They rebelled, and vexed his
Holy Spirit:" and the same sin is charged upon their children: "Ye
stiff−necked, and uncircumcised in heart, ye have always resisted the
Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye." The hypocrite retains not
the Spirit so long as to come up to regeneration and adoption, but
quenches the motion of it, and thereby miscarries eternally.
The true believer hath so much of the Spirit, such a work of it in him,
that he cannot sin that sin: "He that is born of God, sins not:" to
wit, that "sin unto death," for that is meant. The carnal professing
sinner, he cannot sin that sin, because he is carnal and sensual,
having not the Spirit. A man must have some measure of the Spirit that
sins this sin: so hath the hypocrite: he is said to be "partaker of the
Holy Ghost," and he only is capable of sinning the sin against the Holy
5. A man may have the Spirit, and yet sin that unpardonable sin: he may
have the Holy Ghost, and yet sin the sin against the Holy Ghost; − nay,
no man can sin this sin against it, but he that hath some degree of it.
Now then, if a man may have the Spirit transiently only, not abidingly;
if a man may have the Spirit, and yet not be born of the Spirit; if he
may have the Spirit only as a Spirit of bondage; if a man may have the
Spirit working in him, and yet it may be resisted by him; if a man may
have the Spirit and yet sin that unpardonable sin against it; then
surely a man may have the Spirit of God, and yet be but almost a
XVI. A man may have faith, and yet be but almost a Christian.
The stony ground, that is, those hearers set out by the stony ground,
"for a while believed." It is said, that many believed in the name of
Christ, yet Christ durst not "commit himself to them." Though they
trusted in Christ, yet Christ would not trust them; and why? "because
he knew all men." He knew they were rotten at root, notwithstanding
their faith. A man may have all faith, to the removing of mountains,
and yet be nothing.
Objection. But how can this be, that a man may have faith, and yet be
but almost a Christian? Doth not our Lord Christ promise life eternal
and salvation to all that believe? Is not this the Gospel that is to be
preached to every creature, "He that believes shall be saved?"
Answer. Though it is true what our Lord Christ saith, that "he that
believes shall be saved," yet it is as true, that many believe that
shall never be saved; for Simon Magus believed; yea, James saith, "The
devils believe and tremble:" now none will say these shall be saved. As
it is true, what the apostle saith, "All men have not faith," so it is
as true, that there are some men have faith, who are no whit the better
for their faith.
You must know therefore there is a two−fold faith,
1. Special and saving.
1. There is a saving faith.
2. Common and not saving.
This is called "faith of the operation of God." It is a work of God's
own Spirit in the soul. It is such a faith as rests and casts the soul
wholly upon Christ for grace and glory, pardon and peace,
sanctification and salvation. It is a united act of the whole soul,
understanding, will and affections, all concurring to unite the soul to
an all−sufficient Redeemer. It is such a faith as "purifies the heart,"
and makes it clean; it influences and gives strength and life to all
other graces. Now, whoever hath this faith, is a Christian indeed; this
is the "faith of God's elect." But then,
2. There is a common faith, not saving, a fading and temporary faith;
there is the faith of Simon Magus, as well as the faith of Simon Peter:
Simon Magus believed, and yet he was in the "gall of bitterness, and in
the bond of iniquity." Now Simon Magus had more followers than Simon
Peter: the faith of most men will at last be found to be no better than
the faith of Simon Magus: for,
First, The faith of most is but a temporary faith, endures for a while,
and then dies and perisheth; true and saving faith, such as is the
faith of God's elect, cannot die: it may fail in the act, but not in
the habit; the sap may not be in the branch, but it is always in the
That faith that perisheth, that faith a man may have and perish.
Secondly, there is a faith that lies only in generals, not in
particulars: as there is a general and particular object of faith, so
there is a general and particular faith. The general object of faith is
the whole Scripture; the particular object of faith is Christ in the
promise. Now many have a general faith to believe all the Scripture,
and yet have no faith to make particular application of Jesus Christ in
the promise. Devils and reprobates may believe the truth of the
Scripture, and what is written of the dying and suffering of Christ for
sinners; but there are but few that can close up themselves in the
wounds of Christ, and by his stripes fetch in healing to their own
Thirdly, There is a faith that is seated in the understanding, but not
in the will; this is a very common faith: many assent to the truth.
They believe all the attributes of God, that he is just, holy, wise,
faithful, good, merciful, &c. But yet they rest not on him
notwithstanding. They believe the commands are true, but yet do not
obey them: they believe the promises are true, but yet do not embrace
and apply them: they believe the threatenings are true, but yet do not
flee from them.
Thus their faith lies in assent, but not consent; they have faith to
confess a judgment, but none to take out execution: by assent they lay
a foundation, but never build upon it by application. They believe that
Christ died to save them that believe, and yet they believe not in
Christ, that they may be saved.
O my brethren, it is not a believing head, but a believing heart that
makes a Christian; "with the heart man believes to righteousness:"
without this our "faith is vain, we are yet in our sins."
Fourthly, There is a faith without experience; many believe the word
upon hearsay, to be the word of God; but they never felt the power and
virtue of it upon their hearts and consciences. Now what good is it to
believe the truth of the word, if a man's conscience never felt the
power of the word:' what is it to believe the truth of the promise, if
we never tasted the sweetness of the promise? We are in this case like
a man that believes the description others make of strange countries,
but never travelled them to know the truth: or as a patient that
believes all the physician says, but yet tries none of his potions. We
believe the word, because we cannot gainsay it; but yet we have no
experience of any saving good wrought by the word, and so are but
Fifthly, There is a faith that is without brokenness of heart, that
does not avail to melt or soften the heart, and therefore is not true
faith; for the least true faith is ever joined with a bending will, and
Sixthly, There is a faith that transforms not the heart; faith without
fruit, that doth not bring forth the new creature in the soul, but
leaves it in a state of sin and death. This is a faith that makes a man
a sound professor, but not a sound believer; he believes the truth, but
not as it is in Jesus; for then it would change and transform him into
the likeness of Jesus. He believes that a man must be changed that
would be saved, but yet is not savingly changed by believing. Thus,
while others believe to salvation, he believes to damnation: for "his
web shall not become a garment; neither shall he cover himself with his
Now then, if a man's faith may be but temporary, or may lie only in
generals, or may be seated in the understanding only, or may be without
experience, or may be without a broken heart, or without a new heart;
surely then a man may have faith, he may taste of this "heavenly gift,"
and yet be but almost a Christian.
XVII. A man may go further yet: he may possibly have a love to the
people of God, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Every kind of love to those who are saints, is not a proof of our
saintship. Pharaoh loved Joseph, and advanced him to the second place
in the kingdom, and yet Pharaoh was but a wicked man: Ahab loved
Jehoshaphat and made a league with him, and married his daughter
Athaliah to Jehoram, Jehoshaphat's son, and yet Ahab was a wicked
But you will say this seems to contradict the testimony of the
Scriptures; for that makes love to the saints and people of God, a sure
proof of our regeneration, and interest in life eternal: "We know that
we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren." Nay,
the Spirit of God putteth this as a characteristical distinction
between saints and sinners: "In this the children of God are manifest,
and the children of the devil: whosoever doth not righteousness, is not
of God, neither he that loveth not his brother." By brethren we do not
understand brethren by place, those who are of the same country or
nation, such as are called brethren in Rom. ix. 3, Acts vii. 23, 25.
Nor do we understand brethren by race, those who are descended of the
same parents such are called brethren in James i. 2. But by brethren we
understand brethren by grace, and supernatural regeneration, such as
are the children of God; and these are the brethren whom to love is a
sure sign that we are the children of God.
Answer. To this I answer, that there is a love to the children of God,
which is a proof of our being the children of God. As for instance,
when we love them as such, for that very reason, as being the saints of
God, when we love them for the image of God, which appeareth in them,
because of that grace and holiness which shineth forth in their
conversations; this is truly commendable, to love the godly for
godliness sake, the saints for saintship sake, this is a sure testimony
of our Christianity. The love of grace in another, is a good proof of
the life of grace in ourselves. There can be no better evidence of the
Spirit of Christ in us, than to love the image of Christ in others. For
this is a certain truth that a sinner cannot love a saint as such; "an
Israelite is an abomination to an Egyptian."
There is a contrariety and natural enmity between the two seeds;
between the children of the world, and those whom the Father in His
eternal love hath "chosen out of the world."
It is likeness which is the great ground of love.Now there is the
highest dissimilitude and unlikeness between an unregenerate sinner,
and a child of God, and therefore a child of God cannot love a sinner
as a sinner: "In whose eyes a vile person is contemned." He may love
him as a creature; he may love his soul, or he may love him under some
relation that he stands in to him. Thus God loves the damned spirits,
as they are his creatures, but as fallen angels he hateth them with an
infinite hatred. So to love a sinner, as a sinner, this a child of God
cannot do; so neither can a sinner love a child of God as a child of
God. That he may love a child of God, that I grant, but it is upon some
other consideration; he may love a person that is holy, not the person
for his holiness, but for some other respect. As,
1. A man may love a child of God for his loving, peaceable, courteous
deportment to all with whom he converseth. Religion beautifies the
conversation of a man, and sets him off to the eye of the world. The
grace of God is no friend to morose, churlish, unmannerly behavior
among men; it promotes an affable demeanor and sweetness to all; and
where this is found, it winneth respect and love from all.
I might instance in many things of the like nature, as charity, beauty,
wit, learning, parts, &c., which may procure love to the people of God
from the men of the world. But this love is no proof of charity: For,
2. A man may love a saint for his outward greatness and splendor in the
world; men are very apt to honor worldly greatness, and therefore the
rich saint shall be loved and honored, whilst the poor saint is hated
and despised. This is as if a man should value the goodness of his
sword by the embroidery of his belt; or his horse for the beauty of his
trappings, rather than for his strength and swiftness.
True love to the children of God, reaches to all the children of God,
poor as well as rich, bond as well as free, ignoble as well as noble,
for the image of Christ is alike amiable and lovely in all.
3. A man may love a child of God for his fidelity and usefulness in his
place: where religion in the power of it taketh hold of a man's heart,
it makes him true to all his trusts, diligent in his business, faithful
in all his relations; and this obligeth respect. A carnal master may
prize a godly apprentice or servant that makes conscience of pleasing
his master, and is diligent in promoting his interest.
First, It is but a natural love arising from some carnal respect, or
self−ends: that love which is made by the Scripture an evidence of our
regeneration, is a spiritual love, the principal loadstone and
attraction whereof is grace and holiness; it is a love which embraceth
a "righteous man in the name of a righteous man."
Now then, if the love we bear to the people of God may possibly arise
from natural love only, or from some carnal respect; or if it be a
limited love, not extended to all the people of God, then it is
possible that a man may love the people of God, and yet be no better
than almost a Christian.
2. A carnal man's love to saints, is a limited and bounded love; it is
not universal "to the seed." Now as in sin, he that doth not make
conscience of every sin, maketh conscience of no sin as sin; so he who
doth not love all in whom the image of Christ is found, loveth none for
that of the image of Christ which is found in them.
XVIII. A man may obey the commands of God, yea, many of the commands of
God, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Balaam seems very conscientious of steering his course by the compass
of God's command. When Balak sent to him to come and curse the people
of God, saith Balaam, "If Balak would give me his house full of silver
and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God:" and so saith
he, "The word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak." The
young man went far in obedience, "All these have I observed from my
youth up;" and yet he was but a hypocrite, for he forsook Christ after
Objection. But is it not said, "He that hath my commandments, and
keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be
loved of my Father; and I will love him, and manifest myself unto him?"
And doth not our Lord Christ tell us expressly, "Ye are my friends, if
ye do whatever I command you?" And can a man be a friend of Christ and
be but almost a Christian?
I answer − There is an obedience to the commands of Christ, which is a
sure proof of our Christianity and friendship to Christ.
This obedience hath a threefold property.
It is, 1. Evangelical. 2. Universal. 3. Continual.
First, It is evangelical obedience, and that both in matter and manner,
ground and end.
In the matter of it; and that is what God requires: "Ye are my friends,
if ye do whatever I command you."
In the manner of it; and that is according as God requires: "God is a
Spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in
In the ground of it; and that is, "a pure heart, a good conscience, and
a faith unfeigned."
In the end of it; and that is, the honor and glory of God: "Whatever ye
do, do all to the glory of God."
Secondly, It is a universal obedience, which extendeth itself to all
the commands of God alike: it respects the duties of both tables. Such
was the obedience of Caleb, "who followed the Lord fully;" and of
David, who had "respect to all his commands."
Thirdly, It is a continual obedience, a putting the hand to God's
plough, without looking back: "I have inclined my heart to perform thy
statutes always, even to the end."
He that thus obeys the command of God, is a Christian indeed; a friend
of Christ indeed. But all obedience to the commands of God, is not this
1. There is a partial obedience − a piece−meal religion, when a man
obeys God in one command, and not in another; owns him in one duty, and
not in another; when a man seems to make conscience of the duties of
one table, and not of the duties of another. This is the religion of
Now then, if a man may obey the commands of God partially, and by
halves; if he may do it, and yet be in his natural state; if he may
obey the commands of God, and yet not love God; if the ends of his
obedience may be sinful and unwarrantable, − then a man may be much in
obeying the commands of God, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Now this obedience is no obedience; for as he that doth not love God
above all, doth not love God at all; so he that doth not obey all the
commands universally, cannot be said to obey any command truly. It is
said of those in Samaria that they "feared the Lord, and served their
own gods after their own manner." And yet in the very next verse it is
said, "They feared not the Lord;" so that their fear of the Lord was no
fear. In like manner, that obedience to God is no obedience, which is
but a partial and piecemeal obedience.
2. A man may obey much, and yet be in his old nature; and if so, then
all his obedience in that estate is but a painted sin: "He that
offereth an oblation, is as if he offered swine's blood; and he that
burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol." The nature must be renewed,
before the command can be rightly obeyed; for "a corrupt tree cannot
bring forth good fruit." Whatever a man's performances are, they cannot
be called obedience, whilst the heart remaineth unregenerate, because
the principle is false and unsound. Every duty done by a believer, is
accepted of God, as part of his obedience to the will of God, though it
be done in much weakness; because, though the believer's hand is weak,
yet "his heart is right." The hypocrite may have the most active hand,
but the believer hath the most faithful and sincere heart.
3. A man may obey the law, and yet have no love to the Lawgiver. A
carnal heart may do the command of God, but he cannot love God, and
therefore cannot do it aright; for love to God is the foundation and
spring of all true obedience. Every command of God is to be done in
love: this is the "fulfilling of the law." The apostle saith, "Though I
bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be
burned, (these seem to be acts of the highest obedience), yet if I have
not love, it profits me nothing."
4. I might add, that a man may be much in obedience from sinister and
base selfish ends: as the Pharisees prayed much, gave much alms, fasted
much but our Lord Christ tells us, that it was "that they might be seen
of men, and have glory of men." Most of the hypocrite's piety empties
itself into vain−glory; and therefore he is but an empty vine in all he
does, because "he bringeth forth fruit to himself." It is the end that
justifies the action: indeed, a good end cannot make a bad action good,
but yet the want of a good end makes a good action bad.
XIX. A man may be sanctified, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Every kind of sanctification doth not make a man a new creature; for
many are sanctified that are never renewed. You read of them that
"count the blood of the covenant, wherewith they were sanctified, an
Objection. But doth not the Scripture tell us, that "both he who
sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified; are all one: for which cause,
he is not ashamed to call them brethren." And can a man be one with
Christ, and yet be but almost a Christian?
Answer. To this I answer − You must know there is a twofold work of
sanctification spoken of in Scripture.
The one, common and ineffectual.
The other, special and effectual.
That work of sanctification which is true and effectual, is the working
of the Spirit of God in the soul, enabling it to the mortifying of all
sin, to the obeying of every command, to "walking with God in all
well−pleasing." Now, whoever is thus sanctified, is one with him that
sanctifieth. Christ will not be ashamed to call such brethren; for they
are "flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone."
But then there is a more common work of sanctification which is
ineffectual as to the two great works of dying to sin, and living to
God. This kind of sanctification may help to restrain sin, but not to
mortify sin; it may lop off the boughs, but it layeth not the axe to
the root of the tree; it sweeps and garnishes the room with common
virtues, but doth not adorn it with saving graces; so that a man is but
almost a Christian, notwithstanding this sanctification.
Or thus, there is an inward and outward sanctification.
Inward sanctification is that which deals with the soul and its
faculties, understanding, conscience, will, memory, and affections.
Outward sanctification is that which deals with the life and
conversation. Both these must concur to make a man a Christian indeed:
therefore the apostle puts them together in his prayer for the
Thessalonians: "The God of peace sanctify you wholly; and, I pray God,
your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." A man is then sanctified wholly when
he is sanctified both inwardly and outwardly − both in heart and
affections, and in life and conversation. Outward sanctification is not
enough without inward, nor inward without outward: we must have both
"clean hands, and a pure heart." The heart must be pure, that we may
not incur blame from within; and the hands must be clean, that we may
not incur shame from without. We must have hearts "sprinkled from an
evil conscience, and bodies washed with pure water." "We must cleanse
ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit." Inward purity is
the most excellent, but, without the outward, it is not sufficient; the
true Christian is made up of both.
Now many have clean hands, but unclean hearts. They wash the outside of
the cup and platter, when all is filthy within. Now, the former without
the latter, profiteth a man no more than it profited Pilate, who
condemned Christ, to wash his hands in the presence of the people: he
washed his hands of the blood of Christ, and yet had a hand in the
death of Christ. The Egyptian temples were beautiful on the outside,
but within you shall find nothing but some serpent or crocodile. "He is
not a Jew which is one outwardly." Judas was a saint without, but a
sinner within; openly a disciple, but secretly, a devil.
Some pretend to inward sanctity without outward. This is the pretence
of the open sinner: "Though I sometimes drop an idle, foolish word,"
saith he, "or though I sometimes swear an oath, yet I think no hurt: − I
thank God my heart is as good as the best!" Such are like the sinner
Moses mentions; that "blessed himself in his heart, saying, I shall
have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine own heart, to add
drunkenness to thirst."
Some pretend to outward sanctity without inward. Such are like the
Scribes and Pharisees, "who outwardly appear righteous unto men, but
within are full of hypocrisy and iniquity;" fair professors, but foul
Inward sanctity without outward, is impossible; for it will not reform
the life. Outward sanctity without inward, is unprofitable; for it will
not reform the heart: a man is not a true Christian without both. The
body doth not make a man without the soul, nor the soul without the
body; both are essential to the being of man: so the sanctification of
both, are essential to the being of the new man. True sanctification
begins at the heart, but works out into the life and conversation; and
if so, then man may attain to an outward sanctification, and yet, for
want of an inward, be no better than almost a Christian.
And so I shall end this long pursuit of the almost Christian, in his
progress heavenward, with this one general conclusion:
XX. A man may do all, as to external duties and worship, that a true
Christian can; and, when he hath done all, be but almost a Christian.
You must know, all the commands of God have an intra and an extra:
there is, as I may say, the body and the soul of the command. And
accordingly, there is an internal and an external worship of God.
Now the internal acts of worshipping of God" are to love God, to fear
God, to delight in God, to trust in God, &c.
The external acts of worshipping of God, are by praying, teaching, hearing, &c.
Now there is a vast difference between these internal and external acts
of worship; and such a difference there is, that they distinguish the
altogether from the almost Christian; the sincere believer from the
unsound professor: and, indeed, in this very thing the main difference
between them doth lie.
1. Internal acts of worship are good propter fieri; the goodness doth
adhere intrinsically to the thing done. A man cannot love God, nor fear
God, but it will be imputed to him for a gracious act, and a great part
of his holiness. But now, external acts of worship are not denominated
good, so much from the matter done, propter fieri, as from the manner
of doing them. A man cannot sin in loving and delighting in God, but he
may sin in praying and hearing, &c., for want of a due manner.
Internal acts of worship, joined with outward, sanctify them, and make
them accepted of God, though few: external acts of worship, without
inward, make them abhorred of God, though they be never so many. So
that, although the almost Christian may do all those duties in
hypocrisy, which a true Christian doth in sincerity; nay, though in
doing external duties, he may out−do the true Christian, as the comet
makes a greater blaze than the true star: if Elijah fast and mourn,
Baal's priests will cut their flesh; yet he cannot do those internal
duties, that the meanest true Christian can.
2. Internal. acts of worship put a goodness into external: it is our
faith, our love, our fear of God, that makes our duties good.
3. They better the heart, and greater the degrees of a man's holiness.
External duties do not always do this. A man may pray, and yet his
heart never the holier; he may hear the word, and yet his heart never
the softer: but now, the more a man fears God, the wiser he is: the
more a man loves God, the holier he is. Love is the perfection of
holiness: we shall never be perfect in holiness, until we come to be
perfect in love.
4. There is such an excellency in this internal worship, that he who
mixes it with his external duties, is a true Christian when he doth
least but without this mixture, he is but almost a Christian that doth most.
The almost Christian can pray, but he cannot love God; he can teach or
hear, &c., but he cannot take delight in God. Mark Job's query
concerning the hypocrite: "Will he delight himself in the Almighty?" He
will pray to the Almighty, but will he delight himself in the Almighty?
Will he take pleasure in God? Ah, no! he will not − he cannot! Delight
in God ariseth from a suitableness between the faculty, and the object;
now, none more unsuitable, than God and a carnal heart. Delight arises
from the having what we desire, and from enjoying what we have. How
then can he delight in God, that neither enjoyeth, nor hath, nor truly
desireth God? Delight in God is one of the highest exercises of grace:
and therefore, how can he delight in God, that hath no grace?
Why, then, should any saint of God be discouraged, when he hears how
far the almost Christian may go in the way to heaven: whereas, he that
is the weakest true believer, that hath the least true grace, goes
farther than he; for he believes in, and loves God.
Should the almost Christian do less, as to matter of external duties,
yet, if he had but the least true faith, the least sincerity of love to
Christ, he would surely be saved; and should the true Christian do ten
times more duties than he doth, yet, had he not faith in Christ, and
love to Christ, he would surely be rejected.
O, therefore, let not any weak believer be discouraged, though
hypocrites may out−do them, and go beyond them in duty; for all their
duties are done in hypocrisy, but your faith and love to God in duties,
is a proof of your sincerity.
I. I do not speak this to discourage any soul in the doing of duties,
or to beat down outward performances, but to rectify the soul in the
doing of them. As the apostle saith, "Covet earnestly the best gifts:
but yet I show you a more excellent way." So I say, covet the best
gifts; covet much to be in duties, much in prayer, much in hearing, &c.
"But I will show you a more excellent way;" and that is, the way of
faith and love. Pray much, but then believe much too. Hear much; read
much; but then love God much too. Delight in the word and ordinances of
God much, but then delight in the God of ordinances more.
And when you are most in duties, as to your use of them, O then be sure
to be above duties, as to your resting and dependence upon them. Would
you be Christians, indeed, − altogether Christians? O then, be much in
the use and exercise of ordinances, but be much more in faith and
dependence upon Christ and his righteousness. When your obedience is
most to the command, then let your faith be most upon the promise. The
professor rests in duties, and so is but almost a Christian but you
must be sure to rest upon the Lord Christ. This is the way to be
altogether Christians; for, if ye believe, then are ye Abraham's seed,
and heirs according to the promise. And thus I have answered the first
query; to wit, how far a man may go in the way to heaven, and yet be
but almost a Christian.
1. He may have much knowledge.
2. He may have great gifts.
3. He may have a high profession.
4. He may do much against sin.
5. He may desire grace.
6. He may tremble at the word.
7. He may delight in the word.
8. He may be a member of the church of Christ.
9. He may have great hopes of heaven.
10. He may be under great and visible changes.
11. He may be very zealous in the matters of religion.
12. He may be much in prayer.
13. He may suffer for Christ.
14. He may be called of God.
15. He may, in some sense, have the Spirit if God.
16. He may have some kind of faith.
17. He may love the people of God.
18. He may go far in obeying the commands of God.
19. He may be, in some sense, sanctified.
20. He may do all, as to external duties, that a true Christian can,
and yet be no better than almost a Christian.
Why, or whence is it, that many men go so far, as that they come to be
First, It may be to answer the call of conscience. Though few men have
grace, yet all men have conscience. Now do but observe, and you shall
see how far conscience may go in this work.
1. Conscience owns a God, and that this God must be worshipped and
served by the creature Atheists in practice, we have many; such as the
apostle speaks of: "They profess to know God, but in works they deny
him." But atheists in judgment none can be. Tully, a heathen, could
say, "Nulla gens tam barbara," &c. Now there being such a light in
conscience, as to discover that there is a God, and that he must be worshipped
by the help of farther light − the light of the word, a man
may be enabled to do much in the ways of God, and yet his heart
without a dram of grace.
This work, then, here spoken of, cannot be any saving work, because it
is not an abiding work; for they that are under it, are said to fall
away from it. But though it be not a saving grace, yet it is a
supernatural work. It is an improvement made by the word upon the
consciences of men, through the power of the Spirit; and therefore they
are said to "taste the good word of God," and to be made "partakers of
the Holy Ghost." They have not the Spirit abiding in them savingly, but
striving with them, and working upon them convincingly, to the
awakening and setting conscience on work. And conscience, thus stirred,
may carry a man very far in religion, and in the duties of the gospel,
and yet be but a natural conscience.
2. Know this, that natural conscience is capable of great improvements
from the means of grace. Sitting under the ordinances may exceedingly
heighten the endowments of conscience. It may be much regulated, though
it be not at all renewed: it may be enlightened, convinced, and yet
never savingly converted and changed. You read in Hebrews vi. 4, of
some that were "once enlightened, and tasted of the heavenly gift, and
were made partakers of the Holy Ghost." What work shall we call this?
It could not be a saving work, a true change and conversion of state;
for, notwithstanding this enlightening, and tasting, and partaking, yet
they are here said to fall away, verse 6. Had it been a true work of
grace, they could never have fallen away from that. A believer may
fall, but he cannot fall away; he may fall foully, but he cannot fall
finally; for, "underneath are the everlasting arms." His faith is
established in the strength of that prayer of Christ that our faith
fail not. Nay, he tells us expressly, that it is eternal life which he
gives, from which we shall never perish.
A common work of the Spirit, may stead a man very much in the duties of
religion, though it must be a special work of the Spirit that steads a
man to salvation. A man may have the assisting presence of the Spirit,
enabling him to preach and pray, and yet he may perish for want of the
renewing presence of the Spirit, enabling him to believe. Judas had the
former, and yet perished for want of the latter. He had the Spirit
assisting him to cast out devils; but yet he had not the Spirit
renewing him; for he was cast out himself. Thus a man may have an
improved conscience, and yet be a stranger to a renewed conscience; and
conscience, thus improved, may put a man very much upon duty. I pray
God, none of us mistake a conscience, thus improved by the word, for a
conscience renewed by the Spirit. The mistake is very easy, especially
when a life of duties is the fruit of it.
3. The conscience of a natural man is subject to distress and trouble.
Though a natural conscience is not sanctified with grace, yet it is
often troubled at sin. Trouble of conscience is not incident to
believers only, but sometimes to unbelievers also. A believer's
conscience is sometimes troubled, when his sin is truly pardoned: and a
natural man's conscience is troubled for sin though it is never freed
from sin. God sometimes sets the word home upon the sinner's
conscience, and applies the terrors of the law to it; and this fills
the soul with fear and horror of death and hell. Now, in this case, the
soul usually betakes itself to a life of duties, merely to fence
trouble out of conscience.
When Absalom sets on fire Joab's cornfields, then he runs to him,
though he refused before: so when God lets a spark of hell, as it were,
fall upon the sinner's conscience in applying the terrors of the word,
this drives the sinner to a life of duties which he never minded
before. The ground of many a man's engaging in religion, is the trouble
of his conscience; and the end of his continuing in religion, is the
quieting of conscience. If conscience would never check him, God should
never hear from him.
Natural conscience hath a voice, and speaks aloud many times in the
sinner's ears, and telleth him, This ought not to be done: God must not
be forgotten: the commands of God ought not to be slighted; living in
sin will be the ruin of the soul. And hence it is that a natural man
runs to duties, and takes up a lifeless and graceless profession, that
he may thereby silence conscience. As a man sick in his stomach,
whatever sweet morsel he hath eaten, he brings up all; and although it
was sweet in the eating, yet it is bitter in the rising; so it fareth
with the sinner, when he is sermon−sick, or conscience−sick. Though his
sin was sweet in the practice, yet the thought of it riseth bitter upon
the conscience: and then his profession of religion is the pill he
rolleth about in his mouth, to take away the bitterness of sin's taste.
4. Natural conscience, enlightened by the word, may discover to a man
much of the misery of a natural state; though not effectually to bring
him out of it; yet so as to make him restless and. weary in it. It may
show a sinner his nakedness; and hereupon the soul runneth to a life of
duties; thinking hereby to stead the misery of his case, and to make a
covering for his nakedness. It is said, "that when Adam and Eve saw
they were naked, they sewed fig−leaves together, and made themselves a
covering." So when once the sinner seeth his nakedness and vileness by
reason of sin, whereas he should run to Christ, and close with him, and
beg his righteousness for a covering, "that the shame of his nakedness
doth not appear;" he rather runneth to a life of duties and
performances, and thus maketh himself a covering with the fig−leaves of
a profession, without Christ truly embraced, and conscience at all
renewed. Natural roan would fain be his own Saviour; and supposeth a
change of state to be a thing within his own power; and that the true
work of grace lieth in leaving off the practice of sin, and taking up a
life of duties: and, therefore, upon this principle, doth many a
graceless professor outstrip a sound believer; for he resteth on his
own performances, and hopeth these will commend him to God.
Question. If a natural conscience may go thus far, then what difference
is there between this natural conscience in hypocrites and sinners, and
a renewed conscience in believers? or, how may I know whether the
working of my conscience be the working of nature only, or else of
grace wrought in it?
Answer. I grant that it is difficult to distinguish between the one and
the other; and the difficulty hath a twofold rise.
1. It ariseth from that hypocrisy that is in the best saints. The
weakest believer is no hypocrite, but yet there is some hypocrisy in
the strongest believer. Where there is most grace, there is some sin;
and where there is most sincerity, yet there is some hypocrisy.
But to answer the question − You may make a judgment of this in these
Now it is very incident to a tender conscience to misgive and mistrust
its state, upon the sight of any sin. When he sees hypocrisy break out
in any duty or performance, then he complains, "Surely my aims are not
sincere! my conscience is not renewed! it is but natural conscience
enlightened, not by grace purged and changed."
2. It ariseth from that resemblance there is between grace and
hypocrisy; for hypocrisy is a resemblance of grace, without substance;
the likeness of grace, without the life of grace. There is no grace but
a hypocrite may have somewhat like it; and there is no duty done by a
Christian, but a hypocrite may outstrip him in it. Now, when one that
hath not true grace shall go further than one that hath, this may well
make the believer question whether his grace be true or not; or whether
the workings of his conscience be not the workings of nature only,
rather than of grace wrought in it.
1. If a natural man's conscience putteth him upon duty, be doth usually
bound himself in the work of God. His duties are limited; his obedience
is a limited obedience. He doth one duty, and neglecteth another. He
picketh and chooseth among the commands of God; obeyeth one, and
slighteth another. Thus much is enough; what need any more? If I do
thus and thus, I shall go to heaven at last. But now, where conscience
is renewed by grace, there it is otherwise. Though there may be many
weaknesses which accompany its duties, yet that soul never bounds
itself in working after God: it never loves God. so much, but still it
would love him more; nor seeks him so much, but still it would seek him
more; nor doth it serve God so well at any time, but it still makes
conscience of serving him better. A renewed conscience is a spring of
universal obedience: for it seeth an infinite excellency, and goodness,
and holiness in God; and. therefore would fain have its service rise up
towards some proportionableness to the object. A God of infinite
excellency and goodness, should have infinite love, saith conscience: a
holy God should have service from a holy heart, saith conscience.
Now then, if I set bounds to my love to God, or to my service to God;
if I limit myself in my obedience to the holy God; love one command,
and slight another; obey in one point, and yet lie cross in another;
then is all I do but the workings of a natural conscience. But on the
other hand, if I love the Lord with my whole heart, and whole soul, and
serve him with all my might and strength; if "I esteem all God's
precepts concerning all things to be right, and have respect to all his
commands," then is my love and service from a renewed conscience.
2. If a natural man's conscience check or accuse for sin, then he
seeketh to stop the mouth of it, but not to satisfy it. Most of the
natural man's duties are to still and stifle conscience.
But now, the believer chooseth rather to let conscience cry, than to
stop the mouth of it, until he can do it upon good terms, and till he
can fetch in satisfaction to it from the blood of Jesus Christ, by
fresh acts of faith apprehended and applied. The natural man seeketh to
still the noise of conscience, rather than to remove the guilt. The
believer seeketh the removal of guilt by the application of Christ's
blood; and then conscience is quiet of itself. As a foolish man, having
a mote fallen into his eye, and making it water, he wipeth away the
water, and labors to keep it dry, but never searcheth his eye to get
oat the mote; but a wise man mindeth not so much the wiping, as the
searching his eye; somewhat is got in, and that causeth the watering,
and therefore the cause must be. removed. Now then, if when conscience
accuseth for sin, I take up a life of duties, a form of godliness, to
stop the mouth of conscience; and if hereupon conscience be still and
quiet; then is this but a natural conscience: but if, when conscience
checks, it will not be satisfied with anything but the blood of Christ,
and therefore I use duties to bring me to Christ; and if I beg the
sprinkling of his blood upon conscience, and labor not so much to stop
the mouth of it, as to remove guilt from it; then is this a renewed
3. There is no natural man, let him go never so far, let him do never
so much in the matters of religion, but still he has his Delilah, his
bosom−lust. Judas went far, but he carried his covetousness along with
him. Herod went far; he did many things under the force of John's
ministry; but yet there was one thing he did not; he did not put away
his brother's wife − his Herodias lay in his bosom still. Nay, commonly,
all the natural man's duties are to hide some sin; his profession is
only made use of for a cover−shame. But now the renewed conscience
hateth all sin, as David did: "I hate every false way;". he regardeth
no iniquity in his heart: he useth duties, not to cover sin, but to
help work down, and work out sin. Now then, if I profess religion; if I
make mention of the name of the Lord, and make my "boast of the law,
and yet through breaking the law dishonor God;" if I live. in the love
of any sin, and make use of my profession to cover it, then am I a
hypocrite, and my duties flow but from a natural conscience: but, on
the other hand, if I "name the name of the Lord Jesus, and withal
depart from iniquity;" if I use duties, not to cover, but to discover
and mortify sin; then am I upright before God, and my duties flow from
a renewed conscience.
But now take a gracious heart, a renewed conscience, and when his
duties are at highest, then is his heart at lowest. Thus it was with
the apostle Paul; he was much in service, "in season, and out of
season;" preaching up the Lord Jesus with all boldness and earnestness,
and yet very humble, in a sense of his own unworthiness, under all: "I
am not worthy to be called an apostle. To me, who am less than the
least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among
the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." And again, "Of
sinners, I am chief." Thus a believer, when he is highest in duties,
then is he lowest in Humility. Duty puffeth up the hypocrite, but a
believer comes away humbled; and why? because the hypocrite hath had no
visions of God: he hath seen only his own gifts and parts, and this
exalteth him: but the believer hath seen God, and enjoyed communion
with God, and this humbleth him. Communion with God, though it be very
refreshing, yet it is also very abasing and humbling to the creature.
Hierome observeth on Zeph. i. 1, where it is said, that "Cushi was the
son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah;" that "Amariah signifieth, the
Word of the Lord;' Gedaliah signifieth the Greatness of the Lord;' and
Cushi is interpreted Humility,' or, my Ethiopian.'" "So that," saith
he, "from the Word of the Lord cometh a sight of greatness of the Lord;
and from a sight of the greatness of the Lord, cometh humility."
4. A natural man prides himself in his duties. If he be much in duty,
then he is much lifted up under duty. So did the Pharisee: "God, I
thank thee that I am not as other men are;" and why? where lay the
difference? why, "I fast twice in the week: I give tithes of all," &c.
Now then, if I pride myself in any duty, and am puffed up under my
performances; then have I not seen nor met with God in any duty. But on
the other hand, if when my gifts are at highest, my heart is at lowest;
if when my spirit is most raised, my heart is the most humbled; if, in
the midst of all my services, I can maintain a sense of my own
unworthiness; if Cushi be the son of Gedaliah, then have I seen and had
communion with God in duty, and my performances are from a renewed
5. Look what that is to which the heart doth secretly render the glory
of a duty, and that is the principle of the duty. In Hab. i. 16, we
read of them that sacrifice to their net, and burn incense to their
drag." Where the glory of an action is rendered to a man's self, the
principle of that action is self. All rivers run into the sea; that is
an argument they came from the sea: so when all a man's duties
terminate in self, then is self the principle of all. Now all the
natural man's duties run into himself. He was never, by a thorough work
of grace, truly cast out of himself, and brought to deny himself; and
therefore he can rise no higher than himself in all he does. He was
never brought to be poor in spirit, and so to live upon another; to be
carried out of all duties to Jesus Christ. But the believer giveth the
glory of all his services to God; whatever strength or life there is in
duty, God hath all the glory; for he is by grace outed of himself, and
therefore seeth no excellence or worthiness in self.
"I labored more abundantly than they all," saith the apostle; but to
whom doth he ascribe the glory of this? to self? No: "Yet not I," saith
he, "but the grace of God which was with me." Whenever the grace of
Christ is wrought in the heart as a principle of duty, you shall find
the soul when it is most carried out, with a Yet not I, in the mouth of
it. "I live, yet not I; I labored more abundantly than all, yet not I."
Self is disclaimed, and Christ most advanced, when it is from grace
that the heart is quickened: the twenty−four elders cast their crowns
at Christ's feet.
There are two things very hard: one is, to take the shame of our sins
to ourselves; the other is, to give the glory of our services to
Christ. Now then, if I sacrifice to my own net: if I aim at my own
credit or profit, and give the glory of all I do to self; then do I
"sow to the flesh," and was never yet cast out of self, but act only
from a natural conscience. But if I give the glory of all my strength
and life in duty only to God; if I magnify grace in all, and can truly
say in all I do, Yet not I; then am I truly cast out of self, and do
what I do with a renewed conscience.
6. Though a natural conscience may put a man much upon service, yet it
never presses to the attainment of holiness. So that he carrieth an
unsanctified heart under all. How long was Judas a professor, and yet
not one dram of grace had he. The foolish virgins, you know, "took
their lamps, but took no oil in their vessels;" that is, they looked
more after a profession, than after a sanctification. But now, when a
renewed conscience putteth a man upon duty, it is succeeded with the
growth of holiness. As grace helpeth to the doing of duty, so duty
helpeth to the growing of grace; a believer is the more holy and the
more heavenly, by his being much in duties.
Now then, if I am much in a life of duties, and yet a stranger to a
life of holiness; if I maintain a high profession, and yet have not a
true work of sanctification; if, like children in the rickets, I grow
big in the head, but weak in the feet; then have I gifts and parts, but
no grace; and though I am much in service, yet have I but a natural
conscience. But, on the other band, if the holiness of my conversation
carrieth a proportion to my profession; if I am not "a hearer of the
word. only, but a doer of it;" if grace groweth in seasons of duty,
then do I act in the things of God from a renewed conscience.
7. And lastly, If a natural conscience be the spring of duty, why then
this spring runs fastest at first, and so abateth, and at last drieth
up. But if a renewed conscience, a sanctified heart, be the spring of
duty, then this spring will never dry up. It will run always, from
first to last, and run quicker at last than first: "I know thy works,
and the last to be more than the first. The righteous shall hold on his
way; and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger."
Question. But you will say, Why doth that man abate and languish in his
duties, that doth them from a natural conscience, more than he that
doth them from a renewed conscience?
Answer. The reason is, because they grow upon a fallible root, a
decaying root, and that is nature. Nature is a fading root, and so are
all its fruits fading; but the duties done by a renewed conscience, are
fruits that grow upon a lasting root; and that is Christ. "Gifts have
their root in nature, but grace hath its root in Christ:" and therefore
the weakest grace shall outlive the greatest gifts and parts; because
there is life in the root of the one, and not in that of the other.
Gifts and grace differ like the leather of your shoe, and the skin of
your foot. Make a pair of shoes that have the thickest soles, and if
you go much in them, the leather weareth out, and in a little time a
man's foot cometh to the ground; but now a man that goeth barefoot all
his days, the skin of his feet does not wear out. Why should not the
sole of his foot sooner wear out than the sole of his shoe; for the
leather is much thicker than the skin? The reason is, because there is
life in the one, and not in the other; there is life in the skin of the
foot, and therefore that holdeth out, and groweth thicker and thicker,
harder and harder; but there is no life in the sole of his shoe, and
therefore that weareth out, and waxeth thinner and thinner: so it is
with gifts and grace. Now then, if I decay and abate, and grow weary of
a profession, and fall away at last; if I begin in the spirit, and end
in the flesh; then was all I did from a natural conscience: but if I
grow and hold out, if I persevere to the end, and my "last works be
more than my first," then I act from a renewed conscience.
And thus I have, in seven things, answered that question, namely, If
conscience may go thus far in putting a man upon duties, then what
difference is there between this natural conscience in hypocrites and
sinners, and renewed conscience in believers?
And that is the first answer to the main query, namely, "Whence is it
that many men go so far, as that they come to be almost Christians?" It
is to answer the call of conscience.
Secondly, It is from the power of the word under which they live.
Though the word doth not work effectually upon all, yet it hath a great
power upon the hearts of sinners to reform them, though not to renew
1. It hath a discerning, discovering power: "The word of God is quick
and powerful, sharper than any two−edged sword, piercing to the
dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow; and
is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." This is the
glass wherein every one may see what man he is. As the light of the sun
discovers the little motes, so the light of the word, shining into
conscience, discovers little sins.
Indeed, there is a twofold power, farther than this, in the word. It
hath a begetting and saving power: but this is put forth only upon
some. But the other is more extensive, and hath a great causality upon
a profession of goodness, even among them that have no grace.
2. The word hath the power of a law. It gives law to the whole soul;
binds conscience. It is, therefore, frequently called the law in
Scripture: "Unless thy law had been my delight, &c. − To the law and to
the testimony." This is spoken of the whole word of God, which is
therefore called a law, because of its binding power upon the
3. It hath a judging power: "The word that I have spoken, the same
shall judge him at the last day." The sentence that God will pass upon
sinners hereafter, is no other than what the word passeth upon him
here. The judgment of God, is not a day wherein God will pass any new
sentence; but it is such a day wherein God will make a solemn, public
ratification of the judgment passed by the ministry of the word upon
souls here. This I gather clearly from Matthew xviii. 18: "Whatsoever
ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye
shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven:" so that, by bringing
a man's heart to the word, and trying it by that, he may quickly know
what that sentence is that God will pass upon his soul in the last day:
for as the judgment of the word is now, such will the judgment of God
be concerning him in the last day.
A man that is under this threefold power of discerning law and
judgment, that hath his heart ransacked and discovered, his conscience
bound and awed, his state and sinful condition judged and condemned;
may take up a resolution of a new life, and convert himself to great
profession of religion.
Thirdly, A man may go far in this course of profession from affectation
of applause and credit, and to get a name in the world. As it is said
of the Pharisees, they "love to pray in the marketplaces, and in the
corners of the streets, to be seen of men." Many are of Machiavel's
principle, − That the appearance of virtue is to be sought; because,
though the use of it is a trouble, yet the credit of it is a help.
Jerome, in his Epistle to Julian, calls such, "the base bond−slaves of
common fame." Many a man hath that for credit, that he will not do for
conscience; and owns religion more for the sake of lust, than for the
sake of Christ: thus making God's stream to turn the devil's mill.
Fourthly, It is from a desire of salvation. There is in all men a
desire of salvation: it is natural to every being to love and seek its
own preservation. "Who will show us any good?" − This is the language of
nature, seeking happiness to itself.
Many a man may be carried so far out in the desires of salvation, as to
do many things to obtain it. So did the young man: "Good Master, what
good things shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life?" He went far,
and did much, obeying many commands, and all out of a desire of
salvation. So, then, put these together, and there is an answer to that question.
"The call of conscience − the power of the word − the affectation of
credit − and the desire of salvation." These may carry a man so far as
to be almost a Christian.
Whence is it that many are but almost Christians when they have gone
thus far? What is the cause of this
Answer. I might multiply answers to this question, but I shall instance
in two only, which I judge the most material.
First, It is for want of right and sound conviction. If a man be not
thoroughly convinced of sin, and his heart truly broken, whatever his
profession of godliness may be, yet he will be sure to miscarry. Every
work of conviction is not a thorough work: there are convictions that
are not only natural and rational, but not from the powerful work of
the Spirit of God.
Rational conviction is "that which proceeds from the working of a
natural conscience, charging guilt from the light of nature, by the
help of those common principles of reason that are in all men." This is
the conviction you read of, Rom. ii. 14, 15. It is said that the
Gentiles who had not the law, yet had their consciences bearing
witness, and accusing or excusing one another. Though they had not the
light of Scripture, yet they had convictions from the light of nature.
Now, by the help of the Gospel light, these convictions may be much
improved, and yet the heart not renewed.
But then there is a spiritual conviction and this is that work of the
spirit of God upon the sinner's heart by the word, whereby the guilt
and filth of sin is fully discovered, and the tiro and misery of a
natural state distinctly set home upon the conscience, to the dread and
terror of the sinner whilst he abides in that state and condition. And
this is the conviction that is a sound and thorough work. Many have
their convictions, but not this spiritual conviction.
Query. Now you will say, "Suppose I am at any time under conviction,
how shall I know whether my convictions be only from a natural
conscience, or whether they be from the Spirit of God?"
Answer. I should digress too much to draw out the solution of this
question to its just length. I shall, therefore, in five things only,
lay down the most considerable difference between the one and the
1. Natural convictions reach chiefly to open and scandalous sins. Sins
against the light of nature; for natural conviction can reach no
farther than natural light. But spiritual conviction reaches to secret,
inward, and undiscerned sins; such as hypocrisy, formality,
lukewarmness, deadness, and hardness of heart, &c.
Observe, then, whether your trouble for sin looks inward as well as
outward, and reaches not only to open sins, but to secret lusts, to
inward and spiritual sins; and if so, this is a sure sign of the work
of the Spirit, because the trouble occasioned by these sins, bears a
more immediate relation to the holiness" of God, who only is offended
by them; they being such as none else can see or know.
2. Natural convictions deal only with a man's conversation, not with
his state and condition: with sins actual, not original. But spiritual
conviction reaches to all sins; to sins of heart, as well as sins of
life; to the sin of our nature, as well as the sins of practice; to the
sin that is born in us, as well as the sin that is done by us. Where
the Spirit of the Lord cometh to work effectually in any soul, he
holdeth the glass of the law before the sinner's eyes, and openeth his
eyes to look into the glass, and to see all that deformity and
filthiness that is in his heart and nature.
The apostle Paul said, "I had not known sin but by the law." How can
this be true, that he had not known sin but by the law, when the light
of nature discovers sin? It is said of the Gentiles, that having not
the law, they had a law to themselves. This sin, therefore, that the
apostle speaks of, is not to be understood of sin actual, but of sin
original: "I had not known the pollution of nature, that fountain of
sin that is within; this I had not known but by the law." And, indeed,
this is a discovery that natural light cannot make.
It is true, the philosopher could say, "That lust is the first and
chief of all sins." But I cannot think he meant it of original sin, but
of the inordinacy of appetite and desire, at most; for I find that the
wisest of the philosophers understood nothing of original sin. Hear
Seneca: "Sin is not born with thee, but brought in since."
Quintilian saith, "It is more marvel that any one man sins, than that
all men should live honestly; sin is so against the nature of
men." − How blind were they in this point! And so was Paul, till the
Spirit of the Lord discovered it to him by the word, and indeed, this
is a discovery proper to the Spirit. It is he that makes the sinner see
all the deformity and filthiness that is within; it is he that pulleth
off all the sinner's rags, and makes him see his naked and wretched
condition; it is he that shows us the blindness of the mind, the
stubbornness of the will, the disorderedness of the affections, the
searedness of the conscience, the plague of our hearts, and the sin of
our natures, and therein the desperateness of our state.
3. Natural convictions carry the soul out to look more on the evil that
comes by sin, than on the evil that is in sin. So that the soul under
this conviction is more troubled at the dread of hell, and wrath, and
damnation, than at the vileness and heinous nature of sin. But now
spiritual convictions work the soul into a greater sensibleness of the
evil that is in sin, than of the evil that conies by sin: the dishonor
done to God by walking contrary to his will; the wounds that are made
in the heart of Christ; the grief that the holy Spirit of God is put
to, − this wounds the soul more than a thousand hells.
The convictions of the Spirit are like a deep wound in the flesh, that
goes to the bone, and seems to endanger the life of the patient, and is
not healed but with great skill, and when it is healed leaves a scar
behind it, that when the patient is well, yet he can say, "Here is the
mark of my wound, which will never wear out." So a soul that is under
spiritual conviction − his wound is deep, and not to be healed, but by
the great skill of the heavenly Physician: and when it is healed, there
are the tokens of it remaining in the soul, that can never be worn out;
so that the soul may say, "Here are the marks and signs of my
conviction still in my soul."
4. Natural convictions are not durable, they "are quickly worn out:"
they are like a slight cut in the skin, that bleeds a little, and is
sore for the present, but is soon healed again, and in a few days not
so much as a scar to be seen. But spiritual convictions are durable,
they cannot be worn out, they abide in the soul till they have reached
their end, which is the change of the sinner.
5. Natural convictions make the soul shy of God. Guilt works fear, and
fear causes estrangedness. Thus it was with Adam, when he saw his
nakedness he ran away and hid himself from God. Now spiritual
convictions drive not the soul from God, but unto God. Ephraim's
conviction was spiritual, and he runs to God, "Turn thou me, and I
shall be turned." So that there is, you see, a great difference between
conviction and conversion: between that which is natural and that which
is spiritual; that which is common, and that which is saving. Yea, such
is the difference, that though a man hath never so much of the former,
yet if he be without the latter, he is but almost a Christian, and
therefore we have great reason to inquire more after this spiritual
Secondly, And this hath a near relation to the former: "It is for want
of a thorough work of grace first wrought in the heart:" where this is
not, all a man's following profession comes to nothing; that scholar is
never like to read well, that will needs be in his Grammar before he is
out of his Primer: doth that is not wrought well in the loom, will
never wear well, nor wear long, it will do little service; so that
Christian that doth not come well off the loom, that hath not a
thorough work of grace in his heart, will never wear well; he will
shrink in the wetting, and never do much service for God. It is not the
pruning of a bad tree that will make it bring forth good fruit; but the
tree must be made good, before the fruit can be good.
1. Spiritual conviction is an essential part of sound conversion.
Conversion begins here; true conversion begins in convictions, and true
convictions end in conversion. Till the sinner be convinced of sin, he
can never be converted from sin; Christ's coming was as a Saviour to
die for sinners; and the Spirit's coming is to convince us as sinners,
that we may close with Christ as a Saviour: till sin be thoroughly
discovered to us, interest in the blood of Christ cannot rightly be
claimed by us; nay, so long as sin is unseen, Christ will be unsought.
"They that be whole need not the physician, but they that are sick."
2. Slight and common convictions, when they are but skin−deep, are the
cause of much hypocrisy: slight convictions may bring the soul to clasp
about Christ, but not to close with Christ; and this is the guise of a
hypocrite. I know no other rise and spring of hypocrisy, like this of
slight convictions: this hath filled the church of Christ with
hypocrites. Nay, it is not only the spring of hypocrisy, but it is also
the spring of apostasy. What was the cause that the seed was said to
wither away? It was because it had no deepness of earth. Where there is
thorough conviction, there is a depth of earth in the heart, and there
the seed of the word grows; but where convictions are slight and
common, there the seed withers for want of depth: so that you see
clearly, in this one instance, whence it is that many are but almost
Christians, when they have gone so far in religion, to wit, for want of
He that takes up a profession of religion with an unbroken heart, will
never serve Christ in that profession with his whole heart. If there be
not a true change in that man's heart, that yet goes far, and does much
in the ways of God, to be sure he will either die a hypocrite or an
Look, as in nature, if a man be not well born, but prove crooked or
misshapen in the birth, why, he will be crooked as long as he lives;
you may bolster or stuff out his clothes to conceal it, but the
crookedness, the deformity remains still; you may hide it, but you
cannot help it; it may be covered, but it cannot be cured. So it is in
this case. If a man come into a profession of religion, but be not
right born; if he be not "begotten of God, and born of the Spirit;" if
there be not a thorough work of grace in his heart, all his profession
of religion will never mend him; he may be bolstered out by a life of
duties, but he will be but a hypocrite at last, for want of a thorough
work at first; a form of godliness may cover his crookedness, but will
never cure it.
A man can never be a true Christian, nor accepted of God, though in the
highest profession of religion, without a work of grace in the heart.
1. There must be an answerableness in the frame of that man's heart
that would be accepted of God, to the duties done by him; the spirit
and affections within, must carry a proportion to his profession
without; prayer without faith, obedience to the law given, without fear
and holy reverence of the lawgiver, God abhors: acts of internal
worship must answer the duties of external worship. Now where there is
no grace wrought in the heart, there can never be any proportion or
answerableness in the frame of that man's heart, to the duties done by
Now where there is not a change of state, a work of grace in the heart,
there can be no sincerity to God−ward; for this is not an herb that
grows in nature's garden: "The heart of man is naturally deceitful and
desperately wicked:" more opposite to sincerity than to anything; as
things corrupted carry a greater dissimilitude to what they were than
to anything else which they never were.
2. Those duties that find acceptance with God, must be done in
sincerity. God doth not take our duties by tale, nor judge of us
according to the frequency of our performances, but according to the
sincerity of our hearts in the performance. It is this that commends
both the doer and the duty to God; with sincerity, God accepts the
least we do; without sincerity, God rejects the most we do, or can do.
This is that temper of spirit which God highly delights in: "They that
are of a froward heart are an abomination to the Lord, but such as are
upright in the way are his delight." The apostle gives it a great
epithet; he calls it, in 2 Cor. i. 12, the sincerity of God; that is,
such a sincerity as is his special work upon the soul, setting the
heart right and upright before him in all his ways. This is the crown
of all our graces, and the condemnation of all our duties. Thousands
perish, and go to hell in the midst of all their performances and
duties, merely for want of a little sincerity of heart to God.
"God made man upright." Now man voluntarily losing this, is become more
unlike himself than anything below himself; he is more like a lion, a
wolf, a bear, a serpent, a toad, than to a man in innocency. So that it
is impossible to find sincerity in any soul till there be a work of
grace wrought there by the Spirit of God; and hence it is that a man is
but almost a Christian when he hath done all.
What is the reason that many go no farther in the profession of
religion, than to be almost Christians?
Reason 1. It is because they deceive themselves in the truth of their
own condition; they mistake their state, and think it good and safe,
when it is bad and dangerous. A man may look upon himself as a member
of Christ, and yet God may look upon him as a vessel of wrath: as a
child of God, by looking more upon his sins than his graces, more upon
his failings than his faith, more upon indwelling lusts than renewing
grace, may think his case very bad when yet it is very good: "I am
black," saith the spouse; "and. yet," saith Christ, "O thou fairest
among women!" So the sinner, by looking more upon his duties than his
sins, may think he sees his name written in the book of life, and yet
be in the account of God a very reprobate.
There is nothing more common than for a man to "think himself something
when he is nothing;" and so he "deceives himself." Many a man blesses
himself in his interest in Christ, when he is indeed a stranger to him.
Many a man thinks his sin pardoned, when alas! "he is still in the gall
of bitterness, and bond of iniquity." Many a man thinks he hath grace,
when he hath none: "There is," saith Solomon, "that makes himself rich,
and yet hath nothing." This was the very temper of Laodicea: "Thou
sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing;
and knowest not," (pray mind that,) "that thou art wretched, and
miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."
Thou knowest not; as bad as she was, she thought her state good; as
poor as she was in grace, she thought she was rich; "as miserable and
naked as she was, yet she thought she had need of nothing."
Now there are several rises or grounds of this mistake. I will name
five to you.
First, The desperate deceitfulness of the heart of every natural man.
"The heart is deceitful above all things." The Hebrew word is the same
with Jacob's name. Now you know he was a supplanter of his brother
Esau: "He is rightly called Jacob," saith he, "for he hath supplanted
one these two times." So the word signifies, to be fraudulent, subtle,
deceitful, and supplanting. Thus is the heart of every natural man
"deceitful above all things."
You read of the deceitfulness of the tongue.
And of the deceitfulness of riches.
And of the deceitfulness of beauty.
And of the deceitfulness of friends.
But yet the heart is deceitful above them all. Nay, you read of the
deceitfulness of Satan, yet truly a man's heart is a greater deceiver
than he; for he could never deceive a man, if his own heart did not
deceive him. Now it is from hence that a man presumes upon the goodness
of his case, from the desperate treachery of his own heart.
How common is it for men to boast of the goodness of their hearts! "I
thank God, though I do not make such a show and pretence as some do,
yet I have as good a heart as the best." O do but hear Solomon in this
case: "He that trusteth Ill his own heart is a fool." Will any wise
man, commit his money to the cut−purse? Will he trust a cheat? It is a
good rule, Remember to distrust; − and it was Austin's prayer, That man
that trusts to his own heart, shall be sure to find himself deceived at
Secondly, This mistake arises from the pride of a man's spirit; there
is a proud heart in every natural man: there was much of this pride in
Adam's sin, and there is much of it in all Adam's sons. It is a radical
sin, and from hence arises this overweening opinion of a man's state
and condition. Solomon saith, "Be not righteous overmuch." Austin,
speaking occasionally of these words, saith, it is "not meant of the
righteousness of the wise man, but the pride of the presumptuous man."
Now in this sense every carnal man is righteous overmuch; though he
hath none of that righteousness which commends him to God, to wit, the
righteousness of Christ, yet he hath too much of that righteousness
which commends him to himself, and that is self−righteousness.
A proud man hath an eye to see his beauty, but not his deformity; his
parts, but not his spots; his seeming righteousness, but not his real
wretchedness. "It must be a work of grace that must show a man the want
of grace." The haughty eye looks upward, but the humble eye looks
downward, and therefore this is the believer's motto, "The least of
saints, the greatest of sinners;" but the carnal man's motto is, "I
thank God I am not as other men."
Thirdly, Many deceive themselves with common grace instead of saving,
through that resemblance that is between them. As many take counterfeit
money for current coin, so do too many take common grace for true. Saul
took the devil for Samuel, because he appeared in the mantle of Samuel:
so many take common grace for saving, because it is like saving grace;
a man may be under a supernatural work, and yet fall short of a saving
work; the first raiseth nature, the second only reneweth nature: though
every saving work of the Spirit be supernatural, yet every supernatural
work of the Spirit is not saving; and hence many deceive their own
souls, by taking a supernatural work for a saving work.
Fourthly, Many mistake a profession of religion for a work of
conversion, and outside reformation for a sure sign of inward
regeneration. If the outside of the cup be washed, then they think all
is clean, though it be never so foul within. This is the common rock
that so many souls split upon, to their eternal hazard, taking up a
form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.
Fifthly, Want of a home application of the law of God to the heart and
conscience, to discover to a man the true state and condition he is in.
Where this is wanting, a man will sit down short of a true work of
grace, and will reckon his case better than it is. That is a notable
passage which the apostle hints concerning himself: "I was alive
without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I
died." Here you have an account of the different apprehensions Paul had
of his condition with and without the word.
1. Here is his apprehension of his condition without the word: "I was
alive," saith he, "without the law." Paul had the law, for He was a
Pharisee; and they had the "form of knowledge, and of the truth of the
law:" therefore, when he saith he was "without the law," you must not
take him literally, but spiritually: he was without the power and
efficacy of it upon his heart and conscience, convincing, and
awakening, and discovering sin; and so long as this was the case, be
doubted not of his state − he was confident of the goodness of his
condition. This he hinted when he saith, "I was alive," but then,
Reason 2. It is from Satan's cunning, who, if He cannot keep sinners in
their open profaneness, then he labors to persuade them to take up with
a form of godliness. If he cannot entice them on in their lusts, with a
total neglect of heaven, then he entices them into such a profession as
is sure to fall short of heaven. He will consent to the leaving some
sin, so as we do but keep the rest; and to the doing of some duties, so
as we neglect the rest. Nay, rather than part with his interest in the
soul, he will yield far to our profession of religion, and consent to
anything but our conversion, and closing with Christ for salvation: he
cares not which way we come to hell, so as he gets us but thither at
2. Here is his apprehension of his condition with the word, and that is
quite contrary to what it was before: "when the commandment came,"
saith he, "then sin revived, and I died." When the word of the Lord
came with power upon his soul, when the Spirit of God set it home
effectually upon his conscience, that is meant by the coming of the
commandment; "then sin revived, and I died;" that is, I saw the
desperateness of my case, and the filthiness of all my
self−righteousness. Then, my hope ceased, and my confidence failed;
and, as before, I thought myself alive, and my sin dead; so when God
had awakened conscience by the word, then I saw my sin alive and
powerful, and myself dead and miserable. So that this is the first
reason why men go no further in the profession of religion, than to be
almost Christians. It is because they mistake their state, and think it
good when it is not; which mistake is five−fold.
1. A deceitful heart.
2. A proud spirit.
3. Taking common grace for saving.
4. Outward reformation, for true regeneration.
5. Want of home application of the law of God to the heart and
Reason 3. It is from worldly and carnal policy. This is a great
hindrance to many: policy many times enters caveats against piety. Jehu
will not part with his calves lest he hazard his kingdom. Among many
men there would be more zeal and honesty, were there less design and
policy. There is an honest policy that helps religion, but carnal
policy hinders it.
We are commanded "to be wise as serpents:" now, "the serpent is the
subtlest of creatures:" but then we must be as "innocent as doves." If
piety be without policy, it wants security; if policy be without piety,
it wants integrity. Piety without policy is too simple to be safe; and
policy without piety is too subtle to be good. Let men be as wise, as
prudent, as subtle, as watchful as they will, but then let it be in the
way of God; let it be joined with holiness and integrity. That is a
cursed wisdom that forbids a man to launch any further out in the
depths of religion, than he can see the land, lest he be taken in a
storm before he can make safe to shore again.
Reason 4. There are some lusts espoused in the heart, that hinder a
hearty close with Christ. Though they bid fair yet they come not to
God's terms: "The young man would have eternal life;" and he bid fair
for it: a willing obedience to every command but one, but only one; and
will not God abate him one? Is he so severe? Will he not come down a
little in his terms, when man rises so high? Must man yield all? Will
God yield nothing? No, my brethren, he that underbids for heaven, shall
as surely lose it, as he that will give nothing for it. He that will
not give all he hath − part with all for that "pearl of price" − shall as
surely go without it, as he that never once cheapens it. The not coming
up to God's terms is the ruin of thousands of souls; nay, it is that
upon which all that perish, do perish. A naked sinner to a naked
Christ; a bleeding, broken sinner, to a bleeding, broken Christ − these
are God's terms.
Most professors are like iron between two equal loadstones. God draws,
and they propend towards God.; and the world draws, and they incline to
the world. They are between both; they would not leave God for the
world, if they might not be engaged to leave the world. for God. But if
they must part with all − with every lust, every darling, every beloved
sin − why, then, the spirit of Demas possesses them, and God is forsaken
My brethren, this is the great reason why many that are come to be
almost Christians go no farther. Some one beloved lust or other hinders
them, and after a long and high profession, parts them and Christ
forever; they did run well, but here it is that they give out, and
after all fall short, and perish to eternity.
Thus having answered these four questions, namely,
1. How far a man may go in the way to heaven, and yet be but almost a Christian.
2. Whence it is that a man goeth so far as to be almost a Christian.
3. When it is that a man is but almost a Christian, when he has gone
4. What is the reason men go no farther in religion, than to be almost Christians?
I proceed now to the Application.
Inference 1. That salvation is not so easy a thing as it is imagined to
be. This is attested by our Lord Jesus Christ himself: "Strait is the
gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth to life, and few there be that
find it." The gate of conversion is a very strait gate, and yet every
man that would be saved eternally, must enter in at this strait gate;
for salvation is impossible without it: "Except a man be born again,"
born from above, "he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Not that this gate is strait simply, and in respect of itself: − No; for
converting grace is free. The gate of mercy stands open all the day
long. In the tenders of gospel grace, none are excluded, unless they
exclude themselves. Christ doth not say, If such and such will come to
me, I will not cast them out;'" but "him that cometh unto me," be he
who or what he will, if he hath a heart to close with me, "I will in
nowise cast him out." He saith not, "If this or that man will, here is
water of life for him;" but, "If any man will, let him take the water
of life freely." Christ grudgeth mercy to none; though salvation was
dearly purchased for us, yet it is freely proffered us.
So that the gate which leadeth to life is not strait on Christ's part,
or in respect of itself, but it is strait in respect of us, because of
our lusts and corruptions, which make the entrance difficult. A
needle's eye is big enough for a thread to pass through, but it is a
strait passage for a cable rope: either the needle's eye must be
enlarged, or the cable rope must be untwisted, or the entrance is
impossible. So it is in this case − the gate of conversion is a very
strait passage for a carnal, corrupt sinner to go in at. The soul can
never pass through with any one lust beloved and espoused; and,
therefore, the sinner must be untwisted from every lust: he must lay
aside the love of every sin, or he can never enter in at this gate, for
it is a strait gate. And when he is in at this strait gate, he meeteth
with a narrow way to walk in: so our Lord Christ saith, "Narrow is the
way that leadeth to life;" and what way is this, but the way of
sanctification? "For without holiness no man shall ever see the Lord."
Now this way of sanctification is a very narrow way, for it lies over
the neck of every lust, and in the exercise of every grace, subduing
the one, and improving the other; dying daily, and yet living daily;
dying to sin and living to God: − this is the way of sanctification! And
O, how few are there that walk in this way! The broad way hath many
travellers in it, but this narrow way is like the ways of Canaan in the
days of Shamgar. It is said, "In the days of Shamgar, the son of Anath,
the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through
by−ways." In the Hebrew, it is, "through crooked ways:" the way of
holiness is by the most an unoccupied way − so saith the prophet. "A way
shall there be, and it shall be called the way of holiness, the unclean
shall not pass over it; no lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beasts
shall go up thereon; but the redeemed shall walk there." The unclean,
and the lion, and the ravenous beast, they are in the crooked ways:
none but the redeemed of the Lord walk in the way of the Lord.
It is no wonder, then, that our Lord Christ saith of life, that "few
there be that find it," when the gate is strait, and the way narrow,
that leadeth to it. Many pretend to walk in the narrow way, but they
never entered in at the strait gate; and many pretend to have entered
in at the strait gate, but they walk not in the narrow way.
It is a very common thing for a man to perish upon a mistake of his
way; to go on in those paths that take hold of hell, and yet hope to
find heaven at last. Those twenty parts, fore−mentioned, run into
destruction, and yet many choose them, and walk in them as the way of
salvation. As many profane and open sinners perish by choosing the way
of death, so many formal professors perish by mistaking the way of
life. This I gather from what our Lord Christ saith "Few there be that
find it;" which doth clearly imply what in Luke xii. 24, he doth
plainly express, to wit, that many seek it; many seek to enter in, and
yet are not able; many run far, and yet do not "so run as to obtain;"
many bid fair for the Pearl of price, and yet go without it. Hell is
had with ease, but the "kingdom of heaven suffers violence."
Inference 2. If many go thus far in the way to heaven, and yet
miscarry, O then, what shall be the end of them who fall short of
these! If he shall perish who is almost a Christian, what shall he do
who is not .at all a Christian! If he that owneth Christ, and
professeth Christ, and leaveth many sins for Christ, may be damned
notwithstanding; what then shall his doom be that disowneth Christ, and
refuseth to part with one sin, one lust, one oath for Christ; nay, that
openly blasphemeth the precious name of Christ! If he that is outwardly
sanctified shall yet be eternally rejected, what will the case be of
such as are openly unsanctified − that have not only the plague of a bad
heart within, but also the plague−sore of a profane life without?, If
the formal professor must be shut out, surely then the filthy
adulterer, swinish drunkard, the deep swearer, the profane
Sabbath−breaker, the foul−mouthed scoffer, yea, and every carnal sinner
much more. If there be a wo to him that falleth short of heaven, then
how sad is the wo to him who falls short of them that fall short of
heaven! Ah, that God would make this an awakening word to sinners that
are asleep in sin, without the least fear of death, or dread of damnation!
Use of Examination.
Are there many in the world that are almost and yet but almost
Christians? Why, then, "it is time for us to call our condition into
question, and to make a more narrow scrutiny into the truth of our
spiritual estate;" what it is, whether it be right or not; whether we
are sound and sincere in our profession of religion, or not. When our
Lord Christ told his disciples, "One of you shall betray me," every one
began presently to reflect upon himself; "Master, is it I? Master, is
it I?" So should we do, when the Lord discovers to us from his word,
how many there are under the profession of religion that are but almost
Christians, we should straightway reflect upon our hearts, "Lord, is it
I? Is my heart unsound. Am I but almost a Christian? Am I one of them
that shall miscarry at last? Am I a hypocrite under the profession of
religion? Have I a form of godliness without the power?"
There are two questions of very great importance, which we should every
one of us often put to ourselves: −
Where am I?
1. What am 1? Am I a child of God or not? Am I sincere in religion, or
am I only a hypocrite under a profession?
Indeed, this is the first thing a man should look at: there must be a
change of state, before there can be a change of heart: we must come
under a change of covenant, before we can be under a change of
condition; for the new heart and the new spirit is promised in the new
covenant. There is nothing of that to be heard of in the old: now a man
must be under the new covenant, before he can receive the blessing
promised in the new covenant; he must be in a new covenant−state,
before he can receive a new covenant−heart. No mercy, no pardon, no
change, no conversion, no grace dispensed out of covenant; therefore
this should be our great inquiry; for if we know not where we are, we
cannot know what we are; and if we know not what we are, we cannot be
what we should be; namely, altogether Christians. Let me then, I
beseech you, press this duty upon you that are professors. Try your own
hearts; "examine yourselves whether you are in the faith; prove your
own selves." − I urge this upon most cogent arguments.
2. Where am I? Am I yet in a natural state, or a state of grace? Am I
yet in the old root, in old Adam; or am I in the root Christ Jesus? Am
I in the covenant of works that Ministers only wrath and death? or am I
in the covenant of grace, that ministers life and peace?
1. Because many rest in a notion of godliness and outward shows of
religion, and yet remain in their natural condition. Many "are hearers
of the word," but "not doers of it," "and so deceive their own souls."
Some neither hear nor do; these are profane sinners. Some both hear and
do; these are true believers. Some hear, but they do not do; these are
He that slights the ordinances cannot be a true Christian; but yet it
is possible a man may own them, and profess them, and yet be no true
Christian. Who would trust to a profession, that shall see Judas a
disciple, an apostle, a preacher of the gospel, one that cast out
devils, to be cast out himself? "He is not a Jew who is one outwardly,
neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a
Jew which is one inwardly: and circumcision is that of the heart, in
the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of
2. "Because errors in the first foundation are very dangerous." If we
be not right in the main, in the fundamental work; if the foundation be
not laid in grace in the heart, all our following profession comes to
nothing: the house is built upon a sandy foundation, and though it may
stand for awhile, yet "when the floods come, and the winds blow and
beat upon it, great will be the fall of it."
Some take common grace for saving; whereas, a man may believe all the
truths of the gospel, all the promises, all the threatenings, all the
articles of the creed, to be true, and yet perish for want of saving
3. "Because many are the deceits that our souls are liable to in this
case." There are many things like grace that are not grace: now it is
the likeness and similitude of things that deceives, and makes one
thing to be taken for another. Many take gifts for grace, common
knowledge for saving knowledge; whereas a man may have great gifts, and
yet no grace; great knowledge, and yet not Jesus Christ.
Some take morality and restraining grace for piety and renewing grace;
whereas it is common to have sin much restrained, where the heart is
Some are deceived with a half−work, taking conviction for conversion,
reformation for regeneration; we have many mermaid−Christians. Or, like
Nebuchadnezzar's image, head of gold, and feet of clay. The devil
cheats most men by a synecdoche, putting a part for the whole; partial
obedience to some commands, for universal obedience to all. Endless are
the delusions that Satan fastens upon souls, for want of this
self−search. it is necessary, therefore, that we try our state, lest we
take the shadow for the substance, and embrace a cloud instead of Juno.
4. Satan will try us at one time or other. He will winnow us and sift
us to the bottom; and if we now rest in a groundless confidence, it
will then end in a comfortless despair. Nay, God himself will search
and try us at the day of judgment especially; and who can abide that
trial, that never tries his own heart?
These are the grounds upon which I press this duty, of examining our
state. O that God would help us in the doing this necessary duty!
5. Whatsoever a man's state be, whether he be altogether a Christian or
not, whether his principle be sound or not, yet it is good to examine
his own heart. if he find his heart good, his principles right and
sound, this will be matter of rejoicing. If he find his heart rotten,
his principles false and unsound, the discovery is in order to a
renewing. If a man have a disease upon him, and know it, he may send to
the physician in time but what a sad vexation will it be, not to see a
disease till it be past cure? So for a man to be graceless, and not see
it till it be too late, to think himself a Christian when he is not,
and that he is in the right way to heaven, when he is in the ready way
to hell, and yet not know it, till a death−bed or a judgment−day
confute his confidence − this is the most irrecoverable misery.
Question. You say, "But how shall I come to know whether I am almost or
altogether a Christian? If a man may go so far, and yet miscarry, how
shall I know when my foundation is right − when I am a Christian
Answer 1. The altogether Christian closes with, and accepts of Christ
upon Gospel terms. True union makes a true Christian: many close with
Christ, but it is upon their own terms they take him and own him, but
not as God offers him. The terms upon which God in the gospel offers
Christ, are, that we shall accept of a broken Christ with a broken
heart, and yet a whole Christ with the whole heart. A broken Christ
with a broken heart, as a witness of our humility; a whole Christ with
a whole heart, as a witness of our sincerity. A broken Christ respects
his suffering for sin; a broken heart respects our sense of sin; a
whole Christ includes all his offices; a whole heart includes all our
faculties. Christ is a King, Priest, and Prophet, and all as Mediator.
Without any one of these offices, the work of salvation could not have
been completed. As a Priest, he redeems us; as a Prophet, he instructs
us; as a King, he sanctifies and saves us. Therefore, the apostle says,
"He is made to us a God of wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and
redemption." Righteousness and redemption flow from him, as a Priest,
wisdom, as a Prophet, sanctification, as a King.
In the old−covenant administration, God wrote his laws only upon tables
of stone, but not upon the heart; and therefore, though God wrote them,
yet they broke them; but in the new−covenant administration, God
provides new tables: not tables of stone, but "the fleshly tables of
the heart," and writes his laws there, that there might be a law
within, answerable to the law without. And this every true Christian
hath. So that he may say in his measure, as our Lord Christ did, "I
delight to do thy will, O my God; thy law is within my heart." Every
believer hath a light within him, not guiding him to despise and
slight, but to prize and walk by the light without him; the word
commands him to walk in the light, and the light directs him to walk
according to the word. Moreover, from this impression of the law upon
the heart, obedience and conformity to God becomes the choice and
delight of the soul; for holiness is the very nature of the new
creature: so that if there were no scripture, no Bible to guide him,
yet he would be holy, for he hath received "grace for grace;" there is
a grace within to answer to the word of grace without. Now, the almost
Christian is a stranger to this law of God within; he may have some
conformity to the word in outward conversation, but he cannot have this
answerableness to the word in inward constitution.
Now many embrace Christ as a Priest, but yet they own him not as a King
and Prophet; they like to share in his righteousness, but not to
partake of his holiness; they would be redeemed by him, but they would
not submit to him; they would be saved by his blood, but not submit to
his power. Many love the privileges of the gospel, but not the duties
of the gospel. Now these are but almost Christians, notwithstanding
their close with Christ; for it is upon their own terms, but not upon
God's. The offices of Christ may be distinguished, but they can never
be divided. But the true Christian owns Christ in all his offices he
doth not only close with him as Jesus, but as Lord Jesus: he says with
Thomas, "My Lord, and my God." He doth not only believe in the merit of
his death, but also conforms to the manner of his life. As he believes
in him, so he lives to him: he takes him for his wisdom, as well as for
his righteousness; for his sanctification, as well as his redemption.
2. The altogether Christian hath a thorough work of grace and
sanctification wrought in the heart, as a spring of duties.
Regeneration is a whole change; "all old things are done away, and all
things become new." It is a perfect work, as to parts, though not as to
degrees. Carnal men do duties, but they are from an unsanctified heart,
and that spoils all. A new piece of cloth never doth well in an old
garment, for the rent is but made worse. When a man's heart is
thoroughly renewed by grace, the mind savingly enlightened, the
conscience thoroughly convinced, the will truly humbled and subdued,
the affections spiritually raised and sanctified; and when mind, and
will, and conscience, and affections, all join issue to help on with
the performance of the duties commanded; then is a man altogether a
3. He that is altogether a Christian, looks to the manner, as well as
to the matter of his duties. Not only that they be done, but how they
be done. He knows the Christian's privileges lie in pronouns, but his
duty in adverbs: it must not be only bonum, good, but it must be bene,
that good must be rightly done.
Here the almost Christian fails, he doth the same duties that others do
for the matter, but he doth them not in the same manner; while he minds
the substance, he regards not the circumstance; if he pray, he regards
not faith and fervency in prayer; if he hear, he doth not mind Christ's
rule, "Take heed how you hear;" if he obey, he looks not to the frame
of his heart in obeying, and therefore miscarries in all he doth: any
of these defects spoil the good of every duty.
4. "The altogether Christian is known by his sincerity in all his
performances." Whatever a man does in the duties of the gospel, he
cannot be a Christian without sincerity. Now, the almost Christian
fails in this; for though he doth much, prays much, hears much, obeys
much, yet he is a hypocrite under all.
5. He that is altogether a Christian, hath an "answerableness within to
the law without." There is a connaturalness between the word of God and
the will of the Christian; his heart is, as it were, the transcript of
the law; the same holiness that is commanded in his word, is implanted
in the heart; the same conformity to Christ, that is enjoined by the
word of God, is wrought in the soul by the Spirit of God; the same
obedience which the word requireth of him, the Lord enableth him to
perform, by his grace bestowed on him. This is that which is promised
in the new covenant "I will put my law in their inward parts, and write
it in their hearts." Now the writing his law in us, is nothing else but
his working that grace and holiness in us which the law commandeth and
requireth of us.
6. The altogether Christian is much in duty, and yet much above duty:
much in duty, in regard of performances, much above duty, in regard of
dependence much in duty by obeying but much above duty by believing. He
lives in his obedience, but he doth not live upon his obedience, but
upon Christ and his righteousness. The almost Christian fails in this.
He is much in duty, but not above it, but rests in it; he works for
rest, and he rests in his works. He cannot come to believe and obey
too; if he believes, then he thinks there is no need of obedience, and
so casts off that; if he be much in obedience, then he casts off
believing, and thinks there is no need of that. He cannot say with
David, "I have hoped for thy salvation, and done thy commandments." The
more a man is in duty, and the more above it; the more in doing, and
more in believing, the more a Christian.
The almost Christian fails in this, his obedience is partial and
piece−meal; if he obeys one command, he breaks another; the duties that
least cross his lust, he is much in; but those that do, he lays aside.
7. "He that is altogether a Christian is universal in his obedience."
He doth not obey one command and neglect another, do one duty and cast
off another; but he hath respect to all the commands, he endeavors to
leave every sin, and love every duty.
The Pharisees "fasted, prayed, paid tithes," &c., but they did not lay
aside their covetousness, their oppression; they "devoured widows'
houses," they were unnatural to parents.
8. "The altogether Christian makes God's glory the chief end of all his
performances." If he pray, or hear, or give, or fast, or repent, or
obey, &c., God's glory is the main end of all. It is true, he may have
somewhat else at the hither end of his work, but God is at the further
end: as Moses's rod swallowed up the magicians' rods, so God's glory is
the ultimate end that swallows up all his other ends. Now the almost
Christian fails in this, his ends are corrupt and selfish; God may
possibly be at the hither end of his work, but self is at the other
end; for he that was never truly cast out of himself, can have no
higher end than himself.
Now then examine thyself by these characters, put the question to thine
own soul. Dost thou close with Christ upon gospel terms? Is grace in
the heart the principle of thy performances? Dost thou look to the
manner, as well as the matter of thy duties? Dost thou do all in
sincerity? Is there an answerableness within to the law without? Art
thou much above duty, when much in duty? Is thy obedience universal?
Lastly, is God's glory the end of all? If so, then thou art not only
almost but altogether a Christian.
Use of Caution
Second Use of Caution. − "O take heed of being almost, and yet but
almost a Christian!" It is a great complaint of God against Ephraim,
that "he is a cake not turned;" that is, half baked, neither raw nor
roasted, neither cold nor hot, as Laodicea: "Because thou art neither
hot nor cold, therefore I will spue thee out of my mouth." This is a
condition that of all others is greatly unprofitable, exceedingly
uncomfortable, and desperately dangerous.
First, "It is greatly unprofitable to be but almost a Christian;" for
failing in any one point, will ruin us as surely as if we had never
made any attempts for heaven. It is no advantage to the soul to be
almost converted; for the little that we want, spoils the good of all
our attainments. We say, as good never a whit as never the near; there
is no profit in leaving this or that sin, unless we leave all sin.
Herod heard John gladly, and did many things, but he kept his Herodias,
and that ruined him. Judas did many things, prayed much, preached much,
professed much, but yet his covetousness spoiled all; one sin ruined
the young man, that had kept all the commands but one. Thus he "that
offends in one point, is guilty of all." That is, he that lives
wilfully and allowedly in any one sin, brings the guilt of the
violation of the whole law of God upon his soul, and that upon a
1. Because he manifests the same contempt of the authority of God, in
the wilful breach of one, as of all.
Secondly, "It is exceedingly uncomfortable as appears in three ways.
2. By allowing himself in the breach of any one command, he shows he
kept none in obedience and conscience to God; for he that hates sin as
sin, hates all sin, and he that obeys the command as the express will
of God, obeys every command. And for this cause the least sin,
wilfully, and with allowance lived in, spoils the good of all our
obedience and lays the soul under the whole wrath of God. One leak in a
ship will sink her, though she be tight every way else. "Gideon had
seventy sons," and but one bastard, and yet that one bastard destroyed
all his sons; so may one sin spoil all our services; one lust beloved
may spoil all our profession, as that one bastard slew all the sons of
1. "In that such a one is hated of God and men." The world hates him
because of his profession, and God abhors him because of his
dissimulation; the world hates him because he seems good, and God hates
him because he doth but seem so. No person that God hates more than the
almost Christian: "I would that thou wert either cold or hot;" either
all a Christian, or not at all a Christian. "Because thou art neither
cold nor hot, therefore I will spew thee out of my mouth." What a
loathsome expression doth God here use, to show what an utter
abhorrency there is in him against lukewarm Christians! How
uncomfortable then must that condition needs be wherein a man is
abhorred both of God and man?
There are four things observable in these words.
2. "It is uncomfortable in regard of sufferings." For being almost a
Christian, will bring us into suffering: but being but almost a
Christian, will never carry us through suffering. In Matt. xiii. 20,
21, it is said, "He that receiveth the seed into stony ground, the same
is he that hears the word, and with joy receives it; yet hath he not
root in himself, but dureth for a while; for when tribulation or
persecution ariseth because of the word, by−and−by he is offended."
1. That the stony ground may receive the word with joy.
I gather hence, a profession may expose a man as much to suffering as
the power of godliness: but without the power of godliness there is no
holding out in a profession under suffering. The world hates the show
of godliness, and therefore persecutes it; the almost Christian wants
the substance, and therefore cannot hold out in it.
2. That it may for some time abide in a profession of it: He dureth for
3. That his profession will expose to suffering; for, mark, persecution
is said to arise because of the word.
4. This suffering will cause an apostatizing from profession; for that
which is here called "offence," is in Luke viii. 13, called falling
away: "which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away."
Now this must needs be very uncomfortable; if I profess religion, I am
like to suffer; if I do but profess it, I am never like to endure.
3. "It is uncomfortable, in regard of that deceit it lays our hopes
under;" to be deceived of our hopes causeth sorrow as well as shame. He
that is but almost a Christian, hopes for heaven; but unless he be
altogether a Christian, he shall never come there. Now to perish with
hopes of heaven, to go to hell by the gates of glory, to come to the
very door, and then be shut out, as the five virgins were; to die in
the wilderness, within the sight of the promised land, at the very
brinks of Jordan; this must needs be sad. To come within a stride of
the goal, and yet miss it; to sink within sight of harbor; O how
uncomfortable is this!
4. "As it is greatly unprofitable, and exceedingly uncomfortable, to be
but almost a Christian, so it is desperately dangerous." For,
1. "This hinders the true work:" A man lies in a fairer capacity for
conversion, that lies in open enmity and rebellion, than he that sooths
up himself in the formalities of religion. This I gather from the
parable of the two sons, which our Lord Christ urged to the professing
Scribes and Pharisees. "There was a man had two sons; and he came to
one, and said, Go work today in my vineyard. He said, I will not; but
afterwards repented and went. And he came to the second, and said
likewise; and he said, I go, Sir; but went not." The first represents
the carnal, open sinner, that is called by the word, but refuses, yet
afterwards repents, and believes. The second represents the
hypocritical professor, that pretends much, but performs little. Now
mark how Christ applies this parable: "Verily I say unto you, that the
publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you."
And upon this account it is better not to be at all, than to be almost
a Christian; for the almost hinders the altogether. It is better, in
this regard, to be a sinner without a profession, than to be a
professor without conversion: for the one lies fairer for an inward
change, when the other rests in an outward. Our Lord Christ tells the
Scribe, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God," yet never like to
come there. None farther from the kingdom of God than such as are not
far from the kingdom of God. As for instance, when there lies but one
lust, one sin between a soul and Christ, that soul is not far from
Christ: but now, when the soul rests in this nearness to Christ, and
yet will not part with that one lust for Christ, but thinks his
condition secured, though that lust be not subdued; who is farther from
the kingdom of God than he? So our Lord Christ tells the young man,
"One thing thou lackest." Why he was very near heaven, near being a
Christian altogether, he was very near being saved; he tells Christ he
had kept all the commands. He lacked but one thing; I say, but one
thing: but it was a great thing. That one thing he lacked was more than
all things he had, for it was the one thing necessary; it was a new
heart, a work of grace in his soul, a change of state, a heart weaned
from the world. This was the one thing, and he that lacks this one
thing, perishes with his all things else.
2. "This condition is so like a state of grace, that the mistake of it
for grace is easy and common;" and it is very dangerous to mistake
anything for grace that is not grace; for in that a man contents
himself, as if it were grace. Formality doth often dwell next door to
sincerity, and one sign serves both; and so the house may be easily
mistaken, and by that means a man may take up his lodging there, and
never find the way out again.
What one saith of wisdom, (many might have been wise, had they not
thought themselves so when they were otherwise) the same I may say of
grace; many a formal professor might have been a sincere believer, had
he not mistook his profession for conversion, his duties for grace, and
so rested in that for sincerity that is but hypocrisy.
8. "It is a degree of blasphemy to pretend to grace, and yet have no
grace." I gather this from Rev. ii. 9, − "I know the blasphemy of them
which say they are Jews, and are not." This place undergoes a variety
of constructions; Grotius and Paraeus do not make their blasphemy to
lie in their saying they are Jews, and are not; but to lie in the
reproaches that these Jews fastened upon Christ, calling him impostor,
deceiver, one that hath a devil, &c. Brightman goes another way, and
saith, this was the blasphemy of these Jews; they retained that way of
worship that was abrogated, and thrust upon God those old rites and
ceremonies that Jesus Christ had abolished, and nailed to his cross, by
which they overthrew the glory of Christ, and denied his coming. But I
conceive the blasphemy of these Jews to lie in this, that they said
they were Jews and were not. A Jew here is not to be taken literally
and strictly only, for one of the lineage of Abraham, but it is to be
taken metonymically for a true believer, one of the spiritual seed of
Abraham: "He is a Jew who is one inwardly;" so that for a man to say he
is a Jew when he is not, to profess an interest in Christ when he hath
none, to say he hath grace when he hath none, this Christ calls blasphemy.
But why should Christ call this blasphemy? This is hypocrisy; but how
may it be said to be blasphemy? Why, he blasphemes the great attribute
of God's omnisciency, he doth implicitly deny that God sees and knows
our hearts and thoughts; for if a man did believe the omnisciency of
God, that he searches, the heart and sees and knows all within, he
would not dare to rest in a graceless profession of godliness. This,
therefore, is blasphemy in the account of Christ.
4. "It is dangerous to be almost a Christian, in that this stills and
serves to quiet conscience." Now it is very dangerous to quiet
conscience with anything but the blood of Christ: it is bad being at
peace till Christ speak peace. Nothing can truly pacify conscience less
than that which pacifies God, and that is the blood of the Lord Christ.
Now the almost Christian quiets conscience, but not with the blood of
Christ: it is not a peace flowing from Christ's propitiation, but a
peace rising from a formal profession, not a peace of Christ's giving,
but a peace of his own making; he silences and bridles conscience with
a form of godliness, and so makes it give way to an undoing,
soul−destroying peace; he rocks it asleep in the cradle of duties, and
then it is a thousand to one it never awaketh more till death or
Ah, my brethren, it is better to have conscience never quiet, than
quieted any way but by "the blood of sprinkling:" a good conscience
unquiet, is the greatest affliction to saints; and an evil conscience
quiet, is the greatest judgment to sinners.
5. "It is dangerous to be almost a Christian, in respect of the
unpardonable sin." The sin that the Scripture saith, "can never be
forgiven, neither in this world nor in the world to come;" I mean the
sin against the Holy Ghost. Now such are only capable of sinning that
sin as are but almost Christians. A true believer cannot; the work of
grace in his heart, that seed of God which abideth in him, secures him
The profane, ignorant, open sinner cannot; though he live daily and
hourly in sin, yet he cannot commit this sin, for it must be from an
enlightened mind. Every sinner, under the gospel, especially sins sadly
against the Holy Ghost, against the strivings and motions of the
Spirit: he "resists the Holy Ghost;" but yet this is not the sin
against the Holy Ghost.
There must be three ingredients to make up that sin.
1st, It must be wilful. If we sin wilfully after we have received the
knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sin."
2d, "It must be against light and conviction, after we have received
the knowledge of the truth."
3d, It must be in resolved malice. Now you shall find all these
ingredients in the sin of the Pharisees, Matt. xii. 22. Christ heals
one that was "possessed of the devil;" a great work, which all the
people wondered at, verse 23. But what say the Pharisees? see verse 24.
"This fellow casteth out devils by the prince of devils." Now that this
was the sin against the Holy Ghost, is clear; for it was both wilful
and malicious, and against clear convictions. They could not but see
that he was the Son of God, and that this work was a peculiar work of
the Spirit of God in him and yet they say, he wrought by the devil!
whereupon Christ charges them with this "sin against the Holy Ghost,"
verse 31, 32, 33. Now the Pharisees were a sort of great
professors; whence I gather this conclusion, that it is the professor
of religion that is the subject of this sin; not the open carnal
sinner, not the true believer, but the formal professor. Not the
sinner, for he hath neither light nor grace; not the believer, for he
hath both light and grace; therefore the formal professor, for he hath
light but no grace. Here, then, is the great danger of being almost a
Christian − he is liable to this dreadful unpardonable sin.
6. "The being but almost a Christian, subjects us to apostasy." He that
gets no good by walking in the ways of God, will quickly leave them and
walk no more in them. This I gather from Hosea xiv. 9. "Who is wise,
and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them?
for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them,
but the transgressors shall fall therein."
"The just shall walk in them." He whose heart is renewed and made right
with God, he shall keep close to God in his ways.
"But the transgressor shall walk therein." The word in the Hebrew is
peshangim, from a word that signifies to prevaricate: so that we may
read the words thus, "The ways of the Lord are right, and the just
shall walk in them; but he that prevaricates (that is, a hypocrite,) in
the ways of God, he shall fall therein."
An unsound heart will never hold out long in the ways of God: "He was a
burning and a shining light, and ye were willing for a season to
rejoice in that light."
"For a season" − For an hour, a short space, and then they left him. It
is a notable question Job puts concerning the hypocrite − "Will he
delight himself in the Almighty? will he always call upon God?"
He may do much, but those two things he cannot do:
1. He cannot make God his delight.
2. He cannot persevere in duties at all times, and in all conditions.
He will be an apostate at last: the scab of hypocrisy usually breaks
out in the plague−sore of apostasy. Conversion ground is standing,
ground; it is terra firma; but a graceless profession of religion is a
slippery ground, and falling ground; Julian the apostate, was first
Julian the professor. I know it is possible a believer may fall, but
yet "he rises again, the everlasting arms are underneath;" but when the
hypocrite falls, who shall help him up? Solomon saith, "Wo to to him
that is alone when he falls!" that is without interest in Christ. Why
wo to him? For he hath none to help him up." If Jesus Christ do not
recover him, who can? David fell and was restored, for he had one to
help him up; but Judas fell and perished, for he was alone.
7. "This being but almost a Christian, provokes God to bring dreadful
spiritual judgments upon a man."
Barrenness is a spiritual judgment: now this provokes God to give us up
to barrenness. When Christ found the fig−tree that had leaves but no
fruit, he pronounces the curse of barrenness upon it: "Never fruit grow
on thee more." And so Ezek. xlvii. 11: "The miry places thereof, and
the marshy places thereof, shall not be healed; they shall be given to
A spirit of delusion is a sad judgment. Why, this is the almost
Christian's judgment, that receives the truth, but not in the love of
it: "Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might
be saved; for this cause God shall send them strong delusions."
To lose either light or sight, either ordinances or eyes, is a great
spiritual judgment. Why, this is the almost Christian's judgment: he
that profits not under the means of God, provokes God to take away
either light or sight; either the ordinances from before his eyes, or
else to bind his eyes under the ordinances.
To have a hard heart, is a dreadful judgment, and there is no hypocrite
but he hath a hard heart.
My brethren, it is a dreadful thing for God to give a man up to
spiritual judgments! Now this being almost a Christian, provokes God to
give a man up to spiritual judgments: surely, therefore, it is a very
dangerous thing to be almost a Christian!
8. "Being almost and but almost Christians, will exceedingly aggravate
our damnation." The higher a man rises under the means, the lower he
falls if he miscarries: he that falls but a little short of heaven,
will fall deepest into hell; he that hath been nearest to conversion,
being not converted, shall have the deepest damnation when he is
judged. Capernaum's sentence shall exceed Sodom's for severity; because
she exceeded Sodom in the enjoyment of mercy − she received. more from
God, she knew more of God, she professed much for God, and yet was not
right with God; therefore, she shall be punished more by God. The
higher the rise, the greater the fall; the higher the profession, the
lower the damnation. He miscarrieth with a light in his hand: be
perisheth under many convictions; and convictions never end but in a
sound conversion, as in all saints; or in a sad damnation, as in all
hypocrites. Praying−ground, hearing−ground, professing−ground, and
conviction−ground, is, of all, the worst ground to perish upon.
Now, then, to sum up all under this head.
If to be almost a Christian hinders the true work of conversion; if it
be easily mistaken for conversion; if it be a degree of blasphemy; if
this be that which quiets conscience; if this subjects a man to commit
the unpardonable sin; if it lays us liable to apostasy; if it provokes
God to give us up to spiritual judgments; and if it be that which
exceedingly aggravates our damnation; sure then it is a very dangerous
thing to be almost and but almost a Christian!
O labor to be altogether Christians, to go farther than they who have
gone farthest, and yet fall short! This is the great counsel of the
Holy Ghost: "So run that ye may obtain. − Give diligence to make your
calling and election sure."
Use of Exhortation
Need you any motives to quicken you up to this important duty?
Consideration 1. "This is that which is not only commanded by God, but
that whereunto all the commands of God tend." A perfect conformity of
heart and life to God, is the sum and substance of all the commands
both of the Old and the New Testament. As the harlot was for the
dividing of the child, so Satan is for dividing the heart. He would
have our love and affections shared between Christ and our lusts; for
he knows that Christ reckons we love him not ht all, unless we love him
above all. But God will have all or none: "My son, give me thy heart.
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul,
and with all thy might." Look into the Scripture, and see what that is
upon which you only stand, and you shall find that God hath fixed it
upon those great duties which alone tend to the perfection of your
state as Christians. God hath fixed your only upon believing; only
believe. God hath fixed your only upon obedience: "Thou shalt worship
the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." "Only let your
conversation be such as becometh the gospel of Christ." So that your
only is fixed by. God upon these two great duties of believing and
obeying; both which tend to the perfection of your state as Christians.
Now, shall God command, and shall not we obey? Can there be a higher
motive to duty than the authority of the great God, whose will is the
eternal rule of righteousness? "O let us fear God, and keep his
commandments," for this is the whole duty of man!
Consideration 2. "The Lord Christ is a Saviour throughout, a perfect
and complete Mediator." He hath not shed his blood by halves, nor
satisfied the justice of God, and redeemed sinners by halves. No, but
he went through with his undertaking; he bore all our sins, and shed
all his blood: he died to the utmost, satisfied the justice of God to
the utmost, redeemed sinners to the utmost, and now that he is in
heaven he intercedeth to the utmost, and is able to save to the utmost.
It is observed, that our Lord Christ, when he was upon the earth, in
the days of his flesh, he wrought no half−cures; but whomsoever they
brought to him for healing, he healed them throughout; "They brought
unto him all that were diseased, and besought him that they might only
touch the hem of his garment, and as many as touched were made
O what an excellent physician is here! none like him! he cureth
infallibly, suddenly, and perfectly!
He cureth infallibly. None ever came to him for healing that went
without it; he never practised upon any that miscarried under his hand.
He cureth suddenly. No sooner is his garment touched, but his patient
is healed. The leper, Matt. viii. 3, is no sooner touched, but
immediately cured; the two blind men, Matt. xx. 34, are no sooner
touched, but their eyes were immediately opened.
He cureth perfectly: "As many as were touched, were made perfectly
Now all this was to show what a perfect and complete Saviour Jesus
Christ would be to all sinners that would come to him. They should.
find healing in his blood, virtue in his righteousness, and pardon for
all their sins, whatever they were. Look! as Christ healed all the
diseases of all that came to him, when he was on earth, so he, pardons
all the sins, and healeth all the wounds of all those souls that come
to him, now he is in heaven. He is a Saviour throughout; and shall not
we be saints throughout? Shall he be altogether a Redeemer; and shall
not we be altogether believers? O, what a shame is this!
Consideration 3. "There is enough in religion to engage us to be
altogether Christians;" and that whether we respect profit or comfort,
for grace brings both.
First, "Religion is a gainful thing;" and this is a compelling motive
that becomes effectual upon all. Gaia is the god whom the world
worships. What will not men, do, what will they not suffer for gain?
What journeys do men take by land, what voyages by sea, through hot and
cold, through fair and foul, through storm and shine, through day and
night, and all for gain! Now there is no calling so gainful as this of
religion; it is the most profitable employment we can take up.
"Godliness is profitable unto all things." It is a great revenue. If it
be closely followed, it brings in the greatest income. Indeed, some men
are religious for the world's sake; such shall be sure not to gain: but
they who are religious for religion's sake, shall be sure not to lose,
if heaven and earth can recompense them; for "godliness hath the
promise both of the life that now is, and of that which is to come."
Ah, who would not be a Christian, when the gain of godliness is so
great! Many gain much in their worldly calling, but the profit which
the true believer hath from one hour's communion with God in Christ,
weigheth down all the gain of the world. "Cursed be that man who counts
all the gain of the world worth one hour's communion with Jesus
Christ," saith that noble Marquis, Galeacius Caracciola. It is nowhere
said in Scripture, "Happy is the man that findeth silver, and the man
that getteth fine gold." These are of no weight in the balance of the
sanctuary; but it is said, "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and
the man that getteth understanding; for the merchandise of it is better
than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold."
By wisdom and understanding here, we are to understand the grace of
Christ; and so the spirit of God interpreteth it. "Behold the fear of
the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding."
Now of all merchants, he that trades in this wisdom and understanding
will prove the richest man: one grain of godliness out weigheth all the
gold of Ophir. There is no riches like being rich in grace: for,
1. This is the most necessary riches; other things are not so. Silver
and gold are not so: we may be. happy without them. There is but one
thing necessary, and that is the grace of Jesus Christ in the heart.
Have this, and have all; want this, and want all.
2. It is the most substantial gain. The things of this world are more
shadow than substance. Pleasure, honor, and profit comprehend all
things in this world, and therefore are the carnal man's trinity. The
apostle John calls them "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes,
and the pride of life;" this, (saith he,) is all that is in the world:
and truly, if this be all, all is nothing for what is pleasure but a
dream and conceit? what is honor, but fancy and opinion? and what is
profit, but a thing of naught? "Why wilt thou set thy eyes upon that
which is not?" The things of the world have in them no sound substance,
though foolish, carnal men call them substance. But now grace is a
substantial good; so our Lord Christ calls it: "That I may cause those
that love me to inherit substance," to inherit that which is. Grace is
a reality other things are but show and fancy.
3. Godliness is the safest gain. The gain of worldly things is always
with difficulty, but seldom with safety. The soul is often hazarded in
the over−eager pursuit of worldly things; nay, thousands do pawn, and
lose, and damn their precious souls eternally, for a little silver and
gold, which are but the guts and garbage of the earth: "and what is a
man profited, to gain the whole world, if he lose his own soul?" But
the gain of godliness is ever with safety to the soul; nay, the soul is
lost and undone without it, and not saved but by the attainment of it.
A soul without grace is in a lost and perishing condition: the hazard
of eternity is never over with us until the grace of Christ Jesus be
sought by us, and wrought in us.
4. "Godliness is the surest profit:" as it is safe, so it is sure. Men
make great ventures for the world, but all runs upon uncertainty. Many
venture much, and wait long, and yet find no return but disappointment:
they sow much, and yet reap nothing. But the gain of godliness is sure;
"to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward."
And as the things of this world are uncertain in the getting, so they
are uncertain in the keeping. If men do not undo us, moths may; if
robbery doth not, rust may; if rust doth not, fire may; to which all
earthly treasures are incident, as our Lord Christ teaches us, Matt. vi.19.
Solomon limneth the world with wings: "Riches make themselves
wings, and fly as an eagle towards heaven." A man may be rich as Dives
today, and yet poor as Lazarus to−morrow. O how uncertain are all
worldly things! But now the true treasure of grace is in the heart,
that can never be lost. It is out of the reach both of rut and robber.
"He that gets the world, gets a good he can never keep; but he that
gets grace, gets a good he shall never lose."
5. "The profit of godliness lieth not only in this world, but in the
world to come." All other profit lieth in this world only: riches and
honor, &c., are called this world's goods, but the riches of godliness
is chiefly in the other world's goods; in the enjoyment of God, and
Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, among saints and angels in glory.
Lo, this is the gain of godliness; "such honor have all his saints."
6. "The gain of godliness is a durable and eternal gain." All this
world's goods are perishing; perishing pleasures, perishing honors,
perishing profits, and perishing comforts. "Riches are not forever,"
saith Job: "Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?" Gregory
upon these words observes, that earthly treasures are treasures of
snow. What pains do children take to scrape and roll the snow together
to make a snow−ball, which is no sooner done but the heat of the sun
dissolves it, and it comes to nothing. Why, the treasures of worldly
men are but treasures of snow. When death and judgment come, they melt
away, and come to nothing. "Riches profit not in the day of wrath, but
righteousness delivers from death."
You see here the great advantage of godliness; so that if we look at
profit, we shall find enough in religion to engage us to be altogether
2. "If we look at comfort," religion is the most comfortable
profession. There are no comforts to be compared to the comforts of
grace and godliness.
1. "Worldly comfort is only outward;" it is but skin−deep: "In the
midst of laughter the heart is sorrowful." But now the comfort that
flows from godliness is an inward comfort, a spiritual joy; therefore
it is called gladness of heart. "Thou hast put gladness in my heart:"
other joy smooths the brow, but this fills the breast.
2. "Worldly comfort hath a nether spring." The spring of worldly
comfort is in the creature, in some earthly enjoyment; and, therefore,
the comfort of worldly men must needs be mixed and muddy: "an unclean
fountain cannot send forth pure water." But spiritual comfort hath an
upper spring: the comfort that accompanies godliness, flows from the
manifestations of the love of God in Christ, from the workings of the
blessed Spirit in the heart, which is first a counsellor, and then a
comforter: and therefore the comforts of the saints must needs be pure
and unmixed comforts; for they flow from a pure spring.
3. "Worldly comfort is very fading and transitory." "The triumphing of
the wicked is but short, and the joy of the hypocrite is but for a
moment." Solomon compares it to the "crackling of thorns under a pot,"
which is but a blaze, and soon out: so is the comfort of carnal hearts.
But, now the comfort of godliness is a durable and abiding comfort;
"your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man shall take from you."
The comfort of godliness is lasting, and everlasting it abides by us in
life, in death, and after death.
First, "It abides by us in life:" grace and peace go together.
Godliness naturally brings forth comfort and peace: "The effect of
righteousness shall be peace." It is said of the primitive Christians,
"They walked in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy
Ghost." Every duty done in uprightness and sincerity, reflects some
comfort upon the soul. "In keeping the` commands, there is great
reward;" not only for keeping of them, but in keeping of them. As every
flower, so every duty carries sweetness and refreshing with it.
Objection. "But who more dejected and disconsolate than saints and
believers? whose lives are more uncomfortable? whose mouths are more
filled with complaints, than theirs? If a condition of godliness and
Christianity be a condition of so much comfort, then why are they
Solution. That the people of God are oftentimes without comfort, I
grant: "They may walk in the dark, and have no light." But this is none
of the products of godliness: grace brings forth no such fruit as this;
there is a threefold rise and spring of it: − Sin within, Desertion and
1. Sin within. The saints of God are not all spirit, and no flesh; all
grace, and no sin. They are made up of contrary principles: there is
light and darkness in the same mind; sin and grace in the same will;
carnal and spiritual in the same affections; there is "the flesh
lusting against the Spirit." In all these, and too oft the Lord knows,
is the believer led away captive by these warring lusts. So was the
holy apostle himself: "I find then a law, that, when I would do good,
evil is present with me. I see another law in my members, warring
against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law
of sin;" − and this was that which broke his spiritual peace, and
filled his soul with trouble and complaints, as you see: "O wretched
man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?" So that
it is sin that interrupts the peace of God's people. Indwelling lust,
stirring and breaking forth, must needs cause trouble and grief in the
soul of a believer; for it is as natural for sin to bring forth
trouble, as it is for grace to bring forth peace. Every sin contracts a
new guilt upon the soul, and guilt provokes God; and where there is a
sense of guilt contracted, and God provoked, there can be no peace, no
quiet in that soul, till faith procures fresh sprinklings of the blood
of Jesus Christ upon the conscience.
2. "Another spring of the believer's trouble and disconsolateness of
spirit, is the desertions of God;" and this follows upon the former.
God doth sometimes disappear, and hide himself from his people:
"Verily, thou art a God that hideth thyself." But the cause of God's
hiding, is the believer's sinning: "Your iniquities have separated
between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you." In
heaven, where there is no sinning, there is no losing the light of
God's countenance for a moment; and if saints here could serve God
without corruption, they should enjoy God without desertion; but this
cannot be. While we are in this state, remaining lusts will stir and
break forth, and then God will hide his face, and this must needs be
trouble: "Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled."
The light of God's countenance, shining upon the soul, is the
Christian's heaven on this side heaven; and therefore it is no wonder
if the biding of his face be looked upon by the soul, as one of the
days of hell. So it was by David: "The sorrows of death compassed me,
the pains of hell gat hold upon me; I found trouble and sorrow."
3. "A third spring of that trouble and complaint that brims the banks
of the Christian's spirit, is the temptations of Satan." He is the
great enemy of saints, and he envieth the quiet and comfort that their
hearts are filled with, when his conscience is brimmed with horror and
terror: and, therefore, though he knows that he cannot destroy their
peace, yet he labors to disturb their peace. As the blessed Spirit of
God is first a sanctifier, and then a comforter, working grace in order
to peace; so this cursed spirit of hell is first a tempter, and then a
troubler; first persuading to act sin, and then accusing for sin; and
this is his constant practice upon the spirits of God's people. He
cannot endure that they should live in the light of God's countenance,
when himself is doomed to eternal, intolerable darkness.
And thus you see whence it is that the people of God are often under
trouble and complaint. All arises from these three springs of Sin
within, Desertions and Temptations without.
If the saints could serve God without sinning, and enjoy God without
withdrawing, and resist Satan without yielding, they might enjoy peace
and comfort without sorrowing. This must be endeavored constantly here,
but it will never be attained fully but in heaven. But yet so far as
grace is the prevailing principle in the heart, and so far as the power
of godliness is exercised in this life; so far the condition of a child
of God is a condition of peace; for it is an undoubted truth, that the
fruit of righteousness shall be peace. But suppose the people of God
experience little of this comfort in this life, yet,
2. "They find it in the day of death." Grace and holiness will minister
unto us then, and that ministration will be peace. A believer hath a
twofold spring of comfort, each one emptying itself into his soul in a
dying season; one is from above him, the other is from within him. The
spring that runs comfort from above him, is the blood of Christ
sprinkled upon the conscience; the spring that runs comfort from within
him, is the sincerity of his heart in God's service. When we lie upon a
death−bed, and can reflect upon our principles and performances in the
service of God, and there find uprightness and sincerity of heart
running through all, this must needs be comfort. It was so to Hezekiah:
"Remember, O Lord, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a
perfect heart; and have done that which is good in thy sight."
Nothing maketh a death−bed so uneasy and hard, as a life spent in the
service of sin and lust; nothing makes a death−bed so soft and sweet,
as a life spent in the service of God and Christ. Or put the case, the
people of God should not meet with this comfort then; yet,
3. "They shall be sure to find it after death." If time bring none of
this fruit to ripeness, yet eternity shall; grace in time will be glory
in eternity; holiness now will be happiness then: "Whatever it is a man
soweth in this world, that he shall be sure to reap in the next world:
he that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption: but he
that soweth to the spirit, shall of the spirit reap life everlasting."
When sin shall end in sorrow and misery, holiness shall end. in joy and
glory: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the
joy of thy Lord." Whoever shareth in the grace of Christ in this world,
shall share in the joys of Christ in the world to come; and that joy
"is joy unspeakable, and full of glory." Lo, here is the fruit of
godliness. Say now, if there be not enough in religion, whether we
respect profit or comfort, to engage us to be Christians throughout?
Consideration 4. "What an entire resignation wicked men make of
themselves to their lusts! and shall not we do so to the Lord Christ?"
They give up themselves without reserve to the pleasures of sin; and
shall we have our reserves in the service of God? They are altogether
sinners; and shall not we be altogether saints? They run, and faint
not, in the service of their lusts; and shall we faint, and not run, in
the service of Christ? Shall the servants of corruption have their ears
bored to the door−posts of sin, in token of an entire and perpetual
service, and shall we not give up ourselves to the Lord Christ, to be
his forever? Shall others make a "covenant with hell and death," and
shall not we "join ourselves to God in an everlasting covenant that
cannot be forgotten?" Shall they take more pains to damn their souls,
than we do to save ours? and make more speed to a place of vengeance,
than we do to a crown of righteousness? Which do you judge best, to be
saved everlastingly, or to perish everlastingly? Which do you count the
best master, God or the devil? Christ or your lusts? I know you will
determine it on Christ's side. O then! when others serve their lusts
with all their hearts, do you serve Christ with all your hearts. If the
hearts of the sons of men be fully set in them to do evil, then much
more let the hearts of the sons of God be fully set in them to do good.
Consideration 5. "If ye be not altogether Christians, ye will never be
able to appear with comfort before God, nor to stand in the judgment of
the last and great day." For this sad dilemma will silence every
hypocrite: if my commands were not holy, just, and good, why didst thou
own them? If they were holy, just, and good, why dost thou not obey
them? If Jesus Christ was not worth the having, why didst thou profess
him? If he was, then why didst thou not cleave to him, and close with
him? If my ordinances were not appointed to convert and save souls, why
didst thou sit under them, and rest in the performance of them? Or if
they were, then why didst thou not submit to the power of them? If
religion be not good, why dost thou profess it? If it be good, why dost
thou not practise it? "Friend, how earnest thou in hither, not having
on a wedding−garment?" If it was not a wedding−feast, why didst thou
come at the invitation? If it was, then why didst thou come without a
I would but ask a hypocritical professor of the Gospel, what he will
answer in that day? Verily you deprive yourselves of all possibility of
apology in "the day of the righteous judgment of God." It is said of
the man that had no wedding−garment on, that when Christ came and
examined him, he was speechless. He that is graceless in a day of
grace, will be speechless in a day of judgment: professing Christ
without a heart to close with Christ, will leave our souls inexcusable,
and make our damnation unavoidable and more intolerable.
These are the motives to enforce the duty; and O that God would set
them home upon your hearts and consciences, that you might not dare to
rest a moment longer in a half−work, or in being Christians within a
little, but that you might be altogether Christians!
Question. But you will say possibly, "How shall I do? What means shall
I use, that I may attain to a thorough work in my heart; that I may be
no longer almost, but altogether a Christian?"
Answer. Now I shall lay down three rules of direction instead of many,
to further and help you in this important duty, and so leave this work
to God's blessing.
Direction 1. "Break off all false peace of conscience;" this is the
devil's bond to hold the soul from seeking after Christ. As there is
the peace of God so there is the peace of Satan; but they are easily
known, for they are as contrary as heaven and hell, as light and
darkness. The peace of God, flows from a work of grace in the soul, and
is the peace of a regenerate state; but the peace of Satan is the peace
of an unregenerate state, it is the peace of death; in the grave Job
saith there is peace − "There the wicked cease from troubling;" so a
soul dead in sin is full of peace, the wicked one troubleth him not.
The peace of God in the soul is a peace flowing from removal of guilt,
by justifying grace − "Being justified by faith in his blood, we have
peace with God;" but the peace of Satan in the soul arises and is
maintained by a stupidity of spirit, and insensibility of guilt upon
the conscience. "The peace of God is a peace from sin that fortifies
the heart against it: The peace of God that passeth all men's
understanding, shall, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
The more of this peace there is in the soul, the more is the soul
fortified against sin; but the peace of Satan is peace in sin: "The
strong man armed keeps the house, and there is all at peace." The
saint's peace is a peace with God, but not with sin; the sinner's peace
is a peace with sin, but not with God: and this is a peace better
broken than kept. It is a false, a dangerous, an undoing peace. My
brethren, death and judgment will break all peace of conscience, but
not that which is wrought by Christ in the soul, and is the fruit of
the "blood of sprinkling:" "when he gives quietness, who can make
trouble?" Now that peace that death will break, why should you keep?
Who would be fond of that quietness which the flames of hell will burn
in sunder? and yet how many travel to hell through the fool's paradise
of a false peace? O break off this peace! for we can have no peace with
God in Christ, whilst this peace remains in our hearts. The Lord Christ
gives no peace to them that will not seek it; and that man will never
seek it that does not see his need of it; and he that is at peace in
his lusts sees no need of the peace of Christ. The sinner must be
wounded for sin, and troubled under it, before Christ will heal his
wounds, and give him peace from it.
Direction 2. Labor after a thorough work of conviction; every
conviction will not do it. The almost Christian hath his convictions as
well as the true Christian, or else he had never gone so far; but they
are not sound and right convictions, or else he had gone farther: God
will have the soul truly sensible of the bitterness of sin, before it
shall taste the sweetness of mercy. The plough of conviction must go
deep, and make deep furrows in the heart, before God will sow the
precious seed of grace and comfort there, that so it may have depth of
earth to grow in. This is the constant method of God: first to show man
his sin, then his Saviour; first his danger, then his Redeemer; first
his wound, then his cure; first his own vileness, then Christ's
righteousness. We must be brought to cry out, "Unclean, unclean!" to
mourn for Him whom we have pierced, and then he sets open for us a
fountain to wash in for sin, and for uncleanness. That is a notable
place, Job xxxiii. 27, 28. "He looked upon men; and if any say, I have
sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; he
will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see
the light." The sinner must see the unprofitableness of his
unrighteousness, before he profit by Christ's righteousness. The
Israelites are first stung with the fiery serpents, and then the brazen
serpent is set up. Ephraim is first thoroughly convinced, and then
God's bowels of mercy worked toward him. Thus it was with Paul,
Manasseh, the jailer, &c. So that this is the unchangeable method of
God in working grace, to begin with conviction of sin. O therefore
labor for thorough conviction; and there are three things we should
especially be convinced of.
First, Be convinced of the evil of sin; the filthy and heinous nature
of it. This is the greatest evil in the world; it wrongs God, it wounds
Christ, it grieves the Holy Spirit, it ruineth a precious soul; all
other evils are not to be named with this. My brethren, though to do
sin is the worst work, yet to see sin is the best sight; for sin
discovered in its vileness, makes Christ to be desired in his fulness.
But above all, labor to be convinced of the mischief of an unsound
heart; what an abhorrence it is to God, what certain ruin it brings
upon the soul. O think often upon the hypocrite's hell. "For this
people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and
their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with
their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their
heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them."
Secondly, be convinced of the misery and desperate danger of a natural
condition; for till we see the plague of our hearts and the Misery of
our state by nature, we shall never be brought off ourselves to seek
help in another.
Thirdly, Be convinced of the utter insufficiency and inability of
anything below Christ Jesus to minister relief to thy soul in this
case. All things besides Jesus Christ are "physicians of no value;"
duties, performances, prayers, tears, self−righteousness, avail nothing
in this case; they make us like the troops of Tema, to return "ashamed
at our disappointment" from such "failing brooks."
Alas! it is an infinite righteousness that must satisfy for us, for it
is an infinite God that is offended by us. If ever thy sin be pardoned,
it is infinite mercy that must pardon it; if ever thou be reconciled to
God, it is infinite merit must do it: if ever thy heart be changed, and
thy state renewed, it is infinite power must effect it; and if ever thy
soul escape hell, and be saved at last, it is infinite grace must save
In these three things right and sound conviction lieth: and wherever
the Spirit of God worketh these thorough convictions, it is in order to
a true and sound conversion: for by this means the soul is brought
under a right qualification for the receiving of Christ.
You must know; that a sinner can never come to Christ; for he is dead
in sin, in enmity against Christ, an enemy to God, and the grace of
God; but there are certain qualifications that come between the soul's
dead state in sin, and the work of conversion and closing with Christ,
whereby the soul is put into a capacity of receiving the Lord Jesus
Christ; for no man is brought immediately out of his dead state and
made to believe in Jesus Christ; there are some qualifications coming
in between. Now sound convictions are the right qualifications for the
sinner's receiving Christ; "for he came not to call the righteous, but
sinners to repentance;" that is, such as see themselves sinners, and
thereby in a lost condition. So Luke exemplifies it: "The Son of Man is
come to seek and to save that which was lost." "He is anointed, and
sent to bind up the brokenhearted," to comfort all that mourn.
O therefore, if you would be sound Christians, get sound convictions;
ask those that are believers indeed, and they will tell you, had it not
been for their convictions, they had never sought after Christ for
sanctification and salvation; they will tell you they had perished, if
they had not perished; they had been in eternal bondage, but for their
spiritual bondage; had they not been lost as to Christ.
Direction 3. Never rest in convictions till they end in conversion.
This is that wherein most men miscarry: they rest in their convictions,
and take them for conversion, as if sin seen were therefore forgiven,
as if a sight of the want of grace were the truth of the work of grace.
That is a notable place in Hosea xiii. 13, "Ephraim is an unwise son,
for he should not stay long in the place of the breaking forth of
children." The place of the breaking forth of children is the womb; as
the child comes out of the womb, so is conversion born out of the womb
of conviction. Now when the child sticks between the womb and the
world, it is dangerous, it hazards the life both of mother and child;
so when a sinner rests in conviction, and goes no farther, but sticks
"in the place of the breaking forth of children;" this is very
dangerous, and hazards the life of the soul.
You that are at any time under convictions, O take heed of resting in
them, do not stay long in the place of the breaking forth of children:
though it is true, that conviction is the first step to conversion, yet
it is not conversion; a man may carry his convictions along with him
What is that which troubleth poor creatures, when they come to die, but
this − I have not improved my convictions; at such a time I was
convinced of sin, but yet I went on in sin in the face of my
convictions; in such a sermon I was convinced of such a duty, but I
slighted the conviction; I was convinced of my want of Christ, and of
the readiness of Christ to pardon and save: but, alas! I followed not
My brethren, remember this; slighted convictions are the worst death
bed companions. There are two things especially, which above all
others, make a death bed very uncomfortable:
1. "Purposes and promises not performed.
When a man takes up purposes to close with Christ, and yet puts them
not into execution: and when he is convinced of sin and duty, and yet
improves not his convictions: O this will sting and wound at last.
2. Convictions slighted and not improved?"
Now therefore, hath the spirit of the Lord been at work in your souls?
Have you ever been convinced of the evil of sin, of the misery of a
natural state, of the insufficiency of all things under heaven to help,
of the fullness and righteousness of Jesus Christ, of the necessity of
resting upon him for pardon and peace, for sanctification and
salvation? Have you ever been really convinced of these things? O then,
as you love your own souls, as ever you hope to be saved at last, and
enjoy God for ever, improve these convictions, and be sure you rest not
in them till they rise up to a thorough close with the Lord Jesus
Christ, and so end in a sound and perfect conversion. Thus shall you be
not only almost, but altogether a Christian.
Matthew Mead (1629−1699)
As a Congregationalist minister in 17th century England, Mead could not teach or preach
without censure or persecution. Eventually, the harsh religious climate of his homeland drove
Mead to Holland, although he returned to England to minister to a congregation in Stepney in secret.
The Almost Christian Discovered, a theological essay, tackles one of the most interesting and
controversial problems in Christian teaching: the "almost" Christian, a person who is on the brink
of receiving God’s grace, but falls short. Two issues present themselves: "The one is," Mead writes,
"how often a believer may miscarry, how low he may fall, and yet have true grace. The other is,
how far a hypocrite may go in the way to heaven, how high, he may attain, and yet have no grace."
Mead seeks to answer these questions with this essay, continuing an ancient debate that has lasted
into the present day.
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