The Almost Christian Discovered;
Or, The False Professor Tried
By Matthew Mead, 1661
QUESTION I. 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.
Section 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 lack 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 heat 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 eternal life–to know you, the only true God—and Jesus Christ whom you have sent?”
Answer. It is not every knowledge of God and Christ, which interests the soul in eternal life. 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 diaboli, from their malice, devils still. Knowledge may fill the head—but it will never better the heart, if there is not somewhat else. The Pharisees had much knowledge, “Behold, you are called a Jew—and rest in the law—and make your boast of God—and know his will,” etc.—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 eternal life to know God and Jesus Christ; yet it is as true, that many do know God and Jesus Christ, who shall never see eternal life.
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.
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 the grape of a thorn. The common knowledge of Christ is the pearl in the toad’s head—the grape which grows upon thorns; it may be found in unsanctified men. 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 which 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 is 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 those who 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 only to know. Some know—but only to be known. Some know—to practice what they know. Now, to know—but to know—that is merely curiosity. To know, to be known—that is merely vain-glory. But to know, to practice 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.
Section II. A man may have great and eminent GIFTS, yes, 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 those who came to Christ—and said, “Lord, Lord, we have prophesied in your name—and in your name have cast out devils,” etc. You must know that it is not gifts—but grace, which makes a Christian! For,
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. They are called common, because they are indifferently dispensed by the Spirit to those who are believers—and to those who are not. Those who have grace have gifts; and those who have no grace, may have the same gifts; for the Spirit works in both. Nay, in this sense he who has no grace, may be under a greater work of the Spirit as to gifts, than he who has 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 true believers, in sincerity an integrity, out-go the mere professor.
2. Gifts are for the use and good of others, they are given for the profiting and edifying of others. So says the apostle, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church.” 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 deformed tailor may make a suit to fit a straight body, though it does not fit him who made it, because of his deformity. The church (Christ’s garden enclosed) 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 does not depend upon the authority of him who speaks it—but upon the authority of God who 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 has no benefit by Christ, “There shall come a star out of Jacob—and a scepter 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 near.” 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. Johannes Speiserus, a famous preacher of Augsburg in Germany, in the year 1523, preached the gospel so powerfully that many common harlots were converted—and became godly 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 alone which 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.
4. Many have gone to hell, laden with gifts. 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?” “The preaching of the cross is to those who perish foolishness.” Those who perish, who are they? Who! the wise and the learned, both among Jews and Greeks; these are called “those who perish.” A great bishop said, when he saw a poor shepherd weeping over his sin, “The poor illiterate world attain to heaven, while we with all our learning fall into hell.”
There are three things which must be done for us, if ever we would avoid eternally perishing.
We must be thoroughly convinced of sin.
We must be really united to Christ.
We must be instated in the covenant of grace.
Now, the greatest gifts cannot stead us in any of these. They cannot work thorough convictions. They cannot effect our union. They cannot bring us into covenant-relation. 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.
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 preserver, as being the new creature; he who did create it in us—will preserve it in us; he who did begin it—will also finish it. Gifts have their root in nature—but grace has 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 who has the least grace is a Christian, he who has the greatest gifts may be but almost a Christian.
Objection. But does 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 something 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 grain of grace—is more worth than a ton of gifts! Gifts may make us rich towards men—but it is grace which 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. No matter how many are bettered by our gifts—yet we shall miscarry without grace.
Section III. A man may have a high PROFESSION of religion, be much in EXTERNAL DUTIES of religion—and yet be but almost a Christian. Mark what our Lord tells them, “Not everyone who says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” That is, not everyone who makes a profession of Christ, shall therefore be owned for a true disciple of Christ. “Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel;” nor are all Christians, who make a profession of religion. What a good profession Judas had! He followed Christ, left all for Christ, he preached the gospel of Christ, he cast out devils in the name of Christ, he ate 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 reality 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 to profess. He who pretends to godliness by a specious profession—and yet does not practice godliness by a holy life, “he has a form—but denies the power.” Grotius compares such to the ostrich, which has great wings—but yet does not fly. Many have the wings of a fair profession—but yet use them not to mount upward in spiritual affections—and a heavenly life.
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 an unconverted sinner still; he may come often to the Lord’s table—and yet go away as foul a sinner as he came! We must not think that duties can confer grace. Many a soul has been converted by Christ in an ordinance—but never was any soul converted by an ordinance without Christ. And does Christ convert all who 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. “Listen to this, O house of Jacob, you who are called by the name of Israel and come from the line of Judah, you who take oaths in 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 people? “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 who 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 he is. But he who is one thing really, and another thing seemingly—he who is carnal and unholy, and yet seems to be good and holy—he is a hypocrite.
Thus they 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; one which signifies faces; and another which signifies counterfeits. So that he is a hypocrite who counterfeits piety, and wears 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 has 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 does but pretend to it. He is like many men in a consumption, who have fresh looks—and yet rotten lungs; or like an apple that has 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 who wear this or that garb, not because it keeps them warmer, or has any excellency in it more than another—but merely for fashion. Many must have powdered hair, painted faces, feathers in their caps, etc. 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 who they see any excellencies in the ways of God above the world—but merely to follow the fashion! Because religion has been uppermost, therefore many have professed it. Religion in fashion 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 who is a professor of religion merely for custom sake, when it prospers, will never be a martyr for Christ’s sake, when religion suffers.
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 those who lived at top should die at bottom. My brethren, may I not say, we have many who are the vermin, the rats and mice of religion, who would live under the roof of it, while they might have shelter in it; but when it suffers, they forsake it, lest it should fall, and the fall should be upon them!
I am persuaded this is not the least reason why God has brought persecution; namely to rid it of the vermin. He shakes the foundations of the house, that these rats and mice may leave it—to rid them of it; as the farmer 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, which 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 those who were then the only people of God by profession—and yet these were cast out.
In Matthew’s gospel, you read of some who came and made boast of their profession to Christ, hoping that might save them. “Lord,” say they, “have we not prophesied in your name, cast out devils in your name, done many wonderful works in your name?” Now what says our Lord Christ to this? “Then I will profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me!” Mark, here are those who 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 as workers of iniquity. 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 it from sinking. 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 who 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 confesses us, God the Father will never disown us. True, those who confess Christ, shall be confessed by him; and it is as true, that this confession is equivalent to a promise of salvation. But 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 not live in 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—which cannot swim against the stream, with the living fish. Many may profess Christ, who cannot confess Christ; and so, notwithstanding their profession, yet are but almost Christians.
Section 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 of sin may be merely 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.
2. Conviction of sin may be worn out—and often does not end in sound conversion. Says 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 then sit down and rest in their convictions.
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.
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.”
Objection. But does not Christ pronounce them blessed, who mourn? “Blessed are those who mourn.” Surely then, if a man mourns for sin, he is in a good condition. “You see,” says Nazianzen, “that salvation is joined with sorrow.”
Solution. I answer, it is true, that those who mourn for sin, in the sense Christ there speaks of, are blessed; but all mourning for sin, does 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 who 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.
2. True mourning for sin, is more for the evil which is in sin, than the evil that comes as a result of sin. It is 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 who 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 for all eternity. In hell, 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 which they feel as a result of sin, and not for the evil which is in sin. 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.
Thirdly, A man may make large CONFESSION of sin, to God, to others—and yet be but almost a Christian. How innocently does Saul confess his sin to David? “I have sinned!” says he, “you are 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 by God; so that a man may confess sin—and yet be but almost a Christian.
Objection. But is not a confession of sin a character of a child of God? Does 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 supposed goodness. True confession of sin is the way to the kingdom of heaven. There are some who confess sin, and are saved; there are others who confess sin, and perish.
1. Many confess sin merely out of custom, and not out of conscience. Many who will never pray–but they will make a long confession of sin—and yet never feel the weight or burden of sin upon their consciences.
2. Many will confess lesser sins—and yet conceal greater; like the patient who complained to his physician of his sore 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. 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 that they are great sinners—and yet cannot confess their particular 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!” says he; but it was when he 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 have confessed. 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.
Torsel tells a story of a minister he knew, who 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 lusts, 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 who confesses and forsakes sin, shall have mercy;” but I confess sin, yes, not only so—but also I forsake sin; surely 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 there is a forsaking sin that is not right—but unsound.
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 infection in his heart.
2. A man may forsake sin—but not as sin; for he who 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 who 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 27:38. So the unrepentant 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 an unsaved sinner still; for there is the root of all sin in the heart, though the fruit is 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 (until 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 practice 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 heart is worse than sin in the life; for sin in the life may be only from infirmity—but sin in the heart 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 lion chained up, is a lion still—as much as if he was let loose to devour. There may be a cessation of combat between enemies—and yet the quarrel may remain still; there may be a making truce, where there is no making peace. 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 God; but there can be no peace until he is united to God. Restraining grace restricts the sinner—but it is renewing grace which changes his nature.
Many are restrained by common grace from being open sinners, who are not renewed by saving 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; 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.
Section 5. A man may HATE sin—and yet be but almost a Christian. Absalom hated Amnon’s immorality with his sister Tamar. Yes, his hatred was so great, that he slew him for it; and yet Absalom was but a wicked man.
Objection. But the Scripture makes it a sign of a gracious heart, to hate sin. Yes, though a man does, 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 instance: 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 disobeying of God’s will, which is the only rule of goodness; to hate sin, as being a wicked 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 who has grace hates sin, yet every man who hates sin has not saving grace. For a man may hate sin from other principles, not as it is a wrong done to God, or a wounding Christ, or a grieving the Spirit; for then he would hate all sin; for there is no sin but has this in the nature of it. But,
1. A man may hate sin for the shame which attends it, more than for the evil which is in it. There are some sinners, “who declare their sin as Sodom, and hide it not.” They sit down in the seat of the scornful; “they glory in their shame.” But there are other sinners 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 immorality, because it brought shame upon him and his sister.
2. A man may hate sin more in others, than in himself. So does the drunkard—he hates drunkenness in another—and yet practices it himself! The liar hates falsehood in another—but likes it himself. Now he who 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 one sin and another sin, between one lust and another 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 contrary to one another. 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 the life of sin is a distracting contradictory life, wherein a man is a servant to contrary lusts. The lust of pride and extravagance, is contrary to the lust of covetousness, etc. 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 lusts. He does not hate any sin, as it is sin; but he hates it, as being contrary to his beloved sin.
Now then, if a man may hate sin for the shame which 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 a Christian.
Section 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,” says he, “for I will no more do you harm.” What promises and resolves did Pharaoh make against that sin of detaining God’s people? Says he, “I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice to the Lord.” And again, “I will let you go, and you 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 Christian. For,
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, which 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 improper soil.
2. Troubles and afflictions may provoke us to large purposes and promises against sin for the future. What is 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 favor? 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 our promises.
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 for the future—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 disobedience, to a present duty. That is a notable passage, “Follow me,” says Christ, to the two men. Now see what answers they gave to Christ, “Allow 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 you—but let me first go and bid them farewell which are at my house.” I will follow you—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 they ever 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 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 those who who said to Moses, “Go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says. Then tell us whatever the Lord our God tells you. We will listen and obey.” This is a fair promise, and so God takes it, “I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good.” 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 he said, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them!” They promised to fear God, and keep his commandments; but they lacked 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, who said that “He would go into the vineyard—but went not.”
Now then, if purposes and promises against sin, never hurt sin; if present afflictions may draw out large promises; if they may be the resolves against sin for the future; or from nature unsanctified; surely then a man may promise and purpose much against sin—and yet be but almost a Christian.
Section 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,” says he, “those whom God has not cursed? or how shall I defy those whom the Lord has not defied?” And did not Pilate strive against his sin, when he said to the Jews, “Shall I crucify your king? what evil has 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. But there is also a striving against sin, which is not from grace, and therefore may be in those who are not true 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 believers only.
An unbeliever never finds this strife in himself. This strife cannot be in him; it is impossible while he not a state of grace. But then there is a striving against sin in divers faculties; and this is the strife that is in those who are not believers. There, the strife is between the will and the conscience; conscience enlightened and terrified with the fear of hell and damnation, then the conscience is against sin; but the will and affections, 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—it had a witness in their bosoms; and yet their wills were bent against him. 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 unconverted sinners: when the will and affections are for sin, and plead for it—and conscience is against it, and many times fights the soul away 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.
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 which 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 here are those who desire grace as well as glory—and yet these are but almost Christians.
Objection. But is it not commonly taught that desires for grace, are grace? Nay, does not our Lord Christ make it so? “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.”
Answer. It is true, that there are some desires of grace which are grace—as,
1. When a man desires grace from a right sense of his natural state; when he sees the vileness of sin, and the woeful, 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 true grace. This some make to be the lowest degree of saving faith.
2. When a man joins proportionable endeavors to his desires; does not only wish for grace—but work for grace; such desires are grace.
3. When a man’s desires are constant and incessant, which cease not but in the attainment of their object; such desires are true grace. They are a part of the special 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. But though all true desires for grace, are grace; yet all desires for grace, are not true. For,
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 does 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.
2. A man may desire grace, without proportionable endeavors after grace. Many are good at wishing—but bad at working; like him who reposed in the grass on a summer’s day, crying out, “O that this were to work!” Solomon says, “The desire of the slothful kills him.” How so? “For his hands refuse to labor!” He perishes with all his good 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 grace in a time when it may be found. “The wise heart will know the proper time and procedure.” He knows his season, and has wisdom to improve it. The silly sinner does all his works out of season; he sends away the seasons of grace—and then desires grace when the season is over! The sinner does all too late; as Esau desired the blessing when it was too late, and therefore he lost it; whereas, had he come sooner, he would have obtained it. Most men are wise too late—they come when the market is closed; 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, which quickly passes away;” or like Jonah’s gourd, which 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.
A man may tremble at the Word of God—and yet be but almost a Christian, as Belshazzar trembled at the handwriting upon the wall.
Objection. But is not that a note of sincerity and truth of grace—to tremble at the Word? Does not God say, “I will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and who trembles at My Word.”
Answer. There is a two-fold trembling.
1. One is, when the Word discovers the guilt of sin—and the wrath of God which that guilt brings; this, where conscience is awake, causes trembling and astonishment. Thus, when Paul preached of righteousness and judgment, it is said that Felix trembled.
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, “I will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and who trembles at My Word.” God does not make the promise, merely to him who 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 one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and who trembles at My Word.” Where trembling is the fruit of a spirit broken for sin, and humble 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.”
Objection. But is it not made a character of a godly man, to delight in the Word of God? Does not David say, “He is a blessed man—who delights in the law of the Lord.”
Answer. There is a delighting in the Word—which flows from grace, and is a proof of blessedness.
1. He who delights in the Word, because of its spirituality—he is a Christian indeed. The more spiritual the ordinances are, the more does a gracious heart delight in them.
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 communion with God—this is from a principle of grace in the soul.
But there may be a delight in the Word—where there is no grace.
1. There are many who delight in the Word because of the eloquence of the preacher. They delight not so much in the truths delivered, as in the dress in which they are delivered. Thus it is said of the prophet Ezekiel, “You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don’t do it!”
2. There are very many who delight to hear the Word, that yet take no delight to do it. So says God of them, “They delight to hear my words—but they do them not.”
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 Christian.
Section VIII. A man may be a MEMBER of a Christian church, 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 which 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 Egyptians in heart notwithstanding; “All are not Israel, that are of Israel.”
The church in all ages has 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 tares in the finest wheat—and it will be so until the harvest. The dragnet of the Gospel catches bad fish as well as good. God has 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 lays up in that garner; there the chaff is separated to unquenchable fire.
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 flourishes 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.
Section 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 properties.
First, It is a hope which purifies the heart, and purges out sin, “He who has 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.
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 who has 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 of heaven—who has no true 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 has 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 those who have most cause of hope. And none hope more—-than those who have most cause of fear!
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 him? 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 has no warrant to hope in God—but by virtue of the promise.
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.
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 tower who 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 will have no portion in him, nor good by him; but will perish without him, notwithstanding all their hopes. “What is the hope of the hypocrite, though he has gained, when God takes away his soul?”
Now then, if a man may have great hope of heaven, who has 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.
Section 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 the 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 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 does but leave his drunkenness, the swearer his oaths, the profane person his profaneness—they think this is a gracious change, and 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 who 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 indeed.
But 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 supernatural change. 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, that they have become new creatures. Restraining grace may cause a moral change; but it is renewing grace which 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.
3. A man may be converted from a course of profaneness—to a form of godliness; from a filthy lifestyle—to a fair profession; and yet the heart be the same in one and the other. A rotten post may be painted 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.
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. 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 eternal salvation. A man may go far in an outward change—and yet be not one step nearer heaven, than he who was never under any change. Nay, he may be, in some sense, further off; as Christ says, the Scribes and Pharisees were further from heaven, with all their show of godliness, than publicans and harlots, in all their sin and immorality. 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 proud thoughts, misjudge our condition, and so perish in our own delusions. The world is full of these foolish builders, who 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 the 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 you may be altogether Christians! All other changes below this saving change, this heart change, make us but almost Christians.
Section 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 Almighty!” and yet in all this Jehu was a base 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 base 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 qualification for obtaining eternal life; “The kingdom of heaven suffers 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 which 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 which has 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 which checks sin, and forwards the heavenly life. It is a zeal which makes the glory of God its chief end; which swallows up all by-ends, “Zeal for your house has eaten me up.”
But all zeal is not this kind of zeal. There is a false zeal, as well as a true. Every grace has 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,” says 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 a false light in a dark night, which leads a traveler 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 you are all this day; and I persecuted this way unto the death.” And again, “I truly thought with myself, I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” And, “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church.” “They shall put you out of the synagogue; yes, the time comes, that whoever kills you, will think that he does 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 stone-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, allowing 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 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 who was for the dividing the child, was not the true mother; and he who 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 life. 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 symptomatic. 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 symptomatic of some inward spiritual distemper.
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 which most require it; like the Pharisees, who were diligent tithers 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 vestments, 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, heathen will rise up in judgment.
When was it that Paul was so “exceeding zealous of the traditions of his fathers,” as he says—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, which has 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 external 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. They would paint the outside—but neglect the inside. Jehu was a mighty external 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 coat 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 zeal which runs out upon others; like the candle in the lantern, which sends all the heat out at the top; or as the lewd woman Solomon mentions, whose “feet abide not in her own house.” Many are hot and high against the sins of others—and yet cannot see the same in themselves. 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 neighbor’s garden.
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 of religion. It is a zeal against true religion, which 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 pretense 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 has 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 has no glory from that zeal that has 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 external zeal, or a zeal regarding others, 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.
Section 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 those who 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 fullness; 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 to be altogether a Christian.
But 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—so 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 preservation.
2. A man may pray in pretense, for a covering to some sin—so did those devout Pharisees, “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you 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 pretense of praying for his father’s soul.
3. A man may pray—and yet love sin; as Augustine before conversion prayed against his sin—but was afraid God would 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 your countenance upon me.” 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, etc.” This is the carnal prayer; and this David calls vanity, “They are strange children, whose mouth speaks vanity.”
5. A man may pray—and yet be far from God in prayer, “This people draw near 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 your heart.” 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 soul.” 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 goes not out of feigned lips,” says David.
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 1:5. 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 who cannot pray let him go-to sea.” “They poured out a prayer when your chastening was upon them.”
Now then, if nature may put a man upon prayer; if a man may pray in pretense, 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—surely then, a man may be much in prayer—and yet be but almost a Christian.
Objection. But suppose a man prays, and prevails 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—what then? Is not that a true note of Christianity?
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.
Section 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 who bears Christ’s cross on his shoulders, does not, therefore, bear Christ’s image in his soul.
Objection. But does not our Lord Christ make great promises to those who suffer, or lose anything for him? Does he not say, “Everyone who has forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundred fold, and shall inherit everlasting life”? Surely 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 has 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 integrity. But, every suffering for Christ is not suffering as a Christian. For,
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 ministry.
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.” Love to Christ is the only noble ground of suffering; but a man may suffer much upon other ends.
* Out of opinion of meriting by our sufferings, as the Papists; or,
* Out of vain glory, or for applause among professors; some have died, that their names might live; or,
* Out of a Roman resolution, or stoutness of spirit.
* Out of a design of profit, as Judas forsook all for Christ, hoping to mend his market by closing with him; or,
* Rather to maintain an opinion, than for truth’s propagation.
Socrates died for maintaining that there was but one God; but he died rather for his own opinion, than for God’s sake. Thus, a man may suffer for professing Christ—and yet suffer upon wrong principles. 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.
XIV. A man may be CALLED by 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 Christian.
Objection. But is not the being under the call of God, a proof of our interest in the predestinating love of God? Does not the apostle say, “Whom he predestinated, those he called?” Nay, does he not say, in the next verse, “Whom he called, those he justified?” Nay, does not God call all whom he intends to save?
Answer. Though God calls all those who shall be saved, yet all shall not be saved whom God calls. 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 who has heard and learned of the Father, comes to me.”
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. Now every man who lives under the preaching of the gospel, is thus called. God calls every person to repent, and lay a sure foundation for heaven and salvation, by the Word you hear this day. But every man who is thus called, is not therefore a Christian. For,
a. Many under the call of God, come to Christ—but are not converted to Christ—they 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.
b. 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 with him.”
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 Christian.
Section XV. A man may have the SPIRIT of God—and yet be but almost a Christian. 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 those who 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 he 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 says, “If any man has 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 of 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 every man who has the Spirit, has 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.
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 is 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 Spirit 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 to him.” This Spirit may be, and often is, without saving grace: this operation of the Spirit was in Cain and Judas. There are none who receive the Spirit of adoption—but they first receive the Spirit of bondage: yet many receive the Spirit of bondage—who never receive the Spirit of adoption.
4. A man may have the Spirit of God working in him—and yet the Spirit 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, “You stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart, you have always resisted the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” The hypocrite retains not the Spirit so long as to come up to regeneration and adoption—but quenches the motions of the Spirit, and thereby miscarries eternally.
5. A man may have the Spirit—and yet sin that unpardonable sin. He may have the Holy Spirit—and yet sin the sin against the Holy Spirit. Nay, no man can sin this sin against the Spirit—but he who has some degree of the Spirit. The true believer has so much of the Spirit, such a work of it in him, that he cannot sin that sin, “He who is born of God, sins not;” to wit, that “sin unto death,” for that is meant. The ungodly 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—who sins this sin. So has the hypocrite—he is said to be “partaker of the Holy Spirit,” and he alone is capable of sinning the sin against the Holy Spirit.
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 may be resisted by him; if a man may have the Spirit and yet sin that unpardonable sin against Him; then surely a man may have the Spirit of God—and yet be but almost a Christian.
Section 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 dared 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 a mere hypocrite.
Objection. But how can this be, that a man may have faith—and yet be but almost a Christian? Does not our Lord Christ promise eternal life and salvation to all who believe? Is not this the Gospel that is to be preached to every creature, “He who believes shall be saved”?
Answer. Though it is true what our Lord Christ says, that “he who believes shall be saved,” yet it is as true, that many believe that shall never be saved; for Simon Magus believed. Yes, James says, “The devils believe and tremble;” now none will say devils shall be saved. As it is true, what the apostle says, “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. 2. Common and not saving.
1. There is a saving faith. 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—the 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 has this faith, is a Christian indeed; this is the “faith of God’s elect.”
2. But then, 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 perishes. True and saving faith, such as is the faith of God’s elect, cannot die: it may fail in the individual acts—but not in the habit; the sap may not be in the branch—but it is always in the root. That faith which perishes, that faith a man may have and perish.
Secondly, there is a faith which 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 souls.
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, etc. But notwithstanding, they do not rest on him. 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 in their judgment—but none to take execution. By assent they lay a foundation—but never build upon it by application. They believe that Christ died to save those who 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—which makes a Christian! “With the heart, man believes to righteousness.” Without this our “faith is vain—and 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 who believes the description others make of strange countries—but never traveled them to know the truth; or as a patient who believes all the physician says—but yet never takes his remedies. 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 almost Christians.
Fifthly, There is a faith which is without brokenness of heart, which 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 broken heart.
Sixthly, There is a faith which does not transform the heart; faith without fruit, which does not bring forth the new creature in the soul—but leaves it in a state of sin and death. This is a faith which 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, who 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 work.”
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.
Section 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 wretch.
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 puts this as a characteristic distinction between saints and unconverted sinners, “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whoever does not righteousness, is not of God, neither he who loves 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 Romans 9:3, Acts 7:23, 25. Nor do we understand brethren by race, those who are descended of the same parents; such are called brethren in James 1:2. 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 appears in them, because of that grace and holiness which shines 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 has “chosen out of the world.”
It is likeness which is the great ground of love. 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 despised.” He may love him as a creature; he may love his soul, or he may love him under some relation which he stands in to him. Thus God loves the damned spirits, as they are his creatures—but as fallen creatures, he hates 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 converses. Religion beautifies the life 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 wins respect and love from all.
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, while 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, slave 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 the power of religion takes 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 obliges respect. A carnal master may prize a godly apprentice or servant, who makes conscience of pleasing his master, and is diligent in promoting his interest. I might instance in many things of the like nature, as charity, beauty, wit, learning, parts, etc., which may procure love to the people of God from the men of the world. But this love is no proof of true Christian love. For,
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 embraces a “righteous man in the name of a righteous man.”
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 who does not make conscience of every sin, makes conscience of no sin as sin; so he who does not love all in whom the image of Christ is found, loves none for that of the image of Christ which is found in them.
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 is 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.
Section XVIII. A man may OBEY the commands of God, yes, 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, says 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 says he, “The word that God puts in my mouth, that shall I speak!”
The rich young ruler also 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 all.
Objection. But is it not said, “He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me; and he who loves me shall be loved of my Father; and I will love him, and manifest myself unto him?” And does not our Lord Christ tell us expressly, “You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you?” And can a man be a friend of Christ and be but almost a Christian?
Answer. There is an obedience to the commands of Christ, which is a sure proof of our Christianity and friendship to Christ. This obedience has a threefold property. It is,
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, “You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you.” In the manner of it; and that is according as God requires, “God is a Spirit, and those who worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.” In the ground of it; and that is, “a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” In the end of it; and that is, the honor and glory of God, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Secondly, It is a universal obedience, which extends 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 your statutes always, even to the end.” He who 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 obedience. For,
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 most people. Now this obedience is no true obedience; for as he who does not love God above all, does not love God at all; so he who does 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 who offers an oblation, is as if he offered swine’s blood; and he who burns 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, while the heart remains 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 has 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 says, “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 brings forth fruit to himself.”
It is the end which justifies the action: indeed, a good end cannot make a bad action good—but yet the lack of a good end makes a good action bad.
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.
Section XIX. A man may be SANCTIFIED—and yet be but almost a Christian. Every kind of sanctification does not make a man a new creature; for many are sanctified that are never renewed. You read of those who “count the blood of the covenant, with which they were sanctified, an unholy thing.”
Objection. But does not the Scripture tell us, that “both he who sanctifies, and those 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 who sanctifies. 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 lays not the axe to the root of the tree; it sweeps and garnishes the room with common virtues—but does not adorn it with saving graces; so that a man is but almost a Christian, notwithstanding this common type of 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, “May 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, profits 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 serpents or reptiles. “He is not a Jew which is one outwardly.” Judas was a saint without—but a sinner within; openly he was a disciple—but secretly, he was a devil.
Some pretend to inward sanctity without outward. This is the pretense of the open sinner, “Though I sometimes drop an idle, foolish word,” says 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 my 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.” They are fair professors—but foul sinners. Inward sanctity without outward, is impossible; for true sanctity will reform the life. Outward sanctity without inward, is unprofitable; for true sanctity will reform reform the heart. A man is not a true Christian without both. The body does not make a man without the soul, nor the soul without the body; both are essential to the being of man. Just so—the sanctification of both the outward and the inward, 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 lack 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:
Section XX. A man may do all, as to external duties and worship, that a true Christian can; and, when he has done all, be but almost a Christian. You must know, all the commands of God have both internal and the external—both 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 worshiping of God, are—to love God, to fear God, to delight in God, to trust in God, etc.
The external acts of worshiping of God, are by praying, teaching, hearing, etc. 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 Christian, from the almost Christian; the sincere believer from the unsound professor. And, indeed, in this very thing the main difference between them does lie.
1. Internal acts of worship are good—the goodness does 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, external acts of worship are not denominated good, so much from the matter done—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, etc., for lack of a due manner.
2. Internal acts of worship put a goodness into external acts of worship. It is our faith, our love, our fear of God—which makes our duties good.
3. Internal acts of worship better the heart, and magnify 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 does least; but without this mixture, he is but almost a Christian who does most. 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 are ever so many. So that, although the almost Christian may do all those duties in hypocrisy, which a true Christian does 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 fasts and mourns, Baal’s priests will cut their flesh; yet he cannot do those internal duties, which the lowest true Christian can.
The almost Christian can pray—but he cannot love God; he can teach or hear, etc.—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 arises from a suitableness between the faculty, and the object; now, none are 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, who neither enjoys God, nor has, nor truly desires God? Delight in God is one of the highest exercises of grace: and therefore, how can he delight in God, who has 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 who is the weakest true believer, who has the least true grace, goes farther than he; for he delights 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 does, 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.
1. 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 says, “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, etc. “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 mere 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 you believe, then are you 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 a Christian church.
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 by God.
15. He may, in some sense, have the Spirit of 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.