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Hindrances, Directions, & Conclusions to Offering Violence
Take heed of those things which will hinder this violence for Heaven.
Take heed of unbelief. Unbelief is a great remora, for it is discouraging. When a Christian is working for Heaven, unbelief whispers thus, 'To what purpose are all these pains? I might just as well sit still. I may pray, and not be heard; I may work, and have no reward; I may come near heaven, yet miss it' Jer viii.12. 'And they said, there is no hope.' Unbelief destroys hope; and if you cut this sinew of religion, all violence for Heaven ceases. Unbelief raiseth a cloud of despondency in the heart. Alas, you will never be able to go through the work of religion. There are so many precepts to obey; so many temptations to resist; so many afflictions to bear, that you will succumbere oneri, fall under the burden; you will tire in your march to Heaven.
Unbelief raiseth jealous thoughts of God, it represents him as an austere master, and that if we fail in so little a punctilio, he will take the extremity of the law upon us. This discourageth the soul in the use of means. Unbelief doth as Sanballat and Tobiah and to the Jews, Nehem. vi. 9. 'They all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work.' O take heed of unbelief; it destroys this holy violence. We read of Jeroboam's arm being withered, 1 Kings xiii. 4. Unbelief withers the arm of the soul, that it cannot stretch itself forth to any spiritual action. Unbelief doth the Devil the greatest kindness; it makes way for his temptations to enter, which do so enchant and bewitch us that we cannot work. Beware of this sin: believe the promises: God 'is good to the soul that seeketh him,' Lam. iii. 25. Do but seek him with importunity, and he will open both his heart and Heaven to thee.
Take heed of puzzling your thoughts about election. A christian may think thus, what, should I take pains? Perhaps I am not elected, and then all my violence is to no purpose. Thus many are taken off from the use of means and the business of religion comes to a stand. Whereas the truth is that no man can justly say he is not elected. It is true, some of God's children have said so in temptation; but, as Peter did not know what he was saying in a transfiguration said he knew not what; so these in temptation. But no man can say on just grounds, that he is not elected, unless he can prove that he hath sinned the sin against the Holy Ghost. For anyone to assert non-election is a sin; for that which keeps him in sin must needs be sinful; but this opinion keeps him in sin; it discourages him from the use of means and cuts the sinews of all endeavors; do not therefore perplex your thoughts about election; this book is sealed, and no angel can unclasp it. The rule Christians are to go by is, God's revealed will, not his secret. God's revealed will is, that we should pray and repent; by this we make our calling sure; and by making our calling sure, we make our election sure. If I see the beds of spices grow and flourish, I know the sun hath been there. And if I find the fruits of obedience in my heart, I may conclude God's electing love has shined upon me, 2 Thes. ii. 13. 'God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification.'
Take heed of too much violence after the world. The world cools good affections. -- The earth puts out the fire. The world's silver trumpet sounds a retreat and calls men away from their pursuit after Heaven. -- The world hindered the young man from following Christ, 'he went away sorrowful'; whereupon, saith our Savior, 'How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God?' Luke xviii. 24. -- Demas's religion lay buried in the earth, 2 Tim iv. 10. 'Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.' It was a saying of Pius Quintus, 'When I first entered into orders, I had some good hope of my salvation; when I became a cardinal, I doubted it; but since I came to be pope, I do even despair of it.' Jonathan pursued the victory till he came to the honeycomb, and then he stood still, 1 Sam. xiv. 27.
Many are violent for the kingdom of God, till gain or preferment offers itself; when they meet with this honey, then they stand still. The world blinds men's eyes that they do not see the way; and fetters their feet that they do not run in the way of God's commandments. Mithridates, king of Pontus, being worsted by the Romans, and fearing he should not escape them, caused a great deal of silver and gold to be scattered in the ways, which while the Roman soldiers were busy gathering, he got away from them. The like stratagem Satan useth; knowing what tempting things riches are, he throws them in men's way, that while they are eagerly gathering these, he may hinder them in their pursuit of happiness. -- I have observed some who did once, Jehu like, drive on furiously in the cause of religion; when the world hath come in upon them their chariot-wheels have been pulled off, and they have 'driven on heavily,' Were a man to climb up a steep rock and had weights tied to his legs, they would hinder his ascent. Men's golden weights hinder them in climbing up this steep rock which leads to salvation.
The world's music charms men asleep, and when they are asleep, they are not fit to work. A thing cannot be carried violently to two extremes at once. The ship cannot go full sail to the east and west at the same time: so a man cannot be violent for Heaven and earth at once: he may have Christ and the world, but cannot love Christ and the world, 1 John ii. 15. He that is all on fire for the world, will be all ice for Heaven. Take heed of engaging your affections too far in these secular things. Use the world as your servant, but do not follow it as your master.
Gen. iii. 10. When Adam had lost his innocence, he lost his violence. Therefore lay the axe to the root; let sin be hewn down; not only abstain from sin in the act, but let the love of sin be mortified, and let every sin be put to the sword. Many will leave all their sins but one: save one sin and lose one soul. One sin is a fetter; a man may lose the race as well by having one fetter on his leg as if he had more. I have read of a great monarch, that, fleeing from his enemy, threw away the crown of gold on his head that he might run the faster. So, that sin which you wore as a crown of gold, throw it away that you may run the faster to the heavenly kingdom.
If you would be violent for Heaven, take heed of despondency of spirit. Be serious, but cheerful. He whose spirit is pressed down with sadness, is unfit to go about his work. An uncheerful heart is unfit to pray, or praise God. When the strings of a lute are wet, it will not put forth any sweet harmony. Such as go drooping under fears and discouragements cannot be violent in religion. When a soldier faints in the field, he soon lets his sword fall. David chides himself out of his melancholy, Psa. xliii. 5. 'Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou disquieted within me? Hope in God' A sad heart makes a dull action. We use the drum and trumpet in battle, that the noise of the trumpet may excite and quicken the soldiers' spirits, and make them fight more vigorously. Cheerfulness is like music in battle; it excites a christian's spirits and makes him vigorous and lively in duty. What is done with cheerfulness is done with delight, and the soul flies most swiftly to Heaven upon the wings of delight.
If you would be violent for Heaven, take heed of a supine, lazy temper. A slothful christian is like a fearful soldier, who has a good desire for the plunder, but is loathe to storm the castle. so he who would fain have Heaven but is loathe to take it by storm. --enerves animos odisse virtus solet. Sloth is the soul's sleep. Many instead of working out salvation, sleep away salvation. -- Such as will not labor must be put at last to beg; they must beg, as Dives, for one drop of water. An idle man (saith Solomon) 'puts his hand in his bosom,' Prov. xix. 24. He should have his hand to the plough, and he puts it in bosom. God never made Heaven an hive for drones. Sloth is a disease apt to grow upon men; shake it off. -- A ship that is a slug, is a prey to the pirate. A sluggish soul is a prey to Satan. When the crocodile sleeps with his mouth open, the Indian rat gets into his belly and eats his entrails. While men are asleep in sloth, the Devil enters and devours them.
Take heed of consulting with flesh and blood. As good consult with the Devil as the flesh. The flesh is a bosom traitor. An enemy within the walls is worst. The flesh cries out, there is a 'lion in the way.' The flesh will bid thee, 'spare thyself,' as Peter did Christ: O be not so violent for Heaven, 'spare thyself.' The flesh saith as Judas, 'What needs all this waste?' So, why all this praying and wrestling? Why dost thou waste your strength? What needs all this waste? The flesh cries out for ease; it is loathe to put its neck under Christ's yoke. The flesh is for pleasure; it would rather be gaming, than running the heavenly race. There is a description of fleshly pleasures, Amos vi. 4,5,6. 'That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, that chaunt to the sound of the viol; that drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments.' These are the delights of the flesh.
Such an one was he, spoken of in Beard's theatre, that did strive to please all of his five senses at once. He did bespeak a room richly hung with beautiful pictures; he had the most delicious music; he had all the choice aromatics and perfumes; he had all the candies and curious preserves of the confectioner; he was lodged in bed with a beautiful courtezan: thus he did indulge the flesh, and swore that he would spend all his estate to live one week like a god, tho' he were sure to be damned in hell the next day. O take heed of holding intelligence with the flesh! The flesh is a bad counsellor. St. Paul would 'not confer with flesh and blood,' Gal. i. 16. The flesh is a sworn enemy to this holy violence, Rom viii. 13. 'If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.' You have taken an oath in baptism to renounce the flesh.
Take heed of listening to the voice of such carnal friends as would call you away from this blessed violence. Fire when in snow, will soon lose its heat and by degrees go out. Among bad company you will soon lose your heat for religion. The company of the wicked will sooner cool you, than your company will heat them. Vinegar will sooner sour the wine than the wine will sweeten the vinegar. How often do carnal friends the same to our souls as infected persons do to our bodies by conveying the plague. The wicked are still dissuading us from this violence; they will say it is preciseness and singularity. As Christ's friends laid hold on him when he was going to preach, Mark iii. 21. 'They went out to lay hold on him: for they said, he is beside himself.'
Such as are unacquainted with the spirituality and sweetness of religion, judge all zeal to be frenzy; and therefore will lay hold upon us to hinder us in this sacred violence. When we are earnest suitors to piety, our carnal friends will raise some ill report of it, and so endeavor to break the match. Galeacius, marquis of Vico, being resolved for Heaven, what a block in his way did he find his carnal relations! And what ado he had to endure to break through that impediment! Take heed of a snare in your bosom. This is one of the Devil's great subtleties, to hinder us from religion by our nearest relations, and to shoot us with our own rib. He tempted Adam by his wife, Gen. iii. 6. Who would have suspected the Devil there? He handed over a temptation to Job by his wife, Job ii. 9. 'Dost thou still retain thine integrity?' What, notwithstanding all these disasters that have befallen thee, dost thou still pray and serve God? Throw off his livery; curse God and die. Thus would the Devil have cooled Job's violence for Heaven; but the shield of his faith quenched this fiery dart. Spira's friends stood in his way to Heaven, for advising with them about Luther's doctrine, they persuaded him to recant, and so openly abjuring his former faith, he felt a hell in his conscience. Take heed of such tempters; resolve to hold on your violence for Heaven, though your carnal friends dissuade you. 'Tis better to go to Heaven with their hatred, than to Hell with their love. It was a saying of St. Hierom, if my parents should persuade me to deny Christ; if my wife should go to charm me with her embraces, I would forsake all and fly to Christ. If our dearest friends alive would lie in our way to Heaven, we must either leap over them, or tread upon them.
Take heed of setting up your abode in the lowest pitch of grace. He that hath the least grace, may have motion but not violence. It is a pitiful thing to be contented with just so much grace as will keep life and soul together. A sick man may have life, but is not lively. Grace may live in the heart, but is sickly, and doth not flourish into lively acts. Weak grace will not withstand strong temptations, or carry us through great sufferings; it will hardly follow Christ upon the water. Little grace will not do God much service. A tree that has but little sap, will not have much fruit. It may be said of some christians, though they are not still-born, yet they are starvelings in grace: they are like a ship that comes with much ado to the haven. Oh, labour to grow to further degrees of sanctity. The more grace, the more strength; and the more strength, the more violence.
new birth?' John iii. 7. a 'creation' Psa. li. 10. and is that easy? O take heed of fancying that work easy which is both above nature and against it. It is as great a wonder for a soul to be saved as to see a mill-stone lifted up into the middle region.
Use those means which will promote this holy violence.
Keep up daily prayer. Prayer is the bellows that blows up the affections; and a christian is most active, when his affections are most violent. Prayer keeps the trade of religion going. Prayer is to the soul, as the animal spirits are to the body; the animal spirits make the body more agile and lively; so doth prayer for the soul. That the motion of a watch may be quicker, the spring must be wound up. Christian, wind up thy heart every day by prayer. Prayer fetcheth in strength from Christ; and when his strength comes in, it sets the soul to work. Prayer leaves the heart in a good frame: as the morning sun leaves a warmth in the room for the rest of the day. When christians lay aside prayer or leave off fervency in it, then by degrees they lose their holy violence.
If you would be violent for Heaven, get under lively preaching. The word is 'quick and powerful,' Heb. iv. 12. It puts life into a dead heart. It is both a sword to cut down sin, and a spur to quicken grace. The word is a fire to thaw a frozen heart, Jer xxiii. 29. 'Is not my word fire?' As good almost be without preaching, as to be under such preaching as will not warm us. It is a part of the word not only to inform but to inflame. Psalm cxix. 50. 'Thy word hath quickened me.' Tis the lively dispensation of the oracles of Heaven that must animate us, and make us lively in our operation.
If you would be violent for Heaven, get your hearts filled with love to religion. -- This is like the rod of myrtle in the traveller's hand, (Pliny speaks of) which makes him fresh and lively in his travel, and keeps him from becoming weary. When a man has warmed himself by the fire, he is fittest for work. If you would be violent in working out salvation, warm yourselves by this fire of love. A man will be violent for nothing but what he loves. Why are men so eager in their pursuit after gold, but because they love it? Love causeth delight, and delight causes violence. What made St. Paul labour more than all the other apostles? 'The love of Christ constrained him,' 2 Cor. v.14. Love is like oil to the wheels. Get love for religion and you will never be weary; you will count those the best hours which are spent with God. He that digs in a silver vein sweats, yet love for the silver makes his labor delightful.
If you would be violent, be vigilant. The prophet stood upon his 'watch tower,' Hab. ii.1. Why are christians so listless in their work, but because they are so careless in their watch. Did they but watch to see how their enemy watcheth, they would be violent to resist him: Did they but watch to see how their time runs, or rather flies, they would be violent to redeem it: Did they but watch to see how their hearts loiter in religion, they would spur on faster to Heaven. The reason there is so little violence in religion, is because there is so little vigilance. When christians neglect their spiritual watch, and grow secure, then their motion to Heaven is retarded and Satan's motions to sin are renewed. Our sleeping time is Satan's tempting time.
If you would be violent for the kingdom, bind your heart to God by sacred vows. A servant will be more diligent after he is bound to his master. Vow to the Lord that by his grace you will act more vigorously in the sphere of religion, Psa. lvi. 12. 'Thy vows are upon me, O God.' A vow binds the votary to duty. He then looks upon himself as under a special obligation, and that quickens endeavor. No question but a christian may make such a vow, because the ground of it is morally good: he vows nothing but what he is bound to do, namely, to walk more closely with God. -- Only remember, that we do not vow in our own strength, but Christ's. We must confide in him as well for strength as for righteousness. Isaiah xlv. 24. 'In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.'
If you would be violent for Heaven, be sure you make going to Heaven your business. What a man looks on as an indifference or a thing by the bye, he will never be violent for; but that which he makes his business, he will be industrious about. A man looks upon his trade as the only thing to get a livelihood by, and he follows it close: so if we would but look upon religion as the main business wherein our salvation is concerned, we should be violent in it. Luke x. 42. 'But one thing is needful.' This is the one thing, to get Christ and Heaven: this is the end we came into the world for. If we could thus look upon the things of eternity as our business, the one thing, how earnest should we be in the pursuit of them.
If you would be violent, have Heaven continually in your eye. This made Christ violent to death; he had an eye to the joy set before him, Heb. xii. 2. Set the crown ever before you, and that will provoke endeavor.
Immensum gloria calear habet.
The mariner hath his hand to the stern, and his eye to the star. While we are working, let us have an eye to that place where Christ is, the bright morning Star. How willingly doth a man wades through deep water, when he sees dry land before him, and is sure to be crowned as soon as he comes to shore? Every time you cast your eyes up to Heaven, think, above that starry heaven, is the empyraean Heaven I am striving for. Thus did Moses; the eye of his faith quickened the feet of his obedience, Heb. xi. 26. 'He looked to the recompence of the reward.' When christians lose their prospect of Heaven, then they begin to slacken their pace in the way there.
Thess. v. 11. 'Edify one another, even as also ye do' O let not this article of our creed be forgotten, 'The communion of saints.'
If you would be violent, never leave till you have the Spirit. Desire of God to put forth the sweet violence of his Spirit; the spouse begged a gale of the Spirit, Cant. iv. 16. 'Awake, O north wind, blow, O south.' When God's Spirit blows upon us, then we go full sail to Heaven. When the Spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels, then they moved, Ezek. i. 21. The wheels of our endeavor move apace, when the Spirit of God is in these wheels. Seeing there are so many violent winds of temptation blowing us backward, we must have the violent wind of God's Spirit blowing us forward to Heaven. Let this suffice for speaking of the means for this holy violence.
But some may say, we have used this violence for Heaven; what remains for us to do? As the people said to Christ, Luke i. 13. 'What shall we do?'
You who have been violent for Heaven (aged christians) let me beseech you to still keep alive this holy violence. Not only keep up duty, but violence in duty. Remember, you have that corruption within you which is ready to abate this blessed violence. The brightest coal has those ashes growing on it, as is apt to choke the fire. You have those inbred corruptions, that like ashes, are ready to choke the fire of your zeal. How was Peter's grace cooled when he denied Christ! The church of Ephesus lost her keen edge of religion, Rev. ii. 4. Take heed of declining in your affections. Be not like a body in an atrophy: be most violent at last. A stone, the nearer it is to the centre, the more violent it is in its motion. You have but a little time now to work for God, therefore, work the harder. Be like the church of Thyatira; her 'last works were more than her first,' Rev. ii. 19. Be as the sun that shines brightest before its setting: as the swan that sings sweetest before its death. Rom xiii. 11. 'Your salvation is nearer than when you believed.' If your salvation be nearer, your violence should be greater. How should you quicken your pace, when you are within sight of the kingdom! He is a happy man of whom it may be said, spiritually, as of Moses literally before his death, Deut. xxxiv. 7. 'His eyes waxed not dim and his natural force was not abated.' So a christian's force and violence for Heaven is not abated: he keeps the best wine of his life till last.
Here is strong consolation to the violent Christian: thou art in the way to the kingdom. Though perhaps thou hast not a bunch of grapes in the way, (I mean that joy which some meet with) yet it is happy that thou art in the way. Bless God that while some lie in the total neglect of duty, God hath given thee a heart to seek him, Psalm cv. 3. 'Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord.' Nay, God hath not only given thee a heart to do duty, but to do duty mixed with love, which makes it savory meat, and to do duty stamped with fervency which makes it pass current with God. O bless God who hath raised thee off the bed of sloth and stirred up the zeal of your soul for Heaven. He who hath made thee violent will make thee victorious. --Wait a while, and thou shalt be possessed of a kingdom. When Moses went up to receive God's commands, he staid six days on the Mount, and on the seventh day God called him Exod. xxiv. 16. Though we wait long, and have not the thing waited for, yet let us continue doing our duty; shortly, God will call us from Heaven, come up hither, and we shall go from the mount of faith to the mount of vision, and behold those glorious things which 'eye hath not seen, nor can it enter into man's heart to conceive.'
But may a child of God may say, I fear I am not one of those violent ones that shall take Heaven. I find such a deadness of heart in duty, that I question whether I shall ever arrive at the kingdom.
This deadness of heart may arise from natural causes. Weakness of body may occasion indisposition of mind. Thy prayer may be weak, because thy body is weak.-- A lute that is cracked cannot send forth so sweet a sound as if it were whole.
This indisposition of soul perhaps is only casual, and for a time; it may be in a deep fit of melancholy, or in desertion. -- When the sun is gone from our climate, the earth is as it were in desertion, and the trees are without blossom or fruit; but this is only for a time: let but the sun return again in Spring, and then the herbs flourish and the trees put forth their fruit: So when God hides his face, there is a deadness upon a christian's heart; he prays as if he prayed not: but let the Sun of Righteousness return, then he is divinely animated, and is as vigorous and lively in his operation as ever; he then recovers his first love. Therefore, weak christian, be not discouraged, so long as thou dost not allow yourself in thy distemper; a dead heart is thy burden, look up to Christ your High-Priest, who is merciful to bear with thy infirmities and is mighty to help them.
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