« AnteriorContinuar »
you may clearly see by comparing this text with that in Gal. i. 15, 16.; But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.
The first observation that I shall speak to from these words thus opened, is this, that the gifts and graces which God bestows upon his people, should be improved, employed, and exercised by his people.
The Greek word which is here rendered grace, we shewed you had a threefold signification in the scripture. Sometimes it denotes the favour of God, sometimes the common gifts of the Spirit, and sometimes the saving graces of the Spirit. 'Now,' says Paul, ' that singular favour which God hath conferred upon me, and all those common gifts and special graces with which he has enriched me, are all to be employed and exercised. Unto me is this grace given, that I should preach, among the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ. So that there is nothing more clear than this, that the gifts and graces that God bestows upon his people, should be employed, improved, and exercised by his people.
To me is this grace given 'Not that I should be idle, but active; not that I should be negligent, but diligent; not that I should hide my talents, but improve them.'
I shall touch upon a few scriptures that speak out this truth, and then open it to you. Wherefore I put thee in remembrance, that thou stir up the gift of God that is in thee, 2 Tim. i. 6. As the fire is increased and preserved by blowing, so are our graces. Some think that it is a metaphor taken from a spark kept in ashes, which by gentle blowing is stirred up, till it take a flame. Others say, it is an allusion to the fire in the temple, which was always to be kept burning. We get nothing by dead and useless habits. Talents hid in a napkin, gather rust. The noblest faculties are embased, when not improved, when not exercised.
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, Phil. ii. 12. The Greek is, Work till you get through the work. The reason why many men's hearts tremble and are so full of fears and doubts, is, because their salvation is not wrought out; they do not make thorough work in their souls; they put not that question home, whether they have grace or not, an interest in Christ or not. They do not rise with all their strength against sin, nor with all their power to serve the Lord, and therefore fears and doubts compass them round about.
Be stedfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain it's the Lord, 1 Cor. xv. 58. Be stedfast. It is a metaphor taken from a foundation, on which a thing stands firmly; or a seat.or chair, wherein one sits fast. Unmoveable signifies one that will not easily move his place or opinion. Abounding, or excelling in the work of the Lord. Knowing that your labour is not in vain. The Greek is, Labour unto weariness. The apostle would have them labour unto weariness; " For," says he, " it is not in vain; it will turn to a good account; it will yield you much of heaven here, and make you high in heaven hereafter."
There are only two things that I shall endeavour to do for the opening of the point.
I. To shew you why persons must improve, employ, and exercise the graces and gifts that God hath bestowed upon them. And then,
II. The end to which they are to exercise those graces and gifts.
I. There are twelve reasons why gracious souls should exercise and improve their gifts and graces. Friends, this point is a point of as singular use and of as great concernment to you, as any that I know the scripture speaks of, and therefore I desire you to lend your most serious and solemn attention. . .
1. They must exercise and improve their graces, because the exercise and improvement of their graces is the ready way to be rich in grace.
As sin is increased in the soul by the frequent actings of it, so grace is nourished and strengthened in the soul by its frequent actings. The exercise of grace is always attended with the increase of grace. The diligent hand naketh rich; or, the nimble hand, the hand that is active and agile, that will see nothing lost for looking after, that hand maketh rich. In Ruth ii. how did Boaz follow
No. XL. p
the business himself 1 His eyes were in every corner, on the servants, and on the reapers, yea, on the gleaners too.
It is recorded of Severus, that his care was not to look what men said of him, or how they censured him, but to look what was to be done by him. He willrise in judgment against those professors who care more what this man and the other man say of them, than what is to be done by them. The heart of a Christian is to be taken up with what is to be done by him, and not with what this man thinks, or the other judges of him.
Pacunius has an elegant saying, ' I hate,' says he, 'the men that are idle in deed, and philosophical in word.' 'God loves,' says Luther, ' the runner, not the questioner.' Grace grows by exercise, and decays by disuse. Though both arms grow, yet that which a man most uses is the stronger; so it is both in gifts and graces. In birds, the wings which have been used most, are sweetest; the application is easy.
Such men as are contented with so much grace as will bring them to glory, with so much grace as will keep hell and their souls asunder, will never be rich in grace, .nor high in comfort or assurance, such souls usually go to heaven in a storm. O how weather-beaten are they before they can reach the heavenly harbour!
2. They must exercise their gifts and graces, because it is the main end of God's giving gifts and graces to them.
Grace is given to trade with; it is given to lay out, not to lay up. Grace is a candle that must not be put under a bushel, but set upon a candlestick. Grace is a golden treasure that must be improved, not hoarded up, as men do their gold. Grace is a talent, and it is given for this very end, that it should be employed and improved for the honour and advantage of him who gave it. The slothJul servant, in God's account, is an evil servant, and accordingly God has noted him, and doomed him for his evil husbandry to destruction, Matt. xxv. 24—31.
'What a shame is it,' says Hierome, ' that faith should not be able to do that which infidelity has done V What, not better fruit in the vineyard, in the garden of God, than in the wilderness? What, not better fruit grow.upon the tree of life, than upon the root of nature?
3. We must exercise our graces, because grace exercised and improved will do that for us, which all the means in the world can never do.
I shall evidence this truth in some remarkable instances.
Suppose the guilt of sin be upon a man's soul, even as a heavy mountain; there is nothing but the exercise of grace that can remove this guilt. The man prays, and yet guilt sticks upon him; he hears, and yet guilt, as a mountain, lies heavy upon him; he mourns, he sighs, he groans, and yet guilt sticks upon him; he turns from ordinance to ordinance, and from ordinary services to extraordinary, and yet guilt follows him; he runs from man to man, ' Was ever any man's case like mine? I have prayed thus long, I have heard thus long, I have mourned thus long, and yet guilt lies as a mountain upon my soul.' Now there is nothing below the exercise of grace, that will remove this. It is only faith in the promises of remission, that will remove the guilt of sin, that lies so heavy upon the soul. It is only faith's application of the righteousness of Christ, that can take off this burden which sinks the soul even as low as hell. Faith must make a plaister of the blood of Christ, and apply it to the soul, or the soul will die under its guilt. There is nothing below this can do it. Faith's application of the blood of Christ, takes off the guilt, and turns the storm to a calm. Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, Rom. v. 1.
Suppose that the power and prevalency of sin hinder the soul's sweet communion with God, so that the soul cannot sport itself, and joy and delight itself in God, as in the days of old; it cannot see God smiling, and speaking kindly as in former days. Now there is nothing in all the world that can ease the soul of this burthen of sin, below the exercise of grace. 'O,' says such a poor soul, 'I pray, and yet I sin; I resolve against sin, and yet I sin; 1 combat against sin, and yet I am carried captive by sin; I have left no outward means unattempted, and yet, after all, my sins are too hard for me; after all my sweating, striving, and weeping, I am carried down the stream/ Now there is nothing but the actings of faith upon a crucified Christ, that will take off this burden from the soul of man. Now you must make use of your graces, to draw virtue from Christ; now faith must touch the hem of Christ's garment, or you will never be healed. It is with a soul in this case just as it was with the poor widow in Luke viii. 43—48, that had the bloody issue; she leaves no means unattempted, whereby she might be cured; she had run from one physician to another, till she had spent all that she was worth, till she had brought a noble to a nine-pence; and now says she, If I touch but the hem of his garment, I shall be whole. Hereupon she presses through the crowd to come to Christ, and having got behind him, she touches the hem of his garment, and immediately she was made whole. The cure being thus wrought, Christ uncrowns himself to crown her faith. And he said unto her, daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace He does not say, 'Woman, thy trembling hath made thee whole,' or 'woman, thy sweating and struggling • in a crowd to come to me, hath made thee whole;' or 'woman, thy falling down and abasing thyself,' though she did all this, but, Woman, thy faith hath made thee whole. Ah Christians, it is not your trembling, or your falling down, or your sweating in this and that service, that will stop the bloody issue of your sins, but believing in Christ. It is sad to consider how few professors in these days have attained the right way of mortifying sin. They usually go out against their sins in the strength of their own purposes, prayers and resolutions; and scarcely look so high as a crucified Christ. They mind not the exercise of. their faith upon Christ, and therefore it is a righteous thing with Christ, that after all they should be carried away captive by their sins. Nothing eats out sin, like the actings of grace; nothing weakens and wastes the strength of sin, like the exercise of grace. O did men believe more in Christ, sin would die more. Did they believe the threatenings more, sin would die more. Did they believe the promises more, sin would die more. Did they believe in reigning with Christ more, sin would die more. He that hath this hope, purifieth himself, even as Christ is pure, 1 John iii. 3. Suppose that the soul be followed with black, dismal,