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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 in 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 maketh 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
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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, fiery temptations; there is nothing in all the world which can divinely strengthen and fence the soul against these temptations, but the exercise of grace, the improvement of grace. It is true, you are to hear, read, pray, meditate; but all these without the exercise of grace in them, will never make you victorious over Satan's temptations. Nothing puts Satan to it, like the exercise of grace. It is said of Satan, that he should say to a holy man who was much in the exercise of grace, 'Thou dost always overcome me.' Above all, taking the shield of faith, where .with ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked, Ephes. vi. 16. Whatsoever piece of armour you neglect, be sure that you neglect not the shield of faith. The Greek word that is here rendered shield, comes from another word that signifies a door or a gate; to denote, that as a door or a gate secures our bodies, so will the shield of faith secure our souls against the fiery darts of the Devil. Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye may be able to quench the fiery darts of the Devil. The apostle alludes to the custom of the Scythians, who used to dip the heads of their arrows or darts in the gall of asps and vipers, the venomous heat of which, like a fire in their flesh, killed the wounded with torments, the likest hell of any other. But the soldiers then had generally shields of raw neat's leather, as several writers testify, and when the fiery darts lighted upon them, they were presently quenched. So these fiery darts of Satan, when they light upon the shield of faith, are presently quenched; and there is no other way to do it. Till the Lord draw out a man's faith to act upon the promises and upon Christ, these fiery darts will not be quenched.
Suppose that the world, the smiling world or the frowning world, the tempting world or the persecuting world, should lie as a heavy stone or burden upon your hearts, as it does upon the hearts of thousands in these days (witness their attempting any thing to get the favours, honours, and riches of this world. Ah how many have turned their backs upon God, and Christ, and truth, to gain the world!) how will you get off this burden? No way in the world like to the exercise and actings of grace. Many men hear much, and yet remain worldly; and pray like angels, and yet live as if there were no heaven nar hell. They will talk much of heaven, and yet those that are spiritual and wise, do find their breath tosmell strongly of earth; and all the art, and parts, and gifts in the world, can never cure them of this soul-killing disease, till faith breaks forth in its glorious actings. A man may hear and pray many years, and yet be as carnal, base and worldly as ever. There is no way under heaven to remove this stone, this burden, but the exercise of faith and love. For whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world, and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John v. 4, 5. Not that the habit of faith overcometh the world, but faith in the ex ercise of it, conquers the world; and that it does these three ways.
First > faith in the exercise of it, presents the world to the soul under all those notions by which the scripture holds forth the world unto us. The scripture holds forth the world as an impotent thing, as a mixed thing, as a mutable thing, as a momentary thing. Now faith comes and sets this home with power upon the soul, and this takes the soul off from the world.
Secondly; faith doth it by causing the soul to converse with more glorious, soul-satisfying, soul-delighting, and soul-contenting objects.
Though our outward man perish, yet our inward man is renewed day by day; how comes this to pass? while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal, 2 Cor. iv. 16, 18. Now when faith is busied and exercised about soul-ennobling, soul-greatening, soul-raising, and soulcheering objects, a Christian tramples the world under his feet; and now heavy afflictions are light, and long affile-1 tions short, and bitter afflictions sweet unto him. Now stand by, world; welcome, Christ.
So in Heb. xi.; it was the exercise of faith and hope upon noble and glorious objects, that carried these men above the world, above the smiling world and above the frowning world, above the tempting world and above the