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that those who are most gracious, shall at last be most glorious.
And thus much for the motives which tend to provoke all the precious sons of Zion to make a thorough improvement of the gifts and graces that the Lord has bestowed upon them.
I shall now come to the resolution of a weighty question, and so conclude this point, which I have been the longer upon, by reason of its very great usefulness in these days, wherein men strive to exercise any thing, yea, every thing but grace and holiness. Now the question is this— when may a soul be said to be excellent in grace, or to have highly improved grace?
Now to this question I shall give these following answers ;—
1. A soul that is high and excellent in grace, that has improved his graces to a considerable height, will keep humble and unspotted under great outward enjoyments. It is said of Daniel, that he had an excellent spirit; and herein did his excellent spirit appear, in that he was holy and humble in heart, though high in place and worth, Dan. vi. 3—7. Daniel keeps humble and holy, when he is lifted high, yea, made the second man in the kingdom. Malice itself could not find any thing against him, but in the matter of his God. It is much to be very gracious when a man is very great; and to be high in holiness, when advanced to high places. Usually men's blood rises with their outward good. Certainly they are worthy ones, and shall walk with Christ in white, whose garments are not defiled with greatness or riches.
2. They that have highly improved their graces, will comply with those commands of God which cross nature, which are contrary to nature. And doubtless that man has improved his graces to a very high rate, whose heart complies with those commands of God, that are cross and contrary to nature; as for a man to love them that loath him, to bless them that curse him, to pray for them that persecute him. It is nothing to love them that love us, and to speak well of them that speak well of us, and to do well and carry it well towards them that carry it well towards us: O, but for a man to love those that hate him, to be courteous to them that are currish to him, to be sweet to them that are bitter to him, this strongly demonstrates a high improvement of grace. Certainly that man is very good, who has learned that holy lesson of overcoming evil with good. Such a one was Stephen. He was a man full of the Holy Ghost, that is, of the gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost; he was much in the exercise of grace; he can pray and sigh for them, yea, even weep tears of blood for them, who rejoiced to shed his blood. So did Christ weep over Jerusalem, so did Titus; so did Marcellus over Syracuse; so did Scipio over Carthage; but they shed tears for them whose blood they were to. shed, but Christ shed tears for them who were to shed his blood. So Abraham being strong in faith gave glory to God; how? why, by complying with those commands of God that were contrary to flesh and blood; as the offering up of his son, his only son, his beloved son, his son of the promise; and by leaving his own country and his near and dear relations, upon a word of command. The commands of God so change the whole man and make him new, that you can hardly know him to be the same man. Well, sirs, remember this—it is a dangerous thing to neglect one of his commands, though it be never so cross to flesh and blood, who by another is able to command you into nothing or into hell. 'Let Luther hate me, and in his wrath call me a thousand times devil, yet I will love him, and acknowledge him to be a most precious servant of God,' said Calvin.
3. Consider this—such souls will follow the Lord fully, as have made an improvement of their graces. O, this was the glorious commendation of Caleb and Joshua, in Numb. xiv. 24, that they followed the Lord fully, in the face of all difficulties and discouragements. They had another spirit in them, says the text; they would go up and possess the land, though the walls were as high as heaven, and the sons of Anak were there; they made no more of it, than to go, see, and conquer. They followed the Lord fully; in the Hebrew it is, They fulfilled after me. The Hebrew word is a metaphor taken from a ship under sail, that is carried with a strong wind, as fearing neither sands, nor rocks, nor shelves. Such have little, if any thing of Christ within, who follow him by halves, or haltingly. I remember Cyprian brings in the devil triumphing over Christ thus, 'As for my followers, I never died for them, as Christ did for his; I never promised them so great reward, as Christ has done to his; and yet I have more followers than he, and they do more for me, than his do for him.' O where is that spirit in these days, that was upon those worthies? All this is come upon us, yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant; our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way: Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death, Psalm xliv. 17—19.
4. Such souls as have improved their graces to a considerable height, will bless God, as well when he frowns, as when he smiles; as well when he takes, as when he gives; when he strikes, as when he strokes; as you may see by comparing the scriptures together, Job i. 21; Levit. x. 3; 2 Sam. xv. 25, 26; Tsa. lxiii. 14, 15. When the Lord had stripped Job of all, and had set him naked upon the dunghill, why then says Job, The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. Where grace is improved to a considerable height, it will work a soul to sit down satisfied with the1 naked enjoyment of God, without other things. Shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us, John xiv. 8. The sight of the Father without honours, the sight of the Father without riches, the sight of the Father without men's favour, will suffice the soul. As Jacob said, It is enough that Joseph is alive, so says the soul that is high in grace, * It is enough that Jesus is alive.'
5. Souls that have improved their graces to a considerable height, will be good in bad times and in bad places. Such souls will bear up against the stream of evil examples, in the worst of times and in the worst of places. Abraham was righteous in Chaldea; Lot was just in Sodom; Daniel holy in Babylon; Job upright and fearing God in the land of Uz, which was a profane and most abominably superstitious place; Nehemiah zealous in Damascus. O take me a man that has improved his grace, and the worse the times are, the better that man will be; he will bear up bravely against the stream of evil examples; he will be very good, when times and all round about him are very bad.
Some say that roses grow the sweeter, when they are planted by garlic. Verily, Christians who have gloriously improved their graces, are like those roses; they grow sweeter and sweeter, holier and holier, by wicked men. The best diamonds shine most in the dark, and so do the best Christians shine most in the worst times.
6. Such turn their principles into practice. They turn their speculations into power, their notions into spirit, their glorious inside into a golden outside, Psal. xlv. 13.
7. Such as have made a considerable improvement of their gifts and graces, have hearts as large as their heads; whereas most men's heads have outgrown their hearts.
8. Such are always most busied about the highest things, God, Christ, heaven, Phil. iii. 20; 2 Tim. iv. 8; 2 Cor. iv. 18; Rom. viii. 18.
9. Such are always doing or receiving good; as Christ went up and down doing good, Mat. iv. 23; ix. 35; Mark vi. 6.
10. Such will mourn for wicked men's sins as well as their own. O the tears, the sighs, the groans, that others' sins fetch from these men's hearts! Psal. cxix. 136; Jer. ix. 1, 2; 2 Pet. ii. 7—9. Pambus, in the ecclesiastical history, wept when he saw a harlot dressed with much care and cost, partly to see one take so much pains to go to hell, and partly because he had not been so careful to please God, as she had been to please a wanton lover.
I have at this time only given you. some short hints, whereby you may know whether you have made any considerable improvement of that grace which the Lord has given you. I do intend, by divine permission, in a convenient time, to declare much more of this to the world. I shall follow all that has been said with my prayers, that it may help on your internal and eternal welfare.
ON THE RICHES OF CHRIST.
Now the next observation that we shall begin with is this, that the Lord Jesus Christ is very rich.
For the opening of this point, we shall attempt these three things:;—
I. To demonstrate this to be a truth, that the Lord Jesus is very rich.
II. The grounds why he is thus held forth in the word to be one full of unsearchable riches.
III. To shew you the excellency of the riches of Christ above all other riches in the world.
IV. And then the use of the point.
I. For the first that the Lord Jesus Christ is very rich.
Express scripture speaks out this truth. He is rich in goodness; Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, that is ready to be employed for thy internal and eternal good.
Again; he is rich in wisdom and knowledge; In whom, speaking of Christ, are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, Col. ii. 3. Christ was content that his riches should be hid from the world; therefore do not be angry that thine is no more known to the world. What is thy one mite to Christ's many millions?
Again; he is rich in grace; In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace, Ephes. i. 7.
Again; he is rich in glory; That ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, Ephes. i. 18. So in chap. iii. 16; That he would grant you according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man. So in Phil. iv. 19; But my God shall supply all your need, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. The riches of glory are inconceivable riches. Search is made through all the bowels of the earth for something to shadow it by. The riches of this glory is fitter to be believed than to be discoursed of, as some of the very heathens have acknowledged.