If, by this means of biblical meditation, thou dost not find an increase of all thy graces, and dost not grow beyond the stature of common Christians, and art not made more serviceable in thy place, and more precious in the eyes of all discerning persons; if thy soul enjoy not more communion with God, and thy life be not fuller of comfort, and hast it not readier by thee at a dying hour: then cast away these directions, and exclaim against me forever as a deceiver.
A heavenly mind is a joyful mind; this is the nearest and truest way to live a life of comfort, and without this you must need be uncomfortable. Can a man be at a fire and not be warm; or in the sunshine and not have light? Can your heart be in heaven, and not have comfort? [On the other hand,] what could make such frozen, uncomfortable Christians but living so far as they do from heaven?… O Christian, get above. Believe it, that region is warmer than this below.
Will it not awaken us to compassion, to look on a languishing man, and to think that within a few days his soul will be in heaven or in hell? Surely it will try the faith and seriousness of ministers, to be much about dying men! They will thus have opportunity to discern whether they themselves are in good earnest about the matters of the life to come.
If you seek first to please God and are satisfied therein, you have but one to please instead of multitudes; and a multitude of masters are harder to please than one.
Nothing else but the habitual and predominant devotion and dedication of soul, and body, and life, and all that we have to God; and esteeming and loving, and serving, and seeking Him, before all the pleasures and prosperity of the flesh.
Be careful how you spend your time: Spend your time in nothing which you know must be repented of.
You shall find this to be God’s usual course; not to give His children the taste of His delights till they begin to perspire in seeking after them.
In my library I have profitably dwelt among the shining lights, with which the learned, wise, and holy men of all ages have illuminated the world.
Remember still that you are both diseased persons, full of infirmities; and therefore expect the fruit of those infirmities in each other; and make not a strange matter of it, as if you had never known of it before. If you had married one that is lame, would you be angry at her for [limping]? Or if you had married one that had a putrid ulcer, would you fall out with her because it stinketh? Did you not know beforehand, that you married a person of such weakness, as would yield you some manner of daily trial and offense? If you could not bear this, you should not have married her; if you resolved that you could bear it then, you are obliged to bear it now. Resolve therefore to bear with one another; as remembering that you took one another as sinful, frail, imperfect, persons, not as angels, or as blameless and perfect .
All the longer your delay, the more your sin gets strength and rooting. If you cannot bend a twig, how will you be able to bend it when it is a tree?
This is a life of desire and prayer; but that [heaven] is a life of satisfaction and enjoyment.
Heaven will pay for any loss we may suffer to gain it; but nothing can pay for the loss of heaven.
Oh, then, let us hear these arguments of Christ, whenever we feel ourselves grow dull and careless: “Did I die for these souls, and will not you look after them? Were they worth My blood, and are they not worth your labor? Did I come down from heaven to earth, ‘to seek and to save that which was lost;’ and will you not go to the next door, or street, or village, to seek them? How small is you condescension and labor compared to Mine! I debased Myself to this, but it is your honor to be so employed. Have I done and suffered so much for their salvation, and was I willing to make you a fellow-worker with Me, and will you refuse to do that little which lies upon your hands?”
Let all writers have their due esteem, but compare none of them with the Word of God. We will not refuse their service, but we must abhor them as rivals or competitors. It is the sign of a distempered heart that loses the relish of Scripture excellency.
Do not only take occasions of doing good when they are thrust upon you; but study how to do all the good you can, as those "that are zealous of good works." Zeal of good works will make you plot and contrive for them; consult and ask advice for them; it will make you glad when you meet with a hopeful opportunity; it will make you do it largely, and not sparingly, and by the halves; it will make you do it speedily, without unwilling backwardness and delay; it will make you do it constantly to your lives’ end. It will make you labor in it as your trade, and not consent that others do good at your charge. It will make you glad, when good is done, and not to grudge at what it cost you. In a word, it will make your neighbours to be to you as yourselves, and the pleasing of God to be above yourselves, and therefore to be as glad to do good as to receive it.
Not only Scripture, but reason and experience point to the necessity for family worship.
Screw the truth into men’s minds.
Prayer must carry on our work as much as preaching; he preacheth not heartily to his people that will not pray for them.
Every time we look upon our congregations, let us believingly remember that they are the purchase of Christ’s blood, and therefore should be regarded by us with the deepest interest and the most tender affection.
Make careful choice of the books which you read: let the Holy Scriptures ever have the preeminence. Let Scripture be first and most in your hearts and hands and other books be used as subservient to it. While reading ask yourself:
1. Could I spend this time no better?
2. Are there better books that would edify me more?
3. Are the lovers of such a book as this the greatest lovers of the Book of God and of a holy life?
4. Does this book increase my love to the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come?
Scripture tells us that the state of an unconverted man is this: he sees no great felicity in the love and communion of God in the life to come, which may draw his heart thither from this present world; but he lives to his carnal self, or to the flesh; and the main bent of his life is, that it may go well with him on earth; and that religion which he has is but a little by the by, lest he should be damned when he can keep the world no longer; so that the world and the flesh are highest in his esteem, and nearest to his heart, and God and glory stand below them, and all their service of God is but a giving him that which the world and flesh can spare. This is the case of every unconverted man; and all who are in this case are in a state of misery.
You are not likely to see any general reformation, till you procure family reformation. Some little religion there may be, here and there; but while it is confined to single persons, and is not promoted in families, it will not prosper, nor promise much future increase.
I preached as never sure to preach again and as a dying man to dying men.
I was but a pen in God’s hands, and what praise is due to a pen?
This life was not intended to be the place of our perfection, but the preparation for it.
Seven benefits of books over preached sermons:
1. You may read an able preacher when you have but a mean one to hear.
2. Every congregation cannot hear the most judicious or powerful preachers, but every single person may read the books of the most powerful and judicious.
3. Preachers may be silenced or banished, when books may be at hand.
4. Books may be kept at a smaller charge than preachers.
5. We may choose books which treat that very subject which we desire to hear, but we cannot choose what subject the preacher shall treat.
6. Books may be at hand every day and hour, when we cannot have sermons but seldom, and at set times.
7. If sermons are forgotten, they are gone, but a book we may read over and over till we remember it; and if we forget it, may again peruse it at our leisure, or at our pleasure.
I am contented to consume my body, to sacrifice to God’s service, and to spend all that I have, and to be spent myself, for the souls of men.
Measure the time of your sleep appropriately so that you do not waste your precious morning hours sluggishly in your bed. Let the time of your sleep be matched to your health and labor, and not to slothful pleasure.
A good husband will either make a good wife, or easily and profitably endure a bad one.
Be sure that you live not idly, but in some constant business of a lawful calling, so far as you have bodily strength. Idleness is a constant sin, and labour is a duty. Idleness is but the devil’s home for temptation, and for unprofitable, distracting musings. Labour profiteth others and ourselves; both soul and body need it. Six days must thou labour, and must not eat “The bread of idleness.” (Prov. 31:13-27.) God hath made it our duty, and will bless us in His appointed way. I have known grievous, despairing melancholy cured and turned into a life of godly cheerfulness, principally by setting upon constancy and diligence in the business of families and callings.
If a skillful workman can turn a little earth and ashes into such curious transparent glasses as we daily see, and if a little seed that bears no show of such a thing can produce the more beautiful flowers of the earth; and if a little acorn can bring forth the greatest oak; why should we once doubt whether the seed of everlasting life and glory, which is now in the blessed souls with Christ, can by Him communicate a perfection to the flesh that is dissolved into its elements?
O spend your time as you would hear of it in the Judgment!
One proud, surly, lordly word, one needless contention, one covetous action may cut the throat of many a sermon, and blast the fruit of all that you have been doing.
Even the stoutest sinners will hear us on their death-bed, though they scorned us before. They will then let fall their fury, and be as gentle as lambs, who were before as untractable as lions. I find not one in ten, of the most obstinate scornful wretches in my parish, but when they come to die, will humble themselves, confess their faults, and seem penitent, and promise, if they should recover, to reform their lives.
As the case of backsliders is very sad, so our diligence must be very great for their recovery. It is sad to them to lose so much of their life, and peace, and serviceableness to God; and to become so serviceable to Satan and his cause. It is sad to us to see that all our labor is come to this; and that, when we have taken so much pains with them, and have had so much hopes of them, all should be so far frustrated. It is saddest of all, to think that God should be so dishonored by those whom He has so loved, and for whom he has done so much; and that Christ should be so wounded in the house of His friends. Besides, partial backsliding has a natural tendency to total apostasy, and would effect it, if special grace did not prevent it.
The most godly people, therefore, in your congregations, will find it worth their labor to learn the very words of a catechism. If, then, you would safely edify them, and firmly establish them, be diligent in this work.
It is an obvious error for all to see in those ministers of the Church who make such a wide gulf between their preaching and their living. They will study hard, to preach exactly, and yet study little or not at all to live exactly. All the week long is little enough to study how to speak for two hours; and yet one hour seems too much time to study how to live all the week. They are loath to misplace a word in their sermons; yet they think nothing of misplacing affections, words, and actions in the course of their lives. Oh, how curiously I have heard some men preach, and how carelessly have I seen them live!
Place a high value upon your time; be more careful of not losing it than you would of losing your money. Do not let worthless recreations, idle take, unprofitable company, or sleep rob you of your precious time. Be more careful to escape that person, action or course of life that would rob you of your time than you would be to escape thieves and robbers.
Take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine…lest you unsay with your lives what you say with your tongues, and be the greatest hinderers of the success of your own labors.
God is the same God in heaven as on earth, but I shall not be the same man.
It is not the work of the Spirit to tell you the meaning of Scripture, and give you the knowledge of divinity, without your own study and labour, but to bless that study, and give you knowledge thereby… To reject study on pretence of the sufficiency of the Spirit, is to reject the Scripture itself.
Convince them what a contradiction it is to be a Christian, and yet to refuse to learn; for what is a Christian but a disciple of Christ? And how can he be a disciple of Christ, that refuses to be taught by Him. And he that refuses to be taught by his ministers, refuses to be taught by Him; for Christ will not come down from heaven again to teach them by His own mouth, but has appointed His ministers to keep school and teach them under Him. To say, therefore, that they will not be taught by His ministers, is to say, they will not be taught by Christ; and that is to say, they will not be His disciples, or no Christians.
[The pastor] is acquainted with the Holy Scriptures, he is exercised in holy duties, he lives not in open disgraceful sin, he serves at God’s altar, he reproves other men’s faults, and preaches up holiness both of heart and life; and how can this man choose but be holy?
Nothing can be rightly known, if God be not known; nor is any study well managed, nor to any great purpose, if God is not studied. We know little of the creature, till we know it as it stands related to the Creator: single letters, and syllables uncomposed, are no better than nonsense. He who overlooks Him who is the “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending,” and sees not Him in all who is the All of all, doth see nothing at all.
Content not yourselves with being in a state of grace, but be also careful that your graces are kept in vigorous and lively exercise, and that you preach to yourselves the sermons which you study, before you preach them to others.
I know that Christ is all in all; and that it is the presence of God that makes Heaven to be heaven. But yet it much sweetens the thoughts of that place to me that there are there such a multitude of my most dear and precious friends in Christ.
Before and after you read the Scripture, pray earnestly that the Spirit who wrote it may interpret it for you, keep you from unbelief and error, and lead you into the truth.
Reverence is that affection of the soul which proceeds from deep apprehensions of God and indicates a mind that is much conversant with Him. To manifest irreverence in the things of God is to manifest hypocrisy, and that the heart agrees not with the tongue.
A man that preaches an immortal crown, should not seek much after transitory vanity. And he that preaches the contempt of riches should himself contemn them and show it by his life. And he that preaches self-denial and mortification should practice these virtues in the eyes of them to whom he preaches, if he would have his doctrine believed. All Christians are sanctified; and, therefore, themselves, and all that they have, are consecrated “to the Master’s use.” But ministers are doubly sanctified: they are devoted to God, both as Christians and as ministers; and, therefore, they are doubly obligated to honor Him with all they have.
No man that has not the vitals of theology is capable of going beyond a fool in philosophy.
When your minds are in a holy, heavenly frame, your people are likely to partake of the fruits of it. Your prayers, and praises, and doctrine will be sweet and heavenly to them. They will likely feel when you have been much with God: that which is most on your hearts, is like to be most in their ears.
Doubtless, we shall no more be oppressed with the power of our corruptions, nor vexed with their presence; no pride, passion, slothfulness, senselessness, shall enter with us; no strangeness to God, and the things of God; no coldness of affections, nor imperfection in our love; no uneven walking, nor grieving of the Spirit; no scandalous action, or unholy living. We shall rest from all these forever.
Objection: I can profit as much by staying at home and reading the Scripture or some good book; it is the word of God which they preach, and it is that which I read at home. The books that are written by learned men are better than the sermons that are preached by our ministers.
Answer: What foolish pretences are these against the plain command of God and our own necessary duty! When God hath appointed you your duty, will He allow you to forsake it upon your own reason, as if you were wiser than God, and knew what will profit you better than He?
The very design of the gospel is to abase us; and the work of grace is begun and carried on in humiliation. Humility is not a mere ornament of a Christian, but an essential part of the new creature. It is a contradiction in terms, to be a Christian, and not humble.
Too many of us [preachers] are earthly that seem to be heavenly, and mind the things below, while they preach the things above, and idolize the world while they call men to condemn it.
Nothing can be rightly known, if God be not known; nor is any study well managed, nor to any great purpose, if God is not studied. We know little of the creature, till we know it as it stands related to the Creator.
What skill doth every part of our work require! – and of how much moment is every part! To preach a sermon, I think, is not the hardest part; and yet what skill is necessary to make the truth plain; to convince the hearers, to let irresistible light in to their consciences, and to keep it there, and drive all home; to screw the truth into their minds, and work Christ into their affections; to meet every objection, and clearly to resolve it; to drive sinners to a stand, and make them see that there is no hope, but that they must unavoidably either be converted or condemned – and to do all this, as regards language and manner, as beseems our work, and yet as is most suitable to the capacities of our hearers. This, and a great deal more that should be done in every sermon, must surely require a great deal of holy skill.
Though I have a body that had languished under great weaknesses for many years, and my diseases have been such as require as much exercise as almost any in the world, and I have found exercise the principal means of my preservation till now, and, therefore, have as great reason to plead for it as any man that I know, yet I have found that the foresaid proportion hath been blessed to my preservation, though I know that much more had been like to have tended to my greater health. Indeed, I do not know one minister in a hundred that needs so much exercise as myself. Yea, I know abundance of ministers, that scarce ever use any exercise at all, though I commend them not in this. I doubt not but it is our duty to use so much exercise as is necessary for the preservation of our health, so far as our work requires; otherwise, we should, for one day’s work, lose the opportunity of many. But this may be done, and yet the work that we are engaged in, be done too.
Prudence must be exercised in the proceeding, lest we do more hurt than good…we should deal humbly even when we deal sharply.
Men think God’s laws too many and too strict, and yet make more of their own, and are precise for keeping them.
He that is not a son of Peace is not a son of God. All other sins destroy the Church consequentially; but Division and Separation demolish it directly.
Is it a small thing in your eyes to be loved by God – to be the son, the spouse, the love, the delight of the King of glory? Christian, believe this, and think about it: you will be eternally embraced in the arms of the love which was from everlasting, and will extend to everlasting – of the love which brought the Son of God’s love from heaven to earth, from earth to the cross, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to glory – that love which was weary, hungry, tempted, scorned, scourged, buffeted, spat upon, crucified, pierced – which fasted, prayed, taught, healed, wept, sweated, bled, died. That love will eternally embrace you.
So great a God, whose message we deliver, should be honored by our delivery of it. It is a lamentable case, that in a message from the God of heaven, of everlasting moment to the souls of men, we should behave ourselves so weakly, so unhandsomely, so imprudently, or so slightly, that the whole business should miscarry in our hands, and God should be dishonored, and His work disgraced, and sinners rather hardened than converted; and all this through our weakness or neglect!
Heaven excludes nothing more directly than sin; whether original and of nature, or actual and of behavior. For there enters nothing that defiles, nor that works abomination, nor that makes a lie. When they are there, the saints are saints indeed. He that will wash them with His heart-blood, rather than suffer them to enter unclean, will now perfectly see to that; He who has undertaken to present them to His Father, “not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but perfectly holy, and without blemish,” will now most certainly perform His undertaking.
The principal use of this public discipline is not for the offender himself, but for the Church. It exceedingly tends to deter others from the like crimes, and so to keep the congregation and their worship pure. Seneca could say, “He who excuses present evils transmits them to posterity.” And elsewhere, “He who spares the guilty harms the good.”
Take heed to yourselves, because the tempter will more ply you with his temptations than other men. If you will be the leaders against the prince of darkness, he will spare you no further than God restraints him. He bears the greatest malice to those that are engaged to do him the greatest mischief. As he hates Christ more than any of us, because He is the General of the field, the Captain of our salvation, and does more than all the world besides against his kingdom; so does he hate the leaders under Him, more than the common soldiers: he knows what a rout he may make among them, if the leaders fall before their eyes.
The differences among Christians are nothing in comparison of the differences among heathens.
Can you truly say, that you have so far taken the everlasting enjoyment of God for your happiness, that it has the most of your heart, of your love, desire, and care; and that you are resolved, by the strength of Divine grace, to let go all that you have in the world, rather than hazard it; and that it is your daily, and your principal business to seek it? Can you truly say, that though you have your failings and sins, yet your main care, and the bent of your whole life, is to please God, and to enjoy him forever; and that you give the world God’s leavings, as it were, and not God the world’s leavings; and that your worldly business is but as a traveler’s seeking for provision in his journey, and heaven is the place that you take for your home?
And thus doth pride make many a man’s sermons; and what pride makes, the devil makes; and what sermons the devil will make and to what end, we may easily conjecture. Though the matter be of God, yet if the dress, and manner, and end be from Satan, we have no great reason to expect success.
Take every opportunity which your nearness provides to be speaking seriously to each other about the matters of God, and your salvation. Discussing those things of this world no more than required. And then talk together of the state and duty of your souls towards God, and of your hopes of heaven, as those that take these for their greatest business. And don’t speak lightly, or unreverently, or in a rude and disputing manner; but with gravity and sobriety, as those that are discussing the most important things in the whole world.
I confess, if I had my will, that man should be ejected as a negligent pastor, that will not rule his people by discipline, as well as he is ejected as a negligent preacher that will not preach; for ruling I am sure is as essential a part of the pastor’s office as preaching.
And now, brethren, what have we to do for the time to come, but to deny our lazy flesh, and rouse up ourselves to the work before us. The harvest is great, the laborers are few; the loiterers and hinderers are many, the souls of men are precious, the misery of sinners is great, and the everlasting misery to which they are near is greater, the joys of heaven are inconceivable, the comfort of a faithful minister is not small, the joy of extensive success will be a full reward. To be fellow-workers with God and his Spirit is no little honor; to subserve the blood-shedding of Christ for men’s salvation is not a light thing. To lead on the armies of Christ through the thickest of the enemy; to guide them safely through a dangerous wilderness; to steer the vessels through such storms and rocks and sands and shelves, and bring it safe to the harbor of rest, requires no small skill and diligence.
Despair of ever being saved, “except thou be born again,” or of seeing God “without holiness,” or of having part in Christ except thou “love Him above father, mother, or thy own life.” This kind of despair is one of the first steps to heaven.
Parents! It is in your hands to do your children the greatest kindness, or cruelty, in all the world! Help them to know God and to be saved, and you do more for them than if you helped them to be lords or princes. If you neglect their souls, and breed them in ignorance, worldliness, ungodliness, and sin; you betray them to the devil, the enemy of souls, even as truly as if you sold them to him! You sell them to be slaves to Satan! You betray them to him that will deceive them and abuse them in this life, and torment them in the next!
What! speak coldly for God, and for men’s salvation Can we believe that our people must be converted or condemned, and yet speak in a drowsy tone? In the name of God, brethren, labor to awaken your own hearts, before you go to the pulpit, that you may be fit to awaken the hearts of sinners. Remember they must be awakened or damned, and that a sleepy preacher will hardly awaken drowsy sinners. Though you give the holy things of God the highest praises in words, yet, if you do it coldly, you will seem by your manner to unsay what you said in the matter… It is only here and there, even among good ministers, that we find one who has an earnest, persuasive, powerful way of speaking, that the people can feel him preach when they hear him.
Join together in frequent and fervent prayer. Prayer forces the mind into sobriety, and moves the heart with the presence and majesty of God. Pray also for each other when you are in secret, that God may do that work which you most desire, upon each other’s hearts.
Burned and wasted we must be; and is it not fitter it should be in lighting men to heaven, and in working for God, than in living to the flesh? How little difference is there between the pleasure of a long and of a short life, when they are both at an end! What comfort will it be to you at death, that you lengthened your life by shortening your work? He that worketh much, liveth much. Our life is to be esteemed according to the ends and works of it, and not according to the mere duration… Will it not comfort us more at death, to review a short time faithfully spent, than a long life spent unfaithfully?
In our first paradise in Eden there was a way to go out but no way to go in again. But as for the heavenly paradise, there is a way to go in, but not way to go out.
I do verily believe that if parents did their duty as they ought, the Word publicly preached would not be the ordinary means of regeneration in the church, but only without the church, among practical heathens and infidels.
You cannot break men’s hearts by jesting with them, or telling them a smooth tale, or pronouncing a gaudy oration. Men will not cast away their dearest pleasures at the drowsy request of one that seems not to mean as he speaks, or to care much whether his request be granted or not. If you say that the work is God’s, and He may do it by the weakest means, I answer, It is true, He may do so; but yet His ordinary way is to work by means, and to make not only the matter that is preached, but also the manner of preaching instrumental to the work.
I tell you again, God hath not ordinarily decreed the end without the means; and if you will neglect the means of salvation, it is a certain mark that God hath not decreed you to salvation. But you shall find that He hath left you no excuse, because He hath not thus predestinated you.
Church greatness consists in being greatly serviceable.
He that has not so much sense of his faults as unfeignedly to lament them, will hardly have so much more as to move him to reform them. The sorrow of repentance may exist without a change of heart and life; because a passion may be more easily wrought, than a true conversion. But the change cannot take place without some good measure of the sorrow.
It is one of the most dangerous diseases of professors, and one of the greatest scandals of this age, that persons taken for eminently religious are more impatient of plain, though just, reproof than many a drunkard, swearer, or fornicator; and when they have spent hours or days in the seeming earnest confession of their sin, and lament before God and man that they cannot do it with more grief and tears, yet they take it for a heinous injury in another that will say half so much against them, and take him for a malignant enemy of the godly who will call them as they call themselves.
Love Christ, and you will hate that which caused His death. Love Him, and you will love to be made like Him – and hate that which is so contrary to Him.
Experience has fully proved that works of charity do most powerfully remove prejudice, and open the heart to words of piety. If men see that you are addicted to do good, they will the more easily believe that you are good, and that it is good which you persuade them to. When they see that you love them, and seek their good, they will the more easily trust you. And when they see that you seek not the things of the world, they will the less suspect your intentions, and the more easily be drawn by you to seek that which you seek.
The Reformed Pastor, Chapter 3, Section 1.