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an end or no, and what was my end?" Nor doth the mere custom of mentioning this in prayer satisfy the question ; for this, as other such things usually do in our hand, may turn to a lifeless form, and have no heat of spiritual affection; none of David's panting and breathing after God in his ordinances; such desires as will not be stilled without a measure of attainment, as the child's desire of the breast; as our Apostle resembles it, chap. ii. 1.
And then again, being returned home, reflect on your hearts, “Much hath been heard, but is there any thing done by it? Have I gained my point? It was not simply to pass a little time that I went, or to pass it with delight in hearing; rejoicing in that light, as they did in St. John Baptist's“, for a season, [wrpès üçær] as long as the hour lasts! It was not to have my ear pleased, but my heart changed; not to learn some new notions, and carry them cold in my head, but to be quickened, and purified, and renewed in the spirit of my mind ? Is this done? Think I now with greater esteem of Christ, and the life of faith, and the happiness of a Christian? And are such thoughts solid and abiding with me? What sin have I left behind? What grace of the Spirit have I brought home? or what new degree, or at least new desire of it, a living desire, that will follow its point?" Oh! this were good repetition.
It is a strange folly in multitudes of us to set ourselves no mark, to propound no end in the hearing of the gospel. The merchant sails not only that he may sail, but for traffic, and traffics that he may be rich. The husbandman plow's not only to keep himself busy with no further end, but plows that he may sow, and sows that he may reap with advantage: and shall we do the most excellent and fruitful work fruitlessly? hear only to hear, and look no further? This is indeed a great vanity, and a great misery, to lose that labour, and gain nothing by it, which, duly used, would be of all others most ad
R John v. 35.
vantageous and gainful; and yet all meetings are full of this.
Now, when you come, this is not simply to hear a discourse, and relish or dislike it in hearing; but a matter of life and death, of eternal death and eternal life; and the spiritual life, begot and nourished by the word, is the beginning of that eternal life. Which leads us to consider,
2. The express nature of the end, that they might live to God in the Spirit: But first observe, it was to them that are dead. By which, I conceive, he intends such as had heard and believed the gospel, when it came to them, and now were dead. And this, I think, he doth to strengthen these brethren to whom he writes, to commend the gospel to this intent, that they might not think the condition and end of it hard; as our Saviour mollifies the matter of outward sufferings thus, So persecuted they the Prophets that were before you'. And the Apostle afterwards in this chapter uses the same reason in that same subject : So here, that they might not judge the point of mortification he presses so grievous, as naturally men will do, he tells them, it is the constant end of the gospel; and they that have been saved by it, went that same way he points out to them. They that are dead before you, died this way that I press on you, before they died; and the gospel was preached to them for that very end.
Men pass away and others succeed, but the gospel is still the same, hath the same tenor and substance, and the same ends. As Solomon speaks of the heavens and earth, that remain the same, while one generation passes, and another cometh', the gospel surpasses both in its stability, as our Saviour testifies", they shall pass away, but not one jot of this word. And indeed they wear and wax old the Apostle teaches us; but the gospel is from one age to another, of most unalterable integrity, hath still the same vigour and powerful influence as at the first. • Matth. v. 12.
Eccl. i. 4. 9 Matth. v. 18.
They that formerly received the gospel, received it upon these terms; therefore, think it not hard : and they are now dead; all the difficulty of that work of dying to sin is now over with them ; if they had not died to their sins by the gospel, they had died in them, after a while, and so died eternally. It is therefore a wise prevention, to have sin judged and put to death in us before we die; if we will not part with sin, if we die in it, and with it, we and our sin perish together; but if it die first before us, then we live for ever.
And what think you of thy carnal will, and all the delights of sin? What is the longest term of its life? Uncertain it is, but most certainly very short: thou and these pleasures must be severed and parted within a little time; however, thou must die, and then they die, and you never meet again. Now, were it not the wisest course to part a little sooner with them, and let them die before thee, that thou mayest inherit eternal life, and eternal delights in it, pleasures for evermore? It is the only wise and profitable bargain, let us therefore delay it no longer.
This is our season of enjoying the sweetness of the gospel; others heard it before us in these places that now we fill, and now they are removed, and we must remove shortly, and leave our places to others, to speak and hear in. It is high time we were considering what we do here; to what end we speak and hear; high time, without farther delay, to lay hold on that salvation that is held forth unto us; and that we may lay hold on it, we must immediately let go our hold of sin, and those perishing things that we hold so firm and cleave so fast to. Do they that are dead, who heard and obeyed the gospel, now repent their repentance and mortifying the flesh? Or, do they not think ten thousand times more pains, were it for many ages, all too little for a moment of that which now they enjoy, and shall enjoy to eternity? And they that are dead, who heard the gospel and slighted it, if such a thing might be, what would they give for one of those opportunities that now we daily have, and daily lose, and have no fruit or esteem of them! You have lately seen many of you,
that shifted the sight have heard of numbers, cut off in a little time; whole families swept away by the laté stroke of God's hand', many of which did think no other hut that they might have still been with you
here in this place and exercise, at this time, and many years after this. And yet, who hath laid to heart the lengthening out of his day, and considered it 'more as an opportunity of securing that higher and happier life, than as a little protracting of this wretched life, which is hastening to an end ? Oh! therefore be entreated to-day, while it is called To-day, not to harden your hearts'. Though the pestilence doth not now affright you so, yet that standing mortality, and the decay of these earthen lodges, tell us that shortly we shall cease to preach and hear this gospel. Did we consider, it would excite us to a more earnest search after our evidences of that eternal life that is set before us in the gospel ; and we should seek them in the characters of that spiritual life, which is the beginning of eternal life within us, and is wrought by the gospel in all the heirs of salvation.
Think therefore wisely of these two things, of the proper end of the gospel, and of the approaching end of thy days, and let thy certainty of this latter drive thee to seek more certainty of the other, that thou mayest partake of it; and then this again will make the thoughts of the other sweet to thee. That visage of death, that is so terrible to unchanged sinners, shall be amiable to thine eye; having found a life in the gospel as happy and lasting as this is miserable and vanishing, and seeing the perfection of that life on the other side of death, thou wilt long for the passage.
Be more serious in this matter, of daily hearing the gospel ; consider why it is sent to thee, and what it brings, and think it is too long I have slighted its message, and many that have done soare cut off, and shall hear it no more : I have it once more inviting me, and it may be this may be the last invitation I shall receive ; and in these thoughts, ere you come, bow your knee to the Father of spirits, that this one thing may beg ranted you, that your souls may find at length the lively and mighty power of his Spirit upon yours, in the hearing of this gospel, that you may be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
r 1665. * Psal. xcv. 7, 8. Heb. iij. 7. iv. 7.
Thus is the particular nature of that end expressed. And, not to stun and perplex you with the noise of various senses, the Apostle intends, I conceive, nothing else but the dying to the world and sin, and living unto God; which is his
main subject and scope in the foregoing discourse. That death was before called a suffering in the flesh, which is in effect the same; and therefore, though the words may be drawn another way, yet it is strange that interpreters have been so far wide of this their genuine and agreeable sense, and that they have been by almost all of them taken in some other intendment.
To be judged in the flesh, in the present sense, is to die to sin, or that sin die in us; and it is thus expressed: 1. Suitably to the nature of it, it is to the Aesh a violent death, and it is according to a sentence judicially pronounced against it. That guilty and miserable life of sin is in the gospel adjudged to death; there that arrest and sentence is clear and full That sin must die that the soul may live; it must be crucified in us, and we to it, that we may partake of the life of Christ and happiness in him : and this is called to be judged in the flesh, to have this sentence executed. 2. The thing is the rather spoke here under the term of being judged, in counter-balance of that judgment mentioned immediately before, ver. 5. the last judgment of quick and dead; wherein they that would not be thus judged, but mocked and despised those that were, shall fall under a far more terrible judgment, and the sentence of a
Rom. vi. 6. &c, viii. 13.