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plentifully in preaching, unless they secretly water it with their prayers and tears.
And people, truly, should keep some correspondence in this duty; and that, if other engagement will not persuade, even for their own advantage, for it returns unto them with abundant interest. If much of the Spirit be poured forth on ministers, are they not the more able to unfold the spiritual mysteries of the gospel, and build up their people in the knowledge of them? Oh! that both of us were more abundant in this rich and sweet exercise.
The prayer is addressed to the God of all grace, who hath called us to eternal glory by Christ Jesus; wherein it suits the Aposttle St. Paul's word in his direction to the Philippians"; it is supplication with thanksgiving, prayer with praise. In the prayer or petition, consider the matter and the style. The matter or thing requested is expressed in divers brief words, Make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you; which, though they be much of the same sense, yet are not superfluously multiplied; for they both carry the great importance of the thing, and the earnest desire in asking it. And though it be a little light and unsolid to frame a different sense to each of them; nor are any of the ways that such kind of interpreters have taken in it very satisfactory to any discerning judgment; yet I conceive they are not altogether without some profitable difference. As the first, Perfect, implies more clearly than the rest, their advancement in victory over their remaining corruptions and infirmities, and their progress towards perfection. Stablish, hath more express reference to both the inward lightness and inconstancy that is natural to us, the counter-blasts of persecutions and temptations, and to outward oppositions; and imports the curing of the one, and support against the other. Strengthen, the growth of their graces, especially gaining of further measures of those graces wherein they are weakest agd lowest. And settle, though it seems
• Chap. iv. 6.
the same, and in substance is the same with the other word stablish, yet it adds somewhat to it very considerable; for it signifies to found or fix upon a sure foundation, and so indeed may have an aspect to Him who is the foundation and strength of believers, on whom they build by faith, even Jesus Christ, in whom we have all, both victory over sin, and increase of grace, establishment of spirit, and power to persevere against all difficulties and assaults: He is that corner foundation-stone laid in Zion, that they that build upon him may not be ashamed': That rock that upholds the house founded on it in the midst of all winds and storms".
From hence we may observe, 1st. That these expressions have in them that which is so earnestly and principally to be sought after by every Christian, perseverance and progress in grace. These two are here interwoven; for there be two words importing the one, and two the other, and they are interchangeably placed. This is often urged on Christians as their duty, and accordingly ought they to apply themselves to it, and use their highest diligence in it: Not to take the beginning of Christianity for the end of it; to think it enough, if they are entered into the way of it, and sit down upon the entry; but to walk on, to go from strength to strength*; and even through the greatest difficulties and discouragements, to pass forward with unmoved stability and fixedness of mind. They ought to be aiming at perfection: It is true, we shall still fall exceedingly short of it; but the more we study it, the nearer shall we come to it; the higher we aim, the higher shall we shoot, though we shoot not so high as we aim.
It is an excellent life, and it is the proper life of a Christian, to be daily outstripping himself, to be spiritually wiser, holier
, more heavenly-minded to-day than yesterday, and to-morrow (if it be added to his life) than to-dayé. Every day loving t Isa. xxviii. 16.
* Psal. lxxxiv. 7. y Suavissima vita est indies sentire se fieri meliorem.,
u Matt. vii. ult.
the world less, and Christ more, than the former, and gaining every day some further victory over his secrept corruptions, having his passions more subdued and mortified, his desires, in all temporal things, more cool and indifferent, and in spiritual things more ardent; that miserable lightness of spirit cured, and his heart rendered more solid and fixed upon God, aspiring to more near communion with him, labouring that particular graces may be made more lively and strong, by often exercising and stirring them up: Faith more confirmed and stayed, love more inflamed, composed meekness producing more deep humility. Oh! this were a worthy ambition indeed! you would have your estates growing, and your credit growing; how much rather should you seek to have your graces growing, and not be content with any thing you have attained to? But,
Odly, All our endeavours and diligence in this will be vain, unless we look for our perfecting and establishing from that right hand, without which we do nothing; thither the Apostle moves his desires for his brethren, and so teaches them the same address for themselves, The God of all grace make you perfect.
This prayer is grounded (as all prayer of faith must be) on the promise and covenant of God. He is our rock, and his work is perfecto. He doth not begin a building, and then leave it off; none of his designs break in the middle, or fall short of their end. He will perfect that good work which he hath begun, to the day of Jesus Christ'. And, how often is he called the strength of those that trust on him"; their buckler, and his way perfect.
Hence is the stability of grace and perseverance of the saints; it is founded upon his unchangeable
Not that they are so, though truly sanctified, if they and their graces were left to their own management; no, it is he who not only gives that rich portion to those he adopts to be his children, but
a Deut. xxxii. 4. b Phil. i. 6. < Psal. xviii. 30.
keeps it for them, and them in the possession of it; He maintains the lot of our inheritance". And to build that persuasion of perseverance upon his truth and power engaged in it, is no presumption, yea, it is high dishonour to him to question it.
But when nature is set to judge of grace, it must speak according to itself; and, therefore, very unsuitably to that which it speaks of. Natural wits apprehend not the spiritual tenor of the Covenant of Grace, but model it to their own principles, and quite disguise it; and they think of nothing but their resolves and moral purposes: or, they take up with a confused notion of grace; they imagine it put into their own hands, to keep or lose it, and will not stoop to a continual dependence on the strength of another; rather choosing that game of hazard, though it is certain loss and undoing, to do for themselves.
But the humble believer is otherwise taught; hę hath not so learned Christ. He sees himself beset with enemies without, and buckled to a treacherous heart within, that will betray him to them; and he dare no more trust himself to himself, than to his most professed enemies. Thus it ought to be, and the more the heart is brought to this humble petitioning for that ability, and strengthening and perfecting, from God, the more shall it find both stability and peace,
from the assurance of that stability.
And certainly, the more the Christian is acquainted with himself, the more will he go out of himself for his perfecting and establishing. He finds that when he thinks to go forward, he is driven backward, and sin gets hold of him, oftentimes, when he thought to have smitten it. He finds that miserable inconstancy of his heart in spiritual things, the vanish, ing of his purposes and breaking off of his thoughts, that they usually die ere they be brought forth: so that when he hath thought, “I will pray more reverently, and set myself to behold God when I speak to him, and watch more over my heart, that it fly not out and leave me;" possibly the first time he sets to it, thinking to be master of his intention, he finds himself more scattered, and disordered, and dead, than at any time before. When he hath conceived thoughts of humility and self-abasement, and thinks, “ Now I am down, and laid low within myself, to rise and look big no more;" yet some vain fancy creeps in anon, and encourages him, and raises him up to his old estate: so that in this plight, had he not higher strength to look at, he would sit down and give over all, as utterly hopeless of ever attaining to his journey's end.
d Psal. xvi. 5.
But when he considers whose work that is within him, even these small beginnings of desires, he is encouraged by the greatness of the work, not to despise and despair of the small appearance of it in its beginning; not to despise the day of small things"; and knowing that it is not by any power nor might, but by his Spirit, that it shall be accomplished, he lays hold on that word', Though thy beginning be small, yet thy latter end shall greatly increase.
The well instructed Christian looks to Jesus, a poputess, looks off from all oppositions and difficulties; looks above them to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; author, and therefore finisher. Thus that royal dignity is interested in the inaintainance and completing of what he hath wrought; notwithstanding all thy imperfections, and the strength of sin, he can and will subdue it; though thy condition should be so light and loose, that it were easy for any wind of temptation to blow thee away, yet he shall hold thee in his right hand, and there thou shalt be firm as the earth, that is so settled by his hand, that though it hangs on nothing, yet nothing can remove it. Though thou art weak, he is strong; and is he that strengthens thee, and renews thy strength"; when it seems to be gone and quite spent, he makes it fresh, and greater than ever • Zech. iv, 10. ! Job viii. 7. 6 Heb. xii. 2. h Isa, xl. 23.