... for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?—Canticles 1.7.
PROFESSION OF OUR FAITH,
RECOMMENDED IN SEVERAL SERMONS.
By Robert Traill.
Believing God's Promises
The Hope of Eternal Life
Sion & Christ's Kingdom.
For he is faithful that promised.
THOUGH you had heard these words but once, if you be true Christians, you would never forget them; how much more should they be well remembered when they have been so often repeated, and so long spoken to. That which remains now is a part of the application of the truth, proposed from these words. I did propose three exhortations in the conclusion of the application of this doctrine.
1. That you should answer the faithfulness of God, by believing the promise of salvation by Christ Jesus. This is the first act of faith that God craves of all them to whom the gospel is preached. Wherever the apostles came with the glad tidings of salvation by Christ Jesus, their application was to all, Believe; believe this doctrine with the heart, and ye shall be saved.
2. I was calling believers unto the answering of God's faithfulness, by trusting him for all covenant blessings by the way. And,
3. By answering God's faithfulness by faith, as to the end, eternal life, the great hope of our calling; the hope of eternal life, as the apostle Paul calls it, which God that cannot lie, promised before the world began, Titus 1.1,2. In the handling this exhortation, there were three heads I proposed to speak to.
First, What is to be believed, when a believer is called to believe eternal life promised to him in the gospel; and this I spent the last time in discoursing to. Believers are called to believe, that as soon as the soul is dislodged from the body, it is present with the Lord. They are to believe, that the same body that is laid in the grave, and rots there, shall be raised again in glory, at the appearance of Jesus Christ. They are to believe, that this departed soul, and this body raised again, shall be eternally united, never to part more. Lastly, That, in this state of perfection, we shall be eternally blessed in the enjoyment of God in Christ Jesus above. Of the particulars of which I discoursed the last day.
The second, that now remains to be spoke to, is about the difficulty of believing this. Shall I prove that it is difficult? Is there not proof enough, that this faith is so very rare? It may be, you may think it an unreasonable surmise and jealousy, but let every one's conscience answer for themselves. It may be (I do not know that it is), that, in all this assembly, there is not one person that can tell when they spent a calm sweet hour in the hope of the glory of God, when they had a satisfying rejoicing in the hope of this great prize of our calling. If this be rare, surely the faith of it is rare; for it is impossible that the faith of the glory to come can be strong in the hearts but joy will spring up therefrom: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God, Rom. 5.2. Christians know this well enough, that when they have tried their faith upon a great many promises of the word, sometimes upon the promise of God's hearing prayer, that their faith does pretty well there; sometimes upon the promises of pardon of sin through the blood of Jesus Christ, and their faith answers: but bring them close to believing the prize and crown of glory, there frequently their faith fails them, they cannot draw it forth so confidently as they would. That it is difficult and rare, I lake for granted, and shall not spend time to prove that which almost every exercised conscience in the company has a witness within to the truth of. My work then shall be to shew you, whence it comes that believing of eternal life is so very hard to be got, and is so rarely found with Christians.
1. Because this great thing, eternal life, is greatly unknown to us. It doth not yet appear what we shall be, says the apostle, 1 John 3.2.Neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him, 1 Cor. 2.9. Now, it is true the apostle says, that it is made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light, through the gospel, 2 Tim. 1.10. Yet though it be made manifest, we are rather told that it is, than what it is. This glory to come is yet within the veil, as the apostle saith of it, Heb. 6.19. where Christ is, whither the forerunner is for us entered. There is an express allusion to the typical high-priest, who, when he had offered the blood of atonement upon the altar, carried that blood within the veil to the mercy-seat; then he was quite out of the sight of the people, for he must go in alone, and none else could look after him. Now, how easy is it to conceive this, that the darker the thing believed be to us, the harder believing is? Mercies that we cannot well tell how to conceive of, is it any wonder, we cannot tell how to believe them firmly? For believing has an expectation of a blessing, as well as it has in it a trusting in the truth of the promiser. Heaven to every believer is more strange, than Canaan was to Abraham, who by faith, when he was called of God, went into that place, and he went out, not knowing whither he went, he was called to go to a land which he never saw before; only the difference is great in this, that though it was a better spot of the earth, than that where he was born or dwelt, yet it was a spot of the same earth, but heaven is a quite different country, Heb. 11.8.
2. The vast greatness and goodness of this prize, makes some difficulty to the faith of the people of God. It is so great, so good, that they find it hard to believe the expressions thereof in the word, which are great and many. The hearts of believers are many times so taken with them, and that deservedly, when they have expatiated in their thoughts about the greatness of the hope of their calling, that they are ready sometimes to say, And will God give such a blessing to me? You know what is said of the disciples, and it is one of the oddest accounts that can be given of unbelief, that while they beheld him, they believed not for joy, Luke 24.41. They loved Christ so well, they sorrowed for his death so deeply, and were so overjoyed at the sight of him risen again, that they could not tell how to believe their own eyes, as we usually say; the news was, as they thought, too good to be true. People are sometimes slacker to believe that which they would very fain have come to pass. Thus Jacob's heart fainted, when he was told that his son Joseph was yet alive, and more than that, was governor over all the land of Egypt, Gen. 45.26.
3. The awfulness of the passage to eternal life, makes the faith of it yet harder. If all believers were dealt with as Elijah was, that after they have accomplished their course of service and suffering upon the earth, they should be sent for, as it were in a chariot of fire, to be carried up to heaven; it would be an exit, if I may so speak, suitable to their expectations. But now for a poor believer, that hath been fed all his life long with the promises of eternal life in the gospel, and has been cheating his heart thereby, that this man should lie down in the dust, should walk through the vale and shadow of death, should leave his body a prey to worms and rottenness in the grave, this seemeth very hard. Will not every one say, Is this the way to eternal life? This is a strange way to heaven, that lies through death and the grave, and through the lowest and most abject state that a man can be in. Yet thus our Lord went into his glory, only bating the corruption of the grave, which he could not suffer; but through death, and sufferings, and groanings, and pain, he yielded up the ghost, was buried, and lay under the power of death, until the time appointed of the Father for his resurrection out of it. There is no Christian, but finds this to be true which I speak, that the dark black passage of death makes the difficulty great in believing eternal life. How far remote is it from all our reason, and from all our desires, that the last step in our journey to heaven, should be through so thick and deep a mire as death itself is?
4. The mystery of the title and right that a believer hath in eternal life, makes the believing of it the harder still. His title and right to it lies in another, and not in himself; it lies in the righteousness, and worth, and purchase, and merit of the Son of God; so that the faith of eternal life cannot be kept clear in the heart of a believer, unless Christs who is the hope of glory, be kept clear in our eye by faith.
5. There are many misgivings of heart that believers cannot well avoid; and if they cannot avoid them, they must meet them, and when they meet them, they must wrestle with them, and overcome them. The poor Israelites are not to be excused, but are much to be pitied; they were brought out of the land of Egypt with a high hand, God granted them a great deliverance through the Red sea, they sung joyfully upon the other side in the view of the great discomfiture of all their enemies, and like enough they expected nothing, but very quickly they should come to the borders of the good land. But when God led them about and tried them, they sinned; when they sinned, he punished them; under their punishment they repine and rebel, they vex him, and a great deal of sorrow came thereupon. Believers are in great danger of something like this; many faintings and misgivings of heart seize upon believers as to the hope of their calling. (1.) Conscience of utter unworthiness. (2.) Sense of great unmeet-ness for it. 1. Conscience of utter unworthiness of this great prize, and every Christian hath this. No man will ever get to heaven that thinks he deserves it; for it is certain, whoever thinks he deserves heaven, may conclude from the word of Gods there is a bar and bolt drawn upon heaven's gates against that proud sinner; for it is the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. But this is not usually so hard; this temptation does not so frequently distress believers, as the other; they know the reward of eternal life is a reward of grace; they know that it was dearly bought, freely promised, and is graciously given unto the seed of Christ: but here comes in the second. A sense of great unmeetness for it, says the poor Christian; I know I am unworthy of it. And so was Paul; the last hour of Paul's life he was unworthy of heaven. But, say you, here is the great discouragement, I am unmeet for it. But consider, that God works meetness in his people for heaven: Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, Col. 1.12. Though I know that the word there in the original might be very well otherwise rendered, who hath graced us and privileged us with his favour, as it may also be rendered in 2 Cor. 3.6. But now this only I would have to be considered about meetness; it is certain that none are possessed of heaven, but they that are meet for it; it is as certain that all believers, when they come to lay their claim to eternal life, are all alike unmeet in their own apprehensions. There is a great difference between some and others, as to their meetness for heaven: an ordinary Christian must not pretend to be as meet for heaven as Paul was; but there is not a Christian but stands upon the same level with Paul, as to his pretensions and claim to eternal life. What would Paul be at ? He would be found in him, not having his own righteousness; and so would every believer be. God works meetness for heaven in them, that he makes possessors of it in a deep mysterious way. The sense of this meetness is, that that is never to obstruct pure and mere faith. Suppose, and it is a case that I wish it were not a bare supposition, but were more frequent and with a good foundation; suppose, I say, that the grace of God seize a poor young creature, call him early, prevent him from wallowing in the puddle and mire of the world's wickedness; suppose still the same grace sanctify him, and this sanctified creature should grow up more and more unto the stature of a grown Christian for many years in the house of God: now, you will say, this man is meet for heaven; he is so, God hath made him so. Pray now let this man be examined about his meetness, and let his last plea, as it were, be heard, when he is knocking at heaven's gate for entry at last. It is only upon the account of the common foundation that every believer's faith is fixed upon; God will save none but those he sanctifies; but eternal life follows more immediately upon justification; our title to eternal life comes from the same righteousness that the forgiveness of our sins flows from.
6. There is a special activity of Satan in tempting believers, that makes this work yet the harder. The devil's great work in this world is to increase bad works, and to hinder good works; to keep them that are bad, bad still, and make them worse; and to hinder them that are bad from being good, and the good from growing better, and the best from being perfect. Believers are the special mark of the devil's malice; and there are two times wherein, be sure, if the devil may have his will, and he hath a great deal lent him by our Lord; there are two times wherein a poor child of God may be sure to meet with the devil, if the devil be not bound by more than ordinary restraint. The first time is, when the poor elect child of God is stepping out of nature into grace; the other is, when he is stepping out of grace up to glory. If the devil can possibly have his will, and it is rarely denied him, he will shoot his fiery darts in these cases. When a poor sinner is leaving Satan's camp, and going over into Christ's kingdom, when he is just upon delivery from the power of darkness, and of being translated into the kingdom of his dear Son, then the devil bends his bow, and lets fly thick and apace. A great many poor creatures that never knew there was a devil in hell, or out of hell, till this time, as long as they were in nature and quiet, the devil was quiet too; but when Christ came to pull them, and draw them, and bring them home to himself, they then found they had been under the keeping of an enemy, that was loth to part with them. The last case is much the same: When a poor creature is going over to Christ, the devil is losing his right; when going to heaven, the devil is losing all opportunity against him. There are few of the people of God that, in walking through the vale of the shadow of death, do not feel this serpent bruising their heel; but if they once be well landed, the smart will quickly be gone.
Lastly, There is some wise deep contrivance of God in this matter. The Lord hath ordered the matter of our salvation so, that believing shall be hard, and the last believing still hardest; so he hath ordered our right to eternal life: all is lying in another, nothing in us; we have a right in and by Christ, our charter of eternal life lies in God's word. In the conducting of the people of God, the Lord guides them so, that pure believing is never put out of its office: whatever he give, whatever path he leads them in, this remains continually useful and needful to them, that they must still go out of themselves, and exercise dependence upon another, upon the Lord alone. The whole contrivance of the way of our salvation, I mean the way of God's working with us about salvation, is framed for this end, that believing shall be perpetually used; the contrivance of the way of salvation for us, is made on purpose for the glory of God's grace through Christ Jesus; it is contrived for this purpose, that all the way we should believe; whatever we receive, we must trust still, for the great hope of our calling. So much for this second thing, What the difficulties are of believing eternal life.
The third thing is, How these are to be overcome; where is the victory that believers must have over all these difficulties? And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith, 1 John 5.4. The victory lies in this word, Faithful is he that promised. Let the difficulties that lie in the way of believing be never so great, we must hold up this as a shield against them all, Faithful is he that promised; and in order to guide you in the right way of using it, I would offer you four or five things.
1. Muse, think often, both on the promise, and on the promiser. They whose minds and thoughts are not much taken up about the faithful God, and the faithful promise of God, how can it be expected that they should believe well? Entertain, I say, a frequent savoury remembrance both of the promise and promiser. Our Lord charges his disciples with this, And now I have told you before it come to pass, that when it is come to pass, ye might believe, John 14.29. and 16.4. Remember it then, that you may believe more. Can you imagine it possible, that faith should flourish in the heart, when the promise and promiser is out of the eye, and out of the mind? That is utterly impossible.
2. Pray to the promiser upon the promise. He that prays much, believes well; and no man that neglects prayer, can act faith. We pray upon the promise to the promiser: Remember the word unto thy servant, says David, upon which thou hast caused me to hope, Psalm 119.49. The promises are given for our faith; and our faith is to be acted in praying upon them; and when we pray upon the promises, we pray to him that made them, and he that made them can certainly perform them.
3. Build upon the promises, lay your weight on them. The apostle Jude requires us to build up ourselves in our most holy faith. Faith is on the promises; and our building ourselves upon our most holy faith, is building on the promises by faith. The promise of God can bear every thing, any thing, and we must lay all upon it; we must lay every thing whatsoever upon the promise of God, all our desires, all our cares, all our weights, all our burthens, but especially of eternal life, which, as you know, we cannot bear ourselves; let the promise of God bear them; and in this matter of our eternal salvation, we know we cannot bear it of ourselves. This burthen we must lay upon the promises since it must be borne, or we are undone utterly. If this great affair of our eternal salvation be not laid upon a solid and good foundation, we are gone for ever; there is no foundation, but the foundation of God, that standeth sure, that of his faithful word.
4. You must learn to reason and argue upon the promises. A blessed way of exercising faith is to be reasoning by faith. There are faith's reasonings that have a great deal of excellency in them, a great deal of use. If I may so speak, it is a sort of pity that such good words should ever come out of so wicked a mouth as Balaam's; the man spoke words of faith, that he knew nothing of; Numb. 23.19, God is not a man that he should lie, neither the son of man that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or he hath spoken, and shall he not make it good? With a better heart use these blessed words. The Spirit of God over-awed the man's tongue to speak them, and the Spirit of God guided Moses's pen to write them; therefore, though they are spoken by a false prophet, it is a part of precious scripture, it is of the arguings of faith: Hath God said, and shall he not do it? There is never a man nor all the devils in hell shall be able to say, Here is a word of God which he did not make good. See also, 1 Sam. 15.29. I would only help you to a few of these reasonings of faith, that you may think of and use at any time, as God inclines your hearts.
1st, God knew what he promised, when he promised. Though God promised me eternal life, I do not know what is in this eternal life, but God knows full well. We are puzzled, we are darkened in the studying the doctrine of grace, and the great prize of our calling; but God knows it well; he promises no blessing unknown to himself, though it be unknown to us.
2dly, He knew to whom he gave the promise, he knew what they were, he knew what they would be, he knew what they would prove. When God delivered to me, saith a poor believer, the promise of eternal life in the gospel, he knew what I was, in the day I laid hold of it, John 14.18; 16.31; 13.36,38.
3dly, This is arguing of faith, when the promise and promiser hath engaged our trust and confidence in any case, we may argue upon that; he hath not only promised, but he hath begotten expectations in our hearts concerning the thing he hath spoken of, and will he fail in the word upon which he has caused us to hope? Hast thou added the power with the word, so as to make me hope in it, and wilt thou not perform it? Psalm 119.49; 2 Sam. 7.20,27.
4thly, Has not God begun to perform his promises to us; and should we not argue by faith, that we should trust in them more and more? The promise of eternal life is begun to all believers: He hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us up together in regenerations and made us sit together in heavenly places in him as our head; and will not the rest come on then? Being confident, says the apostle, of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ, Phil. 1.6; 1 Thess. 5.23,24.
Lastly, This is an arguing of faith, God's design in making, keeping, and performing his promise, is the same with the believer's design in receiving and resting on the promise; the same thing that God designed in the making, and keeping, and fulfilling his word; the same thing the believer designs in his taking, and trusting, and waiting for the performance of the word. What is God's great design? God's great design is to glorify the exceeding riches of his kindness towards us in Jesus Christ, as the apostle tells us, Eph. 2.7. What does the believer design? He designs the same thing. God promises us eternal life to the praise of the glory of his grace in Christ Jesus; what more would the believer have? In the day that he lays hold on the promise by faith, he means nothing else but this; he seeks nothing else, but that he may have eternal life, to the praise of God's grace in Christ Jesus; Hath God designed, in making the promises to glorify his faithfulness? I, in believing the promise, design the same thing. Now, whenever God and a poor believer jump in the same design, it is impossible, that it should miscarry. Indeed, if God designed one thing, and we another, God would reach his end, and we should lament our folly; but if we intend the same thing in all our faith in the promises, that God intends in making them, a disappointment is impossible. See Phil. 3.12; 1 Peter 5.10.
The last thing is, That you must take this truth of God, Faithful is he that promises, and keep it in the hand of your faith, in life and in death; hold it fast continually, keep it still as your anchor. When the body is decayed, when Satan is tempting, when the heart is misgiving, when pale death settles upon your eye-lids, when an awful judgment is staring you in the face, nothing but this, Faithful is he that promises, will support us. Weak is the believer, but faithful is the Promiser. So much for these three exhortations that I promised, and have now spoke to from these words.
There is one more, and that I would conclude with. I have been exhorting you to glorify God's faithfulness, by venturing on the promise of salvation by Christ in the gospel; to glorify God's faithfulness, by believing all covenant-blessings by the way; and to glorify God's faithfulness, by believing eternal life in the end. Only one word more, and that is the greatest of all. Glorify God's faithfulness by believing the promises about Sion and Christ's kingdom, though its state be ever so low. It was a good saying of a believer, in dark and dismal times, "Now it is time to believe." The great believer had a kind of joy in dark hours, because there was such a fair field for faith to act on God's faithfulness. I believe many of you do not know much of the state of the work of Christ abroad in the world, and a great many are little careful to know it that should; but, by all the little hints that we have any manner of way, it is exceeding low at this day: let us believe, notwithstanding, it shall be well; this great faithful promiser hath promised great things about Christ's kingdom, and we must believe greatly about them; the strongest faith should be put forth here.
1. The promises that we are to believe on for Christ's kingdom, are Christ's promises. My meaning is, not only that they are by Christ, for all are so: but they are made to him; so, in some sense, all are too; but they are made to him primarily, they are made to him for his body's sake, the church. Shall we not believe firmly the promises of the Father to the Son? Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth even for ever: the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this, Isa. 9.7. Let the faith of believers believe it then.
2. These great promises we are to believe about Christ's kingdom, are most free to the church, but they are most dear to Christ Jesus, and he hath already paid the price for them; he hath bought the kingdom already, and all that glory that is given him; that name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, Phil. 2.10,11.
3. These promises are greatly fulfilled already, and we should believe them the more firmly upon that account. Our Lord himself, the great heir of the promises, is, as well as we can wish him, and better than we can think, exalted at the Father's right hand above all his enemies. If there were a host of all Christ's enemies together, it may be, they would be as bold as ever; but if all the devils in hell, and all wicked men on earth, were conjoined against him, yet a sight of his glory would chase them into hell, Eph. 3.20.
4. Believe these promises, for they are the largest and most comprehensive of all. The promises of Christ's kingdom, are the stock of all the faith of God's children in all ages. Pray, whence comes thy conversion, justification, calling, or being brought home to God? It came out of the womb of the promises of the Father made to his Son: He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities. All the saving grace that we receive, comes from these promises that are made to Christ; and what we desire now, is but the fulfilling of them. What is there that we desire in all this world but this, that a great many ungodly people may be converted, and that all the godly may be eminent in grace, and at last ripe for glory? All these are contained in Christ's promises, these promises wherein the faithfulness of God is engaged: he hath promised this to David, that he will establish his seed for ever, and build up his throne to all generations, Psalm 89.4. You have ground sure enough for your faith, and you cannot be more happy than to have faith enough for your work. The Lord furnish you with it.