First, Directions to Christ as the object of faith.—How in a threefold consideration Christ is the object of justifying faith.
But ere I come to encourage your faith from these, let me first direct and point your faith aright to its proper and genuine object, Christ. I shall do it briefly, and only so far as it may be in introduction to the encouragement from these four particulars, the things mainly intended by me.
Christ is the object of our faith, in joint commission with God the Father.
Christ is the object of faith, in opposition to our own humiliation, or graces, or duties.
Christ is the object of faith, in a distinction from the promises.
First, Christ is the object of faith, in joint commission with God the Father. So here, ‘it is God that justifies,’ and ‘Christ that died.’ They are both of them set forth as the foundation of a believer’s confidence. So elsewhere, faith is called a ‘believing on him (namely, God), that justifies the ungodly,’ Rom. 4:5; and a ‘believing on Christ,’ Acts 16:31. Wherefore faith is to have an eye unto both, for both do alike contribute unto the justification of a sinner. It is Christ that paid the price, that performed the righteousness by which we are justified; and it is God that accepts of it, and imputes it unto us; therefore justification is ascribed unto both. And this we have, Rom. 3:24, where it is attributed unto them both together, ‘Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.’ Where we see that God’s free grace and Christ’s righteousness do concur to our justification. Christ paid as full a price, as if there were no grace shewn in justifying us (for mercy bated Christ nothing); and yet that it should be accepted for us, is as free grace, and as great as if Christ had paid never a farthing. Now as both these meet to justify us, so faith in justification is to look at both these. So it follows in the next verse, Rom. 3:25, ‘Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood.’ And though it be true, that God justifying is the ultimate object of our faith, for Christ ‘leads us by the hand’ (as the word is, Eph. 2:18), ‘unto God;’ and 1 Pet. 1:21, we are said ‘by Christ to believe on God who raised him, that so our faith and hope might be on God;’ yet so, as under the New Testament, Christ is made the more immediate object of faith; for God dwelling in our nature is made more familiar to our faith than the person of the Father is, who is merely God. Under the Old Testament, when Christ was but in the promise, and not as then come in the flesh, then indeed their faith had a more usual recourse unto God, who had promised the Messiah, of whom they then had not so distinct, but only confused, thoughts; though this they knew, that God accepted and saved them through the Messiah. But now under the New Testament, because Christ as mediator exists not only in a promise of God’s, but is come and manifest in the flesh, and is ‘set forth by God’ (as the apostle’s phrase is), to transact all our business for us between God and us; hence the more usual and immediate address of our faith is to be made unto Christ; who as he is distinctly set forth in the New Testament, so he is as distinctly to be apprehended by the faith of believers. ‘Ye believe in God’ (saith Christ to his disciples, whose faith and opinion of the Messiah was till Christ’s resurrection, of the same elevation with that of the Old Testament believers), ‘believe also in me,’ John 14:1. Make me the object of your trust for salvation, as well as the Father. And, therefore, when faith and repentance come more narrowly to be distinguished by their more immediate objects, it is ‘repentance towards God,’ but ‘faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ,’ Acts 20:21; not that God and Christ are* the objects of both, but that Christ is more immediately the object of faith, and God of repentance: so that we believe in God through believing in Christ first, and turn to Christ by turning to God first. And this is there spoken, when they are made the sum of Christian doctrine, and of the apostles’ preaching. And, therefore, the faith of some being much enlarged to the mercies of God and his free grace, and but in way of supposition unto Christ, or in a taking for granted that all mercies are communicated in and through Christ, yet so as their thoughts work not so much upon, nor are taken up about Christ; although this may be true faith under the New Testament, in that God and his free grace is the joint object of faith, together with Christ and his righteousness,—and the one cannot be without the other,—and God ofttimes doth move eminently pitch the stream of a man’s thoughts in one channel rather than in another, and so may direct the course of a man’s thoughts towards his free grace, when the stream runs less towards Christ, yet it is not such a faith as becomes the times of the gospel; it is of an Old Testament strain and genius; whereas our faith now should, in the more direct and immediate exercises of it, be pitched upon Jesus Christ, that ‘through him,’ first apprehended, ‘our faith might be in God’ (as the ultimate object of it), as the apostle speaks, 1 Pet 1:21. And so much for the first.
The second is, that Christ is to be the object of our faith, in opposition to our own humiliation, or graces, or duties.
(1.) We are not to trust, nor rest in humiliation, as many do, who quiet their consciences from this, that they have been troubled. That promise, ‘Come to me, you that are weary and heavy laden, and you shall find rest,’ hath been much mistaken; for many have understood it, as if Christ had spoken peace and rest simply unto that condition, without any more ado, and so have applied it unto themselves, as giving them an interest in Christ; whereas it is only an invitement of such (because they are most apt to be discouraged) to come unto Christ, as in whom alone their rest is to be found. If therefore men will set down their rest in being ‘weary and heavy laden,’ and not come to Christ for it, they sit down besides Christ for it, they sit down in sorrow. This is to make John (who only prepared the way for Christ) to be the Messiah indeed (as many of the Jews thought), that is, to think the eminent work of John’s ministry (which was to humble, and so prepare men for Christ) to be their attaining Christ himself. But if you be weary, you may have rest indeed, but you must come to Christ first. For as, if Christ had died only, and not arose, we had ‘been still in our sins,’ (as it is 1 Cor. 15:17), so though we die by sin, as slain by it, (as Paul was, Rom. 7:11, 12, 13, in his humiliation), yet if we attain not to the resurrection of faith (so the work of faith is expressed, Phil. 3:12, 13), we still remain in our sins.
(2.) Secondly, we are not to rest in graces or duties; they all cannot satisfy our own consciences, much less God’s justice. If ‘righteousness could have come’ by these, then ‘Christ had died in vain,’ as Gal. 2:21. What a dishonour were it to Christ, that they should share any of the glory of his righteousness! Were any of your duties crucified for you? Graces and duties are the daughters of faith, the offspring of Christ; and they may in time of need indeed nourish their mother, but not at first beget her.
In the third place, Christ’s person, and not barely the promises of forgiveness, is to be the object of faith. There are many poor souls humbled for sin, and taken off from their own bottom, who, like Noah’s dove, fly over all the word of God, to spy out what they may set their foot upon, and eying therein many free and gracious promises, holding forth forgiveness of sins, and justification, they immediately close with them, and rest on them alone, not seeking for, or closing with Christ in those promises. Which is a common error among people; and is like us if Noah’s dove should have rested upon the outside of the ark, and not have come to Noah within the ark; where though she might rest for a while, yet could she not ride out all storms, but must needs have perished there in the end. But we may observe, that the first promise that was given, was not a bare word simply promising forgiveness, or other benefits which God would bestow; but it was a promise of Christ’s person as overcoming Satan, and purchasing those benefits, ‘The seed of the woman shall break the serpent’s head.’ So when the promise was renewed to Abraham, it was not a bare promise of blessedness and forgiveness, but of that seed, that is, Christ (as Gal. 3:16), in whom that blessedness was conveyed. ‘In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.’ So that Abraham’s faith first closed with Christ in the promise, and therefore he is said to see Christ’s day, and to rejoice in embracing him. And so all the succeeding fathers (that were believers) did, more or less, in their types and sacraments, as appears by 1 Cor 10:1, 2. And if they, then much more are we thus to look at Christ, unto whom he is now made extant, not in promises only, but is really incarnate, though now in heaven. Hence our sacraments (which are the seals added to the word of faith) do primarily exhibit Christ unto a believer, and so, in him, all other promises, as of forgiveness, &c., are ratified and confirmed by them. Now there is the same reason of them, that there is of the promises of the gospel, for they preach the gospel to the eye, as the promise doth to the ear, and therefore as in them the soul is first to look at Christ, and embrace him as tendered in them, and then at the promises tendered with him in them, and not to take the sacraments as bare seals of pardon and forgiveness; so, in like manner, in receiving of, or having recourse to a promise, which is the word of faith, we are first to seek out for Christ in it, as being the foundation of it, and so to take hold of the promise in him. Hence faith is still expressed by this its object, Christ, it being called ‘faith on Christ.’ Thus Philip directs the eunuch, Acts 8:35. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus.’
The promise is but the casket, and Christ the jewel in it; the promise but the field, and Christ the pearl hid in it, and to be chiefly looked at. The promises are the means by which you believe, not the things on which you are to rest. And so, although you are to look at forgiveness as held forth in the promise, yet you are to believe on Christ in that promise to obtain this forgiveness. So Acts 26:18, it is said of believers by Christ himself, ‘that they may obtain forgiveness of sins, by faith which is on me.’
And to clear it farther, we must conceive, that the promises of forgiveness are Not as the pardons of a prince, which merely contain an expression of his royal word for pardoning, so as we in seeking of it do rest upon, and have to do only with his word and seal, which we have to shew for it; but God’s promises of pardon are made in his Son, and are as if a prince should offer to pardon a traitor upon marriage with his child, whom in and with that pardon he offers in such a relation; so as all that would have pardon, must seek out for his child; and thus it is in the matter of believing. The reason of which is, because Christ is the grand promise, in whom, ‘all the promises are yea and amen,’ 2 Cor. 1:20, and therefore he is called the Covenant, Isa. 49:8. So that, as it were folly for any man to think that he hath an interest in an heiress’s lands, because he hath got the writings of her estate into his hands, whereas the interest in the lands goes with her person, and with the relation of marriage to her, otherwise, without a title to herself, all the writings will be fetched out of his hands again; so is it with all the promises: they hang all upon Christ, and without him there is no interest to be had in them. ‘He that hath the Son hath life,’ 1 John 5:12, because life is by God’s appointment only in him, as ver. 11. All the promises are as copyhold land, which when you would interest yourselves in, you inquire upon what lord it holds, and you take it up of him, as well as get the evidences and deeds for it into your hands; the lord of it will be acknowledged for such in passing his right into your hands. Now this is the tenure of all the promises; they all hold on Christ, in whom they are yea and amen; and you must take them up of him. Thus the apostles preached forgiveness to men, Acts 13:38, ‘Be it known that through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins.’ And as they preached, so we are to believe, as the apostle speaks, 1 Cor. 15:11. And without this, to rest on the bare promise, or to look to the benefit promised, without eying Christ, is not an evangelical, but a Jewish faith, even such as the formalists among the Jews had, who without the Messiah closed with promises, and rested in types to cleanse them, without looking unto Christ the end of them, and as propounded to their faith in them. This is to go to God without a mediator, and to make the promises of the gospel to be as the promises of the law, Nehushtan (as Hezekiah said of the brazen serpent), a piece of brass, vain and ineffectual; like the waters of Bethesda, they heal not, they cleanse not, till this ‘angel of the covenant’ come down to your faith in them. Therefore at a sacrament, or when you meet with any promise, get Christ first down by faith, and then let your faith propound what it would have, and you may have what you will of him.
There are three sorts of promises, and in the applying of all these, it is Christ that your faith is to meet with.
There are absolute promises, made to no conditions; as when Christ is said to ‘come to save sinners,’ &c. Now in these it is plain, that Christ is the naked object of them; so that if you apply not him, you apply nothing, for the only thing held forth in them is Christ.
There are inviting promises; as that before mentioned, ‘Come to me, you that are weary.’ The promise is not to weariness, but to coming to Christ; they are bidden ‘Come to him,’ if they will have rest.
There are assuring promises; as those made to such and such qualifications of sanctification, &c. But still what is it that is promised in them, which the heart should only eye? It is Christ, in whom the soul rests and hath comfort in, and not in its grace; so that the sight of a man’s grace is but a back-door to let faith in at, to converse with Christ, whom the soul loves. Even as at the sacrament, the elements of bread and wine are but outward signs to bring Christ and the heart together, and then faith lets the outward elements go, and closeth, and treats immediately with Christ, unto whom these let the soul in; so grace is a sign inward, and whilst men make use of it only as of a bare sign to let them in unto Christ, and their rejoicing is not in it, but in Christ, their confidence being pitched upon him, and not upon their grace; whilst men take this course, there is and will be no danger at all in making such use of signs. And I see not, but that God might as well appoint his own work of the new creation within, to be as a sign and help to communion with Christ by faith, as he did those outward dements, the works of his first creation; especially, seeing in nature the effect is a sign of the cause. Neither is it more derogatory to free grace, or to Christ’s honour, for God to make such effects signs of our union with him, than it was to make outward signs of his presence.
Goodwin, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Goodwin. Vol. 4. (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1862), 11-15. Public Domain. Original Printing 1651.
The scope and argument of this discourse is, either direction to Christ as the object of faith, or encouragement to believers, from all those particulars in Christ mentioned in the text.
Faith and the supports of it, or rather Christ, as by his death and resurrection, &c., he is the foundation of faith and the cause of our justification, is the main subject of these words. All which therefore, to handle more largely, is the intended subject of this discourse. And therefore, as we have seen Christ’s faith for us, so now let us see what our faith is to be towards him: only take this along with you, for a right bounding of all that follows, that the faith (the object and support of which I would discourse of), is only faith as justifying; for justification was properly here the matter of Christ’s faith for us, and is also answerably here held forth by Paul, as that faith which believers are to have on him. Now faith is called justifying, only as it hath justification for its object, and as it goes out to Christ for justification; so that all that shall be spoken must be confined to this alone, as the intendment of the text. And concerning this, the text doth two things:
It holds forth Christ the object of it, ‘Who shall condemn? Christ hath died,’ &c. And he being the sole subject of those four particulars that follow, as encouragements to faith, must needs be therefore the object here set forth unto our faith.
In Christ we have here all those four things made matter of triumph to believers, to assure them they shall not be condemned, but justified: in that
Christ (1.) died, (2.) rose again, (3.) is at God’s right hand, (4.) intercedes.
So that (for the general), I am to do two things; and therein I shall fulfil the text’s scope.
Direct your faith to Christ, as to its right object.
To encourage your faith from these several actions of Christ for us, and shew how they all contain matter of triumph for faith in them, and also teach your faith how to triumph from each of them. And herein I am to keep close to the argument propounded, namely, faith as justifying; or to shew how faith, seeking justification in Christ, may be exceedingly raised from each of these particulars, and supported by them, as by so many pillars of it. So as although Christ’s death, resurrection, &c., may fitly serve to encourage our faith in many other acts it useth to put forth (as in point of sanctification to be had from Christ, into which his death and resurrection have an influence), yet here we are limited to the matter of justification only; ‘It is God that justifies; who shall condemn, seeing Christ hath died?’ and herein to shew how his death, resurrection, &c., may and do afford matter of comfort and triumphing in point of justification from all these. And thus you have the sum of these words, and of my scope in this ensuing treatise.
Goodwin, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Goodwin. Vol. 4. (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1862), 10-11. Public Domain. Original Printing 1651.
The scope of words: that they were Christ’s originally.—Christ the highest example of believing.—Encouragements to our faith from thence.
These words are a triumphing challenge uttered by the apostle in the name of all the elect; for so he begins it in ver. 33 foregoing, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies.’ And then follow these words, ‘Who shall condemn?’ namely, God’s elect. ‘It is Christ that died,’ &c. This challenge we find first published by Jesus Christ himself, our only champion, Isa. 50 (a chapter made of and for Christ), ver. 8, ‘He is near that justifies me; who will contend with me?’ They were Christ’s words there, and spoken of God’s justifying him: and these are every believer’s words here, intended of God’s justifying them. Christ is brought in there uttering them as standing at the high priest’s tribunal, when they spat upon him, and buffeted him, as ver. 4, 5; when he was condemned by Pilate, then he exercised this faith on God his Father, ‘He is near that justifies me.’ And as in that his condemnation he stood in our stead, so in this his hope of his justification he speaks is our stead also, and as representing us in both. And upon this the apostle here pronounces, in like words, of all the elect, ‘It is God that justifies; who shall accuse?’ Christ was condemned, yea, ‘hath died; who therefore shall condemn?’ Lo, here the communion we have with Christ in his death and condemnation, yea in his very faith; if he trusted in God, so may we, and shall as certainly be delivered. Observe we first from hence, by way of premise to all that follows,
Obs. That Christ lived by faith as well as we do.
In John 1:16, we are said to ‘receive of his fulness grace for grace; that is, grace answerable and like unto his; and so (among others) faith.
For explication hereof.
First; in some sense he had a faith for justification like unto ours, though not a justification through faith, as we have. He went not, indeed, out of himself, to rely on another for righteousness, for he had enough of his own (he being ‘the Lord our righteousness’); yet he believes on God to justify him, and had recourse to God for justification: ‘He is near’ (says he) ‘that justifies me.’ If he had stood in his own person merely, and upon his own bottom only, there had been no occasion for such a speech; and yet consider him as he stood in our stead, there was; for what need of such a justification, if he had not been some way near a condemnation? He therefore must be supposed to stand here (in Isaiah) at God’s tribunal, as well as at Pilate’s, with all our sins upon him. And so the same prophet tells us, chap. 53:6, ‘God made the iniquities of us to meet on him.’ He was now made sin, and a curse, and stood not in danger of Pilate’s condemnation only, but of God’s too, unless he satisfied him for all those sins. And when the wrath of God for sin came thus in upon him, his faith, was put to it, to trust and wait on him for his justification, for to take off all those sins, together with his wrath from off him, and to acknowledge himself satisfied and him acquitted. Therefore, in Ps. 22 (which was made for Christ when hanging on the cross, and speaks how his heart was taken up that while), he is brought in as putting forth such a faith as here we speak of, when he called God his God, ‘My God! my God!’ then, when as to his sense, he had forsaken him, ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’ Yea, he helped his faith with the faith of the forefathers, whom upon their trust in him God had delivered; ‘Our fathers,’ saith he, ‘trusted in thee; they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.’ Yea, at ver. 5, we find him laying himself at God’s feet, lower than ever any man did. ‘I am a worm,’ says he, (which every man treads on, and counts it a matter of nothing for to kill), ‘and no man,’ as it follows; and all this, because he bare our sins. Now his deliverance and justification from all these, to be given him at his resurrection, was the matter, the business he thus trusted in God for, even that he should rise again, and be acquitted from them. So Ps. 16 (a psalm made also for Christ, when to suffer, and lie in the grave), ver. 8, 9, 10: ‘The Lord is at my right hand, I shall not be moved: Therefore my heart is glad, my flesh also resteth in hope,’ or, as in the original, ‘dwells in confident sureness.’ ‘Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell,’ that is, under the load of these sins, and thy wrath laid on me for them; ‘neither wilt suffer thy holy One (in my body) to see corruption.’ This is in substance all one with what is here said in this one word, ‘He is near that justifies me,’ for Christ’s resurrection was a justification of him, as I shall hereafter shew.
Neither, 2, did he exercise faith for himself only, but for us also, and that more than any of us is put to it, to exercise for himself; for he in dying, and emptying himself, trusted God with the merit of all his sufferings aforehand, there being many thousands of souls to be saved thereby a long while after, even to the end of the world. He died and betrusted all that stock into his Father’s hands, to give it out in grace and glory, as those for whom he died should have need. And this is a greater trust (considering the infinite number of his elect as then yet to come) than any man hath occasion to put forth for himself alone. God trusted Christ before he came into the world, and saved many millions of the Jews up on his bare word. And then Christ, at his death, trusts God again as much, both for the salvation of Jews and Gentiles, that were to believe after his death. In Heb. 2:12, 13, 14, 15, it is made an argument that Christ was a man like us, because he was put to live by faith like as we are (which the angels do not); and to this end, the apostle brings in these words prophesied of him, as spoken by him of himself, ‘I will put my trust in him,’ as one proof that he was a man like unto us. Now for what was it that he trusted God? By the context it appears to be this, that he should be the salvation of his ‘brethren’ and ‘children,’ and that he should have ‘a seed and a generation to serve him,’ and raise up a church to God to praise him in. For this is made his confidence, and the issue of his sufferings, in that fore-cited Ps. 22, from ver. 22 to the end.
Use. How should the consideration of these things both draw us on to faith, and encourage us therein, and raise up our hearts above all doubtings and withdrawings of spirit in believing! For in this example of Christ we have the highest instance of believing that ever was. He trusted God (as we have seen) for himself, and for many thousands besides, even for all his elect; and hast not thou the heart to trust him for one poor soul? Yea, Christ thus trusted God upon his single bond; but we, for our assurance, have both Christ and God bound to us, even God with his surety Christ (for he is God’s surety as well as ours). A double bond from two such persons, whom would it not secure? If God the Father and God the Son thus mutually trusted one another for our salvation, whom would it not induce to trust them both, for one’s own salvation, whenas otherwise they must be damned that will not?
This example of Christ may teach and incite us to believe. For did Christ lay down all his glory, and empty himself, and leave himself worth nothing, but made a deed of surrendering all he had into his Father’s hands, and this in a pure trust that God would ‘justify many by him’ (as it is in Isa. 53)? And shall not we lay down all we have, and part with whatever is dear unto us aforehand, with the like submission, in a dependence and hope of being ourselves justified by him? And withal;—
It may encourage us to believe, especially against the greatness of sins. Hast thou the guilt of innumerable transgressions coming in and discouraging thee from trusting in him? Consider but what Christ had, though not of his own; Christ was made (as Luther boldly, in this sense that we speak of him, speaks), the greatest sinner that ever was, that is, by imputation; for the sins of all God’s chosen met in him. And yet he trusted God to be justified from them all, and to be raised up from under the wrath due to them. Alas! thou art but one poor sinner, and thy faith hath but a light and small load laid upon it, namely, thy own sins, which to this sum he undertook for, are but as an unit to an infinite number. ‘God laid upon him the iniquities of us all.’ Christ trusted God for his own acquittance from the sins of all the world, and when that was given him, he yet again further trusted him, to acquit the world for his satisfaction’s sake.
But thou wilt say, Christ was Christ, one personally united to God, and so knew that he could satisfy him; but I am a sinful man. Well, but if thou believest, and so art one of those who are one with Christ, then Christ speaking these words in the name both of himself and of his elect, as hath been shewed, thou hast the very same ground to utter them that he had, and all that encouraged him may embolden thee, for he stood in thy stead. It was only thine and others’ sins that put him in any danger of condemnation; and thou seest what his confidence beforehand was, that God would justify him from them all. And if he had left any of them unsatisfied for, he had not been justified; and, withal, in performing his own part undertaken by him, he performed thine also, and so in his being justified thou wert justified also. His confidence, then, may therefore be thine now; only his was in and from himself, but thine must be on him: yet so as by reason of thy communion with him in his both condemnation and justification, thou mayest take and turn all that emboldened him to this his trust and confidence, to embolden thee also in thine, as truly as he did for himself. Yea, in this thou hast now a farther prop and encouragement to thy faith, than he had; for now (when then art to believe), Christ hath fully performed the satisfaction he undertook, and we now see Jesus crucified, acquitted, yea crowned with glory and honour, as the apostle speaks; but he, when he took up this triumph, was (as Isaiah here foretold and prophesied it of him), but as then entering upon that work. The prophet seeing the day of his arraignment and agony, utters these words as his; shewing what thoughts should then possess his heart, when Pilate and the Jews should condemn him, and our sins come in upon him, ‘God is near that justifies me; who therefore shall contend with me?’ But now this comes to be added to our challenge here, that ‘Christ hath died, and is also risen again;’ that he was condemned and justified; who therefore shall condemn? may we say, and say much more.
But thou wilt yet say, He knew himself to be the Son of God, but so do not I. Well, do thou but cast thyself upon him, to be adopted and justified by him, with a giving up thy soul to his saving thee his own way, and, though thou knowest it not, the thing is done. And as for that so great and usual discouragement unto poor souls from doing this, namely, the greatness and multitudes of sins, this very example of his faith, and the consideration of it, may alone take off, and help to remove it, more than any I have ever met with; for he, in bearing the sins of his elect, did bear as great and infinitely more sins than thine, yea, all sorts of sins whatever, for some one of his elect or other, for he said upon it, that all (that is, all sorts of) sins shall be forgiven unto men, and therefore were first borne by him for them; and yet you see how confident aforehand he was, and is now clearly justified from them all. And by virtue of his being justified from all sorts of sins, shall all sorts of sinners in and through him be justified also; and, therefore, why mayest not thou hope to be from thine? Certainly for this very reason our sins, simply and alone considered, can be supposed no hindrance.
Thus we have met with one great and general encouragement at the very portal of this text, which comes forth to invite us ere we are entered into it, and which will await upon us throughout all that shall be said, and have an influence into our faith, and help to direct it in all that follows.
Goodwin, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Goodwin. Vol. 4. (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1862), 7-10. Public Domain. Original Printing 1651.
A general and brief scheme of the whole of that work committed to the Holy Spirit in bringing us to salvation; in an enumeration of all particulars, and of the glory due unto him for it.—The work of the Holy Spirit in the unction of Jesus to be our Saviour.
Some general observations premised out of the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth chapters of St John’s Gospel.
There is a general omission in the saints of God, in their not giving the Holy Ghost that glory that is due to his person, and for his great work of salvation in us, insomuch that we have in our hearts almost lost this third person. We give daily in our thoughts, prayers, affections, and speeches, an honour to the Father and the Son; but who almost directs the aims of his praise (more than in that general way of doxology we use to close our prayers with, ‘All glory be,’ &c.) unto God the Holy Ghost? He is a person in the Godhead equal with the Father and the Son; and the work he doth for us in its kind is as great as those of the Father or the Son. Therefore, by the equity of all law, a proportionable honour from us is due to him. God’s ordination amongst men is, that we should ‘render to all their due, honour to whom honour is due,’ Rom. 13:1. To the magistracy (which there he speaks it of) according to their place and dignity; and this he makes a debt, a due, ver. 8. And the like is enjoined concerning ministers, that are instruments of our spiritual good, that we should ‘esteem them very highly for their work’s sake,’ 1 Thes. 5:13. Let the same law, I beseech you, take place in your hearts towards the Holy Ghost, as well as the other two persons of the Trinity. The Holy Ghost is indeed the last in order of the persons, as proceeding from the other two, yet in the participation of the Godhead he is equal with them both; and in his work, though it be last done for us, he is not behind them, nor in the glory of it inferior to what they have in theirs. And indeed he would not be God, equal with the Father and the Son, if the work allotted to him, to shew he is God, were not equal unto each of theirs. And indeed, no less than all that is done, or to be done in us, was left to the Holy Ghost’s share, for the ultimate execution of it; and it was not left him as the refuse, it being as necessary and as great as any of theirs. But he being the last person, took his own lot of the works about our salvation, which are the last, which is to apply all, and to make all actually ours, whatever the other two had done afore for us. The scope of this treatise is to set forth this work to you in the amplitude of it, to the end you may accordingly in your hearts honour this blessed and holy Spirit. And surely if to neglect the notice and observation of an attribute of God, eminently imprinted on such or such a work of God’s, as of power in the creation, justice in governing the world, mercy in bearing with sinners, grace in our salvation; if this be made so great a sin (Rom. 1) then it must be deemed a greater diminution to the Godhead to neglect the glorifying one of these persons, who is possessed of the whole Godhead and attributes, when he is manifested or interested in any work most gloriously.
In prosecution of my design, to persuade you to honour the Holy Ghost as you do the Father and the Son, I shall consider the 14th, 15th, and 16th chapters of John, and make some general observations upon various passages in those chapters serving to this purpose; and we shall see therein what a valuation the Father and the Son, the other persons with him, have in those chapters put upon him and hi work, and what a great and singular matter they make of his work, and what a great and singular matter they make of his work, and what divine esteem of his person, as by Christ’s speeches scattered up and down therein appears. Though the Father himself doth not immediately speak, yet the Son doth in his name, as well as in his own. And you may well take their judgments, for they are sharers and co-rivals with him in point of glory about our salvation; the work of which I shall only treat of.
There are these general observations which I shall make upon the whole series of the aforesaid chapters, which serve the design of my discourse.
Obs. 1. First, Our Saviour had abundantly in all his former sermons discoursed both his work and hand in our salvation, as also his Father’s; and now at last, just when he was to go out of the world, he then, and not till then, doth more plainly and more fully discover to them this third person, that had an after-work left to him, who to that end was to come when he should be gone, and was to come visibly upon the stage, to act visibly a new scene of works, left by the Father and himself unto him: John 14:16, ‘I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter.’ He had said, chap. 8:17, that ‘the testimony of two men’ (or persons) ‘is true;’ and that he himself was one witness of those two there spoken of, and his Father another: ver. 18, ‘I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me.’ And he tells us here, you see, that there is yet another, distinct from the Father and himself; for in his saying, ‘I will pray the Father to give you another Comforter,’ he must mean a third person, distinct from them both, to be that other. And more over this Spirit, as another person, is said likewise to be a third witness of, and unto Christ; John 15:26, and so is to be joined as a person, and third witness with these two: ‘When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me;’ like as of the Father and himself, the same had been spoken in that chap. 8 ver. 18, last cited. And the coherence with ver. 17 argues their being witnesses alike, to be distinct persons each from other, for, ver. 17, he allegeth the law, ‘It is written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true.’ For therein lies the validity of their testimony, that they must be two men or two persons that make up a legal testimony. And in this 15th chap. ver. 26, there is the Holy Ghost as a third witness brought into court to testify with both; and therefore he is a person if a witness, for there are three persons if three witnesses, and the law itself he cites says, ‘Under the mouth of two or three witnesses shall the matter be established,’ Deut. 19:15, and Matt. 18:16. We may also observe how industriously careful Christ is further to characterise this person of the Holy Spirit, the author of these works, and to describe who he was, and what manner of person, that they might be sure to mind him, and have a regard to him, and to know whom and to what name they were to be so much beholden. Thus, ver. 26, ‘The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost’ (says he); and ver. 17, ‘Even the Spirit of truth;’ and chap. 15:26, ‘Whom I will send unto you from the Father, who proceedeth from the Father.’ Which last addition is to shew the divine procession of the Holy Ghost, and the original and the consubstantiality of his person, to be out of the substance of the Father, proceeding from him; as (1 Cor. 2:12) the apostle signaliseth him, ‘The Spirit that is out of God;’ or (which is all one) that hath his subsistence, or his being a person, by proceeding from God the Father, and so being God with God, insomuch as it is not in anywise to be understood that he subsisted extra Deum, out of, or separate from God; for he had said, ver. 11, that he is in God, even as the spirit of a man is said to be in him.
Some would understand that speech of Christ’s, ‘Who proceedeth from the Father,’ to be meant in respect of God’s sending him forth to us, and his embassage to us. But that had been said by Christ in the words afore, ‘Whom I will send from the Father;’ and therefore to intend the words after—‘Who cometh from the Father’—of an ambassador’s sending, had been needless, for Christ had said that already; and therefore if that had been all the meaning of that addition, he had but said the same over a second time. There is therefore, in those speeches, a manifest distinguishing between that dispensatory sending of him from the Father to them, and that substantial proceeding of his from the Father, as a third person; and this is added to shew the original ground, why it must be from the Father that he sends him, and with his consent first had; because his very person is by proceeding from the Father, and therefore this his office too. And therefore that latter is spoken in the present time, whereas that other speech of Christ’s, ‘Whom I will send from the Father,’ is in the future; because the Holy Ghost his dispensatory sending, both from the Father and from Christ, was yet to come; whereas this personal proceeding of his from the Father was then, when he spake it, and is continually, and had been from eternity.
Now the tendency of these reiterated designations of the person, doth manifest Christ’s sedulous intention, and tender regard to, and for the honour of this, so great a person; and to raise up in their hearts a valuation of this person himself, that should be the Comforter; and to make them careful to give glory to him, even the Holy Ghost, as a third person, and the Comforter. As likewise to assure them of his coming upon them, when himself was gone; and that therefore they might honour him in his coming, for his work, as he would have them to honour himself for his own work, and coming in the flesh. It is as if he had said, I would not, for that honour I ever look for from yourselves, that you should go attribute the comfort you shall have, or the revealing of truth to you (from which he is called ‘the Spirit of truth’), so unto me or my Father alone, as to neglect or omit to give him his peculiar honour in it; for it properly, and of due, belongs to him. You are and shall be beholden to me and my Father, for the sending of him; but you are to be especially beholden to himself, for that work he doth in you, being sent by us. Be sure therefore to take notice of him and his person, distinct both from me and my Father. For it is ‘another Comforter’ (says he, ver. 16) ‘which is the Holy Ghost,’ (ver. 26), and therefore you ought as distinctly to glorify him as you would do us.
Obs. 2. The second observation is concerning the particular works which Christ says are his, and for which we are to honour him. And an enumeration of his works being the scope of this my discourse, we may find divers particulars that are the most eminent of them, named and specified in these chapters to our hand, which will sufficiently serve for me to take the mention of them, for an example to me to proceed to specify other works that are attributed to him elsewhere. This I premise, because I would not be obliged to fetch each of them which I shall after name out of these chapters, and so to confine myself thereto.
The particular eminent work indeed on which he insists in these chapters, is, that of being a Comforter to them; for the occasion of these sermons was to relieve and pacify the apostles’ minds, against his own leaving them, as they thought, desolate. But therewith he further brings in other works of his besides, and in effect that he should do all, that they had need of his help in. He insinuates to them how much already themselves had been obliged unto him for his working hitherto in them, which he calls them to look back upon, for they had received them already in regenerating, converting and calling them out from the world (which was his first and great work in them), and so distinguished them from the world. Thus chap. 14:16, 17, ‘The Comforter, the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him;’ that is, knows him not by experience of any saving work upon them, and so they cannot receive him as a comforter, because it is necessary they first receive him as a converter. ‘But ye know him,’ and have found him to have begotten you again; ‘for he dwelleth in you,’ hath come and taken possession of you, and acted hitherto in you all that spiritual good that hath been found in you, and thereby hath taken everlasting possession of you, as it follows: ‘and shall be in you,’ to perfect all that is wanting, and that for ever, as verse 16.
A second work there specified is, that he should be to them a ‘Spirit of truth,’ ‘to lead them into all truth,’ which, as a sacred depositum, he was by them, as apostles, to leave unto the rest of the world; chap. 14:26, ‘He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.’ And not only so, but shall suggest new to you, chap. 16:12, 13, ‘I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak.’
A third work instanced in is, that ‘He will shew you things to come;’ and this to that end, that ye may teach and write them to others, chap. 15:26, 27. He shall bear witness of me, and you shall bear witness of me.
A fourth work specified is, to sanctify them against sin and corruption. This work is imported in his name, ‘the Holy Spirit,’ as the other, of leading them into all truth, is signified by that other title, ‘the Spirit of truth;’ for he is termed the Holy Spirit, because he sanctifies: Rom. 15:16, ‘Being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.’
Fifthly, He shall be a Comforter to you, against all sorrows, chap. 14:16, 17, 18.
Sixthly, He shall assist and direct you in all your prayers, and be the inditer of them for you; and so effectually as to obtain what you shall ask, chap. 16:23, ‘Verily, verily, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you; hitherto have you asked nothing in my name;’ for the Holy Ghost was not as yet given, as he in these chapters promiseth he should be. ‘But in that day,’ namely, when the Holy Ghost is come, ‘ye shall ask in my name,’ then (as in chap. 14:20). ‘In that day,’—namely, when the Comforter is come, that word in that day refers thereunto—‘ye shall know that I am in my Father, and you in me.’ These works he specifies as to themselves.
But withal, seventhly, he mentions his works upon the world, by their ministry, unto whom they were sent. He shall be a converter and convincer of the world; that is, the glory of the conversion of the Gentiles is reserved for him, by your ministry: chap. 16 verses 8, 9, ‘When he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me,’ &c. To which three enumerations the total of the work of conversion is reduced, of which afterwards.
Obs. 3. Thirdly, observe what Christ says, I myself must be gone (saith he) and disappear, to the end it may appear that all this whole work is his, not mine: ver. 7, ‘If I go not away, the Comforter will not come.’ He will not do these works while I am here, and I have committed all to him. That look, as my Father hath visibly ‘committed all judgment unto me,’ (John 5:22, 23, ‘For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son; that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father’), so here: I and my Father will send him, having committed all these things to him, that all men might honour the Holy Ghost, even as they honour the Father and the Son. Even as in like manner the reason why the Spirit was not sent, whilst Christ was on earth, was to shew that not the Father alone sent him, but that he came from Christ, as well as from the Father. And so Christ, he went to heaven to shew that both Father and Son would send the Holy Ghost from thence, Acts 2:32, 33, ‘This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this which you see and hear.’ Thus wary and careful are every of the persons to provide for the honour of each other in our hearts. And as careful should we be to give it to them accordingly.
Goodwin, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Goodwin. Vol. 6. (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1863), 3-7. Public Domain
‘The Art of Contentment’ forms the last of the sermons of the ‘Saint’s Cordials, published in 1637 and 1658. It had previously been No. 1 of the first edition, 1629. The text of 1637 is followed in our reprint. In Vol. IV. pp. 75–111 will be found a specimen of the ‘various readings’ of the editions of 1637 and 1658 on a comparison with that of 1629. These may suffice. The result of a minute collation shews that the edition of 1637 presents a careful revision and enlargement of the anonymous, and, I suspect, surreptitious edition of 1629. Instead therefore of encumbering our margins, and distracting the reader with these corrections and improvements of the first edition, it has been deemed better to make the edition of 1637 our text in the remainder, leaving it to those curious in such matters to compare the other two therewith, in the way ‘Judgment’s Reason’ in Vol. IV. is exhibited. The edition of 1637, let it be understood, represents Sibbes’s own version of his sermons, either from fuller ‘Notes,’ or from a revision of that of 1629.
For the general title-page of the three editions of ‘The Saint’s Cordials,’ see Vol. IV. p. 60. The separate title-page of ‘The Art of Contentment’ will be found below.* It may be proper to state, that the text of ‘The Art of Contentment’ now given is less full than in the first edition, the explanation being that the suppressed passages had been appropriated in other sermons in the interval. G.
*THE ART OF CONTENTMENT.
In one Sermon.
Wherein the shewed.
That this Art of Contentment is a Mysterie.
That Gods Children are carried, and know how to behave themselves in variety of Conditions.
How this hard Lesson is learned.
What Infirmities are.
The right use of them.
That Christianity is a busie trade.
The way how one is said to doe all things.
What it is to doe things Evangelically.
When a Christian can doe all things.
Why he failes when he failes.
Where his strength is.
Lastly, The skill to fetch strength from Christ.
2 Sam. 15:25, 26.
Then the King said unto Zadok, Carry the Arke of God back againe into the Citie: If I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again, and shew me both it and the Tabernacle thereof.
But if he thus say, I have no delight in thee, Behold, here am I, let him doe to me as seemeth good in his eyes.
Printed for R. Dawlman, at the brazen Serpent in Pauls Churchyard. 1637.†
The Art of Contentment
I have learned, in what estate soever I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and how to abound: everywhere, in all things, I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me.—Philip. 4:11, 12, 13.
The words are the blessed apostle’s concerning himself, expressing the glorious power of the Spirit of God in a strong and grown Christian, and are to wipe away the imputation of worldliness in the apostle, serving herein also for a pattern to all God’s children, that they may learn by his example that as they must be careful to avoid all blemishes and imputations, so especially that of worldliness, as being most contrary to the profession of a Christian, who hath an ‘high calling,’ and whose ‘hope is in heaven,’ Philip. 3:14.
The Philippians had sent Paul some relief; and lest they should think that he expected great matters, he tells them that he had ‘learned to be content in what estate soever he was.’
It is not amiss sometimes for God’s children to speak of themselves, as Paul here as to other good ends so also to avoid false imputations in the way of just apology,* and likewise to be exemplary to weaker Christians. Is not the doctrine of contentment and the power of grace in all estates better learned by this blessed example of Paul, when he speaks thus of himself, ‘I have learned, in what estate soever I am, to be content: to want, and to abound,’ &c., than if he had weakly said, Be content with your present condition? The Scriptures be intended for practice; and therefore it is that there are so many examples in them, to shew the power of God’s Spirit. This is the end of Paul’s speaking so of himself, ‘I have learned,’ &c.
To come to the words. First, In general he sets down the power of God’s Spirit in him in regard of that blessed grace of contentment. ‘I have learned, in what estate I am, therewith to be content.’
And then he doth parcel out this general into particular conditions in this same state, ‘I know how to be abased, and how to abound.’
And then he wraps up all in general again, ‘I can do all things,’ &c.
But lest this should seem to be somewhat vain-glorious, ‘I can do all things,’ as if he were omnipotent (in some sense, indeed, a Christian is omnipotent), therefore he adds, ‘I can do all things,’ but with a blessed correction, ‘through Christ that strengthened me.’
‘I have learned,’ saith he, ‘I am instructed.’ It is very significant in the original, viz., I am consecrated to this knowledge of contentment in all estates (a). It is a learning not of great persons, or of learned persons, but of holy persons. It is a mystical knowledge. There is a mystery in it. For as all religion is a mystery,—‘great is the mystery of godliness,’—not only the speculative part, but likewise the practical part of it, so every part of religion is a mystery, repentance a mystery, faith a mystery, and this practical part of contentment in all conditions is a great mystery. And therefore St Paul saith he is instructed in it, as a consecrated person, having in him the Spirit of God. All the degrees in this world cannot teach this lesson that Paul had learned, ‘to be contented.’ He learned it in no school of the world, not at the feet of Gamaliel; he learned it of Christ, and by blessed experiences in afflictions. Some graces are reserved for some estates. He had learned patience and contentment in variety of estates. He had it not by nature, for he saith, ‘I have learned.’ It is a mystical thing, not so easily attained unto as the world is fondly* persuaded. Your ordinary Christian thinks that religion is nothing, that it is easily learned; whereas there is no point in religion but is a mystery. There is no Christian but he finds it to be so when he sets himself heartily to go through any religious work; as to humble himself, to repent, to go out of himself, and to cast himself upon the mercy of God in Christ. Oh, will he then say, it is a mystery. There is a difficulty in this work that I never thought of till I came to it. And so to be content with our condition, whatsoever the case be, to bring our hearts low, it is a mystery. Nature never teacheth this. It is learned in the school of Christ, and not without many stripes. We must be proficients a good while before we can learn to any purpose this one lesson of contentment in any condition. But the last verse is that which I will now dwell on, wherein we may see three things observable.
First, That God carries his children in this world through variety of conditions. They sometimes want, and sometimes abound. Their condition is sometimes more comfortable than at others. That is the first point.
The second is, That in this variety of conditions, as they know what it is to want and to abound, so in all variety of conditions they know how to carry themselves.
Thirdly, They know in all variety of conditions how to avoid the sins incident to that condition. As there are graces belonging to every state, so there are sins incident to every condition. And the child of God hath learned to practise the one, and to avoid the other.
First, God’s children know what it is to want, and to abound by experience. God leads them through variety of conditions, Their estate is not always one and the same.
Quest. What is the reason of this dispensation in God thus to rule his children, to bring them to heaven by variety of conditions?
Sol. Among many other reasons this is one, that their graces may be tried. Every grace that brings a Christian to heaven must be a tried grace. He must try his patience, his contentment, his humility. How shall these graces be tried but in variety of estates and conditions? And secondly, How should we have experience of the goodness of God but in variety of estates? When we find the stable, certain, constant love of God in variety of conditions, that howsoever our conditions ebb and flow, be up and down, like the spring weather, sometimes fair and sometimes foul, yet notwithstanding the love of God is constant always, and we have never so sure experience of it as in the variety of conditions that befall us; then we know that in God there is ‘no shadow of changing,’ howsoever the changes of our life be. Is it not a point worth our learning, to know the truth of our grace, and to know the constancy of God’s love, with whom we are in a gracious covenant? And then again, we learn much wisdom how to manage our life hereby, even in the intercourse of our changes, to be now rich, now poor, now high, now low in estate. Wisdom is gotten by experience in variety of estates. He that is carried on in one condition, he hath no wisdom to judge of another’s estate, or to carry himself to a Christian in another condition, because he was never abased himself. He looks very big at him. He knows not how to tender* another, that hath not been in another’s condition. And therefore to furnish us, that we may carry ourselves as Christians, meekly, lovingly, and tenderly to others, God will have us go to heaven in variety, not in one uniform condition in regard of outward things.
Use. Learn hence not to quarel with God’s government; for though he alters our conditions, yet he never alters his love. A Christian is unmoveable in regard of the favour of God to him, and in regard of sanctifying grace. In all moveable conditions he hath a fixed condition. Therefore let us not find fault with God’s dispensation, but let him do as he pleases. So he bring us to heaven, it is no matter what way, how rugged it be, so he bring us thither.
The second general thing is this, That in this variety of conditions, God’s children know how to carry themselves. As they know what it is to want and to abound, so they know how to abound and be abased as they should do. For there is no condition but a Christian may pick good matter out of it. As a good artsman will make a good piece of work of an ill piece of matter sometimes, to shew his skill, so a Christian can frame matter that is good out of any condition; he knows how to want, and how to abound, and that with the expression of graces too. He can practise the graces that ought and may be practised in all conditions. For instance, he can abound; that is, with expressing the graces that should be in abundance, which is, thankfulness to God; he hath, in abundance, a spirit of thankfulness; he hath a spirit to be a faithful steward in abundance; a spirit to honour God with his abundance. He hath a spirit to be humble in abundance, knowing all is as ‘grass and the flower of the field.’ He can be humble, he can stoop under the mighty hand of God, he can have experience in the abasement of the vanity of worldly favour, and worldly greatness. He learns what it is, and so he can learn patience, and all other graces that are to be practised in a mean estate. It were too long to name particulars; a Christian can do this. Grace is above all conditions. It can manage and rule all estates of life. It makes them serviceable to its own ends. A gracious man is not dejected over much with abasement; he is not lifted up over much with abundance, but he carries himself in a uniform manner, becoming a Christian in all conditions.
The third general thing is, He can want and he can abound, without tainting himself over much with the sins of those conditions. For instance, he can abound without pride, though it be a hard matter. Abundance works upon the soul of a man. He had need to have a strong brain that digests abundance; it is a wild untamed thing. And we see by experience in God’s children how hard a matter it is for them to manage abundance. We see how it wrought upon Solomon and David. They were better in adversity, 1 Kings, 11:1, 2 Sam. 11:2; and yet notwitstanding the child of God hath grace even to overcome the sins that are incident to abundance. He hath grace to be lowly-minded in a great estate; not to trust to uncertain riches; he knows by the Spirit of God what they are, and that he hath an inheritance of better things in another world, which teacheth him to set a light esteem upon all things below.
And so for dejection; the sin that we are subject to fall into in want, is putting forth our hands to evil means, to shift.* God’s child can learn to want without tainting his conscience with ill courses, and then he can want without impatience, without too much dejection of spirit; as if all were lost; whenas, indeed, a Christian in a manner is rich all alike. For God is his portion, and howsoever a beam may be took away, the sun is his; take away a stream, the spring is his; in the poorest estate, God all-sufficient is his still; and so in a manner a Christian is rich all alike. God never takes away himself, Gen. 17:1. He knows this, and therefore he can want, he can be abased as long as he hath the spring of all. Though a cistern be took away, he cares not, he can want and abound without murmuring, without dejection of spirit. Whereas those that have not been brought up in Christ’s school, nor trained up in variety of conditions, are able to do nothing. If they abound, they are proud; if they be cast down, they murmur and fret, and are dejected, as if there were no Providence to rule the world, as if they were fatherless children. This is the excellency of a Christian, that as he knows what it is to abound by experience, so he knows how to abound with the practice of the graces, and how to want with the avoiding of the snares that usually are in that condition.
Obj. But hath a Christian learned this at the first?
Ans. No; he learns it not very easily, nor very soon. Self-denial is the first lesson in Christ’s school: to have no wit of our own further than Christ’s wisdom; to have no will of our own further than his commandment guides us; and he that hath learned self-denial, he is in a great way to learn this blessed lesson of contentment in any condition whatsoever. So that every Christian hath some degree of that, as he can deny himself. But there are many things to be learned before we can come to carry ourselves wisely in any condition.
For besides self-denial, we must learn the doctrine of the covenant of grace, that God in Christ is become a Father to us, and carries a fatherly mind to us. In what condition soever we are, he is a father still, and intends us well, and will provide for us in the hardest condition. Having took the relation of a father upon him, do you think that he will fail in the carriage of a father towards us? He is pitiful to us, he respects us in the basest condition. He that knows God to be his father, cast him into what condition you will, knows he hath a good portion.
And then we must know the doctrine of the providence of this Father, that all shall work together for the best to those that love him, Rom. 8:28, want and abundance, prosperity and afflictions, whatsoever. God by his overruling power will bring all things to this blessed issue, to help forward the eternal good of his child. A man must know this, and divers the like things that are to be known, before he can learn this blessed lesson of contentment. There is a venom and a vanity in everything without grace, wherewith we are tainted; but when grace comes, it takes out the sting of all ill, and then we find a good in the worst. There is a vanity in the best things, and there is a good in the worst. Grace picks out the good out of the worst; as God turns all to good, so grace finds good in every condition. The Spirit of God sanctifies a Christian to all conditions, and sanctifies every condition to him. Now, I beseech you, think of this that I have said, which I wish without further enlargement may add to your care, and desire to be in the happy condition of Christians. What a blessed thing is it to be in the covenant of grace, to have God to be our father, to be in Christ, that let our condition outwardly be what it will be, we shall have grace to carry ourselves in it, God will go along with us by his Holy Spirit! What a blessed thing is it, in all the uncertainties of the world, to have a certain rule to go by, as a Christian hath, which carries him along in all the uncertainties in this world! None but a Christian hath this. ‘I have learned,’ saith Paul. When did he learn it? Not before he was a Christian. This I could desire to press, but that I have other things to speak of, to make us in love with religion, with the state of Christians, that is thus above all conditions whatsoever, and can rule all other conditions. A Christian is not at the mercy of the world; his contentment is not a dependent contentment. You may cast him into prison, you may impoverish him, you may labour to debase and disgrace him; but can you take away his comfort? Can you take away his grace? Can you take away the love of God? No; God will rather increase all upon him. For the best things of a Christian are not at the mercy of the world, nor at the mercy of his several conditions. Prosperity and adversity, these are out of him. He hath a state depending upon the good will and pleasure of his Father, that loves him better than he loves himself, and out of love will work good out of the worst condition that can befall him. So I hasten to that which follows.
Having spoken in particular, then he comes to the general, wherein he wraps up all: ‘I can do all things, but in Christ that strengthens me.’ Here is,
First of all, The blessed apostle’s ability, ‘I can do all things.’
And then here is, secondly, the spring of his ability, whence he hath it: ‘I can do all things, but in Christ that strengthens me.’
In the apostle’s ability you have,
His strength itself. 2. The enlargement of it.
‘I am able.’ And what to do? A few things? No; ‘all things.’ The point of doctrine offered is this, that a Christian man is an able man. Whosoever hath the Spirit of Christ is an able man, and his ability is a large ability; he is able to do all things. Take doing in a transcendent sense, not only to do, but take it to resist ill, to resist temptation, to suffer affliction, to enjoy prosperity, to break off sinful courses, and to take a new course, to practise all duties; for so the apostle means ‘I can do,’ that is, I can carry myself in all conditions, I can express all graces, I can resist all temptations, I can suffer all afflictions, I can do all this. What is the reason a Christian is so able?
Because, first of all, he hath a stronger and abler spirit than his own. The Spirit of God is a spirit of strength, 2 Tim. 1:8. It is the Spirit of power, which is the soul of his soul, and the life of his life. Now the strength of a man is in his spirit. The stronger spirit makes the abler man, and the Spirit of God being the strongest of spirits, indeed the strength of spirits, it makes a Christian in whom it dwells the ablest man.
And then again, A Christian is a new creature; therefore he is furnished with abilities fit for the new creature. When Adam was created he was endued with all graces fit for an entire state. As when God made heaven he made stars to beautify heaven; when he made the earth, he made trees and flowers; so, when he made man, he furnished him with graces, and fitted him for that estate. Now after the fall, when God brings a man in Christ to be a new creature, he hath abilities to furnish him for that new condition.
And then again, Every particular grace of the new creature is a grace of strength. As the Spirit is a strong Spirit, so the spirit of love is as strong as death, it hath a ‘constraining power,’ 2 Cor. 5:14. The Spirit of God is so strong in his children, that are truly his, that it makes them even with willingness to lay down their lives, that is dearest to them in this world. Here is a sweet kind of tyranny in the affection of love, that will carry a man through thick and thin, through all, and that with pleasure, willingly and comfortably too; as the apostles were glad to suffer anything for Christ’s sake, their hearts were so enlarged with a spirit of love. The spirit of faith it is a strong and mighty spirit, an able spirit. It conquers God himself, as Jacob wrestled with the wrestlings of God, and by the strength of God overcame God, Hosea 12:3, 4. And the woman of Canaan overcame Christ by the strength she had from Christ, Mat. 15:28. In the sense of God’s displeasure it will believe God’s favour in Christ, and is able to break through the thickest clouds of discomfort whatsoever, and to see the loving face of God. In a base condition it can struggle with God, saying with Job, ‘Though he kill me, yet will I trust in him,’ Job 13:15. It is a strong grace. Faith prevails with almighty God. It prevails in all inferior conditions whatsoever. You see the fruit and strength of all graces is attributed to faith, Heb. 11:33. By faith they overcame, by faith they were strong, and did this and that; insinuating that faith is not only a strong grace in itself, but it gives vigour and strength to all graces. And so we see love, 1 Cor. 13:4, it is not only a strong grace, but the office of other graces is attributed unto it. It suffers long, which is the office of patience. What should I speak of other graces, these radical and fundamental graces being of such force? Now every Christian in some measure hath a spirit of faith and a spirit of love, and these are very strong, to carry him through all estates and conditions; and that with such glory and lustre that every one may wonder at the condition of a Christian. Even in the worst estate he hath a spirit not of the world but above the world. This faith overcomes the world; and he that is in them, the Spirit of God, is stronger than he that is in the world, 1 John 4:4.
To proceed to a further demonstration of a Christian man’s ability, which is intimated unto us in his very name. What is the name of a Christian? ‘Anointed.’ The Spirit of God is compared to oil. What is the virtue of oil? It is to make nimble, for the Spirit of God makes Christians nimble; and oil it makes strong. The wrestlers were wont to be anointed beforehand with oil; so the Spirit of God makes Christians strong. The virtue of oil anointing is to be above. Jumble it together with other liquors, it is a regal liquor, it will have the pre-eminence, and be above. So grace, although it be mingled with corruption, the Spirit of grace and faith at last will apear, the Spirit of God will be above all, at length it will work itself clear. In all temptations, a Christian as a Christian is an able man. If he be answerable to his own name, if he be not an hypocrite, he hath an ability in him, he can do more than the world.
Use 1. First of all then, learn here, that religion is not a matter of word, nor stands upon words, as wood consists of trees. To speak thus and thus, it may come from parts, from memory, and wit; but religion is a matter of power, it makes a man able. It made Paul, what! To speak only? No; his learning made him able to do all things. It is a matter of practice, and there is nothing so speculative in religion but it tends to practice. Religion is an art, not of great men, not of mighty men, but of holy men. It is an art and trade. A trade is not learned by words, but by experience; and a man hath learned a trade, not when he can talk of it, but when he can work according to his trade. So we see Paul shews his learning he speaks of before, by his ability. The point of the Trinity it is a speculative point, and it tends to practice. First, to be a foundation of our worship, that we worship one God in three persons. And then it tends to shew the unity among Christians, that God will work among Christians at length, that they shall be all one in some sort, as the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one: which, though it be a point of high and deep speculation, yet it tends to practice. Now if the sublime and high points do, what point is there in religion but it tends to practice? And therefore let us not please ourselves that we have deep understandings, but let us shew our understandings by our practice. As the sheep shews how he thrives in his pasture by his wool and fleece, so shew how thou profitest in religion, by being enabled with the power of grace, that carries thee through all conditions, to avoid the sins and to express the graces in such conditions. So much grace as thou hast to carry thyself thus, so much ability thou hast, and so much religion.
Use 2. If a Christian be an able man, I beseech you, let it serve to try ourselves by this scantling* that I have spoken of. Is Christianity a point of strength and ability? Let us try the truth of our estate then. Thou wouldst be a Christian; what canst thou do then? What sin canst thou resist? What canst thou bear? What holy duty canst thou do? How canst thou enjoy the good blessings that God sends thee, without defiling of thyself with those blessings, that thou art not proud of the riches nor of the honour thou hast? Grace manageth all conditions. Thus, if thou be a Christian, answer thy name; if not, thou art a hypocrite yet. For a Christian in some measure is able ‘to do all things, through Christ that strengtheneth him.’ I beseech you, let us not deceive ourselves. The best of us all may mourn for our want in this kind. Our consciences tell us that we might have done a great deal more than we have; that God would have enabled us if we had not been false-hearted, and betrayed ourselves, and been negligent in the use of the means, to have done a great deal more than we do. What a shame is it for Christians, that indeed have some truth of grace in them, that they cannot be a little abased in the world, but they are à la mort.† Why, where is the power of grace? They cannot be lift up in their condition a little, but they will scant know their brother of low degree. Where is religion now? What hast thou better in thee than a worldling hath? Nay, a heathen man, out of principles of morality, would learn to conform his carriage, outwardly at the least, better than thou. Let us learn therefore to shame ourselves when we find any murmuring and rising of corrupt nature in any condition whatsoever, and know that this becomes not a Christian. This is it which the apostle presseth so oft, that we should carry ourselves as becometh Christians. Oh, doth this become a Christian? A Christian should be able to do all things through Christ that strengthened him. What a shame is it for a professor of religion to be as worldly, as distracted with cares, as passionate, if he be a little touched, as a man that professeth no religion at all? Where is the power, where is the glory and credit of religion here? I beseech you, let us be ashamed, and know that our profession requireth that we should be able.
Use 3. Again, This answers the common objection of carnal men. They ward off all reproofs with this. Tell them of their faults, why it is my infirmity, it is my weakness. Is it so? Art thou a Christian or no? If thou be a Christian, thou labourest for strength against thy weakness; thou dost not make a plea for it. There is weakness indeed in the best; but that is the matter of their humiliation, and the object of their mortification. It is not their plea for idleness, to give themselves to sinful courses. Men therefore make a false plea of infirmities and weaknesses. There is no infirmity in a carnal man that hath not the Spirit of Christ. He is dead. There is no weakness in a dead person. In regard of civil carriages there may be weakness in such a man. He may be passionate, he may be froward, unbeseeming a man that is civil; but that is not in the rank we speak of. None can have infirmities but a Christian that hath the life of grace in him in sincerity and truth. And therefore if thou discover that thou hast not the truth of grace, never say it is thy infirmity. To shew what infirmities be, I rank them to three heads.
In the first rank of infirmities are the imperfection of good actions, which are either distractions and deadness in prayer and hearing; or invincible infirmities, of which as an ancient father saith well, ‘Lord, deliver me from my miserable necessities’ (b). A man may be in such a state sometimes in regard of the temper of the body, it being out of tune, that he cannot pray as he would do. ‘The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,’ saith our Saviour, Mat. 26:41. It was almost an invincible necessity in the apostles then. Again, we might resist, and we might be more cheerful than we are ofttimes. But sometimes there may be such distemper in the body, that may almost of necessity unfit us for the duty. This we call the infirmity of a Christian, because he is ashamed of it, and grieved for it.
Again, Infirmities are those indeliberate passions that carry us sometimes to actions that we should not do, being carried with a tempest of passion, when we understand not ourselves well.
And lastly, It is an infirmity when we are hindered from doing that which we should do, upon passion, upon surprisal of some great fear and terror, that we are not so bold as we should be to stand out in a cause on the sudden, as Peter was surprised with a spirit of fear that he should lose his life, Mat. 26:70. It was no presumption in him, it was an infirmity in the blessed apostle for that time. These then be the signs of infirmities: to have invincible imperfections, or distraction and deadness, accompanying our good actions; to be carried in the heat and tempest of passion to that which afterwards we are ashamed of and repent for; or to be hindered from that we should do by some prevailing passion.
But otherwise infirmities are not, when we live in them, when we make a custom of them. Customary sins are not sins of infirmity, but the sins that we fall into, that we are overtaken with, on the sudden. Only in some cases a man may live in a sin of infirmity, when the ground of the infirmity is rooted within him, and he hath not yet purged out the root. As for instance, a man by temper prone to anger may live long in that infirmity, being many times inordinately pettish and peevish, because he carries about him the root, temper of the body, and inclination that way. Now he that lives in such an infirmity repents daily, and gets ground of it; he is still hewing at the root, and at length, at the last stroke it falls, and he gets the victory over it.
Again, A sin of infirmity is not a sin that we plead for. A man is ashamed of his infirmities; he is grieved for them. Now when a man pleads for them, and makes them a shelter and cover-shade to go on in sinful courses, they are not infirmities. Therefore whosoever pleads for sins discovers a false heart; his sins are enormities, not infirmities. A Christian gets the better of infirmities. After he falls, he riseth stronger and stronger still. But when a man grows worse and worse, and is habituated in an evil course, it is not an infirmity, because he grows not out of it. Let us not deceive ourselves with this plea, to say, It is my weakness. A Christian should be ashamed to plead this; he should be able to do all things. Well, you see then this point is clear, that a Christian is an able man, he hath a strength above nature in him, notwithstanding all his infirmities. This will appear more in the second branch, in the generality, he is able to do ‘all things.’
To come to that, therefore, there are many things required of a Christian. Christianity is a busy trade. If we look up to God, what a world of things are required in a Christian to carry himself as he should do! A spirit of faith, a spirit of love, a spirit of joy, and delight in him above all. And if we look to men, there are duties for a Christian to his superiors, a spirit of subjection. And duties to equals, to carry a spirit of love; and to inferiors a spirit of pity and bounty. If we look to Satan, we have many duties, to resist him and to watch against the tempter. If we look to the world, it is full of snares. There must be a great deal of spiritual watchfulness, that we be not surprised. If we look to ourselves, there are required many duties, to carry our vessels in honour, and to walk within the compass of the Holy Ghost, to preserve the peace of our consciences, to walk answerable to our worth, as being the sons of God and co-heirs with Christ. The state of a Christian is no idle condition. Sometimes a Christian is in this state, sometimes in that; and then he must have these graces, and anon use other graces; he must have a suit of all graces, fit for all conditions. Now answerable to the variety of all the duties that are required of him, he must have ability; and therefore the apostle saith, ‘I can do all things through Christ.’
So then the point of doctrine is this, that the trial of a sincere Christian’s estate is universality of obedience. Universality of carriage in all conditions is the trial of Christian sincerity. He must dispense with himself in no sin, and he must be a vessel prepared for every good work, ‘a vessel of glory,’ as the apostle speaks, 2 Tim. 2:21. He must baulk no service that God calls him to. What is the reason of this?
The reason is, because a Christian hath the sanctifying Spirit, and the sanctifying Spirit hath the seeds of all graces in it; so that where it is, there is the subduing of all sin in the root. And then all graces are answerable to the commandments of God in all duties, and to the avoiding of all sins. And therefore James saith pregnantly to this purpose, he that ‘offends in one is guilty of all,’ 2:10.
Use 1. Let us take heed we plead not immunity and freedom from some things, and think that the good we do in some kind may excuse the bad we do in others. You have some that will take liberty in an unclean conversation, because they are bountiful and liberal; and they will take liberty to be oppressive in their callings, because they attend upon the means of salvation. Oh no! take heed of that carriage that is against the profession of religion. There must be an universal disposition to all graces and to all duties, though they be never so contrary and cross to corrupt nature. The devil knows well where to have some men, for he sees they mind some sin, and are careless in the practice of other duties; and therefore, in the hour of temptation, the devil will surprise such men, and it will be a ground of despair if they take not heed. Put the case a man will say this, I can part with all things else, Oh, but I cannot die: I can be content to be imprisoned, but I cannot endure to be disgraced. Let a man dispense and favour himself but in one thing, and when the time comes he will be discovered to be but an hypocrite. Then Satan will work upon that, and there he will be shaken in his condition. By reason that he did not learn self-denial perfectly, he hath not grace disposing him to the practice of all Christian duties. He hath not learned to know God in covenant, to supply his wants of honour, credit, wife and children, and all that he is to part withal for Christ’s sake. Now he that hath not learned this in resolution, though God do not yet call him to it, by entering into his own soul, and asking himself what he can part with, and what he can resist for Christ’s sake, ‘What can I endure? what can I suffer?’ If his heart do not tell him, I can part with all, I will rather endure death itself, rather endure shame, or any thing, than break the peace of a good conscience, and grieve the Spirit of God. If he cannot answer his soul thus, surely I can speak little comfort to that man. For we see a Christian must be able to do all things; that is, to resist all ill, to practise all duty, to break off all sinful courses.
Quest. But some will object, May not a Christian be subject to some especial sin?
Ans. Yes, he may. God, for especial purposes sometimes, will have men of eminent graces to be subject to notable infirmities. But what, do they plead for them? No; but as by temper, or by former custom, or as they find themselves more inclined one way than another, so they gather strength especially against their especial sin. And in the beginning of conversion, there is a blow given to the reigning sin that was before; and as when Goliah was slain, and all the rest fled, 1 Sam. 17:51, so grace strikes at the Goliah. In conversion, there is a main stroke given unto sin. Perhaps somewhat remains still, that grace will be hewing at, and therefore grace may stand with an especial sin that a man is inclined to. But this he labours to get all strength against, as other, so strength of direction. You shall find a Christian when he is subject to any infirmity, he will speak more learnedly, and more judiciously, with greater detestation against that sin that he is most prone unto than against any other. He labours to make up the breach where the wall is weakest. So a man may be a good man, and be subject to an infirmity, but then he gathers more strength against it.
Use 2. Well, you see then a Christian is able to do all things through Christ that strengthens him. I beseech you, let us often enter into ourselves, and make an use of trial, also of that which hath been spoken, what we can do, what we can part with, what we can resist. Let us never think ourselves to be in such an estate as is fit to be, to comfort ourselves, till we can in truth and sincerity of heart renounce all whatsoever. Yet notwithstanding, this must be understood evangelically, ‘I can do all things.’ What! legally, without a flaw? No; ‘I can do all things’ so far forth, as shall shew that I am a true Christian, and not an hypocrite; so far as shall be beautiful in the eye of others, to allure them to the embracing of religion; so far as shall make base spirits to envy to see my even carriage, and to see the power of religion; so far as shall put the world to silence for reproaching; so far as I shall enjoy assurance of the truth of grace; so far as Satan shall not get his will in every sin. Our obedience is evangelical, and not legal.
Quest. Now, what is it to do all things evangelically? To clear that point.
Ans. To do all things evangelically is, first of all, for a man to know that he is in the same state of grace, and that he hath his sins pardoned, and that he is accepted in Christ to life and salvation. That is the ground of all evangelical obedience. He must know that he is in the covenant of grace; that he hath the forgiveness of sins, and a right to life everlasting in Christ. And then comes obedience answerable to that condition; that is, a desire to obey God in all things: a grief that he cannot do it so well as he would; a prayer that he might do it so; and an endeavour together with prayer that he may do so, and some strength likewise with endeavour. For a Christian, as I said before, he hath the Spirit of God, not only to set him to an endeavour, but to give him some strength. So there is a desire, and purpose, and prayer, and grief of heart, and endeavour, and likewise some strength in evangelical obedience.
A Christian then in the gospel can do all things when he hath his sins forgiven, and is accepted in Christ, when he can endeavour to do all, and desire to do all, and in some measure practise all duties in truth. For the gospel requires truth and not perfection. That is the perfection that brings us to heaven in Christ our Saviour. We have title to heaven; in him is the ground, because forgiveness of sins is in him. Now a Christian’s life is but to walk worthy of this, and to fit himself for that glorious condition that he hath title unto by Christ, to walk sincerely before God. Sincerity is the perfection of Christians. Let not Satan therefore abuse us. We do all things, when we endeavour to do all things, and purpose to do all things, and are grieved when we cannot do better. For mark, this goes with evangelical obedience always. God pardons that which is ill, for he is a Father. He hath bound himself to pardon, ‘I will pity you as a father pitieth his child,’ Ps. 103:13. From the very relation he hath took upon him, we may be assured he will pity and pardon us, and then he will accept of that which is good, because it is the work of his own Spirit, and will reward it. This in the covenant of grace he will do. A Christian can do all then; and wherein he fails, God will pardon him. What is good, God will accept and reward; and what is sick and weak in him, God will heal, till he have made him up in Christ.
Thus we see in what sense this is to be understood, a Christian can do all things through Christ. For as it is said of gold, the best gold you have hath allowance of such grains, so take the best Christian, you must have some allowance. Some imperfection cleaves to him. He cannot do all perfectly. For then what need the covenant of grace? He can do all things so as he flies to the mercy of God in Christ for life everlasting. He can do all things required of a Christian in the covenant of grace in regard of sincerity. These things must be well and soundly understood, and then we can take no offence at the doctrine.
Quest. What is the cause that a Christian fails then when he doth fail?
Ans. 1. A Christian fails, when he doth not understand the promises of the new covenant of grace, that God hath given not only promises of the pardon of sin, but of all kind of graces, a promise of the Spirit in general. He will give his Spirit to those that ask it, and a promise of every other particular grace: that he will write his law in our hearts, and he will teach us to love one another, and he will put his fear into our hearts. We have not a grace but either there is a promise of it generally, or specially. Now when a Christian forgets this, he fails for want of understanding the privileges and promises.
Ans. 2. Again, he fails for want of wisdom to plant himself in such helps, whereby he might be able to do all things; for it is the folly sometimes of Christians to be rash in venturing upon occasions; and then he hath no more strength than Samson had when he adventured. He loseth his strength when he ventureth rashly. But if a Christian be wise to keep out of temptation, and to keep himself in good company and acquaintance, using holy means and helps to godliness, wherein the Spirit works, a wise Christian may perform all.
Ans. 3. Again, for want of resolution. A Christian goes not out always with his spiritual armour, as he should. He goes not out with a purpose to please God in all things, and to avoid all sins; but his armour is loose about him. If a Christian would resolve, in the power of God, to break through all difficulties, and to do all duties, God would second him. ‘Arise, and be doing, and the Lord will be with thee,’ 1 Chron. 22:16. Let a Christian go on constantly in a good way, and he shall find experience of God’s helping of him. Without manly resolutions, a Christian fails.
Quest. What is the reason that a Christian many times stands in strong and great duties, and is foiled in little duties?
Ans. Because he is watchful in the one, and careless in the other. Indeed, it is want of will. If we would have strength, and would carry ourselves manfully, we might have grace to carry ourselves even to the glory of our profession and to the credit of it. But we willingly favour corruption, and are not willing to put it out of ourselves to the utmost; whereupon we want much comfort that Christians should enjoy; and hereupon come many breaches in our life. In a word, if a Christian were careful, there is no duty, but he might perform it in some measure. He may go wondrous high upwards, always with this exception, that he never look to be justified by it. For God hath not established the covenant so. That is done by Christ. Again, if he be careless, he may sink wondrous low. There is no sin but the sin against the Holy Ghost, but he may fall into it in some manner.
I hasten to the last point. ‘I can do all things,’ but how? with what strength? ‘Through Christ that strengtheneth me.’
This is to salve up an objection which might be made against the blessed apostle, ‘I can do all things.’ Here is a proud word. Oh no; ‘it is in Christ that strengthens me.’ St Paul was wondrous cautious and careful to avoid spiritual pride, or the least touch of it, as it is 1 Cor. 15:10. ‘Not I,’ saith he. He checks himself presently: ‘I laboured more than they all; not I, but grace within me.’ Of all other sins, take heed of spiritual pride, check it presently. ‘I can do all.’ Oh but, lest proud thoughts should arise, ‘it is in Christ that strengtheneth me.’ My strength is out of myself. As the heads of those rivers, that ran through paradise, and that watered the city of God, they were out of paradise, so the head and spring of those streams that water the church of God, and particular Christians, they are out of themselves, they are in Christ. It is otherwise with us than it was in the ‘first Adam.’ He had strength, and had no promise to stand. He had power to stand, if he would. But a Christian’s strength is out of himself, in the ‘second Adam,’ Christ. And it is well that it is in the keeping of so strong a Saviour, for we should forfeit it as Adam did, if it were in our own hands. It is derived to us, as much as he thinks good; but the spring is in him. And we have not only a will, but the promise and ability to do good; we do all through Christ.
So the point of doctrine is this, that the original of a Christian’s strength is in Christ. God is the original of all strength. But God himself hath no intercourse of the new covenant with man out of the second person. All our comfort, and all our grace, it comes through Christ, who having taken our nature upon him, and having satisfied God, is fit to derive all grace and comfort to us. For he is near us, he is of our nature, and God in him is well pleased so as we may now go boldly to Christ; we are bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. God himself out of Christ is ‘a consuming fire.’ Now, in Christ God favours man; he is gracious and lovely to us, and we to him; because Christ his beloved Son hath took our nature upon him, and now in our nature he is in heaven. So Christ the mediator is the fountain of all strength; he is the spiritual Joseph that had laid up store for all Egypt, and all that came. He is the high steward of his church, the second in the kingdom of heaven; he is the Joseph, he dispenseth all riches and treasures; all are in him for the church’s sake. In him we do all things. As we can do all things for him as a mediator that died for us and procured favour for us, so we can do all things in him as an head to whom we are united. For there must be union before there can be communion. As in marriage there must be a uniting before there be a communion of estates and conditions, so before we can do anything for Christ we must be in Christ. We have all as through Christ, as in Christ. Thence comes communion with Christ’s Spirit. So then it is Christ by his Spirit, for he doth all by his Spirit: ‘The Lord is that Spirit,’ 2 Cor. 3:17. Christ doth all in the church by his Spirit. Now, the Spirit is the union of Christ, he strengthens all; all our strength is by Christ’s Spirit. Now, this Spirit of God first sanctifies Christ, the human nature of Christ, before he sanctifieth us. We have all grace and power and strength at the second hand. It comes not from Christ as God immediately. And grace comes not from the Holy Ghost immediately to us; but the Holy Ghost first sanctifies Christ his human nature and then he sanctifies us, and we out of Christ’s fulness receive grace for grace. The same Spirit that sanctified his nature in the womb of the virgin, and that sanctified his holy nature that now he hath in heaven with him, the same Spirit is sent from him to sanctify every member of the church. All is in the head, John 1:16. As first the ointment was poured on Aaron’s head, and from thence it ran down to the skirts of his garments, Ps. 133:2, so all grace is poured upon the head of Christ first, and then from him upon the skirts, even upon the meanest Christian, as answerable to their portion; and to those things that God means to call them to, they have grace to carry them. You see then how to conceive of this, how we have all in Christ, that is, by the Spirit of Christ, and how it comes by the Spirit.
Use 1. First of all, then, you see here how these two agree: a Christian, when he is a Christian, hath freedom of will and power. He hath power and free will. As far as he is freed by the Spirit of Christ, so far he is free. For, 2 Cor. 3:17, ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.’ So, John 8:36, Christ says, ‘If the Son shall make you free, then you shall be free indeed.’ ‘He can do all things,’ therefore he is free. But it is in Christ; therefore his freedom is from him. We speak, but it is Christ’s Spirit that openeth our mouth. We believe, but it is Christ by his Spirit that opens our hearts to believe. We are mighty, but it is in God. We are able to do great matters, but it is in Christ that strengtheneth us. We are strong, but it is in the Lord; as it is written, ‘Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might,’ Eph. 6:10. The understanding is ours, the affections are ours, the will is ours; but the sanctifying of all this, and the carriage of all these supernaturally above themselves, to do them spiritually, that is not ours, but it is Christ’s. So we see what is ours, and what is not ours. We are able to do; but the strength, and the grace, and ability is from Christ. A wind instrument sounds, but the man makes it sound by his breath. We are like wind instruments. Indeed, we sound, but no further than we are blown upon; and we yield music, but no further than we are touched by the Spirit of God. We are light, but as the air is, as it is enlightened by the sun; and therefore we must understand these points, that God may have glory, and that we may know what is ours.
And then again we see here, that we have in Christ not only a general ability, that we are able, but we have the very act itself, the deed itself. He strengtheneth us. There is a spiritual life and a spiritual power and will, and then the act and deed itself. Now, we have not only from Christ the life of grace at the first, and then a spiritual power answerable to that again, whereby our powers are renewed, so as we are able to do something in our will, but we have the deed itself. The doing is from Christ; he strengtheneth us for the present. Now, you have some that teach loosely this point, that we have general universal grace, whereby we are enabled, if we will, to believe, and to do this thing, if we will. But I say that is not all; but we have the will and the deed itself from Christ by his Spirit, and in every holy action Christ helps us to do these things in very deed.
First, He moves the soul to the action, and applies the soul to the thing. By the Spirit he doth this. For though we have power, we could not exercise it but by the Spirit, in this or that particular act.
Second, Again, he works a preserving of the grace in that act. God preserves his own work against temptation, and against impediments; for there is no act but it is opposed. The devil is in every good work, either at the beginning to hinder it, or at the end to defile it, one way or other. Now, God preserves his own work by his Spirit. First, He moves us to do, and then he preserves us in doing, and arms us against the impediments of good works. Then he determines the good work, and limits it, how far we shall do well, thus far, and thus far; the degrees come from Christ. For sometimes he doth it by his glorious power, as Paul saith, Eph. 1:19. Sometimes we are strengthened to do more, and sometimes less, as he will. Not only the act itself, and the application of the soul, and the preserving of grace in every act, we sink else, but the degree that we do sometimes better, it comes from Christ now strengthening of us more, and now less, as he sees good.
Know, by the way, that he is a voluntary head. Though he be an head of influence that flows into every member, yet he is a voluntary head, according to his own good pleasure, and the exigents of his members. Sometimes we have need of more grace, and then it flows into us from him accordingly. Sometimes we have need to know our weakness, and then he leaves us to ourselves, that we may know that without him we cannot stand; that we may know the necessity of his guidance to heaven, in the sense of our imperfections; that we might see our weakness and corruptions, that we had thought we had not had in us: as Moses was tempted to murmur, a meek man, Num. 11:21, seq., and David to cruelty, a mild man, 2 Sam. 11:15, that thought they had not had those corruptions in them. God leaves Christians sometimes to themselves, that they may know that they are not strong by their own spirit. So the degrees are from Christ, sometimes more and sometimes less. Sometimes we are in desertion, that we may know the manner of Christ’s governing us till we come to heaven.
Use 1. Well, I beseech you, let us know that out of Christ there is no grace. A civil man doth nothing in religion well. There cannot be a beam without the sun; there cannot be a river without a spring; there cannot be a good work without the spring of good works, Christ. Therefore, we should fetch all from him, since there is no grace out of him at all.
Use 2. Again, let us be sure, in all particular actions, to be poor in spirit. When we have any temptation to resist, any trouble to bear, or any duty to do, let us empty ourselves. No grace is stronger than humility. No man is weaker than a proud man. For a proud man rests on nothing, and an humble man that empties himself, he stands upon the Rock. We should therefore make use of the strength of Christ, that hath not only abundance for himself, but an abundance for us, an overflowing for every Christian for his good. Let us empty ourselves, as the prophet saith to the widow, Bring ‘empty vessels’ now, and we shall have oil enough, 2 Kings 4:3. There is enough in Christ; but first we must empty ourselves by humility, and then there is fulness in him. ‘Of his fulness we receive grace for grace,’ John 1:16. His fulness is like the fulness of the clouds that is ready to drop, and like the fulness of breasts, that are ready to yield what they have. He is willing. It is our fault, and baseness, and pride, that hinders us. Let us as much as we can empty ourselves of ourselves, and stir up the spirit of faith. Go to Christ. So much faith as we carry, so much grace we bring from him. If we do but touch him by faith, the issue of our corruptions will be dried up in some measure, and we shall have a spring of graces in us answerable to the graces in him, Mat. 9:20.
I beseech you, therefore, let us labour for these two graces, especially since all is out of us in the covenant of grace; not only salvation is out of us, but grace that brings us to heaven is out of us, to empty ourselves in humility, and by faith to go to Christ. The one grace makes us go out of ourselves, the other carries us to Christ and to the promises of Christ. Learn to do this in every action, for we may be foiled in every particular action for want of humility and faith. We must not trust to any grace or any ability in us, but trust to our spring, go to Christ when we have anything to do.
Quest. What is the reason that Christians fail?
Ans. They think, I had grace yesterday, and before, and hereupon they go not for supply of new strength to Christ. Know that in every act, in every temptation, in every particular suffering, we need a particular new strength, and a greater strength than we had before, if the temptation be greater, if the work be greater. As it is with a porter, he cannot carry a new burden that is heavier than he did before, without a new strength, without more strength than he had before, so a Christian cannot bear a new affliction without new strength, without more strength. Therefore consider what the nature of the business is that we are to do, and the strength of the temptation that we are to encounter with, and answerably go to Christ for a measure greater than we had before. He never upbraids us nor casts us in the teeth, as James saith, chap. 1:5 (c). There is an art, a skill of fetching strength from Christ to do all things, if we would learn it. As there is a skill to be a Christian, it is a trade, so there is a skill to fetch the strength that he hath from his spring, from Christ. Now, that skill in a word is this:
First, To know our own want, and to know the necessity of grace, and the excellency of the state of holiness, that of all conditions it is the best, and of all conditions a sinful estate is the worst. This will make us go out of ourselves to Christ. Well, how shall we fetch strength from Christ then?
Consider wherefore Christ hath the treasures of all in him, and go to him for particular graces we want whatsoever. When we know the excellency and necessity of it before, then make use of the virtue of his death and resurrection. Thus, are we tempted to any sin? Make use of the death of Christ, of his great love in giving himself, and then of the holiness of God in giving Christ to die for sin, he hates sin so; and then,
Consider of the fruit of his death that was to free and deliver us from sin. When we think of these things, Did God and Christ so love me? Is it the holiness of God, and the holiness of Christ, that God became man to die for me, and shall I go and trifle, and be tempted to sin, and offend so holy and so gracious a God, that hates sin so infinitely?
These be strong reasons fetched from Christ. We have from him both the reasons why we should do good and why we should not do evil, and we have the strength. There are two things requisite for a man to do a thing as a man. The reason why he should do it, and strength to perform it, both these are from Christ.
As from ill we are stopped by the consideration of Christ’s death, so when we are moved to grace, consider the virtue of Christ’s resurrection. Why is Christ now in heaven in our nature? Is it not to fill his church with his Spirit? Why doth he make intercession in heaven? Is it not that we should not be discouraged notwithstanding our daily infirmities? Shall we not make use of it? He is glorious for us, not for himself, but for his mystical body. As he hath made his natural body glorious, so he will make his mystical body glorious by little and little. He being, therefore, in heaven making intercession, go to him in the want of grace. And so for infirmities. The Spirit of God raised him at the lowest, and shall not the Spirit of God raise me from this and that. Yes, the Spirit of God will raise me from the baseness and misery of sin to be better and better. The same Spirit will enable me that raised his body. And so fetch virtue and strength from Christ, make use of Christ for every turn. Oh that we could learn these things! Then we should be able to go through all conditions: we should be able to live, able to die. I beseech you, therefore, consider what hath been spoken. Let us study Christ every day more and more, not for redemption and reconciliation only, though that in the first place, but study Christ to be all in all to us, to be our sanctification to fit us for heaven. Study the promises in Christ, lose no privilege. God would not have left them in his word but for our good. Take heed of base despair; Oh, I shall never overcome this sin and that. What! shut the people out of Canaan? Base despair lost them earthly Canaan, Numb. 14:22, seq. So take heed it shut not you out of heavenly Canaan. I shall not be able to get the victory over sin, and I shall not be able to suffer. No. Why are the promises? and why is Christ in heaven? Shall we, by despair and by base infidelity, lose Christ, and the promises, and all that is put into our hands, and betray our souls basely to Satan? I beseech you, consider of the necessity of these things. We know not what times God may call us to ere long. Despair not beforehand. Let fall what will, get into Christ, to be in him in an happy and eternal condition. We shall have strength from him to carry ourselves in all estates. Come what will, he will stand by us; he will not fail us nor forsake us. When did Paul speak these glorious words? In prison. ‘I can do all things through Christ,’ &c. Did the Spirit of God leave Paul in prison? Was it not better for Paul to have grace than to be freed from the thing? Wicked men may be freed from trouble, only a Christian hath grace to carry himself well in trouble. Come what will, if we be in Christ, either we shall be freed from troubles, or we shall have grace to bear them. Either we shall have that we want, or we shall have contentment without it. Is it not better to have grace without the thing? Is it not better to have a glorious Spirit of glory resting on us? Did not the Spirit of glory rest on Paul? Could not God have freed Paul from prison? Yes. But where had been then the demonstration of a contented spirit, of an heavenly mind? Where had been this example of a Christian bearing the cross comfortably? Paul lost nothing. Here you see how many stars shine in the night of his affliction, what a lustre he had in the dark state of imprisonment. Shall we then be afraid of any condition? No. Get the Spirit of God; get understanding of Christ, and the promises and privileges by him, and then let God cast us into what condition he will, we shall be safe and well.
Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 5 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1863), 175–193. Public Domain