1. I HAVE now come to unlawful self, which, more or less, is the immediate concern of much the greater part of mankind. This unlawful self is two-fold: first, what relates to religious worship; and secondly, that which concerns moral and civil conduct in the world. And they are both of infinite consequence to be considered by us, in which I shall be as brief as I may, with ease to my conscience, and no injury to the matter.
2. That unlawful self in religion, that ought to be mortified by the Cross of Christ is man's invention and performance of worship to God as divine, which is not so, either in its institution or performance. Those people name themselves Christians, despite that they are very exterior, pompous, and superstitious in their worship. These people are not only spiritually unprepared, in the way of their performing worship to God Almighty, who is an Eternal Spirit; but their worship itself is utterly inconsistent with the very form and practice of Christ's doctrine, as well as differing from the example of the apostles. The apostles' worship was plain and spiritual; theirs' is gaudy and worldly. Christ's true worship is most inward and mental; their worship outward and physically performed. The Apostles' worship conformed to the nature of God, who is a spirit, while theirs' centers on man's most carnal part. So that, instead of excluding flesh and blood, they show a worship calculated to gratify flesh and blood; as if their worship was not designed to please God, but to please themselves. A worship dressed with such stately buildings and imagery, rich furniture and garments, rare voices and music, costly lamps, wax candles, and incense; and all acted with that most pleasing variety to the external senses that can invent or money buy. Their worship is as if the world had turned Jew or Egyptian again; or that God was an old man indeed, and Christ a little boy, to be treated with a kind of religious mask, for so they picture Him in their temples, and too many in their minds. And the truth is, such a worship may very well suit such an erroneous idea of God; for when men can think Him to be like themselves, it is no wonder that they address Him in a way that is the most pleasing way others address them.
3. But what did the Almighty say to such a sensual people of old, very similar to today? "You thought I was such an one as yourself, but I will reprove you, and set your sins in order before you. Now consider this, you that forget God, for fear I tear you in pieces and there be none to deliver." But, "to him that orders his conversation correctly, will I show the salvation of God" (Psalm 50:21-23). This is the worship acceptable to Him, "to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God" (Micah 6:8). For He that searches the heart, and tries the moderation of man, and sets his sins in order before him, who is the God of the spirits of all flesh, looks not to the external fabric, but internal frame of the soul, and inclination of the heart. Nor is it to be soberly thought, that He who is "clothed with divine honor and majesty; who covers himself with light as with a garment; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain; who lays the beams of his chambers in the deep; who makes the clouds his chariot, and walks upon the wings of the wind; who makes his angels spirits, his ministers a flaming fire: who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be moved forever" (Psalm 104:1-5), can be adequately worshipped by those human inventions, the refuge of an apostate people from the primitive power of religion and spirituality of Christian worship.
4. Christ drew off his disciples from the glory and worship of the outward temple, and instituted a more inward and spiritual worship, in which He instructed his followers. "You shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem," says Christ to the Samaritan woman, "worship the father; God is a Spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:21-24). As if He had said, for the sake of the weakness of the people, God condescended in old time to limit Himself to an outward time, place, temple, and service, in and by which He would be worshipped; but this was during men's ignorance of his omnipresence, [he is everywhere, including in us], and they did not consider what God is, nor where He is. But I have come to reveal Him to as many as receive me; and I tell you that God is a Spirit, and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth. People must be acquainted with Him as a Spirit, consider and worship Him as such. It is not that bodily worship, or these ceremonial services, in use among you now, will serve, or be accepted by God who is a Spirit: no, you must obey his Spirit that strives with you, to gather you out of the evil of the world; that by bowing to the instructions and commands of his Spirit in your own souls, you may know what it is to worship Him as a Spirit; then you will understand that it is not going to this mountain, nor to Jerusalem, but to do the will of God, to keep his commandments, and commune with your own heart, and sin not; take up your cross, meditate in his holy law,* and follow the example of Him [his demonstrated obedience]** whom the Father has sent.
5. Therefore Stephen, that bold martyr of Jesus, told the Jews, when a prisoner for disputing about the end of their beloved temple, and its services, but falsely accused of blasphemy, said "Solomon built God a house; nevertheless God dwells not in temples made with hands; as said the prophet, 'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: what house will you build me? said the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Has not my hand made all these things?"' (Acts 7:47-50). Recognize this is a total overthrow of all worldly temples, and their ceremonial worships. Stephen follows his blow upon those apostate Jews, who in those times were, the pompous, ceremonious, worldly worshippers: "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do you" (Acts 7:51). As if He had told them: your outward temples, rites, and shadowy services, your pretensions to succession in nature from Abraham, and by religion from Moses — they all count for nothing. You are resisters of the Spirit, opposers of its instructions; you will not bow to his counsel, nor are your hearts right towards God. You are the successors of your fathers' iniquity; and though verbal admirers, yet none of the successors of the prophets in faith and life.
But the prophet Isaiah carries it a little further than is cited by Stephen. For after having declared what is not God's house, the place where his honor dwells, immediately follows with these words: "But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word" (Isa 66:1-2). Behold, O carnal and superstitious man, the true worshipper, and the place of God's rest! This is the house and temple of Him whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain; a house self cannot build, nor can any by by the power of man prepare or consecrate his house.
6. Paul, that great apostle of the Gentiles, twice expressly refers the word temple to man. Once in his epistle to the church of Corinth; "Know you not," says he, "that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which you have of God?" (1 Cor 6:19), and not the building of man's hand and heart. Again, he tells the same people, in his second epistle, "For you are the temple of the living God, as God has said" (2 Cor 6:16); and then cites God's words by the prophet, "I will dwell in them, and walk in them; I will be their God, and they shall be my people." This is the evangelical temple, the Christian church, whose ornaments are not the embroideries and furniture of worldly art and wealth, but the graces of the Spirit: meekness, love, faith, patience, self-denial, and charity. Here it is, that the eternal wisdom, that was with God from everlasting, before the hills were brought forth, or the mountains laid, chooses to dwell; "rejoicing," says Wisdom, "in the habitable part of the earth, and my delights were with the sons of men" (Pro 8:22-25,31); not in houses built of wood and stone. This living house is more glorious than Solomon's dead house; and of which his was but a figure, as he, the builder, was of Christ, who builds up a holy temple to God. It was promised of old, that the glory of the latter house should transcend the glory of the former (Hag. 2:9), which may be applied to this: not one outward temple or house to excel another in outward luster; for what is the benefit of that? But the divine glory, the beauty of holiness in the gospel house or church, made up of renewed believers, should exceed the outward glory of Solomon's temple, which, in comparison of the latter days, was but flesh to spirit, fading resemblance to the eternal substance.
But for all this, Christians [Quakers] have meeting-places,* yet not in a Jewish or a heathen state; instead their meeting places are plain, void of pomp or ceremony, suiting the simplicity of their blessed life and doctrine. For God's presence is not with the house, but with those who are in it, who are the gospel church, and not the house. Oh! if only those who call themselves Christians knew the real sanctity in themselves, by the washing of God's regenerating grace, instead of that imaginary sanctity ascribed to places; they would then know what the church is, and in these evangelical days where the place of God's appearance is. This made David say, "The king's daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold" (Psalm 45:13). What is the glory that is within the true church, and what gold makes up that inward glory? Tell me, O superstitious man! Is it your stately temples, altars, tables, carpets, tapestries; your vestments, organs, voices, candles, lamps, censers, plate and jewels, with the like furniture of your worldly temples? They count for nothing; they do not compare with the divine adornment of the King of Heaven's daughter, the blessed and redeemed church of Christ. The worldly buildings are miserable apostasy! And they are as wretched supplement in the loss and absence of the apostolic life, the spiritual glory of the primitive church.
7. But yet some of these admirers of external pomp and glory in worship want to appear to be lovers of the cross, and to that end have attracted many followers. But alas! What hope can there be of reconciling external pomp to Christianity? For the nearer pomp comes to its resemblance, the further off it is in reality. Their cross and self-denial are an invented form; and while they fancy to worship God with it, they dangerously err from the true cross of Christ, and that holy self-denial that Christ ordered. It is true, they have a cross, but it is a substitute for the real one; and so dainty, that the only requirement is to wear it for show. For instead of mortifying their wills by it, they made it, and use it according to wills. So that the cross has become their emblem of doing nothing but what they desire. Yet by their willful display of this badge of Christianity, they want to believe they are his disciples; which true disciples never did their own will, but only did the will of his heavenly Father.
8. This is the type of cross that flesh and blood can carry for flesh and blood invented it; therefore it is not the cross of Christ, which crucifies flesh and blood. Thousands of these crosses have no more virtue than a piece of cow dung. They are poor empty shadows, not even an images of the true cross. Some carry them for charms about them, but they never repel a single evil with them. They sin with them upon their backs; and though they put them in their bosoms, their beloved lusts lie there too, without the least worry. They are as dumb as Elijah's mock gods (1 Kings 18:27); no life nor power are in them. How should they have life of power, whose matter is earthly, and whose figure and workmanship are but the invention and labor of worldly artists? Is it possible that such crosses should cure their makers of sin? Certainly not!
9. These are yokes without restraint, and crosses that never contradict [man's selfish will]. A whole car load of these crosses would leave a man as unmortified as they find him. Men may sooner knock their brains out with them than their sins; and that, I fear, too many of them know in their very consciences that use them. They indeed adore them, such adoration and pride only possible with the false cross, since the true cross destroys pride, if it is actually carried.
10. Like their religion, their cross is very gaudy and triumphant; but in what? In precious metals and gems, purchased from people's money who support the superstition. These crosses are made of earthly treasure, rather than the cross that leads to the denial of earthly treasure; and like men, the crosses are respected by their outward appearance. A rich cross shall have many gazers and admirers; the poor crosses, as other things, are more neglected. I could appeal to them to rid themselves of this great vanity and superstition, which is very deficient compared to the blessed cross of Jesus, which takes away the sins of the world, and the sinner.
11. Nor is the life of a recluse, the boasted righteousness of some, much more commendable, or one shred nearer to the nature of the true cross. For if it is not unlawful as other things are, it is unnatural, which true religion does not teach. The true Christian convent and monastery are within the believer, where the soil is enclosed from sin. The true followers of Christ carry this religious house around with them, who do not exempt themselves from the conversation of the world, though they keep themselves from the evil of the world in their conversation. The monastery or nunnery is a lazy, rusty, unprofitable, [uncommanded] self-denial, burdensome to others to feel their idleness; religious bedlams, where people are kept for fear they should do mischief abroad; patience by force; self-denial against their will, rather ignorant than virtuous; and out of the way of temptation, than content in it. There is nothing to overcome if never tempted. What the eye never sees, the heart doesn't crave, and doesn't rule.
12. The cross of Christ is of another nature; it truly overcomes the world, and leads a life of purity in the face of its allurements; those who bear it are not thus chained up for fear they should bite; nor locked up for fear they should be stolen away. No, they receive power from Christ their Captain, to resist the evil, and do what is good in the sight of God. They are changed to despise the world, and love its reproach above its praise. They are led to be inoffensive to others, but love those who offend them, though not for offending them. What a world we would have if everybody, for fear of transgressing, confined himself within four walls! This is not required because the perfection of the Christian life applies and includes every honest labor or trade found among men. Such severe isolation is not the effect of Christ's free spirit, but a voluntary, fleshly humility; mere restraints of their own making and putting on, without command or reason. In all which it is plain they are their own lawgivers, and set their own rule, deprivation, and ransom, a constrained harshness, incompatible with the rest of the creation. For society has one great benefit of the cross, (and it is not to be destroyed for fear of evil); for sin that spoils society is eliminated, by a steady reproof and a conspicuous example of tried virtue. True godliness does not turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it, and excites their efforts to improve the world; not to hide their candle under a bushel, but to set it upon a table in a candlestick. Besides, isolation is a selfish invention; and man's invention can never be the true cross, which is taken up to bring inventions into subjection. But again, this humor runs away from itself, and leaves the world behind to be lost; Christians should keep to the helm, and guide the vessel to its port; not irresponsibly escape at the stern of the world, and leave those who are in it without a pilot, to be driven by the fury of evil times, upon the rock or sand of ruin. Actually, this monastic isolation of life, if taken up by young people, is commonly use to cover idleness, or to pay off inheritances, to save the lazy from the pains of punishment, or the upper class from the disgrace of poverty. One will not work, and the other scorns it. If aged, a long life of guilt sometimes flees to superstition for a refuge, and, after having had its own will in other things, would finish its life in a wilful religion to make God amends.
13. But taking up the cross of Jesus is a more interior exercise. It is the circumspection and discipline of the soul in conformity to the divine mind within the believer which is revealed. The body follows the soul, not the soul the body? Don't those who take up the inward cross know that nothing externally applied can stop the soul from lust, or the mind from an infinity of unrighteous imaginations? The thoughts of man's heart are evil, and they continuously occur. Evil comes from within the heart, and not from without. How then can an external application remove an internal cause; or a restraint upon the body, work a confinement of the mind? Confinement of the mind's thoughts is less successful where there is the least action, because there is most time to think; and if those thoughts are not guided by a higher principle, convents are more mischievous to the world than commerce trading houses. And yet periodic retirement is both excellent and needful; crowds and throngs were not much frequented by the ancient holy pilgrims.
14. Examine yourself, O man. What is your foundation, and who placed you there; for fear that in the end you will be found to have relied on an external fraud for your own soul. I confess that I wish the salvation of my fellow man, having found mercy with my heavenly Father. I would have none to deceive themselves to perdition especially about religion, where people are most apt to take all for granted, and lose infinitely by their own imagined worthiness and neglect. The inward, steady righteousness of Jesus is more than all the contrived devotion of poor superstitious man; and to stand approved in the sight of God, excels any ritual in religion resulting from the invention of men. The soul that is awakened and preserved by his holy power and spirit, lives to Him in the way of his own institution, and worships Him in his own Spirit, that is, in the holy sense, life, and leadings of it; which indeed is the evangelical worship. I do not slight a true retirement; for I do not only acknowledge, but admire solitude. Christ himself was an example of it. He loved and chose to frequent mountains, gardens, and sea-sides. It is requisite to the growth of piety, and I reverence the virtue that seeks and uses it; wishing there were more of it in the world; but then it should be freely entered and exited, not constrained. How can a constrained, punished, retirement benefit the mind, when it should be for a pleasure? No, I have long thought it was an error among all sorts of monastic orders that have no retreats for the afflicted, the tempted, the solitary, and the devout, where they might undisturbed wait upon God, pass through their religious exercises; and, being thereby strengthened, may, with more power over their own spirits, enter into the necessary business of the world again. Though the less unnecessary the better, to be sure. For divine pleasures are found in a free solitude.
BUT there are others of a more refined speculation, and reformed practice, who dare not use, and less adore, a piece of wood or stone, an image of silver and gold; but will allow Jewish, or even Pagan pomp in worship, practiced by others; as if Christ's worship were of this world, (though his kingdom is not). Though they are doctrinally adverse to such superstition, they bow to their own religious duties, and esteem their formal performance of several parts of worship, even though they go against the grain of their fleshly ease, and a preciseness therein, no small cross to them. They believe that if they abstain from the actual act of gross and scandalous sins, even though the continual thoughts of it are entertained, they hold themselves safe enough within the pale of discipleship and walls of Christianity. But this also is too little discipline compared to Christ's cross; and those who flatter themselves with such a sort of taking it up will in the end be deceived with a sandy foundation, and a midnight cry. For said Christ, "But I say to you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment" (Mat 12:36). [You cannot simply abstain from sinful acts and see salvation; your heart must be changed to hate them and to where they have no attraction to you at all.]
2. For first, it is not performing duties of religion, but the rise of the performance that God looks at. Men may, (and some do), cross their own wills in their own wills: voluntary omission and commission: "Who has required this at your hands?" (Isa 1:12), said the Lord of old to the Jews, when they seemed industrious to have served Him; but it was in a way of their own contriving or inventing, and in their own time and will; not with the soul truly touched and prepared by the divine power of God, but bodily [denial for health] worship only. That, the apostle tells us, profits little. Not keeping to the manner of taking up the cross in worship as well as other things has been a great cause of the troublesome superstition that is yet in the world. For men have no more brought their worship to the test than their sins, no less for they have ignorantly thought the worship was a sort of excuse for their sins; and not that their religious performances should need a cross, or an apology.
3. But true worship can only come from a heart prepared by the Lord (Pro 16:1). This preparation is by the sanctification of the Spirit; by which, if God's children are led in the general course of their lives, as Paul teaches (Rom 8:14), much more in their worship to their creator and redeemer. And whatever prayer is made, or doctrine is uttered, if it is not from the prompting of the Holy Spirit, is not acceptable with God. Only by the preparation and aid of the Spirit can evangelical worship be true, which is in spirit and truth. For what is a heap of the most pathetical words to God Almighty; or the dedication of any place or time to Him? He is a Spirit, to whom words, places, and times, strictly considered, are improper or inadequate; although they are the instruments of public worship, they are only fleshly and visible, and cannot carry our requests any further, much less recommend them to the invisible God. Nor can such fleshly worship benefit the congregation, for it is the language of the soul that God hears. No one pray correctly without the aid of Spirit; no one can groan correctly to Almighty God without the assistance of the Spirit.
4. The soul of man, however lively in other things, is dead to God until He breathes the spirit of life into it. It cannot live to Him, much less worship Him, without the Spirit. Thus God tells us, by Ezekiel, when in a vision of the restoration of mankind, in the person of Israel, (a usual way of speaking among the prophets, and as often mistaken), "I will open your graves," said the Lord, "and put my spirit in you, and you shall live" (Eze 37:12-14). So, though Christ taught his disciples to pray, they were, in some sort, disciples before He taught them; not worldly men, whose prayers are an abomination to God. And his teaching them is not an argument that everybody must say that prayer, whether he can say it with the same heart, and under the same qualifications, as his poor disciples or followers did, or not; as is now too superstitiously and presumptuously practiced; but rather as they then, and so we now, are not to pray our own prayers, but his. That is, such as He enables us to make, as He enabled them then.
5. For if we are not to take thought what we shall say when we come before worldly princes, because it shall then be given to us; and that "it is not we that speak, but the Spirit of our heavenly Father that speaks in us" (Mat 10:19-20); much less can our ability be needed, or should we study to ourselves forms of speech in our approaches to the great Prince of princes, King of kings, and Lord of lords. For if we consider His greatness, we ought not by Christ's command [regarding even lesser wordly princes]; and if we consider our relation to Him as children, we need not; He will help us, He is our Father; that is, if He is actually in control of us by his Spirit. Thus not only the mouth of the body but of the soul is shut, until God opens it; and then He loves to hear the language of it. The prayer of the body [man's carnal mind] ought never to go before the prayer of the soul. His ear is open to such requests, and his Spirit strongly intercedes for those who offer them.
6. How do we receive this preparation of the heart, giving us his Spirit to worship by in Spirit and Truth?
I answer: By waiting patiently, yet watchfully and intently upon God: "Lord," says the Psalmist, "you have heard the desire of the humble; you will prepare their heart, you will cause your ear to hear" (Psalm 10:17); and, says Wisdom, "The preparation of the heart in man is from the Lord" (Pro 16:1). Here you must not think your own thoughts, nor speak your own words, which indeed is the silence of the holy cross, but be sequestered from all the confused imaginations that are apt to throng and press upon the mind in those holy retirements. It is not for you to think to overcome the Almighty by the most composed matter, cast into the aptest phrase; no, no; one groan, one sigh, from a wounded soul, a heart touched with true remorse, a sincere and godly sorrow, which is the work of God's Spirit, excels and prevails with God. Therefore stand still in your mind, wait to feel something that is divine, to prepare and dispose you to worship God truly and acceptably. Thus you are taking up the cross, and shutting the doors and windows of the soul against everything that would interrupt this attendance upon God, however pleasant the object is in itself, how lawful or needful at another season; the power of the Almighty will break in, his Spirit will work and prepare the heart, that it may offer up an acceptable sacrifice. It is He that discovers and presses wants upon the soul; and when it cries, it is He alone that supplies them. Petitions, not springing from the Spirit's sense and preparation, are formal and fictitious; they are not true for men pray in their own blind desires, and not in the will of God, and his ear is stopped to them; "but for the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy," God has said, "I will arise" (Psalm 12:5); that is, the poor in spirit, the needy soul, those who want his assistance, who are ready to be overwhelmed, that feel a need, and cry aloud for a deliverer, and that have none on earth to help; none in heaven but Him, nor in the earth in comparison of Him; "He will deliver," said David, "the needy when he cries, and the poor, and him that has no helper. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence, and precious shall their blood be in his sight" (Psalm 72:12-14). "This poor man," says he, "cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps round about those who fear him, and delivers them" (Psalm 34:6-8), and then invites all to come and taste how good the Lord is; yes, "he will bless those who fear the Lord, both small and great" (Psalm 115:13).
7. But what is that to those who are not hungry? "those who are whole need not a physician" (Mat 9:12); the full are happy, and the rich do not cry for help. Those not sensible of their inward needs, who don't fear their compulsion to sin, who feel no need of God's power to help them, nor of the light of his countenance to comfort them; why do they pray? Their devotion is, at best, a serious mockery of the Almighty. They know not, they want not, they desire not what they pray for. They pray thy will be done, and constantly do their own; despite the consequences. They ask for grace, and abuse what they have. They pray for the Spirit, but resist it in themselves, and ridicule the Spirit in others. They request mercies and goodness of God, but feel no real need of mercy. And in this inward insensibility, they are as unable to praise God for what they have, as to pray for what they have not. "They shall praise the Lord," says David, "that seek him, for he satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry with good things" (Psalm 22:26,107:9). This also He reserves for the poor and needy, and those who fear God. Let the spiritually poor and the needy praise your name. You that fear the Lord, praise Him; and you the seed of Jacob, glorify Him. Jacob was a plain man, of an upright heart: and those who are so, are his seed. And though (with him) they may be as poor as worms in their own eyes, yet they receive power to wrestle with God, and prevail as he did.
8. But without the preparation and consecration of this power, no man is fit to come before God; otherwise less holiness and reverence to worship God are required under the gospel than it was in the times of the law, when all sacrifices were sprinkled before offered; the people had consecrated their offerings, before they presented themselves before the Lord (Num 8; 19:2, and Chronicles 30:16-17). If the touching of a dead or unclean beast then made people unfit for temple or sacrifice, until first sprinkled and sanctified, how can we think so poorly of the worship that is instituted by Christ in gospel times, as we present ourselves, unprepared and unsanctified as offerings? Or, allow that those who, either in thoughts, words, or deeds, do daily touch what is morally unclean, can, without coming to the blood of Jesus, that sprinkles the conscience from dead works, acceptably worship the pure God; it is a downright contradiction to good sense. The unclean cannot acceptably worship what is holy; the impure what is perfect. There is a holy intercourse and communion between Christ and his followers; but none at all between Christ and Belial; between Him and those who disobey his commandments, and live not the life of his blessed cross and self-denial (2 Cor 6:15-16).
9. But as sin cannot worship God, neither can formality worship God; no, though the manner were of his own ordination; which made the prophet, personating one in a great strait, cry out, "How shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:6-8). The royal prophet, sensible at this, calls thus also upon God: "O Lord, open you my lips, and my mouth shall show forth your praise" (Psalm 51:15-17). He did not dare open his own lips, he knew that could not praise God; And why? "For you desire not sacrifice, else would I give it:" if my formal offerings would serve, you should not want them; you delight not in burnt-offerings. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." And why? Because this is God's work, the effect of his power; and his own works praise Him. To the same purpose does God Himself speak by the mouth of Isaiah, in opposition to the formalities and lip-worship of the degenerate Jews: "Thus said the Lord, the heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool, where is the house that you build to me? and where is the place of my rest? For all these things has mine hand made. But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word" (Isa 66:1-2). O behold the true worshipper! One of God's preparing, circumcised in heart and ear, that resists not the Holy Spirit, as those lofty professing Jews did. Was this so then, even in the time of the law, which was the dispensation of external and shadowy performances; and can we now expect acceptance without the preparation of the Spirit of the Lord in these gospel times, which are the proper times for the pouring our of the Spirit? By no means; God is what He was; and his true worshippers are only those who worship Him in his own spirit. These He tenders as the apple of his eye; the rest only mock Him, and He despises them. Hear what follows to that people, for it is the state and portion of Christendom at this day: "He that kills an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrifices a lamb, as if he cut off a dog's neck; he that offers an oblation, as if he offered swine's blood; he that burns incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yes, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations" (Isa 66:3). Let none say, we offer not these kinds of oblations, for that is not the case. God was not offended with the offerings, but offerers. These were the legal forms of sacrifice that God had appointed; but since they were not presenting them in that frame of spirit, and under that right disposition of soul that was required, God declared his abhorrence, and that with great aggravation; and elsewhere, by the same prophet, forbids them to bring any more vain oblations before Him; "incense," said God, "is an abomination to me. Your sabbaths and calling of assemblies I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting." And "when you spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you; when you make many prayers, I will not hear you" (Isa 1:13-15). A most terrible renunciation of their worship; and why? Because their hearts were polluted; they loved not the Lord with their whole hearts, but broke his law, and rebelled against his Spirit, and did not what was right in his sight. The cause is plain, by the amendment He requires: "Wash yourself," says the Lord, "make yourself clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isa 1:16-17). Upon these terms, and nothing short, He tells them to come to Him, and tells them, that "though their sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; and though they be as crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isa 1:18).
So true is that notable passage of the Psalmist, "Come and hear, all you that fear God, and I will declare what he has done for my soul; I cried to him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. But verily God has heard me; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me" (Psalm 66:16-20).
10. Much of this kind might be cited, to show the displeasure of God against forms of worship to him, when performed without his own Spirit, and that necessary preparation of the heart in man, that nothing else can work or give; which, above all other sacred writers, is most frequently and emphatically recommended to us by the example of the Psalmist, who ever called to mind his own great slips, and the cause of them, and the way by which he came to be accepted of God, and to obtain strength and comfort from Him, reminds himself to wait upon God. "Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; on you do I wait all the day long" (Psalm 25:5). His soul looked to God for salvation, to be delivered from the snares and evils of the world. This shows an inward exercise, and a spiritual attendance, that stood not in external forms, but in inward divine aid.
And truly, David had great encouragement so to do; the goodness of God invited him to do it and strengthened him in it. For, says he, "I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined to me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock" (Psalm 40:1-2). That is, the Lord appeared inwardly to console David's soul, who waited for his help, and to deliver it from the temptations and afflictions that were ready to overwhelm him, and gave him security and peace. Therefore, he says, "The Lord has established my goings;" that is, fixed his mind in righteousness. Before, every step he took bemired him, and he was scarcely able to go without falling; temptation was on all hands; but he waited patiently upon God. His mind retired, watchful, and intent to his law and Spirit; and he felt the Lord to incline to him. His needy and sensible cry entered heaven, and prevailed; then came deliverance and rescue to David, in God's time, not David's; strength to go through his exercises, and surmount all his troubles. For which, he tells us, a new song was put into his mouth, even praises to his God (Psalm 40:3). But it was of God's making and putting, and not his own.
Another time, we have him crying thus: "As the deer pants after the water-brooks, so pants my soul after you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?" This goes beyond formality, and can be tied to no lesson. But we may by this see that true worship is an inward work; that the soul must be touched and raised in its heavenly desires by the heavenly Spirit, and that the true worship is in God's presence. "When shall I come and appear." Not in the temple, nor with outward sacrifices, but before God in his presence. So that souls of true worshippers see God, make their appearance before Him; and this they wait, they pant, they thirst for. Oh how is the greater part of Christendom degenerated from David's example! No wonder, therefore, that this good man tells us, "Truly my soul waits upon God;" and that he gives it in charge to his soul so to do; "O, my soul, wait you only upon God; for my expectation is from him." As if he had said, no one else can prepare my heart, or supply my wants; so that my expectation is not from my own voluntary performance, or the bodily worship I can give Him; they are of no value; they can neither help me, nor please Him. But I wait upon Him for strength and power to present myself so before Him, as may be most pleasing to Him; for He that prepares the sacrifice will certainly accept it. Therefore in two verses he repeats it three times: "I wait for the Lord — My soul does wait — My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning." Yes, so intently, and with that unweariedness of soul, that he says in one place, "Mine eyes fail while I wait for my God" (Psalm 69:3). He was not contented with so many prayers, such a set worship, or limited repetition; no, he leaves not until he finds the Lord, that is, the comforts of his presence, which brings the answer of love and peace to his soul. Nor was this his practice only, as a man more than ordinarily inspired; for he speaks of it as the way of worship then among the true people of God, the spiritual Israel, and circumcision in heart, of that day; "Behold," says he, "as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God until he have mercy on us" (Psalm 123:2). In another place, "Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield" (Psalm 33:20). "I will wait on your name, for it is good before your saints" (Psalm 52:9). It was in request with the truly godly in that day, and the way they came to enjoy God, and worship Him acceptably. And from his own experience of the benefit of waiting upon God, and the saints' practice of those times, he recommends it to others: "Wait upon the Lord; be of good courage, and he will strengthen your heart: wait, I say, on the Lord" (Psalm 27:14). That is, wait in faith and patience, and He will come to save you. Again, "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently upon him." That is, cast yourself upon Him; be contented, and wait for Him to help you in your wants; you can not think how near He is to help those who wait upon Him: Oh! try and have faith. Yet again, he tells us, "Wait upon the Lord, and keep his way" (Psalm 37:34). Behold the reason why so few profit! they are out of his way; and such can never wait rightly upon Him. Great reasons had David for what he said, who had, with so much comfort and advantage, met the Lord in his blessed way.
11. The prophet Isaiah tells us, that though the chastisements of the Lord were sore upon the people for their backslidings, yet in the way of his judgments, in the way of his rebukes and displeasure, they waited for Him, and the desire of their soul, that is the great point, was to his name, and the remembrance of Him (Isa 26:8). They were contented to be chided and chastised, for they had sinned; and the knowledge of Him was so very desirable to them. But what! did He not come at last, and that in mercy too? Yes, He did, and they knew Him when He came, a doctrine the brutish world knows not, "This is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us" (Isa 25:9). O blessed enjoyment! O precious confidence! here is a waiting in faith which prevailed. All worship not in faith is fruitless to the worshipper, as well as displeasing to God; and this faith is the gift of God, and the nature of faith is to purify the heart, and give such as truly believe victory over the world. Well, but they go on: "We have waited for him; we will be glad, and rejoice in his salvation." The prophet adds, "Blessed are all those who wait upon God:" and why? for "those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;" they shall never faint, never be weary (Isa 30:18,40:31); the encouragement is great. Oh hear him once more: "For since the beginning of the world, men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, neither has the eye seen, O God! beside you, what he has prepared for him that waits for him" (Isa 64:4). Behold the inward life and joy of the righteous, the true worshippers; those whose spirits bowed to the appearance of God's Spirit in them, leaving and forsaking all it appeared against, and embracing whatever it led them to. In Jeremiah's time, the true worshippers also waited upon God (Jer 14:22): and he assures us, that "the Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him" (Lam 3:25). Here it is, that the prophet Hosea exhorts the church then to turn and wait upon God. "Therefore turn you to your God; keep mercy and judgment, and wait on your God continually" (Hosea 12:6). And Micah is very zealous and resolute in this good exercise: "I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me" (Micah 7:7). Thus did the children of the Spirit, that thirsted after an inward sense of Him. The wicked cannot say so; nor those who pray, unless they wait. It is charged upon Israel in the wilderness, as the cause of their disobedience and ingratitude to God, that they "waited not for his counsels." We may be sure it is our duty, and expected from us; for God requires it in Zephaniah: "Therefore wait upon me, said the Lord, until the day that I arise," (Zep 3:8). Oh! that all who profess the name of God would wait so, and not offer to arise to worship without Him; and then they would feel his stirrings and arisings in them to help and prepare, and sanctify them. Christ expressly charged his disciples, "They should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait until they had received the promise of the Father, the baptism of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 1:4-8), in order to their preparation for the preaching of the glorious gospel of Christ to the world. Although that was an extraordinary command for an extraordinary work, yet the degree does not change the kind; on the contrary, if so much waiting and preparation by the Spirit was requisite to fit them to preach to man; some, at least, may be needful to fit us to speak to God.
12. I will close this great scripture doctrine of waiting, with that passage in John about the pool of Bethesda: "There is in Jerusalem, by the sheep market, a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches; in these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, and withered, waiting for the moving of the water for an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water. Whosoever then first, after the troubling of the water, stepped in, was made whole of whatsoever disease he had" (John 5:2-4). This is a most exact representation of what is intended by all that has been said upon the subject of waiting. For as there was then an outward and legal, so there is now a gospel and spiritual Jerusalem, the church of God; consisting of the faithful. The pool in that old Jerusalem, in some sort, represented that fountain, which is now set open in this new Jerusalem. That pool was for those who were under infirmities of body; this fountain for all that are impotent in soul. There was an angel then that moved the water, to render it beneficial; it is God's angel now, the great angel* of his presence, that blesses this fountain with success. Those who then went in before, and did not watch the angel, and take advantage of his motion, found no benefit of their stepping in. Those who now do not wait for the moving of God's angel, but by the devotion of their own forming and timing, they rush before God as the horse into the battle, and hope for success, are sure to miscarry in their expectation. Therefore, as then they waited with all patience and attention upon the angel's motion, who wanted and desired to be cured; so do the true worshippers of God now, who need and pray for his presence, which is the life of their souls, as the sun is to the plants of the field. They have often tried the unprofitableness of their own work, and have now come to the Sabbath indeed. They dare not put up a device of their own, or offer an unsanctified request, much less offer bodily worship, where the soul is really insensible or unprepared by the Lord. In the light of Jesus they ever wait to be prepared, retired, and recluse from all thoughts that cause the least distraction and discomposure in the mind, until they see the angel move, and until their beloved pleases to awake; nor dare they call Him before his time. And they fear to perform a service in his absence; for they know it is not only unprofitable, but reprovable: "Who has required this at your hand? .... He that believes shall not make haste" (Isa 1:12, 28:16). Those who worship with their own can only do as the Israelites, turn their earrings into a molten image, and be cursed for their pains. Nor fared they better that gathered sticks of old, and "kindled a fire, and compassed themselves about with the sparks that they had kindled" (Isa 50:11); for God told them "they should lie down in sorrow." It should not only be of no advantage, and do them no good, but incur a judgment from Him; sorrow and anguish of soul should be their portion. Alas! flesh and blood would gladly pray, though it cannot wait and be a saint, though it cannot abide to do or suffer the will of God; with the tongue it blesses God, and with the tongue it curses men, made in his similitude. It calls Jesus Lord, but not by the Holy Ghost; and often names the name of Jesus, yes, bows the knee to it too; but departs not from iniquity; this is abominable to God.
13. In short, there are four things so necessary to worshipping of God correctly, and which put its performance beyond man's power, that there seems little more needed than the naming of them. The first is, the sanctification of the worshipper. Secondly, the consecration of the offering; which has been spoken to before somewhat largely. Thirdly, what to pray for; which no man knows that prays not by the aid of God's Spirit; and therefore without that Spirit no man can truly pray. This the apostle puts beyond dispute: "We know not," says he, "what we should pray for, as we ought, but the Spirit helps our infirmities" (Rom 8:26). Men unacquainted with the work and power of the Holy Spirit are ignorant of the mind of God; and those, certainly, can never please Him with their prayers. It is not enough to know we lack; but we should learn whether it is not sent as a blessing, disappointments to the proud, losses to the covetous, and to the negligent stripes; to remove these were to secure the destruction, not help the salvation of the soul.
The vile world knows nothing but carnally, after a fleshly manner and interpretation; and too many who consider themselves enlightened are apt to call providences by wrong names; for instance, afflictions they style judgments, and trials, more precious than the beloved gold, they call miseries. On the other hand, they call the preferences of the world by the name of honor, and its wealth happiness; when for once that they are so, it is much to be feared they are sent of God a hundred times for judgments, at least trials, upon their possessors. Therefore, what to keep, what to reject, what to want, is a difficulty God only can resolve the soul. And since God knows better than we what we need, He can better tell us what to ask than we can Him: which makes Christ exhort his disciples to avoid long and repetitious prayers (Mat 6:7-8); telling those who their heavenly Father knew what they needed before they asked: and therefore gave them a pattern to pray by; not, as some fancy, to be a text for human liturgies, which of all services are most justly noted and taxed for length and repetition; but expressly to reprove and avoid them. But if those wants that are the subject of prayer were once agreed upon, though that might be a weighty point, yet how to pray is of still greater moment than to pray; it is not the request, but the frame of the petitioner's spirit. The what may be proper, but the how defective. As I said, God needs not to be told of our wants by us, who must tell them to us; yet He will be told them from us, that both we may seek Him, and He may come down to us. But when this is done, "To this man will I look, said the Lord, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembles at my word" (Isa66:2); to the sick heart, the wounded soul, the hungry and thirsty, the weary and heavy laden ones; such sincerity wants a helper.
14. Nor is this sufficient to complete gospel-worship; the fourth requisite must be had, and that is faith; true faith, precious faith, the faith of God's chosen, that purifies their hearts, that overcomes the world, and is the victory of the saints.
This is what animates prayer and presses it home, like the importunate woman, that would not be denied; to whom Christ, seeming to admire, said, "O woman, great is your faith!" (Mat 15:28). This is of the highest moment on our part, to give our addresses success with God; and yet not in our power either, for it is the gift of God: from Him we must have it; and with one grain of it more work is done, more deliverance is produced, and more goodness and mercy received, than by all the runnings, desires, and toils of man, with his inventions and bodily exercises; which, duly weighed, will easily spell out the meaning why so much worship should bring so little profit to the world, as we see it does, namely true faith is lost. "They ask, and receive not" (James 4:3); they seek and find not: they knock, and it is not opened to them. The case is plain; their requests are not mixed with purifying faith, by which they should prevail, as good Jacob's were, when he wrestled with God and prevailed. And the truth is, most people are still in their sins, following their hearts' lusts, and living in worldly pleasures, being strangers to this precious faith. It is the reason rendered by the deep author to the Hebrews, of the unprofitableness of the word preached to some in those days; "Not being," says he, "mixed with faith in those who heard it" (Heb 4:2). Can the minister then preach without faith? No; and much less can any man pray to purpose without faith, especially when we are told, that the "just live by faith" (Heb 10:38), for worship is the supreme act of man's life; and whatever is necessary to inferior acts of religion must not be lacking there.
15. This may moderate the wonder in any, why Christ so often upbraided his disciples with "O you of little faith"? yet tells us, that one grain of it, though as little as that of mustard, one of the least of seeds, if true and right, is able to remove mountains.* As if He had said, there is no temptation so powerful that it cannot be overcome. Therefore those who are captivated by temptations, and remain unsupplied in their spiritual wants, have not this powerful faith; that is the true cause. It was so necessary, that Christ could not do many mighty works where the people believed not; and though his power produced wonders in other places, faith opened the way; so that it is hard to say, whether that power by faith, or faith by that power, produced the cure. Let us call to mind what famous things a little clay and spittle, one touch of the hem of Christ's garment, and a few words out of his mouth (John 9:6, Luke 8:43-48), did by the force of faith in the patients: "Do you believe that I am able to open your eyes?" (Mat 9:28-29); "Yes, Lord," said the blind, and they saw. To the ruler, "only believe" (Mark 5:36); he did, and his dead daughter recovered life. Again, "If you can believe:" I do believe, says the father, help my unbelief; and the evil spirit was chased away, and the child recovered. He said to one, "Go, your faith has made you whole" (Mark 10:52); and to another, "Thy faith has saved you; your sins are forgiven you" (Luke 7:48-50). And to encourage his disciples to believe, that were admiring how soon his sentence was executed upon the fruitless fig-tree, he tells them, "Verily, if you have faith, and doubt not, you shall not only do this which is done to the fig-tree; but also, if you shall say to this mountain, Be you removed, and cast into the sea, it shall be done; and all things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive" (Mat 21:20-22). This one passage convicts Christendom of gross infidelity; for she [Christendom] prays, and receives not.
16. But some may say, It is impossible to receive all that a man may ask. It is not impossible to receive all that a man, that so believes, can ask (Mat 19:26). The fruits of faith are not impossible to those who truly believe in the God that makes them possible. When Jesus said to the ruler, "If you can believe," He adds, "All things are possible to him that believes" (Mark 9:23). Well, but then some will say that it is impossible to have such faith; for this very faithless generation would excuse their lack of faith by making it impossible to have the faith they lack. But Christ's answer to the infidelity of that age will best confute the disbelief of this: "The things that are impossible with men are possible with God" (Mark 10:27). It will follow, then, that it is not impossible with God to give that faith; though it is certain that without faith, it is impossible to please God; for so the author to the Hebrews teaches (Heb 11:6). And if it is otherwise impossible to please God, it must also be to pray to God without this precious faith.
17. But some may say, What is this faith that is so necessary to worship, and gives it such acceptance with God and returns that benefit to men? I say that it is a holy resignation to God, and confidence in Him testified by a religious obedience to his holy requirements, which gives sure evidence to the soul of the things not yet seen, and a general sense and taste of the substance of those things that are hoped for; that is, the glory which is to be revealed hereafter. As this faith is the gift of God, so it purifies the hearts of those who receive it. The Apostle Paul is witness that it will not dwell but in a pure conscience (1 Tim 3:9). He therefore in one place, couples a pure heart and faith unfeigned together (1 Tim 1:5); in another, faith and a good conscience (1 Tim 1:19). James joins faith with righteousness (James 2); and John joins faith with victory over the world, "this," says he, "is the victory which overcomes the world, even our faith" (1 John 5:4).
18. The heirs of this faith are the true children of Abraham (Rom 4:12), in that they walk in the steps of Abraham, according to the obedience of faith, which, only, entitles people to be the children of Abraham. This faith lives above the world, not only in its sin, but righteousness; to this [faith that results in salvation] no man comes, but through death to self by the cross of Jesus, and an entire dependence, by Him, upon God.
Famous are the exploits of this divine gift; time would fail to recount them; all the sacred stories are filled with them. But let it suffice, that by faith the holy ancients endured all trials, overcame all enemies, prevailed with God, renowned his truth, finished their testimony, and obtained the reward of the faithful — a crown of righteousness, which is the eternal blessedness of the just.
HAVING thus discharged my conscience against that part of unlawful self, that gladly would be a Christian, a believer, a saint, while a plain stranger to the Cross of Christ, and the holy exercises of it; and in that briefly discovered what is true worship, and the use and business of the holy cross therein, to render its performance pleasing to Almighty God; I shall now, the same Lord assisting me, more largely prosecute that other part of unlawful self, which fills the study, care, and conversation of the world, presented to us in these three capital lusts, that is to say, pride, greed, and luxury; from where all other mischiefs daily flow, as streams from their proper fountains; the mortifying of which makes up the other; and indeed a very great part of the work of the true cross; and though last in place, yet first in experience and duty. The cross introduces, in the room of those evil habits, which so much needed reformation, the blessed effects of: mortification, humility, temperance, love, patience, and heavenly-mindedness, with all other graces of the Spirit, becoming the followers of the perfect Jesus, that most heavenly man.
The care and love of all mankind are either directed to God or themselves. Those who love God above all are ever humbling self to his commands, and only love self in subservience to Him that is Lord of all. But those who are declined from that love to God are lovers of themselves more than God; for supreme love must center in one of these two. To that inordinate self-love, the apostle rightly joins proud and high minded (2 Tim 3:2-4). For no sooner had the angels declined their love, duty and reverence to God, than they inordinately loved and valued themselves; which made them exceed their station, and aspire above the order of their creation. This was their pride, and this sad defection was their dismal fall; who are reserved in chains of darkness to the judgment of the great day of God.
2. Pride, that destructive evil, which begins the chapter, did also begin the misery of mankind; it is a most mischievous quality, and so commonly known by its motions and sad effects, that every unmortified heart carries pride. Pride is an excess of self-love, joined with an undervaluing of others and a desire of dominion over them; the most troublesome thing in the world. There are four things by which it has made itself best known to mankind, the consequences of which have brought a misery equal to its evil:
To the just and true witness of the eternal God, placed in the souls of all people, I appeal as to the truth of these things.
3. To the first, it is plain, that an inordinate desire of knowledge introduced man's misery, and brought an universal lapse from the glory of his primitive state. Adam desired to be wiser than God had made him. It was not sufficient to know his Creator, and give Him that holy homage his being and innocence naturally engaged and excited him to; nor to have an understanding above all the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea, joined with a power to rule over all the visible creation of God; but he had to become as wise as God too. This unwarrantable search, and as foolish as unjust ambition, made him unworthy of the blessings he received from God. This drove him out of paradise; and instead of being lord of the whole world, Adam becomes the most wretched vagabond of the earth.
4. A strange change! Instead of becoming as gods, they should fall below the very beasts; in comparison of whom, even God had made them as gods. The lamentable consequence of this great defection has been an exchange of innocence for guilt, and a paradise for a wilderness. But, which is yet worse, in this state Adam and Eve had gotten another god than the only true and living God; and he who enticed them to all this mischief, furnished them with a vain knowledge, and destructive wisdom — the skill of lies and equivocations, shifts, evasions, and excuses. They had lost their plainness and sincerity; and from an upright heart, the image in which God had made man, he became a crooked, twining, twisting serpent; the image of that unrighteous spirit of the serpent, to whose temptations he yielded up with his obedience his paradise of happiness.
5. Nor is this limited to Adam; for all, who have fallen short of the glory of God, are born sons of his disobedience. They, like him, have eaten of what they have been forbidden; they have committed the things they ought not to have done, and left undone the things they ought to have done.
They have sinned against that divine light of knowledge, which God has given them They have grieved his Spirit; and that dismal sentence has been executed, "in the day that you eat thereof you shall die." That is, when you do the thing that you ought not to do, you shall no more live in my favor and enjoy the comforts of the peace of my Spirit, which is a dying to all those innocent and holy desires and affections with which God created man; and he becomes as one cold and benumbed, insensible to the love of God, of his Holy Spirit, power and wisdom, of the light and joy of his countenance and the evidence of a good conscience and the co-witnessing and approbation of God's Holy Spirit.
6. So that fallen Adam's knowledge of God stood no more in a daily experience of the love and work of God in his soul, but in a notion of what he once did know and experience; which being not the true and living wisdom that is from above, but a mere picture, it cannot preserve man in purity; but puffs up, makes people proud, high-minded, and impatient of contradiction. This was the state of the apostate Jews before Christ came; and has been the condition of apostate Christians ever since He came; their religion standing, some bodily performances excepted, either in what they once knew of the work of God in themselves, and which they have revolted from; or in an historical belief, and an imaginary conception and paraphrase upon the experiences and prophecies of such holy men and women of God as in all ages have deserved the style and character of his true children.
7. As such a knowledge of God cannot be true. By experience we see, such a faith always brings forth fruits which are not true wisdom. For as heavenly wisdom "is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated" (James 3:17); so the knowledge of degenerated and unmortified men is first impure; for it came by the commission of evil, and is held in an evil and impure conscience in those who disobey God's laws, and that daily do those things which they ought not to do; for which they stand condemned before God's judgment seat in the souls of men; the light of whose presence searches the most hidden things of darkness, the most secret thoughts, and concealed inclinations of ungodly men. The earthly wisdom is the science, falsely so called: and as it is impure, so it is unpeaceful, cross, and hard to be entreated; disobedient, perverse, and persecuting; jealous that any should be better than they; and hating and abusing those who are.
8. It was pride that made Cain a murderer (Gen 4:8): it is a spiteful quality; full of envy and revenge. What! Was not his religion and worship as good as his brother's? He had all the exterior parts of worship; he offered as well as Abel; and the offering of itself might be as good; but it seems the heart that offered it was not. So long ago did God regard the interior worship of the soul. Well, what was the consequence of this difference? Cain's pride stomached it. He could not bear to be outdone by his brother. He grew wrathful, and resolved to vindicate his offering by revenging the refusal of it upon his brother's life; and without any regard to natural affection, or the low and early condition of mankind, he barbarously stained his hands in his brother's blood.
9. The religion of the apostatized Jews did no better. For, having lost the inward life, power, and spirit of the law, they were puffed up with that knowledge they had; and their pretences to Abraham, Moses, and the promises of God, in that frame, served only to blow them up into an insufferable pride, arrogance, and cruelty. For they could not tolerate the true vision or prophecy when it came to visit them; and entertained the messengers of their peace [prophets] as if they had been wolves and tigers.
10. Yes, it is remarkable, the false prophets, the great engineers against the true ones, were consistently certain to persecute the true prophets as false; and by their interest with earthly princes, or the poor seduced multitude, the false prophets made them the instruments of their malice. Thus it was that one holy prophet was sawn asunder, another stoned to death, etc. So proud and obstinate is false knowledge, and the seekers after it; which made holy Stephen cry out, "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Ghost: as did your fathers, so do you" (Acts 7:51).
11. The true knowledge came with the joy of angels, singing, "On earth peace among men with whom He is pleased, men who are of goodwill."" (Luke 2:14); the false knowledge entertained the message with slanders. Christ was judged to be an impostor; and his power of working miracles was judged to be from the devil; but which miracles, actually proved the contrary. They frequently sought to kill Him, which at last they wickedly accomplished. But what was their chief motive? Why, he cried out against their hypocrisy, their long robes with broad phylacteries — the honor they sought of men. To be short, they give the reason themselves in these words, "If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him;" that is, He will take away our credit with the people; they will adhere to Him, and desert us; and so we shall lose our power and reputation with the multitude.
12. And the truth is: He came to level their honor, to overthrow their Rabbi status, and by his grace to bring the people to that inward knowledge of God, which they, by transgression, had departed from; so they might see the deceitfulness of their blind guides, who by their vain traditions had made void the righteousness of the law; and who were so far from being the true teachers and lively expounders of it, that in reality they were the children of the devil, who had been a proud liar and a cruel murderer from the beginning.
13. Their pride in false knowledge, having made them incapable of receiving the simplicity of the gospel, Christ thanks his Father for hiding the mysteries of the gospel from the wise and prudent, and only revealed them to babes (Mat 11:25). It was this false wisdom that swelled the minds of the Athenians to that degree that they despised the preaching of the Apostle Paul as a vain and foolish thing. But that apostle who, of all the rest, had an education in the learning of those times, bitterly reflects on that wisdom, so much valued by Jews and Greeks: "Where," says he, "is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (1 Cor 1:20). And he gives a good reason for it, "that no flesh should glory in his presence" (1 Cor 1:29). Which is to say, God will stain the pride of man in false knowledge, that he should have nothing on this occasion to be proud of; knowledge should be owing only to the revelation of the Spirit of God. The apostle goes further, and affirms, "That the world by wisdom knew not God" (1 Cor 1:21); that is, worldly wisdom was so far from an aid, that, as men use it, it was a hindrance to the true knowledge of God. And in his first epistle to his beloved Timothy, he concludes thus: "O Timothy! keep what is committed to your trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science, falsely so-called" (1 Tim 6:20). This was the sense of apostolic times, when the divine grace gave the true knowledge of God, and was the guide of Christians.
14. Well, but what has been the success of those ages that followed the age of the Apostles? Has it been a bit better than that of the Jewish times? Not one jot. They [the professed religious leaders] have exceeded them; as with their pretences to greater knowledge, so in their degeneracy from the true Christian life. For though they had a more excellent pattern than the Jews, to whom God spoke by Moses his servant, He speaking to them by his beloved Son, the express image of his substance, the perfection of all meekness and humility; and though they seemed addicted to nothing more than an adoration of his name, and a veneration for the memory of his blessed disciples and apostles, yet so great was their defection from the inward power and life of Christianity in the soul, that their respect was little more than formal and ceremonious. For despite that they, like the Jews, are very zealous in garnishing their external appearances with a show of godliness; despite that they are exact in carving their images, not only keeping with pretence what might be the relics of their persons, but recommending a thousand things as relics, which are purely fictitious, and very often ridiculous, and to be sure altogether unchristian; yet as to the great and weighty things of the Christian law, namely, love, meekness, and self-denial, Christendom has degenerated. Those in Christendom grew high minded, proud, boasters, without natural affection, curious, and controversial, ever perplexing the church with doubtful and dubious questions; filling the people with disputes, strife, and wrangling, drawing them into parties, until at last they fell into shedding blood; so that becoming a Christian made them worse than before they were.
Oh the miserable state of these pretended Christians! That instead of Christ's and his apostles' doctrine; of loving enemies, and blessing those who curse them; they taught the people, under the notion of Christian zeal, to butcher one another most inhumanly; and instead of allowing their own blood to be shed for the testimony of Jesus, they decided to shed the blood of the witnesses of Jesus for being heretics. [drunk on the blood of the saints and martyrs]. Thus that subtle serpent, or crafty evil spirit, that tempted Adam out of innocence, and the Jews from the law of God, has beguiled the Christians, by lying vanities, to depart from the Christian law of holiness, and so they have become slaves to him; for he rules in the hearts of the children of disobedience.
15. And it is observable, that as pride, which which is always followed by superstition and obstinacy, put Adam upon seeking a higher station than God placed him in; and as the Jews, out of the same pride, to outdo their pattern, given them of God by Moses upon the mount, taught for doctrines their own traditions, so much so that when anyone violated their traditions, the cry of "crucify, crucify" was shouted at them. So the nominal Christians, from the same sin of pride, with great superstition and arrogance, have introduced, instead of a spiritual worship and discipline, what is obvious ceremony, ritual and is worldly; with such innovations and traditions of men with fruit of the wisdom from below. Witness their numerous and perplexed councils and creeds, with "Conform or burn," [believe our way of suffer in Hell forever] at the end of them.
16. And as this unwarrantable pride set them first at work to pervert the spirituality of the Christian worship, making it rather to resemble the shadowy religion of the Jews, and the gaudy worship of the Egyptians, than the great plainness and simplicity of the Christian institution, which is neither to resemble that of the mountain, nor the other of Jerusalem; so has the same pride and arrogance spurred them on, by all imaginable cruelties to maintain this great Diana [goddess] of theirs. No meek supplications, nor humble contrary suggestions by those who kept close to primitive purity in worship and doctrine could prevail with these nominal Christians to abandon the imposition of their non apostolic traditions; but as the ministers and bishops of these degenerate Christians left their painful visitation and care over Christ's flock, and grew ambitious, covetous, and luxurious, resembling rather worldly kings, rather than the humble-spirited and mortified followers of the blessed Jesus; so almost every historical account tells us of the pride and cruelty, blood and butchery, and that with unusual and exquisite tortures, they have persecuted the holy members of Christ out of the world; and that upon such anathemas, as far as they could, they have disappointed them of the blessing of heaven too. The true Christians call these persecuted followers of Jesus, martyrs; but the clergy, like the persecuting Jews, have styled them blasphemers and heretics. Thus they have fulfilled the prophecy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who did not say, that they should think they do the gods good service to kill the Christians, his dear followers, which might refer to the persecutions of the idolatrous Gentiles; but instead that they would believe they were serving God by killing them (John 16:2). This shows that they professed belief in the true God, as the apostate Christians have all along pretended to do. So that these killers must be those wolves, that the apostle foretold, which would arise out of themselves, and worry the flock of Christ (Acts 20:29), after the great falling away should commence. These events were foretold by him, and made necessary, in order to prove the faithful, and the revelation of the great mystery of iniquity.
I shall conclude this topic with this assertion: that it is too undeniably true, wherever the clergy have been most in power and authority, and have had the greatest influence upon princes and states, there have been the most confusions, wrangles, bloodshed, sequestrations, imprisonments, and exiles; to the justify that assertion, I call the testimony of the records of all times. How this relates to our age, I leave to the experience of the living. Yet there is one demonstration that can hardly fail us; the people are not converted, but debauched to a degree that time will not allow us to detail examples. The worship of Christendom is visible, ceremonious, and gaudy; the clergy, ambitious of worldly preferences, under the pretence of spiritual promotions; making the earthly revenues of churchmen much the reason of their function; being ambitious and covetous to solicit and obtain benefices of larger title and income. So that with their pride and greed, which good old Peter foresaw would be their snares, they have drawn after them ignorance, misery, and false religion upon Christendom.
17. The way of recovery from this miserable defection is to come to a saving knowledge of religion; that is, an experience of the divine work of God in the soul. To obtain the diligence to obey the grace that appears in your soul, O man! That brings salvation (Titus 2:11-12). That turns you out of the broad way into the narrow way; from your lusts to your duty; from sin to holiness; from Satan to God. You must see and abhor yourself; you must watch, and you must pray, and you must fast. You must not look at your tempter, but at your preserver. Avoid ill company, retire to your solitudes, and be a chaste pilgrim in this evil world. Thus you will arrive at the knowledge of God and Christ, that brings eternal life to the soul; a well grounded assurance from what a man feels and knows within himself. Such shall not be moved with evil tidings.
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