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hazard of decay, though not of death. Though the root will remain, may
be overgrown and hid. The way to keep the treasure is to fear.
4thly. We should entertain this holy fear with respect to our duties. The whole worship and service of God is called fear; so necessary is our fear in approaching to him. “In thy fear,” says David, “ will I worship toward thy holy temple.” In this there is cause of fear. For “when we do good evil is present with us." Satan also is busy to cast some dead fly to spoil the whole, making it unacceptable to God and unprofitable to us.
Finally, This fear must be exercised about your attainments. They are in hazard of being lost. “Let us look then to ourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.” Those of you that have got any thing from the Lord on this occasion, Satan will set himself to rob you of it. Feed then with fear, on what has been given you. If it be only a conviction it is worth the keeping. Satan will think it worth his pains to take it away. 0! let not the fire get out by neglecting it. “ Despise not the day of small things." The cloud like a man's hand may cover the face of the heavens if cherished. Observe the diligence of the spouse. “I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.” Hear also Hezekiah,“ What shall I say ? he hath both spoken unto me, and himself hath done it: I will go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul.” We are now,
III. To consider the necessary qualification of this duty, alway. Happy is the man that feareth alway. This fear must be our habitual and constant work. It must go through the whole of our lives, till we be in the place where there is no hazard of sinning. This fear should season all we do, and be with us in all times, cases, conditions, places, and companies.
Reason 1. Because we have always the enemy within our walls : “ A heart deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” Now can men sleep securely when assassins are within their house ? Constant danger requires constant fear and watchfulness. While a body of sin remains with us, temptations will always be presenting themselves.
2. Because there are snares for us in all places and in all circumstances. Satan' is busy and has filled the world with traps; therefore see that ye walk circumspectly not as fools, but as wise." In the wilderness Christ was tempted. Peter in company; and Eve when alone. There are snares in our lawful enjoyments.-Snares at home, in the field, waking, in our bed, or at our table we are beset
with them. Many ditches are in our way, and many of these are so concealed that we may fall completley into them before we are aware.-At all times we are beset. Men may have great privileges, but none have freedom from temptation.—Many have fallen so soon after a communion, that it would seem the devil had gone down with the sop.-We proceed,
IV. To consider the advantage attending this duty, Happy is the man that feareth alway. He is happy, for,
1. This prevents much sin, and advanceth holiness of heart and life. “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” He that fears to offend God is most likely to keep his way; and he that fears shares in his way is most ready to escape them.
2. It prevents strokes from the Lord's hand. Where sin dines, judgment will sup. He that feareth the bait, will escape the hook. Both these may be gained from the antithesis in the text. Pride goes before a fall.
“ Wherefore, let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” Now holy fear prevents these falls. It is an excellent ballast to a light, vain, and frothy heart. It is dangerous sailing in a ship without ballast; and that heart that is without this fear will soon discover itself. “The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes.” This fear is a restraint upon the mind of man, without which no man can rule his own spirit. This fear breaks many snares. The fear of man bringeth a snare. How many are led aside by the fear of man? They are unwilling to offend men, they desire to please the company. But holy fear takes away this. It teaches us to fear God, and not man. It makes the soul exert all its care to please God whoever be offended.
3. This fear carries the soul out of itself to the Lord Jesus Christ, the fountain of light, life, and strength. It empties a man of self confidence, and so makes way for the influences of grace. It leads the soul to the rock higher than itself. Thus when the man is weak, then is he strong.
For the improvement of what has been said, I exhort all of you to fear alway.
1. You who are in a joyful frame, join trembling with your mirth. You are in a paradise, but though you are, the serpent will conceal himself there till he turn you out of it, if you entertain not this holy fear.
2. You that are in a mournful frame fear alway. Satan can lay a snare for you in the house of mourning, and set his traps in the midst of your tears.
3. You that have not met with Christ, and therefore cannot rejoice, nor miss him and therefore mourn, but are going away as you came, stupid, senseless, and unconcerned; what shall I say to you? Shall I bid you fear to offend in your walk, after you have had the audacity solemnly to mock God at his table? Nay, but fear lest the devil has gone down with the sop, and that he has got a faster hold of you than ever he had before; your affections are more deadened and your consciences more seared. “ Thus your last state will be worse than your first.” Fear lest there be some black hour abiding you in which God will take the mask from your face by letting you fall into the mire. For he hath said, “Because thou art luke warm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” Then cast forth as a branch you will wither, losing both fruit and leaf.
Fear lest the Lord make a breach in you for profaning the secret symbols of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ. God made a breach upon his ancient people when they sought him not after the due order. I Chron. xv. 13. And for your very sin, many among the Corinthians were visited with heavy judgments. 1 Cor. xi. 29, 30. Wherefore look to yourselves, and when you go home, review what you have been doing. Repent, and yet give yourselves away honestly to Christ. His blood is able to save them that have shed it. From him you may receive the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Lastly, To all of you, I say fear alway. Carry this fear home with you. Perhaps you may meet with a temptation before you get home, or as soon as you enter your own house. Something may appear wrong that will be a fire to blow up your corruptions. Perhaps you may meet with a temptation from the quarter you least expect it. Happy is the man that feareth alway. The Lord will carry him through, till he bring him to the place where all fear of evil shall be banished for ever. Amen.
Selkirk Communion, August, 1710.
THE INSTABILITY OF HUMAN GOODNESS.
HOSEA vi. 4. For your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth
The case of many at our communions this day is such, that when they are at them, it seems pity they should ever go from them till they sit down at the table above; and when they are from them a little while, it seems pity they should ever go to them again.When they are at them, the smell of their communion frame is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed. When they are from them, the smell of their ordinary walk is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath cursed; smelling rank of the root of bitterness.—Men know not what to make of them. No wonder, (with reverence be it spoken,) seeing God knows not what to do with them. “O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee ?” As if a Physician despairing of his patient should say, I have tried many remedies, but none avail to perfect the cure.
You still again cast yourself into the disease. Ephraim and Judah were neither made better by promises nor threatenings, so that their case was very hopeless, and nothing seemed to remain but that the Lord should leave them.
In the text we have that which made their case so very hopeless. They had at times some goodness.—Hebrew, Kindness. They had at times some kindness for God and his way; some warmth of affections towards good, that they seemed to be believing on Christ, and entirely to give up their idols: so that they were sometimes almost gained. Yet it was but sometimes. They remained not long in that frame. Their half kindness did not last; they even turned back again to their old bias. Their goodness was passing goodness. This instability of theirs is held forth by the similitude, first, of a morning cloud. A cloud which out of the remains of the night appears in the morning promising a heavy shower, to make the ground fruitful; but whenever the sun riseth the cloud vanisheth away, and disappoints the expectation of the husbandman.
Next this transitory goodness is represented by the early dew. The dew which falls in the morning upon the fields, and seems to be
in a fair way to bring forward the increase of the earth. But as soon as the sun is up, and beats upon it with its beams, it evaporates and is gone. He seems to allude to the morning sacrifices of both these people; at which they appeared very serious and devout; but when the sacrifices were over, and they went home, they even returned to their old trade of sin. Now if they had had no goodness at any time, their sin would have been more easily charged home upon them, and the arrows of God's threatenings would have more easily pierced their breasts. But now they had so much goodness as made them proof against threatenings, but yet not so much as could wrap them up in the promises.
Doctrine. Such is the instability of many in the good way of the Lord, that the goodness at which they sometimes arrive, passeth away as a morning cloud, and as the early dew.
I. I shall shew in what respects the goodness of many passeth away as the morning cloud, and as the early dew.
II. I shall give the reasons of the point. And then add some improvement. We are then,
I. To shew in what respects the goodness of many passeth away as the morning cloud, and as the early dew.
It is certain that the goodness of the saints cannot pass away totally, nor finally. “For whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” But even the saints may lose much of the degrees of grace; and as for others they may totally lose all that they have. In one sense the point holds with respect to both.
1. Men's goodness often goes away very quickly as the morning cloud which appears only a very short while. “ Then believed they his words; they sang his praise. They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel.” Many a time a dark cloud quickly comes over men, so that their sun seems to go down at noon-day; and their leaking vessels sometimes full are speedily run out. Their goodness is like the moon in a cloudy night, that sometimes shines forth brightly, but anon deserts the traveller : so that the strong man becomes weak as Samson without his hair. And it may be observed, That men’s goodness often goes quickly away, after they have solemnly engaged themselves to the Lord. “ When Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all his judgments, then all the people answered with one voice and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do." Yet in a very short time after this it is recorded ; “ They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made them a molten calf and have worshipped it.” This was not peculiar to them.