A man may have great and eminent GIFTS, and yet go to Hell.

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Blueridge Believer

Puritan Board Professor
Section II. A man may have great and eminent GIFTS, yes, spiritual gifts—and yet be but almost a Christian. The gift of prayer is a spiritual gift. Now this a man may have—and yet be but almost a Christian—for the gift of prayer is one thing; the grace of prayer is another. The gift of preaching and prophesying is a spiritual gift; now this a man may have—and yet be but almost a Christian. Judas was a great preacher; so were those who came to Christ—and said, "Lord, Lord, we have prophesied in your name—and in your name have cast out devils," etc. You must know that it is not gifts—but grace, which makes a Christian! For,

1. Gifts are from a common work of the Spirit. Now a man may partake of all the common gifts of the Spirit—and yet be a reprobate. They are called common, because they are indifferently dispensed by the Spirit to those who are believers—and to those who are not. Those who have grace have gifts; and those who have no grace, may have the same gifts; for the Spirit works in both. Nay, in this sense he who has no grace, may be under a greater work of the Spirit as to gifts, than he who has most grace. A graceless professor may have greater gifts than the most holy believer! He may out-pray, and out-preach, and out-do them! But true believers, in sincerity an integrity, out-go the mere professor.

2. Gifts are for the use and good of others, they are given for the profiting and edifying of others. So says the apostle, "A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church." Now a man may edify another by his gifts—and yet be unedified himself; he may be profitable to another—and yet unprofitable to himself.

The raven was an unclean bird: God makes use of her to feed Elijah; though she was not good meat, yet it was good meat she brought. A lame man may with his crutch point to the right way—and yet not be able to walk in it himself. A deformed tailor may make a suit to fit a straight body, though it does not fit him who made it, because of his deformity. The church (Christ's garden enclosed) may be watered through a wooden gutter; the sun may give light through a dusky window; and the field may be well sowed with a dirty hand.

The efficacy of the Word does not depend upon the authority of him who speaks it—but upon the authority of God who blesses it. So that another may be converted by my preaching—and yet I may be cast away notwithstanding. Balaam makes a clear and rare prophecy of Christ—and yet he has no benefit by Christ, "There shall come a star out of Jacob—and a scepter shall rise out of Israel." But yet Balaam shall have no benefit by it, "I shall see him—but not now; I shall behold him—but not near." God may use a man's gifts to bring another to Christ, when he himself, whose gifts God uses, may be a stranger unto Christ.

One man may confirm another in the faith—and yet himself may be a stranger to the faith. Pendleton strengthens and confirms Sanders, in Queen Mary's days, to stand in the truth he had preached—and to seal it with his blood—and yet afterwards plays the apostate himself. Johannes Speiserus, a famous preacher of Augsburg in Germany, in the year 1523, preached the gospel so powerfully that many common harlots were converted—and became godly Christians; and yet himself afterwards turned papist and came to a miserable end. Thus the candle may burn bright to light others in their work—and yet afterwards go out in a stink.

3. It is beyond the power of the greatest gifts to change the heart. A man may preach like an apostle, pray like an angel—and yet may have the heart of a devil! It is grace alone which can change the heart; the greatest gifts cannot change it—but the least grace can; gifts may make a man a scholar—but grace makes a man a believer. Now if gifts cannot change the heart, then a man may have the greatest gifts—and yet be but almost a Christian.

4. Many have gone to hell, laden with gifts. No doubt Judas had great gifts, for he was a preacher of the gospel; and our Lord Jesus Christ would not set him to work—and not fit him for the work; yet "Judas is gone to his own place!"

The Scribes and Pharisees were men of great gifts—and yet, "where is the wise? where is the scribe?" "The preaching of the cross is to those who perish foolishness." Those who perish, who are they? Who! the wise and the learned, both among Jews and Greeks; these are called "those who perish." A great bishop said, when he saw a poor shepherd weeping over his sin, "The poor illiterate world attain to heaven, while we with all our learning fall into hell."

There are three things which must be done for us, if ever we would avoid eternally perishing.

We must be thoroughly convinced of sin.

We must be really united to Christ.

We must be instated in the covenant of grace.

Now, the greatest gifts cannot stead us in any of these. They cannot work thorough convictions. They cannot effect our union. They cannot bring us into covenant-relation. And consequently, they cannot preserve us from eternally perishing; and if so, then a man may have the greatest gifts—and yet be but almost a Christian.

5. Gifts may decay and perish. They do not lie beyond the reach of corruption; indeed grace shall never perish—but gifts will. Grace is incorruptible, though gifts are not. Grace is "a spring, whose waters fail not," but the streams of gifts may be dried up. If grace be corruptible in its own nature, as being but a creature, yet it is incorruptible in regard of its preserver, as being the new creature; he who did create it in us—will preserve it in us; he who did begin it—will also finish it. Gifts have their root in nature—but grace has its roots in Christ; and therefore though gifts may die and wither, yet grace shall abide forever.

Now if gifts are perishing, then, though he who has the least grace is a Christian, he who has the greatest gifts may be but almost a Christian.

Objection. But does not the apostle bid us "covet earnestly the best gifts?" Why must we covet them—and covet them earnestly, if they avail not to salvation?

Answer. Gifts are good—though they are not the best good; they are excellent—but there is something more excellent, so it follows in the same verse, "Yet I show unto you a more excellent way," and that is the way of grace. One grain of grace—is more worth than a ton of gifts! Gifts may make us rich towards men—but it is grace which makes us "rich towards God." Our gifts profit others—but grace profits ourselves. That whereby I profit another is good—but that by which I am profited myself is better. Now because gifts are good, therefore we ought to covet them; but because they are not the best good, therefore we ought not to rest in them. We must covet gifts for the good of others, that they may be edified; and we must covet grace for the good of our own souls, that they may be saved. No matter how many are bettered by our gifts—yet we shall miscarry without grace.

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