An exhortation to PERSEVERE in godliness

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Blueridge Believer

Puritan Board Professor
Those who wear the mantle of godliness—and in the judgment of others are looked upon as godly—let me exhort you to persevere: "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith" (Heb. 10:23). This is a seasonable exhortation in these times—when the devil's agents are abroad, whose whole work is to unsettle people and make them fall away from that former strictness in piety which they have professed.

1. It is much to be lamented—to see professing Christians wavering in religion. How many we see unresolved and unsteady, like Reuben, "unstable as water" (Gen. 49:4). These the apostle rightly compares to "waves of the sea . . . and wandering stars" (Jude 13). They are not fixed in the principles of godliness. Beza writes of one Bolsechus, that "his religion changed like the moon." Such were the Ebionites, who kept both the Jewish and the Christian Sabbath. Many professors are like the river Euripus, ebbing and flowing in matters of piety. They are like reeds bending every way, either to the Mass or to the Koran. They are like the planet Mercury, which constantly varies, and is seldom constant in its motion. When men think of heaven and the recompense of reward, then they want to be godly—but when they think of persecution, then they are like the Jews who deserted Christ and "walked no more with him" (John 6:66). If men's faces altered as fast as their opinions—we would not recognize them! To be thus vacillating and wavering in religion, argues lightness of thought. Feathers are blown in every direction, and so are feathery professors.

2. It is much to be lamented—to see professing Christians falling from that godliness which once they seemed to have. They have turned to worldliness and wantonness. The very mantle of their profession has fallen off; and indeed, if they were not fixed stars—it is no wonder to see them as falling stars. This spiritual epilepsy, or falling sickness, was never more rife.

It is a dreadful sin for men to fall from that godliness, which they once seemed to have. Chrysostom says, "Apostates are worse than those who are openly wicked. They give godliness a bad name." "The apostate", says Tertullian, "Seems to put God and Satan in the balance, and having weighed both their services, prefers the devil's service, and proclaims him to be the best master!" In that respect the apostate is said to put Christ to open shame (Heb. 6:6).

This will be bitter in the end (Heb. 10:38). What a worm, the apostate Spira felt in his conscience! In what horror of mind did the apostate Stephen Gardiner cry out upon his deathbed—that with Peter, he had denied his Master! But he had not repented with Peter!

That we may be steadfast in godliness and persevere, let us do two things:

1. Let us TAKE HEED of those things which will make us by degrees fall away from our profession. Let us:

(1) Beware of COVETOUSNESS. "Men shall be covetous . . . having a form of godliness—but denying the power" (2 Tim. 3:2,5). One of Christ's own apostles was caught with this silver bait! Covetousness will make a man betray a good cause, and make shipwreck of a good conscience. I have read of some in the time of the Emperor Valens, who denied the Christian faith to prevent the confiscation of their goods.

(2) Beware of UNBELIEF. "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Heb. 3:12). There is no evil like an evil heart; no evil heart like an unbelieving heart. Why so? It makes men depart from the blessed God. He who does not believe God's mercy—will not dread his justice. Unbelief is the nurse of apostasy; therefore unbelieving and unstable go together: "they believed not in God . . . they turned back and tempted God" (Psalm 78:22,41).

(3) Take heed of COWARDICE. He who is afraid to be godly, must surely be evil: "The fear of man brings a snare" (Proverbs 29:25). They who fear danger more than sin—will commit sin to avoid danger! Origen, out of fear of persecution, offered incense to the idol. Aristotle says, "The reason why the chameleon turns so many colors, is through excessive fear." Fear will make men change their religion, as often as the chameleon does her color! Christian, you who have made a profession of godliness so long, and others have noted you for a saint in their calendar, why do you fear and begin to shrink back? The cause which you have embarked on is good; you are fighting against sin; you have a good Captain who is marching before you: Christ, "the captain of your salvation" (Heb. 2:10).

What is it, that you fear? Is it loss of liberty? What is liberty worth, when conscience is in bonds? It is better to lose your liberty and keep your peace—than to lose your peace and keep your liberty. Is it loss of estate? Do you say, like Amaziah, "What should I do about the silver I paid?" (2 Chron. 25:9) I would answer with the prophet, "The Lord can give you much more than this" (v. 10). He has promised you "an hundredfold" in this life—and if that is nothing, he will give you life everlasting (Matt. 19:29).

2. Let us use all MEANS for perseverance

(1) Strive for a real work of grace in your soul. Grace is the best fortification: "it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace" (Heb. 13:9).

Question: What is this real work of grace?

Answer: It consists in two things:

1. Grace lies in a heart-humbling work. The thorn of sin pricked Paul's conscience: "Sin revived, and I died" (Romans 7:9). Though some are less humbled than others—as some bring forth children with less pangs—yet all have pangs.

2. Grace lies in a heart-changing work. "But you are washed—but you are sanctified" (1 Cor. 6:11). A man is so changed as if another soul lived in the same body! If ever you would hold out in the ways of God, get this vital principle of grace. Why do men change their religion—but because their hearts were never changed? They do not fall away from grace—but for lack of grace.

(2) Be deliberate and judicious. Weigh things well in the balance: "Who of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn't first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?" (Luke 14:28). Think to yourselves, what it will cost you to be godly. You must expect the hatred of the world (John 15:19). The wicked hate the godly for their piety. It is strange that they should do so. Do we hate a flower because it is sweet? The godly are hated for the perfume of their graces. Is a virgin hated for her beauty? The wicked hate the godly for the beauty of holiness which shines in them. Secret hatred will break forth into open violence (2 Tim. 3:12). Christians must count the cost before they build. Why are people so hasty in abandoning religion—if not because they were so hasty in taking it up?

(3) Get a clear, distinct knowledge of God. Know the love of the Father, the merit of the Son, the efficacy of the Holy Spirit. Those who do not know God aright, will by degrees renounce their profession. The Samaritans sometimes sided with the Jews, when they were in favor. Afterwards they disclaimed all kindred with the Jews, when they were persecuted by Antiochus. And no wonder they shuffled so in their religion, if you consider what Christ said of the Samaritans, "You Samaritans worship what you do not know!" (John 4:22). They were enveloped by ignorance. Blind men are apt to fall, and so are those who are blinded in their minds.

(4) Enter on it purely out of choice. "I have chosen the way of truth" (Psalm 119:30). Espouse godliness for its own worth. Whoever wishes to persevere must rather choose godliness with reproach—than sin with all its worldly pomp. Whoever takes up religion for fear—will lay it down again for fear. Whoever embraces godliness for gain—will desert it when the jewels of promotion are pulled off. Do not be godly from worldly design—but from pious choice.

(5) Strive for sincerity. This will be a golden pillar to support you. A tree that is hollow, must of necessity be blown down. The hypocrite sets up in the trade of religion—but he will soon break: "their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast" (Psalm 78:37). Judas was first a sly hypocrite and then a traitor. If a piece of copper is gilded, the gilding will wash off. Nothing will hold out but sincerity: "May integrity and honesty protect me, for I put my hope in you" (Psalm 25:21). How many storms was Job in! Not only Satan—but God himself set on him (Job 7:20), which was enough to have made him desist from being godly. Yet Job stood fast—because he stood upright: "My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go; my heart shall not reproach me as long as I live" (Job 27:6). Those colors hold best, which are fixed in oils. If we wish to have our profession hold its color, it must be fixed in the oil of sincerity.

(6) Hold up the life and fervor of duty. "Fervent in spirit, serving the Lord" (Romans 12:11). We put coals on the fire to keep it from going out. When Christians grow into a dull formality, they begin to be dispirited, and by degrees abate in their godliness. No one is so fit to make an apostate—as a lukewarm professing Christian.

(7) Exercise great self-denial. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23). Self-ease, self-ends, whatever comes in competition with (or stands in opposition to) Christ's glory and interest—must be denied! Self is the great snare; self-love undermines the power of godliness. The young man in the Gospel might have followed Christ—but something of self hindered (Matt. 19:20-22). Self-love is self-hatred. The man who cannot get beyond himself—will never get to heaven.

(8) Preserve a holy watchfulness over your hearts. The man who has gunpowder in his house, fears lest it should catch fire and explode. Sin in the heart is like gunpowder; it may make us fear lest a spark of temptation should fall on us and blow us up. There are two things which may make us always watchful of our hearts: the deceits of our hearts and the lusts of our hearts. When Peter was afraid that he should sink and cried to Christ, "Lord, save me", then Christ took him by the hand and helped him (Matt. 14:30,31); but when Peter grew confident and thought he could stand alone, then Christ allowed him to fall. Oh, let us be suspicious of ourselves and in a holy sense "clothe ourselves with trembling" (Ezek. 26:16).

(9) Strive for assurance. "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure" (2 Pet. 1:10). The man who is sure that God is his God, is like a castle built on a rock—all the powers of hell cannot shake him. How can that man be constant in piety—who is at a loss about his spiritual estate, and does not know whether he has grace or not? It will be a difficult matter for a man to die for Christ, if he does not know that Christ has died for him. Assurance establishes a Christian in shaking times. He who has the Spirit of God bearing witness to his heart is the most likely to bear witness to the truth (Romans 8:16). Oh, give diligence! Be much in prayer, reading, holy conversation. These things are the oil, without which the lamp of assurance will not shine.

(10) Lay hold of God's strength. God is called the Strength of Israel (1 Sam. 15:29). It is in his strength that we stand, more than our own. The child is safest in the father's hands. It is not our holding God—but his holding us—which preserves us. A little boat tied fast to a rock is safe, and so are we, when we are tied to the "rock of ages."

THOMAS WATSON
 

~~Susita~~

Puritan Board Junior
Thanks for posting that! Lots of good Scriptures in there, too. I've taken to writing down favorite Bible verses and taping them on my dashboard so I can have something to read when I'm at a stop light or something, so there's a few good ones! :)
 
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