This ONE thing I do, I press toward the mark. Phil. 3. 13, 14.
You must thoroughly acquaint yourselves with the rule and the compass that religion steers by. Unless the mariner knows every point of his compass, he is like to make but foul work of it. The Word is a believer’s compass, Gal. 6. 16. As many as walk according to this rule, &c. A believer walks by rule, and by this rule, the rule of the Word; you can never manage the business of religion, except you do thoroughly know, and often eye your rule, and put the rule to your work. How can you trade religiously unless you know the rules you are to deal by? Or pray rightly, if ignorant of the rules you are to pray by? Beloved, the commandment is exceeding broad, and prescribes you rules for your whole man, and for the right behaving of yourselves in every part of your conversation; Oh hide the word in your hearts! lay up the rules you are to work by; and the rules that you are to give by; the rules that you are to speak by; and the rules that you are to hear by; and the rules that you are to examine yourselves by: Be sure there be no part of your conversation, but that you have some rules that you do set to yourselves about it.
How can you carry yourselves religiously in your relations, unless you do conscientiously observe the rules that you are to carry yourselves by? If wives do not know their rules, and husbands their rules, and children their rules, how can you bring your profession to any thing? beloved as ever you would make any thing of religion, know the rules of your places, set it down with yourselves, you husbands, you wives, you children; these be the rules that I will walk by, and wherein I sail of these rules I will see my error, and study to come up to what is lacking.
You must have the whole lump of the heart leavened and seasoned with religion, Matt. 13. 33. The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto leaven which a woman hid, &c. The Word is this leaven, the heart is this lump in which this leaven is hid: now when the whole lump is thoroughly seasoned, then their will be such a suitableness between the heart and the work, that religion will become a pleasure. A true Christian has the law of the Spirit of Life within him, he has a transcript of the Word in his soul. Now where the law of religion is in the heart, there will be a love of, delight in, and propensity to the work of religion, Rom. 8. 2, Heb. 8. 10, I delight to do thy will, thy law is within my heart, Ps. 40. 8, who naturally careth for your state, Phil. 2. 20, where religion has taken deep root in the heart, the concerns of Christ will become its natural care. Now that which is natural is delightful, and when a man loves his work, he will be much in it. Again, that which is natural is constant, so that when the heart is naturalized and habituated to religion, the man will constantly follow it. To a heart throughly sanctified, religion is the very element it lives in, whereas a carnal heart in holy exercises is like a fish out of the water, it cannot away with the strictness of a holy self-denying life, when the heart is renewed, and made spiritual, it will naturally mind the things of the Spirit, Rom. 8. 5 & John 3. 6.
You must have these six principles deeply engraven into your souls.
That religion is the very end of your being, that you were made and maintained for. This is the end and use of all your powers and faculties, That you may serve and glorify the God that made you, He made you for himself, Prov. 16. 4. For his pleasure you are and were created, Rev. 4. 11. Oh man look upon thyself; think from where you are, and for what a little while since thou wast not, how camest thou to be? has not the hand of God framed thee? Think with thyself, wherefore serve all these powers and faculties? To what end were they given me? what to eat, and drink, and sleep, and sport? If I had been a brute, I could have done this, why should it repent the Lord that he has made me a man, that he has given me an understanding soul? wherefore have I reason above the rest of the creatures? but that I should understand the law of my creation, and the end of my being, and know my Maker’s ends, and do his pleasure? Better I had never been born, than not to answer my end. Better I had been a brute, than a man, unless I glorify God with my understanding and employ my powers and faculties in his service.
Oh let these thoughts live daily upon your hearts, fix it upon yourselves that you are of no use nor worth in the world, except you serve your Maker’s ends: that he is the potter, and you the clay; and that you are good for nothing, except you are for the use of him that formed you: think with yourselves; Is it not pity so excellent a piece of God’s workmanship, as man is, should be all in vain? That God should lay out so much of his power and wisdom, and grace upon thee, and loose his end at last? That he should furnish man completely for the end he was made for, and send him into the world to dispatch his business, and man should forget his errand, and neglect the very end of his being?
Beloved, the reason why men do mind religion no more, is because they do mistake their business. And is it not pity, that when man only of all the visible creatures has an understanding to know his end, he only should mistake and miss his end?
That look as you do manage the business of religion, so are you made or marred to all eternity, settle it upon your hearts, that if this business does miscarry, you are undone for evermore; you may miscarry in any other business, and yet do well enough at last; your goods may be wrecked, your friends disengaged, your times spilled, and yet you may be happy; but if you do not go through with the business of religion you are undone men. This made Paul to ply the oars, and follow it with such diligence, 1 Cor. 9. 26, 27. So run I, so fight I, &c. This made him engage with might and main, and put forth every limb in the race, because his eternal undoing lay upon it: He runs through fire and water, he does not beat the air, and brandish his sword like a vapouring coward; he is not like the fencers that strike as if they could kill each other at every blow, but mean one another no hurt: no, he is earnest, he fights as for the precious life, least otherwise after all his preaching and pains he should prove a castaway, 1 Cor. 9. 27. Sirs, you had need look how you do carry it now, immortality, eternity hangs upon it, your patient continuance in well doing, will bring forth eternal life; but you miss all, if you do not keep doing, and doing well, and patiently continue so doing; If you come short of this, your portion is indignation and wrath.
Sirs, consider where you are, and look about you. Oh you careless sinners, you remiss and luke-warm Christians, consider what is before you. The furnace is ready heat for you, if you go not through with your work. The crown is ready prepared, if you hold out in your race; you are speeding on to eternity, as fast as the wings of time can carry you; and that is more swiftly, than the eagle flying in the air.
Believe it, religion is no trifling matter if thou be careless and idle, and remiss here, thou art a damned man. If a man be upon trial for his life, I warrant you will find him serious here. If a man have a business that will prove his utter ruin, if it miscarry, depending; be sure he will stretch his wits, and engage his interest, and turn every stone. Beloved the reason why religion is minded with so little care, is because men do not consider the consequence of religion. Sirs, can you die, can you burn? If not, take heed of trifling in religion, and selling heaven for want of a little pains-taking. Oh wherever you be unserious, be sure you be serious and in earnest in the business of religion, and that you may be so, let this ever dwell upon your hearts, that halving and trifling will undo all.
That nothing is well done except it be religiously done. Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God, 1 Cor. 10. 31, Col. 3. 17. Remember, that the rules of religion do not only reach your praying, hearing, almsgiving, &c. but your eating, drinking, trading, marrying. You must not think to put off God with an hour in the morning, and an hour in the evening; you must be serving him throughout the day, managing your callings, visits, discourses, according to his rules. Count that arrow lost, that is not levelled at some religious end; that hour lost that is not spent religiously, that visit lost, in which you have not promoted the ends of religion in yourselves and friends. Count that you eat amiss, unless you eat religiously. So much of religion as there is in your actions, so much there is of true gold, so much as there is of self and carnal ends, so much embasing mettle is mingled therewith; your lying down, and rising up must be managed religiously, or else they are not well managed; and you must impose it upon yourselves, to be serving God not only on your knees, but in your shops, at your tables, in your journeys, that God may be glorified by you in all things.
That the trade of religion of all others, yields the sweetest pleasure, and surest gain. A true Christian is a merchant man that deals in no small matters, but for goodly pearls, Mat. 13. 45. A holy life is a spiritual trading, Mat. 25. 16. Now there is no trade to this. A believer trades for grace and glory: Oh how glorious is the prize, and how excellent and invaluable is the income of religion! Wisdom is more precious than rubies, all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared to her, Read Prov. 8. 11. & Prov. 3. to 19. They that come from the Indies laden with gold and spices, with pearls and diamonds, have but a poor trade in comparison of a Christian: follow the work of religion to purpose, and you will find the true riches flowing in upon you; your faith will grow exceedingly, and your love will abound, and as riches increase, your hearts will be set upon them, and your gains will increase your diligence. Every man will be dealing in that commodity, that yields great profit. The reason why men have so little heart for religion is because they have secretly an opinion that there is little to be got by it. They reckon an hour spent in religion, to be an hour lost. They say in their hearts. It is in vain to serve God, Mal. 3. 14. And what profit should we have if we pray to him? Job 21. 15. But when a man tastes the pleasure, and sinners the gain of religion, then he will set to it to purpose, and like the wise merchant employ all his stock here, Mat. 13. 44, 46.
Beloved, as ever you would go through with the work of religion, you must have your hearts throughly possessed with the advantage and profit that comes in by religion. When a man does think he can benefit himself more other where, he will have little heart to follow after Christ, but when he knows not where to be better, then he will stick resolvedly to him, John 6. 66, 67, 68. There are two great pillars upon which religion stands; The one is a belief that God is, and the other that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him, Heb. 11. 6. Well let this dwell upon you then, that you cannot better your state, nor promote your happiness any way in all the world, so much as by religion. No pleasure, nor profit to that of religion, Riches and honour are with her, all her ways are pleasantness, she is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her, and happy is he that retaineth her, Prov. 3. 17, 18. Here is true delight, Psalm 40. 8. Rom. 7. 22. Here is meat and drink, John 4. 34. work and wages, Psalm 19. 11.
That your time is short, and your work great, and must be done now or never. Our Saviour made religion his business, Luke 2. 49. And Oh how busy was he! He went up and down doing good; and so much was he taken up with his work, that he had not time to take his bread; yea his carnal friends, seeing how earnest he was, said he was besides himself, and began to lay hold on him, Act. 10. 38, Mark 3. 20, 21. And what did put him upon this earnest diligence? The sense of the shortness of his time, John 9. 4. Oh Sirs remember with him, that now you have a day to work in, and you have but a day, and the night is hasting upon you, when there is no work to be done: no more praying, no more hearing, no more exhorting, nor admonishing. Now serve your generation, now exhort one another daily; do good with your estates; call upon your friends daily, for it must be now or never, let it ever dwell upon you, That there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou art going, and that will put you upon doing the work of religion with all your might. Be convinced of the weight of your work, and that will make you answer intervening disturbance that would take you off, as Nehemiah did, Chap. 6. 3. Then remember of what dreadful consequence tis, your salvation is at stake, and therefore you must work it out with fear and trembling.
That except you make it your business, all your religion is in vain. While you halt and halve it in religion, you come but half way to heaven. Settle it upon your hearts, that except you are throughout religious, you are religious to no purpose. Be sure you shall never come to heaven except you seek it in God’s order, Mat. 6. 33. First seek, &c. It were not suitable to the wisdom of God, so to undervalue his Christ and glory, as to throw them away on those that account other matters better worth their pains and care.
You must have the love of God and religion, lying next your hearts; Love is a busy grace, 1 Thess. 1. 3, your labour of love. We may say of love, as Solomon of the virtuous woman, she layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff, she eateth not the bread of idleness, she worketh willingly with her hands, Prov. 31. Love will constrain you, and put you upon a willing and diligent keeping God’s commandments, 2 Cor. 5. 14, & 1 John 5. 3. Get your hearts in love with the laws and ways of God: who more busy than David? Morning, evening, and noon, he was praying and praising, yea talking and thinking of God and his ways, all the day, and all from his love to them, Psalm 55. 17. & 119, 147. & 118. & 71. 24. Oh how I love thy law! Psalm 119. 97. Lord I have loved the habitation of thy house, Psalm 26. 8.
You must beware of taking too much of the world into your hands. When a man’s heart and head is full as it can hold of worldly care and businesses, and he cannot tell which way to turn himself, in a crowd and throng of worldly affairs, how can the care of religion live in such a one’s heart? Luke 10. 41, 42. If Martha will trouble herself about many things, the ONE THING needful shall be neglected. You must buy, and marry, and weep, and rejoice, and trade, and care for these things, as if you did it not; not laying too much stress upon these things, nor engaging too eagerly in seeking after them, or else you will neglect the better things, and learn to pray, and hear, and read, as if you did it not, 1 Cor. 7. 30. It is true that the work of your callings is part of your business for Heaven; but then you must be sure to keep your affairs so at command, as that you may have so much room for daily prayer and meditation, and self-reflection, as may season your worldly business with religion, and sanctify it to you, that it may become a help, and not a snare.
You must always work as under your Master’s eye. When the Master’s eye is known to look on, there is as much work done in an hour, as many times is done in two, when the sense of his oversight doth not quicken the workman, Psalm 16. 8. I have set the Lord always before me.
You must ever carry your eye upon your mark. So did Paul in the text, I press towards the mark, for the prize of the high-calling of God in Christ, The mark that a believer aims at, is God’s glory, and his own, that God may be glorified in him, and he with God. This glorious prize will animate you to your work, and swallow up the sense of labour and difficulty, and make you for the joy set before you, to endure the cross, and despise the shame, Heb. 12. 2. Paul carried the crown incorruptible in his eye, and that made him with patience invincible to run, and fight, and keep under his body, 1 Cor. 9. 25, 26, 27. All the afflictions, and reproaches that attended God’s poor people and ways, in the time of their thraldom, could not discourage Moses, when he eyed the recompense of reward, Heb. 11. 25. 26. Keep heaven in sight, and your work will go on with pleasure, and all your difficulties will seem light and easy, and not worthy once to enter into comparison with the expected bliss, 2 Cor. 4. 17 18, Rom. 8. 18.
You must at the entrance of every action, remember the rules that you are to act by. Else in vain do you receive and lay up rules, if when occasion is, you do not apply them to the particular case. To what purpose have you rules for prayer, if you do not remember and use them when you come to prayer? To what purpose have you rules to examine yourselves by, if you do not observe them in examining yourselves accordingly? As ever you desire to make any thing of your religion, remember when you come to your tables, the rules that you are to eat by; when you go to your callings, make visits, read, or hear the word, be sure you think on the rules that you are to read by, or discourse by, or hear by, &c. You cannot think of God in every motion, but with a little pains, watchfulness, and prayer, you may come to this, to mind your rule and your end at the entrance of every solemn action. And this I desire you to enjoin upon yourselves, and take a daily account of yourselves, how tis performed. This would be indeed to keep up the power of Christianity. Oh be at the pains to put to this, and you will know what it is to walk with God, and to be in the fear of the Lord all the day long, and will have learnt that happy lesson, To walk up and down in the name of the Lord, Prov. 23. 17. Zech. 10. 12.
Be sure every morning to set out to a right point of the compass. If a man takes a wrong turning and misses his way at setting forth, he goes miserably out, it may be, a great part of the day, cut out your business in the morning, and let your aim be well; Set the hand of your watch to a right point, and wind it up carefully, and that will be a means to keep it right throughout the day. Never rise from your beds but with some such thoughts as these. I will set forth this day in the name of God. Religion shall be my business this day. I will surely spend this day for eternity, David would begin with God, Psalm. 139. ver. 18. & 5. 3.
Let the present day’s practice be still the mending of the past days errors. If you would go through with the work of religion, you must take this course. Every evening strictly to examine yourselves about your whole carriage that day with reference to your duties, sins, hearts, tongues, tables, callings, as I have otherwhere directed you; and when you find yourselves tardy in any thing this day, be sure to amend it the next day. Was the appetite too much indulged? when you sit at meat the next day remember the error, and hold the reins faster then. Do you find that you were not heavenly in your discourse? be sure that you be not caught in the same fault again the next day. Have you let loose your passions, or given your tongues the reins? be humbled, and be sure that you be not caught again the next day in the same fault; else to what purpose are all your self-examinations? Psalm 119. 59. In vain do we think on our ways, except we turn our feet to God’s testimonies.
You must deny yourselves, and keep under your carnal lusts and affections. Where self bears the sway, that will set you on work, and you shall have enough to do to follow its carnal designs. If you allow your lusts and carnal affections to command you, to be sure they will find you work enough, you then will have little room, and little leisure, but these will be all the day long calling upon you to gratify. One while the appetite will be calling, and there must be time to give to that what it craves, another while revenge will be calling, and employing you to contrive how to vent it, and give it satisfaction; another while pride will set you on work to satisfy that: and then lust will be calling that you must gratify; and then covetousness will be chiding that you have neglected it, and be putting you on satisfying that. Thus your lusts will find you business night and day; and your employment will be to make provision for the flesh, Rom. 13. 14. Get these therefore under, or else the business of religion will never, can never go on.