STABILITY IN THE FAITH, THE CHURCH’S STRENGTH
This sermon was preached in the year 1733, but at what place we are uncertain; however, from some passages
in the discourse, it appears to have been delivered on the Monday after some sacramental solemnity.
“Their strength is to sit still.’’ Isaiah 30:7.
Ever since man departed from God, the only resting place, he has been, in vain, rambling among the creatures for safety and satisfaction; whereas, if we believe the word of God, we will see our only strength and safety is to return to God in Christ, as the center of rest; and to sit still and rest upon him, and put confidence in him; as saith the prophet here, “Their strength is to sit still.” These who have been sitting down at a communion table, by professing to sit down under the shadow of the Almighty by faith, are to remember that it is their strength to sit still; as they are well set, who can say with the church, “I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste;” for, to sit down, is to believe; so it is yet better, if, by unbelief, they do not rise again; for, it is “their strength to sit still.
Jerusalem and Judah were here threatened with some approaching dangers and desolations, and it is thought to be by Sennacherib; and this people’s sin, for which they are here reproved, was their trusting to the Egyptians; they were all in a hurry to bring help and succor from them, without seeking counsel of God, and resting upon him.
We may observe in the words, the four following things:—
- The evil of this sin; “The Egyptians shall help in vain, and to no purpose:” compare this with verse 3, and hence observe, That though they that trust in the power, providence, and promise of God, shall never be ashamed of their hope, yet they that put confidence in any creature, will find it their reproach, shame, and confusion—they will hurt instead of helping. God is true, and may be trusted; but every man is a liar, and may be suspected; we cannot expect too little from man, and too much from God.
- Notice the prophet’s intermeddling in this concerning matter; he publishes God’s mind and commission. Observe, it is the duty of ministers to meddle sometimes in public matters, whether in church or state; they are to show Jacob their sins, and Israel their transgressions; and this is a part of ministers’ work, to testify against sin in all. Christ was the light of the world; they should be like their Master, testifying against all sin, and all works of darkness. However, this is one of the great quarrels that the world has against the servants and people of God, because they bear testimony against their sins. Many that have some light, yet they put their light in a prison, “They hold the truth in unrighteousness,” (Rom. 1:18); particularly, by not bearing witness against sin and defection in others, as well as in ourselves; it was the graceless expression of a graceless Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” What am I concerned with the souls of others, or the sins of others? What am I concerned with the public evils of the day I live in? Indeed right religion begins at home, but it does not end there; it will come without doors with us.
- The manner of the prophet’s address to this people, “I cried concerning this;” I cried; hence observe, That it is the duty of ministers to be earnest and zealous in reproving sin and reclaiming sinners. Ministers are both seers and criers; and, when they see the danger, they should cry, that the people may hear, and flee out of harm’s way. If one in the streets of a city were crying, Fire, fire! O what a running and motion is then! But when ministers cry, The fire of hell is ready to burn the wicked and ungodly, no person is moved; why? they are sensible of bodily danger, but no sense have they of soul danger, nor fear of the fire that burns both soul and body. Ministers need to cry about matters of eternity, that people may secure something that death may not be able to take from them; such as these, (1.) Saving knowledge; if you get this, it will lodge with you to eternity: “This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” (2.) Faith, saving faith, death will not be able to take it from you: “All these died in faith.” Again, (3.) Evangelical love of God in Christ: “Love never fails.” (4.) The favor of God, “I am persuaded, that neither death nor life shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus,” (Rom. 8:38-39). (5.) Pardon of sin, and washing in Christ’s blood; “These are they that have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.” (6.) Faithful labors for the honor and glory of God; “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord; they shall rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” They enjoy the fruit of their labors; they will not lose one good thought, one prayer, one tear; he has a bottle for these. Some seek after worldly honor, but these will soon be at an end; their honor will be laid in the dust. Some spend their time and strength in pleasure; there these will soon be at an end, “The lusts of this world passeth away; but he that doth the will of God abideth for ever,” (1 John 2:17).
- The prophet’s doctrine, or the sum of his preaching and advice, in these words, “Their strength is to sit still.”
In which words you may notice, 1. The sedate life of faith, expressed by “sitting still.” 2. The advantages of that life of faith to believers, it is “their strength.”
(1.) By “sitting still,” we are to understand a recumbency upon God, resting on him, and trusting in him, and steadfast waiting on him, and abiding in the way of duty. This duty puts a man to less trouble than his rambling abroad among the creatures; he has no more ado but sit still. Some are at more pains to bring misery upon themselves, than God’s people are to get the blessing. Esau hunted up and down, and was at a great deal of pains; yet Jacob sat at home, and got the blessing: “He that believeth shall not make haste.”
(2.) The advantage of this duty, it is “their strength.” They that sit still in a day of distress, “hoping and quietly waiting for the salvation of the Lord,” this will be their strength and safety: when we have tired ourselves by seeking help from creatures, we will find it the best way for recruiting ourselves, to repose and settle upon the Creator; by trusting in him, waiting on him, and steadfastly adhering to him; this will keep us from much needless labor and fatigue; yea, it will secure to us the accomplishment of the promise, “Blessed is he that believeth, for there shall be a performance,” (Luke 1:45). “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry,” (Hab. 2:3).
This text then has two parts, that are like the two pillars of Solomon’s temple, the one Jachin, and the other Boaz, stability and strength; stability is one part of the text, and strength is the other: “Their strength is to sit still.”
Observation: “That a church or people’s strength and safety in perilous times, is their steadiness and stability in the faith.”
The prophet here speaks forth the duty of Jerusalem in a perilous and dangerous time, and shows that that stability is their safety; and that it is stability in the faith he here speaks of, you may see dear, from two other verses of this chapter; “In returning and rest, shall ye be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength,” (Isa. 30:15). In returning to God, and reposing in him as your rest; in quiet acquiescing in him, and confident dependence upon him, “The Lord is a God of judgment; blessed are all they that wait for him;” this also explains it of the stability of faith,” (Isa. 30:18).
This doctrine might be confirmed by many other scriptures; “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God; for we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfastly unto the end,” (Heb. 3:12,14); importing, that our stability in the faith is our safety in evil times, and at all times; “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching,” (Heb. 10:23, 25), In Colossians 2:19, there you read of a number that fell off in time of temptation, “not holding the head,” not sitting still and abiding in Christ, (Heb. 13:8-9). But many other scriptures will offer in the sequel.
The method I propose for prosecuting this subject, through the divine favor, shall be the following.
- To show what are these times that may be called perilous times, wherein people are ready to show much instability and un-steadfastness in the faith.
- Open up the nature of this steadfastness and stability in the faith.
- Show that this steadfastness and stableness is people’s strength and safety in perilous times.
- Deduce some inferences for the application of the subject.
I. We are to show what are these times that may be called perilous times. You may see the apostle’s description thereof; “This know also, that perilous times shall come; for men shall be lovers of their ownselves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of these that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; from such turn away. Now, as Janine and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth, men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith,” (2 Tim. 3:1-8). If the last times be the most perilous times, then we seem to be among the very last; we are called to redeem time, because the days are evil. There is a twofold evil, moral and penal; the moral evil of sin is the ground of all penal evil of punishment. Jerusalem here was not so much in danger from the Assyrians, whom God was sending upon them to punish them, as they were from their own sins, for which God stirred up the enemy to afflict them; or if when danger appeared: they had returned to the Lord, and rested on him; then in returning and resting they had been saved; but they departed from God, and then all went to wreck with them. Times of departing from God, the only resting place, are perilous times. More particularly,
1st, Times of rebellion against God are perilous times. Of this, Jerusalem is here reproved; and for this a woe is denounced against her, “Woe to the rebellious children,” (v. 1), of this chapter. When may a people be called rebellious? Even when sin, which is rebellion, is come to such a height, that the Lord is obliged in honor to plead a controversy with the sinning people; as it is said, “The Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood. Therefore, shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish with the beast of the fields, and with the fowls of heaven, yea the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away,” (Hos. 4:1-3). Now, he may be said to have a controversy with a land for their rebellions, in four cases.
- When all manner of sin and acts of rebellion abound, such as are there mentioned, so as they are not only the sins of such and such a person, nor of such and such a congregation, but they are become national, and universal, and epidemical; and I imagine this is but too just a description of our case.
- When people’s sins are committed against many checks of conscience, many beams of light, many means of grace, many calls of providence, many instances of mercy and divine goodness, how provoking is it, as you see, (Rom. 2:2-3). Thus highly aggravated against the patience and forbearance of God.
- When the rebellion is so heightened that not only is the patience of God abused, but laughed at, and ridiculed, by a profane age, that begin to say, as 2 Peter 3:4, “Where is the promise of his coming?” Where is the threatening of his coming to judgment? Then it is a perilous time, because the Lord is angry, and will let men know that he is not slack concerning his promise as some men count slackness, though he be long-suffering to usward; and that he is not slack concerning his threatening.
- When there is nothing standing between the rebellious people and the stroke, “None to stand in the gap,” and keep out the wrath that is coming in, (Ezek, 22:30-31). Or, when such as would stand in the gap, and plead with God, have no access to him this way; and when God is saying, upon the matter, though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were pleading for such a people, it is in vain.
2dly, Times of carnal consultation, or of following carnal counsel, are perilous times. This was the case of Jerusalem, “Woe to the rebellious children, that take counsel, but not of me! “(Where also we see, that this was a special branch of their rebellion, they are reckoned rebels against God that take counsel, but not of him; and so follow their own carnal counsel.) Men take counsel, but not of God, when they consult with flesh and blood, with carnal ease, carnal friends, carnal reason, and are swayed with carnal arguments; when they consult with numbers and multitudes, and follow the supernumery party, and so bind their faith to the belt of a majority, saying, Can such a great number be all wrong? and such a small number only right? Shall we be singular? Indeed, when vice becomes general, singularity is a virtue; when error in judgment, or practice, becomes universal, it is then a necessary duty to be singular. Whomsoever men take counsel with, if it be not with God, they rebel against him, and expose themselves to woe and misery. To take counsel even with learned and eminent men, even when they are on the right side of the question, and to believe so and so, because they believe it, is but a human faith, built upon a human testimony; and yet ordinarily the most learned Rabbies are the greatest enemies of Christ and his cause, “Have any of the rulers and Pharisees believed in him? But this people, that know not the law, are cursed,” (John 7:48-49). Why, says flesh and blood, they are but a pack of ignorant fools, who differ from such great and learned men. Well, but it may happen that even these may be blind, whom neither themselves nor others think to be so, as it was with the applauded Pharisees, who said, “Are we blind also? “Christ proves them to be so; and tells, that if the blind follow the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Thus also they take counsel, but not of God, that yield a blind obedience to the commandments of men, as Israel did to the statutes of Omri, (Micah 6:16), and Ephraim, that willingly walked after the commandment, (Hos. 5:2). This is charged upon Israel, “Their fear toward me is taught by the precepts of men,” (Isa. 29:13).
3dly, Times of carnal confidence and coverings, are perilous times, “They cover with a covering, but not of my Spirit,” (Isa. 30:1). The shadow of Egypt was their covering; they put their confidence therein; but it was a refuge of lies, a covering too narrow for hiding them, while they had no holy confidence in God, but a carnal confidence in men; they departed from God, partly through fear of men, namely. the Assyrians, and partly by trusting in men, viz. Egyptians, “The fear of man bringeth a snare.” And it is an awful word to that purpose, “Who art thou, that thou should be afraid of man, that shall die, and of the son of man, that shall be made as grass, and forgettest the Lord, thy Maker, that stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? And where is the fury of the oppressor?” (Isa. 51:12-13). “Many are like the Jews, (John 12:42), that durst not profess Christ for fear of being lashed out of the synagogue: and thus even some of the godly dare not make a public appearance for the cause and truth of the Lord Jesus, for fear of being exposed to the censures of the church, and fury of the prevailing party; but what says the Lord in such a case to these that fear the reproaches, and revilings, and resentment of men, (Isa. 51:7-8). It is but the grass of the field that opposeth you, “All flesh is grass,” (Isa. 40:6). Are you afraid of withering grass, and forget the everlasting and ever-living God? They may be reckoned fools that expose themselves to the fury of a government, civil or ecclesiastic: why should they expose themselves to worldly losses and inconveniences? But, if the commands of men be not agreeable to the commands of God; if they be unlawful and unwarrantable, it is the best wisdom to sit still, and rest obedient to God, and disobedient to man; yea, this is their strength and safety; it is better to suffer than to sin; and we sin, if we but yield a doubtful obedience to man, doubting if it be right; for, “Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin.” It is always safest to keep back from sin, and abide with Christ: all losses for his sake are to be repaired an hundred fold in this life; that is good recompence, and the stock still secure; “In the world to come, eternal life.” However, this is one part of carnal confidence, the fear of man; for, whom we truly fear, for their frowns, them we are apt to trust, for their favors and friendship. And then trust in man, is another part of carnal confidence, which, when it prevails, shows it is a perilous time: this is cross to the commands of God also, “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the sons of men, in whom there is no help, (Ps. 146:3). This is dangerous work, and points out a dangerous time, when trusting in an arm of flesh is prevailing “Cursed is the man, that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm; whose heart departs from the Lord. It is better to trust in the Lord, than to put confidence in man,” (Jer. 17:5; See Micah. 7:5; Jer. 9:4). If we depend upon the human power, for the preservation of our church, or depend upon human policy, for the reformation of religion, we will find ourselves sadly disappointed: “It is better to trust in the Lord, than to put confidence in flesh.” If we depend upon human laws, even for the security of our fortunes; or upon our compliance with whatever human authority enjoins, for our freedom from outward trouble and trials; we but trust in man, and confer with flesh and blood: we trust in a broken reed that will pierce us.
4thly, Times of instability are dangerous and perilous times. This is supposed plainly to be the sin of Israel in the text, “Their strength is to sit still,” to be stable and settled in the faith; but they were unstable, un-steadfast, unsettled. Now, that times of instability are dangerous, may appear from these particulars.
- Unstable times are times of error, and these are dangerous. This is plainly insinuate, “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines; for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace,” (Heb. 13:9). Instable persons are carried about with every error. This is the dangerous circumstances of England and of Scotland in our day; what errors are spreading! Atheism is in a manner professed by a number that call themselves free-thinkers, who cannot think of a God, though it must be as certain that there is an eternal Being, as it is certain there is any being at all; for there could be no such effects, if there were not a supreme cause. Deism is openly professed by some, who deny all divine and supernatural revelation, and applaud the light of nature, though under a dismal eclipse. Arianism has taken root, a denying the true and proper divinity and supreme Deity of Christ. Legalism and Libertinism, which may be well joined together, because they that deny Christ to be the end of the law for righteousness, being not under grace, but under the law, sin must have dominion over them. Profaneness and immoralities, and all manner of errors and evils, take place in unstable times.
- Unstable times are times of temptations from men and devils; and it is much to continue with Christ in such times: when men are tempted with the world, and tempted by the devil and his temptations, it is much to get that testimony, “Ye are they that have continued with me in my temptation,” (Luke 22:28), and I appoint unto you a kingdom. A time of general temptation is a dark and dangerous hour, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth,” (Rev. 3:10). When temptation is so universal, no wonder the most part are carried down with the stream.
- Unstable times are backsliding times; times of defection and apostasy, and these are perilous times; for, “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways; “and, “If any man drawback, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” Surely these are perilous times in Scotland, when they are such covenant-breaking times, wherein Reformation principles and purity are given up, wherein truth falleth, and he that departeth from evil, and adhereth to covenanted truth, maketh himself a prey, (Isa. 59:15).
- Unstable times are times of division, and these are perilous times; for, “A city, or house, divided against itself, cannot stand.” Then is disolation near, when the anger of the Lord has divided a people; divided their hearts, so as they hate one another: and divided their tongues, so as they reproach one another, and speak evil of one another; then is the land’s name justly turned to a Babel. “The name of it is called Babel, because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth, and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of the earth.” (Gen. 11:9). When people’s hearts and tongues are divided and confounded, then they are in hazard of being scattered and destroyed.
- Unstable times are times of the slighting of the gospel, the heavenly manna. When people cannot rest content with that provision which God makes for them in the gospel, how dangerous is this! “They mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy,” (See 2 Chron. 36:14-16). “Thus saith the Lord, If you will not hearken to me, to walk in my law, which I have set before you, to hearken to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I sent unto you, both rising up early, and sending them (but ye have not hearkened); then will I make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth,” (Jer. 26:4-6). Was ever a nation more guilty than ourselves? Judge, then, if we live not in perilous times.
- Unstable times are times of formality in religion; men having a form of godliness, without the power; yea, denying the power of it. When God has but the outside; drawing near to him with the mouth, and honoring him with the lips: a formal carnal way of worshipping God, instead of worshipping him in the Spirit. Unstable souls, that take up a profession of religion which degenerates into a formal outside hypocritical devotion, are in a very dangerous case, as appears from the many woes Christ denounced against the Pharisees and hypocrites.
- Unstable times are times of security. Where there is no spiritual settlement there will be a carnal settlement, like Moab, that was at ease from his youth, and settled upon his lees and dregs, not being emptied from vessel to vessel, (Jer. 48:11). It is a dangerous time, when the wise and foolish virgins are sleeping and slumbering; when men cry, Peace, peace; and like the old world, put the evil day far off from them, sudden destruction may be at the door.
- Unstable times are times of careless indifference about the matters of God, and lukewarmness. When people are unstable in the truth, they can never be zealous for it: the dangerousness of this disease you read of, “Because thou art lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth,” (Rev. 3:16), that is, reject thee with abhorrence. This, among others, is the sin of our day, and shows we are living in perilous times. There are two things very sad in Scotland.
- Our light has worn out our zeal. It is seldom heard tell of, that light should be an enemy to zeal and practice, till now it seems to be our misery, that our light, knowledge, wisdom, and politeness, has blunted our zeal for God and for Reformation principles and practice.
- Our hazards have drowned our zeal; our apprehended hazards and difficulties have quenched the fire of zeal in many. The days have been in Scotland, when our difficulties and crosses, hazards and dangers, have been as a burning coal to quicken our zeal for God, and make it the more fervent; but now, our difficulties and dangers are like so much wet timber laid upon the top of our zeal, like to drown it all out; and yet, where is the danger of standing up for God and his cause? “Where is the fury of the oppressor? “Is it our strength and safety to run away from God and duty? No, by no means; rather, is it not our strength to sit still?
II. We now proceed to the second thing proposed, which was, To open up the nature of this stability in the faith, or steadiness and establishment therein. I would here, 1. Offer a scripture or two, for showing how this duty is commanded and commended. 2. What it supposes. 3. What it includes. 4. What it excludes. 5. What it infers.
1st, I would show that it is both commanded and commended. I might cite many scriptures for this end; but I shall only quote one scripture, where it is commanded, and another where it is commended.
- This stability in the Faith is commanded, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong,” (1 Cor. 16:13). “Stand fast in the faith:” this is that duty which the apostle calls a continuing in the faith, grounded and settled, and not being moved away from the hope of the gospel, (Col. 1:23). This is that which he calls a being steadfast and immoveable, yea, always abounding in the work of the Lord, (1 Cor. 15:58). This is that which is called an earnest contending for the faith once delivered to the saints, (Jude 3). And again, it is called a standing fast in one mind and spirit, striving together for the faith of the gospel, in nothing terrified by your adversaries, &c. (Phil. 1:27). In a word, it is called a being faithful to the death: “Be thou faithful unto the death, and I will give thee a crown of life,” (Rev. 2:10). In all which scriptures this duty of stability is commanded; and it is called a standing fast in the faith, to show the influence that faith has upon perseverance; for, “By faith we stand,” by faith we walk, by faith we live, by faith we fight, by faith we overcome; and all this, because by faith we stand still, and rest upon a God in Christ, established in the faith.—Thus it is commanded. Again,
- This stability in the faith is commended; there the church of Pergamus is commended in these words, “Thou holdest fast my name, and has not denied my faith,” (Rev. 2:13); &c. Where the thing they are commended for being stable in, is Christ’s name, and his faith; that is, his gospel, and the doctrine thereof. Paul is called a chosen vessel to bear his name among the Gentiles; that is, his gospel, and it may well be so called, because by the gospel he makes his name known; and it is called the faith, because it is the object of faith, the thing to be believed; and it is called his faith, because he is the author of it, the sum and substance of it. The giver of this gospel doctrine substitutes himself in Adam’s room, and fulfils the law, which to him was a covenant of works; and hence it is, that out of his obeying the law, the sweet doctrine of the gospel flows unto us: “He is the end of the law for righteousness, to everyone that believeth.” Now, this is what the church of Pergamus held, and would not deny, but gave their testimony to it against all the enemies that opposed it; no wonder, for it is the words of eternal life. We are not to think the worse of any truth, that it is opposed and controverted, and requires fast holding, and violent holding: “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” Nay, the more a truth is controverted, the more commendable is a steady adherence to it. While we are in this militant state, we cannot hold the truth without fighting; it is said of the builders of the walls of Jerusalem, “That every builder had his sword girded by his side, and so builded,” (Neh. 4:18); so, in adhering to the truth of the gospel, we are not to think strange to hear of a banner in the banqueting-house of the gospel: “He brought me to the banqueting-house, and his banner over me was love.” Why a banner in a banqueting-house? Because we cannot keep the feast without opposition either from without or within. Many, when they see their believing promised to be joined with a combat, they are discouraged; but spiritual builders must be spiritual soldiers, holding the promise in one hand, and the weapon in the other; the word in one hand and the sword in the other; the truth in one hand, and the armor of proof in the other. Faith, without trouble or fighting, is a suspicious faith; for true faith is a fighting, wrestling faith; and this is the faith that is here commended, as it is also, “Because thou hest kept the word of my patience, I will also keep thee in the hour of temptation,”(Rev. 3:10). Thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith,” (Rev. 2:13).
- As to the denying of faith, there are four degrees of it. (1.) When men are silent through fear, unable to say, with Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” (2) When men dissemble as Peter, “I know not what thou sayest.” (3.) When they halt between two opinions, like these in the days of Ahab, that halted between God and Baal. (4.) When they expressly deny the faith, as Peter denied Christ, “I know not the man;” and am not upon that side of the house, nor of that party. Thus Christ is many times wounded in the house of his friends; sometimes by a traitorous Judas, sometimes by a timorous Peter. However, the denial of the faith goes on by such degrees as these; every one of them draws on another; silence, through fear, draws on dissimulation; dissimulation draws on a halting between two, as it were, in a demurring what to do; and this halting draws on denying of the faith expressly; for, apostasy is a slippery precipice; therefore men should beware of the least beginning, and of the least shifting of the profession of the faith, when called thereunto.
2dly, What this stability in the faith supposes? Surely it supposes people’s being once in the faith; as Paul designs Timothy, his son in the faith, (1 Tim. 1:2); for, till once people be in the faith, they can never be established in the faith, as the word is, (Col. 2:7). No more than a tree can be firmly rooted in the earth, that was never truly planted into it. Stability in the faith then, supposes a being in the faith; and that as it respects either the word of faith, the grace of faith, the obedience of faith, or the profession of faith.
True stability in the faith supposes, 1. That we know the word of faith. 2. That we have the grace of faith. 3. That we make a profession of faith. 4. That we yield the obedience of faith.
- That we know the word of faith, or the doctrine of faith, or truth; for a man can never be stable in the faith which he is ignorant of. If ever we will be established in scriptural principles, we must be acquainted with the scriptures, the word of God, and know the truth as it is in Jesus; and that not only a head-knowledge, but a heart-knowledge, that it may be a heart-establishment in the faith; this is called a receiving the faith in love, or a receiving the love of the truth, (2 Thess. 2:19). Knowledge and affection should grow together; for these people are most prone to error, who gain knowledge of truth, without affection to it; “Because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. For this cause God shall send them strong delusions that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
- It supposes that we have the grace of faith; for, stability in the faith, being an establishment in the grace of faith, as well as in the word or doctrine of faith, it must presuppose, that a man has the grace of faith, otherwise he cannot sit still, or be stable in it; no more than one can be said to sit still who has never sat down; true stability then supposes, that a man hath once been made to sit down and rest upon Christ as his righteousness and strength. We are called, (1 Pet. 5:9), to resist the devil, steadfast in the faith; and that not only by a steadfast adherence to that word of faith, which was the weapon Christ made use of against the devil, when he quoted scripture to him, he refuted him by scripture; and this of the sword Spirit, which is the word of God, is the weapon by which we are to resist every temptation to sin; but also, by a steadfast acting and exercising of the grace of faith, I mean, true justifying faith; because this weapon of the word of faith cannot be used but by the grace of faith; for, to make use of the word of faith, without the grace of faith, is to do no more than the devil and his instruments can do, who will quote scripture as well as we; but to wield that weapon with the arm of faith, is what none but true believers, through grace, can do.
- It supposes that we make profession of the faith; why so? Because stability in the faith, is a holding fast the profession of our faith without wavering, (Heb. 10:23). They cannot be said to hold fast the profession thereof, who never had a profession, and never made a profession. Men may be professors, indeed, that are not true believers; but all true believers must be professors, and ought to be professors, and hold fast their profession, in the worst times, without being ashamed of Christ, or his cause; as Paul, who was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, though opposed by the great, and wise, and learned of his day. Again,
- It supposes that we yield the obedience of faith; of which we read, (Rom. 16:26). This is a practical profession, or confession of Christ. There may be a verbal profession with the mouth, without a practical profession with the life; both should go together; we ought to confess Christ with the mouth, (Rom. 10:10), without being ashamed to acknowledge our Master; and we ought to discover the sincerity of our profession by the whole tract of our conversation. This obedience of faith or practical profession, is either active or passive; active profession is when our lives and manners do speak and confess Christ, and evidence that we are not of these that profess to know him, but in works deny him.—A passive profession is when we are ready to seal with our sufferings and blood, what we profess with our mouths and actions; this is the profession of martyrs, “To whom it is given, in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake,” (Phil. 1:29). And here you see what is the obedience of faith, both active and passive. Now, true stability herein, supposes a man’s entering upon this obedience; for, how shall he be stable in it, who never began to yield it? Stability in the faith then being a stability in the doctrine of faith, in the grace of faith, in the profession of faith, and in the obedience of faith; it supposes a man’s knowing and understanding the faith, which we ought to be established in; believing what he understands; professing what he believes; and practicing what he professes; and, indeed, faith not help in practice, will soon be denied in profession, when the trial comes.
3dly, The next particular proposed here was, What this stability in the faith includes. It includes two things, 1. An adherence to the faith. 2. A perseverance in it.
- A steadfast adherence to the faith, to the word of faith, the grace of faith, the profession of faith, and the obedience of faith; this adherence to, or sitting still upon the sure foundation, is called a being rooted and built up in Christ, (Col. 2:6-7). It is not enough that we receive Christ Jesus the Lord, but me must walk in him, and be rooted and built up in him, by a daily improving of him. It is a fixed adherence to him not withstanding all fears, “He shall not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord; his heart is established, he shall not be afraid, (Ps. 112:7). Notwithstanding all attacks of the enemy, and defeats by them. Though a believer be beat down, yet by faith he rises, and keeps his ground; “Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; for, though I fall, I shall rise,” (Micah 7:8). He that kills his enemy at the first blow, shows himself valiant; but so does he also show a great deal of valor, who being often knocked down and wounded, yet rises again and stands to it. Though the field be many times doubtful between faith and fear, between faith and doubting, yet faith overcomes by adhering to Christ, notwithstanding difficulties in the way; thus Abraham staggered not, but was fixed in his persuasion of the promise, being nothing moved by contrary appearances, but against hope believed in hope; over looking both the deadness of his own body, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.
- It includes constant perseverance in the faith; for, “He that endures to the end shall be saved.” They that cast away their confidence entirely, were never built upon Christ; and that say “Why should I wait for the Lord and Longer?” This is not to sit still, but to weary and withdraw from Christ. A true believer may be weary of his sins, and weary of his life, but he will never be weary of his faith; he takes up Job’s resolution, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” He buys the truth, and will never sell it; he buys it at any rate, and will sell it at no rate; but they that buy truth at an easy rate, no wonder that they sell it at an easy rate; he that buys it for the sake of the world, will sell it for the sake of the world; he that buys it for a lust, will sell it for a lust.
There are two things we are to adhere to, and persevere in, which yet the most part of people think needless; and these are, 1. The present truth; and, 2. The least truth.
- The present truth is what we are always to adhere to, and persevere in, (2 Pet. 1:12). There the apostle speaks of being established in the present truth. If a man does not adhere to the truth, that is at present in controversy in his day, he will adhere to no truth at all. The best evidence of integrity is freedom from the present corruptions of the times and place we live in; and adherence to the present opposed truth, so as to swim against the stream when it is strong. Some think, what need we trouble our heads with a truth that is controverted among great and learned men? Really, sirs, there is hardly one fundamental truth in religion, but what has been controverted by the devil and his instruments; and if we will not cleave to opposed and controverted truth, we must renounce the truth altogether. Nay, the more Christ and his truths are opposed, the more should we stand firm for him and it.
- The least truth is what we are to adhere to, and persevere in, if we would be stable in the faith; he that is content to part with a half, is content to part with the whole of religion; as the true obeyer has a respect to all God’s commandments, so the true believer has a respect to all his truths. The least truth of God is a beam from the infinite Truth; and the man that will not adhere to the least truth of Christ, will adhere to no truth in the day of trial for the truth.
4thly, The fourth thing here proposed was, What this stability in the faith excludes? To this we reply, That, among other things, it excludes these eight particulars following.
- It excludes a fainting at the sight of the cross, “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small,” (Prov. 2:10). Sometimes the distant view of the cross is more terrible than when it is at hand; and some have fainted at the distant view of it, that have rejoiced at the presence of it. Peter was not so near the cross, when only his Master was tried before the council, but he had a distant prospect of it, and he fainted and fell by a silly maid challenging him; but when he came to be before the council himself, instead of fainting, you see what boldness he had, (Acts 5:29), how he and the rest of the apostles departed from the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ. The nearer the cross of Christ is viewed, the sweeter it is; and the nearer we come to it, the lighter. However, this fainting at the sight of the cross, is excluded by this stability: the more stable, the less fainting.
- This stability in the faith excludes a doubtfulness and hesitation about the truth, that we stand up for, and adhere to, in a time of trial, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind,” (Rom. 15:5). A man will never firmly adhere to, or suffer for that, which he is not fully persuaded is a truth. I defy you to be a cleanly sufferer for the cause of Christ, in a day of Scotland’s defection, unless you can say, that you are really persuaded, that the covenanted Reformation, doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of the church of Scotland, is the work of God, and founded on the word of God, and you have no doubt in your heart to the contrary.
- This stability in the faith excludes a presumptuous persuasion. We read of some presumptuous believers, (John 2:23), to whom Christ would not commit himself, because he knew them to be but rotten at the heart. Many have a faith that has neither God for its Father, nor the scriptures for its mother; it is a bastard that has neither true father nor mother. Christ will not commit himself to such believers; they persuade themselves that they trust in Christ, but he knows them, that they cannot be trusted, and that they will not be trusty to him, or his cause.
- This stability in the faith excludes wavering, and being tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, (Eph. 4:14). Some will have one religion this year, and another the next; one religion with this company, and another with that company. It is true, the faith of believers may be shaken by temptations from the devil and his instruments, but yet it is not broken nor banished; he maintains a high veneration for the truth which he hears brangled, opposed, and borne down, and yet cannot sufficiently defend, like the woman that said, “Though I cannot dispute for Christ, yet I can burn for him.” But if your religion changes with the wind of temptation, or turns with the tide of the times, it is not worth a farthing.
- This stability in the faith excludes doubleness of mind and tongue, “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways,” (Jam. 1:8). Many have a double mind, a double face, a double tongue; and when this doubleness gets in among God’s people, it mars this stability. Peter learned a little of this doubleness and dissimulation, for which Paul took him to task, (Gal. 2:13). Some are expert in this trade of dissembling, that they may please every party; but their prudence will be their plague, who are not straight and upright for God, to the utmost of their power and knowledge; their policy will never be a clock for their perjury, who upon prudential considerations, desert the cause of Christ.
- This stability in the faith excludes all sinful compliances with the courses of the times. To go further than conscience will allow, is to make shipwreck of faith, and a good conscience, (1 Tim. 1:19). Carnal reason says, Hold with the times, comply with the measures of the majority, be what it will; it is dangerous to do otherwise: but God says, Hold faith and a good conscience, and then you are safe; “He that walks uprightly, walks safely.”
- This stability in the faith excludes sinful silence, when the cause and interest of Christ requires our testimony; “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace,” says the prophet, (Isa. 67:1). The watchmen upon her walls are ordered not to hold their peace, but to cry aloud and not spare. There are some scriptures that many are like to break their necks upon in our days, and that is one among the rest, “The prudent shall keep silence in that time, for it is an evil time,” (Amos 5:13). Why then, say some, in their practice, we should not speak a word for truth, let truth be never so much opposed; nor speak a word against any acts of Assembly, let them be never so contrary to scripture and covenants both. But God never warranted any, according to their call, capacity, and station, so to keep silence as not to speak against the evils and errors of the times: this were inconsistent to his solemn orders to his watchmen, to give faithful warning to people, as they would not be guilty of their blood. And if God has said, he will send a sword to avenge the quarrel of his covenant, I think, we particularly, who preach the gospel unto you, would not be faithful if we did not warn you that Scotland is in danger of God’s wrath, as long as there is any standing acts of the national church, contradictory to, and inconsistent with the National Covenant; nor will ever any wrested scripture be a sufficient cloak to cover us from the guilt of sinful silence.
- This stability in the faith excludes all sinful debates and disputings about known truths. We read, (1 Tim. 3:5), of perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, destitute of the truth: men that will bring known truths to be matter of debate, will never be stable; if the truth come not to be a matter beyond debate, and beyond dispute with them. Alas all the precious truths of God, even some that were never debated in our land, are, now-a-days, become debatable points.. It was never a point of debate, or debated in our reforming times, that ministers were to be settled by the call and consent of the people, but now it is turned to a debatable point, though we have the strongest arguments in scripture for it. In Acts 1:23, we have an argument for it drawn from the greater to the less, in the whole church, or people’s being called to choose the apostle, as far as was consistent with his being immediately chosen of God, as the office required; for, the people were to choose the two, out of which God was to choose one: and if they had such an hand in the choice of the extraordinary officer, much more ought they too have in the ordinary. In Acts 6:3, we have an argument from the less to the greater, in the choosing of deacons; as the highest officers, the apostles were not chosen of God, without the people, in the former example; so here the lowest officer could not be chosen by the apostles themselves, but by the people; though one might think the apostles were as good judges: and if the people must choose these that take care of their alms or charity, much more concern have they in choosing such as take care of their souls.—In Acts 14:23, we have a plain argument from the example, the apostles ordained presbyters by the suffrage of the people, as it is well known the word Cheirotonesantes, signifies—
The word Cheirotcmesantes in our version, is but half translated; and made to run thus; “And when they had onosmixo them elders in every church.” But according to Erasmus, who renders it Cum SUFFRAGIIS CREASSENT, and Beza, Pasor, &c. who have it, Per suffragia CReassent, it should run thus, “When they had, by Summon, appointed to them elders in every church.” All the old English Translations have it so; and it was retained by our last translators, until the version was committed by King James to some of the English bishops to be revised, who vitiate this, as well as thirteen other passages of the New Testament, to make them favor the Church of England! The word here is not Cheirothatia which signifies the action of ministers in ordaining; but it is assirototsia which is expressive of the people’s act in electing pastors by elevation or lifting up the hand, as was the custom at that time. In this sense the apostle uses it, (2 Cor. 8:19).
—And James 2 from the beginning, we have these arguments confirmed by the apostle, discharging all respect, in spiritual matters, to the rich man with the gold ring and the gay clothing; intimating, that no temporal wealth or heritage can entitle them to any spiritual privilege, no more than an earthly estate can entitle a man to heaven; and consequently, no heritor of this earth, as such, has any right above others to choose pastors to any congregation, which is a spiritual privilege relating to immortal souls; ministers themselves have no title to be lords over the consciences of men, far less have they power, by any act whatsoever, to make temporal heritors, or earthly superiors, lords over God’s heritage. But for as clear as this is in scripture, and though it be one of the covenanted principles, yet it is turned now to a debatable point.
This reasoning has a peculiar respect to the Act of Parliament, 1710, restoring Patronage, and the Act of Assembly, 1732, in vesting heritors and elders with the power of election of ministers.
Again, it is now turned a debatable question, whether Christ be the supreme God, the most high God, though yet in scripture all the great names of God, all the glorious attributes of God, all the wonderful works of God, and all the worship due only to God be ascribed to him.
Alluding to the Process concerning Professor Simpson, briefly laid open, vol. ii. and vol. iv.
It is now a debatable point, whether there be any necessity for divine supernatural revelation; whether the light of nature be not sufficient, without the scripture, to salvation.
About this time the principles of infidelity were greatly upon the increase; and several of the younger clergy but too justly suspected as favorers of Deistical tenets. Mr. Campbell, professor of ecclesiastical history in St. Andrews, openly published to the world a system of very pernicious principles; and amongst others, “That the laws of nature are, in themselves, a certain and “sufficient rule to direct rational minds to happiness; and that the observing “these laws is the great mean and instrument of our real and lasting felicity.” And the author of “The Assembly’s Catechism Revised, &c.,” saps all the peculiar doctrines of Christianity, and insolent were some upon this point, that a little after this, one Mr. Nimmo, student in divinity, in a public, discourse in the divinity-hall of Edinburgh, made a blasphemous attack upon the whole of divine revelation.
In a word, the greatest points in religion are turned debatable points, and among the rest, whether our national covenants be binding upon us.
The perpetual binding obligation of these covenants have been asserted by many writers; particularly by Mr. Shields, in his Hind let Loose, p. 514, 520, and Mr. Brown in his Apologetical Relation, p. 327, 414.
Well, I say, stability in the faith excludes all sinful debating about known truths: and when matters of faith are turned to debatable questions, it is a clear demonstration of the instability of the times. If we would sit still, and be stable Christians, we are to lay up known truths in our bosom, as matters beyond debate; the debating of known truths is a sin as pernicious as committing of known sins, and omitting of known duty, or neglecting of known commands. Thus we see what this stability in the faith includes. The mentioning of these things plainly show, that it is our strength to sit still, and to be stable and fixed in the faith; there is little safety where there is little stability.
5thly, The next thing proposed upon this head was, What this stability in the faith infers. And I shall consider this question, 1. With respect to the object. 2. With reference to the exercise of this stability in the faith. The first question will relate to what we are to be stable in, when stable in the faith? And the second to this, How we should be established?
[1.] What this stability infers, with reference to the object? And here we shall enumerate the following ten particulars on this point.
- Stability in the faith infers, with reference to the object, wherein we are to be stable, and stability in respect of our principles: and hence we are called to hold faith and a good conscience, (1 Tim. 1:9), these two make up a right principle, namely, faith and a good conscience. The object of a right principle is the truth, which is the object of faith. The subject of a right principle is conscience, and that a good conscience, a sanctified conscience; these two must be joined together, “Hold faith and a good conscience.” Error is seldom accompanied with holiness; faith and conscience go well together; many join them very profanely, by swearing by them; few join them religiously, and hold them fast together. The Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, (1 Tim. 4:1). We do not know what is coming upon us; but it may be that these truths we now allow, and approve of, we may come to be ashamed of, as some are at this day of our ancient covenanted principles.
- Stability in the faith infers stability in respect of the promises. We see David taking hold of the promise, “God has spoken in his holiness, I will rejoice,” (Ps. 60:6): he sees the mercy, truth, and holiness of God are pledged for making out the promise. Now, we ought to be stable in the faith thereof; many times we take the promise, and upon the first temptation we cast it away; but we are to hold the promise as we would do our life, saying, “Lord, I hope in thy word; Lord, remember the word on which thou hast caused me to hope.” We are to expect good upon the head of the promise.
- Stability in the faith infers, stability in respect of the relations wherein we stand to God, and he to us; the church maintains the faith of this, “My Beloved is mine, and I am his,” (Song 26). And again, “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine,” (Song 7:10). She says it backward and forward; He is mine, and I am his; and again, I am his, and he is mine; and, indeed, stability in the faith of this, is requisite when enemies say, “Where is thy God?” And what claim have you to him more than others?
- Stability in the faith infers, stability in duty, and particularly in the duty of the times, and in present duty, that God calls to in his present dispensations; as it is said of the children of Issachar, that they had understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do, (1 Chron. 12:32). It may be said of many of us, what Christ said of the Pharisees, (Matt. 16:3), that they could discern the face of the sky, but could not discern the signs of the times. We have skill of many things, but no skill of present duty; but he that is established in the knowledge of present duty, though there should be never so many dangers and hazards in the way, he will venture upon duty, and tread upon the neck of hazard. See John 11:7 & 8, “Jesus said unto the disciples, Let us go into Judea.” Again, “His disciples answered, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee, and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day, and while a man walks in the day he stumbles not, because he seeth the light.” “I have,” might he say, “twelve hours to walk in, and they are not yet ended; there is no fear of hazard till my day be done;” let not present duty be neglected, from the prospect of hazard. Danger hath many times more bulk in our eye than duty; but, if we follow Christ, duty will be more bulky in our eye than danger.
- Stability in the faith infers, stability in our resolution to follow duty. Thus Joshua, when he is dealing with Israel, to whom he had been a leader, and endeavoring to confirm them in their resolution to serve the Lord: “Choose ye,” says he, “whether you will serve the gods on this side of the flood, or the gods on the other side of the flood; but as for me, and my house, we will serve the Lord.” “Lay your hand to your heart,” might he say, “and choose you whom you will serve; but I am resolute, I will serve the Lord,” (24:14, 15). Such a stability David professes: “I have sworn, and I will perform, that I will keep thy righteous judgments.”
- Stability in the faith infers, stability in our courage, and boldness to confess Christ before the world, when others deny him; it is an awful word, “whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father which is in heaven; but whosoever shall deny me before men, him also will I deny before my Father who is in heaven,” (Matt. 10:32-33). It is recorded to the praise of Daniel, that when he was forbidden to pray to God, he is not daunted, but will openly worship him with his windows open toward Jerusalem, when a royal statute and decree was emitted, that whosoever should ask a petition of any god or man, for thirty days, save of king Darius, he should be cast into the lions’ den; Daniel worshipped God in all the solemn circumstances he had formerly done. Some might have thought he might have worshipped and kept his window close, without exposing himself by such a circumstance; but when even the circumstances of a testimony and confession tends to glorify God, and the failing even in circumstances would tend to dishonor God, and gratify the enemy, they must be adhered unto. Hence say some, “He that cannot be a circumstantial confessor, will never be a martyr.”
- Stability in the faith infers, stability in our war against sin, and in our old and new victories we have obtained over our idols and lusts, that we lose not that which we have wrought, “Look to yourselves, that we lose not that which we have gained,” (2 John 8) as the word is in the margin. May we not say many times, What we gained in the forenoon, we lose in the afternoon; what victory over sin we have gained in the evening, we have lost in the morning; or, what we have gained in the morning, we lose in the evening. Perhaps you have got some ground upon your worldly-mindedness, some time ago; some ground upon your passion, some ground upon your lusts; but, alas now all is gone. What need have we to look to ourselves, that we be stable in our war against corruption, steadfast in maintaining what victories we have got over our lusts.
- Stability in the faith infers, stability in our spiritual frame, as far as possible. It is true, this is the most changeable thing in the world; who can speak of a communion frame continuing eight days? yea, or eight hours? It is a very rare thing; yet this ought to be studied, and means of maintaining a spiritual frame followed, particularly in the intervals of duty, not only by spiritual conversation, but also spiritual ejaculations towards heaven: “Pray without ceasing,” says the apostle; that is, according to some endeavor still to maintain a praying frame.
- Stability in the faith infers, stability in spiritual experience and experimental knowledge. This helps to courage, in unstable and dangerous times. Paul, speaking of his sufferings, says, “Nevertheless I am not ashamed; for I know in whom I have believed; and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him,” (2 Tim. 1:12). “I know what dealings I have had with him, and what affairs I have committed to his trust; I know what meetings I have had with him, may a believer say, what Bethel visits I have had from him, and what Peniel views I have had of him.” Trying times may shake your experiences, and death will try them, and perhaps bring down twenty of them to one or two; we need to be stable and well established therein.
- Stability in the faith infers, stability in all the other graces of the Spirit. It infers stability in our love and affection to Christ and his truth. The church of Ephesus is reproved because she fell from her first love, (Rev. 2:4). O where is that love that once you had to Christ and his way? But were we steadfast in the faith, we would be steadfast in our affections to Christ and his cause. It infers stability in our joy, so as to rejoice in Christ Jesus: “Though the fig-tree should not blossom, yet will I rejoice in the Lord; I will be glad in the God of my salvation.” It infers stability in our hope: “Continuing in the faith, grounded and settled, so as not to be moved away from the hope of the gospel,” (Col. 1:23). What the anchor is to the ship, that is hope to the soul: “Entering within the vail, and having respect to the recompense of reward,” with Moses; living in expectation of the heavenly Canaan; and in this view preferring a share with the suffering Israelites before all the riches of Egypt. It infers stability in our zeal; many are like Gallio, who care for none of these things, whether God or Baal prevail, whether Dagon or the ark be set up; whatever religion is in vogue they set up for, being, like Reuben, “unstable as water, and cannot excel;” but stability in our zeal for God, and his interest, is duty at all times, especially in times of greatest hazard; though it should cost us the loss of our lives as well as our livelihood, it will be gain at last. Thus much of the object of our stability, or what we are to be established in.
(2.) What this stability infers, with reference to the exercise of this stability, or the duty of steadfastness.
- This duty of stability infers and carries along with it grace in the heart, as the predominant settler and establisher of the soul, “It is a good thing to have the heart established with grace,” (Heb. 13:9). Grace must be predominant in that exercise, in settling the heart in the day of trouble and temptation. Where there is little grace, there is much ebbing and flowing in religion.
- This duty of stability infers an immoveable motion, a constant moving, yet always immoveable, “Be stedfast and immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord;” (1 Cor. 15:58), the work signifies ever moving, and yet never moving; that is, ever moving within the circle of duty that God has cast for him, but never moving over God’s bounds.
- This duty of stability infers, a continual watchfulness: “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith. Let him that thinks he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” We ought to watch unto prayer, and watch unto the practice of known truth; every fresh discovery of truth quickening to the fresh practice of it; we ought to watch against sin, and particularly against the sin of a backsliding time, wherein perjury is varnished over with the name of prudence. (See Isa. 51:20-21).
- This duty of stability infers and carries with it, daily renewed actings of faith upon the Lord Jesus Christ; “To whom coming, as to a living stone; ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house,” (1 Pet. 2:4). It is a new coming to Christ that is there spoken of, the stable Christian every day fastens new grips, and takes faster hold of Christ, lest the former grip and former hold should slip.
- This stability infers, a daily sucking in the sap of the scriptures, in order to spiritual growth and spiritual strength; “As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby,” (1 Pet. 2:3). The steady Christian will be daily gathering a stock of scriptures and a treasure of truths into his bosom, that when the devil sets his cannon of temptation against him, he may be ready to bring out a cannon of scripture quotations out of his bosom, as Christ himself did, (Matt. 4:3, 11), and thereby defeat the devil, and discomfit the strong man.
- This duty of stability infers, a patient waiting for the appointed time of the promise being accomplished; “The vision is for an appointed time; but at the end it shall speak and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come,” (Hab. 2:30). The Lord many times reserves some precious word of promise to be made out to his friends, when they come to some sad hour of trial and temptation: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will keep thee from the hour of temptation,” (Rev. 3:10). Until the dark hour come, perhaps he will not show himself. God promises to deliver Israel out of Egypt, (Ex. 3:80); but, behold the Lord keeps the out-making of the promise to a Red Sea, and there he lets it drop into their cup: “The Egyptians whom you have seen today, you shall see them again no more for ever,” (Ex. 14:13). Think not strange, if some sweet promise be reserved to a Red Sea that is before you: Israel had never known the sweetness of the promise, if a Red Sea had not made it out. God has wonderful ways of making out his word through fire and water.
- This duty of stability infers, a continual warfare, and fighting the good fight of faith, putting on, and keeping on, the spiritual armor; “And above all, taking the shield of faith, whereby we quench all the fiery darts of the wicked,”( Eph. 6:11-12). When the devil is like to set all the house in a flame with his fiery darts, we are as fast to bring water from the word of God, and throw it upon the fire to quench it. Yea, not only has faith the waters of the sanctuary to cast upon the flames, but also the blood of the covenant, the blood of Christ, to extinguish the fire: “We overcome by the blood of the Lamb.” Why, the believer can go where the tempter cannot approach, and that is to the holiest by the blood of Jesus; or to God, through Jesus Christ, to bring strength from on high.
- This duty of stability in the faith infers, a living upon the things unseen, till we get the things that do appear; “We look not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are not seen; for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal,” (2 Cor. 4:18). How did Moses bear up, when he choose affliction with the people of God? Why, he endured as seeing him who is invisible, (Heb. 11:27). Visible things bulk most with us but they are the most changeable things; therefore, they are best off in trying times, amidst all outward changes, who look most at the things that are not seen, and which are eternal and unchangeable.
- This duty of stability infers, especially in perilous times, a taking up the cross, and yet leaving the weight of it upon Christ. The cross of Christ is like the yoke of Christ, of which he says, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” (Matt. 11:30). We are not to take it up, in order to bear the weight and burden of it, but only to take it up, and lay the weight of it upon Christ himself, who so orders us, saying, “Cast thy burden on the Lord, and he will sustain thee,” (Ps. 55:22). Our Lord never requires us to lift a burden, but with a design we should lay it upon his own shoulders, who is the chief burden-bearer. When he calls us to a warfare, it is upon his own charges; therefore, if we have any faith, we need not be afraid of the cross of Christ; it is rather matter of joy; “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations,” (Jam. 1:2). It is matter of glorification; “God forbid that we should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Gal. 6:14). “We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope,” (Rom. 5:3).
- This duty of stability in the faith, in perilous times, infers a continuance in the faith in times of trouble; “If ye continue in my word,” says Christ, “then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” (John 8:31-32). Who will be the freest men in trying times? Even the strictest man, who continues most firmly in the faith. There is a fourfold work of faith in this continuing exercise of it in a day of trouble.
- It is the work of established faith to take a new feast upon an old experience. The man comes sometimes to a wilderness where there is nothing to be gotten but hunger and want, and then sits down and searches around to find something to support him, and presently recollects what he has formerly enjoyed, and so falls upon a five or six-year-old experience, a twenty or thirty-year-old experience, and takes a feast upon it, saying, “For all that is come and gone, I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High: I will remember thee from the land of Jordan, and from the hill Mizar. I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember thy wonders of old,” (Ps. 42:6; 77:11). It is the work of faith, in the day of trouble, to take a new meal upon an old promise, as Jacob did; “Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good;” and now, “Remember the word on which thou causedst me to hope,” (Gen. 32:2).
- It is the work of established faith, in times of trouble, to sit down upon the hill of difficulties and straits, and sing that pleasant song, “Though the fig-tree should not blossom, nor fruit be found in the vine, &c.; yet will I rejoice in the Lord, and be glad in the God of my salvation. Though my house be not so with God; “though my heart be not so with God as I could wish, “yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, well ordered in all things and sure; and this is all my salvation, and all my desire.”
- It is the work of established faith, in a day of trouble and hiding, sometimes to make use of some common relations to God as an argument for faith, till it get a more special relation to feed upon.— “Thy hands have made and fashioned me; Give me understanding that I may learn thy commandments. Thy hands have made and fashioned me,” (Ps. 119:73). Well, may not any reprobate wretch in the world say the same thing? True; but they cannot make such an argument of it, “Give me understanding that I may learn thy commandments. “Thou art he that took me out of the womb.” Well, what of that? It follows in the next verse, “Thou art my God from my mother’s belly,” (Ps. 22:9 & 10) Faith can take an argument from a general relation, till it get a more special relation to plead upon.
- It is the work of faith to draw encouragements from discouragements: What more discouraging than to be called a dog? (Matt. 15:27), yet the poor woman draws encouragements out of it: “Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Hezekiah draws encouragement even from oppression; “O Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me,” (Isa. 88:14). David draws encouragement from the greatest of his sins, “For thy name’s sake pardon mine iniquity, for it is great,” (Ps. 25:2). He draws an argument from his weakness, “Have mercy upon me, for I am weak,” (Ps. 6:2). And sometimes from his poverty and necessity, “I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinks upon me,” (Ps. 50:17). Established faith will, from guilt, draw an argument for pardon; from pollution, an argument for purification; from sickness, an argument for healing, &c.
- It is the work of established faith to dispute and deny the conclusions of unbelief, (Ps. 57:7-9). The conclusions of unbelief are, “The Lord will cast off; the Lord will be favorable no more; his mercy is clean gone; his promise fails; he has forgotten to be gracious; he has in anger shut up his tender mercy:” but faith first disputes these conclusions, saying, “Will the Lord cast off for ever? will he be favorable no more? is his mercy clean gone? doth his promise fail for evermore? has he forgotten to be gracious? has he in anger shut up his tender mercy?” It calls these conclusions into debate, disputing and questioning them, and then denies them in the following verse: “I said, this is my infirmity; I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High; I will remember the works of the Lord, and his wonders of old,” (Ps. 77:11). And whenever faith comes to deny the conclusion of unbelief, then it is at the head of the mount, as it were, at the top of the hill and a song of triumph in its mouth; “I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High, and his works and wonders of old.”
- It is the work of established faith, in a day of the trial of faith, to recover and restore the soul, when temptation has thrown it down into the mire. David fell before the temptation that was drawn from the prosperity of the wicked, and adversity of the godly, Psalm 70 and says, verse 13. “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency; for I am plagued all day long.” Well, but whenever he went to the sanctuary of God by faith, then he recovers himself and says, “So foolish was I and ignorant; I was as a beast before thee: nevertheless, I am continually with thee: thou holdest me by my right hand; thou wilt guide me by thy counsel, and afterwards receive me into thy glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none in the earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.” Thus we see what this stability in the faith infers and carries along with it. I now proceed to the next general head.
III. To show that this stability and establishment in the faith, is people’s strength and safety in perilous times. For opening this head, I shall consider, 1. The evil and disadvantage of Instability. 2. The good and advantage of Stability in the faith.
1st, The evil and disadvantage of Instability and un-steadfastness appears in these particulars.
- Instability in the faith is hateful to God, who says, “If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him,” (Heb. 10:38). It provokes God to reject people, and to spew them out of his mouth. And why so? Because,
- Instability in the faith is a greatly aggravated sin; it is a sin against knowledge; and the servant who knows his master’s will, and does it not is to be beaten with double stripes. It is a sin against profession and engagements, whither national or personal, in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is a sin against great love and mercy.
- Instability in the faith has fearful idolatry wrapped up in it. When, by unbelief, we depart from the fountain of living waters, we turn to earthen cisterns, which can hold no water.
- Instability in the faith is the greatest reproach; it is a leaving of God, even after experience: few have a profession of faith, but have tasted something of the sweetness of God’s ways; and now, to prefer sin and lusts, what a reproach is cast upon God.
- Instability in the faith is worse than profaneness, “It had been better for them, not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment,” (2 Pet. 2:21-22). Instability being the porch of apostasy, where this is total, it is worse than profanity; for it is a greater sin to renounce Christ, than to refuse him.
- Instability provokes God to write a bill of divorce against a people; it is a sin that separates between God and them: it is just with God to cast them off, when they cast him off. And, woe to a people when God departs from them.
2dly, The next thing was to speak of the good and advantage of stability and establishment in the faith; and therein it will appear, that it is a church or people’s strength to sit still, and abide in the faith. The advantage of stability in the faith may appear in the following particulars:—
- Establishment in the faith puts a man in capacity to act for God; “They that wait on the Lord, shall renew their strength,” (Isa. 11:31). And again, “They that know their God, shall be strong and do exploits,” (Dan. 11:32). They have strength to do for Christ: if we abide in Christ, by faith, then we bring forth fruit to the praise of God.
- Stability in the faith puts a man in case to suffer for Christ and to continue with him in his temptation; and thereby the Christian is made sure of Christ’s legacy; “Ye are they who have continued with me in my temptations, and I appoint unto you a kingdom.” This legacy is secured by the death of the Testator, (Luke 22:28). The men of the world think they have a poor bargain, who venture all for Christ; but let me see where there is such a noble bargain, and so up-making for time and eternity.
- Stability in the faith puts a man in case to die for Christ, if he be called to it; “What mean ye to weep, and break mine heart? I am content not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of Jesus,” (Acts 22:13). His friends were weeping because he was going up to Jerusalem, where bonds and imprisonments were abiding him; but says he, “I am content not only to be bound, but to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” I value my life as well as you do; but when my life, and the Lord of life comes in competition, my life shall go, though I had a thousand lives.
- Stability in the faith puts a man in case to defeat the devil; for, by faith, we quench his fiery darts, and resist him steadfastly in the faith. Satan sought to winnow Peter, but Christ prayed for him, and that his faith might not fail. This says, the devil has a sieve wherein he sifts and winnows, and winnows both ministers and people; and we may well affirm, that Satan has the ministers and Christians of Scotland now in a sieve, and he is sifting and riddling them; and it is like, more chaff than good corn will be found among us; but as for these that are stable in the faith, Satan loses his pains and his profit with them; for they will be able to overcome, by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony.
- Stability in the faith makes a man reach the design both of the word and rod: it is the end of both to establish us in the faith; wherefore comes the word to us, but that we may believe and be strong in the faith? Wherefore comes the rod, but that by the trial of faith it may be strengthened and confirmed? So that upon a man that is established in the faith, both word and rod have got their errand; none of them are in vain.
- Stability in the faith is an honorable duty and exercise; for, faith is the crown, and steadfastness therein is a keeping of the crown. “Behold, I come quickly; hold fast what thou hast, that no man take thy crown,” (Rev. 3:11)—and he lays no other burden upon us but this, “Hold fast till I come,”(Rev. 2:24-25).
- Stability in the faith proves a man to be a true disciple, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” (John 8:31-32). Men may reckon themselves free by human laws and acts, though yet they abide not in the truth; but they that know the truth, and abide in it, are free by an act of the court of heaven.
- Stability in the faith influences our growth in every grace; we will never add grace to grace, experience to experience, and faith to faith, unless we be stable in the faith: “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” When we are steadfast and immoveable, then we are always abounding in the work of the Lord. Except we ply the oars close, we will go down the stream.
- Stability in the faith evidences sincerity and uprightness of heart, even as instability evidences hypocrisy, “Their heart was not right with God, neither were they steadfast in his covenant,” (Ps. 27:37). Their un-steadfastness discovered that their heart was not right with God. Now, if you be steady and stable in the faith, it will discover that your heart was right with God, and that is the great matter.
- Stability in the faith makes a man useful in his generation; though he were alone, yet he is useful, as Noah, of whom God says, “Come thou, and all thy house, into the ark, for thee only have I found righteous before me in this generation,” (Gen. 7:1). How useful was he to the preservation of a remnant Elijah was alone as a prophet; and how useful was he in his day! He is called the chariots of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And though a man that is stable in the faith were of no other use, but to give his testimony for God, exonerate himself in his day, it is a matter of consequence to the generation, both past, present, and to come.
We need, sirs, at this day, to exonerate ourselves at the hands of our forefathers, who are gone; at the hands of our children, who are living; and at the hands of our posterity that are to come. O sirs, it is a question we should pose ourselves with, Are we faithful to our fathers that went before us? Are we faithful to these that are cotemporary with us? and, Are we faithful to these that are following after us, when we ourselves are rotten in the dust? What are we doing, to exonerate ourselves at the hand of our forefathers, who travailed night and day to get a covenanted work of Reformation brought to the pattern of God’s word, and committed it to us, having left it whole and sound at our doors? Alas! how is this work marred and defaced among our hands! How has the generation betrayed the trust our fathers committed to us? What are we doing to exonerate ourselves at the hand of the present generation? Are we contending for the faith, and for the cause of Christ, against those that are betraying it? and, What are we doing to exonerate ourselves at the hands of our posterity? Are we transmitting Reformation-work whole and sound to them? or, rather, Are we not transmitting to them poison, instead of wholesome food; trash, instead of truth; lumber and dross, instead of silver and gold; and counterfeit, instead of good coin?
In a word, stability in the faith is our strength and safety, because it is God himself, Christ himself, that is our strength and safety; he is the strength of Israel, and therefore our strength lies in sitting still, and sitting near to him; our strength lies not in the act of faith, otherwise it were enough to have once sat down upon this foundation; but it lies in the object and ground of faith, our Lord Jesus Christ; the Lord, our righteousness and strength, on which alone true faith doth rest and sit still: when we stay, by faith in the midst of our strong tower, we are safe, because the strong tower is our safety: the strength of faith is God himself in Christ: therefore, to abide in him, to sit still and rest on him alone, is our strength. When a man runs to, and rests upon an impregnable rock, where he is safe from the enemy, we do not mean that it is his act of resting there that secures him, but the rock on which he rests; yet we say, it is his strength to sit still upon the rock, because the rock is his strength; so it is our strength to sit still on the Rock of ages, because Christ, the Rock of ages, is our strength; and when by unbelief, we depart from him, then we desert our strength.
IV. The next thing was the application. All the application I offer at the time is in a few Inferences.
- If it be so, as has been said, hence see, what to think of these who are so far from being steadfast in the faith, that they are steadfast in a course of sin; instead of sitting still upon the Rock of ages, they are sitting still upon sandy foundations that will sink with them; they sit still in their sins, and sit still in their errors, and sit still in their sloth and security. O how dreadful and terrible is their case! For God is saying to such; “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still,” (Rev. 22:11); he that is erroneous, let him be erroneous still; he who is wicked and ungodly, let him be so still; he who is joined to his idols, let him alone. God is saying, Ministers, let him alone; ordinances, let him alone; providences, let him alone; my Spirit, let him alone: “My Spirit shall not always strive with men upon earth.”
- Hence we may see what to think of the Church of Scotland at this day; how dangerous her circumstances are, when instead of sitting still, and remaining steadfast in the faith, she is receding and running away from her ancient Reformation-principles and purity. How unstable, like water, is the generation How great is the apostasy and defection of the day! And here we may see, if there shall be any schism, or separation in the Church of Scotland very soon upon the present emergency, (Our Author here, without doubt, alludes to the conduct of the Church judicatories, in their prosecution at this time carrying on against the four Brethren, formerly briefly narrated.), that you all know of, who will be the schismatics and separatists? Surely not these who sit still and remain steadfast in the faith, and upon the old foundation, but these who go off from our Reformation-principles: these that sit still, are the strength and safety of a Church, they that rise and turn away, the ruin thereof.
- Hence see matter whereby every one may try their state and their strength, by trying what stability they have in the faith. Have you a stable and strong faith? (1.) Strong faith is a fighting faith; It fights against all discouragements, and overcomes the greatest difficulties and trials, (1 Sam. 30:6; Hab. 3:17-18; Heb. 11:33-34); against the greatest temptations to sin, (Heb. 11:24-25). (2.) It is a resolute and willful faith; “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” It stands not at providences seemingly contradicting the promises, (Rom. 4:19-20); against all discouragements; Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” (3.) It is a wrestling faith; “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” (4.) It is a violent faith; “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (5.) It is a disputing faith, it disputes every inch; Truth, Lord, I am a dog; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their master’s table,” (Matt. 15:22). (6.) It is an urging and arguing faith; it presses God with arguments taken from his own name, his own Son, his own promise, and his own perfections; mercy, faithfulness, truth, &c. (7.) It is a touching faith; Turba preinit, fides tangit, (Luke 8:33-48). (8.) It is an humbling faith, bringing in the deepest humility: the more confirmed and established a person is, the more humble. Thus Abraham; “Who am I that have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes?” Job, when established; “Now, I abhor myself.” Isaiah, when he got a confirming manifestation says, “I am unclean.” Paul also, a confirmed Christian, “I am less than the least of all saints.” (9.) It is a faith that removes all legal fears, terrors, and torments, and yet increases godly sorrow and gospel repentance. It lives on Christ, and not on frames and enlargements; the doubting Christian is up and down with his frames, if that be gone, he thinks all is lost; but the established believer is secured in Christ, and his everlasting righteousness; even when the mutable frame is gone, it is not discouraged.
- Hence see the duty both of sinners and saints, or believers.
[1.] Of sinners, to sit down; we cannot exhort you to sit still, till once you sit down, and take rest in Christ. And therefore, O sinner, sit down and rest upon a God in Christ as your rock and resting-place. Let me advise you, take a seat for your souls to sit upon. Some of you know what an uneasy thing it is to want a seat for your body, when you are weary walking or weary standing; well, much more uneasy will it be if you want a seat of rest for your souls. Would you have your souls rightly seated and rightly settled? Will you tell me, can you find such a right seat in all the world, as a God in Christ? Is there any seat or center so proper for the soul? Is not God the seat and center of the intellectual world; the center of spirits, in whom they can find rest? Is the world a proper seat for your souls to sit down upon? Though you had your barns full, and were saying, “Soul, take thy rest, thou hast goods laid up for many years;” how soon can God say, “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee!” Is your own righteousness a proper seat for your soul to sit down and rest upon, when your righteousness is but filthy rags, and when there is as much sin in your best duties as would damn you? Is it possible you can think, when death and judgment is before you, that you sit safely enough there? or, do you think that the devil, the world, or the flesh, can give you rest and satisfaction, though you had all the advantages they can offer you? O sinner, are you seeking to settle on this side Jordan? Though you should sit easy till the day of death, what will become of you upon the day of judgment? But would you have a seat on which you may find everlasting rest in death, judgment, and through eternity? Then, O Come to Christ for rest, and sit down upon the Rock of ages. Here is a high and honorable seat; whenever you come to God, you dwell on high, you sit with Christ in heavenly places. Here is a soft and easy seat; “He will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on him, because he trusteth in him.” Here you may get rest to your understandings in Christ, as a Prophet; rest to your consciences in him, as a Priest; rest to your hearts in him, as a King. Here is a safe seat; when you rest upon Christ for salvation, you cannot but be safe: “He that believes shall be saved.” Your desires will sit safely upon him, who is “the Desire of all nations;” your hope will sit safely on him, who is “the Hope of Israel;” your delight will sit safely on him, who is the Darling of heaven. Here is a sure seat, “the sure mercies of David;” a firm seat, that cannot fail you in the day of need, and in the time of extremity. The covenant of works was not a firm and sure seat; and to sit down either directly or indirectly, upon the works of the law, is a sandy foundation. Here is a ready seat, and just at hand; you need not say, We cannot ascend to heaven, to sit down upon this seat; it is near at hand, “I bring near my righteousness;” and this righteousness is the seat you are to sit down upon. And it is an everlasting seat, an everlasting righteousness, where you may sit safe and easy forever. O seek not rest anywhere else; sit down under the shadow of the Almighty. But you may ask, How shall I sit down? Why be convinced of the sinfulness of your rambling among the creatures for help, relief, and rest; and that “in vain is salvation looked for from the hills, or from the multitude of mountains.” Though you were to sit down upon mountains of prey, mountains of gold or silver, this would not give rest or relief to your souls: “Riches profit not in the day of wrath.” Mountains of creature-aids and outward means will not do; therefore, cry to God, that he may set your feet upon a rock; upon himself, the Rock of ages; and cause you to sit down under his shadow. The almighty power must make you willing and able: O cry then for a day of power.
[2.] The duty of saints, is to sit still and abide in Christ by faith, and to sit still in respect of stability in the faith. And that I may the more distinctly direct you to this, I would have you consider this stability,
- As a privilege secured to you; this should excite you to it; for, as in working out salvation work, we could have no encouragement, if God had not promised to work in us, both to will and to do; so, in stability in the faith, we could have no encouragement, if this stability was not secured.
- Consider it is a duty; and I would direct you to it in the following particulars.
1. O believer, labor after growth in grace, and particularly after establishing grace. There are these establishing graces: Knowledge, “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of the times. The people that know their God shall be strong, and do exploits,” (Isa. 33:6). Faith, “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established,” (Isa. 7:9; See 2 Chron. 20:20). Patience, “Be patient, and stablish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh,” (Jam. 5:8), “Love, “Love is strong as death, &c. Many waters cannot quench love,” (Song 8:6-7). Joy, “The joy of the Lord is their strength,” (Neh. 8:12). Humility, Self-confidence is the greatest weakness; Peter was weak when proud; humility is a man’s going out of himself, and laying all his weight upon the Lord, who looks to the humble, hears the desires of the humble, and gives grace to the humble, (Jam. 4:6), Fear, “Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord; he shall not be afraid of evil-tidings, his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord; his heart is established,” (Ps. 112:1, 8). Hope, Again, as you would endeavor, through grace, to grow in established graces; so, (Ps. 40:2; Rom. 8:24; 1 John 3:3).
- To improve establishing means. Prayer is an establishing mean; “I cried to the Lord, and he answered me, and strengthened me with strength in my soul,” (Ps. 138:3). Praise, “Upon the harp will I praise thee,” (Ps. 43:4-5), then it follows, “Why art thou cast down, my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? still hope in God, for I shall yet praise him.” Communicating, while he is known in the breaking of bread, the bread of life is strengthening. Fellowship with the saints, confirming one another; (Heb. 10:23-25), “As iron sharpeneth iron, so doth the countenance of a man his friend. Diligent attendance on ordinances; the voice of Christ is quickening and strengthening; “Faith comes by hearing;” and establishment in faith comes the same way. Meditation, and spiritual conversation, and communication, are strengthening.
- Seek after established manifestations; “He manifested forth his glory, and his disciples believed on him;” that is, their faith was established and confirmed. Manifestations have a convincing light and overpowering evidence, making clouds flee away, and dashing the bottom out of all their doubts; thus Thomas, “My Lord, and my God,” (John 2:11). Manifestations have an instructive light; from darkness, wavering proceeds; and what we know darkly we easily suspect; but “Now, I know that the Lord saves his anointed:” (Ps. 20:6), that is, now I understand it more distinctly. In manifestations there are tastes of his goodness and sweetness, and this is a spring of stability; dry notions will never make a man stable; while the truth is not received in love, they will soon quit it for delusion; but when they have a sense of it, then their sense will plead better than learning and rhetoric; like a philosopher telling a man the sun is not shining, the grass is not green. Manifestations carry power in them; there is a heart burning power; this power will embolden the believer to avouch and plead for the truth, whosoever be against it, and whatever it costs, when they find the good effects of it in their own souls. Manifestations carry still a suitableness to the case, trial, and necessity of the person to whom he manifests himself; when Abraham is to leave his father’s house, and to go, not knowing whether; to leave friends, means, relations; the Lord manifests himself to him as God Almighty, God All-sufficient. These manifestations exactly meet with their necessities, and this makes them abide by him. Manifestations always humble; and humility is the strength of all other graces; “What is the first grace? humility, said one of the fathers: What is the next? humility: What is the third? humility;” and so on, intimating, that this is a bulwark to every other grace. Hence,
- Take heed of these things that hinder stability: as pride; “Pride goes before a fall. God resists the proud;” remember Peter. Worldliness, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world,” (2 Tim. 4:10). Idleness, “The hand of the diligent maketh rich;” (2 Tim. 6:9-10), but idleness makes him poor in grace, poor in purse. Needless fellowship with wicked company: “He that walks with the wise shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed. A man shall not be established by wickedness,” (Prov. 12:3); but the heart is established by grace.
- Seek much after establishing breathings of the Holy Ghost. The disciples were letting their grips go, and Christ breathed on them, and says, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” Much of the Spirit will bring about much reformation in the matters of God. Be content of the Spirit’s comforting and supporting influences under trials, without seeking any visible signs for your confirmation. The Jews seek a sign from Christ, but, says he, “No sign shall be given you, but that of the prophet Jonas; as Jonas was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Here is the sign, ye shall get many a cross, and I will strengthen you to bear them; and if you be not satisfied with these signs, ye will but tempt him. All the breathings of the Spirit are of an establishing nature; his quickening, sanctifying, and comforting influences. Wait the time of the Spirit’s breathing, and of this wind of heaven blowing. Wait at the shore, though you cannot command the wind to blow; and be easy, though he reserves the sweetest confirmation to the saddest times. Christ cures the blind man, (John 9); the Pharisees drag him out from court to court, till at last they cast him out and excommunicate him; but then Christ took him in, and manifested himself: “Dost thou now believe? Who is he that I should believe?” says the man; Christ shows himself to him, and then he believed and worshipped. Well, perhaps a time of sweet consolation and confirmation is reserved till ye be cast out by a corrupt kirk and clergy, or to a more troublesome time, when you are at the extremity. He will season all with a new manifestation, a new communication.
6. Be cautious, and jealous of yourselves, and watchful: “Let him who thinks he standeth, take heed least he fall.” Perhaps, you have laid up some truths in your bosom beyond all debate, but in the hour of trial you may be in hazard to quit them: who would have thought that the disciples would debate whether Christ was the Saviour of the world, the Saviour of Israel, after the many confirmations he gave of this? Yet, they not only debate it, but are in hazard to quit it, (Luke 23:22). Oh it would make a heart break to hear such language; “We thought he was the Saviour of Israel, he that should have redeemed Israel:” there it was all quit to a thought. O then, sirs, beware of witchcraft; “O foolish Galatians, who had bewitched you?” (Gal. 3:1). The devil and his instruments sometimes cast a kind of fascination over our eyes, to hide the beautiful face of truth, to make it look ill favored; beware of the devil’s deception, he can make perjury look like prudence; and honesty, like rebellion against judicatories, &c. You may be confirmed in the faith, and yet make such a sudden change, as to course all honest ministers and Christians wonder at you, as Paul says, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him who hath called you to another gospel,” (Gal. 1:6). Beware of letting the fear of losses and crosses afrighten you; you may make fair offers of following Christ, and yet forsake him in the view of the cross. There came a man to Christ, saying, “Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest,” (Matt. 8:19); Christ will hardly get a fairer offer from any here; but what says Christ to him? “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” What hinders the performance of this fair offer? Why, you must make yourself ready for losses and crosses, and follow Christ naked. Many men and women come the length of the cross, and there they bury all their resolutions. The cross has been the burial place of many vows and promises; therefore, see that you be not scared and terrified with the fear of losses and crosses; know that what you lose for Christ will be the surest gain.
I might here add some encouragements to engage you to this duty.
- If stability in the faith is the strength and security of the church, in the most perilous times, then let us sit still and be stable, because the most perilous time is the very season wherein God has, in all generations, made the most signal appearances for his church, in so much, that we have no more ado, in effect, when perilous times come, but to stand still; or, which is the same thing, to sit still, and see the salvation of God. Here I would offer eight instances of signal appearances in most perilous times: particularly in the first defection by sin; when our first parents fell; there God appeared in the first promise, wherein the devil was sentenced.—Israel’s oppression in Egypt; then is Moses born; then the Lord appeared gloriously.—The Assyrians rage, under Sennacherib, against Jerusalem; then the Lord sent his angel.—Haman threatened the destruction of the Jews; then the Lord appeared, and brought about their deliverance.—Christ the Head laid in the grave, then the Lord appeared making that dark hour the porch of light and life.—The Jewish and Pagan persecutions against the first Christians, the Lord made these the mean of propagating the gospel, and the blood of the martyrs the seed of the church. The antichristian tyranny, wherein the whore was drunk with so much blood, issued in the glorious Reformation; the Lord appearing in his glory, building up Zion.—The bloody reigns in Britain, particularly in Scotland; the martyrdom in the late times, issued in the Lord’s appearing by the merciful Revolution.—And now, when troubles and trials take place, our God is not dead: “He will arise and have mercy upon Zion. The Lord sits upon the floods: the Lord sits King for ever.” Hence,
- To sit still in perilous times, is to sit where God sits; he sits upon the floods, and they sit with Christ upon his throne, not only when they come to heaven, but by faith upon earth; they sit and reign with Christ; as they shall judge the world at the last day, so they rule and judge even in this life, (Ps. 2:9; compared with Rev. 2:26-27; and Ps. 149:6-9). This is the honor of all the saints; and hence the saints who are faithful to God in their day, not only judge and condemn the world, by their practice and their testimony, but in some respects execute the sentence against them, so as to torment them, “The two witnesses tormented them who dwelt upon the earth,” (Rev. 11:10).
- To sit still is to sit easy amidst all the overflowing floods, because we sit still and rest upon him who sits upon the floods; this may give ease amidst whatever floods you are surrounded with. Is it a flood of tribulation, temptation, reproach, &c. “The Lord sits upon the floods,” and makes the floods his footstool, his throne. He treads upon the floods, and reigns amidst the floods, and makes the floods his chariot, wherein he rides, and his bench, whereon he judges righteously.
- When we sit still by faith, we glorify God, and edify men; we honor God, and exonerate ourselves at the hands of men, both in the former, present, and following generations, as I said before.