FAITHFULNESS UNTO DEATH, CROWNED WITH ETERNAL LIFE.
At what time, or in what place, this sermon was preached, cannot be positively ascertained, nothing being marked relative thereto in the Author’s notes. However, from several passages in the discourse itself, we learn that it was delivered in the year 1742; and a person of undoubted veracity assures us it was at Orwel, on Monday after the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper there.
“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Revelation 2:10.
These words are a part of the epistle written from heaven to the church of Smyrna; wherein Christ forewarns and forearms her, against further troubles, besides what are mentioned in the preceding verse, and exhorts her not to fear, but to be faithful.
More particularly, in the verse we have these four things observable. 1. A general warning about approaching trouble, and things they were to suffer. 2. A particular description of what they were to suffer, “Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried, and ye shall have tribulation ten days.” 3. Their duty, not to fear, but to be faithful. 4. The ample encouragement here promised, “I will give thee a crown of life.”
1st, A general warning about trouble, called, “These things they were to suffer.” What troubles the church of Smyrna were under before, you may see from verse 9, “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, but thou art rich, and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” But more trials were yet abiding her. Hence learn, the sufferings of God’s people are not soon brought to an end; but, when they have drunk deep in one cup of God’s affliction, they have more to drink; change of crosses is sometimes all their refreshment, as it was with Job, (1:1), when one messenger backs up another; so with David, (Ps. 42), when deep called unto deep, therefore, lay not your account to want troubles as long as you are in this world, and see that your troubles be indeed sufferings, and that affliction and an ill conscience meet not together. Hence also learn Christ foreknows all his people’s trials, what they shall suffer; therefore he forewarns them, and provides a remedy; hence he has chambers provided, till the indignation be overpast, (Isa. 26:20); he has a place, even in the wilderness provided for the woman, (Rev. 12:6). He can make the earth help her, (v. 16); yea, he can make the enemies friendly, “The Lord said, Verily it shall be well with thy remnant; verily I will cause the enemy to entreat thee well in the time of evil, and in the time of affliction,” (Jer. 15:11).
2dly, You have a particular description of their trouble. And here there are five things. 1. The notification or certification of it, Behold, 2. The instrument of it, Satan. 3. The subject of it, Some of you. 4. The kind of it, namely, Imprisonment, “He shall cast some of you into prison.” 5. The end and design of it, That ye may be tried.
1. The intimation or notification of it, with a Behold, showing that it was a certain and serious matter. Hence learn, the particular trials of God’s people ought to be observed, and all the particular circumstances of their trial should be noticed; because every circumstance thereof, relating either to the instrument, time, place, kind, and continuance, are ordered of the Lord; and we ought to behold God therein, “Is there evil in the city, and I have not done it, saith the Lord? We ought to observe every circumstance, both of mercies and crosses that the Lord orders, “Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even he shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord.”
2. The instrument of it, the devil. Crosses, when sinfully inflicted, by the hands of men, Satan has the chief hand therein; for, he acts in other instruments, “He works in the children of disobedience,” and especially in the matter of persecution. Satan tempts them, in a special manner, as he tempted Judas; the armies against the Lamb are raised by the devil. If there be any here that oppose and persecute God’s people, they may look upon themselves as driven by the devil, and acted by Satan, and, Ah! what a shame it is to be the devil’s slaves and drudges? If you knew, you would think shame of your employment; the Lord’s people need think no shame of their sufferings, it is Satan that opposes them.
3. The subject of the trial, the party-suffering; Some of you. Observe, The Lord does not call forth all his people equally to suffer, nor will he tell them in particular, who are to suffer, whether they be the persons or not; for, he can make a warning, relating to some, to be useful to all; that none may think the storm will miss them, and that all may resolve and lay their account with trials. The Lord has the choosing of such as are to suffer for him; and he will choose these that are fittest; and these who think they are most unfit, he can choose them, and fit them too.
4. The kind of the trouble; it is called Imprisonment, by which is to be understood, all the sufferings they were to meet with at that time. Observe, That among other trials of God’s people, imprisonment, or restraint of liberty, is a very sore trial; therefore, let us learn to make better use of our liberty, lest, like David, you be sent to the wilderness, and be deprived of gospel-liberty and privileges; and lest it be matter of a sad challenge, that you made no better use of liberties when you enjoyed them.
5. The end of the sufferings, that ye may be tried; that faith, and other graces, may be tried, (1 Pet. 1:7). Hence learn, the Lord disposes his people’s sufferings to his own ends. Though Satan has a chief hand in them, yet the Lord overrules all as he sees fit; he makes the wrath of men and devils to praise him. Thus he overruled Joseph’s sufferings to the good of his brethren; and Paul’s sufferings to the furtherance of the gospel. Therefore, never look what troubles threaten, but look to God who can bring good out of them, and can make darkness light, and death life; if you were thus looking to God, great trouble would give little annoyance. Hence also learn, That trials are sent to the Lord’s people to make proof of their graces; therefore, look on trials as occasions to evidence your graces. There are two furnaces of a believer’s graces for trying them: the one is examination; the other is affliction; if the first be neglected, the Lord will set up the other.
6. The continuance of the trouble, you shall have it ten days; importing a short time. Hence learn, That the afflictions of God’s children are bounded and limited of the Lord; Israel must come out of Egypt when the time of their bondage is expired. God is at the helm in the time of the storm; and we may sleep quiet, because he awakes. Again, we may here observe, how the Spirit of God would have us counting the time of trouble, not by years, nor by months, but by days. They are called sometimes but an hour, sometimes but a short moment. Art thou under a cross? Reckon it but from day to day; and that will make a long trouble seem short. Time is but days; and days hours; and hours moments; and how small is that when compared with the eternal crown of glory. Make not your time eternity; but, be numbering your days, and applying your hearts unto wisdom.
3dly, The next thing in the words is, the duty, namely, fear not but be faithful. Where we may observe two things,
1. What we should not do, namely, fear not: “Fear none of these things which thou shalt suffer.” Hence learn that slavish fear is to be avoided by all these that would stand up for Christ. Many a call is given to the children of God not to fear: “Fear not, little flock; fear not, worm Jacob, for I am with thee;” and accordingly, many of the saints have got above all their fears, saying, “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me: Wherefore should I fear in the day of evil, even when the iniquity of my heels may compass me about: None of these things move me,” said Paul, speaking of his sufferings: he got above all fears. Slavish fear has three great evils in it.
(1.) It apprehends crosses and hardships, even where there is none in reality: “Who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man, which shall be made as grass? And forgettest the Lord thy maker that hath 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).
(2.) When troubles are real, it magnifies them, and points them out in the most disheartening and discouraging colors imaginable. This makes the cross terrible, when fear gets leave to paint it in the blackest color; whereas, when faith looks upon the cross, it extenuates and says, they are light afflictions; they are but for a moment, (2 Cor. 4:17).
(3.) This fears slays a man first, and then the last trouble will kill him outright. The devil sends faithless fear first and foremost, and then brings up his army. No trouble has been found to be deadly to God’s people till first slavish fear has killed, wounded, and weakened them. Therefore, our Lord cautions against this killing enemy, slavish fear: “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer.” Thus we have a hint at what we should not do.
2. What we should do, viz. Be faithful: “Fear not, but be faithful.” From the connection between these two we may learn.
(1.) That slavish fear is to be checked and guarded against in evil times, because it has great influence to draw us from our duty. If we would be faithful, we need to be aware of faithless fears, Heb. xii. 12, 13. A frighted man is already halting and may be soon turned out of the way. Satan makes men first to fear, and then to be unfaithful; and hence faithless fear of trouble and danger, in the good way of the Lord, usually ends in apostasy. Therefore, we need to be aware of it as an enemy to all duty.
(2.) Learn, that in the discharge of our duty, and in the whole course of a Christian, there is no greater burden lies upon him, than just to be in the way of duty. Thus Christ here advertises his people, saying, There are sufferings coming upon you; but take you no other thought or care upon you, but only how to be faithful and upright; for, as to the troubles and sufferings, how they shall be ordered to right ends, and what shall be the kind, and measure, and degree, and length, or duration of them, trouble not yourselves therewith, but leave all that to me: I will take the care and burden of all that; and I put no ether burden upon you, but just that you wait faithfully upon me, as he says to the church of Thyatira here, “I will put upon you no other burden; but that which you have already, hold fast till I come,” (Rev. 2:24-25). We have nothing to fear, if we be but helped to be faithful; whatever we are ready to fear, it is God’s part to take care of that, but it is our part to study what is our present duty. But, alas! we are ready to take God’s part upon us, like the sons of Zeruiah, we are ready to take too much upon us, by our sinful fears and cares about events and sufferings, and so to assume a sovereignty to ourselves. But, indeed, to sit down on his throne would soon undo us; the burden would soon break our backs: but God enjoins us to be careful for nothing, but cast all our cares on him who careth for us. And we put ourselves too much needless trouble, if we take the burden of care upon our own backs, which we ought to cast upon the Lord, and which alone belongs to him to bear; who allows us to take no other care, no other burden upon us, but how, through his grace, to be faithful in his service, and faithful unto death.
4thly, The fourth general in the words is the encouragement, viz., “I will give thee a crown of life.” This is annexed especially to the duty of faithfulness in Christ Jesus: it is annexed to it in a way of free grace, reigning through the righteousness of Christ unto eternal life. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
In which words we have these four things observable, 1. The duty enjoined, namely, to be faithful. 2. The term how long, viz. unto death. 3. The glorious issue of this fidelity, namely, the crown of life. 4. The gracious conveyance of this crown: I WILL GIVE it thee; “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
I shall endeavor a short explication of these in the prosecution of the following doctrine.
Observation: That to these who are faithful unto death, Christ is to give a crown of life.
The observation is much the same with the words of the text; and, in speaking to it, I propose to do only these three things.
I. To explain the proposition.
II. To confirm the truth of the doctrine.
III. To make application of the whole subject.
I. We are to offer something for explication. And here are four things to be inquired into.
1. What it is to be faithful. 2. What is imported in being faithful unto death. 3. What we are to understand by the crown of life. 4. What by Christ’s giving it.
1st, What is it to be faithful? We find fidelity is a duty much commended in scripture, and frequently called for at his people’s hands; and it is of the free mercy of God that any are enabled to it. Paul speaks of himself, (1 Cor. 7:25), as one that has obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. It was the Lord’s commendation of Moses, that he was faithful in all his house, (Num. 12:7). The perfection of this faithfulness was to be found, indeed, only in Christ, who was faithful to him who appointed him, (Heb. 3:2), even as Moses, (a type of Christ,) was faithful in all his house. I shall mention four things required unto faithfulness.
1. It is necessary to make a man faithful that he have much faith in God; for, the same word that is rendered faithful, is also rendered a believing man: “Be not faithless but believing,” (John 20:27). It is the same word with this in the text here, called faithful, “To the faithful in Christ Jesus,”( Eph. 1:4); that is, to the believing people in Christ Jesus; and indeed, without faith in Christ, there is no faithfulness to God. He that would be faithful in doing and suffering has great need of much faith in God. See, to this purpose, “For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God,” (1 Tim. 4:10). The doing and suffering Christian, that is faithful both in his active and passive obedience, is he that trusts in the living God. An unbeliever may have morality, but hath no fidelity: and hence is that sweet conjunction of holding faith, and a good conscience, (1 Tim. 1:19). A good conscience will stand on no other ground but that of true faith; and true faith will lie upon no other bed but a good conscience. Hence,
2. It is requisite to make a man faithful that he has goodness; therefore, as faith and faithfulness. are conjoined, so goodness and faithfulness: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” (Matt. 25:21). And, I think, the goodness here respects the state and condition; and faithfulness respects the way and conversation; for, when God calls people to be judged, he first judges every man according to his state, and then every man according to his work: they are first judged according to their state, whether they be good trees in Christ, before they be judged according to their works, whether they have brought forth fruit; and, no doubt, if they be good as to their state in Christ, they will be faithful and fruitful, according to their measure. The procedure of the Judge at the last day, is, first to judge men according to their state, before ever any word be said about their works; for, the sheep are to be set on the right hand, and the goats on the left, before any sentence be passed, or any verdict given about their actions: that is, it is first judged whether they be good or bad, in a good or bad state, in the first or second Adam, under the covenant of works or of grace: and, to the faithful in Christ, their goodness will be proclaimed, because of their union to Christ; and their faithfulness will evidence it.
3. It is requisite to make a man faithful, that he has wisdom; “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh, shall find so doing,” (Matt. 24:45-46). This is not only requisite in ministers, their dispensing the bread of life; but also in people, that they be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves: and we are to understand the times, and what Israel ought to do; this is the wisdom that is from above: and therefore, if any man lack this wisdom, let him ask it of God, for it must come from the Lord immediately, (Jam. 1:7). “Consider what I say, and the Lord give thee understanding in all things, (2 Tim. 2:7). The wise are the faithful.
4. It is requisite to make a man faithful, that he be trusty. And this trustiness has a respect to three things, viz. both to what is spoken by him and what is committed to him, and to whom he is concerned with.
[1.] To what is spoken by him, or to what he says, The trusty man, is one whose words we may depend upon, and that verifies his words by his deeds; and, as in religion, the faithful man is he that makes good by his practice, what he says by profession; and, on the contrary, they are unfaithful that are not as good as their word, like these, (Titus 1:16), who profess that they know God, but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. Thus the apostle Paul taxes the Galatians, that they were not so good as their word, (Gal. 4:14-15).
[2.] Trustiness has a respect to what is committed to a man. He is a trusty man that keeps that which is committed unto him, or what he is entrusted with; so, in a spiritual sense, he is a faithful man who keeps what God has entrusted him with.
Question: What is that wherewith believers are entrusted, and wherein they must be faithful?
There are these four things I name.
(1.) The truths of God, and the purity of religion; that is the common salvation the apostle Jude speaks of, (v. 3), and that good thing the apostle Paul speaks of: “And that good thing which was committed to thee, by the Holy Ghost, which dwelleth in us,” (2 Tim. 1:14) “Hold fast the form of sound words which thou hest heard of me, in faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus. This is a trust committed not only to ministers, but to all God’s people,” (v. 13). “Stand ye fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel,” (Phil. 1:27). This is what our Lord speaks of to several of the seven churches here: “Hold fast till I come. Hold fast what thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” This is one great thing, for which we must be accountable, and wherein we must be faithful.
(2.) To every Christian there is committed a certain measure of gifts and graces; to some one talent, to some two, to some five, (Matt. 25:15). Now the man that is faithful, occupies with them to the utmost; lays not up his talent in a napkin; and through grace lets not the coal die out; but stirs up the fire, of his gifts and graces, as Paul exhorts Timothy; by employing all to the glory of God, while he lives in this world.
(3.) To everyone is committed a place and employment in the world, and particular stations and relations therein. Now, the faithful man is one that employs the power and privilege of his calling for God’s honor; and so he is a faithful magistrate, a faithful minister, a faithful head or member of a family, behaving himself wisely, and walking within his house with a perfect heart, as David, (Ps. 101:2). He is faithful in every relation.
(4.) To everyone is committed a time and opportunity; a particular season, and day that he is called to improve: “Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.” And he is a faithful man that redeems the time, and improves the time of his visitation; that numbers his days, and applies his heart into wisdom; that in this their day, know the things that belong to their peace; that understand the times, and what Israel ought to do; that takes the opportunity of the present time, to witness for the present truth. Many, in our day, are slipping that opportunity; and therefore God is leaving them to be carried down with the stream of the corruptions and defections of the time. Their apostasy is open; and it goes on to such a height as would never have been expected; nay, once a day they would have thought, “Am I a dog, that I should do such things?” But apostasy wants but a beginning; and it usually begins with unfaithfulness, in neglecting the day, the time, the opportunity of appearing for God and his cause.
[3.] The faithful man is trusty to all whom he is concerned with: you see to what he is faithful; and now the question is, “To whom he is faithful?” To this the answer is also fourfold: He is faithful to God, to man, to himself, and to all the generations of his concern.
(1.) To God; having his heart right with God, in opposition to the way of hypocrites, spoken of, (Ps. 78: 36-37), that flattered him with their mouth, and lied to him with their tongue; for their heart was not right with him. Set a wicked man, or hypocrite to prayer, he would ask these things which he would not thank God to give him; his tongue will say, Give, and his heart will say, No: like Augustine, before his conversion, he confessed he would have prayed, when his heart was saying, Non adhuc Domino, “Not yet, Lord.” But the faithful soul is one that deals ingenuously with God.
(2.) He is faithful to man: not subjecting himself to fleshly interest; not moved from the way of God, by the fears or flatteries of men; not joining with them in a course of sin, wickedness, or defection; not running with them to the same excess of riot; not openly joining with them, nor tacitly approving of them; but giving a plain testimony against their sinful ways, according to that law of the Lord, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart; thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him,” (Lev. 19:17): or, as it is in the margin, “That thou bear not sin for him.”
(3.) He is faithful to himself; to his light, to his conscience: herein doth he exercise himself, to keep a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men, (Acts 24:16). Endeavoring to have the testimony of conscience, spoken of, (2 Cor. 1:12). He is an unfaithful man that crosses the light of his own conscience, as many have done at this day, and God has given them up to side with all the dreadful defections, and awful delusions of the day, according to that threatening, “But my people would not hearken unto my voice, and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up to their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels,” (Ps. 81:11-12). The faithful man is so faithful to himself, that he searches and tries himself, and loves to be searched and tried by God himself, “Examine me, O Lord, and prove: me; try my reins and my heart,” (Ps. 26:2). “Search me, O God, and know, my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any other wicked way in me,” (Ps. 139:23-24). The man suspects himself, because he knows the deceitfulness of his own heart, and is jealous of his own heart; and therefore ready, with the first, to cry, “Master, is it I?” He judges himself, condemns himself; and though he condemns sin in all men, and is grieved to see sin in others: and is willing to witness against the sins of the time he lives in; yet he is more severe against himself, and his own sin, than he is against others and their sins: hence abstinence from sin will not suffice him, without hatred; nor hatred, without mortification.
(4.) He is faithful to all the generations of his concern; I mean to the generations past, present, and to come. He is faithful to the past generations of his predecessors and forefathers; if they have transmitted to us any good thing, and given us any good examples, conveyed to us any notable treasures, such as the pure doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of the church; sound Confessions of Faith: the faithful man knows he cannot be faithful to his forefathers if these be not faithfully kept. If any of you have had parents, now in the dust, who gave you good examples, counsels, and instructions, if you now neglect these, you cannot be faithful to your parents that are gone. The faithful man studies to be faithful to the present generation, and to the present truth that is controverted in his day, that he may glorify God, in his day; and, by his example, excite others about him, his family, and neighborhood: such faithfulness we see how it is commended in Abraham: “I know him, that he will command his children, and his household after him; and they shall keep the ways of the Lord, and do justice and judgment,” (Gen. 18:19) The faithful man studies thus to be faithful to the generation to come, by transmitting to them a faithful testimony for God and his truth, (see this exemplified, Ps. 78:3, 8). A faithful man may thus be a blessing to posterity.
2dly, What is imported in being faithful unto death? Here is the perseverance in this duty that we are called to: and upon this there are these four things I would observe, as imported in it.
1. That it would contribute much to make us faithful and steady in the Lord’s way, to be in the view of death and mortality; therefore says the spirit of God, “O that they were wise! that they understood this! that they would consider their latter end!” (Deut. 32:29) What makes many so unfaithful in their life? Even because they are so thoughtless of their death: they cannot think of exposing themselves to any losses, crosses, or hazards and inconveniences for religion’s sake; hoping they will live so long and so long in this world, not considering their latter end, and how near it may be at hand; and consequently what need there is to make a faithful improvement of a short life.
2. That there is no other term day of the faithfulness of God’s people, but the day of death; “He that endures to the end shall be saved,” (*Matt, 24:13). “Hold fast till I come,” (Rev. 2:25). “Occupy till I come,” (Luke 19:13); till I come by death, and release thee. Hence it is, that no victory obtained in our lifetime, releases us from the task of faithfulness; “Having done all, stand,” (Eph. 6:13-14); in the margin, “Having overcome all, stand.” Having slain one enemy, you must engage with another; the warfare is not accomplished till the day of death.
3. That death is the upshot and conclusion of the believer’s work and warfare amongst enemies; after death there is no enemy. Hence the time of Christ’s coming is called the time of refreshing, (Acts 3:19); a time of cooling; their hot war never cools till then; but then they may look over their shoulders, and laugh at all their enemies; “Sorrow and sighing shall flee away,” (Isa. 35:10). Then will the saint lay down his arms, and put on his crown; he will lay down his sword, and take up his sceptre, saying, farewell faith, and welcome vision; farewell hope, and welcome fruition; farewell sorrow and sighing, and welcome joy and singing, &c. Bless God there is a term day of trouble coming; you are promising yourself an out-get this day and that day; but here is a term day that will not fail you.
4. It imports, that we should be constant and faithful, though death were laid in the way of our duty and fidelity; and, indeed, a faithful man, that knows the work of God’s service, and the value of his truth, will quit his life before he quit his fidelity; and that for two reasons.
(1.) Because, in the cause of God, and in the course of faithfulness, a man’s losses turn out [as] advantages; and all the advantages that are got by unfaithfulness, turn to losses; if a man would gain his life, he must lose it, (Matt. 10:39). There was never a surer way for a man to gain his life, than to lose it for faithfulness to Christ.
(2.) Because a faithful man finds the Lord’s favor better than life; for, “In his favour is life,” (Ps. 30:6). “Thy loving-kindness is better than life,” (Ps. 63:3). Put God’s favor, with death itself, in the one hand, and God’s wrath, with life, in the other, the faithful man will soon know what to choose, and will say, Lord, there is no choice, there is no comparison. Ye that close with Christ, may see what you are, through grace, to resolve upon, even to be faithful unto death; and to lay down all, yea, and life itself, for his service. And death itself should be resolved upon, rather than be unfaithful; then how patiently should you bear anything that he sends less than death. Thus the apostle says, “You have not yet resisted unto blood,” (Heb. 12:4); you might have had greater burdens; therefore bear the less more patiently. Many are peevish and fretful under public and necessary burdens; but what if Christ came and sought your life? Would you then be faithful unto death? If he should seek all your worldly accommodations, your houses, lands, and possessions? Would you then suffer joyfully the spoiling of your goods? So much for a hint about being faithful unto death.
3dly, The next thing to be explained is the crown of life. What are we to understand by this? We find eternal life and happiness is elsewhere called a crown of life: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him,” (Jam. 1:12). It is called a crown, as it is a gracious reward of the faithful man; in allusion to the custom of the times, when a crown was given to wrestlers and runners, as a badge and garland of honor. Here we may notice some things imported in the words, and then some reasons why it is called a crown.
1. There are these two things may be observed as imported in the words.
(1.) That they that would be faithful ought to look to eternity, and a crown of glory. No doubt, the faithful have encouragement, even here by the way; but the grand encouragements are coming: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable,” says the apostle, (1 Cor. 15:19). Moses had, an eye to the recompense of reward; and Paul had a look to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ; and all believers have Christ in them the hope of glory. Some believers take it ill that they have not so much comfort here as they would wish, when yet the hope of glory is set before them, and not made use of.
(2.) That eternal life is a sufficient up-making of all the difficulties the faithful can meet with here in the Lord’s way; their sufferings and hardships are well made up with a crown: whatever losses they sustain here, yet, when they land in heaven they will be no losers; it will be no grief of heart to them then to remember that they came through great tribulation, and that they were helped to be faithful unto death; while they rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, they have reason to glory in tribulation, (Rom. 5:2-3). But,
2. Why is it called a crown of life? To this we reply, in the following particulars:—
(1.) It is a crown of life, in respect of faithfulness unto death they are called to; intimating the encouragement allowed to them; that, though called to lay down their life, yet they are so far from being losers, that they but change a life of sorrow for a life of joy; and rivers of tears, for rivers of pleasure for evermore. Perhaps some saints will scarcely get a sight of heaven while in this world, but rather of hell, and of enemies, and devils, and corruptions; and looking much upon sin, they hardly know till they be within the gates of the New Jerusalem.
(2.) It is called a crown, because it is an honor put upon the faithful man. The wrestlers and runners of old, as I said, had badges of honor put upon their heads; so the faithful will be crowned with glory and honor. Faith, however weak, will be found to praise, and honor, and glory, (1 Pet. 1:7).Here they sit many times with the dogs, as it were, content with the crumb; but then they will be set upon the throne with Christ, (Rev. 3:21).
(3.) It is a crown in respect of the plenty of all good that is to be enjoyed there: “Thou crownest the year with thy goodness;” that is, thou makest it abound with fruitfulness; and this is most agreeable to the heavenly blessings; for, there is fullness of joy there: “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord,” (Ps. 16:11). Plenty, without want, and rest, without weariness, is there: the joy does not enter into them only, as here; but they enter into the joy of their Lord, and have communion with God in his joy.
(4.) It is a crown of life in respect of safety; for it guards the man from all trouble; “With favour wilt thou compass him [Heb. crown him], as with a shield,” (Ps. 5:12). God’s favor, even in this life, guards the saints from danger; so that the blast of the terrible one is but as a storm against a stone wall; but when he gets this crown of life upon his head, there shall not be any enemies left to annoy him; his head will be crowned and lifted above all his enemies.
(5.) In a word, it is called a crown of life, for its preciousness and dignity, splendor and glory, duration and permanence. It is a kingdom, a palace, a throne, a sceptre, and an inheritance, “incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away,” like the earthly crown of mortal kings, princes, and potentates.
4thly, The last thing to be explained on this first general head, is the manner of the conveyance of it: “I will give thee a crown of life.” And here four things may be observed.
1. The party conveying or the person conferring this blessedness, in the pronoun “I”: “I will give.” Christ, who is the purchaser, is also the dispenser and giver of the crown; this power he has as Mediator: “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him,” (John 17:2).
2. The party to whom the conveyance is made, “I will give thee; Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee,” namely, the faithful person. And here you are to observe the difference between the promises of the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace; in the covenant of works, the promise was not made to the worker, but to the work, and to the worker because of his works; for works was the condition; but in the covenant of grace, the promise is not made to the work, but to the worker, and that not for his work, but because he is in Christ, and his work is the evidence thereof; for example, in that promise, “If ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live,” (Rom. 8:13); here the promise is not made to the work of mortification, but to the mortified person; and that not because of his mortification, but because he is in Christ; and his mortification, through the Spirit, is an evidence thereof. Thus, here, the promise of the crown of life is not made to the work of faithfulness, but to the faithful person; and that not because of his faithfulness, but because he is faithful in Christ; or, because he is united to Christ; and his faithfulness is an evidence of his union to Christ, to whom all the promises are primarily made, and in whom they are all Yea and Amen. Christ’s work, his righteousness, being the only condition of the covenant, to which all the promises are made.
3. Hence here you have the manner of the conveyance, namely, by free gift: “I will give thee a crown of life;” according to “The gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Rom. 6:23). And it must needs be by free gift, because there is nothing in the creature that can deserve it That God, who conveys faith and faithfulness to the soul, might, in justice, at the same instant, convey that soul to hell; the grace whereby we are faithful is free grace; and so the gift of the crown must be by free grace also,“Itis God that worketh in us, both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” The more faithful we are to God, through his grace, the more do we run in his debt, who gives grace to be faithful, and how can the new debt, still running up, merit a crown? Therefore it must be freely given. The crown of glory is a crown of mercy: “He crowneth us with loving-kindness, and tender mercies,” (Ps. 103:4). “Not unto us, not unto us,” or to our faithfulness, “but to thy name be glory,” (Ps. 115:1) will be the song of the redeemed.
4. Hence observe the sovereign reason of the conveyance, namely, his will and pleasure, “I will give thee a crown of life.” And O how does the Father’s will and the Son’s harmonize, in giving the crown? “Fear not, little flock, says Christ, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” and it is Christ’s will expressed to the Father, “Father, I will that these whom thou hast given me, be with me, where I am, that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me,” (John 17:24). By this I am conducted,
II. To the second general head proposed, which was, the confirmation of the doctrine, viz., That to these who are faithful unto death, Christ is to give a crown of life.
Here I might do these two things, first, show that it is so, and secondly, why it is so.
1st, That it is so, appears from the words of the text, to which agree many other promises, “He that endures to the end, shall be saved?” (Matt. 24:13). The faithful unto death are the overcomers, and more than conquerors, through Christ; and you will see every epistle to the seven churches of Asia conclude with a promise to such, of a crown of life, under various names and denominations, “Tohim that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life,” (Rev. 2:7), &c. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna; and will give him a white stone, and a new name,” (v. 17) &c. “Him that overcometh I will make a pillar in the temple of my God” (3:12). “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me on my throne,” (3:21) &c.
2dly, Why will he give the crown of life? Why, he will give a crown of life to them who are faithful unto death. Beside the sovereign reason I have mentioned, on the following accounts
1. He will give them a crown of life, because he has promised so to do, as here, to all that continue faithful in their day, see also, “Ye are they who have continued with me in my temptation, and I appoint unto you a kingdom, even as my Father hath appointed unto me,” (Luke 22:28-29).
2. Because he has purchased it to them, as well as the grace of faithfulness, the glory that follows is also purchased; therefore is heaven called the purchased possession, (Eph. 1:14). The crown of life is the price of blood.
3. They shall have the crown, because they are his children; they are born of God; and being children, they are heirs, heirs with God, and joint heirs with Christ, (Rom. 8:17). Among men, the first-born only are heirs, but all God’s children are heirs of a crown and kingdom.
4. To them who are faithful unto death he will give a crown of life, because he is their God. This is the great reason why he will give them a crown of eternal life, because he who is the true God, and eternal life, is their God. It is said of the faithful under the Old Testament, “They desired a better country, that is, an heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city,” (Heb. 11:16). Therefore, when God is ours, eternal life is ours, he will not be called our God for nothing.
5. To the faithful unto death he will give a crown of life, because they are the members of his body, “who is the head of the body, the church,” and the head being crowned with glory and honour, so must the members be, so must his body, “the fulness of him that fills all in all,” (Eph. 1:23). They have the honor to make Christ mystical, perfect, and complete; and he, as the head, is gone away to heaven, to prepare a place for them, (John 14:2); and sends down his Spirit to prepare them for it. Though now they are despised and rejected; yet, a little while, and they shall shine glorious in Christ’s glory, for “He will be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe,” (2 Thess. 1:10).
6. To them who are faithful unto death he will give a crown of life, because it is suitable that it should be so, not only suitable to the promise and purchase I have spoken of, and suitable to their relation to him, and his relation to them, but suitable to their desires, and he hears the desire of the humble. It is suitable to their labor and pain; for God hath said, their labor shall not be in vain in the Lord. It is suitable to their hope and expectation, “The expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever,” (Ps. 9:18). It is suitable to their prayers, they pray for the crown, and he is the hearer of prayer. It is suitable to their needs and wants; they are weary with fighting, and they need rest; therefore, “There remains a rest for the people of God.” So much for the confirmation of the doctrine, by scripture and reason.
III. The third general head proposed, was, The application. Is it so, that our Lord Jesus Christ will give a crown of life only to those that are faithful unto death.
1. Hence see the reason of all zealous appearances of God’s children in all ages; and the reason of their stedfast contendings and earnest essays, to witness for the honor of God and his truth; for whichessays the world has in every age condemned faithful ministers and people, and shamefully reproached them; why, they know that their Lord was in earnest, calling them to be faithful even unto death; and hence their care was not to please men, but to please him that called them to be faithful; therefore, they undervalued the reproach of men, and endured as seeing him who is invisible.
2. See hence, that few will get the crown of life,because few are faithful. These cannot be faithful that are destitute of faith, and strangers to Christ; that are ignorant of him, and disobedient to the call of the gospel; against such, Christ will be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, to take vengeance on them, because they know not God, nor obey the gospel. These that are unfaithful can have no ground of hope for the crown of life. O the misery of the unfaithful, the unbelieving, and ungodly! However prosperous they are now, in time, they are doomed with the unfaithful servant, into utter darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, (Matt 25:30).
3. Hence see the happiness of the faithful, for to them shall be given a crown of life.Here it may be inquired, Who are the faithful? To this we reply, All that are in Christ, by the grace of faith; and that abide in him, by the life of faith; they that hold the head, and so hold fast the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, they that believe in him with the heart, and confess him with the mouth, “These shall overcome by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony,” (Rev. 12:11). Some will think we reckon them all faithful that are on our side, and of our party in the present secession. Indeed, I am far from thinking all of that name will be found faithful; but they that do not appear for Christ in a day of trial, nor cleave to his persecuted cause, surely they are not faithful in their day. But these that honestly keep the word of Christ’s patience, however reproached and persecuted; they are happy, though they be under the cross, for they are in the way to the crown.
4. Hence see the necessity of faithfulness, since none shall have the crown of life but the faithful; the command of Christ makes it necessary in point of duty, “Bethou faithful,” the promise makes it necessary in point of interest and advantage, “I will give thee the crown of life;” we expect God will be true to his word of promise, and, in the faith thereof, we ought to be true to our trust. The Jews speak of two great depositums, or sacred trusts, God has committed to the sons of men, namely, the lamp that is within us, the soul; and the lamp without us, the law; comprehending the divine mysteries. We are called to hold fast the truth; to hold fast the form of sound words, (2 Tim. 1:13); the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of his house; to be faithful in defending and contending for the faith, (Jude 3). Ministers and people both are called to this work, especially when these concerns of God’s glory are at stake, and endangered by the corruptions and defection of their time. True, a carnal and careless generation of professors reckon such a desire to endeavor to be thus faithful, nothing but madmen, as Christ himself was said to be beside himself; they are reckoned men of contention, fire-brands, pests, and troublers of Israel; men that turn the world upside down. But, alas! how are many, who have refused to witness for God, and faithfully to adhere to our reformation principles, left in the righteous judgment of God, to disclaim all confessions and standards of doctrine, besides the holy scriptures, as human compositions. Some, that were friendly to our covenanted reformation formerly, turning their backs upon it, saying, “They are forno covenants, no confessions, no “standards but the Bible,” like the first Independents in Germany, that were for burning all books but the Bible, and actually gathered all they could get, and set them in a flame, pretending to make that the only rule, and then interpreting the scriptures as they pleased. Even so, the independent spirit of the age are for discarding all confessions: 1 but who are so ignorant as not to know, that all who bear the name of Christians will subscribe to the words of the scriptures; Papists, Socinians, Arminians, Arians, Deists, will do so; each of them, in the meanwhile taking the words, and so juggling with God and the world, in a sense agreeable to their own sentiments, though contrary to the common sense and understanding of men; contrary to the phraseology of scripture, and the analogy of faith? Thus Hymeneus and Phyletas would have subscribed the scripture words, concerning the resurrection, meaning, at the same time, that it was past already. How much does all this show the necessity of faithfulness!
5. Hence see, the necessity of perseverance, or of being faithful unto death. It is not enough to begin well, and hold out a little; the crown of life is promised to them that are faithful to the death; they that endure to the end shall be saved. The command is peremptory, “Hold fast till I come.” We need therefore not only grace to be faithful, but grace to abide so, and to stand fast in the faith, looking to ourselves, that we lose not these things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward,” (2 John 8), Hence,
6. See the evil and danger of apostasy, and of unfaithfulness: “If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him,” (Heb. 10:38). Alas! how little pleasure has God in the present generation, that have drawn so far back from him, and from their solemn vows and covenants, wherein they swore allegiance to him: How has he,in his hot displeasure, hardened them, and given them up to be deluded? How is Scotland like to be a company of desperate atheists, forgetting God, and calling the proud happy?Most people think that these are the wisest folks that comply best with the corruptions of the day, and follow the present times. How is God sweeping this generation, as with a besom [broom]! I remember a word Mr. John Welwood had in one of his sermons, “God, says he, will have Scotland swept; and will have it turned upside down, ere it be a dish for his service.” He will have a generation of professors, who have not been ingenuous and even down for him, hurled out of the way, as well as a malignant party. How is the Lord, I say, siftingthe present generation, as in a sieve, and discovering the naughtiness of many, who were once eminent professors, who now want, in these trying times, only to sleep in a sound skin, but are not for taking the kingdom of heaven by violence, nor for fighting their way to it, but dreaming of ease and outward liberty, as if they were to live here eternally, never minding death? But we will not be long here: let us be faithful for God unto death.
7. Hence see how reproveable these are, and how dreadful their case is, who, instead of being faithful themselves, are enemies, and persecutors of these who are studying to be faithful, and direct opposers of them: and instead of siding with the faithful in times of defection, stand in the opposite side, as it is said, (Obad. 1:10-13), where Edom is charged with the sin of “Standing on the other side, looking on his brother, and laying hands upon his substance.” Many a heavy chargewill God have against many in this generation, for their violent opposition to, and persecuting the cause of truth, when a testimony was lifted up for it. God will have somewhat against them; he will say to some, “You have sided with the corruptions of the times; when the question was, Who is on the Lord’s side; you stood upon the other side.” To others he will say, “You did not redeem the time, nor take the opportunity that was put in your hands to witness for me.” To others he will say, “You persecuted my servants, and thrust them from their kirks, and houses, and livelihoods, and thought you did God service.” To others he will say, “You made apostasy from your sacred covenants, and solemn engagements, to be for me and my truth. You said and made a confederacy with the enemy, and [were] yourself an enemy to my cause; and a plain testimony for it was tormenting to you.” To others he will say, “You pretended that you were enemies only to the wrong way and manner of testifying for my cause and interest; but I saw the enmity that you bare to the very cause itself.” To others he will say, “You turned my Father’s house to a den of thieves and robbers, and you were partakers with them; you were resetters and receivers of these thieves and robbers, who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession.” To others he will say, “You came to sacramental occasions, and communion sermons, just to catch and mock, jeer and sneer; but, Behold ye despisers, wonder and perish. I will laugh at your calamities, and mock when your fear cometh.” Many a heavy charge will he bring forth against an unfaithful generation.
8. Hence see the duty of all, who would be honored with a crown of life, namely, To be faithful unto death. Let me exhort you then, 1. To be faithful. 2. To be faithful unto death.
[1.] To be faithful. And there are these following inducements to it I would offer you.
(1.) Faithfulness is what all the children of God may, through grace, attain, in whatever station; though you cannot be perfect here, yet you may be faithful and upright: though you be not so far dignified as others, in giftsand graces, and have not five talents; yet you may, through pace, be faithful in improving the two you have: and so the woman said, “Though I cannot dispute for Christ yet I can burn for him.” So, though you cannot do much for Christ, yet you may be accounted faithful, who are ready to suffer for him. Though you cannot act for him in such a public manner, in such a public station as others, yet you may befaithful in private; yea, and be in a secret chamber, when it is not to exclude your confessing Christ before the world, as you have opportunity. We cannot expect a perfect church on earth, but we should seek to be members of a pure and faithful church, aiming at perfection, and owning her imperfections: and faithfully acknowledging all things that are wrong; but, I think, you will own we should beware of that church that is so unfaithful, as neither to confess nor forsake. However, here, I say, it is a great encouragement to faithfulness, that, through grace, you may be faithful in whatever station, even the lowest: and be as far forward, in fidelity, as the greatest.
(2.) A second encouragement is, That a man may be faithful unto God, though he be not successful. It will not be inquired of a minister in his labor, or a Christian in his endeavors, what success he has had; but what fidelity he has used; therefore Christ says not, Well done, successful servant; but, Good and faithful servant. You may take an instance of this, both in the public, and in your bosom. In the public; it is said, “I have laboured in vain, and spent, my strength for naught; yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God!” (Isa. 49:4). Again, in your bosom; will not be inquired, what success you have had, and what speed you have come in your conflict against sin and Satan: but, art thou aiming at faithfulness in the holy war? “I have kept the ways of the Lord,” (Ps. 28:21). Well, how proves he that? Indeed, he durst not say, “I have not departed from my God;” but he could venture to say, “I have not wickedly departed from my God.”
(3.) The next encouragement is, Faithfulness is the way to increase: the talent that is occupied shall grow. Many do not grow in grace, because they do not improve it; “Then shall you know, if you follow on to know the Lord. His going forth is prepared as the morning: and he will come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth,” (Hosea 6:3).
(4.) A fourth encouragement is, It is the greatest honor [that] can be put upon you, and the greatest mercy you can find, to get leave to be faithful; it is said of Paul, he obtained mercy to be faithful, (1 Cor. 7:25). If you considered, that to be faithful, is a privilege, and a great mercy, you would go cheerfully to work: but when you believe the command to be faithful in this or that duty, as upon Pharaoh’s task-masters, saying, with heaviness, “It must be done;” and not with cheerfulness, It shall be, done, through grace; why, then your service is but legal, not evangelical: forced and not free as if you were under the law, and not under grace. But if you looked upon faithfulness as a mercy, a privilege, and honor, as David did, when he got leave to offer to the house of the Lord, then you would say with him, “Who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort for all things are of thee; and of thine own have we given thee,” (1 Chron. 29:14).
(5.) A fifth encouragement we offer is, That though you should have few neighbors in this unfaithful generation, yet the fewer they are, that are faithful in their day, the more honorable mention will be made of them; “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy,” (Rev. 3:4). And though the whole generation about them should ruin themselves, with their infidelity and apostasy, yet God will take care of them and theirs, that study faithfulness, and endeavor to put honor upon God in their day; “[And] the Lord said to Noah, Come thou and all thine house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation,” (Gen. 7:1).
(6.) The next encouragement we present you with, is this, You that aim at fidelity, though you should have never so many unfaithful neighbors about you, yet you have a faithful God to deal with. What encouragement is it to be a faithful servant, that you have a faithful Master? “God is faithful, by whom you are called unto the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (1 Cor. 1:9) And “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able,” (1 Cor. 10:13) &c, “Faithful is he that called you, who also will do it,” (1 Thess. 5:24). And where the apostle, speaking of the need of being delivered from unreasonable and wicked men, “For all men have not faith,” (2 Thess. 3:2) it follows, “But the Lord is faithful, who shall establish you, and keep you from evil,” (2 Thess. 3:3). If we confess our sins, (namely over the head of the sacrifice, “The blood of Christ, that cleanses from all sin,” God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from, all unrighteousness;” (1 John 1:9), as oft as the faithfulness of God is spoken of in scripture, so often you are invited to take encouragement from it. You may say, “Lord thou hast called me to such a work and warfare;” and the Lord will say, “I am faithful that hath called you, and also will do it.” Likewise his word is a faithful word, a faithful saying; and Christ is a merciful and faithful High-priest, the true and faithful witness, His name in capital letters’ is called, FAITHFUL and TRUE, (Rev. 19:11). You need not fear to venture on difficulties in his service; for he that has called you is faithful and true. I would next exhort you,
[2.] To be faithful unto death; that is, to perseverance and constancy: for which end I offer you the following directions.
(1.) Look not only to your work, but to your encouragement; yea, look first to your encouragement and privilege, and next to your work; for you are not now called to do and live; but to live and do. Look to the life, strength, and righteousness, fullness and furniture you have in Christ; and then up and be doing, with the psalmist, “I will go in the strength of the Lord, making mention of his righteousness, even of his only,” (Ps. 71:16). If you look only to the burdensome work, the hard task, it will break your back, and break your heart, and damp[en] your courage before ever you begin. Therefore,
(2.) If you would be faithful unto death, quit your own strength, and even all the strength of grace received formerly, or presently, and be not strong in that, but in the grace that is in Christ, (1 Tim. 2:1); in the grace that is in the fountain, running out to you in the promises. The children of God, never lost their feet, when they thought themselves in hazard, and were diffident of themselves; but when God was good to them, and they thought their mountain stood strong, this brought in a slip and a fall. If thou goest through the wilderness, it must be leaning upon thy Beloved.
(3.) If you will be faithful unto death, and to the end, take notice, with thankfulness, of the steps God has led, you through the wilderness already, saying, as it is, “Hitherto has the Lord helped us,” (1 Sam. 7:12); and hitherto has the Lord helped me. Some of you have already met with many crosses, and God has carried you through; and yet when you look to the cross before your hand, the fear of that makes you forget what he has done: but, O I bless him for what he has done already, in that so many crosses are fairly over your head: and, “Now is your salvation nearer than when you first believed.” Therefore hope in him, that he who has delivered, and does deliver, will yet deliver, and help you.
(4.) Maintain the relish of the sweetness of your course in the good way of the Lord, “If so be you have tasted that the Lord is gracious,” (1 Pet. 2:3). Some, indeed, may be carried on to perseverance, through much bitterness, because of divine desertion; but you would labor to taste and see that God is good; and how at times, he is even drawing you with the bands of love, when you are seeking him. Have you not found sometimes a smell of his ointment on the lock of the door, sweetly drawing you after him?
(5.) Would you be constant to death? Then consider the loss and disadvantage of inconstancy; if you persevere not, you are in greater danger than before; “It had been better not to have known the way of righteousness, than after you have known it, to turn from the holy commandment,” (2 Pet. 2:21)—“Where is the blessedness you spake of?” (Gal. 4:15). —Are you so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect in the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). Had you a sense of God’s favor when you kept his way? And will you now throw it away in an hour of temptation?
(6.) Would you be faithful to death? Then lay hold upon, and plead the promise of perseverance: “I will put my fear in their hearts, and they shall not depart from me,” (Jer. 32:40). In the strength of that promise go on, go on; and remember it is but a little farther you have to continue going on. It is but a short while you have to be faithful; it is but unto death; and that is but for a day; because, for anything you know, tomorrow may end your coarse; in regard you know not what a day may bring forth.
(7.) But last of all, consider the crowning encouragement in the text, “I will give thee a crown of life;” though you should be now losers, yet you shall be gainers hereafter; though now you are in a way of suffering, yet you are in the way to glory: if you be truly faithful, and faithful unto death, you are going, as Christ did, by the way of the cross to the crown. “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and then to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). And ought you not to follow his steps? If so, you are sure of the crown. And, what sort of a crown is it? It is a crown of life: a crown of righteousness; “a crown of glory, that fadeth not away,” (1 Pet. 5:4): it cannot be taken away either by deceit or violence. It is a crown incorruptible, that will never either wear or decay. And it will be but a little while and you will be possessed of it: “Yet a little while, and he that shall come, will come:” a little while will ease you of all your burdens, and bring you to glory. Your afflictions are but light and inconsiderable, in comparison of this heavy crown; the exceeding great and eternal weight of glory. Therefore, as you would desire to be crowned after death, endeavor to be faithful unto death. Think what a folly it isto begin and enter upon the way of the Lord, and then to go back; “Jesus said, No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, isfit for the kingdom of God,” (Luke 9:62). And is there not the same reason for continuing with Christ, and cleaving to his truth and cause, as there was for joining with Christ at first? Is there not as much beauty in Christ now as before? Is not his name and truth as precious still as ever it was? Is not Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever? Are not his promises the same as they were? And is there not as much furniture and fullness in Christ, as ever there were? Is he changed from whathe was, because you see many of this generation changed from what they were? O sirs, turn not your backsupon him: you that are his disciples, tell me, Will you also go away with the multitude that are turning off from their most solemn engagements to him? Will you halt, for fear you have not [the] ability to go on? Is there not as much grace and strength in Christ, to bring you on with him, as ever there was to bring you in to him? O then, hear him saying, “Come with me from Lebanon.”
Consider, likewise, if you be not faithful unto death, you lose all that you have done; you lose the fruit of your profession; you lose all your pains, and prayers, and fightings formerly; you give the greatest wound to religion; you bring up an ill report upon the Lord’s way; and, by your apostasy, you wound and weaken the hearts of the faithful, and you harden the hearts of the wicked and graceless generation, and strength their hands: yea, if you wickedly depart from the ways of the Lord, under whatever pretence, you show yourself unfaithful, and declare you was never truly of the number of the faithful: for, you go out from them, because you were never of them, (1 John 2:19). And you fall under the weight of God’s eternal displeasure; “Now, the just shall live by faith; but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him,” (Heb 10:38). The weight of God’s hand is heavy upon his own people, on account of their partial departure from him, (Ps. 89:30-32). O then, how dreadfully heavy shall the weight of God’s wrath be forever to wicked apostates! They that depart now from the truth of God, the God of truth will charge them to depart from him at the great day, and doom them to eternal misery!
Now is the time you are called to appear for God faithfully, in a daywherein truth and the friends thereof are persecuted and opposed, reproached and reviled; in such a dark day you had much need to shine as lights. See the practice of David: “Many are my persecutors and mine enemies; yet do I not decline from thy testimonies,” (Ps. 119:157). In a declining time, when many are turning from the truth, and drinking in error and delusion, showing hatred and spite against any zealous appearance or faithful testimony for the truth; tormented with it, and embittered and enraged against it; then especially it is God that charges us from heaven not to decline; “Thou shalt not go aside from any of the words which I command thee this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after their gods,” (Deut. 28:14). Though you should be broken in theplace of dragons, and covered withthe shadow of death, yet must we not forget the name of our God, nor stretch out our hands unto a strange god; for, “Shall not God search this out? for he knows the secrets of the heart,” (Ps. 44:19-21). And though, for his sake, we should be killed all day, and counted as sheep for the slaughteryet then we ought especially not to decline if we would have the testimony of God and conscience, though the world calls us fools. See the testimony God gives to Pergamus; “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth,” (Rev. 2:13). To be faithful in cleaving to the Lord in such a wicked place, and under such discouragements, has a mark of honor upon it. Men’s oppression and opposition, and hell and earth’s raging against the work of the Lord, will be no excuse, at the great day, for any man to decline from the testimony of God. Alas! many carry now-a-days, as if they thought a little worldly convenience, a well paid stipend, or an estate, was better than the prospect of a crown of life, at the end of the day; but, alas! what is outward ease and liberty, with aracking conscience? It is true, many blindfold their conscience, by thinking they can keep in with God and the world both: with the God of heaven, and the god of this world both; which is as possible as to join measures with an apostate church, and yet keep a good conscience, and think they do God service. Hence some rack their inventions how to find out faults and blemishes in a faithful testimony at the present time; and how to find out excuses and apologies for an apostate persecuting church, and for holding close communion with them; but, “Shall not God search this out; for heunderstands heart secrets?” It is not enough we be reckoned faithful sometime of our lives; but, happy they that are faithful unto death!
I shall now close, and shut up what I have said with a few advices. There are first some things we should beware of, and next some things that we should be careful of, if we would be faithful unto death.
lst, There are some things that we should be aware of, if we would be faithful unto death
1. We should beware of the world, and the love of the-world; for, “They that will be rich,” by whatever means, “they fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts,” (2 Tim. 2:4). The love of the world is the spring of much defection, which, while some have coveted after, they have erred from the faith. “All these things will I give thee,” (Matt. 4:9) was Satan’s utmost offer to our Lord Jesus; but, as he has disputed it, with a “Get thee behind me, Satan,” so will all his faithful followers, when it comes in competitionwith Christ and his cause. They are not the fools to throw away the world at random; but they would be great fools if they preferred it to that which is of more worth than a thousand worlds; and, so is every grain weight of precious truth, relating either to the doctrine, worship, discipline, or government of God’s house. It was an honorable reproach one of the great men of the church of Rome passed upon Luther, “That German beast,” says he, “cares not for gold.”
2. Beware of making nothing of Christ’s little things; for his small things are great things, and the neglecting of them is a matter of great moment: “He that breaks one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven,” (Matt. 5:19). On the other hand, beware of thinking nothing of the world’s little things; I mean, of thinking little of some sins. The greatest sins and apostasies have been little beginnings; and the devil and the world say, Why, “here is but a little and a light thing, you need not fear.” But these little beginnings may be like the needle, which, though it makes but a small hole brings a long thread after it.
3. Beware of carnal company; for, “the companions of fools shall be destroyed.” The company of some carnal and unfaithful professors will soon tend to cool your zeal for God; and especially the company of those who have been of reputation forpiety, and now are noted for apostasy. Their example and influence may do more harm than an hundred others that are openly graceless; because, harm by these that are of most reputation for religion, is not so much seen or suspected, but they are more dangerous; just like rocks in the sea, that are only covered with water, on which vessels may be broken to pieces, before ever they be aware of them.
4. Beware of all the goodnew ways, which tend to lead you out of the good old way, which you ought to seek after, (Jer. 6:16). By the good new way, I mean these that are extolled forgoodness, and yet are delusive and destructive, while Satan therein is transforming himself to an angel of light; and, under a mask of more than ordinary religion, and the appearance of a good new work of conversion, seeking to raze and undermine the good old work of reformation, and to knock down all essays to witness for it; but it will be found there is no enchantment against Jacob, nor divination against Israel.
In a word, beware, and take heed, brethren, “Lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God,” (Heb. 3:2). This is the root of all apostasy and unfaithfulness. O be afraid, “lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve, through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ,” (2 Cor. 11:3).
2dly, In order to be faithful unto death, there are these things you should be careful of,
1. Study to receive the love and power of the truth, to which you are called to cleave faithfully unto death; forwant of this, many otherwise more learned and eminent than you, are given up to strong delusions, to believe a lie, (2 Thess. 10:11). O study to learn the truth as it is in Jesus; and not only to have a head knowledge of it, but a heart love to it. Some that have seemed pillars in the church have not only fallen in days of trial, but led others away in apostasy, by which the faith of some have been overthrown, and the faith of others much shaken; while yet saints, of the lowest stations, have been faithful witnesses and martyrs for the truth, while they had, in their hearts, what others have only had intheir heads.
2. Studyto cleave to the truths of God that are most attacked and assaulted by the enemies in your time, and so to be established in the present truth, (2 Pet. 1:12). Otherwise, you cannot contend for the faith in your day, if you stand not up for the truth that is opposed in your time.
3. Study, in order to be faithful unto death, to hold the mystery of faith in a pure conscience, (1 Tim. 1:19), which some, having put away, concerning the faith, have made shipwreck; for, if a man make a gap in his conscience, by sinning against light, and act unfaithfully, especially in public matters, that relate to the declarative glory of God, if it be not speedily healed by the application of Christ’s blood, it is hard to tell where it may land. The gap that is once opened that way, may let in a devil of apostasy from the faith; and then a devil of enmity against the faithful; and then a devil of open persecution of them; and, alas! it is too evident, that such devils have entered and taken possession of many of this generation.
4. To name no more particulars, study to have from the Author and Finisher of faith a fullness of faith; for, I think, faithfulness just imports a fullness of faith; the more faith the more faithfulness. Endeavour to be much in the prayer of faith, forthe Spirit of faith and the life of faith; you cannot be faithful unto death, unless you live and die in the faith; and to live a life of faith is to live a life of diffidence in yourself, and of humble confidence in the Lord, trusting in him at all times, and pouring out your heart before him, believing the promises and resting upon a promising God for furniture to qualify and enable you to be faithful unto death. Your promising God is a giving God in Christ, and what does he give? “He gives grace and glory,” (Ps. 84:11). What is that? He gives grace to be faithful, and then he gives the crown of life. In this covenant of grace both the work and the reward is freely given, upon the price of Christ’s blood, fully paid down upon the cross; and, upon this ground, grace to be faithful is as freely given now, as the crown of life is freely given hereafter. Therefore, live by faith, and depend upon a promising and giving God both for grace to be faithful unto death, and for the crown of life at the close of the day.
I might speak a word now to you that are in a state of sin and unbelief. You that are in a state of nature and unbelief, and consequently of unfaithfulness, know, if you remain in that state, what is awaiting you; not a crown of life, but the wages of your sin, which is eternal death; you must die in your sins, and die under God’s everlasting wrath. You remain unfaithful in your duty, unfaithful in your day; and, if you be unfaithful unto death, he will give you a cup of wrath; the unfaithful servant is to be cast out into the lake of fire, the place of utter darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But if you would yet be among the faithful in Christ, then you must get into Christ; therefore, in order to your being capable of faithfulness, let me exhort you to faith, or believing, for this is the way also, and the first step to the crown of life, “He that believeth hath everlasting life.” O then, sirs, come to our Lord. Jesus Christ by faith, and hear his voice to you, saying, “Come unto me,” (Matt. 11:28), “Look unto me,” (Isa. 45:22).
Question: Who is he that is saying, “Come to me,” and “Look to me?”
Answer: Even he that gives you so many of his names and designations in these epistles to the seven churches of Asia. It is he that holds the seven stars in his right hand, (Rev. 2:1); and is the minister above all ministers; we cannot say, Come to us, but to our Master, who says, “Come to me.” It is he that is the first and the last, (v. 8), that was dead and is alive; even he that is Alpha and Omega. It is he that has the sharp sword with two edges, whose word is like a sharp two edged sword; that hath both a cutting and a quickening edge, to be a savor of life or death; it is he that says, “Come to me.” It is he that has eyes like a flame of fire, and has feet like fine brass; pointing out the omniscience of his eyes, and stability of his ways and counsels; it is he that says, “Come to me.” It is he that has the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars: that has all the gifts and graces of the Spirit to give out as he pleaseth. It is he that is holy and true; he that hath the key of David, that openeth and none shutteth, and shutteth and none can open: that has the opening of the gates both of hell and heaven; that is able both to damn and to save: it is he that says, “Come to me.” It is he that is the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God, the Author both of the old and new creation; he that can create faith, and turn grace, in his word, to grace in your heart. He it is that is saying, “Come to me, look to me: Ho, every one that thirsteth, come to the waters; come to me, without money and without price.”
Why, say you, “I am not faithful; I am not yet qualified with faith and faithfulness; therefore I should not come yet, till I be better qualified.” Why, man, do you think to have faith or faithfulness either, before you come to Christ for them: he is the Author of both; and because you have nothing, you are invited to come to Christ for all that you want. If you stay away from the market of free grace, till the day you have a price in your hand, or till the day that you have faith and faithfulness to bring with you, you will come too late; you will come the day after the market, and the door will be shut upon you. Therefore, Come, poor soul: come just now, as you are; for, “Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.” Now, now, he is saying, “Come to me, look. to me, believe on me:” though you have been never such a desperate sinner heretofore, and though you be this moment a dead sinner, with a heart as dead as a stone within you: yet, “Hear, and your soul shall live:” hear who is speaking to you, and saying, “Come to me; I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth on me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” O look to the God of all power and grace that he may put power in his word; he that says, Be thou faithful, is the God that said in the first creation, “Be thou fruitful and multiply;” and as he said, he hath made it come to pass to this day; so he here says, as the Author of the new creation, Be thou faithful. O say you, “Amen, be it so, Lord; turn the grace that is in thy word, to the grace in my heart and life.” And for this end, O dear soul, hear and consider who it is that is speaking to you from heaven, and calling you first to faith, and then to faithfulness; even he that hath both to give, and that is more willing to be a giver than you are to be a receiver: put not the gift and the giver both from you, saying, It is not to me he is speaking; yea, it is to you, man you, woman; it is to thee in particular; to young and old. Well, what is he saying? Why, would you know what I would have you to do? “This is the work of God that ye believe;” therefore, come to me; come to me to do all for you: and would you know what I would have you to be? Be thou faithful even thou, and thou, and thou; “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
May the Lord enable you to answer his call: this is his will; therefore, say thou, “Thy will be done.”
Independent principles were making considerable progress at this time. This spirit of independency had beenfirst attempted and introduced by Mr. John Glas, minister at Tealing, and Mr. Francis Archibald, minister at Guthrie, about the year 1728. They found fault with our Confession of Faith and Formula; impugned the obligation of our Covenants; affirmed there was no warrant for national Churches; maintained they had a right to ordain their own pastors, &c. For their adherence to these and the like tenets, they were both suspended, and afterward deposed. Notwithstanding, their opinions were secretly favored by several ministers, and openly espoused by numbers of people; and until this day they still subsist. (Back to reading)