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Isaac Ambrose

Book I. Chapter II.

Section I.     —The duty of looking off all other things, confirmed and cleared.
Section II.    —An exhortation to look off all other things.
Section III.   —Directions how to look off all other things.

Section I. —The duty of looking off all other things, confirmed and cleared.

Doctrine 1: But first, we must look off all other things; the note is this, We must take off our mind from everything which might divert us in our Christian race from looking unto Jesus. Aphorontes, the first word, or first piece of a word in my text, speaks to us thus, hands off, or eyes off from anything that stands in the way of Jesus Christ. I remember it was written over Plato’s door, “There’s none may come hither that is not a geometer.” But on the door of my text is written clean contrary: “No earthly-minded man must enter here.” Not anything in the world be it ever so excellent, if it stand in the way of Jesus Christ, is to be named the same day; we must not give a look, or squint at anything that may hinder this fair and lovely sight of Jesus.

This was the Lord’s charge to Lot, “Look not behind thee,” (Gen. 19:17). He was so far to renounce and detest the lewdness of Sodom; as that he must not vouchsafe a look towards it.

“At that day shall a man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the holy One of Israel, and he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands,” (Isa. 17:7-8). This was the fruit of God’s chastisement on the elect Israel, that he should not give a look to the altars, lest they diverted, or drew his eyes from off his Maker.

“We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen,” saith Paul, (2 Cor. 4:18). A Christian’s aim is beyond visible things. O when a soul comes to know what an eternal God is, and what an eternal Jesus is, and what an eternal crown is; when it knows that great design of Christ to save poor souls, and to communicate himself eternally to such poor creatures, this takes off the edge of its desires as to visible temporal things; what are they in comparison?

1. Question: But what things are they we must look off in this respect? I answer —1. Good things. 2. Evil things.

1. Good things. The apostle tells us of a cloud of witnesses in the former verse, which no question, in their season, we are to look unto. But when this second object comes in sight, he scatters the cloud quite, and sets up Jesus himself; now the apostle willeth us, aphoran, to turn our eyes from them, and to turn them hither to Jesus Christ. q.d. If you will in­deed see a sight once for all, look to him; the saints, though they be guides to us, yet are they but followers to him; he is the arch guide, the leader of them, and of us all. Look on him. There, is a time when James may say, “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example:” (Jam. 5:10); but when Jesus comes forth that said, “I have given you an example;” (John 13:15); an example above all examples, then “be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord,” (Zech. 2:13). Let all saints and seraphim then cover their faces with their wings, that we may look on Jesus, and let all other sights go.

2. Evil things. —1. In general, 2. In special.

1. In general, we must look off all things that are on this side Jesus Christ, and so much the rather, if they be evil things. In a word, we must look off all self, whether it be sinful self, or natural self, or religious self; in this case we must draw our eyes off all these things.

2. In special, we must look off all that is in the world; and that the apostle compriseth under three heads, “The lusts of the eye, the lusts of the flesh, and the pride of life,” (1 John 2:16). 1. Pleasures, profits; and honors.

1. We must look off this world, in respect of its sinful pleasures. Jude tells us, “such as are sensual have not the Spirit,” (Jude 19). We cannot fixedly look on pleasures, and look on Jesus at once. Job tells us, “They that take up the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ, that spend their days in mirth,” are the same that say unto God, “Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways: what is the Almighty that we should serve him? And what profit should we have if we pray unto him?” (Job 21:12-15). We have a lively example of this in Augustine’s conversion; he would indeed have had Christ and his pleasures too, but when he saw it could not be, oh! what conflicts were within him! In his orchard, (as he tells us in his book of confessions), all his pleasures past represented themselves before his eyes, saying, What, wilt thou depart from us forever, and shall we be no more with thee forever? O Lord, (saith Augustine, writing his confession), turn away my mind from thinking that which they objected to my soul! What filth! What shameful pleasures did they lay before mine eyes! At length after this combat, a shower of tears came from him, and casting himself on the ground under a fig tree, he cries it out, O Lord, how long, how long shall I say, Tomorrow, tomorrow? Why not, Today, Lord, why not, Today? Why should there not be an end of my filthy life even at this hour? Immediately after this he heard a voice, as if it had been a boy or girl, singing by, Take up and read, take up and read: and thereupon opening his Bible, that lay by him at hand, he read in silence the first chapter that offered itself, wherein was written, “Let us walk honestly as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof,” (Rom. 13:13-14). Further than this sentence I would not read, (saith Augustine), neither indeed was it needful, for presently, as if light had been poured into my heart, all the darkness of my doubtfulness fled away. His eye was now taken off his pleasures and forever after it was set on Jesus.

2. We must look off this world in respect of its sinful profits. A look on this keeps off our looking unto Jesus. “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him,” (1 John 2:15). Just so much as the world prevails in us, so much is God’s love abated both in us, and towards us, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, (saith James) know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?” (Jam. 4:4). Covetousness in Christians is spiritual adultery, when we have enough in God and Christ, and yet we desire to make up our happiness in the creature, this is plain whoring. Now there are degrees in this spiritual whoredom, as—

1. The minding of this world; ye know there may be adultery in affec­tion, when the body is not defiled; unclean glances are a degree of lust, so the children of God may have some worldly glances, straggling thoughts; when the temptation is strong, the world may be greatened in their esteem and imagination.

2. The setting of the heart upon the world; this is an higher degree of this spiritual adultery, our hearts are due and proper to Christ; now to set them on the world, which should be chaste and loyal to Jesus Christ, what adultery is this? “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon,” (Matt. 6:24). That woman that is not contented with one husband must needs be an harlot.

3. The preferring of the world before Christ himself. This is the height of covetousness, and the height of this adultery; what, to make the members of Christ the members of an harlot? Why, worldlings! those admiring thoughts are Christ’s, those pains are Christ’s, that love is Christ’s, that time, that care, that earnestness is Christ’s; they are all Christ’s, and will you give that which is Christ’s unto the world? And prefer the world before Christ with his own? What, live as professed prostitutes that prefer every one before their husbands? How will this expose you to the scorn of men and angels? At the last day they will come pointing and say, This is the man that made not God his strength, but trusted in the abundance of his riches; this is the Gadareen that loved his swine more than Christ Jesus, (Ps. 57:2). “Love not the world,” (saith John,) (1 John 2:15). Christ is never precious in man’s apprehension, so long as the world seems glorious to him. As we begin to relish sweetness in Christ, so the world begins to be bitter to us. The more sweetness we taste in the, one, the more bitter­ness we taste in the other.

4. We must look off the world in respect of its sinful honors; what is this honor but a certain inordinate desire to be well thought of, or well spoken of, to be praised, or glorified of men? As if a man should run up and down street after a feather flying in the air, and tossed hither and thither with the gusts and blasts of infinite men’s mouths, it is a question, whether ever be get it. But if he do, it is but a feather; such is the pride of life, honor, vain glory; it is hard to obtain it, but if obtained, it is but the breath of a few men’s mouths, that alter upon every light occasion; but that which is worst of all, it hinders our sight of Jesus Christ, “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called,” (1 Cor. 1:26). Worldly honor keeps many back from Christ, and therefore, “Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, —Esteeming the reproach of Christ, greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt,” (Heb. 11:24, 26). If the blind man in the way to Jericho, had depended on the breath or liking or approbation of the multi­tude, he had never received the benefit of his sight, for they (saith the text) “which went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace,” (Luke 18:39). They dissuaded him from running and crying so vehemently after Christ; experience tells us how these things pull and draw us off from Jesus Christ, “The lust of the eye, the lusts of the flesh, and the pride of life.”

2. Question: But why must we look off everything that diverts our looking unto Jesus?

1. Because we cannot look fixedly on Christ, and such things together, and at once; the eye cannot look upwards and downwards at once in a direct line; we cannot seriously mind heaven and earth in one thought, “No man can serve two masters,” saith Christ, (Matt. 6:24). Especially such as jar, and who have contrary  employments, as Christ and mammon have.

2. Because, whilst we look on these things, we cannot see the beauty that is in Christ; suppose a squint look on Christ, whilst we have a direct look on other things, alas! Christ will be of neo esteem that while; this was the voice of sinners concerning Christ, “He hath no form nor comeliness, and when we see him there is no beauty that we should desire him,” (Isa. 53:2). Indeed beauty is the attractive of the soul, the soul must see a beauty in that which it lets out itself to in desiring: but our wishing looks on other things make Christ but mean and contemptible in our eyes.

3. Because all other things, in comparison of Christ, are not worthy a look, they are but as vile things, as under things, as poor and low and mean and base things, in comparison of Christ. “I count all things but loss (saith Paul) for the excellency of the knowledge of. Christ Jesus my Lord —I count them but dung, that I may win Christ,” (Phil. 3:8), [skubala), some translate it chaff; others, dogsmeat; others, excrements, dung; all agree, it is such a thing as men usually cast away from them with some indignation.

4. Because it is according to the very law of marriage, “Therefore shall a man leave, father and mother, and cleave to his wife,” (Gen. 2:24). The Lord Christ marries himself to the souls of his saints; “I will betroth thee unto me for ever; I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judg­ment, and in loving kindness, and in mercies:” (Hosea 2: 19). And for this cause the soul must forsake all, and cleave unto Christ, as married wives do, we must leave all for our Husband the Lord Jesus; “Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thy own people, and thy father’s house,” (Ps. 45:10).

5. Because Christ is a jealous Christ. Now, jealousy is a passion in the soul that will not endure any sharing in the object beloved: the woman that hath a jealous husband, must leave all her old companions: if she cast any amorous looks or glances after them, the husband will be jealous, and “jealousy is cruel as the grave,” (Sol. Song 8:6). Christians! our God “is a jealous God,” (Ex. 20:5). Our Christ is a jealous Christ; he cannot endure that we should look on any other things, so as to lust after them.

6. Because all other things can never satisfy the eye, “All things are full of labor, (faith Solomon,) man cannot utter it, the eye is not satisfied with seeing,” (Eccl. 1:8). It is but wearied with looking on divers objects, and yet still desires new ones; but once admit it to behold that glorious sight of Christ, and then it rests fully satisfied. Hence it is, that the daughters of Zion are called to come forth: “Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold King Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart,” (Sol. Song 3:11). Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, lay aside all private and earthly affections, and look upon this glory of Christ. As the daughters of Jerusalem sitting or remaining in their chambers, closets, houses, could not behold the glory of King Solomon passing by, and there­fore they were willed to come forth out of their doors: even so, if we will behold the great King, Jesus Christ, in his most excellent glory (a sight able to satisfy the eye, and to ravish the heart) we must come out of our doors, we must come out of ourselves, otherwise we cannot see his glory: we are in ourselves shut up in a dark dungeon, and therefore we are called upon to come forth into the clear light of faith, and with the eyes of faith to behold, in daily meditation, the glory of Christ Jesus.

Section II. An exhortation to look off all other things.

One word of exhortation, Christians I beseech you look off all other things, especially all evil things. I know I am pleading with you for an hard thing, I had need of the rhetoric of an angel, to persuade you to turn your eyes from off these things; nay, if I had, all were too little, “It is God only must persuade Japhet to dwell in the tents of Shem,” and yet let me offer a few considerations, venture at a persuading of you, and leave the issue with God.

1. Consider that all other evil things are in God’s account as very nothing. “Verily every man at his best estate is altogether vanity,” (Ps. 39:5). Not only man, but every man; not every man in his worst condition, but every man at his best estate; not every man at his best estate is little worth, but every man at his best estate is vanity, emptiness, nothing; it may be so in part, nay, but in every part, he is wholly, totally, altogether vanity. Would any man think that a great, rich, honorable man, whom we look upon with such high admiring thoughts, should be laid thus low in God’s esteem? O wonder, wonder! and yet it is no such wonder, but one day you shall find the experience of this truth yourselves. Rich men have “slept their sleep, and none of the men of might have found their hands,” or, as others render it, “They have found nothing in their hands,” (Ps. 76:5). That is, rich men have passed over this life, as men do pass over a sleep, imagining themselves to have golden mountains, and rocks of diamonds, but when they awake at the day of death, they find themselves to have nothing. Why Christian, “Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not?” (Prov. 26:5). 1st. Observe that riches are not, they are nothing, those things that make men great in the eyes of the world, are nothing in the eyes of God. 2. Observe, That God would not have us so much as set our eyes upon them, they are not objects worth the looking on. 3. Observe, with what indignation he speaks against those that will set their eyes upon these vanities, wilt thou set thine eyes upon a thing which is not? q.d. What a vain, unreasonable, sottish, senseless thing is this?

2. Consider, That all such things (if they are anything) are but trifles, deceits, thorns, miseries, uncertain things; this is an ordinary theme, it is every man’s object, and every man’s subject, and a very easy thing it is, to declaim upon the vanity, misery, uncertainty of the creatures: ay, but do you make it the matter of your meditation, and be you serious in it; think of it deeply, and desire God to be in your thoughts? Oh what work will it then make in, your breasts! Oh how would it wean your loves and desires off all these things! Christians! consider all these adjuncts of all sublu­nary things. When the creatures tempt you, be not enticed by the beauty of them, so as to forget their vanity: say, Here is a flower, fair, but fading: here is a glass that’s bright, but very brittle.

3. Consider the difference of these objects, Christ, and all other things: as thus, all other things are vanities, but Christ is a real, solid, substantial, glorious thing; all other things are temporary, fading things, but Christ is an enduring substance, “The same yesterday, and today, and, for ever, which is, and which was, and which is to come,” (Rev. 1:4). All other things are thorns, vexations of spirit, but Christ is full of joy and comfort, a most ravishing object, all composed of loves, or altogether lovely. O who would make it his business to fill his coffers with pebbles, when he may have pearls, or gold, or silver, or precious things? What, must you look off your sins! Why, see before you the graces of the Spirit of Christ. Must you look off your idle sinful company? See before you “the fellow­ship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ,” (1 John 1:3). Must you look off your pomp and glory? See before you the privilege of adoption you shall be called “heirs, the sons and daughters of God, heirs and joint-heirs with Christ,” (Rom. 8:17). Must you look, off worldly riches? See before you the riches of the graces of Christ. Must you look off sinful pleasures? See before you fulness of joy, “at Christ’s right-hand there are pleasures evermore,” (Ps. 16:11). Must you look off your own righteousness? See before you the righteousness of Christ. Jesus. O what a vast difference is there betwixt these objects, Christ, and all other things!

4. Consider, that Christ looked off heaven and heavenly things for you, how much more should you look off the earth and earthly things, the world and worldly things for him? Christ left the glory, the company, the plea­sures of paradise for you, and “he made himself of no reputation,” he nothing’d himself (as it were) for you; “ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich,” (2 Cor. 8:9). O let that melting love win you to him, and wean you off all other things!

5. Consider that the rational soul of man is of too high a birth to spend its strength upon other things; the soul of man is of the same nature with angels; is a kind of divine spark. Now, if a man have a golden mill, he will not use it to grind dirt, straws and rotten sticks in. The soul, the mind, the thinking faculty of man is too high to be exercised in the things of this earth. The soul is of a most excellent capacious nature, it is fit to converse not only with angels, but with the eternal God himself, with Father, Son and Holy Ghost; it is of a transcendent being; put the entire world into the balance with it, and it is nothing in comparison. The soul of the meanest galley slave is more than heaven and earth, than sun and moon and stars, and all the host of heaven. Now, if a man’s soul be of such an high-born nature, if the Lord hath put such a spirit into the bosom of man; for him to bestow the strength of it upon low, base, mean and earthly things, oh what an evil is this!

6. Consider, how short is the time that you have here in this world: This is the argument of the apostle, “because the time is short, therefore let us use this world as not abusing it,” (1 Cor. 7:29, 31). Therefore let our hearts be taken off these things, yet a few days, and you shall be here no more; time passeth on, many hundred diseases are ready to assault you: you that are reading, or hearing, talking, or walking, you must very shortly be carried on men’s shoulders, and laid in the dust, and there left to the worms in darkness and corruption; you are almost there already, it is but a few days, or months, or years, and what is that when once they are gone and past? And oh! “What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

7. Consider the great account that you are to give of all earthly things: it is the sin of most of the sons of men, to look on creature-comforts; but they consider not the account they must give for them. Oh here is a pre­vailing motive to take off your eyes! consider the last accounts; what if you were now to die, and to go the way of all flesh, and then to make up your reckoning, what good would it do you to remember all those contentments and pleasures you once enjoyed upon the earth? If the factor, after many years spent in foreign countries, at last returns home with this bill of accounts, “Thus much for singing, so much for dancing, this for courting, that for feasting.” Who would not blame him for so fond a reckoning! oh it will be a sad reckoning, if the bill come in, that you have spent most of your time in looking and gazing upon earthly things.

Section III. Directions how to look off all other things.

1. Study every day more and more the vanity of the creature: read over the book of Ecclesiastes well; it is enough that, through the assistance of Christ, to teach you that lesson. A serious and fruitful meditation of that word, “vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” (Eccl. 1:2). What work might it make in your hearts! Men usually look on these things through some false glass, or at a distance, which makes them so admire them; but if they could see them truly in themselves, oh how uncomely would they be? Or if they could see them as compared to Christ, oh how vain would they be? Honors and greatness in that respect would appear as bubbles, pleasures and delights in that respect, would appear as shadows.

2. Converse but a little with any evil thing on this side Christ; have as little to do with the world, the sinful pleasures, profits, riches, manners of it, as possibly you can; the less the better. Things of this world have a glutinous quality; if you let the heart lie any while amongst them, it will cleave unto them, and if it once cleave to them there will be no way, but either repentance or hell-fire must part them.

3. Be more and better acquainted with Jesus Christ; get nearer to him, be more in communion with him, get more tastes of Christ and heaven, and earth will relish the worse for them. Oh! when I look on Christ and consider, That he that was the Lord of heaven and earth, put himself into so poor and low a condition, merely for the redeeming of his elect, how should this but deaden my heart to the world? “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; and do count them but dung that I may win Christ,” (Phil. 3:8). If Christ be in view, all the world then is but dung and dross, and loss in comparison; the glory of Christ will darken all other things in the world.

4. Set, before us the example of such saints, who accounted themselves pilgrims and strangers upon earth. The apostle gives you a catalogue, of such, “who confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth;” and see how they are used, “They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword, they wandered about in sheep-skins, and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented:” Who were these? They “were they of whom the world was not worthy,” (Heb. 11:13, 37, 38). Oh! when you read, or hear how joyfully these servants of the most High went through their wilderness-condition, methinks this should take off your hearts, from earthly things.

5. Go in your meditations to heaven, and keep there a while: the mind that is in heaven cannot attend these earthly things; would a man leave his plough and harvest in the field, to run with children hunting after butterflies? No more will a soul that is taking a survey of heaven and heavenly things, fix his eyes on such poor things below: Non vacat exiguis, (motion to vacate) &c., is the character of a truly prudent man: the children of that kingdom above, have no while for trifles, and especially when they are employed in the affairs of the kingdom. Oh! when a Christian hath but a glimpse of eter­nity, and then looks down on the world again, how doth he contemn and vilify these things? “How doth he say of laughter, it is mad, and of mirth, what doeth it?” (Eccl. 2:2). Whilst the saints are tasting heaven, they enjoy such sweet, that they care not for other things: Christians how would this meditation wean your hearts? and make you laugh at the fool­eries of the world? and scorn to be cheated with such childish toys? If the devil had set upon Peter in the mount, when he saw Christ in his transfiguration, and Moses and Elias talking with him, would he so easily have been drawn to deny his lord? What, with all that glory in his eye! So if the devil should set upon a believing soul, and persuade his heart to profits, or pleasures, or honors of the world, when he is taken up in the mount, with Christ, what would such a soul say? Get thee behind me, Satan: wouldst thou persuade me from hence with many trifling toys! wouldst thou have me sell these joys for nothing! Is there any honor or delight like this? Or can that be profit, which loseth we this? Some such answers would the soul return: Oh! if we could keep the taste of our souls continually delighted with the sweetness of heaven, as a man would spit out aloes after honey, so should we spit out all the baits of the world with disdain.

6. Cry mightily unto God, that he would take off your hearts and eyes; “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity,” (Ps. 119:37), prays David: either God must do it, or you will be wearied in the multitude of your endeavors: but, if the Lord draw off the eye, it will be drawn indeed. “Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness,” prays David again, (Ps. 119:36). If the heart bend downwards, then go to God to erect it, and to incline it heaven-wards; if it be after covetousness, then, cry to God, and say, “Lord, not after covetousness, but after thy testi­monies incline my heart.”

I have hitherto stood only at the door of the text, to call you in; if now you will enter and be intent, and fix your eyes, I’ll show you a blessed, a most glorious sight. But, First, I must explain the act, You must look. Secondly, The object, you must look on Jesus.

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