The James Begg Society

The James Begg Society

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Articles from our past Email Newsletters


[Part 3 of 4.]

The following is an excerpt from the Rev Thomas Halyburton’s treatise, The Great Concern of Salvation. It is published by the James Begg Society as Volume 2 of the Works of Thomas Halyburton.

The treatise is comprised of a series of sermons and is divided into three parts. The first part is entitled ‘A Discovery of Man's Natural State; or, The Guilty Sinner Convicted'. The second part is ‘Man’s Recovery by Faith in Christ; or, The Convicted Sinner’s Case and Cure’. The third part (from which this excerpt comes) is ‘The Christian’s Duty, with respect to both Personal and Family Religion’.

This third part is a sermon on Joshua 24:15. In the sermon, Halyburton first provides a detailed study of the verse and then derives three doctrines from it, which he then discusses each in turn:

(1.) ‘Such as engage in the service of God, ought to do it deliberately, resolutely, and willingly.’

(2.) ‘True religion begins at home;’ or, ‘A man must be himself a servant of God, before he can engage others aright.’

(3.) ‘Where a man is himself engaged in the Lord’s service, he will endeavour to have his family engaged also.’

This excerpt below contains only the initial study.

This article was included in our Email Newsletter No.4, 7th September 2006.

The detailed study of the verse was included in Email Newsletter No.2. Halyburton's discussion of the first point listed above was included in Email Newsletter No.3. The excerpt herein contains Halyburton’s discussion on the second point.

And if it seem evil unto you, to serve the Lord, choose ye this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood; or the gods of the Amorites in whose land ye dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ — Josh. 24:15.

II. We come now to the second, which you may take thus, to be somewhat more clear than in the first proposal of it:

DOCTRINE II. — ‘Such as have any true and sincere regard unto the Lord, and his service, will make their own religion, or personal religion, their first and main care.’ ‘But as for me,’ &c. First me, and then my house.

I say, they will make it their first care, they will begin with it. Before they look what others are doing, they will first observe how all is with themselves. Again, they will make it their main care, they will be concerned mainly and most deeply, that they themselves be well stated with respect unto the Lord, and his service; but we do not say, that they will make it their only concern. Nay, they will be deeply concerned with the state of their families, and with the state of the church; but they will begin here at home, and look how they in their own service are stated. We say, they will make their own religion, or personal religion, their first and main care. When we speak of their own service, or personal religion, we call it so, to distinguish it from family religion, and from the yet more public service of God in our church assemblies. We shall not spend time in proving this truth; what we offer, when we come to the reasons of the doctrine, will sufficiently confirm it. Now, then, in discoursing this truth, we shall shortly,

Firstly, Tell you what it is in their own religion, or in their own serving of the Lord, that such as have a sincere regard unto him and his service, are first and mainly concerned about.

Secondly, We shall offer you some reasons of the doctrine, and show you why they are first and mainly concerned about their own religion.

We begin with the

First, And, among other things, such as are truly sincere, and have any real concern for the Lord and his service, they will be deeply concerned,

1. About the reality of their engagement in the Lord’s service: a question it will be that will lie very near, and be much upon the heart of everyone who is truly in earnest in this matter, Am I yet entered in the Lord’s service? Have I accepted him upon his own terms, as my Lord and Master? Have I yet felt that powerful influence of the Holy Ghost, without which none can in sincerity say, ‘that Jesus is the Lord,’ 1 Cor. 12:3 ?

This is the foundation of all; for if we be not in very deed his servants, in vain look we for his servants’ allowance, their acceptance in, or their reward for their work. This, I say, is the foundation; and therefore the wise builder will lay it surely,will dig deep, Luke 6:48 ; that is, he will use his best and most vigorous endeavours to remove and take out of the way the rubbish that intervenes betwixt him and the Rock; and he will be sure to see it, and see that his foundation be laid exactly on the Rock. This is the first and great concern of a sincere soul, that they be not deceiving themselves, but that they be really engaged in the Lord’s service.

2. Sincere souls will be deeply concerned about the soundness of their hearts in the way of the Lord. No heart can be sound in the way of the Lord, that is not renewed; and therefore this will be the care of everyone who has any real regard unto the Lord, or his service, that they have a heart to fear and serve the Lord, according as the Lord has promised unto his people, Ezek. 11:19, 20 ; and which we find the saints earnestly praying for, as being under the greatest concern to have it,Psa. 119:80, ‘Let (says the godly Psalmist) my heart be sound in thy statutes, that I be not ashamed.’And no wonder though they be brought under a deep concern as to this, since the Lord, who searches the heart, hath frequently missed and quarrelled the want of this, under the fairest pretences, nay, and the most sincere engagements; I say, sincere, as to anything discerned, either by the persons themselves, or onlookers, as we find, Deut. 5:27, 29. The people, in the 27th verse, engage fairly to serve the Lord; and we have no reason to doubt their being so far ingenuous, that they really meant what they said. Say they to Moses, ‘Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say; and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee, and we will hear it and do it.’ A fair engagement! But, ah! there is a lamentable want! A sound heart is wanting, and that will spoil all. This, I verily believe, they understood not. Moses scarce understood; aye, but God misses it, v. 29. They have well said all that they have spoken. ‘O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children, for ever.’ Some of you think, and some of you will not stand to say it, Whatever faults be in our practice, yet, blessed be God, we have good hearts to God. O hellish delusion! He that thinks his heart is good, is blindfolded by the devil, and has a heart no better than the devil’s; for ‘the heart,’ by the testimony of God, ‘is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,’ Jer. 17:9.

3. Such as have anything of a real regard unto the Lord’s service, will be mightily concerned about the singleness of their eye. Of how great moment this is, our Lord tells us, Matt. 6:22,23. Our Lord, in the preceding part of the chapter, had been directing them to whom he preached, as to the ends they should have: he tells them, that self should not be their end in their prayers and fastings; and their end should not be to amass earthly treasure and riches, but that it should be God’s glory, and the enjoyment of him, which is heavenly treasure indeed; and here he teaches the importance of being right as to the end: 1st. Plainly,v.21 ; and,2nd. By this similitude,v. 22, wherein he compares the main end, or the soul’s intention, unto the eye of the body, and shows, that the direction of the whole life, and rectitude of all the actions of life depend upon the sincerity and rectitude of the end, as the direction of the whole body doth upon the sincerity, and singleness, and clearness of the bodily eye. No wonder, then, that such as are in earnest about the service of the Lord be concerned about this, since the whole depends upon it. A squint look as to the end will quite spoil, and render altogether useless, the most fair and specious performances. ‘Take heed,’ says blessed Jesus, in the first verse of this same chapter, ‘that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them,’ otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Many of you multiply duties, but, God knows, few look to their own ends and aim in duties. But take heed; ye see a squint look to the applause of men will make all to no purpose.

4. Sincere souls will make it their first and great care, that, in their serving of the Lord, they have a safe rule, as well as a single eye. Much labour may be lost to no purpose, if this be not looked to. And hence it is we find the saints in scripture mightily concerned about this, and looking, and that deservedly, on the word, as a ‘light unto their feet, and a lamp unto their paths;’ and hence are they most earnest for instruction in the word, as the only sure and safe rule, directing us how we should serve the Lord. How earnestly, and how frequently does the Psalmist press this desire, in that 119th Psalm throughout, wherein we have the mighty concern of the Psalmist, about the rule, clearly evidenced; and no wonder, since the Lord may justly send us, both for our sustenance in working, and our reward for when it is done, to those who prescribed us our work; for surely to serve the Lord, is to do whatever he commands us. We may not add unto the word which he commands us; from this we are bound up by an express prohibition, Deut. 4:2.

5. Such as are indeed sincere, will be, in the first place, and principally, concerned about the diligence of their hand in the work of the Lord. What our hand finds to do, we are to do it with our might; and he is cursed with a curse that doth the work of the Lord slothfully. Much, therefore, it is upon the soul to evite, and how he may evite [ avoid ] that curse,Jer. 48:10, ‘Cursed be he that doth the work of the Lord deceitfully,’ or negligently, as the word is rendered in the margin of some of our Bibles.

6. To add no more, they will be much concerned about their acceptance, and their pleasing him who hath called them to his service. If God accept, then all is well with them; and if he reject, then nothing can compensate the loss they have by his hiding; and therefore they lay aside all entanglements, that they may please him who hath chosen them to be his soldiers and servants, 2 Tim. 2:4.

Thus have we performed what we promised in the first place, and have showed you what it is in their own service of God, or in their personal religion, that gets the first and chief room in the care and concern of the Lord’s people; and it is the reality of their engagement, the soundness of their heart, the singleness of their eye, the diligence of their hand, the safety of their rule, and, finally, their acceptance in it. Before they look to other things, they first look to this, and this is first in their thoughts and concern. We are now,

Secondly, To show the rise of this concern, and to tell you why such as have any sincere regard unto the Lord, or his service, make their own religion their first and main concern.

Now, of this we may take the following reasons:

1. They will do it, because the command of God has a first and principal respect unto our own religion, personal religion. The commands are directed to particular persons: ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me; thou shalt not make any graven image; remember thou the Sabbath day.’ And not only so, but their first look is to what concerns these particular persons immediately: it first binds thee as to thine own practice, and then calls thee to regard it with respect to others: ‘Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images;’ and first thou art to ‘Remember the Sabbath,’ and then to look that thy servant and stranger do so. We must begin at home, cast out the beam out of our own eye, before we look to the mote in our neighbour’s.

2. Such as are sincere will look first and mainly to their own religion, because it is doubly important; important in itself, and important, because without it we are not in a capacity to serve the Lord, either in our families or in the public. If the tree be not made good, none of the fruit can be good. If we be not really the Lord’s servants, if our hearts be not sound, our eye single, and our hand diligent in our own personal and private work, walk, and way, it is utterly impossible we should be so in the more public duties of religion.

3. They will be, and are, first and principally concerned about their own religion, because a due concern about our own religion is, if not the spring, yet one of the principal inducements unto, and effectual means for engaging with vigour and diligence, in the other more public duties of religion; yea, so necessary is the connection betwixt diligence in this and in the other, that public religion rises and falls, ebbs and flows, abates and increases, according as our personal religion rises or falls. When saints are in a good case, Zion will be much upon their hearts.

4. The truly sincere will make their own religion their first and main concern, because it lies most within their own reach. We cannot get our families, congregations, and far less churches, as we would have them; but what we may through grace reach, that we are obliged not to want. Though Joshua cannot get all Israel engaged in the service of the Lord, yet himself he may; and therefore, what his hand finds to do, what he may be able, through grace, to go through, is what he is engaged to do, and to do it with his might, Eccl. 9:10.

5. Sincere souls will make their own religion their first concern, because upon their success in this, they have the greatest venture. David, though his house be not so with God, if he himself be right, may have peace. Ministers, who have been faithful, may through grace have peace, though Israel be not gathered. But there is an indispensable necessity that we ourselves be personally religious; ‘Without holiness no man shall see the Lord,’ Heb.12:14.

6. I may add, sincere souls will begin with, and lay out their main concern about personal religion, because the footsteps of the flock lead this way. And we are bid, when in search after the Lord, go our ways out by the footsteps of the flock: now, we may see others who have gone before, and who through faith and patience have inherited the promises, taking this way. So we find Joshua doth, so we find David resolved to do, Psa. 101:2, where first he resolves upon a perfect heart, and then a perfect way, and then to go to what was more public. And this much for the doctrinal part.

We come now to make some application.

Use 1. Of Information. Is it so, that such as have any sincere regard to the service of the Lord, begin at their own religion?


1. We may conclude it a dangerous perverting of the order enjoined by the Lord, and followed by his people, to begin with a concern about the public. Some there are, and not a few there have been, who have lived either profanely, or at best in an estrangement from the power of religion, who all of a sudden, either from openly profane, careless Gallios, or dead and lazy formalists, turn mighty zealots, and, Jehu-like, outrun others in a mighty concern for the public, taxing all that is amiss severely: but none knew how they came by it, they were never exercised about their own souls. This is a perverse method; and Satan is here, though clothed as an angel of light. And this is exceedingly dangerous,

1st. To the person himself; because, (1.) It mightily strengthens him in a proud and vain conceit of himself, while he sees not what is at home, but only sees himself abroad, where he runs before others; and surely growth in pride is growth in all sin. God gives grace to the humble; and if so, sure I am, the proud advance in gracelessness, and sin gathers strength. Again, (2.) It is dangerous to the persons, because this runs them commonly to such heights, that they can neither go forward, nor stand the ground they come to; and therefore they must fall, and some of them fall into utter ruin, make shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience, and are lost for ever.

2nd. It is dangerous to the cause they espouse: for, (1.) They take wrong means; and the more we tamper with improper means, still the worse, and the further we are from our end. (2.) Their end is not right laid, their views not single; and this, with the wrong steps they take in the way, is found really to do religion more injury than ever their forwardness did it service.

3rd. It is dangerous to those who embark with them in the same work: For, (1.) It sets them off from the true way of reaching the most excellent aims. And, (2.) It lays them open to a hazard of apostasy, and failing, when their leaders fall. Beware, therefore, of perverting the Lord’s order.

2. We may draw this conclusion from the doctrine, that all concern about the public, that takes us off from a concern about our own souls, in the first and principal place, is dangerous, and to be suspected. It is dangerous to spend all our times, and talk, and thoughts, about others, while we are careless about ourselves.

3. It is a dangerous and terrible issue of exercise about our own souls, to lose it quite, before any real out-gate be got in the Lord’s ordinary way, in a great deal, a flood of concern about the public; and this is the issue of some exercises at this time. Some are for a while somewhat concerned about their own souls; but all of a sudden this wears off, we cannot tell how, and presently there is nothing but zeal about the public. We are obliged to speak of this upon a double account: 1st. To prevent the offence, and guard against the evil, that the falls of such persons may do, and give to such as are less established in the Lord’s way; and, 2nd. To guard people against a dangerous mistake, which is really dangerous, because it is a mistake, and a mistake in a matter of very high concernment, and most of all, because it is such a mistake so well masked with a white veil, that it is hard to discern it.

4. We may draw this conclusion, that such of you as were never concerned about your own religion, and that to some purpose, whatever ye think of yourselves, or whatever others may think of you, ye never struck a fair stroke about the public: if ye have done anything there, ye have begun at the wrong end, and ye have no reason to expect acceptance at the Lord’s hand.

Use 2. Is for trial. Is it so, that such who have any sincere regard to religion, to God, or his honour and service, do make their own religion their first and great concern?

Then surely we are all concerned to try whether we do make our own religion our main concern. If we do not, then surely we are naught; and therefore it is of the highest importance to us, to be satisfied as to this, and to be distinct in our own thoughts about it. Now, that we may some way help you here, we shall enter upon a search for this concern, that we may know whether really we have been under any concern about our own religion, yea, or not. Now, past all peradventure, if we be indeed concerned about our religion, this will be found in our thoughts, in our affections, in our words, and in our actions; and therefore in all these we shall search for it.

1. We say, if ye be concerned about your own religion, then surely this concern will appear in your thoughts about it. And we shall therefore put a few serious questions to you, with respect unto your own thoughts.

1st. Have ye any thoughts about what concerns your own religion? Some of you, I fear, dare scarce say, that ever ye think about God or his service, save only when ye are in the church, hearing the minister speak about such things; nay, I fear, that not a few of you do scarce even then think about your own religion. Do not many of you allow your thoughts to rove, ye know not where? Or if ye listen to what is said, ye apply nothing of it; or if ye do, it is only to others. Is it not thus with many of you? Well, I assure you, ye have no religion, nor have ye any concern about religion; the wicked atheist’s character is yours, ‘God is not in all his thoughts,’ Psa. 10:4. If ye think not of religion, of your own religion, not only when attending ordinances, but also at other times, ye have no concern about it.

2nd. Though your thoughts be some way and sometimes employed about this, yet ye may have no such concern as that which we inquire after; and therefore we pose you in the next place, do your thoughts run naturally, and as it were of their own accord, in this channel? Some people think about their souls, and the concerns of their own salvation, but never except when they are compelled to it; but surely this speaks them not suitably concerned about it. What a man is concerned about, his mind runs to it, as it were, without bidding. Ye are many of you concerned about the things of the world; well, if ye have a bargain of any moment which ye are concerned about, ye will not need to force your thoughts toward that; nay, Matt. 6:21, ‘Where the treasure is there the heart will be,’ and therefore the thoughts will run that way; nay, they will run over the belly of all impediments. Is it so about your religion? Do your thoughts still run thither? If it be not so, then surely ye have no concern about your own religion. He that never thinks about his own religion, is never poring in his thoughts (except when driven to it) to know how matters are with him, whether he be a servant of God or not. I fear not to say, he is none, and is not concerned to be one.

3rd. Do your thoughts dwell upon this? Is the reality of your own engagement in the Lord’s service, the soundness of your heart, singleness of the eye, &c. the subjects to which not only your minds run naturally, as it were, and of its own accord, but also that which your thoughts fix on? As our minds do readily run to the thoughts of that whereabout we are concerned, so they are strongly inclined to fix there, and the mind loves to exercise its thoughts about that, Isa. 26:3. The mind or thought is stayed upon God. The man that trusts in the Lord, will desire to have his thoughts thus stayed. Is it so with you? If it be not so in some measure, then truly you have reason to think that ye have never been in earnest concerned about your own religion.

Objection. But here may some poor exercised soul say, Now indeed, ye have found me; for I could never all my days get my thoughts fixed upon anything that is good: still my mind gets away, and is carried off sometimes after one vanity, and sometimes after another.

To such I have a few things to offer for their relief. (1.) Is this straying of thy mind thy burden and grief? If it be, then surely it speaks thy soul desirous of fixing here. Again, (2.) Dost thou strive to keep thy thoughts fixed? Dost thou endeavour to fix them, and cry to God to fix them? If so, then undoubtedly thy mind is carried away violently by some enemy, and that is not thine own deed. Thy soul is desirous to fix, but something forces it off; either the power of thy domestic enemy, that enemy that is in thine own bosom, I mean sin, or of some foreign enemy, Satan or the world, shakes you; and this makes nothing against you. Therefore I say, (3.) Do ye, as oft as your mind is away, bring it back again, and that with grief and sorrow for its departing? If so, then surely ye have no reason to doubt your concern upon this account. Having thus obviated this exception, we proceed in our search; and,

4th. We say, Do ye think frequently upon this subject? They who are deeply concerned about anything, their thoughts will be frequently employed about it; so, if thou be concerned about thine own religion, many a thought it will cost thee. They will ever and anon look to the singleness of their own eye, the diligence of their hand, and the soundness of their heart; if they cannot get long dwelt, yet they will oft come to it, who are in good earnest in the matter. The religious man ‘meditates day and night in God’s law,’ Psa. 1:2. He is ever thinking about the Lord’s testimonies, and how far he is framed into a suitableness to them, or how far it is otherwise with him. Now, if it be not thus with you, truly ye have never been brought under any concern about religion to any purpose.

5th. Are your thoughts about your religion distinct? Some there are, who have sometimes thought about their souls, but they cannot tell well what they mean by them, they are so confused: they think and think on, and after, maybe, twenty years’ thinking, they are as far from any distinctness as before; but still they go on. Now and then they will have some thoughts, issuing in some work upon the affections, full as uncertain and indistinct: Is it thus with you? But that ye may know yet more clearly what ye mean by this question, I shall break it into a few other questions. And,

(1.) I say, can ye tell what that is in your religion that takes up your minds and thoughts? Many of you have, it may be, some thoughts, but ye cannot tell about what they are employed. Is it about singleness of your eye, about the sincerity of your heart? Or, can ye tell whereabouts it is that ye employ your thoughts? If not, truly your concern signifies but very little, it will not stand you in much stead. Again,

(2.) Have ye any distinct end in your thinking about religion? What design ye by thinking about it? Is it only to think, without thinking to any purpose? Some people both think and speak about religion, but I fear they are not aiming really at any distinct end; see Psa. 27:4 ; and the concern of such is but little worth. Ye think about your religion; well, what do ye expect or propose to have by your thinking about it? Would ye know your case, or what way to come out of it? What is the remedy of it? Or how to apply it? Aim ye at such ends? If not, then truly all your thoughts are to little purpose. Once more,

(3.) Get ye any distinct issue of your thoughts? Are ye like the door upon the hinges? Ye think, and ye never can tell what ye have got, or what ye have done, by all your thoughts. If this be all, then truly I cannot well tell what to think of your thoughts; I think, I may say, ye can have but little comfort of them.

6th. What sort of thoughts have ye? People may have thoughts enough, and even about religion, and, it may be, such as do some way respect their own religion, and yet they are not much concerned about it, while their minds are only busied in applauding and flattering thoughts of their own case: but now, is it otherwise with you? Do you apply yourselves to searching and trying thoughts? Have ye many jealousies and suspicions of yourselves? Do ye often make diligent search into your own case? Have ye many doubts and questionings? If your thoughts be not in some measure exercised this way, it is a sad evidence that ye are not, nor have ever been, under any true concern about your own religion: for such thoughts have the saints had, who have been in earnest in the matter; of whom we have a large account in scripture history, particularly, Psa. 139:23, 24.

2. We shall search for this concern about our own religion, in the affections. Wherever we are concerned, all our affections will be employed about that, set upon it, or set against what is opposite to it.


1st. We pose you on it: Are your affections employed about your own religion? Do ye grieve that things are wrong with yourselves? Do ye fear that they may be so? Do ye hate what is prejudicial to your own religion? Do your souls cleave to anything that may any way contribute to the bettering things with you? Say, my friends, is it thus with you? Or is it not? I fear, I fear, that many of you who can sorrow and lament bitterly, if any worldly thing frame with, or fall out to you otherwise than as you would wish, yet never all your life long knew what it was to be grieved indeed for sin, or that matters were not right with respect unto your spiritual ease. Ye have no fears, no joys, no griefs, no zeal, nor any affections about these things. Surely then religion, your own religion, is not the one thing with you, your main thing; it is not: Nay, surely you have no concern about it: ‘Where the treasure is,’ or any part of it, ‘there will the heart be,’ Matt. 6:21.

2nd. Are your affections frequently employed about your own religion? Have ye frequent fears, griefs, joys, and other affections from this spring? Man, woman, if thou art concerned about thine own religion, to have it right, thou wilt be oft looking to it; and every look will set thy affections to work one way or other. If thou findest thyself wrong, the soul will stretch its affections, like its wings, to fly out of that case; and if otherwise, it will, if I may so say, clasp them about what it has, to hold it fast. So David, when he thought upon his ways, and found them wrong, ‘made haste and delayed not to turn his feet to God’s testimonies,’ Psa. 119:59. And the spouse,Song. 3:4, when she found the Lord in her embraces, ‘she held him, and would not let him go.’ He whose affections are not frequently employed about his own soul’s case, surely he was never concerned about it as he ought.

3rd. Whereabouts is the edge of thy affections, the favour and zeal of them employed? If this be not about thine own soul, thine own religion, truly thou art not concerned. Where there is anything of true heat and warmth, ye know that which is nearest will meet with most of it, and partake most of it. If thou hast any affections about religion at all, then the heat of them, the fervour of them, will be employed about thine own religion; if there be a fire of zeal against sin, it will consume the beam in thine own eye, before it reach to the mote in thy neighbour’s, Matt. 7:3. If it be not thus with thee, thy affections are not about thine own religion.

4th. Hast thou any rest, whilst either thou seest ground to think thyself wrong, or art in uncertainty about thine own religion? Canst thou live quietly and easily while not settled as to the everlasting concerns of thy soul? If thou canst, thy affections are not set on, nor art thou truly concerned about, those which do belong unto thy peace. I know not what to say of some people who have no more assurance of salvation than of damnation, and yet can rest secure, and be quiet and very well content in that case: I can assure such, that they were never aright concerned about their own religion. Some doubt, and they never seek to be satisfied: Maybe I may be saved, sayest thou; maybe thou mayest be damned, say I. What ground hast thou to hope that thou shalt be saved? If ye will speak what is true, ye will say, Truly I have none. But I have somewhat to say, as a ground of my conjecture: (1.) Thou deservest damnation. (2.) Thou who canst sit still quietly in that case, thou wast never concerned to be saved; and I never knew one get to heaven who laid not salvation to heart, Ezek. 36:37.

5th. Thou hast, it may be, some affections about thine own religion; but when is it that they are moved? And what gives rise to them? Hast thou never these affections but when thou hearest a preaching, or when thou meet with some awakening providence? Truly, if thou never hast any concern about religion, save when thou hast some external cause exciting thee, then thy concern about religion is of no great value. True concern about religion will turn the soul’s eye inward, to commune with itself, and take counsel in our own heart, how to get what is amiss amended; and this will set thy affections a-work; ‘How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?’ Psa. 13:2. But, to go on,

3. Having searched the mind and affections, we come now to inquire for this concern in your words: and if there be anything indeed of a real concern upon the soul about religion, herein it will appear; for, ‘out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,’ Matt. 12:34. Now, that we may bring this matter to some issue, I shall put a few questions to you in reference to your words or discourse.


1st. I pose you on this: Do ye ever keep up any converse, any discourse with yourselves? And if ye do, whereabouts is it? Do ye never commune with your own hearts? If not, then surely ye do but little regard your own interest. He that never converses with his own heart, is not under any concern about the state of his own soul, and will undoubtedly be found among those who, while they are busy about many things, do yet neglect the one thing necessary. The Lord commands it, and our souls case requires it, that we commune with our own hearts, Psa. 4:4, and77:6.

2nd. What discourse have ye with the Lord? Have ye any converse, in prayer, in meditation, or ejaculation? If ye have none, then surely never were ye under any concern about his service; and if ye have any converse with him, if ye speak to the Lord, and this be not the thing ye have been speaking to the Lord about, it speaks you not under any concern: for we find saints have been ever most concerned about this; and, in the account we have of the saint’s exercise, we see clearly the most of their words employed about this.

3rd. What converse, what discourse have ye, when ye meet with the Lord’s people? Is it what may be some way subservient to this glorious end? Are your words employed in telling what God has done for your soul, or in learning what he has done for others? ‘Come here, all that fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul,’ Psa. 66:16.

4th. What sort of discourse like ye best to keep up? Is it about this great concern? Or is it about anything else? Look to it, that converse that ye like best, is like to speak what your soul is under the greatest concern for: if it be converse about the world, ye are lovers of this world; if it be about the faults of others, and the public, pride predominates; if it be mainly about your own souls, it speaks somewhat of concern about them. But now, in the

4. Fourth and last place, we shall look to your deeds, that we may see what it is that lieth nearest your hearts, and whether ye be under any due concern for religion, and your own religion.

And here,

1st. I would ask you: What work put ye your hands to? Is it the work of your salvation? We are bid ‘work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,’ Phil. 2:12. Now, is this the work ye employ yourselves about? Or, are ye busy about other works, while this is neglected? I fear, with most this is but little heeded: aye, but if ye were under a true concern about your own religion, then, (1.) There would be much time employed about that which directly tends to, and, one way or other, has somewhat of an immediate influence upon your salvation. And, (2.) All your works would be done in a subservience to this end. Now, is it so with you, or not? Do ye pray hard, and wrestle earnestly with the Lord about your soul’s state? Are ye much in believing, much in mortifying sin, holding under the body of sin? Is this the work ye are busied about? Some of you, we fear, never thought about this work; and as for you, it is no hard matter to tell what your case is, ye are yet strangers to any real concern about religion.

2nd. What work are ye most diligent about? What is it that ye apply your might to? Do ye ‘give all diligence to make your calling and election sure?’ 2 Pet. 1:10 ; or, are there not among you who in any other business will work hard, toil sore about it, but if once ye be put to work about this matter of the highest importance, ye presently fall dead and lifeless, to such a degree, that all is presently out of case with you: ye are weary, before well begun, of any work that has any near relation to your own salvation. If this be your case, then ye are under no real concern about your religion.

3rd. What work are ye most concerned to have carried forward, and brought to some comfortable period? Can ye not be well enough pleased, if your other business frame well with you, and go right in your hand, though the work of your salvation lie behind? Or dare ye say, that no attainment in salvation-work is able to satisfy you, till you reach the recompense of reward? Do ye indeed forget the things that are behind, and press forward unto this? Can nothing short of assurance as to your calling and election please you? If so, it bodes well; and if otherwise, it makes a sad discovery of want of a suitable regard to that which ye indeed ought to be mainly concerned about. Surely he that can rest satisfied, though salvation-work be far behind, provided other things go well, is not under an equal concern for salvation and for these things; the other things are certainly preferred by him.

Now, if ye have been using your judgments in any measure, ye may know whether ye be, or have been, under any real concern about your own salvation, or whether ye have made your own religion your first and great concern: and therefore we shall proceed to speak something in a more particular way, to the several sorts of persons of which this assembly may consist.

And here we shall speak,

Firstly, To those who are under no real concern, whether about their own religion, or that of others.

Secondly, To those whose religion lies much, or mainly, in a concern about others, and about the public.

Thirdly, To those who are indeed under a deep and special concern about their own religion; the public they would fain have right; but their exercise is, first, to be sure that they themselves are so, and then they contribute their share to put matters otherwise right.

Fourthly, We shall apply this truth to all, in some exhortations suitable to the scope of the truth insisted on.

Now, of each of these we shall speak very shortly. And,

Firstly , We are to begin with those who are under no concern about religion, and to such we shall speak some things, 1. For conviction. 2. Expostulation. And, 3. Terror.

And to follow this order,

1. We shall speak some things for your conviction; though this be the case of most of you, yet we fear few of you will take with it; And therefore, notwithstanding all that has been already said for your conviction, we shall yet offer two or three words more. And,

1st. We say, men and women, did religion ever take up your hearts and heads? Was it ever really your exercise, to know whether ye were right or wrong? Did ye ever put it to the trial, whether ye were Satan’s slaves, the devil’s vassals, or the servants of the Lord? If not, to this very day ye are Satan’s servants, and never had any concern about religion.

2nd. Did you ever lay down this conclusion, I am lost, undone, miserable, wretched, blind, and naked; I want faith, I want grace, I want God, I want Christ, I have destroyed myself? If not, then ye never have been under any concern of a right sort.

3rd. Did ye ever resolve upon it, that go the world as it will, and come what will, I have no concern like my soul; and therefore I shall never be at rest, or take ease, or be quiet, until I get matters in some measure right betwixt the Lord and me? If ye have not been brought under some such resolutions as this, from a conviction that all is of no avail to you, if ye lose your soul; then surely to this very day, ye are perfect Gallios in God’s matters, and your own most precious interests.

4th. Can anything give thee content, while thou livest altogether at peradventures about salvation, about Christ? Then yet hast thou reason to fear, that thou hast never been concerned about that which thou canst be pleased without, I mean salvation, and an interest in Christ.

2. Having offered some things by way of conviction, we shall now a little expostulate with you. And,

1st. Can ye be, were ye ever concerned about anything? Did ye ever think seriously, speak seriously, or act seriously about anything? If not, thou art certainly a fool, a madman. If thou hast, then,

2nd. Man or woman, is there anything equally worthy of thy concern, as the salvation of thy soul? What art thou profited if thou gain a world, and lose this? And mayest not thou be happy if thou save this, though thou lose a world?

3rd. Thinkest thou, then, to save this without concern? Think it not: for not only must thou strive, must thou run, but every running, and every striving, will not do the business; and therefore thou must so strive, and so run, that ye may obtain.

4th. Is it not thy wisdom to prevent that, which, if once it come, cannot be remedied, I mean the loss of thy soul? Know ‘the soul’s redemption is precious, and ceases for ever,’ Psa. 49:8.

5th. Canst thou, wilt thou, sit as unconcernedly, when God is sinking thee into a sea of brimstone, as now thou dost when he is threatening to do it? If not, bethink thyself in time, ere it be too late.

6th. Are ye not ashamed to be unconcerned about this, about which all others are so deeply concerned? And yet none of them have so great an interest in the matter as ye. The devil is concerned; he goes about seeking whom he may destroy. Will not ye be concerned about the preservation of that which he and all his instruments are so much concerned to destroy? Ministers are concerned; they preach, they pray, they sweat, they think, they toil, many a trembling heart have they for fear of your ruin. They spend their time and strength about your salvation, while many times they fear, that by this means their own salvation be neglected. And now, whether, I pray, have ye or they most concern in this matter? They may, if they be faithful, yea, they will go to heaven, whatever come of you; are ye then mad, so far to overlook your own great interest? God is concerned: can ye doubt of it, while he is held forth in the gospel, as bleeding, dying, weeping, sweating blood, and all to prevent your ruin? Can ye doubt of it, while he is heard inviting, calling, entreating, promising, offering, protesting, nay, and even swearing, his concern in the matter: ‘As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God,’ Ezek. 18:32 ; and33:11. And what need has God of any of you? ‘Can we be profitable to him, as he that is righteous is profitable unto himself?’ Consider this, and be ashamed, and horribly confounded, O careless unconcerned souls!

3. We now come to speak a word for terror to you: know then for certain,

1st. That soul which ye will not be concerned to save, ye shall lose: and will anything make up the loss? What will all the world profit you, while ye have lost a precious soul, without hope of recovery?

2nd. That damnation which we were not careful to prevent, shall be your portion; and who among you ‘can dwell with everlasting burnings? Who among you can dwell with devouring fires?’

3rd. These things which now ye are concerned about, and pursue with so much eagerness, shall be your everlasting tormentors; and what profit will ye have of these things, whereof then ye will be ashamed?

4th. When all this misery shall come upon you, there shall not be any concerned for you; when this shall come upon you, then who shall be sorrowful, or lament for you? God will laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear cometh. ‘The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying, Lo this is the man that made not God his strength, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness,’ Psa. 52:6, 7.

But we proceed,

Secondly , The next sort of persons to whom we promised to speak, are they who are indeed under some concern for religion, but their main concern seems to be about public matters, the carriage of others, and miscarriages of those who are in any public trust; and they relish converse about this most of all, and spend most of their time this way.

What we are to say to those, is not to dissuade any from a due regard to the public, but on design to obviate some dangerous extremes. Now to such we say,

1. Whatever any may account of you, ye have reason to suspect and be jealous of yourselves: we have showed, from the word of the Lord, that where there is anything of a sincere regard to the Lord’s service, it will show itself in a deep concern to have and keep matters right at home; and since your main concern lies another way, truly your religion, though your pretences be never so high, or the thoughts of ministers or others never so favourable, is deservedly suspicious, and you have reason to doubt it: and I will tell you some of the grounds whereon,

1st. I am sure your hearts are, as well as those of others, ‘deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,’ and would willingly deceive you.

2nd. I am no less sure, that while you are much abroad in observing others, and little at home in self-judging, self-searching, and self-condemning they have a special advantage for deceiving you, which they, no doubt, will not lose.

3rd. Your dislike or light esteem of those things which speak a spiritual healthy constitution, with your liking to those things that discover a vitiated spiritual palate and senses, gives me ground to fear you are not right. When people love not so well to hear the sweet and plain truths of the gospel, as continual reflections upon public failings, it discovers a spirit embittered and rankled, and not under due impressions of its own deep concern in the plain gospel truths: ‘As new born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby, if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious,’ 1 Pet. 2:2,3. When once people begin to grow weary of the preaching of Christ, and him crucified, and of hearing the way of salvation, the means of salvation, the marks of grace, and soul-exercise, the Lord’s work and way of translating souls out of darkness into his marvellous light, and of carrying on the work of salvation to a blessed period; when once, I say, this cannot be heard, and nothing is relished but debates, though about truths, and precious truths of God, I must say, their religion is, if not quite wanting, yet very low.

4th. I am much afraid of such, because pride is strong in them, and is encouraged in both its parts. It consists in low thoughts of others, and high thoughts of ourselves: Now both these parts of pride are strengthened; for, (1.) What way can be more effectual to sink others in our own esteem, than always to pry into, discourse of, and judge them for their faults, real or supposed? Again, (2.) What can raise us higher in our own conceit, than to look little into our own hearts, these filthy sinks of sin; to look at ourselves, when, like Jehu, we appear very far beyond others in zeal for the Lord, and to compare ourselves with others, when we have debased them as low as we can? Thus is pride fed; and where it grows strong, all grace will languish: ‘God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble,’ Jam. 4:6. Much more might be added, upon the most clear scripture evidences: but we go on.

2. We say to such: However specious like your services have been, you have reason to be jealous of them, and to fear the want of an ingredient that will spoil all, I mean singleness as to your aim. Many are deceived as to this matter; and ye have reason to be afraid. If the tree be naught, assuredly the fruit is so too; and what ground ye have to suspect the former we have hinted just now; fear therefore the latter. A squint look to a bye-end, will be a dead fly; it will make the finest ointment stink; and God knows there is ground to fear, that there may be some such bye-look. What we might offer for clearing of this must be passed by; for our design will not allow us to enlarge upon those particulars.

3. We say to you: Look to yourselves; for whenever trying times come, you will be meet tools for the devil to make use of, to ruin the church of God. The church has ever suffered more by false friends, and the mistakes of the really godly, especially when going to this extreme, than by open enemies; and I will tell you several grounds upon which I am apt to think, that ye will err and wander from the way, and that to your own wounding and to the wounding of the church.

1st. Your carriage casts you without the reach of God’s promise of guiding, in such times. It is the humble, and not the self-conceited Christian, that the Lord will guide: ‘The meek will he guide in judgment, the meek will he teach his way,’ Psa. 25:9.

2nd. You will be easily persuaded to neglect the means of guidance, I mean, an attendance upon Christ’s faithful ministers. This sort of people have many prejudices against ministers, and it is easy to drive them to the height of deserting their ministry, and then surely they are an easy prey to every seducer, and to every fancy. Christ’s direction to his spouse at noon, that is in times of adversity, and when it is hard to know who is right, who is wrong, is to keep close by faithful ministers. ‘If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherd’s tents,’ Song. 1:8.

3rd. In that time offences will abound: and if thou wilt break thy neck upon the faults, either of ministers or of Christians, thou wilt not want stumbling-blocks, and the devil will be sure to improve them all, to nurse you up in the good conceit thou hast entertained of thyself, and in undervaluing thoughts of others. Many more of the like sort we pass.

4. I shall leave you, with this one awful warning, who have any hankering toward this extreme: Beware lest, while ye expect to be rewarded of the Lord for your public zeal and concern, ye be damned for want of personal godliness. Read, consider, and tremble, at that awful beacon of the Lord’s holy jealousy in this sort: ‘Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew ye; depart from me, ye that work iniquity,’ Matt. 7:22,23. Here are men far forward in public appearances, and yet damned for want of personal godliness. For the Lord’s sake, remember, and fear that ye fall not into the like condemnation. Neglect not the public: but O begin at home, and employ your first and great care there; and when ye go abroad, be sure ye keep within your own sphere.


Thirdly , Leaving this sort of people, I come, in the next place, to speak a word to such as are indeed under a deep concern, and that first and mainly about their own souls, though they dare not forsake Zion; with Joshua, they would have all Israel choose the Lord: but whatever come of this, one thing they take care to be sure of, that they themselves are God’s servants.

Now, to such we have only a few words to say.

1. Sirs, what ye have, hold fast. Say against this order who will, we dare say it is God’s, and will be owned by him; and if ye hold on, I dare in God’s name say unto you that ye shall be helped, and honoured to stand by him, when others, whose pretences are high, will turn their back on him: ye shall bring forth your fruit in its season, as the tree planted by the rivers of water, Psa. 1:3.

2. I say to you: Beware of such as would divert you from this course; hold at a distance from such whose conversation has any tendency to be get prejudices against a gospel ministry and ordinances. Assuredly, their steps take hold of death, and lead to it, pretend what they will; God never ordained his babes to live without milk, and some to feed them also. If once ye be prevailed with to disgust your food, all will quickly grow wrong with you: if you want it a while, hunger will go off, and you will be filled with wind, and will not be aware till ye just die. If ye have got any good of ministers and ordinances, I say to you, hold by them, and beware of anything that may deprive you of the advantage of them, or lessen your benefit by them. Deserting ordinances will entirely deprive you of the advantage of them, and prejudices nourished against them will make your advantage less.

3. Beware of spending your time, and of such as would draw you to spend your time, in love-killing and prejudice-hatching debates: ‘Only by pride cometh contention, but with the well advised is wisdom,’Prov. 13:10.

4. For the Lord’s sake, make earnest of growing in religion. What ye have happily begun, take no rest till it come to a blessed issue: ‘Press forward toward the prize of the high calling of God in Christ. Forget the things that are behind, and press forward. Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure. Work out the work of your salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who worketh in you to will and to do of his good pleasure.’ And ye shall undoubtedly reap in due time, if ye faint not.

I now proceed,

Fourthly , To shut up the whole in a few words of exhortation to all.

We had some thoughts of branching this exhortation out in several parts; and we indeed justly might do so; but designing to conclude this second doctrine presently, we shall wrap all up in one.

Is it so, that such as have any real regard unto the honour of the Lord, do make their own religion their first and great concern? Then, my friends, let me, in the fear of the Lord, beseech, entreat, and obtest [adjure] you, to be concerned about your own religion: make this sure by any means; serve ye the Lord, take others what course they will; and even begin at this; make this your first and great care. For,

1. This is the foundation of all; and as the foundation is right or wrong, so it will fare with the whole superstructure. This is the root, and as it is good or evil, so will the fruit be; this is the spring, and if anything be amiss here, all the streams will partake in the evil and hurt; O therefore by any means make all right here.

2. Make this your first and great concern, for it will be herein, and with respect to this mainly, that ye will be tried; all the trials that the Lord brings on his people, do still try this, how matters are here, whether the foundation be right laid, and how far the work is carried on.

3. Death and judgment will be comfortable or bitter, as it is right or wrong with you in this respect. Your salvation and damnation depend upon it: ‘He that believeth not shall be damned; he that believeth shall be saved.’ He that for his own part betakes not himself to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation in the gospel method, shall assuredly be damned, come of others what will.

4. Make this your first and great care; for truly the defect of this is the spring and true source of that lamentable defect of family religion, and of a due concern for the public, which is matter of deep concern to all that fear the Lord this day. What! Is it any wonder that the man that takes no care of his own soul, be unconcerned about the souls of others? How can he that is posting to the pit himself, take care of others, and endeavour to preserve them from running to their own ruin? Never will any reasonable man believe, that he who goes on in sin himself, will, in his station, be really zealous for repressing it in others. Unless we prevail with you to be concerned about your own souls, we despair of getting you any way serious in reforming your families.

5. Make this your first and great care; for this will help you to employ your zeal the right way, in reforming others; it will make you first concerned for their souls, and have them built upon a sure foundation. It is the folly of some professors to be always for debating, when they come into conversation with persons that they suppose, and it may not be without ground, are strangers, nay, and enemies to religion; and that not so much to bring them to acquaintance with the power of religion, but to be of their judgment, in some points of controversy that are tossed in the day we live in, which I do confess are of very great moment. But here they mistake; for they should first endeavour to bring the man under a real concern about his soul; and then you have brought him one step towards the embracement of any principle or practice that is according to godliness: and if ye gain not this point with a graceless man, a man that is not exercised to godliness, it is of no great consequence what his profession be, Papist, Prelatist, Presbyterian, or anything else; for he will be true to no profession: it is not a real principle that holds him; and he is ready to be, upon any temptation, a scandal to that way which he cleaves to. O make your own religion your first and great care, and this will learn you where to begin with others.

6. O make personal religion your first and great concern; for alas! Here it is that the main defect is among you. We have oft complained, and we have daily new reason to complain of you, that many at least among you are going in the broad and most patent roads to the pit, some in that of ignorance of God, others in that of drunkenness, some in that of abominable oaths, and swinish lusts, and others in that of devilish revenge and contentions, always leading down to death and destruction, and that openly. I know most have long since laid down a conclusion, that they shall have peace, though they walk in the way of their own hearts, adding drunkenness to thirst, one sin to another. But assuredly ye are deceived: ‘Be not deceived: thus saith the Lord, Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, not effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God,’ 1 Cor. 6:9,10. And the same shall be the fate of cursers and swearers: ‘Then said he to me, This is the curse that goeth forth over the face of the whole earth; for every one that stealeth shall be cut off as on this side, according to it, and every one that sweareth shall be cut off as on that side, according to it. I will bring it forth, saith the Lord of hosts, and it shall enter into the house of the thief, and into the house of him that sweareth falsely by my name. And it shall remain in the midst of his house, and shall consume it, with the timber thereof, and the stones thereof,’ Zech. 5:3,4. Now, are there not such among you? Are there not unclean persons, swearers, drunkards, and the like, among you? And ye who are such, have not ye need to be concerned to be religious? Sure ye have none as yet.

And now, to bring this home to you, let me pose you upon three things:

1st. Do ye believe that the words ye have heard are the words of God? If not, then begone, you have nothing to do here. If ye do, then,

2nd. Do ye hope to get to heaven, when God has said, ye shall never get there? If ye do, ye are mad; and if ye do not, ye are mad; if ye hope to get to heaven in spite of God, assuredly ye are mad; and if ye believe there is a heaven, and yet live in that which ye know will debar you thence, ye are mad indeed.

3rd. If God, by a gospel dispensation, prevail not so far with you, as to make you leave the open road to hell, is he like to prevail with you, to bring you over to a compliance with the gospel call entirely? No, no, surely no. My friends, look in time, be concerned in time: for, as the Lord liveth, ye are in imminent danger, danger greater than ye are well aware of; and whether ye will hear, or whether ye will forbear, know, that if ye die, your blood is on your own heads; ye have got warning. Take warning, and make personal religion indeed your first and great concern.

7. O make your own religion your first and great care; for here many are deceived; many have a name to live, who are dead, and appear to be something, who yet, when weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, will be found wanting, and have a Tekel written upon them.

8. To add no more, consider seriously how sad a deceit in this matter is. O terrible deceit, to mistake heaven, and instead of it slip into hell! To mistake the broad road, and think it the narrow! How terribly will the poor deluded souls, that swell with the hopes of heaven and glory, look, when, instead of falling into the rivers of pleasures, they shall sink like lead in the mighty waters of God’s holy, just, and terrible indignation against sin! As ye would not meet with this terrible disappointment, look to yourselves; make sure your own religion; lay the foundation well, and then ye may have peace, and the Lord will establish it.

Now, for your direction, I shall only offer two or three short words:

1. Bring yourselves to the light, to the standard of God’s word, and try yourselves by that which is the true test, the balance of the sanctuary, the counsel of the Lord, which shall stand.

2. Whatever judgment the world passes on you, though it read your name amongst the black roll of those who are doomed to the bottomless pit, hear it, and believe it, for assuredly the scripture cannot be broken.

3. Cry to the Lord, that he may give his Spirit to open your eyes, to know how matters are with you.

4. When God, by his word and Spirit, has wounded you, wait upon him for cure, in the same way; for it is thence also you must have your acquaintance with the blessed Physician, Jesus Christ, in whom alone your help is.

[To be continued — Part 4.]