This is a website of the James Begg Society.

The Christian’s Duty,

with respect to
Personal and Family Religion
~ Part 2 of 4 ~
by Thomas Halyburton

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.’  — Joshua 24:15.

I. We shall now begin with the first of them [ i.e., these doctrines], ‘That such as engage in the service of the Lord, ought to serve him resolutely, deliberately, and willingly.’

T hat we ought to serve the Lord, innumerable scripture precepts require, and even the light of nature testify.

And that we should do it deliberately and resolutely, our Lord, in the parable of the foolish builder, who counts not the cost, Luke 14:28, plainly enough teacheth.

Nor is it less plain, that willingness is required in order to acceptance, since it deserves not the name of service that is constrained. Where the will is wanting, nothing can be accepted: and where this is, many imperfections will not hinder acceptance, 2 Cor. 8:12, ‘For if there be a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.’

But that we may further clear this truth, we shall,

Firstly, Show what it is to serve the Lord.

Secondly, Show what it is to do it deliberately, resolutely, and willingly.

Thirdly, We shall inquire, why we are obliged to serve the Lord willingly, deliberately, and resolutely.

Fourthly, In answer to an objection that may be moved from the doctrine of faith in Christ, as we have formerly preached it, we shall endeavour to show, what place there is for such service in the second covenant, and what necessity of it even to believers.

Firstly, We are to begin with the first of these: and, that we may open unto you this head, we shall comprise that account we are to offer of the Lord’s service in a few remarks.

And, 

1. Though, by the service of God, the scripture means many things, and uses the expression in several senses, yet there are three things principally and mainly called the service of God in the word:

1st. There is the solemn service of God in the duties of his worship; so we may understand our Lord’s words to the tempter, Matt. 4:10, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.’ 2nd. There is the ordinary service of God in the course of our walk with him: Of this it is the apostle speaks, Heb. 12:28, ‘Let us have grace to serve the Lord with reverence and godly fear.’ And 3rd. There is the extraordinary service of God, in some notable duties, called for of some persons, in some special seasons; and from their compliance with those duties, they are called the servants of the Lord: and thus Moses, Rev. 15:3, is called the servant of God, in a way of eminency. They who got the victory, are said to ‘sing the song of Moses, the servant of the Lord, and the song of the Lamb.’ All these three significations are here intended, at least none of them can be secluded. We must serve the Lord in the duties of his worship, in the whole course of our walk, endeavouring to do always the things that please him; and when called to extraordinary duties, we must not decline them. 

2. There are three things requisite to fit a man to serve the Lord, or to do anything that can justly challenge that name.

Men are not naturally fit for the Lord’s service; and they far mistake it, who think that they may, just when they please, put their hand to the Lord’s work, and do it right. Nay, before ever we can do anything that God will own as service, we must,

1st. Give up with our old masters. We are all by nature the servants of Satan and sin; ‘For their servants we are to whom we obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness,’ Rom. 6:16. And no less sure it is, that we all naturally serve and obey divers lusts: but now we must renounce these, before we serve the Lord: for we are assured, that there is no serving two masters. The Lord will not halve it with sin, Matt. 6:24, ‘No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other; ye cannot serve God and mammon.’ And, I assure you, this is no easy matter to get a sinner and his old master fairly parted; no less than the mighty power of God can do it. Sometimes there may be outcasts, but matters are quickly made up betwixt them, and all agreed again, until God himself effectually persuade to a separation.

2nd. There must be a fair engaging to Christ as our Master. We must accept of him for our Lord. A master will not allow one to come in, and put to his hand to his service, unless he first covenant and engage to own him for his lord; and this is no easy matter, to bring a sinner, who is naturally an enemy, to come this length. To call Christ Lord, is something more than to resolve, under a conviction, to live better, and serve the Lord: nay, it is somewhat more than, under some work on the affections, to go to a corner, and make or write a personal covenant. I fear, personal covenanting, however good and justifiable in itself, yet is far mistaken, and much abused by some; while it is made a ground of hope by some, who never understood what conversion meant, never were humbled, and taken off their own bottom, and engaged to the Lord by the power of his grace. If any man think this an easy matter, to call Christ Lord, he has never yet done it to purpose. I am sure, the great apostle thought it no easy matter, but a thing so far above the line of nature, that the work of the Holy Ghost is required to bring us to it, 1 Cor. 12:3, ‘Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God, calleth Jesus accursed; and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.’

3rd. Before any can serve God, he must have a heart suited to the word. The carnal man is not subject to the law of God, but opposite to every duty. Before the fruit be good, the tree must be good. It is one of the many mad attempts that a deceitful heart, and deceitful devil, put people upon, under convictions, to serve the Lord in newness of life with old hearts: but they who have learned of Christ, Matt. 7:17, that the tree must first be made good before the fruit can be so, will know other things. First we must be created in Christ, and then we may walk in good works, Eph. 2:10. Now, not one piece of service that is acceptable can any perform, without these three prerequisites. 

3. That ye may understand what it is to serve the Lord, we shall offer you this remark, that, before any piece of work performed by us can justly challenge this honourable name of service done to the Lord, it must have these six qualifications:

1st. It must be a thing commanded, otherwise it is serving our own fancy, and not the Lord. The master’s precept is the measure of the servant’s obedience. We never find the Lord approving any for doing what he did not command them; nay, we find him, even when he has forbid things, rather challenging the doers, because they did what he commanded not, than because they did what he forbade, Jer. 7:31, ‘They have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart.’ And to the same purpose is Jer. 19:5. ‘Who hath required this at your hand?’ will one day be the entertainment of such services as are done without a command. And there is one command that puts them all to the door, Deut. 12:32, ‘What thing soever I command you, observe to do it; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.’

2nd. There must be a regard had to the authority of the command in the doing. If men shall, upon sinistrous [ sinister ] motives, as very oft they may, do the things that are commanded, God will not reckon this for service done to him: men who cannot pry into the hearts of the doers, may; but such deceits take not with God. It is not obedience, that is not done because commanded. It is frequently repeated in the erection of the tabernacle, that everything was done ‘as the Lord commanded Moses,’ Exod. 16:34, and 24:4, &c., and that to intimate, that Moses in every step had his eye upon the command; and so should we, in everything, eye the command.

3rd. Every duty, that it may be service to God,must be done in the name of Christ, God will accept of no service but what is offered on this altar, Col. 3:17, ‘And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God, and the Father by him.’ In the name of Jesus is, (1.) By the command of Jesus, Matt. 12:21. Nothing, I am sure, can be done in his name, that has not the warrant of his command. (2.) In the name of Christ is in the strength received from Christ, Luke 10:17. It was the name of Christ, that is the power of Christ, that cured the lame man, Acts 4:10 ; and it must be this that must enable us to duty. (3.) In the name of Christ, is in a dependence upon him for the acceptance of our service; for all our sacrifices must be offered upon this altar, which sanctifieth the gifts that are put on it. (4.) In the name of Christ, is to the glory of Christ. Nor will any service be accepted, that runs not in this channel.

4th. Every piece of service, that God will own as such, must be done in faith: ‘For without faith it is impossible to please God; for whatever is not of faith is sin.’ Now, faith looks at the promise as its only security, both for throughbearing, acceptance, and reward.

5th. Service must be done in the manner that is required. It is not enough that the thing be done, but it must be done in the manner that is commanded; for even this comes in as a part of the command, Psa. 119:4, ‘Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.’

6th. Service must be done in the proper time. God has filled up our time with work, and every duty has its own time, and we must do everything in its season. ‘Everything is beautiful in its season;’ and ‘Today, if ye will hear his voice.’ If the command be, today, obedience tomorrow will not answer it. If any of these be wanting, then God will own no duty as service done to him. 

4. To add no more, we offer this one remark, for clearing what is meant by the Lord’s service; and that is, that one may be called a servant of the Lord, or claim this title, it is not enough to do some one piece of commanded duty; nay, nor is it enough to multiply duties.

But, 1st. There must be an equal respect unto all God’s commands: ‘Then shall I not be ashamed when I have respect unto all thy commands,’ says the Psalmist, Psa. 119:6. The heart must be reconciled to all, and count them to be right concerning all things. 2nd. There must be fixed bensail [ inclination ] of will towards a compliance with them all. A servant must have it to say, with the apostle, Heb.13:18, that he is ‘in all things willing to live honestly.’ And, 3rd. There must be a constant and permanent endeavour to comply with them. We must ‘show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end,’ Heb. 6:11. And surely, if these few things were duly weighed, most who have hitherto looked upon themselves as good servants, would begin to be jealous of themselves, as mistaken in this matter.

Secondly, We are next to show you what this deliberation, resolution, and willingness is, which ought to accompany an engagement in the Lord’s service.

As for the 

1. First of them, deliberation, we shall open its nature in the few following observations, in as far as it respects our present purpose.

That what we do in matters of great moment, ought to be done deliberately, is what none will deny; and therefore none can question the necessity of acting deliberately, when we engage ourselves to the service of God. Only some may be at a stand concerning the meaning of it, which we shall endeavour to open.

1st. When we say that men should engage in the service of the Lord deliberately, we do not mean, that they should take a long, or indeed any time, to consider, before they do engage in the service of God, whether they shall do it or not. This is only requisite in cases where it is hard to discern what is advisable, and where duty doth not oblige to do anything presently, without loss of time. Here all things are quite otherwise: we are born under an obligation to serve the Lord; and the reasonableness, as well as advantage of it, are so obvious that to be ignorant of them is to be culpably blind. Nor,

2nd. Doth this deliberation import any doubt or hesitation, whether we may do better elsewhere; this were wicked and highly faulty. But,

3rd. To engage in the Lord’s service deliberately, is to engage upon knowledge of that service which we devote ourselves to. It is the sin, the folly of many, especially when some way convinced of sin, and the bitter issue of its service, that presently they resolve they will serve the Lord; but in the meantime they know not what it is to serve the Lord, either as to matter or manner. Most part think, that to serve the Lord is only to perform some of the external duties of religion, and that without respect to any of those circumstances we have mentioned. But all ought to know who are in case to serve the Lord, what service he requires, what way he will have it done; and all the particulars mentioned formerly, when treating of the first general head, for explication of this truth.

4th. That one may be justly said to have been deliberate in this undertaking; it is necessary that he know so much of his obligation, both by duty and interest, to undertake this service, that nothing that may afterwards fall in his way may be able to make him think he has acted cross, either to duty or interest, in the undertaking, or that he might have employed himself to more advantage otherwise.

5th. A man that engages deliberately, will look to all the disadvantages, real or seeming, that attend this undertaking, and know when he engages, that the advantage will outweigh the disadvantages. And,

6th. A man that engages deliberately, will know that what he engages in is practicable, and how it may be done. Upon the whole, to engage in the Lord’s service deliberately is to do it, after we are acquaint with the nature of the work, and have so much knowledge of the advantage and practicableness of the undertaking, that nothing that falls in or may occur afterward, may be able either to make us repent our undertaking, or quit it as impracticable. Some know not the service they bind themselves to, and therefore engage rashly; and when they come to understand it, they find it not suited to their expectation, and therefore they quit it. Some know not the advantage of it, and therefore when the service of sin seems to bid fairer, they rue their bargain; others look not at some seeming disadvantages that attend the service of the Lord, and therefore they begin upon sight of them to wish they had not engaged in it: the Psalmist came near to this, Psa. 73:13. And, in a word, some bind themselves without ever thinking what strength the work requires, and where it is to be got; and after experience tells them it requires more than they have, they are fair to quit it; but deliberation prevents all these. And thus much for deliberation. 

2. We must engage in the service of God resolutely;

that is,

1st. We must lay our account with difficulties, not indeed from the service itself, for the Lord’s ‘yoke is easy, and his burden light;’ but from our own corruption and enemies, that oppose us in the undertaking. Every one that puts his hand to the Lord’s work, must lay his account with fighting, as well as working: he must be like the builders upon the wall of Jerusalem, Neh. 4:17, work with one hand, and hold a weapon with the other.

2nd. To engage resolutely, is to resolve not to quit the work upon account of difficulties, or say with the sluggard, ‘There is a lion in the way, and I shall be slain in the streets;’ but to hazard all, and so surmount these difficulties, or die in the quarrel.

3rd. To engage resolutely in the Lord’s service, is to do it upon a conviction, that we are not at liberty, upon the account of any real or seeming difficulty, to quit it; but that of necessity, we must not only engage, but in the Lord’s strength we must, in spite of all difficulties, persevere to the end. But now,

3. This is not all; but further, we must engage willingly in God’s service.

Some do serve, but the want of this spoils all. Now this willingness,

1st. Excludes constraint. We must not, like the slave that’s bound, engage in the work for fear of the whip. Some multiply performances, others seriously, as they think, under awakenings of conscience, or sickness, resolve to serve the Lord; aye, but it is only fear, either of hell, or the lashes of conscience, that obliges them to it, cross their inclination: take these out of the way, and they would not serve the Lord.

2nd. Willingness excludes selfish regards, such as only eye the advantageous consequences of God’s service. Some serve the Lord, like Jehu, because they see it makes at present for their interest; but if it were not so, they would act otherwise; and some, out of hopes to get heaven for their service, do the same. But this will not do: this is indeed a kind of constraint; for, could the service and its consequences be parted, the service would not be chosen.

3rd. Willingness imports a liking of the service, as well as the consequences, a suitableness in the will to the service,which makes even the service itself the object of our choice, and makes it, even when the consequences are not eyed, appear agreeable and pleasing; and this can never be where the heart is not renewed; for ‘the carnal mind is enmity against God, is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be,’ Rom. 8:7. And, therefore, till a day of God’s power change the heart of man, and create him in Christ Jesus to good works, there is no possibility of engaging willingly in the service of God, Psa. 110:3.

Thirdly, We are now come to offer some reasons why we should engage in the service of God, deliberately, resolutely, and of choice.

Of many we name a few:

1. It is suitable to the rational creature; for we debase ourselves, and act not like rational men, if we act not resolutely, deliberately, and willingly, in a matter especially of so great moment. Not to act deliberately speaks us foolish; not to act resolutely, speaks us weak; and not to act willingly, speaks us slaves.

2. The nature and honour of God make such service necessary. That service which is unbecoming a rational nature, cannot surely be acceptable to God, who is the highest reason. What is reproachful to the nature of man to perform, must surely be so to the nature of God to accept. If man cannot act indeliberately, irresolutely, or unwillingly, without reproaching his nature, surely the holy God cannot accept of what is so done, without reproaching his own: and if it be dishonourable for man to perform such service, as is not the fruit of deliberation, choice, and resolution, surely it is also dishonourable for God to accept it.

3. The nature of the service requires it; for it is called, Rom. 12:1, ‘Our reasonable service.’ It is so by way of eminence: and surely without those three properties mentioned, it cannot deserve that name.

4. Unless it be done thus, we are not like to continue in it: and this will be both dishonourable, and disadvantageous. What is rashly undertaken, is usually quickly given over; what is irresolutely engaged in, is easily hindered; and what is the fruit of constraint, cannot be permanent: and this spoils all; for unless it be continued in, we lose what we have wrought, and all the length we have gone will not be remembered, Ezek. 18:24, ‘When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done, shall not be mentioned; in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them sh all he die.’

Fourthly, The only thing remaining, is to show, what place now, under the gospel dispensation, is left for this service; and that in answer to a common objection that is made against it,

upon supposition of admitting the doctrine of faith, some may say, ‘If we believe, what ye not long ago taught, that we are justified only by faith, then what need of serving the Lord? What need of holiness? If the obedience of another must be our righteousness before God, we may spare our pains; there is no need that we obey.’

This objection is old indeed, and I may say it is new also. It is one of the many artifices that the enemies of the grace of God have made use of for discrediting the justification of sinners before God, by the imputed righteousness of Christ; and at this day, it is mightily urged by Papists, Socinians, and especially Arminians, who swarm in these lands; and therefore, before we come to answer it, we have two or three things to say in reference to it. And,

1. We do indeed confess, that any doctrine that has not a favourable aspect upon holiness, is to be suspected; and we do profess ourselves willing that our doctrines shall be tried by their influence upon holiness: and further, we do solemnly protest, that as soon as the charge laid against the doctrine of faith shall be fairly proven, we shall abandon it. But,

2. We are not resolved to quit it because some men, whose lives and pens smell not over much of holiness, are pleased to allege that it favours not holiness.

3. We must say, it seems very hard to allege that Calvin’s doctrine of justification is an enemy to holiness, while the opposers and enemies of this doctrine, at the same time, nickname the maintainers of it, Puritans, Precisians, and I know not what, because they will not take so great a latitude in their practice as themselves; nay, frequently, because they cannot get their walk condemned, they pass a judgment upon their hearts, and usurp God’s prerogative, calling them hypocrites.

4. We hope to show sufficient reason for holiness, and to give it a very useful room, though we allow it not that place which is due to the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.

What place will you say has it? Of what use is it? I answer by showing, 

1st. What place it has not:

and we say,

(1.) It is of no use in order to merit anything, either in time or eternity, at the hand of God, it cannot merit or deserve the least temporal blessing; far less can it deserve heaven, and those glorious spiritual privileges that are there enjoyed: ‘What! Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself? Is it any pleasure to the Almighty that thou art righteous? Or is it gain to him that thou makest thy ways perfect?’ Job 22:2,3. ‘If thou be righteous, what givest thou him? Or what receiveth he of thine hand? Thy wickedness may hurt a man as thou art, and thy righteousness may profit the son of man,’ Job 35:7,8. Our goodness extends not to him, and therefore it becomes us when we have done all, to own that we are unprofitable servants.

(2.) Our service we do to the Lord, is not that upon the account whereof we are justified before God. When we stand at the tribunal of God, to be tried for our life, our plea must not be, ‘Lord, we have served thee according to thy law.’ This will stand us in no stead, ‘for by the works of the law will no flesh be justified,’ Gal. 2:16. Our service, if weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, will be found wanting.

(3.) Our service will not be so much as a part of that righteousness, upon the account whereof we are to be justified before God. Christ will not halve the matter so, either he will be our entire righteousness, or not at all. He will not compound the matter, for so we should have somewhat to boast of, and should not glory only in the Lord.

(4.) Sincere service, by the gracious acceptation of God, is not put in that same place, under the covenant of grace, which perfect obedience had in the covenant of works. This is contrary to the whole tenor of the scripture. But what need, will ye say, can there be of this service, since it is not allowed to have any part in our justification? We answer by showing, 

2nd. And positively, That it is of very great use, and there is an indispensable necessity of it;

and that,

(1.) Upon the account of the command of God. Now, this binds still, and would have bound though there had been no reward annexed to it; and this is still in force, for ‘this is the will of God, even our sanctification,’ 1 Thess. 4:3.

(2.) It is indispensably necessary, in regard of the believer’s voluntary engagement to it. When faith once gets a view of Christ, it says to him, as Thomas did upon another occasion, ‘My Lord, and my God,’ and if once we call Christ Lord, we thereby bind ourselves to be his servants.

(3.) It is necessary from the new nature, regeneration. Believers are ‘created in Christ Jesus to good works,’ Eph. 2:10. They are born again; they are partakers of the divine nature. Now, our Lord assures us, that a good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit. Know, ‘whosoever is born of God sinneth not,’ 1 John 5:18. It is as natural for the new man to be holy, as for the old man to be otherwise.

(4.) It is the necessary result of these principal graces of the new creature, viz. love and gratitude. Hear the great apostle Paul, 2 Cor. 5:14,15, ‘The love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them, and rose again.’

(5.) It is necessary that we serve the Lord, in order to obtain the great ends which all believers do propose to themselves, as, 1. It is the way to glorify the Lord, which is certainly the believer’s main end; and hereby certainly is God glorified, if we bring forth much fruit. Hence that exhortation, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven,’ Matt. 5:16. Again, 2. It is the way to be made meet for the enjoyment of God, which the believer aims at as one of his principal and most noble designs. Now, the more we abound in the service of God, the more meet we are for the enjoyment of God, who is of purer eyes than to keep up communion with those who are not holy. Justification is necessary to give us a right unto the enjoyment of God, and communion with him. Sanctification is necessary to make us meet for the actual enjoyment of it. Again, 3. To serve the Lord, to be holy, is the way to perfect our natures, and to bring them to the highest pitch of perfection they are capable of. This is our wisdom and understanding, Deut. 4:6, and consequently our glory and honour, to serve the Lord. Further, 4. To serve the Lord, is the way to be useful to others. And this is one of the believer’s great designs, and it is gained by this; for this is profitable both for their conviction and conversion; nay, and many other ways not now to be insisted upon.

(6.) It is necessary that believers serve the Lord, in regard of the great provision that the Lord has made for them under the gospel, in order to fit them for this service: there is an abundant provision of grace to enable them to serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear. Now, upon these accounts, ye may see how necessary it is that we serve the Lord, though we are not to be justified by our service. And not a few other no less considerable grounds of obedience, under the New Testament dispensation, might be mentioned, were it not that we hasten to the application which now follows.

It now remains that we apply this truth: and we shall, in the first place, draw some few general inferences, for information from the words.

Is it so, that they who engage in the service of God, should do it of choice, resolutely, and deliberately? Then,

Firstly, It is not so easy a thing to engage in the service of God, as some may think; to get the will of man, that is obstinately set against God, brought to a compliance with his will in all things, is very hard: ‘The carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.’And O what a mighty difficulty is it, do ye think, to do this after a deliberate view of all the difficulties of this service, and a discovery of its opposition to corrupt nature? Such of you as think it easy to engage in the service of the Lord, are yet to begin.

Secondly, No unregenerate man is aright engaged in God’s service; for no unregenerate man, after a deliberate view thereof, and the consequences of it, will engage, or can engage in it; and therefore, Sirs, think upon it seriously, if ye be not born again, ye are not yet servants of God.

Thirdly, We may draw this conclusion from the doctrine, that God has no mind to cheat his servants. All the plot of Satan and sin is to get people engaged before they think; for if they think, they despair of carrying their point: but God will have us deliberate. It is the peculiar glory of man, that he is capable of considering what he doth before he do it, and that he can weigh all the circumstances of actions; but profane sinners dare not do so; they dare not go alone, and consider what were the motives prompting them to what they did, what way they will make their account to God, what they have to expect after this life is done. To think of these things, and the like, would make them mad: but the godly man can go alone, and look to his whole actions, and do it without fear; and can look to all things past, present, and to come, without discomposure; and then he chooses the service of God; he does it deliberately: the Lord will have him to do so, and therefore he knows he is not circumvented.

Fourthly, We may infer, that there is a vast odds [ difference ] betwixt the service of God, and the service of sin. We cannot become God’s servants without acting like men, acting rationally, deliberately, and resolutely: but, on the other hand, there is none can engage, or continue in the service of sin, but he must lay aside the exercise of reason, and act like a beast.

Did we not design brevity, we might improve this doctrine many other ways than for information, now discussed, viz. for trial, reproof, convictions and caution. But we shall waive all these, and only insist upon exhortation.

Is it so, that we should not only engage in the service of God, but that we should do it deliberately, resolutely, willingly? Then, my friends, we entreat, and, in the fear of the Lord, exhort you all this day to make choice of the Lord for your God and Master, and cheerfully, resolutely, and deliberately, engage yourselves in his service; and with the people of Israel, say, and hold by it, ‘We will serve the Lord.’ This exhortation comprises the whole of our commission from the eternal God to you. If we prevail not in this, we gain nothing, nor can we do you any service, nor can ye do us any real kindness. If we prevail not in this, then ye are for ever ruined, and we have lost our labour as to you, your damnation is sure; the gospel will aggravate your sin, accent your misery, and we shall be witnesses against you: surely, therefore, it is of moment, and worthy of serious consideration, what ye will answer, what ye resolve to do. Instead of many motives I might use on this occasion, we shall answer some questions that will readily cast up in the minds of such among you as entertain any serious thoughts about the matter; and, in the answers to them, we shall couch motives sufficient, if the Lord breathe upon them, to persuade the most obstinate enemies; and, if the Lord breathe not, nothing will be able to effectuate this.

There are six questions will readily employ the thoughts of such as are in earnest about this matter:

Firstly, Who is the Lord, that we should serve him? Secondly, Will he accept of service at our hand? Thirdly, Upon what terms will he admit of us? Fourthly, What work will he employ us in? Fifthly, Whom shall we be joined withal? Sixthly, What wages will he allow? These are the most material concerns of one that means to list himself as a servant; if he get a satisfying answer upon all these heads, he must engage. Now, of each of these in order; and,

Firstly, Some of you will think, Who is the Lord that we should serve him?

We know him not; and we would fain be some way acquaint with him before we engage, at least we would know who he is.

For answer to this, we say, It is very reasonable that ye know him, to whom ye submit yourselves, before ye do it; and would to God this method had been still followed by you, and then I am sure Satan had not this day had so many servants, nor Christ so many enemies. We cannot pretend to tell what God is; for none can search out the Almighty to perfection, but only we shall tell you, he has all the qualifications of a master that a servant that is wise could wish.

1. He is great, whom we call you to serve. Most kings on earth are but slaves; and to serve most of them, is but to serve them who are slaves to the basest of lusts; but ‘the Lord is a great God, and a great King, even the King eternal, immortal and invisible, the high and only Potentate, the Prince of the kings of the earth.’ None may compare with him for the excellency of his person. Thus saith the Lord, Isa. 44:8, ‘Is there a God besides me? Yea, there is no God, I know not any.’ None is equal to him in the magnificence of his habitation. ‘The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool,’ saith the Lord, Isa. 66:1. None equal to him in wisdom, he is the ‘only wise God.’ And as for power, who can compare? For ‘What pleased the Lord, that hath he done in heaven, and in earth, and in all high places.’ And, in a word, he is the only Master, and all are his servants.

2. As he is great and honourable, so he is good. ‘The Lord is good and upright,’ Psa. 25:8, and in other places of scripture innumerable. The goodness that a servant would desire in a master lies in three things, and they are all eminently in God; he is peerless in them all. 1st. He is a good Master, that puts his servants upon no work but what is suitable and reasonable. 2nd. Who bestows on them, when careful, vast largesses, or great proofs of his bounty. And, 3rd. Who is indulgent, compassionate, and merciful to the failings of his servants, when they do not willingly commit faults, nor obstinately persist in them. And in all these three respects the Lord is matchless.

That his work is easy, we shall afterwards show at more length; at present it is enough to tell that he who cannot lie or mistake has told us that, ‘His yoke is easy, and his burden light.’ And who knows not his bounty? Who feels not the effects of it? His bounty is great above the heavens, and all share largely in it; for whatever there is of goodness and mercy in the lot of any, that is the fruit of his bounty. But besides the common effects of it, he has particular favours he bestows upon such as are eminently faithful. Look what marks of his respect, and what glorious tokens of his bounty, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, and the rest got, and that both in spirituals and temporals. Nor is his mercy less to them that fear him, because of their infirmities. Though he has taken all imaginable care to caution his people against sin, yet he will not narrowly mark iniquity with them, nor enter into judgment. ‘Little children, these things write I to you, that ye sin not: but if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father,’ 1 John 2:1. The covenant of grace is not behind with the covenant of works in forbidding sin and providing against it: the whole of it was revealed, preached, and written, that we sin not: but this is the peculiar glory of the gospel, that while the law leaves sinners sinking under the curse, the gospel sends and relieves them, and shows that there is ‘an Advocate with the Father.’

3. The Lord is a faithful God; what bargain he makes, he will keep. Has he promised you a great reward? Ye may depend upon it: ‘He is not a man, that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent.’ If he make himself known to you by the name of God Almighty, as he did to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Exod. 6:3, to make them believe that what he promised he was able to perform, I assure you, he will not fail to make himself known to you also, as Jehovah God, that gives a being to his promise; as he did to Moses, when he called him to see the accomplishment of the promises made to Abraham, in the deliverance of his people out of Egypt. But, being satisfied that the Master is worthy beyond compare, the

Second, question will follow: Will he accept of us for servants?

A question truly not impertinent, after the former answer; for it is no wonder though any that knows God, or knows himself, doubt whether he shall be admitted a servant of the Lord; and that they never saw any difficulty here, we fear not to tell them, that they serve an ill master to this very day, even the god of this world, the spirit that works in the children of disobedience. But to the question we say,

1. The Lord has taken some servants, and owned them as such, even out of the race of fallen man. We hear him speak of his servant Abraham, his servant Moses, and David; and that is encouragement to thee: men they were, sinful men they were; and even the father of the faithful, Abraham, was an idolater.

2. The Lord wants neither work nor wages for you; the work he gives his servants is even to show forth his glory; and this is enough to employ innumerable millions more than have any being. And hence it is, that his servants many times find the work too great for them, and therefore call in all the creatures to praise the Lord. So we find the Psalmist calling upon fire, hail, snow, vapours, &c. to praise the Lord, Psa. 148 ; and he concludes the book of Psalms thus: ‘Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord, praise ye the Lord,’ Psa. 150:6. Nor is there any scarcity of wages: as he has work for you, so his treasures are inexhaustible; there is no want of any good thing to them that fear him, for in him dwells all fulness.

3. We have this more to say for your encouragement, he will not cast out or reject you because ye are sinners. Hear what such a one, a sinner, a great sinner, has to speak to this purpose, 1 Tim. 1:12,13, ‘I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.’ See a sinner made a servant, and one of the first rank made a prime minister.

4. We have this further to answer, he calls you to his service; be then of good courage; arise, for the Master calls thee. Matt. 11:29, ‘Take my yoke upon you,’ says our Lord: there is an invitation. The encouragement follows, ‘And ye shall find rest to your souls.’ And the reason is subjoined, ‘For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.’

Thirdly, Ye may next inquire: Upon what terms?

I see he will admit but, maybe, the terms are too high. Nay, this shall not hinder, if ye have a mind; for there is nothing more engaging and reasonable than they are. And I shall shortly lay before you these six particulars, as the terms whereon he will admit you:

1. Ye must renounce your old masters. Ye cannot serve two masters; and therefore, if ye choose the Lord, ye must abandon the gods whom your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and the gods of the Canaanites, among whom ye dwell; that is, in plain terms, ye must not serve Satan, ye must not serve divers lusts, ye must not serve the world, ye must not serve men; all other masters ye must forsake, for ‘ye cannot serve God and mammon.’And sure this is no hard condition, but what every servant must lay his account with; and none have reason to do it with so much cheerfulness as they who quit sin.

2. Ye must be reconciled to him upon the gospel terms. A master will not admit his enemy to his favour as a servant: who would keep in his house one that has a formed design to ruin him? Reasonable it is, then, to the highest degree, that before ye be admitted to the family, ye lay down the enmity that your hearts are naturally full of against God, and be reconciled upon the terms prescribed in the gospel, which are comprised by the apostle to the Philippians in two words, ‘Having no confidence in the flesh,’ and ‘rejoicing in Jesus Christ;’ which are indeed equivalent to the other two words made use of by our Lord, ‘Deny himself and follow me.’ ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and follow me.’ For what he adds about taking up the cross, is included in the latter words, ‘Follow me.’ And of the same force are the two first words mentioned, Phil. 3:3, ‘We are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Jesus Christ, and have no confidence in the flesh.’ Here shortly are the gospel terms as to acceptance with God, and justification before him; there must be no confidence in the flesh, no expectation thence. But what is that, the flesh, ye will say, on which we are not to rest, in which we are to have no confidence? I will tell you some things called so by the apostle, in the following verses of that third chapter to the Philippians:

1st. He calls church privileges so, external privileges: ‘Circumcised the eighth day;’ that is to say, it is not enough that a man was baptised, that he got his communion, that he is a hearer of preaching, and the like.

2nd. Church membership: ‘Of the stock of Israel.’ A man may be a Christian, and sprung of godly progenitors, and go to ruin. There are many who may cry, Father Abraham, may be of his seed, and yet go to the pit themselves for all that. Again,

3rd. It is not enough to be a member of the purest church on earth: this is flesh also. Paul was not of one of the tribes that degenerate; but of ‘the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews.’ A man may not only be a Christian, but a Protestant, not only a Protestant, but a Presbyterian; but if he lean to either, he is no servant of God, were he in principle never so staunch to both; it is flesh, and must not be trusted to.

4th. To be of the strictest party of the purest church, is not to trusted to; it is not enough that ye are one of the strictest among the Presbyterians, even one whom the world accounts a puritan. Paul was of the purest church then on earth, and one of the purest and strictest party, ‘concerning the law a Pharisee.’

5th. He not only was of the strictest party, but he excelled most of them, ‘concerning zeal, persecuting the church.’ It is not enough to be really of the strictest party, and even to outrun most of the strictest in duty.

6th. He was not one that was concerned only for religion, and the honour of his profession, but he was blameless concerning the righteousness of the law. His religion led him to respect all God’s commands; and his practice came so near to his principles, that nobody could lay anything to his charge; great attainments, but he counts them all flesh; and they are so, upon a triple account: they are things most of them performed by man, who is flesh: they are tainted all of them with sin, which is the work of the flesh; they are done in subservience to a carnal design, opposite to the spiritual design of the gospel; so that by flesh is to be understood whatever is done by man, or whatever is tainted by corruption, and that even after as well as before conversion; for the apostle excludes from any share in his dependence for justification, even attainments after conversion, while he says, ‘What things were gain to me,’ that is, while a Pharisee, ‘those I counted loss for Christ,’ and then he subjoins, ‘Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss.’ The first expression, ‘What things were gain,’ was too narrow, because it comprehends only what he had before; and therefore he adds this most comprehensive one to supply that, ‘all things;’ and that is the same with his own righteousness, which he would not be found in, in the following verses. In one word, to have no confidence in the flesh, is to trust in nothing that can be called our own, because done by us, that can be called flesh, as tainted with sin, and done by sinful man. It is not that we are not to prize church privileges, nay, certainly it is a great advantage to partake of the ordinances, to be of the purest church, and the strictest party, and the most zealous of that party, and to be blameless, to be, as we said, a Presbyterian, and the strictest, is duty, and our honour too: but yet we are to have no confidence in this; but we are to ‘rejoice in Christ Jesus.’ If conscience challenge,we are to flee to the blood of Christ, and sprinkle conscience by that. If we be carried to the bar of God, and there accused, all that is laid to our charge Christ must answer for it. If the law require perfect obedience, Christ has fulfilled all righteousness, and is made of God ‘righteousness to them that believe:’ and this is our joy. If conscience accuse, and lay a great charge against us, Christ has died; and this is our joy. If any be so bold as to condemn the believer, God has justified him, while he raised Christ from the dead, as being fully satisfied with what he paid on the account of sinners. And, in a word, wherever we are straitened, there is still found ground of sorrow in ourselves, but joy in the Lord Christ, ‘in whom believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.’ Now, if ye mean to serve the Lord, ye must, upon the same terms, be reconciled to him: ye must ‘have no confidence in the flesh; ye must rejoice in Christ Jesus.’

3. He will admit you to be his servants upon these terms, that ye comply with all his commands. Ye must take up his cross, hate father and mother (that is, reject them with disdain, when they come in competition with him). Ye must cut off the right hand, pluck out the right eye. But ye will say, This is hard. I answer, No master will admit a servant, but such as will obey him; and that these things are not really hard, is plain, if we consider, 1st. That all these things he will have us to part with, are prejudicial to us: if we must hate father and mother, it is only when they come in betwixt Christ and us; and we are bid cut off the right hand, pluck out the right eye, when they offend, and offend so, that we must part with heaven if we keep them. 2nd. We are only bid do these things, when the very doing of that which seems prejudicial to us, turns hugely to our advantage; for if we part with anything for Christ, we are to expect a vast income, even to a hundredfold in this life, and life eternal after it. And, further, this will appear both reasonable and easy. For,

4. A condition on which God will admit us to serve him, is, that we do his work upon his own expense. If we go in God’s way, we must go in the strength of the Lord. If we need, we must come boldly to the throne of grace for grace; and, in a word, if we mean to serve him acceptably, with reverence and godly fear, we must have grace to do it, Heb. 12:28, ‘Wherefore we receiving a kingdom that cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.’ We must do all in the name of Christ, and that is, in his strength; for the apostle elsewhere tells us, that he ‘could do all things through Christ strengthening him.’And Christ tells also his disciples, that they can do nothing without him; and sure I am, this is a very fair condition, for it makes the hardest work easy; it is all one to call a man with his present strength to a work easy to him, or to call him to a work far above it, and increase his strength in proportion to his work. And thus it is in this case; the strength of God’s people is still kept equal to, if not above their work.

5. He will admit you to his service, but ye must wear his livery, and that in general is holiness, for ‘holiness becometh the Lord’s house for ever;’ but more particularly humility; we are bid ‘be clothed with humility,’ 1 Pet. 5:5. The seraphs have wings to cover their feet and their face, that is, a clothing of humility in a sense of God’s glory, and their own imperfections; and we must wear the same garb; we must not glory in ourselves, or our ornaments; but ‘Let him that glories, glory in the Lord.’

6. He will admit you to his service; but then ye must serve him for ever. He will have his servants to be for him for ever, and not for another; and when all things are as we would wish about his service, sure we have reason to say, that we love our Master, and we love his service, and we will not part; but let every one of us say, I and my seed, I and my house, and all that will take my advice, shall serve the Lord for ever. Upon these terms the Lord will accept you. 

Fourthly, Will ye say, What work will he set us to?

We cannot tell you all the particulars; and such as are engaging in service do not expect this; but I will tell ye all ye can desire about it.

1. It is easy work, in that forecited Matt. 11:29,30, ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.’ The service of sin is labour, and toil, and a heavy load: Matt. 11:28, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour, and are heavy laden.’ The service of Christ is easy, and in it his people find rest; a work that is a rest must be very sweet, and such is the Lord’s work. Would to God we could make you understand that sweet repose and blessed rest there is in the service of God! O how engaging it would be!

2. It is a pleasant work: ‘Wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths peace,’ Prov. 3:17; and in keeping God’s commands, as well as for keeping them, there is great reward, Psa. 19:11.

3. It is honourable. All the works that the Lord commands, as well as these which he does, are honourable and glorious, Psa. 111:3.

4. It is profitable. Godliness is truly great gain: it is profitable for all things; it has the promise of the life that now is, and that which is to come. If he call us to any piece of service, all the profit comes still to our account. If he call us to suffer, ‘then our light afflictions, that are but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,’ 2 Cor. 4:17. And in a word, the man ‘that is righteous is profitable to himself,’ Job 22:2. But,

Fifthly, Whom shall we have with us in this work?

This is a very considerable point, and of great concern, because servants are not alone in the work, and very much of their comfort depends upon their fellow servants. Now, as to this, all is encouraging. For,

1. The glorious Mediator is not ashamed to serve the Lord: ‘Behold my servant whom I uphold, mine elect in whom my soul delighteth,’ Isa. 42:1.

2. Angels join in serving the Lord; hence the angel took occasion to prevent John’s worshipping of him, Rev. 19:10, ‘See thou do it not: I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus.’

3. The saints, the excellent ones of the earth, are joined in this work; all the general assembly and church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. So that we see, as the work is pleasing, so the society is very engaging.

Sixthly, But if we say, What reward may we look for?

I answer, though there were no reward, what is said is enough. But yet we say,

1. There is a reward, Psa. 19:11. ‘And he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him,’ Heb. 11:6.

2. This is a sure reward, Tit. 1:2, ‘In hope of eternal life, which God that cannot lie promised before the world was.’

3. It is a durable reward; it is eternal; and we receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken, who serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear, Heb. 12.28.

4. So great a reward it is, that ‘Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, it has not entered into the heart of man to conceive,’ 1 Cor. 2:9. ‘In keeping them there is great reward,’ Psa. 19:11. Upon the whole, we conclude, that whatever ye can desire, ye have here for your encouragement. A Master, great, good, and faithful, sufficient security of acceptance, the terms reasonable, the work desirable, the company incomparable, and the reward great and inviting.

But, may some say, we fear the preciseness of the way; ye oblige us to an intolerable strictness and rigorousness in our walk. We answer,

1. The way of God is indeed strict, and we can make no allowance for you to indulge any lust, not so much as to bow in the house of Rimmon.

2. If this affright you, truly we must say, that all is not right, the heart is not changed; for when once this is done, the difficulty is over here. But, O then I fear, says the soul, that I shall not get a perverse heart kept in this sweet way, which is indeed a way of peace and pleasantness. And therefore,

3. Ye must look to God, that he may take away the heart of stone, and give you a heart to fear him; for there is a necessity for it, that the tree be good, and then the fruit will be so, and never till then. But,

4. It may be, the strictness you fear is not real, but imaginary; as, 1st. It may be, ye imagine it will not allow you to be joyful; but this is a fond vain delusion. Religion gives a man the most solid ground of joy: it gives him allowance to rejoice, it directs how to make joy run in the right channel, which makes it double; and then it superadds a command, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always: and again, I say, rejoice,’ Phil. 4:4. 2nd. It may be, ye think it will not allow you the use of lawful comforts: but this is a vast mistake; it will not allow you to abuse them, but it bids you use them: ‘Eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart, for God now accepteth thy works,’ says the wise man, Eccl. 9:7. 3rd. You suspect it will not allow you to be civil and well bred. This is a shameless mistake: true religion makes men the most pleasant company in the world; it makes them gentle, meek, affable, not soon angry, loath to give offence, careful to please all men in all things lawful, fills their hearts with love, and makes them edifying in their discourse.

But again, may ye say, I will never be able for this service, it is too great a work for me. I answer,

1. It is truly said, ye can do nothing. ‘Without me, (says Christ), ye can do nothing,’ John 15:5. Aye, but,

2. It is said to no purpose, unless ye say more, viz. That the Lord cannot make you able; if ye be willing, the Lord will make you able.

3. God is able to strengthen you with all might, according to the glorious working of his mighty power, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself, to perfect strength in weakness, and to make the weak as David, and David as an angel of God.

Now, upon the whole, to reassume my exhortation; my friends, in the bowels of our Lord Jesus, we obtest [ adjure ] you this day, comply with our exhortation, ‘Serve the Lord, and choose him this day:’ and if not, tell me. All things are fair, the service, the Master, the terms, the reward; and if ye have a mind to serve, there is nothing can come in your offer like this. This is what we seek, God is our witness; it is not yours but you. Through his grace, were we sure to carry this, we would have it at any rate, and nothing will please but this. And now, if ye refuse,we take God to record against you, that ye have had a fair offer, and have sit [ ignored ] it.

Thus far for the first doctrine.

[ To be continued  —  Part 3.]

[ Previous —  Part 1.]

This is a website of

The James Begg Society