ŇWherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before usÓ Hebrews 12:1.
In these words, the Holy Ghost propoundeth a worthy exhortation to the Christians of the New Testament; that they should labour to be constant in the profession of the faith; that is, in holding, embracing and believing true Christian religion. And His reason is framed thus: The saints of God in the Old Testament were constant in the faith; and therefore you must likewise be constant in the faith that live in the New Testament. The first part of the reason is laid down in all the examples of the former chapter. The conclusion or sequel is contained in this first verse. Wherein we may observe two points: I. an exhortation unto constancy in true religion; and II. the way or means to attain thereunto. The exhortation is inferred upon the former examples; which are all here applied as precedents and directions unto us, for constancy and perseverance in the faith; in these words, Wherefore, seeing we are compassed about with such a cloud of witnesses; that is, seeing Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and all the rest of the holy fathers, who are a cloud of witnesses unto us (that is, lights and leaders before us), were constant in true religion (whether we respect their faith in GodŐs promises, or obedience to His commandments), therefore we also must be constant in the faith. The way or means hereunto stands in three duties in the words following; Let us cast away etc.
I. For the exhortation: First, in general, the very inferring of it from the former examples teacheth us this special duty: That everyone in GodŐs church must apply unto himself those instructions that are laid down, either generally in doctrine, or particularly in example. And therefore the Holy Ghost here saith not, Let the Galatians or the Corinthians (which were two renowned churches) be constant in the faith; but, Let us, that is, you Hebrews with myself, be constant in the faith, following the example of your ancient fathers. It is said of the ancient Jews that many of them heard GodŐs word; but it was not profitable unto them, because it was not mingled with faith in them (Heb. 4:2). What is it to mingle the Word with faith? It is not only to receive it by faith, believing it to be true; but also by the same hand of faith, to apply it to a manŐs own soul, to his heart and life. And undoubtedly, GodŐs Word thus applied to a manŐs particular person, hath in it great power and fruit; whether we regard information of judgment or reformation of life. But it is a hard thing to do, and rare to find a man that doth sincerely apply unto himself, either general doctrines, or particular examples. We are all prone to shift it from ourselves and lay it upon others, saying, This is a good item, or a good lesson, for such an one and such an one, if he were here, or if he would mark it. In the meanwhile, what benefit do we reap to our own souls? For the Word not applied to ourselves doth us no good; it is like physick not taken, or food not eaten. And hence it comes to pass that though we hear much, yet we profit little by the ministry of GodŐs Word. We must therefore learn to follow MaryŐs example who pondered ChristŐs words, and laid them up in her own heart. When an exhortation is given, we must not post it off and lay it upon other menŐs shoulders; but apply it to ourselves, and lay it to our own hearts, saying, This instruction is for me. Hereby (no doubt) we should feel greater blessings upon the preaching of the Word than yet we do. And to move us hereunto, let us consider that Satan our utter enemy (who seeks nothing but our destruction) is most bade to hinder this application of the Word, either by the minister, or by a manŐs own conscience. As for example: when the minister (by occasion out of GodŐs Word) shall confute either error in judgment or misdemeanour in life; then, men that hear, and are guilty thereof, should say, This is mine error, or my fault; now I am confuted or reproved. And God (no doubt) if men would thus do, woud make it effectual unto them at the length. But instead of this applying to ourselves (either through our own corruption, or SatanŐs suggestions or both), we shift it from ourselves, and say, Now he reproves such an one, and such an one; and speaks against such and such; and indeed Satan (by his good will) would never have a man apply the Word rightly to himself. Therefore, seeing Satan is so busy, and this is his deceit, to make a man shift off an exhortation or reproof from himself and to lay it on others; we must be as careful to apply it to ourselves, and lay it to our consciences; and then (no doubt) we shall find it to be a word of power, able to reform both the misdemeanour of our lives, and the errors of our minds.
Now to the reason more particularly. We must be constant in the faith, because we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses. Here, the ancient fathers of the Old Testament, which in the former chapter were commended unto us for their faith, are compared to a cloud, and then to a cloud compassing us, and lastly to a cloud of witnesses.
1. They are compared to a cloud (as I take it) by allusion to the cloud which directed and led the Israelites in the wilderness. For when they came from Egypt, and were forty years in the desert of Arabia; all that while they were directed by a pillar of cloud by day (Exod. 13:21). Now, look as that cloud guided the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt to the land of Canaan; so doth this company of famous believers direct all the true members of GodŐs church in the New Testament, the right way from the kingdom of darkness to the spiritual Canaan kingdom of heaven. And this is the true cause why these worthy believers are compared to a cloud.
2. Mark further, they are called a cloud; but what a cloud? Namely, one compassing us. A compassing cloud they are called, by reason of the great company of believers; so as which way soever a man turns himself, he shall see believers on every side; and they are said to compass us, because they give us direction in the course of Christianity, as the cloud did the Israelites in the wilderness.
Now whereas the whole company of believers is called a cloud compassing us; here is answered a common objection of temporisers, which argue thus against religion: There are so many kinds of religion nowadays, that no man can tell which to be of; and therefore it is good to be of no religion, till we be certified which is the true religion. This carnal reason is here answered; for howsoever in some things there be variety of opinions in GodŐs church, yet for the substance of religion all agree in one. For the company of believers in this world, resembles a cloud that goes before us, shewing us the right way which we are to walk in, to the kingdom of heaven. Secondly, in that these ancient believers are called a cloud compassing us, we are taught that as the Israelites did follow the cloud in the wilderness from the land of Egypt to Canaan; so must we follow the examples of these ancient believing fathers and prophets, to the kingdom of heaven. It is a strange thing to see how the Israelites followed that cloud. They never went till it went before them; and when it stood still, they stood still also, though it were two years together; and when it began to move, they moved with it. So in the same manner must we set before our eyes for a pattern of life, the worthy examples of believers in the Old Testament; for whatsoever was written, was written for our learning (Rom. 15:4). We must therefore be followers of them in faith, obedience and other graces of God; and so shall we be directed to life everlasting in the spiritual Canaan, the kingdom of heaven. And yet we must not follow them absolutely. For all of them had their infirmities, and some of them had their grievous faults whereby they are tainted, and their commendation somewhat blemished; but we must follow them in the practice of faith and other graces of God. The cloud that guided the Israelites had two parts; a light part and a dark. The Egyptians, who were enemies to GodŐs people, had not the light part before them, but the dark part; and so following that, they rushed into the Red Sea and were drowned; whereas the Israelites following the light part, went through in safety. Even so, these believers had in them two things: their sins, which be their dark part, which if we follow we cast our souls into great danger and destruction; and faith with other graces of God, which are their light part, which we must follow as our light; which if we do carefully, it will bring us safely to the kingdom of heaven. So Paul bids the Corinthians, be followers of me (1 Cor. 4:16), yet not absolutely in everything, but as he followed Christ. And so must we follow the fathers, as they went on in faith in Christ.
3. Further, they are a cloud of witnesses; that is, a huge multitude of witnesses. And they are so called, first, because by their own blood they confirmed the faith which they professed. Secondly, because they did all confirm the doctrine of true religion whereof they were witnesses, partly by speeches, and partly by actions in life and conversation. And so is every member of Christ a witness; as the Lord often calls the believing Israelites, His witnesses. Question: How came this to pass, that these believers should be GodŐs witnesses? Answer: Surely because they testified the truth and excellency of GodŐs holy religion, both in word and action, in life and conversation.
Now, seeing these in the Old Testament were ChristŐs witnesses:
(1) First, hereby all ignorant persons must be stirred up to be careful to get faith, and to learn true religion. If anything will move a man to become religious, this will; for out of all the world, God will choose faithful men to be His witnesses, to testify His religion to others. If a man were persuaded that some worthy mighty prince would vouchsafe to call him to bear witness of the truth on his side, he would be wonderful glad thereof, and take it for a great honour to him. How much more then ought we to labour for knowledge, faith and obedience in true religion, that we may become witnesses unto the Lord our God? If it be a dignity to be witness to an earthly prince; oh then what a great prerogative is this, for a silly sinful man to become a witness to the truth of the everlasting God, who is King of Kings, and whose word needs no confirmation? This must make us all to labour for knowledge, and for faith, and for the power of religion. But if we will remain still in our ignorance, and never labour for knowledge, then shall these servants of God that believed in the Old Testament stand up and witness against us at the day of judgment; for they had not such means as we have, and yet they became most faithful witnesses.
(2) Secondly, this must teach us to be careful; that as in word we profess Christ, so in deed we may confess Him, expressing the power of His grace in us. For by this true confession of Christ, we are made His witnesses; but when we confess Christ in word only, and yet in life and practice deny Him, then we are unfaithful witnesses; for we say and unsay. In an earthly court, if a man should one while say one thing, and another while another thing, he would not be accepted for a witness, but rather be excepted against, as altogether unworthy; and so would prove a discredit to his friendŐs cause, and a shame to himself. So it is with us in ChristŐs cause; if we profess in word and deny in deed, we discredit Christ and His profession, and shame ourselves for ever. And therefore we must be careful not only in word and judgment, but in life and conversation, to make a true and constant confession of Christ and of His truth. And thus much for this exhortation.
II. Now followeth the second point to be observed in this verse; namely, the manner how GodŐs church and people may put in practice this worthy exhortation of the Holy Ghost, to be constant in the faith. And this consists in three duties: 1. They must cast away that which presseth down. 2. They must cast away that sin that hangeth so fast on; or, sin which so readily doth compass us about. 3. They must run the race that is set before them with patience. Whosoever in GodŐs church, either Jew or Gentile, can perform these three things, shall be able no doubt to follow the counsel of the Holy Ghost, and continue constant in the faith to the end. Of these three in order.
1. The first thing then to be done is this: We must cast away that which presseth down; or thus, Cast away the weight, or burden (for so much the word in the original signifieth), even that burden which so presseth down the poor Christian that he cannot go on forward in the course of godliness and Christianity. By burden, or weight, here we must understand five things: First, the love of temporal life; secondly, care for earthly things; thirdly, riches and temporal wealth; fourthly, worldly honour and preferments; fifthly, worldly delights and pleasures. All these are things which lie heavy on manŐs soul, as weighty burdens that press it down, especially then when the soul should lift up itself to seek heavenly things. So in the parable of the sower; riches, pleasures and cares for the things of this life, are called thorns which choke the word of God in a manŐs heart and make it unfruitful (Matt. 13:22). And surfeiting and drunkenness are said to be things which oppress the heart and make it heavy (Luke 21:34). And easy it were to shew by many testimonies that all these five things do press down the heart; especially then, when it should be lifted up in the seeking of heavenly things.
Now in this, that these five things are weighty burdens, we may learn:
(1) First, what is the cause that in these our days everywhere the gospel of Christ being published, preached and expounded, takes so little place in menŐs hearts; whether we regard knowledge and understanding, or affection and obedience? For GodŐs Word is a Word of power, mighty in operation. How comes it to pass then that the ground is barren where it is cast? Why does it not make men learned and religious? Answer: Surely in every place where the Word of God is preached, especially among us, these five things possess the hearts of men, and exercise all the thoughts of the mind and affections of the heart. From whence it cometh to pass that after long preaching there is little fruit or profit, either for knowledge or obedience; for where the heart is pressed down with the weight of these earthly things, there the Word of God can take no place, nor bring forth fruit. And this is generally true among us; though we hear GodŐs Word from year to year, and thereby might increase in knowledge and obedience if we would; yet in many there is little shew of either; and the cause is in these worldly cares, which take the place in our hearts. For this is a most certain truth, that so long as our hearts are addicted to the greedy seeking after these earthly things: honours and pleasures etc.; so long will the ground of our heart be barren. The good seed of GodŐs Word may be sown therein; but little fruit shall come thereof, save briers and weeds, which will increase our damnation.
(2) Again, whereas the love of temporal life and care of earthly things etc. are sore burdens pressing down a manŐs heart from heaven to earth, and making it heavy and sad and dead in regard of all spiritual exercises and contemplations; hereby we are taught oftentimes to give ourselves to elevate and lift up our minds and hearts to God, partly by meditation in His Word, partly by invocation on His Name, and partly by thanksgiving. And to do these things the better, we must remember to set apart some special time every day for this special work; so as we may say with David (Psa. 25:1), Lord, I lift up my heart unto thee. David was well acquainted with this exercise, and so was Daniel; for both of them used this, as we may read (Psa. 55:17), Evening and morning (saith David) and at noon will I pray, and make a noise. And Daniel used to pray unto God three times a day (Dan. 6:10); wherein he would heartily and unfeignedly call upon God with thanksgiving. And great reason we should do so; for we live in the world, wherein are innumerable weighty things, which press down our hearts from looking up to heaven; and therefore we must often practice ourselves in holy meditation and prayer unto God, that so we may lift up our souls unto God from the things of this world. To use a fit comparison: we know that those who keep clocks, if they would have the clocks still going, must once or twice a day wind up the plummets which cause the wheels to go about; because they are still drawing downward. Even so, seeing out hearts have plummets of lead, which are worldly cares and desires, to press them down from seeking up to heaven; we must do with our hearts, as the clock-keeper doth with his plummets, wind them up unto God every day; and for this end, must set apart some particular time to do the same in holy duties. Why doth God command the seventh day to be sanctified, and set apart from all bodily exercises and worldly cares? Undoubtedly it is for this end: to cause men to elevate their hearts from all worldly things, to seek the things above; else, if the mind should be always pressed down with worldly cares, it could never attain to heavenŐs joys. He that hath no conscience on the LordŐs day to lift up his heart to heaven by prayer, and hearing GodŐs Word, with meditation thereon; cannot possibly have any soundness in religion, nor his heart firmly settled on heavenly things.
(3) Thirdly, whereas the Holy Ghost saith that the Hebrews must cast away the weight that presseth down; here we are taught in what manner, and how far forth we must use the things of this life; as riches, honours and lawful pleasures; yea, and all temporal blessings whatsoever; namely, so far forth as they will further us in the course of religion, and in the exercise of godliness and virtue; and no further. But (finding by experience that these temporal things are a burden unto us, pressing us down and making us unfit for spiritual exercises) we must leave them, and abstain from them. This is that moderation which we must use in temporal things. For the main end that every man must propound to himself in all things, is this: That God may be glorified. Now, that a man may glorify God, it is necessary that he should walk in the ways of godliness and of true religion. Therefore look as riches and worldly commodities may further us in Christian religion and godliness; so far forth must we use them, and therein give glory to God; but when they hinder us therein, then we must leave them, and cast them off. The mariner that is upon the sea in a great tempest, seeing his ship too sore laden, will cast out any of his commodities; first, that that is heaviest, and at last (if need be) the most precious jewels that be in his ship before he will see it lost. Even so must we do in the sea of this world, when we see riches, honours and lawful pleasures to make us unfit and untoward for the exercises of piety and religion; then away with them, we must cast them off, how dear soever they be unto us. And thus much for the first duty.
2. The second duty that we must perform for constancy in religion is this: We must cast away the sin that hangeth so fast on; or as the words will better bear, We must cast away the sin that is so fit, or so ready to compass us about every way. By sin here we must not understand actual sin, the practising of ungodliness in life and conversation; but original sin, which is the corruption of nature, in which men are conceived and born. Now this original sin is said to be ready to compass us about, because (as Paul saith of himself) when a man would do good, it causeth evil to be present with him; so as that good thing which he would do, that he doth not; but the evil that he would not do, that doth he (Rom. 7:19). And it is said, To compass us about; because whatsoever in heart a man doth desire or affect, or purpose to do, this original sin doth corrupt and defile the same unto him; and whatsoever in action a man would bring to pass, it doth likewise pollute it. By reason whereof it comes to pass that we may truly say that all the thoughts, affections, wills, and purposes, yea, and every action of GodŐs children, are all mixed and stained with the corruption of this sin. So that this hinders GodŐs dear servants and children that they cannot go on in the course of godliness and Christianity as they would; but either they fall in their journey many times; or if they stand, yet they do often stagger, and go very faintly and haltingly forward.
From this that the Holy Ghost saith, Original sin compasseth the believer about, we are to observe and learn sundry points:
(1) First, this serveth notably to confute some errors maintained and upheld by the church of Rome; for they say that after a manŐs regenerated by GodŐs Spirit, there is nothing in him that God can justly hate; and they do curse all that hold the contrary. Now to ratify this their doctrine, that original sin, after regeneration, is not sin properly; they say that after regeneration it is no more sin than tinder is fire; which in itself is no fire, but very apt and fit upon the least occasion to be set on fire. But this opinion is here overthrown by this that the Holy Ghost saith, that the believing Hebrews, that is GodŐs church, must cast away this sin. Where it is plain that after regeneration, whereby a man receiveth the spirit of sanctification and adoption, he hath sin in him; for this sin is most apt and ready to hinder him in the course of Christianity and godliness. Now if sin were not properly sin, it must lose its own nature and quality; and if it had lost its proper quality, it would not be so ready to hinder a man in the course of godliness, both in thought, words and deeds. So that here it is manifest and plain that in a regenerate man there is sin properly; and howsoever he be free from the guilt and punishment of sin, yet the corruption remaineth still in him, though greatly weakened through sanctification.
Again, here observe that the opinion of many men concerning this sanctification is erroneous; for some there be who have thought that a man might be perfectly sanctified in this life, and have original sin quite abolished. But this is most false; for this church of the Hebrews had as worthy men in it for godliness and sanctification as any are in these days; yea, and the author of this epistle was (no doubt) a man that had received a great measure of sanctifying grace; yet including himself among them, he exhorts the Hebrews thus: Let us cast off the burden and sin that is so ready to compass us about. What? Had the apostle and these Christians sin in them? Yes, or else the Holy Ghost would never bid them cast it off; for it were a vain thing to bid them cast off that which they had not. Therefore they were not perfectly sanctified, as indeed no man ever was or shall be in this life, Christ only excepted. We must not marvel at this, that no man is perfect in this life; nay, we must rather marvel at this, that God hath given to any of us any drop of sound grace, being such miserable wretched sinners as we are.
The Lord Himself hath given many reasons why men should not be perfect in this life:
(i) As first: If a man were perfectly sanctified in this life, then were he perfectly just and righteous in himself before God, and so should be saved; yet not by free grace and mercy alone in Christ; and thus should Christ not be a whole and alone Saviour, but only a means to convey into a man that saving grace whereby a man should be saved. But Christ is our whole and only righteousness whereby we are justified and saved; and this may our corruption teach us which still remains in us, not quite mortified until the hour of death.
(ii) Secondly, whatsoever grace we receive of God, it comes by means of faith which God worketh in us. And look how it stands with us in regard of faith, so it is with us for all other graces. But faith in the best believer is imperfect in this life, and mixed with much doubting; and therefore all other gifts and graces which come by faith, as righteousness, repentance and sanctification, are also imperfect in this life.
(2) From this, that sanctification in this life is imperfect, we learn (for the overthrowing of another error of the church of Rome) that no man can stand at GodŐs tribunal seat, satisfied by inherent justice or righteousness. For that which we call sanctification, the papists call the justification of a sinner; making two parts of justification: the first, whereby a sinner of an evil man is made good by the pardon of his sins and the infusion of inward righteousness, standing in hope and charity especially; and the second, whereby of a good man one is made better and more just; and this they say may proceed from the merit of a manŐs own works of grace; and hereby they hold a man stands righteous before God. But look how it stands with grace in us in this life, so likewise shall it stand with the same graces at the last day; if they be imperfect now, and so not able to justify us before God, they shall also be found imperfect then to that purpose and effect. But now they are imperfect, as hath been shewed, and therefore cannot then stand for our righteousness; unless we will imagine that God will then accept of an imperfect justice. Wherefore their doctrine is erroneous, and a doctrine of all terror and desperation; for who dare adventure the salvation of his soul upon his own righteousness? We deny not but that God accepteth of our sanctification; yet not as the matter of our justification unto life; that only is the obedience and righteousness of Jesus Christ accepted of God for us, and made ours by faith; for that alone is answerable to the rigour of the law.
(3) Thirdly, this also sheweth the error of those that hold that concupiscence or original sin is not a quality, but an essence or substance living and subsisting by itself. For here we see a plain difference between a manŐs body and soul, and original sin that compasseth them; else the Holy Ghost would not bid us cast off this sin; for that which is of the substance of man cannot by man be cast off. And to make this more plain, we must know that in man descending from Adam there be three things: First, the substance of his soul and body. Secondly, the powers and faculties in them both. Thirdly, the corruption or bad disposition in those powers and faculties whereby a man is unconformable to the will of his Creator, and prone to that which is evil. And this third thing is it which is here spoken of, different from manŐs substance and faculties; and so is not a substance in man, or manŐs nature corrupted, but an ill disposition therein.
(4) Fourthly, hence also we learn what a regenerate man doth most feel in himself; namely, original sin, the corruption of his nature; for that hangs on fast, and hinders him in the practice of all good duties. This Paul knew well, and therefore confesseth that he saw another law in his members rebelling against the law of his mind, and leading him captive unto the law of sin which was in his members (Rom. 7:23). This causeth him to leave undone the good which he would have done; and to do the evil which he would not do (v.19). And David felt the same thing when he said, I will run the way of thy commandments when thou shalt enlarge my heart (Psa. 119:32). Why doth David speak of the enlarging of his heart? Surely he felt in himself this original sin; which did straiten his good affections, so as he could not put them forth so much as he would towards the law of God. And when he saith (Psa. 51:12) Stablish me, O Lord, by thy free spirit; he would give us to understand that by original corruption he was restrained of his Christian liberty, and hindered in all good affections, holy actions, and heavenly meditations; which causeth him to pray for liberty and freedom by the Spirit. So that it is plain, the servant of God feels this corruption clogging and hindering him from all good duties.
(i) This serves to admonish all secure persons, which never felt sin to be a clog or burden unto them, of their fearful and dangerous estate. For to every child of God, original corruption is a grievous burden. Now confer with a natural man, and ask him what imperfections and wants he feels in himself; and his answer is that he was never hindered by any corruption in all his life, he never felt doubting or want of love, either to God or to his brethren; he feels no pride of heart, no hypocrisy or vain glory etc. If we take these men upon their words, they are angels among men; but indeed they are blind and ignorant, and wonderfully deceived by Satan; for all GodŐs servants in this life do continually bewail the corruption of their nature, crying out against original sin, that it hinders them in doing the good things which they would do; and causeth them to do the evil which they would not. These men therefore that are never troubled with corruption, but (to their own thinking) have grace at will, are in a fearful case, their minds are still blinded, and their hearts hardened; they are dead in sin, abiding in darkness unto this hour. And if they go thus on to death, they shall find that sin will unvisor himself, and then they shall know what sin means, and find the terror, and feel the burden of it, when it is too late; like the foolish virgins that knew what the want of oil meant, when the doors were shut.
(ii) Secondly, this shews unto us what is the state and condition of the child of God in this life. He is not here a saint feeling no corruption, perfectly sanctified and freed from all sin; but such an one as feels the burden of corruption hindering him in his Christian course, under which he sighs and groans, labouring by all good means to be disburdened and to cast it off. It is indeed a matter of great comfort for a man to feel GodŐs graces in himself; as faith, love, repentance sanctification, and such like; but no child of God can always or alone feel the comfort of grace; most commonly he shall be troubled with sin, if he be GodŐs child. Now if feeling it, he dislike himself, and strive to be eased of it; this is a sure argument of his happy estate.
(5) Fifthly, the commandment to cast away sin that presseth down, teacheth every child of God to labour earnestly for the for the government and direction of GodŐs Spirit. For we have within us original corruption, that like an armed man besets us about, and hindereth us in every good thing we take in hand. We must therefore pray unto God daily that he would guide us by His good Spirit; for by reason of the corruption of our nature and the deceitfulness of sin, we shall utterly fail, unless GodŐs Spirit governs us, both in the thoughts of our hearts, in the words of our mouths, and the actions of our lives. This David knew well, and therefore prayeth to the Lord for His good Spirit, to lead him into the land of righteousness (Psa. 143:10).
(6) Lastly, seeing we have this corruption of nature in us, we must keep our hearts with all diligence, and set watch and ward about them. So Solomon saith, Counterguard thy heart, my son (Prov. 4:23). Why doth Solomon give this commandment? Surely for special cause; for every man while he lives on earth is compassed about with his own corrupt nature; which like a home-born traitor seeks to deliver the heart into the possession of Satan, and so to defraud God of His right. Again, the heart is manŐs treasure, from whence comes all actions, good and bad. Now, if it be well kept and guarded, the Lord will dwell in thy heart, and thence will proceed the issues of life. But if it be left open for corruption to enter and take place, then is it made an habitation for the devil.
If a city were besieged about by bloody enemies, the inhabitants thereof would set watch and ward in every place to keep out the enemy; so we, having original sin as a fierce enemy compassing us about for to work our destruction some way or other, must labour to have our hearts guarded with a watch of grace; that our corruption may not let in Satan there to dwell or to have any abode.
But (will some say) how shall we get a watch that may thus keep our hearts? Answer: We must labour that the Word of God may dwell plentifully in our hearts; and there, as the sceptre of Christ, to be held up by the grace of faith, ruling our wills and affections, and bringing into subjection every thought to the obedience of Christ. In such an heart Christ dwells, who is stronger than Satan; and here can neither corruption set open the door to Satan, nor Satan enter; but all things are in safety. Also the actions that proceed hence shall be the issues of life, being holy and pleasing unto God.
And thus much of the second point.
3. The third duty to be performed for our continuance in the faith is this: We must run with patience the race that is set before us. In these words the Holy Ghost borroweth a comparison from the games of men that did run a race; and thus we may conceive it. The race that the Holy Ghost propounds us to run is the race of Christian religion. The parties that must run in this race are all Christians; men or women, high or low, no-one excepted. The prize and crown for which we run is everlasting glory. The judge of the runners is the Lord Himself, who hath appointed this race unto every Christian in this life; who also will give the reward to everyone that runneth well.
In this comparison, we may observe many good instructions:
(1) First, in that Christian religion is compared to a race; we are taught that everyone that professeth religion must go forward therein, growing in knowledge, faith, piety, and in every grace of God. He that runs a bodily race, must neither stand still nor go backward (for then he shall never get the prize) but still go forward to the race end. So must every Christian go forward in grace, following hard towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God (Phil. 3:14). If we care not for eternal life, then we may take our ease and let grace alone; but if we tender our own salvation, we must go on in the graces of religion, as a runner doth go forward in his race. This being well observed, would rouse up our drowsy Christians that make no progress in religion.
(2) Secondly, this resemblance of Christianity to a race, teacheth us all to strive to go one before another in knowledge, faith and holy obedience; thus runners do that run a bodily race. Also in the world the manner of men is to labour and strive to go one before another in riches, preferment, in fine apparel and in bodily delights. Now shall men strive to be first in these transitory things, and shall we neglect our duty about these spiritual graces? Wherein the more we excel, the more acceptable we are to God, and shall be more glorious in the world to come.
(3) Thirdly, seeing Christianity is a race, we must remember to be constant therein till we come to the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls. It hath been the manner of our people to turn in religion with the state and time; and yet to this day many thousands come to our assemblies that would turn to popery, if that abomination should be set up again; for (say they) it was a merry world when that religion was up. But this is not the property of good runners. If we would have the crown of life, we must hold true religion constantly unto the death.
(4) Lastly, like good runners we must mind our way, and have our hearts set upon the end of our race, which is everlasting life. Each ordinary traveller is very inquisitive of his way, and all his care is to go the nearest way he can to his journeyŐs end. Behold, we are travellers, and our journey is to heaven; we must therefore endeavour to go the straightest way we can, to come to life everlasting; neither must we make delays in the way, but use all help as to further us herein; for the matter is of great importance whereabouts we go.
Here some will say, We like this well; but true religion hath always many enemies and few hearty friends; besides, if a man run this way, he must run alone, and suffer many crosses and reproaches. Answer: This is most true; and therefore the Holy Ghost addeth that we must run this race with patience. We must not be discouraged because of these crosses and afflictions; but labour with patience to bear that part of afflictions, whatever it be, that shall light upon us in our journey. This is ChristŐs counsel to His disciples (Luke 21:19), Possess your souls in patience; as if He should say: If you would save your souls, you must labour to bear all crosses that fall on you with patience. In the parable (Luke 8:15), They that receive the seed in good ground, are they which with an honest and good heart hear the word and keep it, and bring forth fruit. But how? With patience. Everyone that hears GodŐs Word, and makes conscience thereof, will have enemies to scoff and mock, and to afflict him; which the devil sets awork to hinder the growth of the Word in his heart; but must he therefore cease to bring forth fruit? No, he must bring forth fruit with patience. And so must we do in the race of true religion; for crosses, afflictions and mockings will come; but these storms must not turn us back; nay, the more they beat upon us, the more must we arm ourselves with patience, by which we shall be able to bear them all.
And thus much for this third duty; and also for the exhortation unto constancy in the faith, after the example of all these godly fathers.