The Christian Soldier, or
Heaven Taken by Storm
by Thomas Watson, 1669
A practical handbook on Christian living,
showing the holy violence a Christian is
to put forth in the pursuit after glory.
"The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and
the violent take it by force." Matthew 11:12
27 MOTIVES to put forth holy violence
Having answered these objections, let me reassume the exhortation, pressing all Christians to this violence for the heavenly kingdom. As David's three worthies ventured their lives, and broke through the army of the Philistines for water, 2 Sam. xxiii. 46, such a kind of violence must we use, breaking through all dangers for obtaining the "water of life."
1. Consider the deplorable condition we are in by nature—a state of misery and damnation; therefore what violence should we use to get out of it? Were one plunged into quicksands, would he not use violence to get out? Sin is a quicksand, and is it not wisdom to extricate ourselves out? David being encompassed with enemies, said "His soul was among lions," Psalm lvii. 4. It is true in a spiritual sense, our soul is among lions. Every sin is a lion which would devour us! And if we are in the lion's den—should not we use violence to get out? The angels used violence to Lot; they laid hold on him and pulled him out of Sodom, Gen. xix. 16. Such violence must be used to get out of the spiritual Sodom. It is not safe to stay in the enemy's quarters.
2. It is possible that in the use of means we may arrive at happiness. Impossibility destroys endeavor; but here is a door of hope opened. The thing is feasible. It is not with us as with the damned in hell; there is a tomb-stone rolled over them. But while we are under the sound of Aaron's bell, and the silver trumpet of the gospel is blown in our ears, while the spirit of grace breathes on us, and we are on this side of the grave—there is great hope that by holy violence we may win Paradise. An absolute impossibility of salvation is only for those who have committed the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit, and cannot repent; but who these are, is a secret sealed up in God's book. But here is great encouragement to all to be serious and earnest in the matters of eternity, because they are yet in a capacity of mercy, no final sentence is already passed; God has not yet taken up the drawbridge of mercy. Though the gate of Paradise is narrow—yet it is not shut. This should be as oil to the wheels, to make us lively and active in the business of salvation. Therefore as the farmer plows in hope, James v. so we should pray in hope; and do all our work for heaven in hope—for the white flag of mercy is yet held forth! So long as there was grain to be had in Egypt, the sons of Jacob would not sit starving at home, Gen. xliii. 3. So long as there is a kingdom to be obtained—let us not sit starving in our sins any longer!
3. This violence for Heaven is the grand business of our lives! What else did we come into the world for? We did not come here only to eat and drink, and wear fine clothes; but the end of our living is, to be violent for the kingdom of glory. Should the body only be tended, this were be to polish the scabbard, and let the blade rust; to preserve the lumber, and let the child be burnt. God sends us into the world as a merchant sends his goods to trade for him beyond the seas. So God sends us here to follow a spiritual trade, to serve him and save our souls. If we spend all our time in dressing and pampering our bodies, or idle visits—we shall give but a sad account to God, when he shall send us a letter of summons by death and bid us give an account of our stewardship!
Were not he much to be blamed, who would have a great deal of timber given him to build a house if he only cut all this good timber into chips? Just so is the case of many; God gives them precious time in which they are to provide for a kingdom, and they waste this time of life and cut it all into chips. Let this excite violence in the things of God. It is the main errand of our living here—and shall we go through the world and forget our errand?
4. How violent are the wicked in ways of sin! Violent for their malicious lusts! Proverbs i. 16. "Their feet run to evil." Violent for their unclean lusts. Amnon offered violence to his sister; he would have his lust, though it cost him his life. Sinners tire themselves out in the devil's drudgery! Jer. ix. 5. They "weary themselves to commit iniquity." They are out of breath in pursuing their sin! Jer. l. 33. "They are mad upon their idols!" So violent were the Jews, that they would spare no cost in their idolatrous worship, Isaiah xlvi. 6. "They lavish gold out of the bag." So fiercely were they bent upon idolatry, that they would sacrifice their sons and daughters to their idol gods, Jer. xxxii. 35. "They built the high places of Baal to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire." Were men thus violent for their lusts and idols—and shall not we be violent for a kingdom?
Nay, you that are now ingrafted into Christ, how violent perhaps have some of you formerly been in evil? How did you once spend yourselves in a sinful way! Perhaps even like Paul, who before his conversion breathed out "threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord," Acts ix. 1. Perhaps you have been violent in drawing others to sin, you have been tempters to them; and perhaps some of them whom you have seduced to sin, are now crying because of you in hell, and saying that they would have never come there, if it had not been for your example! Should not the consideration of this humble you? Should not this make you the more violent in piety, that you may bring some glory to God before you die? Should you not be as industrious to save souls—as you have been to damn them? Were you to live to the age of Methuselah, you could never do God sufficient service for the dishonor you have done to him!
5. This holy violence has much delight mingled with it. Prov iii. 17. "All her ways are pleasantness" Though the way of piety has thorns in it, (in respect to persecution) yet it is full of roses, in respect to that inward peace and contentment that the soul finds in it. A man is violent at his recreation; but there is an inward delight he takes in it which sweetens that violence. Paul made piety his recreation. Rom vii. 22. "I delight in the law of God after the inward man." In the Greek, "I take pleasure." Not only Heaven itself is delightful—but the way there. What ravishing delight a gracious soul has in prayer? Isaiah lvi. 7. "I will make them joyful in the house of prayer." What delight in holy contemplation! A Christian has such influences of the Spirit, and meets with such transfigurations of soul, that he thinks himself half in heaven! Serving of God is like gathering spices, or flowers, wherein there is some labor—but the labor is recompensed with delight! The way of sin has bitterness in it. The bears, while they lick honey, are stung with the bees. So while men are following their lusts, they have checks of conscience, which are a foretaste of hell. Better to lack the honey, than have this sting. But violence for heaven is spiced with such joy, that it is not labor—but pleasure!
6. This violence and activity of spirit in piety, puts a luster upon a Christian. The more excellent anything is, the more active it is. The sun is a glorious creature, as a giant "it runs its race," Psalm xix. 5. Fire, the noblest element, sparkles vigorously. The angels are described with wings, Isaiah vi. 2. which is an emblem of their swift obedience. The more violent we are in piety, the more angelic we are!
7. How violent Christ was about our salvation! He was in agony; he "continued all night in prayer," Luke vi. 2. He wept, he fasted, he died a violent death; he rose violently out of the grave. Was Christ so violent for our salvation—and does it not befit us to be violent, who are so intimately concerned in it? Christ's violence was not only substitutionary—but exemplary. It was not only to appease God—but to teach us. Christ was violent in dying—to teach us to be violent in living and believing.
8. This holy violence brings rest. Motion tends to rest, Heb. iv. 9. "There remains a rest to the people of God." Indeed, there is a motion which does not tend to rest; those who are violent in a way of sin shall never have rest, Rev. iv. 8. "They have no rest, day and night." Such as are graceless, shall be restless. But the violence a Christian takes—leads to rest. As the weary traveler sits down at night and rests himself, Psalm cxvi. 7. "Return to your rest, O my soul." Holy violence is like the flying of Noah's dove to the ark, where it found rest.
9. If we use what violence we are able—God will help us. "It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." Philippians 2:13. The Spirit helps us in prayer and so proportionately in all other duties of piety. "The Spirit helps us in our weakness." Romans 8:26. The promises encourage, and the Spirit enables. In all earthly races a man runs in his own strength; but in the race to Heaven we have the Spirit of God helping us; he not only gives us the crown, when we have finished running—but he gives us legs to run; he gives us quickening and assisting grace! The Spirit of God helping us makes our work easy. If another helps us to carry a burden, it is less difficult. If the magnet draws the iron—it is not hard for the iron to move. If the Spirit of God, as a divine magnet—draws and moves the heart in obedience, then the work goes on with more facility. "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:29-31
10. This blessed violence in piety, would be preventive of much sin. While men are idle in the vineyard, they are a prey to every temptation. Satan sows most of his seed of temptation in hearts which lie fallow. When he sees people unemployed, he will find work for them to do; he will stir them up to one sin or other. "While everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat." Matthew 13:25. When Satan finds men in a drowsy condition, their sleeping time is his tempting time! But by holy violence, we prevent the Devil's design; we are so busy with salvation that we have no leisure to listen to temptation. Jerome advised his friend to be always well employed, that when Satan came with a temptation he might find him working in the vineyard. When the bird is flying, it is safe; when it sits still on the bough, it is in danger of being shot! When a Christian sits still and is inactive, then the Devil shoots him with his "fiery darts." "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation!" Matthew 26:41.
11. Consider the folly of such as are violent for the world—but not for the glorious kingdom of heaven! Alas, how insipid are all these things that we lay out our sweat for and our violence upon! They will not make us happy. King Solomon distilled the quintessence out of all earthly things, and said, "behold, all is vanity," Eccles. ii. 8.
1. These earthly things that we toil so hard for, are uncertain, 1 Tim. vi. 17. It is uncertain whether we shall get them. All that are suitors to a virgin do not succeed. All that come to a lottery have not won a prize.
2. These earthly things that we toil so hard for, are unsatisfactory. Could men heap up silver as dust; had they as much as the Devil promised Christ, "All the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;" yet they can no more fill the heart, than a drop of water can fill a cistern. Eccles. v. 16. "What profit has he that has labored for the wind?"
3.These earthly things that we toil so hard for, are transient; death feeds at the root. All worldly possessions are like a castle of snow in the sun; or like a posy of flowers, which withers while we are smelling them. Oh, folly is it to put forth all one's violence for the world, which is but "for a season," and not for Christ and grace. As if a condemned man being earnest to get his dinner—but not concerned with getting his pardon.
12. The next motive is in the text—this violence is for a kingdom! The kingdom of Heaven suffers violence. And what will we be violent for, if not for a kingdom? Men will wade to a kingdom through blood: this is a kingdom worth striving for. Cyprus is an island so exceedingly fertile and pleasant, that it was anciently called Macaria, which signifies blessed. This title of blessed may more fitly be given to the heavenly kingdom. If the mountains were gold; if every sand of the sea were a diamond; if the whole globe were a shining crysolite; it would all still be infinitely beneath the glory of this kingdom.
1. The BLESSINGS of the heavenly kingdom are great.
1. There shall be freedom from sin. Here on earth, sin keeps house with us; it is as natural to us to sin as to breathe. The soul that is most refined, and cleansed by grace, is not without some dregs of corruption. Paul cried out of a "body of sin." He who is inoculated into Christ still has a taste and relish of the wild olive tree. But when we ascend to the heavenly kingdom, this mantle of sin shall drop off. That kingdom is so pure, that it will not mix with any corruption. A sinful thought shall not creep in there. There is beauty which is not stained with lust, and honor which is not swelled with pride. "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life." Revelation 21:27
2. In that blessed kingdom there shall be freedom from the assaults of the red dragon. Tis sad to have Satan daily soliciting us by his temptations, and laboring to trick us into sin. Temptation is the Devil's powder plot to blow up the fort-royal of our grace; but this is the blessed freedom of the heavenly kingdom, it is not capable of temptation. The old serpent is cast out of Paradise.
3. In that blessed kingdom there shall be freedom from divisions. In this world God's own tribes go to war. Ephraim envies Judah, and Judah vexes Ephraim. The soldier's spear pierced Christ's side—but the divisions of saints pierce his heart. Christ prayed that all his people might be one, as he and his Father are one, Jo. 17:21. But how do Christians by their discords and animosities go about with all their power to frustrate Christ's prayer! But in the kingdom of Heaven there is perfect love, which as it casts out fear, so it casts out strife. Those Christians that could not live quietly together here, in that kingdom shall be united. There Calvin and Luther are agreed. In that celestial kingdom there shall be no vilifying or slandering one another, no raking into those sores which Christ died to heal. Christians who could not pray together, shall sing together in that glorious choir: there shall not be one jarring string in the saints" music.
4. In that heavenly kingdom there shall be freedom from all afflictions. Our lives now are interlined with troubles. "My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak." Psalm 31:10. There are many things to occasion disquiet; sometimes poverty afflicts; sometimes sickness tortures; sometimes unkindness of friends breaks the heart. Our lives, like the seas, are full of tempests. But in the kingdom of Heaven, there is nothing to give grief. There, all is serene and calm; nothing within to trouble, or without to molest.
2. The royalties and EXCELLENCIES of that heavenly kingdom are great. We may say of Heaven, as it was said of Laish, Judges xviii. 9,10. "We have seen the land, and, behold, it is very good; a place where there is no lack of anything"
2. The heavenly kingdom abounds with RICHES! Rev. xxi. 27. "The twelve gates were twelve pearls." Earthly kingdoms are glad to traffic abroad for gold and spices. In the kingdom of God, all rarities are to be had, all commodities are of its own growth, therefore figured by the tree of life bearing several sorts of fruit, Rev. xxii. 2. How rich is that place where the blessed Deity shines forth in its immense glory infinitely beyond the comprehension of angels!
2. The delights of the heavenly kingdom are UNMIXED. The comforts here below are checkered. Honor may be stained with disgrace; joy interwoven with sorrow. Our stars are mixed with clouds; but the delicacies of heaven are pure as well as pleasant. There is honey that has not one drop of gall. The crystal spring of joy has no settlings of sorrow at the bottom. The rose in that paradise is without prickles; the sun in that horizon is without eclipse.
3. This kingdom above is DURABLE. Suppose earthly kingdoms to be more glorious than they are, their foundations of gold, their walls of pearl, their windows of sapphire—yet they are still corruptible, Hos. i. 1. "I will cause the kingdom to cease." Troy and Athens now lie buried in their own ruins. But the kingdom of glory, as it is made without hands—so it is without end. It is "the everlasting kingdom," 2 Pet. i. 11.
Now, methinks, that if we ever will use violence, it should be for this kingdom; this kingdom will make amends for all our labor and pains. Caesar, marching towards Rome, and hearing that all the people were fled from it, said, they will not fight for this city, what city will they fight for? So if we will not put forth violence for this Kingdom of Heaven, what will we be violent for? I say to all, as the children of Dan in another sense, Judges xviii. 9. "We have seen the land, and behold, it is very good; and are you still? Be not slothful to go, and to enter to possess the land."
13. The more violence we have used for Heaven—the sweeter Heaven will be when we come there. As when a man has been grafting trees, or setting flowers in his garden, it is pleasant to review and look over his labors: so in Heaven, when we shall remember our former zeal and activity for the kingdom, it will enhance Heaven, and add to the joy of it. For a Christian to think, "Such a day I spent in examining my heart; such a day I was weeping for sin; when others were at their sport, I was at my prayers. And now, have I lost anything by this violence? My tears are wiped away, and the wine of paradise cheers my heart. I now enjoy him whom my soul loves! I now have the crown and white robes I so longed for!" O how pleasant will it be to think—this is the Heaven my Savior bled for, and I sweat for!
14. The more violence we put forth in piety, the greater measure of glory we shall have. That there are degrees in glory in Heaven seems to me beyond dispute.
1. There are degrees of torment in Hell; therefore, by the rule of contraries, there are degrees of glory in Heaven.
2. The Scripture speaks of a prophet's reward, Matt. x. 41. which is a degree above others.
3. The saints are said to shine as the stars, Dan. xii. One star differs from another in glory. So that there are gradations of happiness; and of this judgment is Calvin; as also many of the ancient fathers.
Consider then seriously, the more violent we are for Heaven, and the more work we do for God, the greater will be our reward. The hotter our zeal, the brighter our crown. Could we hear the blessed souls departed speaking to us from Heaven, surely they would say, "Were we to leave heaven awhile and to dwell on the earth again, we would do God a thousand times more service than we have ever done! We would pray with more life, act with more zeal; for now we see that the more we have labored, the more astonishing is our joy and the more flourishing our crown!"
15. Upon our violence for the kingdom God has promised mercy. Matt. vii. 7. "Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."
1. ASK. Ask with importunity. A faint asking begs a denial. King Ahasuerus stood with his golden scepter and said to queen Esther, "Ask, and it shall be given, to the half of the kingdom!" But God says more, "Ask and he will give you the whole kingdom!" Luke xii. 32. It is observable, that the door of the tabernacle was not of brass—but had a thin covering, a veil, that they might easily enter into it. Just so, the door of Heaven is made easy through Christ's blood, that our prayers put up in fervency may enter. Upon our asking, God has promised to give his spirit, Luke xi.13. And if he gives his Spirit, he will give his kingdom; the Spirit first anoints, 1 John ii. 27, and after his anointing oil comes the crown.
2. "SEEK, and you shall find." But, is it not said, "Many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able?" Luke xiii. 24. I answer, that that is because they seek in a wrong manner.
1. They did seek ignorantly, setting up an altar to the unknown god. It is hard seeking pearls in the dark. Ignorant people seek Heaven by their good meanings; they seek in the dark, and no wonder they miss salvation.
2. They did seek proudly. They sought Heaven by their own merits; whereas we are to seek the kingdom in Christ's strength, and in his Name.
3. They did seek lazily; as the spouse sought Christ on her bed and found him not, Cant. iii. 1. So many seek Christ in a supine manner; they seek—but they do not strive.
4. They did seek hypocritically. They would have Heaven and their lusts too. But let not such seekers ever think to find happiness; let them not think they can lie in Delilah's lap--and go to Abraham's bosom when they die.
5. They did seek inconstantly. Because mercy did not come immediately, they gave over seeking.
But if we seek the kingdom of Heaven cordially, God has pawned his truth in a promise, and we shall find, Jer xxix. 13. "Then shall you find me, when you shall search for Me with all your heart."
3. "KNOCK, and it shall be opened." Knocking implies violence. But we must do as Peter, Acts xii. 16. "He continued knocking," We must continue knocking by prayer, and Heaven-gate shall be opened. How may this be as oil to the wheels? how may it encourage holy violence when we have so gracious a promise of mercy upon our earnest seeking of it.
16. This holy violence will not hinder men in their secular employments. Violence for the kingdom, and, diligence in a calling, are not inconsistent. Christians, you may work for Heaven—yet work in a trade. God has given you a body and a soul, and he has allotted you time to provide for both. He has given you a body, therefore be diligent in your calling; he has given you a soul, therefore be violent for Heaven. These two may well stand together— providing for a family and praying in a family. He who does not exercise himself in some honest employment, is guilty of the breach of that commandment, six days shall you labor. God never sealed warrants for idleness. The sluggard shall be indicted at the day of judgment for letting his field be over-run with thorns. They are hypocrites who talk of living by faith but refuse to live in a calling. Only remember that the pains you take in piety must exceed the other, Matt. vii. 33, "Seek first the kingdom of God." First, in order of time, before all things; and first in order of affection, above all things. Your soul is the nobler part, therefore that must be chiefly looked after. In your calling show diligence; in piety, show violence.
But some may say, we are so encumbered in the world that all time for piety is swallowed up; we cannot get a break from our calling to read or pray?
If your trade is such that you cannot allow yourselves time for your souls—then your trade is unlawful. There are two things that make a trade unlawful.
1. When people deal in such commodities as they know cannot be used without sin, such as selling on the black market or selling idolatrous pictures and crucifixes.
2. When their trade so involves them in worldly business, that they cannot mind eternity, or make out one sally to the throne of grace. They are so much in the shop—that they cannot be in the closet. If there be such a trade to be found, doubtless it is unlawful. But let not men lay this problem upon their trade—but upon themselves; their trade would give them leave to serve God—but their covetousness will not give them leave. O how many put a fallacy upon their own souls—and cheat themselves into hell.
17. There is but a short space of time granted us, therefore, work the harder for Heaven before it be too late. Indeed we are apt to dream of a long life, as if we were not sojourners but natives, and would reside here always. The blossom of childhood hopes to come to the budding of youth; and the bud of youth hopes to come to the flower of mature age; and the flower of mature age hopes to come come to old age; and old age hopes to renew its strength as the eagle. But if we measure life by a pair of scripture-compasses, it is very short: it is compared to a "flying shadow," Job viii. 17, to a "handbreadth," Psalm xxxix. 5. as if there were but a span between the cradle and the grave. Is the time of life so short, and maybe shorter than we are aware? What need is there to zealously improve it before it has slipped away? If time runs, let us 'so run," 1 Cor. ix. 24. He who has a great business in hand, and the time allotted for doing it is but short, should not lose any of that time. A traveler that has many miles to ride, and the night is ready to approach, had need spur on the harder, that the night does not overtake him. Just so, we have a long journey, the night of death is drawing on, how we should use spurs to our sluggish hearts, that we may go on more swiftly!
18. A man's personal day of grace may be short. There is a time in which the scepter of grace is held forth, 2 Cor vi. 2. "Now is the accepted time." The Lord has prefixed a time wherein the means of grace shall or shall not work. If a person does not come in, by such a time, God may say, "Never shall fruit grow on you anymore." A sign that this day of grace, is past is when conscience no longer speaks and God's Spirit has done striving. Whether this day may be longer or shorter, we cannot tell; but because it may transpire so soon, it is wisdom to take the present opportunity, and use all violence for Heaven. The day of hastens away. No man can (like Joshua) bid this 'sun stand still;" and if this critical day be once past, it cannot be recalled. The day of grace being lost—the next is a day of wrath!
Jerusalem had a day—but she lost it, Luke xix. 44. "If you had known, even you, at least in this your day, the things which belong unto your peace—but now they are hid from your eyes." After the expiration of the day of grace, no means or mercies shall prove effectual. Now, "they are hid from your eyes." Which is like the ringing of a doleful knell over a dying person; therefore, put forth all violence for Heaven and do it in this "your day," before it be too late and the decree be gone forth.
19. If you neglect the offering of violence, now—there will be no help for you after death. When men shall open their eyes in another world and see into what a damned condition they have sinned themselves, O now what would they not do—what violence would they now use—if there were a possibility they might be saved!
When once the door of mercy is shut, if God would make new terms far harder than before, they would readily agree to them. If God should say to the sinner after death, would you be content to return to the earth, and live there under the harrow of persecution a thousand years for my sake? "Yes, Lord, I will subscribe to this, and endure the world's fury—that I may have but your favor at last!"
"But will you be content to serve an apprenticeship in Hell a thousand years, where you shall feel the worm gnawing and the fire burning?" "Yes, Lord, even in Hell I submit to you; so that after a thousand years I may have a release and that "bitter cup" may pass away from me!"
"But, will you, for every lie you have told endure the rack? will you for every oath that you have sworn, fill a bottle of tears? will you for every sin you have committed lie ten thousand years in sackcloth and ashes?" "Yes, Lord, all this and more if you require, I will subscribe to; I am content now to use any violence if I may but at last be admitted into your kingdom!"
"No!" God will say, "there shall be no such condition proposed to you, no possibility of favor—but you shall lie forever among the damned; and who is able to dwell with everlasting burnings?"
Oh, therefore be wise in time, now while God's terms are more easy, embrace Christ and Heaven, for after death there will be nothing to be done for your souls. The sinner and the fiery furnace shall never be parted!
20. How without all defense will you be left, if you neglect this violence for Heaven! Methinks I hear God thus expostulating the case with sinners thus at the last day: "Why did you not take pains for Heaven? Has there not been a prophet among you? Did not my ministers lift up their voice like a trumpet? did not they warn you? did not they persuade you to use this violence, telling you that your salvation depended upon it? But the most melting rhetoric of the gospel would not move you. Did I not give you time to look after your souls? (Rev. ii. 21. "I gave her space to repent.") Did not you promise in your vow in baptism, that you would take Heaven by force? 'fighting under my banner against world, flesh, and Devil?' Why then did you not use violence for the kingdom? It must be either sloth or obstinacy. You could be violent for other things, for the world, for your lusts—but not for the kingdom of Heaven! What can you say for yourselves, as to why the sentence of damnation should not pass?"
O how will men be confounded, and left speechless at such a time, and God's justice shall be cleared in their condemnation! Psalm li. 4. "That you might be clear when you judge." Though the sinner shall drink a sea of wrath—yet he shall not drink one drop of injustice!
21. What a vexation it will be at the last to lose the kingdom of glory for lack of a little violence. When one shall think with himself, "I did something in piety—but I was not violent enough. I prayed—but I should have brought fire to the sacrifice. I heard the word—but I should have received the truth in love. I humbled myself with fasting—but I should with humiliation have joined reformation. I gave Christ's poor good words; I did bid them be warmed—but I should have clothed and fed them. For lack of a little more violence I have lost the kingdom!"
The prophet bade the king of Israel smite upon the ground, 2 Kings 13:18,19. And he "He struck it three times and stopped. The man of God was angry with him and said, "You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it." So a man does something in piety, "he strikes three times and then stops; whereas had he but put forth a little more violence for Heaven he would have been saved. What a mischief is this, but to half do one's work, and by shooting short—to lose the kingdom! O how will this cut a man to the heart when he is in hell to think, "had I but gone a little further it had been better with me than it is now; I had not been tormented thus in the flame!"
22. The examples of the saints of old, who have taken heaven by force. David broke his sleep for meditation, Psalm 119:148. His violence for heaven was boiled up to zeal, Psalm 119:39. "My zeal has consumed me!" And Paul "pressed on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." The Greek Word signifies to stretch out the neck: it is a metaphor taken from racers, who strain every limb, and reach forward to lay hold upon the prize. We read of Anna, a prophetess, Luke ii. 37. "She departed not from the temple—but served God with fastings and prayers night and day." How industrious was Calvin in the Lord's vineyard. When his friends persuaded him for his health's sake, to remit a little of his labors, says he, "Would you have the Lord find me idle when he comes?" Luther spent three hours a day in prayer. It is said of holy Bradford, that preaching, reading, and prayer were his whole life. I rejoice (said Jewel) that my body is exhausted in the labors of my holy calling. How violent were the blessed martyrs! They wore their fetters as ornaments; they snatched up torments as crowns, and embraced the flames as cheerfully as Elijah did the fiery chariot which came to fetch him to Heaven. "Let racks, fires, pulleys, and all manner of torments come—just so I may win Christ!" said Ignatius. These pious souls resisted unto blood. How should these provoke our zeal! Write after these fair copies.
23. If the saints with all their violence have much ado to get to heaven, how shall they come there, who use no violence? 1 Peter ix. 18. "If the righteous scarcely are saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" If they who strive as in an agony can hardly get in at the strait gate—what shall become of those who never strive at all? If Paul did "keep under his body," by prayer, watching, and fasting, 1 Cor. ix. 27, how shall they be saved, who wholly let loose the reins to the flesh, and bathe themselves in the luscious streams of carnal pleasure?
24. This sweating for Heaven is not to endure long. 1 Peter v. 10. "After you have suffered a while." So after you have offered violence a while, there shall be an end put to it. Your labor shall expire with your life! It is but a little while—and you will be done weeping, wrestling, and praying! It is but a little while—and the race will be over, and you shall receive "the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls," 1 Pet. i.9. It is but a little while—and and you shall be done your weary marches, you shall put off your armor and put on white robes! How should this excite a spirit of holy violence! It is but a few months or days—and you shall reap the sweet fruit of your obedience! The winter will be past, and the spring flowers of joy shall appear. Doctor Taylor comforted himself when he was going to the stake, "I have but two stiles to go over—and I shall be at my Father's house!" Christians, you have but a little way to go, a little more violence, a few more tears to shed, a few more Sabbaths to keep, and then your hopes shall be crowned with the beatifical sight of God! When the vapor is blown away—then we may see the sun clearly. Just so, when this short vapor of life is blown away—then we shall behold Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, in all his glory! 1 John iii. 2. "We shall see him as he is!"
25. If you are not violent for Heaven, you walk contrary to your own prayers. You pray that God's will may be done by you on earth, "as it is done in Heaven." Now how is God's will done in Heaven? Are not the angels swift in doing the will of God, like the stars above, which are moved many millions of miles in an hour. The seraphim are described with wings—to show how swift and winged they are in their obedience, Isaiah vi. 2. Now if you are not violent in your spiritual motion, you live in a contradiction to your own prayers. You are far from being as angels; you creep as snails in the way to Heaven.
26. This holy and blessed violence would make Christians willing to die. What makes men so loathe to die? Why so? Because their conscience accuses them that they have taken little or no pains for Heaven! They have been sleeping, when they should have been working, and now death looks ghastly! They are afraid death will carry them as prisoners to hell!
Whereas the Christian who has been active in piety, and has spent his time in the service of God, can look death in the face with comfort. He who has been violent for Heaven in this life need not fear a violent death. Death shall do him no hurt; it shall not be a destruction—but a deliverance; it shall purge out sin and perfect glory! What made Paul say, "I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far!" Phil. i. 23. Surely the reason was, that he had been a man of violence; he did spend himself for Christ, and labored more than all the other Apostles. 1 Cor. xv. 10. And now he knew there was a crown laid up for him. Augustus desired that he might have a quiet, easy death. If anything will make our pillow easy at death, and make us go out of the world quietly—it will be this holy violence that we have put forth in the business of piety.
27. If for all that has been said you will either sit still, or keep your sweat for something other than Heaven, know, that there is a time coming shortly when you will wish you had used this violence. When sickness seizes you, and your disease begins to grow violent, and you think God's sergeant is at the door—what wishes will you make, "O that I had been more violent for heaven! O that I had been praying—when I was dancing and making merry! O that I had had a bible in my hand—when I had a hand of cards! How happy then might I have been! But alas, my case is miserable! What shall I do! I am so sick—that I cannot live; and so sinful—that I dare not die? O that God would respite me a little longer, that he would put a few more years in my lease, that a little space might be granted me to recover my lost hours!"
As one said on her death-bed, "Call time again!" But time will not be called back again. At the hour of death, sinners will awaken out of their lethargy—and fall into a frenzy of horror and despair!
Shall not all these arguments prevail with men to be violent for the kingdom? What a hardened rock, is a sinner's heart! We read that at Christ's passion, the rocks rent, Matt. xxvii. 51. But nothing will move a sinner. The rocks will sooner rend—than his heart. If all that I have said will not prevail, it is a sign that ruin is at hand! 1 Sam ii. 25. "They hearkened not unto the voice of their Father, because the Lord would slay them!"
Yet this caution I must necessarily insert—Though we shall not obtain the kingdom without violence—yet it shall not be obtained for our violence. When we have done all, look up to Christ and free grace! Though we are saved in the use of means—yet it is by grace too, Ephes. ii. 5. "By grace you are saved." Heaven is a gift. Luke xii. 32. "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." One may say, "I have used violence for it, I have wrought for the kingdom—but it is a gift which free grace bestows!" We must look up to Christ for acceptance. It is not our sweat—but his blood which saves. Our laboring qualifies us for Heaven—but Christ's dying purchased Heaven!
Alas, what is all that we have done—compared with glory? What is the shedding of a tear—compared to a crown? Therefore we must renounce all in terms of our justification, and let Christ and free grace carry away the glory of our salvation. God must help us in our working, Phil ii. 11. "It is God who works in you both to will and to do." How then can we merit by our working, when it is God who helps us in our working?
Saturday, May 14, 2011
The Christian Soldier