Concerning The Throne of Grace
Sermon 12 of 13
by Robert Trail
Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Having spoke of the need of God’s grace, and of its helpfulness in general; I came to condescend on some seasons wherein the grace of God is specially needful and helpful. Of them I named six; three of which I have spoke to, and the other three remain to be handled.
1. The first season named, was the time of temptation. There was never a believer so little beloved of Christ, as to be given up as a prey to Satan; and never lay a believer so near Christ’s heart, but the devil may get him into his sieve. Therefore let us never flatter ourselves in a state of security from disturbance by the devil. Blessed be God, we are brought into a state of safety from ruin by him.
2. A season of spiritual decay: soul sickness, a weakness in the new creature. There are some people that never knew by experience what bodily sickness means, but have enjoyed perfect health all their life. But I am apt to think, that few, if any Christians, find it so as to the new creation in them.
3. A season of special enjoyments. Though these two seem to be very far from, and contrary to one another; yet they agree in this, that in both grace is needful and helpful. The unaccountable wisdom and sovereignty of the Lord our God, shines in his conduct of his people. Some of them have extraordinary receivings; others know little what they mean. There are some Christians, whose way to heaven lies all along in the depths and in the vales, when others ride on their high places. Now, these singular manifestations from God, though desirable and profitable, yet are not without special dangers. To prevent which, the Lord provides and ministers special physic to them: and it is strong and unpleasant; but the physician can bless it; as Paul’s experience witnesseth (2 Cor 12). He had been in heaven, he knew not how; he had heard, he could not tell what when he came back. But he well knew what he met with on his return, and how needful and useful it was for him. Lest he should be exalted above measure with what he had seen and heard in paradise, hell is sent to humble him. May we not infer this, How unfit are believers, while in the body, and a body of death is in them, to be in heaven, when any special enjoyment of heaven must have so dreadful a remedy administered to prevent hurt?
IV. A fourth season of special need of grace, is the time of affliction. Afflictions are of many sorts and kinds. I am apt to believe, that though there be some likeness in the afflictions of many, yet every afflicted man hath a particular affliction of his own. As it is with people’s faces, so it is with their crosses. For as many thousand faces as are amongst mankind, though all are somewhat like, yet every one hath some distinction. The world is full of crosses; yet every afflicted person hath his own cross. Our Lord hints at it (Matt 16:24) Let a man take up his cross. The Lord appoints a proper cross for every one: though people are ready to think and say, that their cross is unfit for them, and that they would bear another cross better. In crosses we must neither choose nor refuse. David’s case was singular (2 Sam 24). The Lord chooseth for us, and we must not, cannot refuse: (Job 34:33) Should it be according to thy mind? he will recompense it, whether thou refuse, or whether thou choose, and not I: therefore speak what thou knowest. There is a general distinction of afflictions. Some are from God’s hand, for sin, or trial, or prevention: and some are from man’s hand, for Christ’s sake, and the gospel’s. In all of them grace is helpful and needful. But I would speak only something in general, that every one may apply to themselves according to their experience and exercise; and that on these two heads: 1. The needfulness of grace to the afflicted. 2. The helpfulness of grace to the afflicted, whatever their affliction be.
1. I would speak of the need of the grace of God to the afflicted. Some sense of this is engraven on the hearts of men by the light of nature. The Heathen mariners in the storm express this, (Jonah 1:5,6) What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not. A sad case! A Heathen shipmaster challenging a godly prophet for his neglect of seeking God! He calls him by a shameful, but well-deserved name, O sleeper. The storm came on for Jonah’s sake, as he told them (v 12): yet he is the securest person in the ship. He only knew God, yet he is last in calling on him. An honest Pagan may outdo a distempered prophet, in some things, at some times. This sense was expressed greatly by the king, nobles, and inhabitants of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5-10). And they again go far beyond Jonah. They believed God on Jonah’s preaching, repented, prayed, and fasted, and the Lord repented of the evil. But Jonah was not grieved at all (4:1,2). If it were not for his excellent prayer (chap 2), and that he was a prophet of the Lord, and the penman of the Holy Ghost, to record his own sin and shame, for the benefit of the church; we should be tempted to question this man’s grace, of whose fearful sins we have so large an account. He rebels against the Lord’s call to preach to Nineveh. When he flees, the Lord overtakes him by a storm, takes him by the lot; he is cast into the sea, schooled in the whale’s belly three days and three nights; a miraculous chastisement, and a miraculous preservation. He now obeys the repeated call. But when his labour had a gracious effect, he is displeased exceedingly, and prays most sinfully. Jonah’s instance should teach ministers and Christians to pray more, Lord, lead us not into temptation. As nature’s light teacheth afflicted people their need of the Lord’s grace and mercy, the word declares it more plainly (James 5:13; Psa 50:15; Hosea 5:15). This need of the helping grace of God in affliction, I would instruct in these:—
1st, Affliction-sins are readily fallen into without the help of the grace of God. Such sins, I mean, that affliction doth easily and naturally tempt unto; as fretting, impatience, murmuring, and quarrelling with the hand of God. It is sadly and frequently seen, that affliction hath not only brought along with it discovery of sin, but also the actings and workings of more corruption, than either the person himself, or any else, thought was in the man. It was a sad character of a very bad man, (2 Chron 28:22) And in the time of his distress did he trespass yet more against the Lord: this is that king Ahaz. This is a man noted for a never-do-well. A brother in the same office, and in the same iniquity, said, Behold this evil is of the Lord; what, should I wait for the Lord any longer? (2 Kings 6:33).
2dly, Affliction-duties are only practicable by the help of the grace of God. Every cross hath its work, as well as its trial. There is that required and called for in affliction, that craves a special assistance of the grace of God for the doing of it. It is remarkable, that the great duty of the afflicted is expressed by two negatives, Hebrews 12:5 from Proverbs 3:11, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him. What then is the positive duty? It is that which is neither of these two. If the affliction be light, we are apt to despise it; and if it be heavy, we are as apt to faint under it. But, saith the Holy Ghost, see that ye do neither. If it be never so light, do not despise it; if it be never so heavy, faint not under it. And there is no small need of grace to preserve us from those extremes, and to keep us in the right midst.
3dly, The consolations of an afflicted state are very needful, and grace only can furnish us with them. Be ye assured of it, that never did a Christian bear up patiently under God’s heavy hand, but by the strong secret working of some consolation. It is true, we value and seek most that consolation that comes in as a great flood of sense, and that doth swallow up the bitterness of affliction. This the Lord can, and sometimes doth give to his people. But there is a secret, silent spring of consolation, that is a profitable, and more common in the Lord’s way with his children. Of this the apostle speaks in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5. Everlasting consolation, and good hope through grace, are his blessings (2 Thess 2:16,17).
2. Wherein doth the helpfulness of grace consist, in an afflicted state?
1st, God’s grace helps with light to know God’s mind in affliction. It is dreadful to be struck in the dark, when a man neither seeth the path he walks in, nor the hand that smiteth him, nor the weapon he is smote with. The great blessing that grace can help us to, is, to know what the rod means, what its voice is, who hath appointed it, and what of God’s name is written on the rod (Micah 6:9). Job was very earnest for this light, (Job 10:2) I will say unto God, Do not condemn me; shew me wherefore thou contendest with me. Elihu adviseth him well, (Job 34:31-32) Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne chastisement, I will not offend any more. That which I see not, teach thou me; if I have done iniquity, I will do no more. Many a poor believer has been put to this, that if he had all the world, he would have parted with it, to have known God’s mind in his afflictions. Sometimes by the light of the furnace, we come to know our hearts and corruptions, and thereby what God smites for, and calls to. The Lord can, by the teachings of his word and Spirit, and by the wisdom of his providential dispensations, engrave that particular meaning that is in his heart, on the rod that is in his hand, that men may know it. And happy is that person that is so dealt with. But it is indeed harder to be sincerely willing to know and admit of God’s mind in affliction, than it is to find it out. But his grace can help to both, and the throne of grace should be much plied for both.
2dly, Grace can give in strength and support under affliction: (2 Cor 4:16) For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. It is a wonderful thing, to see how much pain, sickness, and torment, a poor frail body is able to bear. We think how close and sticking a thing is life, that is not squeezed out by such a stress. Yet the frailty of the flesh,in bearing the distress of the flesh, is a small thing, in regard of the frailty of the heart in bearing of God’s rebukes: (Prov 18:14) The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear? Yet many have borne it; but surely by divine support. It is the common sense of distressed Christians, that they have been put to bear such burdens; that they thought at first would surely have crushed them. The reason of their wonder is, because the weight of the burden upon them was sensible; but the everlasting arms underneath them and their burden, were not seen (Deut 33:27).
3dly, Grace helps in affliction, by enabling the afflicted to believe, that there is love in the afflicter. He saith it, (Rev 3:19) As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; and he can make us believe it. Nothing but his mighty grace can do it. Nothing is like anger than affliction, especially when severe. Nothing is more difficult to believe, than that which, to all our sense and reason, is ruining to us, should be in love in him that doth it. Who can believe this without the help of grace? and how great must that help be, that enableth a man to believe so unlikely a thing?
4thly, Grace helps in affliction, by teaching to profit thereby: (Heb 12:11) Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness, unto them which are exercised thereby. The fruit of sanctified affliction is a great mystery, as all spiritual fruit is. You cannot tell how you profit by the word. I am afraid, that there is but little profiting at all; but they that do profit cannot tell how they profit. They may see the seed sown, they may find it sown in their hearts, they may perceive its fruits in their worship and walk; but how the grace of God works with the word in making them profit, is too deep for the most discerning Christians. It is some way more mysterious how the Lord works out profit by afflictions. It is indeed often found, blessed be his name. Many can say with David, (Psa 119:67) Before I was afflicted, I went astray: but now have I kept thy word, (v 71) It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. But none can tell how the grace of God makes the bitter seed of affliction bring forth the peaceable fruit of righteousness. And where is that saint, who, when the Lord is writing bitter things against him, and multiplying his wounds, can say in faith, “Now, at this time, and in this manner, the Lord is sowing that seed in me, that shall spring up in fruits of righteousness, to his praise, and my certain profit; and the day will come, wherein I shall bless his name from my heart, for all the sorrows I now feel and mourn under?”
I shall say no more of this head of affliction; but only would give you this warning. Afflictions are very common, and much complained of. Some professors spend all the little religion they have upon their afflictions. Take heed to your hearts under afflictions. It is to be bewailed, that many Christians, their afflictions come on them they know not whence, they lie on them they know not wherefore, and they go off they know not how; that, if I may allude to such sacred words, and apply the phrase to such a sinful frame, afflictions come on many, and they feel the smart of them, but know not whence they come, nor whither they go. They come on them when they are sent, and go off when they are called; but they neither knew what God meant by them, nor did by them. No Christian can ever make a spiritual and hearty song of praise for afflictions, unless there be some sense or hope of profit thereby. If the profit be seen, the wisdom and love of God in afflicting, will be heartily acknowledged.
V. The fifth time of special need of the grace of God, is, a time of special duty and service to God called for. All the course of our life is to be constant service. We ought to live to his praise. We are made as creatures, and as new creatures, for this end (Isa 43:21; 1 Peter 2:9). But there are some seasons in which special work is called for, and then there is great need of grace to help in that hour. It is a mighty word of the preacher, (Eccl 8:6) Because to every purpose there is time, and judgment; therefore the misery of man is great upon him. And it is only the wise man’s heart that discerneth time and judgment (v 5). I would name four of those times.
1. The time that men are called to believe on Jesus Christ, and to secure their eternal salvation by a full closing with him. This is a now, a day, an accepted time, a day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2). All that hear the gospel, are bound by the call of God in it, and warranted by the promise of it, to receive by faith Jesus Christ, and eternal life, every time they hear the gospel. But sometimes this duty is specially called for; which, if neglected, may be of fatal consequence to men. Hence that exhortation, (Isa 55:6) Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near. When Christ is knocking at the door of the heart, then it is special duty to open to him (Rev 3:20). This was the day Jerusalem had, and neglected; and that that Christ mourned over them for (Luke 19:41,42). Unspeakable is men’s need of the prevailing help of grace, when their hearts and consciences are warmed with the calls of grace in the gospel. In such seasons, the everlasting bargain is either fixed by the power of grace working faith in the heart; or people are left to themselves, and are farther from heaven than ever.
2. Some special call to men to give their testimony to Christ and his gospel by suffering. The Lord comes and craves men’s testimony to his truth, and chargeth them thus: “If thou hast any love to me and my honour, I demand thy witness, venture thy all, take up thy cross.” Many Christians have neglected such trying seasons, which in vain and sorrowfully they have wished for again. There is much of God’s grace needful to discern these seasons, and wisely to improve them.
3. There is another remarkable seasons of men’s need of God’s grace to help them in; and that is, the season of the Lord’s calling them to a duty-trial; a duty called to by way of trial. The Lord gives the call to try men; and very great are the consequences of obeying or disobeying of such a call. Many instances are of this in the word. One is in Numbers 14. The passage is plain and awful. When Israel had been above a year in the wilderness, twelve spies are sent to view the land: they all bring back an evil report, save Joshua and Caleb: the people murmur; God threatens them with judgments: they seem to be sensible of their sin; it is like by the plague that slew the ten false spies (v 37), and by what Moses spake to them. They acknowledge their sin; and resolve to go up next morning (v 40). Moses tells them, they now sinned again, and that the Lord was not among them (vv 41,42). What severe dealing is this? The Lord was among them yesterday, not this morning: they were bid go up yesterday, they are forbid next morning. Because they did not what the Lord bid them do in his time, he will not protect them when they do the same thing in their time. Thus Saul was tried twice (1 Sam 13). Samuel bid him tarry for him seven days at Gilgal: Saul tarried six days, and part of the seventh, and then offered sacrifice; not, as I think, that he did invade the priest’s office himself, but command some priest to do it. Profane princes never want profane chaplains. What a severe sentence doth Samuel pronounce against him (vv 13,14)? Again, the same man is tried with another duty (1 Sam 15), and fails therein, and is punished therefore. This sort of trying men by duty, is like that in 2 Kings 13:14-20 which Elisha did put Joash unto. How many of the people of God, through the want of the present help of grace in some duty-trials, have stepped into such paths, and have fallen into such pits and snares, as they have never got well and clearly out of, as long as they lived?
4. It is a season of great need of grace to help us in, when the Lord, by his providence, puts several things in a person’s choice, and leaves them to choose. The fullest of this kind was that offer made to David about judgments (2 Sam 24:12,13). A hard choice; but David did choose wisely. His son Solomon had another offer; but it was of blessings, and not of judgments, (2 Chron 1:7) Ask what I shall give thee. And he chose wisely: and by his choice proved, that he had already received a good measure of wisdom. Moses had a great offer, and things of vast difference were in his choice; and he chose like a man taught of God (Heb 11:24-26). Moses, in his last sermon to Israel (Deut 30:15-20) puts them on choosing: I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: that thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days. So did his successor Joshua, when he had settled Israel in the promised land, a little before his death: (Josh 24:15) Choose you this day whom you will serve. Elijah did so with apostate Israel (1 Kings 18:21). Somewhat like this is laid before men in the daily ministry of the word. The curse of the law, or the blessing of the gospel, is in men’s offer; and men get as they choose. If men refuse the blessing, the curse belongs to them; if they receive the blessing, they are delivered from the curse. But the choosing I mean, is that the Lord puts men often to, in the several turns of his providence towards them: (Psa 25:12) What man is he that feareth the Lord? him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose. Many gracious promises are in the word, of God’s guiding of his people; many prayers put up by saints in the word for this gracious guiding; and many praises rendered to the Lord for their blessed experience of his guiding. Who can walk safely through this wilderness, without the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night? How many of men’s sorrows may be laid on their being left of God, in choosing for themselves? and how many of our mercies are owing to the Lord’s gracious guiding of us in doubtful cases? But it is a very hard thing to ask direction from God. Three faults are common in this practice. 1. Pre-engagement of heart. As it is a great sin after vows to make inquiry (Prov 20:25); so is it to ask direction from God, when men are resolved on the way they will take. An eminent instance of this sinful frame, we have in Jeremiah 42 and 43. They sought counsel of God by the prophet in a great strait; they promised to follow it whatever it was: God gives his mind; they reject it, because it suited not their inclinations. It is no easy thing to ask direction of God, with an undetermined frame. 2. Pride of understanding. Men think they are wise enough to choose their own way. Therefore that command should be much minded, (Prov 3:5-7) Trust in the Lord with all thine heart: and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes. And that other word, (Prov 20:24) Man’s goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way? (Prov 16:9) A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps. 3. Haste. Men wait not for God’s counsel (Psa 106:13); and therefore go without it, and stumble in dark paths. He that believeth, maketh not haste (Isa 28:16). A little more patient waiting on the Lord, as Psalm 40:1, hath often brought in determining light in doubtful cases.
So much for the fifth season of need of grace.
VI. The last time of need of grace is, the time of dying. It is indeed the last; for he that is helped by grace in that time, will need no more help of grace to eternity. This time of dying, is what we should all think on; and if you think aright on it, it will not be unwelcome to hear of it.
On this I would shew, 1. The need of grace. And, 2. The help of grace in this last and greatest time of need.
1. I would speak of the need of grace to help in this season. Though all men have some conviction of it; yet, to strengthen that conviction, I would speak to a few things about it.
1st, This time of need is unavoidable. It is a time that must come. Other times of need may come, and may not come. We may be tempted, we may be afflicted, we may be tried, we may be cast down, and we may be lifted up again: but die we must. It is appointed unto men once to die (Heb 9:27). As sure as we live, we must die. We live our appointed time, and we die at our appointed time (Job 14:5,14), and all our times are in his hand (Psa 31:15; Eccl 3:2). There is a time to be born, and a time to die (v 11). He hath made every thing beautiful in his time. That man must have better eyes than those of flesh, that can see any beauty in death. If there had been but two or three of mankind, that had lived from Noah to this day, and had been privileged with an exemption from this general appointment, every fool on earth would have dreamed, that, it may be, he shall partake of the same privilege also. But when all that ever breathed from Adam to this day, are dead, (save the present generation, whom a few more years will sweep away, as it hath done their predecessors); what folly is there in men’s thoughtlessness of this unavoidable fate? But if you say, All shall not die, but be changed, as 1 Corinthians 15:51 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17; consider, that this change is to them, as death is to us; and it may be will be as terrible to the saints alive then, as death now is. As believers now dread not death, and to be dead, so much as they fear to die; the state of the dead in Christ is not terrible, but the passage to it is: so they that are changed at Christ’s coming, may have the same sentiments, till the change be wrought on them. It is (though none knows the particular manner of it) a putting off of mortality and corruption, and a putting on the robes of immortality and incorruption. The same is done as to every saint at death and the resurrection. Both are done to every believer in an instant, who are found alive at Christ’s second coming. Elijah’s translation (2 Kings 2), and Enoch’s (Heb 11:5) were emblems of the change on believers at Christ’s second appearance; as the raising of Lazarus, and others, both in the Old Testament and New, were of the general resurrection: and in special manner they spoke of, (Matt 27:52,53) And the graves were opened; and many bodies of saints which slept, arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. But whatever the change on saints at Christ’s coming be to them, and if it may be thought a more easy trial than natural death is; it is certain, that the change that shall then pass on the ungodly, will be far more dreadful than bare dying is now. This is then the only exception from the general appointment on all men once to die. How amazing then is the stupidity of men, that so few seriously think on it, and prepare for it? that so many men and women, that are under the sentence of death; that have the seeds of death in them; that live in a world wherein all things that have life, are dying before their eyes: that live on creatures that lose their lives to support theirs; that have so many warnings of death’s sure and speedy approach, are yet, after all, surprised by it when it comes, as if they had never heard of it? This stupidity is both a sad sign and effect of the plague of unbelief. Judgment and eternity, that follow at death’s heels, are matters of pure faith. But death is obvious to sense, reason, and universal experience. Yet men only think they may die, and do not entertain the persuasion with assurance into their hearts, and serious daily thoughts, that they must die.
2dly, Dying is not only unavoidable, but it is a new trial. None can tell what dying is. Many know what it is to be sick, to be in great pain, to faint and fall into a swoon, which is a little image of death; as also the Heathen poet called sleep death’s elder brother: but none knows what dying is. It was a very sensible word a dying Christian in this city spoke to myself, when visiting him a few hours before his death, “No man can tell another what dying is. I feel I am dying; but I cannot tell you what it is.” Death is a path that you never trod before; you never walked in it hitherto; you may have thought yourselves to have gone a good way in the valley of the shadow of death, but you never walked through it. Paul died daily (1 Cor 15:31); he was in deaths often (2 Cor 11:23): yet he was a living man then, when he said so; and he died but once. All new trials require new supplies of grace; and the trial of death is quite new. When we are tempted one day, we may know what temptation is thereby, and be thereby fitted for the next: but no past experience can teach us fully what dying is.
3dly, Dying is not only a necessary, and new trial; but it is such a trial, in which a man’s all is concerned for eternity. Immediately on death follows judgment (Heb 9:27). Death is the dark trance betwixt time and eternity. While we live, we are in time; when we are a-dying, we are leaving time, and passing into eternity; when we are dead, we are quite and for ever out of time, and are in eternity for ever. If a man miscarry in this passage, if a man stumble in the dark valley of death, if he fall here, he falls for ever. I would not have people to imagine, that the stress of their salvation depends on their frame when a-dying; for some Christians, when near to death, have neither the use and exercise of sense or reason, much less of grace. But surely, when the case of men’s bodies permits acts of a man, or of a Christian, there is great need of grace to enable us to die well.
4thly, Dying is a great trial of faith. Though we know not fully what dying is; yet we may know so much of it, as to be convinced, that it is much harder to die in faith than to live by faith: and yet living by faith is the hardest thing we have to do in this world. To trust in an unseen God; to believe his unchangeable love, when we feel his anger, to trust his bare word, when we see no appearance of performance, but many to the contrary, are no easy things to the best. Our frequent experience of the difficulty, and of our many failings in this daily exercise, of living by faith, may justly make us sensible of our need of great help of grace, when we shall be called to the new and more hard work of dying by faith. To inforce this a little, consider,
(1.) Usually when death draws near to men, and they draw near to it, the eye of the mind is clearer, and the conscience more tender and sharp-sighted, in the review of their life and actions. Many never saw their lives well, till they are just at the end of them. And many believers walk so, as a spiritual review of their ways breeds no small storm in their consciences, and trial and shaking to their faith. Though death be a dark valley, yet great light of convictions and challenges springs up in it. Woe to them that never know, till they are a-dying, what an awakened conscience is. Ways that are pleasing to men, when the evil day is put far away, look frightfully on them when that day approacheth, and is very nigh.
(2.) A dying time, is a time wherein the devil is very busy. He fetcheth then his last stroke on saints, and on sinners. He doth his utmost to secure the damnation of sinners, that he may not lose them at last. The devil’s death-hold of a dying sinner is a strong one. He also doth his utmost against believers, if not to mar their salvation, yet to hinder their consolation. The devil’s parting-blow hath been dreadful to many a saint. It is a weighty word (Heb 2:14) where he is said to have the power of death. It is true, there it is said also, that Christ overcame him, and through death. Death is properly and strictly in the devil’s dominions. Sin and death are properly the devil’s, though the Lord hath the wise ordering of both. He permits sin, and inflicts death; and death lies near the devil’s great prison, hell. Through the valley of death there are two passages; one leading to hell, and another to heaven. Most fall into the pit; others are brought through safe and sound, by the skill and mercy of their blessed guide, Christ. It fares here with believers as with Israel, and with unbelievers as with the Egyptians, (Heb 11:29) By faith they passed through the Red Sea, as by dry land; which the Egyptians assaying to do, were drowned.
(3.) Judgment and eternity, when near, and seen at hand, are awful things: and a near view of them will try faith greatly. This view blows away the presumption and hope of the hypocrite; (Job 27:8) What is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul? (Job 11:20) Their hope is as the giving up of the ghost. His hope lived as long as he lived; and when he dies, it dies also. Woe to them that have a dying hope, a hope that cannot outlive death. Christians are begotten to a living or lively hope (1 Peter 1:3). He hath hope in his death (Prov 14:32). The man’s body dies, but the Christian’s hope and faith lives. He lies down in the grave in hope (Psa 16:9). He dies in that faith he lived by (Heb 11:13).
2. What is the helpfulness of grace, in this time of great need, a time of dying. I am speaking to living men, but to such as must die, and know not how soon. I shall only insist on one thing at this time. The grace of God helps believers, by strengthening of their faith. That is the help they mainly need in that hour. And this help stands in these:—
1st, When a dying believer is helped by grace to see death in Christ’s hand. There is a vast difference betwixt death in the devil’s hand, who hath the power of it; and death in Christ’s hand, who is master both of death and the devil: betwixt a man’s seeing death approaching, and the devil behind it, and with it; and a man’s seeing death coming on him, and Christ with it. Paul’s triumph rose on this ground: (1 Cor 15:55-57) O death, where is thy sting? O grave, (or hell), where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ. That by which death stings men, is sin unpardoned, and God’s holy law binding sin and wrath on their persons. Victory over both sin and the law, comes by Jesus Christ. When this victor, and victory in Christ, is seen by a believer, death is defied and despised, as a stingless overcome thing. Much and strong faith is needful to enable a man to play on the hole of his asp. Christ reveals himself to John almost dead with fear, (Rev 1:17,18) Fear not; I have the keys of hell and of death. “Behold them in my hand, and behold me as the lord of them.” Should a believer in Jesus fear any thing that Christ hath the power of? The bitterness of death is past to all believers, by Christ’s death, and victory over it. And if their faith was strong, their fears would be small.
2dly, To have faith enabled to look through death, and beyond death. If a man’s eyes be fixed on death only, and see no further, it is death to look on death: but when the believer’s eye of faith is so quickened, that he can look through the trance of death, and see within the vail, where Christ is, that is a blessed help of grace. Christians’ faith and hope enters within the vail (Heb 6:19). And a view within the vail is specially desirable and useful, when the Christian is walking in the valley of the shadow of death (Psa 23:4).
3dly, Faith is helped, when the dying believer is enabled to cast his anchor on God in Christ confidently in this last storm. This last act of faith is a great one. The more sensible a man is that he is on the point of eternal ruin, the nearer he is to drop into hell without divine help; the more sensibly he acts faith. Then the clingings and graspings of faith on Christ, are sensible and strong. When a believer looks on himself, and on his way, and seeth nothing in them pleasing or staying to his soul; he looks into the dark passage before him, and it is frightful to heart and flesh; he looks on judgment and eternity as just at hand, and his thoughts are swallowed up with their greatness. In this case to stay his soul, and say with dying David, (2 Sam 23:5) Although my house be not so with God, (Though my heart, my ways, be not so with God as they ought to have been); yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure: and this is all my salvation and all my desire, requires singular help of the grace of God. To shut the eyes, and give the hand to Christ, and to quiet the mind, by trusting our guide in this last step, is a mighty blessing.
I would conclude this discourse with these four:—
1. It is a great mystery of faith, and a great trial of faith, that the way to eternal life should lie through the midst of this dark valley of death. Our Lord Jesus Christ bought eternal life for us, by the price of his blood; he went through death to take possession of his kingdom and glory: and yet his people must go through death to take possession of the gift of eternal life. If there were any allowed room or place for prayer in this affair, how many, and how earnest prayers would we make to be delivered from going in this way to glory? But after a life of trials, temptations, and manifold tribulations, this last is still before us; and we must pass through, and set our feet in the cold waters of this Jordan, ere we enter the heavenly Canaan. After all the lively hopes of heaven, and sweet foretastes of it, we have had; after our faith hath risen us to a full assurance; yet through death must all the heirs of glory pass.
2. There is no wisdom like that of preparing for this awful hour; (Job 14:14) If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. “I will think on it, I will look for it, I will prepare for it.” Men are wise or foolish, according to their faithful diligence, or unbelieving negligence, in this preparing for death. Many have bewailed their neglect; never did any repent their diligence, in this work.
3. There is no right and sure way of preparing for death, but by seeking saving acquaintance with Jesus. If you set about the study of holiness without Christ, you mistake your way, and will never reach your end. But labour to be intimately acquainted with Jesus Christ, and the communications of his grace will make you holy. Death deals with men, and billets them into their eternal quarters, in heaven or hell, as men are in Christ, or out of Christ. Their works, according to which they are judged, are but the fruits and effects of their different states. These two different states of men in this life, in Christ, or not in Christ, are the foundation of the two different states in the next life, in heaven, or in hell; though all in Christ are holy, and all out of Christ are unholy.
4. There is no life truly comfortable, but that which hath a comfortable prospect of death and judgment. Never envy the condition of them who seem to be the only cheerful men in the world, whom one quarter of an hour’s serious thought of death and judgment, is enough to make them like Belshazzar at his great feast (Dan 5:6) whose countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. Amazement seized on soul and body. How can a man be said to live comfortably, that dare not think of death, for fear of marring his comfort? Miserable is that consolation that cannot bear a serious thought of an approaching unavoidable thing. This is the wisdom and mercy of the Lord to his people, that their true consolation doth not only stand and abide in the view of death and judgment, but it ariseth from that view that is so terrible to all natural men. This is the blessedness of believers, that this grace allows them a right to, and can give them a possession of. And therefore we should come to the throne of grace for it. Then you are happy Christians, when serious thoughts of death breed serious joy.