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The saints are not always in the lively exercise of grace but such a spirit they have, and sometimes they have the sensible exercise of it. They desire God and divine attainments, more than all earthly things; and seek to be rich in grace, more than they do to get earthly riches. They desire the honour which is of God, more than that which is of men, (John v. 44,) and communion with him, more than any earthly pleasures. They are of the same spirit which the apostle expresses, Phil. iii. 8. "Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord; and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ."
3. The saint prefers what he hath already of God before any thing in this world. That which was infused into his heart at his conversion, is more precious to him than any thing which the world can afford. The views which are sometimes given him of the beauty and excellency of God, are more precious to him than all the treasures of the wicked. The relation of a child in which he stands to God, the union which there is between his soul and Jesus Christ, he values more than the greatest earthly dignity. That image of God which is instamped on his soul, he values more than any earthly ornaments. It is, in his esteem, better to be adorned with the graces of God's Holy Spirit, than to be made to shine in jewels of gold, and the most costly pearls, or to be admired for the greatest external beauty. He values the robe of Christ's righteousness, which he hath on his soul, more than the robes of princes. The spiritual pleasures and delights which he sometimes has in God, he prefers far before all the pleasures of sin. Psalm lxxxiv. 10. "A day in thy courts is better than a thousand I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness."
A saint thus prefers God before all other things in this world. 1. As he prefers God before any thing else that he possesses in the world. Whatever temporal enjoyments he has, he prefers God to them all. Psalm xvi. 5, 6. The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen to me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage." If he be rich, he chiefly sets his heart on his heavenly riches. He prefers God before any earthly friend, and the divine favour before any respect shown him by his fellow-creatures. Although inadvertently these have room in his heart, and too much room; yet he reserves the throne of God; Luke xiv. 26. "If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."
2. He prefers God before any earthly enjoyment of which he hath a prospect. The children of men commonly set their hearts more on some earthly happiness for which they hope, and
after which they are seeking, than on what they have in present possession. But a godly man prefers God to any thing which he has in prospect in this world. He may, indeed, through the prevalence of corruption, be for a season carried away with some enjoyment; however, he will again come to himself; this is not the temper of the man; he is of another spirit.
3. It is the spirit of a godly man to prefer God to any earthly enjoyments of which he can conceive. He not only prefers him to any thing which he now possesses; but he sees nothing possessed by any of his fellow-creatures, so estimable. Could he have as much worldly prosperity as he would; could he have earthly things just to his mind, and agreeable to his inclination; he values the portion which he has in God, incomparably more. He prefers Christ to earthly kingdoms.
1. Hence we may learn, that whatever changes a godly man passes through, he is happy; because God, who is unchangeable, is his chosen portion. Though he meet with temporal losses, and be deprived of many, yea, of all his temporal enjoyments; yet God whom he prefers before all, still remains, and cannot be lost. While he stays in this changeable, troublesome world, he is happy; because his chosen portion, on which he builds as his main foundation for happiness, is above the world, and above all changes. And when he goes into another world, still he is happy, because that portion yet remains. Whatever he be deprived of, he cannot be deprived of his chief portion; his inheritance remains sure to him.-Could worldly-minded men find out a way to secure to themselves those earthly enjoyments on which they mainly set their hearts, so that they could not be lost nor impaired while they live, how great would they account the privilege, though other things which they esteem in a less degree, were liable to the same uncertainty as they now are! Whereas now, those earthly enjoyments, on which men chiefly set their hearts, are often most fading. But how great is the happiness of those who have chosen the Fountain of all good, who prefer him before all things in heaven or on earth; and who can never be deprived of him to all eternity!
2. Let all by these things examine and try themselves, whether they be saints or not. As this which hath been exhibited is the spirit of the saints, so it is peculiar to them: none can use the language of the text, and say, Whom have I in heaven but thee? there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee, but the saints. A man's choice is that which determines his state. He that chooses God for his portion, and prefers him to all other things, is a godly man, for he chooses and worships him as God. To respect him as God, is to respect him above all other things;
and if any man respect him as his God, his God he is; there is an union and covenant relation between that man and the true God. Every man is as his God is. If you would know what a man is, whether he be a godly man or not, you must inquire what his God is? If the true God be he to whom he hath a supreme respect, whom he regards above all; he is doubtless a servant of the true God. But if the man have something else, to which he pays a greater respect than to Jehovah, he is not a godly man.
Inquire, therefore, how it is with you ;-whether you prefer God before all other things. It may sometimes be a difficulty for persons to determine this to their satisfaction; the ungodly may be deluded with false affections: the godly in dull frames may be at a loss about it. Therefore you may try yourselves, as to this matter, several ways; if you cannot speak fully to one thing, yet you may perhaps to others.
1. What is it which chiefly makes you desire to go to heaven when you die? Indeed some have no great desire to go to heaven. They do not care to go to hell; but if they could be safe from that, they would not much concern themselves about heaven. If it be not so with you, but you find that you have a desire after heaven, then inquire what it is for. Is the main reason, that you may be with God, have communion with him, and be conformed to him; that you may see God and enjoy him there? Is this the consideration which keeps your hearts and your desires, and your expectations towards heaven?
2. If you could avoid death, and might have your free choice, would you choose to live always in this world without God, rather than in his time to leave the world, in order to be with him? If you might live here in earthly prosperity to all eternity, but destitute of the presence of God and communion with him-having no spiritual intercourse between him and your souls, God and you being strangers to each other for everwould you choose this rather than to leave the world, in order to dwell in heaven, as the children of God, there to enjoy the glorious privileges of children, in a holy and perfect love to God, and enjoyment of him to all eternity?
3. Do you prefer Christ to all others as the way to heaven? He who truly chooses God, prefers him in each person of the Trinity; Father, Son, and Holy Ghost the Father, as his Father; the Son, as his Saviour; the Holy Ghost, as his Sanctifier. Inquire, therefore, not only whether you choose the enjoyment of God in heaven as your highest portion and happiness, but also, whether you choose Jesus Christ before all others, as your way to heaven; and that in a sense of the excellency of Christ, and of the way of salvation by him, as being that which is to the glory of Christ, and of sovereign grace. Is the way of free grace, by the blood and righteousness of the blessed and
glorious Redeemer, the most excellent way to life in your esteem? Doth it add a value to the heavenly inheritance, that it is conferred in this way? Is this far better to you than to be saved by your own righteousness, by any of your own performances, or by any other mediator?
4. If you might go to heaven in what course you please, would you prefer to all others the way of a strict walk with God? They who prefer God as hath been represented, choose him, not only in the end, but in the way. They had rather be with God than with any other, not only when they come to the end of their journey; but also while they are in their pilgrimage. They choose the way of walking with God, though it be a way of labour, and care, and self-denial, rather than a way of sin, though it be a way of sloth, and of gratifying their lusts.
5. Were you to spend your eternity in this world, would you choose rather to live in mean and low circumstances with the gracious presence of God, than to live for ever in earthly prosperity without him. Would you rather spend it in holy living, and serving and walking with God, and in the enjoyment of the privileges of his children? God often manifesting himself to you as your Father, discovering to you his glory, and manifesting his love, lifting the light of his countenance upon you! Would you rather choose these things, though in poverty, than to abound in worldly things, and to live in ease and prosperity, at the same time being an alien from the commonwealth of Israel? Could you be content to stand in no child-like relation to God, enjoying no gracious intercourse with him, having no right to be acknowledged by him as his children? Or would such a life as this, though in ever so great earthly prosperity, be esteemed by you a miserable life?
If, after all, there remain with you doubts, and a difficulty to determine concerning yourselves, whether you do truly and sincerely prefer God to all other things, I would mention two things which are the surest ways to be determined in this matter, and which seem to be the best grounds of satisfaction in it.
1. The feeling of some particular, strong, and lively exercise of such a spirit. A person may have such a spirit as is spoken of in the doctrine, and may have the exercise of it in a low degree, and yet remain in doubt whether he have it or not, and be unable to come to a satisfying determination. But God is pleased, sometimes, to give such discoveries of his glory, and of the excellency of Christ, as do so draw forth the heart, that they know, beyond all doubt, that they feel such a spirit as Paul spake of, when he said, "He counted all things but loss for the excellency of Christ Jesus his Lord;" and they can boldly say, as in the text, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee." At such times, the people of God do not need any help of minis
ters to satisfy them whether they have the true love of God; they plainly see and feel it; and the Spirit of God then witnesseth with their spirits, that they are the children of God.— Therefore, if you would be satisfied upon this point, earnestly seek such attainments; seek, that you may have such clear and lively exercises of this spirit. To this end, you must labour to grow in grace. Though you have had such experiences in times past, and they satisfied you then, yet you may again doubt. You should, therefore, seek, that you may have them more frequently; and the way to that is, earnestly to press forward, that you may have more acquaintance with God, and have the principles of grace strengthened. This is the way to have the excrcises of grace stronger, more lively, and more frequent, and so to be satisfied that you have a spirit of supreme love to God.
2. The other way is, to inquire, whether you prefer God to all other things in practice; i. e. when you have occasion to manifest by your practice which you prefer when you must either cleave to one or the other, and must either forsake other things, or forsake God-whether then it be your manner practically to prefer God to all other things whatever, even to those earthly things to which your hearts are most wedded. Are your lives those of adherence to God, and of serving him in this manner?
He who sincerely prefers God to all other things in his heart, will do it in his practice. For, when God, and all other things, come to stand in competition, that is the proper trial what a man chooses; and the manner of acting in such cases must certainly determine what the choice is in all free agents, or those who act on choice. Therefore, there is no sign of sincerity so much insisted on in the Bible as this, that we deny ourselves, sell all, forsake the world, take up the cross, and follow Christ whithersoever he goeth. Therefore, so run, not as uncertainly; so fight, not as those that beat the air; but keep under your bodies, and bring them into subjection. Act not as though you counted yourselves to have apprehended; but this one thing do, "forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." 2 Pet. i. 5, &c. "And, besides this, giving diligence, add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity. For, if these things be in you, and abound, they make you, that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."