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shall certainly be charged upon men's accounts at last; so whatsoever good thou dost stir up others to, that shall be set upon thy score, and shall turn to thy eternal account in the day of Christ. O, who would not then labour, with all their might, even day and night, to stir up the grace of the Lord in themselves and others, seeing it shall turn to such a glorious account, in that day wherein Christ shall say to his Father, Lo, here am I, and the children that thou hast given me.
4. Consider this—the exercise and improvement of grace contributes very much both to the stopping of the mouths of your enemies, and to the rendering of you lovely in the very eyes of your enemies.
O there is nothing in all the world that contributes so much to the stopping of the mouths of your enemies, and to the rendering of your souls lovely in the eyes of your enemies, as the exercise and improvement of your graces; as you may see in David. David improved his grace to a glorious height, and says Saul, Thou art more righteous than I, 1 Sam. xxiv. 17. John improved his grace to a glorious height, and was much in the exercise of it, and what follows? Why Herod feared and reverenced him, knowing that he was a just man, and a holy. O, how did the wisdom, faith and holiness of Joseph, Daniel, and the three children, silence their most enraged adversaries! Yea, what a deal of honour did the exercise of their graces cause those heathen princes to put upon them! For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. It is not all the talking and profession in the world, that can stop the mouths of foolish men; it must be well-doing, grace improved, grace exercised and manifested in the ways of holiness, that must work so great a wonder, as to stop the mouths of wicked men. The Greek word that is here translated well-doing, is a participle of the present tense, and denotes the continual custom of well-doing. And indeed nothing but a continual course of well-doing, will be able to stop the mouths of wicked persons. It is not a fit of holiness, but a course, that can produce so great a miracle, as to stop the mouths of wicked men. That ye may put to silence foolish men. The Greek is, that ye
may muzzle, or halter up. There is no way in the world to button, muzzle, or halter up the mouths of wicked men, but by the exercise of your graces in ways of well-doing. 0 this will cause you to be well thought of and well spoken of. This is that which will make even wicked men to say, 'These are Christians indeed; these are they who have not only a name to live, but are alive; who have not only a form of godliness, but the power.' A Christian's exercise of faith in times of want, and of patience in times of affliction, and of courage in times of temptation, and of contentation in times of opposition, mightily silences and stops the mouths of the worst of men.
Henry H. of France, being present at the martyrdom of a certain man burnt by him for religion, was so terrified by beholding the wisdom, courage, faith, and constancy of the said martyr, that he swore at his going away, that he. would never be any more present at such a sight.
5. Dwell much upon the sweet nature of grace, if you would have your souls carried out to the exercise and improvement of grace.
The name of grace and the nature of grace, are very sweet. The Hebrew word that is rendered grace, signifies favour and mercy; and it answers to the Greek word that signifies favour and mercy; and some derive the Greek word from a word that signifies joy, because grace begets the greatest joy and sweetness in the spirits of men, that possibly can be.
Grace is compared to the sweetest things, to sweet spices, to wine and milk. Grace is a beam of the Sun of righteousness, the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace is a sweet flower of paradise, a spark of glory. It is cherished and maintained by that sweet word which is sweeter than honey or the honey-comb, and by sweet union and communion with the Father and the Son. It is exercised about the sweetest objects, God, Christ, promises, and future glory. It sweetens all your services and duties. Your best performances are but stinking sacrifices, if they are not attended with the exercise of grace. Grace is that heavenly salt which makes all our services savoury and sweet in the nostrils of God. Grace is of the greatest and sweetest use to the soul; it is an anchor at sea, and a shield on land. It is a staff to uphold the soul, and a sword to defend the soul. It is bread to strengthen the soul, and wine to cheer the soul. It is physic to cure all diseases, and a plaister to heal all wounds, and a cordial to strengthen the soul under all faintings. Grace is thy eye to see for Christ, thy ear to hear for Christ, thy head to contrive for Christ, thy tongue to speak for Christ, thy hand to do for Christ, and thy feet to walk with Christ. Grace makes men of the most froward, sour, crabbed nature, to be of a sweet, lovely, amiable, pleasing temper. It turns lions into lambs, wolves into sheep, monsters into men, and men into angels, as you may see in Manasseh, Paul, Mary Magdalene, Zaccheus, and others. Yet sometimes grace in a rugged unhewn nature, is like a gold ring on a leprous hand, or a diamond set in iron, or a jewel in a swine's snout.
6. By way of motive, consider this, that wicked men do exercise and improve to the uttermost all those principles of wickedness that are in them, against the ways of God, the honour of God, and the comforts of the saints.
Now shall wicked men improve all their principles to the uttermost against God, his truth and saints, and shall not saints improve their graces to the honour of God, the advancement of truth, and the joy and benefit one of another? You may see the activity of wicked men's spirits in Prov. iv. 16; They sleep not except they have done mischief, and their sleep is taken away except they cause some to fall. O they cannot rest. 77*6 wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. So in 2 Pet. ii. 14; Having eyes full of adultery that cannot cease from sin, beguiling unstable souls. A heart they have, exercised with covetous practices; cursed children; they break all promises and covenants with God and man, as Samson did the new ropes. So in Prov. xix. 19; A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment, for if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again. The Hebrew word signifies to add. 'Thou must add deliverance to deliverance, for he will still be adding sin to sin.' So the root is used in Deut. xxix. 19, and in several other scriptures. Such sinners make God a God of clouts, one that will not do as he says. Ahab after he was threatened with utter rooting out, begat fifty sons, as it were to cross God, and to try it out with him. Let God thunder in his judgments, yet he will add sin to sin, he will proceed from evil to evil, till he comes to the very top of evil, to be hardened in sin, and to scoff, at holiness.
The old Italians were wont in time of thunder, to shoot off their greatest ordnance, and to ring their greatest bells, to drown the noise of the heavens. So let God thunder from heaven, yet wicked men will so improve their wicked principles, that their consciences may not hear the noise of the thunder-claps of divine displeasure. The covetous man will improve his earthly principles, and the ambitious man his ambitious principles, and the voluptuous man his voluptuous principles, and the unchaste man his unclean principles, and the erroneous man his erroneous principles, and the blasphemous man his blasphemous principles. O sirs, shall wicked men thus improve their wicked principles to the uttermost against God, Christ, and religion, and against the prosperity, peace, joy, and happiness of the saints; and shall not saints improve their graces to the uttermost, for the honour of the Lord, the advancement of religion, and the mutual profit and benefit of each other? . 7. The more high and excellent any man is in grace, the more highly he shall be exalted in glory.
O therefore exercise your grace, improve your grace. As you would be high in heaven, labour to improve your graces much while you are here on earth; for glory will be given out at last according to the exercise and improvement of your grace. The more high and improved a man's graces are, the more that man will do for God; and the more any man does for God, the more at last shall he receive from God. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord, 1 Cor. xv. 58. He that soweth sparingly, shall reap sparingly, and he that soweth liberally, shall reap liberally. The more any man has improved his grace, the more that man will be able to bear and suffer for God; and the more any man bears and suffers for God, the more glory shall that man have at last from God. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.' Rejoice and be exceeding glad, or leap and dance for joy; why so ? for great is your reward in heaven, Mat. v. 11,12. God is a liberal pay-master, and no small things can fall from so great and So gracious a hand as his. The more excellent any man is in grace, the more is he the delight of God. My goodness extendeth not to thee, but to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight, Psalm xvi. 2, 3. Now this is spoken in the person of Christ; for the apostle applies these words to Christ. 'Now, ' says Christ, ' my goodness reaches not to thee, O Father, but to the saints, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight.' And doubtless, they that are his greatest delight on' earth, shall be possessed of the greatest glory in heaven. If fathers give the greatest portions to those children in whom they delight, why should not Christ? Is it equity in the one, and iniquity in the other? Surely not. Christ may do with his own as he pleases.
Again; the more any man improves his grace, the clearer, sweeter, fuller, and richer is his enjoyment of God here. There is ho man in all the world who has such enjoyment of God, as that man has, who most improves his graces. It is not he that knows most, nor he that hears most, nor yet he that talks most, but he that exercises grace most, that has most communion with God, that has the clearest visions of God, that has the sweetest discoveries and manifestations of God. Now certainly if they who improve their graces most, have most of God here, then, without controversy, they shall have most of God hereafter. Doubtless a man may as well plead for equal degrees of grace in this world, as for equal degrees of glory in the other world.
Again; if those who are most graceless and wicked, shall be most tormented, then certainly they who are most gracious, shall be most exalted in the day of Christ. But the more wicked any man is, the more shall he be tormented in the day of vengeance. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye shall receive the greater damnation. The darkest, the lowest, the hottest place in hell, is provided for you. Therefore it roundly follows,