The Almost Christian
Or, The False Professor Tried
By Matthew Mead, 1661
"You almost persuade me to be a Christian."
To those who were the auditors of these sermons—grace and peace be
multiplied. Beloved, what the meaning of that providence was, that called me
to the occupation of my talent among you this summer, will be best read and
understood by the effects of it upon your own souls. The kindly increase
of grace and holiness in heart and life, can only prove it to have been
in mercy. Where this is not the fruit of the Word, there it becomes a
judgment. The Word of God travels with life or death, salvation or
damnation—and brings forth one or the other in every soul that hears it. I
would not for a world (were it in my power to make the choice) that my
labors, which were meant and designed for the promotion of your immortal
souls to the glory of heaven, in a present pursuance of the things of your
peace—should be found to have been a ministration of death and condemnation,
in the great day of Jesus Christ. Yet this the Lord knows, is the too common
effect of the most plain and powerful preaching of the gospel. "The waters
of the sanctuary" do not always heal where they come, for there are
"miry and marshy places that shall be given to salt." The same word is
elsewhere in Scripture rendered "barrenness;" He "turns a fruitful land into
barrenness;"—so that the judgment denounced upon these miry and marshy
places is, that the curse of barrenness shall rest upon them,
notwithstanding the "waters of the sanctuary overflow them."
It is said, with certainty, that the gospel
inflicts a death of its own, as well as the law; or else how are
those trees in Jude said to be "twice dead, and plucked up by the roots."
Yes, that which in itself is the greatest mercy, through the interposition
of men's lusts, and the efficacy of this cursed sin of unbelief, turns to
the greatest judgment, as the richest and most generous wine makes the
sharpest vinegar. Our Lord Christ himself, the choicest mercy with which the
affections of God could bless a perishing world; whose coming, himself
bearing witness, was on no less an errand than that of eternal life and
blessedness to the lost and cursed sons of Adam; yet to how many was he a
"stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence;" yes, "a trap, and a snare;" and
that to both the houses of Israel, the only professing people of God at that
day in the world? And is he not a stone of stumbling in the ministry of the
gospel to many professors to this very day, upon which they fall and
are broken? When he says, "Blessed is he who shall not be offended by me,"
he therein plainly supposes, that both in his person and doctrine, the
generality of men would be offended in him. Not that this is the design
of Christ and the gospel—but it comes so to pass through the corruptions
of the hearts of men, whereby they make light of Christ, and stand
out against that life and grace which the Lord Jesus by his blood so dearly
purchased, and is by the preaching of the gospel so freely offered—the
willful refusal whereof, will as surely double our damnation, as the
acceptance thereof will secure our eternal salvation.
O consider, it is a thing of the most serious concern in
the world—how we carry ourselves under the gospel, and with what
dispositions and affections of heart, soul-seasons of grace are
entertained. This being taken into the consideration to give it weight, that
we are the nearer to heaven or hell, to salvation or damnation, by every
ordinance we sit under. Boast not therefore of privileges enjoyed, with
neglect of the important duties thereby required. Remember Capernaum's
As many go to heaven by the very gates of hell—so more go
to hell by the gates of heaven! The number of those who profess Christ—is
greater than the number of those who truly are saved by Christ. Beloved, I
know the preaching of the gospel has encouraged many of you into a
profession; but I fear that but few of you are brought by it to a true
saving union with the Lord Christ for salvation. I beseech you bear with my
jealousy, for it is the fruit of a tender love for your precious souls.
Most men are good Christians in the verdict of
their own opinion; but you know the law allows no man to be a witness in his
own case, because their affection usually overreaches conscience, and
self-love deceives truth for its own interest. The heart of man is the
greatest impostor and cheat in the world! God himself states it—"The
heart is deceitful above all things." Some of the deceits thereof you will
find discovered in this Treatise, which shows you, that every grace has
its counterfeit; and that there may be the highest profession,
where there is no true conversion.
The design of it is not to "break the bruised reed, nor
to quench the smoking flax." The design of it is not to discourage the
weakest believer—but to awaken formal professors. I would not sadden
the hearts of any "whom God would not have made sad;" though I know it is
hard to expose the dangerous state and condition of a professing
hypocrite—but that the weak Christian will think himself concerned in
the discovery. And therefore, as I preached a sermon on sincerity among you,
for the support and encouragement of such, so I purposed to have printed it
with this. But who can be master of his own purposes? That is, as I am under
such daily variety of providences, your kindly acceptance of this, will make
me a debtor for that.
The dedication of this book belongs to you on a double
account; for as it had not been preached—but that love to your souls
caused it, so it had much less been printed—but that your importunate
desire procured it. And therefore whatever entertainment it finds in the
world, yet I hope I may expect you will welcome it, especially
considering it was born under your roof, and therefore hopes to find favor
in your eyes, and room in your hearts. Accept it, I beseech you, as a public
acknowledgment of the engagements which your great, and, I think I may say,
unparalleled respects have laid me under, which I can no way compensate but
by my prayers; and if you will take them for satisfaction, I promise to be
your remembrancer at the throne of grace,
To the Reader.
Reader, You have here one of the saddest considerations imaginable presented
to you, and that is, "How far it is possible a man may go in a profession of
religion—and yet, after all, fall short of salvation; how far he may run—and
yet not so run as to obtain." This, I say, is sad—but not so sad as
true; for our Lord Christ does plainly attest it, "Strive to enter in
at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to
enter in—and shall not be able!" My design herein is, that the formal,
sleepy professor may be awakened, and the hidden hypocrite discovered; but
my fear is, that weak believers may be hereby discouraged; for, as it
is hard to show how low a child of God may fall into sin—and yet have true
grace—but that the unconverted sinner will be apt thereupon to presume; so
it is as hard to show how high a hypocrite may rise in a profession—and yet
have no grace—but that the true believer will be apt thereupon to despond.
The prevention whereof, I have carefully endeavored, by showing, that though
a man may go thus far, and yet be but almost a Christian—yet a man may fall
short of this, and be a true Christian notwithstanding.
Judge not, therefore, your state by any one character
you find laid down of a false professor; but read the whole, and then
make a judgment; for I have cared, as not to "give children's bread to
dogs," so not to use the dog's whip to scare the children! Yet I
could wish that this book might fall into the hands of such only whom it
chiefly concerns, who "have a name to live—and yet are dead;" being
busy with the "form of godliness," but strangers to the "power
of it." These are the proper subjects of this treatise. May the Lord follow
it with his blessing wherever it comes, that it may be an awakening word to
all such, and especially to that generation of profligate professors
with which this age abounds; who, if they keep to their church, bow the
knee, talk over a few prayers—think they do enough for heaven, and hereupon
judge their condition safe, and their salvation sure—though there be a
hell of sin in their hearts, "and the poison of asps is under
their lips;" their minds being as yet carnal and unconverted,
and their conversations filthy and unsanctified.
If eternal life be of so easy attainment, and to be had
at so cheap a rate—why did our Lord Christ tell us, "Strait is the
gate and narrow is the way which leads unto life—and few there
are who find it?" And why should the apostle perplex us with such a needless
injunction, "to give diligence to make our calling and election
sure?" Certainly, therefore, it is no such easy thing to be saved—as many
make it; and that you will see plainly in the following discourse.
I have been somewhat short in the application of
it; and therefore let me here be your remembrancer in five important
First, "Take heed of resting in a form of
godliness; as if duties could confer grace. A lifeless formality is
advanced to a very high esteem in the world, as a "piece of dove's dung" was
sold in the famine of Samaria at a very high rate. Alas! the profession
of godliness is but a sandy foundation to build the hope of an immortal
soul upon for eternity! Remember, the Lord Jesus Christ called him a foolish
builder, "who founded his house upon the sand," and the sad event proved so
for him, "for it fell, and great was the fall of it!" O therefore lay your
foundation by faith upon the rock Christ Jesus; look to Christ
through all, and rest upon Christ in all.
Secondly, "Labor to see an excellency in the power of
godliness," and a beauty in the life of Christ! If the means of grace
have a loveliness in them, surely grace itself has much more; for,
"the goodness of the means lies in its suitableness and serviceableness to
the end." The form of godliness has no goodness in it any farther
than it becomes useful to the soul in the power and practice of godliness!
The life of holiness is the only excellent life; it is the life of saints
and angels in heaven; yes, it is the life of God in himself! As it is a
great proof of the baseness and filthiness of sin—that unconverted sinners
seek to cover it; so it is a great proof of the excellency of godliness—that
so many pretend to it. The hypocrite's fair profession pleads
the very cause of true religion; although the hypocrite is then really
worst—when he is seemingly best.
Thirdly, "Look upon eternal things to come, as the
greatest realities;" for things that are not sincerely believed, work no
more upon the affections than if they had no being! This is the grand reason
why the generality of men allow their affections to go after the world,
setting the creature in the place of God in their hearts. Most men judge of
the reality of things by their visibility and proximity
to sense; and, therefore, the choice of that wretched cardinal
becomes their option—who would not leave his part in Paris—for a part
in Paradise. Surely, whatever his interest might be in the former, he
had little enough in the latter.
Well may covetousness be called idolatry, when it thus
chooses the world for its god! O! consider—eternity is no dream! Hell
and the worm that never dies, is no melancholy dream! Heaven is no imagined
Elysium! There is the greatest reality imaginable in these things; though
they are spiritual, and out of the view of sense, yet they are real,
and within the view of faith. "Look not therefore at the things which
are seen—but look at the things which are not seen; for the things that are
seen are temporal—but the things which are not seen are eternal."
Fourthly, "Set a high value upon your soul." What we
lightly prize—we easily part with. Many men sell their souls at the rate of
profane Esau's birth-right, "for a morsel of bread;" nay, for that which is
not bread—but which is sinful. O consider your soul is the most precious and
invaluable jewel in the world; it is the most beautiful piece of God's
workmanship in the whole creation; it is that which bears the image of God,
and which was bought with the blood of the Son of God; and shall we not set
a value upon it, and count it precious?
The apostle Peter speaks of three very precious things:
1. A precious Christ.
2. Precious Promises.
3. Precious Faith.
The preciousness of all these lies in their usefulness to
the soul. Christ is precious—as being the redeemer of precious souls. The
Promises are precious—as making over this precious Christ to precious souls.
Faith is precious—as bringing a precious soul to close with a precious
Christ, as he is held forth in the precious promises. O take heed that you
are not found overvaluing earthly things—and undervaluing your soul. Shall
your flesh, nay your beast, be loved—and shall your soul be slighted! Will
you clothe and pamper your body—and yet take no care of your soul! This is,
as if a man should feed his dog—and starve his child! "Food for the belly,
and the belly for food; but God will destroy both it and them!" O let not
a tottering, perishing carcass have all your time and care—as if the
life and salvation of your soul were not worth the while!
Lastly, Meditate much on the strictness and
suddenness of that judgment-day, through which you must pass, into your
everlasting state; wherein God, the impartial judge, will require an exact
account at our hands of all our talents and blessings. We must then account
for time—how we have spent that; for estate—how we have
employed that; for strength—how we have laid out that; for afflictions
and mercies—how they have been improved; for the relations
we stood in here—how they have been discharged; and for seasons and means
of grace—how they have been improved. Look! how we have sowed here on
earth--we shall reap for eternity! "God has set a day on which He is going
to judge the world in righteousness!" Acts 17:31. "Don’t be deceived: God is
not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap!" Galatians 6:7.
"Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of
God!" Romans 14:10
Reader, these are things which above all others, deserve
most of, and call loudest for—our utmost care and endeavors, though they are
least minded, by most people. Consider what a spirit of atheism (if
we may judge the tree by the fruits—and the principle by the
practice) the hearts of most men are filled with, who live, as if God
were not to be served, nor Christ to be sought, nor lust
to be mortified, nor self to be denied, nor the Scripture to
be believed, nor the judgment-day to be minded, nor hell to be
feared, nor heaven to be desired, nor the soul to be valued;
but give up themselves to a worse than brutish sensuality, "Having lost all
sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge
in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more," Ephesians 4:19;
living without God in the world—this is a reflection fit enough to break our
hearts, if at least we were of holy David's temper, who "beheld the
transgressors and was grieved," and had "rivers of waters running down his
eyes, because men kept not God's laws."
The prevention and correction of this soul-destroying
distemper, is not the least design of this Treatise now put into your hand.
Though the chief virtue of this receipt lies in its sovereign use to assuage
and cure the swelling cancer of hypocrisy, yet it may serve also, with God's
blessing, as a plaster for the plague-sore of profaneness, if timely applied
by serious meditation, and carefully kept on by constant prayer.
Reader, expect nothing of curiosity or quaintness, for
then I shall let you down; but if you would have a touch-stone for the trial
of your state, possibly this may serve you. If you are either a stranger to
a profession, or a hypocrite under a profession, then read and tremble, for
you are the man here pointed at. But if the kingdom of God has come with
power into your soul; if Christ is formed in you; if your heart be upright
and sincere with God—then read and rejoice.
May the mighty God, whose prerogative it is to teach to
profit, whether by the tongue or the pen, by speaking or writing—bless this
tract, that it may be to you as a cloud of rain to the dry ground, dropping
fatness to your soul, that so your fleece being watered with the "dew of
heaven," you may "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior
Jesus Christ." In whom I am your Friend and Servant,
Matthew Mead, London, October, 1661.
"You almost persuade me to be a Christian." Acts
In this chapter you have the apostle Paul's apology and
defensive plea, which he makes for himself against those blind Jews who so
maliciously prosecuted him before Agrippa, Festus, Bernice, and the council.
In which plea he chiefly insists upon three things.
1. The manner of his life before conversion. How he lived
before conversion, he tells you, ver. 4-13.
2. The manner of his conversion. How God wrought on him
to conversion, he tells you, ver. 13-18.
3. The manner of his life after conversion. How he lived
after conversion, he tells you, ver. 19-23.
Before conversion he was very pharisaical. The manner of
his conversion was very astonishing. The fruit of his conversion was very
remarkable. Before conversion he persecuted the gospel which others
preached; after conversion, he preached the gospel which himself had
persecuted. While he was a persecutor of the gospel, the Jews loved him; but
now that, by the grace of God, he was become a preacher of the gospel—now
the Jews hate him, and sought to kill him. He was once against Christ, and
then many were for him; but now that he was for Christ—all were against him;
his being an enemy to Jesus, made others his friends; but when he came to
own Jesus, then they became his enemies. And this was the great charge they
had against him, that of a great opposer he was become a great professor.
Because God had changed him—therefore this enraged them! As if they would be
the worse—because God had made him better. God had wrought on him by
grace—and they seem to envy him the grace of God. He preached no treason,
nor sowed no sedition; he only preached repentance, and faith in Christ, and
the resurrection, and for this he was "called into question."
This is the sum of Paul's defense and plea for himself,
which, you find in the sequel of the chapter, had a different effect upon
his judges. Festus seems to censure him, ver. 24. Agrippa seems to be
convinced by him, ver. 28. The whole bench seem to acquit him, ver. 30, 31.
Festus thinks Paul was beside himself. Agrippa is almost persuaded
to be such a one as himself. Festus thinks him mad, because he did not
understand the doctrine of Christ and the resurrection, "much learning has
made you mad!" Agrippa is so affected with his plea, that he is almost
convinced of Pauls message. Paul pleads so effectually for his religion,
that Agrippa seems to be upon the turning point to his profession.
"Then Agrippa said to Paul, you almost persuade me to be
"Almost!" I take the words as we read them, and they
show what an efficacy Paul's doctrine had upon Agrippa's conscience. Though
he would not be converted, yet he could not but be convinced;
his conscience was touched, though his heart was not renewed.
Observation: There is that in true religion, which
carries its own evidence along with it, even to the consciences of ungodly
"You persuade me." The word signifies, to prevail
by the arguments used. This shows the influence of Paul's argument upon
Agrippa, which had almost proselyted him to the profession of Christianity.
"You almost persuade me to be a Christian."
"A Christian." I hope I need not tell you what a
Christian is, though I am persuaded many who are called Christians, do not
know what a Christian is; or if they do, yet they do not know what it
is to live as a Christian. A Christian is a disciple of
Jesus Christ, one who believes in, and follows Christ. As one who
embraces the doctrine of Arminius, is called an Arminian; and he who owns
the doctrine and way of Luther, is called a Lutheran; so he who embraces,
and owns, and follows the doctrine of Jesus Christ—he is a true Christian.
The word is taken more largely, and more
More largely—so all who profess that Christ
has come in the flesh, are called Christians, in opposition to heathens who
do not know Christ; and to the poor blind Jews, who will not own Christ; and
to the Mohammedan, who prefers Mahomet, above Christ.
But in Scripture, the word is of a more strict and
narrow acceptance, it is used only to denominate the true disciples
and followers of Christ; "the disciples were first called Christians at
Antioch." "If any man suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed;" that
is, if he suffers as a member and disciple of Christ. And so in the text,
"You almost persuade me to be a Christian." The word "Christian" is used but
in these three places, in all the New Testament, and in each of them it is
used in this same sense.
The Italians make the name of "Christian" to be a name of
reproach among them, and usually abuse the word "Christian" to signify a
fool. But if, as the apostle says, "the preaching of Christ is to the
world foolishness," then it is no wonder that the disciples of Christ are to
the world, fools. Yet it is true, in a certain sense, that so they
are; for the whole of godliness is a mystery. A man must die—who would live;
he must be empty—who would be full; he must be lost—who would be found; he
must have nothing—who would have all things; he must be blind—who would have
illumination; he must be condemned—who would have redemption; just so—he
must be a fool—who would be a Christian. "If any man among you seems to be
wise, let him become a fool, that he may be wise." He is the true Christian
who is the world's fool—but wise to salvation.
I desire that you may not be only almost—but
altogether Christians. This is God's work to effect it—but is our
duty to persuade to it; and O that God would help me to manage this
subject so, that you may say, in the conclusion, "You persuade me, not
almost—but altogether to be a Christian!"
The observation that I shall propound to handle is this:
Doctrine—There are very many in the world who are
almost—and yet but almost Christians; many who are near heaven—and yet are
never the nearer; many who are within a little of salvation—and yet shall
never enjoy the least salvation; they are within sight of heaven—and yet
shall never have a sight of God.
There are two sad expressions in Scripture, which I
cannot but take notice of in this place. The one is concerning the truly
righteous. The other is concerning the seemingly righteous. It is
said of the truly righteous, that he shall "scarcely be saved;" and
it is said of the seemingly righteous, he shall be almost saved, "You
are not far from the kingdom of God." The righteous shall be saved with a
scarcely, that is, through much difficulty; he shall go to heaven
through many sad fears of hell. The hypocrite shall be saved with an
almost, that is, he shall go to hell through many fair hopes of heaven.
There are two things which arise from hence of very
serious meditation. The one is, how often a believer may miscarry, how low
he may fall—and yet have true grace. The other is, how far a hypocrite may
go in the way to heaven, how high he may attain—and yet have no grace. The
saint may be cast down very near to hell—and yet shall never come there; and
the hypocrite may be lifted up very near to heaven—and yet never come there.
The saint may almost perish—and yet be saved eternally; the hypocrite may
almost be saved—and yet perish finally. For the saint at worst—is really a
believer; and the hypocrite at best—is really an unconverted sinner.
Before I handle the doctrine, I must premise three
things, which are of great use for the establishing of weak believers,
that they may not be shaken and discouraged by this doctrine.
First, There is nothing in the doctrine that should be
matter of stumbling or discouragement to weak Christians. The gospel does
not speak these things to wound true believers—but to awaken unconverted
sinners and formal professors. As there are none more averse than weak
believers, to apply the promises and comforts of the gospel to
themselves—for whom they are properly designed; so there are none more ready
than they to apply the threats and severest things of the Word to
themselves—for whom they were never intended. As the disciples, when Christ
told them, "One of you shall betray me;" they those who were innocent
suspected themselves most—and therefore cry out, "Master, is it I?"
So weak Christians, when they hear unconverted sinners reproved, or the
hypocrite laid open, in the ministry of the Word, they presently cry out,
"Is it I?"
It is the hypocrite's fault to sit under the trials and
discoveries of the Word—and yet not to mind them: and it is the weak
Christian's fault to draw sad conclusions of their own state from premises
which do not concern them.
There is indeed great use of such doctrine as this is, to
1. To make them look to their standing, upon what
foundation they are—and to see that the foundation of their hope be well
laid, that they build not upon the sand—but upon a rock.
2. It helps to raise our admiration of the sovereign love
of God, in bringing us into the everlasting way—when so many perish from the
way—and in overpowering our souls into a true conversion, when so many take
up with a graceless profession.
3. It incites to that excellent duty of heart-searching,
that so we approve ourselves to God in sincerity.
4. It engages the soul in double diligence, that it may
be found not only believing—but persevering in faith to the
end. These duties—and such as these, make this doctrine of use to all
believers; but they ought not to make use of it as a stumbling-block in the
way of their peace and comfort.
My design in preaching on this subject, is not to make
sad the souls of those whom Christ will not have made sad. I would bring
water—not to "to quench the flax that is smoking," but to put out that false
fire that is of the unconverted sinner's own kindling, lest walking all his
days by the light thereof, he shall at last "lie down in sorrow." My aim is
to level the mountain of the unconverted sinner's confidence, not to weaken
the hand of the true believer's faith and dependence. My aim is to awaken
and bring in secure formal sinners—not to discourage weak believers.
Secondly, I would premise this; though many may go
far, very far in the way to heaven—and yet fall short, yet that soul
that has the least true grace shall never fall short; "the righteous shall
hold on his way." Though some may do very much in a way of duty, as I shall
show hereafter—and yet miscarry; yet that soul that does duty with the least
sincerity, shall never miscarry; "for he saves the upright in heart." The
least measure of true grace is as saving as the greatest measure; it saves
as surely, though not so comfortably. The least grace gives a
full interest in the blood of Christ, whereby we are thoroughly purged;
and it gives a full interest in the strength and power of Christ, whereby we
shall be certainly preserved. Christ keeps faith in the soul—and
faith keeps the soul in Christ; and so "we are kept by the power of God,
through faith unto salvation."
Thirdly, I would premise this; those who can hear such
truths as this, without serious reflection and self-examination, I must
suspect the goodness of their condition. You will suspect that man to be
next door to a bankrupt, who never casts up his accounts, nor looks over his
book; and I as truly think that man a hypocrite, who never searches nor
deals with his own heart. He who goes on in a road of duties without any
uneasiness or doubting of his state—I doubt no man's state more than his!
When we see a man sick—and yet not sensible, we conclude the tokens of
death are upon him. So when sinners have no sense of their spiritual
condition—it is plain that they are dead in sin; the tokens of eternal death
are upon them!
These things being premised, which I desire you would
carry along in your mind while we travel through this subject, I come to
speak to the proposition more distinctly and closely.
Doctrine: That there are very many in the world, who
are almost—and yet but almost Christians. I shall demonstrate the
truth of the proposition, and then proceed to a more distinct prosecution.
I. I shall demonstrate the truth of the proposition; and
I shall do it by scripture-evidence, which speaks plainly and fully to the
First, The rich young man in the gospel is an eminent
proof of this truth; there you read of one who came to Christ to learn of
him the way to heaven, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do—that I may
have eternal life?" Our Lord Christ tells him, "If you will enter into
life—keep the commandments." And when Christ tells him this, he answers,
"Lord, all these I have kept from my youth up; what do I still lack?"
Now do but see how far this man went.
1. He obeyed—he did not only hear the
commands of God—but he kept them; now the Scripture says, "Blessed is
he who hears the Word of God—and keeps it."
2. He obeyed universally—not this or that
command—but both this and that; he did not halve it with God, or pick
and choose which were easiest to be done—and leave the rest. No—but he obeys
all, "All these things have I kept."
3. He obeyed constantly—not in a fit of zeal
only—but in a continual series of duty; his goodness was not, as Ephraim's,
"like the morning dew which passes away." No, "All these things have I kept
from my youth up."
4. He professes his desire to know and do more—to perfect
that which was lacking of his obedience: and therefore he goes to Christ to
instruct him in his duty; "Master, what do I yet lack?"
Now would you not think this a good man? Alas! how few go
this far! And yet as far as he went—he did not go far enough! He was
almost—and yet but almost a Christian! He was an unsound hypocrite; he
forsakes Christ at last—and cleaves to his lusts! This then is a full proof
of the truth of the doctrine.
A second proof of this doctrine, is that of the parable
of the ten virgins in Matthew 25. See what a progress they make, how far
they go in a profession of Christ.
1. They are called "virgins." This is a name given in the
Scripture, both in the Old Testament and the New—to the saints of Christ,
"The virgins love you!" So in the revelation, the "one hundred forty and
four thousand" who stood with the Lamb on Mount Zion, are called "virgins."
They are called virgins, because they are not defiled with the "corruptions
which are in the world through lust." Now these here seem to be of that
sort, for they are called virgins.
2. They take their "lamps"—that is, they make a
profession of Christ.
3. They had "some oil" in their lamps. They had
some convictions and some faith, though not the faith of God's
elect, to keep their profession alive, to keep the lamp burning.
4. They "went"—their profession was not an idle
profession; they did perform duties, frequented ordinances—and did many
things commanded. They made a progress—they went.
5. They "went forth"—they left many behind them; this
speaks of their separation from the world.
6. They went with the "wise virgins"—they joined
themselves to those who had joined themselves to the Lord—and were
companions of those who were companions of Christ.
7. They "went forth to meet the bridegroom"—this speaks
out their owning and seeking after Christ.
8. When they heard the cry of the bridegroom coming,
"they arose and trimmed their lamps;" they here profess Christ more highly,
hoping now to go in with the bridegroom.
9. They sought for true grace. Now do not we say, the
desires for grace are grace? and so they are, if true and timely;
if sound and seasonable. See here a desire for grace in these
virgins, "Give us some of your oil!" It was a desire for true
grace—but it was not a true desire for grace. It was not true, because not
timely; it was unsound, as being unseasonable; it was too late. Their
folly was in not taking oil when they took their lamps; their time of
seeking grace was when they came to Christ; it was too late to seek it when
Christ came to them. They should have sought for grace when they took up
their profession: it was too late to seek it at the coming of the
bridegroom! And therefore "they were shut out!" And though they cry for
entrance, "Lord, Lord, open to us!" yet the Lord Christ tells them, "I tell
you the truth, I don't know you!"
You see how far these virgins go in a profession of Jesus
Christ—and how long they continue in it, even until the bridegroom came;
they go to the very door of heaven—and there, like the Sodomites, perish
with their hands upon the very threshold of glory! They were almost
Christians—and yet but almost; almost saved—and yet perish!
You who are professors of the gospel of Christ, stand and
tremble! If those who have gone beyond us fall short of heaven, what shall
become of us who fall short of them? If those who are virgins, who profess
Christ, who have some faith in their profession, such as it is, who have
some fruit in their faith, who outstrip others who seek Christ, who improve
their profession, and suit themselves to their profession; nay, who seek
grace; if such as these be but almost Christians, Lord, what are we!
Third, If these two witnesses are not sufficient to prove
the truth, and confirm the credit of the proposition, take a third, which
shall be from the Old Testament. Isaiah 58:2, "They seek Me day after day
and delight to know My ways, like a nation that does what is right and does
not abandon the justice of their God. They ask Me for righteous judgments;
they delight in the nearness of God." See what God says of that people;
he gives them a very high character for a choice people, one would think!
See how far these went! If God had not said they were rotten and unsound, we
would have ranked them among the worthies. Observe,
1. They seek God. Now this is the proper character of a
true saint—to seek God. True saints are called, "seekers of God." "This is
the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face." There a
generation of those who seek God; and are not these the saints of God? Nay,
2. They seek him daily. Here is diligence backed with
continuance, day by day; that is, every day, from day to day. They did not
seek him by fits and starts, nor in a time of trouble and affliction only,
as many do. "Lord, in trouble have they sought you; they poured out a prayer
when your chastening was upon them." Many, when God visits them—then they
visit him—but not until then! When God pours out his afflictions—then
they pour out their supplications. This is seamen's devotion!
When the storms have brought them to "their wits' end—then they cry to the
Lord in their trouble." Many never cry to God, until they are at their wits'
end; they never come to God for help, so long as they can help themselves.
But these here, whom God speaks of, are more zealous in
their devotion; the others make a virtue of necessity—but these seem to make
conscience of duty; for, says God, "they seek me day after day." Sure this
is, one would think, a note of sincerity! Job says of the hypocrite, "Will
he always call upon God?" Surely not! But this people call upon God
always, "they seek him day after day;" certainly these are no
3. Says God, "They delight to know my ways." Sure this
frees them from the suspicion of hypocrisy! They do not say not unto God,
"Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of your ways."
4. They are "as a nation that does what is right."
Not only as a nation that spoke righteousness, or knew
righteousness, or professed righteousness; but as a nation that
does righteousness, that practiced nothing but what was just and right.
They appeared, to the judgment of the world, as good as the best.
5. They forsook not the ordinances of their God. They
seem true to their principles, constant to their profession. They seem
better than many among us, who cast off duties—and forsake the ordinances of
God. But these hold out in their profession; "they forsook not the
ordinances of God."
6. "They ask of me," says God, "the ordinances of
justice." They will not make their own will the rule of right and wrong—but
the law and will of God: and therefore, in all their dealings with men, they
desire to be guided and counseled by God, "They ask of me the ordinances of
7. They take delight in approaching to God. Sure this
cannot be the guise of a hypocrite. "Will he delight himself in the
Almighty?" says Job. No—he will not! Though God should be the chief delight
of man, (having everything in him to render him lovely,) yet the hypocrites
will not delight in God. Until the affections are made spiritual, there is
no affection to things that are spiritual. God is a spiritual good—and
therefore hypocrites cannot delight in God. But these are a people who
delight in approaching to God!
8. They were a people who were much in fasting, "Why have
we fasted?" Now this is a duty which does not suppose and require truth
of grace only in the heart—but strength of grace. "No man," says
our Lord Christ, "puts new wine into old bottles, lest the bottles break and
the wine run out." New wine is strong—and old bottles weak; and the strong
wine breaks the weak vessel: this is a reason Christ gives, why his
disciples, who were newly converted—and but weak as yet, were not exercised
with this austere discipline. But this people here mentioned, were a people
who fasted often, afflicted their souls much, wore themselves out by
frequent practices of humiliation. Sure therefore this was "new wine in new
bottles;" this must needs be a people strong in grace; there seems to be
grace not only in truth—but also in growth.
And yet, for all this, they were no better than a
generation of hypocrites; they made a goodly progress—and went far—but yet
they went not far enough; they were cast off by God after all. I hope by
this time the truth of the point is sufficiently confirmed; "that a man may
be, yes, very many are, almost—and yet no more than but almost
Now for the more distinct prosecution of the point.
1. I shall show you, step by step, how far he may go, to
what attainments he may reach, how specious and singular a progress he may
make in religion—and yet be but almost a Christian when all is done.
2. I will show why it is, that many men go so far as that
they are almost Christians.
3. Why they are but almost Christians when they have gone
4. What the reason is, why men who go thus far as to be
almost Christians, yet go no farther than to be almost Christians.