The Almost Christian
Or, The False Professor Tried
By Matthew Mead, 1661
QUESTION I. How far may a man go in the way to heaven—and
yet be but almost a Christian?
ANSWER. This I will show you in twenty several steps.
Section I. A man may have much KNOWLEDGE, much light; he
may know much of God and his will, much of Christ and his ways—and yet be
but almost a Christian. For though there can be no grace without
knowledge—yet there may be much knowledge where there is no grace;
illumination often goes before—when conversion never follows after. The
subject of knowledge is the understanding; the subject of holiness is
the will. Now a man may have his understanding enlightened—and
yet his will not at all sanctified. He may have an understanding to
know God—and yet lack a will to obey God. The apostle tells us of some,
that, "when they knew God, they glorified him not as God."
To make a man altogether a Christian, there must be light
in the head—and heat in the heart; knowledge in the understanding—and zeal
in the affections. Some have zeal and no knowledge; that is, blind devotion.
Some have knowledge and no zeal; that is, fruitless speculation. But where
knowledge is joined with zeal, that makes a true Christian.
Objection. But is it not said, "This is eternal
life--to know you, the only true God—and Jesus Christ whom you have sent?"
Answer. It is not every knowledge of God and Christ,
which interests the soul in eternal life. For why then do the devils
perish; they have more knowledge of God than all the men in the world; for
though, by their fall, they lost their holiness, yet they lost not
their knowledge. They are called daimones, from their
knowledge—and yet they are diaboli, from their malice, devils still.
Knowledge may fill the head—but it will never better the heart, if there is
not somewhat else. The Pharisees had much knowledge, "Behold, you are called
a Jew—and rest in the law—and make your boast of God—and know his will,"
etc.—and yet they were a generation of hypocrites! Alas! how many have
gone loaded with knowledge to hell! Though it is true, that it is
eternal life to know God and Jesus Christ; yet it is as true, that many do
know God and Jesus Christ, who shall never see eternal life.
There is, you must know, a twofold knowledge; the one is
common—but not saving; the other is not common—but saving. Common
knowledge is that which floats in the head—but does not influence the heart.
This knowledge, reprobates may have.
Naturalists say, that there is a pearl in the toad's
head—and yet her belly is full of poison. The French have a berry which they
call the grape of a thorn. The common knowledge of Christ is the
pearl in the toad's head—the grape which grows upon thorns; it may be found
in unsanctified men. And then there is a saving knowledge of God and Christ,
which includes the assent of the mind—and the consent of the will; this is a
knowledge which implies faith; "By his knowledge shall my righteous servant
justify many." And this is that knowledge which leads to life eternal. Now
whatever that measure of knowledge is, which a man may have of God—and of
Jesus Christ, yet if it is not this saving knowledge--knowledge joined with
affection and application—he is but almost a Christian.
He only knows God aright, who knows how to obey him—and
obeys according to his knowledge of him. "A good understanding have all
those who do his commandments." All knowledge without this, makes a man but
like Nebuchadnezzar's image, with "a head of gold—and feet of clay." Some
know—but only to know. Some know—but only to be known. Some
know—to practice what they know. Now, to know—but to know—that is
merely curiosity. To know, to be known—that is merely vain-glory. But to
know, to practice what we know—that is gospel duty. This makes a man
a complete Christian; the other, without this, makes a man almost—and
yet but almost a Christian.
Section II. A man may have great and eminent GIFTS, yes,
spiritual gifts—and yet be but almost a Christian. The gift of
prayer is a spiritual gift. Now this a man may have—and yet be but
almost a Christian—for the gift of prayer is one thing; the grace
of prayer is another. The gift of preaching and prophesying is a
spiritual gift; now this a man may have—and yet be but almost a Christian.
Judas was a great preacher; so were those who came to Christ—and said,
"Lord, Lord, we have prophesied in your name—and in your name have cast out
devils," etc. You must know that it is not gifts—but grace, which makes a
1. Gifts are from a common work of the Spirit.
Now a man may partake of all the common gifts of the Spirit—and yet be a
reprobate. They are called common, because they are indifferently dispensed
by the Spirit to those who are believers—and to those who are not. Those who
have grace have gifts; and those who have no grace, may have the same gifts;
for the Spirit works in both. Nay, in this sense he who has no grace, may be
under a greater work of the Spirit as to gifts, than he who has most grace.
A graceless professor may have greater gifts than the most holy believer! He
may out-pray, and out-preach, and out-do them! But true believers, in
sincerity an integrity, out-go the mere professor.
2. Gifts are for the use and good of others, they are
given for the profiting and edifying of others. So says the
apostle, "A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the
entire church." Now a man may edify another by his gifts—and yet be
unedified himself; he may be profitable to another—and yet unprofitable to
The raven was an unclean bird: God makes use of
her to feed Elijah; though she was not good meat, yet it was good meat she
brought. A lame man may with his crutch point to the right way—and yet not
be able to walk in it himself. A deformed tailor may make a suit to fit a
straight body, though it does not fit him who made it, because of his
deformity. The church (Christ's garden enclosed) may be watered through a
wooden gutter; the sun may give light through a dusky window; and the field
may be well sowed with a dirty hand.
The efficacy of the Word does not depend upon the
authority of him who speaks it—but upon the authority of God who blesses it.
So that another may be converted by my preaching—and yet I may be cast away
notwithstanding. Balaam makes a clear and rare prophecy of Christ—and yet he
has no benefit by Christ, "There shall come a star out of Jacob—and a
scepter shall rise out of Israel." But yet Balaam shall have no benefit by
it, "I shall see him—but not now; I shall behold him—but not near." God may
use a man's gifts to bring another to Christ, when he himself, whose gifts
God uses, may be a stranger unto Christ.
One man may confirm another in the faith—and yet himself
may be a stranger to the faith. Pendleton strengthens and confirms Sanders,
in Queen Mary's days, to stand in the truth he had preached—and to seal it
with his blood—and yet afterwards plays the apostate himself. Johannes
Speiserus, a famous preacher of Augsburg in Germany, in the year 1523,
preached the gospel so powerfully that many common harlots were
converted—and became godly Christians; and yet himself afterwards turned
papist and came to a miserable end. Thus the candle may burn bright to light
others in their work—and yet afterwards go out in a stink.
3. It is beyond the power of the greatest gifts to change
the heart. A man may preach like an apostle, pray like an
angel—and yet may have the heart of a devil! It is grace alone which can
change the heart; the greatest gifts cannot change it—but the least grace
can; gifts may make a man a scholar—but grace makes a man a believer. Now if
gifts cannot change the heart, then a man may have the greatest gifts—and
yet be but almost a Christian.
4. Many have gone to hell, laden with gifts.
No doubt Judas had great gifts, for he was a preacher of the gospel;
and our Lord Jesus Christ would not set him to work—and not fit him for the
work; yet "Judas is gone to his own place!"
The Scribes and Pharisees were men of great
gifts—and yet, "where is the wise? where is the scribe?" "The preaching of
the cross is to those who perish foolishness." Those who perish, who are
they? Who! the wise and the learned, both among Jews and Greeks; these are
called "those who perish." A great bishop said, when he saw a poor shepherd
weeping over his sin, "The poor illiterate world attain to heaven, while we
with all our learning fall into hell."
There are three things which must be done for us, if ever
we would avoid eternally perishing.
We must be thoroughly convinced of sin.
We must be really united to Christ.
We must be instated in the covenant of grace.
Now, the greatest gifts cannot stead us in any of these.
They cannot work thorough convictions. They cannot effect our union. They
cannot bring us into covenant-relation. And consequently, they cannot
preserve us from eternally perishing; and if so, then a man may have the
greatest gifts—and yet be but almost a Christian.
5. Gifts may decay and perish. They do not lie
beyond the reach of corruption; indeed grace shall never perish—but gifts
will. Grace is incorruptible, though gifts are not. Grace is "a spring,
whose waters fail not," but the streams of gifts may be dried up. If grace
be corruptible in its own nature, as being but a creature, yet it is
incorruptible in regard of its preserver, as being the new creature;
he who did create it in us—will preserve it in us; he who did
begin it—will also finish it. Gifts have their root in nature—but grace
has its roots in Christ; and therefore though gifts may die and wither, yet
grace shall abide forever.
Now if gifts are perishing, then, though he who has the
least grace is a Christian, he who has the greatest gifts may be but almost
Objection. But does not the apostle bid us "covet
earnestly the best gifts?" Why must we covet them—and covet them earnestly,
if they avail not to salvation?
Answer. Gifts are good—though they are not the best
good; they are excellent—but there is something more excellent, so it
follows in the same verse, "Yet I show unto you a more excellent way," and
that is the way of grace. One grain of grace—is more worth than a ton of
gifts! Gifts may make us rich towards men—but it is grace which makes us
"rich towards God." Our gifts profit others—but grace profits ourselves.
That whereby I profit another is good—but that by which I am profited myself
is better. Now because gifts are good, therefore we ought to covet them; but
because they are not the best good, therefore we ought not to rest
in them. We must covet gifts for the good of others, that they
may be edified; and we must covet grace for the good of our own
souls, that they may be saved. No matter how many are bettered by our
gifts—yet we shall miscarry without grace.
Section III. A man may have a high PROFESSION of
religion, be much in EXTERNAL DUTIES of religion—and yet be but almost a
Christian. Mark what our Lord tells them, "Not everyone who
says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." That
is, not everyone who makes a profession of Christ, shall therefore be owned
for a true disciple of Christ. "Not all who are descended from Israel are
Israel;" nor are all Christians, who make a profession of religion. What a
good profession Judas had! He followed Christ, left all for Christ, he
preached the gospel of Christ, he cast out devils in the name of Christ, he
ate and drank at the table of Christ—and yet Judas was but a hypocrite.
Most professors are like lilies, fair in show—but foul in
scent; or like pepper, hot in the mouth—but cold in the stomach. The finest
lace may be upon the coarsest cloth. It is a great deceit to measure the
reality of our religion—by the bulk of our profession—and to judge of the
strength of our graces by the length of our duties.
The Scriptures speak of some who having "a form of
godliness, yet deny the power thereof." Deny the power; that is, they do not
live in the practice of those graces to which they pretend to profess. He
who pretends to godliness by a specious profession—and yet does not practice
godliness by a holy life, "he has a form—but denies the power." Grotius
compares such to the ostrich, which has great wings—but yet does not fly.
Many have the wings of a fair profession—but yet use them not to mount
upward in spiritual affections—and a heavenly life.
But to clear the truth of this, that a man may make a
high profession of religion—and yet be but almost a Christian, take a
1. If a man may profess religion—and yet never have his
heart changed, nor his state bettered; then he may be a great professor—and
yet be but almost a Christian. But a man may profess religion—and
yet never have his heart changed, nor his state renewed. He may be a
constant hearer of the word—and yet be an unconverted sinner still; he may
come often to the Lord's table—and yet go away as foul a sinner as he came!
We must not think that duties can confer grace. Many a soul has been
converted by Christ in an ordinance—but never was any soul converted
by an ordinance without Christ. And does Christ convert all who sit
under the ordinances? Surely not; for to some, "the Word is a savor of death
unto death." And if so, then it is plain, that a man may profess
religion—and yet be but almost a Christian.
2. A man may profess religion—and live in a form of
godliness in hypocrisy. "Listen to this, O house of Jacob, you
who are called by the name of Israel and come from the line of Judah, you
who take oaths in the name of the Lord and make mention of the God of
Israel—but not in truth, nor in righteousness." What do you think of these
people? "They make mention of the name of the Lord," there is their
profession; "but not in truth; nor in righteousness," there is their
dissimulation. And indeed there could be no hypocrisy in a religious
sense, were it not for a profession of religion; for he who is wicked
and carnal, and vile inwardly, and appears to be so outwardly, he is no
hypocrite—but is what he appears, and appears what he is. But he who is one
thing really, and another thing seemingly—he who is carnal and
unholy, and yet seems to be good and holy—he is a hypocrite.
Thus they define hypocrisy to be a counterfeiting of
holiness; and this fits exactly with the Greek word, which is, to
counterfeit. And to this purpose, the Hebrews have two words for hypocrites;
one which signifies faces; and another which signifies
counterfeits. So that he is a hypocrite who counterfeits piety,
and wears the face of holiness—and yet is without the grace of holiness. He
appears to be in semblance, what he is not in substance. He wears a form
of godliness without, only as a cover of a profane heart within. He has
a profession that he may not be thought wicked; but it is but a profession,
and therefore he is wicked. He is the religious hypocrite; religious,
because he pretends to it; and yet a hypocrite, because he does but pretend
to it. He is like many men in a consumption, who have fresh looks—and yet
rotten lungs; or like an apple that has a fair skin—but a rotten core. Many
appear righteous, who are only righteous in appearance. And if so, then a
man may profess religion—and yet be but almost a Christian.
3. Custom and fashion may make a man a professor.
As you have many who wear this or that garb, not because it keeps them
warmer, or has any excellency in it more than another—but merely for
fashion. Many must have powdered hair, painted faces, feathers in their
caps, etc. for no other end—but because they would be fools in fashion.
So, many profess Christianity—not because the means of grace warm the
heart, or who they see any excellencies in the ways of God above the
world—but merely to follow the fashion! Because religion has been uppermost,
therefore many have professed it. Religion in fashion makes many
professors—but few proselytes; but when religion suffers, then its
confessors are no more than its converts; for custom makes the former—but
conscience the latter. He who is a professor of religion merely for custom
sake, when it prospers, will never be a martyr for Christ's sake, when
They say, that when a house is decaying or falling, all
the rats and mice will forsake it. While the house is firm, and they may
shelter in the roof, they will stay—but no longer; lest, in the decay, the
fall should be upon them, and those who lived at top should die at bottom.
My brethren, may I not say, we have many who are the vermin, the rats and
mice of religion, who would live under the roof of it, while they might have
shelter in it; but when it suffers, they forsake it, lest it should fall,
and the fall should be upon them!
I am persuaded this is not the least reason why God has
brought persecution; namely to rid it of the vermin. He shakes the
foundations of the house, that these rats and mice may leave it—to rid them
of it; as the farmer fans the wheat, that he may get rid of the chaff. The
halcyon days of the gospel provoke hypocrisy—but the sufferings for
religion prove sincerity. Now, then, if custom and fashion make many
men professors, then a man may profess religion—and yet be but almost
4. If many may perish under a profession of
godliness, then a man may profess religion and yet be but almost a
Christian. Now, the Scripture is clear, that a man may perish
under the highest profession of religion. Christ cursed the fig-tree, which
had leaves and no fruit. It is said, that "the children of the
kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness." Who were these—but those who
were then the only people of God by profession—and yet these were cast out.
In Matthew's gospel, you read of some who came and made
boast of their profession to Christ, hoping that might save them. "Lord,"
say they, "have we not prophesied in your name, cast out devils in your
name, done many wonderful works in your name?" Now what says our Lord Christ
to this? "Then I will profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me!"
Mark, here are those who prophesy in his name—and yet perish in his wrath!
In his name cast out devils—and then are cast out themselves! In his name do
many wonderful works—and yet perish as workers of iniquity. The profession
of religion will no more keep a man from perishing—than calling a ship
the Safe-guard, or the Good-speed, will keep it from sinking.
As many go to heaven with the fear of hell in their hearts—so many go to
hell with the name of Christ in their mouths.
Now then, if many may perish under a profession of
godliness, then may a man be a high professor of religion—and yet be but
almost a Christian.
Objection. But is it not said by the Lord Christ
himself, "He who confesses me before men, him will I confess before my
Father in heaven?" Now, for Christ to say, he will confess us before the
Father, is equivalent to a promise of eternal life: for if Jesus Christ
confesses us, God the Father will never disown us. True, those who confess
Christ, shall be confessed by him; and it is as true, that this confession
is equivalent to a promise of salvation. But you must know, that
professing Christ, is not confessing him: for to profess Christ
is one thing—to confess Christ is another. Confession is a living testimony
for Christ, in a time when religion suffers. Profession may be only a
lifeless formality, in a time when religion prospers. To confess Christ, is
to choose his ways, and own them. To profess Christ, is to plead for his
ways—and yet not live in them. Profession may be from a feigned love to the
ways of Christ; but confession is from a rooted love to the person of
Christ. To profess Christ, is to own him when none deny him; to confess
Christ, is to plead for him, and suffer for him, when others oppose him.
Hypocrites may be professors; but the martyrs are the true confessors.
Profession is a swimming down the stream. Confession is a swimming against
the stream. Now many may swim with the stream, like the dead fish—which
cannot swim against the stream, with the living fish. Many may profess
Christ, who cannot confess Christ; and so, notwithstanding their profession,
yet are but almost Christians.
Section IV. To come yet nearer; a man may go far in
opposing his SIN—and yet be but almost a Christian. How far a man
may go in this work, I shall show you in seven gradual instances.
First, A man may be CONVINCED of sin—and yet be but
almost a Christian. For,
1. Conviction of sin may be merely rational, as well as
spiritual; it may be from a natural conscience enlightened by the Word,
without the effectual work of the Spirit, applying sin to the heart.
2. Conviction of sin may be worn out—and often does not
end in sound conversion. Says the church, "We have been with child, we have
been in pain, we have brought forth wind." This is the complaint of the
church, in reference to the unprofitableness of their afflictions; and it
may be the complaint in most, in reference to the unprofitableness of their
3. Many take conviction of sin, to be conversion from
sin; and then sit down and rest in their convictions.
Now then, if convictions may be only from natural
conscience; if they may be worn out, or may be mistaken, and rested in for
conversion, then a man may have convictions, and be but almost a Christian.
Secondly, A man may MOURN for sin—and yet be but almost a
Christian. So did Saul; so did Esau, for the loss of his
birthright, which was his sin, and therefore he is called, by the Spirit of
God, "profane Esau;" yet, "he sought it again carefully with tears."
Objection. But does not Christ pronounce them
blessed, who mourn? "Blessed are those who mourn." Surely then, if a man
mourns for sin, he is in a good condition. "You see," says Nazianzen, "that
salvation is joined with sorrow."
Solution. I answer, it is true, that those who mourn
for sin, in the sense Christ there speaks of, are blessed; but all
mourning for sin, does not therefore render us blessed.
1. True mourning for sin must flow from spiritual
convictions of the evil, and vileness, and damnable nature of sin. Now, all
who mourn for sin, do not do it from a thorough work of spiritual conviction
upon the soul; they have not a right sense of the evil and vileness of sin.
2. True mourning for sin, is more for the evil which is
in sin, than the evil that comes as a result of sin. It is more because it
dishonors God, and wounds Christ, and grieves the Spirit, and makes the soul
unlike God, than because it damns the soul. Now there are many who mourn for
sin, not so much for the evil that is in it—as for the evil that it brings
with it. There is mourning for sin in hell; you read of "weeping and
wailing" there. The damned are weeping and mourning for all eternity. In
hell, there is all sorrow, and no comfort. As in heaven there is peace
without trouble, joy without mourning; so in hell there is trouble without
peace, mourning without joy, weeping and wailing incessantly; but it is for
the evil which they feel as a result of sin, and not for the evil which is
in sin. A man may mourn for sin—and yet be but almost a Christian: it
may grieve him to think of perishing for sin, when it does not grieve
him that he is defiled and polluted by sin.
Thirdly, A man may make large CONFESSION of sin, to God,
to others—and yet be but almost a Christian. How
innocently does Saul confess his sin to David? "I have sinned!" says
he, "you are more righteous than I! Behold, I have played the fool, and have
erred exceedingly!" So Judas makes a full confession, "I have sinned
in betraying innocent blood!" Yet Saul and Judas were both rejected by God;
so that a man may confess sin—and yet be but almost a Christian.
Objection. But is not a confession of sin a character
of a child of God? Does not the apostle say, "If we confess our sins, God is
just and faithful to forgive them." No man was ever kept out of heaven for
his confessed badness, though many are kept out of heaven for their supposed
goodness. True confession of sin is the way to the kingdom of heaven. There
are some who confess sin, and are saved; there are others who confess sin,
1. Many confess sin merely out of custom, and not out of
conscience. Many who will never pray--but they will make a long confession
of sin—and yet never feel the weight or burden of sin upon their
2. Many will confess lesser sins—and yet conceal greater;
like the patient who complained to his physician of his sore finger, when
his liver was rotten.
3. Many will confess sin in the general, or confess
themselves sinners; and yet see little, and say less of their particular
sins. Where confession is right, it will be distinct, especially of those
sins that were our chief sins. So David confesses his blood-guiltiness and
adultery; so Paul his blasphemy, persecution, and injury against the saints.
It is bad to hear men confess that they are great sinners—and yet cannot
confess their particular sins. Though the least sin be too bad to be
committed, yet there is no sin too bad to be confessed.
4. Many will confess sin—but it is only under extremity,
that is, not free and voluntary. Pharaoh confesses his sin—but it was when
judgment compelled him. "I have sinned against the Lord!" says he; but it
was when he had eight plagues upon him.
5. Many do by their sins as mariners do by their goods,
cast them out in a storm, wishing for them again in a calm.
Confession should come like water out of a spring, which runs freely; not
like water out of a still, which is forced by fire.
6. Many confess their sins—but with no intent to
forsake sin. They confess the sins they have committed—but do not
leave the sins they have confessed. Many men use their confession as
Lewis the eleventh of France did his crucifix; he would swear an oath, and
then kiss it; and swear again, and then kiss it again. So many sin, and then
confess they do not well—but yet never strive to do better.
Torsel tells a story of a minister he knew, who would be
often drunk, and when he came into the pulpit, would confess it very
lamentingly; and yet no sooner was he out of the pulpit—but he would be
drunk again; and this would he do as constantly as men follow their trades.
Now then, if a man may confess sin merely out of custom;
if he may confess lesser sins—and yet conceal greater; if he may confess sin
only in the general, or only under extremity, or if he may confess sin
without any intent to forsake sin—then surely a man may confess sin—and yet
be but almost a Christian.
Fourthly, A man may FORSAKE sin—and yet be but almost a
Christian. He may leave his lusts, and his wicked ways, which he
sometimes lived in, and in the judgment of the world become a new man—and
yet not be a new creature. Simon Magus, when he hears Philip preaching
concerning the kingdom of God, leaves his sorcery and witchcraft, and
Objection. But you will say, this seems contrary to
Scripture; for that says, "He who confesses and forsakes sin, shall have
mercy;" but I confess sin, yes, not only so—but also I forsake sin; surely
therefore this mercy is my portion, it belongs to me.
Answer. It is true, that where a soul forsakes sin
from a right principle, after a right manner, to a right end; where he
forsakes sin as sin, as being contrary to God, and the purity of his
nature-this declares that soul to be right with God, and the promise shall
be made good to it, "He shall find mercy." But there is a forsaking sin that
is not right—but unsound.
1. Open sins may be deserted—and yet secret sins may be
retained. Now this is not a right forsaking; such a soul shall never find
mercy. A man may be cured of a wound in his flesh—and yet may die of an
infection in his heart.
2. A man may forsake sin—but not as sin; for he who
forsakes sin as sin, forsakes all sin. It is impossible for a man to
forsake sin as sin, unless he forsakes all that he knows to be sin.
3. A man may let one sin go—to hold another the
faster; as a man who goes to sea, would willingly save all his goods; but if
the storm arises that he cannot—then he throws some overboard to lighten the
vessel, and save the rest. So did they, Acts 27:38. So the unrepentant
sinner chooses to keep all his sins; but if a storm arises in his
conscience, why then he will heave one lust overboard, to save the life of
4. A man may let all sin go—and yet be an unsaved sinner
still; for there is the root of all sin in the heart, though the
fruit is not seen in the life; the tree lives, though the boughs be
lopped off. As a man is a sinner, before ever he acts sin—so (until grace
renews him) he is a sinner, though he leaves sin; for there is original sin
in him enough to damn and destroy him!
5. Sin may be left—and yet be loved; a man may forsake
the practice of sin—and yet retain the love of sin. Now,
though leaving sin makes him almost a Christian, yet loving
sin shows he is but almost a Christian. It is a less evil to do sin,
and not love it—than to love sin and not do it; for to do sin may argue only
weakness of grace—but to love sin argues strength of lust. "What I hate—that
I do." Sin is bad in any part of man—but sin in the heart is worse than sin
in the life; for sin in the life may be only from infirmity—but sin in the
heart is the fruit of choice and unregeneracy.
6. All sin may be chained—and yet the heart not changed;
and so the nature of the sinner is the same as ever. A lion chained
up, is a lion still—as much as if he was let loose to devour. There may be a
cessation of combat between enemies—and yet the quarrel may remain still;
there may be a making truce, where there is no making peace. A sinner may
lay the weapons of sin out of his hand—and yet the enmity against God
still remain in his heart. There may be a truce—he may not sin
against God; but there can be no peace until he is united to God.
Restraining grace restricts the sinner—but it is renewing grace
which changes his nature.
Many are restrained by common grace from being
open sinners, who are not renewed by saving grace, and made true
Now then, if a man may forsake open sins, and retain
secret sins; if he may forsake sin—but not as sin; if he may let one sin go,
to hold another the faster; if a man may let all sin go—and yet be a sinner
still; if sin may be left—and yet be loved; if all sin may be chained, and
yet the heart not changed—then a man may forsake sin—and yet be but almost a
Section 5. A man may HATE sin—and yet be but almost a
Christian. Absalom hated Amnon's immorality with his sister
Tamar. Yes, his hatred was so great, that he slew him for it; and yet
Absalom was but a wicked man.
Objection. But the Scripture makes it a sign of a
gracious heart, to hate sin. Yes, though a man does, through infirmities,
fall into sin, yet if he hates it, this is a proof of grace. Paul proves the
sincerity of his heart, and the truth of his grace, by this hatred of sin,
though he committed it, "What I hate—that I do." Nay, what is grace
but a conformity of the soul to God; to love as God loves, to hate as God
hates? Now God hates sin—it is one part of his holiness to hate all sin. And
if I hate sin, then am I conformed to God—and if I am conformed to God, then
am I altogether a Christian.
Answer. It is true, that there is a hatred of sin,
which is a sign of grace, and which flows from a principle of grace, and is
grace. As for instance: To hate sin, as it is an offence to God, a wrong to
his majesty; to hate sin, as it is a breach of the command, and so a wicked
disobeying of God's will, which is the only rule of goodness; to hate sin,
as being a wicked transgression of that law of love established in the blood
and death of Christ, and so, in a degree, a crucifying of Christ afresh. To
hate sin, as being a grieving and quenching the Spirit of God, as all sin in
its nature is. Thus to hate sin, is grace; and thus every true Christian
But, though every man who has grace hates sin, yet every
man who hates sin has not saving grace. For a man may hate sin from other
principles, not as it is a wrong done to God, or a wounding Christ, or a
grieving the Spirit; for then he would hate all sin; for there is no sin but
has this in the nature of it. But,
1. A man may hate sin for the shame which attends it,
more than for the evil which is in it. There are some sinners, "who declare
their sin as Sodom, and hide it not." They sit down in the seat of the
scornful; "they glory in their shame." But there are other sinners who are
ashamed of sin, and therefore hate it, not for the sin's sake—but for
the shame's sake. This made Absalom hate Amnon's immorality, because it
brought shame upon him and his sister.
2. A man may hate sin more in others, than in himself. So
does the drunkard—he hates drunkenness in another—and yet practices it
himself! The liar hates falsehood in another—but likes it himself. Now he
who hates sin from a principle of grace, hates sin most in himself; he hates
sin in others—but he loathes most the sins of his own heart! 3. A man may
hate one sin—as being contrary to another. There is a great contrariety
between one sin and another sin, between one lust and another lust. It is
the excellency of the life of grace, that it is a uniform life; there is no
one grace contrary to another. The graces of God's Spirit are different—but
not contrary to one another. Faith, and love, and holiness, are all one.
They consist together at the same time, in the same subject; nay, they
cannot be parted. There can be no faith without love, no love without
holiness; and so, on the other hand, no holiness without love; no love
without faith. So that this makes the life of grace an easy and excellent
But the life of sin is a distracting contradictory life,
wherein a man is a servant to contrary lusts. The lust of pride and
extravagance, is contrary to the lust of covetousness, etc. Now, where one
lust gets to be the master-lust of the soul, then that works a hatred of its
contrary. Where covetousness gets the heart, there the heart hates pride;
and where pride gets uppermost in the heart, there the heart hates
covetousness. Thus a man may hate sin, not from a principle of grace—but
from the contrariety of lusts. He does not hate any sin, as it is sin; but
he hates it, as being contrary to his beloved sin.
Now then, if a man may hate sin for the shame which
attends it; if he may hate sin more in others than himself; if he may hate
one sin as being contrary to another—then he may hate sin—and yet be but
almost a Christian.
Section VI. A man may make great vows and promises—he may
have strong purposes and resolutions against sin—and yet be but almost a
Christian. Thus did Saul; he promises and resolves against
his sin, "Return, my son David," says he, "for I will no more do you harm."
What promises and resolves did Pharaoh make against that sin of
detaining God's people? Says he, "I will let the people go, that they may do
sacrifice to the Lord." And again, "I will let you go, and you shall stay no
longer." And yet Saul and Pharaoh both perished in their sins. The greatest
purposes and promises against sin, will not make a man a
1. Purposes and promises against sin, never hurt sin. We
say, "threatened folks live long;" and truly so do threatened sins. It is
not new purposes—but a new nature, which must help us against sin. Purposes
may bring to the birth—but without a new nature, there is no strength to
bring forth. The new nature is the best soil for holy purposes to grow in;
otherwise, they wither and die, like plants in an improper soil.
2. Troubles and afflictions may provoke us to large
purposes and promises against sin for the future. What is more common, than
to vow—and not to pay? to make vows in the day of trouble—which we make no
conscience to pay in the day of favor? Many covenant against sin, when
trouble is upon them; and then sin against their covenant, when it is
removed from them! It was a brave rule that Pliny, in one of his epistles,
gave his friend to live by, "That we should continue to be such when we are
well—as we promise to be when we are sick." Many are our sick-bed
promises—but we are no sooner well, than we grow sick of our promises.
3. Purposes and resolves against sin for the future,
may be only a temptation to put off repentance for the present. Satan
may put a man on to good purposes for the future—to keep him from present
attempts. He knows whatever we purpose, yet the strength of performance is
not in ourselves. He knows, that purposes for the future are a putting God
off for the present; they are a secret disobedience, to a present duty. That
is a notable passage, "Follow me," says Christ, to the two men. Now see what
answers they gave to Christ, "Allow me first to go and bury my father," says
one. This man purposes to follow Christ, only he would stay to bury his
father. Says the other, "Lord, I will follow you—but let me first go and bid
them farewell which are at my house." I will follow you—but only I would
first go and take my leave of my friends, or set my house in order. And yet
we do not find that they ever followed Christ, notwithstanding their fair
4. Nature unsanctified, may be so far wrought on, as to
make great promises and purposes against sin.
1st, A natural man may have great convictions of sin,
from the workings of an enlightened conscience.
2d, He may approve of the law of God.
3d, He may have a desire to be saved.
Now these three together—the workings of conscience; the
sight of the goodness of the law; a desire to be saved—may bring forth in a
man great purposes against sin—and yet he may have no heart to perform his
This was much like the case of those who who said to
Moses, "Go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says. Then tell us
whatever the Lord our God tells you. We will listen and obey." This is a
fair promise, and so God takes it, "I have heard what this people said to
you. Everything they said was good." So said, and so done, had
been well. But it was better said than done! For though they had a tongue
to promise, yet they had no heart to perform! And this God saw;
therefore he said, "Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and
keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them!" They
promised to fear God, and keep his commandments; but they lacked a new
heart to perform what an unsanctified heart had promised. It
fares with men in this case, as it did with that son in the gospel, who said
that "He would go into the vineyard—but went not."
Now then, if purposes and promises against sin, never
hurt sin; if present afflictions may draw out large promises; if they may be
the resolves against sin for the future; or from nature unsanctified; surely
then a man may promise and purpose much against sin—and yet be but almost a
Section VII. A man may maintain a strife and combat
against sin in himself—and yet be but almost a Christian. So did
Balaam; when he went to curse the people of God, he had a great
strife within himself. "How shall I curse," says he, "those whom God has not
cursed? or how shall I defy those whom the Lord has not defied?" And did not
Pilate strive against his sin, when he said to the Jews, "Shall I
crucify your king? what evil has he done. I am innocent of the blood of this
Objection. But you will say, "Is not this an argument
of grace, when there is a striving in the soul against sin? for what should
oppose sin in the heart, but grace? The apostle makes "the lusting of the
flesh against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh," to be an
argument of grace in the heart. Now I find this strife in my heart, though
the remainders of corruption sometimes break out into actual sins, yet I
find a striving in my soul against sin.
Answer. It is true, there is a striving against sin,
which is only from grace, and is proper to believers. But there is also a
striving against sin, which is not from grace, and therefore may be in those
who are not true believers. There is a strife against sin in one and the
same faculty; the will against the will—the affection against the affection;
and this is that which the apostle calls "the lusting of the flesh against
the spirit;" that is, the striving of the unregenerate part against the
regenerate; and this is ever in the same faculty, and is proper to believers
An unbeliever never finds this strife in himself. This
strife cannot be in him; it is impossible while he not a state of grace. But
then there is a striving against sin in divers faculties; and this is the
strife that is in those who are not believers. There, the strife is between
the will and the conscience; conscience enlightened and terrified with the
fear of hell and damnation, then the conscience is against sin; but the will
and affections, not being renewed, they are for sin. And this causes great
tugging and combats many times in the sinner's heart.
Thus it was with the Scribes and Pharisees. Conscience
convinced them of the divinity of Christ, and of the truth of his being
the Son of God. And yet a perverse will, and carnal affections, cry out,
"Crucify him! Crucify him!" Conscience pleaded for him—it had a
witness in their bosoms; and yet their wills were bent against
him. Therefore they are said "to have resisted the Spirit;" namely, the
workings and convictions of the Spirit in their consciences. And this is the
case of many unconverted sinners: when the will and affections are for sin,
and plead for it—and conscience is against it, and many times fights the
soul away from the doing of it. And hence men take that which opposes sin in
them, to be grace—when it is only the work of a natural conscience.
They conclude the strife is between grace and sin—the regenerate and
unregenerate part; when, alas! it is no other than the contention of a
natural conscience against a corrupt will and affections!
And if so then, a man may have great strifes and combats against sin in him;
and yet be but almost a Christian.
A man may desire grace—and yet be but
almost a Christian. So did the five foolish virgins, "Give us of your
oil." What was that but true grace? It was that oil which lighted the wise
virgins into the bridegroom's chamber. They do not only desire to enter
in—but they desire oil to light them in. Wicked men may desire heaven—desire
a Christ to save them; there is none so wicked upon earth—but desire to be
happy in heaven. But here are those who desire grace as well as
glory—and yet these are but almost Christians.
Objection. But is it not commonly taught that desires
for grace, are grace? Nay, does not our Lord Christ make it so? "Blessed are
those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled."
Answer. It is true, that there are some desires of
grace which are grace—as,
1. When a man desires grace from a right sense of his
natural state; when he sees the vileness of sin, and the woeful, defiled,
and loathsome condition he is in by reason of sin; and therefore desires the
grace of Christ to renew and change him—this is true grace. This some make
to be the lowest degree of saving faith.
2. When a man joins proportionable endeavors to
his desires; does not only wish for grace—but work for grace;
such desires are grace.
3. When a man's desires are constant and
incessant, which cease not but in the attainment of their object; such
desires are true grace. They are a part of the special work of the Spirit.
They do really partake of the nature of grace. Now it is a known maxim,
"that which partakes of the nature of the whole, is a part of the whole;"
the filings of gold are gold. The sea is not more really water, than the
least drop; the flame is not more really fire than the least spark. But
though all true desires for grace, are grace; yet all desires for grace, are
not true. For,
1. A man may desire grace—but not for itself—but for
somewhat else; not for grace's sake—but for heaven's sake. He does not
desire grace, that his nature may be changed, his heart renewed, the image
of God stamped upon him, and his lusts subdued in him. These are blessed
desires, found only in true believers. The true Christian only can
desire grace for grace's sake; but the almost Christian may desire
grace for heaven's sake.
2. A man may desire grace, without proportionable
endeavors after grace. Many are good at wishing—but bad at
working; like him who reposed in the grass on a summer's day, crying
out, "O that this were to work!" Solomon says, "The desire of the slothful
kills him." How so? "For his hands refuse to labor!" He perishes with all
his good desires. The believer joins desires and endeavors
together, "One thing have I desired of the Lord—and that will I
3. A man's desires of grace may be unseasonable. Thus the
foolish virgins desired oil when it was too late. The believer's desires are
seasonable; he desires grace in the season of grace, and seeks grace in a
time when it may be found. "The wise heart will know the proper time and
procedure." He knows his season, and has wisdom to improve it. The silly
sinner does all his works out of season; he sends away the seasons of
grace—and then desires grace when the season is over! The sinner does all
too late; as Esau desired the blessing when it was too late, and
therefore he lost it; whereas, had he come sooner, he would have obtained
it. Most men are wise too late—they come when the market is closed; when the
shop is closed, then they have their oil to get. When they lie upon their
death-beds, then they desire holy hearts.
4. Desires of grace in many, are very inconstant and
fleeting, like the "morning dew, which quickly passes away;" or like Jonah's
gourd, which springs up in a night—and withers in a night. They have no root
in the heart—and therefore quickly perish.
Now, if a man may desire grace—but not for grace's sake;
if desires may be without endeavors; if a man may desire grace when it is
too late; if these desires may be but fleeting and inconstant; then may a
man desire grace—and yet be but almost a Christian.
A man may tremble at the Word of God—and yet
be but almost a Christian, as Belshazzar trembled at the handwriting upon
Objection. But is not that a note of sincerity
and truth of grace—to tremble at the Word? Does not God say, "I will
look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in
spirit, and who trembles at My Word."
Answer. There is a two-fold trembling.
1. One is, when the Word discovers the guilt of sin—and
the wrath of God which that guilt brings; this, where conscience is awake,
causes trembling and astonishment. Thus, when Paul preached of
righteousness and judgment, it is said that Felix trembled.
2. There is a trembling which arises from a holy dread
and reverence of the majesty of God, speaking in his Word. This is only
found in true believers, and is that which keeps the soul low in its own
eyes. Therefore mark how the words run, "I will look favorably on this kind
of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and who trembles at My
Word." God does not make the promise, merely to him who trembles at the
Word; for the devils believe and tremble; the Word of God can make the
proudest, stoutest sinner in the world to shake and tremble. But it is "to
the one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and who trembles at My Word."
Where trembling is the fruit of a spirit broken for sin, and humble in its
own eyes; there will God look.
Now many tremble at the word—but not from poverty of
spirit, not from a heart broken for sin, and low in its own eyes; not from a
sense of the majesty and holiness of God: and therefore, notwithstanding
they tremble at the Word, yet they are but almost Christians.
3. A man may delight in the Word and ordinances of
God—and yet be but almost a Christian. "They take delight in approaching to
God." And it is said of that ground, that it "received the Word with joy,"
and yet it was but "stony ground."
Objection. But is it not made a character of a godly
man, to delight in the Word of God? Does not David say, "He is a blessed
man—who delights in the law of the Lord."
Answer. There is a delighting in the Word—which flows
from grace, and is a proof of blessedness.
1. He who delights in the Word, because of its
spirituality—he is a Christian indeed. The more spiritual the ordinances
are, the more does a gracious heart delight in them.
2. When the Word comes close to the conscience, rips up
the heart, and discovers sin—and yet the soul delights in it
notwithstanding; this is a sign of grace.
3. When delight arises from communion with God—this is
from a principle of grace in the soul.
But there may be a delight in the Word—where there is
1. There are many who delight in the Word because of the
eloquence of the preacher. They delight not so much in the truths
delivered, as in the dress in which they are delivered. Thus it is
said of the prophet Ezekiel, "You are very entertaining to them, like
someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on
an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don't do it!"
2. There are very many who delight to hear the
Word, that yet take no delight to do it. So says God of them, "They
delight to hear my words—but they do them not."
Now then, if a man may delight in the Word, more because
of the eloquence of the preacher, than because of the spirituality of the
matter; if he may delight to hear the word—and yet not delight to do it—then
he may delight in the word—and yet be but almost a Christian.
Section VIII. A man may be a MEMBER of a Christian
church, he may join himself to the people of God, partake with them in all
ordinances, and share of all church privileges—and yet be but almost
So the five foolish virgins joined themselves to the
wise, and walked together. Many may be members of the church of Christ—and
yet not members of Christ, the head of the church. There was a mixed
multitude which came up with the church of Israel out of Egypt. They
joined themselves to the Israelites, owned their God, left their own
country—and yet were Egyptians in heart notwithstanding; "All are not
Israel, that are of Israel."
The church in all ages has had unsound members: Cain
had communion with Abel; Ishmael dwelt in the same house with
Isaac; Judas was in fellowship with the apostles; and so was Demas
with the rest of the disciples. There will be some tares in the finest
wheat—and it will be so until the harvest. The dragnet of the Gospel catches
bad fish as well as good. God has a church where there are no members but
such as are true members of Christ—but it is in heaven, it is the "church of
the first-born;" there are no hypocrites, nor rotten, unsound professors,
none but the "spirits of just men made perfect;" all is pure wheat that God
lays up in that garner; there the chaff is separated to unquenchable fire.
But in the church on earth the wheat and the chaff
lie in the same heap together; the Samaritans will be near of kin to the
Jews when they are in prosperity: so while the church of God flourishes in
the world, many will join to it; they will seem Jews, though they are
Samaritans; and seem saints, though yet they are no better
than almost Christians.
Section IX. A man may have great HOPES of heaven, great
hopes of being saved—and yet be but almost a Christian. Indeed
there is a hope of heaven which is "the anchor of the soul sure and
steadfast," it never miscarries, and it is known by four properties.
First, It is a hope which purifies the heart, and purges
out sin, "He who has this hope, purifies himself even as God is pure." That
soul that truly hopes to enjoy God, truly endeavors to be like God.
Secondly, It is a hope which fills the heart with
gladness, "We rejoice in hope of the glory of God."
Thirdly, It is a hope that is founded upon the promise:
as there can be no true faith without a promise, so, nor any true hope.
Faith applies the promise, and hope expects the fulfilling the promise.
Faith relies upon the truth of it, and hope waits for the good of it.
Fourthly, It is a hope that is wrought by God himself in
the soul; who is therefore called, "the God of hope," as being the Author
as well as the Object of hope. Now, he who has this hope shall
never miscarry. This is a right hope; the hope of the true believer, "Christ
in you, the hope of glory."
But then, as there is a true and sound hope, so there is
a false and rotten hope; and this is much more common, as
bastard-pearls are more frequently worn than true pearls. There is nothing
more common, than to see men big with groundless hopes of heaven, as,
1. A man may have great hope of heaven—who has no true
grace. You read of the "hope of hypocrites." The performance of duties is a
proof of their hope; the foolish virgins would never have done what they
did, had they thought they should have been shut out after all. Many
professors would not be at such pains in duties as they are, if they did not
hope for heaven. Hope is the great motive to action: despair cuts the sinews
of all endeavors. That is one reason why the damned in hell cease acting
toward an alteration of their state, because despair has taken hold of them:
if there were any hope in hell, they would up and be doing there.
So that there may be great hope where there is no grace;
experience proves this; formal professors are men of no grace—but yet men of
great hopes. Nay, many times you shall find that none fear more about their
eternal condition—than those who have most cause of hope. And none hope
more—-than those who have most cause of fear!
2. A man may hope in the mercy, and goodness, and power
of God, without eyeing the promise; and this is the hope of most. God is
full of mercy and goodness, and therefore willing to save; and he is
infinite in power, and therefore able to save; why therefore should I
not rest on him? Now it is presumption, and therefore sin, to hope in the
mercy of God, otherwise than by eyeing the promise; for the promise is the
channel of mercy, through which it is conveyed. All the blessedness the
saints enjoy in heaven, is no other than what is the fruit of promise relied
on, and hoped for here on earth. A man has no warrant to hope in God—but by
virtue of the promise.
3. A man may hope for heaven—and yet not cleanse his
heart, nor depart from his secret sins. That hope of salvation that is not
accompanied with heart-purification, is a vain hope.
4. A man may hope for heaven—and yet be doing the work of
hell; he may hope for salvation—and yet be working out his own damnation,
and so perish in his confidences. This is the case of many, like the tower
who looks one way, and rows another; many have their eyes on heaven whose
hearts are in the earth; they hope in God—but choose him not for a portion;
they hope in God—but do not love him as the best good, and therefore are
will have no portion in him, nor good by him; but will perish without him,
notwithstanding all their hopes. "What is the hope of the hypocrite, though
he has gained, when God takes away his soul?"
Now then, if a man may have great hope of heaven, who has
no grace; if he may hope in mercy, without eyeing the promise; if he may
hope without heart-purifying; if he may hope for heaven—and yet do the work
of hell; surely then a man may have great hopes of heaven—and yet be but
almost a Christian.
Section X. A man may be under great and visible CHANGES,
and these wrought by the ministry of the word—and yet be but almost a
Christian, as Herod was. It is said, "when he heard John the
Baptist, he did many things, and heard him gladly." Saul was under a great
change when he met the Lord's prophets; he turned prophet too. Nay, it is
said that "God gave him another heart." Now, was not this a work of grace?
and was not Saul here truly converted? One would think he was; but yet
indeed he was not. For though it is said, God gave him another heart, yet it
is not said, that God gave him a new heart. There is a great
difference between another heart, and a new heart; God gave him
another heart to fit him for a ruler—but gave him not a new heart
to make him a believer. Another heart may make another man—but it is
a new heart that makes a new man. Again Simon Magus is a great proof
of this truth: he was under a great and visible change; of a sorcerer he was
turned to be a believer; he left his witchcrafts and sorceries, and embraced
the gospel; was not this a great change? If the drunkard does but leave his
drunkenness, the swearer his oaths, the profane person his profaneness—they
think this is a gracious change, and their state is now good. Alas! Simon
Magus did not only leave his sins—but had a kind of conversion; for, "he
believed, and was baptized."
Objection. But is not that man who is changed, a true
Answer. Not every change makes a man a Christian:
indeed there is a change, that whoever is under it is a true Christian. When
a man's heart is so changed, as that it is renewed: when old things
"are done away, and all is become new;" when the new creature is wrought in
the soul, when a man is "turned from darkness to light, from the power of
Satan to God;" when the mind is enlightened, the will renewed, the
affections made heavenly—then a man is a Christian indeed.
But you must know that every change is not this change.
1. There is a civil change, a moral change, as well as a
spiritual and supernatural change. Many men are changed in a moral sense,
and one may say, they are become new men; but they are in heart and nature
the same men still. They are not changed in a spiritual and supernatural
sense, and therefore it cannot be said of them, that they have become new
creatures. Restraining grace may cause a moral change; but it is
renewing grace which must cause a saving change. Now, many are under
restraining grace, and so changed morally, that are not under the power of
saving grace, and so changed savingly.
2. There is an outward change, as well as an inward
change. The outward change is often without the inward; though the inward
change is never without the outward. A man's heart cannot be sanctified—but
it will influence the life; but a man's life may be reformed—and yet never
affect or influence the heart.
3. A man may be converted from a course of profaneness—to
a form of godliness; from a filthy lifestyle—to a fair profession; and yet
the heart be the same in one and the other. A rotten post may be painted
without—and yet unsound within. It is common to have the "outside of the cup
and platter" made clean—and yet the inside foul and filthy.
Now then, if a man may be changed morally—and yet not
spiritually; outwardly—and yet not inwardly, from a course of profaneness to
a lifeless form of godliness; then a man may be under great and visible
changes—and yet be no more than almost a Christian. I do not speak
this to discountenance any change, short of that which is spiritual; but to
awaken you to seek after that change which is more than moral. It is good to
be outwardly renewed—but it is better to be savingly renewed.
I know how natural it is for men to take up with anything
like a work of conversion, though it be not conversion; and resting
in that, they eternally perish. Beloved, let me tell you, there is no
change, no conversion, can stead your souls in the day of judgment, on this
side that saving work, which is wrought on the soul by the Spirit of God,
renewing you throughout! The sober man, without this change, shall as surely
go to hell—as the foolish drunkard. Morality and civility may commend us to
men—but not to God. They are of no value in the procurement of eternal
salvation. A man may go far in an outward change—and yet be not one step
nearer heaven, than he who was never under any change. Nay, he may be, in
some sense, further off; as Christ says, the Scribes and Pharisees were
further from heaven, with all their show of godliness, than publicans and
harlots, in all their sin and immorality. Because, resting in a false work,
a partial change, we neglect to seek after a true and saving change.
There is nothing more common than to mistake our state,
and by proud thoughts, misjudge our condition, and so perish in our own
delusions. The world is full of these foolish builders, who lay the
foundation of their hopes of eternal salvation upon the sand. Now, my
brethren, would you not mistake the way to heaven, and perish in a delusion?
Would you not be found fools at last? for none are such fools as the
spiritual fool, who is a fool in the great business of salvation. Would you
not be fools for your souls, and for eternity? O then labor after, and pray
for, a thorough work of conversion! Beg of God that he would make a saving
change in your souls, that you may be altogether Christians! All other
changes below this saving change, this heart change, make us but almost
Section XI. A man may be very ZEALOUS in the matters of
religion—and yet be but almost a Christian. Jehu did not only
serve God, and do what he commanded him—but was very zealous in his service,
"Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord Almighty!" and yet in all this
Jehu was a base hypocrite. Joash was a great reformer in Jehoiada's time; it
is said, "He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, all the days
of Jehoiada the priest." But when Jehoiada died, Joash's zeal for God died
with him, and he becomes a base wretch.
Objection. But the apostle makes zeal to be a note of
sound Christianity, "It is good to be zealously affected in good things;"
nay, it seems to be the qualification for obtaining eternal life; "The
kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force."
Answer. It is true, there is a zeal which is good,
and which renders the soul highly acceptable to God—a zeal which never
misses of heaven and salvation. Now this is a zeal which is a celestial
fire; the true temper and heat of all the affections to God and Christ. It
is a zeal wrought and kindled in the soul by the Spirit of God, who first
works it, and then sets it on work. It is a zeal which has the Word of God
for its guide, directing it in working, both in regard of its object and
end, manner and measure. It is a zeal which checks sin, and forwards the
heavenly life. It is a zeal which makes the glory of God its chief end;
which swallows up all by-ends, "Zeal for your house has eaten me up."
But all zeal is not this kind of zeal. There is a false
zeal, as well as a true. Every grace has its counterfeit. As there is fire,
which is true heavenly fire, on the altar, so there is strange fire: Nadab
and Abihu offered strange fire upon God's altar. There are several kinds of
zeal, none of which are true and sound—but false and counterfeit. I shall
instance in eight particulars:
First, There is a blind zeal, a zeal without
knowledge. "They have a zeal," says the apostle, "but not according to
knowledge." Now as knowledge without zeal is fruitless; so zeal without
knowledge is dangerous. It is like wild-fire in the hand of a fool; or, like
the devil in the man possessed, that threw him sometimes into the fire,
sometimes into the water. The eye is the light of the body, and the
understanding is the light of the soul. Now, as the body, without the light
of the eye, cannot go without stumbling; so the soul, without the light of
the mind, cannot act without erring. Zeal without knowledge, is like a false
light in a dark night, which leads a traveler out of his way, into the bogs
and mire. This was the zeal of Paul, while he was a Pharisee: I was zealous
towards God, as you are all this day; and I persecuted this way unto the
death." And again, "I truly thought with myself, I ought to do many things
contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth." And, "Concerning zeal,
persecuting the church." "They shall put you out of the synagogue; yes, the
time comes, that whoever kills you, will think that he does God service."
This is great zeal—but yet it is blind zeal; and that God abhors!
Secondly, There is a partial zeal: in one thing,
fire-hot; in another stone-cold; zealous in this thing—and yet careless in
another. Many are first-table Christians, zealous in the duties of
the first-table—and yet neglect the second. Thus the Pharisees were zealous
in their Corban—and yet unnatural to their parents, allowing them to
starve and perish. Others are second-table Christians, zealous in the
duties of the second-table—but neglect the first; more for righteousness
among men, than for holiness towards God. But he whose religion ends with
the first-table, or begins with the second—he is a fool in his profession;
for he is but almost a Christian.
The woman who was for the dividing the child, was not the
true mother; and he who is for dividing the commands, is not a true
believer. Jehu was zealous against Ahab's house—but not so against
Jeroboam's calves. Many are zealous against sin of opinion,
that yet use no zeal against the sins of their life. Now, as we know
that the sweat of the whole body is a sign of health—but the sweat of some
one part only, shows a distemper, and therefore physicians do reckon such a
heat to be symptomatic. So where zeal reaches to every command of God alike,
that is a sign of a sound constitution of soul; but where it is partial,
where a man is hot in one part, and cold in another, that is symptomatic of
some inward spiritual distemper.
Thirdly, There is a misplaced zeal; fixed upon
unsuitable and disproportionable objects. Many are very zealous in
trifling things that are not worth it; and trifling in the things which
most require it; like the Pharisees, who were diligent tithers of mint,
anise, and cummin—but neglected the "weightier matters of the law; judgment,
mercy, and faith." They had no zeal for these, though very hot for the
other! Many are more zealous for a ceremony, than for the substance of
religion; more zealous for bowing at the name of Jesus, than for conformity
to the life of Jesus; more zealous for a holy vestments, than for a holy
life; more zealous for the inventions of men, than for the institutions of
Christ. This is a superstitious zeal, and usually found in men unconverted,
in whom grace never was wrought! Against such men, heathen will rise up in
When was it that Paul was so "exceeding zealous of the
traditions of his fathers," as he says—but only when he was in his
wretched and unconverted state? as you may see in the next verses, "But when
it pleased God to call me by his grace, then I conferred not with flesh and
blood." Paul had another kind of zeal then, actuated by other kind of
Fourthly, There is a selfish zeal, which has a
man's own end for its motive; Jehu was very zealous—but it was not so much
for God, as for the kingdom; not so much in obedience to the
command, as in design to step into the throne; and therefore God threatens
to punish him for that very thing he commands him to do! "I will avenge the
blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu;" because he shed that blood, to
gratify his lust—not to obey God. So Simeon and Levi pretend great zeal for
circumcision, seem very zealous for the honor of God's ordinances, when in
truth their zeal was covetousness, and revenge upon the Shechemites.
Fifthly, There is an external zeal: such was that
of the Scribes and Pharisees. They would not eat with unwashed hands—but yet
would live in unseen sins. They would wash the cup often—but the heart
seldom. They would paint the outside—but neglect the inside. Jehu was a
mighty external reformer—but he reformed nothing within, for he had a base
heart under all. "Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord with all
his heart." Though his coat was fair, his liver was rotten. Our Lord Christ
observes of the Pharisees, "They pray, to be seen of men;" and fast, so
"that they may appear to men to fast."
Sixthly, There is a zeal which runs out upon
others; like the candle in the lantern, which sends all the heat out at
the top; or as the lewd woman Solomon mentions, whose "feet abide not in her
own house." Many are hot and high against the sins of others—and yet cannot
see the same in themselves. It is easy to see faults in others—and as hard
to see them in ourselves! Jehu was zealous against Baal and his priests,
because that was Ahab's sin; but not against the calves of Bethel, because
that was his own sin. This zeal is the true character of a hypocrite; his
own garden is overrun with weeds, while he is busy in looking over his
Seventhly, There is a sinful zeal: all the former
may be called sinful from some defect; but this I call sinful in a more
special notion, because against the life of religion. It is a zeal against
true religion, which flies not at profaneness—but at the very power of
godliness; not at error—but at truth; and is most hot against the most
spiritual and important truths of the times. Whence else are the sufferings
of men for the truth—but from the spirit of zeal against the truth? This may
be called a devilish zeal; for as there is the faith of devils, so
there is the zeal of devils, "Therefore his rage is great, because he knows
his time is short."
Eighthly, there is a scriptureless zeal, that is
not butted and bounded by the Word—but by some base and low end. Such was
Saul's zeal, when God bids him destroy Amalek, "and spare neither man nor
beast;" when contrary to God's command, he spares the best of the sheep and
oxen, under pretense of zeal for God's sacrifice. Another time, when he had
no such command, then he slew the Gibeonites "in zeal to the children of
Israel and Judah." Many a man's zeal is greater then and there, when and
where he has the least warrant from God. The true spirit of zeal is bounded
by Scripture; for it is for God and the concerns of his glory: God has no
glory from that zeal that has no scripture-warrant.
Now then, if the zeal of a man in the things of God may
be only a blind zeal, or a partial zeal, or a misplaced zeal, or a selfish
zeal, or an external zeal, or a zeal regarding others, or a sinful zeal, or
a scriptureless zeal—then it is evident, that a man may be very zealous in
the matters of religion—and yet be but almost a Christian.
Section XII. A man may be much in PRAYER—he may pray
often, and pray much; and yet be but almost a Christian. So did
the Pharisees, whom yet our Lord Christ rejects for hypocrites.
Objection. But is not a praying-frame an argument of
a sincere heart? Are not the saints of God called "the generation of those
who seek the face of God?"
Answer. A man is not therefore a Christian, because
he is much in prayer. I grant that those prayers that are from the workings
and sighings of God's Spirit in us; from sincere hearts lifted up to God;
from a sense of our own emptiness, and God's infinite fullness; that are
suited to God's will, the great rule of prayer; that are for spiritual
things, more than temporal; that are accompanied with faith and
dependence—such prayers speak a man to be altogether a Christian.
But a man may be much in prayer—and yet be a stranger to
such prayer. As,
1. Nature may put a man upon prayer; for it is a
part of natural worship. It may put a child of God upon prayer—so did
Christ, "He went and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father! if
it be possible, let this cup pass from me." This was a prayer of Christ
which flowed from the sinless strugglings of nature, seeking its own
2. A man may pray in pretense, for a covering to
some sin—so did those devout Pharisees, "Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees,
hypocrites! for you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long
prayers. Therefore you shall receive the greater damnation!" So the Papists
seem very devout to pray a rich man's soul out of purgatory; but it is to
cheat the heir of much of his estate, under pretense of praying for his
3. A man may pray—and yet love sin; as Augustine before
conversion prayed against his sin—but was afraid God would hear him, and
take him at his word. Now, God hears not such prayers, "If I regard iniquity
in my heart—God will not hear my prayer."
4. A man may pray much for temporal things, and little
for spiritual things; and such are the prayers of most men, crying out most
for temporal things. More for, "Who will show us any good?" than for, "Lord,
lift upon us the light of your countenance upon me." David copies out the
prayer of such, "That our sons may be as plants, and that our daughters may
be as corner-stones, polished after the similitude of a palace: that our
garners may be full, etc." This is the carnal prayer; and this David calls
vanity, "They are strange children, whose mouth speaks vanity."
5. A man may pray—and yet be far from God in prayer,
"This people draw near to me with their mouths, and honor me with their
lips—but their heart is far from me." A man may pray—and yet have no
heart in prayer; and that God chiefly looks at, "My son, give me your
heart." The Jews have this sentence written upon the walls of their
synagogues, "Prayer, without the intention of the mind, is but a body
without a soul." Many are so conscientious that they dare not but pray; and
yet so irreligious, that they have no heart in prayer. A common work of God
may make a man conscionable to do duties—but nothing less than giving grace
in the heart, will make a man conscionable in the doing of them.
6. A man's prayer may be a lie. As a profession without
sanctity is a lie to the world—so prayer without sincerity is a lie to God.
It is said of Israel, that they "sought God, and inquired early after him."
They were much in prayer, and God calls all but a lie. "Nevertheless, they
did flatter him with their mouths, and they lied to him with their tongues,
for their heart was not with him." "Hearken to my prayer, that goes not out
of feigned lips," says David.
7. Affliction and the pressure of outward evils, will
make a man pray, and pray much. "When he slew them—then they sought Him, and
returned, and inquired early after God." The heathen mariners called every
man upon his god when in a storm: when they fear drowning, then they fall to
praying, Jonah 1:5. Mariners are for the most part none of the devoutest,
nor much addicted to prayer. They will swear twice, where they pray once;
and yet it is said, "They cry to the Lord in their trouble;" and hence you
have a proverb, "He who cannot pray let him go-to sea." "They poured out a
prayer when your chastening was upon them."
Now then, if nature may put a man upon prayer; if a man
may pray in pretense, and design; if a man may pray—and yet love sin; if a
man may pray mostly for temporal things; if a man may pray—and yet be far
from God in prayer; if prayer may be a lie, or it may be only the cry of the
soul under affliction—surely then, a man may be much in prayer—and yet be
but almost a Christian.
Objection. But suppose a man prays, and prevails with
God in prayer, surely that is a witness from heaven of a man's sincerity in
prayer. Now, I pray—and prevail; I ask—and am answered.
Answer. A man may pray, and be answered; for God many
times answers prayers in judgment. As God is sometimes silent in mercy, so
he speaks in wrath; and as he sometimes denies prayer in mercy, so he
sometimes answers in judgment. When men are over-importunate in something
their lusts are upon, and will take no nay, then God answers in judgment.
"He gave them their own desire." They had desired quails, and God sent them.
But now mark the judgment, "While the meat was in their mouths, the wrath of
God came upon them, and slew them!"
Objection. But suppose a man's affections are much
stirred in prayer—what then? Is not that a true note of Christianity?
Answer. So was Esau's, when he sought the blessing.
"He sought it carefully with tears." A man may be affected with his own
parts in a duty, while good notions pass through his head, and good words
through his lips: some good motions also may stir in his heart—but they are
but sparks which fly out at the tunnel of the chimney, which suddenly
vanish; so that it is possible a man may pray, and prevail in prayer; pray,
and be affected in prayer—and yet be but almost a Christian.
Section XIII. A man may SUFFER for Christ in his goods,
in his name, in his person—and yet be but almost a Christian.
Every man who bears Christ's cross on his shoulders, does not,
therefore, bear Christ's image in his soul.
Objection. But does not our Lord Christ make great
promises to those who suffer, or lose anything for him? Does he not say,
"Everyone who has forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or
mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive a
hundred fold, and shall inherit everlasting life"? Surely they are true
Christians to whom Christ makes this promise.
Answer. There is a suffering for Christ, that is a
note of sincerity, and shall have its reward. That is, when a man suffers
for a good cause, upon a good call, and with a good conscience, for Christ's
sake, and in Christ's strength; when his sufferings are a filling up "that
which is behind of the sufferings of Christ;" when a man suffers as a
Christian, as the apostle has it, "If a man suffers as a Christian, let him
not be ashamed;" when a man thrusts not himself into sufferings—but stays
God's call—such suffering is a proof of integrity. But, every suffering for
Christ is not suffering as a Christian. For,
1. A man may suffer for Christ, for that profession of
religion that is upon him; the world hates the show of religion. Times may
come, that it may cost a man as dear to wear the livery of Christ, as to
wear Christ himself. Alexander had like to have lost his life for the
gospel's sake, yet he was that Alexander, as is generally judged, that
afterwards made shipwreck of faith, and greatly opposed Paul's ministry.
2. A man may suffer for Christ—and yet have no true love
to Christ. This is supposed, "Though I give my body to be burned, and have
not charity, it profits nothing." Love to Christ is the only noble ground of
suffering; but a man may suffer much upon other ends.
* Out of opinion of meriting by our sufferings, as the
* Out of vain glory, or for applause among professors;
some have died, that their names might live; or,
* Out of a Roman resolution, or stoutness of spirit.
* Out of a design of profit, as Judas forsook all for
Christ, hoping to mend his market by closing with him; or,
* Rather to maintain an opinion, than for truth's
Socrates died for maintaining that there was but one God;
but he died rather for his own opinion, than for God's sake. Thus, a man may
suffer for professing Christ—and yet suffer upon wrong principles.
Now then, if a man may suffer for Christ, from the profession that is upon
him, or suffer for Christ—and yet not truly love him; then a man may suffer
for Christ—and yet be but almost a Christian.
XIV. A man may be CALLED by God, and embrace this
call—and yet be but almost a Christian. Judas is a famous
instance of this truth: he was called by Christ himself, and came at the
call of Christ; and yet Judas was but almost a Christian.
Objection. But is not the being under the call of
God, a proof of our interest in the predestinating love of God? Does not the
apostle say, "Whom he predestinated, those he called?" Nay,
does he not say, in the next verse, "Whom he called, those he
justified?" Nay, does not God call all whom he intends to save?
Answer. Though God calls all those who shall be
saved, yet all shall not be saved whom God calls. Every man under the gospel
is called of God in one sense or other—but yet every man under the gospel
shall not therefore be saved, "For many are called—but few chosen." There is
a twofold call of God--internal, and external.
1. There is an INTERNAL call of God. Now, this call is a
special work of the Spirit, by the ministry of the Word, whereby a man is
brought out of a state of nature, into a state of grace; "out of darkness
into light, from being vessels of wrath, to be made heirs of life." I grant,
that whoever is under this call of God, is called effectually and
savingly, to be a Christian indeed. "Every man who has heard and learned
of the Father, comes to me."
2. There is a call of God which a man may have—and yet
not be this call. There is an EXTERNAL call of God, which is by the ministry
of the Word. Now every man who lives under the preaching of the gospel, is
thus called. God calls every person to repent, and lay a sure foundation for
heaven and salvation, by the Word you hear this day. But every man who is
thus called, is not therefore a Christian. For,
a. Many under the call of God, come to Christ—but are not
converted to Christ—they have nothing of the grace and life of Christ; such
as he, who, when Christ sent out his servants to bid guests unto the
marriage, came in at the call of Christ—but yet "had not on the wedding
garment;" that is, had none of the grace and righteousness of Jesus Christ.
b. Many that are under the call of the gospel, come to
Christ—and yet afterwards fall away from Christ; as Judas and Demas did. It
is said, when Christ preached a doctrine that his disciples did not like,
that "from that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more
Now then, if many are only under this external call of
God; if many that come to Christ are not converted to Christ—but fall away
from Christ; then a man may be called of God—and yet be but almost a
Section XV. A man may have the SPIRIT of God—and yet be
but almost a Christian. Balaam had the Spirit of God given
him when he blessed Israel, "Balaam saw Israel abiding in tents, and the
Spirit of the Lord came upon him." Judas had; for by the Spirit he cast out
devils; he was one of those who came to Christ, and said, "Lord, even the
devils are subject to us!" Saul had, " Behold, a company of prophets met
him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them."
Objection. But you will say, "Can a man have the
Spirit of God—and yet not be a Christian?" Indeed, the Scripture says, "If
any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his;" but surely if any
man have the Spirit of Christ, he is his!
Answer. There is a having of the Spirit, which is a
sure mark of saintship. Where the Spirit is—an effectual prevailing
principle of grace and sanctification, renewing and regenerating the heart:
where the Spirit is a potent worker, "helping the soul's infirmities: where
the Spirit is so as to "abide forever." But every man who has the Spirit,
has not the Spirit in this manner. For,
1. A man may have the Spirit only transiently, not
abidingly. The Spirit may be in a man—and yet not dwell in a
man. The Spirit is wherever he dwells—but he does not dwell wherever
he is; he is in all—but dwells in saints only. The
hypocrite may have the Spirit for a season—but not to abide in him
2. A man may have the Spirit—and yet not be born
of the Spirit. Every true Christian is born of the Spirit. A hypocrite may
have the gifts of the Spirit—but not the graces. The Spirit
may be in him by the way of illumination—but not by way of
sanctification; by way of conviction—but not by way of
conversion. Though he may have much common grace for the good of
others, yet he may have no special grace for the good of himself;
though his profession is spiritual, yet his state and condition
may be carnal.
3. A man may have the Spirit—only as a Spirit of bondage.
Thus, many have the Spirit working only to bondage. "The Spirit of bondage
is an operation of the Holy Spirit by the law, convincing the conscience of
sin, and of the curse of the law, and working in the soul such an
apprehension of the wrath of God, as makes the thoughts of God a terror to
him." This Spirit may be, and often is, without saving grace: this operation
of the Spirit was in Cain and Judas. There are none who receive the Spirit
of adoption—but they first receive the Spirit of bondage: yet many receive
the Spirit of bondage—who never receive the Spirit of adoption.
4. A man may have the Spirit of God working in him—and
yet the Spirit may be resisted by him. It is said of the Jews, "They
rebelled, and vexed his Holy Spirit." And the same sin is charged upon their
children, "You stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart, you have always
resisted the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you." The hypocrite
retains not the Spirit so long as to come up to regeneration and
adoption—but quenches the motions of the Spirit, and thereby miscarries
5. A man may have the Spirit—and yet sin that
unpardonable sin. He may have the Holy Spirit—and yet sin the sin against
the Holy Spirit. Nay, no man can sin this sin against the Spirit—but he who
has some degree of the Spirit. The true believer has so much of the Spirit,
such a work of it in him, that he cannot sin that sin, "He who is born of
God, sins not;" to wit, that "sin unto death," for that is meant. The
ungodly sinner, he cannot sin that sin, because he is carnal and sensual,
having not the Spirit. A man must have some measure of the Spirit—who sins
this sin. So has the hypocrite—he is said to be "partaker of the Holy
Spirit," and he alone is capable of sinning the sin against the Holy Spirit.
Now then, if a man may have the Spirit transiently only,
not abidingly; if a man may have the Spirit—and yet not be born of the
Spirit; if he may have the Spirit only as a Spirit of bondage; if a man may
have the Spirit working in him—and yet may be resisted by him; if a man may
have the Spirit and yet sin that unpardonable sin against Him; then surely a
man may have the Spirit of God—and yet be but almost a Christian.
Section XVI. A man may have FAITH—and yet be but almost a
Christian. The stony ground, that is, those hearers set out by
the stony ground, "for a while believed." It is said, that many
believed in the name of Christ, yet Christ dared not "commit himself to
them." Though they trusted in Christ, yet Christ would not trust them; and
why? "because he knew all men." He knew they were rotten at root,
notwithstanding their faith. A man may have all faith, to the
removing of mountains—and yet be a mere hypocrite.
Objection. But how can this be, that a man may have
faith—and yet be but almost a Christian? Does not our Lord Christ
promise eternal life and salvation to all who believe? Is not this the
Gospel that is to be preached to every creature, "He who believes shall be
Answer. Though it is true what our Lord Christ says,
that "he who believes shall be saved," yet it is as true, that many believe
that shall never be saved; for Simon Magus believed. Yes, James says, "The
devils believe and tremble;" now none will say devils shall be saved. As it
is true, what the apostle says, "All men have not faith," so it is as true,
that there are some men have faith, who are no whit the better for their
faith. You must know therefore there is a two-fold faith, 1. Special and
saving. 2. Common and not saving.
1. There is a saving faith. This is called "faith
of the operation of God." It is a work of God's own Spirit in the soul. It
is such a faith as rests and casts the soul wholly upon Christ for grace and
glory, pardon and peace, sanctification and salvation. It is a united act of
the whole soul—the understanding, will and affections, all concurring to
unite the soul to an all-sufficient Redeemer. It is such a faith as
"purifies the heart," and makes it clean; it influences and gives strength
and life to all other graces. Now, whoever has this faith, is a Christian
indeed; this is the "faith of God's elect."
2. But then, there is a common faith, not saving,
a fading and temporary faith; there is the faith of Simon Magus, as
well as the faith of Simon Peter. Simon Magus believed—and yet
he was in the "gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity." Now Simon
Magus had more followers than Simon Peter. The faith of most men will at
last be found to be no better than the faith of Simon Magus. For,
First, The faith of most is but a temporary faith,
endures for a while, and then dies and perishes. True and saving faith, such
as is the faith of God's elect, cannot die: it may fail in the individual
acts—but not in the habit; the sap may not be in the branch—but it is always
in the root. That faith which perishes, that faith a man may have and
Secondly, there is a faith which lies only in generals,
not in particulars. As there is a general and particular object of faith, so
there is a general and particular faith. The general object of faith
is the whole Scripture; the particular object of faith is Christ in
the promise. Now many have a general faith to believe all the Scripture—and
yet have no faith to make particular application of Jesus Christ in the
promise. Devils and reprobates may believe the truth of the Scripture, and
what is written of the dying and suffering of Christ for sinners; but there
are but few that can close up themselves in the wounds of Christ, and by his
stripes fetch in healing to their own souls.
Thirdly, There is a faith that is seated in the
understanding—but not in the will. This is a very common faith.
Many assent to the truth. They believe all the attributes of God—that
he is just, holy, wise, faithful, good, merciful, etc. But notwithstanding,
they do not rest on him. They believe the commands are true—but yet
do not obey them. They believe the promises are true—but yet do not
embrace and apply them. They believe the threatenings are true—but
yet do not flee from them. Thus their faith lies in assent—but not consent;
they have faith in their judgment—but none to take execution. By assent they
lay a foundation—but never build upon it by application. They believe that
Christ died to save those who believe—and yet they believe not in Christ,
that they may be saved.
O my brethren, it is not a believing head—but a believing
heart—which makes a Christian! "With the heart, man believes to
righteousness." Without this our "faith is vain—and we are yet in our sins."
Fourthly, There is a faith without experience;
many believe the Word upon hearsay, to be the Word of God; but they never
felt the power and virtue of it upon their hearts and consciences. Now what
good is it to believe the truth of the Word—if a man's conscience never felt
the power of the Word? What is it to believe the truth of the promise—if we
never tasted the sweetness of the promise? We are in this case like a man
who believes the description others make of strange countries—but never
traveled them to know the truth; or as a patient who believes all the
physician says—but yet never takes his remedies. We believe the Word,
because we cannot gainsay it; but yet we have no experience of any saving
good wrought by the word, and so are but almost Christians.
Fifthly, There is a faith which is without brokenness of
heart, which does not avail to melt or soften the heart, and therefore is
not true faith. For the least true faith is ever joined with a bending will,
and broken heart.
Sixthly, There is a faith which does not transform the
heart; faith without fruit, which does not bring forth the new creature in
the soul—but leaves it in a state of sin and death. This is a faith which
makes a man a sound professor—but not a sound believer. He believes the
truth—but not as it is in Jesus; for then it would change and transform him
into the likeness of Jesus. He believes that a man must be changed, who
would be saved—but yet is not savingly changed by believing. Thus, while
others believe to salvation, he believes to damnation: for "his web shall
not become a garment; neither shall he cover himself with his work."
Now then, if a man's faith may be but temporary, or may
lie only in generals, or may be seated in the understanding only, or may be
without experience, or may be without a broken heart, or without a new
heart; surely then a man may have faith, he may taste of this "heavenly
gift," and yet be but almost a Christian.
Section XVII. A man may go further yet—he may possibly
have a LOVE to the people of God—and yet be but almost a Christian.
Every kind of love to those who are saints, is not a proof of our saintship.
Pharaoh loved Joseph, and advanced him to the second place in the
kingdom—and yet Pharaoh was but a wicked man: Ahab loved Jehoshaphat and
made a league with him, and married his daughter Athaliah to Jehoram,
Jehoshaphat's son—and yet Ahab was a wicked wretch.
But you will say this seems to contradict the testimony
of the Scriptures; for that makes love to the saints and people of God, a
sure proof of our regeneration, and interest in life eternal, "We know that
we have passed from death to life—because we love the brethren." Nay, the
Spirit of God puts this as a characteristic distinction between saints and
unconverted sinners, "In this the children of God are manifest, and the
children of the devil: whoever does not righteousness, is not of God,
neither he who loves not his brother." By brethren we do not
understand brethren by place, those who are of the same country or nation,
such as are called brethren in Romans 9:3, Acts 7:23, 25. Nor do we
understand brethren by race, those who are descended of the same parents;
such are called brethren in James 1:2. But by brethren we understand
brethren by grace, and supernatural regeneration, such as are the children
of God; and these are the brethren whom to love is a sure sign that we are
the children of God.
Answer. To this I answer, that there is a love to the
children of God, which is a proof of our being the children of God. As for
instance, when we love them as such, for that very reason, as being the
saints of God, when we love them for the image of God, which appears in
them, because of that grace and holiness which shines forth in their
conversations; this is truly commendable, to love the godly for godliness
sake, the saints for saintship sake—this is a sure testimony of our
Christianity. The love of grace in another, is a good proof of the
life of grace in ourselves. There can be no better evidence of the
Spirit of Christ in us, than to love the image of Christ in others. For this
is a certain truth—that a sinner cannot love a saint as such; "an
Israelite is an abomination to an Egyptian." There is a
contrariety and natural enmity between the two seeds; between the children
of the world, and those whom the Father in his eternal love has "chosen out
of the world."
It is likeness which is the great ground of love.
There is the highest dissimilitude and unlikeness between an unregenerate
sinner, and a child of God, and therefore a child of God cannot love a
sinner as a sinner, "In whose eyes a vile person is despised." He may love
him as a creature; he may love his soul, or he may love him under some
relation which he stands in to him. Thus God loves the damned spirits, as
they are his creatures—but as fallen creatures, he hates them with an
So to love a sinner, as a sinner, this a child of God
cannot do; so neither can a sinner love a child of God as a child of God.
That he may love a child of God, that I grant—but it is upon some other
consideration; he may love a person that is holy, not the person for his
holiness—but for some other respect. As,
1. A man may love a child of God for his loving,
peaceable, courteous deportment to all with whom he converses. Religion
beautifies the life of a man and sets him off to the eye of the world. The
grace of God is no friend to morose, churlish, unmannerly behavior among
men; it promotes an affable demeanor and sweetness to all; and where this is
found, it wins respect and love from all.
2. A man may love a saint for his outward greatness and
splendor in the world; men are very apt to honor worldly greatness, and
therefore the rich saint shall be loved and honored, while the poor saint is
hated and despised. This is as if a man should value the goodness of his
sword by the embroidery of his belt; or his horse for the beauty of his
trappings, rather than for his strength and swiftness. True love to the
children of God, reaches to all the children of God, poor as well as
rich, slave as well as free, ignoble as well as noble, for the image of
Christ is alike amiable and lovely in all.
3. A man may love a child of God for his fidelity and
usefulness in his place: where the power of religion takes hold of a man's
heart, it makes him true to all his trusts, diligent in his business,
faithful in all his relations; and this obliges respect. A carnal master may
prize a godly apprentice or servant, who makes conscience of pleasing his
master, and is diligent in promoting his interest. I might instance in many
things of the like nature, as charity, beauty, wit, learning, parts, etc.,
which may procure love to the people of God from the men of the world. But
this love is no proof of true Christian love. For,
First, It is but a natural love arising from some
carnal respect, or self-ends. That love which is made by the Scripture an
evidence of our regeneration, is a spiritual love, the principal
loadstone and attraction whereof is grace and holiness; it is a love which
embraces a "righteous man in the name of a righteous man."
2. A carnal man's love to saints, is a limited and
bounded love; it is not universal "to the seed." Now as in sin, he
who does not make conscience of every sin, makes conscience of no sin as
sin; so he who does not love all in whom the image of Christ is found, loves
none for that of the image of Christ which is found in them.
Now then, if the love we bear to the people of God may
possibly arise from natural love only, or from some carnal respect; or if it
is a limited love, not extended to all the people of God—then it is possible
that a man may love the people of God—and yet be no better than almost
Section XVIII. A man may OBEY the commands of God, yes,
many of the commands of God—and yet be but almost a Christian.
Balaam seems very conscientious of steering his course by the compass of
God's command. When Balak sent to him to come and curse the people of God,
says Balaam, "If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I
cannot go beyond the Word of the Lord my God!" And so says he, "The word
that God puts in my mouth, that shall I speak!"
The rich young ruler also went far in obedience, "All
these have I observed from my youth up;" and yet he was but a hypocrite, for
he forsook Christ after all.
Objection. But is it not said, "He who has my
commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me; and he who loves me
shall be loved of my Father; and I will love him, and manifest myself unto
him?" And does not our Lord Christ tell us expressly, "You are my friends,
if you do whatever I command you?" And can a man be a friend of Christ and
be but almost a Christian?
Answer. There is an obedience to the commands of
Christ, which is a sure proof of our Christianity and friendship to Christ.
This obedience has a threefold property. It is,
First, It is evangelical obedience, and that both
in matter and manner, ground and end. In the matter of it; and that
is what God requires, "You are my friends, if you do whatever I
command you." In the manner of it; and that is according as God
requires, "God is a Spirit, and those who worship him, must worship him in
spirit and in truth." In the ground of it; and that is, "a pure
heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith." In the end of it; and
that is, the honor and glory of God, "Whatever you do, do all to the glory
Secondly, It is a universal obedience, which
extends itself to all the commands of God alike: it respects the duties of
both tables. Such was the obedience of Caleb, "who followed the Lord
fully;" and of David, who had "respect to all his commands."
Thirdly, It is a continual obedience, a putting
the hand to God's plough, without looking back, "I have inclined my heart to
perform your statutes always, even to the end." He who thus obeys the
command of God, is a Christian indeed; a friend of Christ indeed. But all
obedience to the commands of God, is not this obedience. For,
1. There is a partial obedience—a piece-meal
religion, when a man obeys God in one command, and not in another; owns him
in one duty, and not in another; when a man seems to make conscience of the
duties of one table, and not of the duties of another. This is the religion
of most people. Now this obedience is no true obedience; for as he who does
not love God above all, does not love God at all; so he who does not obey
all the commands universally, cannot be said to obey any command truly.
It is said of those in Samaria that they "feared the
Lord—and served their own gods after their own manner." And yet in
the very next verse it is said, "They feared not the Lord;" so that their
fear of the Lord was no fear. In like manner, that obedience to God is no
obedience, which is but a partial and piecemeal obedience.
2. A man may obey much—and yet be in his old nature; and
if so, then all his obedience in that estate is but a painted sin,
"He who offers an oblation, is as if he offered swine's blood; and he who
burns incense, as if he blessed an idol." The nature must be renewed, before
the command can be rightly obeyed; for "a corrupt tree cannot bring forth
good fruit." Whatever a man's performances are, they cannot be called
obedience, while the heart remains unregenerate, because the principle is
false and unsound. Every duty done by a believer, is accepted of God, as
part of his obedience to the will of God, though it be done in much
weakness; because, though the believer's hand is weak, yet "his
heart is right." The hypocrite may have the most active hand—but the
believer has the most faithful and sincere heart.
3. A man may obey the law—and yet have no love to the
Lawgiver. A carnal heart may do the command of God—but he cannot love God,
and therefore cannot do it aright; for love to God is the foundation and
spring of all true obedience. Every command of God is to be done in love:
this is the "fulfilling of the law." The apostle says, "Though I bestow all
my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, (these
seem to be acts of the highest obedience), yet if I have not love, it
profits me nothing."
4. I might add, that a man may be much in obedience from
sinister and base selfish ends: as the Pharisees prayed much, gave much
alms, fasted much. But our Lord Christ tells us, that it was "that they
might be seen of men, and have glory of men." Most of the hypocrite's
piety empties itself into vain-glory; and therefore he is but an empty
vine in all he does, because "he brings forth fruit to himself."
It is the end which justifies the action: indeed, a good
end cannot make a bad action good—but yet the lack of a good end makes a
good action bad.
Now then, if a man may obey the commands of God
partially, and by halves; if he may do it—and yet be in his natural state;
if he may obey the commands of God—and yet not love God; if the ends of his
obedience may be sinful and unwarrantable—then a man may be much in obeying
the commands of God—and yet be but almost a Christian.
Section XIX. A man may be SANCTIFIED—and yet be but
almost a Christian. Every kind of sanctification does not
make a man a new creature; for many are sanctified that are never
renewed. You read of those who "count the blood of the covenant, with
which they were sanctified, an unholy thing."
Objection. But does not the Scripture tell us, that
"both he who sanctifies, and those who are sanctified, are all one: for
which cause, he is not ashamed to call them brethren." And can a man be one
with Christ—and yet be but almost a Christian?
Answer. To this I answer—You must know there is a
twofold work of sanctification spoken of in Scripture. The one, common and
ineffectual. The other, special and effectual. That work of
sanctification which is true and effectual, is the working of the Spirit of
God in the soul, enabling it to the mortifying of all sin, to the obeying of
every command, to "walking with God in all well-pleasing." Now, whoever is
thus sanctified, is one with him who sanctifies. Christ will not be ashamed
to call such brethren; for they are "flesh of his flesh, and bone of his
But then there is a more common work of
sanctification which is ineffectual as to the two great works of dying to
sin, and living to God. This kind of sanctification may help to restrain
sin—but not to mortify sin; it may lop off the boughs—but it lays
not the axe to the root of the tree; it sweeps and garnishes the room with
common virtues—but does not adorn it with saving graces; so
that a man is but almost a Christian, notwithstanding this common
type of sanctification.
Or thus, there is an inward and outward sanctification.
Inward sanctification is that which deals with the soul and its
faculties, understanding, conscience, will, memory, and affections.
Outward sanctification is that which deals with the life and
conversation. Both these must concur to make a man a Christian indeed.
Therefore the apostle puts them together in his prayer for the
Thessalonians, "May the God of peace sanctify you wholly; and, I pray God,
your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." A man is then sanctified wholly when he is
sanctified both inwardly and outwardly—both in heart and affections, and in
life and conversation. Outward sanctification is not enough without inward,
nor inward without outward: we must have both "clean hands, and a
pure heart." The heart must be pure, that we may not incur
blame from within; and the hands must be clean, that we may not incur
shame from without. We must have hearts "sprinkled from an evil conscience,
and bodies washed with pure water." "We must cleanse ourselves from all
filthiness of flesh and spirit." Inward purity is the most excellent—but,
without the outward, it is not sufficient; the true Christian is made up of
Now many have clean hands—but unclean hearts. They wash
the outside of the cup and platter, when all is filthy within.
Now, the former without the latter, profits a man no more than it profited
Pilate, who condemned Christ, to wash his hands in the presence of the
people: he washed his hands of the blood of Christ—and yet had a hand in the
death of Christ. The Egyptian temples were beautiful on the outside—but
within you shall find nothing but serpents or reptiles. "He is not a Jew
which is one outwardly." Judas was a saint without—but a sinner within;
openly he was a disciple—but secretly, he was a devil.
Some pretend to inward sanctity without outward.
This is the pretense of the open sinner, "Though I sometimes drop an idle,
foolish word," says he, "or though I sometimes swear an oath, yet I think no
hurt—I thank God my heart is as good as the best!" Such are like the sinner
Moses mentions, that "blessed himself in his heart, saying, I shall have
peace, though I walk in the imagination of my own heart, to add drunkenness
Some pretend to outward sanctity without inward.
Such are like the Scribes and Pharisees, "who outwardly appear righteous
unto men—but within are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." They are fair
professors—but foul sinners. Inward sanctity without outward, is impossible;
for true sanctity will reform the life. Outward sanctity without inward, is
unprofitable; for true sanctity will reform reform the heart. A man is not a
true Christian without both. The body does not make a man without the
soul, nor the soul without the body; both are essential to the being
of man. Just so—the sanctification of both the outward and the inward, are
essential to the being of the new man. True sanctification begins at
the heart—but works out into the life and conversation; and if so,
then man may attain to an outward sanctification—and yet, for lack of an
inward, be no better than almost a Christian.
And so I shall end this long pursuit of the almost
Christian, in his progress heavenward, with this one general conclusion:
Section XX. A man may do all, as to external duties and
worship, that a true Christian can; and, when he has done all, be but
almost a Christian. You must
know, all the commands of God have both internal and the external—both the
body and the soul of the command. And accordingly, there is an
internal and an external worship of God.
Now the internal acts of worshiping of God, are—to
love God, to fear God, to delight in God, to trust in God, etc.
The external acts of worshiping of God, are by
praying, teaching, hearing, etc. Now there is a vast difference between
these internal and external acts of worship; and such a difference there is,
that they distinguish the altogether Christian, from the almost
Christian; the sincere believer from the unsound
professor. And, indeed, in this very thing the main difference between them
1. Internal acts of worship are good—the goodness does
adhere intrinsically to the thing done. A man cannot love God, nor fear
God—but it will be imputed to him for a gracious act, and a great part of
his holiness. But, external acts of worship are not denominated good, so
much from the matter done—as from the manner of doing them. A
man cannot sin in loving and delighting in God—but he may sin in praying and
hearing, etc., for lack of a due manner.
2. Internal acts of worship put a goodness into external
acts of worship. It is our faith, our love, our fear of God—which makes our
3. Internal acts of worship better the heart, and magnify
the degrees of a man's holiness. External duties do not always do this. A
man may pray—and yet his heart never the holier; he may hear the Word, and
yet his heart never the softer. But now, the more a man fears God, the wiser
he is. The more a man loves God, the holier he is. Love is the perfection of
holiness: we shall never be perfect in holiness, until we come to be perfect
4. There is such an excellency in this internal worship,
that he who mixes it with his external duties, is a true Christian
when he does least; but without this mixture, he is but almost a
Christian who does most. Internal acts of worship, joined with outward,
sanctify them, and make them accepted of God, though few. External acts of
worship, without inward, make them abhorred of God, though they are ever so
many. So that, although the almost Christian may do all those duties in
hypocrisy, which a true Christian does in sincerity; nay, though in doing
external duties, he may out-do the true Christian, as the comet makes a
greater blaze than the true star: if Elijah fasts and mourns,
Baal's priests will cut their flesh; yet he cannot do those internal
duties, which the lowest true Christian can.
The almost Christian can pray—but he cannot love
God; he can teach or hear, etc.—but he cannot take delight in God. Mark
Job's query concerning the hypocrite, "Will he delight himself in the
Almighty?" He will pray to the Almighty—but will he delight himself in the
Almighty? Will he take pleasure in God? Ah, no! he will not—he cannot!
Delight in God arises from a suitableness between the faculty, and the
object; now, none are more unsuitable, than God and a carnal heart! Delight
arises from the having what we desire, and from enjoying what
we have. How then can he delight in God, who neither enjoys God, nor has,
nor truly desires God? Delight in God is one of the highest exercises of
grace: and therefore, how can he delight in God, who has no grace?
Why, then, should any saint of God be discouraged, when
he hears how far the almost Christian may go in the way to heaven?
Whereas, he who is the weakest true believer, who has the least true grace,
goes farther than he; for he delights in, and loves God. Should the almost
Christian do less, as to matter of external duties, yet, if he had but the
least true faith, the least sincerity of love to Christ, he would surely be
saved; and should the true Christian do ten times more duties than he does,
yet, had he not faith in Christ, and love to Christ, he would surely be
rejected. O, therefore, let not any weak believer be discouraged, though
hypocrites may out-do them, and go beyond them in duty; for all their duties
are done in hypocrisy—but your faith and love to God in duties, is a
proof of your sincerity.
1. I do not speak this to discourage any soul in the
doing of duties, or to beat down outward performances—but to rectify the
soul in the doing of them. As the apostle says, "Covet earnestly the best
gifts: but yet I show you a more excellent way." So I say, covet the best
gifts; covet much to be in duties, much in prayer, much in hearing, etc.
"But I will show you a more excellent way;" and that is, the way of faith
and love. Pray much—but then believe much too. Hear much; read much; but
then love God much too. Delight in the Word and ordinances of God much—but
then delight in the God of ordinances more. And when you are most in duties,
as to your use of them, O then be sure to be above duties, as to your
resting and dependence upon them.
Would you be Christians, indeed—altogether Christians? O
then, be much in the use and exercise of ordinances—but be much more in
faith and dependence upon Christ and his righteousness. When your obedience
is most to the command, then let your faith be most upon the promise.
The mere professor rests in duties, and so is but almost
a Christian; but you must be sure to rest upon the Lord Christ. This is the
way to be altogether Christians; for, if you believe, then are you Abraham's
seed, and heirs according to the promise.
And thus I have answered the first query; to wit, how far
a man may go in the way to heaven—and yet be but almost a Christian.
1. He may have much knowledge.
2. He may have great gifts.
3. He may have a high profession.
4. He may do much against sin.
5. He may desire grace.
6. He may tremble at the Word.
7. He may delight in the Word.
8. He may be a member of a Christian church.
9. He may have great hopes of heaven.
10. He may be under great and visible changes.
11. He may be very zealous in the matters of religion.
12. He may be much in prayer.
13. He may suffer for Christ.
14. He may be called by God.
15. He may, in some sense, have the Spirit of God.
16. He may have some kind of faith.
17. He may love the people of God.
18. He may go far in obeying the commands of God.
19. He may be, in some sense, sanctified.
20. He may do all, as to external duties, that a true
Christian can—and yet be no better than almost a Christian.