A great difference between Christians and the men of this world. Those who have the spirit of the world are in heart and mind bound in earthly bonds, but the others long after the love of the heavenly Father, having Him only before their eyes with much desire.
1. The world of Christians is one thing—their way of living, their mind, and speech, and action, is one—and the way of living, and mind and speech and action of the men of this world is another. Those are one thing, and these another, and the difference between them is great. The inhabitants of the earth, the children of this age, are like corn put in the sieve of this earth, sifted by restless thoughts of this world, and by the ceaseless tossing of earthly businesses and desires and of tangled material notions, while Satan waves their souls about, as he sifts in this sieve of earthly businesses the whole sinful race of man, ever since Adam fell by transgressing the commandment and came under the power of the prince of wickedness. From the time when he gained this power, he does nothing but sift with thoughts of deceit and agitation all the sons of this age, and dash them on the sieve of the earth.
2. As the corn in the sieve is knocked by the man who sifts, and constantly shaken and turned in it, so the prince of wickedness holds all men by means of earthly affairs, and through these he shakes them, and agitates them, and tosses them, and knocks them on vain lines of thought, and base desires, and earthly ties of the world, constantly taking captive and agitating and alluring all the sinful race of Adam; as the Lord forewarned the apostles how the wicked one would rise up against them: Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed My Father that your faith fail not. The word spoken to Cain by the Creator, that sentence pronounced upon him with an outward meaning, Groaning and trembling and tossed shall thou be upon the earth, is a type and likeness of what all sinners undergo in secret. After falling from the commandment and entering the sinful state, the race of Adam has acquired that likeness in secret; it is tossed about with shifting thoughts of fear and terror and every kind of commotion; the prince of this world keeps each soul on the waves of all sorts and varieties of pleasure and lust, unless it be begotten of God; as corn is turned incessantly in the sieve, he keeps men’s thoughts rocking about in various directions, and shakes and entices them all by worldly lusts, and pleasures of the flesh, and fears, and commotions.
3. The Lord showed that those who follow the deceits and desires of the wicked one bear the likeness of Cain’s wickedness, when He reproved them and said, The lusts of your father ye will do: he was a murderer from the beginning and abode not in the truth. So that the whole sinful race of Adam has acquired that condemnation in secret, Groaning and trembling shall ye be, and shaken in the sieve of the earth, by Satan sifting you. For as from one Adam all the race of men was spread over the earth, so one form of evil passion sank into the sinful race of men, and the prince of evil suffices to sift them all with shifting, material, vain, troublesome thoughts. As one wind is enough to shake and agitate all the plants and seeds, or as one darkness of the night is spread over all the inhabited earth, so the prince of wickedness, who is himself the spiritual darkness of sin and death, and a wild though hidden wind, rocks the whole race of men upon earth, and carries them about with restless thoughts, and entices the hearts of men with the lusts of the world, and fills every soul with the darkness of ignorance, blindness and forgetfulness, save those which have been begotten from above, and have been translated in disposition and mind to another world, according as it is said, But our citizenship is in heaven.
4. This constitutes the difference between true Christians and the rest of mankind, and the distance between the two is great, as we said before. The Christian mind and way of thinking is always in the heavenly frame; they behold as in a mirror the good things of eternity, by reason of their partaking and having the Holy Ghost, by being born of God from above, and being privileged to be children of God in truth and efficacy, and by having arrived, through many conflicts and labours spread over a long time, at a fixed and settled condition of freedom from disturbance and of rest, no longer sifted and wave-tossed by unquiet and vain thoughts. By this they are greater and better than the world, because their mind and the frame of their soul is in the peace of Christ and the love of the Spirit. It was of such that the Lord spoke when He said that they had passed from death unto life. Not in a form or in outward figures lies the distinguishing mark of Christians. Most men think that the difference which distinguishes themselves from the world consists in a form and in figures; and lo! in mind and frame they are like the world, undergoing the same shaking, and inconstancy of thoughts, and unbelief, and confusion, and helter-skelter as all other men. In outward form and appearance they differ from the world, and in a few points of religious ordinance; but in heart and mind they are bound with earthly bonds, never having acquired rest from God and the peace of the heavenly Spirit in their heart, because they never sought it from God, nor believed that He would vouchsafe these things to them.
5. For it is in the renewing of the mind, and the peace of the thoughts, and the love and heavenly passion for the Lord, that the new creation of Christians distinguishes them from all the men of the world. This was the purpose of the Lord’s coming, to vouchsafe these spiritual blessings to those who truly believe in Him. Christians have a glory and a beauty and a heavenly wealth which is beyond words, and it is won with pains, and sweat, and trials, and many conflicts, and all by the grace of God. If the sight of an earthly king is an object of desire to all men, so that every one who sojourns in the capital desires to catch even a glimpse of his beauty, the magnificence of his apparel, the glory of his purple, the beauty of his various pearls, the comeliness of his diadem, the impressive retinue of dignities attending him—except that spiritual men think nothing of all this, because they have had experience of another glory, which is heavenly and out of the body, and have been smitten with another beauty unspeakable, and have an interest in another wealth, and have felt in the inward man and are partakers of another Spirit—when the men of this world, who have the spirit of the world, are so keenly desirous to set eyes, if no more, on the earthly king with all his comeliness and glory—because in proportion as his share of visible advantages excels that of other men, so even to have set eyes on him is a distinction and an object of desire to them all, and each man inwardly says, “I wish that some one would give me that glory, and comeliness, and magnificence,” ascribing happiness to that man, like himself, earthly, of like passions, and subject to death, though an object of desire for his temporal comeliness and glory—6. if, I say, carnal men thus desire the glory of the earthly king, how much more are those upon whom has dropped that dewdrop of the Spirit of the life of the Godhead, and has smitten their heart with a divine passion for Christ the heavenly King, bound fast to that beauty, to the unspeakable glory, the immortal comeliness, the unimaginable wealth of Christ, the true eternal King, with desire and longing after whom they are carried away captive, and have their whole being directed towards Him, and desire to obtain those unspeakable blessings, which by the Spirit they see in a mirror; for whose sake they think nothing of all the beauties and comelinesses and glories and honours and wealth of kings and princes upon earth, because they are smitten with a divine beauty, and the life of immortality in heaven has dropped upon their souls? Therefore their longing is towards that love of the heavenly King, and having Him only before their eyes with great desire, they detach themselves for His sake from all worldly affection, and withdraw from every earthly tie, that they may be free always to cherish in their hearts that one longing, and to mix nothing else with it.
Very few, however, are they who supply a good beginning with a good end, and come through to the end without falling, with no love but one, for God only, and detached from all else. Many are pricked at heart, and many become partakers of heavenly grace, and are smitten with divine passion; but because of the conflicts and struggles and labours and divers temptations of the devil to be borne on the way, they do not hold out, but are occupied with divers and sundry worldly desires, because every one has some worldly thing that he chooses to love, and has not detached his affections all round, and so they have stopped short, and have been plunged in the deeps of the world, through the feebleness and slackness and cowardice of their own wills, or through some worldly affection. For those who wish really to come through to the end in good living must not willingly admit and combine any other love or affection with that heavenly one, for fear of being hindered from spiritual things, and turning backward, and at last being exiled from life. Great and unspeakable and inestimable are the promises made by God; and in proportion to them great faith and hope and labours and conflicts are required, and much trial. The blessings for which a seeker of the kingdom of heaven hopes are no trifle. Thou desirest to reign with Christ through ages without end; wilt thou not readily welcome the conflicts and labours and temptations of this short span of life, even unto death? The Lord cries, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily rejoicing and follow Me; and again, If any man hate not father, mother, wife, children, brethren, sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. But most men wish to attain the kingdom, and would like to inherit eternal life, but do not refuse to live to their own wills and to follow them out. Not denying themselves, they wish to inherit eternal life; and this is impossible.
The Lord’s saying is true. The men who come through without falling are those who according to the Lord’s commandment have wholly denied themselves, and have abhorred all the desires, and entanglements, and excitements, and pleasures, and businesses of the world, and who keep Him only before their eyes, and desire to do His commandments, so that each man by his own will turns away, even from a kingdom, and positively would not wish to have it, or to love anything along with that love, by being pleased with any pleasures or desires of this world, instead of keeping his whole love, to the utmost of his will and choice, fixed upon the Lord.
A single example will shew you all that I mean. Sometimes a man passes judgment on another. He knows that what he is inclined to do is wrong, but because he loves the thing, and will not deny it, he is overcome. To begin with, inwardly, in his heart, there is war, and conflict, weighing and balancing; the love of God and the love of the world are in the scales; and then the man comes forth, and passes judgment upon his brother, perhaps even to fighting and blows, saying within himself, “Let me speak; let me say it; nay, let me not say it,” because, while remembering God, he yet seeks to obtain his own glory, and will not deny himself, but if the love of the world for a moment outweighs the other and dips the scale in his heart, at once the bad word springs to his lips. Then the mind from within, like one who aims a missile, uses the tongue to shoot his neighbour, discharging the volley of unseemly words at his discretion, in the desire to gain his own glory. Then this shooting with unseemly words goes on and on, until the sin is diffused through other members, and sometimes it comes to blows and wounds, body and members against body and members, and sometimes the bad desire issues even in death and murder. See the origin and the outcome of the love of worldly glory, when it has once turned the scale in the balance of the heart in the way of self-will. The man would not deny himself, and fixed his affection on a worldly thing, and all those wrong deeds were a result.
Think in this way, I pray you, of every form of sin and of every immoral practice, which spring from the intrigues of evil, gaining over the will of the mind to worldly desires and to the deceit and pleasure of the flesh. In this way every bad deed comes about, adultery and theft, covetousness and drunkenness, love of money and vain glory, envy and self-assertion, and every other bad practice that you can name. Sometimes actions that appear good are performed for the sake of the glory and praise of men; and with God these are on the same footing as injustice and theft or any other sin. God says, He hath scattered the bones of men-pleasers. So the evil one likes to be served by things that appear good. He is versatile and cunning in the lusts of the world. By means of some earthly and carnal affection, by which a man in his natural will is bound, sin entices him, until it becomes to him a fetter and a chain and a heavy weight, sinking and stifling him in the world of wickedness, and not allowing him to come to the surface and get to God. Whatever a man has loved in the world, weighs down his mind, and holds it down, and will not let him come up.
In this balance, with its bias to the scale of evil, all mankind hangs and is tested, Christians and all, whether dwelling in cities, or in mountains, or in monasteries, or in fields, or in deserts; because the natural will of man entices him to set his affection on something, and that affection is somewhere or other tied, and is not wholly towards God. A man has set his affection, say, on property, another on gold and silver, another on the wisdom of the eloquence of the world for the sake of glory from men; another has loved power, another glory and honours among men, another wrath and anger—for yielding quickly to it is loving it—another unseasonable conversations, another jealousy; another amuses himself and seeks pleasure all day long; another deceives himself with idle thoughts; another loves to be a teacher of the law for the glory of men; another finds pleasure in sloth and heedlessness; another is absorbed in dress and clothes; another gives himself to earthly cares; another loves sleep and jesting and low talk. Whether it be a little thing of the world or a great that ties him, the man is kept down by it, and not allowed to rise. Whatever passion a man does not bravely war against, is an object of his affection; and it holds him fast, and weighs him down, and becomes to him a hindrance and a fetter, preventing his mind from going up to God and pleasing Him, and from serving Him only and thereby proving fit for the kingdom and obtaining eternal life.
The soul whose movement is truly towards the Lord, compels its affection wholly to Him, and in will and intention binds itself with all its power to Him only, and from that quarter gains the help of grace, and denies itself, and refuses to follow the desires of its own mind, because the mind deals deceitfully with us through the evil that is present with us and entices us; but surrenders itself entirely to the word of the Lord, and detaches itself from every external bond, as far as lies in the power of the will, and gives itself altogether to the Lord, and in this way will be enabled to pass without difficulty through conflicts and troubles and afflictions. Where the affection is engaged, from that quarter comes help or hindrance. If a man loves something of the world, that thing becomes to him a burden and bonds to drag him downward, not suffering him to go upwards and Godwards. If he loves the Lord and His commandments, from thence comes his help, and from thence he is buoyed up, and all the precepts of the Lord become easy to him, because his love for Him completely saves him; and it weights his scale towards the good, or rather buoys him up and makes every battle and every affliction light, and through the power of God it cuts through the world and through the powers of evil which in the world lay traps for the soul, and which use all kinds of desires to bind the soul in the depths of the world. In this way the man is disentangled from them through his personal faith and much earnestness and through the help that comes from above, and is accounted worthy of the eternal kingdom where his affection was set, and having truly loved that kingdom with his personal will, and having received help of the Lord, he does not fail of eternal life.
In order to see by plain illustrations how many men are ruined by their own wills, and are drowned in the sea, and are carried off into captivity, imagine a house on fire, and one man, wishing to save himself, as soon as he is aware of the fire, flees out of it naked, leaving everything to its fate, and only caring to make sure of his own life is saved. Another, wishing to take some of the furniture out of the house, or other articles, goes inside to get them, and just as he takes them, the fire masters the house, and the man is caught within and burned. You see that attaching himself by his personal will to some temporal object he perishes in the fire. Or at sea, people are caught in a storm of waves and shipwrecked. One strips himself naked, and plunges into the depth of the waters, caring only to save himself; and so, though buffeted by the billows, he emerges to the top of them, because there is nothing about him to break up, and thus manages to get through the bitter sea, and purchases his own life. Another, desirous of saving some of his clothes, fancies that he can dive and get through with what he has taken and all, and the very things that he got hold of weigh him down, and sink him in the depth of the sea, and for a trifling gain he loses himself, unable to secure his own life. You see how his personal will causes his death. Or suppose a rumour comes of the irruption of savage tribes. One man, the moment he hears of it, makes off, without wasting time, and gets away with nothing but his bare self. Another, disbelieving that the enemy are coming, or setting his heart on some of his possessions and anxious to take them with him, is slow to flee, and the foes come and catch him, and carry him captive into the enemy country, and there make a slave of him. You see how his personal will is the cause of slackness, and want of energy, and attachment to some object or another, by which he is taken away into captivity. In like manner, those who do not follow the commandments of the Lord, and will not deny themselves and set their affection on the Lord alone, but choose to be bound with earthly bonds, these, when the eternal fire comes, being tied and bound with the love of the world, will find themselves burned, and sunk under the bitter sea of wickedness, and carried captive by the savage captors who are the spirits of wickedness, and are lost.
If you please to learn from the holy inspired scripture how straight a perfected love to the Lord can go, look at Job, how he divested himself, so to speak, of all that he possessed—children, property, cattle, servants, and all that he had—how he stripped them all off and escaped, and saved himself, even letting go his bodily clothing and abandoning it to Satan, never blaspheming either in word or in his heart, nor uttering anything with his lips before the Lord, but on the contrary blessed the Lord and said, The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; as it seemed good to the Lord, so hath He done; blessed be the name of the Lord. Although he was reputed to have great possessions, the testing which he received from the Lord showed plainly that he had none but God. In like manner Abraham, being bidden by the Lord to leave his country and his kindred and his father’s house, immediately stripped himself, so to speak, of all—fatherland, kinsfolk, parents—and followed the word of the Lord; then, many trials and temptations befalling him in the meanwhile, his wife taken from him, living in a strange land, subjected to unjust treatment, he was proved by all these things to love God only above everything. At last, when by promise, after an interval of many years, he had gotten an only much-desired son, he was asked to offer this son in sacrifice with his own hands, and readily stripped himself of himself and denied himself, proving by the sacrifice of his only begotten that there was nothing that he loved besides God: for if he readily parted with his son, how much more, if he had been bidden to relinquish all his other possessions, or to distribute them at one stroke to the poor, would he not readily and promptly have done it!
You see the straight character of a whole-hearted and perfected love to the Lord; and those who wish to be fellow-heirs of these men must love nothing besides God, in order that, when trial comes, they may be found serviceable and true, keeping their love to the Lord unimpaired. Such can go through their conflict to the end—who have always heartily loved God and God only, and have loosed themselves from all love of the world. But few, and very few, are found who have taken up a love like this, renouncing all the pleasures and desires of the world, and enduring patiently the assaults and temptations of the evil one. If many in crossing the rivers are sucked under by the waters, are there not some who pass over the turbulent streams of the world with its manifold desires, and of the various temptations of the spirits of wickedness? Many ships on the sea are covered by the waves and founder; but are there not some that get across, and travel over the waves, and reach the haven of peace? There is need therefore of much faith, and patience, and conflict, and endurance, and labour, and hunger and thirst for what is good, and keenness, and importunity, and discretion, and understanding at all times; for most men wish to obtain the kingdom without trouble, or pains, or sweat, and that is a thing impossible.
As in the world men go to some rich person, to work at harvest or something else, in order to gain what they need for their sustenance, and some of them are sluggish and idle, not working hard or labouring as they ought, and these, who have not toiled at all nor exerted themselves for the rich man’s house, wish to receive equal pay with those who have manfully and vigorously exerted themselves with all their might, as if they too had done their work; so when we read in scripture how some righteous man pleased God, how he became a friend and companion of God, and how all the fathers became friends and heirs of God, what afflictions they endured, how much they suffered for God’s sake, how they played the man and contended, we call them blessed, and wish to obtain equal gifts and dignities with them, and covet earnestly those splendid endowments, without observing their pains and struggles and afflictions and sufferings, and earnestly wish to receive honours and dignities like those which they have from God, but their labours and pains and struggles we will not accept. But I tell you, that everyone covets and desires this—harlots and publicans and unrighteous men and all—easily and without labours or struggles to gain a kingdom. But this is the reason why temptations lie along the road, and many trials and afflictions, and struggles, and exhausting labours, to prove, who have really loved the Lord and Him only, with all their will and all their might, even to death, and have held nothing else desirable along with love to Him. Justly therefore they enter into the kingdom of heaven, having denied themselves according to the Lord’s word, and having loved the Lord, and Him alone, more than their own breath; and their surpassing love shall be requited with surpassing gifts of heaven. In those afflictions and sufferings, in that patience and faith, are hidden the promises, and the glory, and the restitution of the good things of heaven, as the fruit is in the seed when it is sown in the earth, or in the tree when a graft is inserted into it and plastered with some degrading rotten stuff. Then they were proved to have in them the comeliness and the glory and the abounding fruit which clothes them; as the apostle says, Through much tribulation we may enter into the kingdom of heaven, and the Lord, In your patience possess ye your souls, and again, In the world ye shall have tribulation. There is need of pains, and diligence, and watchfulness, and great heed, and of vigour and importunity in prayer to the Lord, in order to pass through the traps of earthly desire, and the snares of pleasure, and the pitfalls of the world, and to escape the assaults of evil spirits, and to know well by what watchfulness and alertness of faith and love the saints came to possess within their souls, even here, the heavenly treasure, that is, the power of the Spirit, which is the earnest of the kingdom.
The blessed apostle Paul, discoursing of this heavenly treasure of the grace of the Spirit, and declaring the exceeding greatness of that tribulation, and at the same indicating what each of us ought to strive to attain in this life, says, We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. We ought all, therefore, to strive and endeavour by every kind of virtue, and to believe that we shall gain possession of that house, even here. For if the house of our body is dissolved, we have no other house for the soul to turn into. If, it says, being clothed, we shall not be found naked—naked, that is, of the communion and inblending of the Holy Ghost, in which alone the faithful soul can find rest. For this reason, Christians who are Christians in truth and efficacy are confident and glad at departure from the flesh, because they have that house made without hands, which house is the power of the Spirit dwelling in them. Therefore, even if the house of the body is dissolved, they are in no fear, because they have the heavenly house of the Spirit and that incorruptible glory, which glory in the resurrection day shall build up and glorify the house of the body as well, as the apostle tells us; He that raised up Christ from the dead shall quicken also your mortal bodies through His Spirit that dwelleth in you, and again, That the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh, and That mortality, it says, may be swallowed up of life.
8. Let us then strive by faith and virtuous living to gain here that clothing, that when we put off the body we may not be found naked, and there be nothing in that day to glorify our flesh. For in proportion as any one has been permitted to become through faith and diligence a partaker of the Holy Ghost, his body also shall be glorified in that day. What the soul has now stored up within, shall then be revealed and displayed outwardly in the body. As trees that have got over the winter, when warmed by the unseen influence of sun and winds, put forth from within and shoot out their clothing of leaves, and as at that season flowers of the grass come forth from within the bosom of the earth, and the earth is covered and dressed, and the grass is like those lilies of which the Lord said that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of them, for these are all parables and types and figures of Christians at the resurrection.—9. so to all God-loving souls, to true Christians, there comes a first month, a Xanthicus, which is called April. It is the day of resurrection; and by the power of the Sun of Righteousness the glory of the Holy Ghost comes out from within, decking and covering the bodies of the saints—the glory which they had before, but hidden within in their souls. What a man has now, the same then comes forth externally in the body. This month, it says, shall be the first month of the year; this brings forth joy for all the creation; this dresses the naked trees, opening the earth; this brings forth joy for all living things; this displays mirth for all; this for Christians is Xanthicus, the first month, which is the season of resurrection, in which their bodies shall be glorified through the unspeakable light which even now is in them—that is the power of the Holy Ghost—and which shall then be to them raiment, meat, drink, gladness, joy, peace, robe, eternal life; for all beauty of brightness and of heavenly splendour will then come to them from that Spirit of the Godhead which they were privileged even now to receive.
10. How then ought every one of us to believe, and to strive, and to be diligent in all virtuous living, and with much hope and patience to look for the privilege of receiving now that power from heaven, and the glory of the Holy Ghost inwardly in the soul, in order that then, when our bodies are dissolved, we may have what shall clothe and quicken us! If so be, it says, that being clothed we shall not be found naked, and He shall quicken our mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in us. The blessed Moses showed in a type, through the glory of the Spirit which was set upon his countenance, upon which no man was able to look steadfastly, how at the resurrection of the just the bodies of those that are worthy shall be glorified, with a glory which even now the souls of holy and faithful people are privileged to have within, upon the inner man. For we all, it says, with open face, that is to say, in the inward man, reflecting as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory. In like manner, for forty days and forty nights, as it is written, he did neither eat bread nor drink water. It was not possible for the nature of the body to live so long without bread, unless he partook of some other spiritual food; of which food the souls of the saints even now invisibly partake by gift of the Spirit.
11. In two ways, therefore, the blessed Moses showed what glory of light and what immaterial dainties of the Spirit true Christians shall have at the resurrection, which even now are vouchsafed to them in a hidden manner, and therefore shall then be manifested also upon their bodies. The glory which the saints now have in their souls, the same, as we said before, shall cover and clothe their naked bodies, and catch them into heaven; and thenceforward we shall rest, in body and soul, in the kingdom with the Lord for ever. When God created Adam, He did not provide him with bodily wings, like the birds, but He had designed for him the wings of the Holy Ghost, those wings which He purposes to give him at the resurrection, to lift him up and catch him away whithersoever the Spirit pleases—which holy souls even now are privileged to have, and fly up in mind to the heavenly frame of thought. For Christians have a different world of their own, another table, other raiment, another sort of enjoyment, other fellowship, another frame of mind; for which reason they are superior to other men. The power of these things it is their privilege to have now within them in their souls, through the Holy Ghost; therefore at the resurrection their bodies also will be permitted to share those eternal blessings of the Spirit, and will be mixed with that glory, which their souls in this life had known by experience.
12. Every one of us therefore ought to strive, and take pains, and be diligent in all virtues, and to believe, and to seek from the Lord that the inward man may be made partaker of that glory here and now, and that the soul may have fellowship in that sanctity of the Spirit, in order that we may be cleansed from the defilements of wickedness and may have at the resurrection wherewithal to clothe our bodies as they rise naked, and to robe their uncomeliness, and quicken them, and refresh them for ever in the kingdom of heaven. For Christ will come down from heaven, and raise up all the tribes of Adam, those who from the beginning have fallen asleep, according to the holy scriptures, and will set them all in two divisions, and those who bear His own sign, that is the seal of the Spirit, He will call to Him as His very own and set them on His right hand; for My sheep, He says, hear My voice, and I know Mine own and am known of Mine. Then shall the bodies of these be arrayed with divine glory from their good works, and shall be full of the glory of the Spirit, which they had in their souls even here; and thus being glorified in the divine light, and caught up into heaven to meet the Lord in the air, as it is written, we shall ever be with the Lord, rejoicing with Him to ages without end. Amen.