Characters and Properties of a Gracious Man.
HEB. 13. 9.
THere is a choice and noble work of God called Grace, as you have heard: The next thing to be insisted upon, is, What are the Characters and Properties of a man who hath grace. For as all causes doe manifest themselves by some effects, so grace in the hearts and lives of men will discover it self quickly by its o∣perations. Think it not therefore too much, if we come twice or thrice in words of instruction, and exhortation, about this subject of grace: for as its not one showr of Rain that is enough to satisfie the parched earth after a great drought, but there must be continuall droppings; so neither is one Sermon sufficient to in∣form and reform you in this matter, but there must be a frequent and vigorous ap∣plication of this truth to your hearts.
The first Character of grace in a man, is, To elevate and lift up his heart, so that*in all his Actions, Religious, Civill or Naturall, he relates to God as his chief and ulti∣mate end. For grace being of a superior, and more exalted nature than humane strength and abilities, it doth thereby lift up a man to an higher end than otherwise he would aime at. Whatsoever ye doe, whether eat or drink saith the Apostle, doe all to the glory of God, 1 Cor. 10. 31. As the superior Orb carryeth all the inferior Orbs away in its own motion, contrary to their particular inclinations; so grace in∣fused into the heart overcometh all those sinful and selfish inclinations which are in us, and makes us more through God, to God. Grace in a man is like fire, which being of an active nature, doth change and assimilate every thing, turning it into fire, or very like it: Therefore even hard and cold Iron put into the fire looks like fire, and seemeth to be made fire: Thus godlinesse in the heart of a man, tor∣neth every thing towards God; Whereas before his Conversion God was not in his thoughts, his intentions, his desires and affections, but he lived wholly of him∣self, and to himself: Now his eyes, his aimes, his resolutions are fixed principally upon God and his glory. Thus Paul testifieth about the work of his Ministery, the discharge whereof might be subject to many corrupt and carnall intentions, that he performed it in godly simplicity, as of God, and to God, 2 Cor. 2. 17. Hence are those expressions, to acquaint our selves with God, in all our ways to aknowledge him: and a godly life is described to be a walking with God; so that as the herb Heliotropium doth turn about and open it self according to the motion of the Sun; thus where Gods commands are, Gods will is manifested, or his glory interested, there a godly man doth apply himself. Oh what a precious temper is this in all re∣ligious actions, not to be carryed by vain-glory, and applause of men, but to eye God solely! Well did the Father call vain-glory, The sweet spoiler of spiritual ex∣cellencies, Page 329 and a pleasant thief, for so indeed it is. The Pharisees were not godly, though in prayers and almes often, because these things were not done to God, but for humane applause: This is the Pirate, that many times robbeth us of our rich Merchandise, our spirituall traffique with God: Insomuch that a man may be serving himself and his corrupt ends, when to the world he seemeth to be serving of God. As in religious actions, so even in humane and civill actions, the glory of God is the aime propounded; what the Apostle would have servants doe, not to eye their Master, but to doe it as unto Christ; the same is required of us in all our civill imployments: Art thou a Magistrate? Are thy imployments in civill consi∣derations? consider not men, regard not merit; but as he which shoots that he may hit the mark, takes a little time to unite his force, and fix his aime; so doe thou gather thy affections together, and set thy self on purpose to remember, that this is for God, and to God. Thou desirest to look further than humane Ar∣guments would suggest; this one Scripture discovers few men have grace: for take them in religious Duties, there Custome, Education, or Pride, are the principles that set them on work, or in their civill imployments, and then self-advantage, earthly greatnesse, temporall preferments are the Fountain to these streams; But a gracious man is filled with a divine Spirit, over-looking those inferiour respects, his end being spirituall, and so raised above all earthly temptations; this being the proper work of grace, to put a man into such a disposition, as that he may have communion with, and enjoyment of God; for as a Beast is no wayes fit for any commerce with a man, till he be made a man; so a man while without grace, hath no disposition, or qualification in him whereby he may draw nigh to God.
Secondly, A gracious man hath an high esteem and prize of the things of*grace. The Gospel is the Gospel of grace, Acts 20. 24. The Word is the Word of grace, Acts 14. 3. God is the God of grace, 1 Pet. 1. 11. The Ordinances are means of Grace, Rom. 3. 24. Justification and Salvation are the effects of Grace, Ephes. 2. 5. Now a man of grace doth mightily desire these things of grace; and it is an evident argument of one without grace, when he hath no dear esteem, no precious delight in these spiritual things. When David makes so many sweet ra∣vishing expressions about God being his Portion, his inheritance, all in heaven and earth to him; when he doth so admire the Ordinances, and the worship of God. What are these but the honey of a sweet Bee, the manifestations of a gracious spirit? So those divine strains of Paul, Ephes. 1. & alibi, admiring the grace of God in spirituall mercies, do tell all, what a gracious heart Paul hath within, that can adore such priviledges. Whereas now come to an unregenerate man, he can no more esteem these things than the Swine doth Pearl, or sweet Flowers. The man in the Parable when he had found this Pearl, he sold all he had to be owner of it: And thus it is with a godly man, when once he hath tasted of the power of grace, he loves his lusts no more, his sins no more: As when a man hath tasted Ho∣ney, all other things seem unsavoury; thus after he is godly, all his former wick∣ed and worldly wayes seem like Garlick and Onions to this heavenly Manna; how devoid then of all grace doe men generally demonstrate themselves? where is their high esteem of God and Ordinances, of all spirituall priviledges? Alas, Preach of these things, and they say, Who will shew us some other good thing? Thus to the distemperate palate of a sinfull man, the sweetest objects give no relish at all.
Thirdly, Its a sure Character of grace to make a man hunger and thirst still af∣ter more degrees of grace. Therefore the godly man is described by seeking, Rom.* 2. 3. by desiring, Neh. 1. 11. by hungring and thirsting, Matth. 5. 6. because his soul is never satisfied in the way of grace, but he hath an holy dropsie on him, the more he drinks of this water the more he thirsteth after it: Objects that are plea∣sing to sense, they glut the Faculty at last; so that an honey-comb is sometimes loa∣thed; but spiritual objects are so farre from burthening the heart, and causing a dis∣dain, Page 330 that the more they are enjoyed, the more they are desired, and longed after. Every Christian is compared to a Merchant, whose scope is to increase and advance his estate; to a Travailer, who considers not so much how many miles he hath gone, as how much of his journey is still behind. Thus Paul he forgets that which is be∣hinde, Phil. 3. and presseth forward to the mark before him; so that it is an evi∣dent sign of a man in grace, when he goeth on to perfection, and thinketh not, I will live as the most doe, I will not be singular, or goe further than the multitude doth: Its a sign thou hast not tasted how good grace and holinesse is, and therefore thou desirest not more of it; and certainly, if grace to such a degree be so good and comfortable, how much more is it to an higher degree! As the dog is slug∣gish until he hath got the sent of his game, and then he pursueth it violently; so it is here: A man that hath not apprehended the powerfull excellency, and sweet∣nesse of grace, he is very remisse and negligent in all endeavours after it; but he that hath once felt this fire in his bosome, desireth to make it seven times hotter. Oh then, if a drop of this grace bee so precious, what is an Ocean of it?
Fourthly, Grace doth especially, and in the first place cleanse away the filthiness of the Spirit, and Heart pollution. Thus the Apostle putteth these two together, *Perfecting holinesse, and cleansing our selves from all filthinesse of the spirit, 2 Cor. 7. 1. For grace (you heard) was the immediate contrary and opposite to sinne, seeing therefore the main strength of sinne lyeth in the heart, and a man is not ac∣cording to his actions, but his heart; so the chief power of grace is in the heart; So that as the Apostle saith, Sing with grace in your heart: Thus pray and hear with grace in your hearts. The Pharisees that were so admirable for externall Re∣ligion, or Superstition, rather wholly neglected the work of grace in their hearts; and therefore contrary to nature, when their Streams seemed clear, the Fountain was all muddy. When the fruit looked like sweet fruit, the root was altogether bitter. The heart of a man is the Fountain, from whence issueth either ••e, or death; Its the souls Privy-Chamber, and the proper Throne for Christ to sit upon. How uncomely were it in an house, to have all the out-rooms and entrance ly• gar∣nished, and ready swept, but the inmost places altogether foul and ruinous: no lesse folly is it, to look to thy externall conversation, that it be clean and unblameable before men, but the inward frame of thy heart to be like a noisome Sepulcher. He therefore that is gracious is afraid of sinne in his heart; If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me, Psal. 66. 18. Though all the world cannot judge him for outward impieties, yet because God seeth the unbelief, pride and un∣save urinesse of his heart, this doth exceedingly afflict him. But oh what strangers are men to their own hearts! who take the Psalmists Counsell, to commune with their hearts, and be still? who embraceth that duty so often commanded, To search and try the heart? Never call that grace in thy life, which is not first rooted in thy heart. Oh say then, O Lord, all the work lyeth within, help against inward lusts, against inward distempers.
Fifthly, Grace doth there especially inable a man to doe those duties, where flesh and bloud would soonest contradict. When we are commanded to deny our selves, and * take up the Crosse to follow him, when commanded to cut off our right hand, and to pull out our right eye; these things are paradoxall to flesh and bloud; they cry out, These are hard speeches, who can bear them? But grace, that is seen especially in curing and healing such weaknesses; for where Nature is stopt, and can go no further, there grace doth properly discover it self; Where nature suggests this to be done as safe and good: Grace adviseth, But this is a sinne, this is against Gods glory. When Joseph was in that inticing temptation, had he attended to the allure∣ments of the flesh, he had been over-whelmed: but grace suggesting the fear of God, and his presence, and how great a sinne it would be against him, that preserved him as admirably as the three Worthies in the fiery Furnace, who were not so much as scorched. We may see an excellent instance of nature and grace in Abra∣hams obedience, and his faith; his obedience, when God commanded him to take Page 331 his onely Son Isaac, and offer him a Sacrifice: Every word was enough to make Nature resist and gain-say; His Son, onely Son, Isaac, whom thou lovest, to offer a Sacrifice. Oh what violence is here to nature! but see how potent grace is, which no doubt checked all the reasonings of nature, as Job did his wife for speaking foo∣lishly. Again, in matter of faith in the promise of God, there its said, He conside∣red not the deadwomb of Sarah, Rom. 4. nor his own body, as good as dead, but rested on the Promise, and therefore had hope against hope, hope in the Promise, against hope in Nature. Thus when as nature hath its fear, grace hath its fear above that; where nature hath its hope, grace hath hope above it: and how prevalent grace is above nature, is apparent in that necessary qualification in every Disciple; He that loveth not Father or Mother more than me, cannot be my Disciple; and there∣upon when one desired to bury his Father, before he followed Christ; which seem∣ed to be a request of Civility, and naturall affection; should he suffer his Father to stink, and rot above ground? is it not against nature to leave him unburied? yet our Saviour rejecteth him with this, Let the dead bury the dead, Matth. 8. 22. So then where grace is in a man, there it conquers naturall inclinations, affections and desires; insomuch that he puts off a man, when he puts on a Christian. Oh then doe not think, that when once made gracious, such humane naturall Obligations will be such snares to thee, as they have been: It will not be graces excuse to say, I have bought a Farm, or married a wife, and so cannot come; but therefore the rather come.
Sixtly, Where grace is, there it doth not despise little sinnes, but is afraid to com∣mit them.* Its farre from saying, as he of Zoar, Is it not a little one? He dares not swear petty Oathes, nor use idle words; for to grace no sinne is little, because its against that great God of heaven, who hath severely punished even little sinnes. Adams first sinne, which hath involved all the world in so much misery, and made the first spark to kindle hell, was but little for the matter of it. Moses his sinne, for which God kept him out of Canaan, seemed very little comparatively: and Elies sinne, was onely in the defect of grace, he did his duty, but not with such Zeal as he should have done; yet for this Gods judgements were so great upon him, and his Family, that it made the eares of those tingle who heard it. And as for Saul, he committed many grievous sinnes, but that for which God took oc∣casion to deprive him of his Kingdome, and to cast him off, was but the not stay∣ing long enough till Samuel came; and therefore setting upon the Sacrifice to sa∣tisfie the people who were impatient. Therefore where grace is, there cannot but be precisenesse, exactnesse, they cannot swallow a Gnat, much lesse a Camell: It makes the heart tender, •like the eye, which the least crum of dust doth greatly of∣fend: As for that Pharisaical hypocrisie, to make conscience about lesse things, and to neglect great, grace doth also abhor; for if a little sinne not regarded, or sligh∣ted by worldly men, be so grievous to it, how much rather that which is of a more bloudy nature? and if sinne cannot compell him to goe on a mile, how shall it doe two or three? Therefore both sinne and nature are rectified by grace.
Seventhly, A gracious man is full of humility, lowlinesse of minde, and thankful∣nesse. Where there is gratia, there is gratitudo; hence you heard the same word sig∣nifieth * both, God resisteth the proud, but he giveth grace to the humble, James 4. 6. so that lowlinesse of spirit is both an evidence of grace, and a means to preserve and encrease grace. The very name grace puts them in mind of their unworthiness, that they did nothing to cause God to doe it for them rather than others; inso∣much as no Doctrines are more contrary to the work of grace in a mans heart, than those of Pelagians and Arminians, who make the efficacy of grace suspended up∣on the co-operation of our will. Oh! how can they dispute against, or write a∣gainst that grace of God which they have sound so omnipotent upon themselves, making them of unwilling willing, and of enemies friends to him? If therefore thou art a man of pride, scorn and vain-glory, know these are surer demonstrati∣ons Page 332 of the Devill reigning in thee, than Christ by grace. Observe Paul, a man in∣duced with much grace, and who so magnifying grace as he? All the streams of his sanctifying grace run back again, and empty themselves into justifying grace, the O∣cean and Fountain whence they flow.
Eightly, Grace, where it is, makes a man diligent, fervent and conscientious in all the*means of grace. God knoweth that grace in our hearts is like smoaking flax quick∣ly put out; he therefore hath appointed severall Ordinances to quicken and in∣flame us thereunto, such as prayer, hearing of the Word, and Sabbaths: now a gra∣cious heart makes much of these, they are food and nourishment of the soul; how doth David long for them? Therefore men that live without the publick Ordinan∣ces, or private and family duties, what argument can they have to conclude for grace in their hearts? for if that were in them and abounded, oh the zeal in all ho∣ly duties that would discover it self, knowing that the heart would grow cold, if these coales of 〈◊〉 were not powred on it. Those Plants would not grow, if there were not continuall watering.
In the next place, consider the excellent, and precious advantages or properties of grace. As, *
First, It is the onely true nobility and perfection of the soul. If the Poet said of Morall virtue, that it was sola & unica nobilitas animi, the sole nobility of the mind: how much more must grace be? for this is indoles divina non humana. We are by it born of God, and so resemble not man but God. The Bereans for searching in∣to matters of Religion are said to be more noble than others: for as sinne makes a man base, unworthy, and therefore like unto the bruit beasts, so grace innobles a man, exalteth him, and makes him like an Angel, yea like God. The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour, saith Solomon, Pro. 12. 26. wherfore the godly are compared to vessels of honor in the house, & the wicked to vessels of dishonor, 2 Tim. 2. 20. Oh then why do men esteem themselves according to their birth, greatnesse, worldly advantages: Alas, its grace that is the glory of a man: wick∣ednesse in great men, honoured men, rich men, is but a noisome dunghill covered with Scarlet.
Secondly, Grace onely hath the promises of this life, and the life to come made to it. So saith the the Apostle, 1 Tim. 4. 8. Heaven and Salvation is promised not to * men of parts, morality; but to men of grace. Look over any promise in the Scrip∣ture for pardon of sinne, for joy and happinesse, this is given onely to those that have grace in them. Now to be a man without a promise, is to be like one in the old world, without an Ark, when the Deluge did over-flow: Let thy sinnes lye like so many mountains upon thee, thou hast no incouragement to call God Father, till this grace hath made thee a child to him. Why is it, that men doe not consider this now? Who can tell thee all the woe and misery that belongs to thee, while God sets a fiery sword to keep thee from every promise, as once he did Adam from the Tree of life? and for the things of this life, they are promised onely to grace by way of mercy. Wicked men they have temporall, worldly mercies, but it is by Gods Providence, not by his promise; and therefore they are not mercies to them, but instruments to draw out and exercise their impieties the more: wicked men, if they have health and strength, they are more imboldened in their wicked∣nesse; if they have riches and large revenues, their lusts are thereby more active; so that to the gracious man onely they become a mercy; so what can more induce thee to get grace than this, To consider that hereby every thing will be a mercy to thee, all comforts, all afflictions, all relations; this grace turneth all waters into wine, this is the true Philosophers stone, that makes every thing gold; so that we are to call things good or bad according to their operations in a way of grace, or sinne. If the great things of this world make thee more vain, sinfull, dissolute, then they are bad things; if the sad and miserable things of this world make thee full of faith, heavenly-mindednesse and zeal, then they are good things; if thou art gracious, God will with-hold no good thing from thee; All things Page 333 are thine, whether life, or death, things present, or things to come.
Thirdly, Grace will inable a man to all conditions, to goe through variety and chan∣ges * of all temptations; for they being gold can indure the sire, when the drosse melteth, they being corn bear the winnowing, when the chaff bloweth away. Thus Paul knoweth how to abound, and how to want, Phil. 4. 12. Grace makes a man of that strong constitution, that he can endure extream colds, and extream heats, as you see in David and others.
Lastly, Grace is the great comfort to a man in time of distresse, dangers, and feare*of death. Not that a man may put trust in it, so he is to worship God onely, but as a testimony of his interest in Gods grace and favour: Thus Paul at his death is comforted from his grace, That he had fought a good fight: So Hezekiah when in those publick straits, and private sentence of death upon him, what bea∣reth him up, but that he had lived a gracious life? and thus did Nehemiah also. Oh beloved, think not to be always merry, jocund; know, one time or other distresses will seize you, howsoever you cannot escape the pangs of death: what then will wealth, friends, carnall pomp and greatnesse avail thee? Oh the testimony of thy heart upon good ground, that thou hast lived graciously, been afraid of sinne, walked according to the Rule, will be more joy to thee then all the world; where∣as on the other side, at the time of death, to have thy heart tell thee, Thou hast lived a Swearer, Drunkard, prophane Person, negligent of all good things, and now art falling into hell, and the hands of the Devill whom thou hast served, and whose work thou hast done all thy life time: What horror and terror must this fill thee with?
Use. Is grace thus excellent? Then oh, that you might be transformed into the likenesse of it! What will other things availe thee without this, if God hath given thee health, but no grace, riches, but no grace? Be no longer like Swine, to refuse the Pearl for mire and filth: Have such thoughts and esteem of Grace, as if thou wert a dying, and presently to give up the ghost. If it be worth the having then, its worth the enjoying now. And woe, again woe to thee, who hast mocked at grace as the greatest folly, and counted the gracious man a mad man, because he would not run into the like excesse as thou dost: Thou wilt at last see him the happy man. These things in generall you will acknowledge; but why do ye not apply them in particular?