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O thou that hearest prayer – Psalm 65:2

This psalm seems to be written, either as a psalm of praise to God for some remarkable answer of prayer, in the bestowment of some public mercy; or else on occasion of some special faith and confidence which David had that his prayer would be answered.  It is probable that this mercy bestowed, or expected to be bestowed, was some great public mercy, for which David had been very earnest and importunate, and had annexed a vow to his prayer; and that he had vowed to God, that if he would grant him his request he would render him praise and glory. — This seems to be the reason why he expresses himself as he does in the first verse of the psalm: “Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion, and unto thee shall the vow be performed,” i.e. that praise which I have vowed to give thee on the answer of my prayer, waiteth for thee, to be given thee as soon as thou shalt have answered my prayer; and the vow which I made to thee shall be performed.  In the verse of the text, there is a prophecy of the glorious times of the gospel, when “all flesh shall come” to the true God, as to the God who heareth prayer, which is here mentioned as what distinguishes the true God from the gods to whom the nations prayed and sought, those gods, who cannot hear, and cannot answer their prayer.  The time was coming when all flesh should come to that God who doth hear prayer. — Hence we gather this doctrine that it is the character of the Most High, that he is a God who hears prayers.  I shall handle this point in the following method:

1. Show that the Most High is a God that hears prayer.

2. That he is emintently such a God.

3. That herein he is distingished from all false gods.

4. Give the reasons of the doctrine.

I. The Most High is a God that hears prayer.

Though he is infinitely above all, and stands in no need of creatures, yet he is graciously pleased to take a merciful notice of poor worms of the dust.  He manifests and presents himself as the object of prayer, appears as sitting on a mercy-seat, that men may come to him by prayer.  When they stand in need of any thing, he allows them to come, and ask it of him; and he is wont to hear their prayers.  God in his word hath given many promises that he will hear their prayers; the Scripture is full of such examples; and in his dispensations towards his church, manifests himself to be a God that hears prayer.

Here it may be inquired, What is meant by God’s hearing prayer?  There are two things implied in it.

1. His accepting the supplications of those who pray to him.  Their address to him is well taken; he is well pleased with it.  He approves of their asking such mercies as they request of him, and approves of their manner of doing it.  He accepts of their prayers as an offering to him: he accepts the honor they do him in prayer.

2. He acts agreeably to his acceptance.  He sometimes manifests his acceptance of their prayers, by special discoveries of his mercy and sufficiency, which he makes to them in prayer, or immediately after.  While they are praying, he gives them sweet views of his glorious grace, purity, sufficiency, and sovereignty, and enables them with great quietness, to rest in him, to leave themselves and their prayers with him, submitting to his will, and trusting in his grace and faithfulness.  Such a manifestation God seems to have made of himself in prayer to Hannah, which quieted and composed her mind, and tool; away her sadness. We read (in 1 Samuel 1) how earnest she was, and how exercised in her mind, and that she was I woman of a sorrowful spirit.  First, she came and poured out her soul before God, and spake out of the abundance of her complaint and grief, then we read, that she went away, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad (verse 13) which seems to have been from some refreshing discoveries which God had made of himself to her, to enable her quietly to submit to his will, and trust in his mercy whereby God manifested his acceptance of her. — Not that I conclude persons can hence argue, that the particular thing which they ask will certainly be given them, or that they can particularly foretell from it what God will do in answer to their prayers, any further than he has promised in his word; yet God may, and doubtless does, thus testify his acceptance of their prayers, and from hence they may confidently rest in his providence, in his merciful ordering and disposing, with respect to the thing which they ask. — Again, God manifests his acceptance of their prayers, by doing for them agreeably to their needs and supplications.  He not only inwardly and spiritually discovers his mercy to their, souls by his Spirit, but outwardly by dealing mercifully with them in his providence, in consequence of their prayers, and by causing an agreeableness between his providence and their prayers.

II. To show that the Most High is eminently a God that hears prayer.

This appears in several things.

1. In his giving such free access to him by prayer.

God in his word manifests himself ready at all times to allow us this privilege.  He sits on a throne of grace, and there is no veil to hide this throne, and keep us from it.  The veil is rent from the top to the bottom; the way is open at all times, and we may go to God as often as we please.  Although God be infinitely above us, yet we may come with boldness: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14, 16).  How wonderful is it that such worms as we should be allowed to come boldly at all times to so great a God! — Thus God indulges all kinds of persons, of all nations.  “Unto all that in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours; grace he unto you” (1 Corinthians 1:2,3).  Yea, God allows the most vile and unworthy; the greatest sinners are allowed to come through Christ.

And he not only allows, but encourages, and frequently invites them; yea, manifests himself as delighting in being sought to by prayer: “The prayer of the upright is his delight” (Proverbs 15:8).  And in the Song of Solomon, we have Christ saying to the spouse, “O my dove, let me hear thy voice; for so sweet is thy voice.”  The voice of the saints in prayer is sweet unto Christ; he delights to hear it.  He allows them to be earnest and importunate; yea, to the degree as to take no denial, and as it were to give him no rest, and even encouraging them so to do: “Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give him no rest” (Isaiah 62:6, 7).  Thus Christ encourages us, in the parable of the importunate widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18).  Also, in the parable of the man who went to his friend at midnight (Luke 11:5).

Thus God allowed Jacob to wrestle with him, yea, to be resolute in it; “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.”  It is noticed with approbation, when men are violent for the kingdom of heaven, and take it by force.  Thus Christ suffered the blind man to be most importunate and unceasing in his cries to him (Luke 18:38, 39).  He continued crying, “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.”  Others who were present rebuked him, that he should hold his peace, looking upon it as too great a boldness, and an indecent behavior towards Christ, thus to cry after him as he passed by.  But Christ did not rebuke him, but stood, and commanded him to be brought unto him, saying, “What wilt thou that I should do to thee?”  And when the blind man had told him, Christ graciously granted his request.

The freedom of access that God gives, appears also in allowing us to come to him by prayer for every thing we need, both temporal and spiritual; whatever evil we need to be delivered from, or good eye would obtain: “Be careful for nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

2. That God is eminently of this character, appears in his hearing prayer so readily.

He often manifests his readiness to hear prayer, by giving an answer so speedily, sometimes while they are yet speaking, and sometimes before they pray, when they only have a design of praying.  So ready is God to hear prayer, that he takes notice of the first purpose of praying, and sometimes bestows mercy thereupon: “And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).  We read, that when Daniel was making humble and earnest supplication, God sent an angel to comfort him, and to assure him of an answer (Daniel 9:20-24).  When God defers for the present to answer the prayer of faith, it is not from any backwardness to answer, but for the good of his people sometimes, that they may be better prepared for the mercy before they receive it, or because another time would be the best and fittest on some other account: and even then, when God seems to delay an answer, the answer is indeed hastened, as in Luke 18:7, 8: “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you, that he will avenge them speedily.”  Sometimes, when the blessing seems to tarry, God is even then at work to bring it about in the best time and the best manner: “Though it tarry, wait for it; it will come, it will not tarry” (Habakkuk 2:3).

3. That the Most High is eminently one that hears prayer, appears by his giving so liberally in answer to prayer; James 1:5, 6: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not.”  Men often show their backwardness to give, both by the scantiness of their gifts, and by upbraiding those who ask of them.  They will be sure to put them in mind of some faults, when they give them any thing, but, on the contrary, God both gives liberally, and upbraids us not with our undeservings.  He is plenteous and rich in his communications to those who call upon him: “For thou art good and ready to forgive, and plenteous hi mercy unto all that call upon thee” (Psalm 86:5) and “For there is no difference between the few and the Greek; for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (Romans 10:12).

Sometimes, God not only gives the thing asked, but he gives them more than is asked.  So he did to Solomon: “Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart, so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee.  And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches and honor, so that there shall not be and among the kings like unto thee, all the days” (1 Kings 3:12,13).  Yea, God will give more to his people than they can either ask or think, as is implied in Ephesians 3:20: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.”

4. That God is eminently of this character, appears by the greatness, of the things which he hath often done in answer to prayer. Thus, when Esau was coming out against his bother Jacob, with four hundred men, without doubt fully resolved to cut him off, Jacob prayed and God turned the heart of Esau, so that he met Jacob in a very friendly manner (Genesis 32).  So in Egypt, at the prayer of Moses, God brought those dreadful plagues, and at his prayer removed them again.  When Samson was ready to perish with thirst, he prayed to God and he brought water out of a dry jaw-bone, for his supply (Judges 15:18,19). And when he prayed, after his strength was departed from him, God strengthened him, so as to pull down the temple of Dagon on the Philistines: so that those whom he slew at his death were more than all those whom he slew in his life.  Joshua prayed to God, and said, “Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon;” and God heard his prayer, and caused the sun and moon to stand still accordingly.  The prophet “Elijah was a man of like passion” with us; “and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.  And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit;” as the apostle James observes (James 5:17, 18).  So God confounded the army of Zerah, the Ethiopian, of a thousand thousand, in answer to the prayer of Asa (2 Chronicles 14:9).  And God sent an angel, and slew in one night an hundred and eighty-five thousand men of Sennacherib’s army, in answer to Hezekiah’s prayer (2 Kings 19:14-19, 35).

5. This truth appears, in that God is, as it were, overcome by prayer. When God is displeased by sin, he manifests his displeasure, comes out against us in his providence, and seems to oppose and resist us; in such cases, God is, speaking after the manner of men, overcome by humble and fervent prayer.  “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).  It has a great power in it; such a prayer-hearing God is the Most High, that he graciously manifests himself as conquered by it.  Thus God appeared to oppose Jacob in what he sought of him, yet Jacob was resolute, and overcame.  Therefore God changed his name from Jacob to Israel; for, says he, “as a prince thou hast power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (Genesis 32:28).  A mighty prince indeed!   “Yea, he had power over the angel and prevailed: he wept and made supplication unto him” (Hosea 12:4).  When his anger was provoked against Israel, and he appeared to be ready to consume them in his hot displeasure, Moses stood in the gap, and by his humble and earnest prayer and supplication averted the stroke of divine vengeance (Exodus 32:9; Numbers 14:11).

III. Herein the most high God is distinguished from false gods.

The true God is the only one of this character; there is no other of whom it may be said, that he heareth prayer.   Many of those things that are worshipped, as gods are idols made by their worshippers, mere stocks and stones that know nothing.  They are indeed made with ears; but they hear not the prayers of them that cry to them.  They have eyes; but they see not (Psalm 115:5, 6).  Others, though not the work of men’s hands, yet are things without life.  Thus, many worship the sun, moon, and stars, which, though glorious creatures, yet are not capable of knowing any thing of the wants and desires of those who pray to them.  Some worship certain kinds of animals, as the Egyptians were wont to worship bulls, which, though not without life, yet are destitute of that reason whereby they would be capable of knowing the requests of their worshippers.  Others worship devils instead of the true God: “But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils” (1 Corinthians 10:20).

These though beings of great powers, have not knowledge necessary to capacitate them fully to understand the state, circumstances, necessities, and desires of those who pray to them.  But the true God perfectly knows the circumstances of every one that prays to him throughout the world.  Though millions pray to him at once, in different parts of the world, it is no more difficult for him who is infinite in knowledge, to take notice of all than of one alone.  God is so perfect in knowledge, that he doth not need to be informed by us, in order to a knowledge of our wants, for he knows what things we need before we ask him.  The worshippers of false gods were wont to lift their voices and cry aloud, lest their gods should fail of hearing them, as Elijah tauntingly bid the worshippers of Baal do (1 Kings 18:27).  But the true God hears the silent petitions of his people.  He needs not that we should cry aloud; yea, he knows and perfectly understands when we only pray in our hearts, as Hannah did (1 Samuel 1:13).

Idols are but vanities and lies, in them is no help.  As to power or knowledge, they are nothing; as the apostle says, “An idol is nothing in the world” (1 Corinthians 8:4).  As to images, they are so far from having power to answer prayer, that they are not able to act, “They have hands, and handle not; feet have they, but they walk not; neither speak they through their throat.”  They, therefore, that make them and pray to them, are senseless and sottish, and make themselves, as it were, stocks and stones, like unto them: Psalm 115:7-8 and Jeremiah 10:5: “They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go.  Be not afraid of them for they cannot do evil; neither also is it in them to do good.”

As to the hosts of heaven, the sun, moon, and stars, although mankind receives benefit by them, yet they act only by necessity of nature; therefore they have no power to do any thing in answer to prayers.  And devils though worshipped as gods, are not able, if they had disposition, to make those happy who worship them, and can do nothing at all but by divine permission, and as subject to the disposal of Divine Providence.  When the children of Israel departed from the true God to idols, and yet cried to him in their distress, he reproved them for their folly, by bidding them cry to the gods whom they had served, for deliverance in the time of their tribulation (Joshua 10:14). So God challenges those gods themselves: “Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods, yea, do good or do evil, that we may be dismayed and behold it together.  Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought, an abomination is he that chooseth you” (Isaiah 12:23, 24).  These false gods, instead of helping those who pray to them cannot help themselves.  The devils are miserable tormented spirits, they are bound in chains of darkness for their rebellion against the true God, and cannot deliver themselves.  Nor have they any more disposition to help mankind, than a parcel of hungry wolves or lions would have to protect and help a flock of lambs.  And those that worship and pray to them get not their good-will by serving them: all the reward that Satan will give them for the service which they do him, is to devour them.

IV. To give the reasons of the doctrine, which I would do in answer to these two inquiries: first, Why God requires prayer in order to the bestowment of mercies, and secondly, Why God is so ready to hear the prayers of men?

Inquiry 1. Why doth God require prayer in order to the bestowment of mercies?

It is not in order that God may be informed of our wants or desires.  He is omniscient, and with respect to his knowledge unchangeable.  God never gains any knowledge by information. He knows what we want, a thousand times more perfectly than we do ourselves before we ask him.  For though, speaking after the manner of men, God is sometimes represented as if he were moved and persuaded by the prayers of his people; yet it is not to be thought that God is properly moved or made willing prayers; for it is no more possible that there should be any new inclination or will in God, than new knowledge.  The mercy of God is not moved or drawn by anything in the creature; but the spring of God’s beneficence is within himself only; he is self-moved; and whatsoever mercy he bestows, the reason and ground of it is not to be sought for in the creature, but in God’s own good pleasure.

It is the will of God to bestow mercy in this way, viz. in answer to prayer, when he designs beforehand to bestow mercy, yea, when he has promised it; as Ezekiel 36:36, 37: “I the Lord have spoken it, and will do it.  Thus saith the Lord, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.”  God has been pleased to constitute prayer to be antecedent to the bestowment of mercy, and he is pleased to bestow mercy in consequence of prayer, as though he were prevailed on by prayer.  When the people of God are stirred up to prayer, it is the effect of his intention to show mercy; therefore he pours out the spirit of grace and supplication.

There may be two reasons given why God requires prayer in order to the bestowment of mercy, one especially respects God, and the other respects ourselves.

1. With respect to God, prayer is but a sensible acknowledgment of our dependence on him to his glory. As he hath made all things for his own glory, so he will be glorified and acknowledged by his creatures; and it is fit that he should require this of those who would be the subjects of his mercy.  That we, when we desire to receive any mercy from him, should humbly supplicate the Divine Being for the bestowment of that mercy, is but a suitable acknowledgment of our dependence on the power and mercy of God for that which we need, and but a suitable honor paid to the great Author and Fountain of all good.

2. With respect to ourselves, God requires prayer of us in order to the bestowment of mercy, because it tends to prepare us for its reception. Fervent prayer many ways tends to prepare the heart.  Hereby is excited a sense of our need, and of the value of the mercy which we seek and at the same time earnest desires for it, whereby the mind is more prepared to prize it, to rejoice in it when bestowed, and to be thankful for it.  Prayer, with suitable confession, may excite a sense of our unworthiness of the mercy we seek; and the placing of ourselves in the immediate presence of God, may make us sensible of his majesty, and in a sense fit to receive mercy of him.  Our prayer to God may excite in us a suitable sense and consideration of our dependence on God for the mercy we ask, and a suitable exercise of faith in God’s sufficiency them so we may be prepared to glorify his name when the mercy is received.

Inquiry 2. Why is God so ready to hear the prayers of men.

1. Because he is a God of infinite grace and mercy. It is indeed a very wonderful thing, that so great a God should be so ready to hear our prayers, though we are so despicable and unworthy: that he should give free access at all times to every one: should allow us to be importunate without esteeming it an indecent boldness, should be so rich in mercy to them that call upon him, that worms of the dust should have such power with God by prayer; that he should do such great things in answer to their prayers, and should show himself, as it were, overcome by them.  This is very wonderful, when we consider the distance between God and us, and how we have provoked him by our sins, and how unworthy we are of the least gracious notice.  It cannot be from any need that God stands in of us; for our goodness extendeth not to him.  Neither can it he from any thing in us to incline the heart of God to us; it cannot be from any worthiness in our prayers, which are in themselves polluted things.  But it is because God delights in mercy and condescension.  He is herein infinitely distinguished from all other gods: he is the great fountain of all good, from whom goodness flows as light from the sun.

2. [Because] we have a glorious Mediator, who has prepared the way, that our prayers may he heard consistently with the honor of God’s justice and majesty. Not only has God in himself mercy sufficient for this, but the Mediator has provided that this mercy may be exercised consistently with the divine honor.  Through him, we may come to God for mercy, he is the way, the truth, and the life; no man can come to the Father but by him.  This Mediator hath done three things to make way for the hearing of our prayers.

(1) He hath by his blood made atonement for sin; so that our guilt need not stand in the way, as a separating wall between God and us, and that our sins might not be a cloud through which our prayers cannot pass.  By his atonement, he hath made the way to the throne of grace open.  God would have been infinitely gracious if there had been no Mediator; but the way to the mercy-seat would have been blocked up.  But Christ hath removed whatever stood in the way.  The veil which was before the mercy seat “is rent from the top to the bottom,” by the death of Christ.  If it had not been for this, our guilt would have remained as a wall of brass to hinder our approach.  But all is removed by his blood (Hebrews 10:17).

(2) Christ, by his obedience, has purchased this privilege, viz. that the prayers of those who believe in him should be heard.  He has not only removed the obstacles to our prayers, but has merited a hearing of them.  His merits are the incense that is offered with the prayers of the saints, which renders them a sweet savor to God, and acceptable in his sight.  Hence the prayers of the saints have such power with God; hence at the prayer of a poor worm of the dust God stopped the sun in his course for about the space of a whole day; hence Jacob as a prince had power with God, and prevailed.  Our prayers would be of no account, and of no avail with God, were it not for the merits of Christ.

(3) Christ enforces the prayers of his people, by his intercession at the right hand of God in heaven.  He hath entered for us into the holy of holies, with the incense which he hath provided, and there he makes continual intercession for all that come to God in his name; so that their prayers come to God the Father through his hands, if I may so say; which is represented in Revelation 8:3, 4: “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer, and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne.  And the smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God, out of the angel’s hand.”  This was typified of old by the priest’s offering incense in the temple, at the time when the people were offering up their prayers to God; as Luke 1:10: “And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.”


Hence we may learn how highly we are privileged, in that we have the Most High revealed to us, who is a God that heareth prayer.  The greater part of mankind are destitute of this privilege.  Whatever their necessities are, whatever their calamities or sorrows, they have no prayer-hearing God to whom they may go.  If they go to the gods whom they worship, arid cry to them ever so earnestly, it will be in vain.  They worship either, lifeless things, that can neither help them; nor know that they need help or wicked cruel spirits, who are their enemies, and wish nothing but their misery; and who, instead of helping them, are from day to day working their ruin, and watching over them as a hungry lion watches over his prey.

How are we distinguished from them, in that we have the true God made known to us; a God of infinite grace and mercy a God full of compassion to the miserable, who is ready to pity us under all our troubles and sorrows, to hear our cries, and to give us all the relief which we need, a God who delights in mercy, and is rich unto all that call upon him!  How highly privileged are we, in that ye have the holy word of this same God, to direct us how to seek for mercy! And whatever difficulties or distress we are in, we may so to him with confidence and great encouragement.

What a comfort may this be to us!  And what reason have we to rejoice in our privileges, to prize them so highly, and to bless God that he hath been so merciful to us, as to give us his word, and reveal himself to us; and that he hath not left us to cry for help to stocks and stones, and devils, as he has left many thousands of others.


I have often prayed to God for certain mercies, and he has not heard my prayers. — To this I answer,

1. It is no argument, that God is not a prayer-hearing God, if he gives not to men what they ask of him to consume upon their lusts. Oftentimes when men pray for temporal good things, they desire them for no good end, but only to gratify their pride or sensuality.  If they pray for worldly good things chiefly from a worldly spirit; and make an idol of the world; It is no wonder that God doth not hear their prayers: “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, to consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3).  If you request him to give you something of which you will make an idol, and set up in opposition to him — or will use as weapons of warfare against him, or as instruments to serve his enemies — no wonder that God will not hear you.  If God should hear such prayers, he would act as  his own enemy, inasmuch as he would bestow them to serve his enemies.

2. It is no argument that God is not a prayer-hearing God, that he heareth not insincere and unbelieving prayers. How can we expect that he should have any respect to that which has no sincerity in it!  God looketh not at words, but at the heart, and it is fit that he should do so.  If men pray only in words, and not in heart, what are their prayers good for?  And why should that God who searches the heart, and tries the reins, have any respect to them?

Sometimes men do nothing but dissemble in their prayers, and when they do so, it is no argument that God is the less a prayer-hearing God, that he doth not hear such prayers, for it is no argument of want of mercy.  Sometimes they pray for that in words which they really desire not in their hearts, as that he would purge them from sin, when at the same time they show by their practice, that they do not desire to be purged from sin, while they love and choose it, and are utterly averse to parting with it.  In like manner, they often dissemble in the presence and show, which they make in their prayers, of dependence on God for mercies, and of a sense of his sufficiency to supply them.  In our coming to God, and praying to him for such and such things, there is a show that we are sensible we are dependent on him for them, and that he is sufficient to give them to us.  But men sometimes seem to pray, while not sensible of their dependence on God, nor do they think him sufficient to supply them; for all the while they trust in themselves, and have no confidence in God.

They show in words as though they were beggars; but in heart they come as creditors, and look on God as their debtor.  In words they seem to ask for things as the fruit of free grace; but in heart they account it would be hard, unjust, and cruel, if God should deny them.  In words they seem humble and submissive, but in heart they are proud and contentious; there is no prayer but in their words.

It doth not render God at all the less a prayer-hearing God, that he distinguishes, as an all-seeing God, between real prayers and pretended ones.  Such prayers as those which I have just now been mentioning, are not worthy of the name in the eyes of him who searches the heart, and sees things as they are.  That prayer which is not of faith, is insincere; for prayer is a show or manifestation of dependence on God, and trust in his sufficiency and mercy.  Therefore, where this trust or faith is wanting, there is no prayer in the sight of God.  And however God is sometimes pleased to grant the requests of those who have no faith, yet he has not obliged himself so to do, nor is it an argument of his not being a prayer-hearing God, when he hears them not.

3. It is no argument that he is not a prayer-hearing God that he exercises his own wisdom as to the time and manner of answering prayer. Some of God’s people are sometimes ready to think, that he doth not hear their prayers, because he doth answer them at the times when they expected, when indeed God doth hear them, and will answer them, in the time and way to which his own wisdom directs.  The business of prayer is not to direct God, who is infinitely wise, and needs not any of our directions; who knows what is best for us ten thousand times better than we, and knows what time and what way are best.  It is fit that he should answer prayer’s and, as an infinitely wise God, in the exercise of his own wisdom, and not ours.  God will deal as a father with us, in answering our requests.  But a child is not to expect that the father’s wisdom be subject to his nor ought he to desire it, but should esteem it a privilege, that the parent will provide for him according to his own wisdom.

As to particular temporal blessings for which we pray, it is no argument that he is not a prayer-hearing God, because he bestows them not upon us; for it may be that God sees the things for which we pray, not to be best for us.  If so, it would be no mercy in him to bestow them upon us, but a judgment.  Such things, therefore, ought to always to be asked with submission to the divine will.  God can answer prayer, though he bestow not the very thing for which we pray.  He can sometimes better answer the lawful desires and good end we have in prayer another way.  If our end be our own good and happiness, God can perhaps better answer that end in bestowing something else than in the bestowment of that very thing which we ask.  And if the main good we aim at in our prayer be attained, our prayer is answered, though not in the bestowment of the individual thing which we sought.  And so that may still be true which was before asserted, that God always hears the prayer OF FAITH.  God never once failed of hearing a sincere and believing prayer; and those promises forever hold good, “Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you: for every one that asketh, receiveth and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.”

Another use of this doctrine may be, of reproof to those that neglect the duty of prayer.  If we enjoy so great a privilege as to have the prayer hearing God revealed to us, how great will be our folly and inexcusableness if we neglect the privilege, or make no use of it, and deprive ourselves of the advantage by not seeking this God by prayer.  They are hereby reproved who neglect the great duty of secret prayer, which is more expressly required in the word of God than any other kind.  What account can those persons give of themselves, who neglect so known a duty?  It is impossible that any among us should be ignorant of this command of God.  How daring, therefore, is their wickedness who live in the neglect of this duty and what can they answer to their Judge, when he shall call them to an account for it?

Here I shall briefly say something to an EXCUSE which some may be ready to make for themselves.  Some may be ready to say, If I do pray, my prayer will not be the prayer of faith, because I am in a natural condition, and have no faith.

This excuses not from obedience to a plain command of God.  The command is to all to whom the command shall come.  God not only directs godly persons to pray, but others also.  In the beginning of the second chapter of Proverbs, God directs all persons to cry after wisdom, and to lift up their voices for understanding, in order to their obtaining the fear and knowledge of God; and in James 1:5, the apostle says, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God.”   Also Peter directed Simon Magus to repent, and pray to God, if perhaps the thought of his heart might be forgiven him (Acts 8:22).  Therefore when God says, do thus or thus, it is not for us to make excuses, but we must do the thing required.  Besides, God is pleased sometimes to answer the prayers of unbelievers.  Indeed he hears not their prayers for their goodness or acceptableness, or because of any true respect to him manifested in them, for there is none; nor has he obliged himself to answer such prayers; yet he is pleased sometimes, of his sovereign mercy, to pity wicked men, and hear their cries.  Thus he heard the cries of the Ninevites, (Jonah 3) and the prayer of Ahab, 1 Kings 21:27, 28.  Though there be no regard to God in their prayers, yet he, of his infinite grace, is pleased to have respect to their desires of their own happiness, and to grant their requests.  He may, and sometimes does, hear the cries of wicked men as he hears the hungry ravens, when they cry (Psalm 147:9) and as he opens his bountiful hand, and satisfies the desires of every living thing (Psalm 145:16).  Besides the prayers of sinners, though they have no goodness in them, yet are made a means of a preparation for mercy.

Finally, seeing we have such a prayer-hearing God as we have heard, let us be much employed in the duty of prayer: let us pray with all prayer and supplication: let us live prayerful lives, continuing instant in prayer, watching thereunto with all perseverance; praying always, without ceasing, earnestly, and not fainting.

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1. Faith is a belief of a testimony (2 Thess. 1:10). “When he shall come to be glorified in his saints and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.” It is an assent to truth as appears by the 11th of Hebrews. And it is saving faith that is there spoken of, as appears by the last verses of the foregoing chapter: “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they, without us, should not be made perfect.” “Saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: Repent ye and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and that, believing, we might have life through his name” (John 21:31). “But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).

11. It is something more than merely the assent of the understanding, because it is called an obeying the gospel. For Esaias saith, “Lord, who has believed our report?” “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” (1 Pet. 4:17).

It is obeying the doctrine from the heart. “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin; but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” etc. (Rom. 6:17, 18).

12. This expression of obeying the gospel, seems to denote the heart’s yielding to the gospel in what it proposes to us in its calls: it is something more than merely what may be called a believing the truth of the gospel. “Nevertheless, among the chief rulers also, many believed on him; but, because of the Pharisees, they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue”(John 12:42). And Philip asked the eunuch, whether he believed with all his heart? It is a fully believing, or a being fully persuaded: this passage evidences that it is so much at least.

13. There are different sorts of faith that are not true and saving, as is evident by what the apostle James says, “Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works:” where it is supposed that there may be a faith without works, which is not the right faith. When he says, “I will show thee my faith by my works,” nothing else can be meant, than that I will show thee that my faith is right.

14. It is a trusting in Christ. “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little: blessed are all they that put their trust in him” (Psa. 2:12). “That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ: in whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:12, 13). “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).

Many places in the Old Testament speak of trusting in God as the condition of his favor and salvation; especially Psalm 75:21, 22: “Therefore the Lord heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel: because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation.” It implies submission. “And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse; and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, in him shall the Gentiles trust” (Rom. 15:12). “For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those that believe” (1 Tim. 4:10). “For which cause I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom 1 have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). “Why are ye fearful. 0 ye of little faith?” (Mat. 5:26). “Which Jesus, when he perceived, he said unto them. 0 ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?”(Matt 16:8). “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life; and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us” (I John 5:13,14). Believing in Christ in one verse is called confidence, in the text.

15. It is a committing ourselves to Christ; “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). This is a scripture sense of the word believe, as is evident by “Jesus did not commit himself to them” (John 2:24).

16. It is a gladly receiving the gospel. “Then they that gladly received his word, were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). It is approving the gospel. “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. But wisdom is justified of all her children” (Luke 7:30, 35). It is obeying the doctrine. “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin; but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (Rom. 6:17). It is what may be well understood by those expressions of coming to Christ, of looking to him, of opening the door to let him in. This is very evident by Scripture. It is a coming and taking the waters of life, eating and drinking Christ’s flesh and blood, hearing Christ’s voice and following him. “But ye believe not: because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me’” (John 10:26, 27). “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world; he that followeth me, shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:22).

17. Faith consists in two things, viz. in being persuaded of, and in embracing, the promises: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13). “Charity believeth all things, hopeth all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). If that faith, hope, and charity, spoken of in this verse, be the same with those that are compared together in the last verse, then faith arises from a charitable disposition of heart, or from a principle of divine love. “But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you,” with the context (John 5:42). “Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord you God proveth you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul” (Lev. 13:3). “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him” (1 John 5:1).

23. It is submitting to the righteousness of God. “For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3). It is what may be well represented by flying far refuge, by the type of flying to the city of refuge. “That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge, to lay hold upon the hope set before us” (Heb. 6:18). It is a sense of the sufficiency and the reality of Christ’s righteousness, and of his power and grace to save. “He shall convince the world of sin of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). It is a receiving the truth with a love to it. It is receiving the love of the truth. “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. That they all might he damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2Thess. 2:10,12). The heart must close with the new covenant by dependence upon it and by love and desire. “Although my house be not so with God, yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure. This is all my salvation and all my desire, although he make it not grow” (2 Sam. 23:5).

24. Upon the whole, the best, and clearest, and most perfect definition of justifying faith, and most according to the Scripture, that I can think of is this, faith is the soul’s entirely embracing the revelation of Jesus Christ as our Savior. The word “embrace” is a metaphorical expression: but I think it much clearer than any proper expression whatsoever. It is called believing, because believing is the first act of the soul in embracing a narration or revelation: and embracing, when conversant about a revelation or thing declared, is more properly called believing, than loving or choosing. If it were conversant about a person only, it would be more properly called loving. If it were only conversant about a gift, an inheritance, or reward, it would more properly be called receiving or accepting, etc.

The definition might have been expressed in these words: faith is the soul’s entirely adhering and acquiescing in the revelation of Jesus Christ as our Savior-or thus: faith is the soul’s embracing that truth of God, that reveals Jesus Christ as our Savior-or thus: faith is the soul’s entirely acquiescing in, and depending upon, the truth of God, revealing Christ as our Savior.

It is the whole soul according and assenting to the truth, and embracing of it. There is an entire yielding of the mind and heart to the revelation, and a closing with it, and adhering to it, with the belief, and with the inclination and affection. It is admitting and receiving it with entire credit and respect. The soul receives it as true, as worthy, and excellent. It may be more perfectly described than defined by a short definition, by reason of the penury of words; a great many words express it better than one or two. I here use the same metaphorical expressions; but it is because they are much clearer than any proper expressions that I know of.

It is the soul’s entirely acquiescing in this revelation from a sense of the sufficiency, dignity, glory, and excellency of the author of the revelation.

Faith is the whole soul’s active agreeing, according and symphonizing with this truth; all opposition in judgment and inclination so far as he believes being taken away. It is called believing because fully believing this revelation, is the first and principal exercise and manifestation of this accordance and agreement of soul.

25. The adhering to the truth, and acquiescing in it with judgment is a sense of the glory of the revealer, and the sufficiency and excellency of the performer of the facts. The adhering to it and acquiescing in it with the inclination and affection, is from the goodness and excellency of the thing revealed, and of the performer. If a person be pursued by an enemy and commit himself to a king or a captain, to defend him, it implied his quitting other endeavors, and applying to him for defense and putting himself under him, and hoping that he will defend him.

If we consider it as a mere act of the mind, a transaction between spiritual beings, considered as abstracted from any external action, then it is the mind’s quitting all other endeavors and seeking and applying itself to the Savior for salvation, fully choosing salvation by him, and delivering itself to him, or a being willing to be his with a hope that he will save him. Therefore, for a person to commit himself to Christ as a Savior, is quitting all other endeavors and hopes and heartily applying himself to Christ for salvation, fully choosing salvation by him, and acquiescing in his way of salvation, and a hearty consent of the soul to be his entirely, hoping in his sufficiency and willingness to save.

Excerpted and edited from The Works of Jonathan Edwards. This volume contains many more thoughts by Edwards on the nature of saving faith than those we have listed here.

Copyright Jim Ehrhard, 1999. You are permitted to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author; (2) any modifications are clearly marked; (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction; and (4) you do not make more than 100 copies without permission.

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For then for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meatHebrews 5:12

These words are a complaint, which the apostle makes against the Christian Hebrews, for their lack of proficiency in the knowledge of the doctrines and mysteries of religion, as might have been expected of them.  The apostle complains that they had not made that progress in their acquaintance with the things taught in the oracles of God, which they ought to have made.  And he means to reprove them, not merely for their deficiency in spiritual and experimental knowledge of divine things, but for their deficiency in a doctrinal acquaintance with the principles of religion, and the truths of Christian divinity; as is evident by the manner in which the apostle introduces this reproof.

The occasion of his introducing it is this: In the next text but one preceding, he mentions Christ as being “Called of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.”  In the Old Testament, the oracles of God, Melchizedek was held forth as an eminent type of Christ; and the account we there have of him contains many gospel mysteries.  These mysteries the apostle was willing to point out to the Christian Hebrews; but he apprehended, that through their weakness in knowledge, they would not understand him; and therefore breaks off for the present from saying any thing about Melchizedek, thus (ver. 11): “Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered; seeing ye are all dull of hearing;” i.e. there are many things concerning Melchizedek which contain wonderful gospel-mysteries, and which I would take notice of to you, were it not that I am afraid, that through your dullness, and backwardness in understanding these things, you would only be puzzled and confounded by my discourse, and so receive no benefit; and that it would be too hard for you, as meat that is too strong.

Then come in the words of the text: “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.”  As much as to say, indeed it might have been expected of you that you should have known enough of the Holy Scriptures to be able to understand and digest such mysteries, but it is not so with you.  The apostle speaks of their proficiency in such knowledge as is conveyed by human teaching: as appears by that expression, “When for the time ye ought to be teachers;” which includes not only a practical and experimental, but also a doctrinal, knowledge of the truths and mysteries of religion.

Again, the apostle speaks of such knowledge, whereby Christians are enabled to understand those things in divinity which are more abstruse and difficult to be understood and which require great skill in things of this nature.  This is more fully expressed in the two next verses: “For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe.  But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who, by reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”  It is such knowledge, that proficiency in it shall carry persons beyond the first principles of religion.  As here: “Ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God.”  Therefore the apostle, in the beginning of the next chapter, advises them “to leave the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, and to go on unto perfection.”

We may observe that the fault of this defect appears in that they had not made proficiency according to their time.  For the time, they ought to have been teachers.  As they were Christians, their business was to learn and gain Christian knowledge.  They were scholars in the school of Christ; and, if they had improved their time in learning as they ought to have done, they might, by the time when the apostle wrote, have been fit to be teachers in this school.  To whatever business any one is devoted, it may be expected that his perfection in it shall be answerable to the time he has had to learn and perfect himself.  Christians should not always remain babes, but should grow in Christian knowledge; and leaving the food of babes, they should learn to digest strong meat.


Every Christian should make a business of endeavoring to grow in knowledge in divinity.  This is indeed esteemed the business of divines and ministers: it is commonly thought to be their work, by the study of the Scriptures, and other instructive books, to gain knowledge; and most seem to think that it may be left to them, as what belongeth not to others.  But if the apostle had entertained this notion, he would never have blamed the Christian Hebrews for not having acquired knowledge enough to be teachers.  Or if he had thought, that this concerned Christians in general only as a thing by the by, and that their time should not in a considerable measure be taken up with this business; he never would have so much blamed them, that their proficiency in knowledge had not been answerable to the time which they had had to learn.

In handling this subject, I shall show what is intended by divinity; what kind of knowledge in divinity is intended; and why knowledge in divinity is necessary. And why all Christians should make a business of endeavoring to grow in this knowledge.

SECTION I: What is intended by divinity, as the object of Christian knowledge

Various definitions have been given of this subject by those who have treated on it.  I shall not now stand to inquire which, according to the rules of art, is the most accurate definition; but shall so define or describe it as I think has the greatest tendency to convey a proper notion of it.  It is that science or doctrine which comprehends all those truths and rules which concern the great business of religion.

There are various kinds of arts and sciences taught and learned in the schools which are conversant about various objects; about the works of nature in general, as philosophy; or the visible heavens, as astronomy; or the sea, as navigation; or the earth, as geography; or the body of man, as physic and anatomy; or the soul of man with regard to its natural powers and qualities, as logic and pneumatology; or about human government, as politics and jurisprudence.  But one science, or kind of knowledge and doctrine, is above all the rest; as it treats concerning God and the great business of religion.  Divinity is not learned, as other sciences, merely by the improvement of man’s natural reason, but is taught by God himself in a book full of instruction, which he hath given us for that end.  This is the rule which God hath given to the world to be their guide in searching after this kind of knowledge and is a summary of all things of this nature needful for us to know.  Upon this account, divinity is called a doctrine, rather than an art or science.

Indeed there is what is called natural religion. There are many truths concerning God, and our duty to him, which are evident by the light of nature.  But Christian divinity, properly so called, is not evident by the light of nature; it depends on revelation.  Such are our circumstances now in our fallen state that nothing which it is needful for us to know concerning God is manifest by the light of nature, in the manner in which it is necessary for us to know it.  For the knowledge of no truth in divinity is of significance to us, any otherwise than as it some way or other belongs to the gospel-scheme, or as it relates to a Mediator.  But the light of nature teaches us no truth in this matter.  Therefore it cannot be said, that we come to the knowledge of any part of Christian truth by the light of nature.  It is only the word of God, contained in the Old and New Testament, which teaches us Christian divinity.

This comprehends all that is taught in the Scriptures, and so all that we need know, or is to be known, concerning God and Jesus Christ, concerning our duty to God, and our happiness in God.  Divinity is commonly defined, the doctrine of living to God; and by some who seem to be more accurate, the doctrine of living to God by Christ. It comprehends all Christian doctrines as they are in Jesus, and all Christian rules directing us in living to God by Christ.  There is no one doctrine, no promise, no rule, but what some way or other relates to the Christian and divine life, or our living to God by Christ.  They all relate to this, in two respects, viz. as they tend to promote our living to God here in this world, in a life of faith and holiness, and also as they tend to bring us to a life of perfect holiness and happiness, in the full enjoyment of God hereafter.

SECTION II: What kind of knowledge in divinity, is intended in the doctrine

There are two kinds of knowledge of divine truth, viz. speculative and practical, or in other terms, natural and spiritual. The former remains only in the head.  No other faculty but the understanding is concerned in it.  It consists in having a natural or rational knowledge of the things of religion, or such a knowledge as is to be obtained by the natural exercise of our own faculties, without any special illumination of the Spirit of God.  The latter rests not entirely in the head, or in the speculative ideas of things; but the heart is concerned in it: it principally consists in the sense of the heart.  The mere intellect, without the will or the inclination, is not the seat of it.  And it may not only be called seeing, but feeling or tasting.  Thus there is a difference between having a right speculative notion of the doctrines contained in the word of God, and having a due sense of them in the heart.  In the former, consists the speculative or natural knowledge; in the latter consists the spiritual or practical knowledge of them.

Neither of these is intended in the doctrine exclusively of the other; but it is intended that we should seek the former in order to [know] the latter.  The latter, or the spiritual and practical, is of the greatest importance for a speculative without a spiritual knowledge [serves] no purpose but to make our condemnation the greater.  Yet a speculative knowledge is also of infinite importance in this respect, that without it we can have no spiritual or practical knowledge.

I have already shown that the apostle speaks not only of a spiritual knowledge, but of such as can be acquired and communicated from one to another.  Yet it is not to be thought that he means this exclusively of the other.  But he would have the Christian Hebrews seek the one, in order to [have] the other. Therefore the former is first and most directly intended; it is intended that Christians should, by reading and other proper means, seek a good rational knowledge of the things of divinity: while the latter is more indirectly intended, since it is to be sought by the other.  But I proceed to

SECTION III: The usefulness and necessity of the knowledge of divine truths

There is no other way by which any means of grace whatsoever can be of any benefit but by knowledge.  All teaching is in vain without learning.  Therefore the preaching of the gospel would be wholly to no purpose if it conveyed no knowledge to the mind.  There is an order of men which Christ has appointed on purpose to be teachers in his church.  But they teach in vain if no knowledge in these things is gained by their teaching.  It is impossible that their teaching and preaching should be a mean of grace, or of any good in the hearts of their hearers, any otherwise than by knowledge imparted to the understanding.  Otherwise it would be of as much benefit to the auditory, if the minister should preach in some unknown tongue.  All the difference is that preaching in a known tongue conveys something to the understanding, which preaching in an unknown tongue doth not.  On this account, such preaching [would] be unprofitable.  In such things, men receive nothing when they understand nothing and are not at all edified unless some knowledge be conveyed; agreeable to the apostle’s arguing (1 Cor. 14:2­6).

No speech can be a means of grace but by conveying knowledge.  Otherwise the speech is as much lost as if there had been no man there, and if he that spoke had spoken only into the air; as it follows in the passage just quoted (vv. 6­10).  God deals with man as with a rational creature; and when faith is in exercise, it is not about something he knows not.  Therefore hearing is absolutely necessary to faith; because hearing is necessary to understanding (Rom. 10:14): “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?”  In like manner, there can be no love without knowledge.  It is not according to the nature of the human soul to love an object which is entirely unknown.  The heart cannot be set upon an object of which there is no idea in the understanding.  The reasons which induce the soul to love must first be understood before they can have a reasonable influence on the heart.

God hath given us the Bible which is a book of instructions.  But this book can be of no profit to us [unless] it conveys some knowledge to the mind: it can profit us no more than if it were written in the Chinese or Tartarian language, of which we know not one word.  So the sacraments of the gospel can have a proper effect no other way than by conveying some knowledge.  They represent certain things by visible signs.  And what is the end of signs, but to convey some knowledge of the things signified?  Such is the nature of man that no object can come at the heart but through the door of the understanding: and there can be no spiritual knowledge of that of which there is not first a rational knowledge.  It is impossible that anyone [can] see the truth or excellency of any doctrine of the gospel who knows not what that doctrine is.  A man cannot see the wonderful excellency and love of Christ in doing such and such things for sinners, unless his understanding be first informed how those things were done.  He cannot have a taste of the sweetness and excellency of divine truth unless he first has a notion that there is such a thing. Without knowledge in divinity, none would differ from the most ignorant and barbarous heathens.  The heathens remain in gross darkness because they are not instructed and have not obtained the knowledge of divine truths.

If men have no knowledge of these things, the faculty of reason in them will be wholly in vain.  The faculty of reason and understanding was given for actual understanding and knowledge.  If a man has no actual knowledge, the faculty or capacity of knowing is of no use to him.  And if he have actual knowledge, yet if he be destitute of the knowledge of those things which are the last end of his being and for the sake of the knowledge of which he had more understanding given him than the beasts, then still his faculty of reason is in vain; he might as well have been a beast as a man.  But divine subjects are the things to know for which we have the faculty of reason given us.  They are the things which appertain to the end of our being and to the great business for which we are made.  Therefore a man cannot have his faculty of understanding to any good purpose further than he hath knowledge of divine truth.

So that this kind of knowledge is absolutely necessary.  Other kinds of knowledge may be very useful.  Some other sciences, such as astronomy, natural philosophy, and geography, may be very excellent in their kind.  But the knowledge of this divine science is infinitely more useful and important than that of all other sciences whatever.

SECTION IV: Why all Christians should make a business of endeavoring to grow in the knowledge of divinity

Christians ought not to content themselves with such degrees of knowledge of divinity as they have already obtained.  It should not satisfy them as they know as much as is absolutely necessary to salvation, but should seek to make progress.

This endeavor to make progress in such knowledge ought not to be attended to as a thing by the bye, but all Christians should make a business of it.  They should look upon it as a part of their daily business, and no small part of it neither.  It should be attended to as a considerable part of the work of their high calling.  For …

1. Our business should doubtless much consist in employing those faculties. The reason why we have faculties superior to those of the beasts given us is that we are indeed designed for a superior employment.  That which the Creator intended should be our main employment is something above what he intended the beast for, and therefore hath given us superior powers.  Therefore, without doubt, it should be a considerable part of our business to improve those superior faculties.  But the faculty by which we are chiefly distinguished from the brutes is the faculty of understanding.  It follows then that we should make it our chief business to improve this faculty and should by no means prosecute it as a business by the bye.  For us to make the improvement of this faculty a business by the bye is in effect for us to make the faculty of understanding itself a by­faculty, if I may so speak, a faculty of less importance than others: whereas indeed it is the highest faculty we have.

But we cannot make a business of the improvement of our intellectual faculty, any otherwise than by making a business of improving ourselves in actual knowledge.  So that those who make not this very much their business; but instead of improving their understanding to acquire knowledge are chiefly devoted to their inferior power—to please their senses, and gratify their animal appetites—not only behave themselves in a manner not becoming Christians, but also act as if they had forgotten that they are men and that God hath set them above the brutes by giving them understanding.

God hath given to man some things in common with the brutes, as his outward senses, his bodily appetites, a capacity of bodily pleasure and pain, and other animal faculties: and some things he hath given him superior to the brutes, the chief of which is a faculty of understanding and reason.  Now God never gave man these faculties to be subject to those which he hath in common with the brutes.  This would be great confusion and equivalent to making man to be a servant of the beasts.  On the contrary, he has given those inferior powers to be employed in subserviency to man’s understanding; and therefore it must be a great part of man’s principal business to improve his understanding by acquiring knowledge.  If so, then it will follow, that it should be a main part of his business to improve his understanding in acquiring divine knowledge, or the knowledge of the things of divinity: for the knowledge of these things is the principal end of this faculty.  God gave man the faculty of understanding, chiefly, that he might understand divine things.

The wiser heathens were sensible that the main business of man was the improvement and exercise of his understanding.  But they knew not the object about which the understanding should chiefly be employed.  That science which many of them thought should chiefly employ the understanding was philosophy; and accordingly they made it their chief business to study it.  But we who enjoy the light of the gospel are more happy; we are not left, as to this particular, in the dark.  God hath told us about what things we should chiefly employ our understandings, having given us a book full of divine instructions, holding forth many glorious objects about which all rational creatures should chiefly employ their understandings.  These instructions are accommodated to persons of all capacities and conditions and proper to be studied, not only by men of reaming, but by persons of every character, learned and unlearned, young and old, men and women.  Therefore the acquisition of knowledge in these things should be a main business of all those who have the advantage of enjoying the Holy Scriptures.

2. The truths of divinity are of superlative excellency and are worthy that all should make a business of endeavoring to grow in the knowledge of them. They are as much above those things which are treated of in other sciences, as heaven is above the earth.  God himself, the eternal Three in one, is the chief object of this science; and next Jesus Christ, as God­man and Mediator, and the glorious work of redemption, the most glorious work that ever was wrought: then the great things of the heavenly world, the glorious and eternal inheritance purchased by Christ, and promised in the gospel; the work of the Holy Spirit of God on the hearts of men; our duty to God, and the way in which we ourselves may become like angels, and like God himself in our measure.  All these are objects of this science.

Such things as these have been the main subject of the study of the holy patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, and the most excellent men that ever existed; and they are also the subject of study to the angels in heaven (1 Pet. 1:10­12).  They are so excellent and worthy to be known, that the knowledge of them will richly pay for all the pains and labor of an earnest seeking of it.  If there were a great treasure of gold and pearls accidentally found and opened with such circumstances that all might have as much as they could gather; would not every one think it worth his while to make a business of gathering while it should last?  But that treasure of divine knowledge, which is contained in the Scriptures, and is provided for every one to gather to himself as much of it as he can is far more rich than any one of gold and pearls.  How busy are all sorts of men all over the world in getting riches!  But this knowledge is a far better kind of riches than that after which they so diligently and laboriously pursue.

3. Divine truths not only concern ministers, but are of infinite importance to all Christians.  It is not with the doctrine of divinity as it is with the doctrines of philosophy and other sciences.  These last are generally speculative points which are of little concern in human life; and it very little alters the case as to our temporal or spiritual interests whether we know them or not.  Philosophers differ about them, some being of one opinion, and others of another.  And while they are engaged in warm disputes about them, others may well leave them to dispute among themselves without troubling their heads much about them; it being of little concern to them, whether the one or the other be in the right.  But it is not thus in matters of divinity.  The doctrines of this nearly concern everyone.  They are about those things which relate to every man’s eternal salvation and happiness.  The common people cannot say, Let us leave these matters to ministers and divines; let them dispute them out among themselves as they can; they concern not us: for they are of infinite importance to every man.  Those doctrines which relate to the essence, attributes, and subsistencies of God, concern all; as it is of infinite importance to common people, as well as to ministers, to know what kind of being God is.  For he is a Being who hath made us all, “in whom we live, and move, and have our being;” who is the Lord of all; the Being to whom we are all accountable; who is the last end of our being and the only fountain of our happiness.

The doctrines also which relate to Jesus Christ and his mediation, his incarnation, his life and death, his resurrection and ascension, his sitting at the right hand of the Father, his satisfaction and intercession, infinitely concern common people as well as divines.  They stand in as much need of this Savior and of an interest in his person and offices and the things which he hath done and suffered as ministers and divines.  The same may be said of the doctrines which relate to the manner of a sinner’s justification, or the way in which he becomes interested in the mediation of Christ.  They equally concern all; for all stand in equal necessity of justification before God.  That eternal condemnation, to which we are all naturally exposed, is equally dreadful.  So with respect to those doctrines which relate to the work of the Spirit of God on the heart in the application of redemption in our effectual calling and sanctification, all are equally concerned in them.  There is no doctrine of divinity whatever which doth not, in some way or other, concern the eternal interest of every Christian.

4. We may argue in favor of the same position from the great things which God hath done in order to give us instruction in these things. As to other sciences, he hath left us to ourselves, to the light of our own reason.  But divine things being of infinitely greater importance to us, he hath not left us to an uncertain guide; but hath himself given us a revelation of the truth in these matters and hath done very great things to convey and confirm it to us; raising up many prophets in different ages, immediately inspiring them with his Holy Spirit, and confirming their doctrine with innumerable miracles or wonderful works out of the established course of nature.  Yea, he raised up a succession of prophets which was upheld for several ages.

It was very much for this end that God separated the people of Israel in so wonderful a manner from all other people and kept them separate; that to them he might commit the oracles of God and that from them they might be communicated to the world.  He hath also often sent angels to bring divine instructions to men; and hath often himself appeared in miraculous symbols or representations of his presence: and now in these last days hath sent his own Son into the world, to be his great prophet, to teach us divine truth (Heb. 1:1, etc.).  God hath given us a book of divine instructions which contains the sum of divinity.  Now, these things hath God done, not only for the instruction of ministers and men of learning; but for the instruction of all men, of all sorts, learned and unlearned, men, women, and children.  And certainly if God cloth such great things to teach us, we ought to do something to learn.

God giving instructions to men in these things is not a business by the by; but what he hath undertaken and prosecuted in a course of great and wonderful dispensations, as an affair in which his heart hath been greatly engaged; which is sometimes in Scripture signified by the expression of God’s rising early to teach us, and to send us prophets and teachers, Jer. 7:25, “ Since that day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt, unto this day, I have even sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early, and sending them.”  And in verse 13, “ I spake unto you; rising up early, and speaking.”  This is a figurative speech signifying that God hath done this as a business of great importance, in which he took great care, and had his heart much engaged; because persons are wont to rise early to prosecute such business as they are earnestly engaged in.  If God hath been so engaged in teaching, certainly we should not be negligent in learning; but should make growing in knowledge a great part of the business of our lives.

5. It may be argued from the abundance of the instructions which God hath given us, from the largeness of that book which God hath given to teach us divinity, and from the great variety that is therein contained.  Much was taught by Moses of old which we have transmitted down to us; after that, other books were from time to time added; much is taught us by David and Solomon; and many and excellent are the instructions communicated by the prophets: yet God did not think all this enough, but after this sent Christ and his apostles, by whom there is added a great and excellent treasure to that holy book, which is to be our rule in the study of this important subject.

This book was written for the use of all; all are directed to search the Scriptures, John 5:39, “Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they that testify of me;” and Isa. 34:16, “Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read.”  They that read and understand are pronounced blessed, Rev. 1:3, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that understand the words of this prophecy.”  If this be true of that particular book of the Revelation, much more is it true of the Bible in general.  Nor is it to be believed that God would have given instructions in such abundance, if he had intended that receiving instruction should be only a bye concern with us.

It is to be considered that all those abundant instructions which are contained in the Scriptures were written that they might be understood: otherwise they are not instructions.  That which is not given that the learner may understand it, is not given for the learner’s instruction; unless we endeavor to grow in the knowledge of divinity, a very great part of those instructions will to us be in vain; for we can receive benefit by no more of the Scriptures than we understand.  We have reason to bless God that he hath given us such various and plentiful instruction in his word; but we shall be hypocritical in so doing, if we after all content ourselves with but little of this instruction.

When God hath opened a very large treasure before us for the supply of our wants, and we thank him that he hath given us so much; if at the same time we be willing to remain destitute of the greatest pare of it, because we are too lazy to gather it, this will not show the sincerity of our thankfulness.  We are now under much greater advantages to acquire knowledge in divinity than the people of God were of old because since that time the canon of Scripture is much increased.  But if we be negligent of our advantages, we may be never the better for them and may remain with as little knowledge as they.

6. However diligent we apply ourselves, there is room enough to increase our knowledge in divine truth. None have this excuse to make for not diligently applying themselves to gain knowledge in divinity that they already know all; nor can they make this excuse that they have no need diligently to apply themselves in order to know all that is to be known.  None can excuse themselves for want of business in which to employ themselves.  There is room enough to employ ourselves forever in this divine science with the utmost application.  Those who have applied themselves most closely, have studied the longest, and have made the greatest attainments in this knowledge, know but little of what is to be known.  The subject is inexhaustible.  That divine Being, who is the main subject of this science, is infinite, and there is no end to the glory of his perfections.  His works at the same time are wonderful and cannot be found out to perfection; especially the work of redemption, about which the science of divinity is chiefly conversant, is full of unsearchable wonders.

The word of God, which is given for our instruction in divinity, contains enough in it to employ us to the end of our lives, and then we shall leave enough uninvestigated to employ the heads of the ablest divines to the end of the world.  The psalmist found an end to the things that are human; but he could never find an end to what is contained in the word of God: Psalm 119:96, “I have seen an end to all perfection; but thy command is exceeding broad.”  There is enough in this divine science to employ the understandings of saints and angels to all eternity.

7. It doubtless concerns every one to endeavor to excel in the knowledge of things which pertain to his profession, or principal calling. If it concerns men to excel in anything or in any wisdom or knowledge at all, it certainly concerns them to excel in the affairs of their main profession and work.  But the calling and work of every Christian is to live to God.  This is said to be his high calling, Phil. 3:14.  This is the business, and, if I may so speak, the trade of a Christian, his main work, and indeed should be his only work.  No business should be done by a Christian, but as it is some way or other a part of this.  Therefore certainly the Christian should endeavor to be well acquainted with those things which belong to this work, that he may fulfill it, and be thoroughly furnished to it.

It becomes one who is called to be a soldier to excel in the art of war.  It becomes a mariner to excel in the art of navigation.  It becomes a physician to excel in the knowledge of those things which pertain to the art of physic.  So it becomes all such as profess to be Christians, and to devote themselves to the practice of Christianity to endeavor to excel in the knowledge of divinity.

8. It may be argued hence, that God hath appointed an order of men for this end, to assist persons in gaining knowledge in these things.  He hath appointed them to be teachers, 1 Cor. 12:28, and God hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers: Eph. 4:11-12, “He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  If God hath set them to be teachers, making that their business, then he hath made it their business to impart knowledge.  But what kind of knowledge?  Not the knowledge of philosophy, or of human laws, or of mechanical arts, but of divinity.

If God have made it the business of some to be teachers, it will follow, that he hath made it the business of others to be learners; for teachers and learners are correlates, one of which was never intended to be without the other.  God hath never made it the duty of some to take pains to teach those who are not obliged to take pains to learn.  He hath not commanded ministers to spend themselves, in order to impart knowledge to those who are not obliged to apply themselves to receive it.

The name by which Christians are commonly called in the New Testament is disciples, the signification of which word is scholars or learners. All Christians are put into the school of Christ, where their business is to learn, or receive knowledge from Christ, their common master and teacher, and from those inferior teachers appointed by him to instruct in his name.

9. God hath in the Scriptures plainly revealed it to be his will that all Christians should diligently endeavor to excel in the knowledge of divine things.  It is the revealed will of God that Christians should not only have some knowledge of things of this nature, but that they should be enriched with all knowledge: 1 Cor. 1:1-5, “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God that is given you by Jesus Christ, that in everything ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge.” So the apostle earnestly prayed, that the Christian Philippians might abound more and more, not only in love, but in Christian knowledge; Phil. 1:9, “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge, and in all judgment.” So the apostle Peter advises to “give all diligence to add to faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge,” 2 Pet. 1:5, and the apostle Paul, in the next chapter to that wherein is the text, counsels the Christian Hebrews, leaving the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, to go on to perfection.  He would by no means have them always to rest only in those fundamental doctrines of repentance, and faith, and the resurrection from the dead, and the eternal judgment, in which they were instructed when baptized, at their first initiation in Christianity (See Heb. 6 etc.).

SECTION V: An exhortation that all may diligently endeavor to gain Christian knowledge

Consider yourselves as scholars or disciples put into the school of Christ and therefore be diligent to make proficiency in Christian knowledge.  Content not yourselves with this, that you have been taught your catechism in your childhood, and that you know as much of the principles of religion as is necessary to salvation or else you will be guilty of what the apostle warns against, viz. going no further than laying the foundation of repentance from dead works, etc.

You are all called to be Christians, and this is your profession.  Endeavor, therefore, to acquire knowledge in things which pertain to your profession.  Let not your teachers have cause to complain that while they spend and are spent to impart knowledge to you, you take little pains to learn.  It is a great encouragement to an instructor to have such to teach as make a business of learning, bending their minds to it.  This makes teaching a pleasure, when otherwise it will be a very heavy and burdensome task.

You all have by you a large treasure of divine knowledge in that you have the Bible in your hands; therefore be not contented in possessing but little of this treasure.  God hath spoken much to you in the Scriptures; labor to understand as much of what he saith as you can.  God hath made you all reasonable creatures; therefore let not the noble faculty of reason or understanding lie neglected.  Content not yourselves with having so much knowledge as is thrown in your way, and receive in some sense unavoidably by the frequent inculcation of divine truth in the preaching of the word, of which you are obliged to be hearers, or accidentally gain in conversation; but let it be very much your business to search for it, and that with the same diligence and labor with which men are wont to dig in mines of silver and gold.

Especially I would advise those who are young to employ themselves in this way.  Men are never too old to learn; but the time of youth is especially the time for learning; it is peculiarly proper for gaining and storing up knowledge.  Further, to stir up all, both old and young, to this duty, let me entreat you to consider,

1. If you apply yourselves diligently to this work, you will not lack [uselfulness], when you are at leisure from your common secular business. In this way, you may find something in which you may profitably employ yourselves.  You will find something else to do, besides going about from house to house, spending one hour after another in unprofitable conversation, or, at best, to no other purpose but to amuse yourselves, to fill up and wear away your time.  And it is to be feared that very much of the time spent in evening visits is spent to a much worse purpose than that which I have now mentioned.  Solomon tells us, Prov. 10:19, “That in the multitude of words, there lacketh not sin.”  And is not this verified in those who find little else to do but to go to one another’s houses and spend the time in such talk as comes next, or such as anyone’s present disposition happens to suggest?

Some diversion is doubtless lawful; but for Christians to spend so much of their time, so many long evenings, in no other conversation than that which tends to divert and amuse, if nothing worse, is a sinful way of spending time, and tends to poverty of soul at least, if not to outward poverty: Prov. 14:23, “In all labor there is profit; but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury.”  Besides, when persons for so much of their time have nothing else to do, but to sit, and talk, and chat, there is great danger of falling into foolish and sinful conversation, venting their corrupt dispositions, in talking against others, expressing their jealousies and evil surmises concerning their neighbors; not considering what Christ hath said, Matt. 12:36, “Of every idle word that men shall speak, shall they give account in the day of judgment.”

If you would comply with what you have heard from this doctrine, you would find something else to employ your time besides contention, or talking about those public affairs which tend to contention.  Young people might find something else to do besides spending their time in vain company; something that would be much more profitable to themselves, as it would really turn to some good account; something, in doing which they would both be more out of the way of temptation and be more in the way of duty and of a divine blessing.  And even aged people would have something to employ themselves in after they are become incapable of bodily labor.  Their time, as is now often the case, would not lie heavy upon their hands, as they would with both profit and pleasure be engaged in searching the Scriptures and in comparing and meditating upon the various truths which they should find there.

2. This would be a noble way of spending your time. The Holy Spirit gives the Bereans this epithet, because they diligently employed themselves in this business: Acts 17:11, “These were more noble than those of Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”  Similar to this is very much the employment of heaven.  The inhabitants of that world spend much of their time in searching into the great things of divinity and endeavoring to acquire knowledge in them, as we are told of the angels, 1 Pet. 1:12, “ Which things the angels desire to look into.”  This will be very agreeable to what you hope will be your business to all eternity, as you doubtless hope to join in the same employment with the angels of light.  Solomon says, Prov. 25:2, “It is the honor of kings to search out a matter;” and certainly, above all others, to search out divine matters.  Now, if this be the honor even of kings, is it not much more your honor?

3. This is a pleasant way of improving time. Knowledge is pleasant and delightful to intelligent creatures, and above all, the knowledge of divine things; for in them are the most excellent truths and the most beautiful and amiable objects held forth to view.  However tedious the labor necessarily attending this business may be, yet the knowledge once obtained will richly requite the pains taken to obtain it.  “When wisdom entereth the heart, knowledge is pleasant to the soul,” Prov. 2:10.

4. This knowledge is exceedingly useful in Christian practice.  Such as have much knowledge in divinity have great means and advantages for spiritual and saving knowledge; for no means of grace have a saving effect, otherwise than by the knowledge they impart.  The more you have of a rational knowledge of divine things, the more opportunity will there be, when the Spirit shall be breathed into your heart, to see the excellency of these things, and to taste the sweetness of them.  The heathens, who have no rational knowledge of the things of the gospel, have no opportunity to see the excellency of them; and therefore the more rational knowledge of these things you have, the more opportunity and advantage you have to see the divine excellency and glory of them.

Again, the more knowledge you have of divine things, the better will you know your duty; your knowledge will be of great use to direct you as to your duty in particular cases.  You will also be the better furnished against the temptations of the devil.  For the devil often takes advantage of persons’ ignorance to ply them with temptations which otherwise would have no hold of them.  By having much knowledge, you will be under greater advantages to conduct yourselves with prudence and discretion in your Christian course and so to live much more to the honor of God and religion.  Many who mean well, and are full of a good spirit, yet for want of prudence, conduct themselves so as to wound religion.  Many have a zeal of God which doth more hurt than good because it is not according to knowledge, Rom. 10:2.  The reason why many good men behave no better in many instances is not so much that they lack grace as that they lack knowledge.  Besides, an increase of knowledge would be a great help to profitable conversation.  It would supply you with matter for conversation when you come together or when you visit your neighbors: and so you would have less temptation to spend the time in such conversation as tends to your own and others’ hurt.

5. Consider the advantages you are under to grow in the knowledge of divinity. We are under far greater advantages to gain much of this knowledge now than God’s people under the Old Testament, both because the canon of Scripture is so much enlarged since that time and also because evangelical truths are now so much more plainly revealed.  So that common men are now in some respects under advantages to know more than the greatest prophets were then.  Thus that saying of Christ is in a sense applicable to us, Luke 10:23-24, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things which ye see.  For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”  We are in some respects under far greater advantages for gaining knowledge now in these latter ages of the church than Christians were formerly; especially by reason of the art of printing of which God hath given us the benefit, whereby Bibles and other books of divinity are exceedingly multiplied and persons may now be furnished with helps for the obtaining of Christian knowledge at a much easier and cheaper rate than they formerly could.

6. We know not what opposition we may meet with in the religious principles which we hold. We know that there are many adversaries to the gospel and its truths.  If therefore we embrace those truths, we must expect to be attacked by the said adversaries; and unless we be well informed concerning divine things, how shall we be able to defend ourselves?  Beside, the apostle Paul enjoins it upon us, always to be ready to give an answer to every man who asketh us a reason of the hope that is in us.  But this we cannot expect to do without considerable knowledge in divine things.

SECTION VI: Directions for the acquisition of Christian knowledge

1. Be assiduous in reading the Holy Scriptures.  This is the fountain whence all knowledge in divinity must be derived.  Therefore let not this treasure lie by you neglected.  Every man of common understanding who can read, may, if he please, become well acquainted with the Scriptures.  And what an excellent attainment would this be!

2. Content not yourselves with only a cursory reading without regarding the sense. This is an ill way of reading, to which, however, many accustom themselves all their days.  When you read, observe what you read.  Observe how things come in.  Take notice of the drift of the discourse and compare one scripture with another.  For the Scripture, by the harmony of its different; parts, casts great light upon itself.  We are expressly directed by Christ, to search the Scriptures, which evidently intends something more than a mere cursory reading.  And use means to find out the meaning of the Scripture.  When you have it explained in the preaching of the word, take notice of it; and if at any time a scripture that you did not understand be cleared up to your satisfaction, mark it, lay it up, and if possible remember it.

3. Procure, and diligently use, other books which may help you to grow in this knowledge.  There are many excellent books which might greatly forward you in this knowledge and afford you a very profitable and pleasant entertainment in your leisure hours.

4. Improve conversation with others to this end.  How much might persons promote each other’s knowledge in divine things if they would improve conversation as they might; if men that are ignorant were not ashamed to show their ignorance and were willing to learn of others; if those that have knowledge would communicate it without pride and ostentation; and if all were more disposed to enter on such conversation as would be for their mutual edification and instruction.

5. Seek not to grow in knowledge chiefly for the sake of applause and to enable you to dispute with others; but seek it for the benefit of your souls, and in order to practice. If applause be your end, you will not be so likely to be led to the knowledge of the truth, but may justly, as often is the case of those who are proud of their knowledge, be led into error to your own perdition.  This being your end, if you should obtain much rational knowledge, it would not be likely to be of any benefit to you, but would puff you up with pride: 1 Cor. 8:1, “Knowledge puffeth up.”

6. Seek God that he would direct you and bless you in this pursuit after knowledge. This is the apostle’s direction, James 1:5, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask it of God, who giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not.”  God is the fountain of all divine knowledge: Prov. 2:6, “The Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.”  Labor to be sensible of your own blindness and ignorance and your need of the help of God, lest you be led into error, instead of true knowledge: 1 Cor. 3:18, “If any man would be wise, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.”

7. Practice according to what knowledge you have. This will be the way to know more.  The psalmist warmly recommends this way of seeking knowledge in divine truth, from his own experience: Psalm. 119:100, “I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts.”  Christ also recommends the same: John 7:17, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

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Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 1 Corinthians 13:8

In the entire context, the drift of the apostle is, to show the superiority of charity over all the other graces of the Spirit.  And in this chapter, he sets forth its excellence by three things: first, by showing that it is the most essential thing, and that all other gifts are nothing without it; second, by showing that from it all good dispositions and behavior do arise; and, third, by showing that it is the most durable of all gifts, and shall remain when the church of God shall be in its most perfect state, and when the other gifts of the Spirit shall have vanished away.  And in the text may be observed two things: —

First, that one property of charity, by which its excellence is set forth, is, that it is unfailing and everlasting — “Charity never faileth.”  This naturally follows the last words of the preceding verse, that “charity endureth all things.”  There the apostle declares the durableness of charity, as it appears in its withstanding the shock of all the opposition that can be made against it in the world.  And now he proceeds further, and declares that charity not only endures to the end of time, but also throughout eternity — “Charity never faileth.”  When all temporal things shall have failed, this shall still abide, and abide forever.  We may also observe in the text,

Second, that herein charity is distinguished from all the other gifts of the Spirit, such as prophecy, and the gift of tongues, and the gift of knowledge, etc. — “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away;” but “charity never faileth.”  By the knowledge here spoken of, is not meant spiritual and divine knowledge in general; for surely there will be such knowledge hereafter in heaven, as well as now on earth, and vastly more than there is on earth, as the apostle expressly declares in the following verses.  The knowledge that Christians have of God, and Christ, and spiritual things, and in fact all their knowledge, as that word is commonly understood, shall not vanish away, but shall be gloriously increased and perfected in heaven, which is a world of light as well as love.  But by the knowledge which the apostle says shall vanish away, is meant a particular miraculous gift that was in the church of God in those days.  For the apostle, as we have seen, is here comparing charity with the miraculous gifts of the Spirit — those extraordinary gifts which were common in the church in those days, one of which was the gift of prophecy, and another the gift of tongues, or the power of speaking in languages that had never been learned.  Both these gifts are mentioned in the text; and the apostle says they shall fail and cease.  And another gift was the gift of knowledge, or the word of knowledge, as it is called in the eighth verse of the previous chapter, where it is so spoken of as to show that it was a different thing, both from that speculative knowledge which is obtained from reason and study, and also from that spiritual or divine knowledge that comes from the saving influence of the Holy Spirit in the soul.  It was a particular gift of the Spirit with which some persons were endowed, whereby they were enabled by immediate inspiration to understand mysteries, or the mysterious prophecies and types of the Scriptures, which the apostle speaks of in the second verse of this chapter, saying, “Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge,” etc.  It is this miraculous gift which the apostle here says shall vanish away, together with the other miraculous gifts of which he speaks, such as prophecy, and the gift of tongues, etc.  All these were extraordinary gifts bestowed for a season for the introduction and establishment of Christianity in the world, and when this their end was gained, they were all to fail and cease.  But charity was never to cease.

Thus the apostle plainly teaches, as the doctrine of the text:

That That Great Fruit Of The Spirit, In Which The Holy Ghost Shall, Not Only For A Season, But Everlastingly, Be Communicated To The Church Of Christ, Is Charity, Or Divine Love.

That the meaning and truth of this doctrine may be better understood, I would speak to it in the four following propositions: first, The Spirit of Christ will be everlastingly given to his Church and people, to influence and dwell in them; second, There are other fruits of the Spirit besides divine love, wherein the Spirit of God is communicated to his church; third, These other fruits are but for a season, and either have already, or will at some time, cease; fourth, That charity, or divine love, is that great and unfailing fruit of the Spirit, in which his everlasting influence and indwelling in the saints, or in his church, shall appear.

  1. A. The Spirit of Christ is given to his church and people everlastingly, to influence and dwell in them.

The Holy Spirit is the great purchase, or purchased gift, of Christ.  The chief and sum of all the good things in this life and in the life to come, that are purchased for the church, is the Holy Spirit.  And as he is the great purchase, so he is the great promise, or the great thing promised by God and Christ to the church; as said the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:32, 33) — “This Jesus… being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.”  And this great purchase and promise of Christ is forever to be given to his church.  He has promised that his church shall continue, and expressly declared that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And that it may be preserved, he has given his Holy Spirit to every true member of it, and promised the continuance of that Spirit forever.  His own language is (John 14:16, 17), “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.”

Man, in his first estate in Eden, had the Holy Spirit; but he lost it by his disobedience.  But a way has been provided by which it may be restored, and now it is given a second time, never more to depart from the saints.  The Spirit of God is so given to his own people as to become truly theirs.  It was, indeed, given to our first parents in their state of innocence, and dwelt with them, but not in the same sense in which it is given to, and dwells in, believers in Christ.  They had no proper right or sure title to the Spirit, and it was not finally and forever given to them, as it is to believers in Christ; for if it had been, they never would have lost it.  But the Spirit of Christ is not only communicated to those that are converted, but he is made over to them by a sure covenant, so that he is become their own.  Christ is become theirs, and therefore his fullness is theirs, and therefore his Spirit is theirs – their purchased, and promised, and sure possession.  But,

  1. B. There are other fruits of the Spirit besides that which summarily consists in charity, or divine love, wherein the Spirit of God is communicated to his church. For example,

1.  The Spirit of God has been communicated to his church in extraordinary gifts, such as the gift of miracles, the gift of inspiration, etc. — The Spirit of God seems to have been communicated to the church in such gifts, formerly to the prophets under the Old Testament, and to the apostles, and evangelists, and prophets, and to the generality of the early ministers of the gospel, and also to multitudes of common Christians, under the New Testament.  To them were given such gifts as the gift of prophecy, and the gift of tongues, and the gift called the gift of knowledge, and others mentioned in the context, and in the foregoing chapter.  And besides these,

2.  There are the common and ordinary gifts of the Spirit of God. — These, in all ages, have more or less been bestowed on many natural, unconverted men, in common convictions of sin, and common illuminations, and common religious affections, which, though they have nothing in them of the nature of divine love, or of true and saving grace, are yet the fruits of the Spirit, in the sense that they are the effect of his influences on the hearts of men.  And as to faith and hope, if there be nothing of divine love with them, there can be no more of the Spirit of God in them than is common to natural unregenerate men.  This is clearly implied by the apostle, when he says in this chapter, “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”  All saving faith and hope have love in them as ingredients, and as their essence; and if this ingredient be taken out, there is nothing left but the body without the spirit.  It is nothing saving; but at best, only a common fruit of the Spirit.  But,

  1. C. All these other fruits of the Spirit are but for a season, and either have already ceased, or at some time will cease.

As to the miraculous gifts of prophecy and tongues, etc., they are but of a temporary use, and cannot be continued in heaven.  They were given only as an extraordinary means of grace that God was once pleased to grant to his church in the world.  But when the saints that once enjoyed the use of these means went to heaven, such means of grace ceased, for they were no longer needful.  There is no occasion for any means of grace in heaven, whether ordinary, such as the stated and common means of God’s house, or extraordinary, such as the gifts of tongues, and of knowledge, and of prophecy.  I say, there is no occasion for any of these means of grace to be continued in heaven, because there the end of all means of grace is already fully obtained in the perfect sanctification and happiness of God’s people.  The apostle, speaking in the fourth chapter of Ephesians, of the various means of grace, says that they are given “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man.”  But when this has come to pass, and the saints are perfected, and are already come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, then there will be no further occasion for any of these means, whether ordinary or extraordinary.  It is in this respect very much as it is with the fruits of the field, which stand in need of tillage, and rain, and sunshine, till they are ripe and gathered in, and then they need them no more.

And as these miraculous gifts of the Spirit were but temporary with regard to those particular persons that enjoyed them, so they are but for a season with regard to the church of God taken as a collective body.  These gifts are not fruits of the Spirit that were given to be continued to the church throughout all ages.

These communications of the Spirit were given to make way for him who hath the Spirit without measure, the great prophet of God, by whom the Spirit is communicated to all other prophets.  And in the days of his flesh, his disciples had a measure of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, being enabled thus to teach and to work miracles.  But after the resurrection and ascension, was the most full and remarkable effusion of the Spirit in his miraculous gifts that ever took place, beginning with the day of Pentecost, after Christ had risen and ascended to heaven.  And in consequence of this, not only here and there an extraordinary person was endowed with these extraordinary gifts, but they were common in the church, and so continued during the lifetime of the apostles, or till the death of the last of them, even the apostle John, which took place about a hundred years from the birth of Christ; so that the first hundred years of the Christian era, or the first century, was the era of miracles.

But soon after that, the canon of Scripture being completed when the apostle John had written the book of Revelation, which he wrote not long before his death, these miraculous gifts were no longer continued in the church.  For there was now completed an established written revelation of the mind and will of God, wherein God had fully recorded a standing and all-sufficient rule for his church in all ages.  And the Jewish church and nation being overthrown, and the Christian church and the last dispensation of the church of God being established, the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were no longer needed, and therefore they ceased; for though they had been continued in the church for so many ages, yet then they failed, and God caused them to fail because there was no further occasion for them.  And so was fulfilled the saying of the text, “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”  And now there seems to be an end to all such fruits of the Spirit as these, and we have no reason to expect them any more.  And as to those fruits of the Spirit that are common, such as the conviction, illumination, belief, etc., which are common both to the godly and ungodly, these are given in all ages of the church in the world; and yet with respect to the persons that have these common gifts, they will cease when they come to die; and with respect to the church of God considered collectively, they will cease, and there will be no more of them after the day of judgment.  I pass, then, to show, as proposed,

  1. D. That charity, or divine love, is that great fruit of the Spirit, that never fails, and in which his continued and everlasting influence and indwelling in his church shall appear and be manifest.

We have seen that the Spirit of Christ is forever given to the church of Christ, and given that it may dwell in his saints forever, in influences that shall never fail.  And therefore however many fruits of the Spirit may be but temporary, and have their limits where they fail, yet it must be that there is some way of the Spirit’s influence, and some fruit of that influence, which is unfailing and eternal.  And charity, or divine love, is that fruit, in communicating, and nourishing, and exercising which, his unfailing and eternal influences appear.  This is a fruit of the Spirit that never fails or ceases in the church of Christ, whether we consider it with respect to its particular members, or regard it as a collective body.  And,

1.  We may consider the church of Christ with respect to the particular members of which it consists. — And here it will appear that charity, or Christian love, is an unfailing fruit of the Spirit.  Every one of the true members of Christ’s invisible church is possessed of this fruit of the Spirit in the heart.  Divine or Christian love is implanted, and dwells, and reigns there, as an everlasting fruit of the Spirit, and one that never fails.  It never fails in this world, but remains through all trials and oppositions, for the apostle tells us (Rom. 8:38, 39) that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  And it ceases not when the saints come to die.  When the apostles and others of their day died and went to heaven, they left all their miraculous gifts behind them with their bodies.  But they did not leave the love that was in their hearts behind them, but carried that with them to heaven, where it was gloriously perfected.  Though when wicked men die, who have had the common influences of the Spirit, their gifts shall eternally cease, yet death never overthrows Christian love, that great fruit of the Spirit, in any that have it.  They that have it may and shall leave behind them many other fruits of the Spirit which they had in common with wicked men.  And though they shall leave all that was common in their faith, and hope, and all that did not pertain to this divine and holy love, yet this love they shall not leave behind, but it shall go with them to eternity, and shall be perfected there, and shall live and reign with perfect and glorious dominion in their souls forever and ever.  And so, again,

2.  We may consider the church of Christ collectively, or as a body. — And here, again, it will appear that charity, or Christian love, shall never fail.  Though other fruits of the Spirit fail in it, this shall never fail.  Of old, when there were interruptions of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit in the church, and when there were seasons in which no prophet or inspired person appeared that was possessed of such gifts, still there never was any total interruption of this excellent fruit or influence of the Spirit.  Miraculous gifts were intermitted through the long time extending from Malachi to near the birth of Christ; but in all this time, the influence of the Spirit, in keeping up divine love in the church, was never suspended.  As God always had a church of saints in the world, from the first creation of the church after the fall, so this influence and fruit of his Spirit never failed in it.  And when, after the completion of the canon of the Scriptures, the miraculous gifts of the Spirit seemed finally to have ceased and failed in the church, this influence of the Spirit in causing divine love in the hearts of his saints did not cease, but has been kept up through all ages from that time to this, and so will be to the end of the world.  And at the end of the world, when the church of Christ shall be settled in its last, and most complete, and its eternal state, and all common gifts, such as convictions and illuminations, and all miraculous gifts, shall be eternally at an end, yet then divine love shall not fail, but shall be brought to its most glorious perfection in every individual member of the ransomed church above.  Then, in every heart, that love which now seems as but a spark, shall be kindled to a bright and glowing flame, and every ransomed soul shall be as it were in a blaze of divine and holy love, and shall remain and grow in this glorious perfection and blessedness through all eternity!

I shall give but a single reason for the truth of the doctrine which has thus been presented.  And the great reason why it is so, that other fruits of the Spirit fail, and the great fruit of love remains, is, that love is the great end of all the other fruits and gifts of the Spirit. The principle and the exercises of divine love in the heart, and the fruits of it in the conduct, and the happiness that consists in and flows from it – these things are the great end of all the fruits of the Spirit that fail.  Charity or divine love is the end, to which all the inspiration, and all the miraculous gifts that ever were in the world, are but the means.  They were only means of grace, but charity or divine love is grace itself; and not only so, but the sum of all grace.  Revelation and miracles were never given for any other end but only to promote holiness, and build up the kingdom of Christ in men’s hearts; but Christian love is the sum of all holiness, and its growth is but the growth of Christ’s kingdom in the soul.  The extraordinary fruits of the Spirit were given for revealing and confirming the word and will of God, that men by believing might be conformed to that will: and they were valuable and good only so far as they tended to this end.  And hence when that end was obtained, and when the canon of the Scriptures, the great and powerful means of grace, was completed, and the ordinances of the New Testament and of the last dispensation were fully established, the extraordinary gifts ceased, and came to an end, as being no further useful.  Miraculous gifts being a means to a further end, they are good no further than as they tend to that end.  But divine love is that end itself, and therefore remains when the means to it cease. The end is not only a good, but the highest kind of good in itself, and therefore remains forever.  So it is with respect to the common gifts of the Spirit that are given in all ages, such as illumination, conviction, etc.  They have no good in themselves, and are no further good than as they tend to promote that grace and holiness which radically and summarily consist in divine love; and therefore when this end is once fully answered, there shall be an end forever of these common gifts, while divine love, which is the end of them all, shall eternally remain.

From Charity and Its Fruits, Lecture XV, “The Holy Spirit Forever To Be Communicated To The Saints, In The Grace Of Charity, Or Divine Love.”

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And confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things, declare plainly that they seek a country. Hebrews 11:13, 14

Subject: This life ought so to be spent by us as to be only a journey towards heaven.

The apostle is here setting forth the excellencies of the grace of faith, by the glorious effects and happy issue of it in the saints of the Old Testament. He had spoken in the preceding part of the chapter particularly, of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob. Having enumerated those instances, he takes notice that “these all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers,” etc. — In these words the apostle seems to have a more particular respect to Abraham and Sarah, and their kindred, who came with them from Haran, and from Ur of the Chaldees, as appears by the 15th verse, where the apostle says, “and truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.”

Two things may be observed here:

1. What these saints confessed of themselves, viz. that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. — Thus we have a particular account concerning Abraham, “I am a stranger and a sojourner with you.” (Gen. 23:4) And it seems to have been the general sense of the patriarchs, by what Jacob says to Pharaoh. “And Jacob said to Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years; few and evil have the days of years of my life been, and have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.” (Gen. 47:9) “I am a stranger and a sojourner with thee, as all my fathers were.” (Psa. 39:12)

2. The inference that the apostle draws from hence, viz. that they sought another country as their home. “For they that say such things, declare plainly that they seek a country.” In confessing that they were strangers, they plainly declared that this is not their country; that this is not the place where they are at home. And in confessing themselves to be pilgrims, they declared plainly that this is not their settled abode, but that they have respect to some other country, which they seek, and to which they are traveling.


That this life ought to be so spent by us, as to be only a journey or pilgrimage towards heaven.

Here I would observe,

1. That we ought not to rest in the world and its enjoyments, but should desire heaven. We should “seek first the kingdom of God.” (Mat. 6:33) We ought above all things to desire a heavenly happiness; to be with God and dwell with Jesus Christ. Though surrounded with outward enjoyments, and settled in families with desirable friends and relations; though we have companions whose society is delightful, and children in whom we see many promising qualifications; though we live by good neighbors, and are generally beloved where known; we ought not to take our rest in these things as our portion. We should be so far from resting in them, that we should desire to leave them all, in God’s due time. We ought to possess, enjoy and use them, with no other view but readily to quit them, whenever we are called to it, and to change them willingly and cheerfully for heaven.

A traveler is not wont to rest in what he meets with, however comfortable and pleasing, on the road. If he passes through pleasant places, flowery meadows, or shady groves, he does not take up his content in these things, but only takes a transient view of them as he goes along. He is not enticed by fine appearances to put off the thought of proceeding. No, but his journey’s end is in his mind. If he meets with comfortable accommodations at an inn, he entertains no thoughts of settling there. He considers that these things are not his own, that he is but a stranger, and when he has refreshed himself, or tarried for a night, he is for going forward. And it is pleasant to him to think that so much of the way is gone.

So should we desire heaven more than the comforts and enjoyments of this life. The apostle mentions it as an encouraging, comfortable consideration to Christians, that they draw nearer their happiness. “Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” — Our hearts ought to be loose to these things, as that of a man on a journey, that we may as cheerfully part with them whenever God calls. “But this I say, brethren, the time is short, it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it; for the fashion of this world passeth away.” (1 Cor. 7:29-31) These things are only lent to us for a little while, to serve a present turn, but we should set our hearts on heaven, as our inheritance forever.

2. We ought to seek heaven, by traveling in the way that lead thither. This is a way of holiness. We should choose and desire to travel thither in this way and in no other, and part with all those carnal appetites which, as weights, will tend to hinder us. “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race set before us.” (Heb 12:1) However pleasant the gratification of any appetite may be, we must lay it aside if it be a hindrance, or a stumbling block, in the way to heaven.

We should travel on in the way of obedience to all God’s commands, even the difficult as well as the easy, denying all our sinful inclinations and interests. The way to heaven is ascending. We must be content to travel up hill, though it be hard and tiresome, and contrary to the natural bias of our flesh. We should follow Christ: the path he traveled, was the right way to heaven. We should take up our cross and follow him, in meekness and lowliness of heart, obedience and charity, diligence to do good, and patience under afflictions. The way to heaven is a heavenly life, an imitation of those who are in heaven in their holy enjoyments, loving, adoring, serving, and praising God and the Lamb. Even if we could go to heaven with the gratification of our lusts, we should prefer a way of holiness and conformity to the spiritual self-denying rules of the gospel.

3. We should travel on in this way in a laborious manner. — Long journeys are attended with toil and fatigue, especially if through a wilderness. Persons in such a case expect no other than to suffer hardships and weariness. — So we should travel in this way of holiness, improving our time and strength, to surmount the difficulties and obstacles that are in the way. The land we have to travel through, is a wilderness. There are many mountains, rocks, and rough places that we must go over, and therefore there is a necessity that we should lay out our strength.

4. Our whole lives ought to be spent in traveling this road. — We ought to begin early. This should be the first concern, when persons become capable of acting. When they first set out in the world, they should set out on this journey. — And we ought to travel on with assiduity. It ought to be the work of every day. We should often think of our journey’s end; and make it our daily work to travel on in the way that leads to it. — He who is on a journey is often thinking of the destined place, and it is his daily care and business to get along and to improve his time to get towards his journey’s end. Thus should heaven be continually in our thoughts, and the immediate entrance or passage to it, viz. death, should be present with us. — We ought to persevere in this way as long as we live.

“Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Heb. 12:1) Though the road be difficult and toilsome, we must hold out with patience, and be content to endure hardships. Though the journey be long, yet we must not stop short, but hold on till we arrive at the place we seek. Nor should we be discouraged with the length and difficulties of the way, as the children of Israel were, and be for turning back again. All our thought and design should be to press forward till we arrive.

5. We ought to be continually growing in holiness, and in that respect coming nearer and nearer to heaven. — We should be endeavoring to come nearer to heaven, in being more heavenly, becoming more and more like the inhabitants of heaven in respect of holiness and conformity to God, the knowledge of God and Christ, in clear views of the glory of God, the beauty of Christ, and the excellency of divine things, as we come nearer to the beatific vision. — We should labor to be continually growing in divine love — that this may be an increasing flame in our hearts, till they ascend wholly in this flame — in obedience and a heavenly conversation, that we may do the will of God on earth as the angels do in heaven, in comfort and spiritual joy, [and] in sensible communion with God and Jesus Christ. Our path should be as “the shining light, that shines more and more to the perfect day.” (Pro. 4:18) We ought to be hungering and thirsting after righteousness: after an increase in righteousness. “As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the work, that ye may grow thereby.” (1 Pet. 2:2) The perfection of heaven should be our mark. “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things that are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13, 14)

6. All other concerns of life ought to be entirely subordinate to this. — When a man is on a journey, all the steps he takes are subordinated to the aim of getting to his journey’s end. And if he carries money or provisions with him, it is to supply him in his journey. So we ought wholly to subordinate all our other business, and all our temporal enjoyments, to this affair of traveling to heaven. When anything we have becomes a clog and hindrance to us, we should quit it immediately. The use of our worldly enjoyments and possessions, should be with such a view, and in such a manner, as to further us in our way heavenward. Thus we should eat, and drink, and clothe ourselves, and improve the conversation and enjoyment of friends. And whatever business we are setting about, whatever design we are engaging in, we should inquire with ourselves, whether this business or undertaking will forward us in our way to heaven? And if not, we should quit our design.


Why the Christian’s life is a journey, or pilgrimage?

1. This world is not our abiding place. Our continuance here is but very short. Man’s days on the earth, are as a shadow. It was never designed by God that this world should be our home. Neither did God give us these temporal accommodations for that end. If God has given us ample estates, and children, or other pleasant friends, it is with no such design, that we should be furnished here, as for a settled abode, but with a design that we should use them for the present, and then leave them in a very little time. When we are called to any secular business, or charged with the care of a family, [and] if we improve our lives to any other purpose than as a journey toward heaven, all our labor will be lost. If we spend our lives in the pursuit of a temporal happiness, as riches or sensual pleasures, credit and esteem from men, delight in our children and the prospect of seeing them well brought up and well settled, etc. — all these things will be of little significancy to us. Death will blow up all our hopes, and will put an end to these enjoyments. “The places that have known us, will know us no more” and “the eye that has seen us, shall see us no more.” We must be taken away forever from all these things, and it is uncertain when: it may be soon after we are put into the possession of them. And then, where will be all our worldly employments and enjoyments, when we are laid in the silent grave! “So man lieth down, and riseth not again, till the heavens be no more.” (Job 14:12)

2. The future world was designed to be our settled and everlasting abode. There it was intended that we should be fixed, and there alone is a lasting habitation and a lasting inheritance. The present state is short and transitory, but our state in the other world is everlasting. And as we are there at first, so we must be without change. Our state in the future world, therefore, being eternal, is of so much greater importance than our state here, that all our concerns in this world should be wholly subordinated to it.

3. Heaven is that place alone where our highest end and highest good is to be obtained. God hath made us for himself. “Of him, and through him, and to him are all things.” Therefore, then do we attain to our highest end, when we are brought to God: but that is by being brought to heaven, for that is God’s throne, the place of his special presence. There is but a very imperfect union with God to be had in this world, a very imperfect knowledge of him in the midst of much darkness: a very imperfect conformity to God, mingled with abundance of estrangement. Here we can serve and glorify God, but in a very imperfect manner: our service being mingled with sin, which dishonors God. — But when we get to heaven (if ever that be), we shall be brought to a perfect union with God and have more clear views of him. There we shall be fully conformed to God, without any remaining sin: for “we shall see him as he is.” There we shall serve God perfectly and glorify him in an exalted manner, even to the utmost of the powers and capacity of our nature. Then we shall perfectly give up ourselves to God: our hearts will be pure and holy offerings, presented in a flame of divine love.

God is the highest good of the reasonable creature, and the enjoyment of him is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. — To go to heaven fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows. But the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean. — Therefore it becomes us to spend this life only as a journey towards heaven, as it becomes us to make the seeking of our highest end and proper good, the whole work of our lives, to which we should subordinate all other concerns of life. Why should we labor for, or set our hearts on anything else, but that which is our proper end, and true happiness?

4. Our present state, and all that belongs to it, is designed by him that made all things, to be wholly in order to another world. — This world was made for a place of preparation for another. Man’s mortal life was given him, that he might be prepared for his fixed state. And all that God has here given us, is given to this purpose. The sun shines, the rain falls upon us, and the earth yields her increase to us for this end. Civil, ecclesiastical, and family affairs, and all our personal concerns, are designed and ordered in subordination to a future world, by the maker and disposer of all things. To this therefore they ought to be subordinated by us.


Instruction afforded by the consideration, that life is a journey or pilgrimage, towards heaven.

1. This doctrine may teach us moderation in our mourning for the loss of such dear friends, who while they lived, improved their lives to right purposes. If they lived a holy life, then their lives were a journey towards heaven. And why should we be immoderate in mourning, when they are got to their journey’s end? Death, though it appears to us with a frightful aspect, is to them a great blessing. Their end is happy, and better than their beginning. “The day of their death, is better than the day of their birth.” (Ecc. 7:1) While they lived, they desired heaven, and chose it above this world or any of its enjoyments. For this they earnestly longed, and why should we grieve that they have obtained it? — Now they have got to their Father’s house. They find more comfort a thousand times now [that] they are gone home, than they did in their journey. In this world they underwent much labor and toil: it was a wilderness they passed through. There were many difficulties in the way: mountains and rough places. It was laborious and fatiguing to travel the road, and they had many wearisome days and nights: but now they have got to their everlasting rest. “And I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.” (Rev. 14:13) They look back upon the difficulties, and sorrows, and dangers of life, rejoicing that they have surmounted them all.

We are ready to look upon death as their calamity, and to mourn that those who were so dear to us should be in the dark grave: that they are there transformed to corruption and worms, taken away from their dear children and enjoyments, etc. as though they were in awful circumstances. But this is owing to our infirmity. They are in a happy condition, inconceivably blessed. They do not mourn, but rejoice with exceeding joy: their mouths are filled with joyful songs, and they drink at rivers of pleasure. They find no mixture of grief that they have changed their earthly enjoyments, and the company of mortals, for heaven. Their life here, though in the best circumstances, was attended with much that was adverse and afflictive, but now there is an end to all adversity. “They shall hunger no more nor thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:16, 17)

It is true, we shall see them no more in this world, yet we ought to consider that we are traveling towards the same place; and why should we break our hearts that they have got there before us? We are following after them, and hope as soon as we get to our journey’s end, to be with them again, in better circumstances. A degree of mourning for near relations when departed is not inconsistent with Christianity, but very agreeable to it. For as long as we are flesh and blood, we have animal propensities and affections. But we have just reason that our mourning should be mingled with joy. “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others that have no hope:” (1 Thes. 4:13) i.e. that they should not sorrow as the heathen, who had no knowledge of a future happiness. This appears by the following verse; “for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus, will God bring with him.”

2. If our lives ought to be only a journey towards heaven, how ill do they improve their lives, that spend them in traveling towards hell? — Some men spend their whole lives, from their infancy to their dying day, in going down the broad way to destruction. They not only draw nearer to hell as to time, but they every day grow more ripe for destruction. They are more assimilated to the inhabitants of the internal world. While others press forward in the straight and narrow way to life and laboriously travel up the hill toward Zion, against the inclinations and tendency of the flesh, these run with a swift career down to eternal death. This is the employment of every day, with all wicked men, and the whole day is spent in it. As soon as ever they awake in the morning, they set out anew in the way to hell and spend every waking moment in it. They begin in early days. “The wicked are estranged from the womb, they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” (Psa. 58:3) They hold on it with perseverance. Many of them who live to be old, are never weary in it. Though they live to be an hundred years old, they will not cease traveling in the way to hell till they arrive there. And all the concerns of life are subordinated to this employment. A wicked man is a servant of sin, [and] his powers and faculties are employed in the service of sin and in fitness for hell. And all his possessions are so used by him as to be subservient to the same purpose. Men spend their time in treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath Thus do all unclean persons, who live in lascivious practices in secret: all malicious persons, all profane persons that neglect the duties of religion. Thus do all unjust persons, and those who are fraudulent and oppressive in their dealings. Thus do all backbiters and revilers, [and] all covetous persons that set their hearts chiefly on the riches of this world. Thus do tavern-haunters, and frequenters of evil company, and many other kinds that might be mentioned. Thus the bulk of mankind are hastening onward in the broad way to destruction, which is, as it were, filled up with the multitude that are going in it with one accord. And they are every day going to hell out of this broad way by thousands. Multitudes are continually flowing down into the great lake of fire and brimstone, as some mighty river constantly disembogues its water into the ocean.

3. Hence when persons are converted they do but begin their work and set out in the way they have to go. — They never till then do anything at that work in which their whole lives ought to be spent. Persons before conversion never take a step that way. Then does a man first set out on his journey, when he is brought home to Christ, and so far is he from having done his work, that his care and labor in his Christian work and business, is then but begun, in which he must spend the remaining part of his life.

Those persons do ill, who when they are converted and have obtained a hope of their being in a good condition, do not strive as earnestly as they did before, while they were under awakenings. They ought, henceforward, as long as they live, to be as earnest and laborious, as watchful and careful as ever: yea, they should increase more and more. It is no just excuse that now they have obtained conversion. Should not we be as diligent as that we ourselves may be that we may serve and glorify God, happy? And if we have obtained grace, yet we ought to strive as much that we may obtain the other degrees that are before, as we did to obtain that small degree that is behind. The apostle tells us that he forgot what was behind and reached forth towards what was before. (Phil. 3:13)

Yea, those who are converted have now a further reason to strive for grace. For they have seen something of its excellency. A man who has once tasted the blessings of Canaan, has more reason to press towards it than he had before. And they who are converted, should strive to “make their calling and election sure.” All those who are converted are not sure of it, and those who are sure, do not know that they shall be always so, and still, seeking and serving God with the utmost diligence, is the way to have assurance and to have it maintained.


An exhortation so to spend the present life, that it may only be a journey towards heaven

Labor to obtain such a disposition of mind that you may choose heaven for your inheritance and home, and may earnestly long for it and be willing to change this world, and all its enjoyments, for heaven. Labor to have your heart taken up so much about heaven, and heavenly enjoyments, as that you may rejoice when God calls you to leave your best earthly friends and comforts for heaven, there to enjoy God and Christ.

Be persuaded to travel in the way that leads to heaven: viz. in holiness, self-denial, mortification, obedience to all the commands of God, following Christ’s example [and] in a way of a heavenly life, or imitation of the saints and angels in heaven. Let it be your daily work, from morning till night, and hold out in it to the end. Let nothing stop or discourage you, or turn you aside from this road. And let all other concerns be subordinated to this. Consider the reasons that have been mentioned why you should thus spend your life: that this world is not your abiding place, that the future world is to be your everlasting abode, and that the enjoyments and concerns of this world are given entirely in order to another. And consider further for motive.

1. How worthy is heaven that your life should be wholly spent as a journey towards it. — To what better purpose can you spend your life, whether you respect your duty or your interest? What better end can you propose to your journey, than to obtain heaven? You are placed in this world with a choice given you, that you may travel which way you please, and one way leads to heaven. Now, can you direct your course better than this way? All men have some aim or other in living. Some mainly seek worldly things. They spend their days in such pursuits. But is not heaven, where is fullness of joy forever, much more worthy to be sought by you? How can you better employ your strength, use your means, and spend your days, than in traveling the road that leads to the everlasting enjoyment of God: to his glorious presence, to the new Jerusalem, to the heavenly mount Zion, where all your desires will be filled and no danger of ever losing your happiness? — No man is at home in this world, whether he choose heaven or not: here he is but a transient person. Where can you choose your home better than in heaven?

2. This is the way to have death comfortable to us. — To spend our lives so as to be only a journeying towards heaven, is the way to be free from bondage and to have the prospect and forethought of death comfortable. Does the traveler think of his journey’s end with fear and terror? Is terrible to him to think that he has almost got to his journey’s end? Were the children of Israel sorry after forty years’ travel in the wilderness, when they had almost got to Canaan? This is the way to be able to part with the world without grief. Does it grieve the traveler when he has got home, to quit his staff and load of provisions that he had to sustain him by the way?

3. No more of your life will be pleasant to think of when you come to die, than has been spent after this manner. — If you have spent none of your life this way, your whole life will be terrible to you to think of, unless you die under some great delusion. You will see then, that all of your life that has been spent otherwise, is lost. You will then see the vanity of all other aims that you may have proposed to yourself. The thought of what you here possessed and enjoyed will not be pleasant to you, unless you can think also that you have subordinated them to this purpose.

4. Consider that those who are willing thus to spend their lives as a journey towards heaven may have heaven. — Heaven, however high and glorious, is attainable to such poor worthless creatures as we are. We may attain that glorious region which is the habitation of angels: yea, the dwelling-place of the Son of God, and where is the glorious presence of the great Jehovah. And we may have it freely, without money and without price. If we are but willing to travel the road that leads to it and bend our course that way as long as we live, we may and shall have heaven for our eternal resting place.

5. Let it be considered that if our lives be not a journey towards heaven, they will be a journey to hell. All mankind, after they have been here a short while, go to either of the two great receptacles of all that depart out of this world: the one in heaven; whither the bulk of mankind throng. And one or the other of these must be the issue of our course in this world.

I shall conclude by giving a few directions:

1. Labor to get a sense of the vanity of this world, on account of the little satisfaction that is to be enjoyed here, its short continuance, and unserviceableness when we most stand in need of help, viz. on a death-bed. — All men, that live any considerable time in the world, might see enough to convince them of its vanity, if they would but consider. — Be persuaded therefore to exercise consideration when you see and hear, from time to time, of the death of others. Labor to turn your thoughts this way. See the vanity of the world in such a glass.

2. Labor to be much acquainted with heaven. — If you are not acquainted with it, you will not be likely to spend your life as a journey thither. You will not be sensible of its worth, nor will you long for it. Unless you are much conversant in your mind with a better good, it will be exceeding difficult to you to have your hearts loose from these things, to use them only in subordination to something else, and be ready to part with them for the sake of that better good. — Labor therefore to obtain a realizing sense of a heavenly world, to get a firm belief of its reality, and to be very much conversant with it in your thoughts.

3. Seek heaven only by Jesus Christ. — Christ tells us that he is the way, and the truth, and the life. (John 14:6) He tells us that he is the door of the sheep. “I am the door, by me if any man enter in he shall be saved; and go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9) If we therefore would improve our lives as a journey towards heaven, we must seek it by him and not by our own righteousness, as expecting to obtain it only for his sake: looking to him [and] having our dependence on him, who has procured it for us by his merit. And expect [that] strength to walk in holiness, the way that leads to heaven, only from him.

4. Let Christians help one another in going this journey. — There are many ways whereby Christians might greatly forward one another in their way to heaven, as by religious conference, etc. Therefore let them be exhorted to go this journey as it were in company: conversing together, and assisting one another. Company is very desirable in a journey, but in none so much as this. — Let them go united and not fall out by the way, which would be to hinder one another, but use all means they can to help each other up the hill. — This would ensure a more successful traveling and a more joyful meeting at their Father’s house in glory.

Dated September, 1733; 1753. Preached at Boston and at New Haven; preached to Stockbridge Indians.

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