FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD Or, Twenty-Eight Sermons on the First Epistle of John, Chapters I. and II.
Sermon XIII. "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie,"
1 John 1:6.—"If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie," &c.
That which is the sum of religion, sincerity, and a correspondency between profession and practice, is confirmed by reason, and much strengthened by nature itself, so that religion, reason, and nature, conspire in one, to hold out the beauty and comeliness of sincerity, and to put a note and character of infamy and deformity upon all hypocrisy and deceit, especially in the matters of religion. There is nothing so contrary to religion, as a false appearance, a show of that which is not for religion is a most entire and equable thing, like itself, harmonious in all parts of it, the same within and without, in expression and action, all correspondent together. Now, to mar this harmony, and to make it up of unequal, dissimilar parts, and to make one part give the lie to the other, the course of a man's life, in ignorance, negligence, and sin, proclaiming contrary to the profession of Christianity, this is to make religion a monstrous thing, to deny the nature of it, and in our imaginations to contrive an impossible union of inconsistent things. It is a creature made up of contradictions, which can have no subsistence in the truth, but only in the fancies of deluded souls, one professing Christianity, and so by consequence fellowship with the original light, the Sun of righteousness and yet darkness of ignorance possessing the mind, and the heart carried away in the ways of the lusts of ignorance, and walking in that darkness. This is a monster in Christianity, one so far misshapen, that the very outward form and visage of it doth not remain. But I told you, reason confirms this. For what more suitable to the very natural frame and constitution of a reasonable being, than that the outward man should be the image and expression of the inward, and that they should answer one another as face answers face in the water, that the tongue should be the interpreter of the mind, and the actions of a man's life the interpreter of his tongue? Here is that beautiful proportion, and that pleasing harmony, when all these, though different in their own nature, yet conjoin together, and make up one sweet concord. Now truly, if we take upon us the profession of Christianity, and yet our ordinary and habitual speeches are carnal and earthly, never salted with grace, often poisoned with blasphemies, oaths, and cursings, and often defiled with filthy speeches, and often intermingled with reproaches of others, if our conversation be conformed to the course of the world, according to those lusts that hurry away multitudes of mankind to perdition, and look to the heart within, and behold never any labour about the purifying of it from corruption, never any mortification of evil affections, and little or no knowledge of the truth, not so much as may let Christ into the soul: this, I say, is as unreasonable and absurd, as it is irreligious: It wholly perverts that beautiful order, makes an irreconcilable discord between all the parts in man, that neither mind, nor mouth, nor hands, answer one another, nor all of them, nor any of them answer that holy calling a man pretends to. Such a one pretends ordinarily the goodness of his heart towards God, but now the tongue cannot interpret the heart. It is exauctorated out of that natural office, for the ordinary current is contrary to that pretended goodness of the heart, for "a good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, sendeth forth good things," but all these are either evil, or never seasoned with that spiritual goodness. Then the ways and actions of a man's life which ought to interpret and expound his professions, these are rendered altogether incapable of that. They give no confirmation to them, but rather a manifest contradiction, for what are your multiplied oaths, drunkennesses, fornications, railings, contentions, lyings, sabbath-profanations, your woful neglect of prayer in secret, and in your families, your continuing in these evils that ever you walked into? What are they, I say, but a manifest violation of both religion and reason, and a clear confirmation that ye are liars, and the truth is not in you?
There is something even in nature to declare the absurdity and unnaturalness of this general discordance between men's profession and practice. Look upon all the creatures, and do they not all with one voice proclaim sincerity? Hath not every beast and every bird its own outward shape, outward gesture, and voice, and external workings, which declare the inward nature of it? And is not this a staple, known rule in nature, that every thing is known by the effects of it, a lion by his roaring, a lark by its singing, a horse by his neighing, and an ox by his lowing? &c. All these speak forth nothing but sincerity, insomuch, that if these marks and signs should be confounded, and beasts use them indifferently, all human knowledge should suddenly fall to nothing, this would put such a confusion both in the world and mankind. O how doth this condemn those who pretend to this high calling of Christianity! And yet there is no way left to discern them by, nothing appearing in them, and ordinarily proceeding from them, which may give a signification of the inward truth of their fellowship with God, but rather that which gives a demonstration of the vanity of the pretension. There were no consent in nature, if that were not, neither is there any harmonious agreement in religion, where this proportion and correspondence is not kept in a man's life. The very heathens did not account them philosophers, but those that expressed their doctrines in works, as well as words, and truly, the liveliest image of truth is in practice. They commended them that were sparing in words, and abundant in deeds, who had short speeches, but long and large discourses in their life. And what is this, but that which our Saviour everywhere, from his own example inculcates upon us? These words are emphatic, to do the truth, to walk in the light, to do his words, to believe with the heart, and such like, all which declare, that in so far we have the truth and have fellowship with the Light as it is impressed in the affection, and expressed again in the conversation. For the infinite truth and the infinite life is one, and the original Light and primitive life and love is one too and whoever truly receives the truth and light as it is, cannot but receive him as the living truth and life giving Light and so be heated and warmed inwardly by his beams, which will certainly cause some stirring and working without. Forasmuch is in nature heat is always working so is the fire of love kindled in the heart, incessant that way "Faith worketh by love." For action is the very life of life, that which both shows it and preserves it.
Now what shall we say, to carry these things home to your hearts? Where shall convincing words be had which may break the hardness of your hearts? It is strange that you are in such a deep dream of delusion, that nothing can awake you out of it. And how little is that in which you have to please yourselves? Some external privileges the temple of the Lord, his covenant and the seals of it, your ordinary hearing the word, and such like. But are there not many things in your hearts and ways that act the most contradictory be to these that can be? For wherefore do we thus meet together? Do you know an end, or propose any? I scarce believe it of the most part. We come out of custom, and many as by constraint, and with little or no previous consideration of the great end of this work. And when ye go forth, what fruit appears? Your ordinary cultural and civil discourses succeed, and who is it either bows his knee to pray for the divine blessing or entertains that holy word either in his own meditation, or speaks of it to the edification of others? Are you not, the most part of you, that ground of which Christ speaks, that lies in "the way side," and every thing comes and takes the seed up? Do you either listen and apply your hearts to a presentness in hearing? Or is there any more account of it, than a sound in the ear or any footstep or impression left in the heart, more than of the flight of a bird in the air? And, alas! how many souls are choked and stifled, the truth suffocated in the very springing by the thorns of the cares of this world, and the throng and importunity of businesses, and earthly desires? How many good motions come to no maturity by this means? How few of you use to pray in secret and dedicate a time for retirement from the world and enjoyment of God? Nay, you think you are not called to it, and if any be induced to it and to public worship in their families yet all the day over is but a flat contradiction to that. What earthly mindedness! What unholiness of affection! What impurity of conversation! What one lust is subdued? What one sin mortified? Who increaseth more in knowledge of the truth or in love of God? Is it not midnight with the most part of you? O the darkness of the ignorance of your minds, by which you know not that religion you profess, more than lurks who persecute it! And what are the ways to which ye walk? Are they not such ways as will not come to the light, and hate the light, because it reproves them? John 3:19, 20, xi.9, 10. Are they not such in which men stumble, though they seem to walk easily and plainly in them? Yet O that everlasting stumble that is at the end of them, when you shall fall out of one darkness of sin and delusion into another extreme, eternal darkness of destruction and damnation! O that fearful dungeon and pit of darkness you post into! Therefore, if you love your own souls, be warned. I beseech you be warned to flee from that utter darkness. Be awaked out of your deceiving dreams, and deluding self flattering imaginations, and "Christ shall give you light." The discovery of that gross darkness you walked in, in which you did not see whither you went. I say, the clear discerning of what it is, and whither it leads, is the first opening of that light, the first visit of that morning star, that brings salvation.
If ye will not be convinced of that infinite danger you are in, yet ye are not the further from it. He that walketh in darkness lieth, &c. His strong confidence and persuasion hath a lie, a contradiction in the bosom of it, and that will never bottom any true happiness. It is a lie acted by the hand, the foot, and all the members, a lie against the holy truth and word of God, and the very reproach of the name of Christ; a lie against yourselves, and your own professions, a foul-murdering lie, as well as a Christ denying lie. And this lie, as a holy man saith, hath filled houses, cities, families, countries. It hath even overspread the whole nation, and filled all with darkness, horror, confusion, trouble, and anguish. Once being a holy nation by profession of a covenant with God, and our open, manifest, universal retraction of that, by an unholy, ungodly, and wicked conversation, this hath brought the sword against a hypocritical nation, and this will bring that far greater, incomparably more intolerable day of wrath upon the children of disobedience. Therefore let me exhort all of you, in the name of the Lord, as ye desire to be admitted to that eternally blessed society within the holy city, and not to be excluded among those who commit abomination, and make a lie, that ye would henceforth impose this necessity upon yourselves, or know that it is laid upon you by God, to labour to know the will and truth of God, that you may see that light that shines in the gospel, and not only to receive it in your minds, but in your hearts by love that so you may endeavour in all sincerity the doing of that truth, the conscionable practising of what you know. And this, as it is a great point of conformity to the light, so it will make you capable of more light from God, for he delights to show his liberality, where he hath any acceptance. Be not satisfied, O be not satisfied, with knowing these truths, and discoursing upon them, but make them further your own, by impressing them deeply in your hearts, and expressing them plainly in your ways! This is "pure religion and undefiled," James 1:27. And "is not this to know me, saith the Lord?" Jeremiah 22:16. Practice is real knowledge, because it is living knowledge. It is the very life and soul of Christianity, when there needs no more but the intimation of his will to carry the whole man. This is what we should all aspire unto, and not satisfy ourselves in our poor attainments below this.