SEVERAL SERMONS UPON THE MOST IMPORTANT SUBJECTS OF PRACTICAL RELIGION.
Sermon XXII. "Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer."
1 Pet. iv.7.—"Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer."
We now come to consider the coherence and connexion these duties have one to another. First, Prayer is the principal part of the Christian's employment, and sobriety and watchfulness are subordinate to it. "Be sober, and watch unto prayer." (1.) Prayer is such a tender thing that there is necessity of dieting the spirit unto it. That prayer may be in good health, a man must keep a diet and be sober, sobriety conduces so much to its well-being, and insobriety makes prayer fail. Prayer respects a wholesome Christian at his best estate. (2.) Because prayer that is well in itself must have much divine affection in it, that may be the wings of it to rise upon, the oil that may keep the flame, James 5:16. Now insobriety is the moth of divine affection. The love of this world eats out the love of God and spiritual things; as much as the one goes up the other goes down, like the contrary points, 1 John 2:15. Vehement desires would be a cloud of incense to carry the petition up unto heaven; but the love of this world scatters it, pours water upon the heart, and makes it neither to conceive heat nor flame. To be carnally minded is death, both here and hereafter, Romans 8:5-7. It is death to duties, it kills the spiritual life of the soul. Insobriety is carnal-mindedness, and minding of the flesh, so that a man hath no more taste of Jesus Christ than the white of an egg. It quite distempers his taste, and makes that only savoury which is like itself, and all other things bitter. But, (3.) Prayer must have hope in it. For how shall a man pray if he hope not to come speed? If he maintain not a lively hope, he will cool in his petitions. Insobriety is not consistent with hope to the end, 1 Pet. i.17. He that would hope to the end must lift up his garments that hang side, and take a lick(517) of every thing by the way; he must not let them hang down, but gird up his affections with the girdle of truth and sobriety. We observe, (4.) That prayer must come out of a pure heart, and God must be worshipped in spirit and in truth, John 4:23, 24; 2 Timothy 2:22. Insobriety makes an unclean heart; the lusts of the flesh, and the love of the world defile the spirit, and makes it to send forth impure streams. (5.) There cannot be lodging for the Spirit where there is much love to the world. This grieves the Spirit, and makes him depart from us, and so a man is best to express his own groans, or to have none at all, which is worse. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty, and the Spirit must have a clean house; ye must touch no unclean thing, if you would have God to receive you into the holy adoption of his children. (6.) Prayer cannot thrive where faith is not in a good condition. For faith purifies the heart which sends out prayer, 1 Timothy 1:6; Acts 15:9; 2 Timothy 2:22; and O! but insobriety makes an ill conscience; and faith and a good conscience scarce sail in one bottom.(518) Both fall and stand together. How then can the soul look that Holy One in the face whose eyes are pure, and cannot look upon iniquity but with abhorrence? how can it look upon his holiness, when it hath been going a-whoring after the world, and forsaking the fountain of living waters? In a word, the heart that is not dead to this present world, will neither pray much nor well; for the heart is otherwise taken up, hath not many wants to spread before God, nor room for spiritual things. The creature gives him no leave to come to God. O but communion with God is a tender thing, and subject to many alterations and changes of weather! A little more mirth than is needful will indispose us for prayer. A little more sadness than is within bounds will also indispose us for this duty. Carefulness and anxiety cannot pray. Therefore it concerns all the saints to keep their hearts with all diligence, to keep themselves unspotted from the world. If ye would keep yourselves in speaking terms with God, ye must not entertain the creature too much. Any excess in your affections will divert the current of them, that they shall not run towards God. And next, ye see a solid reason why ye are so little in prayer, and keep not a praying temper, because ye are too liberal and lavish of your affections upon the world. Christians, how can ye pray, when your affections are upon the things of the earth? Will ye seek heavenly things, or care much for communion with God, when a present world is so much in your eye? Prayer must be wersh(519) and unsavoury when the world is sweet; and religion turns a compliment, when your hearts are here. Prayer is a special point of your conversation in heaven, and the love of this world keeps your hearts beneath heaven. Your treasure is here, and your hearts can be nowhere else willingly. Ye must then be mortified to the world before ye can pray aright. But we would likewise consider,
Secondly, That sobriety is a great furtherance to watching, and therefore they are usually joined together, 1 Pet. v.8; 1. Thess. v.6-9. This is clear. For if a man be not sober, but drink too much of the creature's sweetness, or bitterness, till he lose his feet, he cannot watch, and the enemy will make invasion when he sleeps. Sobriety is the mother of security. A surfeit of any thing indisposes the body for any action. When the mind goes without the bounds of moderation, and stretches its Christian liberty beyond the bounds of edification, it cannot hold waking, a little sleep and slumber overtakes, till poverty and destruction come like an armed man. (2.) When a man hath drunk to excess of the creature and hath his heart engaged to it, he is in an incapacity to discern a friend from an enemy; whatever comes in with his predominant or idol will get fair quarters; though it may be, it will betray him. The love of the world when it stands centry at a man's heart, will keep out true friends. It will hold out Jesus Christ and spiritual things, all that seems to come in contrary terms with itself, and will let in the enemy that will destroy the soul. (3.) Insobriety entangles a man with the snares of the world, and so he cannot be a good soldier of Jesus. I think the conjunction here is expressed more fully, 2 Timothy 2:2-4. The good soldier of Jesus Christ that wars a good warfare, must not entangle himself with the affairs of this life. He must be sober in the use of all things, or else he cannot be faithful to his master; he will be about his own business when he should be watching. He will not only labour to please the Captain of his salvation, Jesus, but he has many other things to please besides: and if any of his too kind friends come to speak with him, he will leave his duty and go apart with them, the watchman's office will take him up nothing beside. But the insober man cannot give himself wholly to it. Because his idols cry upon him, he will prefer his pleasures before his credit and honesty. Therefore, as ye would not expose your souls and all ye have, to the will of temptation, be sober. The devil hath gotten his will of a man that he can force to lie down with the creature, and sleep in its bosom. If once Satan can gild up the world in your eyes, and represent it amiable, and cause high and big apprehensions of it, O, ye are in the greatest hazard from the world of being overcome wholly by it! That was the temptation Satan sought to prevail with Christ by, but he found nothing in him. If the devil hath taken thee up to a mountain to see the glory of the world, and make you fancy a pleasant life here-away,(520) take heed of it, for ye will drink drunk,(521) and forget yourselves, and will not discern between good and evil.
Thirdly. Prayer must be watched unto. We must not only pray, but continue "instant in prayer," Romans 12:12. We must "continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving," Colossians 4:2. It is a strange expression, and familiar in scripture, Ephesians 6:18. O what a strange word is it! It is either very needless, or else imports the unspeakable necessity of prayer. "Praying always," what needed more? But we must pray with all manner of "prayer and supplication in the Spirit;" and more yet, "watching thereunto;" and to express the superlative degree of the necessity of prayer, he adds "with all perseverance." Since the words at the first view do speak infinitely more than we practise, let many a Christian express their own practice and set it down beside this verse, and blush and be ashamed. The most part of you behoved to speak thus, I pray sometimes morning and evening, when I have nothing to do. And is this praying always, and watching thereunto with all perseverance? To watch unto prayer we conceive speaks these things.
I. To observe all opportunities, occasions, and advantages of prayer,—to be glad of getting any occasion to sit down and pray. It is to seek out occasions and to be waiting for them. Too many use to excuse themselves easily that their other employments take them up, and they think on this account they may omit prayer with a good conscience, as ministers, busied about their calling, and at their book, think it no omission that they pray not often. But alas, is this watching unto prayer? Ye should be as men lying in wait upon some good opportunity to take hold of it. Prayer would hinder no business of that kind, but much further it. Prayer would be the compendious way of it. Ye used not to be challenged when ye get not a commodity(522) to pray; but do ye seek opportunity when it is not offered? Do ye look after a retiring place, and withdraw from company, when ye cannot pray with company? This were indeed watching unto prayer. But watching unto prayer will make men sometimes uncivil (so to speak, that which it may be would be called uncivility). It will be a very pressing necessity that will draw away the time of prayer, no compliment should hinder you to go to it. If ye got a corner alone, that would invite a man that watches unto prayer. He even seeks it when he finds it not offering itself. The watcher unto prayer will steal much of his time from others, and other employments, and he will not spend time unnecessarily.
II. To watch unto prayer is to accept willingly of all occasions and opportunities offered. O! if such a man find a corner, but it will be seasonable and sweet unto him. If he have nothing to do, and knows not how to pass his time, then he conceives he is called to prayer, and to keep communion with God. But how many opportunities have ye, and what advantage make ye of them? Ye have time and place convenient, all the day or much of it, and yet ye content yourselves with an ordinary set diet. Sure this is not watching. Watching unto prayer would make all emergent occasions welcome, ye would not have any impulse of the Spirit and motion to pray, but ye would follow it, and be led by the Spirit to your duty. Ye would not hear of any rare passage of providence, or any of God's dispensations towards yourselves, and other saints, but you would think it a good call to pray and make the right use and improvement of it.
III. To watch unto prayer is to observe all the impediments of prayer, all the enemies of that precious thing prayer, that ye ought to keep as the apple of your eye. Whatever ye find by experience prejudicial unto prayer, mark that. What indisposes the spirit and makes it carnal, mark that. What fills you with confusion and astonishment, and what hinders the liberty of your delighting in God, and rejoicing in his promises, mark that; and set yourselves against these. O but many Christians find liberal discoursing, and much mirth, prejudicial to the Spirit's temper, and yet who watches against it?
IV. Watch over your hearts that ye may keep a praying temper, and be still in speaking terms with God. And if ye would still keep a praying temper, 1. Be frequent and often in the meditation of God. Keep yourselves in his presence, as before him, that ye may walk under the sight of his eye, Psal. cxix.168; Psal. cxxxix.1-7. Stealing out of God's sight makes the heart bold to sin. The temper of the heart is but like the heat of iron, that keeps not when it is out of the fire, or like the melting of wax. If ye be out of God's sight your hearts will close. But, 2. Let no object come through your mind without examination of it. Let not your heart be a highway for all. If a good motion enter, entertain it, and let it not die out. Give it up to God, that he may cherish it.3. Repel not any motion of the Spirit, but entertain it. There are three things ye would watch over, as, (1.) Yourselves, your own hearts, Proverbs 4:23, &c. ye must keep your heart, and it keeps all. (2.) Watch over your duty, Luke 8:18. (3.) The time of Christ's coming, his second coming to judgment, Matthew 24:42; Mark 13:33. So did David wait and watch till the Lord should return, Psal. cxxx.5, 6. So did Job wait all the days of his appointed time, till his change came. Now, Christians, where are ye? Is not your practice your shame? It is one among a thousand professors that can be noted for much praying. Who among you can get this commendation that the Holy Ghost gives to Anna, she served God with fasting and prayer night and day? Your morning and evening are the limits of your duty, and it is almost an heresy to go beyond that. Is there any tender well-doing Christian in scripture, but he prayed much? This made David so exemplary, and hath not Jesus Christ gone before you, (Hebrews 5:7.) to lead the way? O! but Christ's praying so often in the days of his flesh, and making supplication with strong cries, is a crying witness against the sloth of Christians in this generation. Both people and pastor, how should ye be ashamed? Hath Jesus prayed so long and often, and should not the poor followers, indigent beggars, be all in supplication? The Christian should name himself as David did, "I gave myself to prayer." Many a man sits down to his employment and prays not much, because he hath gifts and abilities. But so did not Christ, who was able to save, yet he prayed and went about the Father's work with dependence upon him. And O that ministers would seek all from heaven immediately, and people seek it from heaven also! Think ye that the Spirit will take twice a-day for praying always, and set times for watching thereunto? No, no, we think there is little of this practised in this generation.
Now we come to the reason that is added in the text, "the end of all things is at hand;" that is, the day of the Lord is at hand. Christ Jesus, who was once here offered for sins, shall again appear without sin, unto salvation, unto them who look and wait for his appearance; and he shall put an end to all these things, either to themselves, by consuming them, or to the use of them. All that ye now dote upon is perishing, and it is not far hence that ye shall see the world in a flame, and all that ye spend your spirits on; and Jesus Christ shall bring salvation to his own saints, therefore be sober and watch. But how is it that the end is said to be at hand? Are not many generations passed since this word was spoken? It is almost two thousand years since, and yet Peter spake of it, and Christ spake of this day, as at hand. Sure it must be nearer us now than it was then. The day of the Lord is at hand: I. Because if we would count years as God doth, we would call the world but of one week's standing, for God counts a thousand years as but one day, 2 Peter 3:8, 9. The world thinks he is slack concerning his promise, and asks, "Where is the promise of his coming?" But believers, think not ye so, reckon years according to the duration of the Ancient of days, and by faith see the Lord's day at your hand, as it were to-morrow still. But, II. It is not without special reason that the New Testament speaks of all the time from Christ's coming to the end, as the last time, as it were but one age or generation immediately preceding the great day, as if the day of judgment were to be, or this generation of the earth would pass. It is of great use to us, because the Lord would have believers in the last age of the world come to some great pitch of mortification and deadness to the world, and hope of immortality, than has been come to before. He would have them be as men waiting for the Bridegroom, and this their exercise,—every one in his generation standing with his loins girded, and his shoes put on ready for the journey, and his lamp in his hand, Luke 12:37; Mark 13. Matthew 25.He would have all walking as if the day of judgment were to-morrow, as if the King of saints were now entering into the city, and all believers should go out to meet him as their King bringing salvation.
This then is the posture of the world, all things are near run, the fashion of this world passes away, 1 Corinthians 7:29: and the same exhortation is here pressed. This then, I say, is the state all things ye see are in, it is their old age. The creation now is an old rotten house, that is all dropping through, and leaning to the one side. The creature is now subject to vanity and groaning, Romans 8:21, 22. The day is not far hence, that this habitable world must be consumed, and O! but many a man's god and idol will then be burnt to ashes.2 Pet. iii.10-12, "The heavens shall pass away with a great noise," &c. God hath suffered men to live long in this world, that they might come to repentance, and he hath kept it so long for the elect's sake. If it had not been for them, the world should not be unburied till six hours at night;(523) but when he hath gathered in all the election, then shall an end be put to all the administrations of kingdoms, all governments, all nations. Think ye that God had so much respect to the world, or to the kings of it? No, he would put an end to all the kingdoms of the world, and never let them make their testament, if the elect were completed. If Christ were completed, there would be no marrying or giving in marriage, no more food and raiment, no more laws and government, all your fair lands and buildings must go to the fire. Now ask the question that Peter asks, "Seeing all things shall be dissolved, what manner of conversation ought ye to have?" And here it is answered, "Be sober, and watch unto prayer." Ask at Paul, and he will tell you, (1 Corinthians 7:29, 30, 31.) "The time is short," what remains then, but that he that marries be as they who marry not, they that weep as they that wept not, &c. So then here is the duty of those who look for Christ's second coming; Christ hath left it with you till he come again, and put an end to all things: "be ye sober and vigilant." But consider what strength this reason hath to enforce this exercise, and how suitable this duty is to them who look for Christ's second coming.1. In relation to sobriety it hath a twofold force; for, (1.) It is all the absurdity of the world, that ye should so eagerly pursue perishing vanities; that ye should fall in love with the old decrepit world that is groaning under vanity, and very near consumption. The day is coming that the soul shall see all these things destroyed to ashes, and what will it then think of this idol? This is the thing I lost my soul for, and it is gone. And O how tormenting a thing will it be to the conscience! How have I been put by heaven for a thing of nought, for a vanity! Be sober, for the world cannot be a portion to an immortal spirit. Your spirit is immortal, and will continue after these things are gone, and it will outlive this world. Your goods and good name, your pleasures and profits, your lands and rents, all will have an end, and your spirit shall continue after them. Why then will ye choose that for your portion that will take wings and flee from you, or you will leave it? When ye see all burnt up, where then will your god and your portion be? (2.) Christian believers, ye have another portion; for Christ, who comes to put an end to these things, shall appear in glory, and ye shall appear with him in glory. He shall come with salvation to you, Hebrews 9:28; Colossians 3:4. Your life shall appear with him. Your inheritance is above. That sweet Saviour that came unto this world for saving lost sinners, shall come again, and will not think himself complete without you, and till he have all his members at his right hand. And therefore, saints, be sober. While ye are in this world, ye need not any other thing in the interim but the hope of eternal life, to keep your hearts, and hold them up. O but ye will think yourselves well come to it ere it be long. Ye may laugh at the poor, blind, demented(524) worldlings, who are standing in slippery places, and like children catching a shadow, or labouring to comprehend the wind in their fists. They are but dreaming that they eat and drink, and behold when the great day of awakening comes at the resurrection, they find their souls empty, though while they lived they blessed their own souls, and men blessed them also. Your inheritance is above, and what need ye more that have such a hope? May ye not purify yourselves as he is pure, and purge your hearts from all corruptions, and use this world as strangers, in your passage through it, that owns nothing as their own? Ye have no propriety(525) here, and therefore ye may the better live as strangers. But, 2. In relation to watching; Christ Jesus is coming, and is near, therefore watch. This Christ himself presses earnestly: Be as men that wait for the coming of their Lord, since he is not far off. Therefore, Christians, ye ought to be upon your feet, and not sit down with the creature. Ye should entertain this hope of his coming, and comfort yourselves by it, and be kept at your duty by it. I may say, there is nothing that is less known among Christians. Christ and his apostles often pressed it, as it seems he would have it the one ever running duty, through all generations. Ye ought then to be ready for Christ's coming, and not be found sleeping.3. In relation to prayer; for if the end of all things is at hand, and Christ will soon come again, then the Spirit's exercise, and the bride's should be, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly." Pray Christ back again, and say, Why tarry his chariot wheels? Pray him back with salvation, and hasten his return by prayer. He hath left such a dependent condition, left such an employment for us, as speaks dependence and necessity. This is the time of promises, and we ought to pray for their accomplishment. In heaven there will be no prayer, for prayer shall be swallowed up in praise, faith in vision, and hope in possession. But prayer is a duty suitable to the time, and to the Christian's minority, to his banishment and sojourning. Dream not of an eternity here-away. Learn wisdom to number your days, and apply your hearts to religious wisdom; and if ye die thus, ye may rejoice that so many of the number are passed, and cannot return again.