"Living unto God", A Letter From Prison - 3rd December 1663, Joseph Alleine.
Ejected from his pulpit under the Act of Uniformity (1662) Joseph Alleine was subsequently imprisoned for his refusal to cease preaching the gospel. It was from the Common Gaol at Juelchester that the much loved Puritan, ever committed to his call, continued to preach the gospel and care for his flock at Taunton, Somerset through his famed prison letters.
In this letter Alleine writes pleading that we live unto God.
Most dear friends, and brethren,
I am now a prisoner of the Lord for you Gentiles, and therefore have sent these few lines, to beseech you by these bonds which I gladly endure for your sakes, to hold forth, and hold fast the profession of your faith without wavering. The Lord make you stedfast in the holy doctrine wherein you have been taught. I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God. O remember that by the space of eight years, I ceased not to warn you every one, and kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have taught you publicly, and from house to house, warning every man, and teaching every man that I might present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. Oh that impenitent sinners would yet remember the invitations, that they have had! have they not been sought unto? have they not been intreated? And yet they would not. Oh that they would consider it now in the latter days Jer. 23:20. Oh that they would remember, and repent, that there might be yet an after harvest! That they would yet come in and live! Are you yet willing to turn? hear how wisdom calls after you, Prov. 11. How long ye simple ones will you love simplicity, and fools hate knowledge: turn you at my reproof. But if they will not hear, good were it for them that they had never been born: It shall be more, and better for Sodom and Gomorrah, than for them.
But for you that have taken upon you the profession of strict godliness, I shall only press you to follow on, and press towards the mark. You have much work yet to do, and God has given you no time to loiter in. Let me urge upon you the Apostle's counsel, Heb. 12:14. Follow after holiness.
First, Holiness is the choicest ornament: it is an adorning in the sight of God, of great prize. It is the glory of God, and will you count it your shame? Exod. 15. God is glorious in holiness, and grace is called glory, 2 Cor 3:18. But we may now cry out as the Psalmist, in his complaint, O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? Ps. 4. 2. But be of good comfort, the shame of holiness is real glory: how confidently does Paul shake his chain? Acts 28:20. We read of some that did glory in their shame in a sad sense, that is in that which was real ground of shame, to wit, their sin, Phil. 3:19. But we meet with others that in a happy sense, did glory in their shame; that is in the shame of religion, which is indeed a crown of glory. So did Peter and John, Acts 5:41.
Secondly, Holiness is the safest muniment: grace is not only for ornament, but for use. Righteousness is a breastplate that keeps the vitals, and is a sure defence from any mortal wounds, Ephes. 6:14. When the politicians have done their best with all their politic fetches, it is he that walks uprightly, that walks surely, Prov. 10:19. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, saith David, Psal. 25. Last. I desire no other protection than innocency. I desire to be no longer safe than these can preserve me; when I must let go my integrity or my safety, I will choose the danger rather than the sin: and yet will never doubt but my integrity will save me harmless, and prevent me for ever coming off a loser. Never persuade me that that man doth choose wisely or will consult in his own safety, that runs upon the displeasure of the infinite God, who is a devouring fire, to flee the danger of man's displeasure. Did you ever read or hear of a man so mad as to run upon the sword's point, to avoid the scratch of a pin? or to run upon a roaring canon, rather than danger his being wetshod? why this is the best wisdom of the distracted world, who will sin rather than suffer, and to save themselves harmless in the world, will run upon God, even upon his neck, and the thick bosses of his buckler, Job 15:25, 26.
Thirdly, holiness will be found to be your real happiness: eat of this tree, and you shall be indeed as God. Godliness is God's likeness. The beauty of holiness is this very image; sin is the disease of which holiness is the cure. Pride is the timpany, passion the fever of the mind, how restlessly raging is the mind where they reign? holiness, humility, meekness, are a present ease, a present cure, if the patient can take but enough. O what peace and tranquility does holiness work in the mind! Great peace have they that love thy commandments and nothing shall offend them, Psalm 19:165. Read Isaiah 48:18, 22 and 26:3 and 32:17, holiness will be a treasure of riches, James 2:5, and a crown of honour, Acts 17:11. A paradise of pleasure to you, Prov. 3 in a word, holiness is the perfection of man's nature. The communication of the divine nature, 2 Pet. 1:4. The earnest of glory, Mat. 5:8. And the very entrance of heaven, Phil. 3:20.
Let me say now to every one of you, as our Saviour to Martha, John 11:26. Believed thou this? If you do, live like Believers, and do you follow after holiness as others follow their trades or studies? Let religion be your business, and not a thing by the by with you: follow as hard upon the pursuit of grace, as if you did indeed believe riches and honour were in it. Count yourselves well, as long as you keep within the line of your duty. Let holiness sit in your lips, and season all your speech with grace. Profess it, own it, plead stoutly and resolve for it, be you advocates for holiness, in an adulterous and wicked generation, wear it as a robe of honour, when the spiteful world cast the dung of their reproaches at you for it: let it dwell in your hearts: let it adorn your houses: let it be your companion in your closets: let it travel with you in your journeys: let it lie down and rise up with you: let it close your eyes in the evening, and call you out of your beds in the morning. Be you the votaries of holiness: keep her, and she shall keep you.
I shall close with my loves to you all, only because I know you love to hear of my well-fare: I must tell you that good∣ness and mercy do follow me perpetually every day, and every night, Glory to God in the highest.
Fare you well in the Lord, I am your devoted servant in the Gospel, whether a bondman, or a free,
December 3, 1663.