"The Character and Privileges of True Believers", A Letter to his Flock, Joseph Alleine.
Most Dearly Beloved,
I longed to hear of your welfare, but by reason of the carriers intermitting his journeys, could not till now obtain my desires, neither had I opportunity till the last week of writing to you. I rejoice to hear by Mr. Ford, of God’s continual goodness towards you; he is your Shepherd, and therefore it is that you do not want. Me you have not always, but he is ever with you, his rod and his staff shall comfort you; Nay, more then all this, you may hence conclude comfortably for all times, yea, for the whole eternity to come. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your lives, and you shall dwell in the House of the Lord for ever.
In this, my dear brethren, in this rejoice, and again I say rejoice, that God is engaged in so near and so sweet relation to you. Doubtless your souls shall lodge in goodness, and be provided for carefully, and lie down in everlasting safety, that have the Almighty for our Shepherd. Blessed are the flock of his hands, and the sheep of his pasture, happy is the people that is in such a case.
But who are Christ’s Sheep?
Not all professors, I beseech you take heed how you rest in profession. It is not profession, but conversion that turns a man from a swine to a sheep. Let none of you be deceived, nor flatter yourselves, that because you bear the name of Christians, and do many things, and have escaped the open gross pollutions of the world, therefore you are surely among the number of Christ’s true sheep. All this you may attain to, and yet be but washed swine; here must be an inward deep and thorough and universal change upon your natures, dispositions, inclinations, or else you are not Christ’s Sheep.
In a word, if you will be put out of doubt whether you are his sheep or not, you must try it by this certain mark that Christ sets upon all his sheep, even your Sanctification, you that will stand to the trial, answer me truly and deliberately to these questions. Do you hate every sin as the sheep doth the mire? Do you regard no iniquity in your hearts? Do you strive against, and oppose all sin, though it may seem never so necessary, never so natural to you, or have you not your secret haunts of evil? For every swine will have his swill. Do you abstain from sin out of fear, or out of dislike? Are you at peace with no sin, or do you not hide some iniquity as a sweet morsel under your tongue? Is there not some practice that you are not willing to know is a sin for fear you should be forced to leave it? Do you love the Commandment that forbids your sin, or do you not wish it out of the Bible, as that evil man wished God had never made the Seventh Commandment? Again, how do you stand affected towards holiness? Do you love it? Do you choose it? Do you hunger and thirst after it, and desire it more than any temporal good? Have you chosen the way of God’s precepts, and had rather live holily than be allowed to live in your sins? Do you in your very hearts prefer a godly strict life in communion with and conformity to God, before the greatest prosperity of the world? do you chose holiness, not out of bare necessity, because you cannot go to Heaven without it, but out of love to it, and from a deep sense that you have of the surpassing excellency, and loveliness, and beauty of it? If it be thus with you, you are the persons that the Lord Jesus has marked for his Sheep.
And now, come ye blessed, all that have this mark upon you, come and understand your happiness; you are marked out for preservation, and let it go how it will with the rest; that I know, it shall go well with you that fear the Lord, that fear before him. You are the separated ones, the sealed ones, upon whom the Angel hath set the Seal of the Living God; and so you are redeemed unto God from among men, being the first fruits unto God, and unto the Lamb, and have your Father’s name written in your fore-heads.
Hear, O beloved flock, I may give you the salutation of the Angels, Hail, you are highly favoured of the Lord, Blessed are you among men; though you are but poor and despised, and like little Benjamin among the thousands of Judah; you carry away the blessing and the privilege from all the rest. God hath done more for the least of you than for the whole world of Mankind besides, put all their mercies together. Fear not little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. Blessed are you of the Lord, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven. All that the Scripture speaks of that Kingdom of Glory, that Kingdom of Peace, of Righteousness, that Everlasting Kingdom, it speaks it all to you. Behold your inheritance, see that you believe. What know you not your own selves? you are the sons of God, inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven, joint heirs with Christ the Lord of Glory. Do you believe this? Take heed you make not God a liar: his Word is nigh you: have you not the Writings in your hands? Do I speak any thing but what God hath spoken?
Shall I tell you of the thing which shall be hereafter? Why thus it shall be the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all his holy Angels with him: Then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory, and he shall separate you as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats, and he shall set you at his own right hand, Then shall the King say, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you.
Do you believe yet? Do you throughly believe? If so, then my work is done, then I need not bid you rejoice, nor bid you be thankful, only believe. Do this and do all. Believe and joy will rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory. Believe and you will be fruitful, and show your faith by your works. Believe and you will love, for faith works by love. In a word, keep these things upon your hearts by daily and lively consideration, and this will bring Heaven into your souls, and engage you to all manner of holy conversation, and godliness. This will more mortify you to the World, the grave enemy which I advise, nay, I charge you to beware of. When Saul had gotten his kingdom, he left off taking care for the asses. O remember yours is the kingdom: what are you the better that you have all this in your Bibles, if you do not weigh it by frequent and serious consideration, and ponder these sayings in your hearts.
Beloved, I have written these things to you that your joy may be full. And now peace leave with you, I am Christ’s Ambassador to you, an Ambassador of peace; his peace I pronounce unto you; In his Name I bless you.
Farewell in the Lord, I am
the fervent well-willer of your souls,
Devises, June 29. 1666.