That you put effort to get by hazardous opportunities that which is worth all your cost.
What pity is it that you should risk much and yet gain but little? How sad would it be if you should at last suffer deeply for your conscientious attendance upon God in such seasons, and when you come into a prison or into banishment, should find that you had not got that by them that would carry you out.
That you value mercy not as it serves to your flesh; but as it stands in order to eternity; and may serve to the furthering of your Maker’s glory.
God has preserved your liberties: But what of all this unless we make use of our liberties for eternity - are we better than those that are in prison? If this be all the advantage we have, a little more freedom to our flesh. These creature comforts separated from their respect to God, and eternity, are of no value: but in order to these ends, they signify much. We have ease and fullness, when many others are in pains, and in poverty; And we have much the head start of them if we be wise to improve our health in preparing apace for eternity: and if we serve the Lord with the more abundant diligence, and cheerfulness, and gladness of heart, in the abundance of all things. But if this be all we have by it, that our bones do lie a little softer, and our pallets are tickled with a little the more delight, what profit have we by our health, or our estates? If they that be sick, or poor do love the Lord as well, or serve the Lord as much as we, they have the advantage of us; and better were it for us to be poor and sick as they be.
Rest not in probabilities for heaven, but labour for certainties.
Beloved, certainty may be had: or else the counsel of God to make our calling and election sure were in vain, 2 Pet. 1. 10. Else the experience of the Saints were but a delusion, who tell us they know they are passed from death to life, 1 John 3. 14, 2 Cor. 5. 1, & Job 19. 25-26, else the power of self-reflection were to no purpose, and the spirit which is in man should not know the things of the man, 1 Cor. 2. 11. Now if a certainty may be had, will you not put in for it, and turn every stone but that you will get it? Sirs, now if ever, you have need to put hard to it to get assurance: We are at miserable uncertainties for all outward enjoyments; we know not how soon we may be called to part with them all: Christians, what do you mean? will you be content to have nothing sure? will you not settle your everlasting conditions, now you are so unsettled as to your outward condition? What will you do in the day of visitation, when extremity comes upon you, if you have not assurance that God will receive you? It would make one's heart tremble to think of being put upon such a fearful temptation to part with all for Christ, and not to be sure of him neither? O man, what an advantage will the tempter now have upon thee, when he shall suggest wilt thou be such a fool as to let go all at once? You see heaven is not sure, Christ is not sure, therefore keep the world while thou hast it, and hold what thou hast sure: Beloved, what a fearful slighting of God and contempt of heaven and glory and all the promises does this argue, that you can be content to be at uncertainties, whether they be yours or not? How many of you be there that do not know whether you be going to heaven or to hell? and what desperate carelessness does this argue, to go on from week to week in such a case? Some hopes you have that you shall do well, but put not me off with hopes, never be satisfied till you are able to say, not only, I hope I shall be saved, but I know I am passed from death to life; I know that when the earthly house of this tabernacle shall be dissolved, I have a building not made with hands, &c. 2 Cor. 5. 1.
Be not satisfied with the truth of grace, but reach after the growth.
Do not think all is done when you have attained the evidence of grace; but put on hard towards the increase. That person that does not desire and design perfection, never came up to sincerity. He that desires grace truly, desires it not barely as a bridge to heaven, and so to seek no more than will just bear his charges there: but he desires it for its own sake; And therefore desires the height of it. That person that desires grace only for heaven's sake, and inquires what is the lowest measure of grace that any one may have and come to heaven (by which he means but to be saved from misery) upon this design, that if he could but come to that pitch he would desire no more, that person is rotten at the heart.
Christians, the Lord does expect of you, that you should not be babes and dwarfs, He looks now especially that you should make some progress: What do you more than before? What! do you feel his spurs in your sides, and his whip at your backs; And yet never mend your pace in religion, nor stir one jot the faster? Let me commend to you Paul’s study Phil. 3. 12-14. It argues a base and unworthy spirit to content ourselves with little things in religion.
Labour that holiness may become your nature, and religion your business.
Then you are come to somewhat indeed in religion, when the work of God is become your natural, and beloved employment, your meat and drink, your work and wages. When your tongues and hearts do as naturally run on God, as others on and of the world: much of that may be attained by constant care and prayer. Brethren let God’s work be done by you, not by the by, but as your greatest business: Seek first the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6. 33). And so wherever you be, you may be able to give that account of yourselves, that our Saviour did when they enquired of him, That you are about your Father’s business, Luke 2. 59.
Confine not your religion to your knees, but carry on an even spun thread of holiness through your whole course.
Brethren, it is the disgrace of religion that Christians are so unlike themselves, unless it be when they are in holy duties. This wounds religion to the quick, when it shall be said of professors, these men indeed will pray like angels, but for ought we can see they are as peevish, and as touchy as any other men, and they are as hard in their dealings, and make as little conscience of their words as others do. Beloved, think not religion lies only or chiefly in praying, hearing, reading. No you must be throughout religious. Sirs, bring forth your religion out of your closets into your ordinary course. Let there not be a life of holiness on the outside of the cloth: But let holiness be woven into the whole of your conversations. Here lies the excellency & difficulty of religion: when you have the baits of intemperance before you, then to hold the reins hard, and deny your flesh: when you have provocation before you, then to bite in your passions, and bridle the unruly member? When you have dealings with others, then to proceed by that golden rule of equity and charity, To do to others as your consciences tell you, you would have them do in the like case to you. When you are called upon in your several relations, then to behave yourselves with that tenderness and love, with that reverence and obedience, with that courtesy and condescension, and kindness that becomes you in your various capacities; In this I say lies the excellency of religion.
Ever walk with your end in your eye.
It is true, according to the usual and useful similitude, The traveller thinks not of his journeys end every step, nor need he: yet there is no traveller but thinks of it at his setting out: Brethren, there is nothing hinders but that with prayer and watchfulness you might come to this, in every solemn action to mind God as your end: Impose this upon yourselves as your daily rule to walk by, never to lie down but with these thoughts "Well I will make use of my bed as an ordinance of God for my natural refreshment, that a weary servant of his may be fitted for his work." Never to rise up but with these thoughts "I will set forth this day in the name of the Lord, and make it my business this day throughout to please him": Never to set to your callings but in the entrance to think thus "I will set about my employment in obedience to God, because this is his will, that I should walk with him in my place and station." Never to sit down to your tables but thinking "I will now eat and drink not merely to feed my flesh, but to cherish a servant of Christ Jesus, that he may have strength for his service": Charge this upon yourselves, and examine in the evening, how you have minded it, and check yourselves wherein you come short. Once learn this, and you are come up to something: and you shall have the undoubted evidence of your sincerity, and shall know the inside of that blessed mystery of walking with God.
Be and do more than ordinary in your families, and closets now in the defects of the more public ordinances.
In your Closets:
See that your consciences be able to bear you witness, that under God’s extraordinary providences, you do more than ever in answer thereunto. It may be you prayed twice in the day before; why should you not at such a time as this is, make one visit more than ordinary to heaven, daily to represent before God the calamities of his Church. This be sure of, that somewhat more then before must now be done, else God will look upon himself as intolerably slighted; and upon his Church as most unnaturally neglected, if we do not now put to it. Be more than ever in self-examination. God does look that when he is trying of us, we should be much in the trial of ourselves. And here let me put it to your consciences: How are your rules for daily examination looked after? Do you try yourselves by them from day to day? Ah wretched negligence! what have you given your approbation and passed your promise, and yet even in such a day as this so much forget your duty? God expects it of you, that now you see him angry, you should with more jealous fear and tender circumspection and holy watchfulness and self-denial walk before him; else you will greatly incense his indignation, when he shall see that you slight his anger.
In your Families:
Christians, now the Lord calls aloud upon you to set your houses in order. Oh see what is amiss in them, and strive to cast out that which may be a provocation. Three things I advise you to with reference to your families.
1. That you set up the solemn exercise of catechising weekly among them: Methinks I would not question but that in every godly family there is a care of the catechism. But when fathers do only impose it in general upon their families; and occasionally take an account, I find but little progress is made: and therefore I beseech you, to make it a solemn, standing, and constant exercise; and to expect of your children as due an account weekly of what they have learnt in the principles of religion, as of any business of your own. Oh the incredible benefit that would speedily come of this, if I could but persuade and prevail with my hearers in so small a request as this!
2. That you be often enquiring into their spiritual estates; Follow them close, and let them have no quiet till you see they seriously mind and seek spiritual things. Put them upon secret prayer: Provide helps for them till they are able to go without them: Show them often the necessity of regeneration, and conversion, and the nature thereof. Put them in mind of the fearful misery of an unregenerate estate. Ask them often whether they are converted or not. Show them the danger of delaying in such a case. Beloved, 'tis too sadly evident that as the ordinances are now somewhere managed, there is little of conversion work like to be done. Oh you fathers of families, do but your duty in your several places, and I doubt not but many souls will nevertheless be born to Christ, even in such a day as this.
3. Call them to an account of their proficiency by every opportunity. If there be but a sermon, or a chapter read, let them give you some account of it. Thus our Saviour, when the Disciples (his family) were in private, he was asking them whether they did understand, and profit by what they heard in publicc.—Mat. 13. 1.
Be not discouraged by the present difficulties of religion, but rather rejoice in the opportunity to show your love and loyalty to your Lord.
Do not think God has dealt hardly with you now your religion is like to cost you something, and presently think of shrinking, and drawing back to preserve your safety: If you do love the Lord Jesus you should rejoice, and be exceeding glad in the opportunity to show it. Brethren, what has your religion cost you up to this point? And for shame suffer not your shrinking, and withdrawing to tell the world that you have not love enough to Christ to engage you to run any hazard for him. Do you indeed love the Lord? oh then now rejoice and be exceeding glad, for never had you such an opportunity in all your lives to show your love as now; For never were you called to trouble so for him, and his service, as now you be. Now resolve, that if religion will make you vile, you will be yet more vile; and let your zeal and resolution for God be intended and heightened by the opposition.
The above is a revised and edited version of the counsels for the converted taken from Divers Practical Cases of Conscience by Alleine, Joseph, 1634-1668