by Matthew Mead
"Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." Those words were spoken by Agrippa, after hearing Paul's testimony of his conversion and after Paul's witnessing to him the gospel (Acts xxvi.28). Paul responded, "I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds" (Acts xxvi.31).
To the Reader.
Reader, You have here one of the saddest considerations imaginable presented to you, and that is, "How far it is possible a man may go in a profession of religion—and yet, after all, fall short of salvation; how far he may run—and yet not so run as to obtain." This, I say, is sad—but not so sad as true; for our Lord Christ does plainly attest it, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in—and shall not be able!" My design herein is, that the formal, sleepy professor may be awakened, and the hidden hypocrite discovered; but my fear is, that weak believers may be hereby discouraged; for, as it is hard to show how low a child of God may fall into sin—and yet have true grace—but that the unconverted sinner will be apt thereupon to presume; so it is as hard to show how high a hypocrite may rise in a profession—and yet have no grace—but that the true believer will be apt thereupon to despond. The prevention whereof, I have carefully endeavored, by showing, that though a man may go thus far, and yet be but almost a Christian—yet a man may fall short of this, and be a true Christian notwithstanding.
Judge not, therefore, your state by any one character you find laid down of a false professor; but read the whole, and then make a judgment; for I have cared, as not to "give children's bread to dogs," so not to use the dog's whip to scare the children! Yet I could wish that this book might fall into the hands of such only whom it chiefly concerns, who "have a name to live—and yet are dead;" being busy with the "form of godliness," but strangers to the "power of it." These are the proper subjects of this treatise. May the Lord follow it with his blessing wherever it comes, that it may be an awakening word to all such, and especially to that generation of profligate professors with which this age abounds; who, if they keep to their church, bow the knee, talk over a few prayers—think they do enough for heaven, and hereupon judge their condition safe, and their salvation sure—though there be a hell of sin in their hearts, "and the poison of asps is under their lips;" their minds being as yet carnal and unconverted, and their conversations filthy and unsanctified.
If eternal life be of so easy attainment, and to be had at so cheap a rate—why did our Lord Christ tell us, "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leads unto life—and few there are who find it?" And why should the apostle perplex us with such a needless injunction, "to give diligence to make our calling and election sure?" Certainly, therefore, it is no such easy thing to be saved—as many make it; and that you will see plainly in the following discourse.
I have been somewhat short in the application of it; and therefore let me here be your remembrancer in five important duties:
First, "Take heed of resting in a form of godliness; as if duties could confer grace. A lifeless formality is advanced to a very high esteem in the world, as a "piece of dove's dung" was sold in the famine of Samaria at a very high rate. Alas! the profession of godliness is but a sandy foundation to build the hope of an immortal soul upon for eternity! Remember, the Lord Jesus Christ called him a foolish builder, "who founded his house upon the sand," and the sad event proved so for him, "for it fell, and great was the fall of it!" O therefore lay your foundation by faith upon the rock Christ Jesus; look to Christ through all, and rest upon Christ in all.
Secondly, "Labor to see an excellency in the power of godliness," and a beauty in the life of Christ! If the means of grace have a loveliness in them, surely grace itself has much more; for, "the goodness of the means lies in its suitableness and serviceableness to the end." The form of godliness has no goodness in it any farther than it becomes useful to the soul in the power and practice of godliness! The life of holiness is the only excellent life; it is the life of saints and angels in heaven; yes, it is the life of God in himself! As it is a great proof of the baseness and filthiness of sin—that unconverted sinners seek to cover it; so it is a great proof of the excellency of godliness—that so many pretend to it. The hypocrite's fair profession pleads the very cause of true religion; although the hypocrite is then really worst—when he is seemingly best.
Thirdly, "Look upon eternal things to come, as the greatest realities;" for things that are not sincerely believed, work no more upon the affections than if they had no being! This is the grand reason why the generality of men allow their affections to go after the world, setting the creature in the place of God in their hearts. Most men judge of the reality of things by their visibility and proximity to sense; and, therefore, the choice of that wretched cardinal becomes their option—who would not leave his part in Paris—for a part in Paradise. Surely, whatever his interest might be in the former, he had little enough in the latter.
Well may covetousness be called idolatry, when it thus chooses the world for its god! O! consider—eternity is no dream! Hell and the worm that never dies, is no melancholy dream! Heaven is no imagined Elysium! There is the greatest reality imaginable in these things; though they are spiritual, and out of the view of sense, yet they are real, and within the view of faith. "Look not therefore at the things which are seen—but look at the things which are not seen; for the things that are seen are temporal—but the things which are not seen are eternal."
Fourthly, "Set a high value upon your soul." What we lightly prize—we easily part with. Many men sell their souls at the rate of profane Esau's birth-right, "for a morsel of bread;" nay, for that which is not bread—but which is sinful. O consider your soul is the most precious and invaluable jewel in the world; it is the most beautiful piece of God's workmanship in the whole creation; it is that which bears the image of God, and which was bought with the blood of the Son of God; and shall we not set a value upon it, and count it precious?
The apostle Peter speaks of three very precious things:
1. A precious Christ.
2. Precious Promises.
3. Precious Faith.
The preciousness of all these lies in their usefulness to the soul. Christ is precious—as being the redeemer of precious souls. The Promises are precious—as making over this precious Christ to precious souls. Faith is precious—as bringing a precious soul to close with a precious Christ, as he is held forth in the precious promises. O take heed that you are not found overvaluing earthly things—and undervaluing your soul. Shall your flesh, nay your beast, be loved—and shall your soul be slighted! Will you clothe and pamper your body—and yet take no care of your soul! This is, as if a man should feed his dog—and starve his child! "Food for the belly, and the belly for food; but God will destroy both it and them!" O let not a tottering, perishing carcass have all your time and care—as if the life and salvation of your soul were not worth the while!
Lastly, Meditate much on the strictness and suddenness of that judgment-day, through which you must pass, into your everlasting state; wherein God, the impartial judge, will require an exact account at our hands of all our talents and blessings. We must then account for time—how we have spent that; for estate—how we have employed that; for strength—how we have laid out that; for afflictions and mercies—how they have been improved; for the relations we stood in here—how they have been discharged; and for seasons and means of grace—how they have been improved. Look! how we have sowed here on earth--we shall reap for eternity! "God has set a day on which He is going to judge the world in righteousness!" Acts 17:31. "Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap!" Galatians 6:7. "Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God!" Romans 14:10
Reader, these are things which above all others, deserve most of, and call loudest for—our utmost care and endeavors, though they are least minded, by most people. Consider what a spirit of atheism (if we may judge the tree by the fruits—and the principle by the practice) the hearts of most men are filled with, who live, as if God were not to be served, nor Christ to be sought, nor lust to be mortified, nor self to be denied, nor the Scripture to be believed, nor the judgment-day to be minded, nor hell to be feared, nor heaven to be desired, nor the soul to be valued; but give up themselves to a worse than brutish sensuality, "Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more," Ephesians 4:19; living without God in the world—this is a reflection fit enough to break our hearts, if at least we were of holy David's temper, who "beheld the transgressors and was grieved," and had "rivers of waters running down his eyes, because men kept not God's laws."
The prevention and correction of this soul-destroying distemper, is not the least design of this Treatise now put into your hand. Though the chief virtue of this receipt lies in its sovereign use to assuage and cure the swelling cancer of hypocrisy, yet it may serve also, with God's blessing, as a plaster for the plague-sore of profaneness, if timely applied by serious meditation, and carefully kept on by constant prayer.
Reader, expect nothing of curiosity or quaintness, for then I shall let you down; but if you would have a touch-stone for the trial of your state, possibly this may serve you. If you are either a stranger to a profession, or a hypocrite under a profession, then read and tremble, for you are the man here pointed at. But if the kingdom of God has come with power into your soul; if Christ is formed in you; if your heart be upright and sincere with God—then read and rejoice.
May the mighty God, whose prerogative it is to teach to profit, whether by the tongue or the pen, by speaking or writing—bless this tract, that it may be to you as a cloud of rain to the dry ground, dropping fatness to your soul, that so your fleece being watered with the "dew of heaven," you may "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." In whom I am your Friend and Servant,
Matthew Mead, London, October, 1661.
To the Reader
Question I. How far a man may go in the way to heaven—and yet be but almost a Christian? This shown in twenty several steps.
1. A man may have much knowledge—and yet be but almost a Christian
2. A man may have great and eminent spiritual gifts—and yet be but almost a Christian
3. A man may have a high profession of religion, be much in external duties of godliness—and yet be but almost a Christian
4. A man may go far in opposing his sin—and yet be but almost a Christian
5. A man may hate sin—and yet be but almost a Christian
6. A man may make great vows and promises, strong purposes and resolutions against sin—and vet be but an almost Christian
7. A man may maintain a strife and combat against sin—and yet be but almost a Christian
8. A man may be a member of a Christian church—and yet be but almost a Christian
9. A man may have great hopes of heaven—and yet be but almost a Christian
10. A man may be under visible changes—and yet be but almost a Christian
11. A man may be very zealous in matters of religion—and yet be but almost a Christian
12. A man may be much in prayer—and yet be but almost a Christian
13. A man may suffer for Christ—and yet be but almost a Christian
14. A man may be called by God and embrace his call—and yet be but an almost Christian
15. A man may have the Spirit of God—and yet be but almost a Christian
16. A man may have faith—and yet be but almost a Christian
17. A man ma ay have a love to the people of God—and yet be but almost a Christian
18. A man may obey the commands of God—and yet be but almost a Christian
19. A man may be sanctified—and yet be but almost a Christian
20. A man may do all the external duties and worship which a true Christian can—and yet be but almost a Christian
Question II. Why is it that many go so far and yet no farther?
Question III. Why is it that many are but almost Christians, when they have gone thus far?
Question IV. What is the reason that many go no farther in the profession of religion, than to be almost Christians?
Question V. What is the reason why many go no farther in the profession of religion, than to be almost Christians?
Use of Examination
Use of Caution
Use of Exhortation