by Bartholomew Ashwood
The only way to live well in impoverishing times. A Discourse occasioned from the decay of earthly Trades, and visible wastes of Practical Piety in the day we live in, offering Arguments and Counsels to all, towards a speedy revival of dying Godliness and timely prevention of the dangerous issues thereof impending on us.
This text has been initially updated from EEBO-TCP by Project Puritas (Logan West, with David Jonescue and Alex Sarrouf.) www.puritansearch.org. Further revision and editing done by Monergism. Copyright Monergism via universal text usage permission from the above.
To the Reader.
Especially Those who are the more peculiar Objects of my Care, Love and Labors.
Notwithstanding the high Pretensions to Light and Wisdom in the Times we live in beyond some former Ages, there is no small measure of Soul darkness fallen upon us in this Evening-part of our Gospel day, Isa. 42. 19, 20. Who is blind but my servant? or deaf as my messenger that I sent? who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the Lord's servant? seeing many things but thou observest not: opening the ear, but he heareth not. Were not a Veil on men's minds, could it possibly be that CHRIST should be so little precious in this Day of revelation and Land of visions in which we live? Was there ever a Nation in the World to whom Christ hath been so unveiled and manifestly held forth Crucified before their eyes? and yet not to know the Day of their visitation and the things of their peace, be-speaks shameful Ignorance. Is not this a manifest Evidence of men's Darkness and folly, to be fondly taken with Airy Notions and vain Speculations, and all the while neglect that Wisdom which maketh wise to salvation, to leave the Fire of the Sanctuary, and sit down by Sparks of their own kindling: That having a Kingdom before them which cannot be shaken, and an Inheritance that fadeth not away reserved in the heavens; they should turn again to the beggarly Elements of this world, loathing their Manna and Angels food, and longing again for the Onions and Garlic they had vomited up; to leave tried Gold for that which perisheth; to let Heaven drop out of their hands, and hug the World in their hearts; to neglect that Merchandise which brings in unsearchable riches, and drive a Trade for such Goods whose fashion passeth away: Do plainly argue Ignorance and folly. Are not the silver streams of Jordan better than the muddy waters of Assyria, and our Rock above the worldlings Sandy bottoms (they themselves being Judges?) and yet to lose those pleasant streams for that filthy puddle, is folly indeed. Will Eagles stoop to Flies? Can Souls who have ascended into the light of the Lord, and seen the things that differ, and had acquaintance with things above upon choice, come down again and prey upon the Carrion Comforts and Interests of a dying World? O no. Can a Maid forget her Ornaments, or a Bride her Attire? Oh foolish people and unwise to be unmindful of the Rock that begat them, to leave the Snow of Lebanon, to let down such a gainful Trade as Holiness is, that they may pursue a Soul-cheating, starving, damning World: demonstrates folly and madness in such as have the knowledge or hopes of better things: are ye so foolish having begun in the spirit; are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Gal. 3. 3. To obviate or retrieve this folly is the design of this ensuing Discourse, which comes not in the gaudy Dress of curious Art, or in the Excellency of man's wisdom, but in the plainness and demonstration of the truth as it is in Jesus. I am not ignorant that Books have their Fashions as well as men, and Discourses that come not forth in the Modish Garb laced with Elegancy and stuffed with Lofty strains, scarce meet with a Look except of Scorn and Contempt from the Wits of this Day: But I love not to follow them who darken counsel by words, and by their sublime Speculations and abstruse Notions, lead men into Clouds of their own creating, and while they show Themselves lose their Readers. There are many tricks and devices (saith Mr. Dod) that some men use in Preaching, (which we may apply also to Writing) but it seldom does good; the pure Gospel and that Preaching which the World counts foolishness, is that which works most kindly. Christ's own Weapons are the fittest for his own service, and when there is least of man in God's work, then usually does there most of God appear. The business of this Book is not to feed thy Curiosity, but to find out thy Conscience, and the likeliest way to That is through the plains of Intelligible truth. I cannot expect that Discourse should lead others towards Heaven, that has not its self drained and refined from Earth: Expect not in this anything that may please thy carnal mind, but what may profit thy teachable and obedient Soul; and before thou ascendest the Throne to judge it, take the Balance of the Sanctuary and weigh it: Be advised to go beyond such Readers who only view the Title, read the Epistle, glance a little on the Book, and if they find not something singular and pleasing their curious Fancy, lay it aside; this shows a full Stomach but an empty Soul, and is a Practice that overturns the Writers pains and the Readers profit; be persuaded to read it thoroughly and impartially, and weigh it seriously, and thou mayest find something that concerns either thy Understanding, Affection, Conscience, or Conversation.
I have chosen to prosecute the Metaphor of (Trading) throughout this Discourse, having a principal respect to that sort of persons in the design of this Book, and the better to insinuate into the mind of ordinary Christians the knowledge of heavenly things, of men's duties, neglects and backsliding. If thou art one who never madest a profession of God farther than blindness, formality or superstition might lead thee; and a stranger to this great pleasant and gainful Trade of Godliness, here thou mayest find Arguments to persuade thee to this rational and necessary Undertaking in order to Life and Salvation, Grace and Glory, with Counsel and Instructions how thou mayest attain to this high and heavenly Calling.
If thou be one who drivest furiously after the World, pursuing thy earthly Interest with greediness, neglecting the things that concern thy peace, and subjecting the Concerns of Heaven and thy immortal Soul to the poor and perishing Trifles of this World; here thou wilt find reasons to convince thee of that folly, and helps to loosen thy heart from that ensnaring Soul ruining bondage.
If thou meetest with Rebukes upon thy earthly Interests, and crosses on thy Affairs and undertakings in the World, this Book will help thee to find out the Cause of thy Disappointments, and those consuming Moths on thy Estate, and Instruct thee to get Honey out of these Rods, good from these evils, and how to Comport with Divine ends, and thy own Advantages by such Dispensations.
Hast thou made a Profession of Godliness, and formerly driven this Heavenly Trade to Advantage, but art now fallen back and decayed in thy Spiritual substance, and become poor in thy Inward man and towards God? here mayest thou find the Discoveries and Evidences of a backsliding Soul, with the Causes of it: thou wilt also meet with Awakening Considerations to Affect and Afflict thy heart with the sense of thy evil Case: Here also mayest thou know whether thy Decays are curable, and what course thou mayest take to get out of thy languishing estate.
Art thou one that doest profess this Heavenly Trade? this Piece will tell thee what thy work is, and wherein this Employment lies; what are the Important duties of Piety to be driven on every Day, with Directions and Rules about it.
If thou art one who keepest up this Trade for Heaven and thrivest therein, here hast thou marks of a Prosperous Trade in Godliness, and several Doubts cleared up about thy Soul-thriving's, with those Important Duties opened which this Peculiar Mercy calls for: Gather out of this Garden what Physic or Food thou needest, and Apply and Improve it, praying for the Assistance of that Spirit that hath been frequently and solemnly begged both for the Forming and Blessing of this Discourse unto all that read it.
You who have been Hearers of this Subject, though in somewhat different Expressions suited to your Capacity and Advantage in the Delivery of it, have reason above others to Receive and Improve this: Message Twice sent unto you.
But you Especially my dear Friends, the Care of whose Souls is upon me, for whose sake chiefly these Truths were at first Delivered, and are now made Public have the most obliging reasons to get them Copied out upon your Hearts and in your Lives. To you Firstly, more Especially, yea, most Affectionately was and is this Word of salvation fent and presented again to your View, that you might have these things abiding with you, and that they might live in your Eye which have founded in your Ear, and be speaking to you when I shall be removed out of your sight, and be beyond all Capacity to serve your precious and immortal Souls, that when I can plead no more for God or with you, I may in this be speaking to you and others in the behalf of Christ, and glorious though despised Holiness. This has been the prevailing Argument with me to discover my weakness to the World, and expose myself to the censure or scorn of some.
I have the greatest reason to expect from you the Entertainment of these Truths, who have chosen and received me in the Lord, to declare the Gospel of his Son to you: You also have known my Labors, Infirmities and Afflictions with you and for your sake; that for Twenty years space I have served you in the Gospel, in reproach, wants, weaknesses; dangers and sufferings, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the Ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God: yea. being so affectionately desirous of you, I have been willing to have imparted to you not the Gospel of God only, but also my own Soul. Because you were dear unto me, you know and have acknowledged the suitableness of this Subject unto your own Cases, and how evidently the condition of most of you is opened here and suited, by the convictions, counsels, reprehensions, & consolations of this discourse; there are some among you that I am jealous of with a godly jealousy, lest I should have labored in vain for you, and your minds be corrupted from the simplicity of the Gospel through the temptations of this present world: I have often cried aloud in your ears against the sin, and have warned you of the danger of an earthly spirit and conversation, and do tell you now even weeping, that such are enemies to the Cross of Christ, who mind earthly things, until you are crucified to the world, you have no saving benefit of the cross of Christ, or can ever behold the face of God in heaven, until you are redeemed from the earth; all your Profession, Parts, Duties and Enjoyments will be but so many Witnesses against you, if after all you are lovers of this present World: Coveting to be rich will also make your Souls poor, and deprive you of the refreshments of his presence and consolations of his blessed spirit, and will be a manifest evidence that you have little of those pleasures that are from above. 'Twas said of pious Mr. Bain, That he sought not great matters in the World, being taken up with comforts and griefs to which the World was a stranger. The more a Soul converses in heaven and lives upon the first fruits of the other world, the less will he be taken with things below: when Abraham came to live by faith, and in a view of that City whose Maker and Builder is God, the Plains of Sodom and Spoils of Canaan were to him but mean things; I never cared much for the world (saith one) since I came to know better things. You have tasted that the Lord is gracious; you have fed on the fat things of his house, and have found a day in his Courts better than a thousand elsewhere, and must be self-condemned if you prefer not God above Ten thousand Worlds, and count the enjoyment of himself riches enough; yea, if you esteem not the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. 'Twas a brave speech of that noble Galeatius when he had left his Honor, Interest and Relations for Christ and the Gospel sake: I have saith he, riches honor and joy enough while in this Cottage I may live in the Church of God, enjoy his Word and People, and have time to converse with God by holy meditation, and with my Friends about God's great goodness to me in my Conversion, cursed forever be that Religion which weds men to the World, and divorces them from God.
There are others of you (I fear) fallen back in your spiritual state; former days were better than now, and the shadow gone back some degrees upon the Dial of your hearts, who it may be have left your first love, have lost your spiritual taste, more dead to the things of God, Cold and Formal in Duty; possibly you have hid your face from God, and he hath compassed himself with a cloud before you. You have neglected your walks with God, and he hath withheld converse with you: For the recovery of such from whence they have fallen to their first love and labors, is part of this Discourse framed; hear what the Spirit saith therein, Attend and Obey those Counsels, return to your first love, and do your first works, least the Lord take the Candlestick out of his place, and leave you in that wilderness into which you wander.
Some of you who are fearers of God yet walk in darkness, and see no light, have your continual Exercises and frequent Complaints, that he who should have comforted your souls, is removed far from you: My Advice to you is, to walk in the light when you sit in darkness, and wait for the light when the even shadows are upon you. 'It is but a little while and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry; the Son of righteousness is upon his journey towards you, and 'twill not be long ere it be risen upon you.
Are there any of you who have better days, does your Bow abide in strength, are your Affections warm towards your Beloved, and your hearts sometimes burn within you while he is talking to you in his Word? Do you long for his Appearance, and delight in his Presence, and press hard after him in his Appointments? Do you love the Word of his mouth more than your necessary food? Can you be content to let your own things sit, that you may seek the things that are Christ's? and sit at his feet, when others are in the market-place, and abroad in the crowd of their earthly affairs; Are you alone with Christ in a corner? If so, your Mercy is singular, and your Obligations strong to be entirely the Lord's; to be no more your own, but wholly devoted to his fear, to live a life of praise and well-pleasingness uno God, to think well of Christ, and bear his pleasure; to be patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer, to long for the Well-head of your mercies, and to be beginning a life of glory while you are here in a life of grace. I shall close up this Discourse with a few words of general Advice to you all.
First, lay the foundation sure on which you build all your Temporary labors and your Eternal hopes: You cannot be too certain, in that on which depends your all. Consider how often Satan hath battered down; yea, your own hearts have disputed away those Evidences on which you could sometimes have adventured your Souls, and yet the strongest Assaults are to come, and the greatest Forces of Hell reserved for the last Battle. Bottom not your hopes on anything short of a Crucified Christ, not on your Frames, but on his Favor; not upon your Duties, but his Righteousness; nor upon any kindnesses received from him short of a saving union with him; rest not till your Convictions be clear, deep and distressing, such as discover sin to be the greatest evil in its nature and fruits, and its residence and indwelling in you, a burden intolerable; such Convictions as will not admit of after favor or reconciliation to the least known or most beloved sin; that can make your heart to bleed afresh upon every new touch of it, and never at rest till the whole kind of it be destroyed out of your Souls: Labor to see such a Beauty in Christ, as may render all Created Glory as dross and dung in your Eye; stop not till you come to the Excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ as your Lord; till you can discern such a worth in the Person as well as Purchase of Christ, as will make you content to throw all over board, to take in him, and be sick of love till you enjoy him: be sure your close with Christ be right with his whole Person, Will and Designs, to be one with him upon all his own terms. And that this union be not in Judgment and Consent only, but in Heart and Will from your whole Souls, finding an inward likeness and love to him in your renewed nature.
2ly, Go on towards perfection, press after nearer and more complete Conformity to the Nature and Will of Christ every day: Think how short your highest measures do come of perfect holiness in the sight of God; set the Pattern before you every day, that you may be the more ashamed at your present attainments in Grace, and more provoked to higher Aims and Achievements; compare yourselves with them that are above you, with the Rule of Righteousness, and with all your Obligations, Time, Means and Mercies, to keep you humble in your own eyes; look upon your Wants as well as Enjoyments, that you may be as poor in spirit as in condition; that which is wanting in you cannot be numbered: Who am I and what is my people that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? 1 Chron. 19. 14. Keep low thoughts in yourselves under the greatest services you do for God, and the highest honor you receive from God. Alas (said the Lord Du-Plessis to one that commended him for the improvement of his Talent) What is there of mine in that Work? say not that it was I, but God in me. I know more (saith another) by myself to abase me, than any man could know to extol me. So much humility a man hath, so much grace he hath and worth and no more: Dr. Har.
3ly, Keep up a life of faith upon Christ in the promises: As the first quickening of a Christian is by faith, so his whole life is maintained by believing; no longer than you believe can you live: Gal. 2. 20. Your life is hid with Christ in God. Draw fresh Influence thence by faith upon your Hopes, Comforts and Graces under every want, fears and deaths within you; make not your graces or duties the grounds of believing, but encouragements to Faith; study more the nature, freeness, fullness and unchangeableness of redemption grace, and get acquaintance with the promise and persuasions of the truth of them in Christ: To live only by faith (saith Dr. Harris) and a bare Promise without a pawn, and to give all to free grace and to Christ alone, are mighty works; and some of those things he found most difficult.
4ly, Walk in Love as Christ hath loved you: This is the life of Heaven, and beginning of that Excellent glory which shall never be removed; there is nothing does make thee more like to God, more near and dear to him, and more fit for his use than this Grace of Love: Let your Affections be extended as large as the objects of them; unto God, his Word, Ways and People; love God to obey him; his Ways to walk in them, his People to delight in them, to sympathize with them, to mourn over them in their sufferings, to help them in their necessities, to rejoice with them in their consolations, counting their mercies your own, which is no easy part of your duty. It is far harder (saith one) to adopt another's Comforts than his Sorrows, and to hold ones self-exalted in another's exaltation.
5ly, In the enjoyment of the World, get above it, and while you live in it, be daily dying to it; so much as you get above the World, so near are you to God and Glory, and no nearer. Covet not another's Goods, the World is none of your Portion, if God be your part. Oh how much beneath the Extraction, Dignity and Duty of Saints is the love to, and life upon this low and dirty World: leave not Children's bread to feed on such Carrion dogs-meat, and filthy excrements, with which Satan feeds his Laborers. But having spoke largely of this matter in the Book, I advise your Eye and Heart thither for Conviction and Counsel herein.
6ly, Make much of the Time and Means of Grace while you have them; your Glass runs, your Sun hastens, and the Wind blows when and where it listeth. O make use of Time while you have it: God who made nothing in vain, hath work for every hour of your short Day; work as hard as you can, you will find something to do when you come to die. Loss of time (saith Dr. Harris on his Death-bed) sits very near upon me; work, work apace, assure yourselves nothing will more trouble you when you come to die, than that you have done no more for that God which hath done so much for you. Wait upon and walk in the light while you have it; if Grace thinks it not much to spread a Table for you, donit you think it much to spare time to sit down at it: You that find so many things to do when God calls for your Company, will shortly find that God hath other things to do than to mind you when you need his Cordials; how glad would you be of enjoying time to hear the voice of peace when you are entering upon Eternity, who are not at leisure now to hear Divine precepts while in the possession of time: neglect not hearing praying seasons, which are your Seed-time for Glory O that every day (saith one) were a Sabbath or a Fast-day, for then I should be well. Buy not your ease or earthly interest at so dear a rate as the loss of salvation, time and helps: Evidence your love to God by your valuation of his Presence in his Ordinances; How can you long for the enjoyment of God in Heaven, who care not for his company on Earth, or his glorious appearances in his Sanctuary. Stick at nothing that may yield him delight or give him glory, how expensive soever it be on your dearest Comforts and Interests: When one told Du Moulin in his sickness that he wronged himself by speaking so much; 'It is true, said he, but I will die glorifying of God. A Soul that supremely loves God, will count nothing too much to do, part with or suffer that may bring him glory.
7ly. Rest not in your enjoyments of means, without improvement of them: What's a full Table if thy Soul abide empty, and frequent feeding, if thy inner man languish: 'tis a time of dying and secret waste in most Christians; O covet earnestly the best gifts, that you may flourish in the Courts of God, and grow as the Cedars of Lebanon; that you may be thoroughly furnished to every good work, and your profiting appear to all men: Be deeply sensible of your little Fruit under great dressing, and be humbled; take heed of spiritual pride, and puffing's up in your apprehended Excellencies or Privileges; 'tis the humble soul is the most thriving soul; keep your Hearts pure, and Lives unspotted: As sound bodies, so sincere souls are most growing: pare off luxuriant branches as they sprout out, and lay the Ax to the root of them every day; keep up Faith in the Promises of Soul-prosperity to them that serve him in sincerity, Psal. 92. 12, 13. and stay on Christ by Faith for help: when you see nothing but Discouragements in yourselves, and when you are afraid to apply the Promises, even then bless God for them. These Promises, said a doubting Soul, are none of mine, yet I am glad that God hath made them, and for their sakes that shall partake of them; Mr. White.
8thly, Neglect not secret transactions between God and your Souls, to which I fear some of you may be too great strangers: no wonder that Intimacy between God and Souls does fall, when they are seldom together in retirements. Oh take heed of passing by thy Closet or secret corners one day, Matth. 6. 6. or posting out of them before God and your Souls have some Converse together; and be not only constant in it, but careful to please God in the spiritual performance of it: Let not Custom or Formality deprive thee of the sweetness of that bread eaten in secret. You are in this Book more fully called upon to these Duties of secret Prayer, meditation, heart-searching, and watching-work, to which I refer you.
9ly; Make conscience of every Duty you owe towards others, in your Relations, Places and Callings; keep up Family duty, or write Heathen upon thy doors, that the World may know thee: If you neglect God's service, he will not be your Sanctuary; Prayerless houses have broken walls and doors, and no defense against the least evil: If you will not give God your breathings, how can you think he will give you his blessings: 'It is sad that any, especially such whom God hath taken into his house, should shut him out of their doors; or give him such pitiful service as some do, scarce ever reading the Scriptures in their Families from one Lord's-day to another; only send him a little hasty fruit, some short and shuffled prayers once a day: no wonder that salvation come not to their houses, or converting grace into their families, but a flying Roll is over their habitations, and the black marks of Ruin on their Children and Servants: think it not strange that God makes thy pleasant Roses pricking Briars and Thorns to thee, who hast made them Spears and Swords to him. Oh keep with God in every duty of his service, your Relation, Calling and Employments.
Lastly, in every condition walk with God, and wait for God; if he lead you in ways of mercy, follow him in ways of duty. If you have Comforts take heed of doting on or abusing of them: when he sends you Afflictions receive them; be not fainting nor froward under them, but sanctify God in them, and by their hand return to him; do not over-love your mercies, or over-fear your troubles: prepare for Changes, but live upon Immutability, and be settled under all your unsettlements; count nothing strange but sin, and nothing hard to bear, but the absence or anger of a gracious God: lose not your fears in times of peace, neither cast away your confidence in the day of trouble: let your Lamps be always burning, that you may see the way of your duty in the Night of your danger; and how to get in Comfort in your Adversity; and let your loins be girt, that you may be ready both to do your work and to meet your wages; and be always looking and waiting for the coming of your Lord, who will welcome you in the Acceptance of your Duties, uncloath you of your sins and sufferings, and crown your sincerity and faithfulness with a Come ye blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you; which is the longed for Fruit of all his Labors with you, and the subject matter of his daily prayers for you, who is in him that was and is, and is to come,
Your Affectionate Laborer, Fellow Servant, and Brother, Barthol. Ashwood.