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WE are now come to the third instance, wherein we are instructed how to avoid miscarriages in following Christ.

The first instance teaches us to beware of hasty and hypocritical profession, which is the fruit of resolution without deliberation, or sitting down and counting the charges; this was the fault of the scribe.

The second instance cautioneth us against dilatory shifts and excuses. The most necessary business must not be put off upon any pretence whatsoever.

The third instance forbiddeth all thoughts of compounding, or hopes to have Christ and the world too; as this man hoped first to secure his worldly interest, and then to follow Christ at .leisure. Whether this man were called, or uncalled, it appeareth not. It is 131only said in the text, ‘Another also said:’ the middle person was only called by Christ; the other two offered themselves. The first was forward, upon a mistaken ground, to share the honours of the kingdom of the Messiah, which he supposed to be temporal. This last offereth himself, but his heart was not sufficiently loosened from the world. From both we see that ‘it is not in him that willeth, nor in him that runneth, but God that showeth mercy,’ Rom. ix. 16; for neither of those that offered themselves are accepted.

In the words you may observe:—

1. His request.

2. Christ’s answer.

1. His request. This third offereth himself to be a disciple of Christ, but with an exception—that he might take his farewell at home, and dispose of his estate there, and so secure his worldly interests: ‘I will follow thee, but let me bid those farewell which are at home in my house.’ You will say, What harm in this request? Elijah granted it to Elisha, 1 Kings xix. 21. When he had laid his mantle on him, thereby investing him in the office of a prophet, Elisha said, ‘Let me, I pray thee, go and kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee:’ which the prophet granteth, and gave way to Elisha to go home and salute his friends.

I answer—

[1.] The evangelical ministry exceedeth the prophetical, both as to excellency and necessity, and must be gone about speedily without any delay. The harvest was great, and such an extraordinary work was not to be delayed nor interrupted.

[2.] If two men do the same thing, it followeth not that they do it with the same mind. Things may be the same as to the substance or matter of the action, yet circumstances may be different. Christ knew this man’s heart, and could interpret the meaning of his desire to go home first. He might make it a pretence to depart clean away from Christ. We cannot distinguish between the look of Abraham and the look of Lot. One is allowed, the other forbidden. Abraham is allowed to look towards Sodom: Gen. xix. 28, ‘And Abraham got up early in the morning, and looked towards Sodom, and behold the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.’ Yet Lot and his family are forbidden to look that way: Gen. xix. 17, ‘Look not behind thee.’ We cannot distinguish between the laughter of Abraham and the laughter of Sarah: Gen. xvii. 17, ‘And Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born to him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?’ Now compare Gen. xviii. 12; it is said, ‘And Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old, shall I have pleasure, my lord also being old?’ Yet she is reproved, ‘For the Lord said, Wherefore did Sarah laugh?’ The one was joy and reverence, the other unbelief and contempt. We cannot distinguish between the Virgin Mary’s question, Luke i. 34, ‘How can this be?’ and the question of Zachary, John’s father, Luke i. 18, ‘How shall I know this, for I am an old man?’ Mary was not reproved, but he was struck dumb for that speech. But though we cannot distinguish, God, that knoweth the secrets of all hearts, can distinguish.


[3.] Those that followed Christ on these extraordinary calls were to leave all things they had, without any further care about them: Mat. xix. 21, ‘Sell all that thou hast, and follow me, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.’ So Mat. iv. 19, 20, ‘He saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men: and they straightway left their nets and followed him.’ So Mat. ix. 9, ‘As Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.’ Therefore it was preposterous for this man to desire to go home to order and dispose of his estate and family, before he complied with his call.

[4.] In resolution, estimation, and vow, the same is required of all Christians, when Christ’s work calleth for it: Luke xiv. 33, ‘So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be nay disciple.’

2. Christ’s answer, which consists of a similitude, and its interpretation joined together.

[1.] The metaphor or similitude. Taken from ploughmen, who cannot make straight furrows if they look back. So, to look back, after we have undertaken Christ’s yoke and service, rendereth us unfit for the kingdom of God. Putting our hands to the plough is to undertake Christ’s work, or to resolve to be his disciples. Looking back, noteth an hankering of mind after the world, and also a return to the worldly life. For, first, we look back, and then we go back. First, we have an overvaluing of the world, and then we return to the worldly life.

Doct. That looking back will not become those who have set their faces heavenward.

We have an instance in the text of a man which pretended to follow Christ, which is to set our faces heavenward (for we follow Christ, first in labour and patience, and then into glory). But he would look back, and had many thoughts of what he had left at home. And he is pronounced unfit for the kingdom of God, that is, to be a disciple of Christ. And we have another instance, recommended to our observation by our Lord himself: Luke xvii. 32, ‘Remember Lot’s wife;’ that is, remember her sin, and remember her punishment. Both are taken notice of, Gen. xix. 26, ‘But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.’ There was a hankering of mind after what she had left in Sodom. She looked back, because she had left her heart behind her; there were her kindred, her friends, and her country, and pleasant place of abode. That look was a kind of repenting that she had come out of Sodom, And what was her punishment? She that looked back perished as well as they that never came out. Yea, she is set up as a monument or spectacle of public shame and dishonour, to warn the rest of the world to obey God, and trust themselves with his providence.

In handling this point I shall show you:—

1. Upon what occasions we may be said to look back.

2. How ill this becomes those that have put their hands to the plough.

1. Upon what occasions we may be said to look back. A double pair I shall mention.


The first sort of those:—

[1.] That pretend to follow Christ, and yet their hearts hanker after the world, the cares, pleasures, and vain pomp thereof. Certainly all that would follow Christ must renounce their worldly affections and inclinations, or else they can make no work of Christianity. I prove it from the nature of conversion, which is a turning from the creature to God, from self to Christ, and from sin to holiness. The first is proper to our case. As our degeneration was a falling from God to the creature, Jer. ii. 13, so our regeneration is a turning from the creature to God. If we leave the world unwillingly, our dedication will soon come to nothing, for then our hearts are false with God in the very making of the covenant. If we engaged ourselves to God before the fleshly mind and interest were never well conquered, as we were not well loosened from the world, so not firmly engaged to God, and therefore, when our interest requires it, we shall soon forsake God.

[2.] When men are discouraged in his service by troubles and difficulties, and so, after a forward profession, all cometh to nothing: Heb. x. 38, ‘If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.’ The former is looking back, and this is drawing back. The one ariseth out of the other: all their former zeal and courage is lost, they are affrighted and driven out of their profession r and relapse into the errors they have escaped. This is the first pair. Once more, the other pair is this:—

There is a looking back with respect to mortification, and a looking back with respect to vivification.

(1.) With respect to mortification , which is the first part of conversion. So we must not look back, or mind anything behind us, which may turn us back, and stop us in our course. The world and the flesh are the things behind us; we turned our back upon them in conversion, when we turned to God. Grace ‘teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts.’ Titus ii. 12. It is the world that doth call back our thoughts, and corrupt our affections—the world, that is an enemy to God, and our religion, James iv. 4. Therefore, the world must be renounced, and we must grow dead to the world, that we may be alive to God. There is no halting between both.

(2.) With respect to vivification, or progress in the duties of the holy and heavenly life. So the apostle telleth us, Phil. iii. 13, ‘But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,’ &c. Farther progress in holiness is the one thing that we should mind, and that above all other things. This is the unum necessarium, Luke x. 42; the primum or principium, the one thing, that is, the main thing: Ps. xxvii. 4, ‘One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after.’ But how should we mind it? Not looking to the things which are behind, but looking to the things which are before. The things behind are our imperfect beginnings, or so much of the race as we have over come and got through. It is the sluggard’s trick to consider how much of the journey is past, or how far the rest of the racers are behind him. But he that sets heartily to his business considers how much is before, that he may get through the remainder of his race, and so obtain the prize. The things which are before us are God and heaven, and the 134remaining duties of the holy life. These we should mind, and not look back, as satisfying ourselves with what we have attained to already.

2. How ill it becometh those that have put their hands to the spiritual plough.

[1.] In respect of the covenant into which they enter, or the manner of entrance into it, which is by a fixed unbounded resignation of themselves unto God. Till this be done, we are but half Christians. As suppose we desire privileges, would have God to be our God, but neglect duties, and are loth to become his people; or suppose we see a necessity of that, and so are in some measure willing to give up ourselves to him, yet if our resolution be not fixed, or be not unbounded, without reserves, and against all reserves, the covenant is not condescended unto. We do nothing unless we do that which is further required of us.

(1.) If it be not fixed, but wavering, we do but treat; we do not conclude, and come to a full agreement with God: Acts xi. 23, ‘He exhorted them all, that, with full purpose of heart, they would cleave unto the Lord.’ It implieth such a resolution as carrieth the force of a principle. Agrippa was almost a Christian, had some enamouring and uncertain inclinations: Acts xxvi. 28, ‘Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.’ Christ is resolved to stick to his servants, and therefore he expects that they should be resolved to stick to him.

(2.) If it be not unbounded, reserving nothing, but leaving all to Christ, to be disposed of at his will. Except but one thing, and the covenant is not fully concluded; it sticketh at that article; it is but hucking with God, not agreeing with God. Resolving with reserves is no resolution at all. It is but dealing like Ananias and Sapphire, giving something, and keeping back the rest, Acts v. Christ will have no disciples which will not part with all. Nothing must be reserved, neither credit, nor life, nor estate, Luke xiv. 28. Now, none of this can be as long as you look back, or allow that that will tempt you to look back; that is, till you be thoroughly loosened from the world; for whilst the heart cleaveth to any earthly thing, your resolution is unfixed. They that only take Christ upon liking, will soon be tempted to mislike him and his ways; and your resolution is not unbounded, whilst you set upon the profession of religion, and yet keep the, world, or something of the world: your heart will ever and anon be seeking occasions to withdraw; for you were false at heart at your first setting out, and treacherous in the very making of your covenant.

[2.] With respect to the duties of Christianity, or that part of the kingdom of God which concerneth your obedience to him, you are never fit for these while the heart cleaveth to earthly things, and you are still hankering after the world.

A threefold defect there will be in our duties:—

(1.) They will be unpleasant.

(2.) They will be inconstant

(3.) Imperfect in such a degree as to want sincerity.

(1.) Your duty will be unpleasant to you, so far as you are worldly and carnal, so that you can never yield cheerful and ready obedience to God. 135Certain it is that we must serve God, and serve him with delight. His commandments should be kept, and they should not be grievous to us, 1 John v. 3. Now, what is the great impediment? Worldly lusts are not thoroughly purged out of the heart; for presently he addeth this reason, ‘For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.’ It is a hard heart maketh our work hard; and the heart is hard and unpersuadable when our affections are engaged elsewhere. The readiness of our obedience dependeth on the fervency of our love; the fervency of our love on our victory over the world; our victory over the world on the strength of our faith; the strength of our faith on the certainty we have of the principal object of our faith; the principal object of our faith is, that Jesus is the Son of God, whose counsel we must take, if we will be happy. And the evidence of that principle is the double testimony or attestation given to him from heaven, or in the heart of a believer. Once settle in that, that you can entirely trust yourselves and all your interests in the hands of Christ, and all duties will be easy.

(2.) You will be inconstant in it, and apt to be ensnared again, when you meet with occasions and temptations that suit with your heart’s lusts. As the Israelites were drawn out of Egypt against their wills, the flesh-pots of Egypt were still in their minds, and, therefore, were ready to make themselves a captain and return again, Num. xiv. 4; and James i. 8, ‘A double-minded man is unstable in his ways.’ Nothing will hold an unwilling heart. Demas had not quitted this hankering mind after the world, and therefore it prevented ‘him doing his duty: 2 Tim. iv. 10, ‘Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.’ He left the work of the gospel to mind his own private affairs. The love of riches, pleasure, ease, and safety, if they be not thoroughly renounced, will tempt us to a like revolt and neglect of God. Therefore, to prevent it, when we first put our hands to the plough, we must resolve to renounce the world: Ps. xlv. 10, ‘Forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house.’ Look back no more. As long as we are entangled in our lusts and enticements of the world, we are unmeet to serve God. Paul counted those things that were gain to him to be loss for Christ: Phil. iii. 7, 8, ‘Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but dung, that I may win Christ.’ Paul repented not of his choice, but showeth his perseverance in the contempt of the world,—I have counted, and do count. He seeth no cause to recede from his choice. Many affect novelties, are transported at their first change, but repent at leisure.

(3.) We are imperfect in it; I mean, to such a degree as to want sincerity, for they bring nothing to perfection, Luke viii. 14. Their fruit never groweth ripe or sound, for religion is an underling. Some good inclinations they have to heavenly things, but their worldly affections are greater, and overtop them so, that though they do not plainly revolt from their profession, yet their duties want that life and power which is necessary, so that they bring little honour to Christ by being Christians.

[3.] In respect of the hurt that cometh from their looking back, both to themselves and to religion.


(1.) To themselves: 2 Peter ii. 20, 21, ‘For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, their latter end is worse with them than their beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.’ Many have so much of the knowledge of Christ as to cleanse their external conversation; but sin and the world were never so effectually cast out but they are in secret league with them still; and, therefore, they are first entangled, and then overcome; first enticed by some pleasure or profit, and then carried away with the temptation. But what cometh of this? ‘Their latter end is worse than their beginning.’ Their sin is greater, since they sin against light and taste; their judgment is greater, both spiritual and eternal; as God giveth them over to brutish lusts, and to the power of Satan. And this will be a cutting thought to them to all eternity, to remember how they lost their acquaintance with, and benefit by, Christ, by looking back to the world, and deserting that good way wherein they found so much sweetness in Christ.

(2.) The mischief which is done to religion. They wonderfully dishonour God, and bring contempt upon the ways of godliness, when, after they have made trial of it, they prefer sin before it, as if God had wearied them, Micah vi. 3. Therefore it is just with God to vindicate his honour. And Satan, after he seemeth to be for a while rejected, taketh a more durable possession of them, Luke xi. 26. Oh, think of this often!—to look back after we seemed to escape doth involve us in the greater sin and misery. Better never to have yielded to God so far, than to retract at last, partly because their sins are sins against knowledge: Luke xii. 47, ‘That servant which knew his Lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes,’ Partly because they are unthankful for so much deliverance, by the knowledge of Christ, as they received, and that is an heinous aggravation of their offence. Partly because their sin is treachery and breach of vows, for they turned the back upon the world and all the allurements thereof, when they consented to the covenant, and resolved to follow Christ in all conditions, till he should bring them into a place of rest and safety. Partly because they sin against experience, after they have had some relish and taste of better things, Heb. vi. 4. Partly because their conversion again is the more difficult, the devil having a greater hold of them, Mat. xii. 44.

[4.] With respect to the disproportion that is between the things that tempt us to look back, and those things that are set before us.

(1.) The things that tempt us to look back are the pleasures of sin and the profits of the world. Both are but a temporary enjoyment: Heb. xi. 25, ‘The pleasures of sin, which are but for a season.’ The pleasures of sin are base and brutish, which captivate and bring a slavery on the soul, Titus iii. 3. The enjoyments of the world cannot last long; your gust and relish of them, within a little while will be gone, 1 John ii. 17; yet these are the things that tempt you to forget and draw you off from God. And will you marry your souls again to those sins from which they were once divorced, and for such paltry vanities repent of your obedience to God, even after you have made 137 trial of him? Are these things grown better, or God grown worse, that you should turn your hearts from him to them?

(2.) The things that are before you are God and heaven; reconciliation with God, and the everlasting fruition of him in glory.

Reconciliation with God, with the consequent benefits; communion with God now, peace of conscience, the gift of the Spirit, and the hopes of glory. If there were no more than these, shall we look back? Can we find better things in the world? Alas! there is nothing here but fears and snares, a vexatious uncertainty, and polluting enjoyments, such as may easily make us worse, but cannot make us better. What is this but to forsake the cold flowing waters for a dirty puddle? Jer. xviii. 14, our own mercies for lying vanities, Jonah ii. 8.

The everlasting fruition of him in glory. Shall we look back that are striving for a crown of endless glory, as if we were weary of the pursuit, and give it over as a hopeless or fruitless business? If Christ will lead us to this glory, let us follow him, and go on in what is well begun without looking back. Never let us leave a crown of glory for a crown of thorns.

Use. Is for instruction, to teach us what to do if we would set about the strict practice of religion.

1. See that your worldly love be well mortified, for till you be dead to the world God cannot recover his interest in your souls, nor the divine nature be set up there with any life and power, 2 Peter i. 4; see also 1 John ii. 15, and 1 John v. 4. Till this be done, God and glory cannot be your ultimate end, nor the main design of your life; for the world will turn your hearts another way, and will have the principal ruling and disposing of your lives: the world will have that love, trust, care, and service that belongeth to God, and be a great hindrance to you in the way to heaven, and you will never have peace. The world doth first delude you, and then disquiet you, and if you cleave to it as your portion, you must look for no more. Well, then, mortified it must be; for how can you renounce the world as an enemy if your hearts be not weaned from it so far that it is a more indifferent thing to you to have it or want it, and that you be not so eager for it, or so careful about it?

2. Let not the world steal into your hearts again, nor seem so sweet to you, for then you are under a temptation. It is our remaining folly and backsliding nature that is ever looking to the world which we have forsaken. Now, when you find this, whenever the world hath insinuated into your affections, and chilled and cooled them to God and heaven, see that the distemper be presently expelled. Pray, as David, Ps. cxix. 36, ‘Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not unto covetousness.’ Be sure to be more fruitful in good works: Luke xi. 41, ‘Give alms of such things as you have, and behold all things are clean unto you.’ We renounced the world in our baptismal vow, we overcame the world in our whole after course. It is not so got out of any but that we still need an holy jealousy and watchfulness over ourselves. Now, that we may do both of these, I shall give you some directions.

[1.] Fix your end and scope, which is to be everlastingly happy in the enjoyment of God. The more you do so, the less in danger you 138will be of looking back. We are often pressed to lay up treasures in heaven, Mat. vi. 20; and, as those that are ‘risen with Christ,’ to ‘seek the things which are above,’ Col. iii. 1. Our Lord himself saith to the young man, Mark x. 21, ‘Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasures in heaven.’ If your life and business be for heaven, and your mind be kept intent on the greater matters of everlasting life, nothing will divert you therefrom; you will almost be ready to forget earth, because you have higher and better things to mind. It is not barely thinking of the troubles of the world, or confessing its vanities, will cure your distempers, but the true sight of a better happiness. A little in hand is better, you will think, than uncertain hopes; but a sound belief, which is ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,’ that openeth heaven to you, and will soon make you of another mind.

[2.] Entirely trust yourself, and all your concernments, in the hand of God. Christ expected from all those whom he called in an extraordinary manner, that they should leave all without any thought or solicitude about it, trusting in him not only for their eternal reward, but for their provision and protection by the way during their service. And the same in effect is required of all Christians; not to leave our estates or neglect our calling, but renouncing the world, and resolving to take such a lot in good part as he shall carve out to them. All that enter into covenant with God must believe him to be ‘God all-sufficient,’ Gen. xvii. 1. The apostle, when he dissuadeth from worldliness, he produceth a promise of God’s not forsaking us and leaving us utterly destitute: Heb. xiii. 5, ‘Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have. For he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’ On the other side, certainly, it is unbelief that is the cause of apostasy, or falling back from God: Heb. iii. 12, ‘Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.’ Certainly, when we have resigned up ourselves to Christ to do his work, we may trust him boldly, and serve him cheerfully; we need not look back to shift for ourselves. If you are willing to be his people, he will be your God and your Saviour, and then you may conclude that ‘God, even our God, shall bless us,’ Ps. lxvii. 6. He will not be wanting to those that unreservedly yield up themselves to his obedience.

[3.] Consider that they are deluded hypocrites that will meddle no farther with religion than they can reconcile it with their worldly happiness. Whatever glorious notions they have of God, or pretences of admiring free grace, it is self-denial that Christ calleth for; and taking up our cross is the first lesson in his school. And true conversion is a turning from the creature to God, and beginneth in mortification; and baptism implieth a renunciation of the devil, the world, and the flesh. Therefore those that will save their worldly state, and launch out no further in the cause of religion than they may easily get ashore again when a storm cometh, and love and serve God no further than will stand with the contentment of the flesh, and divide their hearts between God and the world, give God but half, and the worst half; surely these were never sincere with God. It is an impossible 139design they drive on, to serve two masters, Mat. vi. 24. You must let go Christ and glory, if you be so earnest after the world, and so indulgent to the flesh.

[4.] Consider how much it is your business to observe what maketh you fit or unfit for the kingdom of God. The aptitude or inaptitude of means is to be judged with respect to the end, as they help or hinder the attainment of your great end; for finis est mensura mediorum: Mat. vi. 22, ‘The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.’ Now our great end is to enjoy God for ever. And what fitteth you for this,—looking back, or keeping the heart in heaven? Experience will show. The ob servant and watchful Christian will soon find where his great hinderance lieth. How much he findeth his heart down by minding the world, and how he needeth to wind it up again by faith and love: Ps. xxv. 1, ‘Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.’ The world is the great impediment that keepeth him from God, and indisposeth him for his service, dampeth his love, and quencheth his zeal, and abateth his diligence; he will soon find how much more he might do for God if he could draw off his heart more from those inferior objects. This is the weight that presseth us down, and maketh us so cold and cursory in God’s service.

[5.] Consider, in the text, here is the kingdom of God, which is double—the kingdom of grace, and the kingdom of glory. The one is called, ‘The kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ,’ Rev. i. 9; the other is called, ‘His kingdom and glory,’ 1 Thes. ii. 12. By the first we are prepared for the second; and the second is the great encouragement. Now they that look back are unfit for either the duties of Christians or the reward of Christians; he flincheth from his duty here, and shall be shut out of heaven at last: 2 Thes. i. 5, ‘That ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer.’ They are only counted worthy who constantly and patiently look for it, and venture something on it.

[6.] Consider the great loss you will incur by looking back after you have put your hand to the plough. You will lose all that you have wrought, and all that you have suffered.

What you have wrought: 2 John 8, ‘Look to yourselves, that ye lose not the things which ye have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward.’ You forfeit the reward of your good beginnings. A partial reward they may have in this life, while they continue their well-doing (for no man is a loser by God), but . not a complete and full reward till the life to come. Some overflowings of God’s temporal bounty they may have, but not the crown of life and glory. So Ezek. xviii. 24, ‘All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned.’ All is obliterated and forgotten and made void, as to any interest in the great reward. This was represented in the type of the Nazarite: Num. vi. 12, ‘The days that were before shall be lost, because his separation was defiled.’ He was to begin all anew. All that you have suffered, as a man may make some petty losses for Jesus Christ: Gal. iii. 4, ‘Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.’ This maketh all the cost and expense that you have been at to be to no purpose.

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