Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Steele In Our Spines: Constant Religion

The meditations under this listing [Steele In Our Spines] are from Richard Steele's The Properties And Privileges Of An Upright Man, first published in 1670.

His sanctity is a second nature in him, and that which is natural is constant. There is a great difference between the natural heat of a healthy man and the preternatural heat of a fever; such is the difference between the true saint and the hypocrite. A hypocrite may have some fits of piety, but they are accidental; they flow from some outward cause, and accordingly they last but for a while. And when that cause ceases (suppose some sharp judgment feared or felt, some qualm of conscience or shallow sermon-sickness), then a cold fit follows as bad or worse than before. Alas, it is preternatural; it was no habit. But the upright man has a constant heat; he fears always and maintains constant duty, though he cannot keep equal heat therein.

And here's the difference between the inconstancy of an upright man and of a hypocrite: the inconstancy of the hypocrite is in the substance of the duty itself; one while he prays, another while he restrains prayer; one while he is strict and cautious, and another shortly loose and careless. Whereas the upright man keeps on in the course of his duty, though he cannot do it always alike. He prays, and would not be taken from it, though the thread of his prayers is uneven. There may be remissness in it, but not an intermission of it; there's constant religion, though not equal religion.

The hypocrite makes a cloak of his religion, which he puts on and off as it serves his purpose; the upright man wears it as his everyday clothes, and does not put off his integrity till he dies. There may be some parentheses in his holy course wherein vanity and sin may be written (too many of these, God knows, in the best man's heart and life), but still the sentence runs current; the sense and scope of his heart runs heavenward. On the contrary, the full sense of a hypocrite's heart is to please or promote himself. Though there may be some parentheses of religion, they are no part of the scope of his soul.

You have their character in Psalm 78:36-37, "nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant." There is no greater sign of a rotten heart than a fundamental unsteadfastness in the covenant of God. When a man is ruled by times and companies to show good or evil, this man's heart is not right with God.

It's true, a tempest may bend the boughs of a living tree, or perhaps the tree itself if the storm is great, but they eventually return to their full uprightness. But the rotten sticks and branches are broken and overturned. Just so, some strong temptation may drive an upright man out of his honest way, but he soon returns and, by mending his pace, makes amends for his stumbling. Three Scriptures give the upright man his character concerning this matter.

Proverbs 28:14, happy is the man that feareth always. To be always afraid looks like a miserable life among men, but to have a waking eye and careful heart for fear of sin is no more a misery than to walk or ride with a vigilant regard to prevent a fall. This fear is not troublesome or vexatious at all; he is a happy man who uses it, and no wise man will account the other happy for going, running, riding without fear or wit in danger every moment to break his bones.

Hosea 12:6, keep mercy and judgment, and wait on God continually. The whole life of a sincere saint is a continual waiting upon God; whatever his work is, whoever his company might be, wherever he goes, whenever he eats or drinks, yet in all these he waits upon his God and serves the will of his heavenly father.

Proverbs 23:17, Be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long. This is most emphatic for both the duty commanded and for the term of the duty; both are most appropriate to set out an upright man. The fear of the Lord is universal religion, so be in this. This is more than if he had said, "let the fear of the Lord be in the; be surrounded with it and swallowed up in it." And be in this all the day long, not only a fit of religion at your prayers in the morning and another at night, but work and walk, eat and drink in it all the day long, yea, all your life long, which is but a long day.

The religion of a hypocrite is like a tiring horse, which may go apace in the morning and show much mettle for a while; but the upright man, though more soberly, yet goes more constantly. And in this sense Proverbs 10:9 is most true, "he that walketh uprightly walketh surely." You shall find this man with savory thoughts in his heart at noon and with ejaculations to God at his work; there is a coherence between his duties and his life. In a word, the upright man has four "walks" towards God which will set him fort to the life.

The upright man walks before God. Genesis 17:1, "walk before me, and be thou perfect," or upright. That is whereby the upright man habitually, always, and actually, as much as in him lies, sets the Lord always before him. The upright man thinks, speaks, and acts as if God looked on, weighing not only the matter, but the manner and the motives of his ways, acquitting himself still to his God. 2 Corinthians 2:17, "as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ." Happy forever is that minister who can call God to record on his soul, that as no errors corrupt his doctrine so no base ends corrupt his heart; but that he preaches Christ's will sincerely, as if the Lord himself looked on.

The upright man walks with God, as did Enoch. Genesis 5:22, "and Enoch walked with God." That is so to live as if the Holy God were in person walking with you on earth, or as if you were walking with him in heaven. If God should visibly walk with you on earth, as he was a while with Abraham, oh, with what humility, sanctity, watchfulness, love, and fear would you continually live? What a humble and serious regard would you have towards him? Much more if you were to walk a while with him in heaven, what a frame would you be in? This sense of walking with God no man has skill in save the upright man; he is constantly religious.

The upright man walks after God. Deuteronomy 13:4, "ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice." Where he can see his God walk before him, like a dutiful child, he will walk after him as fast as he can. The praise of Caleb in Numbers 14:24 was that he followed God fully. That simple declaration, "I am the Lord thy God," makes every "thou shalt" of his, and every "thou shalt not," acceptable to an upright man. "Come," says God, "here is a work I must have done. Here you must give, and here you must forgive; here is a saint who must be loved for his own sake, and here is a sinner you must pity for my sake." And the upright man says, "Lord, by thy grace and it shall be done." This is to follow God fully; and this is to walk after God.

The upright man walks like God. 1 John 2:6, "he that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked." Now how did our Lord Jesus walk when he was upon earth? Why, he was a mirror and pattern of humility, justice, charity, meekness, and self-denial. Think often when you are eating, "how did Christ order his meals? Do I give thanks like him, discourse at the table like him?"

Think often when you are hearing and praying, "Did he hear and pray in such a manner as I do? How would he carry himself among his neighbors? How would he instruct and guide this family? How would he bear and improve these reproaches, wants, and troubles? How would he appear for God in such company? How would he sanctify the Sabbath? How would he deal with parents, such children, if he were in my place? How quiet would he be when provoked? How chaste would he be in when tempted? How just and true would he be in his dealings, how cautious of others' names, and how content with his own estate?" Put him often into your case and remember that, if ever you will live with him, you must live like him. By this fruitful and good life you show that God is upright and that there is no unrighteousness in him.


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