Monday, June 9, 2008

Steele In Our Spines: Ground of Uprightness

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.

This uprightness respects God and respects man. The former may be called "uprightness of heart," the latter "uprightness of life." And both of these must be explained [the first will be explained in this and the subsequent five entries]; and, where they meet, there we find an upright man.

Concerning uprightness of heart, we must assert that it is not so much a distinct grace, a grace by itself, as it is all grace. It is that which stamps a reality on every other grace. Without it, we cannot believe our faith, nor love our love, nor hope well of our hope itself.

Uprightness and watchfulness are universal graces; they are of a general necessity. Uprightness is necessary to the being and truth of grace, and watchfulness is necessary to the preservation and exercise of grace. And on that account, sincerity is called a girdle in Ephesians 6:14, "having your loins girded about truth." Religion is to many as a cloak (though it will prove the dearest cloak that ever was worn) which they can put on when it serves their purposes, and put off when it troubles them in their lust. But sincerity is like a girdle that ties it close to us. This makes all our garments fit close to us, and to be ungirt here is to be unblessed.

Uprightness of heart is that grace or gracious temper whereby the soul is unreservedly resigned to God, and heartily bent to walk with him without guile. In short, it is when one is a man after God's own heart; for truth is nothing but an agreement of things with their first principles, so that the heart that agrees plainly with the heart and will of God is an upright heart.

The same thing is meant by an honest heart in Luke 8:15. That is a heart resolved to carry squarely towards God. Such a heart, in the hearing of God's word, is clearly carried with the stream of God's will, without exception or dissimulation. As an honest man is ruled and swayed by reason and equity in a business, without squinting at his own opinions and ends, even so an upright heart yields honestly his reason and and will captive to the will of God, though it crosses his own conceits and ends. And thus he is a man after God's own heart, is as like (human frailty considered) as ever he can be.

This blessed uprightness may be considered in its grounds, in its nature, and in its object.

The ground and root of uprightness of heart stands in the total receiving of Christ by the heart, and total resignation of the heart to him. When this is done, a good foundation is laid for sincerity of soul.

First, there must be a total receiving of Jesus Christ as offered in the gospel; this is when you take hold of the Lord Jesus and cleave to him with purpose of heart. Barnabas pressed them at Antioch to this in Acts 11:23. Many have a month's mind of Christ, some wishes and wounds, but will you have him and cleave to him, and that with purpose of heart?

Sincerity is to receive a whole Christ with a whole heart. It is not to receive Christ the savior or refuge only, or most would be willing, but Christ the prince and portion also in the land of the living. So David could say in Psalm 142:5, "O Lord, thou art my refuge, and my portion in the land of the living." But how many would have the Lord Jesus Christ for the refuge when conscience pinches, affliction presses, or death stares them in the face; and how few will choose him for their portion and happiness in the midst of their outward comforts? The hypocrite dares not die without him, and the upright saint cannot live without him. Song of Solomon 1:4, "The upright love thee," and love cannot live contentedly without fruition.

To be content with Christ because of some present need of him is one thing, but it is nothing if that is all. But to choose him as the fairest of ten thousand, and that with an entire heart; to have mind, will, conscience, and affection all of one mind, and this mind to be set on Christ's yoke as well as his crown, his spirit as well as his merit, his rule as well as his righteousness -- there is the upright heart.

A hypocrite has some fancy for Jesus Christ, but will not have all of him. This part pleases him, but this part does not; and so he dodges endlessly and parleys with him through the window, but bolts the door and keeps him out forever. Oh, that ever a holy, just, and offended God should follow such miserable sinners with a bleeding Christ in his arms and that ever such wretches should refuse him!

Second, there must be a total resignation of the heart unto the Lord Jesus Christ, wherein you cordially, deliberately, and freely give up your souls and bodies to him and his service, which is called "engaging the heart to approach to the Lord." Jeremiah 30:21, "who is this that engaged his heart to approach unto me, Saith the Lord." And thereupon that happy covenant is drawn in the next verse, "Ye shall be my people, and I will be your God."

"Who is this?" God asks. "Who in the world? Who in this congregation? Who in this family? Who in this seat? Where is the man, the woman, the child?"

Oh, let each answer quickly, "It is I." But you must engage, not only hanker, incline, desire, purpose, but engage. It is not bidding, but buying, that will make this pearl your own. Alas, it is the ordinary guise of people to stand off and look only. But, sirs, will you engage? It is a bargain; and will you stick to it, get or lose by it? Will you have Christ? Then there must be the engagement of the heart. You subscribed your hands in baptism; this very covenant was sealed in your name and on your behalf when you were little children, and your not revoking it asserts it.

But now we come for your hearts' engagement thereunto. Where is the mind, the conscience, the will? Oh, where is the will that submits, resolves, and engages to be the Lord's? Happy this day, happy you will be, if hereupon you shall say, "I am the Lord's"; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob, and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name Israel (Isaiah 44:5). You are the Lord's by your Christian names already. Oh, when will you be his by your surname also?

This is the gospel's great design; this is our errand here; we come for you and loathe to go without you. We beseech you by the mercies of God to present yourselves as a living sacrifice to God. Poor sinners are like besieged rebels whom Christ Jesus will either win or starve. His ordinance is mounted and it batters. A breach is made in the judgment, but the sinner will not yield; another in the conscience, yet is he loathe to yield. The white flag of mercy is set up, but for a long time the sturdy sinner will not look at it. The red flag is hung out, divine wrath is on the march, and a storm is preparing. The ordinance of God is planted again; and now if it hits right, and a breach is made upon the will, then Christ is victorious, the city is won, and the sinner yields. And then his note is changed. Psalm 116:16, "O Lord, truly I am thy servant, I am thy servant." Mark how the Psalmist doubles it, as if to say, "I am, I am, truly I am." Doubled refusals call for doubled submissions.

The sinner must say, "I will neither be my own master nor my own servant. I here make a deed of gift of my whole self to thee without reservation, and without power of revocation." It is not enough to say this in a pang of kindness, or in a compliment, as we do to men. What is more common with us than to say, "I am your servant, sir?" But it is a servant without service, and God has a great many such servants. They are his servants, but their own masters. But holy David was not such a man. "I am thy servant, truly I am thy servant. I am resigned to thee, I am resolved for thee. Thou hast bored my ears (Psalm 40:6) and obliged me to thee forever. I will be thine totally and finally."

When you give yourselves to the Lord in this way (2 Corinthians 8:5), this is the ground and root of uprightness.


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