Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.—Habakkuk 2.4.

 
Sermons

By

William Guthrie

From:
Sermons in Times of Persecution

SERMON XV.1
"And she said, Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table."—Matthew 15.27.
The DOCTRINE is this:—Although there be gradual differences in many things in God's house, yet there is no essential difference amongst these things.
This woman acknowledges that there was a feast at the table, that people might partake of, as also crumbs not essentially different from the great loaves. There are some that sit at His elbow at the table; and there are others that have a true interest in Him, and yet are but dogs in their own esteem in respect of others; and these creep in among the children and eat the crumbs that fall from the table; and yet these crumbs are essential bread as well as the great loaves are.

Now, in speaking to this subject, we shall,

  1. Show what are these things or matters of God, wherein there is such a gradual difference, and wherein this doth appear.
  2. Show you that, though there be such gradual differences, yet there is no essential difference.
  3. Show you why the Lord hath resolved to keep such a difference amongst the receipts in the various administrations to His people, that often we think it would be much better if we had the managing of the business; and that all should be equal and of one size in this respect.
I. The first thing then, is, to show wherein this difference does most appear. And it appears,

1. In this, that there is a gradual difference among people's transgressions; and therefore there is a gradual difference amongst them in the law-work which they undergo. There are some that have such strong convictions of their sins that they can scarcely say they have any impressions of them upon their hearts. And again, there are some others that are kept many a day under the spirit of bondage. Yea, upon some they have been so heavy that they have been ready to kill themselves; and others put almost stone-blind with terror of conscience. But it is the mercy of some that they are not put upon that extremity.

2. There is a difference in the Lord's outletting of His saving grace. To some He has given but a little measure of grace, but yet so great that they still take up God to be God, and sin to be sin. But oh, how far are they from that sagacity and wisdom in grace that others are partakers of! The Lord hath given it to some only to look to Christ, and they dare do no more. But He giveth to others to receive Him with open arms. He makes out all His receipts in different proportions, and yet there is no ground of quarrelling; so it is in all the graces;—some get strength to stand in a tentation, and there are some that dare not venture on sufferings as others do. And,

3. There is a gradual difference in the special manifestation of His favour, and in the shedding abroad of the light of His countenance, which ye call sensible presence, or the shedding abroad of His love upon a man's heart. There are some that have but tasted of these things, so that, even though they had them, yet they would scarcely have the confidence to affect that they have anything at all. Others have been feasted with apples and wine "well refined on the lees for many days." And yet there is no ground of quarrelling with Him where there is a gradual difference amongst His people in this respect. There are some called babes, being weak; some called young men, being strong; and some are called fathers, because of experience.

Lastly, There is a gradual difference in the promises relating to all these fore-mentioned sizes, the Lord having made one or other of the promises answerable to each person's case, size, and condition. There is a promise made to him that hungereth and thirsteth, to him that is called and to him that wills, to them that can but look to Him, to them that open their mouth, and to them that are far off. All these promises are moulded differently by Him to answer the case of each particular person.

II. The second thing we would speak unto is, to let you see that there is no essential difference amongst them. This will appear, if we consider the true nature of the things themselves that we have spoken of; for to partake of them in the meanest degree has in it no essential difference from partaking of them in the very highest degree spoken of in the Scriptures. For,

1st, As to the law-work, which makes way through people's souls for Christ, some have got but little of it; and yet they have walked afterwards, so that they durst not say but that they had the grace of God, as well as those who had more of it, for in both cases there has been a real belief of the wrath and curse of God, due to them for sin and transgression.

2ndly, There hath been a proportion of the curse of the law directly to themselves for sin; and then the party, from an apprehension of misery, flees from himself, being now past hope of any relief from himself, feeling his utter inability to help himself. Christ has thus made room for Himself to come in, and has discovered sin in such a light as has excited in them a hatred against it, even the most earnest beloved sin as the worst thing imaginable. This makes out that in these things there is no essential difference. Then,

3rdly, If we consider the nature of faith, there is no difference in this respect. There are some that have weak faith and dare never call it faith; and there are others that have strong faith, and yet, I say, there is no essential difference. It is called "the like precious faith," and not the like strong faith. For is there not in the former persons the denial of self-righteousness, or anything that could help to fit them for appearing before God. This is to be found in both parties. And have not both had the faith of Christ's fullness; they believe that there is a fullness in Him to satisfy and satiate the soul. But all the matter is, how to get it? However, there is real faith in both parties. Both consent that there is a fullness in Him suitable to their case. In the weakest faith there is a desire and an endeavour to have it implanted in the heart. Herein stands the true essence of faith; when the creature applies Christ in the promise to itself and its own case, although it knows not if it shall come speed. If so, then, what need ye make such a noise that ye have not so much faith as others have?

4thly, Then there is a gradual difference in the grace of love. There are some that durst never say that they have love to Christ; and yet are loathing themselves that they could never love Him. Again, there are others that find the passion of love so carrying them out toward Him, that they are made to disdain all other things besides Him. Oh, but there is a great difference here, and yet no effectual difference! For is there not that operating love to Him, that sets Him above all other creatures in their esteem? There is an invincible respect to Christ which sets Him beyond and above all creatures, "so that many waters cannot quench it, nor can the floods drown it."

Yea, I may say, many ill turns done you will not quench it, nor will many waters of afflictions alienate your affections from Him. If the dearest friend you have in the world had done the hundredth part of that which you did to Him, ye would never be reconciled unto him; they would never have got your hearts again. Then, is there not respect to Him that turns to jealousy, and that jealousy burns like a fire? If ye have true grounds of jealousy of His love and respect to you, is there anything in the world that can quench it? As ye could not readily fall upon that thing in the world that could satisfy you, as to the jealousy that He loves you not. Again, if there are jealousies that ye have not a regard to God's commands, upon which the Spirit of God has terminated that love, although ye have not yet overcoming assurance or dare affirm that there is effectual obedience to His commands, yet I hope by this ye may find yourselves to have the essentials of true love. Again,

5thly, There is, in the grace of patience, a gradual, though no essential difference. I know that this sticks much with the people of God that they are so far different in point of submission from others; and that they cannot bear things as others do, and yet have a grudge to say they have no grace. Yet I must let you see that it is not the least degree of patience that they have; for they have given away their souls to Christ, and have respect to His commands, and that must fix the character of the party: for patience will not do where that is a-wanting. If ye grant that, then ye must grant this also, that all the graces of God are there in the habit. And then the exercise of this grace of patience appears in their self-judging and acknowledging that they have justly procured these things that they have met with. It looks like patience when they judge themselves worthy of much more punishment than ever He laid upon them. It looks like true patience, as I think, when there is a cordial justifying of God in what He does to them, and a deliberate submission to Him in cold blood; and when their heart will not go with them, then they appeal to God to make it submit. And herein, I say, lies the nature of true patience. By this ye may apprehend that there is no essential difference in the work of grace amongst the hearts of His people; because the promises are equally directed to all the several degrees even to the meanest of His people. This says they agree with others essentially. Whatever promises are made to the man that receives Him with open arms are also made to him that but looks toward Christ, and cannot tell if he shall get Him; the promises are made equally sure to both. And this will make it out that there are many a time as good accounts had of the meanest of gracious recipients, and of the meanest sizes, in difficult cases in the day of suffering and testifying for Christ's interest in the world, as there are of them that are of a greater size and capacity; by which we may discern there is no essential difference. It has been often found that some who durst never claim an interest in Christ, nor had the confidence to do so, yet have been as bold for the interest of Christ, when it came to the bit, as those who were of a greater size both for gifts and graces. And many a time the man that could never think to bear an ill word from his neighbour has suffered cheerfully to be dragged to a prison and hanged for the cause of Christ without ever opening his mouth. Many a time the weakest, that ye never made any account of, have, at their death, made a better confession of Christ than the greatest professor in all the country. And the reason is, Christ has got His pennyworth, so to speak, of the man that has been a professor for years past, and was known to be such through all the country before his death. But there is a poor man, or woman, that was never known to have anything before he was taken by death, is seen glorifying God and His free grace to the refreshing of all who stand by. So that all these different degrees of grace are all of one and the same gracious spirit, and the same gracious work, and have the same gracious ends. And that says that there is no difference essentially, although there be different manifestations and administrations. It is unity with Him, and conformity to Him that all these administrations drive on; that is the great end of the whole.

III. The third thing is, Wherefore doth the Lord keep or make these gradual differences in His way of dealing to His people? Ye would think it much better for God to give a great stock of faith, love, patience, &c., to all His people, and that it would be more comfortable to them than when they are kept at such a great distance, and with such a scanty measure of gifts and graces. It is true we think so; but He is much wiser than we. For

1st, He does it because He has resolved to give out divers administrations to the body whereof He Himself is the Head. He will have different members of His body, and different qualifications with which he will be served. He will have in the body eyes, hands, feet, &c. And yet they are but one complete body, and communion of saints; which could not be if they were all alike. "Ye know more than I do," says one, "and have greater understanding in the matters of God." "Well," says another, "but I love more than ye do. Ye think ye would do more for Christ than I would do, but it may be if there were ought to do for the cause of Christ I would fight better than ye would do for all that."

2ndly, By this gradual manner of His administration, the Lord keeps the ransom still in request, and the intercession of Christ in heaven still in request. For if we had gotten it in our own hand, Christ would soon have been out of request with us, and we would soon lose respect to the ransom. But now when infirmities appear from day to day it keeps the ransom still precious to the soul. Oh, but Christ is precious to the soul when it thinks upon this, "I have gotten much from Him, but I want much, and I must have more from Him."

3rdly, The Lord is pleased to continue this diversity of administrations of grace because the earth could not bear grace in its perfection. Therefore hath the Lord given it out in a small measure. For the Lord hath determined to transplant all the trees of grace into Immanuel's land, where only there is the full and uninterrupted breathing of the Holy Ghost. The creature while here cannot bear perfection. And then

4thly, The Lord is pleased to do so because He intends there shall be a clear difference betwixt earth and heaven. And oh, how sweet will heaven and Christ be, and the fullness of joy that is at His right hand to the poor creature that never could be satisfied with Him here on earth! If folk could get a satisfying sight of Christ here on earth, they would become out of conceit with heaven and eternal glory. Oh, but heaven and perfection will be sweet to those who could never get their corruptions mortified here in this world, but were trampled upon by them day by day; and many a sigh they heaved and many a groan for their redemption while on earth. Oh, but heaven and glory will be sweet unto them! since the hopes of it are sometimes so sweet and comfortable even now in this militant state.

USE.—Now for use let me farther obtest you that since there is such difference in the administration of these graces, you do not mistake Him, nor go away with an evil report of Him, though ye find not these things in yourselves that others have.

1st, I obtest you that ye always account these crumbs essential bread and cast not at them though ye get no more at present. As for the being and true nature of grace, never cease till it have an existence within you. Make sure of this, and then have a respect to all His commands. Acknowledge God in this, and thank Him for it, although ye cannot attain unto a greater degree of grace.

2ndly, Although I would have you covet the best things, yet I would have you be thankful for the least things ye have received. Be thankful, although ye have not attained unto such a frame of heart as you would have desired at this time. And,

3rdly, I pray all of you that ye judge not others because they are not of your own size. It is a miserable evil in these times, that a dreadful spirit of jealousy prevails one of another, of their falling in with the snares of the time; because below them in understanding in the matters of God that are now in debate. And yet when it comes to the point, these may be as particular in their confession of the truth as ye will be, and perhaps may abide better by it. Neither on the other hand are ye to think that those who can speak better in these things than ye can do are under a delusion. And,

4thly, Make this use of it, that if it is so, that gracious recipients under many degrees suffer many foils by corruptions, then what will grace suffer in them that have but a third degree but turn it over again? If he that has but a third degree of grace resist a temptation and comes honourably through, how much is your sin and shame that are soiled and snared by corruption, though you have received grace in the sixth degree? But be it known unto you that it is not the degrees of grace that hold out against corruption and enable to debate with it and to resist temptations, but the sovereignty of grace; otherwise how comes it that he that is in the lively exercise of grace is almost overcome and foiled by temptations when he that is out of frame, and grace much under with him, is not so much undone with corruption? Truly no man can give a reason for it but this, that He hath set a bound to the sea, and said, "Hitherto shall thou come, but no further." He hath set bounds to a man's corruption that such a length it shall come and no further. Therefore trust much to Him and His sovereignty, and little to grace received in the highest degree that men usually receive in the administration of it; for many times those from whom least is expected prove most forthcoming for the glory of God. Who would have expected this of this Canaanitish woman? And oh but she proves a frugal and wise woman!

But let us then, Sirs, for farther use of this doctrine, observe, 1st, That the gradual degrees of grace and parts is not from the disagreement of natural properties; for many a time those persons that have but little promising-like, and are but like striplings, will get as well through as those who are of a greater stature; shrubs will sometimes stand, yea, even small plants in God's garden, when the most tall cedars will split, fall, or break in pieces before the wind of temptation.

2ndly, It is most consonant to the nature of grace that where least is expected most should come forth to the praise of God. Because grace runs in that channel, "Not many wise, not many noble, not many mighty are called; but God hath chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world, to confound the things which are mighty."

3rdly, This is most congruous to Christ's prophecy: "Many that are first, shall be last; and the last shall be first." And,

4thly, This is disagreeable to the experience of the people of God. In all ages it was still so, that there was most good found in the hands where little was expected. What then are these things that make us expect little at some people's hands?

1. They are come of an evil kind and of an ill education. But it is a small matter with God to make such profitable. For such was this woman. She was come of an ill kind, and of a bad education; and yet she was as wise a woman as was in all that country.

2. Where there is an unfruitful soil, and want of the means of instruction, it is a circumstance that makes little be expected at their hand. But that will not tell; for there is many an openhearted Christian in the world that no person can tell where he got his knowledge, for in the bounds allotted him there is not one full meal to be gotten; but they have been obliged to break over into some other soil for sustenance.

3. Little profession of the party makes us suspect them and look for little good from them. They were never much heard of. But this is nothing; for truly ye will not know them. And,

4. They have fallen into some temptation so easily, that ye never look for more good at their hand. But what would ye have thought of Peter, that a simple girl put so shamefully out? Yea, but Peter will be hanged for the same cause afterwards for all that. There may be many like Nicodemus, that dare not make much public confession for Christ, and yet there may be rich forthcoming in them afterwards. Yet in these cases there will be,

(1.) In regard of solid acknowledgment and bearing witness to the truth in a declining time, when people that have greater knowledge and parts will make a foul slip and disappear, then others who never knew the tenth part of these things that they knew will stand it out to the utmost. It was so when a deluge of error came through the land. There were some poor folk that kept their feet better than those who had ten times more knowledge. It will be so yet in these times of trial that approach.

(2.) There will be forthcoming in many likewise, in respect of faith and of pure gospel ordinances, where little is expected. When there is no opposition, we use to say it is easy calling in the court when there is none calling again. So it is easy professing the truth and a work of reformation as long as none are called to an account for it. But stay a little till the trial come as to the faith of the gospel ordinances, and then ye will see one who durst never profess much confidence in these things cleave fast to pure gospel ordinances, when many that now profess much will draw back and fall behind in the truth.

(3.) In point of charity there will be much forthcoming where little was expected. There is much talking of religion; but will ye evidence your religion by works of charity to the banished ministers and others of God's people who are in straits for Him. There are many who have no great profession, but they are liberal in love and kindness to the people of God. And I assure you that is no small piece of religion; true love to His friends in their straits for His sake is not one of the least parts of religion. And,

(4.) Such people as there will be little expected of in point of patient suffering for Christ may yet be as free and frank as can be; nay, go beyond others that more might have been expected of.

But then ye will say, "What makes our Lord Jesus Christ take that away, that in those of whom least was expected there should be most forthcoming for Him and His cause?" The reasons may be:—

1. That God loves to take a way of His own with all His works; as we see ordinarily that whenever we pitch upon any way we think most fit, suitable, and convenient for carrying on any matter, it is a hundred to one if ever God take that way but another way with it.

2. He does so because where there is much, people are ready to idolize that stock of grace they have and trust much to it; but where there is but little on hand, there is much or more relying on God by faith in duty.

Then for another USE of improving this. If there be much forthcoming in those from whom little is to be expected, then there may be much expected from you who have received much. It will be both a sin and a shame if ye do not something for Him. And remember this, ye that are great professors, the more that is expected of you, if you come short of it, the more will be the loss and disadvantage to the cause of God and to yourselves also. Misgiving in you will be more shameful than in many others. Ye that are great professors in the country side, I pray you, take heed how ye desire the day of trial; for people will say they will do this, and that, and the other thing, and what not, when they are not put to it; but away with such foolish romances. Ye will find a trial in suffering for truth another thing than ye think. Some think they will do and suffer because of what they have received, and because of their former engagements and great parts, which thought is but a trusting to their own strength. But truly if ye look for standing in that way, it is a hundred to one if ye fall not, and that shamefully. Ye must never reckon upon your stedfastness in one trial, or your resolutions and engagements, or upon this, that other folk think much of you; but think ye still the less of yourselves. For ordinary in the day of trial God uses to stain the glory of all flesh. If others think much of you think little of yourselves, otherwise ye shall perhaps fall into some scrape, ere all be done, that shall make all the country think little of you. Then, if ye would keep your feet in a day of trial, keep up a constant trade with heaven for fresh supplies from God, for that will do it. Be content to be amongst the meanest in respect; for we always hope that the Master shall have most praise from many people's faithfulness and honesty, that have least help or hope in themselves. Then pray for them of whom we have little expectation, for their standing may be much for the Master's praise. Do not think it strange that you hear that some people that ye would have expected little from have given such testimony and not joined with the times, notwithstanding their little or no profession; for it has pleased the "Father to reveal these things to babes and sucklings," and hide them from the wise and prudent, even so it hath pleased Him to do.

And moreover, I would gladly engage some of you who are gentlemen, great folk and professors, to bear testimony for the truth. I would have you not to think it foolishness to be engaged in the matters of God. There are many of you gentlemen, and country men, that think we look for little at your hand as to your abiding by the truth and being valiant for it. Well, then, will ye beguile us? Indeed we think much of you, and we hope there is a good turn in some of your hands yet for the cause of God. I would not have you over busy to comply with the folk in the least. Since we look for your hand if there be ought ado, then will ye be commending the controverted truths to your families and poor things under your hand? Keep your hands now free of complying with the wicked party. Do not admit of a tentation, and that will be your peace and credit, and will much commend you to the hearts of the people of God to make them praise Him for you, and pray for you, and say "I have resolved to quit my estate as well as others, before I sin. I shall bear witness that I shall be as denied to it as others that may be promising more, and it may be I shall go to prison as well as others, before I deny the work of God and break the Covenants."

And then we would have you beware of giving way to despondency. But leave room to the promises when the matter is come to this push, for God will bear your charges and give out the expenses.

Lastly, We shall speak a word to you who are great professors. Oh, but ye have need to study to be much to the Master's praise both in word and deed; to be particular in faith, in doctrine, in temperance, and holy walking with God, and generally to make it your study how to be for His glory, for He has taken much pains with you and for your encouragement. The Master's glory is much concerned in your being faithful, and His glory and your standing are twisted together, and that connection is of much value. And further, your standing in these evil times is an accomplishment of the great Gospel promise in the word for your comfort. And further, ye have the very flower of all the people of God's prayers in the three nations with you for your consolation. There is many a beautiful cloud of prayers going up in the three kingdoms in behalf of them that keep honest as they are engaged in the truths of God. And truly if we were not more beholden to others' prayers than our own, it would not be well with us; for though ye be not still at prayer yourselves, yet there is some still at prayer for you. Then behave yourselves honestly. God has given a good account of those gone off the stage for the truth already. God has given us a good break in them that have suffered and are banished. These have given the cross of Christ a noble testimony,2 a circumstance that speaks much good to us who are to follow after. Then, Sirs, take up your ground and state yourselves. Has God given you Christ? "How much more will He give you with him every good and perfect gift?"

Now have ye gotten Christ? Truly, then, all other things will be but little to that; any other thing is but like a pin in your clothes. This will be your victory, even your faith. Faith is accounted the more precious that it endureth temptations—faith that dares cleave to Him in all opposition gets still the quickest dispatch in anything in the word of God answering it; then faith and patience are no empty things. This woman found it so; she found it even as He had said. It was no bare compliment; it was an effectual word, "and her daughter was made whole from that very hour."


Footnotes:

1. This, the second sermon on this text, was preached upon the Monday after the last Sacrament Mr. Guthrie had in Fenwick.

2. By these gone off the stage here, no doubt, is meant Christ's cause in Mr. James Guthrie, the Marquis of Argyle, and Lord Warriston; and by the banished, those seven eminent ministers who were in the years 1662 and 1663 banished to Holland.