The Word of God travels with life or death, salvation or damnation—and brings forth one or the other in every soul that hears it. I would not for a world (were it in my power to make the choice) that my labors, which were meant and designed for the promotion of your immortal souls to the glory of heaven, in a present pursuance of the things of your peace—should be found to have been a ministration of death and condemnation, in the great day of Jesus Christ. Yet this the Lord knows, is the too common effect of the most plain and powerful preaching of the gospel. “The waters of the sanctuary” do not always heal where they come, for there are “miry and marshy places that shall be given to salt.” The same word is elsewhere in Scripture rendered “barrenness;” He “turns a fruitful land into barrenness;”—so that the judgment denounced upon these miry and marshy places is, that the curse of barrenness shall rest upon them, notwithstanding the “waters of the sanctuary overflow them.”
It is said, with certainty, that the gospel inflicts a death of its own, as well as the law; or else how are those trees in Jude said to be “twice dead, and plucked up by the roots.” Yes, that which in itself is the greatest mercy, through the interposition of men’s lusts, and the efficacy of this cursed sin of unbelief, turns to the greatest judgment, as the richest and most generous wine makes the sharpest vinegar. Our Lord Christ himself, the choicest mercy with which the affections of God could bless a perishing world; whose coming, himself bearing witness, was on no less an errand than that of eternal life and blessedness to the lost and cursed sons of Adam; yet to how many was he a “stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence;” yes, “a trap, and a snare;” and that to both the houses of Israel, the only professing people of God at that day in the world? And is he not a stone of stumbling in the ministry of the gospel to many professors to this very day, upon which they fall and are broken? When he says, “Blessed is he who shall not be offended by me,” he therein plainly supposes, that both in his person and doctrine, the generality of men would be offended in him. Not that this is the design of Christ and the gospel—but it comes so to pass through the corruptions of the hearts of men, whereby they make light of Christ, and stand out against that life and grace which the Lord Jesus by his blood so dearly purchased, and is by the preaching of the gospel so freely offered—the willful refusal whereof, will as surely double our damnation, as the acceptance thereof will secure our eternal salvation.
O consider, it is a thing of the most serious concern in the world—how we carry ourselves under the gospel, and with what dispositions and affections of heart, soul-seasons of grace are entertained. This being taken into the consideration to give it weight, that we are the nearer to heaven or hell, to salvation or damnation, by every ordinance we sit under. Boast not therefore of privileges enjoyed, with neglect of the important duties thereby required. Remember Capernaum’s case—and tremble!
As many go to heaven by the very gates of hell—so more go to hell by the gates of heaven! The number of those who profess Christ—is greater than the number of those who truly are saved by Christ. Beloved, I know the preaching of the gospel has encouraged many of you into a profession; but I fear that but few of you are brought by it to a true saving union with the Lord Christ for salvation. I beseech you bear with my jealousy, for it is the fruit of a tender love for your precious souls.
Most men are good Christians in the verdict of their own opinion; but you know the law allows no man to be a witness in his own case, because their affection usually overreaches conscience, and self-love deceives truth for its own interest. The heart of man is the greatest impostor and cheat in the world! God himself states it—”The heart is deceitful above all things.” Some of the deceits thereof you will find discovered in this Treatise, which shows you, that every grace has its counterfeit; and that there may be the highest profession, where there is no true conversion.
The design of it is not to “break the bruised reed, nor to quench the smoking flax.” The design of it is not to discourage the weakest believer—but to awaken formal professors. I would not sadden the hearts of any “whom God would not have made sad;” though I know it is hard to expose the dangerous state and condition of a professing hypocrite—but that the weak Christian will think himself concerned in the discovery. And therefore, as I preached a sermon on sincerity among you, for the support and encouragement of such, so I purposed to have printed it with this. But who can be master of his own purposes? That is, as I am under such daily variety of providences, your kindly acceptance of this, will make me a debtor for that.
—Matthew Mead, from the Introduction to his great little book, The Almost Christian Discovered
You can read it on-line here at GraceGems.