William Spurstowe, London, 1666
Upon Going Up an High Mountain
Lord, who shall dwell in the mountain of thy holiness? [Ps 15:1]
was a question made by the prophet David, but the answer returned unto to it was by the Spirit of God, who can give the best character of all those who shall be received into Claritatis Consortium, a fellowship of glory and bliss, as Tertullian expresses it.
The situation of the place, the quality of the persons do both speak it to be a work of difficulty, and discover also the ground of the paucity of the travelers in whose hearts and ways and ascension are that seek to God.
Most men of the world, like Abraham’s servants, stay below at the foot of the hill, while he and his son to up to worship [Gen. 22:5]; or choose, like Ahimaaz to run the way of the plain, than with Cushi, the way that was craggy and mountainous. [2 Sam. 18:23].
But few there be that see under what a necessity they lie of obtaining of heaven, and of dwelling in the Mountain of God’s Holiness, or understand the comfort that a continued progress in this journey yields to those to whom salvation is nearer than when they first believed. Can it therefore be amiss to evince those who are yet to make the first step toward their own happiness, what timely diligence they had need to use, [so] that in the end they may not fall short of it? And to encourage those that are on their way, that they may go from strength to strength till they appear before God in Zion.
And how may I better do either than by showing to one the great distance in which they stand from heaven; and to the other, the good proficiency they have made which is oft times as indiscernible to themselves as the swift motion of the ship is to them that are in it. There being no complaint more frequent in the mouths of saints than that they have got no further than what many years since stye judged themselves to have attained unto.
The natural man’s distance is far greater to heaven than he think of, so that he cannot [as] easily step into heaven as he presumed. He is not born near its confines or borders,; but in the very extremity of remoteness to it. The distance is not only distance of place but of disproportion and unlikeness, whereby he is wholly unmeet [unfit] for it. Yea there is in him not only dissimilitude but a formal contrariety and opposition against heaven which must be destroyed and taken away before he can come thither.
He is darkness, and heaven is an inheritance of light. [Col. 1:12] He is a sink of filthiness, and heaven is a place of purity; he is wholly carnal, and the happiness of heaven is spiritual. And what fellowship (says the Apostle [Paul]) hath righteousness with unrighteousness? What communion hath light unto darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? [2 Cor. 6:14-15]
Can it rationally be thought an easy task to subdue this contrariety and to make flesh and blood meet to inherit heaven? [1 Cor. 15:50]? Does not the straitness [narrowness, difficulty] of the way and the height of its ascent require a putting off, and a casting away every sin that hinders from running the Christian race, and ascending the holy hill? [Heb. 12:1; Ps. 15:1]
Is it not necessary that the opposition and difficulty extending itself over the whole man that an answerable change should be made in every part?
I have read that it is affirmed by artists that though gladness and grief be opposite in nature, yet they are such neighbors and consigners in art that the least touch of the pencil will translate a crying into laughing face. But such is not the opposition between sin and grace, as to admit so facile a cage in the turning of a sinner into a saint. It is not effected by a small touch upon the face, but by a powerful work upon the heart; yea, upon the whole soul.
Does not the Scripture set it forth by a New Birth [John 3:3], by a New Creation [2 Cor. 5:17], which are all of mutations the greatest and fully evince the vast distance that is between every natural man and salvation? Deceive not yourselves therefore O ye loose professors [someone merely claiming salvation], nor ye fond [foolish] and presumptuous moralists who are apt to think that the shadows of your duties and civilities will extend themselves to the top of this holy mountain; and who when you read of the young man who answered Christ discreetly that he was not far from the kingdom of heaven [Mark 12:34], judge yourselves both in knowledge and practice of equals and that you do not want [lack] many steps of entering that blessed Canaan of rest and glory. For what will proximities or degrees of nearness avail if the end [of] it not be attained?
Exaltations towards heaven, if they lift not into heaven, serve only to make the downfall the greater; and no man stumbles more dangerously than he who is upon the brown of a high mountain in respect of ruin? It is not then a ground for any to slack their place or intermit their diligence in heaven’s way upon the confidence that they have not far to go But rather to intend their care and pains that they lose not those things which they have wrought, but that they may receive a full reward. And this let me say, if apprehended nearness work not such effects, it is a dream, not a reality; a presumption, rather than a progress, and will have as sad an issue as the happiness of that poor fisherman who sleeping in the sides of a rock dreamed that he was a king; then leaping up suddenly for joy, found himself broken and rent in the bottom of it.