The prior post in this series may be found here.

C. True Godliness Perseveres 

1. It is like a man’s labor.

2. They start and finish strong.

3.  They are constant in their work.

Thirdly, To exercise ourselves to godliness, implieth to persevere in it with constancy to our dissolution. 

1. It is like a man’s labor.

Here he again uses an analogy of one’s work to both illustrate and prove his point. It is interesting in considering this analogy for a modern reader, because we are directed not to working until we end or our life, but rather to retire. 

Men follow their trades, and open their shops, till death shut their eyes, and gives them a writ of ease; men pursue their earthly works, till death sound a retreat, and command their appearance in the other world. Many a one hath breathed out his last in the midst of his labour: his life and his labour have ended together.

This verse is a passage which I have to realize does not reference one’s vocation but the calling in the service of the Lord. 

 ‘Let every man abide in the calling whereto he is called,’ saith the apostle, 1 Cor. 7:24.

Then cites to an interesting passage from Psalm 104. There are number of instances of the Lord’s management of the natural world, the moon and sun, the night animals, and then the sun rising and the animals returning. Finally, “Man goes out to his work and to his labor until evening.”

They who make religion their business, are constant, immoveable, and do ‘always abound in the work of the Lord.’ Their day of life is their day of labour;’ the sun ariseth, and man goeth to his labour until the evening,’ Ps. 104:23

Death only is their night of resting, when they die in the Lord; then, and not till then, they ‘rest from their labours.’ 

2. They start and finish strong. 

Saints are compared to palm-trees, because they flourish soon; to cedars, because they continue long; they often set out with the first, but always hold on to the last.2 The philosopher being asked in his old age why he did not give over his studies, answered, When a man is to run a race of forty furlongs, he will not sit down at the thirty-ninth, and lose the prize. The pious soul is faithful unto death, and enjoyeth a crown of life. As Cæsar, he is always marching forward, and thinks nothing done whilst anything remains undone.

3. They are constant in their work.

He begins this aspect of perseverance with a quotation from the letters to the Church of Revelation. The Lord addresses seven churches, which he either praises or chastises for various points of their conduct. The first church addressed, which begisn with a commendation: their “toil and patient endurance”; their labor in which they have “not grown weary”. 

As they are fervent in their work, so they are constant at their work. The church of Ephesus had letters testimonial from heaven; ‘For my name’s sake thou hast laboured, and hast not fainted,’ Rev. 2:3.

His reference to “baths” must be to warm springs of some sort. While the physics in the end is mistaken (there is nothing in the water of the springs which makes them warm: they merely have a constant supply of heat from the earth beneath), the analogy is plain. It is in the nature of spring to be warm. It is thus in the nature of a godly man to be constant setting toward godliness. 

Water in the baths is always warm; as long as there is water, there is heat. Not so our ordinary water; though this may be warmed by the fire at present, yet if taken off it returns to its former coldness, nay, it is colder than before, because the spirits which kept it from the extremity of cold, are by the fire boiled out of it. The reason is plain; the heat of the baths is from an inward principle, and therefore is permanent; the heat of the latter is from an external cause, and therefore is inconstant.

At this point, he begins a series of comparisons and contrasts. The gist of these comparisons is that an action which does not flow from an “inward principle” will not be continuous in its operation. 

First comparison: a godliness based upon conscience:

That warmth of piety which proceeds from an inward principle of a purified conscience, is accompanied with perseverance; but that profession which floweth from an outward motive, where men, as chameleons, take their colour from that which stands next them, their religion from those they have their dependence upon, is of short duration.

A constancy based upon sincerity:

A man that minds religion by the by is like Nebuchadnezzar’s image, he hath a head of gold, but feet of clay. His beginning may be like Nero’s first five years, full of hope and encouragement, but afterwards, as a carcase, he is more filthy and unsavoury every day than other. His insincerity causeth his inconstancy. Trees unsound at the root, will quickly cease their putting forth of fruit. Such men, if godliness enjoy a summer of prosperity, may like a serpent creep on the ground, and stretch themselves at length, to receive the warmth of the sun, but if winter come he will creep into some ditch or dunghill, lest he should take cold.

A godliness must be based upon a calling or settled desire. If I go out to sea merely for pleasure, I will turn around at any difficulty. If I set out for some greater task, I will suffer a great deal of difficulty. If godliness is based merely some immediate ease, it will not last. It must be a means to an end sufficient to weather the conflict it will bring.

He phrases this in three consecutive images of one setting out on a path which may meet with difficulty. Because the end of the journey is of sufficient merit and importance, they are willing to fight through the conflicts. Although he does not use the image here, this is quite similar to Bunyan’s use of the picture of man who puts on armor to fight his way into a palace: violent men are taking heaven by force:

Travellers that go to sea merely to be sea-sick, or in sport, if there arise a black cloud or storm, their voyage is at an end, they hasten to the harbour; they came not to be weather-beaten, or to hazard themselves amongst the boisterous billows, but only for pleasure: but the merchant that is bound for a voyage, whose calling and business it is, is not daunted at every wave and wind, but drives through all with resolution. 

The implied argument could also be understood: If a man will risk his live and ease for money, why will he not do so for heaven? This is contrasted to those who stop short. Like Pliable in Pilgrim’s Progress, they stop their travel when it becomes unpleasant:

He that only pretends towards religion, if a storm meet him in the way to heaven, he leaves it, and takes shelter in the earth; as a snail, he puts out his head to see what weather is abroad, (what countenance religion hath at court, whether great men do smile or frown upon the ways of God,) and if the heavens be lowering, he shrinks into his shell, esteeming that his only safety. 

But they that make godliness their business, do not steer their course by such cards—they follow their trade, though they meet with many trials; as resolved travellers, whether the ways be fair or foul, whether the weather be clear or cloudy, they will go on towards their heavenly Canaan; ‘They go from strength to strength, till they appear before God in Sion,’ Ps. 84:8.

When men follow godliness by the by and in jest, they take it to farm, and accept leases of it for a time; but if the times come to be such, that in their blind judgments it prove a hard pennyworth, they throw it up into their landlords’ hands—Vadat Christus, as he said, cum suo evangelio; but men that make religion their business, take it as their freehold, as their fee-simple, which they enjoy, and esteem it their privilege so to do, for the whole term of their lives; ‘I have chosen thy statutes as my heritage for ever: I have inclined my heart to perform thy statutes always unto the end,’ Ps. 119:1112.

This final argument varies the illustration by referring to the inward principle, not the external circumstances, which motivate the apparent acts of godliness. When godliness is motivated by something that can be obtained by a show of piety, the godliness will end as soon as the external motivation is exhausted. 

The godliness of an unsound professor is like the light of a candle, fed with gross and greasy matter, as profit and honour and pleasure, which continueth burning till that tallowy substance be wasted, but then goeth out and leaves a stench behind it; the holiness of a true Christian is like the light of the sun, which hath its original in heaven, and is fed from above, and thereby ‘shines brighter and brighter to perfect day,’ Prov. 4:18.

2 True saints in youth always prove angels in age.—B. Hall Medit. cent. 1.