Those Who Are the More Particular Objects of My Care, Love, and Labors
We have great pretensions to light and wisdom in the times in which we live compared with some former times. Yet, there is no small measure of soul-darkness upon us in this evening part of our Gospel day.34 “Hear, you deaf; And look, you blind, that you may see. Who is blind but My servant, Or deaf as My messenger whom I send? Who is blind as he who is perfect, And blind as the Lord’s servant? Seeing many things, but you do not observe; Opening the ears, but he does not hear” (Isaiah 42:18–20 NKJV). If there were not a veil on people’s minds, could it be possible that Christ would be so little esteemed in this time of high availability of the knowledge of Christianity? Was there ever a nation in the world to whom Christ has been so revealed and manifestly held up, even crucified before our eyes, so to speak?35 Yet we36 do not know in this day the things that would make for peace (Luke 19:42);37 this shows our shameful ignorance. Is not this ignorance clear evidence of people’s darkness and folly that we are so fondly taken in by silly ideas and vain philosophies? And at the same time, we neglect that wisdom [the Holy Bible] that makes one wise to salvation. We leave the fire of the sanctuary of God for the sparks of our own kindling (Isaiah 50:11).38 We have in front of us the kingdom of God, which cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28),39 and an offer of access “to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4 NKJV). But we turn again to the beggarly principles of this world (Galatians 4:9).40 We loathe manna and angel’s food and long for the onions and garlic41 we had vomited up (Numbers 11:5).42 We leave assayed gold for that which perishes. We let Heaven drop out of our hands and hug the world in our hearts. We neglect that merchandise that brings in unsearchable riches and push forward trades for goods that go out of style.43 These things plainly show our ignorance and folly. Are not the silver streams of the Jordan River44 better than the muddy waters of Assyria?45 Is not our Rock higher than the worldling’s46 sandy river bottoms? Judge for yourselves. To lose those pleasant streams for that filthy puddle is folly indeed. Will eagles stoop to flies? Can souls who have ascended into the light of the Lord and have seen things different from the world and have had acquaintance with the things above—can they choose to come down again and prey on the carrion comforts and possessions and concerns of a dying world? Never! Can a young woman forget her ornaments or a bride her attire (Jeremiah 2:32)?47 Oh, foolish people and unwise (Jeremiah 5:21–24),48 to be unmindful of the Rock that brought you into being (Deuteronomy 32:18; Acts 17:28).49 We leave the snow waters of Lebanon (Jeremiah 18:14).50 When Christians neglect such a gainful trade as holiness so that they may pursue a soul-cheating, starving, damning world, they show their folly and madness. This is especially so in those who have knowledge or hopes of better things. “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3 NASB).
To mitigate or reverse this folly is the purpose of this book. It is not written in a fancy style or with human wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:1),51 but it plainly demonstrates the truth that is in Jesus. I am not unaware that books have their fashions as do people. Books that are not foppishly dressed with elegance and lofty strains are scarcely noticed except with scorn and contempt from the wits of this day. But I do not love to follow those who darken counsel by words (Job 38:1–2),52 and by their sublime speculations and abstruse notions lead people into clouds of their own creation. While they show off, they lose their readers. “There are many tricks and literary devices,” said Mr. Dod, “that some men use in preaching (which we may apply to writing) but it seldom does good; the pure Gospel and that preaching that the world counts foolishness is that which works best.” Christ’s own weapons are the fittest for His own service, and when there is least of man in God’s work, then usually God is most seen.
The business of this book is not to feed your curiosity, but to search out your conscience.53 And plain, intelligible truth is the best way to do that. I cannot expect any discussion to lead others toward Heaven unless it has been drained of, and separated from earth. Do not expect anything in here that might please your carnal54 mind, except what may profit your teachable and obedient soul. Before you ascend to your throne to judge it, use the scale of the sanctuary [Heaven] to weigh it.
Be encouraged to go beyond those readers who only view the title, read the introduction, glance a little into the book, and then lay it aside if they do not find something unusual and pleasing to their curious fancy. This shows a full stomach, but an empty soul. It is a practice that overthrows both the writer’s toil and the reader’s profit.55 Be persuaded to read it thoroughly and impartially. Weigh it seriously, and you may find something that concerns your understanding, bent of mind, conscience, or way of life.
I have chosen to engage and pursue the metaphor56 of trading throughout this book. Business people are my primary audience in the design of this book.57 But also, I use the metaphor to better to implant into the minds of ordinary Christians the knowledge of heavenly things, and of people’s duties, neglects, and backsliding.
If you are one who has never made a profession of [saving faith in] God any more than blindness, formality, or superstition might lead you, and are a stranger to this great, pleasant, and gainful trade of godliness, you may find in this book evidence and reasons to persuade you to this rational and necessary undertaking to obtain life, salvation, grace, and glory. You will also find counsel and instructions on how you may attain to this high and heavenly calling.
You may be one who chases furiously after the world, pursues your earthly matters with greediness, and neglects the things that concern your [eternal] peace (Luke 19:42).58 You may subject the concerns of Heaven and your immortal soul to the poor and perishing trifles of this world. If so, you will find here reasons to convince you of that folly and assistance to loosen your heart from that ensnaring, soul-ruining bondage.
If you meet rebukes [from God’s providence] on your earthly concerns and crosses59 on your affairs and undertakings in the world, this book will help you find out the cause of your disappointments and consuming moths eating out your assets.60 It will instruct you on how to get honey out of rods of divine chastisement, good from evil, and how to live in harmony with divine purposes and get advantages from such providences.
Have you previously made a profession of godliness and pursued this heavenly trade to advantage, but are now fallen back and your spiritual substance has deteriorated? Have you become poor in your inner person and toward God? In this book you may find signs and evidence of a backsliding soul, along with the causes of it. You will also meet with considerations with which to awaken, affect, and afflict your heart to a sense of your evil [and dangerous] condition. Here also, you may know whether your deterioration in godliness is curable and what course you may take to get out of your languishing state.
Are you one that does profess this heavenly trade? Then this book will tell you what your work is, where your employment lies, and what are the important duties of piety to be pursued every day, with directions and rules about it.
If you are one who keeps up this trade for Heaven and thrives in it, you will find here the marks of a prosperous trade in godliness and have several doubts cleared up concerning a thriving soul. A thriving soul is a special mercy that calls for important duties whose nature will be opened to you. Gather out of this garden whatever medicine or food you need and apply and put it to good use. Pray for the assistance of the Spirit; He has been frequently and solemnly begged concerning both the writing of this book and for blessing from it to all who read it.
You who have been hearers61 of this subject, though preached in somewhat different phrasing suited to your understanding and for advantage in oral delivery, have reason above others to receive and put this message that is sent to you twice to good use. But you especially, my dear friends, the care of whose souls is upon me: it was mainly for your sake that these truths were first delivered, and are just now being made public. You have the most obliging reasons to get these truths copied into your hearts and lives. It is primarily to you—yes, most affectionately—that this word of salvation is sent and presented again to your view that you might have these things abiding with you. It is that what formerly sounded in your ear might live in your eye and be speaking to you when I am removed out of your sight. For then I will be unable to serve your precious and immortal souls. When I can no longer plead with God for you or with you, I may in this book speak to you and others on behalf of Christ and for glorious, but despised, holiness. This has been the prevailing reason for me to reveal my weakness to the world and expose myself to the censure or scorn of some.
I have the greatest reason to expect that you will receive these truths because you have chosen62 and received me in the Lord to declare the Gospel of His Son to you. You have also known my labors, infirmities, and afflictions with you and for your sake. For twenty years I have served you in the Gospel, in reproach, neediness, weaknesses, dangers, and suffering. Neither do I count my life dear to myself so that I may finish my course with joy (Acts 20:24)63 and finish the ministry that I have received from the Lord Jesus to testify of the Gospel of the grace of God. Yes, because I have a fond affection for you, I have been willing to impart to you not only the Gospel of God, but also my own soul. Because you were dear to me, you know and have acknowledged the suitableness of this topic to your own states and how clearly the condition of most of you is revealed here. The convictions, counsels, reproofs, and consolations of this discourse are suited to you, as you know.
There are some among you for whom I am jealous with a godly jealousy (2 Corinthians 11:2)64 lest I should have labored in vain for you (Galatians 4:11)65 and your minds be corrupted away from the plainness of the Gospel through the temptations of this present world (2 Corinthians 11:3).66 I have often cried aloud in your ears against the sin of an earthly spirit and way of life and warned you of the danger of it. I tell you now, even weeping, that those are enemies to the Cross of Christ (Philippians 3:18)67 who chiefly mind earthly things. Until you are crucified to the world (Galatians 6:14),68 you have no saving benefit from the Cross of Christ. Nor can you ever behold the face of God in Heaven until you are redeemed from the earth. All your possessions, talents, duties, and enjoyments will only be so many witnesses against you if you die lovers of this present world. Coveting to be rich will also make your souls poor and deprive you of the refreshments of God’s presence and the consolations of His blessed Holy Spirit. It will also be plainly visible evidence that you have little of those pleasures that are from above. It was said of the pious Mr. Bain that he did not seek great matters in the world; he was taken up with comforts and griefs to which the world was a stranger. The more a soul interacts with Heaven and lives on firstfruits from the other world, the less he will be attracted to things below. When Abraham came to live by faith69 and with a view of that city whose maker and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10),70 the plains of Sodom and the spoils of Canaan were only insignificant things to him. One said, “I never cared much for the world once I came to know better things.” You have tasted that the Lord is gracious, have fed on the fat71 things of His house, and have found that a day in His courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. You stand self-condemned if you do not prefer God above ten thousand worlds and count the enjoyment of Him riches enough.72 Yes, this is true if you do not esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt (Hebrews 11:24–26).73 It was a brave speech of that noble Galeatius when he had left his honors, estate, and relatives for Christ and the Gospel’s sake. He said, “I have riches, honor, and joy enough while in this cottage. I am able to live in the church of God, enjoy His Word and people, and have time to converse with God by holy meditation. I am also able to converse with my friends about God’s goodness to me. Cursed forever be that religion that weds people to the world and divorces them from God.”
There are others of you who I fear have fallen back in your spiritual state. Former days were better than now and the shadow has gone back some degrees on the sundial of your hearts. You may have left your first love, have lost your spiritual taste, are more dead to the things of God, and are cold and formal in duty. Possibly you have hidden your face from God and He has covered Himself with a cloud in front of you. You have neglected your walk with God and He has withheld conversation with you. Part of this book is written to recover you from where you have fallen and to raise you to your first love and labors. Attend to and obey this book’s counsel and hear what the Holy Spirit says: “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent” (Revelation 2:4–5 NASB). You must return to your first love lest the Lord take your lampstand out of its place and leave you in that wilderness in which you wander.
Some of you fear God, yet walk in darkness and see no light. You have your continual exertions and frequent complaints that He Who should have comforted your souls is removed far from you. My advice to you is to walk in the light when you sit in darkness. Wait for the light, when shadows are upon you. It will be a little while and He that will come, will come, and will not delay (Habakkuk 2:3).74 The Son of righteousness is on His journey to you and it will not be long before He is risen upon you.
Are there any of you who are having good days? Does your bow75 remain in strength (Genesis 49:24)?76 Are your affections warm toward your Beloved [Jesus Christ], and your hearts sometimes burn within you while He is talking to you in His Word? Do you long for His appearance and delight in His presence, and press hard after Him in His appointed duties? Do you love the Word of His mouth more than your necessary food? Can you be content to let your own things sit so that you may seek the things that are Christ’s and sit at His feet—when others are in the marketplace and out in the crowd about their earthly affairs? In solitude, are you alone with Christ? If so, your mercy is uncommon; your obligation is thus strong to be entirely the Lord’s; to be no more your own, but wholly devoted to His fear; to live a life of praise and be well-pleasing to God; to think well of Christ, and bear up under whatever He pleases; to be patient in tribulation; to continue earnest in prayer; to long for the well-head of your mercies, and to be beginning a life of glory, while you are here in a life of grace.
I will close up this introduction with a few words of general advice to all of you. First, lay the foundation sure on which you build all your temporary labors and eternal hopes (Matthew 7:24–27).77 You cannot be too certain regarding that on which depends your everything. Consider how often Satan has battered down that evidence [of saving grace] on which you might have sometimes hazarded78 your souls. Yes, even your own hearts have disputed away that same evidence. Yet, the strongest assaults are yet to come and the greatest forces of Hell are reserved for the last battle. Do not put your hopes on any foundation short of the crucified Christ; not on your physical constitution, but on His favor; not on your duties, but His righteousness; not even on any kindness received from Him short of a saving union with Him. Do not rest until your convictions are clear and deep. Do not rest until you discover sin to be distressing, the very great evil in its nature and fruit, and its presence and indwelling in you an intolerable burden. Such convictions will not admit any reconciliation to the least known or most beloved sin, or admit any savoring of sin after it is committed. Do not rest until you have the kind of convictions that can make your heart bleed afresh upon every new touch of sin and never rest until the whole of sin be destroyed out of your souls.79 Labor to see such a beauty in Christ that will render all created glory as dross and dung in your eyes. Do not stop until you come to the excellence of the knowledge of Jesus Christ as your Lord. Do not stop until you can discern so much worth in the person of Christ in addition to Christ’s purchase [of your salvation], that you are content to throw all overboard, to take Him in, and be lovesick until you enjoy Him. Be sure you have fully closed with Christ and have fully accepted His whole person, will, and plans and are willing to be one with Him, accepting all of His terms. Be sure that this union is not agreeable merely to your judgment and consent, but in heart and will from your whole soul, and that you find an inward likeness to Christ and love to Him in your renewed nature.
Second, go on toward perfection, seek after nearer and more complete conformity to the nature and will of Christ every day. Think how short your highest measures compare to perfect holiness in the sight of God. Set the pattern before you every day that you may be ashamed of your present attainments in grace and be more provoked to higher aims and achievements. Compare yourselves with those who are above you,80 with the rule of righteousness [the Bible], and with all your obligations, time, means, and mercies, to keep you humble in your own eyes. Look upon your neediness as well as your enjoyments, that you may be as poor in spirit as in actual condition. That which is lacking in you cannot be counted (Ecclesiastes 1:15).81 [Said King David:] “Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name. But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You” (1 Chronicles 29:13–14 NASB). Keep low thoughts of yourselves under the greatest services you do for God and under the highest honors you receive from God. “Alas,” said the Lord Duplessis to one who commended him for the good use of his talent,82 “what is there of mine in that work? Say not that it was I, but God in me.” “I know more,” said Dr. Harris, “by myself to abase me than any man could know to extol me. Whatever humility a man has, that is the measure of his grace; he has no more worth than that.”
Third, keep up a life of faith in Christ [as revealed] in the promises [of God]. A Christian first becomes spiritually alive by faith. Likewise his whole life is maintained by believing. You cannot live longer than you believe (Galatians 2:20).83 Your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).84 For that reason, use faith to strengthen your hopes, comforts, and graces while under any lack, fear, or death. Do not make your graces or duties the foundation of believing but rather encouragements to faith. Study more the nature, freeness, fullness, and unchangeableness of redemptive grace. Get acquaintance with the promises and persuade yourself of the truth of them in Christ. “To live only by faith,” said Dr. Harris, “and a bare promise without physical collateral, and to give all to free grace and to Christ alone—those are mighty works.” And some of those things Dr. Harris found most difficult.
Fourth, walk in love as Christ has loved you (Ephesians 5:2).85 This is the life of Heaven and the beginning of that excellent glory that will never be taken away. There is nothing that makes you to more resemble God, more near and dear to Him, and more fit for His use than this grace of love. Let your affections be extended as large as the objects of them: to God, His Word, ways, and people. Love God so that you will obey Him. Love His ways so that you will walk in them. Love His people so that you will delight in them, sympathize with them, mourn with them in their sufferings, help them in their necessities, rejoice with them in their comforts, and count their mercies your own—this is no easy part of your duty. Someone said that it is far harder to adopt someone else’s comforts than his sorrows and to hold oneself exalted in someone else’s exaltation.
Fifth, in the enjoyment of the world, get above it, and while you live in it, be daily dying to it. The more you get above the world, the nearer you are to God and glory and no nearer. Do not covet another’s goods; the world is none of your portion if God is your portion.86 Oh, how much beneath the new birth, dignity, and duty of saints is the love for, and life on, this low and dirty world. Do not leave your children’s bread to feed on the kind of carrion dog’s meat and filthy excrement with which Satan feeds his laborers (Matthew 15:26; John 6:57).87 I have written at length on this matter in the book, so I direct your eye and heart there for conviction and counsel.
Sixth, use your time and means of grace88 while you have them. Your glass89 runs, your sun hastens, and the wind blows when and where it pleases. Oh, make use of time while you have it. God, who made no useless things, has work for every hour of your short day. Work as hard as you can. When your time comes to die, you will remember the things you have not done. “Loss of time,” said Dr. Harris on his deathbed, “weighs on me. Work hard. Be assured: nothing will trouble you more when it is your time to die than that you have done so little for God who has done so much for you.” Wait on and walk in the light while you have it. If grace does not think that it is too much to spread a table for you, then do not think that it is too much for you to spare time to sit down at it. You who find so many other things to do when God calls for your company90 will shortly find that God has other things to do than to heed you when you need His comforts.
When you are entering eternity, you would be glad to enjoy time to hear the voice of peace. You now possess earthly time, and you think you are not at leisure to hear divine precepts? Do not neglect hearing sermons91 or times of prayer, which are your seed-planting time for glory. Someone said, “Oh, that every day were a Sabbath or a fast day, for then I would be well.” Do not buy your ease or earthly concerns at so dear a rate as the loss of salvation and time for God and spiritual helps. Demonstrate your love to God by valuing His presence in His ordinances.92 How can you long for the enjoyment of God in Heaven when you do not care for His company on earth or His glorious appearances in His sanctuary [public and private worship]? Do not refuse anything that may yield Him delight or give Him glory, no matter how expensive it may be to your dearest comforts and interests. When someone told Dr. Moulin during his sickness that he hurt himself by speaking so much, he said that it was true, but, “I will always be glorifying God.” A soul that supremely loves God will not count anything too much to do, part with, or suffer if it will bring God glory.
Seventh, do not rest in your enjoyment of the means of grace without improving and making good use of them. What is a full table, if your soul stays empty, or frequent eating if your inner person languishes? It is a time of dying and hidden waste in most Christians. Oh, earnestly desire the best gifts that you my flourish in the courts of God,93 grow as the cedars of Lebanon,94 be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17),95 and that you may profit all people (1 Corinthians 10:33).96 Be deeply sensible of your little fruit in spite of much cultivation by God. Be humbled and take heed of spiritual pride and of being puffed up by your perceived spiritual excellencies or privileges.97 It is the humble soul that is the most thriving soul. Keep your hearts pure and your lives unspotted. As sound bodies, so sincere souls grow the most. Prune off superfluous branches as they sprout out and chop them off at the root every day. Keep up faith in the promises of prosperity of soul to those who serve God in sincerity (Psalm 92:12–13).98 By faith, cling to Christ for help when you face nothing but discouragement in yourselves. Even when you are afraid to claim the promises, bless God for them. “These promises,” said Mr. White, a doubting soul, “are none of mine. Yet I am glad that God has made them and for the sake of those who will partake of them.”99
Eighth, do not neglect private transactions between God and your souls. I fear that some of you may be great strangers to these. It is no wonder that intimacy between God and souls fails when they are seldom together in solitude. Oh, take heed of passing by your prayer closet or private corners even for one day (Matthew 6:6)100 or of leaving them before God and your souls have had conversations together. Be constant in it, but also be careful to please God in the spiritual performance of it. Do not let custom or formality deprive you of the sweetness of that bread eaten in private with God. In this book, you are more fully called to these duties of private prayer, meditation, heart-searching, and heart-watching work to which I refer you.
Ninth, be conscientious about every duty you owe toward others in your relationships, places, and callings. Keep up family duties101 or write “Heathen” on your doors so that the world may know you accurately. If you neglect God’s service, He will not be your sanctuary. Prayerless houses have broken walls and doors, and no defense against the least evil. If you will not give God your strong desire and yearning for Him, how can you think He will give you His blessings?
There are some, especially those whom God has taken into His house [the visible Church], who shut God out of their doors or give Him pitiful service. They scarcely ever read the Scriptures with their families from one Lord’s Day102 to another. These send Him only a little hasty fruit, some short and confused prayers once a day. It is no wonder that salvation does not come to their houses, nor converting grace to their families. There is a flying scroll over their habitations (Zechariah 5:1–4)103 and black marks of ruin are on their children and servants. Do not think it strange that God makes your pleasant roses pricking briars and thorns to you, who has made those roses spears and swords to Him. Oh, be faithful to God in every duty of His service and in your relationships, calling, and employment.
Last, in every condition of life, walk with God and wait for God.104 If He leads you in ways of mercy, follow Him in ways of duty. If you have comforts, take heed of doting on them or abusing them. When He sends you afflictions, receive them and do not faint or be peevish or stubborn under them, but in them regard God’s holiness. Let your afflictions drive you to return to God. Do not unduly love your mercies105 or unduly fear your troubles. Prepare for changes, but trust God’s unchangeableness. Be settled [in Christ] under all things that unsettle you. Do not regard anything as alien and unwelcome except sin, and nothing hard to bear except the absence or anger of a gracious God. In time of peace be prepared for trouble and do not cast away your confidence [Christ] in the day of trouble. Let your lamps be always burning (Luke 12:35–40)106 that you may see the way of your duty in the night of your danger and see how to get comfort in your adversity. And be ready for work that you may be both ready to do your work and be worth your wages.107 Always be looking and waiting for the coming of your Lord,108 who will welcome you in the acceptance of your duties, strip off your sins and sufferings, and crown your sincerity and faithfulness when “then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34 NASB). This is the longed-for fruit of all my labor for you and the subject matter of my daily prayers for you, praying and being in Christ, Who was, and is, and is to come.
Your Affectionate Laborer,
34This expression implies that a night of spiritual darkness appears to be coming.
35Ashwood is embarking on a discussion that has a multigenerational historical viewpoint. Both England in Ashwood’s time and America in our time still greatly benefit from the things that God has done for us in generations past. To neglect such history is base ingratitude to God. Traditionally, we give thanks to God for our food before meals (Luke 22:19; Acts 27:35). But consider the apples we eat; the tree from which it came has been growing under God’s hand for years. We not only live under God’s present providence, but under all of His handiwork from the beginning of creation.
36Ashwood uses the third person in some long and complex sentences, but it is clear that he is addressing the reader personally; the editor has thus used the editorial we.
37“And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes’” (Luke 19:41–42 ESV).
38“Look, all you who kindle a fire, Who encircle yourselves with sparks: Walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled—This you shall have from My hand: You shall lie down in torment” (Isaiah 50:11 NKJV).
39“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28 ESV).
40“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Galatians 4:9 ESV).
41The reference here is not to onions and garlic in contrast to other food, but to the Israelites in the wilderness wickedly despising God’s deliverance from Egypt and wanting to return there. They remembered the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic they ate in Egypt and rejected God’s gracious provision of manna.
42“We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic” (Numbers 11:5 ESV).
43As will become more apparent in the main text of the book, Ashwood has adopted a motif and metaphor of commerce and various aspects of commerce (including wage-earners and small merchants) to illustrate the Christian’s labor and progress in this world toward a heavenly reward. Note carefully: Our Father in Heaven will reward believers according to their work, not because of their work; believers remain unprofitable bondslaves; God has put infinitely more into us than He will ever receive in return from even the best of saints.
44The Jordan River was a major water source for ancient Israel.
45Assyria was a powerful, cruel, idolatrous enemy of ancient Israel who carried away ten tribes. Ashwood’s allusion is primarily to that idolatry.
46worldling: one whose heart is set on the world and the things in and of it, as opposed to set on to God.
47“Can a virgin forget her ornaments, Or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me Days without number” (Jeremiah 2:32 NASB).
48“‘Now hear this, O foolish and senseless people, Who have eyes but do not see; Who have ears but do not hear. Do you not fear Me?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do you not tremble in My presence? For I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, An eternal decree, so it cannot cross over it. Though the waves toss, yet they cannot prevail; Though they roar, yet they cannot cross over it. But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; They have turned aside and departed. They do not say in their heart, “Let us now fear the Lord our God, Who gives rain in its season, Both the autumn rain and the spring rain, Who keeps for us The appointed weeks of the harvest.”’” (Jeremiah 5:21–24 NASB).
49“You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth” (Deuteronomy 32:18 ESV). “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring’” (Acts 17:28 ESV).
50“Will a man leave the snow water of Lebanon, Which comes from the rock of the field? Will the cold flowing waters be forsaken for strange waters?” (Jeremiah 18:14 NKJV).
51“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:1 ESV).
52“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, ‘Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge?’” (Job 38:1–2 NASB).
53The conscience is anything but infallible. In order for it to give a valid readout, it must be carefully calibrated by the Word of God as applied to our lives. This is a vital Christian duty.
54carnal: of or pertaining to the body or its appetites, given to sensual indulgence or lust, human or worldly as opposed to spiritual.
55This editor has observed a disturbing and pernicious trend in contemporary society: people are generally impatient with any but the briefest writings and are unwilling to read at length. The shortness of internet and (cellular) text messages, the broken-up nature of software help systems, the brevity and shallowness of news items, “quick start” product instruction manuals, and so on, undoubtedly encourage this. This is much to Satan’s delight; he wants us to remain ignorant and unwise, especially about the things of God, but also about public affairs, the world around us, and the glory of God’s creation. But God wants His people to be wise and competent, characteristics that are not attainable without discipline, reading in depth, and study.
56English teachers will tell you that “he is like a fox” is a simile, but “he is a fox” is a metaphor. But Ashwood’s meaning is much broader; he uses many aspects of small and large businesses and commerce to illustrate and teach about heavenly things, many of which are invisible to us on Earth.
57In general—and there are many exceptions—business people are more closely and personally faced with temptations due to money issues. The wage earner who budgets reasonably and saves may face occasional unexpected expensive automobile repairs or job layoffs, but otherwise has fairly steady income and expenses. But the small business owner has to meet payroll every week, given a high or low sales volume. Corporate managers are expected to show increasing sales to their bosses or stockholders every month or quarter. Those who directly handle money such as brokers, fund managers, and even deacons seem to be especially tempted to dishonesty, often in subtle ways. Ashwood’s choice to especially minister to business people is not unmerited and does not detract from the book’s usefulness to the general reader.
58“Saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes’” (Luke 19:42 NKJV). Jesus’s lament here refers to the coming destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD, a disaster that was a direct divine judgment for their rebellion against God. Had they repented, they would have had peace, not judgment, both on earth and in eternal hellfire.
59Ashwood uses cross here as a synonym for suffering or hardship. But the reader will do well to realize that there is more to a cross than suffering. Christ did not go to the Cross merely to suffer. He went to the Cross to save, redeem, and greatly bless His chosen people. In order to do so, He had to suffer as the perfect and acceptable sacrifice. In other words, the emphasis of the Cross is on Christ’s work, mission, and atoning self-sacrifice, not on the sufferings that attended them as a necessary consequence. Christ most certainly did take the punishment and just wrath of God upon Himself in the place of His redeemed sinners. But there is a difference between a goal or purpose of something and what it takes to accomplish it. The goal was saving sinners, and to accomplish that, Christ had to suffer horribly. Thus, to “take up our cross” is not merely to suffer, but to do the work to which God has called us while living a holy life, in spite of any attendant hardship and suffering. That is what Christ did for us.
60moths: a reference to clothes moths. In Ashwood’s time, some fiber spinning was still done with spindle and distaff, and water wheels had not yet powered spinning wheels. Weaving was also done by hand. Thus, clothing was expensive due to the high labor requirements. In light of this, the clothes moth was an emblem of destruction and loss of value, much as rust is today.
61Ashwood was a preacher, so the reference was to those who had heard him preach.
62chosen: a reference to the biblical practice of congregations electing their preachers, pastors, and elders.
63“But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24 NKJV).
64“For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2 ESV).
65“I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain” (Galatians 4:11 NASB).
66“But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3 ESV).
67“For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18 NASB).
68“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14 ESV).
69Let not the reader be misled. Faith is popularly used in many ways, but as in the present context, faith is a simple childlike trust in God, especially in Christ as one’s own Lord and Savior. Trust is the main meaning of faith, and faith also includes unreserved commitment to Christ. If in your mind, you substitute trust for faith, you have nearly all that faith indicates; it most certainly is not theological jargon that is hard to understand. This trust, faith, is an active virtue; To exercise faith is to choose to trust God and God’s information rather than any other source of contradicting information, including our emotions, the world, our own reason, what our eyes see, and so on. It means that we trust God’s commands—they are perfect, good, and holy—to us and thus obey Him. It means that we trust God and His general promises to His believers even in the midst of our particular trials, temptations, and afflictions. Very importantly, it also means that we make an active choice to trust God even in the midst of doubts and fears in our hearts and minds. In this way, faith is similar to courage. Courage is not the absence of fear; indeed, courage cannot exist except in the presence of fear. Courage is doing what is right in spite of fear. Likewise, faith enables believers to choose to do what is right in spite of any doubts they may have, the cost of obedience to God, or what they see or know about the world around them. Unlike courage, however, faith may be exercised in the absence of emotional or mental doubts.
70“…for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 NASB).
71References in the Bible to fat, fatness, and so on, refer to rich, wholesome, and savory food.
72Like many other of Ashwood’s statements, this statement cannot be fully appreciated without an eternal perspective and faith in the promises of God. Put simply, life is short and Heaven and Hell are for eternity.
73“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24–26 ESV).
74“For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3 ESV).
75bow: archery bow
76“But his bow remained in strength, And the arms of his hands were made strong By the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel)” (Genesis 49:24 NKJV). This quote is part of Jacob’s blessing on his son Joseph.
77“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24–27 ESV).
78“Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10 NASB). If you have ever been passed by another driver at a hill or blind curve, that driver hazarded his life for lack of sure evidence that it was safe to do so. To not make our calling and election certain is to take a similar chance concerning where we will spend all eternity. This seems to be Ashwood’s meaning. It is applicable to both those who are saved but have not labored for assurance of salvation as they ought, and to those who presumptuously assume they are saved but are not. It has been observed that Satan tries to convince unbelievers that they are saved and believers that they are unsaved.
79This is the goal; only in Heaven will there be perfect holiness, but one must strive mightily against sin, attaining to greater and greater holiness.
80“Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12 ESV). This Scripture does not forbid us to be challenged by the good works and ways of life of others. It does warn us to use great caution when comparing ourselves with others. Skilled hypocrites do exist and we cannot see into the hearts of other people.
81“What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted” (Ecclesiastes 1:15 NASB).
82talent: in this context, a biblical unit of weight of gold or silver, usually somewhere around 30 kg, or 960 troy ounces, but the talent of the New Testament was much larger, around 59 kg, or 1900 troy ounces. Note, however, that many times talent refers to natural abilities in this book instead of weight.
83“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV).
84“For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3 NASB).
85“…and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:2 NASB).
86We are stewards; all we are and have is God’s property, not our own.
87“And He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs’” (Matthew 15:26 NASB). “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me” (John 6:57 ESV).
88The spiritual grace and gifts of God for power against sin and for holiness are free and can only come from God through Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit uses means of grace such as prayer, Bible study, sermon hearing, and so on as instruments with which to bring grace to us.
89glass: old-fashioned hourglass
90In this book, company always refers to companions, never to a business concern.
91In Ashwood’s time, sermons were often preached midweek for education and edification, not merely on Sunday. Due to the cost of books relative to a laborer’s wages, this was an important resource for many people.
92ordinances: biblically ordained means of grace and duties, such as prayer, Bible reading and study, meditation on Scripture, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, public worship, and so on.
93courts of God: a common Old Testament term for the Temple, a type and symbol of Heaven. Believers are now in union with Christ. Thus God has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6 NKJV).
94The cedar trees in Lebanon were renowned for size. Much of this ancient forest is gone today.
95“That the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17 ESV).
96“Just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33 NASB).
97Those who are indeed in Christ have Christ Himself, the greatest excellence and privilege! But all is of grace, and none of it our own doing, but solely, absolutely, totally the work of God.
98“The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God” (Psalm 92:12–13 ESV).
99This statement implies hope in the midst of doubt, and trust in God’s Word.
100“But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:6 NKJV). The idea of the prayer closet originates in Matthew 6:6. The KJV uses “closet,” while modern translations use “room.” The former always implies a private space, while the latter does not. In most modern usage, a closet is storage space, but the definition still includes the meaning of a place of retreat and privacy, which space may be small or even large and multiroomed. Both today and in times past people have constructed or set up private places to be used solely for prayer and private devotions. The prayer closet has thus historically been an important concept among devout believers. The editor therefore wishes to strongly encourage believers who do not have ready access to private space for personal prayer and devotions to provide private space for themselves as they are able. The space should not be unduly uncomfortable or contain distractions. If not already present, illumination, a chair, a table or desk, kneeling pads, and the like may be helpful. Some find walking an aid to alertness and they may have access to rooms, paths, or trails suitable to walking and praying in solitude. Christ heeded His own command and frequently prayed in solitude. “But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16 ESV).
101Family duties will include family worship and prayer, as well as godly education of children in the faith and godly education of children in academics, trades, and general knowledge. Home school groups and co-ops and Christian schools may aid in this, but God squarely lays the responsibility for children’s education on parents. Government-operated schools are Satan’s academies in modern America.
102Lord’s Day: the Christian Sabbath, the first day of the week.
103“Then I turned and raised my eyes, and saw there a flying scroll. And he said to me, ‘What do you see?’ So I answered, ‘I see a flying scroll. Its length is twenty cubits and its width ten cubits.’ Then he said to me, ‘This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth: “Every thief shall be expelled,” according to this side of the scroll; and, “Every perjurer shall be expelled,” according to that side of it. I will send out the curse,’ says the Lord of hosts; ‘It shall enter the house of the thief And the house of the one who swears falsely by My name. It shall remain in the midst of his house And consume it, with its timber and stones’” (Zechariah 5:1–4 NKJV). Hypocrites who take baptismal or church membership vows swear falsely.
104Scripture equates faith in God and waiting for God frequently. The idea is that we must not impatiently turn to sinful solutions to our troubles and fears. Rather, we must trust (have faith in) God’s providence at all times.
105Obviously, the mercies that we are not to unduly love are earthly mercies, not anything of God’s grace and our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
106“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:35–40 ESV).
107“Worth your wages” does not here imply that we can give anything back to God that is not already His; we are always unprofitable servants who cost more to keep than God gets from us. It does mean that we must use well and wisely those resources (including ourselves) that God has put in our charge as His stewards and bear fruit consistent with those resources.
108Whether by our death or His second coming, we must always be ready to go to God and our eternal destiny, either Heaven or Hell.