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Strangers to the Heavenly Trade Are Lacking and Needy

{Since the Heavenly Trade Is the Best Trade…

Exhortation and Counsel to Strangers to the Heavenly Trade

Reasons to Pursue the Heavenly Trade

Strangers to the Heavenly Trade Are Lacking and Needy}

Necessity drives people to work. And no one is needier than those who are without this divine calling. Sinners, you who are without God in the world, you are miserably poor and ready to perish.414 You are worth nothing but sin and misery. A person who has nothing on which to live is poor. And so are you while you are without this line of communication [to God], and strangers to these supreme concerns. You are spiritually poor and do not yet have anything on which your souls may live, either here or in eternity. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (Revelation 3:17–18 ESV). Poverty is one of the miseries of all unrepentant souls. And what increases the guilt is that they think themselves rich, but have nothing. [Spiritually,] they have no food to fill them but empty husks and pork.415 They have no clothing to cover them, but only filthy rags and shame of nakedness. They have no house to shelter them from the storms of divine wrath or any dwelling to receive them, but only the lake of fire and brimstone in Hell. Their dwelling will be with damned demons with no friend to help them or an eye to pity them. There are no people in the world so poor that they do not have something or other to help them.416 They may have something in hand or something in hope. They may have something of their own or something from others. If they cannot work, they can beg. If they do not have assets, they may find those who will pity and relieve them. But a sinner without Christ has nothing to supply his immortal soul. There is nothing on earth that can contribute the least good to his undone soul; he has nothing in his hand, no hope, and nothing of his own; there is nothing that anybody else can give him. Whatever he lives on, it is nothing but wind and emptiness. “He feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside. And he cannot deliver himself, nor say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’” (Isaiah 44:20 NASB). He crams his starved soul with filthy dung and sewage; so loathsome417 are all the pleasures he lives on. “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). This is your condition, souls, while you are without this heavenly trade. You are miserably poor; whatever earthly things you may have, you have nothing of God. Whatever your bodies and families have, your souls have nothing. Augustine said, “It is of little profit to enjoy all things and miss that one thing [God] by which alone we get to use them.” You labor for vanity and lie down in sorrow. Do you not have a reason to look for some way that will help you and a reason to embrace this clear offer of a calling that will maintain and enrich you here and forever? “Now there were four leprous men at the entrance of the gate; and they said to one another, ‘Why do we sit here until we die? If we say, “We will enter the city,” then the famine is in the city and we will die there; and if we sit here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us go over to the camp of the Arameans. If they spare us, we will live; and if they kill us, we will but die’” (2 Kings 7:3–4 NASB). The leper’s situation is yours; if you sit still in your [unsaved] state, you die [eternally in Hell]. In the world’s fullness is famine, and in your security and false hopes is death also. If you go to Christ’s grace, it may save you, and at worst you will but die.418

Again, you are not only poor, but bankrupt. Your poverty is of your own doing and the result of your being a spendthrift. You once had a fair estate but lost it; God, grace, and glory were yours by the first covenant419 (Luke 15:30).420 But you have trifled it away for forbidden fruit and spent all you had on whores.421 You have consumed your Lord’s goods in riotous living also and wasted a large stock committed to your trust; you now must give an account of your stewardship. If it were only your personal poverty that your foolishness brought upon you, that would be one thing: a heavy guilt, but comparatively tolerable. But you must make restitution [to God for His goods] and that is inconceivably distressing. A dreadful word [judgment] is against you! How can you bear it? How can you eat, drink, talk, or sleep in peace, much less rejoice when the handwriting is on the wall (Daniel 5:4–5)?422 The writing against you is, “Give an account of your stewardship” (Luke 16:1–3).423 You must expect a review of your past and tell by what means you reduced your miserable soul to its low state. You will be required to give an account of your stewardship, and as the unjust steward (verse 3), too late you will ask, “What shall I do?” Is it not more advisable to now take the advice of Eliphaz the Temanite: “Yield now and be at peace with Him; Thereby good will come to you” (Job 22:21 NASB). Is it not more advisable to now return to that heavenly trade that you left and recover the treasure that you lost,424 so that your account will be good in the day of Christ?

Further,425 you are not only poor and bankrupt, but deeply in debt. You are debtors to God, to whom you owe yourselves and all you have by the law of creation and covenant obligation. But to this day, you have never discharged that debt. You are in debt to God for all your mercies from creation and providence: [God’s] merciful patience, merciful protection, merciful providences, and merciful bounty. There is never a moment when God is not spending some new mercy on you, mercies for which you have never made repayment to this day.

You are debtors to the law of God, which has a full and just claim on you. The law is just, righteous, and good; and you owe obedience to it by just and unquestionable ties. And yet you have never yielded any valid and complete submission to it all your days, but have violated all its righteous commands every day and moment in your life, in thought, speech, and actions. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10 ESV).

You are debtors to conscience, whose law is in force against you and by which you will [also] be judged. “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:14–15 ESV). And you have broken these bonds of conscience, throwing its restraints away from you. How many restraints has your conscience laid on you that you have broken, going against the light and dictates of it!

You are debtors to the world [of people,] to whom, in some respect or another, you have an obligation. There are duties you owe to all people, to love them and pray for them. There are duties to all your neighbors and acquaintances, to do them good as you have opportunity, and to seek and work toward their salvation, as you have ability, which you have not done to this day. There are duties you owe to your relatives, friends, and family, duties that you have neglected. You have thereby increased your original debt, running up new debt every day. This debt can never be canceled, nor can you ever obtain the ability to discharge your duties acceptably—until you come to Christ and enter your souls into His new and everlasting covenant, setting yourself to those great and evangelical duties of it.

Your slavery is also great until you begin this blessed work. You are in bondage to Satan. “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16 ESV). You serve an incomparably horrible master, the worst, a cruel master who has no mercy, who delights in the misery of fallen humanity. “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NASB). The devil has been cursed and cast out away from God and cursed more than all other creatures (Genesis 3:14).426And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6 NKJV). Your implacable enemy hates you with total hatred. He is an accuser who never speaks well of anybody (Revelation 12:10).427 He was a murderer from the beginning. He is the original cause of all the destruction on earth and in Hell.428 The devil is a false and deceitful creature that never kept his word with anyone and is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).429 The devil is too strong and tough for you; he will cheat your souls into destruction. Satan is a miserable poor creature who has lost all his glory and excellence; he has nothing to give you for all your service except some of the same hellfire in which he must fry forever. This, sinners, is your master whom you have chosen and served all your days. And as you serve the worst master, so you do the worst work: sordid, filthy, shameful, and cursed work.430 Such are all your actions while you are not born again. You do hard work and there is no slavery like it. You work and have no [spiritual] food to refresh you, which is the cruelest bondage. In Egypt, Israel had to work hard, but had fish, onions, and garlic to refresh them (Numbers 11:5).431 But you have nothing to feed your hopes and affections but lies and vanity. You work, but have no [spiritual] clothing to cover you; all your employment leaves you naked. You labor and have no rest. You are weary and heavily burdened, but are insensible of it (Genesis 3:17–19).432 Other laborers have their regular times off, but you have none. The hired laborer has rest in the shade, his evening free from his job, and his bed in which to sleep. But your work gives you no rest and it is never done because you do the devil’s work day and night, waking and sleeping; even while you eat and drink, your work still goes on. Oh, such sad slavery. You work and have no wages. All earthly laborers have their pay or something or other to compensate them for their pains, whether money or sustenance.433 But you have nothing in your hand and no hope, here or for eternity, except death and damnation to Hell. The fruit of your labors here is more bitter than death, and your wages at the end of your life will be wrath, vengeance, worms, and fire (Mark 9:45–46).434 Is this not bad employment? Is it not time, sinners, to change your job and accept this offer made to you of the excellent heavenly trade?

414Let the reader make no mistake here; the reference is to spiritual poverty. And spiritual things are just as real, even more real than material things. A person who is shipwrecked or swept out to sea and floating on a board without food or water is poor, whatever may be the size of his or her bank account. So it is with spiritual poverty: compared with eternity in Heaven or Hell, the possessions of this life are meaningless.

415The reference to pork is to the ceremonial uncleanness of pork in the (now obsolete) Mosaic Law. Pork is actually a good and important source of protein for many poor around the world.

416Alas, this is not true for many prisoners in Communist and totalitarian countries. The authorities in them have made human misery and pain a refined art and science.

417They are loathsome because, without Christ, they are sinful. One outside of Christ can do nothing but sin, even in his or her “best” good works. And sin is a horrible, loathsome thing contrary to the infinitely pure and holy God.

418Christ’s grace is a sure and certain thing; but as the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3–23) teaches, not everyone who receives and accepts something of the Gospel understands it, has a new and born-again heart from above, and bears fruit for God by His grace for the rest of his or her earthly life. Those who are not good soil for receiving the Word of God need to repent.

419Ashwood mixes themes here from not only the parable of the prodigal son, but from Adam’s sin of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This latter theme is not a literary device but a true expression of the fact that all people have inherited the nature of a rebellious sinner by being of the posterity of Adam.

420But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:30 ESV).

421Scripture uses adultery with prostitutes as a metaphor for idolatry, and covetousness is rank idolatry.

422They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote” (Daniel 5:4–5 ESV).

423Now He was also saying to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, “What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” The manager said to himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg”’” (Luke 16:1–3 NASB).

424This statement applies to all who are not Christians, not merely those who once had some sort of relationship to Christianity in the past. When Adam sinned, he lost his original righteousness and close relationship to God and made himself a rebel against God. Because all humans are his offspring, we are also rebels against God and thus sin. We have thus lost the treasures of original righteousness and communion with God. As a result, all must repent and trust in Christ alone for forgiveness and restoration of communion with God.

425The further seems out of place at first. But consider a son whose father sets him up in business and also gives him and his family support and sustenance until the business becomes sufficiently profitable. The former text speaks of the business, and text to follow speaks of personal support and sustenance.

426The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life’” (Genesis 3:14 NASB).

427Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, ‘Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down’” (Revelation 12:10 NKJV). The devil accuses believers before God and other creatures of every sin and crime. But if it serves that father of lies, he will flatter people or speak well of evildoers and so on.

428Scripture seems to strongly imply that Satan was the first instigator and tempter to sin with respect to both angels and humans. But the blame for sin and its horrible effects falls on all sinners.

429You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 NASB).

430You may well think that you do at least some good things. Humans may well commend what you do. But God condemns even your best work as sin because: “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23 NASB). “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6 NASB). “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NASB). Apart from a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, all you do can be nothing but sin; even if God uses you to do external and genuine good, you still do nothing but sin and add to God’s wrath against you.

431We 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).

432Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat from it”; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return’” (Genesis 3:17–19 NASB).

433Sustenance is mentioned because slavery was yet legal in England in Ashwood’s time, and still is to this day in some parts of the world (however much that fact be publicly denied).

434And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:45–46 NKJV).

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