January 19, 2015

William Perkins (1558–1602) on Christ Standing and Knocking

I stand. Christ expresses his mind by borrowed speeches: for in this verse he compares every man to a house or householder, and our hearts to doors by which an entrance is made: and himself to a guest or stranger which comes to the house, and desires to be let in and entertained: yet not so much to look for kindness to be shown [to] him, as to show favor to us. By this similitude Christ purposes to show this Church, what his mind is toward it: and he expresses it by two signs here set down: first, a desire of their conversion, which he heartily seeks and looks for, I stand and knock. Secondly, his promise after their conversion, If any, &c. he will have fellowship, even mutual fellowship with them.

Now of the words in order as they lie. The scope and substance of them being thus first thus generally propounded, I here note two things. First, that this Church (if we regard the greater part of it) had no true fellowship with Christ as yet, nor Christ with them[?]: because he was not yet received into their houses, but stood at their doors which were shut. This may seem strange: but the cause is evident; the truth is, there were many good things in them: for they knew the Gospel and liked it, and professed it, and were partakers of the seals of the covenant: and yet they were tainted with one great sin of lukewarmness, which closed up the door of their hearts, so that though they had many good things, yet this one sin kept out Christ. By which we see, that one sin, in a man endued with many good graces, keeps out Christ, and bars him from all fellowship and society with him. Judas had many notable things in him; he forsook all, and preached Christ, and yet covetousness kept out Christ. Herod had so too, but incest kept the door shut against Christ. It is the nature of sin to cut a man off from all fellowship with Christ: and so we may have many excellent things among us, as the word and Sacraments; and yet if thou be a man which has but one sin (and nourishes it) it is a bar to keep out  Christ from entering. If you are given to  either to covetousness, drunkenness, fornication, adultery, theft, blasphemy, or lying, &c. that one sin whatsoever, will keep out Christ, so that he must be fain to stand and stay at the door, and so must abide as long as a man continues in any one sin. Therefore so many as have any desire to have fellowship with Christ, must have care to cut off all sin: for though you have knowledge, wit, memory, understanding and utterance, yet if you have but one sin, it takes away the very ground of all fellowship with Christ: that is, of all felicity and happiness.

In the original, it is not I stand, but I have stood. So Jer. 7:13. I have risen up early: and Isa. 65:2. I have stretched out my arm all the day long. And here, I have risen up early, and stood here long, all the day till night: for so much the word of supping imports; as if he should say, till supper time.

This shows Christ's exceeding patience, in waiting for the conversion of this people. He might in justice have condemned them for their sins, and have cast them to hell, and yet he stands still all the day waiting for their conversion, till he is fain to complain.

Now this place serves to show and set forth, and gives just occasion to speak of God's patience, in waiting for the conversion & amendment of a sinner. Now that which Christ says to them, may be justly said to us: he has risen up early, and spent a long day in waiting at our doors, above six and thirty years: therefore he may well upbraid us. Let us then learn to know the day of our visitation: for that is the day of a people's visitation, when the Gospel is preached and Christ stands knocking: therefore it stands us upon to labor to know this, and regard it. If we can resolve ourselves of this, then we practice the duty which Christ prescribes the church of Jerusalem: if we do not so, but shall let pass all the signs and tokens of God's mercy, we must look for the like end as Jerusalem had. So much for the first part, I stand at the door.
And knock. First he used means to enter when they had barred him out. Mark the unspeakable mercy of Christ: they by their sins stopped Christ from entering, yet he pursues them with mercy, and offers mercy to them that refused it, and contented themselves to lie and live in their sins. When Adam had sinned and fled from God, the Lord sought him out, and made a covenant of grace with him. So Isa. 65. the Lord saith, he was found of them that never sought him: they that never dreamed of mercy found mercy. In the parable of the lost sheep, that sheep which was left as a prey to the wild beasts, Christ sought it up, and brought it home. All these places tend to one end, to show the infinite mercy of Christ. This is true in all churches, yea in this of ours. If we have mercy, we have it before we seek it, nay when we refuse it, as much as in us lies. This should be an occasion to stir up our hearts to magnify Christ for his mercy: we should not let pass such considerations as these, but rather break out into praise of Gods love and mercy, which is a bottomless sea.

Quest. It may be demanded, how he knocks. Answ. The words precedent show the sense: for these words have relation to them. He said before, he would spew them out: then he gives them counsel. Now by so sharp a rebuke they might have despaired: therefore he shows, that by this threatening, and rebuke, and counsel, he knocks, that they might perceive they were not tokens of wrath but of mercy. So then this knocking is nothing else but the reproof, threatening, and counsel used before. He knocks when it pleases him to make men see their sin by such things.

Here then we are to mark the state of all people which have the ministry of the word, they have Christ among them, and he stands at the door and knocks at every man's heart. All threatenings of the law, reproofs of sin, exhortations, admonitions and promises, they are so many knocks of Christ. A great & unspeakable mercy, that the King of heaven and earth should do this: Now then does Christ knock thus by preaching, promises, and threatenings, &c. then we must not be so dull, dead, and backward, but show more zeal. If any man of great place and calling knock at your doors, what stirring is there, that you may receive him as is meet? Then what a shame is this, when Christ vouchsafes to deal thus mercifully with us? Again, in that Christ comes by the ministry of the Gospel to work our conversion, it serves to admonish us to turn with all speed, for we know not how long he will stand and reach forth the hand of his ministry to beat upon our hearts. Mark further; this knocking is not a light and soft kind of knocking, but it goes with crying; he both knocks and cries, it is an earnest knocking of one that would fain enter.

Seeing then Christ standing at the door of men's hearts knocks so earnestly to save men's souls, we again ought to be earnest to receive and embrace the Gospel. He knocks in good earnest, and we must accordingly by Gods grace be as earnest. So much for the first token of Christs love, his desire of their conversion, which he shows by two signs; first his waiting, secondly his knocking, and that joined with crying.
William Perkins, Lectures Upon the Three First Chapters of the Revelation: Preached in Cambridge Anno Dom. 1595. (London: Printed by Richard Field for Cuthbert Burbie, and are to be sold at his shop in Pauls Church-yard, at the sign of the Swan, 1604), 331–334. Some spelling changes have been made.


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