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Subject matter treated of in the Holy Scripture, is excellent, as is also its end and deign.
WE have hitherto consider’d the holy Scripture only under one notion, as it is the Word of God; we come now to view it in the subject matter of it, the several parts whereof it consists; which are so various and comprehensive, that they shew the whole is deriv’d from him who is all in all. 1 Cor. 15. 28. But that we may not speak only loosely, and at rovers we will take this excellent frame in pieces, and consider its most eminent parts distinctly. Now the parts of Holy Writ seem to branch themselves into these severals: First, the Historical; secondly, the Prophetick; thirdly, the Doctrinal; fourthly, the Preceptive; fifthly, the Minatory; sixthly, the Promissory. These are the several veins in this rich Mine, in which he who industriously labours, will find the Psalmist was not out in his estimate, when he pronounces them more to be desir’d than gold, yea, than much fine gold, Psal. 19. 10.
2. To speak first of the Historical part; 64the things which chiefly recommend a History, are the dignity of the subject, the truth of the relation, and those pleasant or profitable observations which are interwoven with it. And first, for the dignity of the subject, the History of the Bible must be acknowledged to excell all others: those shew the rise and progress of some one people or Empire; this shews us the original of the whole Universe; and particularly of man, for whose use and benefit the whole Creation was design’d. By this mankind is brought into acquaintance with it self; made to know the elements of its constitution, and taught to put a differing value upon that Spirit which was breath’d into it by God, Gen. 2. 7. and the flesh whose foundation is in the dust, Job 4. 19. And when this Historical part of Scripture contracts and draws into a narrow channel, when it records the concerns but of one Nation, yet it was that which God had dignified above all the rest of the world, mark’d out for his own peculiar; made it the repository of his truth, and the visible stock from whence the Messias should come, in whom all the Nations of the earth were to be blessed, Gen. 18. 18. so that in this one people of the Jews, was virtually infolded the highest and most important interests of the whole world; and it must be acknowledg’d, no Story could have a nobler subject to treat of.65
3. SECONDLY, as to the truth of the relation, tho’ to those who own it Gods Word there needs no other proof; yet it wants not human Arguments to confirm it. The most undoubted symptom of sincerity in an Historian is impartiality. Now this is very eminent in Scripture writers: they do not record others faults, and baulk their own; but indifferently accuse themselves as well as others. Moses mentions his own diffidence and unwillingness to go on Gods message, Ex. 4. 14. his provocation of God at the waters of Meribah, Numb. 20. Jonah records his own sullen behaviour towards God, with as great aggravations as any of his enemies could have done. Peter in his dictating Saint Marks Gospel, neither omits nor extenuates his sin; all he seems to speak short in, is his repentance, Saint Paul registers himself as the greatest of sinners.
4. AND as they were not indulgent to their own personal faults, so neither did any nearness of relation, any respect of quality bribe them to a concealment: Moses relates the offence of his Sister Miriam in mutining. Numb. 12. 1. of his Brother Aaron in the matter of the Calf, Exod. 32. 4, with as little disguise as that of Korah and his Company. David, tho’ a King, hath his adultery and murder display’d in the blackest Characters: and King Hezekiahs little vanity of 66shewing his treasures do’s not escape a remark. Nay, even the reputation of their Nation could not biass the Sacred Writers; but they freely tax their crimes: the Israelites murmurings in the wilderness, their Idolatries in Canaan, are set down without any palliation or excuse. And they are as frequently branded for their stubborness and ingratitude, as the Canaanites are for their abominations. So that certainly no History in the world do’s better attest it’s truth by this evidence of impartiality.
5. IN the last place it commends it self both by the pleasure and profit it yields. The rarity of those events it records, surprizes the mind with a delightful admiration; and that mixture of sage Discourses, and well-couch’d Parables wherewith it abounds, do’s at once please and instruct. How ingeniously apt was Nathans Apologue to David, whereby with Holy artifice he ensnar’d him into repentance? And it remains still matter of instruction to us, to shew us with what unequal scales we are apt to weigh the same crime in others and our selves. So also that long train of smart calamities which succeeded his sin, is set out with such particularity, that it seems to be exactly the crime reverst. His own lust with Bathsheba was answer’d with Amnons towards Thamar; his murder of Uriah with that of Amnon; his treacherous contrivance 67of that murder, with Absoloms traitorous conspiracy against him. So that every circumstance of his punishment was the very Echo and reverberation of his guilt. A multitude of the like instances might be produc’d out of Holy Writ; all concurring to admonish us, that God exactly marks, and will repay our crimes; and that commonly with such propriety, that we need no other clue to guide us to the cause of our sufferings, than the very sufferings themselves. Indeed innumerable are the profitable observations arising from the Historical part of Scripture, that flow so easily and unconstrain’d, that nothing but a stupid inadvertence in the reader can make him baulk them: therefore ’twould be impertinent here multiply instances.
6. LET us next consider the Prophetick part of Scripture, and we shall find it no less excellent in its kind. The Prophetick Books are for the most part made up (as the Prophetick Office was) of two parts: prediction and instruction. When God rais’d up Prophets, ’twas not only to acquaint men with future events, but to reform their present manners: and therefore as they are called Seers in one respect, so they are Watch-men and Sheepherds in another. Nay, indeed the former was often subservient to the other as to the nobler end; their gift of fore-telling was to gain them authority, to be as it were the seal 68 of their commission, to convince men that they were sent from God: and so to render them the more pliant to their reproofs and admonitions. And the very matter of their prophecies was usually adapted to this end: the denouncing of judgements being the most frequent Theme, and that design’d to bring men to repentance; as appears experimentally in the case of Nineveh. And in this latter part of their office, the Prophets acted with the greatest incitation and vehemence.
7. WITH what liberty and zeal do’s Elijah arraign Ahab of Naboth’s murder, and foretell the fatal event of it, without any fear of his power, or reverence of his greatness? And Samuel, when he delivers Saul the fatal message of his rejection, do’s passionately and convincingly expostulate with him concerning his sin, 1 Sam. 15. 17. Now the very same Spirit still breaths in all the prophetick Writings, the same truth of prediction, and the same zeal against vice.
8. FIRST for the predictions, what signal completions do we find? How exactly are all the denunciations of judgments fulfill’d, where repentance has not interven’d? He that reads the 28. chap. of Deut. and compares it with the Jews calamities, both under the Assyrians and Babylonians, and especially under the Romans, would think their oppressors 69had consulted it, and transcrib’d their severities thence. And even these Nations, who were the instruments of accomplishing those dismal presages, had their own ruins foretold, and as punctually executed. And as in Kingdoms and Nations, so to private persons none of the prophetick threatnings ever return’d empty. The sentence pronounc’d against Ahab, Jezebel, and their posterity, was fulfill’d even to the most minute circumstances of place and manner; as is evident by comparing the denunciation of Elijah, 1 Kings 21. 19. 23. with their tragical ends recorded in the following chapters. And as for Jehu, whose service God was pleased to use in that execution, tho’ he rewarded it with entailing the Crown of Israel on him for four descents, yet he fore-told those should be the limits: and accordingly we find Zachariah, the fourth descendent of his line, was the last of it that fate on that throne, 2 Kings 15. 10. So also the destruction of Achitophel and Judas, the one immediate, the other many hundred years remote, are foretold by David, Psal. 109. and we find exactly answer’d in the event.
9. NOR was this exactness confin’d only to the severe predictions, but as eminent in the more gracious. All the blessings which God by himself, or the Ministry of his Prophets promis’d, were still infallibly made good. 70At the time of life God return’d and visited Sarah with conception, notwithstanding those natural improbabilities which made her not only distrust, but even deride and laugh at the promise, Gen. 18. The posterity of that Son of Promise, the whole race of Abraham was deliver’d from the Egyptian bondage, and possess’d of Canaan, at the precise time which God had long before signified to Abrabam, Gen. 15. So likewise the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity was fore-told many years before their deportation, and Cyrus named for their restorer, before he had either name or being save only in Gods prescience, Is. 44. 28. But I need not multiply instances of national or personal promises. The earliest and most comprehensive promise of all was that of the Messiah, in whom all persons and Nations of the world were to be blest, Gen. 22. 11. that seed of the woman that should bruise the Serpents head, Gen. 3. 15. To him give all the Prophets witness, as Saint Peter observes, Acts 10. And he who was the subject, made himself also the expounder of those prophecies in his walk to Emmaus with the two Disciples, Luk. 24. 13. beginning at Moses, and all the Prophets, he expounded to them in all the Scriptures, the things concerning himself.
10. THIS as it was infinitely the greatest blessing afforded mankind, so was it the most 71frequently and eminently predicted; and that with the most exact particularity as to all the circumstances. His immaculate conception, the union of his two natures implied in his name Immanuel; Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel; is most plainly fore-told by Isaiah chap. 7. 14. Nay, the very place of his birth so punctually fore-told, that the Priests and Scribes could readily resolve Herods Question upon the strength of the Prophecy, and assure him Christ must be born in Bethlehem, Mat. 2. 5. As for the whole business and design of his life, we find it so describ’d by Isaiah, chap. 61. as Christ himself owns it, Luke 4. 18. The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath appointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
11. IF we look farther to his death, the greatest part of the Old Testament has a direct aspect on it. All the Levitical œconomy of Sacrifices and Ablutions were but prophetick Rites, and ocular Predictions of that one expiatory Oblation. Nay most of Gods providential dispensations to the Jews, carried in them types and prefigurations of this. Their rescue from Egypt, the sprinkling 72of blood to secure them from the destroying Angel; the Manna with which they were fed, the Rock which supplied them water: these and many more referr’d to Christ, as their final and highest signification.
12. BUT besides these darker adumbrations, we have (as the Apostle speaks) a more sure word of prophecy. Saint Peter in his calculation begins with Moses, takes in Samuel, and the whole succession of Prophets after him, as bearing witness to this great event of Christs passion, Acts 4. 22. 24. And indeed he that reads the Prophets consideringly, shall find it so punctually describ’d, that the Evangelists do not much more fully instruct him in the circumstances of it. Daniel tells us his death, as to the kind of it, was to be violent: The Messiah shall be cut off; and as to the design of it ’twas not for himself; Dan. 9. 26. But the Prophet Isaiah gives us more than a bare negative account of it; and expressly saies, he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was on him, and by his stripes we were healed, chap. 53. 5. And again, ver. 10. Thou shalt make his Soul an offering for sin; and ver. 11. my righteous Servant shall justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities. Nor is Job, an Idumean, much short of even this Evangelical Prophet; in that short Creed of his, wherein he 73owns him as his Redeemer, I know that my Redeemer liveth, &c. Job. 19. 25.
13. AND as the end, so the circumstances of his sufferings are most of them under prediction: His extention upon the Cross is mention’d by the Psalmist: They pierced my hands, and my feet; I may tell all my bones, Psal. 22. 16, 17. As for his inward dolours, they are in that Psalm so pathetically describ’d that Christ chose that very form to breath them out in: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? ver. 1. So his revilers did also transcribe part of their reproaches from ver. 8. He trusted in God, let him deliver him now if he will have him, Matt. 27. 43. That Vinegar which was offered him on the Cross, was a completion of a Prophecy; In my thirst they gave me Vinegar to drink, Psal. 69. 21. the piercing of his side was expressly fore-told by Zachary: they shall look on him whom they have pierced, Zach. 10. 12. The company in which he suffer’d, and the interment be had, are also intimated by lsaiah, He made his Grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, Isai. 53. 9. Nay even the disposal of his Garments was not without a Prophecy: they parted my Garments among them, and upon my Vesture did they cast Lots Psalm 22. 18. Here are a cloud of witsnesses which as they serve eminently to attest the truth of the Christian Religion; so do they to evince the excellency of the Sacred Scripture, 74as to the verity of the Prophetick part.
14. AS to the admonitory part of the Prophetick Writings, they are in their kind no way inferiour to the other. The reproofs are authoritative and convincing. What piercing exprobations do we find of Israels ingratitude? How often are they upbraided with the better examples of the brute Creatures? with the Ox and the Ass by Isaiah Chap. 1. 3. with the Stork, and the Crane and the Swallow, by Jeremiah, Chap. 8. 7. Nay the constancy of the Heathen to their false Gods is instanc’d to reproach their revolt from the true. Hath a Nation chang’d their Gods which yet are no Gods? but my People have chang’d their Glory for that which doth not profit, Jer. 2. 11. What awful, what Majestick representations do we find of Gods power, to awake their dread! Fear ye not me saith the Lord? will ye not tremble at my presence who have plac’d the Sands for the bounds of the Sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass over? and tho’ the Waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; tho’ they roar, yet can they not pass over it, Jer. 22. And again; Thus saith the High and lofty one that inhabiteth Eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the High and Holy Place, Is. 57. 15. So we find him describ’d as a God Glorious in Holiness, fearful in Praises, doing Wonders, Exod. 15. 11. These and many other the like heights of Divine eloquence we 75meet with in the Prophetick Writings: which cannot but strike us with an awful reverence of the Divine Power.
15. NOR are they less Pathetick in the gentler strains. What instance is there of the greatest tenderness and love, which God has not adopted to express his by? He personates all the nearest and most endearing relations: that of a Husband; I will Marry thee to my self, Hos. 2. 19. of a Father; I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first Born: nay, he vies Bowels with the tender Sex, and makes it more possible for a Mother to renounce her compassions towards the Son of her Womb, than for him to with-draw his, Isa. 49. 15. By all these endearments, these cords of a man, these bands of love, as himself stiles them, Hos. 11. 4. endeavouring to draw his people to their duty, and their happiness. And when their perversness frustrates all this his Holy Artifice; how passionately do’s he expostulate with them? how solemnly protest his aversness to their ruin? Why will ye die O House of Israel? for I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God, Ezek. 18. 31, 32. with what regrets and relenting do’s he think of abandoning them? How shall I give thee up Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim? my Heart is turn’d within me, my repentings are kindled together; Hos. 11. 8. 76In short, ’twere endless to cite the places in these Prophetick Books, wherein God do’s thus condescend to solicit even the sensitive part of man; and that with such moving Rhetorick, that I cannot but wonder at the exception some of our late Criticks make against the Bible, for its defect in that particular; for Oratory is nothing but a dextrous application to the affections and passions of men. And certainty we find not that done with greater advantage any where than in Sacred Writ.
16. YET it was not the design of the Prophets (no more than of the Apostle) to take men with guile; 2 Cor. 12. 16. to inveigle their affections unawares to their understandings; but they address as well to their reasons, make solemn appeals to their judicative faculties. And now judge I pray between me and my Vineyard, says Isa. 5. 3. Nay, God by the Prophet Ezekiel solemnly pleads his own cause before them, vindicates the equity of his proceedings from the aspersions they had cast on them; and by most irrefragable Arguments refutes that injurious Proverb which went current among them; and in the close appeals to themselves, O House of Israel are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal? Ezek. 18. the evidences were so clear that he remits the matter to their own determination. And generally we shall find that among 77all the Topicks of disswasion from sin, there is none more closely prest, than that of the folly of it. Idolatry was a sin to which Israel had a great propension, and against which most of the Prophets admonitions were directed. And certainly it can never be more expos’d, and the sottish unreasonableness of it better display’d, than we find it in the 44. Chap. of Isaiah. In like manner we may read the Prophet Jeremy disswading from the same sin by Arguments of the most irrefragable conviction, Jer. 10.
17. AND as the Prophets omitted nothing as to the manner of their address, to render their exhortations effectual, the matter of them was likewise so considerable as to command attention. It was commonly either the recalling them from their revolts and Apostacies from God by Idolatry, or else to convince them of the insignificancy of all those legal Ceremonial performances they so much confided in, when taken up as a supersedens to moral duties. Upon this account it is, that they often depreciate, and in a manner prohibit the solemnest of their Worships. To what purpose are the multitude of your Sacrifices unto me? bring no more vain Oblations: incense is an abomination to me; the new Moons and sabbaths, the calling of Assemblies I cannot away with: if Iniquity even your solemn meetings, &c. Is. 1. 11. 13. Not that these 78things were in themselves reprovable; for they were all commanded by God; but because the Jews depended so much on these external observances that they thought by them to commute for the weightier matters of the Law (as our Saviour after stiles them) Judgement, Mercy and Faith, Mat. 23. 23. look’d on these rites which discriminated them from other Nations, as dispensations from the universal obligations of nature and common justice.
18. THIS deceit of theirs is sharply upbraided to them by the Prophet Jeremy; where he calls their boasts of the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, lying words; and on the contrary, lays the whole stress of their obedience, and expectation of their happiness on the justice and innocence of their conversation, Ch. 7. 4. And after do’s smartly reproach their insolence in boldly resorting to that house, which by bringing their sins along with them, they made but an Asylum, and Sanctuary for those crimes. Will ye steal, murder and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense to Baal, and walk after other Gods whom ye know not, and come and stand before me in this house? Is this house which is called by my name become a Den of robbers in your eyes? Chap. 7. 9, 10, 11. Indeed all the Prophets seem to conspire in this one design, of making them look thro’ shadows and ceremonies, 79to that inward purity, Justice and Honesty, which they were design’d to inculcate, not to supplant. And this design as it is in it self most excellent, most worthy the command of God, and the nature of man; so we have seen that it has been pursued by all the most apt, and most powerful mediums, that the thing or persons addrest to were capable of; and so that the Prophets are no less eminent for the discharge of this exhortatory part of their office, than they were in the former, of the predicting.
19. THE next part of Scripture we are to consider, is the Doctrinal; by which I shall not in this place understand the whole complex of Faith and Manners together; but restrain it only to those Revelations which are the object of our Belief; and these are so sublime, as shews flesh and blood never reveal’d them. Those great mysteries of our Faith, The Trinity, the Incarnation, the Hypostatical union, the Redemption of the world by making the offended party the Sacrifice for the offence, are things of so high and abstruse speculation, as no finite understanding can fully fathom. I know their being so is by some made an Argument for disbelief; but doubtless very injustly for (not to insist upon the different natures of Faith and Science, by which that becomes a proper object of the one which is not of the other) our 80noncomprehension is rather an indication that they have a higher rise, and renders it infinitely improbable that they could spring from mans invention. For ’twere to suppose too great a disproportion between human faculties to think men could invent what themselves could not understand. Indeed these things lye so much out of the road of human imagination, that I dare appeal to the breasts of the most perverse gain-sayers, whether ever they could have fallen into their thoughts without suggestion from without. And therefore ’tis a malicious contradiction to reject these truths because of their dissonancy from human reason, and yet at the same time to ascribe their original to man. But certainly there can be nothing more inconsistent with mere natural reason, than to think God can be, or do no more than man can comprehend. Never any Nation or person that own’d a Deity, did ever attempt so to circumscribe him: and it is proportionable only to the licentious profaneness of these latter days, thus to measure immensity and omnipotence by our narrow scantling.
20. THE more genuine and proper effect of these supernatural truths is, to raise our admiration of that Divine Wisdom, whose ways are so past finding out; and to give us a just sense of that infinite distance which is between it, and the highest of that reason wherein we 81so pride our selves. And the great propriety these Doctrines have to that end may well be reckon’d as one part of their excellency.
21. INDEED there is no part of our holy Faith, but is naturally productive of some peculiar virtue; as the whole Scheme together engages us to be universally Holy in all manner of conversation. 1 Pet. 1. 15. And it is the supereminent advantage true Religion hath over all false ones, that it tends to so laudable an end.
22. THE Theology of the Heathens was in many instances an extract and quintessence of vice. Their most solemn Rites, and Sacred’st Mysteries were of such a nature, that instead of refining and elevating, they corrupted and debased their Votaries; immers’d them in all those abominable pollutions which sober nature abhorr’d. Whereas the principles of our Faith serve to spiritualize and rectifie us, to raise us as much above mere manhood as theirs cast them below it.
23. AND as they are of this vast advantage to us, so also are they just to God, in giving us right notions of him. What vile unworthy apprehensions had the Heathen of their Deities, intitling them not only to the passions but even to the crimes of men, making Jupiter an adulterer, Mercury a thief, Bacchus a drunkard, &c, proportionably of the rest? Whereas our God is represented to us as an 82essence, so spiritual, and incorporeal, that we must be unbodied our selves before we can perfectly conceive what he is: so far from the impotent affections and inclinations of men, that he has neither parts, nor passions; and is fain to veil himself under that disguise, to speak sometimes as if he had, merely in condescention to our grosser faculties. And again, so far from being an example, a patron of vice, that his eyes are too pure to behold iniquity, Hab. 1. 13. Holiness is an essential part of his nature, and he must deny himself to put it off.
24. THE greatest descent that ever he made to humanity was in the incarnation of the second person: yet even in that, tho’ he was linked with a sinful nature, yet he preserv’d the person immaculate; and while he had all the sins of the world upon him by imputation, suffer’d not any one to be inherent in him.
To conclude, the Scripture describes our God to us by all those glorious Attributes of infinity, Power and Justice, which may render him the proper object of our Adorations and Reverence and it describes him also in those gentler Attributes of Goodness, Mercy and Truth, which may excite our love of, and dependence on him. These are representations something worthy of God, and such as impress upon our mind great thoughts of him.83
26. BUT never did the Divine Attributes so concur to exert themselves, as in the mystery of our Redemption: where his Justice was satisfied without diminution to his Mercy; and his Mercy without entrenching on his Justice: his Holiness most eminent in his indignation against sin, and yet his Love no less so in sparing sinners: these contradictions being reconcil’d, this discord compos’d into harmony by his infinite Wisdom. This is that stupendous Mystery into which the Angels desir’d to look, 1 Pet. 1. 12. And this is it which by the Gospel is preach’d unto us; as it follows, vers. 25.
27. AND as the Scripture gives us this knowledge of God, so it do’s also of our selves; in which two, all profitable knowledge is comprised. It teaches us how vile we were in our original dust; and how much viler yet in our fall, which would have sunk us below our first principles, sent us not only to earth, but hell. It shews the impotence of our lapsed estate; that we are not able of our selves so much as to think a good thought: and it shews us also the dignity of our renovated estate, that we are heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Christ, Rom. 8. 17. yet lest this might puff us up with mistaken hopes, it plainly acquaints us with the condition on which this depends; that it must be our obedience both alive and passive, which is to intitle us to it: that we 84must be faithful to death, if we mean to inherit a crown of Life, Rev. 2. 10. and that we must suffer with Christ, if we will be glorified with him, Rom. 8. 17. And upon supposition that we perform our parts of the condition, it gives us the most certain assurance, engages Gods veracity that he will not fail on his. By this it gives us support against all the adversities of life assuring us the sufferings of it are not worthy to be compared with the glory we expect, Rom. 8. 18. yea, and against the terrors of death too; by assuring us that what we look on as a dissolution, is but a temporary parting and we only put off our bodies, that they may put off corruption, and be cloathed with immortality.
28. THESE and the like are the Doctrines the Holy Scripture offers to us: and we may certainly say, they are faithful sayings, and worthy of all acceptation, 1 Tim. 4. 9. The notions it gives us of God are so sublime and great, that they cannot but affect us with reverence, and admiration; and yet withal, so amiable and endearing that they cannot but raise love and gratitude, affiance and delight.
29. AND, which is yet more, the milder Attributes are apt to inspirit us with a generous ambition of assimilation; excite us to transcribe all his imitable excellencies in which the very Heathens could discern consisted 85the accomplishment of human felicity.
30. AND then the knowledge it gives us of our selves do’s us the kindest office imaginable; keeps us from those swelling thoughts we are too apt to entertain, and shews us the necessity of bottoming our hopes upon a firmer foundation: and then again keeps us from being lazy or secure, by shewing us the necessity of our own endeavours. In a word, it teaches us to be humble and industrious, and whoever is so ballasted can hardly be shipwrack’d.
31. THESE are the excellencies of the Doctrinal part of the Scriptures, which also renders them most aptly preparative for the preceptive. And indeed, so they were design’d: the Credenda and the Agenda being such inseparable relations, that whoever parts them, forfeits the advantage of both. The most solemn profession of Christ, the most importunate invocations, Lord, Lord, will signifie nothing to them which do not the things which he says, Mat. 7. And how excellent, how rational those precepts are which the Scripture proposes to us from him is our next point of consideration.
32. THE first Law which God gave to mankind was that of nature. And tho’ the impressions of it upon the mind be by Adams fall exceedingly dimm’d and defac’d; yet 86 that derogates nothing from the dignity and worth of that Law, which God has been so far from cancelling, that he seems to have made it the rule and square of his subsequent Laws so that nothing is injoin’d in those, but what is consonant and agreeable to that. The Moral Law given in the Decalogue to the Jews, the Evangelical Law given in the Gospel to Christians, have this natural Law for their basis and foundation. They licence nothing which that prohibits, and very rarely prohibit any thing which it licences.
33. ’TIS true, Christ in his Sermon on the Mount, raises Christians to a greater strictness than the Jews thought themselves oblig’d to; but that was not by contradicting either the natural, or moral Law, but by rescuing the latter from those corruptions which the false glosses of the Scribes and Pharisees had mix’d with it; and reducing it to its primitive integrity, and extent. In a word, as the Decalogue was given to repair the Defacings, and renew the impressions of the natural Law: so the precepts of the Gospel were design’d to revive and illustrate both. And accordingly we find Christ, in the matter of Divorce, calls them back to this natural Law; In the beginning it was not so Mat. 19. 8; I say not but that even these natural notions are in some instances refin’d and elevated by Christ; the second Adam being to repair the fall of the first 87with advantage but yet he still builds upon that ground-work, introduces nothing that is inconsistent with it.
34. AND this accordance between there several Laws is a circumstance that highly recommends Scripture precepts to us. We cannot imagine but that God who made man for no other end but to be an instrument of his glory, and a recipient of all communicable parts of his happiness, would assign him such rules and measures as were most conducive to those ends. And therefore since the Scripture injunctions are of the same mould, we must conclude them to be such as tend to the perfection of our being; the making us what God originally intended us; and he that would not be that, will certainly chuse much worse for himself.
31. I know there have been prejudices taken up against the precepts of Christ, as if they impos’d unreasonable, unsupportable strictnesses upon men: and some have assum’d liberty to argue mutinously against them; nay, against God too for putting such natural appetites into men, and then forbidding them to satisfie them.
36. BUT the ground of this cavil is the not rightly distinguishing of natural appetites, which are to be differenc’d according to the two states of rectitude and depravation: those of the first rank are the appetites 88God put into man; and those were all regular and innocent, such as tended to the preservation of his being: nature in its first integrity measuring its desires by its needs. Now Christs prohibitions are not directed against these, he forbids no one kind of these desires. And tho’ the precept of self-denial may sometimes restrain us in some particular acts; yet that is but proportionable to that restraint Adam was under in relation to the forbidden Tree, a particular instance of his obedience, and fence of his safety. So that if men would consider nature under this its first and best notion, they cannot accuse Christ of being severe to it.
37. BUT ’tis manifest they take it in another acceptation, and mean that corruption of nature which inordinately inclines to sensitive things; and on this account they call their riots, their luxuries, appetites put into them by God: whereas ’tis manifest these were superinduced from another coast: The wise man gives us its true pedigree in what he says of death, which is its twin-sister: By the envy of the devil came death into the world, Wisd. 2. 24. And can they expect that Christ who came to destroy the works of the devil, 1 Joh. 3. 8. should frame Laws in their favour, make Acts of toleration and indulgence for them? This were to annul the whole design of his coming into the world, which was to restore us from our 89laps’d estate, and elevate us to those higher degrees of purity which he came not only to prescribe, but to exemplifie to us.
38. BUT in this affair men often take nature in a yet wider and worse notion; and under natural desires comprehend whatever upon any sort of motive they have a mind to do. The awe of a Superior, the importunity of a companion, custom, and example, make men do many ill things, to which their nature would never prompt them; nay, many times such as their nature relucts to, and abhors. ’Tis certainly thus in all debauchery and excess. ’Tis evident, it gratifies no mans nature to be drunk, or to lie under undigested loads of meats: these are out-rages and violences upon nature, take it only in the most sensitive notion, such as the struggles to avert: and yet men make her bear, not only the oppression, but the blame too.
39. BUT besides to be consider’d, that the nature of a man includes reason as well as sense; and to this all sorts of luxury are yet more repugnant, as that which clouds the mind, and degrades the man (who in his constitution is a rational being) and sets him in the rank of mere Animals: and certainly these can be no appetites of nature, which thus subvert it.
40. THE like may be said concerning revenge, particularly that absurdest sort of it, 90Duels; which certainly are as great contradictions to nature as can be imagin’d, the unravelling and cancelling its very first principle of self-preservation (which in other instances men bring in bar against duty.) And yet men will say the generosity of their natures compels them to it so making their nature a kind of felo de se to prompt the destroying it self: when alas ’tis only the false notion they have got of honour that so gages them. And if men would but soberly consider, they must be convinc’d that there is nothing more agreeable to reason than that precept of Christ of not retaliating injuries; which is in effect but to bid us to chuse a single inconvenience before a long train of mischiefs. And certainly if nature even in its deprav’d estate were left to determine, it would resolve it a better bargain to go off with a reproachful word, than to lose a limb, perhaps a life in the revenge of it. There being no maxim more indisputable than that of evils the least is to be chosen. And the innate principle of self-love do’s more strongly biass nature to preserve, than any external thing can to destroy it self.
41. I know, ’twill be said to this, that revenge is a natural appetite: but I say still, self-preservation is more so; and would prevail against as much of revenge as is natural, were it not heightned and fortified by fancy, and 91that Chimera of point of honour, which, as it is now stated, is certainly one of the most empty nothings that ever was brought in balance with solid interests. And indeed ’tis to belie nature, and suppose it to have forfeited all degrees of reason, as well as vertue, to fasten so absurd a choice upon her. But admit revenge to be never so much the dictate of corrupt nature; ’tis certain ’tis not of primitive regular nature. Revenge is but a relative to injury: and he that will say God put the appetite of revenge into man, must say he put the appetite of injury into him also: which is such an account of the sixth days creation, as is hardly consistent with Gods own testimony of its being very good, Gen. 1.
42. BESIDES, ’tis certain all the desires God infus’d into human nature were such as tended to its preservation; but this of revenge is of all other the most destructive, as is too sadly attested by the daily tragical effects of it. In short, the wise-man gives us a good luminary of the whole matter God made man upright, but he sought out many inventions, Eccl. 7. 29.
43. NOW if man has by his own voluntary act deprav’d himself, it would be neither just nor kind in God to warp his Laws to mans now distorted frame; but it is both, to keep up the perfect rectitude of those, and call upon man to reduce himself to a conformity 92with them: and when to this is added such a supply of grace as may silence the plea of disability, there can nothing be imagn’d more worthy of God, or more indulgent to man.
44. AND all this Christ do’s in the Gospel, in those precepts which the blind world makes the subject of their cavil or scorn. It were an easie task to evince this in every particular precept of the Gospel; but I shall content my self with the instances already given, and not swell this Tract by insisting upon what has already been the subject of so many pious and excellent discourses, as must already have convinc’d all but the obstinate.
45. WE proceed therefore to a view of the promissory parts of Scripture; in which we are first in general to observe the great goodness of God, in making any promises at all to us; and next to examine of what nature and excellence these promises are. And first if we consider how many titles God has to our obedience, we must acknowledge he may challenge it as his undoubted right. We are the work of his hands; and if the Potter has power over the clay (the materials whereof are not of his making) much more has God over his creatures, whose matter as well as form is wholly owing to him. We are the price of his blood; and if men account purchase an indefeisible title, God 93must have absolute dominion over what he has bought, and at so dear a price too as his own blood. Lastly we depend upon him for the support of that being he has given us: we live merely upon his bounty, spend upon his stock. And what Patron will not expert observance from one who thus subsists by him?
46. YET as if God had none of these claims, these preingagements upon us, he descends to treat with us as free-men by way of Article and compact; buy’s his own of us, and engages to reward that obedience, which he might upon the utmost penalties exact: which is such an astonishing indulgence as our highest gratitude cannot reach: and of this the Sacred Scriptures are the evidences and records; and therefore upon that account deserve at once our reverence, and our joy.
47. BUT this will yet farther appear, if we look in the second place into the promises themselves; which are so extensive as to take in both our present and future state: according to that of the Apostle Godliness hath the promise of this Life, and of that which is to come, 1 Tim. 4. 8. For the present, they are proportion’d to the several parts of our composition; the body, and the mind, the outward and the inward man; so stretching themselves to all we can really be concern’d for in this world.
48. AND first for the body, the Old Testament 94abounds in promises of this sort. The first part of the 28. of Deut. contains a full catalogue of all temporal blessings; and those irreversibly entail’d upon the Israelites obedience, ver. 1. The Psalmist tells us, they that fear the Lord shall lack nothing, Ps. 34. 9. that they shall not be confounded in the perillous time, and in the days of dearth they shall have enough, Ps. 37. 19. And Solomon, that the Lord will not suffer the righteous to famish, Pro. 10. 3. And tho’ under the Gospel, the promises of temporal affluence seem not so large; (its design being to spiritualize us, and raise our minds to higher enjoyments;) yet it gives us ample security of so much as is really good for us. It supersedes our care for our selves by alluring us all these things shall be added to us, Mat. 6. 33. that is, all those things which our heavenly Father know we have need of, ver. 32. which is all the limitation the context gives. And certainly we have little temptation to fear want, who have him for our provider; whose are all the beasts of the Forrest, and the cattel upon a thousand hills, Ps. 50. 10.
49. AND when we are thus secur’d of all things necessary, it may perhaps be an equal mercy to secure us from great abundance; which at the best, is but a lading ones self with thick clay, in the Prophets phrase, Hab. 2. 6. but is often a snare as well as a burden.
50. BESIDES, the Gospel by its precepts 95of temperance and self-denial, do’s so contract our appetites, that a competence is a more adequate promise to them, than that of superfluity would have been; and ’tis also the measure wherein all the true satisfaction of the senses consists; which are gratified with moderate pleasures, but suffocated and overwhelm’d with, excessive. The temperate man tastes and relishes his portion, whilst the voluptuous may rather be said to wallow in his plenty than enjoy it.
51. AND as the necessaries of life, so life it self; and the continuance of that, is a Scripture promise. The fifth Commandment affixes it to one particular duty but it is in a multitude of places in the Old Testament annex’d to general obedience. Thus it is, Deut. 11. 9. and again, vers. 21. And Solomon proposes this practical wisdom as the multiplier of days By me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased, Pro. 9. 11. and chap. 3. Length of days is in her right hand, vers. 16. And tho’ we find not this promise repeated in the New Testament, yet neither is it retracted: ’tis true; the Gospel bids us be ready to lay down our lives for Christs sake, but tells us withal, that he that will lose his life, shall save it: which tho’ it be universally true only in the spiritual sense, yet it often proves so in a literal. It did so eminently in the destruction of Jerusalem, 96where the most resolute Christians escap’d, while the base compliers perish’d together with those they sought to endear. This is certain, that if the New Testament do’s not expressly promise long life, yet it do’s by its rules of temperance and sobriety, contentedness and chearfulness, very much promote it: and so do’s virtually and efficaciously ratifie those the Old Testament made.
52. THE next outward blessing is reputation: and this also is a Scripture promise. The wise shall inherit glory, Prov. 3. 35. And the vertuous woman Solomon describes is not only blessed by her children and husband, but she is prais’d in the gate, Prov. 31. ult. Nay, this blessing is extended even beyond life: The memory of the just shall be blessed, Prov. 10. 7. Nor do’s the Gospel evacuate this promise; but rather prompts us to the ways of having it made good to us, by advising us to abstain from all appearance of evil, 1 Thes. 5. 22. to provide for honest things, not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of men, 2 Cor. 8. 21.
53. ’TIS true indeed, Christ fore-warns his Disciples that they shall be revil’d, and have all manner of evil spoken against them falsly, for his names sake: but then the cause transform’d the sufferings, and made it so honourable, that they were to count it matter of joy, Matt. 5. 11, 12. Neither was this any paradox 97even in relation to their reputation; which tho’ sullied by a few ill men of that age, yet has been most illustrious among all Ages since. Their sufferings and indignities gave them a new title of honour, and added the Martyr to the Apostle. And the event has been proportionable in all successions since: Those Holy men that fill’d up the Pagan prisons, fill’d up the Churches Diptycks also, and have been had as the Psalmist speaks, in everlasting remembrance, Ps. 1. 2. 6.
54. AND as Scripture-promises thus take in all the concerns of the outward man, so do they also of the inward. The fundamental promise of this kind is that of sending Christ into the world, and in him establishing the new Covenant, which we find, Jer. 31. 31. and is referr’d to by the Author to the Hebrews, I will put my Laws in their hearts, and write them in their minds; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more, Heb. 10. 16.
55. AND this is so comprehensive a promise as includes all the concerns of the inward man. The evils incident to the mind of man may be reduc’d to two; impurity, and inquietude: and here is a cure to both. The divine Law written in the heart drives thence all those swarms of noysom lusts, which like the Egyptian Frogs over-run and putrifie the soul. Where that is feared and enshrin’d, those can no more stand before it, than Dagon 98before the Ark. This repairs the divine Image in us (in which consists the perfection of our nature) renews us in the spirits of our minds, Ephes. 4. 23. and purges our consciences from dead works, Heb. 9. 14. which all the Catharticks and Lustrations among the Heathen, all the Sacrifices and Ceremonies of the Law, were not able to do.
56. SECONDLY, this promise secures the mind from that restlessness and unquietness, which attends both the dominion and guilt of sin. To be subject to a mans lusts and corrupt appetites is of all others the vilest vassalage: they are the cruellest task-masters, and allow their slaves no rest, no intermission of their drudgery. And then again, the guilt that tortures and racks the mind with dreadful expectations keeps it in perpetual agitation and tumult which is excellently describ’d by the Prophet Isaiah, The wicked is like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest; whose waters cast out mire and dirt: there is no peace saith my God to the wicked, Is. 48. 22. How prosperous soever vice may seem to be in the world, yet there are such secret pangs and horrors that dog it, that as Solomon says, even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, Prov. 14. 13.
57. BUT this Evangelical promise of being merciful to our iniquities, and remembering our sins no more, calms this tempest, introduces peace and serenity into the mind, and reconciles 99us at once to God and our selves. And sure we may well say with the Apostle, these are great and precious promises 2 Pet. 1. 4.
58. THERE are besides many other which spring from these principles, as suckers from the root: such are the promises of fresh supplies of grace upon a good imployment of the former. To him that hath shall be given, Mat. 25. 29. Nay even of the source and fountain of all grace. He shall give the Holy spirit to them that ask him, Mat. 7. 11. Such is that of supporting us in all difficulties and assaults: the not suffering us to be tempted above that we are able, 1 Cor. 10. 13. which like Gods bow set in the clouds, Gen. 9, is our security, that we shall not be over-whelm’d by any deluge of temptation: and (to instance no more) such is that comprehensive promise of hearing our prayers, Ask and it shall be given you, Mat. 7. 7. This puts all good things within reach, gives us the key of Gods Storehouse, from whence we may furnish our selves with all that is really good for us. And if a few full Barns could tempt the rich man in the Gospel to pronounce a Requiem to his soul; what notes of acquiescence may they sing, who have the command of an inexhaustible store; that are supplied by him whose is the earth, and the fulness thereof?
59. AND certainly, all the promises together 100must be (to use the Apostles phrase) strong consolation; such as may quiet and calm all the fears and griefs, all the tumults and perturbations of the mind, in relation to its present mate. But then there are others relating to the future of a much higher elevation: those glories and felicities of another world, which are so far beyond our narrow conceptions, that the comprehension and injoyment must begin together. The Scripture shadows it out to us by all the notions we have of happiness: by glory, Rom. 8. 18. by a kingdom, Mat. 25. 14. by joy, Mat. 25. 21. and which comprehends all, by being with the Lord, 1 Thes. 4. 17. seeing him face to face, 1 Cor. 13. 12. being like to him, 1 Jo. 3. 2. In a word ’tis bliss in the utmost extent: immense for quantity, and eternal for duration.
60. AND Purely this promise is so excellent in its kind, so liberal in its degree, so transcendently great in all respects, that did it stand single, strip’d of all those that relate to this life, it alone would justifie the name of Gospel, and be the best tidings that ever came to mankind. For alas, if we compare the hopes that other Religions propose to their Votaries with these, how base, how ignoble are they! The Heathens Elysium, the Mahumetan Paradise, were but higher gratifications of the sensual part and consequently were depressions and debasements of the rational. So that in effect they 101provided a heaven for the beast, and a hell for the man. We may therefore confidently resume our conclusion, and pronounce the Scripture promises to be so divine and excellent, that they could as little have been made, as they can be perform’d by any but an Holy and Almighty Author.
61. NOR is their being conditional any impeachment to their worth, but an enhancement. Should God have made them (as some fancy he has his decrees) absolute and irrespective; he had set his promises at war with his precepts, and there should have superseded what those injoyn. We are all very niggardly towards God, and should have been apt to have ask’d Judas’s question to what purpose is this waste Mat. 26. 8. What needs the labour of the course if the prize be certain? And it must have been infinitely below the wisdom and majesty of the supreme Legislator, to make Laws, and then evacuate them by dispencing rewards without any respect to their observance. ’Tis the Sanction which inspirits the Law, without which the divine, as well as the human, would to most men be a dead letter.
62. BUT against this God has abundantly provided, not only by the conditionality of the promises, but by the terrour of his threats too; which is the last part of Scripture which falls under consideration. And these are of 102the most direful kinds; and cannot better be illustrated than by the opposition they stand in to the promises: for as those included all things that might make men happy either as to this life or the next; so these do all that may make them miserable. If we make our reflection on all the particulars of the promises we shall find the threats answering them as their reverse or dark shadow.
63. AND first as concerning the outward state, if we look but into the 28. of Deut. we shall find, that after all the gracious promises which begun the chapter, it finally ends in thunder, in the most dreadful denunciations imaginable; and those adapted by a most peculiar opposition to the former promises: as the Reader may see at large in that Chapter. And the whole tenour of the Scripture go’s in the like stile. Thus, Psal. 140. 11. A wicked person shall not prosper in the earth, evil shall hunt the wicked man to overthrow him. The Lord will not suffer the righteous to famish, but he casteth out the substance of the wicked; Pro. 10. 3. And again, the righteous eateth to the satisfying of his soul, but the belly of the wicked shall want, Prov. 13. 25. Multitudes of like general threatnings of temporal improsperity there are every where scatter’d throughout the Scripture; and many more applied to particular vices, as sloth, unmercifulness, luxury, and the 103the like; which would be here too long to enumerate.
64. AND although these threatnings may seem sometimes to be litterally confuted by the wealth and opulency of wicked men, yet they never miss of being really and vertually verified. For either their prosperities are very short and only preparative to a more eminent ruin, which was the Psalmists resolution of this doubt, Psalm 73. or else if God leave them the matter of temporal happiness, yet he subtracts the vertue and spirit of them, renders them empty and unsatisfying. This is well express’d by the Psalmist in the case of the Israelites: He gave them their desire, and sent leaness withal into their soul, Ps. 106. 15. and by Zophar, Job 20. 22. where speaking of the wicked, he saith; In the fulness of his sufficiency shall he be in straits. And to this Solomon seems to refer, when he saith, the blessing of the Lord maketh rich and he addeth no sorrow with it, Prov. 10. 22.
65. NEITHER is it only the comfort of life, but life it self that is threatned to be taken from wicked men: untimely death is throughout the Old Testament frequently mention’d as the guerdon of impiety: ’tis often assign’d judicially in particular cases: He shall be cut off from his people, being the usual sentence upon most offenders under the Levitical Law. But tis also menaced more generally as an 104immediate judgment from God The blood-thirsty and deceitful men shall not live out half their days, Psal. 55. 23. Farther yet, their names shall putrifie as soon as their Carkasses: the name of the wicked shall rot; Prov. 10. 7. Nay both their infamy and their ruin are intail’d upon their posterity. The seed of the evil doers shall never be renown’d. Prepare slaughter for his children, for the iniquity of their fathers; Isa. 14. 20, 21.
66. IF now we look on Scripture threatnings in relation to the mind of man, we shall find them yet more severe: wilful impenitent sinners being cut off from the benefits of the new Covenant; nor barely so, but look’d upon as despisers of it, and that blood of Christ in which it was seal’d; Heb. 10. 29. nay as those murtherous Wretches that shed it: They Crucifie to themselves the Son of God afresh; Heb. 6. 6. And this is the fatallest sentence that can fall on any man in this life; to be thus disfranchised of all the privileges of the Gospel, and rank’d as well in punishment as guilt, with the most criminous of mankind.
67. FROM hence ’tis consequent, that the mind remains not only in its native impurity, but in a greater and more incurable one; whilst that blood which alone could cleanse it, serves but to embrue and pollute it; and as it were flush, and excite it to all immanities and vilenesses: 105and he that is thus filthy, ’tis the doom pronounc’d against him, that he shall be filthy still, Rev. 22. 11.
68. AND then in the second place, what calm can there be to such a mind? what remains to such a person, but that fearful expectation of wrath and fiery indignation, which the Apostle mentions, Hebrews 10. 27? Indeed, were there none but temporal mischiefs to fear, yet it were very unpleasant to think ones self, like Cain, out-law’d from the presence and protection of God; to be afraid that every man that meets us shall slay us, Gen. 4. 14. Nay, those confus’d indistinct fears of indefinite evils which attend guilt are very unquiet, uneasie inmates in the mind. This is excellently describ’d by Moses; The Lord shall give thee a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind, and thy life shall hang in doubt before thee, and thou shalt fear day and night; in the morning thou shalt say, would God it were evening, and in the evening, would God it were morning, Deut. 28. 65, 66. 67.
69. AND what can be more wretched than to have a mind thus agitated and tost, rack’d and tortur’d; especially when thro’ all these clouds it sees a glimpse of the eternal Tophet; and knows, that from the billows of this uneasie state, it must be tost into that Lake of fire. And this is indeed the dregs of 106the cup of Gods wrath, the dreadfullest and most astonishing of all Scripture denunciations. This comprehends all that the nature of man is capable of suffering. Divines distinguish it into the pain of sense, and of loss: that of sense is represented to us in Scripture by fire; and that accended, and render’d noisom as well as painful by brimstone, that afflicts the smell as well as the touch; sometimes by outer darkness, wailing and gnashing of teeth, to grate the ears, and consume the eyes; by intolerable thirst to torment the palate. Not that we are to think the sensitive pains of Hell do not infinitely exceed all these; but because these are the higher measures our present capacities can make, and are adequate to those senses for whose carnal satisfactions we incur them.
70. THE pain of loss is yet more dismal; as being seated in the Soul, whose spiritual, nature will then serve it only to render its torments more refin’d, and acute. With what anguish will it then see it self banish’d from the presence of God, and consequently from all that may give satisfaction and bliss to the creature? But yet with how much deeper anguish will it reflect on it self as the Author of that deprivation? How will it recollect the many despis’d tenders of grace, the easie terms on which salvation might have been had? And how sadly will conscience then revenge all its 107stifled admonitions by an unsilenceable clamor, that worm which never dies, Mar. 9. 48. How wounding will it then be to see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and all the Saints in the Kingdom of God, Luk. 13. 28. (nay, that poor Lazarus whom here men turn’d over to the charity of their dogs) and it self in the company of the devil and his angels, who will then upbraid what they once entic’d to?
71. NATURE abhors nothing more than to have our misery insulted over by those who drew us into it: yet that no circumstance may be lacking to their torment, this must be the perpetual entertainment of damn’d souls. And to all this, Eternity is the dismal adjunct; which is of all other circumstances the most disconsolate, as leaving not so much as a glimpse of hopes; which here uses still to be the reserve, and last resort of the miserable.
72. THIS Eternity is that which gives an edge, infuses a new acrimony into the torments: and is the highest strain, the vertical point of misery. These are those terrors of the Lord, with which the Scripture acquaints us: and sure we cannot say that these are flat contemptible menaces; but such as suit the dreadful Majesty of that God who is a consuming fire, Heb. 12. 29. So that these are as aptly accommodated for the exciting our dread, as the promises were of our love: 108both jointly concur to awaken our industry.
73. FOR God has been so good to mankind, as to make the threats conditional as well as the promises so that we as well know the way to avoid the one, as we do to attain the other. Nor has he any other intendment or end in proposing them, but that we may do so. See to this purpose, with what solemnity he protests it by Moses; I call heaven and earth to record against you this day that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore chuse life, that both thou and thy seed may live, Deut. 30. 19.
74. I have now run thro’ the several parts of Scripture I proposed to speak of. And tho’ I have in each given rather short instances and essays than an exact description, yet even in these contracted lineaments the exquisite proportions may be discern’d. And if the Reader shall hence be encourag’d to extend his contemplations, and as he reads Holy Scripture, observe it in all its graces, and full dimensions; I doubt not he will pronounce from his experience, that the matter of the Divine Book is very correspondent to the Author: which is the highest Eulogy imaginable.
75. IN the next place we are to consider the Holy Scripture in relation to its end and design; in proportion to which every thing is more or less valuable. The most exquisite 109frame, and curious contrivance, that has no determinate end or use, is but a piece of industrious folly, a Spiders web, as the Prophet speaks, Is. 59. 5. Now those designs have always been esteem’d the most excellent that have had the most worthy subjects, and been of the greatest extent. Accordingly, those who have projected the obliging and benefiting of other men (tho’ but within a private Sphere) have always been look’d on as men of generous and noble designs. Those who have taken their level higher, and directed their aim to a more publick good, tho’ but of a City or Nation; have proportionably acquired a greater esteem. But those who have aspired to be universal benefactors; to do something for the common benefit of the world, their fame has commonly reach’d as far as their influence; men have reverenc’d, nay sometimes (according to the common excesses of mans nature) ador’d them. Many of the Heathen deities (especially their Demigods) having been only those persons, who by introducing some useful Art, or other part of knowledge, had oblig’d mankind. So we see what a natural gratitude men are apt to pay to worthy and generous designs. And if we will be content but to stand to this common award of our nature, the Scripture will have the fairer claim imaginable to our reverence and thankfulness, upon this very account of the excellency of its designs.110
76. NOR need we borrow the balance of the Sanctuary to weigh them in, we may do it in our own scales; for they exactly answer the two properties above mention’d, of profit and diffusiveness, which in secular concerns are the standard rules of good designs. For first, it is the sole scope and aim of Scripture, the very end for which ’twas writ, to benefit and advantage men; and that secondly, not only some small select number, some little angle or corner of the world, but the whole race of mankind, the entire Universe; and he that can imagine a more diffusive design, must imagine more worlds also.
77. NOW for the first of these, that it is the design of the Scripture to benefit men, we need appeal but to Scripture it self; which surely can give the best account to what ends ’tis directed; and that tells us, it is to make us wise unto Salvation, 2 Tim. 3. 15. In which is comprehended the greatest benefit that mans nature is capable of: the making us wise while we live here, and the saving us eternally. And this sure is the most generous, the most obliging design, that ’tis possible even for the Creator to have upon the creature: and this is it which the Holy Scripture negotiates with us.
78. AND first, the making us wise is so inviting a proposal to humanity, that we see when that was much wiser than now it is, it 111caught at a fallacious tender of it; the very sound of it, tho’ out of the devils mouth, fascinated our first Parents, and hurried them to the higher disobedience, and certainest ruin. And therefore now God by the Holy Scriptures makes us an offer as much more safe, as it is more sincere; when he sends his Word thus to be a lamp to our feet, and a light to our paths, Ps. 119. 105. to teach us all that is good for us to know; our affectation of ignorance will be more culpable than theirs of knowledge, if we do not admire the kindness, and embrace the bounty of such a tender.
79. NOW the making us wise must be understood according to the Scripture notion of wisdom, which is not the wisdom of this world, nor the Princes of this world, which come to nought, as the Apostle speaks, 1 Cor. 2. 6. but that wisdom which descends from above, Ja. 3. 17. which he there describes to be first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easie to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisie. Indeed the Scripture usually comprehends these and all other graces under Wisdom; for it makes it synonymous to that which includes them all, viz. the fear of the Lord. Thus we find throughout the whole Book of Proverbs these us’d as terms convertible. In short, Wisdom is that practical knowledge of God and our selves which engages us to obedience and duty; and this is agreeable 112to that definition the Wise man gives of it; The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way, Prov. 14. 8. Without this, all the most refin’d and aerial speculations are but like Thales’s star-gazing; which secur’d him not from falling into the water; nay, betray’d him to it. In this is all solid wisdom compris’d.
80. THE utmost all the wise men in the world have pretended to, is but to know what true happiness is, and what is the means of attaining it: and what they sought with so much study, and so little success, the Scripture presents us with in the greatest certainty, and plainest characters, such as he that runs may read, Hab. 2. 2. It acquaints us with that supreme felicity, that chief good whereof Philosophy could only give us a name, and it shews us the means, marks out a path which will infallibly lead us to it. Accordingly we find that Solomon after all the accurate search he had made to find what was that good for the sons of men; he shuts up his inquest in this plain conclusion: Fear God and keep his commandments; for God shall bring every work unto judgement, Eccl. 12. 13, 14. The regulating our lives so by the rules of Piety as may acquit us at our final account, is the most elegible thing that falls within human cognizance; and that not only in relation to the superlative happiness of the next world, but even to the quiet and tranquillity of this. For alas, 113we are impotent giddy creatures, sway’d sometimes by one passion, sometimes by another; nay often the interfering of our appetites makes us irresolute which we are to gratifie, whilst in the interim their strugling agitates and turmoils the mind. And what can be more desirable in such a case, than to put our selves under a wiser conduct than our own; and as oppres’d States use to defeat all lesser pretenders by becoming homagers to some more potent: so for us to deliver our selves from the tyranny of our lusts, by giving up our obedience to him whose service is perfect freedom.
81. WERE there no other advantage of the exchange, but the bringing us under fix’d and determinate Laws, ’twere very considerable. Every man would gladly know the terms of his subjection, and have some standing rule to guide himself by; and Gods Laws are such, we may certainly know what he requires of us: but the mandates of our passions are arbitrary and extemporary: what pleases them to day disgusts them to morrow; and we must always be in readiness to do we know not what, and of all the Arbitrary governments that men either feel or fear, this is doubtless the most miserable. I wish our apprehensions of it were but as sensible: and then we should think the Holy Scripture did us the office of a Patriot, in offering us a rescue from so vile a slavery.
82. AND that it do’s make us this offer, is 114manifest by the whole tenour of the Bible. For first it rowzes and awakes us to a sense of our condition, shews us that what we call liberty is indeed the saddest servitude that he that committeth sin is the servant of sin, Jo. 8. 34. that those vices which pretend to serve and gratifie us, do really subdue and enslave us, and fetter when they seem to embrace: and whereas the will in all other oppressions retains its liberty, this tyranny brings that also into vassallage: renders our spirits so mean and servile, that we chuse bondage, and are apt to say with the Israelites, Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians, Exod. 14. 12.
83. AND what greater kindness can be done for people in this forlorn abject condition, than to animate them to cast off this yoke, and recover their freedom. And to this are most of the Scripture exhortations address’d; as may be seen in a multitude of places, particularly in the sixth chapter to the Romans, the whole scope whereof is directly to this purpose.
84. NOR do’s it only sound the alarm, put us upon the contest with our enemies, but it assists us in it, furnishes us with that whole armour of God which we find describ’d, Eph 6. 13. Nay further, it excites our courage, by assuring us that if we will not basely surrender our selves, we can never be overpower’d; if we do but stand our ground, resist our enemy, he 115will fly from us; Ja. 4. 7. And to that purpose it directs us under what banner we are to lift our selves; even his who hath spoil’d principalities and powers, Col. 2. 15. to whose conduct and discipline if we constantly adhere, we cannot miss of victory.
85. AND then lastly it sets before us the prize of this conquest; that we shall not only recover our liberty, manumit our selves from the vilest bondage to the vilest and cruellest oppressors; but we shall be crown’d for it too, be rewarded for being kind to our selves, and be made happy eternally hereafter for being willing to be happy here.
86. AND sure there are terms so apparently advantageous, that he must be infinitly stupid (foolish, to destruction) that will not be thus made wise unto salvation, that despises or cavils at this divine Book, which means him so much good, which designs to make him live here generously and according to the dignity of his nature, and in the next world to have that nature sublimated and exalted, made more capacious of those refin’d and immense felicities, which there await all who will qualifie themselves for them; who (as the Apostle speaks) by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life, Rom. 2. 7.
87. BUT besides the greatest and principal advantages which concern our spiritual interest, 116it takes in also the care of our secular, directs us to such a managery of our selves, as is naturally apt to promote a quiet and happy life. Its injunction to live peaceably with all men keeps us out of the way of many misadventures, which turbulent unruly spirits meet with, and so secures our peace. So also as to wealth, it puts us into the fairest road to riches by prescribing diligence in our callings: what is thus got being like sound flesh, which will stick by us; whereas the hasty growth of ill-gotten wealth is but a tumour and impostume, which the bigger it swells, the sooner it bursts and leaves us lanker than before. In like manner it shews us also how to guard our reputation, by providing honest things not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of men, 2 Cor. 8. 21. by abstaining even from all appearance of evil, 1 Thes. 5. 22. and making our light shine before men, Mat. 5. 16. It provides too for our ease and tranquillity, supersedes our anxious cares and sollicitudes, by directing us to cast our burden upon the Lord, Ps. 55. 22. and by a reliance on his providence how to secure to our selves all we really want. Finally it fixes us in all the changes, supports us under all the pressures, comforts us amidst all the calamities of this life, by assuring us they shall all work together for good to those that love God. Ro. 8. 28.
88. NOR do’s the Scripture design to promote 117our interests consider’d only singly and personally, but also in relation to Societies and Communities; it gives us the best rules of distributive and commutative justice; teaches us to render to all their dues, Rom. 13. 7. to keep our words, to observe inviolably all our pacts and contracts; nay tho’ they prove to our damage, Psa. 15. 4. and to preserve exact fidelity and truth; which are the sinews of human commerce. It infuses into us noble and generous principles, to prefer a common good before our private: and that highest flight of Ethnick vertue, that of dying for ones Country, is no more than the Scripture prescribes even for our common brethren, 1 Jo. 3. 16.
89. BUT besides these generals, it descends to more minute directions accommodated to our several circumstances; it gives us appropriate rules in reference to our distinct relations, whether natural, civil, ecclesiastical, or oeconomical. And if men would but universally conform to them, to what a blessed harmony would it tune the world? what order and peace would it introduce? There would then be no oppressive Governours, nor mutinous Subjects; no unnatural Parents, nor contumacious Children: no idle Sheepherds, or straying Flocks: none of those Domestick jars which oft disquiet, and sometimes subvert families: all would be calm and serene, and give us in reality that golden 118Age, whereof the Poets did but dream.
90. THIS tendency of the Scripture is remarkably acknowledg’d in all our publick judicatories, where before any testimony is admitted, we cause the person that is to give his testimony, first to lay hold of with his hands, then with his mouth to kiss the Holy Scriptures: as if it were impossible for those hands, which held the mysteries of Truth, to be immediately employ’d in working false-hood; or that those lips which had ador’d those Holy Oracles, should be polluted with perjuries and lies. And I fear, the civil Government is exceedingly shaken at this day in its firmest foundation, by the little regard that is generally had of the Holy Scriptures, and what is consequent thereto, the Oaths that are taken upon them.
91. ’TIS true, we are far remov’d from that state which Esaiah Prophecied of under the Gospel, tho’ we have the Bible among us; that when the Law should go forth of Sion, and the Word of the Lord, from Jerusalem, they should beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning hooks, Es. 2. 4. but that is not from any defect in it, but from our own perverseness: we have it, but (as the Apostle speaks in another sense) as if we had it not, 1 Cor. 7. 29. We have it (that is, use it) to purposes widely different from what it means. Some have it as a Supersedeas to all the duty it enjoins; and so they can but cap texts, talk glibly of Scripture, are 119not at all concern’d to practise it: some have it as their Arsenal, to furnish them with Weapons, not against their spiritual enemies, but their secular: applying all the damnatory sentences they there find, to all those to whose persons or opinions they have prejudice. And some have it as a Scene of their mirth, a topick of raillery, dress their profane and scurrilous jests in its language; and study it for no other end but to abuse it. And whilst we treat it at this vile rate, no wonder we are never the better for it. For alas, what will it avail us to have the most soveraign Balsom in our possession, if in instead of applying it to our wounds, we trample it under our feet?
92. BUT tho’ we may frustrate the use, we cannot alter the nature of things. Gods design in giving us the Scripture was to make us as happy as our nature is capable of being and the Scripture is excellently adapted to this end: for as to our eternal felicity, all that believe there is any such state, must acknowledge the Scripture chalks us out the ready way to it: not only because ’tis dictated by God who infallibly knows it, but also by its prescribing those things which are in themselves best, and which a sober Heathen would adjudge fittest to be rewarded. And as to our temporal happiness, 1 dare appeal to any unprejudic’d man, whether any thing can contribute more to the peace and real happiness of mankind, 120than the universal practice of the Scripture rules would do. Would God we would all conspire to make the experiment and then doubtless, not only our reason, but our sense too would be convinc’d of it.
93. AND as the design is thus beneficial, so in the second place is it as extensive also. Time was when the Jews had the inclosure of divine Revelation when the Oracles of God were their peculiar depositum and the Heathen then had not the knowledge of his Laws, Psal. 147. ult. but since that by the goodness of God the Gentiles are become fellow-heirs, Eph. 3. 6. he hath also deliver’d into their hands the deeds and evidences of their future state, given them the Holy Scriptures as the exact and authentick registers of the covenant between God and man, and these not to be like the Heathen Oracles appropriated to some one or two particular places, so that they cannot be consulted but at the expence of a pilgrimage; but laid open to the view of all that will believe themselves concern’d.
94. IT was a large commission our Saviour gave his Disciples: go preach the Gospel to every creature, Mar. 16. 15. (which in the narrowest acception must be the Gentile world) and yet their oral Gospel did not reach farther than the written for wherever the Christian Faith was planted, the Holy Scriptures were left as the records of it; nay, as the conservers of it 121too, the standing rule by which all corruptions were to be detected. ’Tis true, the entire Canon of the New Testament, as we now have it, was not all at once deliver’d to the Church; the Gospels and Epistles being successively writ, as the needs of Christians, and the encroachment of Hereticks gave occasion: but at last they became all together the common magazine of the Church, to furnish arms both defensive and offensive. For as the Gospel puts in our hands the shield of Faith, so the Epistles help us to hold it, that it may not be wrested out of our hands again, either by the force of persecution, or the sly insinuations of vice or Heresie.
95. THUS the Apostles like prudent leaders have beat up the Ambushes, discover’d the snares that were laid for us; and by discomfiting Satans forlorn hope, that earliest Set of false Teachers and corrupt practices which then invaded the Church, have laid a foundation of victory to the succeeding Ages, if they will but keep close to their conduct, adhere to those Sacred Writings they have left behind them in every Church for that purpose.
96. NOW what was there deposited was design’d for the benefit of every particular member of that Church. The Bible was not committed (like the Regalia, or rarities of a Nation) to be kept under lock and key (and 122consequently to constitute a profitable office for the keepers) but expos’d like the Brazen Serpent for universal view and benefit: that sacred Book (like the common air) being every mans propriety, yet no mans inclosure: yet there are a generation of men whose eyes have been evil, because Gods have been good: who have seal’d up this spring, monopoliz’d the word of Life, and will allow none to partake of it but such persons, and in such proportions as they please to retail it: an attempt very insolent in respect of God, whole purpose they contradict; and very injurious in respect of man, whose advantage they obstruct. The iniquity of it will be very apparent, if we consider what is offer’d in the following Section.
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