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WRITTEN IN THE YEAR 1800.
The sins of men are so under the direction and controul of God, as to glorify him, and subserve the good of his kingdom, in every instance of it which he suffers to take place.
Psalm lxxvi. 10. Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt then restrain.
IN this psalm God’s care and protection of his church is celebrated. In the midst of all revolutions, wars, and confusions, which take place in the world, and the various and strong combinations of wicked men against his people, they are safe and happy under his care, who will effectually restrain all their enemies, and finally utterly defeat and destroy them, and give deliverance, peace and salvation to his church.
In the words now to be considered, the absolute and universal dominion of God over all creatures and things, is asserted, so that he can and will turn all the opposition which is made to him and his government, however strong and violent, and however long it may continue, to promote his own glory, and answer the best ends possible; and all the sins which would not subserve these good ends, he can and will effectually restrain, so that they shall not exist.
This very important and useful sentiment will be illustrated and established by a particular explanation of this passage of scripture, and the inferences to be made from it,
“Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee,” This is asserted not only as a truth, but as a most evident and certain truth, and of great importance to be believed 333and relied upon with the greatest confidence and assurance at all times, whatever seeming appearances there may be against it, and though we may not be able to see how it can possibly be true. This is expressed by the word surely, with which the sentiment is introduced.
The wrath of man comprehends all the rebellion and sins of men, that ever have or ever will take place, by which their hatred of God and his law and government, and strong opposition to these, is expressed. Mankind, ever since they have multiplied on earth, have, in general, been in arms, at war with God, and with each other; and this war has in numerous instances been carried on with great apparent engagedness, wrath and fury, in some more directly against God, and in others immediately against each other. All this is comprehended in the wrath of man, in our text: and so are all the thoughts and exercises of heart and conduct, however private, and more or less apparent and strong, which are contrary to the law of God; for all these are of the same nature and kind with those sinful actions in which men are more apparently, and with greater wrath and violence, combined against God and each other. And all the sins of good men, whether committed before they were converted or after, are included in this expression, as they are as really in opposition to God and his law, as the most open and avowed rebellion and rage against him, though not so strong and visible. Thus, all the sins of which men are guilty, whether greater or less, more secret or open, under whatever form or pretence they are committed, are included in the wrath of man, as they are all rebellion against God, and a violation of his law, and opposition to his cause, church and kingdom; though the more open and violent opposition to the divine government, to the church and people of God, and to each other, may be more particularly intended by the expression. This is evident and certain, not only as all the sins of men are of the same nature and evil tendency, but they are all so united and combined, that if any instance and 334degree of sin is made to praise God, it must do so in every instance for the same reason; and if it were not so, the assertion in the words before us would be so partial as to be attended with great uncertainty, and of little use and importance in the application of it, as will appear in our further attention to the subject.
“The wrath of man shall praise thee;” that is, shall honour and glorify thee. The sin of man shall, in every instance of it, be the occasion and made the means of the manifestation and display of the glorious character and perfections of God, which could not have been made to such advantage and in so great a degree, in any other way, had not sin existed in every instance in which it has done, or ever will do. This is not owing to the nature and tendency of sin, considered in itself; for it tends to directly the contrary, to dishonour him, and is a direct and awful opposition to the moral government, perfections and existence of God; but to his power, wisdom and goodness, by which he is able and disposed to overrule all the rebellion against him, even every sin which is committed, to answer his ends, and promote his own glory.
“The remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain:” that is, that wrath and those sins of men which are not suited and necessary to answer this end, to be so governed and overruled as to praise and glorify God, he will effectually restrain, and not suffer it to exist. This represents God as the supreme, sovereign disposer of all things and events, ordering what shall and, what shall not exist, from the greatest to the least, and directing the will and actions of men in every motion and exertion, so that all depend upon his will whether they shall have an existence or not; and this includes all the sins of men, as really as any other event whatever. The counsel of God’s own will determined whether there should be any such thing as sin and rebellion, and how much of this should exist, even just so much as should praise him, and no more; which necessarily includes a determination concerning every instance or act 335of sin, whether greater or less; as his determining that this earth should exist includes a determination how large it should be, of what materials it should be composed, and concerning every part, and every grain of sand, &c. of which it should consist. All this is necessarily implied in the words under consideration. For in determining that sin should exist, and just so much as would praise him, and no more, there must be a determination concerning every act of sin that should take place.
The existence of the wrath of man, the continuance of it, the height to which it should rise, and all the consequences of it, depended as much upon the will of God, as did the existence of man, and of a particular providence to be exercised with respect to him from the first to the last, containing the wisest and best plan, by which God is most praised and glorified, and the greatest good promoted. These are so united and blended together, the one implying the other, that all must exist together, in order to form a perfectly wise plan, which shall be most to the glory of God, and the greatest good of the universe. For when it is said, the wrath of man shall praise God, it is equally asserted, that all the sin which does or ever shall take place shall promote the greatest glory and happiness of his kingdom, and of all his friends, who shall dwell in it forever; for their glory and happiness depend upon the glory of God, the manifestation and display of his glorious perfections, and will keep pace with this forever, the former necessarily taking place and riling in proportion to the greatness and increase of the latter, there being a necessary and infallible connection between them; so that whatever praises God, and serves to manifest and display his character and glory, equally promotes the happiness of all who are his friends, and the glory of his everlasting kingdom.
Of all this there is the greatest assurance and certainty, expressed by the Psalmist in our text; but we have other strong, corroborative evidence of these same 336truths, both from the scriptures and from reason, which demands our careful attention.
The scriptures will appear, beyond a possible doubt, to an attentive, honest mind, to be on the same plan, and to exhibit these same truths, from the beginning to the end. This is manifest in so many ways and instances that they cannot be all mentioned here. It will be sufficient to suggest the following: “The scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.” The wrath of Pharaoh was ordered and brought about by God in his providence on purpose that he might be praised and glorified; that his name, his character and perfections might hereby be declared thou throughout all the earth. “What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and make his power known, endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction? Here the sin and destruction of those who perish is represented as ordered by God for his praise, to manifest his hatred of sin, and his dreadful power in punishing sinners who are finally impenitent.
The innumerable predictions in the scripture of events to be brought about, and which have been fulfilled by millions of millions of sinful exercises and actions of wicked men, and predictions of many particular sins which men should commit, are an incontestible evidence that God has the direction of all the sins of men, and that none can take place unless by his disposal, so as to answer his ends, and promote his glory. Two or three instances may be mentioned to illustrate this remark.
The sin of the brethren of Joseph in selling him into Egypt, and all their anger and wrath which led to this, was determined and ordered by God for good, for his own praise and glory, and the good of his church. Therefore, God is said to have done it, and to send Joseph into Egypt, meaning it all for good. And in this way the wrath of Joseph’s mistress in Egypt, and of her husband, did praise God, and could not have 337taken place, had it not been necessary to accomplish the benevolent purpose of God; and they and the brethren of Joseph were restrained from all that wrath and sin, which would defeat the prediction by the two dreams of Joseph, and not answer the purpose of God, and praise him. The former were restrained from putting Joseph to death, as they once proposed. And though Potiphar’s “wrath was kindled,” when he heard the false accusation against Joseph by his wicked wife, yet his wrath was so restrained that he did not take away his life, which had either of them done, the divine plan could not have been executed.
But the most remarkable instance of this is the sin and wrath exercised by men in the treatment of the Saviour of the world, and putting him to death in the most cruel manner. This was all particularly determined and appointed long before by God, and foretold by the prophets. Hear what they who were inspired say of this in their solemn address to God: “Lord, thou art God, who had made heaven and earth and the sea, and all tint is in them; who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said. Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.”
All this scene of sin and wrath against Jesus Christ was determined and directed by the hand and counsel, the power and wisdom, of God, which was necessary for the greatest display of the divine perfections in the redemption of sinful man, which has ever been made, and could not have been made in any other way, and will be to his praise and glory forever, and the means of the unspeakably greater happiness and glory of all his friends, the members of his eternal kingdom.338
And all this sin was ordered, to praise and glorify God, that he might hereby accomplish his wise and infinitely important designs. These sinners were restrained, and prevented committing all those sinful acts which would not praise God, but, contrary to this, would counteract his wise purposes. Thus Herod was not able to put Christ to death in his infancy, when he attempted to do it. And the Jews were not allowed to lay their hands upon him and kill him, though they desired and often attempted to do it, as this would not have been to the praise of God, but the contrary. They were restrained from effecting their purpose, till the proper time came, when this horrid deed would praise God, and was necessary to his accomplishing the infinitely wise and important ends he had in view.
And indeed there is the greatest certainty that the sins of men, in general, and the universal depravity, rebellion and guilt of mankind, were necessary in order to there being such a character as that of Jesus Christ the Redeemer, and the wonderful, glorious events which do and will take place in consequence of what he has done and suffered. For had there been no sin, by which the human race are fallen into a state of total ruin, there could not have been any Redeemer or redemption, by which God will be more praised and glorified than by all his other works. And indeed all his other works have reference to, and centre in, the glorious work of Redemption, and derive their chief glory from this, of which the sin of man laid the foundation, which therefore is necessary for the greatest and most bright display of the perfections of God, and the consequent praises from all his friends, and their happiness in the enjoyment of him forever.
And as sin in general, and the most remarkable instances of it recorded iii scripture, some of which have been mentioned, are made to praise God, there is hence ground of assurance that it does so in every instance, and that this is true of every sin that ever has been or will see committed by man, and that not one sin which would 339not praise God will ever take place, had not this been expressly asserted in our text. And it is important to be observed, that all the natural evil which is the consequence of sin, which does or ever will exist, will answer this end, and is necessary for the brightest manifestation and display of the divine perfe(5lions, and consequently for the great est happiness of all the friends of God. This is implied in the words of the apostle Paul, when he says, “We are unto God a sweet favour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish.” According to this, the gospel produces that which is pleasing to God in the effect it has, not only in them who are saved, but also that which it has on those who perish. It is the occasion of discovering the total depravity, and exceeding hardness, and strength of the obstinacy, of the human heart, in the uuiversal, strong and fixed disposition to reject the offers of mercy, which no means will overcome and subdue; which discovery could not be made so fully in any other conceivable way. The clear and striking manifestation of this will serve to display the righteousness and holy displeasure of God in punishing sinners with everlasting destruction, and inflicting a greatly aggravated punishment on those who perish under the gospel, as neglecters and despisers of Christ and the great salvation.
The same sentiment is expressed by this Apostle m the following words: “What if God willing [determining] to shew his wrath, and make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath, fitted to destruction; and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory?” Here God is represented, not only as designing to shew his power, and his displeasure with sinners by fitting them for destruction; but also by this to make known the riches of his grace, in the salvation of the redeemed.
Thus it appears that there is the most clear and certain evidence from the holy scripture, that all the sins of men that have or ever will take place, with all their circumstances, 340attendants and consequences, shall praise God, shalt serve to manifest and display his perfections, as otherwise could not have been done, and shall be the occasion of all that good, that glory and happiness of his eternal kingdom, which is implied in this; that it is the will of God that all this sin should exist just as it does and will do, to answer this end, and no more; therefore all that sin which would not praise him, he wills shall not exist, and effectually restrains.
And all this appears most reasonable, and may be argued from the being and perfections of God revealed in the scriptures, in so short and plain a way as to amount to a clear demonstration, to the reason of every honest, unprejudiced person who will carefully attend to the subject.
God is omnipotent, and can do what he pleases. He is omniscient; his knowledge extends to every thing. He is infinitely wise and good. He sees what is the greatest good on the whole, what is the wisest and best end, and what are the most wise and best way and means to accomplish it, and is disposed, yea, has an infinite propensity, to do it. It is therefore certain that all things and events absolutely depended on his will from eternity, for their existence, and the manner of it; therefore the plan of all future existence, of all creatures and events, and the particular manner and circumstances in which they should exist, was in the Divine Mind from eternity. And as it must be the wisest and best possible plan, containing all the possible good that Infinite Wisdom and Goodness could devise and desire, and Omnipotence execute, it cannot be altered in the most minute particular or circumstance, to eternity. And if this were possible, it would be infinitely undesirable and calamitous, yea, an infinite evil. It is matter of the greatest joy that the work of God is perfect,” being decreed by him from eternity; that “whatsoever God doth, it shall be forever; nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it;” that “the counsel of he Lord standeth forever, and the thoughts of his heart to 341all generations;” that “he is of one mind, and none can turn or disappoint him,” who “worketh all things after the counsel of his own wise, unchangeable will.”
This leads directly to the point before us. It must be determined by God whether there should be any sin and rebellion under his government, and among mankind. This depended wholly on the will of God. He was able to forbid and prevent the exigence of it; and it it was contrary to wisdom, perfect rectitude and goodness, that is, if he saw it was not wisest and best, and necessary to effect the greatest good, on the whole, that sin should exist, he could and certainly would prevent the existence of it. There is therefore the greatest possible certainty, from the divine perfections, that sin does exist just in the manner and in that degree, and in every instance of it, with all the attendants and consequences of it which do or will take place, agreeable to the dictates and will of Infinite Wisdom and Goodness, as being necessary to accomplish the most wise and best end, the greatest possible good of the universe; and the sin and misery which are not necessary to promote this end shall never exist, as it is contrary to infinite wisdom and goodness that it should. We may be as sure of this, as we are or can be of the being and perfections of God, or of any truth whatever, or even of our own existence. And to disbelieve and deny, or even to doubt of it, tends to atheism, and is really a degree of it.
To suppose that God has not power and skill enough to prevent the existence of sin, and was not able to withhold man from sinning, consistent with the perfect moral freedom of man, if he had chosen to do it, is to suppose he is really unable to govern the world agreeable to his will, and therefore is not to be trusted in a matter of infinite importance, and that he cannot be perfectly happy, but infinitely to the contrary, while he cannot prevent sin and misery taking place in a most awful, undesirable and even infinite degree, most contrary to what he would desire and wish, were he able to prevent it! And if God were not able thus 342 to prevent the existence of any of the sins which have been committed by man since his creation, then he cannot be supposed to be able to prevent the existence of any supposed degree of sin in future in any moral agent; consequently therefore there can be no ground of assurance, or the least evidence, either from God, or from moral agents, or from any other quarter, that sin will not take place in every moral agent, even in all those who are now perfectly holy, and those who are holy in some degree, in the greatest strength and to the utmost degree of which they are capable, and that as long as they shall exist! On this supposition, how could God know what would take place among his creatures? And how can he declare and promise that sin shall be forever excluded from the holy angels and the redeemed from among men? What shall we do with the declarations and promises of this kind abundantly made in the Bible? Can there be any reliance upon them? And what reason has any one to trust in God to preserve him from sin, and form him to holiness, or to ask him to do this? Dreadful and horrible and presumptuous supposition! most unreasonable, and big with consequences most terrible and destructive! It leads to the exclusion of divine revelation, and cuts off all trust and confidence in God in all matters of the greatest importance, and excludes all belief of a particular and universal divine providence, and naturally leads to, and lands men in, the horrible darkness of infidelity and atheism!
But if God be able to prevent the existence of sin, and it was wisest and best, on the whole, that there should be no sin, then wisdom and goodness must oppose the existence of it; so that to suppose that it is not best on the whole that sin should take place just as it does, is to suppose that God is neither wise nor good: for infinite wisdom and goodness, clothed with omnipotence, always prefer and effect that which is most wise and best, most for the glory of God and the greatest good of his eternal kingdom; and will certainly and effectually prevent the existence of every thing which 343cannot be made to promote this end. To deny or even to entertain the least doubt of this, and that all the sin with its attendants and consequences, which does or ever will exist, is necessary to effect the greatest good of the universe, the brightest display of the divine perfections, and the highest glory and happiness of his kingdom, is equally to deny or doubt of the infinite wisdom and goodness of God, and to represent him unworthy of the implicit trust and confidence of his creatures, and so to leave them without any God, or one who is rather to be dreaded, than loved and adored. How dishonourable to God this is, being as gloomy and shocking as atheism itself, every truly pious person cannot but discern and feel!
The holy scriptures, and our reason from the perfections of God,
therefore join in declaring this truth, and oblige us to believe and say, “Surely
the wrath of man shall praise God, and the remainder of wrath he shall restrain,”
in the sense in which these words have been explained and vindicated, viz. that
all the evil which has taken place, or ever will exist, both moral and natural,
sin and misery, does take place, in every the least and greatest instance of it,
under the superintendency and direction of the infinitely wise and benevolent will
of God, as necessary to promote the greatest: possible good of the universe, his
own glory, and the highest happiness of his moral, eternal kingdom. And he will
restrain and prevent the existence of all that which is not necessary to answer
this end.1111 This truth has been and still is greatly opposed, and many objections
are made to it. It has been often and by many asserted, that if sin answers so good
an end, then sin is a good thing, and the more there is of it the better; that this
is the greatest encouragement to sin; and there is really no crime in sin, if so
much good comes by it, and therefore sinners cannot be justly blamed and punished
for it. And it has been often said by those who think and profess themselves to
be wise, that this doctrine is inconsistent with human liberty, and really makes
God the author of all the sin that takes place. But the truth is great, and must
and will prevail; and the folly of all these objectors, who understand neither what
they say, nor whereof they affirm, shall be manifest unto all men.
It is needless to attempt to answer any of these objections here, as this has been publicly done over and over again. If any have a desire to see them answered, they may find it done, in President Edwards’s Treatise on Freedom of Will, Dr. Well’s Essay on Moral Agency, Dr. Edwards’s Dissertation concerning Liberty and Necessity, the author’s System of Doctrines contained in Divine Revelation, and his Sermons on Rom. iii. 5, 6, 7, 8.
This is equally true of all the sin and rebellion of the fallen angels, with all the attendants and consequences of this. Their sins are many ways connected with the sins of men. They were the wicked instruments of introducing sin among mankind, and are represented ill the scriptures, as having a great hand in all the sins which are committed by men, and deceiving and tempting the whole world of mankind. They are allowed to come down to the earth in great wrath against God and man, and to go forth to the whole world, to excite them to unite in horrible war against God. But they are in the hand of God, and under his restraints; and when they have done all the work he designs they shall do, he will call them into the bottomless pit, and shut them up, and set a seal upon them, that they should deceive the nations no more, till the proper time shall come to let them loose again. Thus the wrath of devils shall praise God, and the remainder of their wrath he shall restrain.
This subject affords matter of sufficient support, of great comfort and joy, to the true friends of God, in the midst of all the evil, both sin and misery, which may take place. The Lord reigneth, clothed with omnipotence, infinitely wise and good, just and true. He is above all controul. He hath done, and will do, whatever he pleaseth, in heaven and in the earth. He is infinitely above all possibility of any disappointment, or of being opposed so as not to accomplish all his designs in the best and most perfect manner. All the rebellion, sin and suffering of creatures, that do or ever 345will, take place, are so far from frustrating his designs, that they are intended and ordered to take place just as they do, as necessary to make the greatest possible manifedtation of his perfections, and promote the greatest: good of his kingdom. There is not the least sin in thought, word or deed, nor the least instance of pain, nor can any evil exist, greater or less, which is not designed to answer some good end, so that it is best that it should exist just as it does. Then let the friends of God rejoice in him who made them and all things else, and orders every event, great and small, for the best. Let the children of Zion rejoice in their King: yea, let them always rejoice.
The Lord Jesus Christ, our God, who was once manifested in flesh, is received up into glory, has fat down on the throne of the universe, possessed of all power in heaven and earth, and having all things, angels, men and devils, in his hand, reigns over all, and will reign, till he has, in the best time and manner, completely accomplished his infinitely wise and good designs; destroyed the works of the devil, by wholly defeating, confounding and disappointing him and all who join with him, in all their attempts against him, and opposition to him, and turning all they have done or will do, and all that does or will take place respecting them, to answer his own ends, to the greater glory of God, and to make his work in the redemption of sinners more perfect and glorious. He having by his sufferings and obedience made an atonement for sin, and obtained righteousness for the justification of sinners, is thus exalted to give repentance and forgiveness of sins, and everlasting life to all who believe on his name, and come unto him; being able to save to the uttermost all them who come unto God by him. And as none of the hu-p man race will come to him, though all who hear the gospel are invited, unless they be drawn by the Spirit of God, and made willing by his power and grace, he in this exerciseth his sovereignty, and has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. 346And his will is infinitely wise, right and good. It is not best that all mankind should be saved, most for the glory of God, and the greatest good of the whole; but, that the design of Christ in dying to redeem sinners may in the best manner and highest degree be answered, some must be given up to the destruction which they deserve; and who is better able to determine this, and how many and what individuals shall be saved, than He who is infinite in wisdom, rectitude and goodness, who cannot make any mistake, or do the least wrong to any creature? Yea, who can do it but He? Every one who has a spark of true wisdom and goodness will earnestly desire that He may fix this matter with respect to every individual; and rejoice that it is, and will be, done by Him. And who has a better, or any right to do this, than He who has made and is the absolute and only proprietor of all creatures? “Hath not the potter power over the clay of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour?”
To every benevolent friend of Christ the Saviour, it is most desirable and pleasing that he should have all things in his hand, and save as many and whom he will, and leave whom he will to destruction. He has a peculiar right to this, since he has been at such infinite expense to redeem sinners, that he should accomplish the end of his sufferings and death in the best manner, and see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied, to have every thing effected with regard to the redemption of man so as in the highest degree to please his wisdom and goodness. To this end he has every creature and thing in the universe put into his hands, and he directs every motion and event among creatures to answer the purpose for which he died, which he will accomplish in the best manner, perfectly agreeable to infinite wisdom and goodness. He will save all of the human race who can be saved consistent with wisdom and infinite goodness. And to all who trust in him he is an almighty friend and protector, and will secure them from all evil, and cause all things to work together for their good, and 347will make them perfectly holy, and carry them through death to heaven in the best manner and time, and they shall inherit all things forever.
In sum, all things and every event are constantly under the direction and controul of infinite wisdom, rectitude and goodness, and are conducted and going on in the best manner, as fast as can be, to the most agreeable and happy issue possible, the greatest, most bright and happifying exhibition of the divine character, and the highest glory and felicity of the everlasting kingdom of God, from which no creature will be excluded, but those whose presence there is inconsistent with the glory of God, and the greatest good of his kingdom, and therefore contrary to wisdom and goodness, and who do at the same time exclude themselves. Every thing, circumstance and event is right; and all conspire to promote the greatest good, and, all things considered, it is on the whole best that they should be just what they are, and take place exactly as they do. No alteration can possibly be made, without injuring and spoiling the divine plan, formed by infinite understanding, wisdom and goodness. All this is to be seen with the greatest certainty in the infinitely important and excellent character, works, and revealed designs, of the glorious Saviour of the world.
Surely no intelligent and truly benevolent person can believe and realize all this without feeling a peculiar pleasure and joy, which will more than support him under, and counterbalance, all the evil which he may feel, or that is in his view. He can, with peculiar satisfaction and joy, say, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee, and the remainder of wrath thou shalt restrain. The Lord Jesus Christ reigns, let the earth rejoice. Rejoice always in the Lord, and again I say, rejoice evermore; for he brings the greatest good out of all evil, and this shall certainly be the happy issue of all. He is the rock, his work is perfect for all his ways are judgment; a God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is He.”348
Here it may be useful to attend to and answer several questions which may arise in the minds of some.
Question. How can we have any joy or comfort in any or all of this, while we do not know, and have little or no evidence or hope, that we are interested in all this good, but fear that Christ does not intend to save us, and that we shall perish forever? If we knew we were Christians, and real friends to Christ, and should be saved, this would give us comfort and joy; but as we know not that this is true, and do often much doubt of it, what is all the good, which has been represented as the issue of all evil, to us, while we know not that we shall have any part in it; but may be cast off, and miserable forever?
Answer. If you are wholly selfish, and have no desire that God may be glorified, and the greatest good of his kingdom promoted, and can take no pleasure in the prospect and assurance of this, unless you are certain your own personal happiness will be secured and promoted hereby, then this discovers and decides your state and character, that you are not a real friend to Christ and his church, and no true Christian. All your hope and thoughts of this are a mere delusion, and ought to be immediately dismissed. You must be born again of the Holy Spirit, and become new creatures, before you can be Christians. But if you have any true benevolence, and are friends to Christ and his cause and interest, and the greatest happiness of his church and kingdom, you cannot but have comfort, pleasure and joy in the view and assurance that all things and every event, however evil and of a bad tendency in itself, will be overruled by him for his honour and the greatest good of his kingdom; that his interest is secure, and will be promoted by every thing that takes place, without considering your own personal interest, whether this is secure or not. And indeed you cannot know or have any ground to think or hope that you have an interest in Christ, and shall be saved, until you have this benevolent affection towards Christ and his people, and are 349 conscious that it does take place in your heart!; in some degree, or those exercises which imply this, or are implied in it. But when these exercises and benevolent affections take place in your hearts, and arise to such strength and constancy, that, when you relied upon your own views and feelings, you are conscious that you have them, that you are pleased and have enjoyment and comfort in the thought and assurance that Christ will get honour by all the (ins of men, and opposition made to him by men and devils, and the consequent ruin of those who perish, and that all will issue in the greatest possible good, on the whole, you will have reason to hope and conclude that you are friends to Christ, and shall partake in all the happiness and glory of his eternal kingdom, and may, in this way arrive to a degree of assurance of it. And this is the only proper and safe way of obtaining a true and well grounded hope and confidence that you are real Christians, and shall be saved. And as this hope increases and continues, your comfort and joy will be increased. But your comfort and joy does not so depend upon or consist in this, that, if this confidence and hope should give way to doubt and fear, all your comfort and joy would cease; you could and would even then rejoice in the character, glory and happiness of the Saviour, and that all things were conduced by him so as to answer the best end; that he would save all that can be saved consistent with wisdom and goodness, with his glory and the great est good of his church, whether you are included in that number or not: and if you find you can and do rejoice in this view, it is a good, perhaps the best evidence, that you belong to that number.
There are too many professing Christians whose religious comfort and joy appear to consist wholly in a hope or confidence that they shall be saved; their comfort rises in proportion to the degree and strength of their hope, and when that sinks and fails, and is even given up, their comfort is all gone, and all is darkness and gloom: so that all light and comfort with them in 350 their religion consists in thinking, or a hope, that their own personal interest is secure, and all their religious darkness and trouble arise from doubts of this. Their comfort first began in a hope and belief that they should be saved, and still depends wholly upon this. This does not look like the experience of true Christians, but to be a wholly selfish religion, as different from real Christian exercises, as darkness is from light.
Question II. But must Christians pay no regard to their own interest? May they not feel and dread personal pain and misery? And may not their own sins and sufferings occasion grief and sorrow? And ought they not to feel for the sins and calamities of others, and the sinful, wretched state of mankind in general, and mourn and lament, in the view of these evils? Must they always be all joy and gladness, and feel no mental pain and sorrow?
Answer. A Christian ought to regard his personal interest according to its comparative greatness and real worth; but must have no interest of his own, distinct and separate from the general interest, or the highest and best interest of the whole universe. This is the interest to be regarded and fought supremely, and the interest of every individual of this whole, according to the importance and worth of it; and as this must be small and inconsiderable in comparison with the grand interest of the whole, it must be disregarded and given up, if it be inconsistent with the greatest good of the whole. And he must and will have an aversion from and dread of personal pain and suffering, as it is in itself an evil; but this is consistent with rejoicing at the same time in the happiness of others, and in the greatest general good, and he will have a peculiar satisfaction and joy when he believes and realizes that his pain and suffering will promote the good of the whole, which is in all instances true by the superintending care of the Redeemer. Thus the apostles, when they were beaten and put to shame by the council of the Jews, “departed 351from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.”
And Christians ought, and cannot but be affected with the sin and misery of mankind so far as it comes under their view, and to be pained and grieved, when they attend more particularly to it; for it is in itself a great, and to us incomprehensible evil, and might well fill a benevolent man with insupportable pain and for row, and sink him into the most distressing gloom and overwhelming grief, were he not certain that all this is under the direction and particular care and regulation of uncontroulable wisdom and goodness, and has taken place because it is necessary for the greatest good, on the whole, and no more shall exist than shall answer this end, the glory of God and the greatest possible happiness of his kingdom; so that it is on the whole best there should be just so much evil in the universe as there is and ever will be. But when he attends to this his sorrow is in a great measure turned into joy. And could he have as clear and comprehensive a view of the good that will be the issue of all. the evil that takes place, as the inhabitants of heaven have, all his sorrow would entirely cease, and nothing would interrupt or abate his pleasure and holy joy. But in this imperfect state, where so much evil is felt, and present before our eyes, and the good which will be the consequence of all this, though believed to be certain, is not so present and in so full and clear view as the evil, the latter, especially at times, will occasion pain and sorrow. The good man, in this very imperfect state especially, cannot be equally attentive to every object at the same time, and when his attention is particularly turned to the evils that take place, and his mind is impressed with them, he will have pain and sorrow, though he does not doubt that all things are ordered for the best, and that all the evil will issue in the greatest good, while the latter is more out of sight, or less the object of his attention, and consequently makes a less impression on his mind. At other times his attention is fixed on Christ, his character, works 352and designs, and the good he will bring out of all evil, his faith is strong, and realizes invisible things, that all things are going on well, and could not be better, as they are guided by infinite wisdom and goodness. His pain and sorrow are turned into comfort, joy and praise.
Thus the Christian has his joys and sorrows in this imperfect, sinful state: but the latter never takes place to that degree as wholly to exclude the former; but in the midst of sorrow he has joy, and, in a sense and degree, rejoices always. So the apostle Paul “had great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart,” in a view of the sin and misery of his nation; yet in the midst of his sorrow he had matter of joy. Therefore he represents himself, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” And he commands Christians to rejoice in the Lord always, and repeats the injunction: “And again I say, rejoice. Rejoice evermore.” And our glorious Saviour, when in a state of humiliation on earth, did in his human nature rejoice in spirit, in the divine will, and sovereign, wise disposal of all things and events, respecting the children of men: [Luke x. 21, 22.] Yet he wept over Jerusalem, when his mind was impressed with the sin and ruin of the inhabitants of that city. And though he rejoiced and was glad that Lazarus was dead, as it was necessary for the glory of God and the good of his disciples, yet when he saw Mary and her friends who were with her weeping, he groaned in spirit, was troubled, and wept.
Question III. We believe a Christian may have such comfort and joy as has been described; but as some are doubtless deceived, and make great pretentions to this joy, who have only a false and spurious kind of joy, we should be glad to know how, and by what, the former may be distinguished from the latter?
Answer. This may be in some measure illustrated and decided by the following particulars:
1. The Christian’s joy is pure, calm and serene, and is better felt than expressed; therefore does not make him talkative, and forward to tell of his joy, unless 353when it appears necessary for the instruction and benefit of others; and then he is disposed rather to speak of the matter and reason there is of comfort and joy, than to dwell on his own comfort and enjoyment. He is humble, and has a low and mean opinion of himself, in proportion to the degree of his comfort and joy.
2. This joy does not tend to exclude or abate a sense of the evil of sin, and the ill-desert of it, and of the misery which takes place in consequence of it: but, on the contrary, the Christian has a clear view of his own sinfulness, the hatefulness of it, and of his desert of evil, when he rejoiceth in the Lord: his joy does not abate his sense of this, but rather increases it. Nor is lie insensible of the evil of sin in general, and of the misery that comes and will come on men for their sins, while he rejoices that the wrath, even all the sins and misery, of man, shall praise God.
Therefore they whose religious joy arises from a belief that there is no great evil in sin, and that God cannot justly, or if he could, will not, punish it with everlasting destruction, have only a groundless and false
3. This joy is so far from making persons careless, slothful and inactive in religion, that it is attended with directly the contrary. They hate sin, and endeavour to avoid it, and seek deliverance from it, and strive to prevent and suppress it in others as far as they have opportunity and ability. They are fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. When they rejoice that he is praised, they seek to honour and praise him in all possible ways. These cannot be separated, as it would imply an express contradiction. They not only praise God, but pray to him. Their comfort and joy is not inconsistent with engagedness and pleasure in prayer; for the latter is implied in the former. They pray for deliverance from all that which appears to them to be evil, and for all things which they judge desirable for themselves and others, and which appear most for the glory of God, and the advancement of his interest and kingdom among men.354
But, in all their desires and prayers, they are resigned to the will of God. They subordinate all to that, and say. If it be consistent with thy will—desiring that his will may be done, which they know is best, most wise and good, however contrary it may be to their partial views and particular desires. And in this resignation to the divine will, and acquiescence in it, there is implied an earnest desire and prayer. “Thy will be done,” may be a strong and earnest petition, and always is so, when it is attended with a proper sense of the desirableness and importance that it should be done in all instances, as implying the greatest possible good, and with a disposition to rejoice in it.
It is therefore certain that they are strangers to the joy of true Christians, who, under a pretence of believing that all things and events are fixed by the will of God, and take place in the best manner, and that whatever is is right and best, are wholly careless and easy with regard to their own state and conduct, and whatever sins and evils take place; have no desires to cross any of their inclinations, and to be virtuous and holy, living in the neglect of fervent devotion, prayer and praise.
On the whole,
This subject is suited to excite Christians to attend to and improve the truth contained in the text which has been explained, so as constantly to enjoy .the support and comfort which they need, and which is offered to them, in the present dark and seemingly evil state of things in this world. “Were it not for this truth, there would be no support for Christians, but their minds would be involved in the most painful gloom, in the view of their own sinful state, and the sin and misery which abound in the world, directly tending to the dishonour of God, and the rum of all that is desirable; attended with disorder and confusion, of which no bounds or end can be realized or known, or so much as conjectured. The good man would have no place on which he could set his foot, to prevent his sinking and being overwhelmed in darkness and despair.355
But when the Christian attends to this truth, and feels the certainty of it, his feet stand on a solid foundation, on a rock which cannot be moved: he feels calm, and has divine support and comfort, in the midst of the storms and raging waves which toss themselves as if they would overwhelm the world. He looks above all these threatening appearances, and beholds a serene sky, and knows the storm will soon be over, and the dashing waves will cease, and the sun will shine more bright and pleasant than if there had been no storm. The Christian, whose mind is firmly established in this everlasting truth, and is sure that all things will issue well, and that it is best they should take place just as they do, that good will be the issue of all the evil, though he cannot but be affected with the evils, moral and natural, with which he is surrounded, and that more or less at different times, yet will have sufficient support, and be filled with comfort and joy, especially at times, knowing that the Lord reigns, that the wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder of wrath he will restrain.
It therefore becomes Christians, as their duty and interest, to attend to this truth, taken in the whole extent of it, to keep it in their minds, and maintain a constant assurance of it, whatever appearances there may be to the contrary. It is to be feared that many Christians are greatly deficient in this. They dwell too much, if not wholly, on the dark Tide of things, on the evils which are in their view, and suffer much gloom, dejection and pain of mind, for which there is no good reason, and which they might escape, if they looked more at the bright side, presented in the truth which has been considered, and kept it always in view; and their tears of sorrow would be in a measure dried up, and succeeded by tears of joy. It is observable that Christians, when they meet with great disappointments and calamities, either personal or public, in which the interest of the church and religion is concerned, are obliged to make use of this truth for their support and 356comfort—“The Lord reigns, and orders every thing right and well,” &c. And if Christians would keep this in constant view, and see and realize the hand of God in every event, they would have constant support and comfort, and live more to the glory of God. And this tends to destroy all contracted, selfish views and feelings, and to enlarge their minds, while they attend to the divine character, government and kingdom, and the power, wisdom and goodness by which all things in the universe are directed and governed. And the more they realize and are pleased with this, the more they resemble the inhabitants of heaven, and are prepared to be members of that happy society, and join with them in rejoicing and praising the only wise God their Saviour forever and ever. Amen.
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