|« Prev||Sermon XIII. Preached at Brixham, January 23,…||Next »|
The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.
I CANNOT spend time in opening to you the connexion of these words, with those that go before. In the words themselves you have these two things more especially remarkable; to wit, the description, and the doom of wicked men. Their description you have in these words, that they are such as do forget God; and their doom is, that they shall be turned into hell. So that accordingly there are two observations that offer themselves to our view from this scripture.
FIRST, That it is the property of wicked men to forget God. And,
SECONDLY, That it shall be the portion of wicked men, who forget God, to be turned into hell. These two I intend to handle together in this order.
I. I shall shew you what we are here to understand by the wicked.
II. What by forgetting God. And then,
III. I shall evince unto you, that they are wicked persons, who do forget God. And then,
IV. That such wicked persons shall be turned into hell. And so,
V. Make use and application of the whole together.348
I. I shall briefly shew you what we are to understand by these wicked, that the text speaks of. In the
1. Place, negatively, we are not to understand by the wicked here, all persons that have sin in them. There are a sort of men in the world, that will confess themselves sinners; who yet dare to acquit themselves of wickedness. Thus David speaks; “I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.” Psal. xviii. 21. Every man, that hath sin in him, is not presently a wicked person.
2. We are not to understand it neither of only gross sinners. As we are not to extend the signification of the word, so as to take in the former, so nor must we so much narrow it, as to take in only the latter. We are not to think that they are only spoken of as wicked ones, who live in gross, and profane wickedness; so as that every one may characterize and point at them as wicked persons. No, there are wicked ones that pass under the notion of honest, and good men, according to common estimation; and there is such a thing as heart-wickedness, which is hidden and concealed from the eyes of the world, so as that others cannot take notice of it.
And therefore, affirmatively, by the wicked here we must understand unregenerate persons; whoever they are, that are in a state of unregeneracy. Whether they be open and gross sinners, or secret sinners only, it is all one for that: if they be such as the work of renovation hath not yet passed upon, they are those whom this scripture doth here intend by wicked ones.
II. In the second place we are to inquire what is meant by forgetting of God. The character, by which these wicked persons in the text are described, is, that they are such as forget God. Wherein then does this forgetting God consist? That is what we are next to consider. And in order to find out what we are to understand by it, our most direct course will be to consider, what is to be stated in opposition hereunto. And it is obvious at first sight, that it is thinking of God; as not to think of God, is to forget him. But here we must a little more particularly inquire, What is this thinking of God, to which the forgetting him must be understood to be opposed here? And, negatively,
1. We are not to understand by it a continual thinking of God; that is, always, every moment, and without ceasing. This you may easily imagine to be impossible, and I need say no more of it.
2. Yet, on the other hand, we are not to understand by it neither a thinking of God slightly and seldom. Superficial, and overly thoughts of God now and then, may well 349enough consist with that forgetting of God which is here spoken of.
And therefore, affirmatively, this forgetting of God stands in opposition to frequent and ordinary, serious and heart-affecting thoughts of God. That person is here spoken of as a wicked man that forgets God, who does not think of him frequently and with affection; with fear, and delight, and those affections that are suitable to serious thoughts of God. “How precious (says the Psalmist) are thy thoughts unto me O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them they are more in number than the sand: when I awake I am still with thee.” Psal. cxxxix. 17, 18. These thoughts of God, of which the Psalmist speaks, are such as God is the object of; as plainly appears from what is added by way of antithesis, “When I awake I am still with thee.” My thoughts are ever working towards thee, as soon as ever I awake. Now here is this two fold character of such thoughts; to wit, that they are precious, and they are numerous.
(1.) They are precious thoughts; such as affect a man’s heart, and ravish the soul. Now in opposition to this, persons that forget God have no such thoughts of him; that is, they have no joyous, pleasant, and delightful thoughts concerning God, such as the Psalmist speaks of; who also says, “My meditation of him shall be sweet, I will be glad in the Lord.” Psal. civ. 34. So that it is such a forgetfulness of God, which is here spoken of, that stands in opposition to such a remembrance of him as reaches the heart, takes the soul, and turns all that is within a man towards God. And then,
(2.) They are numerous thoughts, as well as precious ones. They are not only sweet and pleasant, but they are frequent also. “If I should count them (says the Psalmist) they are more in number than the sand.” Such are my thoughts of God, so frequent and numerous, and they so flow into my soul, and so often recur again and again; that if I go to count them, I may as well attempt to count the sands on the sea-shore: how great is the sum of them! Now it is in opposition to such thoughts of God that this forgetfulness must be understood. They are forgetful of God; the wicked persons, whom the text speaks of, who have not such thoughts of God frequently recurring upon their spirits, so as to affect and ravish them, as you heard before. And thus you see what this forgetfulness of God is, which the Psalmist speaks of. The next thing that is now to be done is,
III. To shew you the connexion between these two things,350which have been opened to you; or to evince, that those who have no such thoughts of God, as these which we speak of, are wicked persons. So you see the text plainly represents the matter; “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” Why, to forget God, and to be a wicked person, is all one. And these two things will abundantly evince the truth of this assertion: namely, that this forgetfulness of God excludes the prime and main essentials of religion; and also includes in it the highest and most heinous pieces of wickedness and therefore must needs denominate the subject, a wicked person.
1. Forgetfulness of God excludes the chief and main essentials of all religion. I shall instance in a few which you will easily discern, at first sight, a forgetfulness of God must necessarily exclude, As,
(I.) It excludes the esteem and love of God, as our highest happiness, and chief good. It is a plain case, that this is a most essential part of religion; and you will easily acknowledge, that he must needs be a wicked man with a witness that doth not esteem God, nor love him as his chief good. To esteem God as our highest happiness is to take him for our God; and the man that doth not this, disowns God as none of his. For when you say, “God is our God, and we are his people,” what do you mean by it? Do you mean only the name of God, without any relation to him as your chief and highest good? is that all? Why, if there be any thing beyond a bare name, where or what is it? You must say it is this; God is my portion, happiness and delight; he it is whom I esteem, and love, beyond all the things of this world.” Nothing else can be a taking, or owning God to be your God. This is the very sum of all that God doth require from any people that would be related to him and own him for their God. “And now Israel what doth the Lord thy God require of thee? but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul.” Deut. x. 12. “Otherwise,” as if he had said, you disown all relation to me. “If it be not thus, you are never to reckon me as your God. If your hearts and souls and strength do not run out in love to me, you are none of mine, and I am none of yours.” And God is again on the same terms with his people. “Hear O my people, and I will testify against thee; O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me: there shall no strange god be in thee, neither shalt thou worship any strange god. I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt.” Psal. lxxxi. 8, 9, 10. The plain tenour of this scripture is this. “If you will have any thing at all 351to do with me, if you pretend any obedience or affection to me, you must take me alone to be your God; you must not entertain any strange god; there must be no god that must be higher in your thoughts than I, or adored and loved more than myself. If it be not so, I there are such among you as will not thus hearken to me, I have nothing to do with you.” Thus it is evident, that it must needs be an essential thing in religion for a man to love, and esteem God above all things; he must esteem him as his highest, chiefest, and most excellent good: for it is such a valuing of God that can alone denominate a man religious.
And now do but a little consider. Do you think it possible for such an estimation or love of God, as the highest and chiefest good, to consist with a forgetting of God? Can a man for get God from day to day, in the sense of the text, and yet esteem and love this God as his highest happiness, and chief good? Is this possible? Can you apprehend it to be possible, that a man should place the top of his felicity in God; and love God above all things else in the world; and yet pass from day to day and never think of him with delight and pleasure? Is this, think you, consistent with the esteem of God, as your chief good? You cannot be so vain as to think so. That man would be hissed at as a ridiculous person, that will say; “What I love above all things in the world, I never use to think of. I love God better than any thing, but he hath no place in my thoughts; I never think of him; I can pass on from day to day, and never have a serious thought of him.” Is this possible? You see what the love of God in the soul doth carry in it, namely a remembrance of him, in the twenty-sixth chapter of Isaiah. (ver. 8.) “The desire of our soul is unto thee, and to the remembrance of thy name.” That person would be scorned as a most absurd wretch, that would ever offer to pretend such a thing unto God, as to say, “Lord I desire to love thee above all things in the world, and yet I never think of thee; it is very seldom that thou hast any place at all in my thoughts.” This is the most absurd, self-conceited speech that can be imagined. None, that have any wit at all, but know that if they have any understanding of God, their souls do earnestly and vehemently flow forth in love and desires to God. Our Lord says, “Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven—for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matth. vi. 20, 21. Lay up your treasure in heaven, that is, in God; let God be your treasure. You know what a man counts his treasure: why it is that, which is most dear and precious to him; most valued by him, and loved above all things else. A man will count nothing 352 his treasure, but what he holds in great esteem. Let your treasure then, says Christ, be in heaven: that is, let God who is in heaven, who there makes known his glorious presence, that is enjoyed by saints and angels, and which we expect to enjoy; let him be your treasure. And where our treasure is, there will our hearts be. What you esteem and love beyond all things, your hearts will be continually working to, and your spirits flow that way. It is a mere absurd vanity to talk of having a treasure in God, if a man’s heart be not with him. As she said to Samson, “How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me.” Judg. xvi. 15. So the soul is apt to say it loves God, and counts him its treasure, and highest happiness, when, alas! the heart is not with him. We find that a light esteeming of God, is the same thing with for getting him, and those expressions are used as synonymous by Moses. “Jeshurun forsook God that made him, and he lightly esteemed the rock of his salvation!” And then presently it follows, “Of the rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee.” Deut. xxxii. 15, 18. Thus to make a light account of God is the same thing, as to forget him; and therefore that person has never yet set one foot towards religion, who hath not yet made God his chief happiness, the only joy and delight of his soul. Therefore this is one thing, that forgetfulness of God doth exclude the estimation and love of God, as our portion and chief good.
(2.) Forgetfulness of God excludes dependance on God as our strength, and the life and stay of our souls; which is also a most essential piece of religion. That man knows nothing at all practically in matters of religion, that does not live in a continual dependance upon God as the life, and strength, and support of the soul. They are spoken of as persons who can not possibly obtain salvation, while in their present state, who are not yet come to that believing in God, which carries the whole heart to acquiesce, and rest and centre in God. “Who soever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. But how shall they call on him, in whom they have not believed?” Rom. x. 13, 14. Calling upon God is a thing essentially necessary unto salvation, and believing in him is indispensably necessary unto calling upon him. It is put for the whole worship of God: and it is impossible for a soul ever thus to call upon God; that is, to worship him, to live subject to him, and be devoted and given up to him, who doth not believe in him. And this believing in God respects him as the stay, and strength of a man’s soul. It plainly implies a sensibleness of its being utterly impossible that I should subsist or live without God; 353and supposes a constant reliance upon him as my God, who is my very life and strength. And therefore you find how those, who do not so, are derided by the Psalmist. “The righteous shall see and fear, and shall laugh at him: Lo! this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness. But I am like a green olive-tree, in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.” Psal. lii. 6, 7, 8. The soul that is truly religious is by trust so planted into the very mercy of God, as I may speak; that there it is rooted, and sprouts as a tree doth, in the soul that bears it. But they are outcasts, and a company of profane irreligious wretches, that do not thus trust in God, and make him the stay, and sup port of their souls. “Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength!” It is remarkable to see in how ludicrous a way such persons are spoken of, as if they were to be hissed out of the creation. “Lo, there is a man that lives without God! a person not fit to be numbered among men! Away with him as a most ridiculous wretch, who thinks to live without staying upon God!”
Trust in God then is essential to religion. And do you think that this can possibly consist with forgetting of God? Can a man trust in God, as the stay and support of his life, of whom he is unmindful? who can pass one day after another, and never vouchsafe him a serious thought? Trust in God is a continual thing. I do not mean that it is to be exercised without intermission, but that it is an habitual dependance. And therefore it is said, “The just shall live by faith.” Heb. x. 38. We live by breathing, and it will not serve our turn to breathe to-day, and live by that breath many days hereafter. No, that which we live by is a continual thing. And thus the just shall live by a continual reliance and dependance on God; which implies a mindfulness of him. When the Psalmist speaks of that trust, which he reposed in God, he speaks of it in this language; “I have set the Lord always before me, because he is at my right hand I shall not be moved.” Psal. xvi. 8. Here was a continual minding of God. What is it to have God always before us, but to have him the prime, and the principal object of our thoughts? so as that there is nothing, on which our eye doth so much fix, as it doth on God. And this stands with that conjunction, or that dependance which the soul hath on God. So again: “Mine eyes are ever towards the Lord, for he shall pluck my feet out of the net.” xxv. 15. That is, My reliance is upon God; mine eye is continually towards him, and I have him ever in my thoughts. It is he in whom I live, and from 354 whom I have all my expectation. Thus it is impossible, that a man should be in this sense a religious person who is forgetful of God; since he who thinks not upon him, cannot be supposed to depend upon him as the life and strength of his soul.
(3.) Forgetfulness of God excludes also the fear of God; and that awful subjection unto his laws and commands, as our rule, wherein the soul should continually live: and this is too an essential part of religion, as is well known to all that understand any thing of religion. Can he ever be said to be a religious man, that doth not live in the fear of God? Why, it is so essential a piece of religion, that the Scripture doth often call all religion by that very thing, the fear of God. And hence it is also, that you find all wickedness summed up in this very expression; “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Rom. iii. 18. The apostle had been describing a wicked man at large, out of some of the psalms, (xiv. liii., &c.) and this is that which he gathers up as the whole of that wickedness he had been pointing out; to wit, there is no fear of God before their eyes. They are wicked persons with a witness that do not fear God, that live without having any fear of God before their eyes. And must not forgetfulness of God necessarily exclude the fear of God? What! Can any man be said to fear him, whom he thinks not of? to fear God when he minds him not, when he hath him not in all his thoughts? Do but observe the connexion between this passage and the eleventh verse of the same chapter, quoted out of the psalms. “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” It follows “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Indeed it is impossible it should; if they have no thoughts of God, if their minds and understandings be not bent towards him, it is impossible they should fear him. What! fear an unthought-of God? a God that a man does not think of, from day to day? why, it is an absurd thing ever to be imagined. And therefore this is a further thing that the forgetfulness of God excludes; namely, that fear of God, and that reverential subjection, that we owe to his laws and commands, as the rule of our lives. And then again,
(4.) It excludes the intention of the honour and glory of God, as our end. That man hath no more religion in him, than there is in a beast; who doth not in the ordinary course of his life design, and aim at the glory of God, as the supreme and ultimate end of his actions. You know it is that, which is required and called for from us in every thing we do. “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” 1. Cor. x. 31. This is a truth obvious to the understanding of every one, that every person who is religious, intends and 355designs the honour and glory of the great God, as the ultimate and chief end of the ordinary actions of his life. So as if a man should come and ask him, “For what is it that you are going about this business, and those affairs; and what end have you in what you do?” he will say, “That I may honour and glorify God in so doing.” This is religion. So then it is not enough to bespeak a man religious, to do things that are in their own nature honest and just, and not liable to exception; but to do them designedly for the honour and glory of the great God, as his end. Now. do but consider. Can a man do so, and not think of God? Can it ever be rationally said of any one of you, that you live from day to day in the service of the great God, and to the honour and glory of his great name, as the chief and principal thing you design in your whole life; when you do not, from day to day, think of God? do not from morning to night take up one serious thought of God? Why, your own hearts will tell you it is utterly impossible: and a man is nothing in religion, who does not come up to this; who does not make the glory of God the ultimate end of his affairs, and the actions of his life.
Thus you see that forgetfulness of God excludes the principal, and essential parts of religion. It implies, that a man doth neither esteem, nor value, the all-sufficiency and holiness of God, as his happiness and portion; nor doth he trust in the power and omnipotence of God, as his strength and support; nor doth he fear him, nor live in subjection to his laws and commands, as his rule; nor doth he aim at the glory of God, as his end: therefore every one who thus forgets God, must certainly be a wicked person.
2. Consider also what is included in this forgetfulness of God. As it excludes the main essentials of religion, why so truly it does include the most horrid and heinous pieces of wickedness that you can think of. I shall instance, very briefly, in a few.
(1.) It includes worldliness and earthly-mindedness. The soul, though forgetful of God, is not idle. If God be not the object of a man’s thoughts and affections, something else is. They do not want an object. They find something else to employ themselves about, when they thus forget God and shut him out of their thoughts. For much is evidently implied in this scripture: “Many walk of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping; that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” Observe those very persons who are here spoken of as 356 minding earthly things, are also said to be such as have chosen to themselves another god. Their god is their belly. This we are not to understand strictly, but in a large sense; to wit, their sensual appetite. Their belly is their god; and accordingly they mind earthly things, and their hearts are quite taken off from God. And do not think this is a light piece of wickedness, to live a whole life’s time in this manner; especially under the gospel, and the profession of the Christian name. The apostle as it were weeps over it. It is a thing, saith he, that I cannot think of without passion and tears; to see a company of wretches that call themselves christians, and profess themselves to be so, who yet are the enemies of the cross of Christ: they are apparently such, for they mind earthly things. This then is one thing that forgetfulness of God includes, namely, earthly-mindedness; which is the most horrid wickedness you can think of, for it stands in most direct opposition to God: and therefore covetousness is called idolatry, or a taking another god. And then again,
(2.) It includes enmity against God. It is a plain case: if men from day to day forget God, it is because they hate him, and cannot endure the thoughts of him. It is expressly spoken of some, that “they liked not to retain God in their knowledge.” Rom. i. 28. What is it to retain God in our knowledge, but to have frequent actual thoughts about him? such as I have already spoken of, numerous and affecting thoughts. This is to retain God in our knowledge. But can they be said to do so, who do not think of God i who have no actual thoughts of God, from day to day? Arid why is this? Because they do not like them. The thoughts of God are grating, grievous, and annoying to their spirits; and therefore it is they do not think of him, because they do not love to think of him. This must needs be so, especially considering the case of such persons under the gospel. God is ever before their eyes, they cannot look any way but they must see God shining upon them. He is shining upon them in his creatures, in his providences, but especially in the ordinances of the gospel of his Son; and yet these persons will not now mind God, nor take notice of him. What is the reason of it? They do not, because they will not: or because their hearts cannot bear it. “Oh! take away God from my thoughts! take him away from my soul! It is a burden, a pressure on my spirit! I cannot bear the thoughts of God.” Thus says the apostle; “They that are after the flesh, do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally-minded is death, but to be spiritually-minded is 357life and peace. The carnal mind is enmity against God.” Rom. viii. 5, 6, 7. Do but observe here: he tells us that they who are after the flesh, or carnally-minded, will not mind any of the things of the Spirit of God; and that it is to be resolved into this, namely, that a carnal mind is enmity against God. And it is a plain case that such a one is an enemy to him. Therefore it is, that he minds the things of the earth and of flesh; and will not look after God, nor spend any thoughts about him. No, he will rather choose to live upon dirt, and feed upon trash; and to spend thoughts and affections, upon things that are as vile as earth and dung. And if such persons would but consult their hearts they would find it so. For, alas! when you are alone, and retired, have nothing else to do but to think of God (as upon such a day as this especially, when you have no other business but to think upon him107107 This passage makes it very probable, that this sermon was preached on one of those Fast-days, which were frequently solemnized before the restoration, by public authority.) pray consider, Which way do your thoughts run? can you say, it is God that is the object of your thoughts and affections? that upon such a day as this, they are from morning to night taken up about nothing else but God? You have nothing else to do but to think of God; and if your thoughts decline, and turn aside after covetousness and the things of this world, what is this but a plain enmity against him? And this is what the hearts of men say; they rather choose the most despicable, base objects to spend, their thoughts upon, than about God. And is it, think you, a light piece of wickedness for a man to have such an enmity in his heart against God? And then again,
(3.) In the third place, forgetfulness of God includes in it plainly a contempt of him; or implies that we have a base, low, dishonourable esteem of God. It is said (in the psalm next to that in which is my text) of the wicked man, that “God is not in all his thoughts.” Psal. x. 4. The wicked wretch passes from day to day, and never affords God a serious thought nor allows him a place there. And what is the reason of it? Why the Psalmist puts it plainly upon an open manifest contempt of God. “Wherefore (saith he) doth the wicked contemn God?” Ver. 13. He speaks, as indeed the interrogation imports, with a kind of passion. Oh! wherefore is it? what heart can think of a reason, why any man should contemn God? In short, their taking low base things into their thoughts while they shut out God, plainly proceeds from a contempt of him, and because they despise him in their own hearts. And,358
(4.) To add no more, forg4tfulness of God implies atheism; which involves in it all wickedness, as being the root and bottom of all. Persons who forget God, plainly deny in their own hearts, that there is such a one; who ought to be the highest supreme object of their thoughts and affections. This evidently appears from the connexion of the beginning of the fourteenth psalm, with the following verses. “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. They are corrupt, they Lave done abominable works. The Lord looked down from heaven, upon the children of men to see if there were any that did understand and seek God.” And the report you have is this: “They are all gone aside; they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no not one.” There is not a person to be found among all these wretches that under stands, or seeks after God; or hath any serious thoughts or consideration about him. And what is the reason of all this? Why, like fools as they are, they have said in their hearts, that there is no God: and hence it is that their minds and under standings have quite forgotten, and given over to look towards him; whereas “he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Heb. xi. 6. They are corrupted within themselves, and then surmise that there is no such Being to whom they are accountable; and therefore they live securely, neglecting and forget ting him, from day to day, through their whole life. There is also a like connexion in the fiftieth psalm, towards the latter end. “These things hast thou done (having summed up a great many kinds of wickedness before in the preceding verses) and I kept silence. Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one, as thyself; but I will reprove thee and set them in order before thine eyes. Now consider this, ye that forget God!” To deny any of God’s essential attributes, is to take away his being. To say, that he is not so holy, as to hate sin; that he is not so just, as to revenge and punish sinners; is to say, that he is not.
Well! this you see is connected with forgetting of God. But this God whom you slight, and make so little reckoning f; this God, I say, will reprove you. And I pray, consider ye that forget God, who have all this while looked upon him, as if he was like the idols of this world, that the time is coming when he will set your sins in order before your faces.
And thus I have evinced to you this truth, that they are wicked persons who forget God; which is evidenced thus: to wit, forgetfulness of God excludes all religion, and also includes all wickedness; and what would you have more? It 359must needs then denominate such a person, who lives in the guilt of it, a wicked person with a witness; since it grasps within its compass all wickedness and shuts out all religion.108108 If any should find this discourse to be too long to be read at once, particularly in families, here is a proper resting-place.
IV. The fourth thing propounded to be spoken to, was this; namely, That these wicked persons, who thus live in a forgetfulness of God, must be turned into hell. I shall touch briefly upon it, and so close with a few words of application. As it is the property of the wicked man to forget God, so it must be his portion to be turned, into hell. The eviction of this will be easily evident from considering these three things only—it is most consonant to the justice of God that thus it should be—it is most agreeable to his law: and—it is most serviceable to his honour and glory.
1. The justice of God doth require this; that those persons, who live in this world forgetful of God, should at last be turned into hell. If God be just he must deal in this manner with a company of rebels; who never take notice of him all their days, and shut him out of their hearts and thoughts. What! Can the highest God, the eternal Majesty suffer such an affront as this from base dirt and earth, and never take vengeance? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (Rom. iii. 5.) as the apostle speaks in this case. No, undoubtedly. But I cannot stand now to insist on particulars.
2. It is agreeable to his law that God should thus punish the wicked. It is one and the self-same law that is a rule of duty to us, and which by the divine appointment is a rule of judgment unto him. And this righteous law hath determined, that they who thus sin, must be thus punished. For this we need go no further than the text itself. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” The law of God hath expressly provided in this case; so that if any man should now think to put in his exception against this determination of God, alas! it must be said to him: “Vain wretch, it is now too late! This law was made long ago; before thou wert born, or heard of in the world, and ever since the world was. And dost thou think a law shall be repealed in a way of favour to a most rebellious wretch, which the sovereign eternal God had established before the ages of the world; that it might be a fundamental and invariable rule of God’s proceedings even to the end of it? Alas! it cannot be.” God hath decreed many thou sand years ago this law; that they who do forget him, shall be 360 turned into hell without mercy. And if this be their continual state and frame without a change, it must needs be thus with them. There is no alteration in this case; for “God is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent, (heathen Balaam knew so much of God as that came to) hath he said and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” Numb. xxiii. 19.
3. And again in the third place, it is most serviceable to his
glory and honour, that thus it should be; I mean, that those
who persist, and go on to the last in a forgetfulness of God,
should be turned into hell. For what glory hath he otherwise
of them? “The Lord hath made all things for himself; yea,
even the wicked for the day of evil.” Prov. xvi. 4. He will
punish them in the day of judgment, because they are the most
perverse creatures that ever came out of his hands. He hath
made them for the day of wrath, as the wise man speaks and
there is no other way for the Lord to have his honour and glory
of those persons.109109 The learned author seems, almost every where, to quote texts of
Scripture with great propriety, and is generally very happy and judicious in his descants upon them; of which all his posthumous
discourses (as well as those published by himself) are an abundant testimony: notwithstanding the liberty he allowed himself,
familiar freedom with which he delivered them, without written notes.
But the editor is apprehensive, that some may look upon the quotation of this passage from Solomon, as an exception. It must
acknowledged, that these words have often been made use of in favour
of a very discouraging doctrine: which, above all others tends to
enervate the force of all the motives and arguments, that can be
made use of, to engage persons to attend to the exhortations to a
holy and religious life. And because some may imagine the author
from his comment on the passage, understood it in the sense here
alluded to; which is evidently contrary to the general strain, and
tenour of his sentiments, in all his writings; it may not be improper
to endeavour to set it in its true point of light, and to shew in what
sense the author may be understood.
It is very true, the glory of God’s justice requires (as the author bad observed) that wicked men be punished. For to suppose that God will make those happy, who live in a criminal forgetfulness of him, is a kind of outraging all his perfections: and no more to be imagined than that he will make an innocent being, for instance an angel that never fell, eternally miserable out of mere sovereignty and pleasure. Neither reason, nor revelation represent the Almighty as so terrible to the innocent, or so easy to the guilty. But to assert that wicked men, persisting in forgetfulness of God and a course of sin, will be punished in the day of wrath; is to assert a very great and awful truth, and very probably is all that the author meant by this passage. But however, as the learned bishop Patrick observes, the sense of the place seems to be this; that God makes use of wicked men, as well as all things else, to answer the ends of his providence in this world. As for instance; by the ambition of tyrants he inflicts those calamities, which he designs upon a wicked nation or people. But the sense after all needs not to be so confined. God has made all things for himself; or, as the words may be rendered, he has made all things to correspond, or answer to each, other: yea even the wicked for the day of evil. That is, not only to be his scourge or instrument of bringing calamities upon others in this life, but has suited and proportioned the punishment of evil men to their deserts; or has settled the connexion between vice, and misery in the world to come: just as he has fixed the relation of virtue, to future happiness; or, as it is elegantly expressed, made righteousness and peace to kiss each other. See to this purpose what is spoken in the words immediately before the text; “The Lord is known by 361the judgment which he executeth:” and then it follows, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” And why must this be? Because God will never else be known by them. Here they live so many years in the world, and God shows himself by his creatures, by his providences, and by his ordinances; and they will take no notice of him: they spend away their days, and allow God none of their thoughts. “I cannot be regarded by these creatures (saith God) they do not regard, nor take notice of me. Well! I shall take my leave of them. When they come to be turned into hell, and to fall under the pressures of everlasting wrath and misery, then they will not forget God; then they will know the God, they never knew before; then they will remember him, though now they never think of him. Let them now try (saith God) whether they will forget me, now that I have them under my wrath and vengeance. While they are in this world, they banish me out of their hearts, and thoughts: I cannot get one spare thought from them from one day to another; but when they come to feel me, and the power of my anger, they will then know that, which they would never know before.” Thus you see, that God’s justice, his law, and his glory require, that those wicked persons who forget God should be turned into hell.
V. I shall close all with some few words of application,
1. We may hence learn, that religion consisting of mere externals will never save any man. A person may be a wicked man, and liable to be turned into hell, notwithstanding any religion that lies in mere outside shew. You see this plainly, 362 that men are liable to be turned into hell for their forgetfulness of God. Why, a man may forget God, and yet live tinder ordinances, and under the gospel. A man may forget God, and yet may be a moral man; and just and righteous in his dealings among men. And therefore, it is nothing that lies in mere externals, that will either denominate a man religious, or that will save him from perishing. A man may go to the utmost extent of all outside religion, and yet forget God; be wicked all the while, and so turned into hell at last. And therefore, it is a vanity for men to deceive themselves into a hope, that all is well with them; and that all shall go well with them at last, because they are professors, and enjoy gospel privileges; or that because no man can challenge them with fraud, injury, or wrong done to their neighbours. It is a vain thing for them to think that therefore they are safe, and in no danger. They are all the while forgetters of God, and that is enough to bespeak them wicked; let them in other respects, be what they will. And therefore you are to know, that it is not taking up a profession, or this and that form of religion, that will entitle a soul to glory and salvation at last; but it must be the having of such a work done upon the heart, as will turn the stream of a man’s soul towards God, and carry his thoughts and affections after him. It is this or nothing, that must make you Christians, and save you from hell.
It is but too common a vanity in these days, wherein we live, for men of carnal hearts and corrupt minds; that could never endure to be at the pains and expence to wait upon God in the way of his ordinances, in order to have their hearts thus changed and turned unto God: it is, I say, a common vanity with such persons to think that all their business, in order to secure themselves and provide for their own safety and welfare, is to take up a certain form of worshipping and serving God. Alas! a man may perish, and go to hell, whatever form he is of, if he has a carnal heart; a heart that doth not delight in God: this will be sufficient to damn a man at last, let him take what course, or be of what religion he will. And it is a plain case, it speaks an unsound, shifting heart, which cannot endure that such a work as this should be done, but slinks away from it. Such are pinching and galling ways; and therefore they seek for ease and rest, some other way, and for a cheaper method of getting to heaven; as if going into such a party would save a man. Why, alas! it will not do it. It must be a change wrought upon the heart and soul, that will take it off from this world, and pitch it upon God; if we would have an interest in him, or live in his blessedness another day. There 363are those, who are like the persons saint Paul speaks of to Timothy. “The time (says he) will come, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” 2 Tim. iv. 3, 4. Thus it is with many wretched souls in the ways of God: while they have been walking in them, it may be they have been barren and unfruitful, through their carnal hearts, which cannot endure to have any thing done to the purpose; therefore they desire to find an easier way than this. They run to other teachers, having itching ears; and think of going to heaven upon other terms, by only taking up other forms, and changing the way of their religion. This speaks a heart to be unsound; as it is a sign of an unsound body, that can rest itself in no posture, but lies tumbling and tossing in the bed. It hath rest no where; when it hath rolled one way to another, it must come back to the same pitch and posture, it was in before. Why, the man is not well! alas! the fault is not in the bed, but the body; it is because the body is not well, but unsound and unhealthy, that it cannot rest. And so men under the ordinances of the gospel dispensation cannot find rest to themselves. They cannot indeed find fault with them; but they have fleshly carnal hearts, that cannot endure any thing should be done to change, and turn them unto God; and therefore they seek out new ways, that they may get to heaven in a cheaper, and easier manner. And if such souls have a mind to go in those ways, that were never known or heard of before, for so many years, they will not find what they seek. For, alas! a carnal heart will carry its own pest, and trouble about it, wherever it goes: and they will be forced either to say at last, the old way of real religion is best; or else they will cast off all religion, and there will be the end, as experience in this case doth abundantly witness.
2. As this plainly instructs us, that religion, lying in externals only, will never save a man; so it informs us also, that wickedness, lying in the heart and thoughts, will abundantly suffice to damn a man. And this is no strange doctrine; at least it should not seem to any that have ever read the Bible, and know what belongs to true religion. Do not you know, that the heart and the thoughts are the prime and principal spring of that wickedness that ruins souls and turns them into hell for ever? “Out of the heart (says Christ) proceed evil thoughts; (Matth. xv. 19.) and these speak a man defiled, make him wicked, and turn him into hell at last.” Observe also this scripture: “O Jerusalem wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved: how long shall thy vain 364 thoughts lodge within thee?” Jerem. iv. 14. Wickedness and vain thoughts here are parallel expressions, which expound one another. That wickedness, of which the prophet speaks, consists in the vanity of the thoughts: and those are a man’s vainest and most wicked thoughts, that run beside God; and have not him for their object, nor terminate upon him. Therefore wash thine heart from this wickedness, for certainly else there will be no salvation for thee. Alas! thou art a damned man, a lost creature, if thine heart be not washed from this wickedness of the thoughts. “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be for given thee.” Acts viii. 22. In short, to exclude God, out of our thoughts, and not to let him have a place there; not to mind, nor think upon God; is the greatest wickedness of the thoughts that can be. And therefore, though you cannot say of such a one, he will be drunk; or he will swear, cozen, or oppress; yet if you can say he will forget God, or that he lives all his days, never minding nor thinking upon God; you say enough to speak him under wrath, and to turn him into hell without remedy.
3. If they are wicked persons, who do not think of God, and shall for that reason be turned into hell, then all thoughts are not free; that is, men are not at liberty, as they vainly imagine to dispose of their thoughts as they will. Alas! the case is quite otherwise than what many poor wretches imagine. They go up and down in the world, never minding God from day to day, and they think this is no sin; saying, “Why, what is this? It is but the disposing my thoughts; and surely I may do what I will with my thoughts. What matter is it what be comes of them?” But saith God; “What is there else that I value more, or set a greater price upon, than the thoughts and affections of the soul? I must have them or nothing. So, be what thou wilt in profession and pretence; yet if I be not in thy thoughts, if I be forgotten by thee, I will look upon thee as a wicked person, as one that shall be turned into hell.” Truly, if the case be so, you must learn to correct that foolish imagination, that your thoughts are free; or that you may use them as you please: and know, that if men will give him no place there, this is a desperate, horrid, wickedness, that the great God will be avenged upon one day.
4. Since the case is thus, that wicked men, and all those who forget God, shall be turned into hell; we may learn hence, that there are but few that shall be saved. Do but weigh the case seriously, and consider with yourselves, how 365few there are that so live, or in the face of whose conversations it appears, that their hearts are set upon God! whose minds are taken up about him, walking up and down the world from morning to night, rejoicing and delighting themselves in God! Oh, how few such there are; and consequently how few that are not wicked, and shall not be turned into hell at last! My friends, God doth not dally with us in such scriptures as these. They are plain words which are here spoken, and we may turn off the edge of them from rending and cutting our hearts if we will; but one day we shall hear what we are told, and read also, that, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” We may therefore easily learn from hence, that going to heaven is not so common a thing as most men take it to be. Alas! it is not, if the word of God be true. It will be found, that going to hell will be much more ordinary among men that live under the gospel, than going to heaven. For it is said, they shall he turned into hell that forget God. Now, are not these plain words? Do they not evince and demonstrate that a great part (alas! the greatest part) are hurrying into hell apace? And is it not sad and miserable to think, that poor souls should thus spend all their life-time, under a gospel of grace? and that so much light and love should shine from heaven in vain? It should not be thought of, without pain and agony, that men should thus perish; that there should be so few saved from hell and destruction, notwithstanding they are under a gospel of light and salvation! The truth I am upon is intimated in part of the message to the church of Sardis. “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white; for they are worthy.” Rev. iii. 4. Alas! how few are there, how few amongst a whole assembly and congregation of people that keep themselves from pollution through lusts? How few names are there to be found in an assembly, who come under the character of persons that have not defiled their garments? or, of those who have numerous thoughts of God from day to day? How few are there, that do not come under the character in the text, of being forgetters of God; and so of such as must be turned into hell? It concerns us all to be serious in thinking upon this matter. God hath been serious in revealing this truth to us; and his Spirit is poured out for the confirming, establishing, and pressing it upon your hearts and spirits, who ever you are; and therefore think well of it, and consider seriously how few good men there are, who shall finally be saved.366
5. You may hence learn also, that God hath an inspection into, and a full knowledge of, the hearts and thoughts of men. This is evident, for you see he makes his judgment upon what lies within the inward man; and his judgment at last will proceed upon the same ground. “I must have those turned into hell (saith the Almighty) who never think of, nor remember their God: they must undergo my wrath that have thus forgotten me.” Now if God’s judgments must be thus deter mined upon what is in the heart of man, then he knows your hearts; and also what you do with your thoughts from day to day. His eye is upon your souls and spirits; and sees all the day long which way your affections lie, and which way they are carried: and it is by this, he must guide his judgment at the last day. Thus says the Psalmist; “He that planteth the ear shall not he hear? He that formed the eye shall not he see? He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? He that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know? The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.” Psal. xciv. 9, 10, 11. He knows well all the vanity of your spirits, though you may not observe it. His eyes are observing us all the day long, especially on such a day as this; and according to the observation he makes, he must judge us at the last day. And therefore he must be supposed to have a full, and perfect understanding of all things; so as to be able in that day to lay out before a man the wickedness of his whole life; to spread before him the vain and wicked, the sensual and earthly thoughts, which he was perpetually exercised in; and of which his carnal heart was the continual tomb. And this cannot be a more difficult than it is a necessary thing to him, who must search the hearts, and try the reins, that he may judge accordingly at the last day. And then,
6. And lastly, we may learn hence, that it is not an impossible nor difficult thing for wicked men to know themselves to be such; and to make a judgment of their own estates Godward. For you see, they have a plain rule to judge by; namely, this truth: He that forgets God is a wicked man; and he is a wicked man that thus forgets God: and he that forgets God must be turned into hell, I pray now do but consider, and think with yourselves. Is it so difficult or impossible for a man to know, what is the ordinary course of his own thoughts? You may easily know if you will, at least the generality of you may know, what the current of your thoughts is; and so far make a judgment of your estate accordingly. This we must needs acknowledge. For those men who are carnal and earthly, 367their hearts tell them they have not a thought of God, from day to day, from week to week, from year to year. Such persons cannot be so brutish and absurd, but they may know it, if they will, especially if they will take God’s word. If not, let them see whether they can have any surer rule that cannot deceive. But if they will take God’s word, they cannot but see that they are those persons who are wicked, as they are forgetful of God: and upon that account must be turned into hell at last. My friends! if we do not study wilfully to ruin ourselves, is it so hard a matter for a man, a reasonable man, to sit down at night and consider, “Whither have my thoughts been this day? Who hath had my thoughts most? What have I taken most pleasure in this day? Is it in God? hath he been so delightful and so pleasant, and the remembrance of him in my heart and soul, as the pleasures and comforts of this life have been to me? Have I taken so much delight to-day in the law of God, as I have in my friends, my riches, and my relations? And have I had that fear of God in my heart, lest I should sin against him, as I have had about my business and affairs, lest they should miscarry?” Is it impossible, I say, for a reasonable man thus to consider, from day to day, whither hath been the course of his heart and thoughts? And if he find it is thus with him; that he lives without having a thought of God, that may stay his heart, and ravish his soul; how obvious then is it, that he is a wicked wretch! that the wrath of God pursues him! and that he must be turned into hell, without remedy, if this continues to be the state and condition of his soul! Consider this, and give me leave to close up all, with one word of counsel and advice, to such persons as these: and may it be acceptable to your hearts!
(1.) Own your state and condition. If the case be thus, as you see it is, that they are wicked persons who forget God, and that such shall be turned into hell; why, look into your own hearts, and see whether they are not forgetful of God. And when you find that it is thus with you, let your judgment pass upon your souls and say; “My wretched and undone soul! thou art that soul whom this law condemns; whom this judgment convinceth as guilty of this wickedness against God, and liable to his vengeance upon this account!” Therefore I say own your estate. It is no difficult thing for you to know it. Say then, “1 am the person whom the word of God condemns: I am under the curse as a person that has forgotten God, and must be turned into hell upon this account, if it thus continue with me.” But this is not all. I would not leave a soul in 368this case miserably perishing, and despairing of all possibility of being saved; but however know that you cannot be saved while it is thus with you, and while your hearts are thus framed and turned from God. Therefore,
(2.) Labour forthwith to have the course and stream of your spirits turned towards God: otherwise, all your hopes of being saved are quite taken away. There is no possibility of your salvation, till your carnal earthly hearts be changed. Consider and believe it, there are but these two things; either a change of heart, or ruin. And therefore labour, I say, to have the course of your thoughts turned about, and directed forthwith towards God, without any more delay.
And in order to this, you must in the first place endeavour to get a right and distinct knowledge of God; otherwise you can never think rightly of him. Study his word; labour to know what is there discovered of his justice, righteousness, holiness, and power; of his goodness, and his love. Take in the whole compass of the discovery of God, to make up the object of your thoughts; otherwise you do nothing; your thoughts will pitch upon some other thing, besides God. If you take in but part of the attributes of God, that is not God. It will be some idle fancy that you take in, and not God, if your thoughts are not so comprehensive as to take in the whole discovery of God in those several attributes, by which he makes himself known.
And then in the next place you must labour to have a work of sanctification, and regeneration, wrought upon your own hearts. As there must be a right stating of the object, so there must be a right framing of the subject too; otherwise it will be to no purpose. If there be not a change wrought in the very inward of your souls, so as that your hearts be turned towards God; to love, and delight in him, with all your soul, and strength; alas! your thoughts of God will not be voluntary, but forced: they will never be free, pleasant, and delightful. And therefore you must often go to God, and cry to him, and say; “Lord, I see my thoughts run from thee! I cannot think of God at any time with pleasantness. Sanctify this heart! turn it to thyself! else I am lost, and shall be turned into hell.” Cry thus unto God mightily, and incessantly, till you find such a work done upon your souls; for that is the only thing that will procure a freedom, and facility of thoughts, towards God: those holy, pleasant and delightful thoughts of which a sanctified heart will be a continual spring and fountain.
And to press all this, I will deal plainly with you. If the 369case be thus; if your hearts are not turned, and changed, that you may have such thoughts of God as we have been speaking of, there is no avoiding the misery threatened in the text; but there must of necessity be an expectation shortly of being turned into hell. That must certainly be the portion of those persons that forget God. And is that a thing easy and tolerable to your thoughts? Ts it easy and tolerable to you to think of being sent into that place of torment, without remedy, and without hope? merely upon this account, because you would needs live without God in the world; and would never have your hearts brought towards him? Many deceive themselves with the opinion of a tolerable hell; and therefore, such a consideration hath no force upon their spirits in the least. But think upon it a little, think what hell is! Why, it is that place of torment, that God himself hath ordained for the punishment of wickedness and transgression against him. He himself is the Author of that state, and of that torment that doth belong unto it. It proceeds from almighty power, omnipotent wrath and justice. And is that, think you, a tolerable thing? That “Tophet (the hell which the text speaks of) is ordained of old—the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone doth kindle it.” Isai. xxx. 33. Is this, think you then, a slight matter, for a man thus to hurry and throw away his soul? thus to suffer himself to run into this hell and destruction, and merely because he would live without God; slight, despise, and turn God out of his heart and soul, while he is here in the world? Hell is appointed and prepared by God, in order to that just revenge that he must take; and will take upon all those wicked transgressors, that have their hearts thus hardened, and shut up against him. Alas! that is a dreadful thing to think of. Revenge! the revenge of a God! that the eternal and almighty God should design such a thing, as the avenging of himself in such a way upon wicked men! O what heart, that is not made of stone or a rock, can choose but tremble? To think, “I shall shortly be subject unto the wrath of God, because I have forgotten him, and have lived without him in the world; unless my heart be wrought upon, and turned to him as the God of my life;” how dreadful is this! Let me then recommend to you, in the close, that one scripture, partly touched on before, which is at the end of the fiftieth psalm. “Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.” Psal. l. 22. What! are those who forget God, wicked persons? must wicked persons be turned into hell? is this hell, 370 and is this place appointed for the torment of such wretches, by the eternal and almighty God; that he may take his revenge upon them, for their slighting and neglecting of him, or for what they have done in this world? Why then consider this, all ye that forget God, lest he tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver you. And so much shall suffice to be spoken to this text.371
|« Prev||Sermon XIII. Preached at Brixham, January 23,…||Next »|