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In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who
worketh all things after the counsel
of his own will.
HAVING discoursed to you, what I thought requisite, concerning the attributes and perfections of the Divine Being, we now come, according to the order of discourse, to speak to you of the Divine Decrees. I choose to call them by that name, because, by divines, they are usually so called; though according to the more ordinary use of that word in Scripture, it more frequently signifies public laws or edicts, whether human or divine, than private and secret purposes. And so in common speech too, and other writings, nothing is more usual than to call the constitutions of states and princes, decreta. But however, the word being so explained, to signify a secret purpose, antecedent to any manifestation, it may then fitly enough be so used; and in that sense, it is generally understood by divines, treating on the head of religion.
And upon this subject, my design is not to speak to every thing that is disputed in the schools about it; but only what may be requisite, and sufficient unto the common faith and practice of Christians. Nor shall I need to lay down any other doctrine, than the very words of the text, that—God “worketh 142all things, according to the counsel of his own will,”—wherein you do see, there are several particulars to be considered. There is,
1. The final term of all God’s works, that wherein they do directly terminate, All things.
2. There is his working itself, tending towards that term, he worketh all things.
3. There is his purpose and volition of all that he worketh, called his will. And
4. There is the supreme measure of all those volitions or acts of his will, and so of his subsequent actions, and that of his counsel. He worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will.
I shall speak briefly to each of these, but most largely to that which is our most proper subject, with reference to the purpose for which we have chosen to insist upon these words, that is, the will of God; not merely the faculty, but the acts of his will. But we shall briefly go over the several particulars already mentioned.
1. For the things wherein the acts willed by him, do finally terminate, which we are told are all things, and that universality may be understood two ways, either relatively, in reference to those works that do terminate in these things; as if he said, all things that he works, he works according to the counsel of his will. Or else, also, it may be understood absolutely and simply, there being simply nothing at all, unto which his agency, one way or other, extends not: though not to every thing in the same way; as there will be occasion to shew hereafter.
2. For his working that terminates in these things, that is, in all things; it is emphatically expressed in the text; the word is ενεργουντος, in-acting, or in-working all things. It shews the peculiar kind of the divine agency, such as nothing can exclude, and nothing can disappoint. And then,
3. There is his will itself, which must be looked upon as the immediate source of all these operations of his. And that we shall consider, not only as it is the measure of all his actings, but as it is self-measured by that counsel, that lies in his eternal and all-comprehending mind, which is the fourth particular in order, that we have briefly to consider. And touching that,
4. We must know, that it cannot be understood in the same sense with God, and with men, as indeed nothing can that comes under the same name with him and with us; for nothing can be absolutely common between God and the creature; or have precisely the same common notion: there cannot but be infinite difference, always, between whatsoever is finite, and that 143which is infinite. Counsel with men imports imperfection; it signifies that we have not suddenly a perspection of the reason, and aptitudes of things, what it is fit for us to resolve, and not to resolve! and do, or not to do. And thereupon we deliberate, and arrive more slowly and by degrees from a more indistinct perception of the reason of things, to a clearer and more distinct perception of them, With God, it cannot be so, before whose all-seeing eye, all things lie in their aptitudes and correspondencies at one view; so as he doth not see things be cause they are connected with one another, so as to proceed from the knowledge of things that are more clear, to the knowledge of things that are more obscure; all things being equally clear and equally present, to his eye and to his view. But by way of analogy, that which is effected by counsel among men in the way of consultation, debate of things with themselves, continued discourse, reasonings and arguings of matters in their own minds to and fro, that, which with men hereupon is called judgment, counsel, hath the same name given it with him also. Not that it signifies the same, but that most perfect judgment of things, which is indeed the highest and most exquisite wisdom, which he hath eternally and all at once, when we do arrive to the like by steps. And so according to that perfect perception, that he hath of the reason of things, and their aptitudes and correspondencies to one another, and to his creatures, and to him, so accordingly he wills, and accordingly he doth.
And this counsel of his, it may be taken two ways, either 1st. As it is internal, lying only in his own mind: or else 2nd. As it hath an after manifestation, as many of those things which lay from eternity, and through many successions of ages of time, secret in his own mind have, and do come to be revealed and made manifest more or less, and in such degrees as to him hath seemed fit. In that latter sense, counsel is taken frequently in Scripture, even when it is spoken of God, as these phrases do plainly signify, “If they had stood in my counsel. They despised all my counsel, and set at nought my reproofs. I have declared to you the whole counsel of God.” Jer. xxiii. 22. Pro. i. 30. Acts xx. 27.
But here, it must be understood to signify counsel as it is secret, as lying in his own eternal mind, and as it is, thereupon, the measure of all the purposes of his will, and of all he subsequently doth, and hath done, in the creation and continual government of this world. In that latter sense, counsel is, even among men, correspondency in that acceptation of it with God, put for certain, established laws, and constitutions, and even as 144decrees are. Thus, with the Romans, many constitutions of theirs are known to go under the name of senatus consulta, that is, things consulted of, and agreed upon, by the governing power among them. But this is not the sense that it is to be taken in here, for notwithstanding much of the counsel of God be manifested, we are to consider it now as antecedent to any such manifestations: and thereupon, to return to that which is our more principal subject, his will, according to such counsel, “He works all things after the counsel of his own will;” according to that counsel which doth (as it were) guide and measure all the determinations and purposes of his just and holy will. We are not to understand, that the divine will here signifies the faculty of will, abstractly and precisely, but as comprehending the acts, the volitions, the determinations and purposes of the divine will, that which is commonly meant by the word decrees. And so, concerning the will of God and the purposes thereof, I shall first give you some distinctions, and then, secondly, lay down what I conceive necessary to be said concerning this subject in certain propositions.
First. There are sundry distinctions of the divine will, which it may be fit to take some notice of: and some of them will be of great use to us.
1. There are, who distinguish the will of God into antecedent and consequent. But I know no ground for that distinction, there being no first or last with him, or former or lat ter, as we shall have occasion further to shew.
2. Again, some distinguish it into absolute and conditional; but certainly, it is over bold to feign any such distinction as that, of the divine will, properly so called; it is indeed agreed on all hands that there are conditions of the things willed, but there can be none of the will itself concerning those things; the faculty and act of the will not being distinguishable in God, as they are in us; for he is a pure act: and to suppose there can be a condition of the will itself in God, is to suppose a conditional Deity and so, consequently, a contingent one, and so, consequently, none at all.
3. Again, some do more truly distinguish the divine will into that which is bene placite, and that which is signi. And for the former member of that distinction, it is most unexceptionable and scriptural: good pleasure, and the good pleasure of his will, we read of again and again in this very context, as well as many. times besides in Scripture. But for the other member of the description, it is too obscure for common use; and will require more explication than is proper for this place.
4. It is again distinguishable into his objective and active 145will, or his will objectively taken and actively taken, so the thing willed is often called the will of God: as when we pray, “Thy will be done,” that is, the thing that thou hast willed. And so that of the apostle, in the Acts, “The will of the Lord be done,” and that of our Saviour, “he that doth the will of my Father,” and the like. This is the will of God taken objectively, or for the thing willed. But then, it is taken also actively, as it signifies his volition itself, the purpose and determination, of his will; and so it must be taken here.
5. It is again distinguishable into secret and revealed; a very useful and necessary distinction. His will, as it lies concealed within himself, and the same will, in many things made at length known and extant to the world, subjected to the common notice of men; that is, in such things as it concerns them to know and be acquainted with.
6. Others distinguish it into decretive and legislative, which is a very proper distinction too, if we take decretive in the fore-explained sense; otherwise, it falls in with the legislative, and is the same thing.
7. Others distinguish it into the will of purpose and the will of precept, which is a true distinction too. Only, that latter member is not extensive enough; for there are many things which, in the compass of God’s revealed will, are necessary for us to know; and even within the compass of his legislative will, besides bare precept; but not in all respects. His will concerns what he will do himself, and it also concerns what he will have us to do. But it is his will concerning his own actions, concerning his own works, of which the text speaks: “He worketh all things,” that is, his own works, “after the. counsel of his own will.” And as it doth concern his own works, it may concern them diversely: that is, either such works of his as he designs to do immediately, and apart from us, or such works of his as have a reference to works of ours, wherein he is to work with us, or wherein he is to work, (as in some instances) after us; that is, in those great instances of rewarding and punishing. These works of his come after ours, though the will of them is eternal before. Again,
8. His will is to be distinguished into effective and permissive: his will to effect whatsoever he thinks fit for him to effect; and his will to permit whatsoever he thinks fit to permit, or not to hinder, while what he so wills, or determines so to permit, he intends also to regulate, and not to behold as an idle unconcerned spectator, but to dispose all those permissa unto wise and great ends of his own.
These useful distinctions (as there are divers of them) given, I shall now proceed,146
Secondly. To lay down, in divers propositions, what is requisite for us to understand and believe, concerning this matter, of God’s purpose, by his counsel, in reference to the things which he works among his creatures, and some of these propositions will be more general, and fundamental unto some others, which shall be (God willing) more particular. But for the more general propositions you may take such as these:
1. That all the purposes of the divine will are co-eternal. There can be no such thing as a new will in God; for there is nothing in God, that is not God; and nothing of God can begin de novo: for that were to suppose a new Deity. And here upon, there can be no place for dispute about the priority or posteriority of this or that purpose of God; they must be all simultaneous, all at once, in one and the same eternal view, according to that clear and distinct and all-comprehending prospect that he hath of all things, eternally before his eyes. And though it be true, indeed, that we are constrained to conceive of things; (because we cannot conceive them all at once as he doth,) by first and second, former and latter, and to consider of a natural priority and posteriority, where there is no such thing in real existence; I say, though we are constrained so to do, (which is a thing owing to the imperfection of our minds,) yet, we must take heed of building upon our own foundation, schemes and models of the divine decrees, as a great many have perplexed themselves in doing: and wherein we can determine nothing, but with the greatest uncertainty imaginable, nor, indeed, without too great presumption, bringing down the Deity to our human measures and models, and forms of conception. Again,
2. We must take this proposition concerning the will and purposes of God, that they do always connect together means and ends: that is, supposing he hath willed and determined such an end, we must, accordingly, suppose he hath determined with himself the way or means, by which he will bring that end about; supposing it to be a thing to be done immediately: as those things are to be done, and in the same way wherein they are to be brought about, in the same way we must understand he hath determined to bring them about. As when he did in tend to preserve David at Keilah, he did also determine he should not stay there, knowing that if he did, the inhabitants would have given him up to Saul, as you may read it was determined, upon David’s inquiry, 1 Sam. xxiii. So when he determined to save the life of Paul, and all his companions, and fellow passengers in the ship, where they were in so much jeopardy and danger, he did also determine that the mariners should not go away, for the apostle saith expressly, “If these 147go away we cannot he saved,” after he had expressly, from God, told them, that not a hair of any of their heads should fall to the ground. And therefore, we are not to suppose that he doth determine an end to be brought about by means, but he doth also determine and ascertain the means by which it shall be brought about: so that if he intend any of us to live to such a term of time, he never intends that, and intends at the same time to let us, several years before, starve ourselves, poison or stab ourselves. But determining the end, he also determines those means by which he intends to bring about that end: he intends to bring it about in such a way: that is, in a mediate way.
3. The purposes of God, and his foreknowledge are in some sort commensurate: taking foreknowledge in the proper sense, foreknowledge doth refer to futurity, as knowledge more abstractly taken, doth to all beings actual and possible; all possibilities come within the compass of divine knowledge: but of his foreknowledge, only futurities, or what shall be. And as to these, his purpose and foreknowledge are some way commensurate, that is, whatsoever he foreknows shall be, he either purposeth to effect, or he purposeth not to hinder it. And again,
4. Whatsoever God doth actually bring to pass, that we may conclude he did purpose to bring to pass. Whatsoever he doth, he did purpose to do; for he doth nothing against his will, or without his will: and he can have no new will, as was told you before, and as it is plain in itself. Therefore, whatsoever he actually doth, he did always eternally purpose to do.
5. Whatsoever he actually permits, he did never purpose to hinder. There must be a correspondency between his purpose as to permissa, things that are permitted by him, and the things permitted, as there is with reference to effecta; between his purpose, and the thing that he effects. Again further.
6. Whatsoever God might, righteously and consistently with all the other attributes and perfections of his being, effect and do, or permit and surfer, that he might righteously resolve and purpose to do, and resolve and purpose to permit and not to hinder. Whatsoever it is that is consistent with his wisdom, holiness and goodness, actually to do, it is equally consistent with his wisdom, and with his righteousness, and with his goodness, to purpose to do, even from eternity. And whatsoever was consistent with his wisdom, and righteousness, and goodness to permit it and not to hinder, it is equally consistent with his wisdom, righteousness and goodness, to purpose not 148to hinder it; and so, to have a permissive decree concerning it, if he saw meet and fit to do it. And,
7 Whatsoever, in respect to God’s actions and purposes, would imply any thing of imperfection, we must sever and remove from him; whatsoever would imply perfection, we must assert and ascribe to him. Hereupon, if it would be a plain, manifest imperfection to act incogitantly, unadvisedly, or to do unintended things, as it were casually and at random, without a foregoing intention or purpose; if that, I say, would be an imperfection, we ought most carefully to sever it from God, and never think it possible for him to act so; that is, incogitantly, unadvisedly, without any foregoing intention or purpose; and if it be a perfection, to act according to wisdom, and counsel, and judgment, and steady purpose, we must by all means assert it concerning God, and ascribe it to him in reference to all his purposes and actions.
These are general propositions that do lay some foundation for more particular ones, which are to follow. And herein, though it is very true, that God hath his purposes and decrees concerning all things: “He worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will.” yet, we shall more especially consider his purposes concerning men. You know, that must be our business: and therein too, though he hath purposes and decrees concerning all the actions of men, whether personally considered, or considered as members of a community, lesser or larger, civil or ecclesiastical, concerning churches, concerning states and kingdoms, their successions, their rises, their continuance, their periods; though he have, I say, purposes concerning all these, and all within the compass of the text, “He worketh all things after the counsel of his own will,” yet, I shall chiefly keep my discourse to those purposes that concern our spiritual and eternal state. And so shall lay down briefly the other and particular propositions. As,
1. That God did, undoubtedly, purpose to make such a world as this, for we find he hath made it; and he doth nothing that he did not purpose to do.
2. He did purpose to make such a creature as man, and place him here; for we also find, so he hath done.
3. He did purpose to create man in an innocent state, and proportionably good and happy unto the innocency and purity in which he did create him. For his word tells us, that he did create him so. He “made man upright.” And it gives us an account of the circumstances of his condition when he made him, though briefly, yet as far as was necessary. And,149
4. He did not purpose to confirm him at first in that good state wherein he made him, so as to make it impossible for him to fall; for we find he did fall, and is in a lapsed state: therefore, it was purposed that his fall should not be prevented, that it should not be hindered: though none doubt, but that he that made man, could have made him as well impeccable, without any possibility of sinning, as he did make him sinless at present, without any thing of depravedness by sin.
5. It is evident, God did not purpose to leave fallen man to perish universally in his apostate, fallen state: for we hear of, and know, the methods and appointed means for the recovery and salvation of fallen creatures, of fallen men, which are offered to our view in the word of God.
6. He did decree or purpose to send his own Son to be a Redeemer and Saviour unto lost and perishing creatures, to be born, to live in this world, to die in pursuance of that reconciling design, and to overcome death; and in his resurrection and conquest over death, to erect a kingdom into which he would collect, as the voluntary subjects of it, all those that should resign and yield themselves to him, put themselves under his governing power, and submit themselves to his saving mercy, at once. And the substance of this we have given us as the matter of a divine decree, in that psalm ii. 7. “I will declare the decree. The Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” Very true it is, that that is not directly meant of the nativity of our Lord: we find the apostle expounds it otherwise, Acts xiii. 33.) “We declare to you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made to our fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the 2d psalm,” (the most express quotation in the New Testament out of the Old) “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee: and as concerning that he raised him from the dead now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David.” It was in pursuance of a divine, eternal purpose and decree, that this was said, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee:” that is, when he raised him from the dead, when he begot him again out of the grave, and by that glorious regeneration, he did then put upon him that high and excellent title (that was fundamental to the other glorious one that did ensue thereupon) “The first-begotten from the dead: the Prince of the kings of the earth.” Rev. i. 5. But yet, though that be not the thing directly there spoken of, as the matter of the divine decree, God’s first bringing him into this world, yet, that being 150the matter of a divine decree, (to wit) his dying, and his conquering death, and being begotten (as it were) a second time, or I may say a third time out of the grave, out of the womb, as his goings forth from eternity in respect of his Deity, and as he was, as man, at first brought out of the womb of the virgin, yet, even that earlier parturition must be supposed here, to have been the matter of a divine purpose and decree too. And so other scriptures do speak of the whole complex of this matter, as falling under a divine purpose. “That he verily was foreordained,” (as Acts ii. 23.—1 Pet. i. 20. and onwards) foreordained to every thing he did, and foreordained to every thing he suffered, in pursuance of that great saving design and errand upon which it was determined he should come into this world. And this is that which the context here doth more specially lead us to insist upon. For when the apostle speaks of God doing all things according to the counsel of his own will, he tells us more distinctly what that counsel of his will did concern, and that is in the foregoing verse: “That, in the dispensation of the fulness of time, he might gather together in one, all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are in earth, even in him.” This was the great thing that lay, as the substratum in the divine counsel, to collect and gather all things in Christ, to constitute him as supreme and universal Head to this creation. And whereas, all things were shattered and broken in the apostasy, there was now to be a recapitulation, and gathering all things under one head again, as you see in the close of the chapter. “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” And this, that was primarily here designed in this, context, is that which God hath done according to the counsel of his will. “He doth all things after the counsel of his own will;” but this peculiarly, the sending of his Son into this world and the establishing of him as the Prince of those reduced from the state of apostasy. As the great destroyer of souls was the prince of the apostasy, the head of the apostate world, upon which account he is called “the God of this world.” (2 Cor. iv. 4.) and “the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience,’’ so was our blessed Lord to be the head of that community that should be collected and gathered out of this world. And this was the great mystery of his will, which he purposed in himself, as the foregoing context is, “In the dispensation of the fulness of time” (by the Christian economy, that is the word there used for dispensation) to collect and gather, all under this one glorious head; to recover a people, and raise up a 151glorious structure, a church, out of a ruining and perishing world, by the Son and eternal God, who was made, in pursuance of this design, the universal Head, also Head over all things, but with special reference to his church. And so was this the matter of divine pleasure; to do this thing in the fulness of time, according as we find in Gal. iv. 4. “In the fulness of time, God sent his Son, born of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that are under the law: that we might receive the adoption of sons.” And as this is the most undoubted matter of divine purpose and decree, so it ought to be the matter of the highest joy and rejoicing; greater than can be expressed by an annual solemnity; such as should run through our lives, and be the matter of every day’s rejoicing with us, according to what the first report of this glorious work was, when the womb of divine counsel did teem, and bring forth this glorious birth; when he brought forth the first be gotten, into the world, he saith, “Let all the angels of God worship him:” and they did publish the joyful proclamation of it from heaven, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace good will towards men:” the greatest indication of divine good will, and the most significant that ever was known, or ever could be thought, that is, that when men had severed themselves from God, cut themselves off from him; and the world was sunk into a universal oblivion of him, destitute of all inclination towards him, and all interest in him, unapt to make any inquiries after him, or to say “Where is our God, our Maker?” that they should be so surprisingly told of Emmanuel, God with us: that God should so strangely descend, put on man, be manifested in the flesh, there was the greatest mystery of Godliness, that ought to fill heaven and earth with joy and with wonder. For when something like this was apprehended, but upon mistake, in what transports were these pagans! “The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.” Acts xiv. 11 And presently they offer at sacrificing. What matter of joy and wonder then, that the glorious, eternal Son of God, should make that descent, that kind descent, into this world of ours! Because we were partakers of flesh and blood, he himself likewise, takes part with us of the same: (Heb. ii. 14.) and because we dwelt in fleshly tabernacles, he himself resolved to erect a tabernacle like one of ours: “The word was made flesh, and dwelt among us:” (John i. 14.) did tabernacle among us is the expression: this being, as it were, his very sense in this vouchsafement and undertaking: “There is a company of poor creatures that dwell in flesh, or buried in it, rather than do dwell in it, and their flesh is more their grave 152than their mansion; well! because they are partakers of flesh and blood, and have tabernacles made of flesh, “I will go and set my tabernacle by theirs, they dwell in fleshly tents, and I will go and dwell in such a tent among them.” The Son of God was made flesh, did dwell and tabernacle among us in such flesh as we inhabit, excepting the impurity and sinfulness of it, O! what matter of glory and exultation is this! How full of triumph should it fill the souls of men, that such a hope should arise to them, even as a resurrection from the dead! Now we see that God’s kindness towards the children of men, is not shut up in everlasting oblivion; it is not suspended from any further exercise for ever; what a glorious instance of it is here!
But as this is matter of highest joy, it ought to be matter of purest joy too. And there is not a little caution requisite in this case. The numerous appearance here this day signifies to me, that there is a great propension to keep on foot an annual solemnity upon this account: and as this is expressive of a disposition to rejoice, or to somewhat of rejoicing, I pray take these cautions in reference to it,—that it be not ignorant rejoicing, that it be not carnal rejoicing, and above all, that it be not wicked rejoicing, more grossly and more sensually wicked.
(1.) Let it not be ignorant rejoicing. Rejoice we may, and must, in such a thing, that according to divine purpose and decree, Christ came into the world, and the Son of God became man, that he might become a sacrifice, and that there upon he might become a glorious King. To rejoice in this abstractly, that Christ was once born into this world, without understanding or ever desiring to understand what he was thus born for; what was the end of this manifestation and appearance of him in human flesh; this doth unbecome men, and much more doth it unbecome christians, it being to rejoice for they know not what. For what is it to us, if we abstract from the ends of the incarnation of the Son of God? if we subject not to the proper ends of it? What is it to us that Christ lived here on earth, somewhat above sixteen hundred years ago, and to rejoice in that he did so, without considering and understanding what it was for, upon what account it was, and with what design? This, I say, is but the joy of a fool: to rejoice in that, the true reason whereof, our own gross and voluntary ignorance hides from us; to rejoice when we hear that he came as a Saviour, without considering what he was to save us from, (though we are told at the same time,) when we hear of his being called Emmanuel, God with us, of his 153being called Jesus (Matt. i latter end) because he should save his people from their sins; to rejoice in Christ, even as an incarnate Saviour, without any thoughts of this, that I am to be saved by him, from that which made the distance, and continues the distance between God and me: I am to be saved by him from the impurities of my own heart and nature; I am to be saved by him from the vile carnality that hath depressed and sunk my soul so as never to mind God, never to desire after him, never to delight in him, to have inclinations to pray to him: I say, to rejoice ignorantly in these respects, is to rejoice presumptuously, for we know not what, and over confidently, against the direction and instruction given to us in that second psalm. Because God hath declared the decree concerning him, “Thou art my Son.” and hath set him as his King upon his holy hill of Zion; and hath resolved to subdue the nations under him, and give him the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession, therefore to serve this mighty King with fear, and rejoice before him with trembling, that is the instruction that is given us. There is a pure and holy Deity hath become incarnate, the Son of God became, here, a God amongst us, with that resolution, not to bear with the wickedness of the world, and let men run on in their old and wonted course; but to revive God’s memorial and the awe and fear of him in the hearts of men; and not to let men live prayerless lives, as they did, and without God in the world as they did; here was his great design. But now to rejoice in, Christ’s having been born into the world, without ever considering the design of it: this is not only mean and brutish, but Insolent and presumptuous, to rejoice in the thoughts of so sacred and great a thing as this, without having hearts touched and impressed with the apprehension of the pure and holy end of it. And,
(2.) Take heed of rejoicing carnally, with such a kind of joy as shall be exclusive of, or that shall exclude, that spiritual sense we ought to have of so high and mighty an under taking and intendment as this. How vain and how grossly incongruous and absurd is it to say, that because the Son of God came into this world upon such a design as you have heard, “Therefore, let us eat and drink and be merry, therefore, let us pamper and adorn this flesh;” forgetting that it is inhabited (even this mortal flesh) by an immortal spirit, and forgetting that even this flesh of ours is claimed and challenged to be a temple for the Holy Ghost, and therein made conformed to the flesh of Christ, which is itself such a Temple, and the mo del according to which, all Christian, temples, that is, a temple in a temple, in every Christian, ought to be formed. “Know 154ye not.” saith the apostle, “that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost?” (1 Cor. vi. 19.) and they are to be indulged and cared for accordingly. Christ speaks it of his own body, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days!” As he was, even in his human nature, and in his body, a Temple of the living God, so is every Christian to be; and therefore, are these bodies of ours to be cared for in subserviency to this design. This body of mine, it is to be the living, animated temple of the Divine, Living Spirit. And what! is it then to be indulged, to be pampered, to be adorned with a fine dress, and is this all that I am to design concerning it? I am to design in it conformity to the great Original Temple, the Son of God. But to rejoice with such a sort of festivity as is only grateful to carnal and fleshly inclination, without any thought of being recovered and brought back to God by this Christ, of having my soul refined, and body and soul made meet to glorify the great God whose they both are: to joy without any thought of this, (I say) looks more like a pagan than a christian; and is much more suitable to the paganish than the Christian state. It ought to be considered, Christ took our flesh to make us partakers of his Spirit; he took our nature to make us partakers of his divine nature, escaping the corruptions that are in this world through lust: and to please ourselves in the thoughts of Christ having been born, without any thought of this, is such a carnality as affronts the very pretence that we make of rejoicing in the thoughts of it, that the Son of God did descend and come down to associate himself, and dwell among the sons of men in this world, and to suffer for them, and so to prepare them to dwell with God in the other world.
(3.) But lastly, Take heed of such a kind of rejoicing as is more grossly and sensually wicked, even in itself and in its own nature: that is, to make the season when we, uncertainly, apprehend Christ to have been born into this world, the season of letting loose to all manner of looseness and debauchery, in direct contradiction to, and defiance of, the design of his coming: that is, when we know the Son of God was manifest to take away sin, and to destroy the works of the devil; as the expressions are, (1 John iii. 5, 8.) that we should make it our business to indulge and fulfil those very lusts which he came to destroy and dissolve and make cease out of (he world; what an affront is this to him whose memorial we pretend to celebrate! That is to make that which we imagine to be the day of his birth, to be the day of his most ignominious death, by crucifying afresh to ourselves the Son of God, and putting him to 155open shame, as if we would proclaim to the world, that the design of the Son of God’s descent into it, was to give men the liberty of being safely wicked, that they might throw oft all restraint, and without any fear or dread of what should follow, abandon themselves to all manner of wickedness, to fulfil the impure lusts of a corrupt, depraved nature, till sin, being finished, should end in eternal death: and so make the Christian religion an inconsistency with itself, and to represent the matter, as if Christ came into the world, not to make men christians, but to exempt them from being so; and not to destroy sin out of the world, but to exclude and shut out Christianity, As if he came into the world that there might never be any such thing as Christianity in it, that he might bring it about, that men might, with safety and impunity, live in the highest rebellion against the very laws of that Christ by whom they pretend to expect salvation.
But this is one great thing which we see lies under divine purpose and decree, according to the counsel of his will, the sending of his Son into the world to be a Redeemer and Saviour of sinners, by living among them, dying for them, conquering death, ascending to heaven, and erecting that kingdom by which he is to govern the redeemed community unto everlasting life. And by how much the more apparently this was matter of divine purpose according to eternal counsel, so much the higher and more dreadful wickedness must it needs be, to indulge in ourselves such a disposition of spirit, or so to shape our course that both shall lie counter to the divine counsels in all this. That is, when Christ did not come into the world by accident, but by design and by purpose, according to the wisest counsel, and eternal and most stable counsel, we should set ourselves, as much as in us is, to overturn the whole frame of that divine and eternal counsel of heaven; that is, that it shall never take place with me, “I will never be subject to him, I will never know him, never come into union with him, never resign up myself unto him; I will be mine own still, and live still at the utmost distance from God and defiance of him.” By how much the more apparent this was the product of the divine will according to counsel, so more fearful and horrid must be the wickedness that stands in direct opposition thereto.156
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