« Prev Lecture III. Preached January the 15th, 1692. Next »

LECTURE III.1717   Preached January the 15th, 1692.

But before I proceed further, I think fit to premonish thus much, and declare to you, that I would not, as to these matters be understood to deny every thing that I do not assert about them, nor to assert whatsoever I do not deny: for my design is only to propose to you what is plain, and what is useable and may be improved unto the common purposes of Christianity. There are a great many things besides, that many have concerned themselves to dispute to and fro, which I think it not at all needful or useful to be brought into such discourse.

But now, that the matter last insisted on, may yet be clearer and more plain. If we speak of this natural bodily life, you can very easily understand that that is in any man’s power, it is within the compass of human power that ordinarily men have, for a man to give himself a mortal wound, but, having done so, it is not within the compass of human power to heal him again; and that, in reference to the natural connection between the one of those forementioned things and the other, and in reference to the moral and legal connection that is asserted between them; we may again illustrate it by a resemblance of it to the concernments of this natural bodily life. It is in the power of any one that dares venture to be so far criminal, to deserve death at the hands of the prince and the law, whereas, it may be no way in his power, when he hath done so, to deserve the prince’s pardon and to have his forfeited life given him again. These are things, in themselves plain to any understanding. And now, whereas the text hath plainly told us, that God works all things after the counsel of his own will, this doth manifestly imply, that the determinations must be correspondent to the aptitudes of things, and most especially to the apt agreement which they shall hold with the universal perfection of his own nature. Now it is no blemish to the perfection of the Divine Nature, when things are so and so connected in themselves, naturally and morally, to let things in many instances stand just as in themselves they are. This is no reflection on the divine perfection; that is, where there is a real connection between wickedness and misery, both natural and moral or legal, it is no reflection upon the perfection of the Divine Nature, in many instances to let that connection 167be as it is. And whereas, there is no connection between imperfect faith and holiness, and perfect felicity and blessedness, (there is, in reality, no connection between these) it is no blemish to the divine perfection (if there be really, and if there be in nature, and as yet any other way between these two, no connection) to make one by grace, in what instances he pleaseth; that being done (as the gospel tells us) upon the Redeemer’s account, who it was predetermined should so order the course of his management, even to dying itself, and in dying, that no divine perfection should reluctate or reclaim against such a connection as this; a connection to be made by grace when before it was not, when really it was not, between that imperfect faith and holiness that some should be enabled to in this world and their future felicity and blessedness in the other world. All comes to this sum, that is, that we can both effect and deserve our own death and misery; but we can neither effect nor deserve life and blessedness: that must be owing to divine favour and grace. And the case (as hath been often said) is vastly different in dispensing of punishments and free favours. It being no reflection upon the best government that can be supposed either to inflict deserved punishments, or to dispense undeserved favours. Neither of these can reflect on the best and most perfect government that can be thought. I now go on and add further,

12. That the assertion of a decree of reprobation, antecedent to a decree of condemnation for infidelity and wickedness persisted in to the last, is that which may seem agreeable to the imperfect mind of man; but we cannot be so sure that it will be any way agreeable unto the most perfect mind of God, in which there can be no such thing as first and second, and unto which all things lie open at once, even unto one entire and eternal view. We are very plainly told in Scripture, of some men’s being ordained of old unto condemnation: in that 4th verse of the epistle of Jude, and in the same place we have the characters given us of them that are so: “ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, denying the only Lord God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” We are sure of such a decree as doth doom such, continuing such unto the last, unto condemnation and eternal perdition: but that there should be any decree concerning such, prior to this, that must suppose priority and posteriority in Eternum. But Eternum non patitur novum, there can be no such thing as novity, newness, in eternity. And therefore, being sure there is such a decree as this, and that this decree is eternal, we may be equally sure there can be no decree pre-existent to it; because 168every thing in God is co-eternal to him, and so this decree must be co-eternal unto God himself; and there can be nothing before God. And though it be very true, indeed, that many have taken much pains and given great exercise to their thoughts to assign and fix some certain order of former and latter, to the divine decrees, yet that doth only proceed from the imperfection of their minds; but we are sure it is impossible there can be any such thing as priority and posteriority in the Divine Mind; all things lying open to him at one eternal and entire view at once: so that whensoever he beholds and looks upon the subjects of final misery, he sees their character at the same time, and it cannot be otherwise. And again, I add,

13. That will or decree, or purpose of God by which he doth determine the salvation of any, it is, in the proper time and season, effective of whatsoever is pre-requisite thereunto: that is, if he have decreed he will save such and such, that same will of his is, in the proper season, effective of that faith, of that repentance, of that holiness and of that perseverance which is requisite to their final salvation. But, on the other hand, God’s will to punish any with future misery is not effective of what concurs to that, neither as naturally causing or deserving it. That is sin that doth both, as you have heard; it doth both naturally cause it and deserve it too. And, if you ask here, “What is the reason of the difference; or is there not a parity of reason in both cases, that if his will doth effect what is necessary to the salvation of the one, his will should also effect what is necessary or doth any ways previously concur to the destruction of the other?” The reason of the difference is most manifest upon these two accounts.

(1.) That sin is properly, as such, no effect but a defect, and therefore, it doth not need an effective cause but a defective only. But we will impute nothing of defectiveness to God: that can be found no where but in the creature. And,

(2.) That we can (sure any one may) apprehend it a great deal more congruous and suitable, to the nature and honour of God to make men believing and holy than to make them unbelieving and wicked. We can easily apprehend how well it agrees to the nature of God, and how subservient it is to the glory of God, to make men believing and holy; but no man can ever apprehend it agreeable to his nature, or subservient to his honour, to make men disbelieving and wicked. And therefore, as we make the difference, I cannot but apprehend you see reason enough why we should. And then further, take this,


14. That for these distinct states of blessedness and misery, unto which the will of God doth determine some, and leave others, they are the only states of men hereafter, and there is not a middle state between these two, though there be great intermediate degrees between the highest pitch of felicity and the lowest of misery. There are, I say, very great intermediate degrees, but not a middle state. This proposition hath two parts:—that there is no middle state, and yet—that there are great intermediate degrees, both of blessedness and misery.

(1.) As to the former part, that there is no intermediate or middle state between these two: it cannot, without very great absurdity, be so much as conceived there should be; besides that it is against the most express tenour of Scripture. I need not go about to quote texts to you. Look to the judgment of the great day. Matt. xxv. Men are judged but to two distinct states; all go one of these two ways. And it is unconceivable in itself that there should be a distinct intermediate state: for it would be to suppose that there can be such a thing as an intelligent, reasonable creature, having the use of his faculties, (which death, we have a great deal more reason to apprehend, doth promote rather than hinder,) and neither happy nor miserable. This is an unconceivable thing, equally unconceivable as it would be, that there should be such a creature under a law, under government, (as reasonable creatures even as such, either positive or natural at least,) that should be neither good nor bad, that should neither be obedient nor disobedient, holy nor wicked, and this you know to be an impossible thing. And that is enough as to the former part of the proposition. But then,

(2.) As to the latter part, that there are great intermediate degrees both of happiness and misery, that is plain from most express scriptures. It is less needful to insist upon the degrees of blessedness in the other state, about which the Scripture is plain enough. There will be such a difference as these appears to be of one star differing from another star in glory. 1 Cor. xv. 41. But chiefly as to the differing degrees of misery; nothing is plainer from such passages in Scripture:—“They that know their master’s will, and do it not, shall be beaten with many stripes; they that do it not, not knowing it, with fewer.” Luke xii. 47, 48, “It will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, for Tyre and Sidon, in the clay of judgment, than for Capernaum and Bethsaida, where so much gospel light shone; and where so glorious works were done, to evidence and demonstrate the truth of the gospel.” Matt. xi. 22. 170And there is a sort among them that do perish, which do perish more dreadfully. Such and such, it is said, shall have their portion with hypocrites, (Matt xxiv. 51.) which must be supposed the most fiery, in the worst and hottest hell. God will not lay upon men more than is right, that any should enter into judgment with him, as the expression in Job is. And therefore, we must suppose the case to be vastly different between them that live under the gospel and them that do not. “They that sin without law, shall perish without law;” (Rom. ii. 12.) but with a gentler kind of perdition. But they that sin under the law, that is, under the divine Revelation, for that is the meaning of the law there, supernatural, divine Revelation, they shall be judged by it: not by that light which they have not, or those means of light which they never had, but by those which they have. But whereas, there will be very great degrees of difference in the states of the miserable hereafter, how great that difference will be, that we know not. It is enough that we know it will be very great; and therefore, among them that are miserable, none will be punished unsuitably to the demerit of their own sins. And this ought to have its weight with us, in order to the repressing of undue and hard thoughts concerning the divine proceedings with men in the final judgment: and so, concerning his purposes and determinations before, and from, eternity.

But I think it not necessary to say more to you by way of position; yet, there are sundry things that I shall add by way of caution. As,

1. That we should take heed of being too positive about any of these things, beyond the measure of divine Revelation, or too curious in inquiring, or too contentious in disputing about such matters. Let us labour to lay a restraint upon our spirits as to these things. The matter requires it, and the divine word requires it.

2. Never depart from, nor doubt of, what God hath expressly revealed: in reference to what he hath expressly revealed, let us neither deviate nor doubt; but take heed lest we do. And,

3. Take heed that we do not oppose the secret and revealed will of God to one another, or allow ourselves so much as to imagine an opposition, or contrariety between them. And that ground being once firmly laid and stuck to, as it is impossible that there can be a will against a will in God, or that he can be divided from himself, or against himself, or that he should reveal any thing to us as his will, that is not his will, (it being a thing inconsistent with his nature, and impossible to him to 171lie,) that being, I say, firmly laid, (as nothing can be firmer or surer than that,) then measure all your conceptions of the secret will of God, by his revealed will, about which you may be sure. But never measure your conceptions of his revealed will by his secret will; that is, by what you may imagine concerning that. For you can but imagine, while it is secret, and so far as it is unrevealed.

4. Take heed of exalting any one divine perfection to the depressing of another, which men are too prone to do in their more fervent disputes about these matters. Great heat and zeal appear to vindicate such a particular divine perfection without attending, that at the same time they intrench upon some other. It were very easy to give instances. Some on the one hand are so much for the magnifying of the goodness of God, his love and his justice, (as they think,) that they quite overlook his sovereignty, make nothing of that, but guide their thoughts by such measures, as if they thought, that God was obliged by his goodness, or even by his justice, to do so with his own creatures, whom he hath so freely produced and brought forth into being out of nothing, as they may do with their fellow creatures. As if God were bound to observe the same measures as they do, and had no more power and dominion over the works of his own hands, than they have over one another, who cannot give one another so much as a moment’s breath. And on the other hand, some are so over apt to exalt and magnify the divine sovereignty, that they quite forget to consider him as a wise and righteous and holy and good God; in all these, the best and most perfect of beings, This is quite forgot, and scarce any other notion doth actually obtain; though otherwise these are not denied, are only not denied, but in the mean time they are overlooked; and so hardly any other notion is brought in view, or upon the stage concerning God, than as of an almighty will, quite against the manifest scope and current of the Scripture every where, which makes all excellencies to be in him, and magnifies his wisdom, and his righteousness, and his love and goodness, at so high a rate, as you know. But to suppose the Divine Nature to consist but in an omnipotent will, not guided by wisdom and counsel, as the text speaks, “He doth all things according to the counsel of his own will:” is the strangest and most unshapen notion of God; and, in the tendency of it, most destructive to religion that can be conceived. It tends, indeed, to engenerate in the minds of men, a certain dread and horror: but is that the affection that is to influence religion, and to animate our worship? There can be no worship that doth not proceed 172from a dutiful reverential love: and agreeable hereunto, must be still our notions of God. Heathens themselves that speak at so high a rate (some of them) of the divine excellencies, and particularly of his goodness, exalting that far above his power, and above his knowledge, and above his wisdom; yet they, at the same time, say of him, “He is an impartial law;” and they comprehend in that, both goodness and righteousness, according to the strict measures whereof he manageth the whole course of his dispensations towards his creatures, and cannot but do so. He is a law that equally inclines every way, an impartial law he is to himself in all his dispensations. And indeed, such love and goodness in a ruler, as should include in it an insensibleness of injuries and indignities, and affronts, it were stupidity; it were inconsistent with the proper governing qualifications which are requisite in any ruler whatsoever. And again,

5. Take this further by way of caution: Let us take very great heed that we do not, in reference to these things, so magnify human perfection as to depress divine; for that, in this affair, too many are apt to do; that is, to ascribe so much to the reason and will of man, as to detract most injuriously from the counsel of the will of God. Some think they know not how to solve the difficulties in these affairs, without ascribing greatly and highly to the reason and will of man. And all ought to be ascribed thereunto that is due; that is, so much as doth render a man a governable creature, capable of being bound by a law, and of being dealt with in the way of moral government. So much must be ascribed and ought to be so. It would be otherwise, as fit and congruous to have given laws, and assigned rewards and punishments to beasts and trees, as men, if we do not preserve the apprehension of man’s capacity to be the subject of government, by reason and will, wherewith God hath endowed his nature. But to think that the reason and will of man are, of themselves, enough to enable him to all that is requisite to his future felicity, is to make a god of him, instead of a man, and to put him into his Maker’s throne, to give him a self-sufficiency, as if he had enough in himself to do all things. And this, indeed, is so to magnify the reason and will of man, as upon the matter to nullify the counsel of the divine will in reference unto him; by which we find the methods are described and set, in which he is to expect continual aids and assistances, as being of himself, without them, able to do nothing. And,

6. Take heed, hereupon, of being tempted to take up with a spiritless religion, that shall be only a human product, the effect 173only of a man’s own power. Take heed of taking up such a repentance, and such a faith, and such an obedience as the power of man is sufficient for: that will certainly lurch men at last. That repentance, and that faith, and that holiness, (if any other were to have the names,) which is not produced by the Divine Spirit, but is short of that, must needs leave men short of heaven and eternal glory; unless you would suppose it possible to a man to be his own Saviour out of such a gulf of sin and misery as men are sunk into.

7. Take heed of admitting any distrustful thoughts, that God will not be always ready to afford his communicated, superadded light and influence to those that see and acknowledge their own impotency and nothingness. Such as see themselves lost, and unable to help themselves, and that, from a sense of indigency and want, cry for his Spirit (even as for bread) to enlighten them and empower them, and enable them to do his will, to comply with his call, and come up to his terms of life and blessedness: take heed of ever admitting a distrustful thought concerning his readiness to impart and communicate to such. He will give his Spirit to them that ask him; when he is considerately asked and sought to: not formally, not slightly, not in words of course; but as feeling our own blindness and darkness and deadness and impotency: or where there is not, as yet, the light of a saint, there is that of a man, and that is to be improved and made use of, in order to our higher light, and if there be that self reflection to which God hath given to every man a natural ability, much more may be known than usually is. It belongs to the nature of man to turn his eyes inwards. The mind of a man (like the sun can only project its beams and cast them about this way and that, and every way,) the mind of a man, I say, as an intellectual sun, can turn its beams inward upon itself and take cognizance of what is done within him; and what dispositions and indispositions are within. Men can reflect and consider this with themselves: “Have not I an aversion towards God? have not worldly concernments and affairs, by the natural inclination of my own mind, a greater room and place there than heaven and the things of heaven? are not other thoughts more grateful? and have they not a more pleasant relish with me than the thoughts of God?” Men, I say, are capable of using such reflections as these. And thereupon, of considering, “This can never be well with me: if there remain with me an habitual aversion to God, who must be my best and eternal good, I cannot but he eternally miserable: if I cannot think of him, and converse with him with inclination and pleasure, I am lost. If my blessedness 174lie above, in another world, and my mind is earned continually downward towards this world, I must have a heart at tempered to heaven, or t can never come there. Well then let me try if I can change the habit of my own mind, make the attempt, make the trial.” The more you attempt and try, the more you will find that of yourselves you cannot; you can do nothing of yourselves, you do but lift at a heavy log, you at tempt to move a mountain upwards, when you would lift at your own terrene hearts. Then, is this consideration obvious, “I must have help from heaven, or I shall never come there.” Therefore, fall a seeking, fall a supplicating, as one that apprehends himself in danger to perish and be lost, if he have not another heart, a believing heart, a holy heart, a heavenly heart. God will in this case give his Spirit; and of that, you are not to despair by any means. Take heed therefore, of setting the imagination of a secret will of God not to give his Spirit, against his plain and most expressly revealed will, that he will give his Spirit to them that ask it, that is, that do considerately ask it, as apprehending the state of their case; not ask it slightly and in mockery, so as that the manner of their asking to have the Divine Spirit given should imply a contempt of the gift at the same time.

« Prev Lecture III. Preached January the 15th, 1692. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |