|« Prev||Lecture IV. Preached January 22, 1692.||Next »|
And I will add, further, to this caution, that we take very great heed that we do not remit either our diligence, or our hope, in reference to the affairs of our salvation, upon the supposition of any divine counsel or purpose lying against us; and to enforce this, (than which nothing is more necessary to be enforced,) I might reason two ways, partly ad hominem, partly, ad rem.
(1.) Ad hominem. That is, from the common apprehension and practice of men in reference to other cases. It is very plain that all the other concernments of men, are as much determined by divine counsel and decree, as the affairs and concerns of their souls and future estate. But it is as plain that men are not wont to suspend their actions, in common cases, upon mere supposition of such purposes and counsels of God, that may, for ought they know, lie against them in such cases. It would make very strange work in the world if they should; if men should suspend their actions in reference to 175common affairs of human life merely upon the supposition that a decree may be against them. What a condition would it reduce things to among men on earth! The whole world would be at a stand, or would be sitting still, and would sit still in very uneasy postures too. The husbandman must never plough nor sow, for he might say, “I do not know but there is a decree against me, that all will come to nothing, I shall have no crop, I shall lose all my labour and expence.” The merchant should never send or go to sea; no man should ever make a meal, be cause he doth not know but that it may be determined that it shall poison and hot nourish him, choke him and not refresh him. Men should not walk the streets, for they do not know but that there may be some decree or other that a tile shall fall and strike them dead, or they may meet with a stab in their walk: nor should they sit still in the house neither, for they do not know but that there may be such a decree that the house may fall and bury them in the ruins. Plain it is, men do not in common cases suspend their actions upon such suppositions; but then it argues very great insincerity, and a very ill temper of mind, that men should only pick out their weightiest and most important concerns, and do nothing in reference to them, merely upon such an imagination that there may be some purpose, or something in the divine counsel lying against them. It argues, I say s a very ill mind; that there is some peculiar disaffection to God, and to the way of holiness and to religion as such, that men should only lay themselves under restraint in reference to those great concernments of religion, when they have as much cause, and the same pretence in reference to all things as they have in reference to this, And again,
(2.) We may argue Ad rem, or from the true, real state of the case itself; that is, that there is no supposable divine purpose but what is guided by counsel, and that no one hath any reason to fear that the divine counsel can be any way prejudicial to him, even to an honest affair or undertaking, that belongs to the human life itself. For they are always to be considered as the counsels of an absolutely, infinitely perfect Being, whose nature is uncapable of any thing of malignity towards his creatures; (for it is the most perfect benignity and goodness itself, “God is love;”) and therefore, that any supposable counsel of the divine will, in reference to our common affairs themselves, are a great deal more encouraging than they can be discouraging; yea, unspeakably more, in reference to these affairs, supposing we will but take up due thoughts of God about them, and have correspondent, due dispositions of heart and spirit towards 176him: for we are pre-assured by his own express word, that all things shall work together for good to those that love God; which love, will be the evidence of a man’s being called according to his purpose, as these things lie connected in that Rom. viii. 28. There is no son or servant of common understanding and ingenuity, but it will be a very great encouragement and satisfaction to him to act in all things under the conduct and direction of a parent or master, that he knows to be a man of counsel, as well as of the greatest goodness; it will certainly be most satisfying and encouraging to any such one. And how unspeakably more will it be to any, to think, that whatsoever affairs that lie within the compass of human life, I have to manage, I am to manage and order them all under the conduct and direction of the wise counsel of a good, and gracious, and holy God; whence L may be sure he will never hinder me in any such enterprize and undertaking of mine, unless it appear to his infinite wisdom, that it will be to my hurt, that it will turn to my prejudice. If it shall be for the best for me, it shall succeed, if it shall not succeed, it would be to my disadvantage if it should. The tendency of all this is to compose men’s spirits to the greatest quietude and tranquillity imaginable, in reference even to the common affairs of human life. This word is firmer and more stable than the foundations of heaven and earth, that alt things shall work together for good to them that love God: nothing can come amiss to a lover of God, to one, who by the Divine Spirit working in him, is contempered in the habitual frame of his spirit to the divine pleasure. And the disposition of all things cannot but work together for good to such a one.
But, whereas, it may be said, “What if I do not love God? what if I find not that disposition in my heart and soul to him, what shall I do then?” Why,
[1.] I would appeal to such a one, How perverse a notion must you needs have of God, if you think him to be such a one that he should equally take care, that all things should work together for good to men, whether they love him or love him not? that he should as much gratify them that hate him, as them that love him! You must suppose, in this case, some what in its own nature impossible: for it is simply impossible that any thing can succeed well with a man that loves not God. He must be the son of peace, or good cannot come to him: it can take no place in him. But what I have further to say is this, which in the second place I designed to say in arguing this matter ad rem. That is,
[2.] That supposing a man be not a lover of God, an habitual 177lover of him, so as he can discern this to be the predominant governing principle in him; yet he hath greater encouragement in reference to the affairs of his soul, (supposing them to lie in this state,) than he can have in reference to his external estate here in this world. For do we ever find any such promises in the word of God, that whosoever labours to be rich shall be rich? or that he that takes care of his health shall be always healthy; as we have, that he that labours to be saved shall have help from heaven in order thereunto? “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God worketh in you to will and to do of his own good pleasure,” Phil. ii. 12, 13. He is working: (so the word signifies:) what he doth herein, he doth according to good pleasure, and he is still doing and working in you. Therefore, there can be no purpose or counsel in the divine will, lying against this plain word of his. So that none can have any pretence to be less laborious, less diligent in reference to the affairs of their souls, than they have in reference to their common affairs. Yea, there is a great deal of reason why they should be much more, and that they should conjoin hope with their diligence in reference there unto; which I mention in this conjunction, because we find them so conjoined in Scripture; and they are conjoined in the nature of the thing. We find them conjoined, Heb. vi. 11. “That ye shew the same diligence unto the full assurance of hope unto the end: that ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience have inherited the promises.” And in the nature of the thing, there can be no diligence where there is no hope; where there is much of hope, there will be much of diligence. There is no reason that either should languish: there is the greatest reason why both should be lively and vigorous, and make each other so, even upon the supposition of what lies in the mind and purpose of God, in reference to the affairs of souls. And then, I further add by way of caution,
8. That we do not overlook the advantages that may be made of agreements among them that do controvert this same thing. That is, the purposes and counsels of God touching the salvation of men, or touching the punishment of them who shall be found the tit subjects of his punitive justice in another state. Let us not overlook the advantage that may be made of what is in this matter agreed on all hands; that is, it is on all hands agreed, that no good man shall ever perish. This is a thing wherein all do consent and agree. And truly, what there is of difference, it is so very notional and little, in comparison of this, that here we have what should quiet our minds, yea, and it is further 173agreed, that for them that are wicked, they have always still means for making them better, more than ever they improve or make use of; and that God doth afford no such means to any unwillingly; therefore, always according to his will, and the counsel of his will; and consequently, that this must be found the case at last, that none do finally perish but such as have refused and rejected the overtures, or misimproved, or not improved the means that they had in order to their being saved. Though they had not all at once what was necessary to the saving of them, they had always reason to apprehend, that if they had used what they had, they should have had still more. And such agreements as these are by no means to be overlooked. We should labour to make the greatest advantage of them that the matter admits of. Yea, and it is further agreed, that this world is very wicked; and it cannot but be agreed, that God could make it generally better if he would, and therefore, it ought to be as generally agreed, that he hath something in his wise counsel whence it doth appear to him less fit to exert his almightiness to this purpose. Or, if any should expect he should do so, or wonder he doth not so, they have as much reason to wonder why he did not, by almightiness, shut sin out of the world at first, and why he did not, by his almighty power, (as he might,) prevent the apostasy or fall, either of the an gels that fell, or of the universality of men that fell all at once, and are all in a fallen state ever since.
I shall not further insist as to matter of useful caution which in these several particulars hath been given you. But I shall add to these, some alleviating considerations, that may help to make things sit more easily on our minds, relating to this great and important subject. As,
I Consider this, that all the purposes or determinations of the divine will, they are the products of counsel. That the text assures us, that whatsoever he doth, he doth according to the counsel of his own will, whereupon, as to the secret purposes and determinations of the divine will which therefore we know not, because they are secret, we have all the reason imaginable to think, that they must be most unexceptionable from that we do know, that they are all purposes guided by most unerring counsel, and which whilst we know not in particular what they are, we have nothing to do but reverentially to adore, as the apostle doth in Rom. xi. 33. “O! the depth both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out.” That part remains, to adore, with a dutiful adoration, what we do not distinctly and particularly understand, and, indeed, cannot understand. There 179is no government but hath its arcana; and it would be very inept and foolish for us to imagine, that there should be no secrets be longing to the divine government. But admit that there be, inasmuch as they do belong to the divine government, the government of God; that name is a name that comprehends all perfection, and excludes all imperfection; contains nothing in it but what is most excellent and perfect in all respects; and therefore, of this, in the general, we may rest most assured, that there can be nothing exceptionable in those purposes of his will which we do not particularly know. And,
2. Let us but consider, that for his known and public counsels, they carry their own recommendableness in them to every mind, understanding and conscience of man, that shall consider. Do but bethink yourselves, what is given us as the summary of the whole counsel of God which is published and declared to apostate, fallen man. The apostle tells the Ephesians, (Acts xx. 21.) that he had made it his business to testify to them, “repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. “And in having done so, he tells them (ver. 27.) that he had made known to them the whole counsel of God. Now, I beseech you, what could have been more suitable to the state of apostate, fallen creatures than to say, it is the counsel of God, they should repent, that they should turn to him. And since it was impossible they should return and be accepted, but upon the account of a Mediator and Redeemer who was to bring them to God, and reconcile them to him, what could be more suitable, than that this should be stood upon, wheresoever he is revealed and made known, that men should believe in him; that is, absolutely resign and subject themselves to his saving mercy, and to his governing power? Here is the whole counsel of God, here it is summed up. And what hath any man to say to this? why, being an apostate creature, lie should not turn and repent? and why, not being able to satisfy divine justice by himself, but having one revealed to him that hath fully done it, (so as to leave that none of his part) why he should not entrust his soul with him, and cast it upon him, and subject it to his conduct and government, by known and prescribed and most unexceptionable rules? And whereas, men cannot turn of themselves, (it is true,) they have not at present sufficient power in their own hand, it is all one, whether they have it, or may have it, if they do apply themselves. This is a part of the counsel of God too, that he is al ways ready to assist a returning soul: “Turn ye at my reproof, I will pour out my Spirit upon you.” Prov. i. 21. This is part of his counsel: for they that do not so, are, in the next 180verse, said to have set at nought his counsel: “But they have set at nought my counsel and despised all my reproof.” How unexceptionable are the counsels that are made known, and that are published and declared to us! And,
3. Consider, that if this be the declared, published counsel of God, which you have heard, that he would have apostate creatures return, and is intent upon it that they should do so, “Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die O house of Israel?” (Ezek. xviii.) and is always assisting to their return,—“turn ye at my reproof, apply yourselves, set about it, I will pour out my Spirit upon you, I will make known my words unto you:” I say, if this be his declared, published counsel, we are sure there can be no repugnant, contrary secret counsel. There can be no contrariety between his declared and his secret counsel. It were monstrous idolatry, that we should form in our own minds, instead of a Deity, an apprehension that he is made up of repugnancies and inconsistencies with himself. And again,
4. Let us but consider, how things would lie under God’s present view, supposing that we did not recur and run back into a foregoing eternity, supposing things to lie as they are in their present state, under the present and immediate view of God, only, without conceiving an eternal counsel and an eternal purpose concerning any such thing: and consider with yourselves how matters should lie then; that is, but thus, that whereas, God hath such an order of creatures, intelligent creatures, inhabiting this world, who have all apostatized, fallen, and gone off from him, and by the natural tendency of their course, are universally running themselves into misery, and sinking lower and lower, ready to be ingulfed of endless and eternal misery: he beholds these from the throne of his glory above; he sends forth plain, general significations of the pity and compassion he hath towards his creatures; directs his invitations to all the ends of the earth to look to him that they may be saved: if the express revelation do not reach all, it is they themselves, through their own wickedness, that do obstruct and hinder the diffusion of it, otherwise the gospel had spread and flown tike lightning from one quarter and end of the world to another, many an age ago, and still from age to age; but yet, plain significations that God is not irreconcileable to his fallen creatures, are more or less afforded every where; he doth not leave himself without witness in that he doth men good: he is kind to them; doth not treat them as an implacable God; makes his sun to shine, and his rain to fall upon the evil and the good, as in that context we so lately discoursed of to you. He 181is secretly striving with them, as his Spirit strove with the old world before the flood. “My Spirit (saith God) shall not always strive with man;” implying, that it had been striving, even with that wicked world before. And after the same rate he is dealing with men still. They despise the riches of his patience and goodness and long-suffering, many of them: suppose they do so more generally, he yet, by a merciful and more powerful hand takes hold of some, and saith (as it were) “Though you are inclined and disposed all to perish alike, I will have a relict from among you out of the hand and power of the destroyer:” and he hath finally a numerous remnant; more than any tongue can number, as we find the matter represented how it will be in the close and period of things; we do not know how vastly numerous they may yet be, or have been in former ages and successions of time. But they that perish, perish by their own wilful refusal of offered mercy, whether more expressly, or whether by more tacit, yet intelligible inclinations. Let but things be considered now as lying before God, obvious to one present view, Who hath any thing to say against God’s method of procedure in this case? Who hath not cause to adore his grace and goodness and clemency in all this, though so great numbers finally perish? and then, how easy is the step further, if things to one present view do lie so very unexceptionably, what is there more of exception, supposing this view to have been eternal? If things be very fair thus, under one present view, will they lie worse, if it were a day earlier, or a month or a year earlier, or an age or from eternity? What is itself right and well, is eternally so, and was eternally so, and can never have been otherwise. And therefore, it is very vain and foolish for men to amuse their minds, and affright themselves with the thoughts of future and eternal counsels, that may have lain this way or that: if things look well to a present view, how can they look worse to an eternal one. And again, consider,
5. That things should lie thus open to the eternal view of God, all at once, in all their dependencies and connections and references to one another, certainly, it is owing only to his perfections, that they should do so, and that they do so. Is it not a greater perfection to foresee and to foreknow all things, and to have forelaid all one’s designs, than to foreknow nothing before hand? and to do nothing without foregoing, previous design? How unreasonable is it for us to think the worse of God for that he is more perfect! It is very unreasonable to suppose that he should not foreknow what will become of you and me in our eternal state; that he should not foreknow what the condition of that creature he hath made shall be to eternity. 182And whatsoever he doth actually make it to be, in point of felicity, by his own grace, or whatsoever he lets it be, in point of misery, by its own demerit, and the depraved inclination of its own nature, it is certainly his perfection to know the one and the other; and to do whatsoever he doth, willingly and with design, not unwillingly, or as if he could be imposed upon, or forced in any thing. Do but seriously consider how unreasonable it is to think the worse, or have the blacker thoughts of God, for that which is nothing else but his perfection. It would certainly be an imperfection to be nescient, and not to know what will become of things, and what will become of men: and so, to act incogitantly and without previous design, were a great imperfection. Is he then less fit to govern us, and to dispose of us and his creatures, for his being more perfect? And again,
6. Consider how things will lie in the judgment of the great day. We know the rule of his final procedure in that day, which is called “the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God,” that he will give “eternal life to them that by patient continuance in well-doing seek for honour and glory and immortality: and indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish to those that obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness.” Rom. ii. 5, 6. To none but perverse and persevering evil doers, none but such as refused to obey the truth and were contentious against it, and did obey unrighteousness, did give themselves up to the judgment of an unrighteous spirit and principle, ruling and working in them, to none else but these, “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish.” If things will be very unexceptionable in the judgment of the great day, (as who can have any thing to say against this rule or this method of procedure) he will then, in the judgment of the great day, both do as he purposed before; and his purpose will no way be found to have differed from the measure of his final procedure. And again consider,
7. That there cannot but a conviction go with the final issue of things, in the very souls and consciences of them that perish. They do foreknow the righteous judgment of God, that they that do such and such things are worthy of death; are worthy of misery. Pagans themselves do so, for to them the apostle speaks and refers in that: Romans, in the close of the chapter. And what convictions will be upon the consciences of men in the final issue of things, is sufficiently intimated in that, their principal sting is plainly enough and sufficiently intimated to be from their own consciences. There is the worm that never dies. And it were impossible this hold could be 183taken on the consciences of men, if it did not appear to them that they were finally guilty of their own ruin. All such imaginations must vanish and fly away of course, that it was impossible things should ever be otherwise with them than they are; that they were doomed unavoidably into that state into which they are come. Whatsoever might be a fence to keep off the stroke from their consciences, you must be sure will all vanish and be gone, and therefore, can have no place. And then lastly,
8. Consider the high and everlasting approbation that all God’s methods will have with the most clarified, refined minds of angels and saints, in all that vast general assembly made up of “the innumerable company of angels and the spirits of just men made perfect;” all agreeing in admiring and applauding the most unexceptionable righteousness of all God’s dispensations; whereof the counsel of his will were the measure: “Just and true are thy ways, marvellous are thy works Lord God Almighty.” And here will be no dark mind, no clouded understanding, no erroneous thought, no vitiating prejudice. If therefore, we are sure all things will to eternity lie well and right to the most perfect minds and understandings, then they are righteous in themselves: and being in themselves right, they ought to be so estimated and judged of by us. Certainly, these things cannot be mistaken, cannot be misunderstood and misapprehended by those pure and glorious creatures in the other state; those bright and unclouded minds that will see nothing but loveliness and beauty, and what is most highly praiseworthy and admirable in the eternal view that they shall have of them. Therefore, to shut up all for the present, let me but leave these two words of direction.
(1.) Labour to cherish the love of God in your souls. That will commend to you all his counsels and all his methods. Love will never think amiss. And,
(2.) Form your apprehensions concerning him, agreeably, that so you may have nothing in your minds to damp your love; nothing may disaffect you unto him. The understanding and the will (such is the constitution of the human nature) do interchangeably work upon one another: the more we love God, the better we shall think of him, and the better we think of him, the better we shall love him. These things circulate between one another. And nothing can be of higher and greater consequence: for if we do otherwise we shall cramp religion in ourselves; and so far as we propagate the ill sentiment, we shall hinder the, propagating and diffusing of religion among others. And do but take this deeply to heart, 184(perhaps I may have more reason to speak to it hereafter,) that in the latter days wherein, it is said, religion must flourish in the world, (Hosea iii. 5.) men are to “fear the Lord and his goodness.” Most certain it is, in those days, (if there are such days yet to come better than we have seen,) thus it must be, there must be a universal diffusion of good thoughts concerning God. This is that knowledge of God that must replenish the world, and fill the earth, and transform the minds of men, and overcome their fierce, savage humours and dispositions, their disaffection towards God, and their barbarities towards one another; make them “beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” The revealed and acknowledged will of God, and goodness of God prevailing against the evil of the mind and hearts of men. “They shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days.” Their thoughts and apprehensions of God will be so persuasive to their own hearts, and they will look upon him according to that kind and amiable and lovely representation of himself that shall captivate all minds and hearts; and make men hate nothing but themselves, and that they have not sooner and more loved God.
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