|« Prev||Lecture VIII. Preached June 3, 1692.||Next »|
The further use which remains, is to direct our practice; for in many respects, it hath in it a great aptitude, and suitableness too. In order to this, it is requisite,
1. That we take up the several sorts of the considerations which may be had of the counsels of the divine will. And then,
2. That we reflect upon our own distemper, and the faultiness of our spirits and practice, in reference hereunto. And accommodately, then, to consider both of the counsels of the divine will, and of our own miscarriages, and so recommend to you sundry heads of instruction, in reference to our future practice. We are,
1. Variously to consider the counsels of the divine will. They may be either considered indefinitely; or else, they may be considered with some distinction, according to the various references they may bear towards us, and our concernments and affairs, whether they may be eternal or temporal; and these, whether they be private or public.
And again, whether they be known to us, or unknown; so variously may the counsels of the divine will be considered. And then, for his precepts, which are the result too, of the counsel of his will. They expressly declare what it is the counsel of his will we should do, though therein also, we are to expect his co-operation; he working and in-working also therein, according to the counsel of his will. And many times, the counsels of his will are known to us only by the event. We never know what God would do in this or that instance, till the event shews us. And so in such and such things, because the event hath not shewn the counsels of the divine will in many things, they are yet altogether unknown to us.
2. Now, according to these various considerations of the counsels of the divine will, we shall find ourselves, many ways, to be faulty in reference thereunto.
As in reference to the counsels of God indefinitely considered, that either we ourselves do not firmly enough believe the great doctrine of this text, that he really doth all things 215according to the counsel of his own will; or that we deeply enough consider it not, and carry not an habitual sense in our souls correspondent thereunto: that we have not high and great thoughts as we ought hereupon: that we are so prone to dispute matters with him: that there is no more of dutiful compliance with the counsels of his will, even then when they are known: that many are so apt to cherish in themselves a perpetual dread about their eternal concernments, which lie most certainly under the disposition of his own eternal will: that they are so distrustful of so wise and mighty an Agent, that doth all things according to the counsel of his own will: that there is no more of quietude, tranquillity and rest of spirit in him, so considered, as one that doth what he pleaseth, and always according to wise counsel.
Now, according to these various considerations, which we ought to have, both of God and ourselves, of his counsels, and of our own miscarriages and distempers, are these instructions to be, which I am now to recommend to you. And,
(1.) I pray, Let us charge this upon ourselves, more thoroughly to establish the belief of this truth in our own souls, that God, in very deed, doth work all things after the counsel of his own will. Let not our minds waver and hover, in reference here unto, as if this were a doubtful matter, as if possibly, it might be otherwise 3 as if either he were ignorant or oscitant, and unconcerned about the affairs of his creature, as if anything might possibly fall out without his advertency. For we should consider with ourselves, being once at a certainty about the existence of God, about which if we be not at a certainty, we can be certain of nothing; if (I say) we be at a certainty concerning this, and we may be as sure of it as that we are, and that this world is, and that there is any such thing as wisdom and power and goodness, any where to be observed and taken notice of in the world; we and this world, and whatsoever there is of excellency and perfection in it, must all have some original; they are not nothing, and therefore could not come out of nothing. If we be (I say again) at a certainty about this, that is, in short, that there is a God, we may be at equal certainty about this, that he worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. For I beseech you, reflect and consider how well would it agree with your own minds, and with the natural notions and conceptions that are placed and fixed there, to conceive of an ignorant God, or of an impotent God, or of an oscitant, neglectful God. Do but consider, how well any such conception or apprehension can agree with the natural notices you have in your minds already, and may take notice of, if 216you reflect. And thereupon, let disputes be at an end with yon, and fix and establish the belief of it in your own souls, that in very deed he worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will. And,
(2.) That hereupon (this being once thoroughly believed) it may be more deeply considered: and that we would labour to carry an habitual sense of it about us, from day to day, through this world. For to any one that considers, these things are very distinguishable; dead notions, and living sense, even in reference to the same truth. I have such a truth in my mind, but how have I it? If I have it as a dead notion, then it is all one to me as if I had it not. Let it not, therefore, satisfy us to have so mighty, important a truth as this lie in our minds as a dead notion; but let us labour to have it there as living sense, that we may resort to upon all occasions, and draw forth into present use as the matter shall, from time to time, require. And,
(3.) Labour to live adoring lives towards the glorious God, so considered, as one that worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. How should we, hereupon, be composed of ado ration towards the blessed God, so as that wherever any actual present instance occurs and appears to us, wherein that agency of his shews itself, we be always in a disposition to bow our heads and worship! Here is a manifest effort of Deity, as the power and wisdom of God, that doth all things after the counsel of his own will. We should especially labour to maintain an adoring frame and disposition of spirit, with reference to these two great excellencies of the Divine Being which appear and shine forth in view, in this truth held forth to us in this text: “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:” that is, almighty power and infinite wisdom. Two things, than which nothing can be supposed to make an object more adorable, to make any thing a fitter object of adoration. Almightiness—he worketh all things. Is not he almighty that can do all things? and infinite wisdom—for he doth all things after the counsel of his own will. So, that wheresoever there is an exertion of his power, there is an exertion of his wisdom too, guiding that efficacious exertion of his will, that he doth not act in any thing by a boisterous and extravagant exertion of power, without judgment or without wisdom or without counsel, that all things that are done, are done by him: one way or other he hath an agency in every thing; and that nothing is done by him but by the direction of that wisdom that can mistake in nothing: all things consulted, and done after the counsels of his own will. A man of great might and of great celebrated wisdom too, how venerable a person is he in the account 217of all? But to have these two things in conjunction, to wit, almighty power, with infinite, unlimited wisdom, sets a very adorable Object before our eyes. And it is a reproach to us, if we, thereupon, do not carry an adoring frame of spirit, every day, about this world with us.
(4.) Another instruction, hereupon, will be, that we never contend against him. What! Against him that worketh all things after the counsel of his own will? Is he a fit Object for our contention? Will we undertake to dispute matters with him? Think with yourselves, both how foolish and how wicked that must be. He that can do all things, whatsoever he will, it must be a very foolish thing to contend with him. What shall we get by it? He that contends with God, can he hope to be a gainer? He that strives with his Maker, woe to him: all that we can gain by it is but to infer a woe upon ourselves. Isaiah xlv. 9. Therefore, it is a very foolish thing to enter into a contest which we are to despair beforehand of ever getting any thing by. And then, How wicked a thing is it! For certainly, the sovereignty must belong to him who worketh all things, and that after the counsel of his own will. It must, upon all accounts, belong to him. He will certainly carry the matter, and have the sovereignty. He worketh all things: almighty and resistless power is lodged in him; and he ought to have the sovereignty. For to whom should it so fitly appertain, as to him that doth all things according to counsel, never any thing rashly, nothing unfit in itself, nothing unseasonable, whensoever it is done? Therefore, (as the expression is there) he that contends with God, let him answer it; let him try if he can; for to be sure he never can, he never will be able to answer it, to enter into a contest with God, who is One that so wisely, and according to so stable, and so steady counsel and judgment doth all things. Again,
(5.) Labour dutifully to comport with him as he is such a One that “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will,” and according to such considerations, (as hath been hinted to you,) as we may severally have of these counsels of the will of God. There are counsels of his will that are made known and signified by his express precepts. As was told you, the last time, legislation, making of laws, is one of the prime acts of wisdom, wherein above all things that excellency is to be conspicuous and shew forth itself. Now we shall dutifully comport with the counsels of his will, made known by his precepts and laws, when we do obey them. That when once we find that charge laid upon us to do so and so, by express divine precept, we immediately labour to get our spirits formed to an 218obedient compliance, saying within ourselves, “I have nothing to do, in reference to such and such a thing, but to obey.” “Mortify such a lust,” saith the command, “Lord I yield and will endeavour to obey.” “Love me with all the heart and soul and mind and strength:” “Lord, I will to my uttermost.” It is a law founded in counsel; there could never have been a wiser law, nor a more merciful one, from a good God, towards an indigent, depending creature, than that I should place my love, my desire, my delight on himself. If, considering me as a wandering creature, I find his word saith to me, “Repent;” a wise counsel is spoken to me according to the counsel of his will. I will persist in sin no longer; I will turn that I may live. If he have made known his counsels concerning such and such things that he will do, that he will put an end to this world, that the wickedness of the wicked shall come to an end; that his Son shall appear in the end of time, and shall be the final Judge; it is then dutiful to comply with such counsels of the divine will, to be always in an expecting posture: to say, “O let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, according as thou hast determined; we approve of the counsel of the divine will, and will patiently wait till it come. And as for that appearance and coming of our Lord, we will wait and long for it; looking for it as the reviving, heart gladdening hope of our souls.” Whereinsoever the divine will is made known to us, or which way soever the counsels of it are known, let them be dutifully comported with. Such things as are only known to us by the event, let us dutifully own and acknowledge them. I know it was the divine will, according to counsel, that such and such things should be either effected by himself, or permitted to be effected by those in whom he saw such a disposition, or from whom he did not withhold power to effect it. Again,
(6.) Take heed of slavish dread, in reference to your own eternal concernments. Most certain it is, that there are counsels of the divine will conversant about the eternal concernments of every one of us; but take we heed of slavish dread in reference hereto. There is no cause for it. It is an ungospel-like spirit to live in a slavish dread, even about our eternal concernments, under a gospel of grace which deals with us principally about them, and whose special, particular, and great design is to advise and direct us, even touching them.
But it may be here said, How is it possible for one in an uncertainty, not to be in a dread about his everlasting concernments, about those concernments of his, which however they lie, will never alter, will always be the same? One that finds 219himself to have been, hitherto, under the power of some reigning lust or other, have not I reason to be in a continual dread, what shall become of me for ever?
That was a thing we find represented as not suitable to the state of a very Cain. Suppose thy state to be as bad, suppose thyself a very Cain for wickedness, you see how God be speaks him, when there was some present token that he was not so acceptable as Abel was. Cain might perceive it, here upon his countenance falls, and God reasons the matter with him, “Why is thy countenance fallen? If thou dost well, shalt thou not be accepted? If thou persist still to do evil, it is true, sin, that is, vengeance, the consequent of sin, lies at the door. But if thou dost well, shalt not thou be accepted?” So he bespeaks even a Cain; so you must understand him to bespeak you. In the worst that you can suppose of your case, this is the counsel of the divine will, even concerning thee. Hereupon, then, God ought to be the Object of thy reverence; not the Object of thy dread. Thou oughtest to reverence him, not to dread him, as one that doth all things after the counsel of his own will. But you will say again, “Where lies the difference?”
The difference is great, and most manifest, between reverence and dread. Reverence carries love in it: dread carries hatred. And am I now to dispute the matter with you, whether any man ought to hate God? Ought you to hate him, think you? Ought he to be the Object of your hate? No, place all your reverence upon him, which certainly carries love in it. For reverence hath goodness for its object; the most excellent good is the object of my reverence. By how much the more there is of goodness in any one, by so much the more is he the object of my reverence. But it is evil, destructive, pernicious evil, that is the object of my hate, and consequently of my dread. But you are no more to think that God can be the Object of a man’s dread, than you can think that a fit notion, or a self-consistent notion, an evil God. Can there be any such thing as an evil God? There can be no such thing as the affection of dread (involving essentially hatred in it) duly placed upon God, unless you would suppose an evil God, which is a contradiction even in the very notion. Therefore, turn all your hate (let the case be the worst that can be supposed) upon yourself, and all your love upon God. Think of him with reverence that carries love in it. And think of yourselves with that dread (as you are yet wicked creatures) which carries hate in it. And this is a true gospel frame, to hate one’s self, loathe one’s self, fall out with one’s self, judge one’s self, condemn one’s self; but all the 220while to reverence God: let him be ever amiable in your eyes.
Aye, but you will say, “How can this be but matter of dread to me, when I find myself a wicked creature, and whom, therefore, the wrath of God must pursue? for his wrath is revealed from heaven against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men: and I find myself such a one, a wicked creature, an ungodly, an unrighteous creature.”
Do but consider here, the objection carries its own answer in it. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven.” Against what? Against ungodliness, against unrighteousness: and you are such a one. But what, is it necessary always to continue such? The wrath of God can never be directed against any creature but as he is wicked. But then his word saith, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah lv. 7.
But you may perhaps say, “I am a wicked creature, and this is the thing I dread, that I shall be always so, I cannot alter the state of my own case, I cannot mend myself; this is that therefore, which makes me stand in dread.”
Why, to that I shall shortly say, either you desire to be other than you are, or you do not; either you desire, of a wicked creature, to be made holy, godly and righteous, or you do not desire this. If you do desire it, and you say, this is the object of your dread, that you shall never be other than a wicked creature, because you cannot mend yourself; why dread, (as I told you,) carries hatred in the nature of it, and hatred of wickedness. If you dread this continuance in wickedness, you hate it. But I would fain know, if it be possible to desire and hate the same thing. Do you desire and choose to be always wicked, and yet hate and dread to be so? These are inconsistent: what you say now, overthrows itself. It is impossible for you to desire to be always what you are, if you really dread, that is, hate that state of wickedness wherein you are. If that be the matter of your dread, (as it ought to be) then you do hate to be what you are, and you desire to be what you are not. Then pursue this apprehension further, a little, “I am a wicked creature, and I desire to be otherwise than I am, I dread myself, I hate myself as I am such: then I do desire to be such as God would have me to be, that is, a holy creature, and one conformed to his holy nature and will;” and if this be the posture of your soul in reference to yourself, and your own state Godward, you very well know what he hath 221declared of his readiness to accept such. When we confess our sins, with self-loathing, self-indignation, self-judging, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins: and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” And when we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged. He never condemns that man that condemns himself, not notionally, but inwardly, with a concomitant hatred and loathing, which is somewhat else than the notion of the state and frame wherein you find yourself. But now, if you suppose that God will have no mercy upon such a one, that is to make a supposition to yourself of somewhat in the notion of God that is repugnant to the known notions of him: that is, as he is the God of all grace; as he is love itself, and as he hath told us this to be his name, “The Lord, the Lord God, gracious and merciful, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin.” But if you have such notions of him, that he will abandon and throw away a self-loathing and self-judging creature, and one that desires nothing in all this world so much as to please him, this is to create to yourself a formidable idol, instead of the true and living God; there is no such God as you imagine to yourselves. As an idol is nothing in the world, so is this nothing but your own idol, which is a nullity. There is no such God; but you create to yourselves such a formidable idol, and then hate him, You call that God, which is but of your own making, your own creature. But take God as he is in himself, and as he hath revealed and reported himself to be, the God of all grace, whose name this is, (and his name doth express his nature,) the name that he hath made himself known by, “The Lord, the Lord God, gracious:” take this true notion of God, and set it before your eyes, and consider, “though I be an object of hate, sure I have now before mine eyes an Object of the highest love.” Is not this an Object of love, a fit Object, the most deserving Object, the most amiable Object that can be thought? Conceive of him so; and let that be your apprehensions of him, till you find hi& love gradually work itself into your souls, and transforming and changing you. And if you come once to this perceiving and believing this love, you have a love begotten and wrought in you, then God and you are happily met. Love and love, cannot but unite and dwell together, and will everlastingly co habit and dwell together. But if you say, you are a wicked creature, and you desire to be always what you are; if wickedness and you are inseparable, as they can only be by the union of your will with wickedness, then are misery and you united too, and can only be so by your adherence in heart and will to wickedness; and so you will be your own hell, and an 222everlasting fountain of misery to yourself; but God and his throne will be guiltless for ever, for he never hates a creature as a creature; his wrath can never reach you, but as you are one that continues in a will to be wicked.
But if you can truly say, “I would be otherwise, only I fear, God will not help me.” Why! hath he not said, he will give his Spirit to them that ask him? You are to take heed of forming a notion of God against his word; for he can have no will against his word: it is impossible he should. There can be no counsel of the divine will that contradicts his plain word. Therefore, take heed of imagining any such thing to yourselves.
And so, upon the whole matter, there is place for that counsel, as what we are to resolve to live and die by, that is, never to entertain a slavish dread concerning our own eternal concernments. But consider how the distinguishing characters are given in Scripture, between them that are saved, and them, that finally perish. And if you find the present characters upon you that mark you out for hell and damnation, only say, “I am such and such now, but it is not necessary that I should always be what I am.” Sin is not you, and you are not sin; they are separable, these are partable things: and only implore that grace and help of the Divine Spirit that is offered, suitable to the estate of lost and apostate creatures. And never entertain any despairing thought but that that Spirit shall be given when it is seriously asked and sought after, and desired by you: the state of no man’s case can exclude such considerations as these, for while there is any thing of sense about a man’s eternal concernments, though it be from common grace, it is from the Spirit of grace, for all grace is from that Spirit, and that common grace may be gradually leading on to special grace, if it be duly complied with.
So that there is still no cause for a slavish dread: that soul is not quite abandoned and given up by God, in which remains any concern about its future state, and about its case God ward. You are not, indeed, to ascribe it to your own. nature, if you are so solicitous about the divine favour, if you are not so swallowed up in this world, and immersed in sensuality, as to have all thoughts excluded about your soul-affairs, and your everlasting concernments, You are not to arrogate this to yourself; for we are not sufficient of ourselves to think a good thought: and there is a good tendency in those thoughts; and therefore, all this ought to be ascribed to the Divine Spirit that is now, some way or other, at work with you; and those workings of his, have a leadingness and tendency in them to move to further and 223higher workings, which accordingly you are to expect with hope, and so to lay aside a slavish dread accompanied with despair, with utter despair that ever things shall he better with you.
(7.) And then, as to all your other concernments, intrust them freely and cheerfully to this God. He that worketh all things after the counsel of his own will; how complete an Object of trust is he! Whose heart would misgive him, who trusteth him that worketh all things after the counsel of his own will? Can the counsel of his own will, can the counsel of that will which is guided by unerring wisdom, ever hurt any body? Will any body be the worse for lying under the determination of that will, which is guided by unerring counsel? Never fear to trust him, in all things, who bears this character; a cheerful trust, a delightful trust, is most suitable to this representation of God. Never fret, never tumultuate, never admit of any distrustful thought; but at the same time, (as the direction is, Psalm xxxvii., beginning.) “Trust in the Lord and do good.” and place your delight in the Lord, and not fret at any thing we see fall out in the world, never fret but trust, never fret but do good, never fret, but delight thyself in the Lord. And therefore,
(8.) Lastly; The direction that is most suitable to this apprehension of God, is to preserve a continual quietude and tranquillity in our own spirits. The proper effect of such trust is quietness: a His heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.’’ And, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is staid on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” Isaiah xxvi. 3. There is no room, nor place for rational disquiet hereupon, in reference to any thing he hath done, or in reference to any thing we may apprehend he will do. Let there be such a constant calmness and tranquillity of spirit maintained, in opposition to vexation, about past events; and to solicitude about future events: for these two things, we are apt to disquiet ourselves: about past events, with vexation; and future events, with solicitude: and so we live uncomfortable lives. But there will be no place left, either for the one or the other, if we will but carry this apprehension about us, that God worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. What cause then, can there be for solicitude? God will not change his nature, he will be still the same. He will as much govern the world by counsel in all future times, and all the particular concernments of his creatures, and especially our own concernments, in respect of which we are apt to be solicitous. He will do as much as ever he did. For this is his essential character, and therefore, can never cease to be so, that he doth all things after the counsels of his own will.224
But you may say, “He may permit wicked men to do so and so, injuriously.”
If he do so, he wisely permits it, and according to the counsel of his own will. And who would be afraid of the counsel of such a will? If lie permit ill things to be done and fall out in the world, it is either for the exercise of their graces who belong to him in the world, and who are the called according to his purpose; it is that their faith, and their love to him, and their patience, and their subjection, and their heavenly mindedness, and the raisedness of their spirits above the world, may be more tried, and may further appear: or, it may be, for the correction and chastisement of his own offending people. And then, there is no place for fretting and inquietude of spirit, but calmly to accept the punishment of sin, lying down under it with a calm and submissive patience. Or, it may be in reference to the future, more illustrious display of his own glory, that he lets wicked men prosper and triumph for a time, and flourish like the green grass, when it is that they may be destroyed for ever. And never doubt but that he doth all things after the counsel of his own will, he will make all things finally to result into such an end as shall be suitable to so glorious an Agent, worthy of himself, so that angels and saints shall confess to all eternity, that all his ways and works were marvellous, just, righteous and great; and worthy of himself, taken altogether. It cannot but be so, that the issue of things must be such as is most agreeable to him “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”225
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