« Prev Lecture XXX. Preached May 26, 1694. Next »

LECTURE XXX.4545   Preached May 26, 1694.

Our business hath lately been, and still is, to represent the common miseries of man, which are all comprehended under the name of “death,” very fitly, and very usually, not only in sacred language, but in other authors; several particulars have been instanced in. And now, the next in order, which I designed to be more largely insisted on, is,

v. This misery stands in slavery, in that base and ignoble 427servitude, which the generality of men, in the state of apostasy, are subject to: a thing which will but slowly enter into the minds of those who have not been instructed, and considered well the matter afresh; that is, that the generality of men, in their state of apostasy from God, are become ‘the meanest, and basest sort of slaves; and, that is fitly enough called—“death;” (as I have told you, death must be taken here, not formally, but, in a large and comprehensive sense,) men of more ingenuous minds, rather choosing death than slavery: as it hath been with all those more noble-spirited men, who thought their lives laudably sacrificed for the liberty of their country, to redeem it from slavery: and, thereby, shewed themselves, that they did scorn to live as slaves, with the rest; they thought death a more eligible thing; and so, could say as he did dying: (though nothing else was effected.) “I have done this one noble thing; that I have chosen to die, rather than live as a slave.” It is a misery much worse, than that which goes commonly among us, under the name of death, to be a slave.

But, if the matter be narrowly inspected, and looked into, every one that understands himself, and what the nature of man is, especially as to that part of man, which, more deservedly, bears that name, (the mind is the man,) he cannot, upon reflection, but consider the state of slavery as the common state,—the life, and strength, and faculties, and powers of a reasonable, intelligent mind and spirit, being generally subject to things beneath, and below the dignity of their nature; this is to be very basely servile. But this is that which they will very hardly think to be so, who do consider that they live according to their own wills, which, indeed, is the vulgar notion of liberty. He is a freeman: Liber est qui vivit vult—He lives as he affects to live, as he chooseth to live. Why, sure it cannot be that this man chooseth to be a slave.

But, there cannot be a more mistaken notion than this; or, that will more easily (if the matter be considered) prove itself false. For by how much the more the will of a man is inclined and led to choose things that are mean, and base, and unworthy of a man, so much the worse slave he is; when he is cheated into a consent unto that which debaseth him, and makes him mean; when he is fraudulently imposed upon, against all rational dictates and sentiments. And, undoubtedly, it was but that vulgar mistake, (not peculiar to the Jews, but common to sinners, as such, unto the world of mankind, yet in a state of apostasy, or not recovered out of it,) that our Lord animadverts upon, in that 8 John, in several verses, where he 428is dealing with that people, who were his immediate auditors upon this very topic; that is, he promiseth them liberty: “If the Son make you free, you shall be free indeed.” But they tell him, with disdain, “We were never in bondage to any man; we are Abraham’s seed.” He replies upon them, “Whosever commits sin, is the servant of sin;” and, being the servant of sin, is the slave of the devil too; and so much more miserably, and so much the worse he is so, by how much the more naturally, and according to inclination, he is so: for, when that is the case, when such appear to be the devil’s own seed, his off spring, considering themselves not naturally, but morally, according to their inclination, with reference to the practice of duty, and with reference to consequent or connexed felicity; they are so far acted upon by that impure, apostate spirit, as that they do appear to be his very progeny, begotten of him. And, so is this whole world divided into those two great families the children of God, and the children of the devil. “Herein are the children of God, and the children of the devil, manifest,” as the same apostle, in his iii. chapter of his 1st epistle, tells us. And so, our Saviour speaks correspondently hereunto, to these, his present hearers, in the 44 verse of that viii. John: “Ye are of your father, the devil, and the works of your father ye will do.” And, therefore, is that very suitable to this purpose, (which I have taken notice of formerly,) what Austin observed out of a heathen moralist: “That it is a far more miserable thing to will that which is unjust, than not to obtain that which one willeth.” It is so in the very reason of the thing. If men could make themselves masters of all that they covet, during their abode in this lower world; if they could have every thing in their possession and power that they cast a fond eye upon, or place an irrational wish upon, they were a great deal more miserable, even in being left so to wish, so to desire, so ineptly, so foolishly. And, therefore, that kind of liberty, which stands only in gratifying inordinate and enormous desires, it is no other kind of liberty than that which God threatens the Jews with; a liberty to perish; a liberty for the sword, and famine, and pestilence: “I thus manumit you; I give you that sort of freedom, to run on in those ways, which shall infer upon you the most miserable end; that shall lead you into tragedies and death, which way so ever you tread your foot, or cast your eyes.”

And, therefore, what a noted author among the pagans saith, concerning one particular people, may be said concerning mankind, while they remain in the state of apostasy, and, antecedently to their recovery, that they are such as, Quos decuit 429esse servos, a state of servitude is so suitable to them, that it befits them to be nothing else but slaves. And so much the rather because it is that which they themselves choose. And do not think Scripture speaks ineptly, or unsuitably to the case, when it bids them that are recovered out of the common misery, that lay upon the world, to consider what they were before: “Ye were sometimes foolish, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures;” Titus iii. 3. It is that which men, recovered to a right mind, would look upon with the greatest disdain imaginable; to wit, that a reasonable, intelligent spirit should only employ itself, its noble faculties and powers, from day to day, in pursuing a design, how to serve and gratify a thing no better, or no worthier of a high state and station in the creation of God, than a brute creature. Nay, not so worthy; be cause those creatures, are what they are by no degeneracy. They were never better, never higher: but, if a man be in the condition of a brute, he comes to be so by a lapse, by a fall, by a depravation: he is sunk beneath himself, he hath lost a good that he, was capable of, and a perfection belonging to his own nature, that was the glory thereof; and, this he hath exchanged for the basest and vilest sort of slavery. The apostle Peter, 2 Epis. ii. 19. tells us, “That while men promise themselves liberty, they themselves become servants of corruption;” for, of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage: and to be in bondage to corruption, is the vilest kind of servitude that can be thought. We can form no idea in our minds of so base a vassalage as this,—to be servants to brutal and unreasonable appetitions and desires.

Man being by the constitution of his own nature a reasonable creature, to have that very reason of his depressed into a subserviency to what is unreasonable, is, in itself, a real misery, whatever the common estimate concerning it may be; and whatsoever that is now, undoubtedly it will, within a very little while, cease to be what it is. They that glory in their fetters, that please themselves in being such slaves, in being “led captive by satan at his will,” they will shortly, very soon, (though not soon enough it may be,) change their minds. It is much to be feared that many may not change soon enough; but it will be very soon however; for how soon is the life of a man run out? and then the vain dream ends in the horror of an awakened soul: then it sees what it feels, and what estate it hath, by its own wilful choice, declined, and what it did addict itself unto, against the common sentiments and dictates which were not alien from them all that while; but only were not attended to. They were not at leisure to commune with themselves, and to consider what their own thoughts would suggest; and 430their misery is not the less for their having been under mistakes concerning this whole business all this while, when that mistake will be so soon detected, and they cannot be of that false opinion always. Indeed, we might admit, that happiness and misery stood always in opinion, if that opinion would always last: but when we are sure it will not, but that men will quickly alter their minds, as soon as their course is run out, then that will be found to be real misery before, which becomes now to be only misery apprehended. But again,

vi. A further thing wherein this misery lies, even that of men’s minds, is the continual infatuation under which man, in his state of apostasy, is every where: and it is this that betrays him into that slavery which we have been now discoursing of. He is a slave, because he is a fool: he is fooled into the slavery which he so patiently undergoes. So you find these things connected in that Titus iii. 3. “We were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures.” And (as I have heretofore had occasion to note) that Greek word which we render “foolish,” as if it signified only the being without a right mind, it signifies more; it signifies being put out of a right mind. It is not being without a mind, for so is a stock and a stone, which were never capable of any such thing; but that word signifies being disminded, or having lost one’s mind in the use of it: “I have a mind, but I have been never the better for it. I have not known how to employ it:” and this comes in immediate connexion with serving divers lusts and pleasures; men having been so mean, and so base servants and slaves, because they were fools before; foolish, deceived, easily suffering themselves to be imposed upon; mocked, shamed into foolish expectations of felicity, where there is no such thing: so that in the very pursuit they still sink themselves lower and lower in miseries and death.

And hence it is, that that language is so usual in Scripture, of signifying a wicked man by the name of “a fool,” as nothing is more familiar in the whole book of Proverbs, and sundry texts besides. Nor, indeed, is that sort of expression peculiar to the Scripture. Nothing hath been more usual among some of your more noted pagan moralists, than by the name of sapiens, a wise man, to denote a virtuous man, a good man. A good man is dignified with the name of a wise man; then the” opposite hereto is obvious, that every evil man; every vicious man, is a fool: for it is not said of this or that person, more signally stupid or wicked, that he hath said in his heart, (as a fool,) “There is no God.” But that, (as you see in the xiv. and liii. Psalms, which are congenerous, and have almost the 431same passages in the former verses of the one and the other,) by that name is meant apostate man, in his state of apostasy. And so it is the general character of all men, yet remaining in that estate, and antecedently to their reduction and recovery out of it: “The fool hath said in his heart,” not that there is no God, that is not the text, but—“no God,” reckoning it to be rather the matter of their wish, than their assertion: it is capable of being understood in the optative, not in the indicative form; not as if they did say, “There is no God;” but “O! that there were none;” the fool hath said in his heart, “Would there were no God.”

And who those fools are, you see in what follows: God looks down from heaven on the children of men to see if there were any that did good, any that did seek after God; but they are all gone out of the way, all gone back, all in an universal revolt; none doing this good; to wit, not inquiring, not seeking after God, but all agreeing in the same wish: “O! that there were none: O! that there were no Ruler, no Lord over us; none to concern himself in any of our affairs; none to animadvert on our way and course, and to call us to account.” Where upon, nothing is more manifest than that according to the import of this scripture, the universality of apostate mankind lies under this character of folly. And somewhat it doth suppose, and somewhat it more formally includes. That which it supposeth is ignorance, the want of right notions of things: those, men have in their minds, are generally false: but somewhat it more formally includes, and that is, the inefficacy of those notions which they have. And this is folly more formally, and which stands in an immediate connexion with misery, or rather, more naturally inclusive of it.

In reference to things of principal concernment to men, they are not so generally ignorant as they are foolish; ignorance consisting in the not having of right notions, but folly consisting in the inefficacy of those that are right, in opposition to governing wisdom; that practical wisdom by which a man must steer his course, and walk agreeably and consistently unto that light and knowledge which he hath. And herein lies the common prevailing folly of this world; that in things wherein men have knowledge, they corrupt themselves, and their “foolish heart is darkened,” as the expression is, Romans i. 21, upon account whereof it is that God doth give them up, for their contending against the light and knowledge which they have, unto those brutish sensualities, as that they should do things that are not convenient, things very disagreeable to the nature of man, to the dignity of a human, reasonable creature.

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And so, also, the light which men have, is called “darkness” by equivalence; that is, it signifies no more to the proper purpose of light, to steer and conduct a man’s way and course, than if it were real darkness. And so, if you will allow our blessed Lord to be a Judge and Master to us of such propriety of speech, you must acknowledge that to be a very proper expression, that the light that is in man’s unconverted mind, is darkness. “If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness?” Matt. vi. 23. That is, it answers no purpose of light, it serves for no such purpose as light is designed for, to guide a man in his way: they have such and such notions; but they do in their constant course run counter to them: and this is not ignorance, hut folly, that they prevaricate with their own light, that they should know they ought to do so and so; and so and so they ought to choose; but they do choose and do quite the contrary.

And hence it is (which is the very achme of a man’s misery; that is, the misery of his mind and spirit) his misery in this respect, that he is, by this means, made a bundle of contradictions and inconsistencies. And so hath nothing but confusion within him; or is in a continual war with himself: and there is no accord, no agreement, between his most rational sentiments and resolutions, and his consequent way and course: for if a man did sit down and deliberate but in the morning of any day, “How ought I to spend this day? ought I to employ it in following the inclinations of the man, or of the brute?” Certainly, he would think it more worthy of him to act like the man this day, than to employ the day, or his thinking, manly powers, only in pursuing the inclination of the brute. But then, if in fact he do run counter to any such sentiments as these, it is not because he is ignorant, but because he plays the fool. He hath not that wisdom that he ought, to govern his way, and to act suitably unto the clearest and most rational apprehensions of things. And so he is made up of nothing but inconsistencies with himself, or incoherencies, which shew him to be a miserable creature. For what? Do we think, did God make him such, (with such a mind that equals him with the angels of God,) to be employed in serving such desires, and pursuing such designs, as puts him below a brute?

vii. And a further thing in this state of misery, is the ignominy that men are hereby drawing upon themselves. And there is no man that considers, but will acknowledge that just ignominy is a misery, ignominy truly and justly so accounted. “Sin (we are told) is the reproach of any people.” And then it must be as much the reproach of any person: as in that 433Prov. xiv. 24. every one accounts him a miserable man who is universally despised by every one, especially by the wisest and best of men. And suppose all mankind were, without a recovery, in that state of misery together, so that none must be found wiser or better than another, that could not at all mend the matter, with any of the individuals; as if it were riot misery, because amongst men, none thought this to be misery, or none thought it to be truly ignominious. For we are to consider that we have other spectators, besides men, that are more capable of judging.

It signifies little to any man, what he thinks of himself, or what others think of him, in comparison of what is thought of him, by him who is wisdom itself, and whose judgment of things never erreth. It is. not what man thinks of himself, or commends himself for, but what the Lord commends, that is approved. And our Lord Jesus Christ is peculiarly called by the name of “wisdom;” it is his common style and character. And we must suppose him greatly to concern himself about the affairs of a world, whereof he is the immediate Creator. “All things were made by him, and without him was nothing made that was made.” And therefore, that he hath a continual inspection (if he had not taken the Redeemer’s part) upon this world. He is said to be “the Image of the invisible God, and the first begetter of all creatures,” and that fitly enough (as that title fitly enough admits to be read) for “by him were all things made, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers.”

And then, we consider ourselves in this lower world under the continual view and inspection of those nobler creatures, that are intended by those names, they cannot but apprehend our apostasy, and much more the continuance of it r to be very ignominious and reproachful unto this whole order of creatures, fallen from their rightful Lord, because accomplices with the other apostate spirits of their own order, who were fallen before. How might it cut and wound a man’s heart, to think what the resentments of these wise, holy, and kind, and benign creatures (the glorious angels of God) are, concerning our common state here in this world? we having had the same Author and Parent of our being with them; he being “the Father of spirits.” An appellation equally agreeing to them, and to us, and not more to them than to us. To think that a world of such creatures, the progeny and offspring of the same Father, (the Father of spirits,) should be fallen to such a low pitch of misery and wretchedness, as they generally are; why sure they 434cannot but look upon our state and case to be most miserably ignominious and reproachful.

And therefore, they that continue in the apostasy, and are never recovered in this world, when they come to rise from the dead, they are said to “rise to shame and everlasting contempt;” Dan. xii. 2. One that was an apostate from God, and would never be recovered, he cannot but be had in ever lasting contempt. And unto an ingenuous mind, and one that God hath recovered to his wits, in some measure, nothing hath a sharper pungency upon the mind than shame. And then, to be under everlasting shame, everlasting contempt, by those wise and holy creatures that were so full of kindness and benignity in their complexion towards men, and the spirits of men, upon account of their near affinity, being in so great a measure, of one kind and nature with us, must be a great misery.

They that are recovered are called “angels,” fellow-associates with God. That they should be the devil’s fellows, followers of those wicked angels that were all in rebellion against their Rightful Sovereign Lord; and that, too, when they might have made a better association; overtures being made to them for their recovery and return: overtures being made to them of the most kind reception, though they were prodigals and rebels against their Father; this must leave them under ever lasting shame and contempt: and every one looks upon them now (that is, every good angel doth) to be infamous, being sunk to so low a state of shame and misery; and any wise and good man would scorn to keep such a one company, think it a reproach to him to reckon any such among his associates: and this will be the common case of apostate creatures, even eternally, to wit, such as are not recovered, that is, that they are abandoned to shame and everlasting contempt. And their own reflection, hereupon, must needs be the most sharp and tormenting thing that can be thought, to think what they are, and what they might have been, if they had not declined and refused to comply with so apt and suitable methods for their recovery. But further,

viii. It is another ingredient in the misery of the state of man in the apostate world, that they have such continual sharp resentments in their minds of the external evils that befal them here. They live in a world wherein they are continually liable to those evils which do first affect their sense; but not only of external evils, they become internal and rill their minds and spirits with torment. Herein lies much of their misery, they comfort themselves in such and such present, enjoyments that 435are variable, mutable and uncertain, which they have this hour, and are gone the next. They have this hour a delightful and joyful dwelling, and it is of a sudden, turned into flames. They had the other day a rich and plentiful estate; it hath all of a sudden taken wings, and is gone. Health turned into wasting sickness; ease into tormenting pain, all on a sudden. Ail these are very considerable as they terminate in the external sense; but as they enter into the mind, so they become inward evils, their minds are continually liable to anguish and torment by such events, and upon such accounts. And then,

ix. When it is so, they have no relief from God; for they have not before known the way of addressing to him. Good men, in their external calamities, have this refuge always ready. David, when he had lost his all at Ziklag, yet, comforted himself, in the Lord his God. His wives and family were all led captive by the Amalekites; his goods rifled; his house and city burnt with fire; that place that was left him for retirement, all rendered uninhabitable, on a sudden, by consuming flames: the people themselves, (the companions of his flight,) spake of stoning him; thus was he in the most deplorable case, that could be: “But he encouraged himself, (it is said) in the Lord his God.” But men, in their apostasy from him, have none of this comfort, none of this relief; they have obstructed and shut up the way of address to God against their own souls; they know not how to apply themselves to him.

Such a case as that you have represented, Hab. iii. 17, 18. It was a very forlorn and distressed state, and a case, he supposeth, that “the fig tree did not blossom; that no fruit was in the vine; the labour of the olive did fail; the field did yield no fruit; and the flocks were cut oft’ from the stall;” nothing but perishings: “yet,” saith he, “I will rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of my salvation.” A most deplorable case it is, when, amidst whatsoever distresses a man hath, he hath no God to betake himself to, nor inclination to be take himself to God. Think of the distresses of Saul, (Sam. xxviii. 15.) as there he laments his own case: “The Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and giveth me no answer;” he could have no relief from God. It hath been the privilege of souls, that are returned to God, and come back to him, that, when they are cast down under affliction, they could apprehend themselves not cast off: “They were in tribulation, but not in distress, afflicted, but not forsaken;” as 2 Cor. iv. 8, 9. But men, in an apostasy from God, have no relief, they know not where, nor how to betake themselves: “They cry out because of the oppression of the mighty; but none 436saith, Where is God my Maker?” Job xxxv. 10. No, instead of that, they count him an enemy; and, there is really too much ground for it, while they persist, and go on in their wickedness.

And, these are heads that might further be insisted on, together with that general stupefaction, fitly called “death.” or signified by the name of death, that possesseth the souls of the most in this present state; that, while in the midst of such miseries, they are so ingulphed, they feel them not, apprehend them not, or, at least, the worst, and most formidable part of that by which they are the most miserable:” the anger of the Lord preys upon them, as a consuming fire, and they know it not; it hath burnt them, yet they lay it not to heart,” as the prophet expresseth it, Isaiah xlii. 25. And that, indeed, is a most calamitous case, and calls for deep lamentation; the inhabitants of this earth, generally, as in the suburbs of hell, (as we have no other notion of this world, than as a portal and introduction into the eternal state of blessedness, or misery,) and, that men should be so near perishing, having wrath to the uttermost coming upon them, and yet, so generally unconcerned. This is a like case to that of a lethargic body, that may be tossed and rolled hither and thither; you may, perhaps, cut it and wound it, but it feels not. As little sensible are the minds or spirits of men of this state of their case, of those miseries, by which they are now wretchedly miserable, and are in danger of being finally and eternally so.

With what lamentations might we bewail the case of apostate men, upon this account, would we but admit the thoughts of the common case to enter and sink into our minds and hearts. Men are so strangely habituated to misery, that it is now become their element, and natural to them: they can see themselves gradually sinking lower and lower into death, and, might apprehend, that consummate death was at hand, but they are not startled and amazed, no amazing thought has place in the minds of men, to awaken them, and make them bethink themselves, while it would be seasonable, and while any thing might be done towards their escape from the wrath which is to come: but, they remain generally, in that dead sleep, which binds up all their powers, and are like so to do, (if wonderful mercy prevent not,) till flames awaken them out of their pleasant dream. And now, I add, further,

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