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But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.
I HAVE already opened unto you what is meant by the gospel being hid, and what is meant by their being lost to whom it is so; and shewn you in what peculiar sense both those must be taken, different from what is the common case of the apostate unconverted world: that both here must be understood to superadd somewhat to that common case, wherein men as sinners in the state of apostacy, in the most general sense have the gospel hid to them, and are themselves in a lost state.
We have from hence gone on to shew you the connection between these two, the gospel’s being hid and their being lost; and you have heard the one of these may be spoken of as betokening the other, and so they are manifestly put together here; and that these tokens are most significant when the token and the thing betokened have the relation of cause and effect one to another; that these two may be understood to have that mutual and reciprocal relation to one another.
That is, that the gospel being hid may be the cause that such are lost to whom it is so hid, and their being lost the effect; and back again, that their being lost may be the cause, and the gospel’s being hid the effect; and, accordingly, with some difference may this context be understood, according to that two-fold sense, or reference, that one of these may have to the other. Take the former reference or habitude of these to the other, and the sense will run thus; that is, that since the great things of the gospel, about which we apply ourselves to the very consciences of men in the sight of God, are so very plain, and do carry so clear and convictive light with them, as they do, if yet the gospel shall remain hid to such as are thus dealt with from time to time, their minds will grow, in all likelihood, more and more indisposed to comport with the design of it; God will grow more and more displeased, his displeasure will rise higher and higher; their guilt will grow 149greater and greater, and they will be more visibly in danger of being finally lost; or, according to the latter reference, the sense will be thus, that the great things of the gospel are of such evidence, and of such manifest importance, that the consciences of men being applied to, and dealt with from time to time about them, it is hardly conceivable such things can be hid to such persons unless they be lost. The matter is otherwise unaccountable, why such things should not take hold of men; surely they are lost that such things will not fasten upon them. You know, according to the former reference, as being hid is the cause, being lost is the effect; this we have spoken already, and shewed you that the gospel being hid must be the cause of their being lost to whom it is so; both as its being hid doth exclude what is necessary to their salvation, and as it doth include what contributes to their destruction.
And now we go on to the other reference that the one of these hath to the other; that is, as being lost may be the cause, and the gospel’s being hid may be the effect: and it is exceeding agreeable to the design of this context to under stand the matter so. We do, saith he, in this ministry of our’s commend ourselves to the consciences of men in the sight of God. This is plain; and this is our constant course. And what? is it a supposeable thin” that our gospel should be hid to them while we do so? How can it be? t can be upon no other account but that they are lost; it must needs argue and suppose them a lost sort of men, upon whom a gospel, so applying itself to conscience, doth not fasten, takes no hold.
But then (will you say,) How must being lost be under stood? I have told you already how it must be understood in this place; you are sure it cannot be that they are eventually lost, or already in hell; it cannot be understood so; and it cannot be understood that they are lost in that sense that is common to the apostate world, in respect whereof the Son of Man is said to have come to seek and “save that which was lost.” But there are two things besides that it may and must mean in this case.
1. That they are sinfully lost; they are lost in sin; they are lost in carnality, and that in a deeper degree than is common to the rest of the world. There is a greater and more confirmed dominion of sin in them, in their several faculties and powers, than in the generality of the unconverted world, as such; greater, deeper, blacker darkness upon their minds; the god of this world (as it follows in the next 150verse) hath put out their eyes, hath blinded them, so as they have less light, less eye-sight than before they had, (so it must be understood,) or than men commonly have, otherwise there were no peculiar reason in the case why this should be said of them. But we find it said. If it were to be understood that the god of this world hath no otherwise blinded them than he hath blinded the unconverted world, why should it be said that they are lost more than all others upon that account? That would argue and be a reason that all are lost alike, if all were blind alike. But he hath “blinded the minds of them that believe not;” he hath been dealing with them all the while they have been otherwise dealt with by another hand, to be brought to faith; he hath been endeavouring to confirm them in their unbelief, and hath made their minds more blind than ever they were; and they are at a remoter distance from believing than ever, as that fascination by which he hath possessed their minds, hath more and more taken hold of them. And it must be understood that they are lost more in heart-sins; disaffection to the holy designs of the gospel, enmity against God and against Christ hath prevailed to a greater height in them, and so they are lost, lost in sin. And,
2. They must be understood hereupon to be lost under deeper guilt and an heavier doom, that is from God, penally upon them; so that he hath been even provoked to “swear against them, in his wrath, that they should not enter into his rest;” as in that Heb. iii. 11, quoted from the 95th Psalm, that was sworn against them that believed not; as it was here in this context said, the minds were blinded of them that believed not.
But this (you may say) is very severe. And truly it is so. But how can we help it? We cannot by our thought, this way or that, alter the nature of things. They will lie as they do; but we may, by a due use of our thoughts, and according to that light which the Holy Scriptures afford us, come to understand things more to advantage. And some things I shall offer to you that may tend partly to justify and partly to mollify this severity. It is indeed very severe, that men under the gospel should arrive to that state, to that pitch, to be so far lost, as that to suppose them now to continue never so long under it, they shall never be the better for it. Let the plainest things that can be thought or spoken be said to them, they shall be always hid to them, because they are lost. A fearful 151thing! But do but consider a little what I shall offer to you, which may have that double tendency, that I spoke of, partly to justify this severity, and partly to mollify it. As,
1. Consider this, that those that are thus lost, hereupon is likely to be still a hidden gospel to them, let them hear it never so long, they are like to be never the better for it. I say, Consider, that if any are thus lost, they were not always so lost. This is a thing that is come upon them, and which they have drawn upon themselves. It must be understood with reference to a former day which they have had, wherein the matter was otherwise, wherein they lay not under that dreadful stupefaction, and that heavy doom which now will come upon them. They had their day; those had so in that 95th Psalm, who are given us for a sort of paradigm, they against whom God “sware in his wrath that they should not enter into his rest.” He bare their manners in the wilderness forty years, as the expression is, in the 7th of Acts, of dying Stephen. There is time supposed to have been afforded to such under the gospel, to whom the matter is come to this. They had their day; those that live within the compass of that light which revelation adds to the common light of natural reason; they have their more special day, and have always had so. There is a time, concerning which it is said to sinners, “To-day, if ye will hear my voice, harden not your hearts.” He limits a certain day, a certain now; and this is a more critical now. There is a more peculiar crisis of time with such as live under the gospel than is with other men that have not that peculiar light which is afforded to the church of Go d in the world. God did, in a sort, connive at the nations of the earth that went every one in their own way, as it is said in the 17th of Acts, did overlook them, did not look upon them with so curious, so narrow, so inquisitive an eye; (as it were, speaking of God after the manner of men;) “but now (saith the Apostle) he commandeth all men every where to repent.” As that Roman Consul, who, treating with Antiochus, (who made war upon some allies of the Roman state,) demanded of him in the name of the senate and commonwealth of Rome to withdraw his forces from molesting such a place. Saith the king, What time do you allow me to think of this, or consider it? He immediately draws, with a rod he had in his hand, a circle about the king, and tells him,—Now, before you stir out of this circle, declare whether you will be a friend to the senate and people of Rome, or an enemy:—so doth God circumscribe 152men, and set them limits. Now, out of hand, it be in reference to some of us here in this assembly; the determination may be now, before you stir out of this place, Declare whether you will be reconciled, or persist in your enmity and unreconciled state. How many passages of Scripture do speak to this sense! “Seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near; 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 unto our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah lv. 5, 6. Now or never; now you have time for it; it may be, shortly you will have none, nor any ever after. It is a great thing which you find in that somewhat parallel text, (Luke xix. 42.) our Saviour beholds Jerusalem with weeping eyes, in his approach to it, being then upon the opposite hill, the Mount of Olives, between which and that whereon Jerusalem stood there was a valley, in which ran the Brook Kidron; when he was on the opposite hill, and on his descent of that, he having a convenient view of Jerusalem, as it lay before him, he weeps over it in such words as these, (mingled with tears,) “Oh! that thou hadst known, at least, in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes.” Tears intermingle with, and at length interrupt the words, and cause that apotheosis, so as that the sentence was not filled up. “If thou hadst known, in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace.” It is filled up with a more speaking silence, by a silence more emphatical than words could be,—“If thou hadst known;” we are only left to conceive what had been if they had known the things that belong to their peace in that their day; “but now they are hid from thine eyes!” Oh, how terribly emphatical is that now! Now they are hid, a little while ago they were not hid; now they are. The curtain is drawn that creates (for aught we know) an eternal night; that curtain being drawn between the wretched soul and that glorious light that did shine upon it:—“Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Cor. vi. 1, 2. There is such a now, and there is another now; wherein this now is over, as in that 2 Cor. vi. 2. referred to that of the Prophet Isaiah, xlix. 8; supposing then, any to be thus lost, they were not always so lost; the case was in this respect sometimes otherwise with them. And then,
2. Supposing them thus lost, and the gospel thereupon thus hid, permanently hid, this must refer to the former 153provocation; with many of them God was not well pleased; they who had that day in the wilderness, whose carcases fell in the wilderness. If our congregations be full of car cases, if there he so many walking carcases that fill our streets from day to day, God is not well pleased; if the gospel be a lifeless gospel, God is not well pleased, he is provoked. But, further,
3. The causes of that provocation are high and great, so that we have no reason to think it strange if the effects that ensue have very dreadful severity in them. Let me but instance to you, in some concurrences that do make the cause of such displeasure and provocation. As,
(1.) That when men let themselves thus be lost under the gospel by their neglect of it, and their non-attendance to it; they are the greatest things imaginable which they did neglect, to which they refused their attendance, which they would not regard. When the gospel did in the first age of it begin to shed its light upon the world, (though in that more wonderful manner the things were not more wonderful than now,) you hear in that (Acts ii. 11.) that when that gift of tongues was so amazingly, by miracle, first conferred, all the people in that vast confluence at Jerusalem, at that time, from so many several countries, each one heard in his own tongue.—What did he hear?—“The wonderful things of God.” The gospel is not another gospel from what it was then; it acquaints us with most wonderful things still. This was the aggravation upon Israel of old, upon Ephraim; “I have written unto them the great things of my law, and they have accounted them a strange thing,” counted them strange to them. Hos. viii. 12. That might have been more commodiously expressed according to the significancy of the word there used, “were counted to the man alien thing,” a foreign thing; a thing that concerned them not, which they had nothing to do with, which they looked upon as we used to look upon strangers, men that we never saw or knew before; we look upon them wistly; so they looked upon the wonderful things of the law of God, and so those do here upon the wonderful things of the gospel: whereas they are great and wonderful, they should command a man’s ears, and engage the attention of his mind to consider and take notice of them; they look upon them as strange things, as alien and foreign to them, and which they had nothing to do with. This is very provoking, when such things are brought to our notice, as “angels stoop down to look 154into.” The descent of the glorious Son of God into the world, how did it amaze the glorious angels above! What is the meaning of this? say they. They look down after him.—What is the intention of this strange descent?—What is it for that the heir of heaven should go down into that lost, forlorn, wretched world? He that was the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person, is going down to visit that dark region of death. What means he there? What would he do there? Did they think he went down to die? Did they think he went down to be a man? Did they think he went down to offer himself a sacrifice upon a tree for the redemption and salvation of such? When so wonderful things as these are made known; and about these things (saith the Apostle) we apply ourselves to the consciences of men in the sight of God; we appeal to their consciences about the rights of the Redeemer, and what duty, and what homage, must be owed to him from the redeemed. And, if our gospel be hid you are lost; if you will not regard such a gospel, though having in it so great things, you must be lost. And then,
(2.) These great things are set in the gospel dispensation before men, in the clearest light. They are not represented darkly and unintelligibly, and in parables; but the most important things, and those about which they are most of all dealt with, are the plainest things, that every one that runs may read. What? is there so much of mystery in “repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,” and in loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, and souls, and might, and our neighbour as ourselves? Is there so much of mystery in these, that men will not regard the greatest things, and clothed with the clearest light? What else doth that mean—We recommend ourselves to the consciences of men in the sight of God? They are such things, as every conscience of man may be expected to admit conviction about out of hand, without more ado; then, sure, if the gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost. It comes from hence that they are a lost sort of men, otherwise such things could not be hid from them. And,
(3.) They are things that men are dealt with about in the highest name; for, when we come to you, to deal with you about these things, we do not come upon our own errand; we do not come to you in our own name; but the ministers of this gospel are ministers of Christ, and they come 155to you in the name of Christ; and he hath expressly said; “He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that heareth me, heareth him that sent me.” This same gospel dispensation is the ministry of the Son of God, as the case is plainly stated before us in that 1st of Hebrews, beginning, “God, that spake many other ways in former times, hath now spoken to us by his Son;” and continues speaking to us by his Son; and (as he represents the case in the next chapter) “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by them that heard him; God bearing them witness?” And afterwards, in the 12th chapter and 25th verse, “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh; for if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven.” This is said, when we are told that our Lord was at the right hand of God on the throne of the Majesty on high; as in the 3d verse of that chapter, having given an account of our being under this ministry of the Son of God; though we are told, that, “he, having purged our sins by himself, he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;” yet still we are under his dispensation, and still he is the great Speaker to us; so that now, when any suffer themselves to be thus lost under the gospel, in their own sinful and chosen deceiving blindness and enmity against it, no wonder if it be deter mined that it shall be an hidden gospel to them, and they lie long enough under the dispensation of it, and be never the better; for they have been affronting the Majesty of the Son of God under the dispensation all this time. He that did seek and command greater attention, and greater reverence, and greater subjection of spirit, and upon higher right and title than when there was that terrible appearance upon Mount Sinai, that shook the earth, and that seemed as if it would have put the creation into a paroxysm; there hath been a greater obligation to the deepest reverence and veneration upon them. And how just is the provocation when this gospel is neglected, and men lose themselves under it, for him to say and determine this,—Well now, as to you it shall always be an hidden gospel! And again,
(4.) There is this farther in the case, that these great things in that great name, in that most excellent name, have been hinted, not once but often; and often inculcated and urged over and over again in the authority of the same 156name. What a mighty weight doth this add to the same load of guilt! and how much matter doth it supply to feed the indignation, to heighten the provocation, that such were applied to from time to time, in a continued course, for many years together. “The earth, that drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and brings forth herbs meet for him by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from; God: if there be fruit, a blessing comes upon it, and follows it; if there be no fruit, nothing but briers and thorns, then it is followed with a curse, and a dreadful curse,—“It is nigh unto cursing, and its end is to be burned.” Heb. vi. 7, 8. “He that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” Prov. xxix. 1. A fearful thing, when the gospel itself shall not be my remedy!—shall be destroyed without remedy; no remedy shall remedy your case. And,
(5.) We must suppose the Spirit to have often been at work in this time, and while such things were from time to time inculcated; so it was with the people of Israel; “you do always resist the Holy Ghost.” Acts vii. He was then always striving, more or less, otherwise there could not always be a resistance. That is doing “despite to the Spirit of grace.” Heb. x. 29. And herein is the greatest provocation, as I have told you heretofore, there is a remarkable accent in that expression, “the Spirit of grace.” Oh, that Spirit of all kindness, and grace, and sweetness, and benignity! to despite him, what an high provocation is this? When he comes and toucheth any of your minds, and makes some impression on your hearts, saith he, secretly and inwardly: “Sinner, wilt thou yet return? Hast thou yet no desire after God?—no inclination to know a Redeemer, and choose and close with him? Now to spite a Spirit of grace, when he speaks to you so kindly, and so sweetly, and so tenderly,—Oh, sinner, do not go on, and perish for ever!—here is the very height of provocation.” The word, in the original, signifies to in jure inwardly the Spirit of grace, to make the injury enter into him, as it were; it imports to sting a man to the heart, to the very soul; as if it had been said, your injury pierceth into that Spirit of grace, that Spirit of Jove, kindness, and goodness; it enters into it. Thus it must be, when in such days, and at such times as these, the great things of the gospel are heard with no effect. And,
(6.) It must be supposed, conscience was in some mea sure convinced at this time; for applications were made to 157it in the plainest cases. We. have applied ourselves to the consciences of men in the sight of God, saith the Apostle. And now if our gospel be hid, it is that you are lost. And,
(7.) It must be supposed too, that affections have been stirred in some measure and variously; there have been some desires enkindled, and some fears awakened, and some hopes and joys possibly raised, and some tastes and relishes of the sweetness that is in this Gospel, and of the things contained therein; as it is supposed in that Heb. iv. 4, 5. after all this, to lose yourselves in darkness and wickedness; now if the gospel be hid, there is no recovering such by repentance, as he thereafterwards speaks. But,
(8.) This adds weight to all the rest, that they were very light matters for which men have exposed themselves to this fearful loss, even of themselves, of their very souls: a loss that nothing can recompense, nothing can make up. “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matt, xvi. 26. What hast thou had in exchange for thy soul? The smallest matters imaginable, the temporary satisfaction of a lust. I sold my soul (may one say) to please my friend. I sold my soul (may another say) for the love I had, for the lust I had, to a cup of drink. I sold my soul (may a third say) for the pleasure I took in a vain idle companion. These are the things that kept me from closing with God, uniting with my Redeemer, and from engaging and persisting in the way of life. O that God, and Christ, and heaven, should be set so low! Thou didst break with me, (must the great God say, and must the Redeemer that died for you say,) thou didst break with me for a trifle, for a thing of nought; yea, thou didst prefer before me the vilest things, the most odious things. Thou didst rather choose to be a vassal, a slave to lust, than to live under the easy yoke and government of a compassionate and merciful Redeemer and Saviour. The deformities of wickedness were more amiable in thine eyes than the beauties of holiness. What can be said in this case, when the story comes to be told, and the matter is to be represented just as it is, that it is thus as you have heard?
And that is the third thing to be considered in this case:—That as former provocation must have been supposed, so that provocation must have been very high and very great upon these sundry mentioned accounts. But then I add upon all this,
4. That if any hereupon be thus lost (as you have heard) it is only that God hath retired from them, withdrawn 158from them. He hath not positively hurt them; he never put any ill thoughts into them, or any ill disposition of mind. If it be severe in itself, and dreadful to you, that you are now a lost creature, God hath no hand in it, otherwise than as he retired from you:—“Thy destruction is of thyself, but in him is thy help found.” Hos. xiii. 9. He was ready to help thee, and to save thee, thou only destroyed thyself; he only withdrew that presence for which thou didst not care, that Spirit which thou didst vex and grieve; that is all: he never put any ill thought or inclination into thy mind and heart, thou destroyedst thyself; he did but say, These wretched creatures do not care for me, do not care for my Son, do not care for my Spirit; well, I will retire, I will let them alone, I will let them have their own way. He had said to you, “Turn ye at my reproof, I will pour out my Spirit upon you, I will make known my words unto you; I called and ye refused, I stretched out my hands, and no man regarded.” Prov. i. Well, I behold your destruction now. It is not said, I will destroy you, but “I will laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear cometh;” and it will certainly come. God tempteth no man, neither is he tempted by any; but every man is “tempted when he is led away of his own lust and enticed.” James i. 14. And then I would add lastly,
5. That although all this be very certain, yet we cannot suppose the Apostle here to be absolutely decisive in his judgment concerning the final states of particular persons: such may be more lost, and in a worse and more dreadful sense lost than many others in the world, than the generality of the pagan world. But though they are so, it is not for all that determined that they are so lost as that they cannot be recovered. And we are sure they are not so lost as that they cannot be recovered, if they have not sinned that sin which cannot be pardoned; and which I do in the general believe that no man hath ever committed, or is guilty of, that is afraid he hath; indeed, your case is more dangerous than before, which should awaken you so much the more, because it is dangerous, and you are upon hazardous terms. They may be said to be lost, as being more out of the reach of the ordinary methods of grace, who yet are not absolutely lost, not sure to be finally lost. And no man hath reason to apprehend he is so lost, finally lost, irrecoverably lost, that comes once to be solicitous about it. No, if our God hath brought you to consider and bethink yourself; I am in danger to be lost, I know not what will 159become of me, or of my case at length, if I that have been such a stranger to God should continue much longer a stranger to him; if I that have neglected to capitulate with the Son of God should much longer neglect it; I know not what will become of this, it may be bitterness in the end. If you begin thus to consider, I hope the issue will prove thus, that it will be said of you as it was of the Prodigal Son, “This my son was dead and is alive, he was lost but is found.” But more to this purpose, (as I have partly intimated already,) I shall speak in the use.
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