|« Prev||Sermon XI. Preached April 19, 1691.||Next »|
But if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.
They are lost souls to whom the gospel is an hidden gospel. This (you know) we have been upon from these words; and we have in this shewed you what is meant by the gospel’s being hid, and what is meant by the soul’s being lost; and that both these are to be understood in a sense peculiar and different from the common case of men; and in what reference the gospel’s being hid, and their being lost, doth differ from the common case, we have particularly shewn you: and have further shewn the connection between these things, the gospel’s being hid, and soul’s being lost, to whom it is so; the one doth betoken the other, and they are the most significant tokens which have connection with the thing betokened; as causes and effects, the one to the other. I have shewn this is the case here: that the gospel’s being hid, it is a cause of the soul’s being lost, both as it excludes what is necessary to their salvation, and as it includes what promotes their destruction. I have again shewed you too, that being lost may also be the cause of the gospel’s being hid; and shewn how being lost is to be taken in that case: lost in wickedness, as men more extremely wicked are said to be, and lost under a divine doom. So they must be understood to be to whom the gospel is therefore hid, men given up and 160forsaken of God, and then the God of this world blinds them.
And because this appears very severe, therefore I did by sundry considerations endeavour partly to justify, and partly to mollify, this severity; now I come to the use of this important truth. And it will be useful,
Use 1. To inform us of sundry truths that by way of inference may be deduced here. As,
1. That it is no sufficient ground upon which any may conclude their state to be safe and good, that they live under the gospel: I pray consider it. It is not enough hereupon to ground a conclusion concerning your good and safe final state, that you live under the gospel. No, though you had apostolical preachers among you, for such these Corinthians had to whom this is with so much terror spoken. No, though you had angelical preachers, such as could speak to you, not with the tongues of men only, but of angels; for the Jews had that word before that was given to them as a gospel; (as the Apostle takes notice, Heb. iii.) unto them was the gospel preached, as well as to us. And their gospel was called the law, as that whole revelation went under the name of the law: “They that have sinned without the law, shall perish without the law.” In those days when the law was the more conspicuous part of it, they had it “by the ministration of angels, but they kept it not.” Acts vii. 53. Nay, though it were by the most divine preacher, our blessed Lord himself; “How can we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which began to be spoken by the Lord himself?” Heb. ii. 2. even that gospel was preached by the Son of God himself, and as it was, so was an hidden gospel to many, and they lost souls under it. A man may perish as well under an hidden gospel, as under no gospel. And again,
2. We are to infer, That the proper design of the gospel is the salvation of souls. If the gospel be hid it is hid to them that are lost; if it were not hid they would not be lost, that is plainly implied: but that which hath no design or tendency to save would not save, whether hidden or not hidden. But there is no interveniency in this case to hinder a person’s being saved by the gospel, but only its being hid: therefore that which would save souls if not hid, must have an aptitude and designation to this purpose. Here is nothing to hinder a soul being saved by the gospel if it be not hid: by this you learn therefore that the true and apt tendency and design of the gospel is, to save 161souls. How often is it called by names that signify so much? “To you is the word of this salvation sent.” Acts xiii. 22. “After you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Eph. i. 13. “How can we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which first began to be spoken?” Heb. ii. 3. What doth the words of this gospel speak?—It speaks salvation. It is a great matter to know the gospel by its true name, and to understand it accordingly: to think what God hath sent among you, when he hath sent his gospel among you; and that which is its end and design, ought to be yours in attending it. The gospel would make great and glorious work (I doubt not) among us, if it were more generally come to this, that the true end of the gospel were our end, were convinced when we come to attend; how would it confound many a one if they were to give an account of their end in coming to attend, and wait on the ministry of the gospel? I am going to such a place, such an assembly, such a church, such a meeting-house. Well saith one, and what are you going for? I am going to hear what such a man can say; I am going to please my fancy and curiosity, to gratify my novel humour. God knows how few come to such assemblies with that temper of mind so as that they can truly say, being asked, He that knows all things, knows I go to look after the salvation of my own soul; it is a gospel of salvation that I go to attend upon, and I go to attend upon it as such, on purpose that I may be saved, that I may in this way be working out my own salvation. But what an affront is it to the great and glorious Lord of heaven and earth to pervert the design of this gospel. What? Have men nothing to play with but sacred things: things that carry the stamp of the authority and majesty, as well as the grace and goodness of Heaven upon them? Is there nothing else to be trifled with but things of that sacred and awful import? No wonder if the gospel be hid, and no wonder if souls be lost by multitudes at this rate. But again,
3. We may further learn, That while a man lives under the gospel, the great question that depends concerning him is, Shall I be saved, or shall I be lost? Here is the great question that depends concerning every one, and which they ought to recount with themselves over and over again. Here is this case depending concerning me; shall I be finally saved or lost? Oh! what an awful thought is this that every day that goes over my head, and every time I 162go to hear a sermon, still this question lies under consideration; shall I in the issue, or end of my course, be a saved or a lost man? Sure at this rate we should be working out our salvation with fear and trembling; nothing becomes us more, nothing is more suitable to the state of our case. And,
4. We further learn hence, That men may be lost on this side hell. If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost; hid before they reach hell, whither no gospel comes; and so lost before they reach thither. And then again,
5. By parity of reason, Men may be saved on this side heaven, as well as they may be lost on this side hell. We know the great Emmanuel was otherwise called Jesus, because he should save his people from their sins. If this blessed word hath taken effect upon thy soul, it is saved; that is, it is so far saved now from sin, as that it governs now no longer. Its empire is broken, its throne is thrown down in the soul. Here is salvation on this side heaven: salvation is this day come to this house, to this soul, he is already a saved one. There is inchoate salvation; salvation begun that ascertains consummate salvation, and from which that will not be separated. The New Jerusalem, that glorious city that comes down out of heaven from God; Rev. xxi 4. (supposing that be meant of a state of the church of God on earth;) the nations of them that are saved, walk in it. As soon as they enter into it, there they walk as saved ones. The nations of the saved, there they dwell, there they inhabit the city of God.
6. They to whom the gospel is not hid are not lost, or are of these saved ones; if they to whom the gospel is hid be lost, they to whom it is not hid are saved. They are in this state of salvation already. Oh! happy creatures and blessed state that you are come into. The gospel is no longer a hidden gospel to you, though it is to many a one beside. With what admiration may you say, “I thank thee, (Oh Father,) Lord of heaven and earth, that when such things have been hid from many a wise and prudent one, thou hast revealed them unto me!” Matt. xi. 24, 25. hast caused thine own bright light to penetrate, to strike through into my very soul, to shine into my heart, as it follows in this context: “And thereupon, though I was a wanderer, a stray and lost creature, thou hast sought thy servant, I went astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant, 163for I do not forget thy commandments.” Psalm cxix. last verse. Thou hast sought thy servant, and found him out. And thou mayest say of thy soul, as the father of his prodigal son; “This my soul was lost and is found.” Luke xv. last verse. “We all went astray as lost sheep, and he bare the iniquities of us all,” Isaiah liii. 6. that we might be recovered and saved at last. Oh you that find gospel light to enter into your souls, bless God, and admire! The gospel is not hid from me, I am therefore saved out of my lost state.
But besides these inferences of truth, there is a further and another sort of use that I must proceed to.
Use 2. It may be (upon what hath been before said in opening the doctrine of this text to you) some awakenings may be upon the spirits of some, perhaps some may have been in a going among us, and may say in their hearts, And what is likely upon all this to become of me? What is my final state like to prove? Shall I be saved, or shall I be lost? I would fain give some help in this case, and would in order to it, lead such into some distinction of thoughts, that they may not be confounded in their inquiry. Now this inquiry in general may be capable of being formed into three questions. Either 1st. The meaning of their inquiry may be, Shall I be certainly saved at last; or 2ndly. The meaning of their inquiry may be, How shall I do, certainly to know if I am certainly to be lost? or 3dly. The meaning of their inquiry maybe, How shall I evidence it to myself, or have it evidenced to me, that there is any thing of hope in my case? That, going on in the use of prescribed and appointed means, things may be brought at length to an happy issue? That I may have such a present view of my case, as to judge and think of it, that it may be possible that I may be saved at last?
1. Now as to the first of these questions, supposing it to be the question of any whom God hath begun lately to work on; of any that he hath begun lately to awaken:—Then I must needs say to that question; Friend, you are too hasty, you make too much haste to think, that when God hath but newly begun with you, you should presently be at a certainty that you shall be saved. This may be more haste than good speed. When you have gone on a considerable tract of time in a serious endeavour of working out your salvation with fear and trembling; and giving all diligence to make your calling and election sure, it will 164be time enough to put this question then; it is yet unseasonable for you. And then.
2. Supposing that the next be the question with any, How shall I know that I shall be certainly lost? As the former question is an unseasonable one, this is a vain one, altogether vain. If you shall certainly be lost, what can it avail you to know that you shall? or do you think it is possible you should ever come to know it on this side being in hell? It must be by some revelation from God, mediate or immediate; but God doth not use to do vain things, to reveal any thing to no purpose: and this can be to no imaginable purpose. If you shall certainly be lost it can do you no good to foreknow it; and therefore the revelation of it is not to be expected from God any ways, mediately or immediately, and consequently it is a foolish vain question. But,
3. If the question be, How may it appear that there is any thing of hope in my case, that in the use of the prescribed and appointed means, I may, through the grace of God, possibly be saved at last? This is a sober question, and becoming a serious and considerate man, and one that hath a value for his soul, and a reverence for God, the great Disposer of our everlasting soul’s concernments. And therefore in reference to this I would be assisting the best I can, and as God shall enable me. And there are many things that are to be said to it. As,
1. That you always ought to hope till there be most apparent reason for total despair. If there be not a reason for total despair, then you are under obligation to admit of some hope; nothing is plainer, that a reasonable creature, capable of futurity and of another state, he hath it as a law in his nature to use prospect, and to exercise hope, in reference to futurity. And I cannot but recollect a noted passage of that Platonic Jew, Philo Judaeus, “That hope towards God, in reference to men’s future concernments, is of the very essence of man; and he is not to be called a man, a human creature, that hath not hope in reference to his future concernments.” And there is a great deal in it: it is to be looked upon as somewhat else than a lavish expression, for God hath (no doubt) contempered the frame of all his creatures to their state: and having made man capable of futurity and eternity in another state; hope cannot but be an essentiating principle in his very nature. And therefore it is very unnatural and a doing violence to ourselves, to endeavour to take away all 165hope in reference to that futurity which is yet before you, and which you have yet in prospect. You ought to hope while there is no apparent cause of total despair; for whatsoever doth not admit totallity, there must be somewhat of the contrary, by reason whereof it doth not so. There can be no imaginable ground upon which a man should not admit of a total despair, but as there is some hope If there were no hope, despair would be total; if there be found hope, despair cannot be total. And it is matter of duty to you, always to entertain and cherish some hope when there is no apparent reason for total despair. That I fore-lay in the first place.
2. There can be no reason for total despair while the gospel stands unrepealed; while it is neither generally repealed, nor repealed particularly as to you. All that while the connection remains between faith in Christ and salvation: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John iii. 16. While this gospel that makes this connection between believing in the Son of God and not perishing, not being lost, but being saved, stands unrepealed, we have no reason for total despair. Still if I believe, I shall be saved; if I believe in the Son of God, I shall live. I have been a vile creature, it is true; a great rebel, not only against the authority, but against the grace of God; and I have deserved to perish a thousand times over, and to be given up as lost without remedy. But the gospel is not yet repealed that saith, Whosoever believes in the Son of God shall not perish, shall not be lost, but have everlasting life; it is not repealed in general, nor shall be to the end of the world. And what? Will any man say it is repealed as to him? It is repealed as to me? Pray shew that repeal! you can not say that it is repealed as to you, unless you had a Bible reached down from heaven that saith, whosoever believeth shall be saved, whosoever believeth on the Son of God shall not perish, but have everlasting life, except John such an one, or Thomas such an one, or Elizabeth such an one. Shew me such a Bible that saith the gospel is repealed as to you; though I believe never so much I shall not be saved, I am an excepted person. Where is the exception? Shew me the Bible wherein is that exception.
Aye, but you may say, it is very true, I doubt not, that if yet I believe I may be saved; but alas! what reason have I to hope that I shall ever be brought to believe, ever be 166enabled to believe, who have resisted the grace of God, and the Spirit of God so long, so often, so injuriously, so insolently, as I have done? What hope is that I shall ever be brought to believe? I add therefore,
S. That there is not only hope, nay, I may say, ground of confidence, that if you believe you shall be saved, but there is also ground of very great hope, if you do indeed set your minds to inquire and consider about this matter, that you shall be brought to believe. For that is the head which I lay down here as the third in order: that all the while the command, the law, stands in force as to you, that obligeth you to believe, all that while there is a ground and reason left you to hope, that you shall be enabled to believe, when the evangelical law doth particularly oblige you amongst the rest that live under the gospel, to believe in the Son of God, that you may not perish but have everlasting life, as much as if there were a law made in your case alone. If there were a particular law made concerning you, and laying the charge upon you—Do thou believe on the Son of God, that thou mayest not perish, but have everlasting life; I say you are as much obliged to believe on the Son of God, as if there were a particular law made concerning you, and none but you, concerning you alone. This is the command of God, this is the law, “that we believe on him whom he hath sent.” John iii. 33. It cannot be said that because there is such a law that obligeth you to believe in Jesus Christ, therefore you certainly shall believe; but it is to be collected with the greatest clearness imaginable, that there being such a law obliging you to believe, you have reason to hope you shall be enabled to believe if you do seriously design the thing. Is it to be thought that God should come (as it were) directly to you, that the Son of God should apply himself directly to you, sinner: I charge thee, accept my Son, believe in my Son, take him to be thy Redeemer, thy Saviour, thy Lord; and that there should be no hope that ever you should do so, or that he will give you any help in order thereunto? This is the most unimaginable thing in all the world.
Question. But you may perhaps say, How shall I do to understand this, that I am under obligation to believe on the Son of God, that I may not perish, that I may not be lost?
Answer. To that I say, (that I may leave this a clear and undisputed thing in your thoughts,) either you must be so obliged to believe in the Son of God, to receive and take 167him for your’s, your Lord and Saviour, or else, your not doing so is no sin. Now, where is that person that dares to produce himself, and say, I live under the gospel, that gospel is come to me, whereof this is the great fundamental law, the command of the great Author of it, even of the God of heaven; this is his commandment, that we believe on his Son: but it is a commandment that doth not oblige me? Where is the man that dares say, If I live an infidel under the gospel all the rest of my time, I am no sinner in it? If believing be not your duty, not believing is not your sin, but what? Is there any body that can say, or dare say, that to refuse Christ is not his sin? Then to accept him is duty. Therefore doth this gospel, still as you live under it, urge it on you as a duty out of hand to come to an agreement with the Son of God; resign thyself up to him, put thyself into his hands, and at his feet; into his hands to be saved, and at his feet to be subject, and to obey him. This the gospel chargeth on you; and while it doth so, while it calls you to repentance, and calls you to faith, you have reason to hope still; I have God’s warrant, why should I not expect his help? If he calls me, why shall I not think he will help me, help me to repent, and help me to believe in his Son, that I may not be finally and for ever lost! And again,
4. You can do nothing in your circumstances more pleasing and grateful to God than to hope in his mercy; thus to state your case, I am naturally a lost creature, a perishing creature, I have deserved to perish over and over; that a Spirit of divine light and grace should never visit my soul more, or look after me more, I have highly deserved it; but yet I have heard of the nature of God, that he is immensely good and gracious; his name hath told me his nature, “The Lord, the Lord God, gracious and merciful, long suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, pardoning iniquity, transgression and sin.” Exod. xxxiv. 5. I will throw myself upon that name, I will cast myself on his mercy; I have nothing to do but that; and that, why should I stick to do? Now, I say, you please him, you please him beyond all things that in your circumstances you are any way capable of doing. The Lord takes pleasure in them that fear him and that hope in his mercy, pleasure in them! Strange that any act of an abject, guilty, impure, perishing wretch should be pleasing and grateful to the pure, holy, glorious, ever-blessed, God; that he should be pleased with any act of mine. Why, it 168is not as it is your’s, but it is with reference to the object, as it is a thing suitable unto him, a tribute due to his great and glorious name. It is the best acknowledgment you can make of his deity, of his godhead, of his most excel lent perfect nature, comprehensive of all perfection, but wherein we are taught to conceive this as the most eminent, when we are told that God is love. Here is a poor creature, as insolent as he hath been, (saith God,) as proud, as full of enmity and malignity against me, now I see he comes to acknowledge me to be God, that is, acknowledgeth me to be merciful, infinitely, immensely merciful, beyond limits merciful, beyond expression merciful. He takes pleasure in them that hope in his mercy. Now (saith he) they give me my due, now they acknowledge me to be God, that they will yet hope in my mercy. Remember all this while that it is hope that I am encouraging you to without security; you have reason to hope, but you have no reason to be secure, no more than he hath who in a battle encompassed with thousands about him alive yet, yet alive, but still deaths are flying about him as thick as hail. You have reason to hope, but no reason to be secure; but if you hope, you do the most grateful thing to God, you pay him, the most pleasant grateful tribute that such an abject creature as any of us is capable of rendering to him: you give him the proper glory of the deity, boundlessly good and gracious, rich in mercy. This is to own him to be God, to own him to be infinite, to own that his ways do as far exceed your ways, and his thoughts your thoughts, as east and west, and heaven and earth, are asunder. Isa. lv. 8, 9. Again,
5. Know that it is not for you to prescribe limits to the exercise of this mercy, it is not for you to set bounds to it. If God limit himself and any way signify that he hath done so, so be it; but that he hath no way signified. But it is great insolency for any of us to talk of limiting him; to say, so far the patience of God shall extend, and no further; beyond such a sermon he will never give me one minute’s addition to the day of grace. It is not for you to limit him; if he limit himself, you have nothing to say to that, but that he hath never told you he hath done, or will do in reference to your case. But I would have you to be possessed with the apprehension how uncreaturely a thing it is for any of us to take upon us to limit God, and set a day to the exercise of his patience, his sparing mercy, his bounty, and his saving mercy. If you do rightly take up 169this matter, you will understand, that there is in despair the highest presumption. There is not in any thing higher presumption than there is in absolute despair. If you allow yourselves absolutely to despair, and say, God will never look after my soul; then nothing remains to me but to abandon it to perish. I say, you cannot be guilty of an higher presumption than doth lie in this despair; for it is for you to take upon you to limit God, to measure God; you take upon you hereby to determine what infiniteness can do, and what it cannot do. This is very bold presumption. This is most uncreaturely arrogance; for you to take upon you to set God his limits and bounds. No; say I will always wait, and always hope, let him defer as long as he pleaseth; but let me lie a prostrate creature at his foot, still in fears, and tears, and tremblings; though it be till I perish, I will perish in this posture, rather than ever to say he cannot help me, he will not save me; it will not consist with the limits of his patience and bounty towards a poor wretch to save me. Take heed of saying so. There is high presumption in this despair.
There are many other things behind.
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