|« Prev||Sermon XII. Preached April 26, 1691.||Next »|
But if our Gospel be hid.
WE have the use in hand of this terrible word; sundry inferences of truth we recommended to you from it; and proceeded to other uses, wherein the design was to speak suitably to the case of awakened souls among us, that have made known their case, and their solicitous sad thoughts. We have had regard to this great inquiry, What shall we do that we may understand our own case, and how matters are like finally to issue with us?—Shall we be saved, or shall we be lost? And several things were spoken to that which we stated as a sober question; which answers were general, and more fundamental to what was to ensue. 170And those things being forelaid, we shall now go on to give some characters that may be distinguishing some what of the state of persons under the gospel; so as that, if they be found, will give ground of hope; if they be not found, it will administer much ground of fear.
But here you must take the matter thus: that, for such characters as those which I shall mention, the discerning of them actually upon yourselves is never intended so to encourage your hope as if no apprehension of danger should still remain; you are not to hope without apprehension of danger; and if such characters are not found, you are not to fear without apprehension of remedy; because (as hath been told you) the design is not to tell you who shall certainly be saved, or who certainly lost; but only to shew what cause there is, or may be, of more or less hope or fear, in reference to the final issue of things with you. And so,
1. It gives much ground of hope when any do find in themselves a formed desire of understanding distinctly the terms of life and death; when any would fain know upon what terms they may expect to be saved or perish in the final issue of things; when they do not desire to be unacquainted with the true tenor of the gospel as touching these matters; but accurately to know what is required, that they may live, and escape the wrath that is to come. That hiddenness of the gospel that is in connection with the being lost, is with those with whom it hath this fatal event, a chosen thing, a voluntary thing; it is hid by an affected blindness of heart. Men are blind, as being unwilling to see. (Ephes. iv. 18.) “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least, in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes.” If thou hadst known; it is plain, that that not knowing was faulty, inasmuch as their being afterwards hid was penal; and it could not be faulty but as being voluntary, that they did not desire to know the things of their peace; whoever of you can avow it before the great Searcher of hearts, and speak it to him as the sense of your souls, “Lord, thou that knoweth all things, knowest that I do desire to understand what the tenor and import of that rule is by which souls are to live or die forever; I desire to understand it as it is,—not to have it disguised to me,—not to have it misrepresented, according as the foregoing expressions are; wherein the apostle protests against the disguising of the word, and clothing of things with specious false colours; but approving and commending themselves 171in the manifestation of the very truth to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 2 Cor. iv. 1, 2. They (I say) that can avow this have ground of hope; and they that would not have it so, they are persons to whom the gospel is hid, and are lost, as the series of discourse shews. You have much cause to hope God will drive things to a good issue with you at length, if you do seriously desire to understand his mind in the gospel, what it doth determine concerning the way of saving sinners; which, if they take, they are saved; if they do not, they are lost. When this is your sense, “For thy name’s sake lead me and guide me; Shew me thy way, I would fain walk in thy truth!” But for such as desire only to have smooth things said unto them; and if the true doctrine of the gospel will be terrible; if it will look with an unfavourable aspect upon my vicious inclinations,—Let me never hear it. If any say to God, “Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways;” (Job xxi. 14.) “Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from among us.” Isaiah xxx. 11. They say to the prophets, Prophesy not; we do not desire to have that bright light stand so directly in view before our eyes; Oh, might it cease! Oh, might it disappear! This is a dreadful token; a very dreadful token; and if any, more than others, are in danger of being lost under the gospel, these are the men. They that receive not the love of the truth that they might be saved, (their spirits could by no means comport with the truth,) are given up that they might perish,—that they “might be damned.” 2 Thess. ii. 10, 11. And,
It is very hopeful where there is a great sense of remaining ignorance; when any do think very meanly of the knowledge that they have of those great and important things of God, that do concern souls so very nearly. Agur is brought in saying, “I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man;” (Prov. xxx. 2.) when there is a very humble, self-abasing opinion taken up and maintained of our own meanness, blindness, and darkness, the great imperfection and defectiveness of our knowledge in the most needful things. This looks very hope fully; and on the other hand it is a very dreadful token, when any think themselves so wise that they need be taught no more. There is more hope of a fool than of such an one, that is wise in his own conceit; he seems marked out for destruction, that thinks he is so well acquainted with all the great secrets and mysteries of godliness that he 172needs no further instruction; and thereupon despises and hates it. “He that hateth instruction shall die.” They are plain, peremptory words; and nothing is in the nature of the thing of a more destructive tendency. As the moralist said, Multi pervenissent ad sapientiam, &c. many might have attained to wisdom if they had not thought they had attained to it already. So many might have attained to the saving knowledge of God in Christ, if they had not thought they had already attained. Again,
3. It is a very hopeful token, when there is any perception of knowledge growing in these great things; when we can apprehend that light doth come in by the appointed means; that God hath shined into our hearts, as it follows in this context: “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them:” but “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts.” 2 Cor. iv. 5, 6. That is a sign then the gospel is not quite hid, if some beams of light be darted in, be injected. If you find there is an increase, it is to be increased with the in crease of God,” as the apostle’s expression is, (Coloss. ii. 19;) for this is divine knowledge that we are speaking of, the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” And it is to them that do observe themselves a perceptible thing, and a thing to be perceived with pleasure, when there is an increase. How grateful is the appulse, the first arrival of any new beam of light, any new thought; when the mind comes to be more and more opened, and things let in upon it, which it is of concernment to it to understand and know. And do but consider, such of you as are more solicitous about the state of your case and what is like to be the final issue of things with you: You have lived a considerable time under the gospel; and, What, have you gained no acquaintance with the great contents thereof? There are many things discovered concerning the state of man by nature, Do you understand nothing of them? Do you not know that he is a degenerate creature, that he hath a blind mind, a corrupt, depraved heart? That he is wrapped up in guilt, and exposed thereupon to divine displeasure? It reveals much of a Redeemer; Do you understand nothing of that?—who this Redeemer is, the eternal Son of God, the brightness of his Father’s glory, the heir of all things; that he came 173into this world, took human flesh, and died a sacrifice for sin? Do not you understand this? and that hereupon God is well pleased with him for his righteousness sake, that divine justice acquiesceth, expects no higher, no other sacrifice?—that, whereas there must be a great change wrought in the temper of men’s spirits to make them capable of the duty of time, and the felicity of eternity; an Almighty Spirit is obtained by the blood of that sacrifice, that it should go forth to do this great work upon the souls of men; so that you are not to be left hopeless, struggling in your own impotence to attempt and undertake (as it were) a new creation in your own souls; but that Spirit will be given to them that ask it, and you may draw in its influences as so much vital breath. These things the gospel acquaints you with; and do you understand nothing of them? Hath no light come in by all this discovery all this while? Indeed it is a fearful token, where there is no knowledge by long-sitting under the gospel; when any man’s case doth admit it to be said of them, they are “ever learning, and never come to the knowledge of the truth;” a sort of persons marked out for separation from God and all good men; from such turn aside; such as have a form of godliness, but deny the power of it; (2 Tim. iii. 7.) and are “ever learning, but never come to the knowledge of the truth;” it is a people of no understanding, “therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no favour;” (Isaiah xxvii. 11.) for, (as hath been said,) ignorance under the gospel, of that it hath made necessary to be understood, and done in order to salvation; it is most voluntary, and therefore comes to be punished by the gospel’s being hid, and their being lost, if they finally prove to be so. And again,
4. It yet will look well and hopefully, if you find that you have a real value for the gospel; if you esteem highly of it; if you consider it as the “word of life,” as the gospel of your salvation; and if such notions as are given you of it, and under whish you are taught to conceive of it, have recommended it to you, and you look upon it as a sacred and venerable thing; if you do not come to hear a sermon as if you were to hear a story told you; to hear the word of God as a tale that is told; but the word of it recommends itself to you as a majestic thing, as carrying a divine stamp and impress upon it; if you be in any measure awed by it, so as to tremble at the divine word,—this is a most comfortable character where it can be found. It is 174towards such that God is looking with favour, when any come and sit trembling under his word. He will not look with slight and despising eyes upon such; he looks upon them with indulgence and a favourable regard. (Isaiah lxvi. 2.) and you may look upon it, that he is in the way with you, while you find that disposition in your own spirits towards his word. That he may reckon, I will speak to such, and not be disregarded in what I say. if there be not so pleasant a relish of divine truths; if yet there be an awe of them: though they do not appear amiable to you, if yet they appear awful and majestic; and you consider, when you attend upon gospel dispensations, you have to do with divine things; and you consider the word that you do hear, not as the words of men, but as they are, indeed, the words of God; there is hope in this case: this hath a good aspect, looks promisingly towards a good issue. But when the gospel itself is looked upon as a contemptible thing, as much regard would be shewed to a fable; this is of most dreadful import; when the very means of our salvation is come into contempt with us, as they that in a dangerous sickness are brought to despise the only proper remedies that can be thought of, as capable for recovering them, and saving their lives, this is a dangerous token. Again,
5. It looks hopefully, if you find that the intention of your mind is much engaged in hearing the word; it is a natural consequent of your having awful thoughts of it, of your esteeming highly of it as a divine revelation; that which should be immediately consequent hereupon must be a very earnest intention of spirit in hearing of it, to attend it as that wherein my very life is concerned; the word saith, “Hear, and your souls shall live.” (Isaiah lv. 3.) Thereupon you must say, I will hear, that my soul may live. If this be your design in hearing, it is very hopeful indeed, that you are not likely to be lost under the gospel. If this be the temper of your minds, I come to hear that my soul may live; and so you watch every word; you observe and bend the strength of your minds, as much as in you is, to attend and listen to what you hear; as the eyes of the assembly are said to be fastened on our Lord when he took the book of God, and expounded and opened it to them. Luke iv. 20. But if there be no attention in hearing; if persons come to such assemblies as these to see, or help to make a shew only, to see a reed shaken with the wind. If this be your errand, you come to please your fancy, or you come because you do not else know what to do with 175so much time; you do not know how to employ an otherwise waste hour, and therefore go to this or that church or meeting, (as it happens,) throw yourself in here or there; this is of very threatening import. If this temper of mind should continue with you, it looks as fatally as any can be thought; that a man will be lost under that gospel at last which he never regards, to which he gives no attention. It may be, you are not at leisure, your thoughts are otherwise taken up; as it was with Ezekiel’s hearers, “They sit before thee as my people,” (Ezek. xxxiii. 31.) and with their mouths they shew much love, (with their countenances they do, they carry the appearance and shew of those that come out of love to my worship, and to exercise devotedness to me;) but their hearts go after their covetousness; their heart was wandering all the while. I do not speak, in this case, of the incursion, the surprising incursion of vain and unsuitable thoughts, the wanderings which we sincerely bind and set ourselves against, and can not totally hinder; but I speak of letting our spirits at liberty to wander, keeping them under no restraint, letting our thoughts rove for such an hour or two together, when we are to be attending to things that concern the life and death of our souls. This is a very dismal token, where soever it is to be found. If it be thus usually with any, none more likely to be lost under the gospel than such. And again,
6. It looks hopefully, if, so far as you have understood, and, by earnest attention from time to time, come to know the true meaning and import of the gospel, and what the terms of life and death for souls really are; you do there upon desire to have your hearts wrought up to those terms; and there is no wish entertained with you, that you give harbour to, that the tenor of the whole gospel were otherwise than it is; you do not desire that the terms of life and death should be brought down to a compliance with your inclinations; but you desire your hearts may be wrought up to them; and say, Do not make me a gospel like myself, but make me like the gospel. Is that your sense? It looks very encouragingly; I would take this gospel just as it is; I find it requires the receiving Christ Jesus as a Saviour and as a Lord; I am willing it should be thus; I do not desire there should be any change to gratify any ill inclination of mine in this tenor of the gospel. I find it forbids all manner of sin; and reigning sin, under the severest penalty; that wherever it reigns it dooms too. I 176submit to this state of the case; I desire to have every thing of sin down, not to be in dominion. It may be, there are some fainter desires of this kind having place where a real thorough work is not yet wrought. But it is well there is so far a tendency towards it; that you are right in your aims and designs, and that you have the true mark before your eye; that is, to have the great and proper impression of the gospel inwrought into your souls, and they made agreeable to it; and that you do not wish to have a gospel formed on purpose to be more agreeable to you. When once a soul is transformed into the likeness and image of the gospel; this is it that doth most certainly characterize it for heaven and eternal glory. You have “obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered unto you,” (or into which you have been delivered, as that may be read. Rom. vi. 17.) this is to have that “fruit unto holiness” habitually first, the end whereof will be “eternal life,” as it follows in the same chapter; and while you are aiming at this, and tending to this, the matter carries a very hopeful aspect with it. As on the other hand, it is very dreadful, when that, whatsoever wit and skill any have more than others is all employed this way, to wrest and torture, and mis-shape the rule by which their present practice is to be measured, and by which God’s final judgment is to be measured concerning them. When the gospel is not to transform you, but you to transform the gospel; you would not be shapen according to it, but you will fain shape it according to yourselves, according to your own hearts; nothing doth look more like one to be lost and perish under the gospel than this. And,
7. Whereas, that gospel by which you are to be saved, (if ever you be saved,) is a gospel of reconciliation; it is a very hopeful character if you do really desire and value friendship with God; if his love and favour be of real value with you; when you can speak this as the sense of your souls, “In his favour is life;” (Psalm xxx. 5.) which you must understand did not only hold forth the truth of the thing, but the sense of a good man, a well-minded man concerning that truth. It is very true, indeed, that, if you consider the thing itself, objectively taken, in the favour of God stands the life of every one; but this doth not only speak the truth of the thing, but it speaks the sense of a good and honest heart; that he accounts that in the favour of God stands his very life. And, do you really account so?—so a whatever you have to enjoy in the world 177besides that, cannot satisfy you, if your hearts yet hang in doubt within you concerning your state God-ward. It is not corn, and wine, and oil, that you wish for, and can satisfy yourselves with; but, “Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance, and that will put more joy into our hearts than when corn, and wine, and oil increase!” Oh, there can be no worse character, than when it is a matter of indifference with any, whether God have a favour for them, or no favour! His friendship and his enmity is all one to them. Under a gospel of reconciliation, how likely are such to be lost, when the very end of this gospel of reconciliation between God and them is a disregarded, despised thing; when men can go all the day long through the hurry of their affairs and businesses, and their thoughts are filled and taken up with vanity and with impertinences, in comparison, but no room is left for one such thought through out a whole day, How stand things between me and heaven? Am I under the divine favour, or disfavour? How fearful was the case of those Israelites, when they had, at the same time, meat in their mouths and wrath upon their heads? God “gave them quails for their use, and they did eat, and the wrath of God came upon them while they were eating;” (Psalm lxxviii. 30, 31.) “On the wicked he rains snares, fire, and brimstone, and an horrible tem pest;” (Psalm xi. 6.) “He is angry with the wicked every day.” (Psalm vii. 11.) They that concern not themselves about any such matters, it is all one to them, Give me what will please my appetite, sense, or flesh, and let God be pleased or displeased. I am willing to run the hazard of that. This looks very fatally, when it is so.
And then again, as consequent to this,
8. Truly, fear itself doth give much ground of hope. It is a very hopeful character upon you, when you are really afraid lest a controversy should still depend, and not be taken up between God and you: “Blessed is he that (thus) feareth always.” Prov. xxviii. 14. And so it is, on. the other hand, a very black character, where there is no such thing:. He that hardeneth his heart against such fear? shall fall into mischief. And again,.
9. Where there is much consideration about the affairs of your souls, and your hearts are much, taken up in musing and meditating on these matters, it is an hopeful sign. An unconsidering soul is a perishing soul,—hath the character upon it of a lost soul. But if your mind be full of thoughts from time to time; or, if there be many times when you 178can set yourselves on purpose to consider the state of your souls, and your case God-ward, this looks very hopefully; that is, that God is at work with you, that he is dealing with your spirits; for you are not to assume it to yourselves that there are any such good thoughts, any which have that tendency, which have that look. “We are not sufficient to think any thing as of ourselves;” (2 Cor. iii. 5.) that is, which is good. Indeed, one ground why many are so apt excessively to torture and disquiet their spirits with the apprehension of an irrecoverable lost state, is from too much arrogance; that is, they are apt to arrogate to themselves such things, which, upon reflection, they cannot deny are in them; for you must know there is common grace that leads to special. If it hath not reached up to special, it hath a tendency and leadingness thitherward. If God be dealing with spirits by his common grace, it looks hopefully if it be comported with; and when thoughts do throng in from time to time with you, that you cannot do as the most do, that is, throw away all concern about your souls, as it may be the generality, so far as you have opportunity to observe, trouble not themselves (as you can discern) with any thoughts at all, what shall become of them hereafter. But there have been such thoughts which have been struck in as so many darts and arrows into your hearts. You are not to think that you have been the authors of them to yourselves, but that God is at work with you, is dealing with you, is in the way with you; and this (I say) looks hopefully, if it be duly comported with. And yet, again,
10. It is a very hopeful, encouraging character, if you should find upon consideration that you have arrived no farther, and that you have not gotten to a firmer, more settled state in holiness and walking with God, yet you do also find a great disposition in yourself to self-accusing; that you are apt to criminate yourself, to find fault with yourself, and to lay load on yourself with blame; to wrap up yourself (as it were) with shame; that your proficiency hath been so slow and little all this while. This looks very hopefully; when this is the sense of your souls, looking in, and looking up at the same time, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” The publican’s character was a good character, and an hopeful one, compared with the opposite one of the Pharisee. Luke xviii. 13. The Pharisee and the Publican both go up together to the temple to pray; the Pharisee hath nothing to take notice of in 179himself but his good deeds, (and very pitiful ones they were;) “I fast twice in the week; I give alms of all I possess;” I pay “tithes, mint, anise, and cummin;” (we are told elsewhere they punctually paid these tithes;) “I am not as other men, nor as this Publican.” The Publican hath nothing to say; but, standing at awful distance, cries out, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” And the Publican (it is said) “went home to his house justified rather than the other.” Such as are full of self-accusing thought, they live with perhaps too tormenting fears concerning their state Godward, yet there is that of intermingled good with it that leads towards a good issue at length, and which carries a plain indication, that they are not to look upon their state as a lost state. And, especially,
11. If there be any relentings towards God, any tender relenting and self-bemoaning. There may be self-accusing without these kindly genuine touches of remorse that there should be; and there may be of them too, and in too low a degree, and in too transient a manner. But while there is any thing of them, there is real ground of hope that God it dealing with you, and is likely to carry on the work further, according as you duly comport with him in what he hath began, and is yet doing. “I have heard Ephraim bemoaning himself.” Jer. xxxi. 18. Refer that to what goes before, and you will see there is “hope in their end.” “I have heard Ephraim bemoaning himself;”—things are like to have a good issue yet, though he hath been wayward, cross, perverse, and rebellious; yet, let me listen to him; Do not I hear him bemoaning himself?—“I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself, and secretly saying, Turn thou me, and I shall be turned, for thou art the Lord my God.” There is hope in the end, as to this case. It looks as if it would have a good end at last. A heart hard as a rock under the gospel, is a dreadful thing; the impenitent heart, the heart that cannot repent. And I add, lastly,
12. If there be yet a resolution to persist, to go on in the way that leads towards life, this looks well; you have not yet attained; you are not yet at a certainty; but yet you are resolved to go on, to hold on your course according to that warning given by good Samuel to the people of Israel, that were now set a trembling, and in a most dreadful consternation, what would become of them; they dreamed of nothing, when God thundered upon them, and when the lightning from heaven testified divine displeasure; 180they, I say, thought of nothing but destruction. Well, (saith Samuel,) do not you, for your part, “turn aside from following the Lord;” he will not cast you off if you persevere in your way, and turn not aside from following him. He will not cast off his people, because it hath pleased the Lord to make them his people; he will cast off none that do not first cast off him. And many such, too, he may recall and recover; but while there is a resolution with you, come of it what will, I will never forsake the holy way; I will spend my days in prayers and tears: I will never give over waiting and seeking, what ever comes of it. Oh! what an emphatical benediction is that we find pronounced in this case! “Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors; for whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord.” Prov. viii. 34, 35. There is a blessing upon all waiting ones. Pray, take that blessing home, whosoever of you are yet trembling ones, suspenseful ones,—you that have hearts full of doubt, you know not what will become of things with you; if there be that resolution to wait and persist in a known prescribed way of duty, he that so doth, hath a blessing pronounced from the God of his salvation; there is a blessing over his head from the God of his salvation, to shew you now little liable he is to the heavy doom of being irrecoverably lost. That God, who glories in the title of the God of our salvation, he is breathing down a blessing upon you all, while that you are resolved upon a course or waiting; I will wait till I die; “I will call upon him as long as I live;” I will never give over following him, let him do what he will with me. This is the course that is never likely to have an ill end.181
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