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And the scripture was fulfilled, &c.
4. IT is a further expression of friendliness on God’s part, towards these believing ones, that when they wander and backslide from him, he recalls them and recovers them—takes a course for their reducement—will not let them go so as at length to lose them, by not using the most apt and fit means for their recovery and final salvation. How often is his voice heard crying out, “Return, return, ye backsliding children.” How full of affection to this purpose are there many verses in Jeremiah iii. Pleading, striving with backsliding wanderers, that they would return. Indeed it is such an aggravation to the sinner, as it might make it astonishing to us, that such as have been treated with such kindness and friendliness as doth appear in all the forementioned instances, should yet be so prone to backslide and deviate. How might it confound us to think that such a spirit should be in us, that no enticements, no endearments, will stay or hold us in with this our great and blessed friend, but that we should still be so apt to make excursions. What with convictions we have continual reason to discern, and with sorrow and 410shame to confess in this kind, is what we find in the word of truth, and in the sacred records often. “My people are bent to backslide from me.” Hosea xi. 7 A people that might call themselves his, and whom he calls his, that there should be such a bent in them, not a weak inclination only appearing now and then, and usually over come, but a stiff and steady bent, as the expression signifies—this is very amazing. And that there is a continual bent and proneness this way, the Apostle’s caution to Christians doth too plainly signify. “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” Heb. iii. 12. They who believe have still reason to say, “Lord help our unbelief.” They who have that for the nature and kind of it which was the faith of Abraham, and whereupon God imputes righteousness to him, they are not throughout always of his practice, do not constantly walk by that faith. Though that faith, in the nature and kind of it, was spoken of as so common to him with all believers, that it is designedly represented and held forth to us, as neither confined to the circumcision nor to the uncircumcision. And, ergo, so mighty a stress is laid upon this thing, that he had this upon which God judged him righteous before he was circumcised; that so it might be understood that this faith, and the justifying, saving effects of it, were not confined to the Jew or Gentile, but common to believers of both sorts by the same faith; God justifying the circumcision and uncircumcision too, through the same faith, as you find Rom. iii. 30.
But this faith hath its, remission (as to degree, and as to its exercise), its great and sinful intermissions; for all intermissions of acts are not sinful; but there are sinful intermissions too of the exercise of faith very frequently, and then what is the issue and effect? Departing from the living God, backsliding, drawing off from God, as faith is a coming to him. “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “He that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.” Believing is corning; disbelieving, not believing, ceasing to believe, that is departing from him—going off. Take heed of “an evil heart of unbelief,” which lies in that departure from the living God.
But as that is indeed on their parts a most unfriendly thing, oh, how friendly is it, that, when they depart, he calls after them, “Whither are ye going?” Rather might he have said, and with infinitely higher reason, “Be gone 411then. Will you be gone?—then depart for ever.” I say with higher reason, than he who once said somewhat like it. It is said of that morose philosopher (who was wont to be called the Cynick), that his servant Manes was leaving him, withdrawing himself from him, and was gone. Some of his friends would have had him send after him, to have reduced him. ‘Fetch him back? No, (saith he,) that is a mean, that is a turpid action. It is very mean and dishonourable (saith he) that Manes should think that he could live without Diogenes, and Diogenes should not live without Manes: never send after him.’ Oh! with how in finitely higher reason might God have said so. “That is mean, that they should think they could live without me, but I cannot live without them. If they will be gone, let them go.” But he doth not do so; and, ergo, you may understand it is pure friendliness towards them, that when they are departed and gone, he ever calls after them; that he should direct his proclamation to be made in such cases. Go and proclaim these words, “Return, return, O ye back sliding children,” as it is in Jeremiah iii. That he should insist upon it, urge and inculcate it, as he doth. You have the same thing again, Hosea xiv. 1, “O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.—I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.” ver. 4. How gracious an invitation doth he send after such as are backsliders, revolted and gone, to return and come back again. He orders that they “shall hear a voice behind them, a word (as Isaiah xxx. 21), saying, This is the way, walk ye in it.” As if he should have said, Alas! you mistake your way, whither are you going? This is the right way. You are going away from your God;—you seem most dangerously to mistake your way, when you arc going to the right hand, or going to the left hand. This is not your way to God, and to rest, and blessedness, and peace, and a finally good state. And by many media, and sometimes immediately, he causeth, and he maketh such a voice to be heard, “a voice behind them,” or that shall, some way or other, reach their ears, and reach their hearts. Sometimes he takes care that they shall meet it in the Bible; drops a word into their minds, which they have heretofore read, or providentially puts it under their eye. How many such seasonable voices have there been to poor wanderers, that if they have taken up this Book (and sometimes it may be very carelessly, and without design) they 412have met with a passage that hath struck them. I am out of the way, I must go back to my God again. Sometimes they meet with it in a sermon; sometimes in the conversation of a pious friend; sometimes in a providence, in an affliction, a loss, a sickness, a pain. Sometimes stroke comes upon stroke, in such kinds: and if they will wander in by-paths, God hedgeth up the way with thorns, and they are constrained to retreat and go back: they can find no other way but to return. It is the world commonly, that ensnares and entices away men’s hearts from God, that he imbitters to them. And sometimes they meet with so great losses in worldly respects, that thereupon they begin to say, Why at this rate I may lose all, sure it concerns me to ascertain to myself somewhat that cannot be lost. And the effect is sometimes such that they must say, If I had not that loss, I had lost myself. If I had not lost such and such a part of my estate, in all likelihood I had lost my soul, that was going.
God hath by such a means reduced me, recovered me, made me bethink myself. I must make sure of my relation to God, of a portion in God, or be ruined for ever. But whatsoever the means be, there is wonderful kindness and friendliness in the thing.
Sometimes this voice comes more immediately. And indeed if it do not so, he doth afford media; if he by these doth *not himself work the effect and touch the heart, it is never brought about. He speaks inwardly by his Spirit, striving by that; striking the soul by convictions, rouseth it by terrors; and when it is seasonable allures it, and by pleasantnesses and sweet relishes of better things than they can gain by their wanderings. And then also he sets conscience on work, and makes that to fall out and fight with themselves, and they are engaged in soliloquies and in discoursing and debating the matter with their own souls. What shall I get by this course of wandering, to which I seem to have indulged myself a liberty? what will come of it? He makes their own hearts and reins to instruct them in the night season, and then to commune with themselves on their bed, and be still, in great silence, to discourse and reason the matter with their own souls; and so one way or other reduceth and calls back the poor wanderer. Oh how great is the friendliness of all this. And then,
5. It is great kindness and friendliness, when they do return, and are reduced, that he so freely forgives them; that he pardons so copiously, so plentifully, As there is 413 plenteous forgiveness with him, he is ready to multiply pardons beyond what they can have the confidence many times to ask; that when they must upon occasion, and when their hearts are touched with a lively sense of their own disingenuous dealings, when they come to present* and prostrate themselves before, the mercy seat, they must be in such postures as that holy man—“I blush, I am ashamed, I am confounded, and not able to lift up my face before thee.” He is in this case more ready to forgive than they can be to ask forgiveness. Not unto “seven times, but unto seventy times seven.” They would be soon ashamed to ask at that rate. And when they are convinced thoroughly, and in good earnest, they are very unapt to forgive themselves as God is apt to forgive them. And indeed he is so much the more ready to forgive, by how much the less apt they are to forgive themselves. Self-lothing, self-accusing, self-abhorrence; they are the best part of the claim that they can make to forgiveness; to say, that to them belongs shame and confusion of face, but to him righteousness. As to:, any thing that is in them, or can have place there, there is nothing that hath more an aspect and, look towards forgiveness from God, than their severity towards their own souls. They think with themselves, taking measure, (as they are too prone to do) of God’s greatness by their own littleness of his immense goodness by the narrowness of their own spirits; and what they find their own inclinations to be towards others that offend them, implied by that question of Peter to our Lord, “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but Until seventy times seven.” Matt. xviii. 21, 22. On hearing this, the disciples say altogether, “Lord, increase our faith.” Luke xvii. 5.
We do not know how to conceive of so large and so co pious a forgiveness, or promise to forgive, as this, Lord, in crease our faith, if such a thing as this be looked for fronts. We know not how to comprehend it. So much more in comprehensible and inconceivable is that readiness to forgive which resides in the fountain, in him who is the Father of all mercy, and of all compassion, and who hath made himself known by the name of “The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Ex, xxxiv. 6, 7. Men do 414not know how to conceive this of God) and ergo reason thus with themselves, I should not know how to forgive another offending me so oftentimes. Alas! saith God, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isa. lv. 8, 9. They are apt to measure God by their span and inch. As the distance is, and infinitely more, between heaven and earth, “and as far as the east is from the west, so far he removeth our transgressions from us.” It is in the same context we are told he multiplies to forgive, or he abundantly pardons. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon,” or will multiply to pardon, that is the emphasis of the Hebrew expression. But how can this be understood, that God should pardon so numerous, so multiplied transgressions as ours? Why ergo, those words come in, My ways are not as your ways, &c. Indeed if any should think here upon to turn this grace into lasciviousness, that is to turn themselves quite out of it. “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Rom. vi. 14. These are inconsistent terms, to be under grace and under the dominion of sin. Most certain it is (as hath been told you before) that God doth impart the righteousness and the sanctifying Spirit of Christ together, never separately. “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Cor. vi. 11. If any should say in their own hearts, Now I may sin freely, grace will abound. Let us sin, because grace abounds, or that it may abound. “God forbid (saith an Apostle;) How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Rom. vi. 2. To reason so is to reason yourselves quite out of all interest in grace at all. To leave yourselves nothing at all. Because that grace is in those streams and communications of it inseparable from itself. That is pardoning grace, and renewing, sanctifying grace, they run together pari passu. And God justifies none in their rebellion. I will pardon you: I will heal your backslidings, and love you freely. Only acknowledge thine iniquities. Jer. iii. 12, 13. and thence to the 19th verse. Here you have God pleading with himself on the behalf of these backsliding ones, what he shall do with them. How shall 415I put thee among the children? How shall I ever look upon thee as a child more? Why, saith he, thou shalt call me “My Father,” and not turn away from me. How shall I do this? Why I have but this one way, to do it inwardly, to touch their hearts. How shall I ever treat you as children again? Why I tell you the truth, I must inwardly prompt you to betake yourselves to me with inward, child like, filial humiliation, contrition and repentance, so as to make you own me for your Father with relenting, tender, broken hearts. Then I shall assign you the pleasant portion among the children, not disinherit you, not put you out of the family. But these works of grace must be carried on towards you conjunctly, or not at all. Therefore, that soul which remains under the power of sin reigning in it, and wherein it hath a throne, that soul hath nothing to do with pardoning mercy, while this is his case; for he hath nothing to do with pardoning mercy out of Christ. And if he be in Christ, then Christ is made unto him “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” 2 Cor. i. 30. But again,
6. Friendliness appears towards those that have made a defection, and in great degrees gone off from God, that he doth not (while it is but in such degrees) withdraw his Spirit. “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me,” says the penitent Psalmist, Ps. li. 11, “and cast me not out of thy presence.” The Spirit is all this while not yet gone; it doth not desert them. It hath formed such into habitations for itself; “made them habitations for God through the Spirit.” Ephes. i. 11. Temples they are of the Holy Ghost. He will let it appear that he is not easy to remove; not apt to withdraw and quit his habitation, and to make a sacred habitation or temple, desolate. Ergo, prays the Psalmist, “O do not take thy Spirit from me, nor cast me out of thy presence!” The Spirit was not totally with drawn, even as to his sense; he apprehended it to be with him still. When he saith, “take it not away,” he apprehended he then had it; and when he saith “cast me not away from thy presence,” he apprehends himself to be in God’s presence: I am yet with thee. And yet there was a seemingness, a look, an aspect, in the present state of things between God and him, as if he was about to cast him out, according to “O do not cast me out of thy presence!” that’s death, that’s deadly to me. Oh! he dreaded to be cast out; but at the same time he apprehends himself not cast out, according to that in Ps. lxxiii. 23. “Nevertheless 416I am still with thee: thou boldest me with thy right hand.” “I am ever with thee,” saith he in one place; and saith in the other, “cast me not out of thy presence.” And lay this together, and they carry this signification and sense with them, that the hand which seemed to thrust, held at the same time. The hand (I say) that seemed to throw them away, it held them to him at the same time.
And such semblances there are between friends, when on the one part there is occasion given to resent unkindness; one may thrust at such an one, as if one would have him be gone, yet hold at the same time, as loth to let him go. And again,
7. This friendliness further appears in the same case in the recomposing of the frame of your spirits, when all was miserably shattered and discomposed. In the wanderings of such, they waste their strength; they fall and break their bones. All things are put out of frame with them. Oh! what kindness it is to recompose that shattered frame! It comes to this sometimes, that Christ is to be formed again in the soul, as in that, Gal. iv. 19, “Of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” The work of the new creation is (as it were) to be done over again. “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” Ps. li. 10. Here is more creating work to be done again, new creating work to be done. Not as if there were nothing left, as though there were no residue; but there is much to be done de novo. “I create the fruit of the lips peace, peace.” Whatsoever is to be produced out of a foregoing state of non-entity, this must be still creation. This heart was become unclean; there must be a cleanness now wrought in it by creation. “Create in me a new heart.” The frame of my spirit was all wrong—“renew a right spirit within me,” saith the psalmist.
And how much of friendliness is there in this. The backslidden, wandering soul hath, in its departure from God, put all out of joint and frame; every thing is amiss. The heart was enwrapt in darkness, and he enlightens, and with his beams penetrates that darkness. It was dead, and he quickens it. It was grown a vague heart, and he makes it serious. An hard heart, and he mollifies it, softens it again, makes it tender. The conscience was stupefied, but he awakens it to the work and business of its office. Love was grown cold, he makes the fire glow again. Desires faint and languid, they become now strong and vigorous. The soul was grown terrene and worldly, thinking to compensate 417and make up to itself out of this world what it had lost in God, and in his communion, and in the enjoyment of his Christ, and so was fallen into a friendly treaty with God’s enemy. f( Know ye not that the friendship of this world is enmity with God?” He opportunely breaks this league, renders this world again a contemptible thing, brings the poor soul to overcome it. “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world,” gets it under his feet, triumphs over it; so that the soul is enabled to say, What a vile, despicable thing is all this world, to become (as it were) the competitor and rival of the great God, for an opposite and a ruling interest in my heart and soul!
This is wonderful kindness, to recompose the frame of the soul when all is out of course. He finds the poor creature wounded, and he heals the wound; doth the part of the good Samaritan, pours in wine and oil; when the wretched creature was fallen among thieves, got into bad company, and there wounded and broken, maimed, and made miserably decrepid, he heals all. If you turn I will heal your backslidings. “Heal my soul that hath sinned against thee,” saith the Psalmist. Psalm xli. 4. I am sensible of wounds, bruises, and broken bones; heal my soul. Experience makes such say as they come, “Let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up.” Hosea vi. 1. This is still great friendliness. And,
8. When it is most seasonable, he restores them peace and joy in the Holy Ghost; “the joy of his salvation,” which the Psalmist supplicates for in that penitential Psalm li. And,
9. He helps them in conflicts all along. Their life is to be a continual conflict. This is friendly to stand by them when they are in conflicts with flesh and blood, and conflicts with principalities and powers. “Satan hath desired to have you,” saith our Saviour, speaking directly to Peter, but in the plural number, Luke xxii. 31, “but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” He would have you; Satan hath a mind to you, he covets you; but I have prayed. God hath put these believing ones out of doubt concerning his kind propensions towards them in reference to this case of their being tempted, by this, that he hath set over them “a merciful and faithful High Priest, who himself having suffered, being tempted, is able to succour them that are tempted.” Heb. ii. 17, 18. and ch. iv. 15, 16. And in the last place,418
10. This friendliness appears on God’s part in introducing them at last into the heavenly society, who are all to be associated with himself and his Christ for ever. He enables them to overcome, and they then must sit down with him upon his throne. “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath HO power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” Rev. xx. 6. This is great friendliness indeed, that can never be satisfied, but with eternal converse, to be everlastingly of the same society. Then those that were of Abraham’s faith, with those other great worthies that we find mentioned together often, and particularly in Hebrews xi. are all now gathered to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God, where all these friends are to be entertained together in one society. This is an agreed thing, and the known and declared pleasure of God and Christ; a matter concerted between him and his Son. “I will that those whom thou hast given me be with me where I am in glory.” And he tells us elsewhere, he is always heard; ergo, the matter is agreed between him and his Father. So that this faith, upon which persons are counted or called (as Abraham was) the friends of God, who do believe as he did, doth not only now justify, but finally save. And that indeed ought to compose our minds, and lessen the wonder with us, when we find that God is so frequently gathering and drawing up, one after another, out of this world of ours, divers from among ourselves, gone into the bosom of the earth, and into Abraham’s bosom, being believers with Abraham’s faith, and now got into possession of the same blessedness that he hath been so long possessed of. Let us all wait; God will gather us up all in time. For those who have lived by this faith, they are all designed to one and the same state. They must be for ever together with the Lord; and, ergo, we ought to comfort our own hearts, and to comfort one another, (as the apostle concludes 1 Thess. iv.) with these words: “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”419
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