|« Prev||Sermon XIII. Preached, May 10, 1691.||Next »|
But if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.
WE are, upon the use of this, and the last we insisted upon was of inquiry; or, we intended therein to assist their inquiry who may be solicitous touching the state of their own case, whether they are not lost irrecoverably while they live under a gospel that aims at the saving of souls, but which they apprehend doth them no good, and they fear never will. I have in reference to such, the last time, given sundry characters that will bespeak their state upon whom they are found, not to be hopeless; that it is such, as concerning which they ought by no means to conclude that they are lost, that they are out of the reach of mercy.
And, as to what thereupon remains, I have only this further to do, that is, to Jay down two conclusions, in which I shall sum up much of the meaning of what hath been said; that is,
1. That there can be no hope that their state shall be good and safe at last, who continually live in the neglect of those methods which the gospel they live under prescribes in order to their salvation. And,
2. That there can be no ground for them to fear they shall be finally lost, who, with dependence on the grace of the Spirit of Christ, are resolved, to their uttermost, to use the methods which the gospel doth prescribe in order to salvation. The one sort have, in their present state, no reasonable ground to hope; the other, in their present posture, have no reasonable ground of despairing fear. These two conclusions sum up what I would leave with you upon this subject. And thereupon I shall say some what: 1. By way of warning; and (if that will not do) by way of lamentation to the former sort. And, 2dly, some what by way of exhortation and encouragement to the latter.
1. As to the former, I must repeat it to them, that they have no ground for a present hope that they shall be saved, 182in the continued neglect of those means and methods which the gospel hath prescribed for salvation. And I would recommend to such, for their warning, those plain and awful words, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God worketh in you to will and to do of his own good pleasure.” Phil. ii. 12, 13. There is an injunction with the reason of it, and both the injunction and the reason have their distinct parts. As to the injunction, there is the substance of it, with its modification. And the enforcing reason thereof hath in it considerable too of the substance thereof, and its modification, each of the latter corresponding with each of the former: Work you, why f for God works; do you work with fear and trembling, for God works at will and pleasure. You have reason to work, because God works. You have reason to work “with fear and trembling,” because he works under no obligation, but at absolute liberty, so that he may desist when he will. If you resist, if you withstand, if you work not in subserviency, in subordination to his gracious work, he may retire and leave you to perish when he will; he works at will and pleasure, therefore do you work with “fear and trembling.” And since we find the Scripture doth speak after this tenor, here and in many other places, “Strive to enter in at the straight gate,”—“Give diligence to make your calling and election sure,”—“They that run in a race, run all, but one obtains the prize; so run that you may obtain:” as if he should say, Do you so run as if you were the only person in all the world that should be saved, and you might be that one; that is, as if you did know, that but one person in all the world should be saved, and you might be that one. “But one obtains the prize;” run as though there were but one that should be saved, and that you may be that one. Since, (I say,) this is the tenor of Scripture in reference to the great affairs of our salvation, or that we may not be finally lost under this gospel; there can be no present hope, no ground for a present rational hope for them that do counterwork these stated methods that God hath prescribed for the saving of souls. I will not say, that God will never reclaim you; we know not what boundless immense goodness, and the riches of mercy, that are with him, may do;—but, I say, you have not a ground for a present rational hope; the way you are in takes hold of hell, and leads down to the chambers of death. You are in the way to perish. Such as have determined within themselves they will continue in a 183sinful endeavour of pleasing their flesh, and in a sinful neglect of saving their souls, and will admit no thought that tends to their disquiet, and to cross them in their sinful course; but they live under the gospel. They (I say) that do so conjoin with the profession of the gospel the contempt of it, are never to expect that they are to be saved by the gospel they despise; or that the grace of it shall save them, while the authority of it doth not rule them. They have no reason to expect that. Therefore, if this should be the continued resolution of any, (I hope better things as to you, and things that accompany salvation, though I thus speak;) but if this should be the continuing resolution and posture of any soul, nothing rema4ns but to lament their case.
I would take up a lamentation for such, and invite all that are serious to join with me in lamenting the wretched forlorn state of such as are perishing upon these terms. Sundry things concur to give us here the representation and prospect of a most dismal and deplorable condition; a state that doth even claim and challenge from us to be lamented; that we lament, while all endeavours of remedying it seem still frustrate and in vain. Why,
(1.) Such are perishing under the gospel; that is, they are benighted at noon; they have created to themselves an horrid darkness in the midst of a bright and clear day;—they are lost in a day of salvation. This is the day of salvation; it is so (it is to be hoped) to many others; and, oh, what a fearful thing it is to be lost, and perish amidst a company that are taking hold of salvation, or of whom salvation is taking hold? And,
(2.) They are the more fearfully lost, not only under the means of salvation, but by them; gospel light strikes them blind: “this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, but men love darkness rather than light;” the sweet vital savours of the gospel strike them dead; become to them the “savour of death unto death.” They are so much the more miserably lost, by how the more there is of apt and suitable endeavours used in vain for the saving of them. The blessed God opens to them the design he hath in hand of saving sinners; he hath sent his Son with direct application to them, “to seek and to save them that are lost;” his Spirit strives with them, and against all its motions, all its convictions, they are breaking their own way to eternal ruin. How dismal is the case, to think that they are so often invited, yet are lost; warned, and yet 184lost! lost! Exhorted, and yet lost! Besought, and yet lost! Wept over, and yet lost! They descend, and go down and perish under the intreaties, and against the prayers and cries of friends and relations, and of such to whom their souls are dear even as their own souls. And again,
(3.) It is to be considered that it is their souls that are lost. This is the subject of the loss. Ah, poor wretch! if thou hadst only lost an estate; if thou hadst only lost an eye; if thou hadst only lost a limb, a hand, a foot, a leg, an arm, here had been either some remedy, or some relief for this loss; but to lose a soul, an immortal spirit; to have that precipitated and plunged into an eternal ruin,—what reparation, what remedy for this loss? And,
(4.) Such are lost when they never thought of it, or, it may be, when they had the positive thought all the while of being saved; when they speak peace, peace, to themselves, sudden destruction, a surprising destruction, comes upon them. Wast thou not wont to say, I shall be safe in my neglect of God? I shall live a prayerless life, and be safe? I shall live a vicious life, and be safe? I may please my flesh, and gratify my sense all my days, and be safe? Are they not wont to think so? They perish when they think not of it; they are ingulphed and swallowed up in an unfeared ruin; sunk the worse, and so much the more dreadfully by much the less it was dreaded, the more fearfully the less it was feared. And,
(5.) It is very deplorable, in their case, to think of the companions that they have been formerly associated with, and that they are associated with now. Such as have been companions with them in exercises of religion, such as have been companions with them in acts of wickedness, and such as are now companions with them in torments, fearful aggravations of their being thus lost, arise from such. Those that they have been wont to hear sermons with, and that they have been associated with in the drunken debauches that have drowned all the remembrance of them. Those that they have been with (it may be) under convictions, under some good impressions; and with them, in those acts of wickedness that have stupified their souls, and bereft them of sense, and abolished and obliterated all the impressions that were made on them before. What heightenings will here be of the woe!—what inforcement of the torment of that state, when the wretched partakers therein together shall fall to mutual upbraidings, criminations, and recriminations of one another!185—when one shall say, Oh, cursed be the day that ever I saw thy face; and the other shall retort, and say, Oh, cursed be the day that ever I saw thine!—that we who did sometimes pray together, and sat under the word of God together, could encourage and heighten one another to that pitch of wickedness, to be sensual together, debauched together, vain together, drunken together, wicked together, in affront to all that light that shone in our faces, and that shone in our very consciences? And,
(6.) What a mighty addition will it make to be perpetually reflecting, in that state wherein thou canst not chuse, canst not cease to be an everlasting companion to thyself?—when one is to be but his own companion, as he hath made himself very ill company to himself, he cannot but be much worse in the infernal state, when there shall be an everlasting self-consciousness of former wickedness and present resentments that cannot be avoided, and against which it is impossible his soul should now be able to fortify itself. Oh, the pitiable state of going down to perdition with an enlightened mind! Consider that. Think of it over again. The pitiable state (I say) of going down to perdition with an enlightened mind! To descend with rational principles in a man’s soul, which by how much the less heretofore they did serve for government, do so much the more effectually now serve for torment;—that light that did not govern, did then condemn, and doth now torment. The clearer the light the more fervent the fire, when that light turns all into flames, and tormenting flames; so much the more light, so much the more the fervour of that flame. To reflect in that cursed society, that every man shall be to himself his own cursed companion in the place of torment, upon the rational principles that he had admitted, understood, and assented to before; and to think then how very reasonable, (oh, how very reasonable!) were such sentiments as these, often inculcated on me in my former state, that a creature can never have been made to be his own end; that it could never be supposed that a reasonable, intelligent, immortal spirit was principally designed to serve a piece of clay; that a religion, that could never suffice to govern a man, would never suffice to save him; that that which doth not sufficiently distinguish one from a wicked world, shall never distinguish him from a perishing world. How often have such things as these been inculcated! and who sees not the reason of them now? But when they shall be 186revived in the future state, in that state wherein the wretched creature finds himself finally and irrecoverably lost, how will the light of all these rational principles glare in his face! Then what a stupid foolish creature was I that could not consider these plain things before, when I saw how plain they were! When one shall reflect and bethink himself, How often was I told that that religion, which should end in felicity, must begin in transformation! If it shall make my soul happy hereafter it must change me now, it must have changed it in the former state; it must have implanted the love of God in it,—it must have inwrought into it the primordial principles of the divine likeness, otherwise the temper of my own soul must banish me from the divine presence, and associate me with devils and damned spirits, throughout a long eternity. How often did I hear these things! How plain were they, and unanswerable! How impossible to oppose any thing to the light and evidence of them! These are things wherein the gospel doth recommend itself to the very consciences of men that sit under it, as the foregoing words speak, “we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” They have done so, who have spoken to you at this rate, and about such things as these. If such a gospel be hid; if the things contained in it, that carry so convictive cogent light and evidence in them; if these things (I say) be hid, what can the issue be but to be lost? And how terrible will that be! How dreadful must the case be, when any find themselves finally lost, and to have nothing to do in a vast immense eternity, but to revolve these plain convictive thoughts in their own wretched minds! And again, it may be added,
(7.) What an additional weight of misery will there be from reflecting upon those that were companions with many such in their former state, and did take the right and safe way, and persisted and persevered in it to the end! What tormenting resentments will arise from the thoughts of such! To think of such and such an one, we have gone to the assemblies together, we have sat together under the same sermons. It may be such an one was convinced, and so was I; perhaps we compared thoughts with one another; the convictions with such and such issued in a thorough work. Such and such an one being convinced did shut up himself in secret; he wrought out the matter in prayer with the blessed God. The thing issued at length in a solemn covenant between him and the Redeemer; he 187gave up his soul, infolded in the bonds of an everlasting covenant, into his hands who is the great and only Saviour of souls. And why did not I do so too? We have had the same warning; “My son, when sinners entice thee, consent thou not.” Prov. i. 10. Oh, why did he take warning, and why did not I? Why did he pray, and why did not I? Why did he covenant with God, and why did not I? Why did he say, God should be his God, and I would never be brought to say it? And why was he true and stedfast to that covenant, but I was false and unsteady? And,
(8.) How will it wound to think how near the matter was to a determination the other way, at some particular juncture of time; sometimes, when I was deliberating, the balances seemed to hang even, and I was just upon resolving the safe and happy way! O wretched creature that I was! what came into my mind that I should recede and revolt, and fly back when I was urged to it, to come just now to a closure with God in Christ: Accept and resign; take him, and give up myself? What madness possessed me, that, when I was just going to do it, I did it not? What plucked me back? Oh, to think how very light matters turned the scale! the other season of sensual delights; this and that vainly to be tried once again; less than a feather cast the balance against my God and my soul, and my eternal well-being; what will these things do in an eternity, when a man hath no other employment for his thoughts? And, lastly, to think,
(9.) That I took him for my adviser whom I might easily have known to be the destroyer of souls, and against whom I know to be the Saviour of them. The counsels that come from our blessed Lord and Redeemer, and the temptations of the wicked one, they carry their own differences so manifestly along with them, that nothing could have been easier than to have discerned and perceived the difference; whose was the voice in the one, and whose in the other; whose language was now spoke, and whose language then. How easy is it to discern the difference when there are suggestions thrown into the mind, “Soul, take thine ease,” pursue thy pleasures, admit of no disturbing disquieting thoughts; what were thy faculties made for but to be gratified and indulged? And when it is on the other band said, Thou dost not know how long thou shall live; thou hast no command of another breath; thou art to make no boast of to-morrow, for thou dost not know whether 188ever thou shalt see a to-morrow. “Seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is nigh;” turn to him while he invites thee to turn, and while thou mayest turn and be accepted. How easily are these voices distinguishable! But for a man to have given himself up to be led captive by Satan at his will, so as he hath no other will but the devil’s will; it is the devil’s will I should neglect God, I should forfeit my soul, and throw off all thoughts and cares about my eternal concernments; and he hath signified his will in such and such temptations. Oh, that a man should be so infatuated as to comply with the known will of the devil, who is a murderer from the beginning; a liar, and a destroyer of souls; and that against him who is love, and kindness, and goodness itself, and the Redeemer and Saviour of souls! If there be reason to apprehend there are any sitting under the gospel; under its daily teachings, solicitations, warnings, and counsels; that will yet perish in their own way, till they finally perish, if they will perish unreclaimed, let them not perish unlamented; let us throw tears over ruining and perishing souls; follow them with lamentations to the brink of the pit, though we cannot save them from precipitating themselves into it.
2. But I must change my voice, somewhat turn my style, and apply myself a little to that other sort, such as are full of solicitude Jest they should at length perish and be lost under this gospel, as having it still an hidden gospel to them that hath never done them good, and that they are afraid they never shall be the better for. I must repeat to such, that, in the way of your duty, and while with dependance on the grace and Spirit of Christ you are resolved to comply with the prescribed methods of the gospel, you have no cause to fear you shall be lost; you have as little cause for that fear as the others have for their mad presumptuous hopes. I must leave some things with such, the more fully to convince them of this. As,
(1.) You are in the present way of salvation; the way you are in hath a good tendency; it looks well: it looks towards a good end; it hath a pleasing aspect with it: never fear you shall miscarry while you are in this way; it is the way of life, and the way that tends to life; that is, there is life in the beginning of it, and the further any one makes progress in it, the more and more he penetrates into the regions of life. There is a continual tendency to life in that way; that is, as any do persist and go on further, they 189do come into fuller and fuller vitality, till they arrive to the present fulness thereof, for eternal life; and the inchoate life of this present state, are both of apiece. There are some previous essays tending to life that you are under the present seizure of, even now, while you are looking heaven-ward, looking God-ward; it is somewhat of life, or of preparatory workings that have that tendency, and that cognation have taken hold of you, because that it is plain such thoughts are internal, and so are the springs of an internal motion; and there is no internal motion, or from within, which is not to be looked upon as a kind of vital motion; though it is true, indeed, there are fainter beginnings that are extinguishable, yet there is a great matter to have some beginnings; for if they are yet such as are extinguishable, they are yet also such as are improveable, and may rise and come higher, till they come beyond the sphere and verge of common grace, into the verge of special grace, which two spheres do very closely border and touch upon one another; and he that is upon the extremity, the extreme verge (as I may speak) of common grace, is often upon the very verge and brink of special grace. And,
(2.) As you are in the way of God, a way that hath a good look and tendency, God is in the way with you, it cannot but be; but that he is with you, and will be with you, while you are with him; you find him with you; you are to impute it to his being with you, to his presence with you, that there are inclinations and dispositions that tend heavenward, that tend towards that good and blessed state. You are to take heed of arrogating any thing in this kind to yourselves. Suppose it be yet but common grace,—common grace is grace; and if it be grace, it is not nature; it is not to be attributed to you,—you are not to arrogate and claim it to yourselves; This is of me. The thinking of a good thought, we have not a sufficiency for, as of ourselves; we are not to claim that: and there is many a good thought that may be short of saving grace; but we should take heed of assuming it to ourselves; and therefore, if there be inclinations and dispositions towards that way, and towards that state which you are to design for, and professedly bending your thoughts towards, yet say, you have a divine presence with you; for these things are to be ascribed to him. All such previous workings and dispositions, you must say, they do all lay claim to a divine author; such a wretch as I must lay claim to nothing that hath any the least appearance of good in it. And,190
(3.) You are to consider for excitation and encouragement jointly, that this is the proper state of conflict wherein now you are; your present state is a conflicting state. You are with great and earnest contention of spirit to make your way to heaven and eternal life; it is the business of the state wherein you are; a state of probation, and a state of preparation for a final eternal state. Resolve upon doing suitable to your state. And consider,
(4.) That it will not last long. The time of trial will soon be over; rest, and enjoyment, and rejoicing, and triumph, will ensue. Conflict and fidelity therein to the death. Entertain yourselves with such pleasant words as those which have come from that mouth into which, and by which all grace is poured, “He that endureth to the end shall be saved.” Matt. xxiv. 13. “To him that overcometh shall be given to sit on my throne, as I have overcome, and am sat down with my Father on his throne.” Rev. iii. 21. “He that overcometh shall be a pillar in the house of my God, and shall go no more out.” Rev. iii. 12. “To him that overcometh shall be given the new name in the white stone, which none knoweth but he that hath it.” Rev. iii. 17. “He that overcometh shall be fed with the heavenly manna. And he that overcometh shall inherit all things.” Rev. ii. 17. Strive and labour now as one that designs and expects to overcome; and never fear you can be lost in so doing. It is unreasonable to fear a being lost in that only method which is prescribed for salvation. For, what? Do we think the blessed God hath prescribed inaptly, unsuitably, vainly, and with no accommodation or subserviency to the design for which he hath professedly prescribed it? And again,
(5.) As that which should excite you greatly, consider that the contest is for your souls; it is for eternal life; there is no giving out so long as you can say I am on this side eternity, my life is yet whole in me; I have this spirit, this soul, that was infused by the Almighty, yet in me; I am never to throw away this soul so long as I have it; so long as I find this spirit is in me, that inspiration of the Almighty that first gave me understanding. I am never to abandon this soul; and it is abandoned if you should throw away all hope; you can do nothing for your souls if there be no hope; despair binds up all rational endeavours. There is not one step more ever made, in order to salvation, after it becomes totally despaired of; that is an actual participation of hell. You put yourself into the infernal state 191too soon, and without warrant, while you have no pretence, no ground for it. Why should a man devilize himself, when God hath not done it? He doth distinguish your state from that of devils, why should you make it the same with them? There is no such thing as praying in hell; no such thine as supplication for mercy, or expectation of it; no possible expectation. Why should a man turn his present state into a final state, and that which is so accursedly final. Your present state is in order to another that admits of no change, and which can refer to none beyond it. And consider, too,
(6.) That your business lies with God, who is pleased to make himself known by most sweet and pleasant titles,—“The God of all grace,”—“God who is rich in mercy;”—and by such a name as, “The Lord, the Lord God, gracious and merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, though he will by no means clear the guilty;” that is, those that will have none of his mercy; they that by impenitency and infidelity bind down their own guilt upon their own souls, he will never clear them; but he is most ready (even from what he saith to be his nature) to receive returning souls, complying souls, those that are willing to take his way, and fall in with his methods; otherwise he must forego his own name, and no longer be called gracious, merciful, abundant in goodness. Will you not believe him when he protests and swears by his own life? “As I live, saith the Lord, I desire not me death of a sinner, but that he return and live. Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die, oh, house of Israel?” Do you think that God trifles with men, when he bespeaks them at this rate? Do not these words carry a signification with them, the most pleasant, the most emphatical that can be thought, to any soul that is inclined to turn to him? They import nothing of encouragement to those that will not turn, or to them that securely and resolvedly go on in the way of their own hearts, otherwise than as they do still invite their return: but supposing no returning disposition, there are other words that speak the mind of God towards that other sort of men. “He will wound the hairy scalp of them that go on still in their trespasses.” Psalm lxviii. 21. “He is angry with the wicked every day.” Psalm vii. 11. “He rains snares upon them, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest. This is the portion of their cup.” Psalm xi. 6. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” So he represents 192himself towards them who are resolved to continue the contest with him, and will rush upon the thick bosses of his buckler.” Job xv. 21. But if any will take hold of his strength, and make peace with him, they shall make peace. Isa. xxvii. 4, 5. Fury is not in him, but though he can easily, as a devouring fire, burn up briars and thorns, yet if any will take hold of his strength, and make peace with him, they shall make peace. This is God-like, this is suitable to his present nature, every way suitable to the perfection of the Deity. Consider with what a God you have to do: you have no cause to fear having to do with such a God, as will not let you be lost and perish finally: you have no cause to fear that he will, when you find in your heart a disposition to comply with him, and a desire to do so; fain I would do so, fain I would be what he would have me be, and do what he would have me do. It is a blasphemy against the divine goodness, against the very nature of God, to suppose that he will throw away a soul that so inclines towards him. And,
7. It is against the express word of Christ to suppose that he will let such a soul be lost. “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matt. xi. 28. “He that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.” John vi. 37. And what? Will you not believe him? What cause did he ever give you to disbelieve him? To whom did he ever shew himself guileful, or apt to deceive? He that came into this world, full of grace and truth, how horrid is it to take up a suspicious thought of him! And lastly consider,
8. That it is not only contrary to his word, but it is contrary to his nature and design to let such a soul miscarry, be lost and perish in his sight, and under his eye, that desires to comply with the methods that he hath prescribed in his gospel. It is against his nature, his nature is expressed by the divine name which is in him; “My name is in him,” as we are told by God himself, concerning Christ, the great Angel of the covenant. Exod. xxiii. 21. “Provoke him not, for my name is in him.” And what is God’s name? The Lord, the Lord God, gracious,—as you heard before. My name is in him, that is, my very nature is in him, whereof that name is expressive.
And it is contrary to his design for what? Do you think he came on purpose into this world to save sinners, and yet to let them be lost, when they are willing to take his prescribed way, and comply with his methods? How can 193it be so? What, is he not true to himself? Doth he not agree with himself? consist with himself? Hath he forgotten what he died for, what he took human nature for, and what he hung upon an ignominious cross for? All the difficulties he had to contend with for the saving of souls are all over come aid over already. He is to be scourged no more, buffeted no more, crucified no more, to be in travail for souls, and in agonies under the divine anger no more, he hath done all that was toilsome, laborious, and painful, borne all that was grievous and bitter; he hath nothing now to do but what is pleasant work, to emit the influences of life and grace to craving and desiring souls: and so he will do, if the desires of our souls be indeed towards him; he cannot forego himself, and quit his own design; he was so intent upon that design of saving, as to run through the greatest difficulties imaginable, all the terrors of death, and all the powers of hell and darkness could not stand in his way; no, he would make through them all to save souls. Will he then let yours be lost, when you are crying after him, and reaching towards him, to put yourselves into the hands and arms of his saving mercy? It cannot be.
And so as I have shewn how reasonable it is to hope, I shall (God willing) the next time take a text on purpose to shew you how necessary it is to hope, that as from what has been said, you may understand somewhat of the ground of hope in this case, (for you are not to hope without ground,) so you may understand somewhat of the great importance of hope in it too. I shall therefore next (God willing) make it my business to shew of how mighty influence hope is, towards bringing about that great work which is to be done upon souls, in order to their eternal well-being.194
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