|« Prev||Sermon XIX. Preached June 28, 1691.||Next »|
We are saved by hope.
HAVING shewn what advantages hope gives a Christian’s progress in his way, we now come to let you see, what ground a Christian hath for such an hope, to wit, that by the grace of God, and the assistances to be given continually from him, he shall be kept and preserved from the great danger of fatal, destructive backsliding and apostacy from God, and a departure from his ways; from turning aside into crooked paths, with the workers of iniquity; Psalm cxxv. 5. and from returning into those ways at length, “which take hold of hell, and lead down to the chambers of death.” Prov. v. 5. But before I come to shew you what ground a serious Christian hath for such an hope, something I must premise unto you. As,
1. That the grounds which he had for his former hope before his conversion, and which had influence thereupon, do still remain, and are equally grounds to him of this continuing 264hope that is to influence his whole after course, and with much more advantage. We are not to suppose that the grounds of the hope that I am now speaking of, do make the former grounds cease. The grounds or the former hope, that which I told you might be only, (and indeed must be before conversion,) no more than a rational human hope, assisted by common grace; what ground there was for that hope, doth still remain, and is still improveable to more advantage: and the grounds of this following hope are not in reference to those grounds privative, but cumulative, (as is wont to be said in such cases,) that is, they do not take away the former, but add thereunto. Whatsoever ground of hope there was before, for a poor wandering sinner to return, and come back to God, and seek reconciliation and peace with him, to wit, from the gracious nature of God, from the rich fulness of Christ’s sacrifice, from the freeness of the gospel tender, and invitation, and from the power, and grace, and office of the Holy Ghost: these grounds do still remain, in reference to the present case, and are improvable, even with more advantage, as you will see in reference thereunto. And again,
2. This is to be noted by way of premise, That the nope which they are to take encouragement for, is not to be a rash, fearless hope. It is not to be an hope without fear, pray do not mistake the matter as to this, we are not to aim at any such hope as shall be exclusive of fear, or that shall make that an useless thing, an useless principle, an useless grace in the soul. We are told, “They are blessed that fear always; (Prov. xxviii. 14.) but he that hardens his heart, (that is in opposition to such a fear,) shall fall into mischief.” And elsewhere we find such oppositions of fear to hardness of heart, made to one another. “Why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our hearts from thy fear?” Isa. lxiii. 17. and we are directed to “perfect holiness in the fear of God,” 2 Cor. vii. 3. and warned “not to be high-minded, but fear,” Rom. xi. 20. and charged “to work out our salvation, with fear and trembling.” Phil. ii. 12. Even they are so charged, whom the Apostle had a little before expressed his confidence concerning them, that “God that had begun a good work in them, would perfect it unto the day of Christ.” Phil. i. 6. And yet he requires and charges them in his name, and by his authority, whom God had exalted to so high a pitch, as to give him a name above every name, wherefore, (saith he hereupon,) this charge I solemnly give 265you, that his name and authority may be owned, not only in “my presence, but much more, being absent, you work out your salvation, with fear and trembling.”
There is no such state of a Christian attainable in this life, that ought to make fear an useless thing, and to supersede it. I say there is no such state as this; no, nor undoubtedly in heaven itself, where reverence of God is higher than now we are capable of, infinitely, unspeakably, exceedingly higher. It will be part of that homage, that we shall be eternally paying to his throne, and part of our felicity too, because of the pleasantness of that temper, the suitableness and congruity of it to a right mind, apprehensive of what is due to the Eternal Being; and besides, we are told this is the very means of our preservation. He that hath promised to keep his, hath promised to keep them thus, “I will put my fear into their hearts, and they shall not depart from me,” I mean to make use of that as the great preservative principle in them. Jer. xxxii. 40. Ezek. xxxvi. 27.
Indeed the understanding of all this doth but depend upon one plain thing, that it is fit and needful that every one should have a distinct notion of in his own mind, to wit, how vast the difference is between fear and fear;—the fear of reverence, and the fear of horror, (as I may fitly enough distinguish it,)—the fear of a saint, and the fear of a devil;—the fear of heaven, and the fear of hell;—so vastly different they are. The one fear doth involve hatred in it essentially, odiumus quem mehamus, we hate him whom we so fear, we cannot but do so; but the other doth essentially carry love in it. The fear of reverence carries a complacency in the dignity, honour, and exaltation of him, towards whom we exercise this affection: and yet it hath a collateral and secondary respect to our own interest too, and so ought to have, and must have; as the love we bear to God, and our true love to ourselves; the love by which we design glory to him, and the love by which we design blessedness in him, are the same love. That therefore is a further thing, that thereupon we are to consider. Again,
3. We must hereupon note this too, That the hope unto which we are to be encouraged of being kept from apostacy, and enabled to persevere, and hold on in the ways of God to the end, it must consequently be such as shall admit of, as shall not exclude, but infer all the subsequent cares and endeavours, that are most agreeable and correspondent 266to such a fear, as hath been before expressed, to wit, our continual watchfulness over ourselves, our abstaining from known gross evils, our endeavour to repress the beginnings, the first motions and stirrings of sin, our giving ourselves to prayer, our meditating upon the things of God, our attending duty, and waiting on God in his ordinances, our avoiding temptations, and shunning the society of them that walk in pernicious and destructive ways. Our hope of being kept, it must not exclude, but infer, all this care and endeavour of our own, in order to our being so kept. As a man’s hope of having his natural life, and health, and strength, and soundness preserved, ought to be with a conjunct care of himself all along. It were a mad hope, if a man should then hope that his life, strength, and soundness, should be preserved, if he starve himself, or stab himself, or poison himself, or run into houses infected with the plague, or associate himself with persons that have pestilential diseases upon them, and the like: this were a mad hope, that I should be kept well at this rate. And it is easily apprehensible how this is to be applied to our present case: we are to hope we shall be kept, but we are not to hope we shall be kept in a continual neglect of ourselves; if we will famish and starve our souls, if we will stab them in a liberty of known acts of sin, if we will infect them by running into contagious company, if we will associate with such, and familiarly converse with them that have the plague upon them, if we are not afraid of drawing contagion from so mortal breath, our hope will a be very foolish hope, and not the hope I am now to encourage. And,
4. We must note further, that, supposing that many, or any be in doubt whether they have yet an holy, good principle in them; whether they are yet come into the regenerate state, have that already inlaid in them, which the scripture calls the seed of God, and a divine nature; if (I say) any be in doubt about it, it is not needful that they should stay for a resolution, in order to the receiving any encouragement from what I am further to say: though they cannot so certainly say that the things that are after to be said do concern them as regenerate persons, as those that are already in a state of grace; yet they will find that there may be encouragement taken from thence, though not so directly in order to the bringing of them into it; and so none should think that what is said doth no way 267concern them, because they are not yet certain that they are regenerate.
Whatsoever is received, is received according to the disposition of the recipient. If there be a regenerate principle, that will so much the more readily entertain and close with what is spoken for its own strengthening, and further invigorating, and for its nutriment. But if there be not, yet if there be a tendency that way, any seriousness of spirit about any such thing, and with reference thereunto, we must know that it is a true maxim in spirituals, as well as in naturals, Eisdem nutrimur exquibus constamur; we are nourished, and do consist of the same thing, the very same thing;. And that which is suitable to the maintaining, enlivening, improving, and growth of a principle of divine life in the soul, is suitable, in some measure, to the beget ting of it too. Even the same word, in the sum and substance of it, by which we are to grow, and which we are to receive as “sincere milk,” for that design, that we may grow, and may be strengthened by it; by the same word, also, are we “begotten again by the word of truth.” James, i. 17. And by the “incorruptible seed,” the “word of God.” 1 Pet. i. 20. “Sanctify them by thy truth; thy word is truth.” John, xvii. 17.
Now these things being thus forelaid, all that I shall say for the encouragement of such an hope as I am now speaking of, will be reduced, and is fitly enough reducible one way or other to this one ground, the gospel of the covenant of God in Christ. That lays before you the firm and sure foundation of such an hope; and it will indeed somewhat diversely give encouragement according to the different states of men, (though principally I intend now the regenerate state,) if you do but accordingly consider the different notions under which we may look upon this covenant; in short, we may look upon it either as proposed, or as actually entered. As proposed, so it gives a ground of hope to enter it; and thereupon gives a ground for all the consequent hope whereof I am speaking.
But if it be actually entered, and that can be distinctly, and with clearness reflected upon, then you have the nearer, the more immediate, the firmer, and surer ground, for such an hope, as I am now to speak of. And your hope ought to arise to proportionable degrees of life, strength, and vigour in you. But the great foundation of this hope lies here in the gospel covenant, whoever of you have any concern for your souls; whoever of you are bethinking 268yourselves how not to perish, how at length to be saved; lo, here you lay your hope upon the gospel covenant, the covenant of God m Christ.
For do hut consider, that the apostle, speaking of the case of the infidel Pagan world, and of the case of the Ephesians, when they were such, he saith, “Ye were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise; and without Christ, and without hope, and without God in the world.” Ephes. ii. 12. All the while that you were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and from the covenant of promise; all the while that you were as a people of another country, (as the expression signifies,) in being “strangers to the covenant of promise, and without Christ;” you were without hope too, and “without God in the world;” atheists in the world.
The ground of the Christian’s hope, as to perseverance, is the gospel covenant, Christ being the great agent that was to bring about a relation; and in order thereunto to bring you into covenant with God through himself. If you know nothing of the covenant of promise, you are without hope. This is the sum of all; here must your hope be laid upon this great foundation.
And this is not a new thing, but as old as faith hath been in the world, and as holiness hath been, or any thing hath been of the divine life. This covenant of God in Christ, it is said even to be but confirmed when the law was given by Moses on Mount Sinai; the covenant that was confirmed of God in Christ to Abraham. It was even confirmed before to Abraham; it received a new confirmation there; it was not made with Abraham then. Gal. ii. 16. It was then but confirmed to Abraham. This covenant of God in Christ being of a much more ancient date. David, when he lay a dying, here was the ground of his hope; “Thou hast made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure; and this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although thou make it not to grow;” 2 Sam. xxiii. 5. to wit, his house, spoken of before, “although my house be not so with God.” God had said many things to him about his house and family heretofore, a great deal more distinctly and expressly than he doth usually to men about their houses and families, when they are to be extinct and gone. But David’s mind was upon something else,—something greater and more considerable than all this; “Although my house be not so with God, (come of my house and external concernments what will,) 269here is “all my salvation, and all my desire,” that thou hast “made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure;” which had an aspect upon higher and greater things than that of a temporal kingdom in this world, how big so ever that may look in many an eye.
And, concerning David’s understanding and knowledge in the mystery of Christ, (as I may use those words well enough in reference to him,) when we hear him speak so often of his hoping in the word of God, this must be the word which he is to be understood principally to mean, the word of this everlasting covenant; “I had fainted for thy salvation, but I hoped in thy word.” Psalm cxix. 49. In tent he was upon salvation; and sometimes being ready to faint about it, his hope in God’s word kept him from fainting; “Thou art my hiding-place and my shield.” Psalm cxix. 114. I do. hope in thy word. You have that which is agreeable, in another place, where he again professeth his hope in God’s word, and invites all Israel to join with him in waiting for the Lord, (Psalm cxxx. 6, 7.) from day to day, more than they that wait for the morning; “Let Israel wait on the Lord, for with him is mercy and plenteous redemption, and he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” This is the summary thing, the gospel of the covenant of God in Christ, which is the great ground and foundation of this hope.
But to speak more particularly and distinctly to it, you will have several grounds of hope some way or other reducible hither, if you will but consider sundry things that we have to reflect upon relating and belonging to this covenant. As,
1. The Author of this covenant is to be considered. It is God’s own covenant; he is not only a covenanting party, but he hath formed the covenant, and is the first in the covenant. It is he that hath ordained and contrived the model of it; and doth propose it to us, and enjoin it upon us, as to what is our part in this covenant of God in Christ. And concerning him, though I might insist upon many things, I shall only mention these two, to shew how firm a ground of hope you have from the Author of this covenant, to wit, his all-sufficiency, and his faithfulness.
(1.) His all-sufficiency. When he was drawing Abraham into the covenant, or designing to confirm him in a covenant state, so he mentions himself, I am God all-sufficient; that was enough for his part. “Walk before me, and be thou perfect,” Gen. xvii. 1. that would be also enough 270for Abraham on his part: as you know, if you have occasion to transact affairs with a man, to contract a covenant with him about matters of importance to you, the great thing you will have your eye upon is, Is the person I deal with sufficient? If you are sure that he is, you traffic with much more security, he being a man of known sufficiency. Saith God, I am an all-sufficient God; come, who hath a mind to deal with me? to transact with me, and traffic with me? who will come into my covenant? And,
(2.) His faithfulness is a most firm foundation of hope: such faithfulness as wherewith consists, no possibility of being false; “In hope of eternal life, which God that cannot lie hath promised,” Titus i. 2. “And by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, the heirs of promise might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before them.” Heb. vi. 17, 18. You say, you shall one day sink, you shall fail, you shall perish, you shall be lost after so many stops in the ways of God. Think who hath promised you, The God, all-sufficient: and that he is faithful that hath promised.
And consider these things in reference to one another, his faithfulness to his all-sufficiency: he is therefore faithful because it is all-sufficient. It is a great matter, rightly to understand this. It is impossible to the perfection of the Divine Nature to lie, because he is God all-sufficient. Honesty, veracity, and truth, are not things of so ill repute among men, but that men would preserve their credit in the world, if they were not put to shifts, if they were not reduced to straits. They are commonly false, because they know not how to compass their ends; either they have not wisdom enough, or they have not power enough; but he that is all-sufficient, hath nothing to tempt him to falsehood. His perfect nature abhors it;—his all-sufficiency speaks his universal perfection, as you have formerly, at another season, been told. The matter is obvious, if we do but allow ourselves to argue upon it, (though indeed the thing little needs it,) even upon grounds that will be clear to every body.
There is no intelligent agent that doth any thing without design. As an intelligent agent, every human action is done for an end, for a proposed end. He that is the most perfectly intelligent Being, can do nothing but for some end. Now what end can he propose to himself to deceive a creature that he made out of nothing, but the other day, 271and can throw into nothing, the next moment if he pleaseth? What end can he propose to himself, in deceiving a creature that he hath absolutely in his own power? Those words of our Saviour, how much of spirit and life do they carry in them? “Let not your hearts be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you.” You may trust me; do you think I intended to make fools of you, when I persuaded you to be Christians? Have I made you leave all this world, and made you give up yourselves to me, and put yourselves under my conduct, in expectation of great and glorious things hereafter, in an other state? I tell you it is as I have said, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions, and if it were not so, do you think I would not have told you?” would not I have been honest to you? would I have cheated you into a vain and false hope? so much reason you have to believe me from my word, that you may even believe from my silence; “If it had not been so, I would have told you;” I never yet said to you, shift for yourselves, I have never an heaven for you, I have never a ground of eternal hope for you; all that is vanished and gone. No, “if it were not so,” as I say, “I would have told you.” The divine all-sufficiency, and his fidelity, taken together in the consideration we have of him, as the great Author of his covenant, upon which you must depend for eternity, how firm a foundation of hope is this? and whatever of encouragement it gives to them who have entered this covenant, and can say, this God is now in covenant with me, and I in covenant with him. They have proportionable encouragement who are invited to enter it, for if I close with this offer, this is my case presently, and I have the same interest that any other hath had before me, who hath entered into it before. But again,
2. Consider the Mediator of this covenant. It is a covenant established in the hands of a Mediator, contracted by a Mediator, on purpose that it might be sure and firm; that it might have more stability, and might better hold than that covenant made with God immediately, or without a Mediator coming between God and man. And we are to consider Christ the Mediator of this covenant, as giving stability to it, and giving us ground of firm hope from it, under a three-fold notion, to wit, As dying for us; As living in us; And as gone into heaven before us.
1. Consider him as dying for us. And if his death be 272considered in respect to this covenant, so it may be looked upon two ways, as principium essendi, and as principium conoscendi, it may be looked upon as a ground of the being of this covenant; and it may be looked upon as a ground of the knowledge of it, that knowledge which we may have concerning it, both which are necessary to be the foundation of our hope.
(1.) As a ground of the being of this covenant. If it had not been for the death and sacrifice of the Son of God, there could not have been such a covenant. Psalm 1. It is a covenant by sacrifice. As covenants have their ratifications, even among men by sacrifice, and the Jews have a notion de sanguine sancisa sunt non abroganda, those arguments that are ratified by blood, become most sacred and inviolable, never to be abrogated. The blood of Christ is called the blood of the covenant again and again; “And have counted the blood of the covenant an unclean thing.” Heb. x. 29. “Our Lord Jesus Christ who offered himself to God, by the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect.” Heb. xiii. 20, 21. And when he instituted his own supper, he calls it the cup of the New Testament in his blood. The word testament is the same used for covenant. How firm a covenant is that, that hath its foundation in the blood of the Son of God! His blood, who is the great Emmanuel, “the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person,” who came down on purpose into this world, and united himself with the nature of man, purposely that he might have somewhat mortal about him, somewhat that could die, and that by that death of his, he might ruin the designs of him that had the power of death; and might procure that stability should be given to the covenant of life and peace, even this covenant. And then,
2. The death of Christ is not only a principle, or ground of the being of this covenant, but of our knowledge of it too; upon which also depends our hope therein, that is, we know, being informed concerning the death of Christ, how it comes to pass that there can be such a contract and agreement between an offended God, and offending creatures, how comes it to pass? how was it brought about? Why, God hath set him forth “to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness; (to testify to all the world his righteousness;) that he may be just, and the justifier of them that believe in Jesus.” Rom. iii. 25. This powerfully controuls the objection of any 273unbelieving heart. How can it be, that the just and holy God, the glorious Majesty of Heaven should be offended by an impotent worm and should threaten death for the of fence, and yet forgive it? How can it be? Why, God hath set forth his Son, to be a propitiation, to declare his righteousness, to let all the world know, that now he can righteously pardon sin, and be reconciled to sinners, and take them into favour. What an encouragement is this to a returning soul, a returned soul, a soul that hath returned, or that hath a disposition, or mind to return! God hath set forth Christ to be a propitiation, he lifted him up upon the cross, and he is lifted up in the gospel dispensation, to tell the world. Now, sinner, the matter shall not lie on me, or on my part; if there be still a breach between me and thee, it is not because I cannot be reconciled, but because thou wilt not be reconciled; I can be reconciled, I have my satisfaction in my Son, and if there be a continuing breach, it is because thou refuseth, and despiseth the terms of peace that are offered, and doth trample upon the blood of the covenant, as if it were a profane thing. But to a serious considering soul, one that hath returned, or is upon his return to God m Christ, how firm a foundation of hope is this! I know the justice of God, (the only thing I had to dread, as that could never be reconciled to me,) is satisfied if I return, and shall never have any quarrel with me, if I keep on in the prescribed way that leads to life. Saith the Apostle, “Abide in him, (that is, in Christ, who is the great reconciling sacrifice,) that when he shall appear, you may have confidence, and not be ashamed at his coming. 1 John ii. 20. But then,
2. Consider Christ the Mediator of this covenant, as living in us, as well as dying for us. He gives stability to this covenant, and so is the ground-work of our hope, as he hath been pleased to unite himself with our souls, and take up an indwelling and abode there. “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, that you, being rooted, and grounded in love, may comprehend with all saints the height, and breadth, and depth, and length; and may know the love of Christ, that passeth knowledge.” Eph. i. 3, 17, 18, 19. He testifies his own love by his indwelling presence, and that way he secures you, that the covenant remains stable and firm between God and you. I dwell in you, to keep this always a clear and indubitable thing with you, that God is your’s, and you are his, by the tenor or 274his own covenant. And again, you are to look upon Christ in reference to this covenant,
3. As ascended, and having entered the heavens on our behalf, upon our account, together with all that is connected therewith, and consequent thereupon. “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died; yea, rather, that is risen again, and is at the right hand of God; who also maketh intercession for us.” Rom. viii. 33, 34. “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John ii. 1. So he is said to mediate for us, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. Heb. vii. 18. And it is said, “He is able to save to the uttermost ail them that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” Being seated and enthroned in glory, with that very design, that though there may be many offences on our part against the tenor of our covenant, yet they shall not make a final breach; but that still the returning soul shall find mercy, and that still that mercy shall be free. “Return, ye backsliding children, for I am married to you, I will heal your backslidings, and receive you graciously, and love you freely.” Jer. iii. 12, 14, 22. I might add,
4. The immediate Agent for bringing of souls into this covenant state, and continuing them there. And how great a ground have you of hope from thence; that is, that the Holy Spirit is appointed purposely by office, to transact this affair with souls; at first to bring them into covenant with God in Christ, and then, from time to time, to confirm their standing, and preserve them in the covenant state. This is that to which he is appointed, to which his very office leads to; that which we find him concerned to do, not occasionally, not on the by, but ex officio. A greater ground of hope cannot be conceived than this. How intent is God upon it, that his covenant with souls shall be a firm, stable, continual thing!275
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