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We are now come to the third thing in the inscription, and that is the form of salutation, delivered, as all apostolical salutations are, in the way of a prayer. In which we may observe—(1.) The matter of the prayer, or blessings prayed for, which are three, mercy, peace, and love. (2.) The manner or degree of enjoyment, be multiplied.
I begin with the matter, or blessings prayed for. It will not be altogether unuseful to observe that diversity which is used in salutations. In the Old Testament peace was usually wished without any mention of grace; as Ps. cxxii. 8, ‘For my brethren and companions’ sake I will say, Peace be within thee;’ and Dan. vi. 25, ‘Peace be multiplied unto you.’ But in the times of the gospel, grace being more fully delivered, that was also added and expressed in the forms of salutation. But yet in the times of the gospel there is some variety and difference. Sometimes you shall meet with a salutation merely civil, as James i. 1, ‘To the twelve tribes χαίρειν, greeting;’ so Acts xv. 23, which was the usual salutation among the heathen; but most usually it is ‘grace and peace.’ Rom. i. 7; and in other places, ‘grace, mercy, and peace,’ as 2 John 3 and 1 Tim. i. 2; and here it differeth from them all, for it is ‘mercy, peace, and love.’ And Causaubon observeth that the Greek fathers, if they wrote to a carnal man, they would wish him grace, but not peace; if to a godly man, they would wish him grace and peace too. To touch upon these things is sufficient. From these blessings mentioned in this place I shall observe something in general, and then handle them particularly and apart.
First, In the general consideration you may observe:—
Obs. 1. That spiritual blessings are the best blessings that we can wish to ourselves and others. The apostles in their salutations do not wish temporal felicity, but spiritual grace. God’s people pray for one another out of the communion of the Spirit, and for themselves out of a principle of the divine nature; and therefore they do not seek wealth and honour for themselves or one another, but increase of God’s favour and image. It is true, nature is allowed to speak in prayer, but grace must be heard first. Our first and chiefest requests must be for mercy, peace, and love, and then ‘other things shall be added to us,’ Mat. vi. 33.3535 Προστεθήσεται, an additional supply, like paper and pack-tread, which is given over and above the bargain. The way to be heard in other things is first to beg for grace: Ps. xxi. 4, ‘He asked life of thee, and thou gavest him length of days for ever.’ Solomon sought wisdom, and together with it found riches and 54honour in great abundance. Well, then, if thou prayest for thyself, make a wise choice, beg for spiritual blessings. So David prayeth, Ps. cvi. 4, ‘Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that thou bearest unto thine own people.’ Nothing less would content him than favour ites’ mercy. Other blessings are dispensed out of common pity to the generality of men; but these are mercies privilegiate, and given to favourites. Now, saith David, Of this mercy, Lord. No common blessing would serve his turn. So Ps. cxix. 132, ‘Look upon me, and be merciful to me, as thou usest to do to those that love thy name.’ Surely that which God giveth to his people, that is a better mercy than that which God giveth to his enemies. Again, these are mercies that cost God dearer. They flow to you in the blood of his Son; yea, they are mercies that are better in themselves. Wealth and honour may become a burden, yea, life itself may become a burden, but not mercy, not grace, not peace of conscience; and therefore they are ‘better than life,’ Ps. lxiii. 3, than wealth, than honour. None ever complained of too much mercy, of too much love of God. These are blessings that swallow up other miseries, yea, the loss of other blessings. Grace with poverty, it is a preferment, James i. 9. Peace of conscience with outward troubles is a happy condition. If there be a flowing of spiritual comforts, 2 Cor. i. 5, as there is an ebbing of outward comforts, we are not much wronged. Therefore first seek these blessings. Again, if you pray for others, pray for grace in the first place. That is an evidence of spiritual affection. Carnal men wish such things to others as they prize and affect themselves; so also do gracious men, and therefore their thoughts run more upon mercy, peace, and grace than wealth and honour and greatness. When a man sendeth a token to a friend, he would send the best of the kind. These are the best mercies. If you were to deal with God for your own souls, you can ask no better. You may ask temporal things, for God ‘loveth the prosperity of his saints;’ but these special blessings should have the preferment in your wishes and desires of good to them, and then you are most likely to speed. Our Lord Christ, in the 17th of John, commendeth the college of the apostles to the Father; and what doth he ask for them? dominion and worldly respect? Surely no; nothing but preservation from evil, and sanctification by the truth. These are the chiefest blessings we should look after as Christians.
Obs. 2. Observe, again, the aptness of the requests to the persons for whom he prayeth. ‘Those that are sanctified and called’ have still need of ‘mercy, peace, and love.’ They need mercy, because we merit nothing of God, neither before grace received nor afterward. The very continuance of our glory in heaven is a fruit of mercy, not of merit. Our obligation to free grace never ceaseth. We need also more peace. There are degrees in assurance as well as faith. There is a temperate confidence, and there are ravishing delights, so that peace needs to be multiplied also. And then love, that being a grace in us, it is always in progress. In heaven only it is complete. Take it for love to God; there we cleave to him without distraction and weariness or satiety. God in communion is always fresh and new to the blessed spirits. And take it for love to the saints; it is only perfect 55in heaven, where there is no ignorance, pride, partialities, and factions—where Luther and Zuinglius, Hooper and Ridley, join in perfect concert.
Obs. 3. Again, observe the aptness of these requests to the times wherein he prayed, when religion was scandalised by loose Christians, and carnal doctrines were obtruded upon the church. In times of defection from God, and wrong to the truth, there is great need of mercy, peace, and love. Of mercy, that we may be kept from the snares of Satan. Christians, whence is it that any of us stand? that we are found faithful? It is because we have obtained mercy. They would ‘deceive, if it were possible, the very elect,’ Mat. xxiv. 24. Why is it not possible to deceive the elect as well as others? of what mould are they made? wherein do they differ from other men? I answer—Elective grace and mercy interposeth; it is not for any power in themselves, but because mercy hath singled them out, and chosen them for a distinct people unto God. And we need peace and inward consolations, that we may the better digest the misery of the times; and love, that we may be of one mind, and stand together in the defence of the truth.
Obs. 4. Again, note the aptness of the blessings to the persons for3636 Qu. ‘to’?—ED. whom he prayeth. Here are three blessings, that do more eminently and distinctly suit with every person of the Trinity; and I do the rather note it, because I find the apostle elsewhere distinguishing these blessings by their proper fountains; as Rom. i. 7, ‘Grace to you, and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Sort the blessings right; there is grace from the Father, and peace from Christ. So here is mercy from God the Father, who is called ‘the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort,’ 2 Cor. i. 3; and peace from the Son, for ‘he is our peace,’ Eph. ii. 14; and love from the Spirit: Rom. v. 5 , ‘The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given to us.’ Thus you see every person concurreth to our happiness with his distinct blessing.
Obs. 5. In the next place, how aptly these blessings are suited among themselves: first mercy, then peace, and then love. Mercy doth not differ much from that which is called grace in Paul’s epistles, only grace doth more respect the bounty of God, as mercy doth our want and need. By mercy, then, is meant the favour and good-will of God to miserable creatures; and peace signifieth all blessings inward and outward, as the fruits and effects of that favour and good-will; more especially calmness and serenity of conscience, or a secure enjoying of the love of God, which is the top of spiritual prosperity. And then love sometimes signifieth God’s love to us; here I should rather take it for our love to God, and to the brethren for God’s sake. So that mercy is the rise and spring of all, peace is the effect and fruit, and love is the return. He beginneth with mercy, for that is the fountain and beginning of all the good things which we enjoy: higher than love and mercy we cannot go, for God’s love is the reason of itself, Deut. vii. 7, 8; Rom. ix. 15; Isa. xlv. 15, and we can deserve nothing at God’s hands but wrath and misery; and therefore we should still honour mercy, and set the crown upon mercy’s head (as further anon); 56that which you give to merit you take from mercy. Now the next thing is peace. Mark the order still; without mercy and grace there can be no true peace: Isa. lvii. 21, ‘There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked;’ they say, ‘Peace, peace,’ but my God doth not say so. Christ left his peace with his own disciples, John xiv. 27, and not as worldly and external peace is left, in the happiness of which both good and bad are concerned; that is general, but this is proper, confined, within the conscience of him that enjoyeth it, and given to the godly. It is the Lord’s method to pour in first the ‘oil of grace,’ and then the ‘oil of gladness.’ Alas! the peace of a wicked man it is but a frisk or fit of joy, whilst conscience, God’s watchman, is napping; ‘stolen waters and bread eaten in secret,’ Prov. ix. 17. The way to true peace is to apply yourselves to God for mercy to be accepted in Christ, to be renewed according to the image of Christ; otherwise sin and guilt will create fears and troubles. Again, the last thing is love; great privileges require answerable duty. Mercy and peace need another grace, and that is love. It is God’s gift as well as the rest; we have graces from God as well as privileges, and therefore he beggeth love as well as mercy and peace; but it must be our act, though we have the grace from above. We would all have mercy and peace, but we are not so zealous to have love kindled in our hearts. Mercy, peace, all this runneth downward, and respects our interest, but love, that mounteth upward, and respects God himself. Certainly they have no interest in mercy, and were never acquainted with true peace, that do not find their hearts inflamed with love to God and a zeal for his glory; that as he hath ordered all things for our profit, so we may order and refer all things to his glory and honour. Mercy runneth down from God, and begets peace of conscience, for peace of conscience is nothing else but a solid taste of God’s mercy; and peace of conscience begets love, by which we clasp about God again; for love is nothing else but a reverberation or beating back of God’s beam upon himself, or a return of duty in the sense of mercy; so that God is at the beginning and ending, and either way is the utmost boundary of the soul:3737 So in the angel’s song, Luke ii. 19, Glory, peace, and good-will. All comes from good-will; that is the first cause, as God’s glory is the last end. Under the law the first and the tenth were the Lord’s; the beginning and ending are his. all things are from him and to him.
Secondly, Let me handle them particularly and apart. And first, mercy, which is the rise and cause of all the good we have from God. The Lord would dispense blessings in such a way as might beat down despair and carnal confidence. Man hath need of mercy, but deserveth none. Despair would keep us from God, and carnal confidence robbeth him of his glory; therefore, as the Lord would not have flesh to glory, so neither to be cut off from all hope. Mercy salveth both; we need not fly the sight of God: ‘there is mercy with him, why he should be feared, 7 Ps. cxxx. 4. False worships are supported by terror; but God, that hath the best title to the heart, will gain it by love and offers of mercy. And we have no reason to ascribe anything to ourselves, since mercy doth all in the court of heaven, and not justice. If you reckon upon a debt, you are sure to miss. It is a part of God’s supremacy that all his blessings should come as a gift; that he 57should act freely, and entertain us as a king, not as an host. Merit taketh off something of his royalty and supreme majesty. Touching the mercy of God, give me leave to give you a few observations.
1. It is the aim of the whole scripture to represent God merciful.3838 ‘Id agit tota scriptura, ut credamus Deum esse misericordem.’—Luther. It is true, God is infinitely just, as well as infinitely merciful; but he delighteth in gracious discoveries of himself to the creature; he counteth it his glory. Moses was earnest with God to show him his glory, and then God proclaimeth his name: Exod. xxxiv. 5, 6, ‘The Lord, the Lord, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin,’ &c. In this description there is more spoken of his mercy than of his justice; and, first, his mercy is described, and then his justice; for justice is only added to invite men to take hold of his mercy, and to show that justice is never exercised but in avenging the quarrel of abused mercy. So he is called ‘a God of pardon,’ Neh. ix. 17, as if wholly made up of sweetness. So 2 Cor. i. 3, he is called πατὴρ οἰκτίρμωμ, ‘Father of mercies, and God of all consolations.’ He is a just God, but he is not called the Father of justice. Mercy is natural to him; he counteth it as the proper fruit and product of the divine essence.
2. Mercy is represented as his delight and pleasure: so Micah vii. 18, ‘Mercy pleaseth him.’ It is an act exercised with complacency. Judgment is called his ‘strange work,’ Isa. xxviii. 21. God loveth to bless and protect; to destroy is not suitable to his disposition; it is a thing that he is forced to. Punitive acts in the representations of the word are most against his bowels, drawn and extorted from him;3939 ‘Misericordia suadet ut parcam, peccatorum clamor cogit ut puniam.’—Salv. as Jer. xliv. 22, ‘The Lord could no longer bear because of your doings: ‘their sins were so clamorous that they would not let God be quiet; he would bear no longer, unless they would make an idol of him. But now all acts of grace and favour are exercised with delight: ‘I will rejoice over them to do them good,’ Jer. xxxii. 41. It is as pleasing to God to do it as it is to us to receive it. The scripture, after the manner of men, doth often represent a conflict in the attributes about sinners; and if mercy get the upper hand, it is always with joy and triumph: James ii. 13, ‘Mercy rejoiceth over judgment;’ but if he be compelled to strike, and justice must be exercised, the scriptures represent a reluctation in his bowels: Lam. iii. 33, ‘He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men;’ in the original, ‘from his heart;’ but is like a father, with a rod in his hand, and tears in his eyes.
3. The scripture representeth God as exercising mercy, though with some present disadvantage to his glory; as mercy to the Ninevites, though the credit of his message lay at stake: ‘Nineveh shall be destroyed in forty days;’ yet God spared it, and therefore Jonah, in a pet, challengeth him for it: Jonah iv. 2, ‘Lord, was not this my saying when I was in my country? for I knew that thou wert a gracious God.’ As if he said, I knew it would come to this; that the prophets of Israel should be disgraced before the men of Nineveh; and to threaten judgments in his name is to expose ourselves to 58derision. When we have done our errand, free grace will make us all liars. To this effect did he expostulate with God. God might easily destroy sinners with much honour to himself; but he is long-suffering, even then when his patience for a while seemeth to impair the revenues of heaven. The world suspects his being, the saints quarrel his justice and question his love, and all because the wicked are prosperous, and God keepeth silence. The great stumbling-block at which most have dashed the foot of their faith, is the suspension of due judgments. What was the effects of his patience to them of Assyria and Babylon? The Lord himself telleth you, Isa. lii. 5, ‘My name every day is blasphemed.’ That was all he got by it: his people suffered in person, and God himself in his reputation; all that he got was blasphemies, and reproaches, and injuries: so Ps. 1. 21, ‘I kept silence, and thou thoughtest that I was every way like thyself;’ that was the effect—gross conceits of his glory and essence. When judgments are quick and speedy, the world is under greater awe, the confidence of the saints is strengthened and supported, and God’s honour is more clear and un stained; yet, with all these disadvantages to his glory, if we may speak so, God forbeareth. Certainly his heart is much set upon the honour of his mercy, that God will glorify it though other attributes seem to suffer loss.
4. The scriptures speak much of his readiness to receive returning sinners. Though they have done infinite wrong to his holiness, yet upon repentance, and as soon as they begin to submit, mercy embraceth and huggeth them, as if there had been no breach: Luke xv. 20, ‘I will go to my father,’ and ‘the father ran to meet him.’ So Isa. lxv. 24, ‘Before they call,’ &c. So Ps. xxxii. 5.’1 said, and thou forgavest,’ &c. So Jer. xxxi. 18, with 20, ‘I have heard Ephraim be moaning himself,’ &c.; and presently, ‘O my dear and pleasant child!’ The first relentings of the creature work upon the bowels of mercy. Love’s pace is very swift, it runneth to meet a returning sinner. Christ cometh ‘skipping over the mountains,’ Cant. ii. 8. He thinketh that he can never be soon enough with us. He would fain have the company of sinners, and therefore meeteth them more than half-way. When we but conceive a purpose, we presently receive the fruit of his early mercies.
5. God doth not only admit them to come, but of his own accord inviteth them that are slack and backward. The scriptures do every where record the intreaties of God: he draweth us with cords of love; cords that are woven and spun out of Christ’s heart and bowels. In one place thus, Cant. iv. 8, ‘Come away from Lebanon, my sister, my spouse, from the lions’ dens, from the mountains of leopards.’ Christ’s love is hot and burning, he thinketh we tarry too long from his embraces. So Cant. v. 2, ‘Open to me, my sister, my spouse,’ &c. Christ stands begging for entrance. Lost man! do but suffer me to save thee; poor sinner! suffer me to love thee. These are the charms of gospel rhetoric. So Isa. xlix., ‘Hearken to me, and attend to the words of my mouth,’ &c. O sinners! you will not hearken to me for the good of your souls! You see none singeth so sweetly as the bird of paradise, the turtle that chirpeth upon the church’s hedges, that he may cluck sinners to himself. The scripture is full of such a holy witchcraft, such passionate charms, to entice souls to their happiness.59
6. They that constantly refuse the offers of his grace are borne with for a long time: Rom. ix. 22, πολλὴ μακροθυμία, ‘He endured with much long-suffering,’ &c. All may bless God for patience; they owe a heavy debt to divine justice, yet it is a long time ere God putteth the bond in suit; though they dare him to his face, yet they walk up and down without the arrest of vengeance. He beareth with them years and years, after a thousand and a thousand affronts, from their cradles to their graves. When they were green wood, they were fuel fit enough for divine wrath. Oh! consider, there can be no cause of this but his mercy to his worst creatures. It is not out of any delight in sin, for he is holy, and cannot endure to look upon it: Hab. i. 13, ‘Of purer eyes,’ &c. It is not out of any stupid neglect; he is just, and ‘will not clear the guilty,’ Exod. xxxiv. 7. It is not out of any ignorance; ‘he telleth man his thoughts;’ nor for want of power; so men forbear. The sons of Zeruiah may be too hard for them; but, 1 Sam. xxiv. 19, ‘If a man findeth his enemy, will he let him go well away?’ When they are in our power, we satisfy our wrath and revenge to the full. But now God ‘upholdeth all things by the word of his power;’ he can in a minute speak us into nothing. As the impression of a seal upon the water dependeth upon the seal, if the seal be taken away the impression vanisheth; so do our beings depend upon providential influence and supportation. If God should withdraw the word of his power, we should soon vanish and disappear; therefore it is not for want of power, but merely out of mercy that we are forborne. How may we wonder at this! We are of eager and tart spirits, sharp-set upon revenge. Could we have put up so many refusals of love, such despites done to mercy, such wrongs, such grievings of spirit, and yet have contained? The disciples themselves, though holy men, when they were sensible of being slighted in the village of Samaria, called for ‘fire from heaven,’ Luke ix. 54. Certainly we could not endure such a contradiction of sinners. If thunderbolts were in our power we should soon kindle a burning, and turn the world into smoke and desolation.
7. It is not only the aim of the word, but of providence, and of all the dispensations of God to the creature, to represent him merciful. The whole world is a great volume, written within and without with characters and lines of mercy: Ps. cxlv. 9, ‘His mercy is over all his works.’ Every creature beareth the marks and prints of divine goodness and bounty. Once more, the world is a great theatre and stage whereon mercy has been acting its part for these six thousand years. Justice is to have a solemn triumph at the last day. Now and then God hath kept a petty sessions, and given us occasion to say, ‘Yerily there is a God that judgeth the world,’ as well as preserveth the world. But the greatest part that hath been acted upon the theatre of the world is mercy; as you will easily see, if you consider—(1.) The black lines of providence. If God threaten, it is that he may not punish; if he punish, it is that he may not punish for ever. In the sadder providences, though there be misery at the top, yet there is mercy at the bottom. Many times God threateneth, but it is to reclaim; though he doth not change his counsel, yet he doth often change his sentence,4040 ‘Mutat sententiam sed non decretum.’—Bradwardine.60Jer. xviii. 7, 8: when the message is nothing but plucking up and pulling down, free grace cometh in with a sudden rescue, and prevents the execution. Mercy, you see, is forced to use all methods, and to speak in the language of justice, that men may be more capable to receive it. Sometimes God punisheth, but with what aim? That he may not for ever punish. It is we that make punishment to be a pledge of eternal damnation; in its own aim it is a prevention, and so it proveth to the elect: ‘We are judged of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world,’ 1 Cor. xi. 32. So Hosea ii. 6, ‘I will hedge up her way with thorns,’ &c. We should soon grow worldly, and drowned in carnal business and projects, if God did not come now and then and blast our enterprises, and make us see our folly. We are puffed up, and God pricketh the bladder, 2 Cor, xii. 7. How sweet is this, when ‘in the midst of judgment God remembereth mercy!’ Yea, the very executions of justice are found to be one of the methods of mercy. In the middle of the first curse God dropped out a promise of the blessed seed; so often mercy overtaketh a judgment, and maketh it cease in the midway. Look, as there was a conflict between the twins in Tamar’s womb, Zarah did put out the hand, but Pharez broke out first; so is there between God’s mercy and justice: justice puts out the hand in a threatening, or some beginnings of a judgment, but mercy gets the start and breaketh out first. (2.) Consider the white lines of providence. He entreateth that he may do us good, and doth us good that he may do us good for ever. For his entreaties: It is not duty so much that is in the bottom of the exhortation as mercy. To glorify mercy is the last aim of God and his eternal purpose: ‘He hath accepted us in the beloved, to the praise of his glorious grace,’ Eph. i. 6. God receiveth no profit; he entreateth us not that he may be happy, but that he may be liberal. See Prov. ix. 12, ‘If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself; but if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it.’ God dealeth with us as earnestly, as effectually, as if the profit were his own, but it wholly redoundeth to us. Again, he doth us good that he may do us good for ever. He trusteth us with mammon to prepare us for the true riches, Luke xvi. 11, and with the riches of grace to prepare us for glory. Look, as men, when they would put precious liquor into a vessel, first try it with water to see whether it leaketh or no, so doth God try us with common mercies; he giveth us an estate in the world, that, being moved with his goodness, we may look after an estate in the covenant and an interest in Christ, and so fit us for heaven. It is our wretchedness to make our table a snare and our welfare a trap. As the sea turneth all that it receiveth into salt water, the fresh streams, the influences of the heavens, &c., so do carnal men assimilate and corrupt their comforts, and by little and little all their blessings are cursed; for mercy can bear anything but a constant abuse and neglect of itself. Certainly God’s revealed will is otherwise; that which cometh from God should lead us to God. See Rom. ii. 4, 5.
8. Consider in how many notions mercy is represented to us. God’s mercy hath many names; a distinct consideration of them yieldeth an advantage in believing; for though they express the same thing, yet every notion begetteth a fresh thought, by which mercy is 61more taken abroad in the view of conscience. This is that ‘pouring out of God’s name,’ spoken of Cant. i. 3. Ointment in the box doth not yield such a fragrancy as when it is poured out, and spices do not give forth their smell till they are chafed. Nothing is more conducible to beget a trust than distinct thoughts and conceptions of God’s mercy. Let us take notice of some places where it is set forth. See Ps. ciii. 8, ‘The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.’ The expression is diversified, and I note it the rather, because in other places the same notions of mercy are punctually expressed: see Neh. ix. 17; so Ps. cxlv. 8, and in divers other places: Joel ii. 12; Jonah iv. 2; chiefly see that Exod. xxxiv. 7, and you will find that this is the very description which God hath given of himself. Now what doth the Spirit of God aim at in this express enumeration and accumulation of names of mercy, but to give us a help in meditation, and that our thoughts may be more distinct? (1.) The first notion is mercy, which is an attribute whereby God inclineth to succour them that are in misery. It is an attribute that merely respecteth the creature. The love and knowledge of God first falleth upon himself, but mercy is only transient, and passeth out to the creatures. God knoweth himself, loveth himself, but he is not merciful to himself. And then it respecteth the creatures in misery; for misery is mercy’s only motive; justice seeketh a fit object, but mercy a fit occasion; justice requireth desert, but mercy only want and need. (2.) The next notion is grace, which noteth the free bounty of God, and excludeth all merit of the creature. Grace doth all gratis, ‘freely.’ Rom. iii. 24, though there be no precedent, obligation, or debt, or hope of recompense, whereby anything may accrue to himself; only that it may be well with the creature. God’s external motive is our misery, his internal motive is his own grace and elective love. Am I in want? there is mercy; am I unworthy? there is grace. Mercy respects us as we are in ourselves worthy of condemnation, grace as compared with others not elected. The ultimate reason of the choice is God’s grace. The angels that never sinned are saved merely out of grace, but men that were once miserable are saved not only out of grace, but also out of mercy. (3.) The next notion is long-suffering, or slowness to anger. The Lord is not easily overcome by the wrongs or sins of the creature, but easily overcometh them by his own patience and goodness. He doth not only pity our misery, that is mercy; and do us good for nothing, that is grace; but beareth long with our infirmities. Alas! if God were as short and swift in the executions of revenge as men are, God must create another world to raise up seed to Christ.4141 ‘Nisi expectaret impium, non inveniret quem glorificaret pium.’ —Aug. If he did not wait upon sinners, there would be none made saints. We provoked him to cut us off long since, but wrath is not easily heightened into rage, and therefore ‘he waiteth that he may be gracious,’ Isa. xxx. 18. (4.) Kindness or bounty, ‘plenteous in goodness,’ berab chesid. God’s communications of his grace to the creature are every way rich and full. You may say, God is merciful, gracious, patient, but will he be thus to me? Yes, he is ‘plenteous in goodness,’ kind and communicative: Ps. cxix. 68, ‘Thou art good, and dost good;’ therefore David goeth to him for grace. 62Well, then, study God’s name, and answer all your discouragements out of the descriptions of his mercy.
9. Consider your own experiences. We have not only heard that God is merciful,4242 As they said, ‘We have heard that the kings of Israel are merciful kings,’ 1 Kings xx. 31. but we have known it. All men may speak of patience, and common mercy, and outward deliverances, but few improve them to a spiritual use and purpose. (1.) Consider God’s patience; how long hath he waited for your conversion? and he that hath spared you can save you. It is said, ‘The wages of sin is death.’ Rom. vi. 23. The word implieth that God is bound to pay it by virtue of an implicit bargain and agreement between him and the creature. But as yet the hand of God hath not found you out; you are indebted to justice, but mercy stoppeth the arrest of vengeance. Many others have been taken away in their sins by a sudden arrow and dart from heaven; vengeance hath trodden upon the heel of sin; as Zimri and Cosbi unloaded their lusts and their lives together; the angels for an aspiring thought were turned out of heaven; Gehazi was blasted with leprosy just upon his lie; and Lot’s wife turned into a stone for a look, a glance upon Sodom; and Herod smitten with lice in the midst of his pomp and vainglory: and some have ‘perished in the midway,’ Ps. ii., in the very heat of some carnal and wicked pursuit. God can do the like to you; therefore reason thus: If mercy would not save me, why hath mercy spared me? God might have sued out the bond long since; what is the meaning of the dispensation? Is God weak or unjust? or hath he a mind to be gracious? Surely he would not have spared me all this while, if he had not a mind to save my soul. Such reasonings as these many times give us the first encouragement to apply ourselves to God. Wicked men, like spiders, draw other conclusions, Ps. l. 21. But should not his patience, &c., Rom. ii. 4. (2.) Consider God’s goodness in giving thee food, and clothing, and honour, and gladness of heart, and all this without thy desert. Say, Certainly all these benefits are but so many baits to catch my soul. I see the sun riseth every day with a fresh countenance, and shineth upon the fields of just and unjust; to what purpose, but to show that God is gracious without hire? This bodily sun is but an obscure type of the Sun of Righteousness, that is willing to display his beams and wings over a poor languishing soul. Common mercies are the tastes of God’s love while you are sinners, and the common fruits of Christ’s death, that you may be invited to come for more. Why hath he given me ‘the unrighteous mammon,’ but that I may look after ‘the true riches’? What a vile unthankful heart should I have, if I should be contented with mammon without Christ, and be like Judas, with the bag in my hand, and the devil in my heart! God’s children are wont to make these gifts a step to higher dispensations: they know God, like the good householder, bringeth forth the best at last; therefore they must have something above and beyond all these things. Common hearts are contented with common mercies; but they are still waiting when the master of the feast will bid them sit higher. I may have this and be damned; where are the arguments of his special love? (3.) Consider deliverances 63from imminent dangers. Then the curse began to seize upon you; but God-snatched you out of the fire like ‘brands out of the burning,’ Amos iv. 11; or like a debtor that escapeth out of the sergeant’s hands. Every deliverance is a temporary pardon: see Ps. lxviii. 38, ‘Then he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not;’ the meaning is, respited vengeance, as appeareth by the context. So Mat. xviii. 32, ‘He forgave them the debt;’ yet it was after required; the meaning is, spared them for the present. Thus when God taketh you out of the teeth and jaws of wrath, when you are delivered out of sickness and apparent danger, you have a reprieve or a temporary pardon. Oh! if you had died, you had died in your sins, and so been eternally miserable: if the Lord had taken the present advantage, you had been howling a sad note among the screech-owls of darkness. For ever blessed be that mercy that made a rescue!
10. Consider God’s invitations. Mercy pointeth and beckoneth to thee to come and be saved. How many means hath God used to call thee to himself! Every good motion is a call, every preacher a messenger sent from heaven to invite thee to Christ, every sermon a new summons. Plead with thyself, Though God hath not drawn me, yet he hath warned me. The elect have no more favour in the general means than thou hast. Though God’s grace be limited by the pleasure of his wisdom, yet thou hast a fair warrant and encouragement, and every way as good a ground to come to Christ as others have: ‘Whosoever,’ &c., John vi. 37. When the gospel doth not exclude me, why should I exclude myself? Doubts that God will not accept me if I come, are but foolish jealousies without a cause. But it is time to leave off this meditation upon God’s mercy, which hath carried me out so far, and to come to the uses.
Use 1. It informeth us that those that would apply themselves to God must make mercy their only plea and claim. Returning sinners have this form put into their mouths, Hosea xiv. 2, ‘Take away all iniquity, receive us graciously,’ Lord, we desire to be entertained by mercy, to have our suits dispatched by mercy. So David professeth that he had no other claim: Ps. xiii. 5, ‘I have trusted in thy mercy.’ Upon which Chrysostom4343 ‘Ὃι μὲν ἄλλοι εἰ τὶ καὶ ἔχοιεν λεγέτωσαν, ἔγω δε ἓ οὖδα, ἓν λέγω,’ &c.—Chrysost. sweetly glosseth: If any others have any thing to allege, let them plead it; Lord, I have but one thing to say, one thing to plead, one thing upon which I cast all my hopes, and that is thy mercy. So must you come to the throne of grace: Lord, my plea is mercy, all the comfort I expect to receive is from mercy. The apostle, I remember, maketh a challenge: Rom. xi. 35, ‘Who hath first given him, and it shall be recompensed to him again?’ Is there any man that can enter this plea, This is due to me? Lord, give me what thou owest, I desire no more; let me have no blessing till I do deserve it. Merit-mongers4444 ‘Chemnitius observat aliter de justificatione sentire homines in disputationibus, quando cum hominibus sui similibus rixantur, aliter in meditatiouibus quando coram Deo sistuut conscientiam suam quasi causa dicenda esset,’ &c.—Davenant. de Justitia. are best confuted by experience. Let them use the same plea in their prayers which they do in their disputes; let them say, Give me not eternal life till I deserve it at thy 64hand; let them dispute thus with God or with their own consciences, when they are in the agonies of death, or under the horrors of the Lord’s wrath. Surely men that cry up the merit of works are men of little spiritual experience, and seldom look into their own consciences. Dare they plead thus with God in their agonies and horrors? The best claim God’s dearest servants can make is mercy. Possidius, in the life of Austin, reporteth of Ambrose, when he was about to die, he said thus, Though I have not lived so that I should be ashamed to live among you, yet I am not afraid to die; not that I have lived well, but because I have a good and gracious Master.4545 ‘Etsi non sic vixi ut pudeat inter vos vivere, etc., sed quia bonum dominum habeo.’—Possidius in Vita August. This hath still been the ground of the saints’ confidence.
Use 2. It exhorteth us to use this encouragement to bring our souls into the presence of God. Think of the mercies of God; the vile abuse of this doctrine hath brought a suspicion and prejudice upon it: but children must not refuse their bread because dogs catch at it. When Benhadad was dejected, and in danger not only of losing his kingdom but his life, his servants comforted him with this fame, 1 Kings xx. 31, ‘We have heard that the kings of Israel are merciful kings.’ You have heard how the God of Israel delighteth in mercy. When you come for mercy, you speak to his very bowels. You shall read in 2 Sam. xiv. 1, that ‘when Joab perceived the king’s heart was to Absalom,’ then he setteth the woman of Tekoah a-begging. The king’s heart is to show mercy; he hath sworn that he hath no pleasure in thy destruction, Ezek. xviii. 32; therefore take courage and come to him. He hath sent Christ to you as a pledge of his good will and mercy; why will you not come to him? He that had love enough to give us Christ, hath bowels enough to give us pardon, and bounty enough to give us heaven, and whatever we stand in need of. Fear not his justice; justice and mercy are made friends, Rom. iii. 25, 26, and 1 John i. 9. Christ hath taken up the quarrel between them; so that nothing hindereth but that God may act according to the natural inclination of his own grace. And let not the multitude of your sins discourage you: ‘The free gift is of many offences to justification.’ Rom. v. 16. Take it for the offences of many persons, as the context seemeth to carry it, and it is an encouragement to think of the multiplied instances of mercy, and how many monuments of free grace we shall see when we come to heaven, and that all this while mercy is not tired. Or take it for the many offences of the same person, and still it is an encouragement that mercy can so often bear with our vanity and folly, and not only pardon several sorts of sin, but frequent relapses into the same sin. He will ‘multiply to pardon,’ Isa. lv. 7. If the soul still draw back, and be under discouragement, consider your own need. If the Lord were never so tenacious and hard to be entreated, yet such is your need that you should follow him with incessant complaints. It is blasphemy to wrong his mercy by lessening thoughts. But grant the sinner his supposition, yet you should be instant, and try what he will do for importunity’s sake. See Luke xi. 8, δια τὴ ἀναιδείαν, and Luke xviii. 5, ἵνα μὴ ὑπωπιάζη μὲ, &c. In those parables there is a kind of condescension and yielding to our 65unbelief; as if the Lord had said, If you will not believe all this that is said concerning my mercy, yet your want is great; that is enough to make you earnest and frequent in your addresses to me; come and see what I will do for your importunity; the unjust judge was moved with the widow’s clamour: be it as you imagine, that I have no bowels for creatures’ miseries, nor ears for their requests, which yet is a blasphemy confuted by every object in the world; the young ravens will tell you otherwise, Job xxxviii. 41; Mat. vi. 26; Luke xii. 24; but be it so; you are undone if I be not merciful; see what I will do for constant asking. Upon all these encouragements be persuaded to make an essay: faith at first standeth but upon one weak foot. ‘Who knoweth but that God will be gracious?’ Jonah iii. 9; Joel ii. 14. There is encouragement enough to venture, though we do not know what will come of it. Take up a resolution to make trial; you will find better welcome than you can expect. God desires to exercise mercy as much as you desire to feel it.
Use 3. It presseth us in all our enjoyments to acknowledge mercy. The saints are wont to do so, Eph. ii. 4; 1 Tim. i. 13; Gen. xxxii. 10; Phil. ii. 27. It is good to refer all things to their head and proper fountain. Everything that we enjoy is the fruit of mercy, especially saving grace. It is a sure sign a man hath received no benefit by grace if his heart be not stirred up to praise it. We have cause to praise God for his mercy above the angels. I mean, not only the bad angels, with whom God entered not into a treaty; he dealt with them in justice and not in mercy; but even the good angels; in some respects we have more cause to bless God than they have. Gratitude respecteth the freeness and graciousness in giving, rather than the greatness of the benefit. God was bountiful to the angels in making them such excellent creatures out of nothing; but he is merciful to us, notwithstanding the demerit of our sins. There was no let in his doing good to the angels; goodness floweth out freely from a holy God to righteous creatures: but wronged justice interposed, and put in a bar against us: so that his justice must be satisfied before mercy can have a free course. We are a generation of sinful men, the wretched offspring of fallen Adam: we had forsaken God, and cast him off, which the angels had not; and therefore, though they have a large experience of God’s goodness, yet they wonder at the grace showed to us, 1 Peter i. 12. But now much more is this mercy to be acknowledged if we consider the difference between us and other men, who, it may be, excelled us in moral accomplishments; but God hath passed them by, choosing us poor things of nought, poor base creatures, that the glory might entirely redound to his own grace. But especially should this mercy affect us. when it hath made a distinction between us and others that were involved in the same guilt; when ‘one is taken and another left;’ as the bad thief went to his own place, when the good thief was taken to paradise; and many of God’s elect were as deep in sin as those in hell. I say, in all such cases we should still be crying out Mercy, mercy; for certainly justice could make no such distinction; it awardeth a like punishment to all that are found in a like crime; but God’s infinite and eternal mercy only maketh the difference.
Use 4. It is caution. Do not wrong grace and mercy, if it be the cause 66of all the good which we enjoy. This is to close up the fountain, and to make mercy our enemy; and if mercy be our enemy, who shall plead for us? If mercy be an accuser, where shall we get an advocate? But how do we wrong grace? I answer—Partly by neglecting the offers of it, when you make God speak in vain, 2 Cor. vi. 2. It is a great affront we put upon God, to despise him when he speaketh to us in the still voice, and all the wooings and pleadings of mercy do not move to look after our salvation; though you do not despise, there is danger in bare neglect, Heb. ii. 3.4646 So those in Matthew did not deny, but made excuse, ἀμελήσαντες, Mat. xxii. 5. They would not take it into their care and thoughts. When all the charms of mercy do no more work with you than a story of golden mountains, or rubies and diamonds fallen from heaven in a night dream, this neglect argueth a greater suspicion and distrust of God’s mercy than doubts and troubles of conscience do. Mercy speaketh to them, and they do not think the message worth the hearing or regarding. Again, you wrong grace by refusing it out of legal dejection, for by this means you straiten the riches, and darken the glory of it; as if there were not more in grace than there is in sin, or as if an emperor’s revenue could not discharge a beggar’s debt. The prodigal could say, there was ‘bread enough in his father’s house.’ If we perish, it is not for want of mercy, but for want of faith. Grace is God’s treasure; he is ‘rich in mercy,’ Eph. ii. 4. As far as we straiten grace, we make him a poorer God. Again, we wrong grace and mercy by intercepting the glory of it. It is the greatest sacrilege that can be to rob God of his glory, especially of ‘the glory of his grace;’ for that is his great aim in all his transactions with man, to make his grace and mercy glorious; see Eph. i. 6. Now when you think God accepteth you rather than others for some worth and good qualities that he seeth in you more than others, it may be in this light of the gospel which we now enjoy such thoughts are not expressed, but if they lurk secretly in the heart, you think God foresaw you would bring him more glory, Deut. ix. 4; you take the crown from grace’s head, and put it upon your own. So also you wrong grace when you ascribe anything to your power and strength. As Joab sent for David to take the honour of winning Rabbah: 2 Sam. xii. 28, ‘Lest I take the city, and it be called after my own name;’ so send for God to take the honour: ‘Not I, but grace,’ 1 Cor. xv. 10. Throw the crown at grace’s feet. The industrious servant said, ‘Thy pound hath gained ten pounds,’ Luke xix. 16; not my industry, but thy pound. Once more, we wrong grace by turning it into wantonness; see ver. 4. It is made there to be a heavy charge and black note when men presume on grace, and use it only as a dung-cart to carry away their filth. Grace must bear all, and pardon all; as riotous children that have a rich father care not how they spend; his estate shall pay for all. It is a mighty wrong to grace this, when you make it pliable to such vile purposes, and father the bastards of your own carnal hearts upon gospel encouragements. It is the devil’s covenant, not God’s, when you think that you may live as you list, be at your own dispose, and mercy shall be at your beck, and you shall have comfort when you please; and that you may sin freely because God pardoneth freely, as if mercy gave you a privilege and liberty to sin. 67In short, if a man slacken any part of his duty for mercy’s sake, or lets loose the reins to vile affections with more freedom, upon the presumption that God will not be rigorous, he wrongeth grace exceedingly. I say, if he grow more careless, secure, negligent, not so constant in duty, not so watchful and strict in conversation, or abateth aught of his humiliation for sin, he is a spider that sucketh poison out of this flower. Lastly, we wrong grace by slighting it after a taste. At first coming to Christ we make an essay and trial, and usually then God giveth us a taste to engage us to look for more, 1 Peter ii. 3; Heb. vi. 4-6. Now after trial you are not satisfied, but return to your sinful courses again, and so do, as it were, proclaim to the world that you found carnal comforts and pleasures to be better than communion with God. This is but the interpretation of your apostasy. The whole aim of the word is to persuade us to make trial of the sweetness of grace. Now you that have once tasted of it, and grow weary, do by your practice tell the world that there is no sweetness in it at all, which is a great wrong to grace and mercy.
It is high time now to speak of the second thing prayed for, which is peace; whence observe that peace is a great blessing, one of the main privileges of the gospel.
I shall, first, Show you what it is; secondly, Give you some obser vations concerning it; and thirdly, Come to application.
1. What it is. It is a tranquillity of mind arising from the sense of a sure estate with God. To this peace two things concur. First, a sure estate, or terms of amity with God. This is called in scripture ‘peace with God,’ and is the immediate effect and fruit of actual justification, Rom. v. 1. And then, secondly, there is a sense of this sure estate, or the reflex of this amity upon the conscience, and is usually called ‘peace of conscience,’ and is a special privilege of Christ’s spiritual kingdom. See Rom. xiv. 17; the apostle speaketh there of a ‘peace,’ which is ranked with ‘joy in the Holy Ghost.’ But it will be better opened to you in the ensuing propositions.
[1.] Man by nature is at enmity with God, and upon ill terms with him. When we lost God’s image, we lost his favour. This enmity is mutual; man is an enemy to God, and God is an enemy to man. On God’s part there is wrath, which is all that we are born to by nature, Eph. ii. 3; and on man’s part there is hatred; we hate God because we love sin, Col. i. 21. God’s enmity is suspended in the day of his patience. Now and then wrath breaketh out, but it is not executed to the full; sentence is passed, but not executed. Nay, it may be reversed if we take sanctuary at grace; for God is now upon a treaty with us, or offer of peace; therefore it is said ‘peace on earth,’ Luke ii. 14. The next world is a time of vengeance and recompense; but during our earthly state God wooeth us and inviteth us to lay down the weapons of our defiance, and accept of terms of peace. Thus matters stand on God’s part. But now on our part this enmity is carried on with a great deal of spite. We seek to destroy God, and to deface all the memorials of him that are impressed upon the conscience; we ungod him in our thoughts and affections. It is a pleasing thought to us to suppose if there were no God, as guilty prisoners wish there were no judge, no assizes, that they may not be called to account.68
[2.] Man being at enmity with God, all God’s creatures are at enmity with him. Angels, men, fire, air, water, they are all at God’s beck, and are ready to destroy man whenever the Lord biddeth them; as good subjects take part with their prince against rebels. The angels ‘hearken for the voice of his word,’ Ps. ciii. If he do but ‘hiss for the fly of Egypt,’ Isa. vii. 18, it is ready presently. It is ill contesting with him that can command legions. The fire saith, Let me burn his house or dwelling-place; the water saith, Let me drown his ships; the earth, Let me swallow him up quick, as I did Korah and his accomplices. Certainly the Lord cannot want instruments of vengeance. Man as God’s creature is his own enemy. God needeth not fetch forces from without, there is enough within; the humours of the body, the passions of the mind, all these are willing to serve God as creatures for our punishment; so that if God should but arm our own thoughts, our own affections against us, man is soon overwhelmed. Who can bear the wounds given him by his own conscience?
[3.] We, being in this estate, can only be reconciled by Jesus Christ. He obtaineth it by his merit, and conferreth it by his power. For his merit, see Col. i. 20, and Isa. liii. 5, ‘The chastisement of our peace was upon him.’ It will not stand with the majesty of God to make peace with us without satisfaction. That there might be no wrong done to his sovereignty, his law, his truth, his justice, his holiness, it was meet that we should be chastised either in our own persons or in our surety; and also all the notions of the Godhead are kept inviolable. Then for his power: He worketh it at first, and then maintaineth and keepeth it afoot between God and us. He worketh it at first, and bringeth it about thus, by opening the gospel, wherein God is revealed as pacified in Christ; which is the only doctrine that can calm the conscience, and establish the soul in peace and hope. All false religions are accompanied with scruples and jealousies: Jer. vi. 16, there is no ‘rest for the soul.’ And then he applieth the gospel by his Spirit. The gospel is a sovereign plaster, but Christ’s own hand must make it stick. There is a double ground of enmity in man’s heart—the guilt and power of sin. Christ wipeth guilt out of the conscience by the application of his own blood, and weakeneth the power of sin more and more. Sin is the makebate, and Christ is the ‘Prince of peace,’ Isa. ix. 6. The great end for which God set him up, was to plant grace in our hearts, and so to work a friendship between God and us. But Christ is not only the author, but the great conservator of the peace between us and heaven. Partly by his intercession: as foreign states have their agents in princes’ courts to preserve a mutual correspondence, so Christ taketh up all differences that fall out between us and God, that no breach may ensue, Heb. ix. 24. Partly by a further declaration of God’s love to the conscience, Isa. xxvi. 3. Partly by stirring us up to watchfulness, that no occasion may be given on our part by ‘returning to folly,’ Ps. lxxxv. 8. Thus you see what Christ doth: all is briefly summed up by the apostle in 2 Cor. v. 19, ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world.’ Where note, that our peace with God is a reconciliation or a peace after a breach, and this reconciliation is mutual. God appeareth in a form of grace and mercy to us, and we lay down our enmity against God; he is gracious 69to us, and we love and serve him. Only observe, that God beginneth first, though he be the wronged party; he ‘was reconciling.’ And mark again, it is ‘in Christ’ to show it is sure. Those that are reconciled to men are still in umbrage and suspicion with them; they that have once been enemies, they may be again; therefore they do not return to perfect grace;4747 Qu. ‘peace’?—ED. when the wound is cured, the scars remain. But our reconciliation with God, it is like the soldering of a vessel, which is strongest in the crack; or as a leg broken, if well set, it is the stronger; so are we upon firmer terms than we were in innocency; there was a possibility of being at odds with God, which is now taken away.
[4.] God being reconciled in Christ, all things else are at peace with us, tranquillus Deus tranquillat omnia. For his league with us is offensive and defensive: ‘My horses are as thy horses, and my chariots as thy chariots.’ God and all his confederates are in the league, or rather God and all his subjects, as a prince doth not only contract for his person, but his subjects and estates. Angels are at peace with us; instead of being instruments of vengeance, they become ‘ministering spirits,’ Heb. i. 14. A Christian hath an invisible guard; Satan is sensible of it, though we be not; he saith of Job, ‘Thou hast hedged him round about.’ God’s heirs are well attended; angels wait upon them at Christ’s direction. Other creatures serve us, as if they were in league and covenant with us; stars, winds, seas, beasts: Job v. 23, ‘Thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field, and the beasts shall be at peace with thee.’ They are included in God’s league, which is as much as if there were an express covenant between us and them that they shall not do us harm: they are at the beck of providence, and therefore, so far as it conduceth to our good, at our service. So Hosea ii. 18, ‘I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and the fowls of the heaven,’ &c. So for men; they are wolves one to another, yet God can change them. The gospel civiliseth, and pulleth the beast out of men’s bosoms where it worketh least,4848 Qu. ‘lust’?—ED. see Isa. xi. 7-9. The hearts of men are in God’s hands; he can either destroy their persons, or restrain their rage, or turn out their respects to you: ‘When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh his enemies to be at peace with him,’ Prov. xvi. 7. We think to carry all by force and violence many times, but obedience to God is the best way to gain the respects of men, as a key openeth a door sooner than an iron bar. If you be in with God, you stop enmity and strife at the fountainhead. So for peace with the saints; Jesus Christ breaketh down the partition wall, Eph. ii. 16-18, removeth prejudices and jealousies, changeth interests, cleareth up truths, and by his Spirit meekeneth their hearts that they may be at one. Surely his blood is the best cement and bond of friendship.4949 ‘Eodem sanguine Christi glutinati.’—Aug. Confess. de Seipso et Alipio. Christ hath called us into a body, that there might be peace in the church, Col. iii. 15. Brothers have defaced the feelings of nature, but fellow-members are wont to care one for another. Peace with fellow-saints was his dying charge, his legacy, John xiv. 27, his prayer, John xvii., and his constant care now he is in heaven. Then for peace with ourselves. Sin rendeth and teareth a man from himself; it maketh a mutiny in his own heart, 70Rom. ii. 15, ‘thoughts accusing and excusing by turns,’ μετ᾽ ἀλλήλων. A man and his conscience are at odds, and a man and his affections. Now, we being reconciled to God, the foundation is laid for peace of conscience, that we and our hearts may talk together as loving friends, without scolding, without reproaching. And then grace giveth us a calm and contented spirit, which easeth us of a great deal of trouble, for a discontented man is his own burden. We need the peace of God not only in our consciences, but to bear rule in our hearts, Col. iii. 16, that we may refer all matters to God’s disposal, Ps. iv. 8.
[5.] Though all things are at peace with us; yet some troubles are left for our exercise, but not for our hurt and destruction. The peace of God it is a very riddle: Phil. iv. 7, ‘It passeth all understanding.’ To sense who more wretched than God’s children, hated, reviled, persecuted, afflicted? How are they at peace with God and all his creatures? I answer—The privileges of Christ’s kingdom are spiritual: whatever troubleth the saints, nothing can harm them, 1 Peter iii. 13. They may harm the man, but not the Christian. All things are at peace with them, because they are at the disposal of a wise and gracious providence, and cannot do hurt to the better part: they work for good. Death is at peace with them, which doth the greatest hurt to the body. Ask old Simeon and he will tell you so: Luke ii. 29, ‘Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace,’ &c. They are sent for by their friend; the king of fears is a grim messenger, but they know his errand, and therefore are not afraid.
[6.] In heaven there is a perfect peace; in the new Jerusalem all is quiet: ‘It is just with God to give you that are troubled, ἄνεσιν, rest,’ 2 Thes. i. 7; and ‘there is a rest that remaineth for the children of God,’ Heb. iv. 9. There we rest both from our sorrows and our labours; there is no trouble nor affliction more; all privileges are at the height; no more apprehensions of God’s wrath, fears of death. There we are not only free from hurt, but danger; our exercise is at an end: there we do immediately behold the king’s face, which is not granted us here; now we are in Absalom’s condition, pardoned, reconciled, but cannot see the king’s face. So much for the nature of this peace, and the observations that open it to you. Let us now apply all.
Use 1. If peace be such an excellent blessing, and a main privilege of the gospel, then it puts us upon trial. Are we at peace with God through Christ? If it be so, then—(1.) Enmity is laid aside; God’s enemies will be yours, and yours will be God’s; otherwise what peace? What! do we talk of peace with God, as long as we are in league with God’s enemy? ‘What peace as long as the whoredoms of thy mother Jezebel are so many?’ Our league with God is defensive and offensive. There is a war with Satan,5050 ‘Pax nostra bellum contra Satanam.’—Tertul. ad Martyras. if we be at peace with God: the spiritual conflict is the best evidence we have of our unity with God. With the wicked, God is at open war: ‘There is no peace,’ &c., Isa. lvii. 21. The devil may be at a secret peace with them, but God is at a distance, and abhorreth all communion with them. Christ is called ‘the Prince of peace,’ Isa. ix. 6; but it is to those that submit to his government; to his subjects, he saith, ‘Take my 71yoke upon yon, and ye shall find rest,’ Mat. xi. 29. We are not in a capacity to receive this blessing till we take an oath of allegiance to Christ, and continue in obedience to him. (2.) The next note is, delight in communion with God: Job xxii. 21, ‘Acquaint thyself with him, and be at peace.’ A man that is at peace with God will be often in his company: bondage and servile awe keepeth us out of God’s presence; we cannot come to him, because we cannot come in peace. A man never delighteth in duties of commerce with God when either he hath a false peace or no peace: duties disturb a false peace; and when we are raw and sour, we are unfit for work. When a peace is concluded between nations that were before at war, trading is revived: so will it be between God and you; commerce will be revived, and you will be trading into heaven, that you may bring away rich treasures of grace and comfort.
Use 2. It presseth us to make peace with God by Christ. We speak to two sorts—the careless and the distressed. (1.) To the careless. Consider you are born enemies to God: they that loved him from their cradle upward, never loved him. You must make peace with God, for you cannot maintain war against him: ‘Are you stronger than he?’ What! will you arm lusts against angels? And do you know the terror of his wrath? One spark of it is enough to drink up all your blood and spirits, Job vi. 4. The present life is but a vapour, soon gone. If God be angry, he can arm the least creature to kill you: the whole creation taketh part with God: Adrian was strangled with a gnat. But death will not end your sorrows. None can punish their enemies as God can; he can ruin your body and soul for ever and for ever. How will you screech and howl like dragons? But your torments are without end and without ease. Be wise, then, and do not sleep when your ‘damnation sleepeth not,’ 2 Peter ii. 3; now is the time to make your peace with God. Ah! that ‘you knew in this your day the things that belong to your peace,’ Luke xix. 41. Peace must be had now, or else it can never be had hereafter. The day of patience will not always last; therefore let us get into the ark before the flood cometh. It is a dreadful thing to be under the wrath of God, and you know not how soon it will light: our care should be to be ‘found of him in peace,’ Peter iii. 14. Christ is now a Saviour, then a judge: you will yell and howl for mercy when it is too late. (2.) I am to speak to distressed consciences. Lift up your heads, God offereth you peace; he sent angels from heaven to proclaim it, Luke ii. 14. The ground of the offer is good-will, and the end of the offer is only his own glory. God hath no other reasons to move him to it but his own good-will, and no other aim than to glorify his grace; see Eph. i. 6; and therefore take hold of his covenant of peace, as it is called, Isa. liv. 10. He is content we shall have peace upon these terms, and peace assured us by covenant. Certainly it is not a duty to doubt, nor a thing accept able to God, that we should always be upon terms of perplexity, and keep conscience raw with a sense of wrath and sin: wherefore did Christ bear ‘the chastisement of our peace’? God is more pleased with a cheerful confidence than a servile spirit, full of bondage and fear.
Use 3. It is caution. If peace be a privilege of the gospel, let us 72take care that we settle upon a right peace, lest we mistake a judgment for a blessing. It is the greatest judgment that can be, to _be given up to our own secure presumptions, and to be lulled asleep with a false peace. When the pulse doth not beat, the body is in a dangerous estate; so when conscience is benumbed, and smiteth not, it is very sad. The grounds of a false and carnal peace are—(1.) Ignorance of our condition. Many go hoodwinked to hell; a little light breaking in would trouble all, Rom. vii. 9. Sluttish corners are not seen in the dark. Things are naught that cannot brook a trial;5151 ‘Iniqua lex est quae se exquinari non patitur.’—Tertul. Apol. so you may know that it is very bad with men when they ‘will not come to the light,’ John iii. 20, or cannot endure to be alone, lest conscience should return upon itself, and they be forced to look inward; their confidence is supported by mere ignorance. (2.) Sensuality. Some men’s lives are nothing else but a diversion from one pleasure to another, that they may put off that which they cannot put away; there is bondage in their consciences, and they are loath to take notice of it: Amos vi. 3, ‘They drink wine in bowls, and put far away the evil day.’ This is to ‘quench the spirit’ without a metaphor. All their pleasures are but ‘stolen waters, and bread eaten in secret;’ frisks of mirth when they can get conscience asleep. Cain’s heart was a trouble to him, therefore he falleth a-building of cities. Saul, to cure the evil spirit, ran to his music; and so usually men choke conscience either with business or pleasures. (3.) From formality and slightness in the spiritual life. First, either they do not seriously perform duty; that will make men see what carnal, unsavoury, sapless spirits they have. He that never stirreth doth not feel the lameness of his joints. Formal duties make men the more secure; as the Pharisee thought himself in a good case, because, &c., Luke xviii. 11; but spiritual duties search us to the purpose, as new wine doth old bottles. Or else, secondly, they do not exasperate their lusts, and seriously resist sin. Tumult is made by opposition. When a man yieldeth to Satan, no wonder that Satan lets him alone: Luke xi. 21, ‘The goods are in peace,’ because the devil’s possession is not disturbed; he rageth most when his kingdom is tottering, Rev. xii. 12. Please the worst natures, and they will not trouble you. There is no tempest where wind and tide go together. You let Satan alone, and he lets you alone; this is a peace that will end in trouble.
I now come to speak of the third thing prayed for, and that is love, which, being taken here, not for God’s love to us, but our love to God, may be thus defined:—It is a gracious and holy affection, which the soul, upon the apprehension of God’s love in Christ, returneth back to God again by his own grace. The grounds and causes of it are two; the one worketh by way of argument and suasion, the other by way of efficacy and power.
1. It ariseth from the sense and apprehensions of God’s love in Christ. Love is like a diamond, that is not wrought upon but by its own dust: 1 John iv. 19, ‘We love him, because he loved us first.’ Love is like an echo, it returneth what it receiveth; it is a reflex, a reverberation, or a casting back of God’s beam and flame upon himself. The cold wall sendeth back no reflex of heat till the sun shine upon 73it, and warm it first; so neither do we love God till the soul be first filled with a sense of his love. And as radius reflexus languet, rays in their reflection are more faint and cold, so our love to God is much weaker than God’s love to us. Valdesso saith, God loveth the lowest saint more than the highest angel loveth God. Once more, the more direct the stroke and beam is upon the wall, or any other solid body, the stronger always is the reflection; so the more sense we have of the love of God, the stronger is our love to him.
2. The next cause of love is the grace of God. There is not only an apprehension of love, but the force of the spirit goeth along with it. Our thoughts, our discourses upon the love of God to us in Christ, nay, our sense and feeling of it, is not enough to beget this grace in us. Love is a pure flame, that must be kindled from above, as the vestal fire by a sunbeam: 1 John iv. 7, ‘Love is of God;’ that is, of a celestial or heavenly original. There is in the soul naturally a hatred of God, Rom. i. 30, θεοστυγεῖς, and a proneness to mingle with present comforts, which can only be cured by the Spirit of grace. Our naked apprehensions will not break the force of natural enmity; and it is God that must circumcise and pare away the foreskin of the heart before we can love him, Deut. xxx. 6. There is a natural proneness to dote upon the creature and hate the Creator. Base creatures neglect God, and pollute themselves with one another; and there is no help for it till the heart be overpowered by grace. Thus for the causes of love.
The object of love is God himself; not merely as considered in himself, for so he is terrible to the creature, but as God in Christ, for so he will be known and respected by us in the gospel, and so we have the highest engagement to love him; not only upon the respects of nature, as our Creator, but of grace, as our God and father in Christ. Now God is the supreme object of love, and other things are loved for God’s sake, because of that of God which we find in them; as his word, which is the copy of his holiness, his engraven image, as the coin beareth the image of the prince. So it is said, Ps. cxix. 47, ‘I will delight myself in thy commandments which I have loved.’ And then his saints, which are his living image, as children resemble their father; so it is said, Ps. xvi. 3, ‘To the saints, and to the excellent of the earth, in whom is my delight.’ And then other men, because of his command, 2 Peter i. 5, ‘Add to brotherly kindness, love.’ So his creatures, because in them we enjoy God, the effects of his bounty. But chiefly his ordinances, as they exhibit more of God than the creatures can. So that love respects God, and other things for God’s sake.
Again, in the description I take notice of the essence or formal nature of it, and call it the return of a gracious and holy affection to God. Love is carried out to its object two ways—by desire and delight. Our necessity and need of God is the ground of desire; and our propriety and interest is the ground of delight. Desires are the feet of love, by which it runneth after its object; and delight is the rest and contentment of the soul in the enjoyment of it. Because of our imperfect fruition in this life, love bewrayeth itself by desires mostly, or pursuing after God; see Ps. lxiii. 8, ‘My heart followeth hard after thee.’ It noteth those sallies and earnest egressions of soul after the 74Lord, that we may have more communion and fellowship with him. In short, the radical (if I may so speak) and principal disposition of love is a desire of union; for all other effects of love flow from it This it is that makes the soul to prize the ordinances, because God is. to be enjoyed there, and these are means of communion with him: Ps. xxvi. 8, ‘I have loved the place where thine honour dwelleth.’ This maketh sin terrible, because it separateth from God, Isa. lix. 2. This maketh heaven amiable; the fairest part of our portion in heaven is a closer and nearer communion with Christ, Phil. i. 23. This maketh the day of judgment sweet, for then we shall ‘meet with our beloved in the air,’ 1 Thes. iv. 17. In short, this maketh the soul to take such contentment in thinking of God, and speaking of God; it is the feast of the soul: ‘My meditation of him shall be sweet,’ Ps. civ. 34. Their souls cannot have a greater solace than to think what a God they have in Christ.
Having in some manner described the love of God, let me use some arguments to press you to it.
First, God hath commanded it; the sum of the law is love. When the scribe came to Christ, Mat. xxii. 36, ‘Master, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all thy soul, and all thy might,’ Mark, ‘this is the first and great commandment,’ to love God; it is not a sour command, but sweet and profitable. God might have burdened us with other manner of precepts, considering his absolute right; to offer our children in sacrifice, to mangle our flesh with whips and scourges; but these are cruelties proper to the devil’s worship. The Lord is a gentle master, and only desireth the love of his servants; we have cause to thank him for such a gracious precept. If he should require us not to love him, this were hell itself; that is the hell of hell, that they which are there do not love God. It is our privilege as much as our duty. God loveth all his creatures, but hath commanded none to love him again but man and angels; so that it is the great privilege of the saints to love God. It had been a great favour if God had given us leave to love him; as it would be a great favour if a king should give leave to one of his meanest subjects to have the key of his privy chamber, to come to him and visit him, and be familiar with him when he pleaseth; how would this be talked of in the world! Yet this is not so wonderful, since the king and the peasant are both men; in their natural being they are equal, though in their civil distinction and condition of life there be a difference. But what a favour is this, that he who is the ‘King of kings, and Lord of lords,’ doth not only permit his creature made by his own hands to come to him, and love him, and deal with him when he pleaseth, but hath expressly commanded it! Nay, this is ‘the great commandment.’ Certainly God is very desirous of our love, when he layeth such an obligation upon us. Was there ever such a master, that made this to be his servants’ chiefest duty, that they should love him? Again, I observe in God’s command that the precept runneth thus: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.’ The Lord would not lose one grain of the creature’s love. Surely he valued it when he is so solicitous about it. If we 75should see a wise man careful to preserve the relics of what we counted a neglected weed, it would make us think there were some what in it. We lavish away our love upon trifles, and God prizeth every grain of it. You see he speaketh as if he would not lose one dust of love: ‘All thy soul, all thy heart, and all thy might.’ When he biddeth us love our neighbour, he sets limits to it, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself;’ but when he biddeth us love God, he requireth all the heart. The only measure is to love him without measure. The next place that I shall take notice of, where the precept is recorded, is Deut. x. 12, ‘And now Israel, what doth the Lord require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, and to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord with all thy heart, and with all thy soul.’ God doth not require of us things without the sphere of duty; that we should go into the depths of the sea, toss mountains in the air, pluck the stars from heaven, &c. These things lie out of the power of man. He doth not require of us barbarous austerities—to offer our first-born, to lance ourselves, to mangle our flesh with whips and scourges. He doth not require of us absolutely such things which some men can and ought to perform; not such a measure of alms, what then would become of the poor? not such a degree of wisdom and learning, what then would become of the simple and unlearned? But, ‘O Israel, what hath the Lord required of thee, but that thou shouldest love the Lord thy God?’ A duty to be performed by poor and rich, learned and unlearned. Whatever their estate and condition be, they may all love God. There are many in heaven that never were in a condition to give, but to receive, that were never learned and skilled in sciences; but none that never loved God.
Secondly, God hath deserved love. Let us a little take notice of God’s love to us. He beginneth and loveth us that we may love him again, 1 John iv. 19. If God should hate us, we were bound to love him, because of his excellency, and because of our duty and obligation as we are creatures. How much more when God hath loved us, and bestowed so many benefits upon us? Love is an affection which God will have repaid in kind. When he chideth us, he doth not expect that we should chide him again. When he judgeth us, we must not judge him again. In these things the creature is not to retaliate. It is true, we do it too often, but still to our loss and blame. But now when he loveth us, he willeth us to love him again. He loveth us for no other cause but that he may be loved. Love must be paid in kind. As water is cast into a pump when the springs lie low to bring up more water, so God sheddeth abroad his love into our hearts, that our love may rise up to him again by way of gratitude and recompense. Now in the love of God we may take notice of—(1.) The properties; and (2.) The effects of it.
First, For the properties of God’s love, consider:—
1. The ancientness of it: Ps. ciii. 17, ‘From everlasting to everlasting,’ &c. With reverence we may speak, ever since God was God he was our God. You may track his love from one eternity to another. Before the world was he loved us, and when the world is no more he loveth us still. His love began in eternal purposes of grace, and it 76endeth in our eternal possession of glory. It is not a thing of yester day. He is our ancient friend. He loved us not only before we were lovely, but before we were at all. We adjourn and put off our love of God to old age, and thrust it into a narrow corner. When we have wasted and spent our strength in the world, we dream of a devout retirement. But the Lord thinketh he could never love us early enough. ‘From everlasting to everlasting,’ &c. We receive the fruits and effects of love in time, but all cometh out of God’s ancient and eternal love. This grace was provided for us before we were born. Yea, look upon God’s love in time. How merciful was God to us before we could show the least sign of thankfulness to him? He loved us a long time before ever we had a thought of him. In infancy we could not so much as know that he loved us. When we came to years of discretion we knew how to offend him before we knew how to love and serve him. How many are there of whom it may be said, ‘God is not in all their thoughts;’ and yet all this while God hath ‘thoughts of peace’ and blessing towards them.
2. Consider the freeness of God’s love. The value of all benefits ariseth from the necessity of him that receive th, and the good-will of him that giveth. God wanted not us, our love is no benefit to him; but we wanted him, we are undone without him. Yet he hath more delight in pardoning than we in salvation, and he is more ready to give than we to ask.5252 ‘Dii multa dedere neglecti.’ He often calleth upon us to call upon him; as if he were afraid we would not ask, or not enough, or not soon enough, or not often enough. A man would think that our wants should be importunate enough to put us upon requests, and that we needed not enforcements to prayer; yet you see God doth not only prevent the request, but make the prayer, and stirreth us up to utter it. But we are not only needy creatures, but guilty creatures; and that God should love us 1 When we were in our blood and filthiness, it was ‘a time of loves,’ Ezek. xvi. 7. This is the great miracle of divine love, that a time of loathing is a time of loves. And we will wonder at it more if we consider the active and endless hatred of his holiness against sin, and therefore why not against sinners? The holiness of his nature and essence sets him against them; and natural antipathies and aversions can never be reconciled, as a man can never be brought to delight in a toad, or a lamb in a wolf. And consider again his infinite wisdom. We may love that which is not lovely, because we are often blinded by inordinate affection; but now God’s love is not blind and overcome with the vehemency of any passion, as man’s is. This maketh the wonder, there is no blindness and passion in him that loveth, and yet the thing that is loved is vile and uncomely.
3. The frequency of the expressions of his love. It would weary the arm of an angel to write down God’s repeated acts of grace: Rom. v. 16, ‘The free gift is of many offences unto justification.’ We carry loads of experiences with us to heaven. God’s book of remembrance is written within and without. This will be our wonder and amazement at the last day, to see such huge sums cancelled with Christ’s blood: every day pardoning mercy is put in: our past lives are but a constant experience of our sinning and God’s pardoning. We are weary of 77everything but sin; we are never weary of that, because it is natural to us. The very refreshments of life by continuance grow burden some: meat, drink, music, sleep, the chiefest pleasures, within a while need to be refreshed with other pleasures; man is a restless creature, and loveth shift and change. But now we are never weary of sin; we have it from the womb, and we keep it to the grave; and yet all this while we subsist upon God. We subsist upon him every moment; we have life, and breath, and hourly maintenance from him, whom we thus grieve and offend. Dependence should beget observance, but in us it is otherwise. As a dunghill sendeth out vapours to obscure the sun that shineth upon it, so do we dishonour the God of our mercies, and grieve him day by day. How long hath God been multiplying pardons, and yet free grace is not tired and grown weary!
4. Consider the variety of the expressions of his love. We have all kind of mercies; we eat mercy, we wear mercy, we are ‘encompassed with mercy as with a shield.’ The apostle saith, 2 Peter i. 3, ‘He hath given us all things that pertain to life and godliness;’ that is, as I would interpret, all things that are necessary to life natural, to life spiritual, to maintain grace here, and to bring us to glory here after. He that hath an interest in Christ, his portion is not straitened; be hath a right to all things, and a possession of as much as providence judgeth needful; therein we must not be our own carvers. A man of mortified affections thinketh he hath provision enough if he hath things necessary to life and godliness; and will you not love God for all this? Certainly we do not want obligations, but we want affections. Look, as too much wood puts out the fire and causeth smoke, so the multitude and daily experience of God’s mercies lesseneth the esteem of them. We have but too many mercies, and that maketh us unkind and neglectful of God. What shall I tell you of sabbaths, ordinances, food, raiment? If a man would be but his own remembrancer, and now and then come to an account with God, he would cry out, ‘O the multitude of thy thoughts to us-ward, how great is the sum of them!’ Ps. cxxxix. 17. Or if a man would but keep a journal of his own life, what a vast volume would his private experiences make; how would he find mercy and himself still growing up together! Shall I show you a little what a multitude of mercies there are? I will not speak of the higher and choicer mercies, such as concern the soul, but of such as concern the body. What a deal of provision is there for the comfort and welfare of the body! I instance in these mercies, partly because they are so common that they are scarce noted; partly because carnal men prize the body most; they prefer it above the soul. Now the Lord would leave them without excuse; they that love the body shall not want arguments to urge them to love God, since he hath bestowed so much of his love and care upon the body, to gratify all the senses not only for necessity but delight. There is light for the eye; the poorest man hath glorious lamps to light him to his labours; for the taste, such variety of refreshments of a different sap and savour; for the smell, delicious infusions into the air from flowers and gums and aromatic plants; for the ears, music from birds and men; and all this to make our pilgrimage comfortable, and our hearts better. How many creatures 78hath the Lord given us to help to hear burdens? how many things for meat and medicine? If man had not been created last, after the world was settled and furnished, we should have seen the want of many things which we now enjoy and do not value. First God provided our house, and then furnished our table; and when all was ready, then man is brought in as the lord of all. We are not affected with these mercies. How can we sin against God, that can look no where but we see arguments and reasons to love him? As Christ said, ‘Many good works have I done amongst you; for which of these do you stone me?’ so may the Lord plead, I have done many things for you; you cannot open your eyes but you see love, you cannot walk abroad but you smell love and hear love, &c.; for which of those do you grieve me, and deal so despitefully with me?
Secondly, Let me now come to the effects of God’s love. I shall only instance in those three great effects—creation, preservation, and redemption. Certainly that must needs be a great bonfire out of which there flies not only sparks but brands; and so that love which can produce such fruits and effects must needs be exceeding great.
1. Creation. This deserveth love from the creature. The fruit of the vineyard belongeth to him that planted it; and whom should we love but him that gave us the power to love? All that thou hast, all that thou canst see, that thou canst touch, is his gift, and the work of his hands. He gave thee the essence not of a tree, a bird, a beast, but of a man, capable of reason, fit for happiness. God made other creatures by a word of command, and man by counsel. It was not, Be thou, but, Let us make man, to show that the whole Trinity assisted and joined in consultation. He made other creatures for his glory, but not for his love and service. God is glorified in them passively, as they give us occasion to glorify God; the creatures are the harp, but man maketh the music: ‘All thy works praise thee, and thy saints bless thee,’ Ps. cxlv. 10. How many steps may a Christian ascend in his praise and thanksgiving! We might have been stones without sense; beasts, and without reason; born infidels, and without faith; we might have continued sinners, and without grace: all these are so many steps of mercy. But creation is that we are now to speak of, and truly it deserveth a remembrance, especially in youth, Eccles. xii. 1, when the effects of God’s creating bounty are most fresh in our sense and feeling: we are always to ‘remember our Creator,’ but then especially. The aches of old age serve to put us in mind of our ingratitude; but the strength, and vigour, and freshness of youth should make us remember the bounty of our Creator. Look upon the body or the soul, and you will see that we have cause to love him. In the body we find as many mercies as there are limbs. If a man should be born blind or lame, or should lose an eye or an arm, or a leg, how much would he love him that should restore the use of these members again! We are as much bound to love him that gave them to us at first, especially when we consider how often we have deserved to lose them. We would love him that should raise us from the dead: God is the author of life, and the continual preserver and defender of it. If we love our parents that begot us, we should much more love God that made them and us too out of nothing. Take notice of the curious 79frame of the body. David saith, Ps. cxxxix. 14, ‘I am wonderfully made;’ acu pictus sum, so the Vulgar rendereth it, ‘painted as with a needle,’ like a garment of needlework, of divers colours, richly embroidered with nerves and veins. What shall I speak of the eye, wherein there is such curious workmanship, that many upon the first sight of it have been driven to acknowledge God? Of the hand made to open and shut, and to serve the labours and ministries of nature without wasting and decay for many years? If they should be of marble or iron, with such constant use they would soon wear out; and yet now they are of flesh they last as long as life lasteth. Of the head? fitly placed to be the seat of the senses, to command and direct the rest of the members. Of the lungs? a frail piece of flesh, yet, though in continual motion, of a long use. It were easy to enlarge upon this occasion; but I am to preach a sermon, not to read an anatomy lecture. In short, therefore, every part is so placed and framed, as if God had employed his whole wisdom about it.
But as yet we have spoken but of the casket wherein the jewel lieth. The soul, that divine spark and blast, how quick, nimble, various, and indefatigable in its motions! how comprehensive in its capacities! how it animateth the body, and is like God himself, all in every part! Who can trace the flights of reason? What a value hath God set upon the soul! He made it after his image, he redeemed it with Christ’s blood, &c. Well, then, God, that made such a body, such a soul, deserveth love. He that made the soul hath most right to dwell in it; it is a curious house of his own framing. But he will not enter by force and violence, but by consent; he expecteth when love will give up the keys: Rev. iii. 20, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man open to me, I will come in and sup with him.’ Why should Christ stand at the door and knock, and ask leave to enter into his own house? He hath right enough to enter, only he expecteth till we open to him.
2. Preservation. We are not apprehensive enough of daily mercies. The preservation of the world is a constant miracle. The world is ‘hanged upon nothing’ (as it is in the book of Job). A feather will not stay in the air; and yet what hath the world to support it but the thin fluid air that is round about it? It is easy to prove that the waters are higher than the land; so that we are always in the case the Israelites were in when they passed through the Red Sea. Nos sumus etiam tanquam in medio rubri maris, saith Luther—the waters are round about us and above us, bound up in a heap as it were by God, and yet we are not swallowed up. It is true the danger is not so sensible and immediate as that of the Red Sea, because of the constant rampire of providence. More particularly, from the womb to the grave we have hourly maintenance from God. Look, as the beams in the air are no longer continued than the sun shineth; so we do no longer continue than God ‘upholdeth our beings by the word of his power,’ Heb. i. 3. Or as it is with a seal in the water, take away the seal and the impress vanisheth; so do we disappear as soon as God doth but loosen his hand and almighty grasp, by which all things are upheld and preserved. But let us speak of those acts of providence that are more sensible. Into how many diseases and dangers might 80we fall, if God did not look after us as the nurse after her child! How many have gone to the grave, nay, it may be to hell, since the last night*! How many actual dangers have we escaped! God hath looked after us, as if he had forgotten all the world besides; as if his whole employment were to do us good. He saith that he ‘will no more forget us than a woman doth her sucking child;’ and that we are ‘written before him, and graven in the palms of his hands,’ Isa. xlix. 15, &c., as men tie a string about their finger for a remembrance, or record in a book such things as they would regard. All these are expressions to describe the particular and express care of God’s providence over his children. Now what shall be rendered to the Lord for all this? If we could do and suffer never so much for God, it will not answer the mercy of one day. Certainly at least God expecteth love for love. Love him as he is the ‘strength of thy life and length of thy days,’ Deut. xxx. 20. Every day’s experience is new fuel to keep in the fire. The very beasts will respect their preservers; they are loving to those that are kind to them: ‘The ass knoweth his owner, and the ox his master’s crib.’ There is a kind of gratitude in the beasts by which they acknowledge their benefactors that feed them and cherish them; but we do not acknowledge God who feedeth us and upholdeth us every moment. There is no creature made worse by kindness but man. He, that was made to be master of the creatures, may become their scholar; there is many a good lesson to be learned in their school.
3. Redemption. As a man, when he weigheth a thing, casteth in weight after weight till the scales be counterpoised, so doth God mercy after mercy to poise down man’s heart. Here is a mercy that is overweight in itself: 1 John iv. 10, ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us, and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins.’ If we had had the wisdom to pitch upon such a remedy, as certainly it could not have entered into hearts of men or angels, Eph. iii. 10, yet we could not have the heart to ask it. It would have seemed a rude blasphemy in our prayers to desire that the Son of God should come out from his Father’s bosom and die for us. Therefore, ‘herein is love;’ that is, this is the highest expression of God’s love to the creature, not only that ever was, but can be; for in love only God acteth to the uttermost: he never showed so much of his power and wisdom, but he can show more; of his wrath, but he can show more; but he hath no greater thing to give than himself, than his Christ. At what a dear rate hath the Lord bought our hearts I He needed not; he might have made nobler creatures than the present race of men, and dealt with us as he did with the sinning angels; he would not enter into treaty with them, but the execution was as quick as the sin; so the Lord might utterly have cast us off, and made a new race of men to glorify his grace, leaving Adam to propagate the world to glorify his justice; or, at least, he might have redeemed us in another way, for I suppose it is a free dispensation, opus liberi consilii. But, John iii. 16, ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son.’ He took this way, that we might love Christ as well as believe in him. God might have redeemed us so much in another way, but he could not oblige us so much in another way; he 81would not only satisfy his justice, but show his love. It was the Lord’s design, by his love, to deserve ours, and so for ever to shame the creature, if they should not now love him. Oh! think much of this glorious instance, the love of God in giving Christ, and the love of Christ in giving himself. When ‘the sea wrought and was tempestuous,’ and Jonah saw the storm, he said, ‘Cast me into the sea, and it shall be calm to you;’ but the storm was raised for his own sake. Now Christ, when he saw the misery of mankind, he said, Let it come on me. We raised the storm, but Christ would be cast in to allay it. If a prince, passing by an execution, should take the malefactor’s chains, and suffer in his stead, this would be a wonderful instance indeed. Why! Christ ‘hath borne our sorrows and carried our griefs,’ Isa. liii. 4; the very same griefs that we should have suffered, so far as his holy person was capable of them. His desertion was equivalent to our loss, his agonies to our curse and punishment of sense; and all this very willingly for the sake of sinners. It is notable, he doth with like indignation rebuke Peter dissuading him from sufferings, as he doth the devil tempting him to idolatry: ‘Get thee behind me, Satan;’ compare Mat. xvi. 22, with Mat. iv. 10. He is well pleased with all his sorrow and sufferings, so he may gain the church, and espouse her to himself in a firm league and covenant: Isa. liii. 11, ‘He shall see the travail of his soul, and be satisfied;’ as if he said, Welcome agonies, welcome death, welcome curse, so poor souls be saved! As Jacob counted the days of his labour nothing, so he might obtain Rachel; and yet there is a vast difference between the love of Christ and the love of Jacob. Rachel was lovely, but we are vile and unworthy creatures; and Christ’s love is infinite, even beyond his sufferings and the outward expressions of it; as the windows of the temple were more large and open within than without. Well, then, every one of Christ’s wounds is a mouth open to plead for love. He made himself so vile, that he might be more dear and precious to us. Certainly, if love brought Christ out of heaven to the cross, to the grave, should it not carry us to heaven, to God, to Christ, who hath been thus gracious to us? Thus God hath deserved our love.
Thirdly, The third and next argument is, God hath desired it. What doth the Lord see in our hearts that he should desire them? If a prince should not only make love to a vile and abject creature, but seek all means to gain her affection, you would count her very froward and unthankful to give him the denial. Christ doth not only oblige us, but woo us. If man were such as he should be, he would not need enforcements, because of the multitude of his obligations; and if the Lord did deal with us as we deserve, he would slight us and scorn us, rather than woo us. He doth not want lovers; there are angels enough in heaven, whose wills and affections cleave to him perfectly; yea, God doth not need the love of any creature; all this wooing is for our sakes. Wherein can frail men be beneficial to God? What increase of happiness hath he if all men should love him? It is his happiness to love himself, and he would have us to share in this happiness; therefore he threateneth, and promiseth, and beseecheth. As one that would gladly open a door, trieth key after key, till he hath 82tried every key in the bunch; so doth God try one method after another to work upon man’s heart.
1. He threateneth eternal torments if we do not love him: 1 Cor. xvi. 22, ‘If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha.’ The form of speech implieth the most dreadful curse that may be. It is not arbitrary whether you will love him or no; you are either to love him, or to perish eternally. Among men, if love doth not come kindly, we neglect it; that which is forced is nothing worth: yet the Lord is so earnest after the love of the creature, that he would have it by any means.
2. He promiseth. We have not only mercies in hand, but mercies in hope; not only obligations, but promises. It is our duty to love God if there were no heaven; our obligations might suffice; yet ‘what great things hath God provided for them that love him!’ 1 Cor. ii. 9. If a man should sell his love, he cannot have a better chapman than God, who is most rich and most liberal. If an earthly potentate should promise to them that love him half his kingdom, he would find lovers enough. God hath promised glory, the kingdom of heaven, and shall we not take him at his word? The Lord will give a gift for a gift; because he hath given us to love him, therefore he will give us heaven as the reward of love. Who ever heard that a hungry man was hired to eat, and rewarded for tasting dainty food? or a thirsty man for drinking? The love of God is so excellent a privilege, that we should endure all torments to obtain it; and yet God hath promised a reward: yea, he is pleased to bargain with us as if he were our equal, and we were altogether free before the contract.
3. Again, he beseecheth. We are cold and backward, therefore he useth entreaty upon entreaty, as if he were impatient of a denial. Out of what rock was man hewn? God himself cometh a-wooing, and we have the face to give him a repulse; and what doth he woo for but our hearts, which are his already by every kind of right and title? Prov. xxiii. 26, ‘My son, give me thy heart.’ God is pleased to call that a gift which is indeed a debt. Though the heart be due, yet God will put this honour upon the creatures, to receive it from them in the way of a gift. It is but equity to ‘give to God the things that are God’s.’ Look upon the heart; see if any could make it but God himself. ‘Whose image and superscription doth it bear?’ Wilt thou refuse to surrender up to God his right? God hath made it, bought it, and yet he beggeth it. When thou hast been as earnest with God, and asked anything regularly of him, did he deny thee? It is no benefit to him; he desireth the heart of the creature, not that he may be happy, but that he may be liberal; he would have thy heart that he may make it better. How easily do we give up our affections to anything but God, who hath the best title to them! If the world or Satan knocketh, we open presently. We are as wax to Satan, and as stone to God; exorable and easy to be entreated by any carnal motion. As some hard stones cannot be wrought upon but by their own dust, so men are facile only to their own corruptions, to their own lusts, not to the motions of God’s Spirit.
Fourthly, The nature of love showeth that it is fit for nothing but God. He hath given us this faculty and disposition, that we may close 83with himself. He that looketh upon an axe will say it was made to cut; and he that looketh on love will say it was made for God. What is the genius and disposition of love? Love is nothing but an earnest bent and strong motion of the soul to what is good for us.5353 See Neirembergius De Ingenio Amoris. Every man hath an inclination in his nature to what he conceiveth to be good, Ps. iv. 6, and grace doth only direct and set it right. All the difference between nature and grace is in fixing the chiefest good and the utmost end. One great blessing of the covenant is ‘a new heart;’ that is, a new and right placing of our affections. Well, then, God is summum bonum, the chiefest good; even nature cannot be satisfied without him, but grace findeth all contentment in him. If there be any good in the creatures, it is originally in him; he is the fountain of living waters, where comforts are sweetest and freest. The heart hunteth after good among the creatures, which is but an image and ray of that perfection which is in God; and who would leave the substance to follow the shadow, and prize the picture to the disdain of the person whom it represents? It were easy to prove that God is the only proper, eternal, all-sufficient good of the soul; and if the heart were not perverted and biassed with carnal desires to other objects, it would directly move to God, as all things do to their centre. I say, were it not for sin, we should no more need be pressed to love God, than to love ourselves. There need no great motives to press us to love ourselves, nature is prone enough of its own accord; and if nature had remained in that purity wherein it was created, it would move to God of its own accord; as all things move to their centre, and there they rest. Now God is the centre of the soul. The soul’s good is not honours, pleasures, profits; the soul is a spirit, and must have a spiritual good; it is immortal, and it must have an eternal good. By experience we find that our affections are never in their due posture, but are like members out of joint (or the arms when they hang backward) when they are not fixed upon God; therefore there is a restlessness and dissatisfaction in the soul.5454 ‘Domine, fecisti nos propter te; et irrequietum est cor nostrum donec perveniat ad te.’—Aug. We grope and feel about for happiness, and cannot find it, Acts xvii. 26, 27; like Noah’s dove, we hover up and down, and find no place whereon the sole of our foot should rest. Well, then, if God be the only all-sufficient good of the soul, why do not we love him more? If he be the centre of the soul, why do not we move directly thither? It is a shame that a stone should be carried with greater force to its centre than we to God. By its natural course it falleth downward, and breaketh all things in the way, yea, though itself be broken in pieces. But alas! how little do we break through impediments to go to God! It were a miracle to see a stone stopped in the air by a feather. But now every vain thing keepeth us off, and intercepts our affections; sin hath given us another centre, and after grace received, we hang too much that way. Again, as love is for good, so it is for one object; like a pyramid, it ends in a point; affection is weakened by dispersion, as a river by being turned into many channels. In conjugal love, where friendship is to the height, there is but one that can share in it; that is the law of nature: Mal. ii. 15, ‘Did he not 84make one? yet he had the residue of spirit;’ the meaning is, that God made but one man for one woman, though he had spirit enough to make more; it was not out of defect of power, but wise choice, that their affections to one another might be the stronger, which otherwise would be weakened; as they are in the brutes scattered promiscuously to several objects. So the true object of love is one God; he is loved for himself, and other things for his sake. Once more, the force and vehemency of love showeth that it was made for God; love is the vigorous bent of the soul, and full of heights and excesses, which, if diverted to other objects, would make us guilty of idolatry; we should place them in the room of God. Still we find that men are besotted with what they love; as Samson was led about like a child by Delilah: all conveniences of life, pleasures, profits, are contemned for the enjoyment of the thing beloved. Now, these are heights proper to the divinity, to the infinite majesty of God. To whom else is this vehemency and this self-denial due? If we lavish it upon the creatures, we make gods of them; and therefore covetousness is called idolatry, Eph. v. 5, and the sensualist is said to make his belly his god, Phil. iii. 19. There is such an excess, such a doating in love, that if we be not careful in fixing it, before we are aware we run into practical idolatry and practical atheism. There is an atheism in the heart as well as in the judgment. Atheism in the judgment is when we are not convinced of the being of God; in the heart, when our affections are not set on God: this is more incurable, because the dogmatical atheist may be convinced by reason, but the practical atheist can only be reformed by grace. Thus the nature of love showeth it.
Fifthly, The nature of the saint showeth it; the new nature hath new affections; it bewrayeth itself by the new heart, as well as by the renewed mind, Rom. xii. 2. There are not only new thoughts, but new desires and new delights; desires after God, and a delight in God, as the fountain of holiness. When we come to God at first, we love him out of spiritual interest, for ease and comfort, and the benefit we gain by. him; Christ alloweth it: ‘Come to me and I will give you ease,’ Mat. xi. 28. When fire is first kindled, there is as much smoke as flame; but afterwards it burneth brighter and brighter by degrees. A fountain, as soon as digged, runneth muddy at first, but afterwards the stream groweth more pure and clear. So doth the love of the saints; at first it is but a love of interest, but by acquaintance we love him out of a principle of the new nature, for his holiness and excellency, because that which is in us in part is in God by way of eminency and perfection. Certainly likeness must needs beget love, and the saints, being conformed to God, delight in him; so that then their love floweth not so much from profit and interest as grace; yea, at length out of a vehement complacency of the new nature, they love holiness above happiness or spiritual interest; and hell is not so bad as sin in their account.5555 ‘Si hic peccati pudorem, illic iuferni horrorem,’ &c.—Anselm. There cannot be a worse hell to them than unkindness to God or grieving his Spirit; and heaven is amiable for God’s sake, because he is loved there and enjoyed there; there are none of God’s enemies in heaven, and there they shall serve him and cleave to him without weariness and wandering. Well, then, there is such a 85disposition in the saints to love God, Ps. xxxi. 23, which ariseth not only from hope, because of the great benefit which we expect from him, nor only from gratitude, or the sense of his love already showed, but from an inclination of the new nature, and that sympathy and likeness that is between us,5656 ‘Eadem velle et nolle, ea demum vera est amicitia.’—Sallust. because we hate what he hateth, and love what he loveth, Prov. viii. 13; Rev. ii. 6, and because God is the original fountain and sampler of holiness.
Use. Well, then, saints mind your work. Do you indeed love God? Christ puts Peter to the question thrice, John xxi. A deceitful heart is apt to abuse you. Ask again and again, Do I indeed love God? Evidences are these:—
1. If you love God, he will be loved alone; those that do riot give all to God, give nothing; he will have the whole heart. If there were another God, we might have some excuse for our reservations; but since there is but one God, he must have all, for he doth not love in mates. When the harbingers take up a house for a prince, they turn out all; none must remain there, that there may be room for his greatness. So all must avoid, that God may have the sole possession of our hearts. The devil, that hath no right to anything, would have a part, for by that means he knoweth the whole will fall to him; conscience will not let him have all, and therefore he would have a part to keep possession: as Pharaoh stood bucking with Moses and Aaron; if not the Israelites, then their little ones; if not their little ones, then their herds; if not their herds, then their flocks: but Moses telleth him there was not a hoof to be left. So Satan, if he cannot have the outward man, yet he would have the heart; if there be not room enough in the heart for every lust, then he craveth indulgence in some things that are less odious and distasteful; if conscience will not allow drunkenness, yet a little worldliness is pleaded for as no great matter. But the love of God cannot be in that heart where the world reigneth. Dagon and the ark could not abide in the same temple; neither can the heart be divided between God and mammon. All men must have some religion to mask their pleasures and carnal practices, that they may be favourable to their lusts and interests with less remorse; and usually they order the matter so, that Christ shall have their consciences, and the world their hearts and affections. But, alas! they do not consider that God is jealous of a rival; when he cometh into the heart, he will have the room empty. It is true, we may love other things in subordination to God, but not in competition with God; that is, when we love God and other things for God’s sake, in God and for God. When a commander hath taken a strong castle, and placed a garrison in it, he suffereth none to enter but those of his own side, keeping the gate shut to his enemies. So we must open the heart to none but God, and those that are of God’s party and side, keeping the gate shut to others. We may love the creatures as they are of God’s side, as they draw our hearts more to God, or engage us to be more cheerful in service, or give us greater advantages of doing good. Of what party are they? Bring nothing into thy heart, and allow nothing there, that is contrary to God. When Sarah saw Ishmael scoffing at Isaac, she thrust him out of doors. So when riches, and honour, 86and the love of the world upbraid you with your love to God, as if you were a fool to stand so nicely upon terms of conscience, &c., when they encroach and allow Christ no room but in the conscience, it is time to thrust them out of doors, that the Lord alone may have the preeminence in our souls.
2. This love must be demonstrated by solid effects, such as are:—
[1.] A hatred of sin: Ps. xcvii. 10, ‘Ye that love the Lord, hate evil.’ With love to the chief est good, there will be a hatred of the chiefest evil. Friends have common loves, as I said, and common aversations. Upon every carnal motion doth thy heart recoil upon thee, and say, ‘How can I do this wickedness, and sin against God?’ Gen. xxxix. 9; or else, ‘Is this thy kindness to thy friend?’ or ‘after such a deliverance as this,’ &c., Ezra ix. 13. Love to God will be interposing and crossing every carnal motion.
[2.] By a delight in obedience: 1 John v. 3, ‘This is love, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous.’ Nothing is difficult and tedious to him that hath any affection to his work. As the prophet cured the bitterness of the wild gourds by casting in meal, so mingle but a little love with your work, and the bitterness is gone. Shechem yielded to be circumcised for Dinah’s sake, because he loved her; and Jacob endured his seven years’ service for Rachel’s sake: so will love make us obey God cheerfully in things contrary to our natural inclination. Love and labour are often coupled in scripture, 1 Thes. i. 3; Heb. vi. 10; and those that left their first works had lost their first love, Rev. ii. 4, 5.
[3.] Delight in God’s presence, and grief for his absence; or a holy sensibleness both of his accesses and recesses, to and from the soul. Can a man love God, and be content without him? If you lose but a ring which you affect, how are you troubled till it be found again! ‘Ye have taken away my gods (saith he), and do you ask, What aileth thee?’ Judges xviii. 24. So when God is withdrawn, all visits of love and influences of grace are suspended, and they have no communion with him in their duties, should they not mourn? See Mat. ix. 15. Is spiritual love without all kind of passion? or are they Christians that are stupid and insensate, and never take notice of God’s coming and going?
These are the evidences. I shall only now suggest two helps to keep up and increase this love to God, and I have done with this argument.
1. Prize nothing that cometh from God unless thou canst see his love in it. God giveth many gifts to wicked men, but he doth not give them his love. The possession of all things will do us no good unless we have God himself; other mercies may be salted with a curse. God’s children are not satisfied till they can see him and enjoy him in every comfort and mercy. Esau was reconciled to Jacob, and therefore Jacob saith, Gen. xxxiii. 10, ‘I have seen thy face as the face of God.’ It was a token and pledge of the gracious face of God smiling on him. Hezekiah was delivered out of a sickness, and then he doth not say, Thou hast delivered me from the grave; but, ‘Thou hast loved me from the grave,’ Isa. xxxviii. 17.
2. Prize nothing that thou return to God unless there be love in it. We accept a small gift where the party loveth, and otherwise the 87greatest is refused: ‘If I give my body to be burned, and have not love,’ &c., 1 Cor. xiii. 3. Love is an act of grace by itself; other duties are not acts of grace unless they come from love; as alms, fasting, prayer, martyrdom, &c., they are all nothing; οὔδεν εἶμι (saith the apostle), ‘I am’ not only little, but ‘nothing.’ On the other side, small things are made great by love; as a cup of cold water, a poor woman’s mite, they are accepted as coming from love.
So much for the matter of the prayer. We come now to the manner or degree of enjoyment, be multiplied; from whence note:—
Doct. That we should not5757 Qu. ‘not only’?—ED. seek grace at the hands of God, but the increase and multiplication of it. In managing this point, I shall first give you reasons to press you to look after growth in grace; secondly, I shall give you some observations concerning it; and so, thirdly, come to some application.
First, the reasons are these:—
1. Where there is life there will be growth; and, if grace be true, it will surely increase. A painted flower keepeth always at the same pitch and stature; the artist may bestow beauty upon it, but he cannot bestow life. A painted child will be as little ten years hence as it is now. So a pretence of religion always keepeth at the same stay; yea, when their first heats are spent, they are fearfully blasted. But now they that have true grace are compared to a living plant, which increaseth in bulk and stature, Ps. xcii. 12, 13, and to a living child, which groweth by receiving kindly nourishment, 1 Peter ii. 2. Therefore it is not enough to get peace and love, but we must get them multiplied.
2. If we do not grow, we go backward, Heb. vi.; compare the first with the fourth verse, ‘Let us go on to perfection;’ and then presently he treateth of apostasy. We cannot keep that which we have received, if we do not labour to increase it. They that row against the stream had need ply the oar, lest the force of the waters carry them back ward; or as he that goeth up a sandy hill sinketh down if he do not go forward, Mat. xxv. He that would not improve his talent lost it. So here we waste and consume what we have, if we do not improve it. It is dangerous to rest satisfied and never go further; there is no stay in religion: all the angels on Jacob’s ladder were either ascending or descending, continually in motion. There are no stunted trees in Christ’s garden; if they leave off to grow, they prove doated or rotten trees. An active nature, such as man’s is, must either grow worse or better; therefore we should be as careful after the increase of grace as we would be cautious of the loss of grace.
3. It is an ill sign to be contented with a little grace. He was never good that doth not desire to grow better.5858 ‘Minime bonus est qui melior fieri nos vult.’—Bernardus. Spiritual things do not cloy in the enjoyment. He that hath once tasted the sweetness of grace hath arguments enough to make him seek further, and desire more grace; every degree of holiness is as desirable as the first; therefore there can be no true holiness without a desire of perfect holiness. God giveth us a taste to this end and purpose, that we may long for a fuller draught; as the clusters of Canaan brought to Israel in the 88wilderness made them put on for the country. They are hypocrites, and sure to be apostates, that are contented with a taste, Heb. vi.
4. Because we cannot have too much grace: there is no nimium in the internals of religion; you cannot have too much knowledge, too much love of God, too much of the fear of God. In the outward part there may be too much done, and then it proveth will-worship and superstition. The apostle saith, 2 Peter i. 11, ‘That we must give diligence, that an abundant entrance may be ministered to us into the everlasting kingdom of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.’ Some are afar off from the kingdom of God, Eph. ii. 13, as persons ignorant and touched with no care of religion: some come near, but never enter, Mark xii. 34; Acts xxvi. 28, as semi-converts and men of a blameless life; these cheapen, but do not buy, and go through with the bargain: others enter, but with greater difficulty, are ‘scarcely saved,’ 1 Peter iv. 18, ‘Saved as by fire,’ 1 Cor. iii. 15. They make a hard shift to go to heaven, and have only grace enough to keep body and soul together (as we say) not a jot to spare: others enter with full sails, or as it is said, they ‘have an abundant entrance ministered to them,’ and yet all is but little enough; spiritual things cannot exceed measure. But you will say, It is said, Eccles. vii. 16, ‘Be not righteous over-much.’ I answer—Either it is meant of an opinionative righteousness, be not too righteous in thine own conceit; or rather, of an indiscreet heat, or a rigid and sullen severity, without any temper of wisdom and moderation; otherwise in real holiness there can never be enough.
5. God hath provided for them that grow in grace a more ample reward; according to our measures of grace, so will our measures of glory be; for they that have most grace are vessels of a larger capacity; others are filled according to their size. It is indeed a question whether there be degrees of glory, yea or no;5959 See Spanheim. Dub. Evang., parto 31, Dub. 135, et alius passim. but I suppose it may easily be determined: ‘He that soweth sparingly shall reap sparingly,’ whereas others have their bosoms full of sheaves. If a man with a little grace should get to heaven, yet he hindereth his own preferment. Who would have a thin crop, and a lean harvest?
6. It suiteth with our present state. Here we are in a state of progress and growth, not of rest and perfection: grace is not given out at once, but by degrees. Christ saith, John xvii. 26, ‘I have declared thy name, and will declare it: ‘and John i. 50, ‘Believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these;’ there is more to come, therefore let us not rest in our first experiences. Paul saith, ‘I have not attained,’ Phil. iii. When grace is wrought, yet there is something lacking. He is a foolish builder that would rest in the middle of his work; and because the foundation is laid, is careless of the superstructure. The state of the saints is expressed by a ‘growing light,’ Prov. iv. 18. As long as there is want, there should be growth; see 1 Thes. iv. 1.
7. Seeking the increase and multiplication of spiritual gifts suiteth best with the bounty and munificence of God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have rich grace for us; and we are most welcome when we seek for most plenty. God the Father is represented as ‘rich in 89mercy,’ Eph. ii. 4; Rom. x. 12. We can never exhaust the treasures of grace, and impoverish the exchequer of heaven. So Christ hath a rich and full merit, 2 Cor. viii. 9, to make us rich, &c. God the Son aimed at it in all his sufferings and condescensions, that he might make a large purchase for us, and we might not be straitened in grace. The Spirit of God is poured out πλουσίως, ‘richly,’ Titus iii. 6. There is mercy enough in God the Father, merit enough in God the Son, efficacy enough in God the Spirit: God is not wanting, if we be not wanting to ourselves. If a mighty king should open his treasure, and bid men come and bring their bags, and take as much as they would; do you think they would neglect this occasion of gain? Surely no; they would run and fetch bag after bag, and never cease. Thus doth the Lord do in the covenant of grace; you will rather want vessels than treasure.
8. It is a necessary piece of gratitude: we would have mercy to be multiplied, and therefore we should take care that peace and love be multiplied also; we would have God add to our blessings, and therefore we should add to our graces; see 2 Peter i. 5. When we have food we would have clothing; and when we have clothing we would have house and harbour; and when we have all these things, we would have them in greater proportion; the like care should we show in gracious enjoyments. When we have knowledge, we should add temperance, and when we have temperance, we should add patience, &c.
9. We may learn of our Lord Jesus, to whom we must be conformed in all things: Luke ii. 52, ‘He grew in wisdom and stature:’ the meaning is, his human capacity was enlarged by degrees according to his progress in age and strength, for in all things he was like us except sin, and our reason is ripened and perfected together with our age.
10. We may learn of worldly men, who ‘join house to house, and field to field,’ Isa. v. 8, and are never satisfied. So there is a holy covetousness in spiritual things, when we join faith to faith, Rom. i. 17, and obedience to obedience, one degree to another: our blessings are better, and the chiefest good should not be followed with a slacker hand; it is our happiness to enjoy the infinite God, and therefore we should not set a stint and limit to our desires. With what arts and methods of increase doth a covetous man seek to advance himself? He liveth more by hope than by memory; and what he hath seemeth nothing to what he expecteth. So should we ‘forget the things that are behind, and reach forth to the things that are before us,’ Phil. iii. 14. A covetous man seemeth the poorer the more he hath gotten: go should we grow humble with every enjoyment; it is a good degree of grace to see how much we want grace. A covetous man maketh it the main work and business of his life to increase his estate: ‘He goeth to bed late, riseth early, eateth the bread of sorrows,’ and all for a little pelf. The strength of lust should shame us. Should not we make religion the business of our lives, and our great employment? Shall we be as insatiable as the grave to the world, when a little grave serveth the turn?
Obs. 2. The next thing which I am to do is to give you some observations concerning growth in grace: they are these:—90
1. To discern growth there is required some time. A total change, which is far more sensible than growth, that may be in an instant; then a sinner, now a saint; but there must be a competent time to judge of our growth; we cannot discern it by single acts, so much as by the greater portions of our lives. We cannot so easily find out how we grow by every sermon as by comparing our past estate with our present: we do not fly to the top of Jacob’s ladder, but go up step by step;6060 ‘Ascendendo, non volando, ascenditur summitas scalae.’—Bernard. it is a work of time; and so we may judge of our not growing, if after a long time we are where we were, under the power of the game prejudices, or the same doubts, or the same lusts still; see Heb. v. 12.
2. In the growing of saints there is much difference; all the plants in Christ’s garden are not of a like height and stature; some that are more publicly useful have their five talents, others but two; some thrive more, and grow of a sudden: 2 Thes. i. 3, ‘Your faith grew exceedingly;’ others are weak and slow, and yet they are fruitful: we all grow according to the measure of a part, Eph. iv.; that is, according to the rate of that part which we sustain in the body. A finger groweth not to the quantity of an arm; they all grow, but the growth of all is not equal.
3. Growth in grace is always accompanied with growth in knowledge: 2 Peter iii. 18, ‘But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,’ &c. Plants that grow out of the sun send up a longer stalk, but the fruit is worse. Some Christians pitch all their care upon the growth of love, and take no pains to grow in knowledge; but this is not right; we should always ‘follow on to know the Lord,’ Hosea vi. 3. We read that Christ ‘grew in knowledge;’ we do not read that he grew in grace. God’s choicest saints are always bettering their notions of God. Moses, his first request was, ‘Tell me thy name,’ Exod. iv., and afterwards, ‘show me thy glory,’ Exod. xxxiii. Our fairest portion in heaven is the satisfaction of the understanding with the knowledge of God: therefore if we would have grace multiplied, it must be ‘through the knowledge of God,’ 2 Peter i. 2; the more shine, the more warmth.
4. Growth of knowledge in the growing and increase is less sensible than the growth of grace, but afterward more sensible. As a plant increaseth in length and stature, though we do not see the progress, but afterwards we know that it hath grown, growth in grace is always cum lucta, with many assaults, and so more sensible, whereas the work upon the understanding is more still and silent; draw away the curtain, and the light cometh in without any more stir; our ignorance vanisheth silently, and without such strife as goeth to the taming of carnal affections: but afterwards it is more sensible, for we have not always a spiritual feeling, but the effects of knowledge are standing and permanent: Eph. v. 8, ‘Ye were darkness, but now are light in the Lord.’
5. Progress in knowledge is rather in degrees than in parts and matters known: I mean, it consisteth not so much in knowing new truths, as in a greater proportion of light; yet I say it is rather, not altogether, for a man may walk in present practices which future light 91may disprove and retract; but usually the increase of a Christian is rather in the measure of knowledge than in knowing new things; ‘the light shineth more and more,’ Prov. iv. I know God more, Christ more, the vanity of the world more, the odiousness of sin more, that is, more practically and in another manner than I did before; old principles are improved and perfected. I speak this because of the danger to which men expose themselves by expecting new light, keeping the soul from an establishment in present principles, and looking for new truths to be revealed to them.
6. Of all graces we need most to grow in faith: 1 Thes. iii. 10, ‘I desire to see you, that I may perfect that which is lacking in your faith;’ Luke xvii. 5, ‘Lord, increase our faith;’ and Mark ix. 24, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.’ Faith is most defective; our assent is tremulous; our affiance weak, and faith is most assaulted. All the temptations of Satan tend to weaken your faith, and all other graces depend upon the increase of faith.
7. Growth in parts and gifts must needfully be distinguished from growth in grace. Many may grow in parts that go back in grace; you can only discern a mere growth in parts and gifts by pride and self ends: ‘Knowledge puffeth up,’ 1 Cor. viii. 1. When men grow in abilities, and grow more proud and carnal, it is a sad symptom.
8. The infallible signs of growth in grace are three—when we grow more spiritual, more solid, more humble.
[1.] More spiritual. The growth of wicked men in spiritual wickedness is less debauched, but more malicious; so will our growth in grace be discerned by our spirituality in our aims, when our ends are more elevated to God’s glory, &c. In our grounds and principles; as when we resist sin out of love to God, and as it is contrary to our purity and holiness, and when we are carried out against inward corruptions: such as the world doth not take notice of; not only against sins, but lusts and thoughts, for that argueth more light and more love. So when we regard the spirituality of duties, ‘serving the Lord in the spirit.’ So when we relish the more spiritual part of the word, plain and solid preaching, rather than such as is garish and full of the pomp of words: 1 Cor. ii. 6, ‘We speak wisdom among those that are perfect;; the trappings of an ordinance are baits to take the more carnal sort of hearers. Plutarch, in his treatise of growth in moral virtue,6161 See Plutarch in his treatise περὶ τῆς προκοπῆς ἐπ ἀρετῇ. wherein are many notable things applicable to growth in grace, saith that a man that hath made some progress in virtue is like a physician, that, coming into a garden, he doth not consider flowers for their beauty, as gallants do, but for their use and virtue in medicine. So he doth not consider speech for its fineness, but fitness and seasonableness to present use. The same holdeth good also in growth in grace; the more we grow, the more we regard the spiritual part of the word, and such as is of a practical use and concernment.
[2.] More solid and judicious: Phil. i. 9, ‘I pray God your love may abound more and more in all judgment.’ There is a childishness in religion as well as nature, 1 Cor. xiii. 11, when we are led altogether by fancy and affection; but afterward we grow more prudent, sober, and solid. Growth, then, is not to be measured by intenseness and 92vigour of affection that goeth and cometh, and in the infancy of grace our affections are most warm and pregnant. A young tree may have more leaves and blossoms, but an old tree is more deeply rooted, and young Christians seem altogether to be made up of will and affections, and fervorous motions, but have less of judgment and solidity, many times of sincerity.6262 ‘Young men, if they know their hearts, have cause to complain of hypocrisy, as old men of deadness.’—Mr Thomas Goodwing in a Treatise of Growth in Grace. As men in a deep thirst take down what is offered to them to drink before they discern the taste of it, so acts of will outstart the understanding; but in old men, nature being spent, and through long acquaintance with religion there are not such quick and lively motions; the one are sick of love, have more qualms and agonies; the other are more rooted in love, and grow more firm, constant, solid, rational, and wise, in ordering the spiritual life.
[3.] More humble; as it is a good progress in learning to know our ignorance; they that have but a smattering are most conceited. Plutarch, in the fore-mentioned treatise, tells us of the saying of Menedemus, that those that went to study at Athens at first seemed to themselves to be wise, afterwards only lovers of wisdom, then orators such as could speak of wisdom, and last of all, knowing nothing, with the increase of learning still laying aside their pride and arrogancy.6363 ‘Καταπλεῖν γὰρ ἔφη τοὺς πολλοὺς ἐπὶ σχολὴν Ἀθήναζε σόφους τὸ πρῶτον, εἶτα γένεσθαι φιλοσόφους, εἶτα ῥήτορας, τοῦ δὲ χρόνου προίοντος ἰδιώτας, ὅσῳ μᾶλλον ἄπτονται τοῦ λόγου, μᾶλλον τὸ οἴημα καὶ τὸν τύφον κατατιθεμένους.’—Plutarchus ubi supra. So it is with those that grow in grace by acquaintance with God: light is increased and made more reflective, and they are more sensible of their obligations to God, and so are more tender, and by long experience are better acquainted with their own hearts; and that is the reason why we have such humble acknowledgments from them. Paul, a sanctified vessel, yet calleth himself ‘chiefest of sinners,’ 1 Tim, i. 15, and ‘less than the least of the saints,’ Eph. iii. 8. And Agur, Prov. xxx. 2, 3, ‘Surely I am more brutish than any man; I have not the understanding of a man, I have neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy.’ So if you did overhear the secret confessions of the saints to God, you would think them the vilest persons in the world, for so they are in their own sense and representations to God.
9. The lowest evidences of growth in grace are longing for food, and being humble for want of growth. For the first, longing for food, see 1 Peter ii. 2. Life hath a nutritive appetite joined with it, when that is strong it is a sign the soul is healthy, it will grow. As we say of children that take the dug kindly, they will thrive and do well enough. For the second, humble for want of growth, see Mark ix. 24, ‘Help my unbelief.’ It is a sign you mind the work, and are sensible of spiritual defects, which is a great advantage.
10. Growth is the special fruit of the divine grace. God giveth the increase, 1 Cor. iii. 6. Plants thrive better by the dew of heaven than when they are watered by hand. Grace, that is necessary to every action, is much more necessary to every degree. In the text, the apostle doth not exhort, but pray, ‘mercy, peace, and love be multiplied.’ Our endeavours are necessary, as ploughing and digging are necessary, 93but the blessing cometh from above. These are the observations; let us now apply all.
Use 1. Let us be earnest with God for this increase. He hath ‘the riches of glory,’ Eph. iii. 16, which we cannot exhaust. You honour God when you go for more; you want more, and he can give more; when men are contented with a little, it is a sign either of hardness of heart, they are not sensible of their wants; or of unbelief, as if God had no higher and better things to give us.
Use 2. First, It showeth us how far they are from being Christians that care not for the least degree of grace, that do not spend a thought that way; these are far from the kingdom of God.
Secondly, That are fallen back and have lost the savouriness of their spirits, and their delight in communion with God. Time was when they could not let a day pass without a duty, nor a duty pass without some sensible experience of God, but now can spend whole days and weeks and never give God a visit; time was when there could not a carnal motion arise, but they were up in arms against it, but now their hearts swarm with vain thoughts, and they can swallow gross sins without remorse; improvident mis-spence of time was once a great burden, but they have lost their tenderness, and can spend a Sabbath unprofitably and find no regret; their vain thoughts were wont to trouble them, but now not their carnal practices; duty was once sweet, but now their greatest bondage. Certainly, ‘the candle of the Lord doth not shine upon them as it did in the months that are past.’
Thirdly, Those that are at a stay had need look to themselves; stunted trees cumber the ground, and they that go on in a dead, power less course do hurt rather than good; lukewarm profession is but the picture of religion, and painted things do not grow, but keep at the same pitch. If a man were a Christian in good earnest, could he be contented with the present weakness of his faith, imperfection of his knowledge, with this creeping, cold way of obedience?
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