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Ver. 4. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation; ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jude having made way into their affections by a salutation, which, according to the wont of the apostles, breatheth out spiritual and heavenly wishes for their good, he doth in the third verse exhort and engage them to a constant defence of the truth; and now the necessity or occasion of such an exhortation is declared, namely, because false teachers were got abroad, and had slyly taken up the general name and profession of Christians; therefore in faithfulness he could not choose but warn them of the danger.
The whole epistle is spent in the description of heretics, their sins and punishments. In this verse they are described by four things:—(1.) By their entrance into the church, certain men crept in unawares. (2.) By their condition before God, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation. (3.) By the disposition of their spirits, ungodly men. (4.) By the course of their doctrines and conversations; where two things are charged upon them:—(1st.) Abusing the gospel, turning the grace of our Lord into lasciviousness. (2d.) Denying Jesus Christ in his nature and offices, denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
First, Let us begin with the description of their entrance into the church, there are certain men crept in unawares. Some say they 122are not named, as not being worthy, or rather, it not being necessary, they being so plainly described; and indeed it is usual with apostles, who rather dealt against things than persons, to suppress the name, and describe the error or sin. But what is the meaning of this first thing laid to their charge, ‘they crept in unawares’? I answer:—
1. It may imply their entrance into the church under a colour and show of profession. Wicked men may creep into the best church; God permitteth it not only for their own hardening, but for our trouble and trial. Paul complaineth of ‘false brethren privily brought in to spy out their liberty,’ Gal. ii. 4; and the adversaries of Jerusalem, said, Ezra iv. 1, ‘Let us build with you, for we seek your God as ye do;’ but it was with an intent to hinder the work: so Simon Magus got to be baptized, Acts viii., as thieves seek to be entertained in the house, that they may have the more opportunity to work mischief whilst the good-man is asleep. Learn hence to be more watchful in admissions to the church: no perils so great as those occasioned by false brethren. We think to fill the church, but we do but fill the house with thieves: wicked men ever prove a trouble. It is an easy matter to fill the church by remitting the rigour and severity of discipline; but heaven is never the fuller, but the emptier, for wicked men are hardened and confirmed in their own security; and the church never fareth the better,9292 ‘Multiplicatis fidei populis fides imminuta est, et crescentibus filiis mater aegrotat, quantum copiae accessit, tantum disciplinae recessit, inaudito genere processus et recessus, crescens simul et decrescens.’—Salvian de Gubernat. it loseth in strength what it gets in breadth, as a river doth, and zeal is lessened the more the number is increased: yea, wicked men usually prove a trouble, and we come to wish afterward we had been more strict. It is said, Acts v. 13, 14, ‘Of the rest durst no man join himself unto them, but the people magnified them, and believers were the more added unto the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.’ It is spoken upon the occasion of the sudden death of Ananias and Sapphira; it terrified the hypocrites, but brought in more sound believers; for ‘of the rest durst no man join,’ that is, of such as Ananias and Sapphira were, believers in show, but carnal in heart; they saw it was not dallying with God in such matters. Just so when the church keep a strait hand, hypocrites dare not join, but sound believers will the sooner, and then the church, though it be a lesser body, it is more sound, healthy, and active. But what rule must we go by? we must go by outward and general profession. I answer—This place will give us some direction. As far as we can discern men, so far may we judge of them; for the entrance of these men is here declared to be clancular and surreptitious: if the church had known them, or looked to them so warily as it should, the mischief had been prevented. Bellarmine9393 ‘Ecclesia ex intentione fideles tantum colligit, et si nosset impios et incredulos, eos aut nunquam admitteret, aut casu admissos excluderet.’—Bellar. de Eccl., vi. c. 10. himself confesseth, that the intention of the church is only to gather believers into a body, and if it knew the wicked and unbelieving, it would either not admit them, or being admitted by chance, it would cast them out. It is good to be strict, lest by promiscuous admissions we bring in such a mischief to the church as we cannot easily get rid of.123
2. It may note their intrusion or invasion of the office of preaching; presuming without a warrant, or coming into the fold not by the door, in the regular established way, false teachers usually running unsent; it is often charged upon them in the scriptures: none so prone to errors as those that have a defect in their calling. Christ, when he prayeth for a blessing on the apostles’ labours, he useth that as an argument, John xvii. 18, ‘I have sent them into the world.’ They that are loath to submit their gifts to public approbation draw a just suspicion upon themselves. How came they to you? did they creep in? or were they solemnly admitted? When elements are out of their place they breed confusion. When men are out of their place they are not a blessing but a mischief to the church.
3. The two former senses may be allowed, but I rather prefer a third; their creeping into the people’s hearts and affections by plausible pretences and insinuations, instilling their errors drop by drop before they could be observed, and pretending themselves to be friends of truth and piety. I do prefer this sense, partly because he saith only crept in, without mentioning either church or office; but chiefly because this epistle is but the abridgment of the second epistle of Peter, as will easily appear to those that do compare them. Now, there it is said, 2 Peter ii. 1, ‘They shall privily bring in damnable heresies, denying the Lord that bought them.’ From this sense observe—That false teachers use to varnish over and mask the face of error with plausible pretences, that unawares we may take it into our bosoms. The apostle speaketh of their ‘sleights and cunning craftiness,’ Eph. iv. 14. Their sleights and pretences are many; I shall touch upon a few. (1.) Sometimes greater strictness: Col. ii. 18, ‘Which things have a show of wisdom, and neglect of the body;’ rigorous observances and outward mortifications, as the Papists do. (2.) Special meekness: ‘Ravening wolves in sheep’s clothing,’ Mat. vii. 15, as if they were all for love and kindness.9494 Sic Sisinnius Novatianorum Episcopus; apud Vedelium in Prud. veteris Ecclesiae in Prol. c. 3, 4. Absalom stole away the people’s hearts by this artifice, 2 Sam. xv. 2. (3.) Higher gospel strains; therefore doth Paul speak so much against the ‘other gospel,’ Gal. i. 3, and the ‘other Jesus,’ 2 Cor. xi. 4, namely, such a one as they had set up. (4.) Self-denial; as some false teachers at Corinth would take no maintenance to disgrace Paul, see 2 Cor. xi. 12, &c.; this was their glorying, that they would preach freely; and whereas they contributed to the relief of Paul, to them it needed not. (5.) Greater learning, and notions of a newer and more sublime strain: ‘Oppositions of science falsely so called,’ 1 Tim. vi. 20, Platonic speculations, un grounded subtleties. (6.) Greater favour and liberty to nature: ‘They promise liberty, and allure through the lusts of the flesh,’ 2 Peter ii. 18, representing the faithful ministers of Christ as envying the contentment of your natures, and burdening you with exactions too rigorous; therefore the apostle saith, ‘I am afraid lest any through subtlety beguile you, as the devil did Eve,’ 2 Cor. xi. 3. How was that? I answer—By insinuating a kind of envy in God, as if he did begrudge them the perfection and freedom of their natures: Gen. iii. 5, ‘God knoweth that your eyes shall be opened,’ &c. So they think 124others are too strict, and lay too many restraints upon your carnal desires, and by this means allure many loose and unstable souls. (7.) Many times pretending the defence of that truth which they secretly impugn; as Pelagius talked altogether of grace, and Faustus Rhegiensis, pretending to oppose the Pelagians, did but more covertly own their cause.9595 Faustus Rhegiensis dum captiose videri vellet pugnare contra Pelagianos, compertus fuit Pelagio favens.—Isiodor.
Uses of this point are divers. (1.) For information; it showeth us the reason why we cannot set down the precise beginning of errors, because they are privily brought in. Mystery is written in the whore’s forehead, Rev. xvii. 5; the leak is not espied many times, though the ship be ready to sink. The originals of heresy are like the fountain of Nile, obscure and hidden; a man may lose himself in the labyrinth of antiquity before he can find them out. The Roman apostasy is a mystery of iniquity, that stole into the church disguised and by degrees,9696 See the reverend and learned Dr Usher’s Answer to the Jesuit’s Challenge. so that the beginning of it is not so easily stated as of other heresies that are full grown at their first appearance. (2.) It informeth us of the odiousness of error; it dareth not appear in its own colours, nor be seen in its own face; therefore Satan, when he would set any error on foot, he maketh choice of the most subtle instruments, that they may put a varnish upon it; as when he tempted Eve, he made use of the serpent, ‘the most subtle of all the beasts of the field,’ Gen. iii. 1, whereas the Lord chooseth the plainest instruments, and hath commanded them to use ‘all simplicity and godly sincerity,’ 2 Cor. i. 12, for truth is so lovely in itself, that it needeth no borrowed colours. (3.) It informeth us what reason those that are over you in the Lord have to press you to caution; excuse their ‘holy jealousy,’ 2 Cor. xi. 2, all is but need. We must bark when we see a wolf, though in a sheep’s garment; our silence and negligence doth but give them an advantage: ‘Whilst the husbandman slept, the enemy came and sowed tares,’ Mat. xiii. 25. (4.) It presseth you to skill and watchfulness; you had need be sound in the faith, that you may discern between good and evil, yea, to ‘have your senses exercised,’ Heb. v. 15. A soft credulity is soon abused: Prov. xiv. 15, ‘The simple believeth every word.’ There is no reason but knowledge should cost us pains as well as gracious conversation. It is a matter of great skill to be a thorough Christian; there is a great deal of sophistry and cunning about. If you follow the cry, you are in danger of engaging in a confederacy against God; if you stick to received customs, there may be error there too. If you run after every novelist on the other hand, you will soon be led into the bogs of error and profaneness; therefore go to him for direction that hath the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. But you need not only skill, but care and watchfulness. It is not good to drink too freely of suspected fountains; let not your affections surprise your judgment; we admire the persons, the gifts, and so easily swallow the doctrine: ‘Try the spirits,’ 1 John iv. 1; 1 Thes. v. 21. When there is counterfeit gold abroad, we use the touchstone. Truth loseth nothing by being tried, and you lose nothing, for then your affections are better grounded: 125‘Prove all things.’ No man is infallible; an implicit faith begets but a fond affection.
Secondly, These seducers are described by their condition before God, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, πάλαι, of old, that is, from all eternity, for so the matter here spoken of imports; προγεγραμμένοι, we translate it before ordained, but the word signifieth written as in a book; it is usual in scripture to compare God’s decrees to a book; as Christ, alleging God’s decree for his mission into the world, saith, Ps. xl. 8, ‘In the volume of thy book it is written of me.’ The meaning of the metaphor is to show that these decrees are as certain and determinate as if he had a book wherein to write them. Now, these are said to be ‘written before of old,’ to show, that though they crept in unawares as to the church, yet not as to God; they fell under the notice of his decrees before ever they acted in this evil way. It is further added, that they were ordained or written down in God’s book, εἰς κρῖμα, ‘for judgment’ or ‘condemnation;’ the word is in different to either sense, for κρῖμα is often put for κατακρῖμα; thus it is to be taken here for condemnation, appeareth by that place of Peter, αἱρέσεις τῆς ἀπωλείας, ‘damnable heresies,’ 2 Peter ii. 1, and ver. 3, ‘Whose damnation of a long time slumbereth not;’ as he saith here, ‘of old ordained to this judgment.’ The meaning of the whole is, that they were such as were left to themselves, to bring upon themselves by their own sins and errors a just condemnation.
Obs. 1. That the object of the divine decrees are not only men’s ways, but men’s persons. He doth not only say that their condemnation was pre-ordained, but they also were ordained of old to this condemnation. I observe this, because many say that God’s decrees do only respect actions and the events; we see they respect persons also; we have no cause to mince matters when the scriptures speak up to the point so fully and roundly.
Obs. 2. Again, from that ordained, or forewritten, observe, God hath his books and registers, wherein the persons, behaviours, and eternal estates of all men are recorded. At the day of judgment these books shall be opened, Rev. xx. 12. Therefore it should be our care to be able to read that our names are written in ‘the book of life,’ than which there cannot be a greater privilege, Luke x. 20. And it presseth caution; all that we do standeth upon record: our speeches, Mal. iii. 16, 17; our thoughts, 1 Cor. iv. 5; our actions, Jer. xvii. 1.
Obs. 3. Again observe, that in all those things which appertain to the judgment of sinners, God doth nothing rashly, but proceedeth by foresight and pre-ordination.
Obs. 4. Again, no man ever perverted the truths of God but to his own loss. They were ordained to this judgment, that is, that by their sins they should come to such a ruin. We play with opinions, but do not consider that damnation is the end of them; the way of truth is the way of life, but error tendeth to death.
These things might be observed, but I shall rather pitch upon two points: one particular, and restrained to the scope of the context; the other general, as being taken from the consideration of the expressions in their full latitude. The first is:—
Obs. 5. That heresies and errors do not fall out by chance, but 126according to the certain pre-ordination and foreknowledge of God. There are two reasons for it:—Nothing can come to pass without his will, and nothing can come to pass against his will. (1.) Not without his will. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without our heavenly Father, Mat. x. 29, that is, cannot be taken and slain without the will of God, then certainly nothing can be imagined which God did not foresee, or which he could not have hindered. There is nothing so small but the Lord taketh cognisance of it; nothing so evil but he turneth it to good. Exempt anything from providence, and you weaken that respect which is due from the creatures to God. If Satan may do what he will, and God only be a looker-on, then the devil-worship of the heathens would seem more rational; it was their custom first to appease the angry gods, lest they should hurt them, and then to invoke the propitious. Upon this doctrine we might fear the devil and carnal men, though God be propitious; for many things are done whether he will or no. (2.) Not against his will; for then God should make a creature too hard for himself. Things may be against his revealed will, for that is a rule to try the creatures; but not against his secret will, for that would make God impotent and weak. Things that are most against his revealed will yet fall under the ordination of his secret will; and whilst men break commandments they fulfil decrees. His revealed will showeth what should be done, his secret will what will be done. Briefly, the concurrence of God in and about the errors of men may be conceived in these things:—(1st.) He denieth grace and light, which might direct and sanctify; he is debtor to no man, and may do with his own according to his good pleasure, Mat. xx. 15. He is not bound to give grace to all, and therefore it is no prejudice to his goodness to pass by some. (2d.) He leaveth difficulty enough in the word, that men who will not be satisfied may be hardened: Mark iv. 11, 12, ‘All these things are spoken in parables, that seeing they might see and not perceive;’ that is, for a punishment of their wilful blindness and hardness. Corrupt nature stumbles in God’s plainest ways; the word is clear enough to them that have a mind to understand it, and yet difficult enough to them that have a mind to harden themselves into a prejudice. Non periclitor dicere (saith Tertullian), ipsas scripturas ita dispositas esse, ut materiam subministrarent hereticis. So the Lord himself saith, Jer. vi. 21, ‘Behold I will lay stumbling-blocks before this people;’ that is, suffer them to stumble at their own prejudices. (3d.) God leaveth them to follow the course of their own hearts; he doth not incline and compel their wills, or infuse evil to them, only suffereth them to follow the carnal bent and corrupt ambition of their own hearts: Hosea iv. 17, ‘Let him alone;’ 1 Kings xxii. 22, ‘Go forth and do so;’ Ps. lxxxi. 12, ‘I gave them up to their own counsels;’ he hindereth not their wickedness; yea, permitteth it, that so his wise counsels may take place. (4th.) God ordereth it for good, thereby bringing great advantage to his own name: Exod. ix. 16, ‘For this cause have I raised thee up, to show in thee my power;’ great shakings and tumults discover much of God to the world; the devil picketh out the most polished shafts in all the quiver of mankind; and yet still the Lord maintaineth the lot of his inheritance. Yea, God doth not only advance his name, and discover the glory of his providence, 127in protecting the church, notwithstanding Satan’s factors, and the abettors of his cause and kingdom, but also causes the truths that are questioned to shine the more brightly, as being more strongly vindicated and asserted, as a torch shineth the brighter when it is waved with the wind. Such times put men the more upon the study and love of truth, doctrines not being taken up upon trust, but sound conviction; besides error being permitted ‘manifests the approved,’ 1 Cor. xi. 19, as a quick smart wind separateth the solid grain from the chaff; and it is a means to engage our dependence upon God for knowledge and instruction. Christ’s prophetical office would lie idle and useless were not the chains of consent sometimes broken, and the language divided, some saying one thing, some another, as the difference between the Jews and the Samaritans about the place of worship maketh the woman to go to Christ for satisfaction, John iv. 20. Once more, God’s permission of error conduceth to the just ruin of his enemies: ‘Offences must be, but woe be to that man by whom they come,’ Mat. xviii. 6, 7. So 1 Sam. ii. 25, Eli’s sons would not ‘hearken to the voice of their father, because the Lord had a mind to slay them.’ By their own voluntary sins God bringeth them to their just ruin and condemnation. God lets them alone to wanton and play away their own salvation; if they will turn seekers, familists, ranters, atheists, let them alone.
Uses. The point may be applied many ways. (1.) Here is comfort to those that regard the affairs of Sion; all the confusion and troubles that are in the church are ordered by a wise God; he will bring some good issue out of them, some glory to his name, wherein the saints rejoice as much as in their own welfare; some good to the church. Observe, hast not thou been more confirmed in the truth? engaged to a more frequent recourse to Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge? Hast thou not seen more of God’s providence displayed by these tumults? &c. (2.) It checketh fear; it is all in the hands of a good God; as God trieth you to see what you will do, so you must wait upon God to see what he will do: let him alone; in and by all he will bring forth his work in due time. (3.) It showeth their wickedness that take occasion to turn atheists from the multitude of errors. When the church is rent into so many factions, men fool it, as if there were no God, and the whole gospel were but an imposture and well-devised fable; that is the reason why Christ prayeth, John xvii. 21, ‘Let them be perfect in one, that the world may know that thou hast sent me,’ i.e., that they might not suspect me for an impostor. Usually we find that thoughts of atheism are wont to haunt us upon these occasions; but there is little reason for it, for all these things are foreknown by God, foretold by God: they ‘must be,’ 1 Cor. xi. 19; Mat. xxiv. 6. And never is there so much of God and of the beauty of truth discovered as when errors abound; so that if there were not errors there would be more cause of suspicion; where all things run with a smooth and full consent, and were never questioned, then the strength and worth of them is not tried. But ‘the words of the Lord are pure words, as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times: thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation,’ Ps. xii. 6, 7. (4.) It is a ground of prayer in times of delusion: Lord, this was ordained by 128thee in wisdom, let us discern thy glory in it and by it more and more. The church argueth that there was not only Pilate’s malice and Herod’s malice, but God’s ‘hand and counsel,’ in the crucifixion of Christ: Acts iv. 28, ‘To do whatsoever thy hand and counsel determined be fore to be done: ‘Lord, we know there is thy counsel in it, and thy counsel still tendeth to good, &c. God loveth to be owned in every providence, and to be entreated to fulfil his own decrees. (5.) It informeth us what a foolish madness it is to think that God seeth not the sin which we secretly commit: surely he seeth it, for he foresaw it before it was committed; yea, from all eternity.
Obs. 6. So much for the first point, the next is, That from all eternity some were decreed by their sins to come unto judgment or condemnation. Because this is one of the texts which divines bring to prove the general doctrine of reprobation, I shall here take occasion—(1.) To open this doctrine; (2.) To prove it; (3.) To vindicate it; (4.) To apply it. In the first, you will understand the nature; in the second, the reasons; in the third, the righteousness; in the fourth, the profit, of this decree.
1. I shall open the nature of it in several propositions. (1.) It is an eternal decree. God’s internal acts are the same with his essence, and therefore before all time, as believers are ‘elected before all worlds,’ Eph. i. 4. So are sinners reprobated; they are both in time and order before ever the creature was: Rom. ix. 11, ‘Before the children had done either good or evil, it was said, Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated.’ Election and reprobation are not a thing of yesterday, and subsequent to the acts of the creature, but from all eternity. (2.) There is a decree and pre-ordination, not only a naked foresight of those that perish. Some Lutherans say that predestination is proper only to the elect; but as to the reprobate, there is only a prescience or naked foreknowledge: no pre-ordination, lest they should make God the author of the creatures’ sin and ruin. But these men fear where no fear is; the scriptures show that the greatest evil that ever was did not only fall under the foreknowledge, but ‘determinate counsel of God,’ Acts ii. 23; it was not only foreknown, but unchangeably ordained and determined. (3.) This decree of God is founded in his own good-will and pleasure; for there being nothing higher and greater than God, it is a great error to suppose a cause of his will, either be fore it, above it, or without it. God’s actions do all begin in himself, and his will is the supreme reason: Mat. xi. 26, ‘Even so, Father; because it seemed good in thy sight.’ Jesus Christ would give no other reason why the gospel was ‘hidden from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes.’ We are often disputing why, of two men that are equal in misery, the one should be taken, the other left; why the Lord will show mercy to some that are no less unworthy than others; but when we have all done, we must merely rest in the will and good pleasure of God: ‘Even so, Father,’ &c.; see Rom. ix. 18, ‘He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth;’ it is not from the foresight of our wills receiving or rejecting grace proposed, for then man’s will would be made a superior cause to an act in God. (4.) In this matter of reprobation, preterition and pre-damnation must be carefully distinguished. Look, as in 129election, God hath decreed to bestow first grace and then glory; to to the decree of giving grace preterition is opposed, to the decree of giving glory, ordination unto judgment. Now God’s preterition or passing by is merely and barely from the good pleasure of God. But pre-damnation presupposeth consideration of the creatures’ sin; both these parts of the decree are clearly set down in the word—preterition, or passing by: Rev. xvii. 8, ‘Whose names were not written in the book of life, from the foundation of the world;’ so again Rev. xiii. 8. In other places you have pre-damnation expressed, as 1 Thes. v. 9, ‘appointed unto wrath,’ and here, ‘ordained to this judgment,’ (5.) Those who are passed by, or not written in God’s book, never attain to saving grace; it is not given to them: Mat. xiii. 11, ‘To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to them it is not given.’ Yea, it is said to be ‘hidden from them:’ Mat. xi. 25; they may have common gifts, or be under such a common work of the Spirit as leaveth them without excuse; but because the Lord hath passed them by, effectual grace is not given to them, without which they cannot believe and be saved: John x. 26, ‘Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep;’ that is, not elected of my Father. Saving grace runneth in the channel of election; so Acts xiii. 48, ‘As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.’ God’s special gifts are dispensed according to his decrees. (6.) Men being left of God, and destitute of saving grace, freely and of their own accord fall into such sins as render them obnoxious to the just wrath and vengeance of God: Rom. xi. 7 ‘The election hath obtained, and the rest were hardened;’ freely and of their own accord they turned all things to their own judgment and ruin: so Rev. xiii. 8, ‘The dwellers on earth did worship the whore, whose names were not written in the book of life;’ that is, they turned aside to antichristian defilements and pollutions. (7.) God’s decree concerning such persons is immutable; it is not rescinded and disannulled, but is fully executed and accomplished in the damnation of the sinner. The Lord’s counsels are all unchangeable, both as to election, 2 Tim. ii. 19; Heb. vi. 17, and as to reprobation; no reprobate can be an elect person, nor an elect person a reprobate: Job xii. 14, ‘He shutteth up a man, and there can be no opening;’ and Job xxiii. 13, ‘He is in one mind, who can turn him?’ In God’s books there is no putting in and crossing out of names; but as the number of the elect is definite and certain, they cannot be more, and they cannot be less; so also of the reprobate. (8.) This eternal, irrevocable purpose of God of leaving sinners to themselves, that by their sins they may come to judgment, is for God’s glory: Rom. ix. 22, ‘What if God, willing to show his wrath and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels fitted to destruction?’ All God’s decrees, works, providences, tend to the further discovery of himself in the eye of the creatures.
2. Let me prove that there is such a decree by scripture, for reason here hath no place. Take here three that are most full: the first is 1 Thes. v. 9, ‘God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by Jesus Christ,’ which plainly implieth that some are appointed unto wrath. The second is 1 Peter ii. 8, where the apostle speaketh of some that were disobedient and refused Christ, ‘whereunto 130also they were appointed.’ The third place is Prov. xvi. 4, ‘God made all things for himself, and the wicked for the day of evil.’ The drift of that place is to show that both creation and predestination were for God’s glory, and he instanceth in that part of predestination which concerneth the wicked, because it is hardest to be digested and believed.
But now for the reasons why God hath chosen some, and appointed others by sin to come unto judgment. I can only tell you that ‘God’s judgments are past finding out.’ Rom. xi. 33. We must admire, we cannot search them to the bottom. So far as God hath revealed his will we may clearly judge that it is for the discovery of his justice and mercy, neither of which could have been discovered to the world with that advantage, had it not been for this double decree of God, to save some and leave others to their own ruin. If grace were given to all, how should the world know that God were free? Again, if all were pardoned, how should the world know that God were just? In election, God discovereth the freeness of his grace, Eph. i. 6. It is love that we enjoy grace, elective love that we enjoy it alone. In reprobation God discovereth his sovereignty, and by it the severity of his justice and power of his wrath, Rom. ix. 22. In choosing one and leaving another, there God discovereth his liberty, and that he doth not act out of servile necessity; and his severity in the eternal pains of them that perish in their sins.
3. Let me vindicate this doctrine, which in the eyes of some seemeth to blemish the justice of God, to infringe the comfort of man, yea, to abolish the duty of man; therefore it needeth a little clearing. Reason cannot easily digest this strong meat, partly because we are apt to reprehend what we cannot comprehend; partly because this doctrine checketh carnal ease and security, which is usually fed with a general hope and presumption that the God that made us will save us, that he will not damn his creatures, but is merciful to all, &c.; now this awakeneth us, when we hear that grace floweth in a narrower channel; partly because aspiring man is loath to submit to this absolute lord ship and sovereignty of God, that he should dispose of his creatures according to his own pleasure: our ambition is to be αὐτεξούσιοι, lords of ourselves. Man, that would be as God, taketh it ill to be ‘as a beast made to be taken and destroyed.’ Upon all these prejudices man is loath to receive this doctrine, therefore it needeth to be cleared.
[1.] In regard of God, that you may not pollute and stain his excellency with impure and prejudicial thoughts. You will say, Is God just, that only upon his will and pleasure ordaineth his creatures to condemnation? Have not the reprobate cause to complain, if he hath passed a decree upon which their condemnation doth infallibly follow? I answer—(1.) Our understandings are not the measure of God’s justice, but his own will. Things may be just, though the reasons of them do not appear to us: human reason groweth giddy by peeping into the deep of God’s decrees; our work is not to dispute, but wonder. God’s freedom is a riddle to reason, because though we will not be bound to laws, yet we are willing God should be bound. God’s actions must not be measured by any external rule; things are good because God willeth them, for his will is justice itself. (2.) The 131electing of some and passing by of others is not an act of justice, but dominion; for he doth not act here as a judge, but as a lord; it is a matter of favour, not of right and wrong. Condemnation of a man for sin, or punishing a man for sin, is an act of justice; but to have mercy, or not to have mercy, that dependeth merely upon God’s will, otherwise it would follow that God were a debtor unto man. Justice supposeth debt, or something due; no wrong is done them in not giving grace: the elect can speak of undeserved grace, and the reprobate of deserved punishment. When we are not bound to do good, if we act according to pleasure there is no injury, as in invitations, preferments, and all acts of favour. We cannot endure that a right should be challenged. The good-man in the parable pleaded, ‘I may do with mine own as it pleaseth me,’ Mat. xx. 15. The Lord may justly challenge grace as his own, and therefore leave him to his pleasure in the distribution, for he is bound to none. (3.) God’s not giving grace to the reprobate is not their sin, but their misery; preterition made them miserable, but not sinful: it doth not infer a coaction and compulsion to sin; sin followeth upon it not as an effect, but a consequent; as upon the absence of the sun darkness doth necessarily follow, and yet the sun is not the cause of darkness. In grace God purposeth, God worketh; in sin God ordereth the sin, and maketh use of it to the glory of his justice. But man sinneth freely: the water, while it runneth its own course, serveth the end of the lord of the soil, in driving mills, and bringing fish into his ponds, and overflowing his meadows, &c. So God causeth not sin in any, only permitteth it and endureth it, and serveth his righteous ends of it: Rom. ix. 22, ‘He endureth with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction.’ He prepareth the vessels of mercy, as the apostle there expresseth, but endureth the vessels of wrath while they fit themselves for ruin. (4.) Sin is the cause of punishment, though God’s will is the cause why they are passed by. They are not punished because not elected, but because not obedient: ‘Wherefore doth a living man complain but for his sins?’ Lam. iii. 39. It is here as it was in that case. David gave order to Solomon that Joab and Shimei should ‘not die in peace,’ 1 Kings ii. 6-9. Yet David’s order was no cause of Joab’s death, but his own treason, nor of Shimei’s death, but his own flight. God never damneth the creature, or decreeth to damn it, without respect of sin. God’s will is the cause of preterition, his justice is the cause of pre-damnation, for damnation is an act of punitive justice. God is so just that he doth not condemn any but for sin; so gracious, that he doth not condemn every man that doth sin. (5.) The formal and proper end of God in reprobation is not the eternal destruction of the creature, but the discovery of his own justice or glory, promoted or shining forth in and by that destruction. In election God desireth and effecteth the salvation of a sinner in a subordination to his own glory; but in preterition, God endureth a sinner with much long-suffering, till, by his own destruction, he bringeth to him the glory of his justice: Ezek. xxiii. 11, ‘As I live, saith the Lord, I desire not the death of a sinner;’ so Ezek. xviii. 32, ‘Have I any pleasure at all, that the wicked should die;’ the meaning is, God doth not will these things with such a will as is terminated in the 132destruction of the creature, but only ordereth them in a subordination to his own glory; or, in plainer terms, God delighteth not in the destruction of a sinner, as it is the destruction of the creature, but as it is the execution of justice. In the execution of a malefactor there is a difference between punishment and destruction; his punishment is of the judge, his destruction is of himself; so in this case, ‘Thy destruction is of thyself, O Israel,’ Hosea xiii. 9.
[2.] Concerning the second objection, whether it doth not infringe our comfort, and discourage men from looking after their salvation? If I am elected, I shall be saved, if I am not elected, I shall be damned: thus many men plead. They say, And how will you stir up the negligent and encourage the distressed, supposing that doctrine which you have laid down?
I answer—(1.) This scruple is but affected, not offered, and therefore should be chidden, and not answered: a questioning God’s secret will, when we know his revealed. God’s secret will hath relation to his own actions, his revealed will to ours. We must not look to God’s will in the depths of his counsel, but his precepts: not what God will do himself, but what he will have us do. God saith, ‘Believe in Christ, and thou shalt be saved;’ that is our rule. A physician offereth cure to all that will come; it were a madness to dispute away the opportunity, and say, I do not know whether he intendeth it to me. If men were ready to perish in the deep waters, and a boat should be offered to carry to land as many as would come in it, to be making scruples when we are ready to be drowned, whether this help be intended to us, yea or no, were a very fond thing: in such cases we would not wrangle, but thankfully take hold of what is offered. (2.) This doctrine can be no ground of despair to any, because reprobation is a sealed book; no man for the present can know his reprobation, nor is to believe himself to be a reprobate, but is called upon to use the means that he may be saved. He is no reprobate that falleth into sin, but he that persevereth in sin unto the end. Therefore it is no good conclusion, I am a sinner, therefore I am a reprobate; it is midnight, therefore it will never be day. This is a book sealed with seven seals; none but the Lamb can open it. (3.) The opposite opinion is encumbered with more difficulties and scruples. What comfort can a man have in universal redemption? A man can not have solid comfort in that which is common to good and bad, to those that shall be damned, and those which shall be saved; all comfort ariseth from a practical syllogism. Now make the practical syllogism according to the principles of universal grace: Christ died for all men; I am a man, therefore for me; where humanity, or being a man, is made the ground of claim and interest; and then, unless with Puccius and Huberus, we hold universal salvation, as well as universal redemption, the argument will yield no comfort. How can I, according to that opinion, comfort myself in the death of Christ, when men may be damned that have an interest in it? (4.) As to the other part of this objection, concerning the profit of this doctrine, and whether it doth not take off men from industry: so some have thought. But I answer—No; for (1st.) God hath enjoined the end and the means together: ‘Except ye9797 ‘Except these,’ i.e., the sailors.—ED. abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved,’ saith 133Paul to them that sailed with him: a decree was passed for their safety, that not a man of them should perish; yet they must abide in the ship. God doth infallibly stir up the elect to the use of means, as well as bring to such an end. (2d.) The right use of the doctrine of reprobation is to put us upon examination or diligence; upon examination whether we believe in Christ, or have truly repented, that we may ‘make our calling and election sure,’ 2 Peter i. 10, for by this means is the sealed fountain broken open. Or upon diligence; in case you find no fruits of elective love, pray, read, hear, meditate, wait, work out your salvation, &c. (3d.) The doctrine of election is of great use in the spiritual life; without it we cannot understand the freeness of God’s love, which is the great means to quicken us to praise God, and to beget love to God again; for as fire kindleth fire, so doth love beget love. It is God’s glory to be served out of love and free consent; the devil ruleth his slaves by a servile awe. Well, then, if love set love awork, and the best sight of God’s love be in God’s decree, let them say, if they dare, that the doctrine of God’s decree is an unprofitable doctrine. Again, nothing taketh off carnal confidence and glorying in ourselves more than God’s choice, according to his own pleasure; nothing is a greater support in afflictions, especially in distresses of conscience. In short, nothing is such a firm bond of love between believers as the consideration that they are all predestinated from all eternity to the everlasting enjoyment of the same inheritance; those obligations which last only for this world cannot be so firm a tie.
[3.] The next objection is, How can God call upon them to believe whom he hath passed by in the counsels of his will, and intendeth never to give them grace, without which they cannot believe? I answer—God may require men to believe, though he never intended to give them faith; for there is a great deal of difference between his decree and his law: his law showeth what must be, his decree what shall be. God never said all shall believe, but he hath said the contrary, 2 Thes. iii. 2; but all must believe; that he hath said again and again. The gospel doth not signify this or that man shall be saved; but ‘whosoever believeth shall be saved.’ As truly as it can be said to John or Thomas, or any elect person, If you do not believe you shall be damned, so surely may it be said to a reprobate, to Judas, or any other, If you believe you shall be saved. If the reprobate have a like favour with the elect in the general offer of grace, they are left without excuse, the tender being so great, and so far the same unto both; though the elect’s receiving be the effect of special grace, yet the reprobate’s rejecting is without excuse, he voluntarily turning back upon his own mercies.
So much briefly for the vindication of this doctrine.
4. Let me now apply it.
[1.] Let the elect so much the more admire God’s love to them, because that some are passed by; your mercies are not every one’s mercies. God’s aim herein was to ‘commend his mercy to the vessels of mercy.’ Rom. ix. 23. If he had passed us by, we could not have blamed his love; if he had punished us eternally, we could not have blamed his justice. Consider God hath as much interest in them as in you: ‘All souls are mine, saith the Lord,’ Ezek. xviii. 4; he was 134their creator as well as yours, and we are all in our blood, involved in ‘the same condemnation;’ he saw as much of original sin in you as in them; we lay in the same polluted mass. Oh! that free grace should make such a difference. He had as much reason to choose Judas and Simon Magus as you: ‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ Mal. i. 2, in all points alike, but only in God’s choice. When men choose it is for worth. Who would choose crooked timber to make vessels of honour? Yet thus doth the Lord single out the worst and most depraved natures, to form them into a people for himself. How sensibly many times did God make a distinction between you and others in the same ordinance: ‘One is taken and another left,’ and one is taken to grace, and another left to perish in His own ways; others, it may be, were hardened by the same sermon by which you were converted. Oh! how ravishing is the sight of God’s love in election, and the distinct courses of his providence.
[2.] To press us to diligence to make our election sure, that we may be out of the fear of being in the number of reprobates. The great question that concerneth the comfort of thy soul is whether thou be ordained to eternal life or no? Now, if thou beest negligent and careless, and refusest to use the means of salvation, the case is decided, though little to thy comfort: ‘Thou judgest thyself to be un worthy of eternal life,’ Acts xiii. 46. A lazy, carnal, careless man doth but provide matter of despair for himself. There are some steps to the accomplishment of the decree of reprobation; as sottish obstinacy against the counsels of the word, a being given up to the spirit of error, a constant neglect of means, a hardening of ourselves in the abuse of grace, &c.; all these are black marks. A man may recover, but your soul is nigh to death; therefore beware lest thou be found one of them who by sin are ordained to come to judgment. Eli’s sons hearkened not to the counsel of their father, because the Lord had a mind to slay them.
Thirdly, We are now come to that part of the description, ungodly men, ἀσεβεῖς. The word signifieth without worship, and is sometimes applied to heathens and men that live without the knowledge and worship of the true God; at other times to wicked men, that acknowledge the true God, but walk unsuitably to their knowledge and profession. That we may find out who are these men, let us see what is ungodliness, a sin much spoken of, but little known. The word, as I said, signifieth without worship. Worship is the chiefest and most solemn respect of the creature to God, and therefore it is put for the whole subjection and obedience that we owe to him, and when any part of that service, respect, or honour is denied or withheld, we are guilty of ungodliness.
That pagans and men out of the church are signified by the term ungodly, appeareth by 1 Peter iv. 18, ‘If judgment begin at the house of God, where shall the wicked and ungodly appear?’ where the ungodly are plainly opposed to the house of God. Again, the unjustified estate is expressed by ungodliness; as the apostle, when he speaketh of the justifying of Abraham and David, he gave the Lord this title, Rom. iv. 5, ‘God that justifieth the ungodly;’ and so Christ is said to ‘die for the ungodly.’ Rom. v. 6. The reason of 135which expression is, because the people of the Jews were divided into three ranks or sorts: there were of οἵ ἀσεβεῖς, the ungodly; of οἵ δίκαιοι, the just; and οἵ ἄγαθοι, the good; or, to keep their own terms, there were reshagnim, the wicked or violent; and tsidikim, the just; and chasidim the good, or the bountiful. Now, saith the apostle, ‘scarcely for a righteous man would one die;’ that is, for a man of a rigid innocency; but for ‘the good man,’ that is, the bountiful, the useful, ‘a man would even dare to die;’ but Christ died for us when we were reshagnim, sinners, enemies, &c. Again, more especially, ungodliness implieth the transgression of the first table; as Rom. i. 18, where all sin is distinguished into ἀσέβειαν, ungodliness, and ἀδικίαν, unrighteousness, ungodliness in respect of duty to God, and unrighteousness in respect of the duty to men; and also where sin is distinguished into ‘ungodliness and worldly lusts,’ Titus ii. 12. So that it chiefly signifieth that part of sin whereby we rob God of his honour, respect, and service, established by the first table, and it may be described to be a not giving God his right or due honour.
To clear it further, let me tell you that there are four notions, which are the ground of all religion. (1.) That God is, and is one. (2.) That God is. none of those things that are seen, but something more excellent. (3.) That God hath a care of human affairs, and judgeth with equity. (4.) That the same God is maker of all things without himself. And to these four notions or principles are suited the four precepts of the first table. In the first we have God’s unity; in the second, God’s invisible nature, and therefore images are forbidden upon that ground, Deut. iv. 12; in the third, the knowledge of human affairs, even of men’s thoughts, and that is the foundation of an oath; for the third commandment doth principally forbid perjury, and in an oath God is invoked as a witness, chiefly of the heart, in which his omnisciency is acknowledged, and appealed to as a judge and avenger, in which his justice and power is acknowledged. The next principle, that God is creator and governor of all things, is established by the fourth commandment; for the Sabbath at first was instituted for that purpose, to keep up the memorial of the creation in the world. Now, out of these speculative notions practical flow of their own accord, &c., that God is alone to be worshipped, obeyed, honoured, trusted; and as far as we set up other confidences, or are ignorant of his excellency, or deny God his worship and service, or serve him after an unworthy manner, superstitiously, carelessly, hypocritically, or have gross opinions of his essence, or exclude the dominion of his providence, or cease to invocate his name, so far we are guilty of ungodliness.
More distinctly and closely yet, let me note that God is to be acknowledged as—(1.) The first cause; (2.) The chiefest good; (3.) As the supreme truth and authority; (4.) As the last end. God is to be honoured as the first cause, that giveth being to all things, and hath his being from none; and so if we do not trust in him, or can trust any creature rather than God, our estates rather than God, or do not observe him in his providence, the effects of his mercy, justice, and power, or do not acknowledge his dominion in all events, and sanctify the things which we use by asking his leave and blessing in prayer, we are guilty of ungodliness. Again, God is to be acknowledged 136as the chiefest good; and therefore, if we do not know him, often think of him, delight in communion with him, fear to offend him, care to please him, this neglect and contempt of God is ungodliness. Again, God is to be acknowledged as the supreme truth and authority; and therefore, if we are not moved with his promises, threats, counsels, as the Gentiles were moved with the oracles of their gods, as God’s people of old, when that dispensation was in use, with a voice from heaven, and do not submit to him, reverence him in worship, subject our hearts and lives to his laws, it is ungodliness. Once more, God is the last end; and therefore, if in all acts, spiritual, moral, natural, even those of the lightest consequence, we do not aim at God’s glory, still it is ungodliness.
In this method I shall endeavour to open this argument. And first, Let us consider God as the first cause, and under that consideration:—
1. Ignorance is a branch of ungodliness. I name it first, because it
is the cause of all disorder in worship or
conversation.9898 ‘Heu primae scelerum causae mortalibus aegris,
Naturam nescire Dei.’ The apostle saith, 3 John 11, ‘He that doth evil hath not seen God,’ Right thoughts of God are the fuel which maintaineth the fire of religion, which otherwise would soon decay and be extinguished. Now generally people are ignorant of God; they know him as men born blind do fire; they can tell there is such a thing as fire, because it warmeth them, but what it is they cannot tell. So the whole world and conscience proclaimeth there is a God. The blindest man may see that, but they know little or nothing of his essence, as he hath revealed himself in his word. The Athenians had an altar, and the inscription was To the unknown God; and so do most Christians go on in a track of customary worship, and so worship an idol rather than God. So Christ telleth the Samaritans, John iv. 22, ‘Ye worship ye know not what.’ It is usual with men in a dark and blind superstition to conform to the worship of their place, not considering why, or whom it is they worship. Gross ignorance is a sign of no grace, for God hath no child so little but he knoweth his father: Jer. xxxi. 34, ‘They shall all know me, from the least to the greatest.’ Some have better education than others, greater helps and advantages of parts and instruction, but they all have a necessary knowledge of God. Again, gross ignorance is a pledge of future judgment: 2 Thes. i. 7, ‘God will come in flaming fire, to render vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel.’ Many poor ignorant creatures are harmless, they do no wrong. Oh! but they know not God, and that is wrong enough; God will avenge it. To be ignorant of God that made them, is a matter of sadder consequence than you are aware. By those that know not God in this place is meant pagans, for it is contradistinct to those that obey not the gospel. But if there be vengeance for pagans, who have no other apostles sent to them but those natural apostles of sun, moon, and stars, and have no other books wherein to study God but showers of rain and fruitful seasons, if there be vengeance for them because they did not see and own a first cause, what is there for those that shut their eyes against the light of the gospel? Surely to be ignorant now is a greater sin than we think of.
2. When we do not depend upon him it is ungodliness. Trust and dependence is the ground of all commerce between us and God, and the greatest homage and respect which we yield to the Creator and first cause. Now when men trust any creature rather than God, their estates rather than God, they rob him of his peculiar honour. That there is such a sin appeareth by that, Job xxxi. 24;’ if I had made gold my hope, or said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence. If I rejoiced because my wealth is great, and my hand had gotten much,’ &c. Job, to vindicate himself from hypocrisy, reckoneth up the usual sins of hypocrites; amongst the rest this is one, to make gold our confidence. Men are apt to think it the staff of their lives, and the stay of their posterity, and so their trust being intercepted, their hearts are diverted from God. It is a usual sin, though little thought of. The great danger of riches is by trusting in them, Mark x. 23, 24. When men are intrenched within an estate, they think they are safe, secured against whatever shall happen, and so God is laid aside. Let a man be intrenched within a promise, and yet he is full of fears and doubts; but wealth breedeth security, therefore ‘covetousness’ is called ‘idolatry,’ Col. iii. 5, and the covetous man an idolater, Eph. v. 5, not so much because of his love of money as his trust in money. The glutton loveth his belly, and the gratifications of the appetite, Phil. iii. 19, yet he doth not trust in his belly cheer he thinketh not to be protected by it; and, therefore, though he rob God of his love, yet he doth not, as the covetous, rob God of his trust: we are all apt to make such an idol of the creature. Poor men, if they had wealth, this were enough to make them happy, and therefore they trust in those which have it, which is idolatry upon idolatry. Whence it is said, Ps. lxii. 9, ‘Men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree a lie.’ To appearance men of low degree are nothing; but men of high degree are wont to be trusted in, and therefore a lie, because by a righteous judgment of God they disappoint our trust. But chiefly is this secret idolatry incident to the rich; though they do not pray to their wealth, or offer sacrifice, but use it as familiarly as any other thing, yet if it intercept their trust they are guilty of idolatry. Many that smile at the vanity of Gentiles, that worshipped stocks and stones, and idols of gold and silver, do worse themselves, though more spiritually, whilst they build their happiness and security upon their estates. It may be they do not say to their riches, Ye shall deliver me, or to their gold, Thou art my confidence. They do not use such gross language; for covetous men may speak as basely of wealth as another man. They may say, I know it is but refined earth, &c., but their hearts make it their only refuge and stay, and their inward thoughts are that they and their children can not be happy without it, which is a great sin, a setting up another God, for by this means is their heart withdrawn from the true God to the world, and kept from good works, lest they part with that which is the staff and stay of their lives.
3. When we do not observe his providence. The blind world sets up an idol called chance, and doth not acknowledge God at the other end of causes, as swaying all things by his wisdom and power. (1.) In afflictions. They think they come by chance and ill-luck, 1 Sam. vi. 9, and Isa. xxvi. 11; as if instruments and second causes 138did all, and the Lord were an idle spectator and looker-on, and had no hand in all that befalleth us. Job better, ‘The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh.’ He doth not look only to the Chaldean, the Sabean, the thief, but the Lord. In all afflictions we should look beyond the creature, and not complain of ill fortune and chance, or stars, or constellations, or anything on this side God. (2.) In mercies. It is ungodliness when we do not see God in all our mercies. Wicked men receive blessings, and never look up. They live upon God every moment. They have ‘life and breath and motion,’ and hourly maintenance from him, and yet ‘God is not in all their thoughts.’ As swine raven upon the acorns, and never look up to the oak from whence they fall, so they look no higher than the next hand; but God’s children may be compared to chickens, that sip and look upwards. The Lord complaineth of Israel, Hosea ii. 8, ‘She did not know that I gave her corn and wine and oil, and silver and gold.’ There cannot be a greater sign of an ungodly spirit than this unthankful profaneness. This is that which God expecteth from reasonable creatures, by way of homage, that we should own him as author of all the good which we enjoy. Other creatures live upon God, but they are not capable of knowing the first cause as we are. Idolatry and atheism had never crept into the world if men had considered who it was that gave them ‘fruitful seasons and showers of rain, and filled their hearts with food and gladness,’ Acts xiv. 16, 17. And surely nothing feedeth piety, and maintaineth a constant awe of God, so much as thinking of God every time we eat and drink and enjoy any new mercy from him. But alas! usually we forget God when he remembereth us most. He is never so much dishonoured as in eating and drinking, and in the plentiful enjoyment of outward comforts.
4. Another part of ungodliness is when we do not acknowledge his dominion over all events, sanctifying the things we use and under take by asking his leave and blessing. It is robbery, to use goods without the owner’s leave, so to use any creature, food, or physic without ‘sanctifying it by the word and prayer,’ 1 Tim. iv. 3-5; that is, knowing our liberty and right from the word of promise, and asking God’s leave and blessing in prayer; or to go about any business or journey, or fixing our abode without inquiring at the oracle; all this is ungodliness. It is our duty still to consult with God: ‘Ye ought to say, If the Lord will,’ &c., James iv. 15. It is a piece of religious manners. We forget to bid ourselves good speed when we do not acknowledge the dominion of God in all these cases: Prov. iii. 6, ‘In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.’ God’s children dare not resolve upon any course till they have first consulted with God.
Secondly, God will be acknowledged as the chiefest good, and so we are guilty of ungodliness:—
1. If we do not often think of him. If we did not want hearts, we cannot want objects to put us in mind of God. οὐ μακρὰν, ‘he is not far from every one of us,’ Acts xvii. 27. But though God be not far from us, yet we are far from God. He that is everywhere is seldom found in our hearts. We are not so near to ourselves as God is near to us. Who can keep his breath in his body for a minute if God 139were not there? He is within us and round about us in the effects of his power and goodness, but we are at too great a distance from him in our mind and affections. How many trifles occupy our minds! But the Lord can seldom find any room there: ‘God is not in all their thoughts,’ Ps. x. 4. Yea, when thoughts of God rush into our minds, they are like unwelcome guests—we wish to be rid of them. Wicked men abhor their own thoughts of God, because the more they think of God the more they tremble, as the devils do. Therefore the apostle saith, ‘They like not to retain God in their knowledge.’ Rom. i. This is far from the temper of God’s children. David saith, Ps. civ. 34, ‘My meditation of him shall be sweet.’ It is the spiritual feast and entertainment of a gracious soul to think of God. None deserveth our thoughts more than he, and we cannot put them to better use. He thought of us before the world was, and still ‘great is the multitude of his thoughts to us-ward.’ Therefore it is vile ingratitude not to think of him again. When we hate a person we cannot endure to look upon him, and the hatred of the mind is showed by the aversation and turning away of the thoughts.
2. If we do not delight in communion with him, we do not honour him as the chiefest good. Friends love to be often in one another’s company, and certainly ‘it is good to draw nigh to God,’ to preserve an acquaintance between him and us. He hath appointed his ordinances, the word and prayer, which are as it were a dialogue and interchangeable discourse between God and the creature. In the word he speaketh to us, and in prayer we speak unto him. He conveyeth his mind in the word, and we ask his grace in prayer. In prayer we make the request, and in the word we have God’s answer. Well, then, when men neglect public or private prayer, or opportunities of hearing, they are guilty of ungodliness. So far they break off communion with God, especially if they neglect prayer, which is a duty to be done at all times—a sweet diversion which the soul enjoyeth with God in private, a duty which answereth to the daily sacrifice. Therefore the neglect of prayer is made to be a branch of atheism, Ps. xiv. 3, 4. When men are loath to come into God’s presence, out of a love to ease and carnal pleasures, and care not if God and they grow strange, or seldom hear from one another, it is a great evil. Our comfort and peace dependeth much upon frequent access to God. So when family worship, when that is neglected, God is not honoured as the chiefest good: the heathens are described to be ‘the families that call not on God’s name,’ Jer. x. 25. In many places from one end of the week to the other there is no prayer and worship in the family, and so the house, which should be a church, is made a stye. Not a swine about their houses but is attended morning and evening, and yet they can find no time for the solemn invocation of the name of God. What. are they better than heathens?
3. If we do not fear to offend him. God will be served with every affection. Love is of use in the spiritual life, and so is fear: 2 Cor. vii. 1, ‘Perfecting holiness in the fear of God,’ Love sweeteneth duties, and fear maketh us watchful against sin: love is the doing grace, Gal. v. 6, and fear is the conserving grace, Jer. xxxii. 40. We have cause to walk in God’s ways, because we are always under his eye. 140Love is necessary, that we may keep God always in our hearts; and fear, that we may keep him always in our eye: both of them are of great use; but fear we now speak of, which is the true internal root of all obedience and worship, Eccles. xii. 13. When there is such a settled disposition of heart as that we dare not grieve him nor affront him to his face—as Ahasuerus said, ‘Will he force the queen before my face?’—God is much honoured. But now when we are secure and careless, and forget God, and can sin freely in thought and foully in act without remorse, it is ungodliness. Fear is a grace of continual use: we cannot be always praising God, worshipping God, and employed in acts of special communion with him, yet we must be always fearing God: ‘Be thou in the fear of God all the day long,’ Prov. xxiii. 17; and elsewhere, ‘Blessed is he that feareth always,’ Prov. xxviii. 14. A man hath done with his devotion in the morning, but he hath not done with God; we should think of him, and remember that his eye is upon us, all the day long: we must rise in the fear of God, walk in the fear of God, trade, eat, drink in the fear of God, Jude 12. Some graces are as the lungs, never out of use and exercise. More especially must fear be active when temptations and corruptions arise; we must argue as Joseph, Gen. xxxix. 9.
4. If we do not care to please him. An ungodly man thinketh of nothing less than pleasing God; he neither careth to know his ways, nor to walk in them; they are ‘willingly ignorant,’ 2 Peter iii, 5. They do not search, that they may not practise, and so err not in mind, but heart: ‘We desire not the knowledge of thy ways,’ Job xxi. 14. They have not a mind to know that which they have not a mind to do,9999 ‘Nolentes audire quod auditum damnare non possunt,’ &c.—Tertul. in Apol. as those that would sleep shut the curtains to keep out the light. A godly man is always approving what is the will of God, Rom. xii. 2, and Eph. v. 10-17; he practiseth what he knoweth, and is still searching that he may know more, as willing always to be more useful for God. What have I to do more?
Thirdly, God will be acknowledged as the supreme truth and authority, and then, if we are not moved with promises, threats, counsels, as with the the words of the great God, if we do not yield him reverence in his worship, and subject our hearts and lives to his laws, it is ungodliness.
1. We must receive the counsels of his word with all regard and reverence, for that is to receive it ‘as the word of God,’ 1 Thes. ii. 13. Heathens received the oracles of their gods, and were much moved; we can drowsily hear of the great things of salvation, of heaven, and the death of Christ, and the covenant of grace, &c., and are not moved, no more moved than with a fable or dream. If a man should make another an offer of a thousand pounds for a trifle, and he should not accept it. you would not say it was because he prized the trifle more—that is improbable, but because he did not believe the offer; so when God offereth heaven upon such terms as he doth, we do not honour him as the eternal truth, but count him a liar, 1 John v. 10, or else we would not neglect the offer.
2. We must yield him reverence in his worship. God is said, Ps. lxviii. 35, to be ‘terrible in the holy places:’ he is not only terrible 141in the high places of the field, where he executeth his dreadful judgments, or in the depths of the sea, where the wonders of the Lord are seen, but terrible in the holy places, where his ordinances are dispensed, because there his holiness, which is the astonishing attribute, is most seen and remembered. We do not come to him as the supreme Majesty when we do not come with awful apprehensions: God is dreadful there where he is most comfortable: Deut. xxviii. 58, ‘That thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, the Lord thy God.’ To have God for our God is the ground of all our comfort and hope, and yet it is a glorious and fearful name. In Mal. i. 14, the Lord urgeth two arguments why we should worship him with reverence; one is, ‘I am a great king, saith the Lord of hosts;’ the other is, ‘My name is dreadful among the heathen;’ implying in the first, that care less and rude addresses to him are a kind of a lessening his majesty; they do not come to him as a great king, and do as much as in them lieth go about to persuade the world that he is not the God that he is taken to be, so great, so terrible, and glorious. The next argument is taken from his respect among the heathens, that know him by common providence; they that have but a glimpse of his glory, that know least of his glory, yet know enough to fear him and reverence him. Therefore take heed of serving him in a loose and perfunctory manner; you dishonour God exceedingly else, even then when you come to give honour to him.
3. There must be a willing subjection of our hearts and lives to his laws. It must be a subjection of the heart; God’s authority is never more undermined than by a mere ‘form of godliness,’ 2 Tim. iii. 5. It is the greatest ungodliness that can be, for you rob the Lord of his dominion over the conscience. Hypocrisy is a practical blasphemy: ‘I know the blasphemy of them,’ &c., Rev. ii. 9. The life also must be subject to God, by a conformity to his laws. Men hate God as a lawgiver, they love him as a giver of blessings. It is the disposition of all that they would live at large, and have no God to call them to an account. Thoughts that strike at the being of God, and doctrines of liberty, are welcome to a carnal heart; it is pleasing to think if there were no God, to hear that there is no law; no suggestions are more catching. The life must be conformed to God’s laws, for he will be honoured in our conversations, as well as have his throne set up in our consciences. It is the glory of a commander to be obeyed: ‘I say to one, Go, and he goeth, and to another, Come, and he cometh.’ God looketh for glory from you in this kind; he will have all the world know that his servants are at his beck, that he ‘hath called you to his foot,’ Isa. xli. 2, ‘the righteous from the east, he called him to his foot;’ that is, to go to and fro at his command: if he say Go, they go; if he saith Come, they come; these are the ‘people framed for his praise.’ He can bid them do nothing but they are ready to do it with the loss of all.
Fourthly, God will be honoured as the utmost end; and so if in all acts, natural, moral, spiritual, we do not aim at his glory, we are guilty of ungodliness. In acts natural, and matters of the least consequence, we must have a supernatural aim: 1 Cor. x. 31, ‘Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God.’ If I take a meal, I must have an aim at God’s glory in it; in civil acts, and duties of 142mutual commerce,100100 ‘Virtutes et vitia non officiis distinguuntur sed finibus.’ all must be done as in and to the Lord, Eph. v. 22; vi. 1, 5-7. We are to walk in our relations so as God may have honour. In spiritual acts of prayer, praise, and worship, yea, the whole ordination of the spiritual life must be unto God: ‘I live unto God,’ Gal. ii. 20. All the motions and tendencies of the soul look that way. This is the difference between holiness and godliness; holiness more properly implieth a conformity to the law, and godliness an aim of the soul to exalt God; and so they are propounded as distinct, 2 Peter iii. 11, ‘What manner of persons ought we to be in all holiness and godliness of conversation?’ Well, then, look to your aims; and in eating and drinking you set up Moloch, it is a meat-offering and drink-offering to appetite, if you do not aim at God’s glory. So in traffic; if you merely regard wealth, you are a consecrated priest to mammon. In these ordinary actions of eating, drinking, trading, you may be guilty of idolatry before you are aware, and may set up the belly, Phil. iii. 19, or mammon, Mat. vi. 24, in God’s stead; nay, in your very desires of grace your ultimate aim must not be self. We are ‘accepted in the beloved, to the praise of his glorious grace,’ Eph. i. 6. And in actions most sacred it is dangerous to look a-squint; it is to put dung in God’s own cup, when we make worship a stale to our own ends. In short, the Lord hath given many things to the creature, that only which he hath reserved to himself is his glory; therefore he taketh it ill to be robbed of that.
Thus I have showed you the several kinds of ungodliness. Some are more refined, some more gross, but all naught. The worst sort is, when we do contemptuously slight his providence, and disobey his laws, hardening ourselves ‘yet more and more,’ as Ahaz did, though the Lord had exercised him with sharp afflictions, and living in open irreligion and despite of God, casting off yoke after yoke, till at length we have outgrown the heart of a man, fearing neither God nor men.
Use. Well, then, if we would not be counted ungodly, let us take heed of all these sins.
1. How else will ye look God in the face at the day of judgment? ‘The ungodly shall not stand in judgment,’ Ps. i. 5; that is, so as to be able to plead their cause, and lift up the head, though they shall rise again and receive their sentence; therefore ill rendered by the Vulgar, non resurgunt; yet they shall have no boldness, but hang their guilty heads for shame in that day; the day of judgment is appointed on purpose to ‘take vengeance of ungodly persons,’ see Jude 15. It is the day wherein God, that is now withdrawn within the curtain of the heavens, cometh forth to manifest himself to the terror of all ungodly ones.
2. There were great judgments inflicted upon them in this world. The flood swept away ‘the world of the ungodly,’ 2 Peter ii. 5, and 1 Peter iv. 18, ‘Where shall the sinner and the ungodly appear?’ The Lord’s jealousy for his honour is very great, and therefore none shall smart so sorely as the ungodly person. It is said, Isa, lix. 17, ‘He putteth on jealousy as a cloak;’ the cloak is man’s upper garment, which is most visible; there is nothing so visible in God’s providence as his jealousy for his honour; there is no sin robs God of his honour so much as ungodliness; so it is said, Exod. xxxiv. 14, 143that ‘jealousy is his name.’ The name of a thing is the note of distinction by which it is known and differenced from all other things either of the same or another kind; so God’s jealousy against those that rob him of his honour differenceth him from all the gods of the world. The gods of the heathens were good-fellow gods, and could endure rivals and co-partners; but this the Lord doth severely punish; none have fallen under the weight of his vengeance so much as they that deny their respects to him, and ‘go on whoring after another God.’
3. It is the great aim of the gospel to prevent ungodliness, by discovering more of God than was known before, and by finding out a way how the notions of God might be kept inviolable, and how we might come to the enjoyment of God, and yet God suffer no loss of honour; therefore the gospel is called ‘the mystery of godliness,’ 1 Tim. iii. 16, and a ‘doctrine according to godliness,’ 1 Tim. vi. 3. Men might be ungodly at a cheaper rate than now they can in these days of the gospel: now we have more means to know God, and more obligations to respect God, more clear and certain notions of his excellency and glory.
4. Ungodliness is the root of all irregular courses. Abraham was afraid of himself in Gerar. Why? ‘The fear of God is not in this place,’ Gen. xx. 11. Godliness is the great bulwark of laws and all honest discipline; subjects are not afraid of princes, nor princes of subjects, where the fear of God prevaileth: there can be no true honesty without piety. The first part of the law provideth for respects to God, as being the proper foundation of the second, which containeth respects to our neighbour. Often it cometh to pass by God’s just judgment that spiritual wickedness is punished with civil; see Hosea iv. 12, 13; and where men are not tender of God’s interests they do also encroach upon civil rights and freedoms.
Means and directions are these:—(1.) Purge the heart from principles of ungodliness. There are many gross maxims ingrafted in man’s heart; as that it is folly to be precise; that it was better when there was less knowledge; that it is in vain to serve God; that thoughts are free; if we carry it fair before men we need trouble ourselves no further; when men do their best, petty sins are not to be stood upon; that religion is but a notion and fancy, the gospel a golden dream, &c. That such principles are within us appeareth by the sottishness of our practices and course of living; for actions are the best image of our thoughts, and these are purged away by waiting upon the word, which ‘discovereth’ them, Heb. iv. 12, and layeth in good principles, Ps. cxix. 9, by which means they are destroyed. (2.) Suppress all ungodly thoughts as soon as they do arise, as that ‘there is no God,’ Ps. xiv. 1. Shame may lay a restraint upon the tongue, but the heart is ever casting up such a thought as this is: so that God is not so harsh but we may take a little liberty in sinning, see Ps. 1. 21; or that he taketh no notice of what we speak or do; he ‘cannot see through the dark clouds,’ Job xxii. 12, 13. When any such thoughts rush into your mind, check them and actually rebuke them, lest they settle into a rooted atheism. (3.) Mortify vile affections: the judgment is tainted by the contagion of lusts, as a foul stomach sendeth up fumes and gross vapours into the head; and so 144the principles of godliness do quickly suffer an eclipse: ‘The pure in heart see most of God,’ Mat. v. 8. In fenny countries the air is seldom clear; so in hearts that lie under the power of brutish lusts, there are seldom clear and distinct thoughts of God. (4.) Keep close to God’s institutions; these keep up his presence and memorial in the world, and so are the best preservative of godliness; false worships are full of ceremonies which darken the nature of God. Images beget a gross opinion of God: no wonder if people grow blockish that worship God in a senseless stock or stone. Varro in Austin observed, that those that first invented images did but increase error, and take away all fear of religion. God knoweth what is best for himself, and how by his own institutions to keep up the repute of his nature and essence: when man presumeth to be wiser than God, and leaveth the certainty of God’s institutions for additions and innovations of Our own, that please us better, because they have λόγον σοφίας, ‘A show of wisdom,’ Col. ii. 22, 23, all religion goeth to wrack. (5.) Let us often ‘exercise ourselves unto godliness,’ 1 Tim. iv. 7. Delight to give to God the honour due to him, love, delight, fear; to worship him often, to do all things as aiming at his glory.
Fourthly, The next clause in the description of these seducers is that, turning the grace of our God into wantonness. Where you may take notice—(1.) Of their filthiness and brutish course of life, implied in the word wantonness, in the original ἀσέλγεια, a word proper to luxury and the impurities of lust; it is derived from alpha, an augmentative particle, and Selga, the name of a town in Pisidia, saith Suidas, whose inhabitants were infamous for sodomy, and weakening nature by such prodigious filthiness as is not fit to be named among saints; and the persons here noted the school of Simon. The Nicolaitans, the Gnostics, and other impure heretics of that age were for promiscuous commixtures, and the free use of their fellow creatures (as some carnal wretches in our own age have learned to speak), without any respect to conjugal relation, and those restraints which God and nature and all civil nations have laid upon the lusts of man, as if men should use no more distinction and confinement than the beasts; yea, gave up themselves to all manner of unnatural lust, as in the process of this epistle we shall more fully discover. (2.) The occasion and encouragement of this wantonness, which doubleth the iniquity of it, is the grace of God, by which is meant the gospel, which is called ‘the grace of God,’ as Titus ii. 11, ‘The grace of God hath appeared unto us, teaching us,’ &c.; and in the gospel chiefly they abused the doctrine of Christian liberty and free justification by Christ; this is primarily intended. You may, by analogy, enlarge the expression to comprise all those other doctrines which libertines are apt to abuse; yea, those gracious providences which wicked men do convert into fuel and nourishment for their sins. (3.) The manner how so excellent a thing as the grace of God was made pliable to so vile a purpose, for a man would wonder that things at so great and infinite a distance as the grace of God and filthy lusts should ever be brought to cast an aspect upon one another. That is showed in the word turning, in the original μετατιθέντες, wresting, transferring from its proper use. They offered violence to the doctrine of grace, that it might be conscious to such a monstrous birth 145and production as filthy lusts and carnal pleasures. (4.) You have a hint of the reason why the apostle writeth against them with such a zealous indignation in that word our; as if he said, That grace, whose sweetness we have tasted, whose power we have felt; of that God who hath been so kind to us in Christ, whose glory we are bound to promote. Shall we see our God, and that grace upon which all our hopes stand, to be abused to such an unclean use?
From the words thus opened I observe:—
Obs. 1. That the gospel and grace of God in itself is not pliable to carnal purposes, yieldeth no carnal conclusions. They turn it, saith the apostle; there is no such thing gotten out of the gospel without wresting, and till the art of a deceiver hath passed upon it. I shall prove the point by three arguments.
1. From the constitution of the gospel. It yieldeth no leave to sin, but liberty to serve God: this is the great design of it. Christ came not to reconcile God and our sins together, but God and our persons; to reconcile our persons and destroy our sins; not to free us from the law, but sin; to free us from the service of the devil, 1 John iii. 8, not from the service of God; in short, he came not to make the law less strict, or sin less odious, or us less holy; for perfection of the law was never so clearly known as since the coming of Christ, see Mat. v., and sin was never so odious as since the abundance of grace. They under the law sinned at a cheaper rate than we can, because they did not sin against so much love and kindness, see Heb. ii. 2, 3; neither could Christ come to make us less holy, or to dispense with our care of holiness, for then he should come to deface the image of God, and make us more unlike God, which would not be a privilege but a burden to the new creature. Freedom from wrath and hell is a privilege, but freedom from duty and obedience is no privilege. In the gospel there is pardon for failings, but not to encourage us in our failings, but our duties. We were never so much obliged to duty as since the gospel, because now we have more help and more advantages, stronger motives and greater encouragements. If we look backward, we are bound in point of gratitude to serve the Lord, being redeemed hereunto by the blood of Jesus; if we look forward, we are encouraged by the hopes of eternal life. The law could not persuade by such arguments as the gospel doth; there is more of the rule known, more of the Spirit poured out to give us help to observe it. So that from this short abridgment of larger discourses, it appeareth that the great design of the gospel is to make us more like God, and to free us from the slavery of the devil, that we may be better servants and subjects to God.
2. There are frequent and constant dissuasives from this perverting our liberty in Christ to the service of any fleshly design. The Spirit of God foresaw how corrupt nature in us would tempt us to abuse our privileges to an evil purpose; yea, many had already attempted it in the apostles’ days, as the sect of the Nicolaitans, the school of Simon, and, after them, the Gnostics and Basilicans, who, under colour of evangelical liberty, gave up themselves to lawless and brutish practices (as before was hinted); therefore, by way of prevention, dissuasives are very frequent everywhere; as Rom. vi. 1, ‘What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid.’ As 146if he had said, You will not want such corrupt teachers, nay, your hearts will be marvellous apt to frame such kind of consequences and conclusions; but reject them with indignation. So Gal. v. 13, ‘You are called to liberty; only use not your liberty as an occasion to the flesh.’ Christ hath done his part, purchased glorious privileges for you; only take you heed that you do not abuse them; your base hearts are apt enough. So 1 Peter ii. 16, ‘As free, but not using your liberty as a cloak of maliciousness.’ Freedom by Christ will be an unfit cover and pretence for so vile a practice.
3. Because in the gospel itself there are quite contrary inferences and conclusions from those which flesh and blood would draw from the gospel. As to instance, in anything wherein the gospel hath been abused, to three ends hath it been abused—to looseness, laziness, licentiousness. Now, you shall see the word carrieth things in a quite contrary way to what carnal men do. To looseness: men have been the more loose and careless, because grace hath abounded in the discoveries of the gospel; but the apostle disdaineth it, as a most abhor rent and strange conclusion from gospel principles: Rom. vi. 1, ‘Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid.’ Μὴ γένοιτο, do not cherish such a vile and unworthy thought; the gospel teacheth quite contrary; see Titus ii. 11, 12; not wantonness, but weanedness, 4 to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts.’ So see Rom. vi. 16, and 2 Cor. vii. 1. A bee gathereth honey thence from whence a spider sucketh poison. Again, to laziness: men are apt to lie down upon the bed of ease, and say Christ must do all, and so exclude all use of means and the endeavour of the creature. This is a foul abuse; for the scripture inferreth thence the care and work of the creature, be cause God doth all, Phil. ii. 12, 13, ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God worketh in you both to will and to do.’ We must the more humbly wait upon God in the use of ordinances, because all dependeth upon his assistance. Again, to licen tiousness: men have interpreted freedom by Christ in such a perverse sense as to cast off obedience to civil powers, either to masters in the family, or to magistrates in the commonwealth; whereas the word calleth for these duties upon this very ground, because we are made free by Christ, that is, more ready and apt to discharge the duty we owe to God and man: in this sense it is said, 1 Cor. vii. 22, that ‘a servant is the Lord’s freeman;’ and 1 Peter ii. 16, ‘Obey governors as free, but as servants of the Lord.’ Christianity giveth us a greater aptness, layeth on us a greater engagement, the bond of conscience; so that there is, as Salvian speaketh, in maxima libertate minima licentia, a great deal of liberty by Christ, and yet the strongest engagement to service that may be.
Let us now apply the point.
Use 1. It serveth to inform us, in the first place, that carnal men are ill skilled in consequences; from the very gospel would they draw a liberty to sin, than which from such premises no conclusion can be more strange; it is well worth the observing to note the different arguings in scripture from the same principles, as see some instances; compare 1 Cor. vii. 29 with 1 Cor. xv. 32: the principle in both places is, ‘The time is short.’ Now, the apostle in the former place draweth from 147it conclusions of strictness, temperance, and mortification: ‘Let us use the world as if we used it not,’ &c. But in the latter the dissolute epicure argueth quite otherwise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die;’ a quite different conclusion from the same principle. So here, grace aboundeth; let us be much in duty, saith the spiritual man; let sin abound, saith the carnal. Again, compare 2 Sam. vii. 2 with Hag. i. 2: ‘I dwell within a house of cedar,’ saith David, ‘but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains.’ Surely I should have had more care of the ark of God, now God hath built me such a stately palace. But they in Haggai, we ‘dwell in ceiled houses,’ therefore ‘the time to build the Lord’s house is not come;’ so they might live in pomp and ease, they little cared how matters went with God’s house. Once more, 1 Sam.’ iii. 18, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good:’ he argueth from thence to meekness and a submissive patience. But now compare 2 Kings vi. 33, ‘This evil is from the Lord; why should I wait upon him any longer?’ From the same principle he argueth himself into a murmuring and fit of impatience. Thus carnal men are always out in their reasonings: ‘A parable in a fool’s mouth,’ saith Solomon, ‘is like a thorn in the hand of a drunkard,’ Prov. xxvi. 9. When the spirits are disturbed by excess of drink, men have not an even touch, and so when they would use a thorn, or any sharp thing, they wound and gore themselves; so do wicked men, being besotted with lusts, argue falsely from the grace and the holy principles of the word to their own destruction.
Use 2. Again, it serveth for caution; when you meet with such base inferences from evangelical principles, do not blame the gospel, or the ministry and dispensation of the gospel.
1. Not the gospel, as if it were not clear enough, or faithful enough, or wary enough. Such thoughts are wont to haunt us when we see gross errors creeping under a shelter and pretence of scripture: foolish men would give laws to heaven; we think God should speak more plainly, as if the Lord should make a sun for them to see that shut their eyes: vain man will stumble in God’s plainest ways; should things be never so clearly carried, a perverse apprehension would make them obscure. Parables (which are the liveliest and most sensible representations of things) hardened the Pharisees, Mark iv. 11, 12. If men ruin themselves by their own false logic, we should not therefore accuse God. They that have a mind to fall shall not want a stone of stumbling; they that will only be feasted with comforts, no wonder if they contract a spiritual sickness, and undo their souls by a misunderstood and misapplied gospel.
2. Do not blame the ministry and dispensation of the gospel, because some abuse free grace, others cannot endure to hear it preached; but children must not be kept from their bread because dogs catch at it. Because some are ‘drunk with wine,’ and others eat to excess, shall the hungry man want his food? Shall hungry consciences lose their portion for others’ abuse? No, no; if carnal men serve their lusts of these truths, we cannot help it; we are not in the place of God: we can only deliver the doctrine; we cannot give them gracious hearts to improve it. The Papists will not let the people have the scriptures upon this reason, for fear of abuses; and Gardiner 148would not have this gap of free grace opened to the people, &c: The devil hath ever maligned a gospel dispensation. Let not us withhold the truth for fear of inconvenience. Let us look to our commission, ‘preach the gospel to every creature;’ if men abuse it, we are clear, ‘their destruction is just,’ as the apostle speaketh to this very case: Rom. iii. 8, ‘Some slanderously report that we say, Let us do evil that good may come thereof, whose damnation is just.’ Some gave out that Paul taught that they might sin freely, that God might have the more glory in pardoning;’ their damnation is just’; if they went away with such a vile conceit, saith he, they learned it not from me. Musculus complaineth in one of his books that no place was so profane and irreligious as those where the gospel had been preached; and Contzen,101101 Adamus Contzenius, in Mat. cap. 24. a Jesuit, citing this passage, crieth out; See the fruit of Protestantism and their gospel preaching. Many are of his spirit; do even hate the publication of the doctrine of grace, as if these were the cause of men’s miscarriage. If men abuse the truth, we cannot help it; however, visible mistakes must be prevented, lest men go away with a scorpion instead of fish, and a stone instead of bread.
Obs. 2. The next point, that though grace itself be not pliable to such conclusions, yet wicked men are very apt to abuse it to the countenancing and cherishing of their sins and lusts. You see here the abuse of the doctrine of the gospel was very ancient; this spirit of error wrought betimes; the former days were no better than these, Eccles. vii. 10. In the apostles’ days, vile hearts did abuse good doctrine; men were the same then which they are now, when such kind of errors have a second spring and revolution. Indeed, of all errors these seem to be very natural; we greedily drink in the poison of carnal liberty. But let me give you the reasons why ungodly men take liberty and occasion from the grace of God to serve their sinful lusts and pleasures.
1. Because carnal hearts do assimilate all that they meet with, and turn it into the nourishment of their carnal lusts: as the salt sea turneth the fresh rivers and the sweet showers of heaven into salt waters, so do carnal men pervert the holy principles of the gospel; or as sweet liquors are soon soured in an unclean vessel, so do truths lose their use and efficacy when laid up in a carnal heart, and are quite turned to another purpose.
2. Because they would fain sin securely, et cum privilegio, with a free dispensation from God, and therefore seek by all means to entitle God to the sin, and the sin to God. They would find a great deal of ease from gripes of conscience if they could make God the author, or at least the countenancer, of their evil practices; and therefore when they can rub their guilt upon the gospel, and pretend a liberty by Christ, the design is accomplished. Augustine often taketh notice that the heathens took the most liberty to sin, because their gods were represented as approvers and countenancers of such kind of actions. If men could once make God an approver of sin, and giving leave to satisfy our desires, the design of carnal nature were at an end, and they would be freed of that awe of a divine power which is only left in nature as the check and restraint of sin; and therefore because God 149hath revealed so much of his indulgence to the fallen creature in the gospel, they strive to draw all the passages of it that way, as if God had given leave to sin freely.
3. Because man is obedient naturally no longer than when under impressions of awe and fear; ‘the cords of a man,’ Hosea xi. 4, work little with us; like beasts, we only put forward when we feel the goad. Violent means do more than gentle persuasions and the sweet strains of grace. Usually where we are dealt with in that kind, we ‘wax wanton and kick with the heels,’ Deut. xxxii. 15, as an ass-colt, being suckled and full, kicks her dam in the forehead.
4. Because we all naturally desire liberty, carnal liberty, to be left to our own sway and bent, and therefore we catch at anything that tendeth that way. We would be as gods, lords of our own actions, and so are very apt to dream of an exemption from all kind of law but our own lusts: the seducer’s bait was a ‘promise of liberty,’ 2 Peter ii. 19. We would all be above check and control, and have scope and room for our lusts: Ps. xii. 4, ‘Our lips are our own, who is lord over us?’ We would fain bring it to that, to be at our own dispose, to be answerable to none that should call us to an account. The tumult of the nations against Christ was about bonds and yokes, Ps. ii. 3. The pale or the yoke is grievous to us, see Job xi. 12; Jer. xxxi. 18. Now being so resolved to be free, we are willing to hear of liberty, and apt to abuse whatever sounds to that purpose.
But now let us see how many ways the grace of God may be turned into wantonness; a right knowledge of the evil may be a means to prevent it.
There is a grace dispensed in the way of God’s providence, which may be called the grace of God, and is very liable to abuse: a word of that before I come to the main thing here intended. Thus we find the patience of God often abused; when the Lord keepeth silence in heaven, and doth not presently thunder down vengeance on the heads of sinners, Ps. xxxvi. 2; Zeph. i. 12, we wallow in ease and fleshly delights, and dream of a perpetual happiness, and think we shall do as well as the precisest of them all: Eccles. viii. 11, ‘Because vengeance is not executed speedily, therefore the heart is set in them to do evil.’ Thus doth man’s venomous nature suck poison out of so sweet an attribute as God’s patience. And as God’s patience is abused, so is also his goodness and bounty. When we are full and enjoy plenty we grow wanton, and either despise our mercies, Mal. i. 2, ‘Wherein hast thou loved us?’ or, which is worse, despise God himself, turn back upon the mercy-seat, grow very negligent, cold, and careless in the worship of God; nay, many times the mind is efferated, and grown brutish and insolent both towards God and man: Hosea xiii. 6, ‘According to their pasture so were they filled; they were filled and their heart was exalted, they have forgotten me.’ Men have large pastures and strong lusts, and then God is forgotten; there is not that care of God, that sense of duty, that meekness of spirit; this is growing wanton with God’s goodness. Once more, there is another grace of providence which is apt to be abused, and that is the vouchsafement of ordinances, or the means of grace, in great plenty; a mercy prized when it first cometh among a people, 150but within a little while they grow wanton: 1 Sam. iii. 1, ‘The word of God was precious in those days, for there was no open vision.’ Whilst visions are scarce they are highly prized, but when they are open and public, men begin to grow giddy, cannot be contented with the simplicity of God’s ordinances, but must be fed with ungrounded subtleties and quintessential extracts; when spiritual appetite groweth wanton it is an ill sign, when plain truths will not down, and all things must be carried in an airy, subtle, and notional way; God will have a scourge for such a wanton people.
But let us come closer to the matter in hand. This text speaketh of doctrinal discoveries of grace, of the abuse of the gospel, and the principles thereof. Now it were a hard task to give you an account of all the paralogisms and corrupt inferences which men draw from the gospel; there is no doctrine but, one way or another, a carnal heart is apt to abuse it. The most usual abuses are these:—
1. The doctrine of election is abused; men say they may live as they list; if God hath elected them they shall be saved, and so allow themselves in their careless neglect of the means of salvation. Be not deceived; God, that decreeth the end, decreeth the means: ‘God hath predestinated us to be conformed to the image of his Son.’ Rom. viii. 29; in grace here as well as in glory hereafter.
2. The doctrine of the attributes of God’s mercy and long-suffering. Men will say they are sinners, and so are others; but God is merciful, and so poor, ignorant drunkards, adulterers, and swearers, as they are, they die with this principle in their mouths, God is merciful. But ‘be not deceived; neither fornicators nor adulterers, &c., shall enter into the kingdom of God,’ 1 Cor. vi. 9; so Eph. v. 6, ‘Let no man deceive you with vain words, for because of these things cometh the wrath of God.’ Both these places show there were divers which had such deceitful thoughts, as if living and dying drunkards, adulterers, &c., they should go to heaven. Others abuse the long-suffering of God to their delaying and putting off their repentance, as if, after a long vicious life, provided they could be devote at the last gasp, they should at length be saved, and of a sudden from swine become saints. As many delayed their baptism heretofore, because they would have longer time to sin in, and to walk after their own lusts, and when they were warned of their licentious course, their answer was, Tunc demum a peccatis desistam cum baptizatus ero—when I am baptized I will live otherwise. Thou fool! besides the uncertainty of thy having time or grace to repent, this is a manifest abuse of God’s patience, and will turn to thy greater ruin, Rom. ii. 4, 5.
3. The doctrine of gospel grace is abused many ways. Sometimes to exclude the fear and reverence of God, as if fear were an antiquated grace, suiting only with a legal dispensation: whereas the children of God think the more grace the more fear: Ps. cxxx. 4, ‘There is mercy with thee, therefore thou shouldst be feared;’ and Hosea iii. 5, ‘They shall fear the Lord and his goodness.’ The goodness of God doth not make them presumptuous, but is the greater matter of reverence and holy trembling: fear is so far from being abolished in the gospel that it continueth in heaven, it being an essential and necessary respect from the creature to the creator. Again, it is abused to deny all humiliation 151and sorrow for sins, yea, all confession of sins, as if to be humbled for sins were legal; whereas repentance and all the acts of it is a mere gospel duty; the law knew no such thing, and the truest and most genuine sorrow ariseth from a sense of pardon: Zech. xii. 10, ‘They shall look upon him whom they have pierced, and mourn;’ so Luke vii. 47, that Christian Niobe loved much and wept much, and all be cause much was forgiven. John speaketh to believers, to them that walked in the light, to confess their sins, 1 John i. 9; we cannot have pardon in God’s way till this be done: ‘If we confess,’ &c. It is a condition not for which, but without which, pardon is not obtained; it doth not show the cause, but the order of graces working. Again, sometimes it is abused to the neglecting of circumspection and heed in us. We are preserved in Christ, say they, and therefore we may be careless, and though we cast ourselves upon snares, temptations, and occasions to sin, be confident that God will keep us. The devil sets upon Christ with such a temptation: Mat. iv. 6, ‘Cast thyself down, and he shall give his angels charge over thee,’ Libertines scoff at the niceness and scrupulousness of former professors, that were willing to keep at such a distance from a temptation, as if their strict and exact walking were a fruit of their darkness and legal spiritedness; whereas the apostle maketh it a main property of ‘children of light’ thus to do, Eph. v. 15. So God’s doing all in the covenant of grace is abused to exclude all care of duty, and to keep men in a lazy oscitancy, and gaping for grace without all care or endeavour on our part; whereas God loveth to be met with in his own way, and cometh in with supplies of grace according to our diligence in the use of means; see Mark iv. 34; and as it is abused, to shut out all endeavours after grace, so all actings and operations under grace; as if we were mere logs rather than rational agents, and God so did all that the act of our own faculties were quite abolished or suspended; whereas though the grace be from God, yet the act is ours, for otherwise the faintness and defectiveness of the operation would be chargeable upon him, and the Lord doth so draw us that we have a motion of our own: ‘Draw me and we will run after thee,’ Cant. i. 4. It is he that ‘treads down Satan,’ but ‘under our feet.’ Rom. xvi. 20. The doctrine of Christian liberty, which is one part of the gospel, is abused to exclude the moral law, as a rule of duties to God and man; whereas the apostle saith, I am not ἄνομος, but ἔννομος, ‘not without the law to God, but under the law to Christ,’ 1 Cor. ix. 21. Sometimes it is abused to a living to the height of the creature (as some carnal wretches phrase it), or an immoderate use of carnal comforts; whereas to restrain us in this kind, the scripture forbiddeth licentiousness in the use of the creatures under such terms as do imply the lawful use. See Luke xvii. 27, and Isa. xxii. 13. The things mentioned there are necessary for the supportation of life; but the immoderate use is intended, because they did nothing else but mind these things. He that will do all that he may, will soon do more than he should. The doctrine of spiritual worship, and abolishing the shadows of the law, which is another part of the gospel, is abused to the neglect and contempt of ordinances and acts of solemn worship, as if all were but forms, not suiting with that spirituality unto which they think they 152are called in these days of the gospel; and so constant prayer is laid aside as a form, whereas God calleth for daily worship in this kind, Mat. vi. 11, and making conscience of hearing the word: a form too low for them that pretend to live immediately upon the Spirit; whereas the scripture joineth word and Spirit together, as inseparable in the dispensation, Isa. lix. 21; and the apostle in one verse saith, ‘Despise not prophesying,’ 1 Thes. v. 19; and presently, ver. 20, ‘Quench not the Spirit,’102102 The order of the verses is the reverse of that stated.—ED. implying whosoever doth the one will certainly do the other. So the use of the seals, baptism and the supper, as forms fit for novices; but they are of a more elevated strain, and above these lower helps, enjoying so much in the inward and hidden man; whereas Christ hath enjoined these ordinances for the use of all sorts of Christians till he come again to judge the world. See Mat. xxviii. 20, and 1 Cor. xi. 26. So instructing children a form, though we have express command for it in scripture, Eph. vi. 4. It were easy to rake in this puddle, but this taste may suffice.
Use 1. The use of all is to make us more cautious and wary, that we may not be guilty of this great sin.
1. It is the error of the wicked, 2 Peter iii. 16. It is a black mark to grow the more wanton for mercies, secure for patience, sensual, vain, negligent, careless, because of the free tenders of grace in the gospel; there cannot be a more evident mark of a man in a carnal condition. It is sad when our ‘table is made a snare;’ but it is worse when the very gospel is made a snare, for the better things are, the worse is the abuse, and more dangerous. Look, as it is a mark of the love of God to have ‘all things work together for good to us.’ Rom. viii. 28, so it is an argument of the hatred of God when all things prove a snare, and the very gospel itself, the blessed gospel of the glorious God, is cursed to us. Oh! how sad is their condition.
2. It is a sin against mercy, and those of all others are most dangerous. When you abuse grace, you make grace your enemy; and it is ill for creatures when grace is their enemy, and there is nothing left for them but justice and wrath; justice will take up the quarrel of abused mercy, and, as grace is despised, so wrath taketh place: ‘They treasure up wrath,’ &c., Rom. ii. 4, 5.
3. It is foul ingratitude to turn our mercies into a provocation, to make a calf of our ear-rings, and to serve our lusts of God’s providence; as he said of Adam, that what he received, μέλος, a rib, he returned. .’3eXo?, a dart, alluding to his fall by Eve. So to fight against God with his own weapons, what vile ingratitude is that! See Jer. v. 7; Ezek. vii. 20. To make plenty the fuel of our lusts, what is it but to ‘make God serve with our sins,’ Isa. xliii. 24, and to grow worse for the gospel, black and tawny because the sun of righteousness hath looked upon us? It is as it were to give it out to the world as if he did serve with our sins by his own consent, and we had a license from heaven to do what we do.
4. It is a great grief to the Spirit of God when you abuse grace. You do as it were put your miscarriages upon him, when you call licentious walking Christian liberty, and neglect of duty gospel freedom, and godly sorrow legalism, and strict walking superstitious 153niceness; you do as it were father your bastards upon the Spirit, and entitle the monstrous conceptions and births of your own carnal hearts to his incubation and overshadowing; you think God warranteth you in all this, and that is a high wrong to him which he will avenge in due time; see Ps. 1. 21, 22. I remember the prophet saith, Jer. iv. 10, ‘O Lord! thou hast greatly deceived this people,’ because the false prophets had done it in his name; false doctrines make God to be the deceiver, and these ill consequences drawn from the gospel are in effect charged upon the Spirit, who is the author of it.
Well, then, learn the truth as it is in Jesus, Eph. iv. 21.
[1.] First, make him your teacher; flesh and blood will stumble in God’s plainest ways. We cannot learn any gospel truth of ourselves, but we are apt to pervert it to an ill use.
[2.] Take the whole doctrine together; for it is the truth as it is in Jesus, otherwise it is the truth as it is in the mouth of a false teacher. Half-truth hath filled the world with looseness; when men divide between Christ’s comforts and Christ’s graces, his priesthood and his regality, his benefits and his laws, these partial apprehensions spoil all.
[3.] As to your manner of learning, let it be saving, and such as tends to practice. It is not enough to make Christ our teacher by using his word, and looking for the direction of his Spirit, and to make the whole counsel of God our lesson; but also we must learn to a saving purpose, to put off the old man, to put on the new, and not to store the brain with knowledge so much as the heart with grace; for to this end is the gospel given to us, not for science so much as practice, to make us better rather than wiser and more knowing.
Use 2. Another use is examination, to put us upon trial whether we do not, yea or no, ‘turn the grace of God into wantonness.’ A man may be right in doctrine, and yet the constitution of his spirit may be naught. Again, there may be a fond dotage on the name of Christ, and yet no real respect to him; therefore it behoves us to search how the gospel works with us.
[1.] Are you not the better for the knowledge of it? If you are not the better you are the worse. If you know Christ, and come short of the hour103103 Qu. ‘power’?—ED. of his grace, you know him in vain; you make Christ and the gospel a useless thing. Compare 2 Cor. vi. 1 with Col. i. 6: there is a ‘receiving the grace of God in vain,’ and a ‘knowing the grace of God in truth.’ We receive it in vain when we are nothing the better for it; and we receive it in truth when we feel the sweetness and power of it upon our hearts and consciences. Those that know the grace in truth are the more vigilant, more humble, more holy. They are more diligent, for the grace of God hath a mighty constraint to urge us to duty, 2 Cor. v. 14, 15: more humble, nothing so melting as grace, Zech. xii. 10; unkindness after so much grace as we have received in Christ is the great reason and cause of godly sorrow: more holy, nothing kindles such a rage and indignation against sin as grace doth: Ezra ix. 14, ‘Should we again after such a deliverance,’ &c.; nothing persuadeth by such powerful arguments to the practice of holiness as grace doth; see Titus ii. 11-14. Therefore what are you the better? If it worketh not thus, it is sad.154
2. Are you the worse sensibly for the knowledge of the gospel?
First, Do you grow more careless and neglectful of duties, as if now there were not so much required of you? The gospel never taught you that, but your own corrupt hearts. It is true, the more Christ is preached, the more evangelical a man is in his duties; his heart is taken off more from resting in them, he doth not pitch his hopes upon the tale or number of his duties, and he doth not perform them out of bondage, but more clearly, knowingly, comfortably, as upon gospel grounds; but still he will be performing, as knowing that duties can never have too much of our care, and too little of our trust: in the gospel we have more help, therefore, in all reason, we should perform more work. Well, then, to grow more lazy and less frequent in the worship of God, and the use of the means of grace, the more we are acquainted with God’s grace in Christ, is to abuse grace, which was given us to make us more cheerful, not more slack and negligent.
Secondly, Less circumspect and wary in your conversations; loose walking is an ill sign. Christ himself taught us to ‘enter in at the strait gate, and to walk in the narrow way,’ Mat. vii. 13, 14. When men seek more room and breadth for their lusts, they pervert the end of the gospel, for the gospel only showeth that the greatest sin is pardonable, but the least is not allowable. The world is much for a shorter cut to heaven; but when you have done all, you will find that the good, old, long way is the nearest way home. Still we must ‘make straight steps to our feet;’ mortify lusts, bridle vile affections, and keep close to rule. Sin is the same that ever it was; and the law is the same; and God is as holy, and as much delights in holiness, as ever he did; we therefore must be as strict as ever. It is but a carnal liberty to have leave to be wanton, to be free to sin. Nature is very apt to hear in that ear, see 2 Peter ii. 18, 19, but grace counts it no privilege.
Thirdly, If less humble, still you are guilty. A man committeth sin and findeth no remorse, upon the pretence of God’s free grace in pardoning; this is still the wantonness which ariseth from the abuse of the gospel God’s children never loathe themselves more than upon the remembrance of mercy, Ezek. xxxvi. 31, never melted for sin more than when the warm beams of God’s love thaw their hearts, that they should sin against a pardoning God, a gracious Father, a good Master, &c. Every mercy is a new stab at heart. Christ’s look made Peter weep bitterly; nothing affects them so much as grace.
Obs. 3. The third point is taken from that particle our, τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν. He mentioneth their interest in God to provoke them so much the more to zeal against errors that were so scandalous to his grace. Note that sense of interest in God begets the best zeal for the truths and glory of God. The point consists of two branches:—
1. That interest in God will beget a zeal for God. It troubleth a good man to see any one wronged, much more to see his own relations wronged, most of all to see his God wronged. Can a man profess love to God, and not espouse his quarrel? Friends have all things common, common love and common hatred, wrong the one and the other is not well at ease; so it is in the spiritual friendship between us and God: Ps. lxix. 9, ‘The reproaches of them that reproached thee are 155fallen upon me.’ Injuries done to God and religion will as nearly affect us as those done to our persons. Certainly they that can be silent in the cause of God have little affection to him, and they who are so tender of worldly interests do little value an interest in God: ‘Wisdom is justified of her children,’ Mat. xi. 19. They are bastards and not children that are afraid or ashamed to own their mother’s defence, or can hug those in their bosoms that are enemies to God and his grace: Ps. cxxxix. 21, ‘Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? am not I grieved with them that rise up against thee?’ It is an argument of his sincerity that God and he had the same enemies, that he could find no room in his heart for affection to them that had no affection to God. When we came into covenant with God, we made a league with him offensive and defensive, to count his friends ours and his enemies ours, to hate what he hateth and to love what he loveth; therefore, without breach of covenant we cannot be silent in God’s cause, and friends to the enemies and abusers of his grace.
2. The next branch is, that their zeal who have an interest in God is the best zeal. Now it is the best, partly because it is hottest. They that contest merely for an opinion are not so earnest as they that contend out of affection; as a stranger, seeing a man oppressed, may chide him that did the wrong, but a near relation he will interpose and venture himself in the quarrel; so will one that loveth God sacrifice all his interests for God’s sake. Partly because it is purest. Carnal men may engage in religious controversies, out of passion they may stickle for their own opinion, but this fire is taken from a common hearth, not from the altar; it doth not arise from any love to God, from any inward relish and taste of the sweetness of grace, but only from humour and obstinacy and worldly interest; we may as well be afraid of some men’s zeal against error as of others’ proneness to it. Carnal persons keep a great coil, and fill the world with clamour and rage; but their hearts do not flame with zeal upon a proper interest, and do not carry on things in God’s way.
The use is to inform us of the reason why the spirits of godly men are so keen against such errors as intrench upon the grace of God; why errors about Christ are horrible to them, a very abomination to their thoughts; because thereupon are built all their hopes; and in such matters they have most experiences; therefore their hearts sparkle within them; others feel a cold indifferency, but they a mighty pressure upon their spirits.
I now come to the last part of their description, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Observe their sin, denying. The object, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is here described three ways:—(1.) By his absolute rule and supremacy, δεσπότην μόνον, the only Lord. (2.) By his essence, θεὸν, God. (3.) By his headship over the church, κύριον ἡμῶν, our Lord Jesus Christ.
I shall first vindicate, and then open the words. Divers take the words disjunctively, applying the first clause to the Father, the second to the Son. So Erasmus translateth it, ‘God, who is that only Lord,’ and ‘our Lord Jesus Christ.’ But, as Beza observeth, this is not the first time that he is taken tripping in those places which seem manifestly to assert the Godhead of Christ. Briefly, then, that the whole 156clause is to be understood of Christ may be proved by these arguments:—(1.) Because the parallel place in Peter, from whence this seemeth to be taken, maketh mention only of Jesus Christ, where δεσπότης, the word of absolute sovereignty, is ascribed to him, denying τὸν δεσπότην, the ‘master that bought them,’ 2 Peter ii. 1. (2.) Because to me it seemeth that Jude would lay down all the prerogatives of Christ in his natures, as God, as man; in his relation to the world, so a master; to the church, so a Lord. (3.) By the tenor of the words in the original, where there is no new article to divide them, and therefore all these titles belong to the same person, τὸν μόνον δεσπότην, τὸν θεὸν κύριον ἡμῶν, ἀρνούμενοι. (4.) Many old copies, as Calvin saith, read thus, ‘Denying Christ, who is only God and only Lord,’ (5.) Because the heresy of these times struck at Christ more than God the Father, and only at the Father for Christ’s sake; and therefore John, in his epistles, speaketh often of those that denied Christ. See 1 John ii. 22, and 1 John iv. 3. It is true the school of Simon and some other sects held forth many fabulous things of God, and introduced multitudes of rulers by whom the world was governed; but this was to exclude Christ, and to make void that sovereignty which the scriptures assert to be committed into his hands. The most ancient heresies were those of the Simonians, Menandrians, Saturninians, who denied the person of Christ, affirming Simon Magus to be Christ; and the Valentinians, who denied his human nature, affirming that he brought his substance from heaven, and only passed through the Virgin Mary like water through a conduit. There is but one objection against this exposition, and that is, if it be meant of Christ, then the Father will be excluded from being God, for Christ, according to the sense alleged, is said to be only master, only God, and only Lord. I answer—The expression doth not exclude either of the persons of the Godhead, the Father or the Son, but only the creatures and feigned gods, especially those feigned rulers and governors of the world which the school of Simon and the Nicolaitans introduced under the horrid names of Barbel, Abrakan, and Kavlakan, &c. And indeed such kind of expressions are frequent in scripture, as Isa. xliv. 8, ‘Is there a God beside me? Yea, there is no God, I know not any.’ So Isa. xlv. 5, ‘I am the Lord, there is none else, there is none besides me.’ All which expressions are meant of Christ, as appeareth not only by the titles of Saviour and Redeemer, given to the God that there speaketh, but also by divers passages therein proper to him, yea, by a quotation of the apostle’s. Compare Isa. xlv. 22, 23, with Rom. xiv, 11, and Phil. ii. 10. Again, you shall find like pas sages of God the Father, where he is said to be only true God: John xvii. 3, ‘This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent;’ which is not exclusive of other persons, but of other gods; and the scriptures speak thus because of the unity of the divine essence, which all the persons communicate one with another.
The exposition of the words, now they are vindicated, will be easy. And denying. This is done either openly or covertly: openly when Christ is clearly renounced and opposed; covertly, Christ is denied either by the filthy conversation of Christians, or else by 157heretical insinuations striking at his person and natures at a distance. Both are intended for these seducers. Though they denied Christ, yet they had their pretences and illusions. This Christ whom they denied is described by his relation in the world, the only master or ruler. This word is opposed to their doting conceit of many rulers, between whom the regimen of the world was divided. The next title is θεὸν, Gods. So Christ is called because of his divine nature; and then our Lord. He saith our partly to show that this was the title that he bore in relation to the church, they being his peculiar people by his father’s gift and his own purchase; partly to awaken their zeal by a consideration of the interest which they had in this Lord thus denied; and then the other word, Lord, is proper to Christ’s mediatorship. See 1 Cor. viii. 5. There remaineth but Christ’s name, Jesus Christ. The word Jesus is opened, Mat. i. 21: ‘Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins;’ and it implieth here that Christ’s Lordship shall be administered for the salvation of the church. The other word, Christ, signifieth anointed, which noteth his designation from God to be king, priest, and prophet. I do thus particularly open the terms, because I suppose the apostle’s scope is to give us a sum of the Christian doctrine concerning the person, natures, and offices of Jesus Christ, all which were one way or other impugned by the seducers of that age.
The points that might be drawn hence are many; for a taste take these:—
Obs. 1. That Jesus Christ is master and Lord, δεσπότης καὶ κύριος, ‘king of nations,’ Jer. x. 7; and ‘king of saints,’ Rev. xv. 3; or, as the apostle in one place, ‘Head over all things to the church,’ Eph. i. 22. He is over all things, supreme and absolute; but the Church’s head, from whom they receive all manner of influence. He hath a rod of iron to rule the nations, and a golden sceptre to guide the church. In the world he ruleth by his providences, in the church by his testimonies, Ps. xciii., per totum. In the world, the attribute manifested is power; in the church, grace. Well, then, here is comfort to God’s people, your Lord is the world’s master: ‘Let the waves roar, the Lord reigneth,’ Ps. xciii. You need not fear, he is not only Lord to protect you, but master of them that rise up against you. Again, who would not choose him to be a Lord, when, whether we will or no, he is our master, and bow the knee to him that will else break the back, and touch his golden sceptre lest we be broken with his rod of iron, and take hold of his strength by faith lest we feel it in displeasure? Lord, let me feel the efficacy of thy grace, rather than the power of thine anger!
Obs. 2. Observe again, that Christ is Lord and Jesus; he came to rule, and he came to save. I shall handle these two titles—(1.) Conjunctly; and then, (2.) Singly and apart.
1. Conjunctly: ‘Let all Israel know that God hath made this Jesus, whom ye have crucified, Lord and Christ,’ Acts ii. 36. It is usual to observe in Christ’s style and title a mixture of words of power and words of goodness and mercy: see Isa. ix. 6, et alibi passim. Now for what end? Partly to show that he is a desirable friend, and a dreadful adversary: partly to set forth the mystery of his person, in whom the two natures did meet: partly to show that he is not good 158out of impotency and weakness; if we pardon and do good it is out of need. God is strong enough to revenge, but gracious enough to save and pardon. Power maketh us cruel: ‘Who findeth his enemy and slayeth him not?’ If we forbear, it is out of policy, not out of pity. ‘The sons of Zeruiah’ may be ‘too hard for us,’ but Christ, who is the great Lord, he also is Jesus; he hath the greatest power, and the greatest mercy; mighty, but yet a Saviour. Partly to show how we should receive him; we should not only come to him for ease, but take his yoke, Mat. xi. 28, 29. Give him your hearts as well as your consciences; if Christ save, let not sin lord it. What a pitiful thing it is when men would have Christ to redeem them, and Satan to rule and govern them! Οὐ θέλομεν τοῦτον βασιλεῦσαι, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us,’ Luke xix. 14. There the business sticks: ‘The carnal mind is enmity to the law.’ Rom. viii. Lusts cannot endure to hear of a restraint, and therefore we oppose most Christ’s nomothetic power; like angry dogs we gnaw the chain. The language of every carnal heart is, ‘Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?’ Ps. xii. 4. To be controlled for every word, every thought, every action, we cannot endure it. Oh! consider Christ hath many enemies, but they are his chief enemies that do withstand his reigning: Luke xix. 27, ‘Those mine enemies, that would not that I should reign over them,’ &c.
2. Let us handle these two titles singly and apart.
[1.] He is Lord: Acts x. 36, ‘Jesus Christ, he is Lord of all.’ As he is God he hath the same glory with the Father; as mediator there is a dominion that results from his office; for so he is the ‘heir of all things,’ the head of all creatures, and king of the church, and at the last day the judge of all men. But he is chiefly a Lord because of his heritage in the church; a Lord over his own people, who are ‘given to him for a possession’ by God the Father, Ps. ii. 8, and ‘bought with his own blood,’ Acts xx. 28; and taken into a marriage covenant with him, Eph. v. 25-27. And as Sarah called her husband lord, so must the church own Christ for Lord and husband. Well, then, let us acknowledge the dominion of Christ; let him be Lord alone in his own house; let us yield subjection and obedience to him; let us beware of depriving him of that honour to which he hath so good a right. You will say, Who are those that deny Christ his Lordship? I answer:—
(1.) They that will not hear his voice, that slight his calls. He inviteth them and prayeth them that they will look into their hearts, consider their eternal condition, but they quench the Spirit, smother light, resist all these motions; these will not hear Christ’s voice. He entreateth, prayeth, that we will come and put our souls under his government; and we in effect say, ‘We are lords, and will not come at thee,’ Jer. ii. 31. We are well enough, and shall do well enough without any such care and strictness.
(2.) They that cannot endure his restraints: Jer. xxxi. 18, ‘Thou art as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke.’ They cannot endure to hear of denying their fashions, their lusts, their pleasures, their vain thoughts, when every thought and every desire must be under a law; so much time spent in duties, such gravity in the conversation, such 159 awe in their speeches; they break off like a wanton heifer. Vain and licentious spirits will not be yoked and clogged thus: Mal. i. 14, ‘What a weariness is it!’ Sacrifice upon sacrifice! such waiting upon God! they cannot endure it. Man is compared to ‘a wild ass’s colt,’ not only for grossness of conceit, but for untamedness and wildness, Job xi. 12. We would roam abroad without restraint.
(3.) They are given up to strong and inordinate desires of liberty; when men quarrel at duties rather than practise them, think it a kind of happiness to be free, and that there is no freedom but in sinning, and following the bent and sway of their own hearts, are all for breaking bands, and dissolving cords, Ps. ii. 4.
(4.) These are bewrayed by a proud contempt and obstinacy against instruction and reproof: Jer. v. 5, ‘I will go to the great men and speak to them; but these have altogether burst the yoke, and broken the bands.’ They had cast off all respect and obedience to God: Jer. xiii. 15, ‘Hear, give ear, be not proud,’ &c.; so Heb. xiii. 22, ‘Suffer the words of exhortation,’ &c. Some spirits are impatient, and recoil with the more violence upon a reproof, and storm and vex, which argueth much unsubjection of heart to Christ.
[2.] He is Jesus, which signifieth a Saviour. Now Christ is a Saviour positively as well as privately; he giveth us spiritual blessings, as well as freedom from misery; John iii. 17, that they should ‘not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Again he is a Saviour not only by way of deliverance, but by way of prevention; he doth not only break the snare, but keep our feet from falling; he is as a shepherd to lead the flock, as well as a physician to heal the diseased. We do not take notice of preventive mercies, and yet prevention is better than escape. Again, he is a Saviour by merit and by power; for he hath not only to do with God, but with Satan. God is to be satisfied, and Satan overcome; and therefore he rescueth us out of the hands of Satan, and redeemeth us out of the hands of God’s justice. To rescue a condemned malefactor, and take him by force out of the executioner’s hands, is not enough; the judge also must be satisfied, and pass a pardon, or the man is not safe: Christ ‘hath pulled us out of the power of darkness,’ Col. i. 13, and in him the Father is ‘well pleased,’ Mat. iii. 17. There needeth also power to work upon our hearts, as well as merit to satisfy God. Before his exaltation he redeemed us, then he deserved it; and therefore it is said, ‘We have salvation by his death,’ 1 Thes. v. 9. After his exaltation he worketh it, and so we are ‘saved by his life,’ Rom. v. 10. So that living and dying he is ours, that living and dying we may be his: we have the power of his exaltation as well as the merit of his humiliation. Once more, he saveth us not only for awhile, but for ever; and therefore it is called an ‘eternal salvation,’ Heb. v. 9; not only from temporal misery, but from hell and damnation; not only the body is saved, but the soul; and the soul not only from hell, but the fear of hell, Heb. ii. 14, from the fear as well as the hurt, from despair and want of hope as well as from the misery itself. Yet, again, he saveth us not only from the evils after sin, but the evil of sin: Mat. i. 21, ‘He shall save his people from their sins;’ there is the chiefest part of his salvation. He doth not only save us in part, but saves us 160 ‘to the uttermost,’ Heb. vii. 25. He giveth us life, and all things necessary to life. Well, then:—
First, Bless God for Jesus Christ, that he took the cure of our salvation into his own hands; he would not trust an angel, none was fit for it: Isa. lix., ‘I looked and there was no Saviour, therefore mine own arm wrought out salvation.’ There are poor creatures like to perish for want of a Saviour; I will go down and help them; as Jonah, when he saw the tempest, ‘Cast me into the sea.’ So when we had raised a tempest, Cast me in, saith Christ, ‘Lo, I am come to do thy will.’
Secondly, Get an interest in Christ: Luke i. 47, ‘My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour,’ Interest is the true ground of comfort and rejoicing. What must we do to get this interest? I answer:—
1. Reject all other Saviours: Acts iv. 12, ‘There is salvation in no other.’ Nothing could save Noah and his family but the ark; if they had devised ships, they would not hold out against the deluge. Especially take heed of making Christ of self, setting up thy own merit, or thy own power; the one in effect renounceth his humiliation, the other his exaltation. Christ came to ‘save that which was lost;’ the sinking disciples cried out, ‘Master, save us, we perish.’ It is long ere God bringeth us to this: till you are lost, why should you make choice of a Saviour? Swimming is not a thing that can be practised ashore or on firm land: till we are brought into distress we will never look for a Saviour.
2. Be earnest with God for an interest, and for the manifestation of it: Ps. xxxv. 3, ‘Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.’ When the soul hath chosen God, Lam. iii. 24, ‘The Lord is my portion, saith my soul;’ I will have no other Saviour, but I will desire the Lord to ratify it by his consent: ‘I am thy salvation. 5 Those that would make use of Christ’s salvation in a temporal way pressed on him, untiled the house to come at him; so should we force ourselves upon him by a holy boldness.
Obs. 3. Again, from the words observe, the Son of God was Christ, that he might be Lord and Jesus; anointed of the Father that he might accomplish our salvations. This anointing signifieth two things:—
1. The quality and kind of his office.
2. The authority upon which it was founded.
First, It noteth the nature of his offices. Under the Old Testament three sort of persons were anointed—kings, priests, and prophets, and all these relations doth Christ sustain to the church. Men that were to be saved lay under a threefold necessity—ignorance, distance from God, and inability to return to him. Suitably Christ a prophet to show us our misery, a priest to provide a remedy, a king to instate us in that remedy; therefore according to these three offices doth the scripture use words in describing the benefits we have by Christ: John xiv. 6, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ Christ is the way as a priest, for by his oblation and intercession we have the boldness to come to God; the truth as a prophet, the life as a king: take life either for the royal donatives of grace or glory. So 1 Cor. i. 30, ‘He is made to use wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.’ 161We are ignorant foolish creatures, therefore Christ is made to us wisdom as a prophet; we are guilty creatures, and therefore righteousness as a priest; sinful creatures, therefore sanctification; miserable creatures, liable to death and hell, therefore redemption, and both these as a king. It was necessary that the way of our salvation should be opened, effected, and applied; therefore did Christ first come from heaven as a prophet to preach the gospel; and then offer up himself through the eternal Spirit as a priest; and, last of all, seize upon the mediatorial throne as king of the church. Well, then, if our blindness and ignorance troubleth us, let us make use of Christ’s prophetical office, that he may teach us the whole counsel of God; if we are haunted by troubles, and the accusations of our own conscience, let us sprinkle our hearts with the blood of our high priest, that they may be pacified; if we have any desire to be granted, let us make use of his intercession; if we be discouraged by our own weakness, and the power of our spiritual enemies, let us run for protection to our king, through whom the saints are more than conquerors.
Secondly, It noteth the authority upon which his office is founded; he was anointed thereto by God the Father, who in the work of redemption is represented as the offended party and supreme judge; and so it is a great comfort to us that Christ is a mediator of God’s choosing. When Moses interposed of his own accord, he was refused: ‘Blot me out of thy book;’ No, saith the Lord, ‘the soul that sinneth, him will I blot out of my book.’ But now Jesus Christ took not this honour upon him, but was called of God thereunto; it was the will of the Father: so that when we come to God, though we cannot say, He is mine, yet we can say, Lord, he is thine; a Saviour of thy setting up, thou hast authorised him, and wilt own thine own way, &c.
Obs. 4. Once more, observe, which indeed is a point that lieth full in the eye of the text, that Jesus Christ, the master of the world and Lord of the church, is true God. For it is said here, denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. It would seem a strange thing that I should go about to prove the Godhead of Christ, were not blasphemy grown so common, and appearing abroad with so bold a forehead. Heretofore it was a grievous abomination to the children of God when such a thought rushed into their minds; but now some promote it as a settled opinion. It is Satan’s policy to loosen a corner stone, though he cannot wholly pull it out; he striveth all that he can to make the main articles of religion seem at least questionable. But Christians, be not shaken in mind; the foundation of the Lord standeth sure. I confess I should wholly omit such disputes; in fundamental articles, we should not allow a scruple: ‘Thou shalt not inquire after their gods,’ Deut. xii. 30. But when such conceits are not only satanical injections, but men’s settled opinions, it is good to establish the heart in such principles as this is. That Christ is God appeareth by express scripture, where he is called ‘the true God,’ 1 John v. 20; ‘the great God,’ Titus ii, 13, to show that he is not a God inferior to the Father, but equal in power and glory, and that not by courtesy and grant, but by nature. So he is called ‘the mighty God, the everlasting Father,’ Isa. ix. 6, and ‘God over all.’ Rom. ix. 5; proofs so evident and pregnant that they need no illustration. And that he is a 162God equal to the Father appeareth also by express texts of scripture: Phil. ii. 6, ‘He was in the form of God, and thought it no robbery to be equal with God;’ and Col. ii. 9, ‘In him dwelleth the fulness of the Godhead bodily.’ The saints are ‘made partakers of the divine nature,’ 2 Peter i. 4, but in him the whole Godhead dwelt personally, and all this was no usurpation of another’s right. The Jews would have stoned him ‘because he said God was his father, making himself equal with God;’ therefore he meant it not in an ordinary sense, and indeed if he be a God, he is a God by nature, for ‘God will not give his glory to another.’ Again, God he must needs be, if you consider the work he ought to do. The work of the mediator could be dispatched by no inferior agent. As prophet, he was to be greater than all other prophets and apostles; for the great doctor of the church ought to be authentic, a lawgiver from whose sentence there is no ap peal: ‘A lord in his own house,’ Heb. iii. 6; one to whom Moses was but a servant, for to him he gave the law, Heb. xii. 26. One that is to be a fountain of wisdom to all the elect, 1 Cor. i. 30; one that must not only teach, but give eyes to see, and ears to hear, and a heart to learn. Consider him as a king; a finite power cannot break the force of enemies, pour out the Spirit, raise the dead, bestow grace and glory, and become an original fountain of life to all the elect. All these things are proper to God, the glory which he will not give to another. Consider him as a priest; and there are two acts, oblation and intercession, and still you will find that he must be God. For his oblation, he must be one that could offer up himself, Heb. ix. 14, and therefore must have ‘power’ over his own life, John x. 28, ‘to lay it down and take it up;’ which no creature hath. And he must offer himself ‘one for all,’ 2 Cor. v. 15; the person that suffered was to be infinite, as good and better than all theirs that should have suffered; as they said to David, ‘thou art better than a thousand of us;’ and this suffering was to be but once. Now, the wages of sin are eternal death; some thing there must be to compensate the eternity of the punishment, and nothing could counterpoise eternity but the infiniteness and excellency of Christ’s person, as a payment in gold taketh up less room than a payment in silver, but the value is as much. It was necessary that he should overcome the punishment, for if we were always suffering, we could have no assurance that God were satisfied. And the end was to expiate sin; nothing but an infinite good could remedy so great an evil. The person wronged is infinite, so is the person suffering. And then his death was not only to be a ransom, but a price; not only ἀντίλυτρον, but ἀντάλλαγμα. A surety to an ordinary creditor payeth the debt, and freeth the debtor from bonds. Christ was to bring us into grace and favour with God, and to merit heaven for us. Now for the other act of his priesthood, his intercession: so he was to know our persons and our wants and necessities, as the high priest had the names of the twelve tribes on his breast and shoulders, Exod. xxviii. 12, 29. And then he is to negotiate with God in the behalf of all believers, and to dispatch blessings suitable to their state: and who can do this but God, who knoweth the heart and trieth the reins? In short, to be a fit intercessor for all the elect, he is to know our needs, thoughts, sins, prayers, desires, purposes, and to wait on our business day and night, 163that wrath may not break out upon us; so that his work as mediator showeth him to be God.
Uses. Well, then, we learn hence:—
1. That Christ is a proper object for faith. Faith is built on God, 1 Peter i. 21, and Christ is God; and therefore his merit was sufficient to redeem the church, which is therefore said to be ‘purchased by the blood of God,’ Acts xx. 28. This maketh him able to sanctify us, and purge us, for his blood was ‘offered through the eternal Spirit,’ Heb. ix. 14. As God he knoweth our wants; for as to his divine nature he knoweth all things; and then he hath a human nature that hath had experience of them. He is able, as God, to give in the supplies of the Spirit, to save to the uttermost, Heb. vii. 25. God manifested in our flesh is a firm basis for faith and comfort.
2. Since he was God by nature, let us observe the love of Christ in becoming man. Men show their love to one another when they hang their picture about their neck. What did Christ when he took our nature? To see the great God in the form of a servant, or hanging upon the cross, how wonderful! ‘God manifested in our flesh’ is a mystery fit for the speculation of angels, 1 Tim. iii. 16, with 1 Peter, i. 11; it would have seemed a blasphemy for us to have thought it, to have desired it. Among the friars, they count it a mighty honour done to their order if a great prince, when he is weary of the world, cometh among them, and taketh their habit, and dieth in their habit. Certainly it is a mighty honour to mankind that Christ took our nature, and died in our nature, and that he was ‘made sin,’ ‘made man,’ ‘made a curse.’ Let us desire to be made partakers of his nature, as he was of ours. This is our preferment, to ‘be partakers of the divine nature,’ 2 Peter i. 4, as this was his abasement. The sun of righteousness went backward, there was the miracle; and let us use ourselves more honourably for the time to come, that we may not defile that nature which the Son of God assumed.
3. It is an invitation to press us to come to Christ, and by Christ to God. The great work of the ministers is like that of Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, to seek a match for our master’s son. Our way to win you is to tell you what he is; he is God-man in one person; he is man, that you may not be afraid of him; God, that he may be sufficient to do you good;’ the Lord of lords,’ ‘King of kings,’ the ‘heir of all things,’ the ‘Saviour of the world;’ ‘this is your beloved, ye daughters of Jerusalem.’ He knoweth your wants, is able to supply them, though you are unworthy. Come, he needeth no portion with you; we can bring nothing to him, he hath enough in himself; as Esther, the poor virgin, had garments out of the king’s wardrobe, Esther ii. 12, and the perfumes and odours given her on the king’s cost. Therefore come to him; it is danger to neglect him: ‘See that ye refuse not him that speaketh from heaven,’ Heb. xii. 25. It is God wooeth you; he will take you with nothing, he is all-sufficient; you bringing him nothing but all-necessity, he will protect you, maintain you, give you a dowry as large as heart can wish. Therefore leave not till you come to ‘I am my beloved’s, and he is mine.’
Obs. 5. I come now to the word implying their guilt, ἀρνούμενοι, denying. Observe, that it is a horrible impiety to deny the Lord 164Jesus; when he would make these seducers odious, he giveth them, this character. Now Christ is many ways denied. I shall refer them to two heads—in opinion and practice.
1. In opinion: so Christ is denied when men deny his natures or offices. (1.) His natures, his deity or humanity,—as those ancient and wicked heretics, Ebion and Cerinthus; and that is the reason why John beginneth his Gospel (which was last written) with a description of his Godhead, and is so zealous against them in his epistles; as also Jude and Peter. Ebion, Cerinthus, and Carpocrates, and others, held he was begotten as others are, by the help of a man. Manes held the Son of God to be a part of his Father’s substance. Saturnius, Basilides, Cordion, with others, denied the humanity of Christ, saying he only appeared in the shape of a man. Samosatanus held God was not otherwise in Christ than in the prophets. Eutyches held there was in Christ but one nature, which was made up of the commixture of his flesh with his divinity, as water is mixed with wine. Nestorius would give him two personalities, because he had two natures. The Marcionites affirmed Christ suffered not really, but in show. Thus you see how busy the devil hath been, and always is, about this main article. (2.) His offices of king, priest, and prophet have been denied by none, as I remember, but yet often made void and of none effect. Antichristianism is perfectly the evacuating of Christ’s offices. The Papists set up head against head, which is the spirit of antichristianism. They make void his priestly office by indulgences, purgatory, doctrine of merit; his prophetical office by doctrines of men and unwritten traditions. So Socinians make void his priesthood by denying his satisfaction; and Papists make void the other act of his priesthood by setting up mediators of intercession, &c.
2. Christ is denied in practice; and so—(1.) By apostasy and total revolt from him: Mat. x. 33, ‘Whosoever shall deny me before men,’ &c. None sin as apostates do; for they do as it were, after trial, and upon deliberate judgment, acknowledge the devil the better master; they first forsook Satan, and then came to Christ, and then they go back again from Christ to Satan; and so do, as it were, tell the world, that with him is the best service; and therefore it ‘were better they had never known the way of righteousness,’ &c., 2 Peter ii. 21. (2.) By not professing Christ in evil times, for not to profess is to deny: see Mat. x. 32, 33, and Mark viii. 38, in an age when men prove disloyal in the duty of the covenant, called there an ‘adulterous generation.’ Some are ashamed for fear of disgrace, as well as afraid for fear of danger to own Christ, and the ways best pleasing to him; this is to deny him. (3.) Men deny Christ when they profess him, and walk unworthily and dishonourably to their profession. Actions are the best image of men’s thoughts. Now their actions give their profession the lie: Titus, i. 16, ‘They profess they know God, and in works they deny him.’ So 1 Tim. v. 8, ‘If any provide not for his own house, he hath denied the faith;’ that is, done an act incompatible with the Christian faith, of which he maketh profession; which is interpretativè—a denying the faith. For the more clear opening of this, consider these propositions:—165
[1.] An empty profession of Christ is not enough; now Christ is everywhere received, it is easy to profess his name. To be a Christian in heart and conscience was far more easy to them in the primitive times than to be so in name and profession, the powers of the world being against that way; whereas the difficulty on our part lieth in being Christians in heart: it is no disgrace now to be a Christian outwardly; that opposition and scorn which was then cast upon Christianity would now be cast upon Judaism, or Turcism, or Paganism. The winds blow out of another corner, and that which was their discouragement may be our motive, to wit, the countenance of civil powers; all advantages lie this way. If in Christ’s time they followed him for the loaves, John vi. 26, now they may much more. Quandoquidem panis Christi jam pinguis factus est, saith Gilbert;104104 Gilbert in Cant.tractatur in conciliis, disceptatur in judiciis, disputatur in scholis, cantatur in ecclesiis, quaestuosa res est nomen Christi—the world is well altered since the first flight of Christianity abroad; the kings and princes and wise men of the world were then against it, everywhere was it hooted at as a novel and improbable doctrine; but since, by long prescription of time, it hath gotten esteem in the world, and is made the public profession of nations, and kings and princes have brought their glory into the church, now Christ is handled in councils, disputed of in the schools, and preached of in the assemblies, so that the general profession of Christianity is a matter of no thanks. It is easy to be good where there is nothing to draw us to the contrary; and therefore, when Christ cometh to judgment, paganism and loose profession of Christianity shall fare alike; for loose Christians are but pagans under a Christian name; see Jer. ix. 25, 26, ‘The days shall come that I will punish all them that are uncircumcised with them that are circumcised; Egypt, and Judah, and Edom, and the children of Ammon and Moab; for these nations are uncircumcised in flesh, and the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.’ It is no advantage to bear God’s mark in our bodies, and to have no fruit of it in our souls; this is but to clothe ourselves with the leaves of the vine without partaking the sap. What difference is there between those who, in a loose Christian profession, are addicted to luxury, wantonness, quarrel ling, prodigious lusts, and the votaries or worshippers of Mars, Venus, Bacchus, and Priapus? Only the one appear in their own colours, and show what they are, and the other, though they are as low and brutish in their practices, pretend to a higher name, even to the sacred and excellent name of Christians. Alas! your ‘circumcision shall be reckoned uncircumcision.’ Rom. ii. 25, when you have not the fruit of it.
[2.] Profession of Christianity without answerable practice maketh us in worse case than a heathen that is ignorant of Christ and salvation by him; see 1 Tim. v. 8, ‘He is worse than an infidel,’ Poor pagans are not so well enlightened, instructed, and acquainted with such rich and glorious mercy, with ‘the great things of eternity,’ with the assistances of God the Spirit; they have not such rules as we have, nor such advantages as we have, nor such obligations as we have, nor such encouragements as we have. If a man on horseback 166cometh slower than a man on foot, we blame him the more, because he had more help. So are carnal Christians in worse case than the heathen, because God may justly expect more from them. To be brought up in a prince’s court, and to be still of rude and servile conditions, is worse in them than in those that follow the plough all days of their lives. So to be trained up in the courts of Christ, and to come short of the heathens in morality and strictness of conversation, it will be worse taken of us than of those that never heard of Christ. The more we profess the truth the more we condemn ourselves in our evil practices, and therefore must needs be worse than heathens; for we practise that by voluntary choice and perverse inclination which they practise by education, they know little better; so that the more excellent the religion is which we profess, the more vile and base is our disobedience; for our profession will be a sore witness against us, that we knew better and had encouragements to do better; we justify the heathen, but we condemn ourselves, as Israel justified Sodom, Ezek. xvi. 51, but by her profession so much the more disproved her own carriage, see ver. 63. Time will come when you will wish you had ‘never known the way of righteousness;’ and as Job cursed the day of his birth, so will you the memory of that day wherein you were added to the church.
[3.] Profession accompanied with some rash and fond affection to Christ is not enough to acquit us from denying him. Many in a heat and humour will be ready to die for their God, and yet deny him ordinarily in their lives. As a quarrelling ruffian will stand up for the honour of his father, who yet, by his debauched courses, is the very grief of his heart; it may be he wisheth his death to enjoy the inheritance, yet if any other should speak a disgraceful word of him, he is up in arms presently, and ready to fight with him. So some men pretend much affection to their religion, and are ready to stab him that shall question it, or to venture their own lives in the quarrel, and yet none do this religion so great a despite and dishonour as they do themselves by their ungodly conversations. The apostle supposeth that some may ‘give their bodies to be burned ‘that have not charity, 1 Cor. xiii. 3, for all this ado is not for their religion, but their humour. If their religion were rightly understood they would not endure it, because it altogether disproveth such practices as they delight in; and all that they do is no more than they would do for an idol, if they were born there where idols are worshipped. The blasphemies of a pagan or an open enemy to religion do not touch Christ so near in point of honour as the scandalous behaviour of a Christian; when Pagans declaim against him, it is but the malice of an enemy. Dogs will bark, it is their kind; but your disobedience to his laws and unsuitable carriages doth far more dishonour, and represent him as an ulcerous Christ to the world; because you pretend so much affection to him, and can live in such a fashion, you would be taken for his greatest friends, and so in effect you make the world believe that he doth approve your doings.
[4.] Christ may be denied, though there be a stricter profession of his name, and some faint love and relish of his sweetness. Besides the loose national profession of Christianity which God, in a wise providence, 167ordaineth for the greater safety and preservation of his church, there may be a strict personal profession, taken up from inward conviction, and some taste and feeling, and yet Christ may be denied for all this, as some that had ‘tasted the good word,’ turned aside to the world, and so are said to ‘crucify him’ rather than to profess him, Heb. vi. 4-6. The apostle intendeth some Hebrews that did mix Moses with Christ and Judaism to save their goods. So elsewhere he speaketh of some that ‘had a form of godliness, but denied the power thereof,’ 2 Tim. iii. 5; by the form, meaning the strictest garb of religion then in fashion. This is to deny Christ, when we deny the virtue and power of that religion which he hath established, and will not suffer it to enter upon our hearts.
[5.] The means to discover false profession is to observe how we take it up, and how we carry it on; whether we embrace it upon undue grounds, or match it with unconsonant practices.
(1.) We embrace it upon undue grounds if we take it up merely upon tradition, without a sight of that distinct worth and excellency which is in our religion, for then our religion is but a happy mistake, the stumbling of blind zeal upon a good object; and all the difference between you and pagans is but the advantage of your birth and education. Standing upon a higher ground doth not make a man taller than another of the same growth and stature that standeth lower; their stature is the same, though their standing be not the same. So you are no better than pagans, only you have the advantage of being born within the pale, and in such a country where the Christian religion is professed. You do according to the trade of Israel, 2 Chron. xvii. 4, and live κατ᾽ αἰῶνα, as the fashion of your country will carry it, Eph. ii. 2; and as beasts follow the track, so you take up that religion which is entailed upon you.
(2.) If we match it with unsuitable practices. These may be known, if we do consider what is most excellent in the Christian religion. Elsewhere105105 See my comment on James i. 18. I have showed that the glory of the Christian religion lieth in three things—in excellency of rewards, purity of precepts, and sureness of principles of trust.
First, In the fulness of the reward, which is the eternal enjoyment of God in Christ; therefore they that do not make it their first and chief care to ‘seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness,’ Mat. vi. 33, that are like swine, in preferring the swill of carnal pleasures before communion with God, or, in the scripture expression, ‘Love pleasures more than God,’ or prefer the profits of the world before everlasting happiness, they whose lives are full of epicurism, atheism, worldliness, it is not a pin to those whether they be pagans or Christians; for, acting thus heathenishly, thus brutishly, they do but pollute that sacred and worthy name.
Secondly, The perfection of the precepts, which require a full conformity of the whole man to the will of God. More particularly, Christian precepts are remarkable for purity and charity: for purity, and therefore ‘revellings and banquetings and chambering’ are made to be customs of the Gentiles, 1 Peter iv. 3, things abhorrent from the Christian religion; they that are yokeless, and live according to the swing 168of their own lusts, or else that only fashion the outward man, make no conscience of thoughts, lusts, &c.; they do not live as Christians. For charity: nothing is more pressed than giving;106106 Therefore a merciless disposition is made a denying the faith, 1 Tim. v. 8. it was Christ’s maxim ‘It is better to give than to receive,’ Acts xx. 35. And also forgiving: one great strain of his sermon is love to enemies, Mat. v. 43-48. Christ, when he brought from heaven the discovery of such a strange love from God to man, would settle a wonderful love on earth between man and man.
Thirdly, For sureness of principles of trust; the whole scripture aimeth at this, to settle a trust in God, and therefore it discovereth so much of God’s mercy, of his particular providence, of the contrivance of salvation in and by Christ; so that to be ‘without hope,’ is to be like a Gentile, for they are described to be men ‘without hope,’ 1 Thes. iv. 13; and carking and distrustful care is made the sin of the Gentiles, Mat. vi. 31, 32: this kind of solicitude is for them that know not God, or deny his providence over particular things.
Well, then, take heed of denying Christ; it is a heavy sin, it cost Peter bitter sorrow, Mat. xxvi. 75. Will you ‘deny Christ that bought you’? 2 Peter ii. 1. Now they deny Christ, whose hopes and comforts are only in this world; Christ is not their God, but their belly, Phil. iii. 19. Libertines are not disciples of Christ, but votaries of Priapus. Merciless and revengeful men do condemn that religion which they do profess. In short, they do not only deny Christ that question his natures or make void his offices, but they that despise his laws, when they do not walk answerably, or walk contrary.
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