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We have done with the preface. I come now to the examples by which the apostle proveth the danger of defection from the faith. The first is taken from the murmuring Israelites; the second from the apostate angels; the third from the beastly Sodomites. That you may see how apposite and apt for the apostle’s purpose these instances are, I shall first insist upon some general observations.
Obs. 1. First observe that God’s ancient judgments were ordained to be our warnings and examples. The Bible is nothing but a book of precedents, wherein the Lord would give the world a document or copy of his providence: ‘All these things are happened to them for examples,’ 1 Cor. x. 11. When we blow off the dust from these old experiences, we may read much of the counsel of God in them; their destruction should be our caution. His justice is the same that ever it was, and his power is the same, his vigour is not abated with years: ‘God is but one,’ Gal. iii. 20; that is, always the same, without change and variation, as ready to take vengeance of the transgressors of the law as of old; for that is the point there discussed. So 2 Tim. ii. 13, ‘He abideth faithful; he cannot deny himself.’ In all the changes of the world, God is not changed, but is where he was at first. Surely we should tremble more when we consider the examples of those that have felt his justice; for God keepeth a proportion in all his dispensations. If he were strict, and holy, and just, then he is strict, and 169holy, and just now. He that struck Ananias and Sapphira dead in the place for a lie, that made Zacharias dumb for unbelief, that kept Moses out of the land of promise for a few unadvised words, that turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt for looking back, is the same God still, not a jot altered: his judgments may be more spiritual, but then more terrible.
Again, answerable practices make us partakers of their guilt, and therefore involve us in their punishment. Imitation is an evidence of approbation. A man may have more sins charged upon him than those committed in his own person; you are partakers of their evil deeds that lived before you, if you do as they did. It may be the memory of those that formerly fell under the weight of God’s displeasure is execrable to you, yet your walking in the same course is a sign that you like their practices, and therefore you must expect their judgments with advantage and usury: Mat. xxiii. 35, ‘That upon you may come all the righteous blood that was shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Barachiah, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.’ Why upon them? and how did they slay him? No doubt the memory of Cain was accursed among the Jews, but they ‘walked in the way of Cain,’ and so were to receive Cain’s judgment with advantage. No doubt the memory of the murderers of Zechariah the prophet was hateful to them, but they continued prophet-killing and prophet-hating, and therefore did implicitly approve his murder, and so are said to slay him. Jude 11, it is said, ‘These perished in the gainsaying of Korah.’ How can that be, when they were not as yet born? These seducers lived long after, but following them in their sin, in their ruin they had a sure pledge of their own destruction. When we see others fall into a deep pit, and yet will adventure the same way, as we sin the worse, so our judgment will be the greater.
Uses. Well, then, let us make every instance of the word a warning, and apply it for our use; it is excellent when we read the scriptures with a spirit of application. In the miscarriage of others we have experience at a cheap rate; and in their misery we have as sure a proof of the evil of sin, though not as costly, as if we had felt it ourselves.
Again, when wicked men flourish, be not dismayed. How hath God judged sinners of like kind? What say your scripture precedents? ‘I went into the sanctuary; there I understood their end,’ Ps. lxxiii. 17.
Again, it showeth how vain their conceit is, that God will not deal so severely with us if we continue in our sins as he hath done with others in former times when the scriptures were written. God’s judgments, I confess, are more spiritual, but every way as severe to them that continue in their sins; heretofore they were smitten with death, now with deadness. Nadab and Abihu were quickly dispatched for their unhallowed approaches to God in worship, Lev. x. 3, &c.; many come now that do not sanctify God in their hearts: their judgment is more spiritual, the ordinances which should quicken, harden them. Bears devoured the children that mocked the prophet, 2 Kings ii. 23-25: many sit taunting by the walls that are not torn in pieces by 170bears, but they are posting to hell apace; tarry but a little while, and God will ‘tear them in pieces, and there shall be none to deliver,’ Ps. 1. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were swallowed up quick, Num. xvi.; the earth cleaves to receive them that made a cleft in the congregation: many act as tumultuously as they, and no doubt their day is coming. Lot’s wife, whose heart hankered after her possessions, was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, Gen. xix. They that revert, and, after they are embarked with Christ, run ashore again as soon as they see a storm a-coming, shall have their reward in due time.
Obs. 2. The next thing which I observe in these instances is, the impartiality of divine justice; for in all the examples brought, there are some circumstances upon which others would expect an exemption from wrath; as the interest of the Israelites, they were God’s own people; the dignity of the angels, they were as it were fellows of God and courtiers of heaven; the beauty and excellency of the country of Sodom: and in all the instances ye may observe the judgments fell on multitudes and societies, or collective bodies. All the murmuring Israelites, all the apostate angels, all the inhabitants of the four cities. Observe then—(1.) That no outward privilege can avail us in the day of wrath, and so God’s justice knoweth no relations. He ‘spared not Christ.’ Rom. viii. 32; he ‘spared not the angels,’ 2 Peter ii. 4; he spared not his people of Israel, &c. (2.) None have a privilege to sin, and therefore none are exempted from punishment; the law includeth all, the son, the servant, them that sit on the throne, and those that grind at the mill, none have a license from heaven and a privilege to sin above others. (3.) Wicked men do not spare God, and therefore God doth not spare them. They abuse his justice, his mercy; they spare not his glory, his laws; and as they are impartial in sinning, no restraints withhold them, so God is impartial in punishing.
Uses. Lean not then upon these reeds. When wrath maketh inquisition for sinners, outward privileges are of no use; it is happy for them alone that are ‘found in Christ,’ Phil. iii. The avenger of blood had nothing to do with the manslayer in the city of refuge; when God is about to strike, none but Christ can hold the blow. See the vanity of other things. (1.) Outward profession is nothing, your ‘circumcision becometh uncircumcision.’ God disclaimeth interest in a sinful people: ‘Thy people which thou hast brought out of the land of Egypt,’ saith God to Moses, when they had corrupted themselves, in scorn and disdain, Exod. xxxii. 7. Thy people; he will not own them for his sheep, Deut. xxxii. 5. (2.) No dignity can exempt us; the angels were cast down to places of darkness. Dignity doth not lessen but aggravate sin; where much is given, much is owed, and much will be required: ‘Tophet is prepared for kings, for princes is it prepared.’ (3.) Not outward excellency, as the pleasant land of Sodom. The disciples thought ‘the goodly buildings of the temple ‘would move Christ to pity, Luke xxi. 5, 6, but Christ telleth them, ‘not one stone should be left upon another.’ Saul was checked for sparing the best. Justice is not dazzled with outward splendour. The Lord threateneth to ‘punish the dainty daughters of Zion with a scab,’ Isa. iii. 17, &c. 171(4.) Not any society or multitudes of men. He ‘spared not the old world,’ 2 Peter ii. 5. No leagues and combinations can maintain your cause against God: ‘Though the wicked go hand in hand, they shall not escape unpunished,’ Prov. xi. 21. Briars and thorns may be intricated, and enfolded one within another, but when a devouring flame cometh amongst them, they do not hinder but increase the burning. Universal evils are above man’s punishment, but not God’s. There is no safety in ‘following a multitude to do evil.’ So that nothing will serve as a fit screen to interpose between wrath and you, but only Christ.
Obs. 3. I observe that, in all these instances there was some preceding mercy more or less. The angels had the dignity of their nature; the Israelites had the testimony of God’s presence, and were delivered out of Egypt; the Sodomites had eternal107107 Qu. ‘external’?—ED. blessings, and the preaching of Lot, Gen. xix. 9. It is God’s usual course to give a people a taste of his mercy ere he discover the power of his anger. Judgment is his last work: there is some mercy abused before it cometh, which doth abundantly clear God in the judgments that come upon the sons of men. Their ruin may be sad, but never undeserved. ‘God hath not left himself without a witness,’ but we are left ‘without excuse.’
Obs. 4. Once more I observe, that in all these instances God had still a care to put a distinction between the just and the unjust; the race of Israel was not destroyed, but only ‘them that believed not.’ The good angels were preserved, the bad only fell from their first estate. Sodom perished in the flames, but Lot escaped. When the multitude is so corrupt, that we know not how they shall be punished and the rest preserved, let us think of these instances, let us refer it to God: ‘He knoweth,’ &c., 2 Peter ii. 9.
I come now to the words; in which you have a preface, and the first instance of God’s judgment, which was on the unbelieving Israelites. In the preface you may take notice of his purpose, I will put you in remembrance; his insinuation, though ye once know this.
I begin with the first part, his purpose, I will put you in remembrance. From thence observe:—
Obs. 1, That it is a great part of a minister’s duty to be a remembrancer. We are remembrancers in a double sense:—(1.) From the people to God, to put God in mind of his people’s wants; so it is said, Isa. lxii. 6, ‘Ye that are the Lord’s remembrancers.’ Christ is the church’s advocate, but we are the church’s solicitors, to represent the sad condition of the church to God. (2.) From God to the people; and so we are to put them in mind of the being of God, the riches of his grace, the necessity of obedience, the preciousness of their souls, the many dangers that lie in their way to heaven, &c. These are standing dishes at Christ’s table. That this is a great part of our office appeareth by those places:—1 Tim. iv. 6, ‘If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ.’ And Paul, speaking of his apostleship, saith, Rom. xv. 15, ‘As one that putteth you in remembrance, through the 172grace given to me;’ see 2 Tim. ii. 14; Titus iii. 1; 2 Peter i. 12-14; iii. 1. So there are two psalms that bear that title, A Psalm of David to bring to remembrance, Ps. xxxviii. and lxx. The great use of sacraments is to put us in remembrance of Christ, 1 Cor. xi. 24. Yea, one great employment of the Spirit is to ‘bring things to our remembrance,’ John xiv. 26; all which intimateth (1st.) Our forgetfulness and incogitancy. Truths formerly understood are soon forgotten, or not duly considered and kept in the view of conscience. (2d.) The benefit of a good memory. A bad memory is the cause of all mischief, but a lively remembrance of truth keepeth the mind in a good frame. (3d.) That however it be with natural, yet spiritual knowledge is a reminiscence, or reviving the seeds infused in the new creation, 1 Cor. xv. 2; Heb. xii. 5. (4th.) That a minister dischargeth his duty when he teacheth his people things vulgar and already known, as well as those which are rare and less known: if he be but a remembrancer it is enough; we are to ‘bring forth things both new and old.’ We count him a wanton prodigal that only furnisheth his table with rarities, neglecting wholesome meats because they are usual. (5th.) The necessity of a standing ministry, if not to instruct, yet to keep things in remembrance. Because the most necessary truths are few and soon learned, men presently begin to think they know as much as can be taught them, and so neglect ordinances; whereas one great use of the ministry is to keep truths fresh and savoury in the thoughts and memory. The heathen soon lost the knowledge of God, because they were without a public monitor that might keep this knowledge still on foot. The sound of the trumpet infuseth a new courage, so doth every sermon beget new affections, though we knew the truths delivered before. Coals will die without continual blowing; so will graces languish without often warnings and admonitions.
The next thing in the preface is the insinuation, though ye once knew this. That word once needeth to be explained. His meaning is not that formerly they had known, but now forgotten it; neither is once to be referred to ὑπομνῆσαι, as if the sense were, I will once put you in remembrance; but by once is meant once for all; that is, ye have certainly and irrecoverably received this as a truth. This clause will yield us these notes.
Obs. 2. That it is the duty of every Christian to be acquainted with the scriptures; the apostle presumeth it of these Christians to whom he wrote. Now this is necessary in regard of ourselves, that we may know the solid grounds of our own comfort; every man would look over his charter: ‘Search the scriptures, for in them ye think to have eternal life,’ John v. 39. Particular and distinct scriptures are a great advantage in temptations. Sic scriptum est is Christ’s own argument against Satan, Mat. iv. No Christians so unsettled in point of comfort or opinion as those that are ‘unskilful in the word,’ Heb. v. 13. In regard of others, it is necessary that we may discharge our duty to them; ‘Let the word dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another,’ &c., Col. iii. 16. None but full vessels will run over, Job xxxii. 18. Ignorant Christians are barren and sapless in discourse; private Christians must be ‘full of knowledge;’ not only to 173have knowledge enough to bring themselves to heaven, but to ‘admonish others,’ see Rom. xv. 14. Well, then, do not put off this care to others, as if it were proper only to scholars and men of a public calling; this is every man’s work that hath a soul to be saved. It is Popish ignorance to be contented with an implicit belief; you may best trust your own eyes. When the sun shineth, every man openeth his windows to let it in. We busy ourselves in other books, why not in the word? Austin was pleased with Tully’s Hortensius, but he cast it away because he could not find the name of Christ there. It is the description of a godly man, ‘His delight is in the law of God, and in his law doth he exercise himself day and night,’ Ps. i. 2. These are the chaste delights of a child of God, not in playbooks and idle son nets; how many sacrilegious hours do most spend in these trifles! Good books should not keep us from the scriptures; water is sweetest in the fountain. Luther professeth that he could wish all his books forgotten and utterly laid aside, rather than that they should keep men from reading the scriptures themselves.108108 Luth. in Gen. xix. Christians, study the word more, that you may have promises, doctrines, examples ready and more familiar with you; to be ignorant in a knowing age is an argument of much negligence, Heb. v. 14. Now religion is made every one’s discourse, will you alone be a stranger in Israel? As the many helps call upon us to study the word more, so the many errors which are abroad: all error cometh from unskilfulness in the scriptures: Mat. xxii. 29, ‘Ye err, not knowing the scriptures;’ in the dark a man may soon lose his way.
To cure this mischief, let me press you:—
1. To read the scriptures in your families; set up this ordinance among other parts of worship there—it is a family exercise—that your children may be trained up in them, 2 Tim. iii. 15. It is a good closet exercise for your own private instruction, none of you are in too high a form; the prophets ‘searched them diligently,’ 1 Peter i. 11, 12.
2. Read them with profit, so as you may understand them, and apply the doctrines and examples you meet with there. Ask thy soul, ‘Understandest thou what thou readest?’ Acts viii. 30, or as Paul, Rom. viii. 31, ‘What shall we say to these things?’ The scriptures are not to be read for delight, but for spiritual profit and use.
3. In cases of difficulty use all holy means; pray to God, the Spirit is the best interpreter; pray before, pray after, as you do for food. If God answer not at first, ‘Cry for knowledge, lift up thy voice for understanding.’ Call in the helps which God hath given, many private helps of commentaries; but above all, ‘despise not prophesying.’ Consult with the officers and guides of the church, Eph. iv. 14, Mal. ii. 7.
Obs. 3. Observe again, that those truths which we understand already, they had need be pressed again, and revived upon us; see 1 John ii. 21. Our knowledge is but weak, the eye of the mind is opened by degrees; our memories are weak, and commands must be repeated to a forgetful servant; our affections are slow, not easily wrought up to the love of good things. When the wedge will not enter with one blow, we follow it home with blow upon blow. Well, 174then, we say—(1.) Repetitions are lawful for you; it is a sure thing, Phil. iii. 1. Christ in the Gospels, and Paul in the Epistles, do often repeat the same passages. Till you be affected with them we must inculcate necessary principles again and again: ‘God speaketh once, yea, twice, when men regard it not,’ Job xxxiii. 14. Consider men are dull to conceive, ‘slow of heart to believe.’ The way to pierce the hard stone is by often dropping: apt to forget heavenly truths: leaky vessels must be filled again, Heb. ii. 1. We must repeat, to make shame more stirring: ‘Peter was troubled when Christ said the third time, Lovest thou me?’ John xxi. 17. Let this which hath been said prevent censure; look upon it as a providence when the same truth or sermon is presented again: Surely I have not meditated enough of this truth, I am not enough affected with it, therefore the Lord hath again brought it to my thoughts, or there is some new temptation that I shall meet with, that I may find the need of this old truth, &c. (2.) That it is a spiritual disease, a surfeit of manna, when men must still be fed with new things; no truths are too plain for our mouths, or too stale for your ears; the itch of novelty puts men upon ungrounded subtleties, and that maketh way for error or hardness of heart. Though you hear nothing but what you are acquainted with, be content; they were carnal people that complained they had nothing but the ‘old burden,’ Jer. xxiii. 33, 34. Take heed of the Athenian itch, many times it argueth guilt: we cannot endure to have an old sore rubbed again; as Peter was troubled when Christ spake to him the third time, as I noted before, that his apostasy should once more be revived. (3.) It may justify two duties of great use—meditation and repetition in our families. (1st.) Meditation, for it is good to remember truths that we do already know. ‘Once hath God spoken, and twice have I heard it,’ Ps. lxii. 11. We should go over and over it again in our thoughts. First we learn, and then we meditate; study findeth out a truth, and meditation improveth it; as first the meat is taken in, and then the digestion is afterwards. Conscience preacheth over the sermon again to the heart; while the thing is new it doth more exercise study than meditation; but when we have once learned it, then our thoughts should work upon it; for meditation is the improvement of a known truth. (2d.) Repetition in our families; let them hear it again and again, the third blow may make the nail go. If people were humble and sober, they would have new and fresh thoughts every time a truth is revived upon them. At first hearing many are lost through the wandering and distraction of our thoughts, things which upon the review may be brought to hand again; at least youth and children must have ‘line upon line,’ as when they learn to write, the same letters and the same copy are written over again and again, till the figure of them be formed in their fancies.
I have done with the preface; I come now to the first instance produced, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.—τὸν λαὸν. The term is of an honourable use in this place—the people—for the peculiar people of God; the holy and elect nation, that had the law and the covenants of promise. This people, after they were ‘delivered,’ and that by so great and solemn a deliverance as that ‘out of the land of 175Egypt,’ were afterwards ‘destroyed;’ so that it is ill standing upon privileges. Though many of them to whom the apostle wrote had renounced Gentilism, and were (as it were) come out of Egypt, and made God’s people by visible profession; yet, after all this, they might be destroyed in case of disproportionate practice or disobedience to God in that profession. Of Israel’s destruction, see Num. xiv. 37; 1 Cor. x. 10. Libertine Christians shall share as bad as obstinate Jews, that is the drift of his argument.
Obs. 1. From this clause observe, that after great mercies, there do usually follow great judgments, if great sins come between: as after their deliverance out of Egypt they were destroyed for unbelief. This may be proved from Christ’s advice to the man cured on the Sabbath-day: John v. 14, ‘Thou art made whole, sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.’ There is the mercy, the duty thence inferred, and the judgment that doth avenge the quarrel of the abused mercy. Often it cometh to pass that many men’s preservation is but a reservation to a worse thing, to a greater judgment. So see Josh. xxiv. 20, ‘He will turn again, and do you hurt, after he hath done you good.’ So Isa. lxiii. 10, ‘He bore them (in the arms of his providence), but they rebelled and vexed his spirit, and he was turned to be their enemy.’ None usually have greater judgments than such as formerly have had sweet experience of mercy. Why? There is no hatred so great as that which ariseth out of the corruption of love. Disappointed love, abused love groweth outrageous. When Amnon hated Tamar, it is said, ‘The hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he loved her.’ As it is thus with men, such a proportionable severity we may observe in the dispensations of God after a taste of his mercies: Josh, xxiii. 15, ‘It shall come to pass, as all good things are come upon you, which the Lord your God promised you, so the Lord shall bring all evil things upon you, until he hath destroyed you, when ye have transgressed the covenant of the Lord your God.’ No evils like those evils which come after mercy. No sins are so great as those sins which are committed against mercies; there is not only filthiness in them, but unkindness: Ps. cvi. 7, ‘They provoked him at the sea, even at the Red Sea.’ Mark, it is ingeminated for the more vehemency, that at the sea, even at the Red Sea, where they had seen the miracles of the Lord, and had experience of his glorious deliverance, that there they durst break out against God. See the contrary in Judges ii. 7. Certainly the more restraints, the greater the offence, when we sin not only against the laws of God, but the loves of God, &c.
Well, then—(1.) It informeth us that there may be danger after deliverance; there are strange changes in providence: ‘Man in his best estate is altogether vanity,’ Ps. xxxix. 5. When you are at your best, as the sun at the highest, there may be a declension.
(2.) It is a warning to those that enjoy mercies: ‘Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto you.’ The next judgment will be more violent. There are some special sins which you should beware of, even those which testify our unthankfulness after the receipt of mercies. As (1st.) forgetting the vows of our misery. Jacob voweth, Gen. xxviii. 22, but he forgets his vow, and what followed? Horrible disorders 176and confusions in his family: Dinah deflowered, Reuben goeth into his father’s bed, a murder committed upon the Shechemites under a pretence of religion, and then Jacob remembereth his vow. We promise much when we want deliverance, and when we have it, God is neglected; but he will not put it up so; by sad and disastrous accidents he puts us in mind of our old promises. (2d.) When you ‘kiss your own hand, bless your drag,’ ascribe it to your merit and power, Hab. i. 16, Deut. ix. 4, for these things are our mercies blasted. (3d.) When we grow proud, self-confident: if you were never so high, God will bring you low enough; it is a great skill to ‘know how to abound.’ ‘She remembered not her last end, therefore she came down wonderfully,’ Lam. i. 9. When we forget the changes and mutations to which all outward things are obnoxious, God will give us an experience of them. (4th.) When you continue in your sins, the judgment is but gone cum ammo revertendi, to come again in a worse manner. See Ps. cvi. 43.
Obs. 2. The next observation is taken from the cause of their destruction, intimated in those words, that believed not. Many were the people’s sins in the wilderness, murmuring, fornication, rebellion, &c. But the apostle comprehendeth all under this, they believed not. Unbelief is charged upon them as the root of all their miscarriages elsewhere, as Num. xiv. 11, and Deut. i. 32. Whence observe, that unbelief bringeth destruction, or is the cause of all the evil which we do or suffer.
In handling this point, I shall open—(1.) The heinousness of unbelief; (2.) The nature of it; (3.) The cure of it.
1. The heinousness of the sin. That we will consider in general, or more particularly. The general considerations are these:—
[1.] No sin doth dishonour God so much as unbelief doth. It is an interpretative blasphemy, a calling into question of his mercy, power, justice, but especially of his truth: 1 John v. 10, ‘He that believeth not God, hath made him a liar.’ You judge him a person not fit to be credited. The giving of the lie is accounted the greatest injury and disgrace amongst men; for truth is the ground of commerce and human society. So that to say a man is a liar is as much as to say a man is unfit to keep company with men. But especially is this a great injury to God, because he standeth more upon his word than upon any other part of his name: Ps. cxxxviii. 2, ‘He hath magnified his word above all his name.’ We have more experience of God in making good his word than in any other thing. As faith honoureth God, so doth unbelief dishonour him. What God doth to the creature, that doth faith to God. God justifieth, sanctifieth, glorifieth the creature, and faith is said to ‘justify God,’ Luke vii. 29. To justify is to acquit from accusation. So doth faith acquit God’s truth in the word from all the jealousies which the carnal world and our carnal hearts do cast upon him. Faith is said to ‘sanctify God,’ Num. xx. 12. To sanctify is to set apart from common use; and God is sanctified when we set God aloof, above all ordinary and common causes, and can believe that he will make good his word, when the course of all things seems to contradict it. Faith is said to ‘glorify God.’ Rom. iv. 20. We glorify him declaratively when we give him all that excellency 177which the word giveth him. Now, because unbelief accuseth God, limiteth him to the course of second causes, and denieth him his glory, therefore is it so heinous and hateful to God.
[2.] It is a sin against which God hath declared most of his displeasure. Search the annals, survey all the monuments of time, see if ever God spared an unbeliever. Hence in the wilderness the apostle saith they were destroyed for unbelief. Many were their sins in the wilderness, murmurings, lustings, idolatry; but the main reason of their punishment was, ‘they believed not,’ Look to their final excision and cutting off. Why was it? Δἱ ἁπιστίας ‘for unbelief were they broken off.’ Rom. xi. 20; not so much for ‘crucifying the Lord of life.’ The gospel was tendered to them after Christ was slain. It was for not believing or refusing the gospel. If you will know what company there is in hell, that catalogue will inform you, ‘Fearful, and unbelievers,’ &c., Rev. xxi. 8. If you look to temporal judgments, that nobleman was trodden to death for distrusting God’s power, 2 Kings viii. 2, and could only see the plenty, but not taste of it. Nay, it is such a sin as God hath not spared in his own children. Moses and Aaron could not enter into the land of promise because of their unbelief, Num. xx. 12. So Luke i. 20, Zacharias was struck dumb for not believing what God had revealed. Christ did never chide his disciples so much for anything as for their unbelief: Luke xxiv. 25, ‘O ye fools, and slow of heart to believe;’ and ‘why doubt ye, O ye of little faith?’ Mat. viii. 26. He chideth them before he chideth the wind. The storm first began in their own hearts.
[3.] It is the mother of all sin.109109 ‘Qualitas malae vitae initium habet ab infidelitate.’—Aug. The first sin was the fruit of unbelief. We may plainly observe a faltering of assent, Gen. iii. 3-5; and still it is the ground of all miscarriages, of hardness of heart, and apostasy, Heb. iii. 12, 13. He that believeth not the judgments and threatenings of the word will not stick to do any evil; and he that doth not believe the promises will not be forward to any good. All our neglect and coldness in holy duties cometh from the weakness of our faith. There is a decay at the root. Did we believe heaven and things to come, we should be more earnest and zealous. Many are ashamed of adultery, theft, murder, but not of unbelief, which is the mother of all these.
[4.] Final unbelief is an undoubted evidence of reprobation. See John x. 26, ‘Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep;’ and Acts xiii. 48. Unbelief is God’s prison, wherein he keepeth the reprobate world: Rom. xi. 32, ‘He hath shut them up under unbelief,’ &c. And shall I continue such a black note upon myself? I know not how soon God may cut me off; and if I die in this estate, I am miserable for ever: ‘Lord, I desire to believe; help my unbelief.’
[5.] It is a sin that depriveth us of much good, of the comforts of providence. Nothing doth ponere obicem, bar and shut out God’s operation in order to our relief, so much as this sin: Mark vi. 5, ‘He could do no mighty work,’ &c. So John xi. 40, ‘Said I not unto thee, if thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God?’ So also of the comfort of ordinances: Heb. iv. 2, ‘The word profited not, be cause it was not mixed with faith in them that heard it.’ So for 178prayer, James i. 7-9. Nay, it barreth heaven’s gates. It excluded Adam out of paradise, the Israelites out of Canaan, and us out of the kingdom of heaven, Heb. iii. 17, 18.
Well, then, let us see if we be guilty of this sin: ‘Take heed,’ saith the apostle, Heb. iii. 12, ‘lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief.’ Many have an unbelieving heart when they least think of it. It is easy to declaim against it, but hard to convince men of it, either of the sin or of lying in a state of unbelief; it is the Spirit’s work, ‘The Spirit shall convince of sin, because they believe not in me,’ John xvi. 9. There are many pretences by which men excuse themselves, some more gross, others more subtle. Many think that all infidels are without the pale, among Turks and heathens. Alas! many, too many, are to be found in the very bosom of the church. The Israelites were God’s own people, and yet ‘destroyed because they believed not.’ Others think none are unbelievers but those that are given up to the violences and horrors of despair, and do grossly reject or refuse the comforts of the gospel; but they are mistaken; the whole word is the object of faith, the commandments and threatenings as well as the promises; and carelessness and neglect of the comforts of the gospel is un belief, as well as doubts and despairing fears: Mat. xxii. 5, ‘But they made light of it.’ He is the worst unbeliever that scorns and slighteth the tenders of God’s grace in Christ as things wherein he is not concerned. Briefly, then, men may make a general profession of the name of Christ, as the Turks do of Mahomet, because it is the religion professed there where they are born; a man may take up the opinions of a Christian country, and not be a whit better than Turks, Jews, or infidels; as he is not the taller of stature that walketh in a higher walk than others do. They may understand their religion, and be able to ‘give a reason of the hope that is in them,’ and yet lie under the power of unbelief for all that, as many may see countries in a map which they never enter into. The devil hath knowledge, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know,’ &c. And those that pretend to knowledge without answer able practice, do but give themselves the lie, 1 John ii. 29. Besides knowledge there may be assent, and yet unbelief still. The devils assent as well as know; they ‘believe there is one God,’ James ii., and it is not a naked and inefficacious assent, but such as causeth horrors and tremblings. They ‘believe and tremble;’ and they do not only believe that one article, that there is one God, but other articles also: ‘Jesus, thou Son of God, art thou come to torment me before my time?’ was the devil’s speech; where there is an acknowledging of Christ, and him as the Son of God and judge of the world, and increase of their torment at the last day upon his sentence. Assent is necessary, but not sufficient; laws are not sufficiently owned when they are believed to be the king’s laws; there is something to be done as well as believed. In the primitive times, assent was more than it is now, and yet then an inactive assent was never allowed to pass for faith. Confident resting on Christ for salvation, if it be not a resting according to the word, will not serve the turn; there were some that ‘leaned upon the Lord,’ Micah iii. 11, whom he disclaimeth. It is a mistaken Christ they rest upon, and upon him by a mistaken faith. It is a mistaken Christ, for the true Christ is the eternal Son of God, that was born of 179a virgin, and died at Jerusalem, ‘Bearing our sins in his body upon a tree, that we, being dead unto sin, might be alive unto righteousness,’ 1 Peter ii. 24. The true Christ is one that ‘gave himself for us, that he might purify us to be a peculiar people, zealous of good works,’ and is now gone into heaven, there to make intercession for us, and will come again from heaven in a glorious manner to take an account of our works, Titus ii. 13, 14. But now when men lie under the power and reign of their sins, and yet pretend to rest upon Christ for salvation, they set up another Christ than the word holdeth forth. And as the Christ is mistaken, so is the faith. It is not an idle trust, but such as is effectual to purge the heart, for the true ‘faith purifieth the heart,’ Acts xv. 9. If, besides profession, knowledge, assent, and a loose trust, they should pretend to assurance, or to a strong conceit that Christ died for them, and they shall certainly go to heaven, this will not excuse them from unbelief; this is πρῶτον ψεῦδος, the grand mistake, that the strength of faith lieth in a strong persuasion of the goodness of our condition, and the stronger the persuasion the better the faith. If this were true, hardness of heart would make the best faith, and he that could presume most, and be most secure and free from doubts, would be the truest believer, and the goodness of our condition would lie in the strength of our imagination and conceit. Alas! many make full account they shall go to heaven that shall never come there. The foolish virgins were very confident, and the foolish builder goeth on with the building, never suspecting the foundation. Nay, let me tell you, assurance of a good condition, as long as we lie under the power and reign of sin, is the greatest unbelief in the world, for it is to believe the flat contrary to that which God hath revealed in the word; therefore none abuse the Lord and question his truth so much as these do. Where hath God said that men that live in their sins shall be saved? Nay, he hath expressly said the contrary, ‘Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor idolaters,’ &c., 1 Cor. vi. 9; so that you give God the lie, or conceit that he will break his word for your sakes; nay, in a sense, you even dare him to make good his truth. He hath said, ‘Be not deceived; you shall never enter,’ &c., and you say, Though I am an adulterer, a drunkard, a worldling, I shall go to heaven for all that. Now in a little while you shall see whose word shall stand, God’s or yours, Jer. xliv. 28.
Once more, the word is not supposed to be without all kind of power. Men may have some ‘relish of good things,’ and some ‘experience of the powers of the world to come,’ and yet be in an un believing state: see Heb. vi. 5, where the apostle speaketh of a common work, opposed to τὰ ἐχόμενα τῆς σωτηρίας, to ‘things that do accompany salvation,’ ver 9, or have salvation necessarily annexed to them. They may have some feeling of the power of the truth, and yet afterwards make defection, out of a love to the world and worldly things; they may have many spiritual gifts, change their outward conversation, make a glorious profession, and be thereupon enrolled among the saints; yea, be of great use and service in the church, though for their own ends and interests, remaining all this while unrenewed, and having their worldly inclinations to honour, esteem, pleasure, profit, unbroken and unmortified; for there is no such enemy 180to faith as a carnal, worldly heart. Therefore let men pretend what they will, when they are as eager upon the world as if they had no other matters to mind, and the love of outward greatness doth sway with them more than the love of heaven, and the praise of men more than the approbation of God, and carnal ease and pleasure more than delight in God, how can they be said to believe? John v. 44; for such kind of lusts and earthly affections are inconsistent with the power and vigour of saving faith; therefore till the bent of the heart be towards heavenly things, and carnal affections be soundly mortified, unbelief reigneth. I pitch it upon this evidence, partly because the great drift of conversion is to draw off the soul, as from self to Christ, and from sin to holiness, so from the world to heaven. See 1 Peter i. 3, ‘Begotten to a lively hope;’ and 1 John v. 4, ‘He that is born of God overcometh the world;’ as soon as we are converted, the heart is drawn and set towards heavenly things; partly because the main thing to be believed, next to God’s being, is his bounty, Heb. xi. 6, that we may make God our rewarder; and partly because the main work of faith is to draw off the soul from sensible things to ‘things unseen,’ and to come, Heb. xi. 1; so that whatsoever glorious profession men make, or whatsoever service they perform in the church, or whatsoever experience they have in the enlargement of gifts, yet if they be careless of things to come, and eager after the things of the world, faith is not thoroughly planted; for a main thing wanting in these temporaries was a resolution to serve God for God’s sake, or to make him their paymaster, which can never be till carnal inclinations to the honours, pleasures, and profits of the world be subdued, and we are willing to lay down all these things at Christ’s feet, taking only so much as he shall fairly allow us for our use.
Thus much for the heinousness of unbelief in the general.
Secondly, Let me tell you that all unbelief is not alike heinous, as will appear by these considerations.
[1.] Total reigning unbelief is a black mark; such as lie under it are in the high way to hell: John iii. 18, ‘He that believeth not is condemned already;’ the law hath condemned him, and whilst he remaineth in that estate, the gospel yieldeth him no hope: John iii. 36, ‘The wrath of God abideth on him;’ and if he die in it, he is miserable for ever. Rev. xxi. 8, ‘Fearful and unbelievers ‘are reckoned among the inhabitants of hell. First he is condemned by that ancient sentence, that ‘whosoever sinneth shall die;’ which is not reversed, but standeth in full force till faith in Christ: John viii. 24, ‘If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.’ And if we continue refusing the counsels of the gospel, to the condemnation that is already, to the condemnation of the law, there is added a new condemnation for despising the gospel. But now partial unbelief, where faith prevaileth, though there be many doubts and fears, leaveth a man obnoxious to temporal judgments, but not to eternal ruin.
[2.] All unbelief is the more heinous the more means you have to the contrary, as counsels, warnings, promises clearly held forth: see John xv. 22, ‘If I had not spoken to them,’ &c., and John iii. 19, ‘Light is come into the world,’ &c. The word is preached εἰς μαρτύριον, for a witness, Mat. xxiv. 14, with Mark xiii. 9; first to them, 181and if not received, then against them. ‘Did not I warn you?’ saith Reuben to his brethren. Every offer and warning will be as so many swords in your consciences. One observeth well,110110 Despaigne on the Creed. that twice Christ marvelled, once at the unbelief of his countrymen the Galileans, that had so much means, Mark vi. 8, and another time at the faith of the centurion, a stranger, Mat. viii. 10, who had so little means. It is a thing to be marvelled at, that a people should have so much means and profit but little. Wonder is a thing that proceedeth from ignorance, and Christ, though not ignorant, yet would express all human affections; and the rather that we might look upon it as a strange and uncomely thing not to believe after so many helps vouchsafed to us.
[3.] The more experiences, comforts, evidences, and manifestations of God’s power and presence we have had, the greater the unbelief. This was that which provoked the Lord against Israel to destroy them in the wilderness: Num. xiv. 11, ‘How long will it be ere ye believe in me, for all the signs that I have showed?’ God traineth up his people by experience, that they may know what he can or will do for them; and therefore by every experience we should grow up into a greater courage and strength of faith, and as David, draw inferences of hope against the present danger from the lion and the bear, 1 Sam. xvii. 36, or as Paul, he hath, and doth, and therefore will, 2 Cor. i. 10, other wise these experiences are given in vain. Christ was angry with his disciples for not remembering the miracle of the loaves, Mat. xvi. 9, when they were in a like strait again. When we show a child a letter here, and the same letter again in another word, and the same again in a third, if he should be to seek when we show him again the same letter in the next word, we are angry, and think our teaching lost. So when God giveth an evidence of his power and care in this strait, and, in a condescension to our weakness, giveth us a like evidence again, and in a third strait he teacheth us how to read and apply a promise, and yet upon the next difficulty we are to seek again, God is angry with us, because his condescensions are lost. And in this sense God is more angry with the unbelief of his children than of others, because they have more experiences, and are so ready to distrust him that never failed them.
[4.] The more deliberate our unbelief is, the worse. In times of inconsiderate passion, and in a fit of temptation, it may break out from God’s children. David, when he spake in haste, was fain to eat his words: Ps. cxvi. 11, ‘I said in my haste all men are liars;’ Samuel, and all who had told him of the kingdom; I shall never live to see the promise fulfilled: so Ps. xxxi. 22, ‘I said in my haste, I am cut off; nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications,’ In a fit, discontent may break out, but it is presently opposed and checked; but when it groweth into a settled distemper, then it is worse: as that in Ps. lxxiii. was a more lasting temptation; therefore David calleth himself beast, ver. 22, for his foolish and brutish thoughts of providence.
[5.] Where unbelief is expressed and put into words, there it is more heinous. Unbelieving thoughts are a great evil, but when they 182break out into murmurings and bold expostulations, with or against God, then they are worse. It is better to keep the temptation within doors, that, if the fire be kindled, the sparks may not fly abroad to enkindle others; you grieve God by your thoughts, but you dishonour and disparage him when they break out into words: Mal. iii. 13, ‘Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord.’ It is a greater daring to avow openly and publish our suspicions of God, and discontents against him: Deut. i. 34, ‘The Lord heard the voice of your words, and was wroth, saying, Not one of these shall enter my rest.’ Others may be perverted, and make ill use of our infirmities.
[6.] Where there are professions to the contrary, there the unbelief is the worse: ‘After these things do the Gentiles seek,’ Mat. vi. 32. Christians are not only instructed to do better, but profess to do other wise. Distrust is a pagan sin; you are acquainted with a particular providence, with a heavenly Father, with the happiness of another world, and for you to be worldly, distrustful, to make it your business what you shall eat and drink, that is a most unworthy thing: for a professed infidel that believeth not eternity, that never heard of God’s fatherly care, nor of heaven or hell, to be altogether in the world, this were no such marvel; but for you, that profess to believe the gospel, to have your hearts fail and sink upon every occasion, and to be under the tyranny of distracting cares, how sad is it!
Thus much for the heinousness of unbelief, which I was willing to represent thus at large, that you might see what just reason there was that God should destroy those in the wilderness that believed not.
2. The next thing is to open the nature of it. I shall here give—(1.) The kinds; (2.) The notes whereby this sin may be discovered.
For the kinds of it, unbelief is twofold—negative and positive.
1. Negative unbelief is found in those to whom the sound of the gospel never came, or to whom God hath denied the means whereby faith might be wrought in them. The want of means is not their sin, but their punishment, or misery at least; and therefore they are not condemned so much for want of faith in Christ, as for not obeying the law of nature, for sinning against that knowledge which they received in Adam. Now they never received the light of the gospel in Adam, neither had Adam the knowledge thereof revealed to him, but by special grace after the fall ‘when he stood in the quality of a private person, then was the promise of the woman’s seed revealed to him. Therefore they that never heard of Christ are not condemned simply for not believing in him; for their sins against the law they are condemned, not for their unbelief against the gospel.111111 At the last day there is a difference made between ‘them that know not God,’ i.e., by the light of nature, and those ‘that obey not the gospel,’ i.e., answer not God’s ends in the revelation of the gospel, 2 Thes. i. 8. That is the reason why Christ, when he had said, John iii. 18, ‘Every one that believeth not is condemned already,’ presently addeth by way of explication, ‘This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world,’ &c., as restraining it to positive infidelity. Though without Christ they can never be saved, yet God will not damn them for this reason, for not believing in Christ, for he never gave them the means of the knowledge of Christ.183
2. Positive unbelief, which is found in them that have means to believe in Christ, and yet neglect and refuse him, and the offers of grace and life in him, and so continue in the state of nature. This is twofold—(1.) Total; (2.) Partial.
[1.] Total unbelief in those that continue professed infidels after the tenders of the gospel; as the word where it came found different success, as at Antioch, Acts xiii. 48; at Iconium, Acts xiv. 1, 2; at Athens, Acts xvii. 34, many refused to make any profession.
[2.] Partial, when men are lustred with some general profession, and gained to some owning of Christ, but do not fully believe in him, not cordially embrace him; either through the weakness of their assent, looking upon the gospel only as probable, or out of the strength of their worldly and carnal affections they relish not and esteem not the counsels and comforts of the gospel, not the comforts and hopes of the gospel, because they are matters of another world, and lie out of sight and reach; but worldly comforts act more forcibly upon them, as being more suited to their hearts, and at hand, and ready to be enjoyed. Thus Israel out of unbelief ‘despised the pleasant land,’ Ps. cvi. 24, counted it not worth the looking after; and the counsels of the gospel they refuse out of an indulgence to fleshly lusts. As there is in the gospel the history and doctrine of salvation, so there are counsels of salvation which must be obeyed, and therefore we hear of ‘obeying the gospel,’ 2 Thes. i. 8, and ‘the obedience of faith’ elsewhere.
This unbelief is again twofold—(1.) Reigning; (2.) In part broken, though not wholly subdued.
[1st.] Reigning unbelief is in all natural men, who are not only guilty of unbelief, but described by the term unbelievers, as being persons never thoroughly gained to the obedience of the gospel, or the acceptance of Christ, and life and peace in him. It bewrayeth itself—(1.) By hardness of heart; they are not moved nor affected with their own misery, nor with redemption by Christ, and the great things of eternity depending thereupon; nor the invitations of grace, calling them to the enjoyment of them: Acts xix. 9, ‘And divers were hardened, and believed not,’ &c. A hard heart is one of the devil’s impregnable forts, not easily attacked by the force and power of the word: men are born with a hard heart; we bring the stone with us into the world, and by positive unbelief, or by slighting offers of grace made to us, it increaseth upon us. Hardness of heart is known by the foolishness of it, when ‘Seeing we see not, and hearing we hear not,’ Acts xxviii. 26, 27, when we have a grammatical knowledge of things, but no spiritual discerning. It is also known by the insensibleness of it, when men have no feelings of terrors by the law, of peace, joy, and hope by the gospel; no taste of the good word at all, but are as stones unmoved with all that is spoken. (2.) By a neglect of spiritual and heavenly things; they do not make it their business and work to look after those things, Mat. xxii. 5, ‘But they made light of it,112112 Ἀμελήσαντες, they would not take it into their care and thoughts. and went one to his farm, another to his merchandise.’ Your callings are not your ἔργον, your work and main business; that is to look after an interest in Christ; therefore when this is the least thought of, and the farm and the merchandise engrosseth all our time 184and care, men believe not. Could they slight Christ and holy things if they did soundly and thoroughly believe the word of God? Would they not find some time to mend their souls? Looking after the inward man, that is the main care; and men would first regard it if they did believe that the soul were so concerned both in point of danger and hope. Surely when men take no heed to the great offers of the gospel, they do not look upon it as a certain truth. (3.) By secret suspicions in their own souls against the truth of the gospel. That profane wretch said Haec fabula Cliristi. They look upon it as a golden dream to make fools fond with it; and that all opinions in religion are but a logomachy, a mere strife of words, or a doctrine to set the world together by the ears, as Gallic, Acts xviii. 15, or a fancy and fond superstition, Acts xxv. 19, and that we need not trouble our heads about it. These are the natural thoughts which men have of the gospel. Such thoughts may rush into the heart of a godly man, but they are abominated and cast out with indignation; but in wicked men they reign and dwell; they live by these kind of principles. I remember Christ saith of his disciples, ἀληυῶς ἔγνωσαν, John xvii. 8, ‘They have known surely that I came out from thee.’ The light of faith is an undoubted certain light; but in wicked men, their assent is mingled with doubting, ignorance, error, and sottish prejudices against the doctrine and worship of God, Mat. iii. 14; natural atheism in them is not cured, and that faith which they pretend to and profess is but a loose wavering opinion, not a grounded and settled persuasion of the truth of the gospel. The ‘assurance of understanding,’ as the apostle calleth it, Col. ii. 2, dependeth upon experience and an inward sense of the truth, and is wrought by the Holy Ghost, 1 Cor. ii. 4, and therefore, I suppose, proper to the godly. (4.) By rejecting the counsels of salvation; see Acts xiii. 46; Luke vii. 31. All natural men are ‘children of disobedience,’ Eph. ii. 2, out of pride scorning either the messages of God—‘Folly to him,’ 1 Cor. ii. 14, or the messengers—‘Is not this the carpenter’s son?’ Mark vi. 3, foining and fencing with the word, and defeating the methods of grace used to gain them, Rom. x. 21, guilty of an obstinate frowardness: ‘It is a people that do err in their hearts,’ Ps. xcv. 11; not in their minds only, but their hearts;’ as if they did say, ‘We desire not the knowledge of thy ways,’ Job xxi. 14. (5.) By the unholiness of their lives. The apostle saith, 2 Peter iii. 11, ‘We that look for such things, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holiness and godliness of conversation?’ from whence we may plainly infer that they which are not such manner of persons do not look for such things as faith inferreth—obedience; where the prince is there his train will be; so is unbelief known by disobedience; when men live as carnally and carelessly as an infidel, there is not a pin to choose between them. (6.) When men hear the word and never make application, or convert it to their own use, it is a sign they are under the power of reigning unbelief. In faith there is assent or believing the word to be the word of God, or that it is ‘a faithful saying,’ 1 Tim. i. 15; and then consent or approbation of the word as a good word or worthy saying, and then application, or converting the word to our own 185use. So in unbelief many doubt of the truth of the word, others acknowledge not the worth of it, they do not ‘glorify the word,’ Acts xiii. 48; most that speak well of the word, and approve it in their consciences, do not urge their own hearts with it: ‘What do we say to these things?’ Rom. viii. 31, and ‘know it for thy good,’ Job v. 27. The word is far sooner approved than applied, and yet till it be applied it worketh not. When we see ourselves involved and included in the general promise and precept, and are accordingly affected, then are we said to believe. In Ps. xxvii. 8, the injunction is plural, ‘Seek ye my face;’ but the answer is singular, ‘Thy face, Lord, will I seek.’ Thus must all truths be applied, and that in their method and order, for there is an analogy and proportion between them; as the doctrine of man’s misery, that I may consider this is my case, and, having a feeling of it, may groan for deliverance; the doctrine of redemption by Christ, that we may put in for a share, and assure our own interest; the doctrine of the thankful life, that we may deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ in the obedience of all his precepts. The first doctrine must be made the ground of complaint, the second of comfort and hope, the third of resolution and practice. But when we suffer these truths to hover in the brain without application, or hear them only as children learn them by rote, never thus reflecting, What am I? what have I done? what will become of me? &c., unbelief remaineth undisturbed. (7.) By apostasy or falling off from God. The great business of faith is, ‘by patient continuance in well-doing, to look for glory, honour, and immortality,’ Rom. ii. 8; but now to tire and grow weary, or to fall off from God as not worthy the waiting upon, argueth the height and reign of unbelief, whatever faith we pretended unto for a flash and pang. (8.) Desperation when conviction groweth to a height, and legal bondage gets the victory of carnal pleasure: Gen. iv. 13, ‘My sin is greater,’ &c., and Jer. xviii. 12, ‘There is no hope,’ &c. When men think it is in vain to trouble themselves, their damnation is fixed, and therefore resolve to go to hell as fast as they can; such desperate wickedness may there be in the heart of a man.
[2d.] Unbelief in part broken; and so it implieth the remainders of this natural evil in the godly, in whom, though faith be begun, yet it is mixed with much weakness: Mark ix. 24, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.’ This unbelief is manifested—(1.) By a loathness to apply the comforts of the gospel; it is the hardest matter in the world to bring God and the soul together, or to be at rest in Christ. When we are truly sensible we draw back. ‘Depart from me,’ saith Peter, ‘for I am a sinful man,’ Luke v. 8; and he should rather say, Draw nigh to me. The poor trembling sinner thinketh so much of the judge that he for gets the father. Though the soul longeth for Christ above all things, yet it is loath to take him for comfort and reconciliation, but floateth up and down in a suspensive hesitancy. (2.) By calling God’s love into question upon every affliction, and in an hour of temptation unravelling all our hopes: see Ps. lxxvii. 7-10, Isa. xlix. 14, and Judges vi. 13; as if the Lord were ‘the God of the mountains and not of the valleys.’ We are wont to say, If God did love us why is this befallen us? Those are fits of the old distemper. Christ when crucified 186would not let go his interest, but crieth out, ‘My God! my God!’ (3.) By fears in a time of danger, carnal fears, such as do perplex us when we are employed in Christ’s work and service; as the disciples that were embarked with him were afraid to perish in his company: ‘Why are ye so fearful, O ye of little faith?’ Mat. viii. 26. Filial fear or reverence of God is the daughter of faith, as distrustful fear is the enemy of it. Trouble is the touchstone of faith; if we cannot commit ourselves to God in quietness of heart, it argueth weakness. God hath undertaken to bring his people out of every strait, in a way most conducing to his glory and their welfare, Rom. viii. 28; and therefore when the word yieldeth us no support, Ps. cxix. 50, and the promises of God cannot keep us from sinking and despondency of heart, we bewray our unbelief. (4.) By murmurings in case of carnal disappointment. Discontent argueth unbelief; they quarrel with God’s providences, because they believe not his promises: Ps. cvi. 24, ‘They believed not his word, but murmured in their tents;’ it is ill, and they cannot see how it can be better. So Deut. i. 32 with 34, ‘In this you believed not the Lord your God.’ (5.) By carking in case of straits; bodily wants are more pressing than spiritual. Here faith is put to a present trial, and therefore here we bewray ourselves: Mat. vi. 30, ‘Shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?’ He doth not say of no faith, for the temptation is incident to a godly man; they do not oftener bewray their unbelief in distrusting God about outward supplies than about eternal life, which yet I confess is very irrational; for if a man cannot trust God with his estate, how shall he trust him with his soul? And to a considerate person there are far more prejudices against eternal life than against temporal supplies. Look, as it was a folly in Martha to believe that Lazarus should rise at the general resurrection, and to distrust his being raised from the dead after four days’ lying in the grave, John xi. 24, so it is a great folly to pretend to expect eternal life, and not to be able to depend upon God for the supplies of life temporal. (6.) By coldness and carelessness in the spiritual life. If men did believe that heaven were such an excellent place, they would not so easily turn aside to the contentments of the flesh and the profits of the world. Men have but a conjectural apprehension of things to come, of the comforts of another world. As things at a distance; sometimes we see them, and sometimes we lose their sight, so that we are not certain whether we see them, yea or no; so it falleth out in heavenly matters; we are poor ‘short-sighted’ creatures, 2 Peter i. 9. Sometimes we have a glimpse of the glory of the world to come, some flashes, and again the mind is beclouded; and that is the reason why we mind these things so little, and seek after them so little. A steady view and sound belief would engage us to more earnestness: they that believe ‘the high prize of our calling,’ will ‘press on to the mark,’ Phil. iii. 14. Surely men do not believe that heaven is worth the looking after, otherwise they would seek it more diligently, Heb. vi. 14. A poor beast that is going homeward goeth cheerfully. (7.) Indirect courses to get a living and subsistence in the world, as if God were not ‘all-sufficient,’ Gen. xvii. 1. To break through where God hath made up the hedge, argueth that we do not depend upon him; as by temporising or by 187unjust gain. This, for a fit and in some distemper, may be incident to God’s children.
3. The last thing in the method proposed is the cure of unbelief. God by his mighty power can only cure it, Eph. i. 19; but the means which we must use may be reduced to two heads—1. Cautions; 2. Directions.
[1.] Cautions. (1.) Take heed of setting God a task: Ps. lxxviii. 19, 20, ‘Can the Lord prepare a table in the wilderness?’ &c. So Mat. xxvii. 40, ‘If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ This is to go beyond the promise, and to indent with God upon conditions of our own making. So Mat. iv., ‘If thou be the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.’ So when we prescribe to God, in matter of allowance; we would have God maintain us at such a rate; be so fed, so clothed, have so much by the year, such portions for our children: ‘He that will be rich,’ &c., 1 Tim. vi. 9. God never undertook to give us meat for our lusts. When we subject his providence to our direction, and prescribe what he shall do for our satisfaction, we do but make a snare for ourselves. (2.) Take heed of betraying faith by distrusting present means; it is a usual thing: Luke xvi. 30, ‘If one came from the dead they would believe.’ If we had oracles or miracles, or God did speak to us from heaven as heretofore, then we should not falter in our trust as we now do; but by this excuse you impeach the scriptures. Moses and the prophets are a sufficient ground for faith, and extraordinary means will not work on them upon whom ordinary do not prevail. There were weaknesses then, and so there will be; whatsoever dispensation God may use, man is man still: ‘They believed not though he opened the clouds, and commanded manna from heaven,’ Ps. lxxviii. 23. (3.) Take heed of ifs in principles of faith. Foundation-stones if laid loose endanger the whole building; take notice of the first hesitancy: Gen. iii., ‘Yea, hath God said?’ So Mat. iv. 3, ‘If thou be the Son of God,’ &c. There was a plain oracle from heaven determining it a little before, ‘Thou art my beloved Son,’ but the devil would fain draw it to an if. (4.) Beware of sin. Doubts are the fumes of sin, like the vapours that come from a foul stomach: uprightness begetteth serenity and clearness. As in nature there is often a κυκλογέννησις, a circular generation, vapours beget showers, and showers beget vapours; so in moral and spiritual things there is such a circular generation; unbelief maketh way for sin, and sin for unbelief. Sin will weaken trust, it cannot be otherwise; shame, and horror, and doubt, these are the consequences of sin. God never undertook to bear us out in the devil’s work.
[2.] Directions. (1.) Strengthen your assent to the word of God. Fire if well kindled will of itself burst out into a flame; so assurance and comfort would more easily follow if there were a thorough and un doubted assent to the truths of the word. We take them up hand over head, and then when a temptation cometh, no wonder that the building tottereth when the foundation is so weak. There are several degrees of assent: conjecture, which is but a lighter inclination of the mind to that which is probable; opinion, which is a stronger inclination to think that which is represented is true. But there is formido oppositi; it is mixed with hesitancy and doubts, ὀλιγοπιστία, weak 188faith, or firm adherence upon sufficient conviction; yet doubts may arise, and in time of temptation this degree of assent may be over borne. But above this there is a thorough certainty or ‘assurance of understanding,’ Col. ii. 2. We should never cease till we come to this. It is a great mistake to think that we need not look after the settling of our assent to the truths of the word, but take these for supposed; but in an hour of temptation we are made sensible of our folly herein; and if I am not mistaken, much of our carelessness and unsettledness of life doth proceed from thence. (2.) In settling assent, begin with natural principles, and then go on to those which are spiritual and mystical,—as God’s being, and God’s bounty in the everlasting rewards, Heb. xi. 6; the necessity of purity and holiness, Heb. xii. 14; the fall and misery of the creature; and then our redemption by Christ, &c. 1 observe the apostles, when they came to gain men to faith, began with truths suited to their capacity and present understanding. With the vulgar they evince creation and providence, by arguments taken from showers of rain and the courses of nature, Acts xiv. 16, 17. With the philosophers they urge the notions of a first cause and a first mover, and those inclinations in nature towards an eternal good, Acts xvii. (3.) Urge your hearts with the truths you assent to, and work them upon your affections, Rom. viii. 31; Heb. ii. 3; and Job v. 27. (4.) Observe the disproportion of your respects to things present and things to come. If the judgment-seat were fixed and the books opened, how would natural men tremble? Now faith should make it as present, Heb. xi. 1. The apostle saith, ‘I saw the dead, small and great, stand before the Lord,’ &c., Rev. xx. 12. Faith, which is ‘the evidence of things not seen,’ should see it as if it were in being. The light of faith differeth not from the light of prophecy in regard of the certainty of the thing which is to come, or the assured expectation of it. The light of prophecy requireth a special revelation, and differeth in degree from the light or sight of faith, as it causeth rapture and ecstatic motions; but as to the seeing of things to come with certainty, there they agree. Well, then, if you would discern the strength or weakness of your faith, observe how differently you are affected with what is present and what is future; so also how differently you are affected with things visible and things invisible, with things temporal and eternal. If upon easy terms you might have a good bargain for lands and riches, how readily would men embrace the offer? For temporal profit what pains will they take? But now in things of soul concernment we are not alike affected, which is an argument we do not believe them. In all cases it is good to put spiritual things in a parallel with temporal instances. We are taught that wisdom: Mal. i. 8, ‘Offer it now to the governor,’ &c. Would we do thus to an earthly potentate as we do to God? If an able potent friend promise help in troubles, how are we cheered with it? If God promise the same things we are little comforted. If every offence that we commit were liable to the notice of man, and our punishment should be to hold our hand in scalding lead for half an hour, men would be more afraid to offend than now they are in the sight of God, who knoweth all their thoughts, and hath threatened eternal torment. If the tasting of such a meat would 189bring present death, who would be so foolhardy as to meddle with it? Nay, when a thing is but likely to do us hurt, as some meats in case of the cholic, gout, or stone, how cautious are we? To conclude all, let me give you Chrysostom’s supposition; for besides unbelief, there is somewhat in the strength of evil inclination. Suppose a man mightily desirous of rest and sleep, so that he can hardly hold open his eyes, and there were an offer made him of free and undisturbed rest for one night, but in case he gave way to it, to be held under a hundred years’ torment, would he venture, and, with so great a hazard, gratify his drowsy humour? Yet such is our fearlessness and security, that we can run the hazard of eternal torment for a little carnal satisfaction. If a man were sentenced to death, and in danger of execution every moment, would not he bestir himself and improve all his interest for a pardon? We are all ‘condemned already;’ but how few are solicitous to get a copy of their discharge! (5.) Bewail the relics of unbelief, Mark ix. 24. (6.) Chide your hearts for your dejection and distrust of God’s providence; as Ps. xlii. 5, ‘Why art thou so disquieted, O my soul,’ &c., and Ps. lxxvii. 10, ‘This is my infirmity.’ It is the duty of a gracious man to rebuke his fears, to chide himself for admitting mistakes of God’s love, suggestions of unbelief, and disputes against the promises. (7.) Consider how willing Christ is to help you. He carrieth home the stray lamb upon his own. shoulders rejoicing, Luke xv. 5. How he prizeth the weak beginnings of faith! ‘Smoking flax will he not quench,’ Mat. xii. 20; taketh notice of the green figs, Cant. ii.; with a mild condescension indulgeth our infirmities: ‘Reach hither thy fingers, Thomas,’ John xx. This for the cure of unbelief.
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