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Chapter VI. Particular promises illustrated.
The former argument confirmed by an induction of particular instances — Joshua i. 5 opened — The concernment of all believers in that promise proved by the apostle, Heb. xiii. 5. — The general interest of all believers in all the promises of God cleared — Objections answered — How Old Testament promises may be improved — The promise insisted on relates principally to spirituals — The strength of it to the end intended — 1 Sam. xii. 22, to whom the promise there is given — The twofold use of this promise: threats to wicked men of use to the saints; promises to the saints of use to wicked men — Isa. iv. 2–4, 249Ps. lxxxix. 30–37, opened — A condition of backsliding supposed in believers, yet they not rejected — God’s abiding with his saints upon the account of his, 1. Faithfulness; 2. Loving-kindness; 3. Covenant; 4. Promise; 5. Oath — The intendment of the words insisted on from 1 Sam. xii. 22 — Isa. xxvii. 2, 3, Zeph. iii. 17, illustrated — The intendment of these words, “I will not forsake thee” — The reason of the promise, and means promised therein — No cause in them to whom the promise is made — Ezek. xxxvi. 32, Isa. xliii. 22–25, opened; also Isa. lvii. 17 — The cause in God himself only — The “name” of God, what it imports; his all-sufficiency engaged therein, and his goodness — The rise and fountain of all God’s goodness to his people in his own good pleasure — The sum of our argument from this place of Scripture — Ps. xxiii. 4, 6, opened; the psalmist’s use of assurance of perseverance — Inferences from the last use — 2 Tim. iv. 18 opened — All believers in the same condition as to perseverance with David and Paul — The second inference from the place insisted on — Assurance a motive to obedience, and is the end that God intends to promote thereby — Ps. cxxv. 1, 2 explained; Ps. xxxvii. 28; Deut. xxxiii. 3 — Inferences from that place of the psalmist — Perpetual preservation in the condition of saints promised to believers — Mr G.’s objections and exceptions to our exposition and argument from this place removed — Promises made originally to persons, not qualifications — Not the same reason of promises to the church and of threatenings to sinners — Other objections removed — Isa. liv. 7–10, the mind of the Lord in the promise mentioned in that place opened — The exposition given on that place and arguments from thence vindicated —Direction for the right improvement of promises — Hos. ii. 19, 20, opened — Of the general design of that chapter — The first part, of the total rejection of the church and political state of the Jews — The second, of promises to the remnant according to the election of grace — Of this four particulars: 1. Of conversion, verses 14, 15; 2. Of obedience and forsaking all false worship, verses 16, 17; 3. Of peace and quietness, verse 18; 4. Discovering the fountain of all the mercies, verses 19, 20 — Some objections removed — To whom this promise is made — The promise farther opened; the persons to whom it is made — Verse 14 of that chapter opened — The wilderness condition whereunto men are allured by the gospel, what it imports: 1. Separation; 2. Entanglement — God’s dealing with a soul in its wilderness condition — Promises given to persons in that condition — The sum of the foregoing promises — The persons to whom they are made farther described — The nature of the main promise itself considered — Of the main covenant between God and his saints — The properties of God engaged for the accomplishment of this promise — Mr G.’s exposition of this place considered and confuted — John x. 27–29 opened, vindicated.
Having cleared the truth of the one and meaning of the other proposition mentioned in the argument last proposed, I proceed to confirm the latter by an induction of particular promises. The first that I shall fix upon is that of Josh. i. 5, “I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” This promise, it is true, in this original copy of it, is a grant to one single person entering upon a peculiar employment; but the Holy Ghost hath eminently taught the saints of God to plead and improve it in all generations for their own advantage, and that not only upon the account of the general rule of the establishment of all promises in Jesus Christ to the glory of God by us,134134 2 Cor. i. 20. but also by the application which himself makes of 250it unto them, and all their occasions wherein they stand in need of the faithfulness of God therein: Heb. xiii. 5, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” The apostle layeth down an exhortation in the beginning of the verse against the inordinate desire of the things of the world, that are laboured after upon the account of this present life. To give power and efficacy to his exhortation, he manifesteth all such desires to be altogether needless, upon consideration of His all-sufficiency who hath promised never to forsake them; which he manifests by an instance in this promise given to Joshua, giving us withal a rule for the application of all the promises of the Old Testament which were made to the church and people of God. Some labour much to rob believers of the consolation intended for them in the evangelical promises of the Old Testament, though made in general to the church, upon this account, that they were made to the Jews, and being to them peculiar, their concernment now lieth not in them. If this plea might be admitted, I know not any one promise that would more evidently fall under the power of it than this we have now in consideration. It was made to a peculiar person, and that upon a peculiar occasion, — made to a general or captain of armies, with respect to the great wars he had to undertake upon the special command of God. May not a poor, hungry believer say, “What is this to me? I am not a general of an army, have no wars to make upon God’s command. The virtue, doubtless, of this promise expired with the conquest of Canaan, and died with him to whom it was made.” To manifest the sameness of love that is in all the promises, with their establishment in one Mediator, and the general concernment of believers in every one of them, however and on what occasion soever given to any, this promise to Joshua is here applied to the condition of the weakest, meanest, and poorest of the saints of God, to all and every one of them, be their state and condition what it will. And, doubtless, believers are not a little wanting to themselves and their own consolation that they do not more particularly close with those words of truth, grace, and faithfulness, which, upon sundry occasions and at divers times, have been given out unto the saints of old, even Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and the residue of them who walked with God in their generations. These things in an especial manner are recorded for our consolation, “that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope,” Rom. xv. 4. Now, the Holy Ghost, knowing the weakness of our faith, and how apt we are to be beaten from closing with the promises, and from mixing them with faith, upon the least discouragement that may arise (as, indeed, this is none of the least, “That the promise is not made to us, it was made to others, and they may reap the sweetness of it; God may be 251faithful in it though we never enjoy the mercy intended by it;” I say), in the next words he leads believers by the hand to make the same conclusion with boldness and confidence, from this and the like promises, as David did of old, upon the many gracious assurances that he had received of the presence of God with him: Heb. xiii. 6, “So that,” saith he (upon the account of that promise), “we may say boldly” (without staggering at it by unbelief), “The Lord is my helper.” This is a conclusion of faith: “Because God said to Joshua, a believer, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’ (though upon a particular occasion, and in reference to a particular employment), every believer may say with boldness, ‘He is my helper.’ ”
It is true, the application of the promises here looks immediately unto temporals, but yet, being drawn out from the testimony of the continuance of the presence of God with his saints, doth much more powerfully conclude to spirituals; yea, the promise itself is of spiritual favour, and what concerns temporals is only from thence extracted. Let us, then, weigh a little the importance of this promise, which the apostle hath rescued from suffering under any private interpretation, and set at liberty to the use of all believers. To every one of them, then, God saith, directly and plainly, that he will “never leave them nor forsake them.” If there should any question arise whether he should be taken at his word or no, it must be the devil that must be entertained as an advocate against him.135135 Gen. iii. 1. Unbelief, indeed, hath many pleas, and will have, in the breasts of saints, against closing with the faithfulness of God in this promise, and the issue of confidence in him which from a due closing with it would certainly flow. But shall our unbelief make the truth of God of none effect? He hath told us that “he will never leave us, nor forsake us.” The old serpent, and some arguing from him herein, are ready to say, “Yea, ‘hath God indeed said so?’ The truth of it shall not indeed be surely so. It may be otherwise; for God doth know that many cases may fall out, that you may be utterly rejected by him, and cast out of his presence. You may have such oppositions rise against you in your walking with him as shall certainly overcome you and set you at enmity with him, or you may fully depart from him.” And many such like pleadings will Satan furnish the unbelief of believers withal. If they are not sufficiently taught by experience what it is to give credit to Satan endeavouring to impair and call in question, upon any pretence whatever, the faithfulness of God and his truth, when will they learn it? Surely they have little need to join with their adversaries for the weakening of their supportments or the impairing of their consolations. Whereas there is an endeavour to make men believe that the denying any absolutely unchangeable promise of God unto believers makes much 252for their comfort and refreshment, it shall afterward be considered in common, in reference also to those other demonstrations of the saints’ perseverance that shall, God willing, be produced.
It will be excepted, that “God will not forsake them whilst they are believers; but if they forsake him and fall from him, he is at liberty to renounce them also.” But that God’s not-forsaking of any is no more but a mere non-rejection of them shall afterward be disproved. Whom he doth not forsake as a God in covenant, to them doth he continue his presence, and towards them he exerciseth his power and all-sufficiency for their good. And if he can [not] by his Spirit and the power of his grace keep them whom he doth not forsake in a state and condition of not-forsaking him, he doth forsake them before they forsake him, yea, before he is said to forsake them. God’s not-forsaking believers is effectually preventive of that state and condition in them on the account whereof it is asserted that he may forsake them.
1 Sam. xii. 22, the truth we have under consideration is confirmed by the prophet in the name and authority of God himself; and the words wherein it is done have the force of a promise, being declarative of the good-will of God unto his people in Christ: “For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake; because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people.”
The expression is the same with that which the Lord gives his people of his good-will in the covenant of grace; of which I have spoken before.136136 Gen. xvii. 1; Jer. xxxii. 38, 39. Many may be their calamities and afflictions, many their trials and temptations, many their desertions and darknesses, but God will not forsake them; he will not utterly cast them off for ever. That his people are his people in covenant, his secret ones, his spiritual church, the “remnant according to the election of grace,” hath been before declared, in the handling of like places of Scripture. It is to vindicate this and the like promises from all surmises of failing and coming short of accomplishment that the apostle saith, “God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew,” Rom. xi. 2; that is, he hath made good his promise to them, even to them among the Jews whom he did so foreknow as also to “predestinate them to be conformed to the image of his Son,” chap. viii. 29: so out of all Israel saving “all Israel,” even the whole Israel of God. That a discriminating purpose of God is intended in that expression hath been already declared, and shall, the Lord assisting, be farther manifested.
The promise as here mentioned hath a double use:—
1. It is held out as an inducement to obedience to that whole people; in reference whereunto he telleth them that “if they did wickedly, they should be destroyed, both they and their king,” 1 Sam. xii. 25. In the dreadful threatenings that God denounceth against 253wicked and impenitent ones, he hath an end to accomplish in reference to his saints, unto his own, even to make them know his terror, and to be acquainted with the abomination of sin. And in his promises, intended directly to them, he hath designs to accomplish upon the most wicked and ungodly, even to discover his approbation of that which is good, that they may be left inexcusable.
2. It was a testimony of his good-will unto his secret ones, his remnant., his residue, his brand out of the fire, unto his people called according to his eternal purpose, in the midst of his people by external profession, and of his presence with them, under the accomplishment of the threatening mentioned upon the generality of that nation. He did not forsake them when the people in general and their king were destroyed. Whatever outward dispensation he bringeth upon the whole, the love and grace of the promise shall certainly be reserved for them; as, Isa. iv. 2–4, the “remnant,” the “escaping of Israel,” those that were “written unto life,” shall obtain, when the rest are destroyed or hardened.
So Ps. lxxxix. 30–37, “If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah.”
A supposal is made of such was and walkings in the spiritual seed and offspring of the Lord Christ (which in the psalm is typed out by David), that the Lord will be as it were compelled to deal sharply with them for their iniquities and transgressions: yet his “loving-kindness,” that shall abide with Christ in reference to the preservation of his seed; his “faithfulness,” that shall not fail; his covenant and his oath shall be made good to the uttermost.
It is supposed (which is the worst that can be supposed) that in some degree, at least for some season, they may forsake the law, not keep the commandments, and profane the statutes of God (which continues the burden of poor believers to this day); yet the worst that the Lord threatens them with on this account, when they might have expected that he would have utterly cast off such unthankful, unfruitful backsliders, poor creatures, is but this, “I will visit them with a rod, and with stripes.” They shall have whatever comes within the compass of correction or affliction; rod and stripes shall be on them, and that whether outward correction or inward desertion. But will the Lord proceed no farther? will he not for ever cast them 254off, and ease himself of such a provoking generation? “No,” saith the Lord; “there lie five things in the way, upon whose account I cannot so deal with them.” All regard the same persons, as is evident from the antithesis that is in the discourse.
1. There is my loving-kindness, saith God, which is eternal and unchangeable; for “I love them with an everlasting love,” Jer. xxxi. 3. This I cannot utterly take away. Though it may be hid and eclipsed as to the appearance and influences of it, yet utterly it shall not be taken away as to the reality of it. Though I chasten and correct them, yet my loving-kindness shall be continued to them. And then, saith he, —
2. There is my faithfulness, which I have engaged to them; which, whatever they do (that is, that I will suffer them to do, or that they may do upon supposition of the grace of the covenant,137137 Isa. xliii. 22–26. wherewith they are supplied), though they behave themselves very foolishly and frowardly, yet that I must take care of, — that must not fail. 2 Tim. ii. 13, “He abideth faithful; he cannot deny himself.” And this faithfulness, saith God, I have engaged in three things:—
(1.) In my covenant that I have made with them to be their God, and wherein I have promised that they shall be my people; wherein also I have made plentiful provision of mercy and grace for all their failings. And this must not be broken; my faithfulness is in it, and it must abide. My covenant of peace that I make with them is an everlasting covenant; it is “an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure,” 2 Sam. xxiii. 5; Ezek. xxxvii. 26; it is a covenant of peace, an everlasting covenant.
(2.) “In the thing that is gone out of my lips,” or the grace and love I have spoken of in the promise. Herein also will I be faithful, and that shall not be altered. All my promises are yea and amen in Christ Jesus, 2 Cor. i. 20. And, —
(3.) Lastly, All this I have confirmed by an oath, “I have sworn by my holiness,” and “I will not lie.”
So that in all these immutable things, wherein it is “impossible for God to lie,” he hath treasured up strong consolation for them that do believe.138138 Heb. vi. 18. Though, then, the seed of Christ, which he is to see upon the account of his suffering for them (Isa. liii. 10), do sin and transgress, yet God hath put all these gracious obligations upon himself to reduce them by correction and affliction, but never to proceed to final sentence of utter rejection.
To this purpose, I say, are the words in the place of Samuel now mentioned:—
1. The matter of the promise, or what he promiseth the people, is, “he will not forsake them.” God’s not-forsaking them is not a bare not casting them off, but an active continuance with them in 255love and mercy. He exercises not a pure negative act of his will towards any thing or person. Whom he hates not, he loves. So Heb. xiii. 5, these words, “I will not forsake thee,” hold out a continual supply of all those wants whereunto in ourselves we are exposed, and what from his presence we do receive. “I will not forsake them” is, “I will continue my presence with them, a God in covenant.” So he expresseth his presence with them, Isa. xxvii. 3, “I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.” He abideth with his vineyard, so as to keep it and to preserve it from being destroyed. But may it not at one time or other be surprised into desolation? No; saith he, “I will keep it night and day.” But what if this vineyard prove barren? what will he then do? Nay, but he will so deal with it that it shall never be so barren as to cause him to cast it up. He is not with it for nought; his presence is attended with grace and kindness. “I will water it,” saith he; and that not now and then, but “every moment.” He pours out fresh supplies of his Spirit upon it to make it fruitful. Thence it becomes “a vineyard of red wine,” verse 2; the best wine, the most delicious, the most precious, to cheer the heart of God himself, as Zeph. iii. 17, “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.” He causes them thereby that come out of Jacob to take root; he makes Israel blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit. This is that which God promiseth his people: He will not forsake them, he will always give them his presence, in the kindness and supplies of a God in covenant, to protect them from others, to make them fruitful to himself. This is his not-forsaking them. He will preserve them from others; who shall take them out of his hand? He will make them fruitful to himself; “he will work, and who shall let him?”
2. The reason why the Lord will not forsake his people, why he will continue doing them good, is expressed in these words, “For his great name’s sake.” And in this assertion two things are considerable:—
(1.) A tacit exclusion of any thing in themselves for which, or upon consideration whereof, God will constantly abide with them. It is not for their sakes, for any thing in them, or for what they have done, may, or can do, — it is not upon the account of any condition or qualification whatever that may or may not be found in them, — but merely for his name’s sake; which in the like case he expresseth fully, Ezek. xxxvi. 32, “Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel.” The truth is, they may prove such as, on all accounts whatever, shall deserve to be rejected, — that nothing in appearance, or in their own sense, as well as others’, though the root of the 256matter be in them, may be found upon them, — when God takes delight in them; like those you have described at large, Isa. xliii. 22–25, “But thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel. Thou hast not brought me the small cattle of thy burnt-offerings; neither hast thou honoured me with thy sacrifices. I have not caused thee to serve with an offering, nor wearied thee with incense. Thou hast bought me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy sacrifices: but thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities. I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” Weary of God they are, neglecting his worship, making his patience and forbearance to serve with their iniquities. It seems to be impossible almost for any creature to apprehend that God will not give them up to everlasting confusion. Yea, perhaps they may be froward in their follies, and contend with God when he goes to heal them: Isa. lvii. 17, “For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart.” Iniquity is upon them, a vile iniquity, “the iniquity of covetousness,” God is wroth with them, and smites, and hides him, and they go on frowardly. And yet for all this he “forsaketh not for ever,” he abides to be their God; and that because his so doing is not bottomed on any consideration of what they are, have been, or will be, but he doth it for his name’s sake, and with regard unto that which thereupon he will do for them. And upon this account this promise of God’s abiding and continuing with his, let grace be never so weak, corruption never so strong, temptations never so violent, may be pleaded; and the Lord rejoices to be put in remembrance of it by the weakest, frailest, sinfulest saint or believer in the world.
(2.) The cause or reason is positively expressed why God will not forsake them: it is “for his great name’s sake.” His great name is all that he consults withal about his continuance with his people. This he calls himself, Isa. xliii. 25, “I am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake;” that is, “For no other cause in the world that may be found in thee or upon thee.” The “name “of God is all that whereby to us he is known; all his attributes, his whole will, — all his glory. When God is said to do any thing for his name, it is either the cause and end of what he doth, or the principle from whence with the motive wherefore he doth it, that is by him intended. In the first sense, to do a thing for his name’s sake is to do it for the manifestation of his glory, that he may be known to be God in the excellency of those perfections whereby he reveals himself to his, with most frequently a special regard to his faithfulness and grace. It is in these properties to make himself known, and to be exalted in the hearts of his. So all his dispensations in Jesus Christ are for “the praise of the 257glory of his grace,” Eph. i. 6, — that he may be exalted, lifted up, made known, believed, and received as a God pardoning iniquity in the Son of his love. And in this sense may the Lord be said to abide with his people “for his name’s sake,” for the exalting of his glory, that he may be known to be a God faithful in covenant and unchangeable in his love, who will not “cast off for ever” those whom he hath once received into favour. It will not enter into the hearts of believers sometimes why the Lord should so deal with them as he doth, and not cast them off. Their souls may go to rest as to this thing. He himself is glorious herein; he is exalted, and doth it on that account. If by his “name” you understand the principle from whence he worketh, and his motive thereunto, as it comprehends the whole longsuffering, gracious, tender, unchangeable nature of God, according as he hath revealed himself in Jesus Christ, in whom his name is, Exod. xxiii. 21, and which he hath committed to him to be manifested, John xvii. 6; so evidently two things in God are engaged, when he promiseth to work for his name’s sake, or according to his great name:—
[1.] His power or sufficiency. Upon the engagement of the name of God on “his people’s behalf, Moses carefully pleads this latter or part thereof, Numb. xiv. 17–19. God hath given his name unto his people; and this is wrapped up in that mercy, that he will lay out his power to pardon, heal, and do them good, in his preserving of them and abiding with them: “Let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying, The Lord is long-suffering,” etc. And as, when he works for his name, the way whereby he will do it is according to the greatness of his power, so the fountain and rise from whence he will do it is, —
[2.] His goodness, kindness, love, patience, mercy, grace, faithfulness, in Jesus Christ. And thus, under the title of his “name,” doth he call poor, afflicted, dark, hopeless, helpless creatures (upon any other account in the world), persons ready to be swallowed up in disconsolation and sorrow, to rest upon him: Isa. i. 10, “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.”139139 John xvii. 6, 26; Ps. xxii. 22, lxiii. 4, lxix. 30. When all other holds are gone, when flesh fails and heart fails, then doth God call poor souls to rest upon this name of his. So the psalmist, Ps. lxxiii. 26, “My flesh and my heart faileth,” all strength, natural and spiritual, falleth and is gone: “but God is the strength of my heart,” saith he, “and my portion for ever.” Now, this is the sole motive also of God’s continuance with his: he will do it because he himself is good, gracious, merciful, loving, tender; and he will lay out these properties to the utmost in their behalf, that it may be well with 258them, lifting up, exalting, and making himself gracious in so doing. This the Lord emphatically expresseth five times in one verse: Isa. xlvi. 4, “Even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.”
This, then, I say, is the reason and only ground, this the principal aim and end, upon the account whereof the Lord will “not forsake his people.”
3. The rise of all this goodness, kindness, faithfulness of God to his people, as to the exercise of it, is also expressed, and that is his own good pleasure: “Because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people.” This is the spring and fountain of all the goodness mentioned. God is essentially in himself of a good, gracious, and loving nature; but he acts all these properties, as to the works that outwardly are of him, “after the counsel of his own will,” Eph. i. 11, according to the purpose which he purposeth in himself, and his purposes, all of them, have no other rise or cause but his own good pleasure. Why did the Lord make us his people, towards whom he might act according to the gracious properties of his nature, yea, and lay them forth and exercise them to the utmost on our behalf? Was it because we were better than others? did his will? walked with him? Did he declare we should be his people upon condition we did so and so? Not on any of these or the like grounds of proceeding doth he do this, but merely because “it pleaseth him to make us his people;” Matt. xi. 26. And shall we think that he who took us to be his people notwithstanding our universal alienation from him, on the account of his own good pleasure, which caused him to make us his people (that is, obedient, believing, separated from the world), will upon any account, being himself unchangeable, not preserve us in, but reject us from, that condition?
Thus is God’s mercy in not forsaking his people resolved into its original principle, — namely, his own good pleasure in choosing of them, carried on by the goodness and unchangeableness of his own nature to the appointed issue.
This, then, is the sum of this argument: What work or design the Lord entereth upon merely from his own good pleasure, or solely in answer to the purpose which he purposeth in himself and engageth to continue in mercy for his name’s sake, thereby taking upon him to remove or prevent whatever might hinder the accomplishment of that purpose, work, or design of his, that he will abide in unchangeable to the end; but this is the state of the Lord’s undertaking, to abide, with his people, as hath been manifested at large.
Let us add in the next place that of the psalmist: Ps. xxiii. 4, 6, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort 259me. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” The psalmist expresseth an exceeding confidence in the midst of most inexpressible troubles and pressures. He supposes himself “walking through the valley of the shadow of death.” As “death” is the worst of evils, and comprehensive of them all, so the “shadow” of death is the most dismal and dark representation of those evils to the soul, and the “valley” of that shadow the most dreadful bottom and depth of that representation. This, then, the prophet supposed that he may be brought into. A condition wherein he may be overwhelmed with sad apprehensions of the coming of a confluence of all manner of evils upon him, — and that not for a short season, but he may be necessitated to walk in them, which denotes a state of some continuance, a conflicting with most dismal evils, and in their own nature tending to death, — is in the supposal. What, then, would he do if he should be brought into this estate? Saith he, “Even in that condition, in such distress, wherein I am, to my own and the eyes of others, hopeless, helpless, gone, and lost, ‘I will fear no evil.’ ” A noble resolution, if there be a sufficient bottom and foundation for it, that it may not be accounted rashness and groundless confidence, but true spiritual courage and holy resolution. Saith he, “It is because the Lord is with me.” But, alas! what if the Lord should now forsake thee in this condition, and give thee up to the power of thine enemies, and suffer thee, by the strength of thy temptations, wherewith thou art beset, to fall utterly from him? Surely then thou wouldst be swallowed up for ever; the waters would go over thy soul, and thou must for ever lie down in the shades of death. “Yea,” saith he, “but I have an assurance of the contrary; ‘goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.’ ”
“But this,” say some, “is a very desperate persuasion. If thou art sure that goodness and mercy shall follow thee all the days of thy life, then live as thou pleasest, as loosely as flesh can desire, as wickedly as Satan can prompt thee to. Certainly this persuasion is fit only to ingenerate in thee a high contempt of humble and close walking with God. What other conclusion canst thou possibly make of that presumption but only this, ‘ I may, then, do what I please, what I will; let the flesh take its swing in all abominations, it matters not, goodness and mercy shall follow me.’ Alas!” saith the psalmist, “these thoughts never come into my heart. I find this persuasion, through the grace of Him in whom it is effectual, to in-generate contrary resolutions, This is that which I am, upon the account hereof, determined on, ‘I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.’ Seeing ‘goodness and mercy shall follow me,’ I will dwell in his house; and seeing they shall follow me ‘all the days of my life,’ I will dwell in his house for ever.”
260There are, then, these two things in this last verse pregnant to the purpose in hand:—
1. The psalmist’s assurance of the presence of God with him “for ever,” and that in kindness and pardoning mercy, upon the account of his promise unto him. “Goodness or benignity,” saith he, “shall follow me into every condition, to assist me and extricate my soul, even out of the valley of the shadow of death.” A conclusion like that of Paul, 2 Tim. iv. 18, “The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom.” Having, verse 17, given testimony of the presence of God with him in his great trial, when he was brought before that devouring monster Nero, giving him deliverance, he manifesteth in verse 18 that the presence of God with him was not only effectual for one or another deliverance, but that it will keep him “from every evil work,” not only from the rashness, cruelty, and oppression of others, but also from any such way or work of his own which should lay a bar against his enjoyment of and complete preservation unto that heavenly kingdom whereunto he was appointed.
What reason, now, can be imagined why other saints of God, who have the same promises with David and Paul, established unto them in the hand of the same Mediator, being equally taken into the same covenant of mercy and peace with them, may not make the same conclusion of mercy with them, — namely, “That the mercy and goodness of God will follow them all the days of their lives; that they shall be delivered from every evil work, and preserved to God’s heavenly kingdom?” 2 Cor. i. 20. To fly here to immediate revelation, as though God had particularly and immediately assured some persons of their perseverance, which begat in them a confidence wherein others may not share with them, besides that it is destructive of all the vigour and strength of sundry, if not all the arguments produced against the saints’ perseverance, it is not in this place of any weight, or at all relative to the business in hand; for evident it is that one of them, even David, is thus confident upon the common account of God’s relation unto all his saints, as he is their shepherd, one that takes care of them, and will see, not only whilst they abide with him, that they shall have pasture and refreshment, but also will find them out in their wanderings, and will not suffer any of them to be utterly lost. And he is a shepherd equally in care and love to every one of his saints as he was to David. He gives them all “the sure mercies of David,” even the mercy contained and wrapped up in the promise that was given to them, and what by virtue thereof he did enjoy, with what he received from God in that covenant relation wherein he stood, Isa. lv. 3. And for Paul, it is most evident that he grounded his confidence and consolation merely upon the general promise of the presence of God with his, that 261he will “never leave them nor forsake them,” but be their God and “guide even unto death;” neither is there the least intimation of any other bottom of his consolation herein. Now, these being things wherein every believer, even the weakest in the world, hath an equal share and interest with Paul, David, or any of the saints in their generations, what should lie in their way but that they also may grow up to this assurance, being called thereunto? I say, they may grow up unto it. I do not say that every believer can with equal assurance of mind thus make his boast in the Lord and in the continuance of his kindness to him, — the Lord knows we are oftentimes weak and dark, and at no small loss even as to the main of our interest in the promises of God; — but there being an equal certainty in the things themselves of which we speak, it being as certain that the goodness and mercy of God shall follow them all their days as it did David, and as certain that God will deliver them from every evil work and preserve them to his heavenly kingdom as he did Paul, they also may grow up unto, and ought to press after, the like assurance and consolation with them. Whom goodness and mercy shall follow all their days, and who shall be of God preserved from every evil work, they can never fall totally and finally out of the favour of God. That this is the state and condition of believers is manifested from the instances given of David and Paul, testifying their full persuasion and assurance concerning that condition on grounds common to them with all believers.
2. The conclusion and inference that the psalmist makes, from the assurance which he had of the continuance of the goodness and kindness of God unto him, followeth in the words insisted on: “All the days of his life he would dwell in the Lord’s house.” He would for ever give up himself unto his worship and service. “Seeing this is the case of my soul, that God will never forsake me, let me answer this love of God in my constant obedience.” Now, this conclusion follows from the former principle upon a twofold account:—
(1.) As it is a motive unto it. The continuance of the goodness and kindness of God unto a soul is a constraining motive unto that soul to continue with him in love, service, and obedience; it works powerfully upon a heart any way ennobled with the ingenuity of grace to make a suitable return, as far as possibly it can, to such eminent mercy and goodness. I profess I know not what those men think the saints of God to be, who suppose them apt to make conclusions of wantonness and rebellion upon the account of the steadfastness of the love and kindness of God to them. I shall not judge any as to their state and condition; yet I cannot but think that such men’s prejudices and fullness of their own persuasions do exceedingly interpose in their spirits from receiving that impression of this grace of God which in its own nature it is apt to give, or 262it would be impossible they should once imagine that of itself it is apt to draw the spirits of men into a neglect and contempt of God.
(2.) As the end of God, intended in giving that assurance, to the effecting whereof it is exceedingly operative and effectual. So you have it, Luke i. 74, 75. This is the intendment of God in confirming his oath and promise unto us, “That he may grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives.”
Now, though these forementioned, with many other texts of Scripture, are plain, evident, and full to the business we have in hand, yet the adversaries of this truth having their hands so full with them that are commonly urged that they cannot attend unto them, I shall not need to spend time in their vindication from exceptions which none that I know have as yet brought in against them (though, upon their principles, they might possibly be invented), but shall leave them to be mixed with faith, according as God by his Spirit shall set them home upon the souls of them who do consider them.
The whole of Ps. cxxv. might, in the next place, be brought in to give testimony to the truth in hand. I shall only take a proof from the first two verses of it: “They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for even -as the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people from henceforth even for ever.” Whereunto answereth that of Ps. xxxvii. 28, “The Lord loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever;” as also Deut. xxxiii. 3, “Yea, he loveth his people; all his saints are in thy hand.” In the verses named, I shall a little fix upon two things conducing to our purpose, which are evidently contained in them:—
1. A promise of God’s everlasting presence with his saints, believers, them that trust in him, and their steadfastness thereupon: “They shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed;” and that because “the Lord is round about them,” and that “for ever.”
2. An allusive comparison of both these, both their stability and God’s presence with them, given for the encouragement of weak believers, with special 263regard to the days wherein the promise was first made, which actually also belongs to them on whom the ends of the world are fallen. The psalmist bids them, as it were, lift up their eyes, and look upon mount Zion and the hills that were round about Jerusalem, and tells them that God will as certainly and assuredly continue with them and give them establishment as those hills and mountains which they beheld round about abide in their places; so that it shall be as impossible for all the powers of hell to remove them out of the favour of God as for a man to pluck up mount Zion by the roots, or to overturn the foundations of the mountains that stand round about Jerusalem. It is true, the Holy Ghost hath special regard to the oppositions and temptations that they were to undergo from men, but bears also an equal regard to all other means of separating them from their God. It would be a matter of small consolation unto them that men should not prevail over them for ever, if in the meantime there be other more close and powerful adversaries, who may cast them down with a perpetual destruction. Some few considerations of the intendment of the place will serve for the enforcing of our argument from this portion of Scripture:—
1. That which is here promised the saints is a perpetual preservation of them in that condition wherein they are; both on the part of God, “he is round about them from henceforth even for ever;” and on their parts, “they shall not be removed,” — that is, from the state and condition of acceptation with him wherein they are supposed to be, — but abide for ever, and continue therein immovable into the end. It is, I say, a plain promise of their continuance in that condition wherein they are, with their safety from thence, and not a promise of some other good thing provided that they continue in that condition. Their being compared to mountains and their stability, which consists in their being and continuing so, will admit no other sense. As mount Zion abides in its condition, so shall they; and as the mountains about Jerusalem continue, so doth the Lord his presence unto them.
2. That expression which is used, verse 2, is weighty and fall to this purpose, “The Lord is round about his people from henceforth even for ever.” What can be spoken more fully, more pathetically? Can any expression of men so set forth the truth which we have in hand? The Lord is round about them, not to save them from this or that incursion, but from all; not from one or two evils, but from every one whereby they are or may be assaulted. He is with them, and round about them on every side, that no evil shall come nigh them. It is a most full expression of universal preservation, or of God’s keeping his saints in his love and favour, upon all accounts whatsoever; and that not for a season only, but it is “henceforth,” from his giving this promise unto their souls in particular, stud their receiving of it in all generations, according to their appointed times, “even for ever.”
Some few exceptions, with a great surplusage of words and phrases, to make them seem other things than what have been formerly insisted on again and again, are advanced by Mr Goodwin, to overturn this Zion and to cast down the mountains that are about Jerusalem, chap. xi. sect. 9, pp. 230–232. The sum of our argument from hence, as of the intendment of this place, is this: Those whom the Lord will certainly preserve for ever in the state and condition of trusting in him, they shall never be forsaken of him nor separated from him. The latter clause of this proposition is that which we 264contend for, the whole of that whose proof is incumbent on us. Of this the former part is a sufficient basis and foundation, being comprehensive of all that is or can be required to the unquestionable establishment thereof, [which] from the letter of the text we assume. But God will certainly preserve for ever all his saints that put their trust in him, in their so doing, that they shall not be altered or cast down from that state and condition. Change but the figurative expressions in the text, and the allusions used for the accommodation of their faith in particular to whom this promise was first given, into other terms of a direct and proper significancy, and the text and the assumption of our argument will appear to be the same; whence the conclusion intended will undeniably follow. Unto this clear deduction of the truth contended for from this place of Scripture, the discourse ensuing, in the place mentioned, is opposed:—
1. “The promise only assures them that trust in the Lord that they shall be preserved, but not at all that they that trust in him shall be necessitated to do so still, or that so they shall do. So Paul saith, ‘It was in my heart to live and die with the Corinthians;’ but doubtless with this proviso, that they always continued such as they then were, or as he apprehended them to be, when he so wrote to them.”
Ans. I must be forced to smite this evasion once and again before we arrive at the close of this contest, it being so frequently made use of by our adversary, who without it knows himself not able to stand against the evidence of any one promise usually insisted on. This is the substance of all that which, with exceeding delightful variety of expressions, is a hundred times made use of: “The promise is conditional, and made to those that trust in the Lord, and is to be made good only upon the account of their continuing so to do; but that they shall so do, that they shall continue to trust in the Lord, that is wholly left to themselves, and not in the least undertaken in the promise.” And this is called a “discharging or dismissing of places of Scripture from the service whereunto, contrary to their proper sense and meaning, they are pressed,” a “delivering them from the bearing the cross of this warfare,” with such like imperial terms and expressions. To speak in the singleness of our spirit, we cannot see any one of the discharged soldiers returning from the camp, wherein they have long served for the safety and consolation of them that do believe. Particularly, this Scripture detests the gloss with violence imposed on it, and tells you that the end for which the God of truth sent it into this service., wherein it abides, is to assure them that trust in the Lord that they shall be preserved in that condition to the end; that in the condition of trusting and depending on God, they shall be as Zion, and the favour of God unto them as the immovable mountains, — he will for ever be with them and about them; and 265that all this shall certainly come to pass. Christ [David?] does not say that they shall be as established mountains if they continue to trust in the Lord, but they shall be so in their trusting, abiding for ever therein, through the safeguarding presence of God. For their being necessitated to continue trusting in the Lord, there is not any thing in [the] text, or in our argument from thence, or in the doctrine we maintain, that requires or will admit of any such proceeding of God as by that expression is properly signified. Indeed, there is a contradiction in terms, if they are used to the same purpose. To trust in the Lord is the voluntary, free act of the creature. To be necessitated unto this act and in the performance of it, so that it should be done necessarily as to the manner of its doing, is wholly destructive to the nature and being of it. That God can effectually and infallibly as to the event cause his saints to continue trusting in him without the least abridgment of their liberty, yea, that he doth so eminently by heightening and advancing their spiritual liberty, shall be afterward declared. If by “Necessitated to continue trusting,” not the manner of God’s operation with and in them for the compassing of the end proposed, and the efficacy of his grace, whereby he doth it (commonly decried under these terms), be intended, but only the certainty of the issue, rejecting the impropriety of the expression, the thing itself we affirm to be here promised of God. But it is urged, —
2. “That this promise is not made unto the persons of any, but merely unto their qualifications; like that, ‘He that believeth shall be saved;’ it is made to the grace of trusting, obedience, and walking with God: for threatenings are made to the evil qualifications of men.”
Ans. This it seems, then, we are come unto (and what farther progress may be made the Lord knows): The gracious promises of God, made to his church, his people, in the blood of Jesus, on which they have rolled themselves with safety and security in their several generations, are nothing but bare declarations of the will of God, what he allows and what he rejects, with the firm concatenation that is between faith and salvation, obedience and reward. And this, it seems, is the only use of them: which if it be so, I dare boldly say that all the saints of God from the foundation of the world have most horribly abused his promises, and forced them to other ends than ever God intended them for. Doubtless all those blessed souls who are fallen asleep in the faith of Jesus Christ, having drawn refreshment from these breasts of consolation, could they be summoned to give in their experience of what they have found in this kind, would with one mouth profess that they found far more in them than mere conditional declarations of the will of God; yea, that they received them in faith as the engagement of his heart and 266good-will towards them, and that he never failed in the accomplishment and performance of all the good mentioned in them. Neither will that emphatical expression in the close of the second verse (which being somewhat too rough for our author to handle, he left it quite out) bear any such sense. That the promises of the covenant are made originally to persons, and not to qualifications, hath been in part already proved, and shall be farther evinced, God assisting, as occasion shall be offered, in the ensuing discourse. The promises are to Abraham and his seed; and some of them, as hath been declared, are the springs of all qualifications whatever that are acceptable unto God. What be the qualifications of promises of opening blind eyes, taking away stony hearts, etc., hath not as yet been declared. But it is farther argued, —
3. “That this and the like promises are to be interpreted according to the rule which God hath given for the interpretation and understanding of his threatenings unto nations about temporal things, and his promises that are of the same import, which we have, Jer. xviii. 7, 8, plainly affirming that all their accomplishment dependeth on some conditions in the persons or nations against whom they are denounced.”
Ans. God forbid! Shall those promises which are branches of the everlasting covenant of grace, called “better promises” than those of the old covenant, upon the account of their infallible accomplishment, ratified in the blood of Christ, made “yea and amen”140140 Heb. viii. 6; 2 Cor. i. 20. in him, the witness of the faithfulness of God to his church and grand supporter of our faith, “exceeding great and precious,”141141 2 Pet. i. 4. — shall they be thought to be of no other sense and interpretation, to make no other revelation of the Father unto us, but in that kind which is common to threatenings of judgments (expressly conditional) for the deterring men from their impious and destructive courses? I say, God forbid! To put it, then, to an issue: God here promiseth that they who have trust in him shall never be removed. What, I pray, is the condition on which this promise doth depend? “It is,” say they who oppose us in this, “if they continue trusting in him.” That is, if they be not removed; for to trust in him is not to be removed: if, then, they be not removed, they shall not be removed! And is this the mind of the Holy Ghost? Notwithstanding all the rhetoric in the world, this promise will stand, for the consolation of them that believe, as the mountains about Jerusalem, that shall never be removed.
In some it is said to be “a promise of abiding in happiness, not in faith.” But it plainly appears to be a promise of abiding in trusting the Lord, which comprehends both our faith and happiness.
Obj. “It is not promised that they who once trust in the Lord shall abide happy though they cease to trust in him.”
267Ans. It is a promise that they shall not cease to trust in him.
Obj. “It is not said that they shall be necessitated to abide trusting in him.”
Ans. No; but it is that they shall be so far assisted and effectually wrought upon as certainly to do it.
Obj. “It is no more than the apostle says to the Corinthians, 2 Cor. ii. 3; which frame towards them he would not continue should they be changed and turned into idolaters and blasphemers.”
Ans. 1. The promises of God and the affections of men are but ill compared. 2. Paul loved the Corinthians whilst they were such as he mentioned. God promiseth his grace to believers, that they may continue such as he loves.
Obj. “All the promises are made to qualifications, not to persons.”
Ans. Prove that, and, 1. Take the case in hand; and, 2. Cast down the church to the ground, it having no one promise, on that account, made unto it, as consisting of Abraham’s seed.
And so this witness also is freed from all exceptions put in against it, and appears with confidence to give in its testimony to the unchangeableness of God unto believers.
I shall, in the next place, adjoin another portion of Scripture, of the same import with those foregoing, wherein the truth in hand is no less clearly, and somewhat more pathetically and convincingly, expressed than in that last mentioned. It is Isa. liv. 7–10, “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer. For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.” This place I have mentioned before, but only as to one special inference from one passage in the words; I shall now use the whole for the confirmation of the general truth we plead for. The words are full, plain, suited to the business in hand. No expressions of our finding out can so fully reach the truth we assert, much less so pathetically work upon the affections of believers, or so effectually prevail on their understandings to receive the truth contained in them, as these words of God himself, given us for these ends, are suited to do. Go to men whose minds are in any measure free from prejudice, not forestalled with a contrary persuasion or furnished with evasions for the defence of their opinions, and ask whether God doth not in these words directly and positively promise to those to whom he speaketh, that he will always 268continue his kindness to them to the end, and that for the days of eternity his love shall be fixed on them; and I no way doubt but they will readily answer, “It is so indeed; it cannot be denied.” But seeing we have to deal, as with our own unbelieving hearts, so with men who have turned every stone to prejudge this testimony of God, the words must a little more narrowly be considered, and the mind of the Holy Ghost inquired into.
Verse 7, mention is made of the desertion of the church by the eclipsing of the beams of God’s countenance, and the inflicting of some great affliction for a season; in opposition unto which momentary desertion, in that and in the beginning of the 8th verse, he giveth in consolation from the assurance of the great mercies and everlasting kindness wherein he abideth to do them good: “With everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee;” — “I will pardon, pity, and heal thee with that mercy which floweth from love, which never had beginning, that never shall have ending, that cannot be cut off, ‘everlasting kindness’ Bear with patience your present desertion, your present trials, whatever they are that befall you; they are but for a season, but ‘ for a moment,’ and these also are consistent with that mercy and kindness which is everlasting and turneth not away.” If this mercy and kindness dependeth on any thing in us, and is solved lastly thereinto, which may alter and change every moment, — as our walking with God in itself considered, not relating to the unchangeableness of his purpose and the efficacy of his promised grace, is apt to do, — what opposition can there be betwixt that desertion wherewith they are exercised and the kindness wherewith they are embraced, as to their continuance? As that is said to be for a little while, for “a moment,” so this also may be of no longer abode. It may possibly be as Jonah’s gourd, that grew up in the morning, and before night was withered. What, then, shall become of the foundation of that consolation wherewith God here refresheth the souls of his people, consisting in the continuance of his kindness in an antithesis to the momentariness of their desertion?
Lest that any should call this into question (as our unbelieving hearts are very apt and skilful in putting in pleas against the truth of the promises of God and their accomplishment towards us), verse 9, the Lord farther confirmeth the assurance formerly given, and removeth those objections to which, through the sophistry of Satan and the sottishness of our own hearts, it may seem to be liable. “This is,” saith he, “as the waters of Noah.” God’s dealing with them in that mercy which floweth from his everlasting kindness is like his dealing with the world in the matter of the waters of Noah, or the flood wherewith it was drowned and destroyed, when he, with his, were saved in the ark. He calleth upon his children to consider his dealings with the world in respect of the flood: “I have sworn,” 269saith he (that is, “I have entered into a covenant to that end,” which was wont to be confirmed with an oath, and God being absolutely faithful in his covenant is said to swear thereunto, though there be no express mention of any such oath), “that the world should no more be so drowned as then it was. Now,” saith God, “see my faithfulness herein; it hath never been drowned since, nor ever shall be. With equal faithfulness have I engaged, even in covenant, that that kindness which I mentioned to thee shall always be continued, ‘so that I will not be wroth to rebuke thee;’ that is, so as utterly to cast thee off, as the world was when it was drowned.” But some may say, “Before the flood the earth was filled with violence and sin; and should it be so again, would it not bring another flood upon it? Hath he said he will not drown it, notwithstanding any interposal of sin, wickedness, or rebellion whatsoever? Yea,” saith he, “such is my covenant. I took notice in my first engagement therein, that the ‘imagination of man’s heart would be evil from his youth,’ Gen. viii. 21, and yet I entered into that solemn covenant. So that this exemption of the world from a universal deluge is not an appendix to the obedience of the world, which hath been, upon some accounts, more wicked since than before (as in the crucifying of Christ, the Lord of glory, and in rejecting of him being preached unto them), but it solely leaneth upon my faithfulness in keeping covenant, and my truth in the accomplishment of the oath that I have solemnly entered into. So is my kindness to you. I have made express provision for your sins and failings therein; such I will preserve you from as are inconsistent with my kindness to you, and such will I pardon as you are overtaken withal.” When you see a universal deluge covering the face of the earth (that is, God unfaithful to his oath and covenant), then, and not till then, suppose that his kindness can be turned from believers.
Something is excepted against this testimony, chap. xi. sect. 4, p. 227, but of so little importance that it is scarce worth while to turn aside to the consideration of it. The sum is, “That this place speaketh only of God’s faithfulness in his covenant; but that this should be the tenor of the covenant, that they who once truly believe should by God infallibly, and by a strong hand, against all interposals of sin, wickedness, or rebellion, be preserved in such a faith, is not, by any word, syllable, or iota, intimated.”
Ans. This is that which is repeated “usque ad nauseam;” and were it not for variety of expressions, wherewith some men do abound, to adorn it, it would appear extremely beggarly and overworn. But a sorry shift (as they say) is better than none, or doubtless in this place it had not been made use of; for, —
1. This testimony is not called forth to speak immediately to the continuance of believers in their faith, but to the continuance and 270unchangeableness of the love of God to them, and consequently only to their preservation in faith upon that account.
2. It is not only assumed at a cheap and very low rate or price, but clearly gratis supposed, that believers may make such “interposals of sin, wickedness, and rebellion,” in their walking with God, as should be inconsistent with the continuance of his favour and kindness to them, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace. His kindness and favour being to us extrinsical, our sins are not opposed unto them really and directly, as though they might effectually infringe an act of the will of God, but only meritoriously. Now, when God saith that he will continue his kindness to us for ever notwithstanding the demerit of sin, as is plainly intimated in that allusion to the waters of Noah, for any one to say that they may fall into such sins and rebellions as that he cannot but turn his kindness from them, is a bold attempt for the violation of his goodness and faithfulness, and a plain begging of the thing in question. Certainly it is not a pious labour, to thrust with violence such supposals into the promises of God as will stop those breasts from giving out any consolation, when no place or room for them doth at all appear, there being not one word, syllable, iota, or tittle, of any such supposals in them.
3. The exposition and gloss that is given of these words, — namely, “That upon condition of their faithfulness and obedience, which, notwithstanding any thing in this or any other promise, they may turn away from, he will engage himself to be a God to them,” — is such as no saint of God, without the help of Satan and his own unbelief, could affix to the place.
4. Neither will that at all assist which is affirmed, namely, “That in all covenants, — and his promise holdeth out a covenant, — there must be a condition on both sides:” for, we willingly grant that in his covenant of grace God doth promise something to us, and requireth something of us, and that these two have mutual dependence one upon another; but we also affirm that in the very covenant itself God hath graciously promised to work effectually in us those things which he requireth of us, and that herein it mainly differeth from the covenant of works, which he hath abolished. But such a covenant as wherein God should promise to be a God unto us upon a condition by us and in our own strength to be fulfilled, and on the same account continued in unto the end, we acknowledge not, nor can, whilst our hearts have any sense of the love of the Father, the blood of the Son, or the grace of the Holy Spirit, the fountains thereof. Notwithstanding, then, any thing that hath been drawn forth in opposition to it, faith may triumph, from the love of God in Christ, held out in this promise, in the full assurance of an everlasting acceptance with him; for God, also, willing yet more abundantly to give in consolation in this place 271to the heirs of promise, assureth the stability of his love and kindness to them by another allusion: Verse 10, “The mountains,” saith he, “shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.” He biddeth them consider the mountains and hills, and suppose that they may be removed and depart. “Suppose that the most unlikely things in the world shall come to pass, whose accomplishment none can judge possible while the world endureth, yet my kindness to thee is such as shall not fall within those supposals which concern things of such an impossibility.” I am exceeding conscious that all paraphrasing or exposition of the words that may be used, for their accommodation to the truth we plead for, doth but darken and eclipse the light and glory which in and by themselves, to a believing soul, they cast upon it. Now, lest any should think that there is the least tendency in such promises as these, as held out to believers, to turn them aside from close walking with God, before I enter upon the consideration of any other (this seeming of all others most exposed to exceptions of that nature), I shall give some few observations that may a little direct believers, to whom I write, and for whose sake this task is undertaken, unto the right improvement of them.
The genuine influence which this and the like promises have upon the souls of the saints, is mightily to stir them up unto, and to assist them in answering, what lieth in them, that inexpressible love and kindness which their God and Father in Jesus Christ holdeth out unto their hearts in them. This the apostle inferreth from them, 2 Cor. vii. 1, “Having these promises” (that is, those especially mentioned in the words preceding the conclusion and the inference the apostle here maketh, chap. vi. 16, 18, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and will be a Father unto them, and they shall be my sons and daughters”), therefore, saith he, “let us cleanse ourselves from all pollution of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” Universal purity, holiness, and close walking with God, are that which these promises do press unto and naturally promote in the hearts of believers. And in 2 Pet. i. 3–6, that apostle pursueth the same at large, “God hath called us to glory and virtue; hath given us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. Besides this, giving all diligence,” etc. “The exceeding great and precious promises” which are given unto us in our calling are bestowed for this end, that “by them we may be made partakers of the divine nature.” They have no tendency to communicate to us the nature of the devil, and to stir us up to rebellion, uncleanness, and hatred of the God of all that love that is in them; but lie, indeed, at the bottom, the root, and foundation of 272the practice and exercise of all those graces which he enumerates, and, from the receiving of those promises, exhorts us to in the following verses. Some, I confess, do or may “turn the grace of God into lasciviousness,” — that is, the doctrine of grace and of pardon of sin in the blood of Jesus Christ, — and so the mercy mentioned in such promises as these, merely as in them it is mentioned; grace and mercy communicated cannot be turned into wantonness. But what are they that do so? “Ungodly men, men of old ordained to condemnation,” Jude 4. Paul rejecteth any such thought from the hearts of believers: Rom. vi. 1, 2, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!” Nay, suppose that that natural corruption, that flesh and blood, that is in believers, be apt to make such a conclusion as this, “Because God will certainly abide with us for ever, therefore let us walk carelessly, and do him all the despite we can,” these promises being not made for the use and exalting of the flesh, but being given to be mixed with faith, which is carefully to watch against all abusing or corrupting of that love and mercy which is held out unto it, flesh and blood can have no advantage given unto it thereby; as shall afterward be more fully and clearly demonstrated. The question is, then, what conclusion faith doth, will, and ought to make of these promises of God, and not what abuse the flesh will make of them. Let, then, the meanest and weakest faith in all the world that is true and saving speak for itself, whether there be any thing in the nature of it that is apt to make such conclusions as these: “My God and Father in Jesus Christ hath graciously promised, in his infinite love and goodness to me, through him in whom he is well pleased, that he will be my God and guide for ever, that he will never forsake me, nor take his kindness from me to eternity. And he hath done this although that he saw and knew that I would deal foolishly and treacherously, that I would stand in need of all his goodness, patience, and mercy, to spare me and heal me, promising also to keep me from such a wicked departure from him as should for ever alienate my soul from him: therefore come on, let me continue in sin; let me do him all the dishonour and despite that I can. This is all the sense that I have of his infinite love, this is all the impression that it leaveth upon me, that I need not love him again, but study to be as vile and as abominable in his sight as can possibly be imagined.” Certainly there is not any “smoking flax,” or any “bruised reed,” there is not a soul in the world whom God in Christ hath once shined upon, or dropped the least dram of grace into his heart, but will look on such a conclusion as this as a blast of the bottomless pit, a detestable dart of Satan, which it is as proper for faith to quench as any other abomination whatever. Let, then, faith in reference unto these promises have its perfect work, not abiding in a naked contemplation of 273them, but mixing them with itself, and there will be undoubtedly found the improvement before mentioned for the carrying on of godliness and gospel obedience in the hearts of believers. But this I shall have occasion to speak to more afterward.
Hos. ii. 19, 20, is pertinent also to the same purpose: “I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord.” The words themselves as they tie in the text do directly confirm our assertion. The relation whereinto God here expresseth that he will and doth take his people is one of the most near and eminent which he affordeth to them, a conjugal relation, — he is and will be their husband; which is as high an expression of the covenant betwixt God and his saints as any that is or can be used. Of all covenants that are between sundry persons, that which is between man and wife is the strongest and most inviolable. So is this covenant expressed Isa. liv. 5, “Thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name.” And this relation he affirmeth shall continue for ever, upon the account of those properties of his which are engaged in this his gracious undertaking to take them to himself therein. He doth it “in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies, and in faithfulness.” So that if there be not something in the context or words adjoining that shall with a high hand turn us aside from the first, immediate, open, and full sense of these words, the case is undoubtedly concluded in them. This, then, we shall consider, and therefore must look a little back into the general design of the whole chapter, for the evasion of “qualifications” will not here serve; God betrothed persons, not qualifications.
There are two parts of the chapter:— 1. That from the beginning to verse 14 containeth a most fearful and dreadful commination and threatening of the judgments of the Lord against the whole church and commonwealth of the Jews, for their apostasy, idolatry, and rebellion against him. It is not an affliction or a trial, or some lesser desolation, that God here threateneth them withal, but utter destruction and rejection as to all church and political state. He will leave them neither substance nor ornament, state nor worship, describing the condition which came upon them at their rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Left they must be as in the day that God first looked on them, — poor, naked, in their blood, unpitied, formed neither into church-state nor commonwealth. “So will I make them,” saith the Lord. And this dispensation of God the prophet expresseth with great dread and terror to the end of verse 13.
2. The, second part of the chapter is taken up and spent, from verse 14 to the end, in heavenly and gracious promises of the conversion 274of the true Israelites, the seed according to the promise of God, of the renovation of the covenant with them, and blessing them with all spiritual blessings in Jesus Christ unto the end. And hereof there are these four parts:—
(1.) A heavenly promise of their conversion by the gospel; which he demonstrateth and setteth out by comparing the spiritual deliverance therein to the deliverance which they had by a high hand from Egypt, verses 14, 15.
(2.) The delivery of them so converted from idolatry, false worship, and all those ways whereby God was provoked to cast off their forefathers, attended by their obedience in close walking with God for ever, verses 16, 17.
(3.) The quietness and peace which they shall enjoy, being called and purged from their sins before mentioned; which the Lord expresseth by his making a covenant with the whole creation in their behalf, verse 18.
(4.) A discovery of the fountain of the mercies before mentioned, with those also which afterward are insisted on, to wit, the everlasting covenant of grace, through which God will with all faithfulness and mercy take them to himself, verses 19, 20, to the end.
Before we farther open these particulars, some objections must be removed that are laid to prevent the inference intended from these words, chap. xi. sect. 8, p. 229. It is objected, —
1. “The promise of the betrothing here specified is made unto the entire body and nation of the Jews, as well unbelievers as believers, as appeareth by the carriage of the chapter throughout.”
Ans. The “carriage of the chapter throughout” is a weak proof of this assertion, and no doubt fixed on for want of particular instances to give any light unto it. Neither doth the “carriage of the chapter throughout” intimate any such thing in the least, but expressly manifesteth the contrary. It is universal desolation and utter rejection that is assigned as the portion of unbelievers as such all along this chapter. This promise is made to them whom “God allureth into the wilderness, and there speaketh comfortably to them;” which, what it doth import, shall be afterward considered. Yea, and which is more, the words of verse 23, which run on in the same tenor with the promises particularly insisted on, and beyond all exception are spoken to and of the same persons, are applied by the apostle Paul, not to the whole nation of the Jews, idolaters and unbelievers, but to them that were brought in unto the Lord Christ, and obtained the righteousness of faith, when the rest were hardened, Rom. ix. 26. From verse 24 to verse 29, the apostle, by sundry instances from the scriptures of the Old Testament, manifesteth that it was a remnant of Israel “according to the election of grace” to whom the promise was made: “To us, whom God hath called, not to the 275Jews only, but also to the Gentiles; for so,” saith he, “it is in Osee” (instancing in the passage we insist on), “I will call them my people which were not my people; and her beloved which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there shall they be called the children of the living God;” — which he farther confirmeth by a testimony out of Isa. x. 22, 23, manifesting that it is but “a remnant” that is intended. Wherefore it is objected, —
2. “That the promise is conditional, and the performance of it and of the mercies mentioned in it suspended upon the repentance of that people, especially of their idolatry, to the true and pure worship of God, as appeareth, verses 14, 16, 17; which plainly showeth that it was made as well, nay, rather to those that were wicked and idolatrous amongst this people than unto others, as being held forth unto them chiefly for this end, to woo them away from their idols unto God.”
Ans. I hope the people of God will mere steadfastly abide by their interest in the sweetness, usefulness, and consolation of this promise, than to throw it away upon such slight and atheological flourishes; for, —
1. Is there any tittle, iota, or word, in the whole text, to intimate that this promise is conditional, and dependeth on the people’s forsaking their idolatry? The 14th, 16th, and 17th verses are urged for proof thereof. God, indeed, in these verses doth graciously promise that, from the riches of the same grace whence he freely saith that “he will betroth them to himself,” he will convert them, and turn them away from their idolatry and all their sins; but that that should be required of them as a condition whereon God will enter into covenant with them, there is nothing in the whole context, from verse 14 and downwards, that intimateth it in the least or will endure to he wrested to any such sense, it holding out several distinct acts of the same free grace of his unto his people.
2. That this is a promise of entering into covenant with them cannot be denied. Now, that God should require their repentance as an antecedaneous, previous qualification to his receiving them into covenant, and yet in the covenant undertake to give them that repentance, as he doth in promising them to take away their hearts of stone and give them new hearts of flesh, is a direct contradiction, fit only for a part of that divinity which is in the whole an express contradiction to the word and mind of God.
3. Neither can it be supposed as a conditional promise, held out to them as a motive to work them from their idolatry, when, antecedently thereunto, God hath expressly promised to do that for them (verses 16, 17) with as high a hand and efficacy of grace as can be well expressed.
276Wherefore, these being exceptions expressly against the scope of the whole, it is objected, —
3. “That it cannot be proved that this promise properly or directly intendeth the collation of spiritual or heavenly good things unto them, so as of temporal; yea, the situation of it betwixt temporal promises immediately both behind and before it persuadeth the contrary. Read the context from verse 8 to the end of the chapter.”
Ans. The other forts being demolished, this last is very faintly defended, — “It cannot be proved that it doth so properly or directly.” But if it doth intend spirituals properly and directly, though not so properly or directly, the case is clear. And that it doth properly intend spirituals, and but secondarily and indirectly temporals, as to sundry limitations, is most evident; for, —
1. The very conjugal expression of the love of God here used manifesteth it beyond all contradiction to be a promise of the covenant: “I will betroth thee unto me;” — “I will take thee unto me in wedlock covenant.” What! in temporal mercies? is that the tenor of the covenant of God? God forbid!
2. The foundations of these mercies, and the principles from whence they flow, are “loving-kindness,” and “mercies,” and “faithfulness” in God, which are fixed upon them and engaged unto them whom he thus taketh into covenant; and surely they are spiritual mercies.
3. The mercies mentioned are such as never had a literal accomplishment to the Jews in temporals, nor can have; and when things promised exceed all accomplishment as to the outward and temporal part, it is the spiritual that is principally and mainly intended. And such are these, verse 18, “I will break the bow, and the sword, and the battle out of the earth, and make them to lie down safely.” How, I pray, was this fulfilled towards them, whilst they lived under the power of the Persian, Grecian, and Roman empires, to their utter desolation? And verse 23, he telleth them that he will “sow them unto himself in the earth, and have mercy upon them;” which, as I said before, Paul himself interpreteth and applieth to the special mercies of faith and justification in the blood of Christ. So that both the verses going before and those that follow after, to the consideration whereof we are sent, contain directly and properly spiritual mercies, though expressed in words and terms of things of a temporal importance.
Thus, notwithstanding any exception to the contrary, the context is clear, as it was at first proposed. Let us, then, in the next place, consider the intendment of God in this promise, with that influence of demonstration which it hath upon the truth we are in the consideration of, and then free the words from that corrupting gloss which is endeavoured to be put upon them.
In the first [place] I shall consider, — 1. The persons to whom this 277promise is made; 2. The nature of the promise itself; 3. The great undertaking and engagement of the properties of God for the accomplishment of his promise.
1. The persons here intimated are such as are under the power and enjoyment of the grace and kindness mentioned in verses 14–18. Now, because a right understanding of the grace of those promises addeth much to the apprehension of the kindness of these particulars insisted on, the opening of those words may be thought necessary.
Verse 14, they are those whom God “allureth into the wilderness,” and “speaketh comfortably unto them;” he allureth and persuadeth them. There is an allusion in the words to the great original promise of the conversion of the Gentiles, and the way whereby it shall be done. Gen. ix. 27, God persuades Japheth to dwell in the tents of Shem. Their alluring is by the powerful and sweet persuasion of the gospel; which here is so termed to begin the allegory of betrothing and marriage, which is afterward pursued. It is God’s beginning to woo the soul by his ambassadors. God persuadeth them into the wilderness, — persuadeth them, but yet with mighty power, as he carried them of old out of Egypt; for thereunto he evidently alludeth, as in the next verse is more fully expressed. Now, the wilderness condition whereinto they are allured or persuaded by the gospel compriseth two things:— (1.) Separation; (2.) Entanglement.
(1.) Separation. As the Israelites in the wilderness were separated from the residue of the world and the pleasures thereof, “the people dwelling alone, being not reckoned among the nations,” having nothing to do with them, so God separateth them to the love of the gospel from their carnal contentments, and all the satisfactions which before they received in their lusts, until they say to them, “Get you hence; what have we to do with you any more?” They are separated from the practice of them, and made willing to bid them everlastingly farewell. They see their Egyptian lusts lie slain or dead, or at least dying, by the cross of Christ, and desire to see them no more.
(2.) Entanglement, as the Israelites were in the wilderness. They knew not what to do, nor which way to take one step, but only as God went before them, as he took them by the hand, and taught them to go. God bringeth them into a lost condition; they know not what to do, nor which way to take, nor what course to pitch upon. And yet in this wilderness state, God doth commonly stir up such gracious dispositions of soul in them as himself is exceedingly delighted withal: hence he doth peculiarly call this time “a time of love,” which he remembereth with much delight. All the time of the saint’s walking with him, he taketh not greater delight in a soul, when it cometh to its highest peace and fullest assurance, than when it is seeking after him in its wilderness entanglement. So he expresseth 278it, Jer. ii. 2, “Thus saith the Lord; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown” And what he here affirmeth holds proportion therewithal. The time of their being in the wilderness was the time of their espousals, and so it is here the time of the Lord’s betrothing the soul to himself, the wooing words whereby he doth it being intimated in the next verse; for, —
[1.] He “speaketh comfortably to them,” speaketh to their hearts good words, that may satisfy their spirits and give them rest and deliverance out of that condition. What it is that God speaketh, when he speaketh comfortably to the very hearts of poor souls, he telleth you, Isa. xl. 1, 2, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.” It is the pardon of iniquity that inwrappeth all the consolation that a poor wilderness soul, separated and entangled, is capable of or doth desire. And this is the first description of the persons to whom this promise is given: They are such as God hath humbled and pardoned, such as he hath converted and justified, whom he hath allured into the wilderness, and there spoken comfortably to them.
[2.] Verse 15, the Lord promiseth to this called and justified people plenty of spiritual, gospel mercies, which he shadoweth out with typical expressions of temporal enjoyments, and that with allusion to their deliverance of old from Egypt, in three particulars:—
1st. In general, he will give them “vineyards from thence” (that is, from the wilderness), as he did to them in Canaan, when he brought them out of the wilderness. This God often mindeth them of, that he gave them “vineyards which they planted not,” Deut. vi. 11; and he here setteth out the plenty of gospel grace, which they never laboured for, which he had provided for them, under that notion. He giveth them of the wine of the gospel, his Holy Spirit.
2dly. In particular, he compares his dealings with them to his dealings in the valley of Achor, a most pleasant and fruitful valley that was near Jericho, being the first the Israelites entered into when they came out of the wilderness, which is mentioned as a fruitful place, Isa. lxv. 10. And therefore this is said to be to them “a door of hope,” or an entrance into that which they hoped for, it being the first fat, fruitful, and fertile place that the Israelites came into in the land of Canaan, and so an entrance into the good land which they hoped for, answering their expectation to the uttermost. In the promise of the abundance of spiritual mercies and grace which God hath prepared for his, he recalleth into their minds the consideration of the refreshment which the Israelites, after so long an abode in the “waste and howling wilderness,” had and took in the fruitful, plenteous “valley of Achor.” Such is the spiritual provision that 279God hath made for the entertainment of poor souls whom he hath allured into the wilderness, and there spoken comfortably to them. Being called and pardoned, he leadeth them to sweet and pleasant pastures, treasures of grace and mercy, which he hath laid up for them in Jesus Christ. He giveth them of the first-fruits of heaven, which is a door of hope unto the full possession, Rom. viii. 23.
3dly. [He alludes] to the songs and rejoicings which the church had when they sung one to another upon the destruction of the Egyptians, at their delivery out of the bondage of Egypt. As then they sung for joy, Exod. xv. 1–21, upon the sense of that great and wonderful deliverance which God had wrought for them, so shall their hearts be affected with gospel mercies, pardoning, healing, purging, and comforting grace, which in Jesus Christ he will give in unto them.
These, then, are the three things which are promised to them that come out of the wilderness:— (1.) Gospel refreshment, in pouring out of the Spirit upon them; (2.) The first-fruits of heaven, a door of hope; (3.) Spiritual joy, in the destruction and conquest of sin.
This, then, is the sum of this second part of that description which we have of those persons to whom the promise under consideration is given: They are such as, being called and pardoned, are admitted to that portion in the wonderful marvellous provision of gospel mercies and grace which in Jesus Christ he hath provided for them, with that joy and consolation which thereon doth ensue.
In the following verses you have a fuller description of these persons, upon a twofold account:— First, By their delivery from idolatry and false worship, verses 16, 17, which is particularly and peculiarly insisted on, because that eminently was the sin for which those mentioned in the beginning of the chapter were utterly rejected. God will preserve these, as from the sin of idolatry, so from any other that should procure their utter rejection and desolation, as that of idolatry had formerly done in respect of the only carnal Jews. Secondly, By their protection against their enemies, verse 18. And these are the persons to whom this promise is made, — converted, justified, sanctified, and purified persons.
2. We may take a little view of the nature of the promise itself: “I will,” saith the Lord, “betroth thee unto me for ever.” There is in this promise a twofold opposition to that rejection that God had before denounced unto the carnal and rebellious Jews:—
(1.) In the nature of the thing itself, unto the divorce that God gave them: Verse 2, “She is not my wife; neither am I her husband.” But to these saith God, “I will betroth them unto myself;” — “They shall become a wife to me, and I will be a husband unto them.” And this also manifesteth that they are not the same persons to whom that threatening was given that are principally intended in this promise; for if God did only take them again whom he had once put 280away, there would have been no need of any betrothing of them anew. New “sponsalia” are not required for such an action.
(2.) In the continuance of the rejection of the first, and the establishment of the reception of the latter, at least in respect of his abiding with these and those; with those for a season, but unto these he saith, “I will betroth them unto me for ever.” God’s betrothing of believers is his actual taking them into a marriage covenant with himself, to deal with them in the tenderness, faithfulness, and protection of a husband. So is he often pleased to call himself in reference to his church. I shall not go forth to the consideration of this relation that God is pleased to take the souls of saints into with himself. The eminent and precious usefulness and consolation that floweth from it is ready to draw me out thereunto, but I must attend to that which I principally aim at, — namely, to evince that God hath undertaken that he and believers will and shall abide in this relation to the end, that he will for ever be a husband to them, and that in opposition to his dealing with the carnal church of the Jews, to whom he was betrothed as to ordinances, but rejected them, and said he was not their husband as to peculiar grace. To whom God continueth to be a husband, to them he continueth the loving-kindness, good-will, and protection of a husband, — the most intense, useful, fruitful, that can be imagined. This, then, will he do to believers, and that for ever.
3. Now, because sundry objections may be levied against the accomplishment of this engagement of God, upon the account of our instability and backsliding, the Lord addeth the manner of his entering into this engagement with us, obviating and preventing, or removing, all such objections whatever; which is the third thing proposed to consideration, — namely, the engagement of the properties of God for the accomplishment of this promise.
Five properties doth the Lord here mention, to assure us of his constancy in this undertaking of his grace, and of the steadfastness of the covenant he hath taken his people into; and they are, “righteousness, judgment, loving-kindness, mercies,” and “faithfulness;” whose efficacy, also, in reference unto their abiding with him whom he doth betroth to himself, he mentioneth in the close of verse 20, “Thou,” saith he, “shalt know the Lord.” I shall not insist on the particular importance of the several expressions whereby the Lord hath set forth himself and his goodness here unto us. It is plain that they are all mentioned to the same end and purpose, — namely, to give assurance unto us of the unchangeableness of this work of his grace, and to prevent the objections which the fears of our unbelieving hearts, from the consideration of our weaknesses, ways, and walkings, temptations, trials, and troubles, would raise upon it. The Lord, when he betroths us to himself, sees and knows what we are, what we will be, and how we will provoke the eyes of his 281glory. He sees that if we should be left unto ourselves, we would utterly cast off all knowledge of him and obedience unto him. “Wherefore,” saith he, “ ‘I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness and in judgment;’ allowing full measure for all thy weaknesses, that they shall not dissolve that union I intend.” As if a prince should go to take to him in marriage a poor deformed beggar, who being amazed with his kindness, and fearing much lest he should be mistaken, and account her otherwise than indeed she is, which when it is discovered will be her ruin, she plainly telleth him she is poor, deformed, and hath nothing in the world that may answer his expectation, and therefore she cannot but fear that when he knoweth her thoroughly indeed, he will utterly cast her off: but he thereupon replieth, “Fear no such thing; what I do, I do in righteousness and judgment, knowingly of thee and thy condition, and so as that. I will abide by it.” Perhaps, as some think, by this “betrothing us in righteousness,” the Lord may intimate his bestowing upon us righteousness, yea, his becoming in Jesus Christ our righteousness, to supply that utter want which is in us of that which is acceptable unto him, Isa. xlv. 24. Now, because we are not only unmeet to be at first accepted into any such terms of alliance with the Lord, but also shall certainly in the carrying of it on behave ourselves foolishly and frowardly, unanswerable to his loving-kindness, so that he may justly cast us off for ever, he telleth us farther that he betroths us to himself “in loving-kindness and in mercies,” knowing that in entering into this alliance with us he maketh work for his tenderest bowels of compassion, his pity and pardoning mercy. In his continuance in this relation, whatever his kindness, patience, and pardoning mercy can be extended unto, that he will accomplish and bring about. But will not the Lord, when he pardons once and again, at length be wearied by our innumerable provocations, so as to cast us off for ever? “No,” saith he; “this will I do in faithfulness.” He doubleth the expression of his grace, and addeth a property of his nature that will carry him out to abide by his first love to the utmost: “I will,” saith he, “even betroth thee unto myself in faithfulness” His firmness, constancy, and truth, in all his ways and promises, will he use in this work of his grace, Deut. xxxii. 4. But perhaps, notwithstanding all this, the heart is not yet quiet, but it feareth itself and its own treachery, lest it should utterly fall off from this gracious husband; wherefore, in the close of all, God undertaketh for them also that no scruple may remain why our souls should not be satisfied with the sincere milk that floweth from this breast of consolation. “Thou shalt,” saith he, “know the Lord.” This, indeed, is required, that under the accomplishment of this gracious promise you know the Lord, — that is, believe and trust, and obey the Lord; and saith he, “Thou shalt do it. I will by my grace keep alive in thy heart 282(as a fruit of that love wherewith I have betrothed thee to myself) that knowledge, faith, and obedience, which I require of thee.”
This, then, is some part of that which in this promise the Lord holdeth out unto us and assureth us of. Notwithstanding his rejection of the carnal Jews, yet for his elect, both the Jews and Gentiles, he will so take them into a marriage covenant with himself that he will continue for ever a husband unto them, undertaking also that they shall continue in faith and obedience, knowing him all their days. And of all this he effectually assureth them upon the account of his righteousness, judgment, loving-kindness, mercy, and faithfulness.
I cannot but add, that if there were no other place of Scripture in the whole book of God to confirm the truth we have in hand but only this, I should not doubt (the Lord assisting) to close with it upon the signal testimony given unto it thereby, notwithstanding all the specious oppositions that are made thereunto.
For the close, I shall a little consider that lean and hungry exposition of these words which is given in the place before mentioned, chap. xi. sect. 8, p. 229, “I will betroth them unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and mercy.” So the words are expressed, in a different character, as the very words of the promise in the text:— “Thee,” that is, the church, is changed into “Them,” — that is, the Jews and their children or carnal seed, as a little before was expressed; and then that emphatical expression, “for ever,” is quite thrust out of the text, as a stubborn word, not to be dealt withal upon any fair terms. Let us see, then, how that which remaineth is treated and turned off. “ ‘I will betroth thee;’ that is, ‘I will engage and attempt to insure both them and their affections to me, by all variety of ways and means that are proper and likely to bring such a thing to pass.’ ” But who knoweth not that this is wooing, and not betrothing? We need not go far to find out men learned in the law to inform us that to try and attempt to get and assure the affections of any one is not a betrothment. This, then, is the first part of this exposition: “ ‘I will betroth;’ that is, ‘I will woo and essay, attempt and endeavour, to get their affections;’ ” which, besides the forementioned absurdity, is attended with another sore oversight, to wit, that God promiseth to do this very thing in the last words of verse 20, which is affirmed that he doth but attempt to do.
To proceed: He saith, “I will do this, by showing myself just and righteous unto them, in keeping my promise concerning their deliverance out of captivity at the end of seventy years.” So, then, in this new paraphrase, “I will betroth thee” (that is, the election of Jews and Gentiles) “to myself for ever in righteousness,” is, “I will essay to get their affections by showing myself righteous in the promise 283of bringing the Jews out of captivity.” That this promise is not made to the body of the Jews returning out of captivity was before demonstrated. The righteousness here mentioned is that which God will and doth exercise in this very act of betrothing, and not any other act of it, which he will make use of to that purpose. God engageth to betroth them to himself in righteousness, using and exercising his righteousness in that very set of his love and grace to them; and this is now given in an alluring them to love him by appearing righteous in bringing them out of captivity!
The like interpretation is given of the other expressions following: “ ‘Judgment,’ — it is,” saith he, “by punishing and judging their enemies, and destroying them that led them into captivity, and held them in ‘bondage and subjection; and ‘loving-kindness’ is his giving them corn, wine, oil, peace, and plenty; and ‘mercy,’ in pardoning of daily sins and infirmities; and ‘faithfulness’ is” he knoweth not what. This is made the sum of all: “God, by doing them good with outward mercies, and pardoning some sins and infirmities, will morally try to get their affections to himself.” “Virgula Pictoris!” 1. It is not an expression of God’s attempting to get their love, but of the establishing and confirming of his own. 2. That God should morally try and essay to do and effect or bring about any thing, which yet he doth not, will not, or cannot, compass and effect, is not to be ascribed to him without casting the greatest reproach of impotency, ignorance, changeableness, upon him imaginable. 3. God promising to betroth us to himself, fixing his love on us that we shall know him, so fixing our hearts on him; to say that this holdeth out only the use of some outward means unto us, enervateth the whole covenant of his grace wrapped up in these expressions. So that, all things considered, it is not a little strange to me that any sober, learned man should ever be tempted so to wrest and corrupt, by wrested and forced glosses, the plain words of Scripture, wherein, whatever is pretended, he cannot have the least countenance of any expositor of note that went before him. Although we are not to be pressed with the name of Tarnovius, a Lutheran, a professed adversary in this cause, yet let his exposition of that place under consideration be consulted with, and it will plainly appear that it abideth not in any compliance with that which is here by our author imposed on us.
The promises we have under consideration looking immediately and directly only to one part of that doctrine whose defence we have undertaken, — to wit, the constancy and unchangeableness of the grace of justification, or God’s abiding with his saints, as to his free acceptance of them and love unto them, unto the end, — I shall not insist on many more particulars.
John x. 27–29 closeth this discourse. “My sheep hear my voice, 284and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”
In the verse foregoing, our Saviour renders a reason why the Pharisees, notwithstanding all his preaching to them and the miracles he wrought among them, yet believed not, when sundry others, to whom the same dispensation of outward means was afforded, did hear his voice and did yield obedience thereunto; and this he telleth us was because they were not of his sheep, such as were given him of his Father, and for whom, as the good Shepherd, he laid down his life, verses 14, 15. Upon the close of this discourse, he describeth the present condition of his sheep, and their preservation in that condition, from the power of himself and his Father engaged thereunto. He layeth their abiding with him as his sheep upon the omnipotence of God; which, upon account of the constancy of his love towards them, he will exercise and exert as need shall be in their behalf. There are many emphatical expressions both of their continuance in the obedience of faith, and of his undertaking for their preservation therein. The latter I at present only intend. Saith he, 1. “I know them;” 2. “I give them eternal life;” 3. “They shall never perish;” 4. “No man shall pluck them out of my hand;” 5. “My Father is omnipotent, and hath a sovereignty over all, and he taketh care of them, and none shall take them out of his hand.” It is not easy to cast these words into any other form of arguing than that wherein they lie, without losing much of that convincing evidence that is in them. This you may take for the sum of their influence into the truth in hand: Those whom Christ so owneth as to take upon him to give them eternal life, and by his power and the power of his Father to preserve them thereunto, — which power shall not, nor possibly can be, prevailed against, so that the end aimed at to be accomplished therein should not be brought about, — those shall certainly be kept for ever in the favour and love of God, they shall never be turned from him. Such is the case of all believers; for they are all the sheep of Christ, they all hear his voice and follow him.
Some few things, to wrest this gracious assurance given believers of the everlasting good-will of God and Christ unto them, are attempted by Mr Goodwin, chap. x. sect. 37, p. 203.
1. He granteth that there is an engagement of the “mighty power of God for the safeguarding of the saints, as such or remaining such, against all adverse powers whatever, but nowhere for the compelling or necessitating of them to persevere and continue such is there any thing in the Scripture.”
285Ans. The sum is, “If they will continue saints, God will take care that, notwithstanding all opposition, they shall be saints still.” Very well, if they will be so, they shall be so; but “that they shall continue to be so, that is not promised.” The terms of “compelling or necessitating” are cast in merely to throw dirt upon the truth, lest, the beauty shining forth too brightly, there might have been danger that the very exceptor himself could not have borne it. We say not that God by his power compelleth men to persevere; that is, maketh them do it whether they will or no. Perseverance being an habitual grace in their wills, it is a gross contradiction once to imagine that men should be compelled thereunto. But this we say, that, by the almighty power of his Spirit and grace, he confirmeth his saints in a voluntary abiding with him all their days. Having made them a willing people in the day of the power of Christ towards them, he preserveth them unto the end. Neither are they wrapped up by the power of God into such a necessity of perseverance as should obstruct the liberty of their obedience, the necessity that regardeth them in that condition respecting only the issue and end of things, and not their manner of support in their abiding with God. And it is not easy to conjecture why our author should so studiously avoid the grant, of a promise of final perseverance in these words, who, in his next observation upon them, affirmeth that “they respect the state of the saints in heaven, and not at all those that are on earth;” I mean, that part of those words which expresseth their preservation and safeguarding by the power of God. So that this is fancied, perhaps, even to be the condition of the saints in heaven, that God will there preserve them whilst they continue saints, but that they shall so do there is not any assurance given or to be had. It is marvellous, if this be so, that in so large and vast a space of time we yet never heard of any of those holy ones that were cast out of his inheritance, or that forfeited his enjoyment. But let us hear what is farther asserted. He addeth, by way of answer, —
2. “The security for which our Saviour engageth the greatness of his Father’s power unto his sheep is promised unto them, not in order to the effecting or procuring their final perseverance, but rather by way of reward to it.”
Ans. But what tittle is there, I pray you, in the whole context to intimate any such thing? what insinuation of any such condition? “They hear my voice, and they follow me;” that is, “They believe in me, and bring forth the fruits of their believing in suitable obedience,” as these words of “hearing” and “following” do imply. Saith our Saviour, “These shall not perish, the power of my Father shall preserve them.” “That is,” saith our author, “in case they persevere to the end, then God will preserve them.” Clearly our Saviour under-taketh that believers shall not perish, and that his power and his 286Father’s are engaged for that end; which is all we assert or have need to do.
3. “That this promise of safety made to his sheep by Christ doth not relate to their state or condition in this present world, but to that of the world to come. ‘My sheep hear my voice, and follow me;’ in which words of ‘hearing’ and ‘following’ him he intimateth or includeth their perseverance, as appeareth by the words immediately following, ‘And I give them eternal life.’ ”
Ans. This, I confess, is to the purpose, if it be true; but being so contrary to what hath been (I had almost said universally) received concerning the mind of Christ in this place, we had need of evident concluding reasons to enforce the truth of this gloss or interpretation. For the present, I shall give you some few inducements or persuasions why it seemeth altogether unsuitable to the mind of our blessed Saviour, that this engagement of his Father’s power and his own should be shut out from taking any place in the kingdom of grace:—
1. Observe that there is a great opposition to be made against the saints in that condition wherein they are promised to be preserved. This is supposed in the words themselves: “None shall pluck them out of my hand. My Father is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand;” — as if he should have said, “It is true, many enemies they have, great opposition will there be and arise against them on all hands, but preserved they shall be in the midst of them all.” But now, what enemies, what opposition, will there be and arise against the saints in heaven? The Holy Ghost telleth us, “The last enemy is death,” and that at the resurrection that shall be “utterly swallowed up in victory,” that it shall never lift up the head; there they rest from their labours who die in the Lord. Yea, it is exceeding ridiculous to suppose that the saints need assurance of the engagement of the omnipotency of God for their safeguarding in heaven against all opposition, when they are assured of nothing more than that there they shall not be liable to the least opposition or obstruction in their enjoyment of God unto all eternity.
2. Our Saviour here describeth the present condition of his sheep in a way of opposition to them that are not his sheep: his hear his voice, the others do not; and his shall be preserved when the others perish. The Pharisees believed not, and, as he told them, “they died in their sins;” his sheep heard him, and were preserved in their obedience. It is, then, evidently the deportment of Christ towards, and his care of, his sheep in this world, in a contradistinction to them who are not his sheep, among whom they live, that is here set forth.
3. The very context of the words enforceth this sense: “They follow me, and I give unto them eternal life;” — “I do it; that is the work I 287have in hand.” Take “eternal life” in the most comprehensive sense, for that which is to be enjoyed in heaven (though, doubtless, it compriseth also the life of grace which here we enjoy, John xvii. 3), what is that which our Saviour undertaketh to give believers, and that they may be sure that they shall be preserved to the enjoyment of? When he telleth them they shall not perish, is that not perishing not to be cast out of heaven when they come thither, — not to be deprived of eternal life after they have entered into the fullness of it? or rather, that they shall not fail or come short of it, and so perish? And this is that which the power of Father and Son is engaged to accomplish, — namely, that believers perish not by coming short of that eternal life which is the business of Christ to give unto them. If any one reason of weight or importance that hath the least pregnancy with truth be offered to the contrary, we shall renounce and shake off the power of the former reasons which we have insisted on; though without offering the greatest violence imaginable to truth itself it cannot be done. It is said that “by these words, ‘They hear my voice, and follow me,’ Christ doth intimate or include their perseverance.” To say a thing is “intimated or included” is of small power against so many express reasons as we have induced to the contrary. But will this be granted, that wherever the saints are said to hear the voice of Christ, perseverance is included? — we shall quickly have a fresh supply of Scripture proofs for the demonstration of the truth in hand. But what attempt is made for the proof hereof? “It is so because the words immediately following are, ‘I give unto them eternal life,’ which presuppose their final perseverance;” and this must be so, because it is so said. “I give unto them eternal life,” is either an intimation of what he doth for the present, by giving them a spiritual life in himself, or a promise he will do so with respect to eternal life consummated in heaven, which promise is everywhere made upon believing; and it is a promise of perseverance, not given upon perseverance. Neither is there any thing added in the words following to confirm this uncouth wresting of the mind of our Saviour, but only the assertion is repeated, “that God will defend them in heaven against all opposition.” Here, where their oppositions are innumerable, they may shift for themselves; but when they come to heaven, where they shall be sure to meet with no opposition at all, there the Lord hath engaged his almighty power for their safety against all that shall rise up against them. And this is, as is said, the “natural and clear disposition of the context in this place;” but “Nobis non licet,” etc.
There are sundry other texts of Scripture which most clearly and evidently confirm the truth we have in hand, which are all well worth our consideration for our consolation and establishment, as also something of our labour anal diligence, to quit them from those 288glosses and interpretations (which turn them aside from their proper intendment) that are by some put upon them; amongst which, 1 Cor. i. 8, 9; Phil. i. 6; 1 Thess. v. 24; John v. 24, ought to have place. But because I will not insist long on any particulars of our argument from the promises of God, here shall be an end.
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