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Institution of religious worship an evidence of forgiveness.

VII. God’s institution of religious worship, and honour therein to be rendered unto him by sinners, is another evidence that there is forgiveness with him. I have instanced before in one particular of worship to this purpose, — namely, in that of sacrifices; but therein we intended only their particular nature and signification, how they declared and manifested reconciliation, atonement, and pardon. That now aimed at is, to show how all the worship that God hath appointed unto us, and all the honour which we give unto his holy majesty thereby, is built upon the same foundation, — namely, a supposition of forgiveness, — and is appointed to teach it, and to ascertain us of it; which shall briefly be declared. To this end observe, —

1. That the general end of all divine and religious worship is to raise unto God a revenue of glory out of the creation. Such is God’s infinite natural self-sufficiency, that he stands in need of no such glory and honour. He was in himself no less infinitely and eternally glorious before the creation of all or any thing whatever, than he will be when he shall be encompassed about with the praises of all the works of his hands. And such is his absolute perfection, that no honour given unto him, no admiration of him, no ascription of glory and praise, can add any thing unto him. Hence saith the psalmist, “My goodness extendeth not to thee,” Ps. xvi. 2; — “It doth not so reach thee as to add unto thee, to profit thee, as it may do the saints that are on earth.” As he in Job, chap. xxii. 2, 3, “Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself? Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him, that thou makest thy ways perfect?” There is no doubt but that it is well-pleasing unto God that we should be 462righteous and upright; but we do him not a pleasure therein, as though he stood in need of it, or it were advantage or gain unto him. And again, chap. xxxv. 7, “If thou be righteous, what givest thou him? or what receiveth he at thine hand?” And the reason of all this the apostle gives us, Rom. xi. 36, “Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things.” Being the first sovereign cause and last absolute end of all things, every way perfect and self-sufficient, nothing can be added unto him: or, as the same apostle speaks, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, is not worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth unto all life, and breath, and all things,” Acts xvii. 24, 25; as he himself pleads at large, Ps. l. 7–13.

2. Wherefore, all the revenue of glory that God will receive by his worship depends merely on his own voluntary choice and appointment. All worship, I say, depends now on the sovereign will and pleasure of God. It is true there is a natural worship due from rational creatures by the law of their creation. This was indispensably and absolutely necessary at first. The very being of God and order of things required that it should be so. Supposing that God had made such creatures as we are, it could not be but that moral obedience was due unto him, — namely, that he should be believed in, trusted, and obeyed, as the first cause, last end, and sovereign Lord of all. But the entrance of sin, laying the sinner absolutely under the curse of God, utterly put an end to this order of things. Man was now to have perished immediately, and an end to be put unto the law of this obedience. But here, in the sovereign will of God, an interposition was made between sin and the sentence, and man was respited from destruction. All worship following hereon, even that which was before natural, by the law of creation, is now resolved into an arbitrary act of God’s will.

And unto this end is all worship designed, — namely, to give glory unto God. For as God hath said that “he will be sanctified in all that draw nigh him,” — that is, in his worship, — and that therein “he will be glorified,” Lev. x. 3; and that “he that offereth him praise,” — that is, performeth any part of his worship and service, — “glorifieth him,” Ps. l. 23: so the nature of the thing itself declareth that it can have no other end. By this he hath all his glory, even from the inanimate creation.

3. Consider that God hath not prescribed any worship of himself unto the angels that sinned. They are, indeed, under his power, and he useth them as he pleaseth, to serve the ends of his holy providence. Bounds he prescribes unto them by his power, and keeps them in dread of the full execution of his wrath; but he requires not of them that they should believe in him. They believe, indeed, 463and tremble. They have a natural apprehension of the being, power, providence, holiness, and righteousness of God, which is inseparable from their natures; and they have an expectation from thence of that punishment and vengeance which is due unto them, which is inseparable from them as sinners; and this is their faith: but to believe in God, — that is, to put their trust in him, to resign up themselves unto him, — God requires it not of them. The same is the case with them also as to love, and fear, and delight, — all inward affections, which are the proper worship of God. These they have not, nor doth God any longer require them in them. They eternally cast them off in their first sin. And where these are not, where they are not required, where they cannot be, there no outward worship can be prescribed or appointed; for external instituted worship is nothing but the way that God assigns and chooseth us to express and exercise the inward affections of our minds towards him. He rules the fallen angels “per nutum providentiæ,” not “verbum præcepti.” Now, as God dealt with the angels, so also would he have dealt with mankind, had he left them all under the curse, without remedy or hope of relief. As he doth with them, — he eternally satisfies himself in that revenue of glory which ariseth unto him in their punishment, — so also he would have done with these, had there been no forgiveness with him for them. He would not have required them to fear, love, or obey him, or have appointed unto them any way of worship whereby to express such affections towards him; for to what end should he have done it? What righteousness would admit that service, duty, and obedience should be prescribed unto them who could not, ought not to have any expectation or hope of acceptance or reward? This is contrary to the very first notion which God requires in us of his nature: for “he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him,” Heb. xi. 6; which would not be so should he appoint a voluntary worship, and not propose a reward to the worshippers. Wherefore, —

4. It is evident that God, by the prescription of a worship unto sinners, doth fully declare that there is forgiveness with him for them; for, —

(1.) He manifests thereby that he is willing to receive a new revenue of glory from them. This, as we have proved, is the end of worship. This he would never have done but with a design of accepting and rewarding his creatures; for do we think that he will be beholding unto them? — that he will take and admit of their voluntary, reasonable service, according to his will and command, without giving them a reward, yea, and such a one as their obedience holds no proportion unto? No such thing would become his infinite self-sufficiency, goodness, and bounty. This the wife of Manoah well 464pleads, Judges xiii. 23: “If,” saith she, “the Lord were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt-offering and a meat-offering at our hands.” His acceptance of worship from us is an infallible demonstration that he will not execute against us the severity of the first curse. And this is clearly evidenced in the first record of solemn instituted worship performed by sinners: Gen. iv. 4, “The Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering.” Some think that God gave a visible pledge of his acceptance of Abel and his offering. It may be it was by fire from heaven; for how else should Cain so instantly know that his brother and his offering were accepted, but that he and his were refused? However it were, it is evident that what testimony God gave of the acceptance of his offering, the same he gave concerning his person; and that in the first place he had respect unto Abel, and then to his offering. And therefore the apostle saith that thereby “he obtained witness that he was righteous,” Heb. xi. 4, — that is, the witness or testimony of God himself. Now, this was in the forgiveness of his sins, without which he could neither be righteous nor accepted, for he was a sinner. This God declared by acceptance of his worship. And thus we also, if we have any testimony of God’s acceptance of us in any part of his worship, should employ it to the same end. Hath God enlarged our hearts in prayer? hath he given us an answer unto any of our supplications? hath he refreshed our hearts in the preaching and dispensation of the word, or any other ordinance? We are not to rest in the particular about which our communion with him hath been; — our doing so is the cause why we lose our experiences; they lie scattered up and down, separated from their proper root, and so are easily lost: but this is that which we should first improve such particular experiences in the worship of God unto, — namely, that God hath pardoned our sins, and accepted our persons thereon; for without that, none of our worship or service would please him or be accepted with him.

(2.) Hereby God lets us know that he deals with us upon new terms, so that, notwithstanding sin, we may enjoy his love and favour. For this we have the engagement of his truth and veracity, and he cannot deceive us. But yet by this command of his for his worship we should be deceived, if there were no forgiveness with him; for it gives us encouragement to expect, and assurance of finding, acceptance with him, which without it cannot be obtained. This, then, God declares by his institution of and command for his worship, — namely, that there is nothing that shall indispensably hinder those who give up themselves unto obedience of God’s commands from enjoying his love and favour, and communion with him.

(3.) For matter of fact, it is known and confessed that God hath appointed a worship for sinners to perform. All the institutions of 465the Old and New Testament bear witness hereunto. God was the author of them. And men know not what they do when either they neglect them or would be intermixing their own imaginations with them. What can the mind of man conceive or invent that may have any influence into this matter, to secure the souls of believers of their acceptance with God? Is there any need of their testimony to the truth, faithfulness, and goodness of God? These things he hath taken upon himself. This, then, is that which is to be fixed on our souls upon our first invitation unto religious worship, — namely, that God intends a new revenue of glory from us, and therefore declares that there is a way for the taking away of our sins, without which we can give no glory to him by our obedience; and this is done only by forgiveness.

5. There are some ordinances of worship appointed for this very end and purpose, to confirm unto us the forgiveness of sin, especially in that worship which is instituted by the Lord Jesus under the New Testament. I shall instance in one or two —

(1.) The ordinance of baptism. This was accompanied with the dawning of the gospel in the ministry of John the Baptist; and he expressly declared, in his sermons upon it, that it was instituted of God to declare the “remission of sins,” Mark i. 4.

It is true the Lord Christ submitted unto that ordinance and was baptized by John, who had no sin; but this belonged unto the obedience which God required of him, as for our salves he was made under the law. He was to observe all ordinances and institutions of the worship of God, not for any need he had in his own person of the especial ends and significations of some of them; yet, as he was our sponsor, surety, and mediator, standing in our stead in all that he so did, he was to yield obedience unto them, that so he might “fulfil all righteousness,” Matt. iii. 15. So was he circumcised, so he was baptized, both which had respect unto sin, though absolutely free from all sin in his own person; and that because he was free from no obedience unto any command of God.

But, as was said, baptism itself, as appointed to be an ordinance of worship for sinners to observe, was a declaration of that forgiveness that is with God. It was so in its first institution. God calls a man in a marvellous and miraculous manner; gives him a ministry from heaven; commands him to go and baptize all those who, confessing their sins, and professing repentance of them, should come to him to have a testimony of forgiveness. And as to the especial nature of this ordinance, he appoints it to be such as to represent the certainty and truth of his grace in pardon unto their senses by a visible pledge. He lets them know that he would take away their sin, wherein their spiritual defilement doth consist, even as water takes away the outward 466filth of the body; and that hereby they shall be saved, as surely as Noah and his family were saved in the ark swimming upon the waters, 1 Pet. iii. 21. Now, how great a deceit must needs in this whole matter have been put upon poor sinners, if it were not infallibly certain that they might obtain forgiveness with God!

After the entrance of this ordinance in the ministry of John, the Lord Christ takes it into his own hand, and commands the observation of it unto all his disciples. I dispute not now who are the proper immediate objects of it; whether they only who actually can make profession of their faith, or believers with their infant seed. For my part, I believe that all whom Christ loves and pardons are to be made partakers of the pledge thereof. And the sole reason which they of old insisted on why the infants of believing parents should not be baptized was, because they thought they had no sin; and therein we know their mistake. But I treat not now of these things. Only this I say is certain, that in the prescription of this ordinance unto his church, the great intention of the Lord Christ was to ascertain unto us the forgiveness of sins. And sinners are invited to a participation of this ordinance for that end, that they may receive the pardon of their sins; that is, an infallible pledge and assurance of it, Acts ii. 38. And the very nature of it declareth this to be its end, as was before intimated. This is another engagement of the truth, and faithfulness, and holiness of God, so that we cannot be deceived in this matter. “There is,” saith God, “forgiveness with me.” Saith the soul, “How, Lord, shall I know, how shall I come to be assured of it? for by reason of the perpetual accusations of conscience, and the curse of the law upon the guilt of my sin, I find it a very hard matter for me to believe. Like Gideon, I would have a token of it.” “Why, behold,” saith God, “I will give thee a pledge and a token of it, which cannot deceive thee. When the world of old had been overwhelmed with a deluge of waters by reason of their sins, and those who remained, though they had just cause to fear that the same judgment would again befall them or their posterity, because they saw there was like to be the same cause of it, the thoughts and imaginations of the hearts of men being evil still, and that continually; to secure them against these fears, I told them that I would destroy the earth no more with water, and I gave them a token of my faithfulness therein by placing my bow in the cloud. And have I failed them? Though the sin and wickedness of the world hath been, since that day, unspeakably great, yet mankind is not drowned again, nor ever shall be. I will not deceive their expectation from the token I have given them. Wherever, then, there is a word of promise confirmed with a token, never fear a disappointment. But so is this matter. I 467have declared that there is forgiveness with me; and, to give you assurance thereof, I have ordained this pledge and sign as a seal of my word, to take away all doubts and suspicion of your being deceived. As the world shall be drowned no more, so neither shall they who believe come short of forgiveness.”

And this is the use which we ought to make of this ordinance. It is God’s security of the pardon of our sins, which we may safely rest in.

(2.) The same is the end of that other great ordinance of the church, the supper of the Lord. The same thing is therein confirmed unto us by another sign, pledge, token, or seal. We have shown before what respect gospel forgiveness hath unto the death or blood of Jesus Christ. That is the means whereby for us it is procured, the way whereby it comes forth from God, unto the glory of his righteousness and grace; which afterward must be more distinctly insisted on. This ordinance, therefore, designed and appointed on purpose for the representation and calling to remembrance of the death of Christ, with the communication of the benefits thereof unto them that believe, doth principally intend our faith and comfort in the truth under consideration. And, therefore, in the very institution of it, besides the general end before mentioned, which had been sufficient for our security, there is moreover added an especial mention of the forgiveness of sin; for so speaks our Saviour, in the institution of it for the use of the church unto the end of the world: Matt. xxvi. 28, “This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” As if he had said, “The end for which I have appointed the observance of this duty and service unto you is, that I may testify thereby unto you that by my blood, the sacrifice of myself, and the atonement made thereby, I have purchased for you the remission of your sins; which you shall assuredly be made partakers of.” And more I shall not add unto this consideration, because the death of Christ, respected in this ordinance, will again occur unto us.

(3.) What is the end of all church-order, assemblies, and worship? What is a church? Is it not a company of sinners gathered together, according unto God’s appointment, to give glory and praise to him for pardoning grace, for the forgiveness of sins, and to yield him that obedience which he requires from us on the account of his having so dealt with us? This is the nature, this is the end of a church. He that understandeth it not, he that useth it not unto that end, doth but abuse that great institution. And such abuse the world is full of. Some endeavour to make their own secular advantages by the pretence of the church; some discharge the duty required in it with some secret hopes that it shall be their 468righteousness before God; some answer only their light and convictions in an empty profession. This alone is the true end, the true use of it — We assemble ourselves to learn that there is forgiveness with God through Christ; to pray that we may be made partakers of it; to bless and praise God for our interest in it; to engage ourselves unto that obedience which be requires upon the account of it. And were this constantly upon our minds and in our designs, we might be more established in the faith of it than, it may be, the most of us are.

6. One particular instance more of this nature shall conclude this evidence — God hath commanded us, the Lord Christ hath taught us, to pray for the pardon of sin; which gives us unquestionable security that it may be attained, that it is to be found in God. For the clearing whereof observe, —

(1.) That the Lord Christ, in the revelation of the will of God unto us, as unto the duty that he required at our hands, hath taught and instructed us to pray for the forgiveness of sin. It is one of the petitions which he hath left on record for our use and imitation in that summary of all prayer which he hath given us: Matt. vi. 12, “Forgive us our debts,” our trespasses, our sins. Some contend that this is a form of prayer to be used in the prescript limited words of it. All grant that it is a rule for prayer, comprising the heads of all necessary things that we are to pray for, and obliging us to make supplications for them. So, then, upon the authority of God, revealed unto us by Jesus Christ, we are bound in duty to pray for pardon of sins or forgiveness.

(2.) On this supposition it is the highest blasphemy and reproach of God imaginable, to conceive that there is not forgiveness with him for us. Indeed, if we should go upon our own heads, without his warranty and authority, to ask any thing at his hand, we might well expect to meet with disappointment; for what should encourage us unto any such boldness? but now, when God himself shall command us to come and ask any thing from him, — so making it thereby our duty, and that the neglect thereof should be our great sin and rebellion against him, — to suppose he hath not the thing in his power to bestow on us, or that his will is wholly averse from so doing, is to reproach him with want of truth, faithfulness, and holiness, and not to be God. For what sincerity can be in such proceedings? Is it consistent with any divine excellency? Could it have any other end but to deceive poor creatures? either to delude them if they do pray according to his command, or to involve them in farther guilt if they do not? God forbid any such thoughts should enter into our hearts. But, —

(3.) To put this whole matter out of the question, God hath promised to hear our prayers, and in particular those which we make 469unto him for the forgiveness of sin. So our Saviour hath assured us that what we ask in his name it shall be done for us. And he hath, as we have showed, taught us to ask this very thing of God as our heavenly Father, — that is, in his name; for in and through him alone is he a Father unto us. I need not insist on particular promises to this purpose; they are, as you know, multiplied in the Scriptures.

What hath been spoken may suffice to establish our present argument, — namely, that God’s prescription of religious worship unto sinners doth undeniably prove that with him there is forgiveness; especially considering that the principal parts of the worship so prescribed and appointed by him are peculiarly designed to confirm us in the faith thereof.

And this is the design of the words that we do insist upon: “There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” The fear of God, as we have showed, in the Old Testament, doth frequently express, not that gracious affection of our minds which is distinctly so called, but that whole worship of God, wherein that and all other gracious affections towards God are to be exercised. Now, the psalmist tells us that the foundation of this fear or worship, and the only motive and encouragement for sinners to engage in it and give up themselves unto it, is this, that there is forgiveness with God. Without this no sinner could fear, serve, or worship him. This, therefore, is undeniably proved by the institution of this worship, which was proposed unto confirmation.

The end of all these things, as we shall afterward at large declare, is to encourage poor sinners to believe, and to evidence how inexcusable they will be left who, notwithstanding all this, do, through the power of their lusts and unbelief, refuse to come to God in Christ that they may be pardoned. Yea, the laying open of the certainty and fulness of the evidence given unto this truth makes it plain and conspicuous whence it is that men perish in and for their sins. Is it for want of mercy, goodness, grace, or patience in God? Is it through any defect in the mediation of the Lord Christ? Is it for want of the mightiest encouragements and most infallible assurances that with God there is forgiveness? Not at all; but merely on the account of their own obstinacy, stubbornness, and perverseness. They will not come unto this light, yea, they hate it, because their deeds are evil. They will not come to Christ, that they may have life. It is merely darkness, blindness, and love of sin that brings men to destruction. And this is laid open, and all pretences and excuses are removed, and the shame of men’s lusts made naked, by the full confirmation of this truth which God hath furnished us withal.

Take heed, you that hear or read these things; if they are not mixed with faith, they will add greatly to your misery. Every argument 470will be your torment. But these considerations must be insisted on afterward.

Moreover, if you will take into your minds what hath been delivered in particular concerning the nature and end of the worship of God which you attend unto, you may he instructed in the use and due observation of it. When you address yourselves unto it, remember that this is that which God requires of you who are sinners; that this he would not have done but with thoughts and intention of mercy for sinners. Bless him with all your souls that this is laid as the foundation of all that you have to do with him. You are not utterly cast off because you are sinners. Let this support and warm your hearts when you go to hear, to pray, or any duty of worship. Consider what is your principal work in the whole. You are going to deal with God about forgiveness, in the being, causes, consequents, and effects of it. Hearken what he speaks, declares, or reveals about it; mix his revelation and promises with faith. Inquire diligently into all the obedience and thankfulness, all those duties of holiness and righteousness, which he justly expects from them who are made partakers of it. So shall you observe the worship of God unto his glory and your own advantage.

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