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Exhortation unto the belief of the forgiveness that is with God — Reasons for it, and the necessity of it.
We shall now proceed unto the direct uses of this great truth; for having laid our foundation in the word that will not fail, and having given, as we hope, sufficient evidence unto the truth of it, our last work is to make that improvement of it unto the good of the souls of men which all along was aimed at. The persons concerned in this truth are all sinners whatever. No sort of sinners are unconcerned in it, none are excluded from it. And we may cast them all under two heads:—
First, Such as never yet sincerely closed with the promise of grace, nor have ever yet received forgiveness from God in a way of believing. These we have already endeavoured to undeceive, and to discover those false presumptions whereby they are apt to ruin and destroy their own souls. These we would guide now into safe and pleasant paths, wherein they may find assured rest and peace.
Secondly, Others there are who have received it, but being again entangled by sin, or clouded by darkness and temptations, or weakened by unbelief, know not how to improve it to their peace and comfort. This is the condition of the soul represented in this psalm, and which we shall therefore apply ourselves unto in an especial manner in its proper place.
Our exhortation, then, is unto both — to the first, that they would receive it, that they may have life; to the latter, that they would improve it, that they may have peace; — to the former, that they would not overlook, disregard, or neglect so great salvation as is tendered unto them; to the latter, that they would stir up the grace of God that is in them, to mix with the grace of God that is declared unto them.
I shall begin with the first sort, — those who are yet utter strangers from the covenant of grace, who never yet upon saving grounds believed this forgiveness, who never yet once tasted of gospel pardon. Poor sinners! this word is unto you.
Be it that you have heard or read the same word before, or others like unto it, to the same purpose, — it may be often, it may be a hundred 516times, — it is your concernment to hear it again; God would have it so; the testimony of Jesus Christ is thus to be accomplished. This “counsel of God” we must “declare,” that we may be “pure from the blood of all men,” Acts xx. 26, 27; and that not once or twice, but in preaching the word we must be “instant in season, out of season; reproving, rebuking, exhorting with all long-suffering and doctrine,” 2 Tim. iv. 2. And for you, woe unto you when God leaves thus speaking unto you! when he refuseth to exhort you any more, woe unto you! This is God’s departure from any person or people, when he will deal with them no more about forgiveness; and saith he, “Woe to them when I depart from them!” Hos. ix. 12. O that God, therefore, would give unto such persons seeing eyes and hearing ears, that the word of grace may never more be spoken unto them in vain!
Now, in our exhortation to such persons, we shall proceed gradually, according as the matter will bear, and the nature of it doth require. Consider, therefore, —
First, That notwithstanding all your sins, all the evil that your own hearts know you to be guilty of, and that hidden mass or evil treasure of sin which is in you, which you are not able to look into; notwithstanding that ‘charge that lies upon you from your own consciences, and that dreadful sentence and curse of the law which you are obnoxious unto; notwithstanding all the just grounds that you have to apprehend that God is your enemy, and will be so unto eternity; — yet there are terms of peace and reconciliation provided and proposed between him and your souls. This, in the first place, is spoken out by the word we have insisted on. Whatever else it informs us of, this it positively asserts, — namely, that there is a way whereby sinners may come to be accepted with God; for “there is forgiveness with him, that he may be feared.” And we hope that we have not confirmed it by so many testimonies, by so many evidences, in vain. Now, that you may see how great a privilege this is, and how much your concernment lies in it, consider, —
1. That this belongs unto you in an especial manner; it is your peculiar advantage.
It is not so with the angels that sinned. There were never any terms of peace or reconciliation proposed unto them, nor ever shall be, unto eternity. There is no way of escape provided for them. Having once sinned, as you have done a thousand times, God “spared them not, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment,” 2 Pet. ii. 4.
It is not so with them that are dead in their sins, if but one moment past. Ah! how would many souls who are departed, it may be not an hour since, out of this world, rejoice for an interest 517in this privilege, the hearing of terms of peace, once more, between God and them! But their time is past, their house is left unto them desolate. As the tree falleth, so it must lie: “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment,” Heb. ix. 27. After death there are no terms of peace, nothing but judgment. “The living, the living,” he alone is capable of this advantage.
It is not so with them to whom the gospel is not preached. God suffers them to walk in their own ways, and calls them not thus to repentance. The terms of reconciliation which some fancy to be offered in the shining of the sun and falling of the rain, never brought souls to peace with God. Life and immortality are brought to light only by the gospel. This is your privilege who yet live, and yet have the word sounding in your ears.
It is not thus with them who have sinned against the Holy Ghost, though yet alive, and living where the word of forgiveness is preached. God proposeth unto them no terms of reconciliation. “Blasphemy against him,” saith Christ, “shall not be forgiven,” Matt. xii. 31. There is no forgiveness for such sinners; and we, if we knew them, ought not to pray for them, 1 John v. 16. Their sin is “unto death.” And what number may be in this condition God knows.
This word, then, is unto you; these terms of peace are proposed unto you. This is that which in an especial manner you are to apply yourselves unto; and woe unto you if you should be found to have neglected it at the last day! Wherefore, consider, —
2. By whom these terms are proposed unto you, and by whom they were procured for you. By whom are they proposed? Who shall undertake to umpire the business, the controversy between God and sinners? No creature, doubtless, is either meet or worthy to interpose in this matter, — I mean, originally on his own account; for “who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor?” Wherefore, it is God himself who proposeth these terms; and not only proposeth them, but invites, exhorts, and persuades you to accept of them. This the whole Scriptures testify unto. It is fully expressed, 2 Cor. v. 18–20. He hath provided them, he hath proposed them, and makes use only of men, of ministers, to act in his name. And excuse us if we are a little earnest with you in this matter. Alas! our utmost that we can, by zeal for his glory or compassion unto your souls, raise our thoughts, minds, spirits, words unto, comes infinitely short of his own pressing earnestness herein. See Isa. lv. 1–4. Oh, infinite condescension! Oh, blessed grace! Who is this that thus bespeaks you? He against whom you have sinned, of whom you are justly afraid; he whose laws you have broken, and whose name you have dishonoured; he who needs 518not you, nor your love, nor your friendship, nor your salvation! It is he who proposeth unto you these terms of reconciliation and peace! Consider the exhortation of the apostle upon this consideration: Heb. xii. 25, “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh from heaven.” It is God that speaks unto you in this matter, and he speaks unto you from heaven. And he doth therein forego all the advantage that he hath against you for your destruction. Woe would be unto your souls, and that for ever, if you should refuse him.
3. By whom were these terms procured for you? and by what means? Do not think that this matter was brought about by chance, or by an ordinary undertaking. Remember that the proposal made unto you this day cost no less than the price of the blood of the Son of God. It is the fruit of the travail of his soul. For this he prayed, he wept, he suffered, he died. And shall it now be neglected or despised by you? Will you yet account the blood of the covenant to be a common thing? Will you exclude yourselves from all benefit of the purchase of these terms, and only leave your souls to answer for the contempt of the price whereby they were purchased?
4. Consider that you are sinners, great sinners, cursed sinners; some of you, it may be, worse than innumerable of your fellow-sinners were who are now in hell. God might long since have cast you off everlastingly from all expectation of mercy, and have caused all your hopes to perish; or he might have left you alive, and yet have refused to deal with you any more. He could have caused your sun to go down at noon-day, and have given you darkness instead of vision. He could respite your lives for a season, and yet “swear in his wrath that you should never enter into his rest.” It is now otherwise. How long it may be so, nor you nor I know any thing at all. God only knows what will be your time, what your continuance. We are to speak whilst it is called “To-day.” And this is that for the present which I have to offer unto you — God declares that there is forgiveness with him, that your condition is not desperate nor helpless. There are yet terms of peace proposed unto you. Methinks it cannot but seem strange that poor sinners should not at the least stir up themselves to inquire after them. When a poor man had sold himself of old and his children to be servants, and parted with the land of his inheritance unto another, because of his poverty, with what heart do you think did he hear the sound of the trumpet when it began to proclaim the year of jubilee, wherein he and all his were to go out at liberty, and to return unto his possession and inheritance? And shall not poor servants of sin, slaves unto Satan, that have forfeited all their inheritance in this world and that which is to come, attend unto any proclamation of the year of rest, of the acceptable 519year of the Lord? And this is done in the tender of terms of peace with God in this matter. Do not put it off; this belongs unto you; the great concernment of your souls lies in it. And it is a great matter; for consider, —
5. That when the angels came to bring the news of the birth of our Lord Jesus, they say, “We bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people,” Luke ii. 10. What are these joyful tidings? what was the matter of this report? Why, “This day is born a Saviour, Christ the Lord,” verse 11. It is only this, “A Saviour is born; a way of escape is provided,” and farther they do not proceed. Yet this they say is a matter of “great joy;” as it was indeed. It is so to every burdened, convinced sinner, a matter of unspeakable joy and rejoicing. Oh, blessed words! “A Saviour is born!” This gives life to a sinner, and opens “a door of hope in the valley of Achor,” the first rescue of a sin-distressed soul. Upon the matter, it was all that the saints for many ages had to live upon; and that not in the enjoyment, but only the expectation. They lived on that word, “The seed of the woman shall break the serpent’s head;” that is, a way of deliverance is provided for sinners. This with all “diligence they inquired into,” 1 Pet. i. 10–12; and improved it to their eternal advantage. As of old, Jacob, when he saw the waggons that his son Joseph had sent to bring him unto him, it is said his spirit “revived;” so did they upon their obscure discovery of a way of forgiveness. They looked upon the promise of it as that which God had sent to bring them unto him; and they saw the day of the coming of Christ in it, and rejoiced. How much more have sinners now reason so to do, when the substance of the promise is exhibited, and the news of his coming proclaimed unto them! This, then, is a great matter, — namely, that terms of peace and reconciliation are proposed, in that it is made known that there is forgiveness with God. Upon these considerations, then, we pursue that exhortation which we have in hand.
If any of you were justly condemned to a cruel and shameful death, and lay trembling in the expectation of the execution of it, and a man designed for that purpose should come unto him and tell him that there were terms propounded on which his life might be spared, only he came away like Ahimaaz before he heard the particulars; — would it not be a reviving unto him? Would he not cry out, “Pray, inquire what they are; for there is not any thing so difficult which I will not undergo to free myself from this miserable condition?” Would it not change the whole frame of the spirit of such a man, and, as it were, put new life into him? But now, if, instead hereof, he should be froward, stubborn, and obstinate, take no notice of the messenger, or say, “Let the judge keep his terms to himself,” without inquiring what they are, that he would have nothing 520to do with them; — would not such a person be deemed to perish deservedly? Doth he not bring a double destruction upon himself, — first of deserving death by his crimes, and then by refusing the honest and good way of delivery tendered unto him? I confess it oftentimes falls out that men may come to inquire after these terms of peace, which, when they are revealed, they like them not, but, with the young man in the gospel, they go away sorrowful: the cursed wickedness and misery of which condition, which befalls many convinced persons, shall be spoken unto afterwards; at present I speak unto them who never yet attended in sincerity unto these terms, nor seriously inquired after them. Think you what you please of your condition and of yourselves, or choose whether you will think of it or no, — pass your time in a full regardlessness of your present and future estate, — yet, indeed, thus it is with you as to your eternal concerns: you lie under the sentence of a bitter, shameful, and everlasting death; you have done so in the midst of all your jollity, ever since you came into this world; and you are in the hand of Him who can, in the’ twinkling of an eye, destroy both body and soul in hell-fire. In this state and condition men are sent on purpose to let you know that there are terms of peace, there is yet a way of escape for you; and that you may not avoid the issue aimed at, they tell you that God, that cannot lie, hath commanded them to tell you so. If you question the truth of what they say, they are ready to produce their warrant under God’s own hand and seal. Here, then, is no room for tergiversation or excuses. Certainly, if you have any care of your eternal estate, if you have any drop of tender blood running in your veins towards your own souls, if you have any rational considerations dwelling in your minds, if all be not defaced and obliterated through the power of lust and love of sin, you cannot but take yourselves to be unspeakably concerned in this proposal. But now, if, instead hereof, you give up yourselves unto the power of unbelief, the will of Satan, the love of your lusts and this present world, so as to take no notice of this errand or message from God, nor once seriously to inquire after the nature and importance of the terms proposed, can you escape? shall you be delivered? will your latter end be peace? The Lord knows it will be otherwise with you, and that unto eternity.
So the apostle assures us, 2 Cor. iv. 3, 4, “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” If you receive not this word, if it be hid from you, it is from the power and efficacy of Satan upon your minds. And what will be the end? Perish you must and shall, and that for ever.
521Remember the parable of our Saviour: Luke xiv. 31, 32, “What king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.” That which he teacheth in this parable is, the necessity that lies on us of making peace with God, whom we have provoked, and justly made to be our enemy; as also our utter impotency to resist and withstand him when he shall come forth in a way of judgment and vengeance against us. But here lies a difference in this matter, such as is allowed in all similitudes. Amongst men at variance, it is not his part who is the stronger, and secure of success, to send to the weaker, whom he hath in his power, to accept of terms of peace. Here it is otherwise: God, who is infinitely powerful, justly provoked, and able to destroy poor sinners in a moment, when now he is not very far off, but at the very door, sends himself an ambassage with conditions of peace. And shall he be refused by you? will you yet neglect his offers? How great, then, will be your destruction!
Hear, then, once more, poor sin-hardened, senseless souls, ye stout-hearted, that are far from righteousness. Is it nothing unto you that the great and holy God, whom ye have provoked all your days, and whom you yet continue to provoke, — who hath not the least need of you or your salvation, — who can, when he pleaseth, eternally glorify himself in your destruction, — should of his own accord send unto you, to let you know that he is willing to be at peace with you on the terms he had prepared? The enmity began on your part, the danger is on your part only, and he might justly expect that the message for peace should begin on your part also; but he begins with you. And shall he be rejected? The prophet well expresseth this, Isa. xxx. 15, “Thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.” The love and condescension that is in these words, on the one hand, on the part of God, and the folly and ingratitude mentioned in them on the other hand, is inexpressible. They are fearful words, “But ye would not.” Remember this against another day. As our Saviour says, in the like manner, to the Jews, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” Whatever is pretended, it is will and stubbornness that lie at the bottom of this refusal.
Wherefore, that either you may obtain advantage by it, or that the way of the Lord may be prepared for the glorifying of himself upon you, I shall leave this word before all them that hear or read it, as the testimony which God requires to be given unto his grace. 522There are terms of peace with God provided for and tendered unto you. It is yet called To-day; harden not your hearts like them of old, who could not enter into the rest of God by reason of unbelief, Heb. iii. 19. Some of you, it may be, are old in sins and unacquainted with God; some of you, it may be, have been great sinners, scandalous sinners; and some of you, it may be, have reason to apprehend yourselves near the grave, and so also to hell; some of you, it may be, have your consciences disquieted and galled; and it may be some of you are under some outward troubles and perplexities, that cause you a little to look about you; and some of you, it may be, are in the madness of your natural strength and lusts, — “your breasts are full of milk and your bones of marrow,” and your hearts of sin, pride, and contempt of the ways of God. All is one: this word is unto you all; and I shall only mind you that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” You hear the voice or read the words of a poor worm; but the message is the message, and the word is the word, of Him who shaketh heaven and earth. Consider, then, well what you have to do, and what answer you will return unto Him who will not be mocked.
But you will say, “Why, what great matter is there that you have in hand? Why is it urged with so much earnestness? We have heard the same words a hundred times over. The last Lord’s day such a one, or such a one, preached to the same purpose; and what need it be insisted on now again with so much importunity?”
But is it so, indeed, that you have thus frequently been dealt withal, and do yet continue in an estate of irreconciliation? My heart is pained for you, to think of your woful and almost remediless condition. If “he that being often reproved, and yet hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” Prov. xxix. 1, how much more will he be so who, being often invited unto peace with God, yet hardeneth his heart, and refuseth to treat with him! Methinks I hear his voice concerning you: “Those mine enemies, they shall not taste of the supper that I have prepared.” Be it, then, that the word in hand is a common word unto you, you set no value upon it, — then take your way and course in sin; stumble, fall, and perish. It is not so slight a matter to poor convinced sinners, that tremble at the word of God. These will prize it and improve it. We shall follow, then, that counsel, chap. xxxi. 6, “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.” We shall tender this new wine of the gospel to poor, sad-hearted, conscience-distressed sinners, — sinners that are ready to perish: to them it will be pleasant; they will drink of it and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more. It shall take away all their sorrow and sadness, when you shall be drunk 523with the fruit of your lusts, and spue, and lie down and not rise again.
But now, if any of you shall begin to say in your hearts that you would willingly treat with God, — “Oh that the day were come wherein we might approach unto him! let him speak what he pleaseth, and propose what terms he pleaseth, we are ready to hear,” — then consider, —
Secondly, That the terms provided for you, and proposed unto you, are equal, holy, righteous, yea, pleasant and easy. This being another general head of our work in hand, before I proceed to the farther explication and confirmation of it, I shall educe one or two observations from what hath been delivered on the first; as, —
1. See here on what foundation we preach the gospel. Many disputes there are whether Christ died for all individuals of mankind or no. If we say, “No, but only for the elect, who are some of all sorts;” some then tell us we cannot invite all men promiscuously to believe. But why so? We invite not men as all men, no man as one of all men, but all men as sinners; and we know that Christ died for sinners. But is this the first thing that we are, in the dispensation of the gospel, to propose to the soul of a sinner under the law, that Christ died for him in particular? Is that the beginning of our message unto him? Were not this a ready way to induce him to conclude, “Let me, then, continue in sin, that grace may abound?” — No; but this is in order of nature our first work, even that which we have had in hand; this is the “beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ;” this is” the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord:” — “There is a way of reconciliation provided. ‘God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself.’ There is a way of acceptance; there is forgiveness with him to be obtained.” At this threshold of the Lord’s house doth the greatest part of men to whom the gospel is preached fall and perish, never looking in to see the treasures that are in the house itself, never coming into any such state and condition wherein they have any ground or bottom to inquire whether Christ died for them in particular or no. They believe not this report, nor take any serious notice of it. This was the ministry of the Baptist, and they who received it not “rejected the counsel of God” concerning their salvation, Luke vii. 10, and so perished in their sins. This is the sum of the blessed invitation given by Wisdom, Prov. ix. 1–5. And here men stumble, fall, and perish, chap. i. 29, 30.
2. You that have found grace and favour to accept of these terms, and thereby to obtain peace with God, learn to live in a holy admiration of his condescension and love therein. That he would provide such terms; that he would reveal them unto you; that he 524would enable you to receive them; — unspeakable love and grace lies in it all. Many have not these terms revealed unto them; few find favour to accept of them. And of whom is it that you have obtained this peculiar mercy?
Do you aright consider the nature of this matter? The Scripture proposeth it as an object of eternal admiration: “So God loved the world;” “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us” first. Live in this admiration, and do your utmost, in your several capacities, to prevail with your friends, relations, acquaintance, to hearken after this great treaty of peace with God, whose terms we shall nextly consider, as before in general they were expressed.
Secondly, The terms provided for you, and proposed unto you, are equal, holy, righteous, yea, pleasant and easy, Hos. ii. 18, 19. They are not such as a cursed, guilty sinner might justly expect, but such as are meet for an infinitely good and gracious God to propose; — not suited to the wisdom of man, but full of the “wisdom of God,” 2 Cor. ii. 6, 7. The poor, convinced wretch thinking of dealing with God, Micah vi. 6, 7, rolls in his mind what terms he is like to meet withal; and fixes on the most dreadful, difficult, and impossible that can be imagined. “If,” saith he, “any thing be done with this great and most high God, it must be by ‘rivers,’ ‘thousands,’ and ‘ten thousands,’ children, ‘first-born;’ whatever is dreadful and terrible to nature, whatever is impossible for me to perform, that is it which he looks for.” But the matter is quite otherwise. The terms are wholly of another nature: it is a way of mere mercy, a way of free forgiveness. The apostle lays it down, Rom. iii. 21–26. It is a way of propitiation, of pardon, of forgiveness in the blood of Christ; the terms are, the acceptance of the forgiveness that we have described. Who would not think, now, that the whole world would run in to be made partakers of these terms, willingly accepting of them? But it proves for the most part quite otherwise. Men like not this way, of all others. “It had been something,” says Naaman, “if the prophet had come and done so and so; but this, ‘Go wash, and be clean,’ I do not like it; I am but deluded.” Men think within themselves, that had it been some great thing that was required of them that they might be saved, they would with all speed address themselves thereunto; but to come to God by Christ, to be freely forgiven, without more ado, they like it not. Some rigid, austere penances, some compensatory obedience, some satisfactory mortification or purgatory, had been a more likely way. This of mere pardon in and by the cross, it is but folly, 1 Cor. i. 18, 20. “I had rather,” saith the Jew, “have it ‘as it were by the works of the law,’ Rom. ix. 32, x. 3. This way of grace and forgiveness I like not.” So say others also; so practise others every 525day. Either this way is wholly rejected, or it is mended by some additions; which with God is all one with the rejection of it.
Here multitudes of souls deceive themselves and perish. I know not whether it be more difficult to persuade an unconvinced person to think of any terms, or a convinced person to accept of these. Let men say what they will, and pretend what they please, yet practically they like not this way of forgiveness. I shall therefore offer some subservient considerations, tending to the furtherance of your souls in the acceptance of the terms proposed —
1. This is the way, these are the terms of God’s own choosing; he found out this way, he established it himself. He did it when all was lost and undone. He did it, not upon our desire, request, or proposal, but merely of his own accord; and why should we contend with him about it? If God will have us saved in a way of mere mercy and forgiveness, if his wisdom and sovereignty be in it, shall we oppose him, and say we like it not? Yet this is the language of unbelief, Rom. x. 3. Many poor creatures have disputed it with God, until at length, being overpowered as it were by the Spirit, [they] have said, “If it must be so, and God will save us by mercy and grace, let it be so; we yield ourselves to his will;” and yet throughout their disputes dreamed of nothing but that their own unworthiness only kept them from closing with the promise of the gospel.
Of this nature was that way of Satan whereby he deceived our first parents of their interest in the covenant of works. “The terms of it,” saith he, “as apprehended by you, are unequal. ‘Yea, hath God said, Ye shall eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil ye shall not eat, lest ye die?’ Come; ‘ye shall not die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof then your eyes shall be opened.’ There is no proportion between the disobedience and the threatening; the issue cannot be such as is feared.” And by these means he ruined them. Thus, also, he proceeds to deprive souls of their interest in the covenant of grace, whereunto they are invited: “The terms of it are unequal, how can any man believe them? There is no proportion between the obedience and the promise. To have pardon, forgiveness, life, and a blessed eternity, on believing! — who can rest in it?” And here lies a conspiracy between Satan and unbelief, against the wisdom, goodness, love, grace, and sovereignty of God. The poison of this deceit lies in this, that neither the righteousness nor the mercy of God is of that infiniteness as indeed they are. The apostle, to remove this fond imagination, calls us to the pleasure of God: 1 Cor. i. 21, “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching,” — that is, by the gospel preached, which they esteemed foolishness, — “to save them that believe.” He suffered men, indeed, to make trial of other ways; and when their insufficiency for the ends 526men proposed to themselves was sufficiently manifested, it pleased him to reveal his way. And what are we, that we should contend about it with him? This rejection of the way of personal righteousness, and choosing the way of grace and forgiveness, God asserts: Jer. xxxi. 31–35, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers” (in which administration of the covenant, as far as it had respect unto typical mercies, much depended on their personal obedience): “but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law,” etc., “for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Let, then, this way stand, and the way of man’s wisdom and self-righteousness perish for ever.
2. This is the way that above all others tends directly and immediately to the glory of God. God hath managed and ordered all things in this way of forgiveness, so as “no flesh should glory in his presence,” but that “he that glorieth should glory in the Lord,” 1 Cor. i. 29, 31. “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? by the law of works? Nay; but by the law of faith,” Rom. iii. 27. It might be easily manifested that God hath so laid the design of saving sinners by forgiveness according to the law of faith, that it is utterly impossible that any soul should, on any account whatever, have the least ground of glorying or boasting in itself, either absolutely or in comparison with them that perish. “If Abraham,” saith the same apostle, “were justified by works, he had whereof to glory; but not before God,” chap. iv. 2. The obedience of works would have been so infinitely disproportionate to the reward, which was God himself, that there had been no glorying before God, but therein his goodness and grace must he acknowledged; yet in comparison with others who yielded not the obedience required, he would have had wherein to glory: but now this also is cut off by the way of forgiveness, and no pretence is left for any to claim the least share in the glory of it but God alone. And herein lies the excellency of faith, that it “gives glory to God,” chap. iv. 20; the denial whereof, under various pretences, is the issue of proud unbelief. And this is that which God will bring all unto, or they shall perish, — namely, that shame be ours, and the whole glory of our salvation be his alone. So be expresseth his design, Isa. xlv. 22–25. Verse 22, he proposeth himself as the only relief for sinners: “Look unto me,” saith he, “and be saved, all the ends of the earth.” But what if men take some other course, and look well to themselves, and so decline this way of mere mercy and grace? Why, saith he, verse 23, “I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, 527and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” Look you unto that, “But I have sworn that you shall either do so, or answer your disobedience at the day of judgment;” whereunto Paul applies those words, Rom. xiv. 11. What do the saints hereupon? Isa. xlv. 24, 25, “Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength. In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.” They bring their hearts to accept of all righteousness from him, and to give all glory unto him.
God at first placed man in a blessed state and condition, — in such a dependence on himself as that he might have wrought out his eternal happiness with a great reputation of glory unto himself. “Man being in this honour,” saith the psalmist, “abode not.” God now fixes on another way, as I said, wherein all the glory shall be his own, as the apostle at large sets it forth, Rom. iii. 21–26. Now, neither the way from which Adam fell, nor that wherein some of the angels continued, which for the substance were the same, is to be compared with this of forgiveness, as to the bringing glory unto God. I hate curiosities and conjectures in the things of God, yet, upon the account of the interposition of the blood of Christ, I think I may boldly say there comes more glory to God by saving one sinner in this way of forgiveness, than in giving the reward of blessedness to all the angels in heaven: so seems it to appear from that solemn representation we have of the ascription of glory to God by the whole creation, Rev. v. 9–14. All centres in the bringing forth forgiveness by the blood of the Lamb.
I insist the more on this, because it lies so directly against that cursed principle of unbelief which reigns in the hearts of the most, and often disquiets the best. That a poor ungodly sinner, going to God with the guilt of all his sins upon him, to receive forgiveness at his hand, doth bring more glory unto him than the obedience of an angel, men are not over ready to think, nor can be prepared for it but by itself. And the formal nature of that unbelief which worketh in convinced sinners lies in a refusal to give unto God the whole glory of salvation. There are many hurtful controversies in religion that are managed in the world with great noise and clamour, but this is the greatest and most pernicious of them all; and it is for the most part silently transacted in the souls of men, although under various forms and pretences. It hath also broken forth in writings and disputations; — that is, whether God or man shall have the glory of salvation; or whether it shall wholly be ascribed unto God, or that man also, on one account or other, may come in for a share. Now, if this be the state and condition with any of you, that you will rather perish than God should have his glory, what shall we say 528but, “Go, ye cursed souls, perish for ever, without the least compassion from God, or any that love him, angels or men.”
If you shall say, for your parts you are contented with this course, — let God have the glory, so you may be forgiven and saved; there is yet just cause to suspect lest this be a selfish contempt of God. It is a great thing to give glory unto God by believing in a due manner. Such slight returns seem not to have the least relation unto it. Take heed that, instead of believing, you be not found mockers, and so your bands be made strong.
But a poor convinced sinner may here find encouragement. Thou wouldst willingly come to acquaintance with God, and so attain salvation? “Oh, my soul longeth for it!” Wouldst thou willingly take that course for the obtaining those ends which will bring most glory unto God? “Surely it is meet and most equal that I should do so.” What, now, if one should come and tell thee from the Lord of a way whereby thou, poor, sinful, self-condemned creature, mightst bring as much glory unto God as any angel in heaven is able to do? “Oh, if I might bring the least glory unto God, I should rejoice in it!” Behold, then, the way which himself hath fixed on for the exaltation of his glory, even that thou shouldst come to him merely upon the account of grace in the blood of Christ for pardon and forgiveness; and the Lord strengthen thee to give up thyself thereunto!
3. Consider that if this way of salvation be refused, there is no other way for you. We do not propose this way of forgiveness as the best and most pleasant, but as the only way. There is no other name given but that of Christ; no other way but this of forgiveness. Here lies your choice; take this path, or perish for ever. It is a shame, indeed, unto our cursed nature that there should be any need to use this argument, — that we will neither submit to God’s sovereignty nor delight in his glory; but seeing it must be used, let it be so. I intend neither to flatter men nor to frighten them, but to tell them the truth as it is. If you continue in your present state and condition; if you rest on what you do or what you hope to do; if you support yourselves with general hopes of mercy, mixed with your own endeavours and obedience; if you come not up to a thorough gospel-closure with this way of God; if you make it not your all, giving glory to God therein, — perish you will, you must, and that to eternity. There remains no sacrifice for your sins, nor way of escape for your souls. You have not, then, only the excellency of this way to invite you, but the absolute, indispensable necessity of this way to enforce you. And now, let me add that I am glad this word is spoken, is written unto you. You and I must one day be accountable for this discourse. That word that hath already been spoken, if neglected, will prove a sore testimony against you. It will not 529fare with you as with other men who have not heard the joyful sound. All those words that shall be found consonant to the gospel, if they are not turned to grace in your hearts here, will turn into torment unto your souls hereafter. Choose not any other way; it will be in vain for you; it will not profit you. And take heed lest you suppose you embrace this way when indeed you do not; about which I have given caution before.
4. This way is free and open for and unto sinners. He that fled to the city of refuge might well have many perplexed thoughts, whether he should find the gates of it opened unto him or no, and whether the avenger of blood might not overtake and slay him whilst he was calling for entrance. Or if the gates were always open, yet some crimes excluded men thence, Numb. xxxv. 16. It is not so here, Acts xiii. 38, 39.
This is the voice of God, even the Father: “Come,” saith he, “to the marriage, for all things are prepared,” — no fear of want of entertainment, Matt. xxii. 4; whence the preachers of the gospel are said in his stead to beseech men to be reconciled, 2 Cor. v. 20. And
It is the voice of the Son: “Whosoever,” saith he, “cometh to God by me, ‘I will in no wise cast out,’ ” John vi. 37. Whoever he be that comes shall assuredly find entertainment. The same is his call and invitation in other places, as Matt. xi. 28; John vii. 37. And
This is the voice of the Spirit, and of the church, and of all believers: Rev. xxii. 17, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” All centre in this, that sinners may come freely to the grace of the gospel. And
It is the voice of all the saints in heaven and earth, who have been made partakers of forgiveness; they all testify that they received it freely.
Some, indeed, endeavour to abuse this concurrent testimony of God and man. What is spoken of the freedom of the grace of God, they would wrest to the power of the will of man; but the riches and freedom of God’s mercy do not in the least interfere with the efficacy of his grace. Though he proclaim pardon in the blood of Christ indefinitely, according to the fulness and excellency of it, yet he giveth out his quickening grace to enable men to receive it as he pleaseth; for he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy. But this lies in the thing itself; the way is opened and prepared, and it is not because men cannot enter, but because they will not, that they do not enter. As our Saviour Christ tells the Pharisees, “Ye 530therefore hear not God’s word, because ye are not of God,” John viii. 47, vi. 44; so he doth, “Ye will not come to me that ye might have life,” John v. 40. In the neglect and inadvertency of the most excusable, there is a positive act of their will put forth in the refusing of Christ and grace by him; and this is done by men under the preaching of the gospel every day. There is nothing that at the last day will tend more immediately to the advancement of the glory of God, in the inexcusableness of them who obey not the gospel, than this, that terms of peace, in the blessed way of forgiveness, were freely tendered unto them. Some that hear or read this word may perhaps have lived long under the dispensation of the word of grace, and yet it may be have never once seriously pondered on this way of coming to God by forgiveness through the blood of Christ, but think that going to heaven is a thing of course, that men need not much trouble themselves about. Do they know what they have done? Hitherto, all their days, they have positively refused the salvation that hath been freely tendered unto them in Jesus Christ. Not they, they will say; they never had such a thought, nor would for all this world. But be it known unto you, inasmuch as you have not effectually received him, you have refused him; and whether your day and season be past or no, the Lord only knows.
5. This way is safe. No soul ever miscarried in it. There is none in heaven but will say it is a safe way; there is none in hell can say otherwise. It is safe to all that venture on it so as to enter into it. In the old way we were to preserve ourselves and the way; this preserves itself and us. This will be made evident by the ensuing considerations —
(1.) This is the way which, in the wisdom, care, and love of God in Christ, was provided in the room of another, removed and taken out of the way for this cause and reason, because it was not safe nor could bring us unto God: Heb. viii. 7, 8, “For if the first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. But finding fault with them, he saith,” etc. And, —
[1.] He tells us that the first covenant was not faultless; for if it bad, there would have been no need of a second. The “commandment,” indeed, which was the matter of that covenant, the same apostle informs us to be “holy, and just, and good,” Rom. vii. 12. But this was faulty as to all ends of a covenant, considering our state and condition as sinners; it could not bring us unto God. So he acquaints us, chap. viii. 3, “It was weak through the flesh,” — that is, by the entrance of sin, — and so became unuseful as to the saving of souls. Be it so, then: through our sin and default this good and holy law, this covenant, was made unprofitable unto us; but 531what was that unto God? was he bound to desert his own institution and appointment, because through our own default it ceased to be profitable unto us? Not at all. He might righteously have tied us all unto the terms of that covenant, to stand or fall by them unto eternity; but he would not do so. But, —
[2.] In his love and grace he “finds fault with it,” Heb. viii. 8; not in itself and absolutely, but only so far as that he would provide another way, which should supply all its defects and wants in reference to the end aimed at. What way that is the apostle declares in the following verses to the end of that chapter. The sum is, verse 12, “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” It is the way of pardon and forgiveness. This is substituted in the room of that insufficient way that was removed.
Let us consider, then, whether the infinitely wise and holy God, pursuing his purpose of bringing souls unto himself, — laying aside one way of his own appointment as useless and infirm, because of the coming in of sin, against which there was no relief found in it, and substituting another way in the room of it, — would not provide such a one as should be absolutely free from the faults and inconveniences which he charged upon that which he did remove. That which alone rendered the former way faulty was sin; it could do any thing but save a sinner. This, then, was to be, and is, principally provided against in this way of forgiveness. And we see here how clearly God hath severed, yea, and in this matter opposed, these two things, — namely, the way of personal righteousness and the way of forgiveness. He finds fault with the first. What then doth he do? what course doth he take? Doth he mend it, take from it what seems to be redundant, mitigate its severity, and supply it where it was wanting by forgiveness, and so set it up anew? This, indeed, is the way that many proceed in their notions, and the most in their practice; but this is not the way of God. He takes the one utterly away, and establishes the other in its place. And men’s endeavours to mix them will be found of little use to them at the last. I can have no great expectation from that which God pronounced faulty.
(2.) The unchangeable principles and foundations that this way is built upon render it secure and safe for sinners; for, —
[1.] It is founded on the purpose of God: Gal. iii. 8, “The Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith.” God would do so; he had purposed and determined to proceed this way; and all the purposes of God are attended with immutability. And, —
[2.] His promise also is engaged in it, and that given out in the way of a covenant, as hath been already declared. And, —
532[3.] This promise is confirmed by an oath; and it may be observed, that God doth not in any filing interpose with an oath, but what relates to this way of coming to himself by forgiveness; for the oath of God, wherever it is used, respecteth either Christ typically or personally, or the covenant established in him; for, —
[4.] This way is confirmed and ratified in his blood; from whence the apostle at large evinceth its absolute security and safety, Heb. ix. Whatever soul, on the invitation under consideration, shall give up himself to come to God by the way proposed, he shall assuredly find absolute peace and security in it. Neither our own weakness or folly from within, nor the opposition of any or all our enemies from without, shall be able to turn us out of this way. See Isa. xxxv. 4–10.
(3.) In the other way, every individual person stands upon his own bottom, and must do so to the last and utmost of his continuance in this world. You are desirous to go unto God, to obtain his favour, and come to an enjoyment of him. What will you do, what course will you fix upon, for the obtaining of these ends? If you were so holy, so perfect, so righteous, so free from sin as you could desire, you should have some boldness in going unto God. Why, if this be the way you fix upon, take this along with you: You stand upon your own personal account all your days: and if you fail in the least, you are gone for ever; “for whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all,” James ii. 10. And what peace can you possibly obtain, were you as holy as ever you aimed or desired to be, whilst this is your condition? But in this way of forgiveness we all shalt stand upon the account of one common Mediator, in whom we are “complete,” Col. ii. 10. And a want of a due improvement of this truth is a great principle of disconsolation to many souls. Suppose a man look upon himself as loosed from the covenant of works, wherein exact and perfect righteousness is rigidly required, and to be called unto gospel, evangelical obedience, to be performed in the room thereof in sincerity and integrity; yet if he be not cleared in this also, that he stands not in this way purely on his own account, he will never be able to make his comforts hold out to the end of his journey. There will be found in the best of men so many particular failings, as will seem in difficult seasons to impeach their integrity; and so many questionings will after arise, through the darkness of their minds and power of their temptations, as will give but little rest unto their souls. Here lies the great security of this way, — we abide in it on the account of the faithfulness and ability of our common Mediator, Jesus Christ
And this is another consideration, strengthening our invitation to 533a closure with the way of coming unto God under proposal. There is nothing wanting that is needful to give infallible security to any soul that shall venture himself into it and upon it. There are terms of peace proposed, as you have heard. These terms are excellent, and holy, and chosen of God, tending to the interest of his glory; — free, safe, and secure unto sinners. What hath any soul in the world to object against them? or wherein do men repose their trust and confidence in the neglect of this so great salvation? Is it in their lusts and sins, that they will yield them as much satisfaction and contentment as they shall need to desire? Alas! they will ruin them, and bring forth nothing but death. Is it in the world? It will deceive them; the figure of it passeth away. Is it in their duties and righteousness? They will not relieve them; for, did they follow the law of righteousness, they could not obtain the righteousness of the law. Is it in the continuance of their lives? Alas! it is but a shadow, “a vapour that appeareth for a little while.” Is it in a future amendment and repentance? Hell is full of souls perishing under such resolutions. Only this way of pardon remains; and yet of all others is most despised! But yet I have one consideration more to add before I farther enforce the exhortation.
6. Consider that this is the only way and means to enable you unto obedience, and to render what you do therein acceptable unto God. It may be that some of you are under the power of convictions, and have made engagements unto God to live unto him, to keep yourselves from sin, and to follow after holiness. It may be you have done so in afflictions, dangers, sicknesses, or upon receipt of mercies But yet you find that you cannot come unto stability or constancy in your course, — you break with God and your own souls; which fills you with new disquietments, or else hardens you and makes you secure and negligent, so that you return unto your purposes no oftener than your convictions or afflictions befall you anew. This condition is ruinous and pernicious, which nothing clan deliver you from but this closing with forgiveness; for, —
(1.) All that you do without this, however it may please your minds or ease your consciences, is not at all accepted with God. Unless this foundation be laid, all that you do is lost; — all your prayers, all your duties, all your amendments, are an abomination unto the Lord. Until peace is made with him, they are but the acts of enemies, which he despiseth and abhorreth. You run, it may be earnestly, but you run out of the way; you strive, but not lawfully, and shall never receive the crown. True gospel obedience is the fruit of the faith of forgiveness. Whatever you do without it is but a building without a foundation, a castle in the air. You may see the order of gospel obedience, Eph. ii. 7–10. The foundation 534must be laid in grace, riches of grace by Christ, — in the free pardon and forgiveness of sin. From hence must the works of obedience proceed, if you would have them to he of God’s appointment, or find acceptance with him. Without this God will say of all your services, worship, obedience, as he did to the Israelites of old, Amos v. 21–23, “I despise all, reject it all.” It is not to him nor to his glory. Now, if you are under convictions of any sort, there is nothing you more value, nothing you more place your confidence in, than your duties, your repentance, your amendment, what you do, and what in good time you will be. Is it nothing unto you to lose all your hopes and all your expectations which you have from hence; to have no other reception with God than if all this while you had been wallowing in your sins and lusts? Yet thus it is with you. If you have not begun with God on his own terms, if you have not received the atonement in the blood of his Son, if you are not made partakers of forgiveness, if your persons are not pardoned, all your duties are accursed.
(2.) This alone will give you such motives and encouragements unto obedience as will give you life, alacrity, and delight in it. You perform duties, abstain from sins, but with heaviness, fear, and in bondage. Could you do as well without them as with them, would conscience be quiet, and hope of eternity hold out, you would omit them for ever. This makes all your obedience burdensome, and you cry out in your thoughts with him in the prophet, “Behold, what a weariness is it!” The service of God is the only drudgery of your lives, which you dare not omit, and delight not to perform. From this wretched and cursed frame there is nothing can deliver you but this closing with forgiveness. This will give you such motives, such encouragements, as will greatly influence your hearts and souls. It will give you freedom, liberty, delight, and cheerfulness, in all duties of gospel obedience. You will find a constraining power in the love of Christ therein, — a freedom from bondage, when the Son truly hath made you free. Faith and love will work genuinely and naturally in your spirits; and that which was your greatest burden will become your chiefest joy, 2 Cor. vii. 1. Thoughts of the love of God, of the blood of Christ, or of the covenant of grace, and sense of pardon in them, will enlarge your hearts and sweeten all your duties. You will find a new life, a new pleasure, a new satisfaction, in all that you do. Have you yet ever understood that of the wise man, Prov. iii. 17, “Wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her path s are peace?” Have the ways of holiness, of obedience, of duties, been so unto you? Whatever you pretend, they are not, they cannot be so, whilst you are strangers unto that which alone can render them so unto you. I speak unto them that are under the law. Would you 535be free from that bondage, that galling yoke in duties of obedience? would you have all that you do towards God a delight and pleasantness unto you? This, and this alone, will effect it for you.
(3.) This will place all your obedience upon a sure foot of account in your own souls and consciences, even the same that is fixed on in the gospel. For the present, all that you do is indeed but to compound with God for your sin. You hope, by what you do for him and to him, to buy off what you have done against him, that you may not fall into the hands of his wrath and vengeance. This makes all you do to be irksome. As a man that labours all his days to pay an old debt, and brings in nothing to lay up for himself, how tedious and wearisome is his work and labour to him! It is odds but that, at one time or other, he will give over and run away from his creditor. So it is in this case: men who have secret reserves of recompensing God by their obedience, every day find their debt growing upon them, and have every day less hopes of making a satisfactory payment. This makes them weary, and for the most part they faint under their discouragements, and at length they fly wholly from God. This way alone will state things otherwise in your consciences: it will give you to see that all your debts are paid by Christ, and freely forgiven unto you by God; so that what you do is of gratitude or thankfulness, hath an influence into eternity, leads to the glory of God, the honour of Christ in the gospel, and your own comfortable account at the last day. This encourageth the soul to labour, to trade, to endeavour; all things now looking forward, and unto his advantage.
(4.) Find you not in yourselves an impotency, a disability unto the duties of obedience, as to their performance unto God in an acceptable manner? It may be you are not so sensible hereof as you ought to be; for, respecting only or principally the outward part and performance of duties, you have not experience of your own weakness. How to enliven and fill up duties with faith, love, and delight, you know not; and are therefore unacquainted with your own insufficiency in this matter. Yet if you have any light, any convictions (and to such I speak at present), you cannot but perceive and understand that you are not able in your obedience to answer what you aim at; you have not strength or power for it. Now it is this faith of forgiveness alone that will furnish you with the ability whereof you stand in need. Pardon comes not to the soul alone, or rather, Christ comes not to the soul with pardon only; it is that which he opens the door and enters by, but he comes with a Spirit of life and power. And as “without him we can do nothing,” so through his enabling us we may “do all things.” Receiving of gospel forgiveness engageth all the grace of the gospel unto our assistance.
536This is the sum of what hath been spoken — The obedience that you perform under your convictions is burdensome and unpleasant unto you; it is altogether unacceptable to God. You lose all you do, and all that you hope to do hereafter, if the foundation be not laid in the receiving of pardon in the blood of Christ. It is high time to cast down all that vain and imaginary fabric which you have been erecting, and to go about the laying of a new foundation, which you may safely and cheerfully build upon, — a building that will abide for ever.
7. Again: it is such a way, so excellent, so precious, so near the heart of God, so relating to the blood of Christ, that the neglect of it will assuredly be sorely revenged of the Lord. Let not men think that they shall despise the wisdom and love of the Father, the blood of the Son, and the promises of the gospel, at an easy rate. Let us in a very few words take a view of what the Holy Ghost speaks to this purpose. There are three ways whereby the vengeance due to the neglect of closing with forgiveness or gospel grace is expressed:—
(1.) That is done positively: “He that believeth not shall be damned,” Mark xvi. 16. That is a hard word; many men cannot endure to hear of it. They would not have it named by their good wills, and are ready to fly in the face of him from whose mouth it proceeds. But let not men deceive themselves; this is the softest word that mercy and love itself, that Christ, that the gospel speaks to despisers of forgiveness. It is Christ who is this legal terrifying preacher; it is he that cries out, “If you believe not, you shall be damned;” and he will come himself “in flaming fire, to take vengeance on them that obey not the gospel,” 2 Thess ii 8. This is the end of the disobedient, if God, if Christ, if the gospel may be believed.
(2.) Comparatively, in reference unto the vengeance due to the breach of the law, 2 Cor. ii. 16. We are in the preaching of forgiveness by Christ, unto them that perish, “a savour of death unto death,” a deep death, a sore Condemnation. So Heb. x. 29, “Of how much sorer punishment suppose ye shall he be thought worthy?” sorer than ever was threatened by the law, or inflicted for the breach of it, — not as to the kind of punishment but as to the degrees of it; hence ariseth the addition of “Many stripes.”
(3.) By the way of admiration at the inexpressibleness and unavoidableness of the punishment due unto such sinners: Heb. ii. 3, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation!” — “Surely there is no way for men to escape, they shall unavoidably perish, who neglect so great salvation.” So the Holy Ghost says, 1 Pet. iv. 17, “What shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel?” — “What understanding can reach to an apprehension of their miserable and 537woful condition?” “None can,” saith the Holy Ghost, “nor can it be spoken to their capacity.” Ah! what shall their end be? There remains nothing but “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries,” Heb. x. 27, — a certain fearful expectation of astonishable things, that cannot be comprehended.
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