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Sermon II. A memorial of the deliverance of Essex county, and committee.
“A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth. O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy. God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. And his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of his power. Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet. He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting. I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble. Was the Lord displeased against the rivers? was thine anger against the rivers? was thy wrath against the sea, that thou didst ride upon thine horses, and thy chariots of salvation? Thy bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word. Selah. Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers.” — Hab. iii. 1–9.
Of this chapter there are four parts.
First, The title and preface of it, verse 1.
Secondly, The prophet’s main request in it, verse 2.
Thirdly, Arguments to sustain his faith in that request, from verse 3 to 17.
Fourthly, A resignation of himself, and the whole issue of his desires unto God, from verse 17 to the end.
We shall treat of them in order.
The prophet155155 The time of this prophecy is conceived to be about the end of Josiah’s reign, not long before the first Chaldean invasion. having had visions from God, and pre-discoveries of many approaching judgments, in the first and second chapters, in this, by faithful prayer, sets himself to obtain a sure footing and quiet abode in those nation-destroying storms.
Verse 1. “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet;” that is the title of it.
And an excellent prayer it is, full of arguments to strengthen 78faith, — acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty, power, and righteous judgments, — with resolutions to a contented, joyful, rolling him upon him under all dispensations.
Observation I. Prayer is the believer’s constant, sure retreat in an evil time, in a time of trouble.
It is the righteous man’s wings to the “name of the Lord,” which is his “strong tower,” Prov. xviii. 10, — a Christian156156 “Preces et lacrymæ sunt arma ecclesiæ.” — Tertul. soldier’s sure reserve in the day of battle: if all other forces be overthrown, here he will abide by it, — no power under heaven can prevail upon him to give one step backward. Hence that title of Ps. cii. 1, “A prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed.” ’Tis the overwhelmed man’s refuge and employment: when “he swooneth with anguish” (as in the original), this fetches him to life again. So also, Ps. lxi. 2, 3. In our greatest distresses let neither unbelief nor self-contrivances jostle us out of this way to the rock of our salvation.
II. Observation. Prophets’ discoveries of fearful judgments must be attended with fervent prayers.
That messenger hath done but half his business who delivers his errand, but returns not an answer. He that brings God’s message of threats unto his people, must return his people’s message of entreaties unto him. Some think they have fairly discharged their duty when they have revealed the will of God to man, without labouring to reveal the condition and desires of men unto God. He that is more frequent in the pulpit to his people than he is in his closet for his people, is but a sorry watchman. Moses did not so, Exod. xxxii. 31; — neither did Samuel so, 1 Sam. xii. 23; — neither was it the guise of Jeremiah in his days, chap. xiv. 17. If the beginning of the prophecy be (as it is) “The burden of Habakkuk,” — the close will be (as it is) “The prayer of Habakkuk.” Where there is a burden upon the people, there must be a prayer for the people. Woe to them who have denounced desolations, and not poured out supplications! Such men delight in the evil which the prophet puts far from him, Jer. xvii. 16, “I have not desired the woeful day, [O Lord], thou knowest.”
Now this prayer is “upon Shigionoth;” that is, — 1. It is turned to a song; 2. Such a song.
1. That it is a song, penned in meter; and how done so. (1.) To take the deeper impression; (2.) To be the better retained in memory; (3.) To work more upon the affections; (4.) To receive the ingredients of poetical loftiness for adorning the majesty of God with; (5.) The use of songs in the old church; (6.) And for the present; (7.) Their times and seasons, as among the people of God, so all nations of old. Of all, or any of these, being besides my present purpose, I shall not treat.
792. That it is “upon Shigionoth,” a little may be spoken. The word is once in another place (and no more) used, in the title of a song, and that is Ps. vii., “Shigionoth of David;” and it is variously rendered. It seems to be taken from the word שָׁגָה, “erravit,” to err, or wander variously, Prov. v. 19. The word is used for delight, to stray with delight: “In her love (תִּשְׁגֶּה) thou shalt err with delight,” — we have translated it, “be ravished;” noting affections out of order. The word, then, holds out a delightful wandering and variety; — and this literally, because those two songs, Ps. vii. and Hab. iii., are not tied to any one certain kind of metre, but have various verses, for the more delight; which, though it be not proper to them alone, yet in them the Holy Ghost would have it especially noted.
But now surely the kernel of this shell is sweeter than so. Is not this written also for their instruction who have no skill in Hebrew songs? The true reason of their meter is lost to the most learned. Are not, then, God’s variable dispensations towards his held out under these variable tunes, — not all fitted to one string? not all alike pleasant and easy? Are not the several tunes of mercy and judgment in these songs? Is not here affliction and deliverance, desertion and recovery, darkness and light in this variously? Doubtless it is so.
III. Observation. God often calls his people unto songs upon Shigionoth.
157157 “Graviter in eum decernitur, cui etiam ipsa conneetlo denegatur.” — Prosp. Sent.He keeps them under various dispensations, that so, drawing out all their affections, their hearts may make the sweeter melody unto him. They shall not have all honey, nor all gall; — all judgment, lest they be broken; nor all mercy, lest they be proud. “Thou answeredst them, O Lord our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions,” Ps. xcix. 8. Here is a song upon Shigionoth! They are heard in their prayers, and forgiven; — there is the sweetest of mercies. Vengeance is taken of their inventions, — there’s tune of judgment. “By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation,” Ps. lxv. 5; [which] is a song of the same tune. To be answered in righteousness, what sweeter mercy in the world? Nothing more refreshes the panting soul than an answer of its desires; but to have this answer by terrible things, — that string strikes a humbling, a mournful note. Israel hear of deliverance by Moses,158158 Duplicantur lateres quando venit Moses. and at the same time have their bondage doubled by Pharaoh, — there’s a song upon Shigionoth. Is it not so in our days? — precious mercies and dreadful judgments jointly poured out upon the land? We are clothed by our Father, like Joseph by his, in a party-coloured coat, Gen. xxxvii. 3; — here a piece of unexpected deliverance, and there a piece of deserved correction. 80At the same hour we may rejoice at the conquest of our enemies, and mourn at the close of our harvest, — victories for his own name’s sake, and showers for our sins’ sake; both from the same hand at the same time. The cry of every soul is like the cry of the multitude of old and young at the laying the foundation of the second temple: many shouted aloud for joy, and many wept with a loud voice; so that it was a mixed noise, and the several noises could not be distinguished, Ezra iii. 12, 13. A mixed cry is in our spirits, and we know not which is loudest in the day of our visitation. I could instance in sundry particulars, but that every one’s observation will save me that easy labour. And this the Lord doth, —
1. To fill159159 “Namque bonos non blanda inflant, non aspera frangunt, Sed fidei invictæ gaudia vera juvant.” Prosp. Epig. in Sent. August. all our sails towards himself at once, — to exercise all our affections. I have heard that a full wind behind the ship drives her not so fast forward as a side wind, that seems almost so much against her as with her; and the reason, they say, is, because a full wind fills but some of her sails, which keep it from the rest that they are empty; when a side wind fills all her sails, and sets her speedily forward. Which way ever we go in this world, our affections are our sails; and according as they are spread and filled, so we pass on, swifter and slower, whither we are steering. Now, if the Lord should give us a full wind, and continual gale of mercies, it would fill but some of our sails, some of our affections, — joy, delight, and the like; but when he comes with a side wind, — a dispensation that seems almost as much against us as for us, then he fills all our sails, takes up all our affections, making his works wide and broad enough to entertain them every one; — then are we carried freely and fully towards the haven where we would be.160160 Ps. cxix. 67; Hos. v. 15; Heb. xii. 10, 11; 1 Pet. i. 6. A song upon Shigionoth leaves not one string of our affections untuned. It is a song that reacheth every line of our hearts, to be framed by the grace and Spirit of God. Therein hope, fear, reverence, with humility and repentance, have a share; as well as joy, delight, and love, with thankfulness. Interchangeable dispensations take up all our affections, with all our graces; for they are gracious affections, exercised and seasoned with grace, of which we speak. The stirring of natural affections, as merely such, is but the moving of a dunghill to draw out a stinking steam, — a thing the Lord neither aimeth at nor delighteth in. Their joys are his provocation, and he laugheth in the day of their calamity, when their fear cometh, Prov. i. 26, 27.
2. To keep them in continual161161 “In cælo non in terra mercedem promisit reddendam. Quid alibi poscis, quod alibi dabitur!” — Ambros. Offic., lib. i. cap. 16. dependence upon himself. He 81hath promised his own daily bread, — not goods laid up for many yearn Many children have been undone by their parents giving them too large a stock to trade for themselves; it has made them spendthrifts, careless, and wanton. Should the Lord intrust his people with a continued stock of mercy, perhaps they would be full, and deny him, and say, “Who is the Lord?” Prov. xxx. 9. Jeshurun did so, Deut. xxxii. 14, 15. Ephraim “was filled according to their pasture, and forgot the Lord,” Hos. xiii. 6. Neither, on the other side, will he be always chiding. “His anger shall not burn for ever” — very sore. It is our infirmity at the least, if we my, God hath forgotten to be gracious, and shut up his tender mercies in displeasure, Ps. lxxvii. 9. But laying one thing against another, he keeps the heart of his in an even balance, in a continual dependence upon himself, that they may neither be wanton through mercy, nor discouraged by too much oppression. Our tender Father is therefore neither always feeding nor always correcting. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark: but it shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day nor night; but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light,” saith the prophet Zech. xiv. 6, 7, seeking out God’s dispensations towards his, ending in joy and light in the evening.
Use. Labour to have your hearts right tuned for songs on Shigionoth, sweetly to answer all God’s dispensations in their choice variety. That instrument will make no music that hath but some strings in tune. If when God strikes with mercy upon the string of joy and gladness, we answer pleasantly; but when he touches upon that of162162 “Cum vexamur ac premimur, tum maxime gratias agimus iudulgentissimo patri, quod corruptelam nostram non patitur longius procedere: hinc intelligimus nos esse Deo curæ.” — Lactan. sorrow and humiliation, we suit it not; — we are broken instruments, that make no melody unto God. We must know how to receive good and evil at his hand. “He hath made every thing beautiful in its time,” Eccles. iii. 11, — every thing in that whole variety which his wisdom hath produced. A well-tuned heart must have all its strings, all its affections, ready to answer every touch of God’s finger, to improve judgments and mercies both at the same time. Sweet harmony ariseth out of some discords. When a soul is in a frame to rejoice with thankful obedience for mercy received, and to be humbled with soul-searching, amending repentance for judgments inflicted at the same time, — then it sings a song on Shigionoth, then it is fit for the days wherein we live. Indeed, both mercies and judgments aim at the same end, and should be received with the same equal temper of mind. A flint is broken between a hammer and a pillow; — an offender is humbled between a prison and a pardon; — a hard heart 82may be mollified and a proud spirit humbled between those two. In such a season the several rivulets of our affections flow naturally in the same stream. When hath a gracious soul the soundest joys, but when it hath the deepest sorrows? “Habent et gaudia vulnus.” When hath it the humblest melting, but when it hath the most ravishing joys? Our afflictions, which are naturally at the widest distance, may all swim in the same spiritual channel Rivulets rising from several heads are carried in one stream to the ocean. As a mixture of several colours make a beautiful complexion for the body; so a mixture of divers affections, under God’s various dispensations, gives a comely frame unto the soul. Labour, then, to answer every call, every speaking providence of God, in its right kind, according to the intention thereof; and the Lord reveal his mind unto us, that so we may do.
Having passed the title, let us look a little on those parts of the prayer itself that follow.
1. The frame of the prophet’s spirit in his address to God: “O Jehovah, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid.”
2. His request in this his condition: “O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.”
1. In the first you have, —
(1.) Particularly his frame; — he was afraid, or trembled; which he wonderfully sets out, verse 16, “When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself.”
(2.) The cause of this fear and trembling; — he “heard the speech of God.”
If you will ask what speech or report this was that made the prophet himself so exceedingly quake and tremble, I answer, it is particularly that which you have, chap. i. 5–11, — containing a dreadful denunciation of the judgments of God against the people of Israel, to be executed by the proud, cruel, insulting Chaldeans. This voice, this report of God, makes the prophet tremble.
IV. Observation. An appearance of God in anger and threats against a people, should make his choicest secret ones among them to fear, to quake, and tremble.
Trembling of man’s heart must answer the shaking of God’s hand. At the delivery of the law with all its attending threats, so terrible was the sight, that Moses himself (though a mediator then) did “exceedingly fear and quake,” Heb. xii. 21. God will be acknowledged in all his goings. If men will not bow before him, he will break them. They who fear not his threatenings, shall feel his inflictings; if his word be esteemed light, his hand will be found heavy. — For,
831. In point of deserving who can say,163163 Job xiv. 4, xv. 15, 16; Prov. xvi. 2, xx. 9. I have purged my heart, I am clean from sin? None ought to be fearless, unless they be senseless. God’s people are so far from being always clear of procuring national judgments, that sometimes164164 2 Sam. xxiv. 15; 2 Chron. xxxii. 25. judgments have come upon nations for the sins of some of God’s people amongst them; — as the plague in the days of David.
2. And in point of165165 “Omnes seculi plagæ, nobis in admonitionem, vobis in castigationem à Deo veniunt.” — Tertul. Apol., cap. xlii. suffering, who knows but they may have a deep share? The prophet’s book is written within as well as without, with “lamentation, mourning, and woe,” Ezek. ii. 10. If “the lion roars, who can but fear?” Amos iii. 8, — fear, to the rooting out of security, not the shaking of faith, — fear, to the pulling down of carnal presidence, not Christian confidence, — fear, to draw out our souls in prayer, not to swallow them up in despair, fear, to break the arm of flesh, but not to weaken the staff of the promise, fear, that we may draw nigh to God with reverence, not to run from him with diffidence; in a word, to overthrow faithless presumption, and to increase gracious submission.
2. Here is the prophet’s request. And in this there are these two things:—
(1.) The thing he desireth: “The reviving God’s work, the remembering mercy.”
(2.) The season he desireth it in: “In the midst of the years.”
(1.) For the first, — that which in the beginning of the verse he calls God’s work, in the close of it he termeth mercy; and the reviving his work is interpreted to be a remembering mercy. These two expressions, then, are parallel. The reviving of God’s work towards his people is a reacting of mercy, a bringing forth the fruits thereof, and that in the midst of the execution of wrath; as a man in the midst of another, remembering a business of more importance, instantly turneth away, and applieth himself thereunto.
V. Observation. Acts of mercy are God’s proper work towards his people, which he will certainly awake, and keep alive in the saddest times.
Mercy, you see, is his work, his proper work, as he calleth “judgment his strange act,” Isa. xxviii. 21. “He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy,” Mic. vii. 18. This is his proper work. Though it seem to sleep, he will awake it; though it seem to die, he will revive it. “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven 84thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me,” Isa. xlix. 15, 16.
(2.) For the season of this work, — he prays that it may be accomplished “in the midst of the years;” upon which you may see what weight he lays, by his repetition of it in the same verse. It is something doubtful what may be the peculiar sense of these words; — whether “the midst of the years”166166 בְּקֶרֶב שָׁנִים, in the inward of years do not denote the whole time of the people’s bondage under the Chaldeans (whence Junius renders the words “interea temporis,” noting this manner of expression, “the midst of the years,” for a Hebraism), during which space he intercedes for mercy for them; or whether “the midst of the years” do not denote some certain point of time, as the season of their return from captivity, about the midst of the years between their first king and the coming of the Messiah, putting a period to their church and state. Whether of these is more probable is not needful to insist upon: this is certain, that a certain time is pointed at; which will yield us, —
VI. Observation. The church’s mercies and deliverance have their appointed season.
In the midst of the years it shall be accomplished. As there is a decree bringing forth the wicked’s destruction, Zeph. ii. 1, 2; so there is a decree goes forth in its appointed season for the church’s deliverance, which cannot be gainsaid, Dan. ix. 23. Every “vision is for its appointed” season and time, Hab. ii. 3; then “it will surely come, it will not tarry.” There is a determination upon the weeks and days of the church’s sufferings and expectations, Dan. ix. 24, “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people.” As there are three transgressions, and four, of rebels, for which God “will not turn away their punishment,” Amos i. 3; so three afflictions, and four, of the people of God, after which he will not shut out their supplications. Hence that confidence of the prophet, Ps. cii. 13, 14, “Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for,” saith he, “the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come.” There is a time, yea, a set time, for favour to be showed unto Zion: as a time to break down, so a time to build up, — an acceptable time, a day of salvation. “It came to pass, at the end of four hundred and thirty years, even the self-same day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out of Egypt,” Exod. xii. 41. As a woman with child goes not beyond her appointed months, but is pained to be delivered, — no more can the fruitful decree cease from bringing forth the church’s deliverance in the season thereof.
1. Because there is an appointed period of the church’s humiliation and bearing of her iniquities. Israel shall bear their iniquities 85in the wilderness; but this is exactly limited to the space of forty years. When their iniquity is pardoned, their warfare is accomplished, Isa. xl. 2. They say some men will give poison that shall work insensibly, and kill at seven years’ end. The great Physician of his church knows how to give his sin-sick people potions that shall work by degrees, and at such an appointed season take away all their iniquity: then they can no longer be detained in trouble. God will not continue his course of physic unto them one day beyond health recovered. This is all the fruit of their afflictions, to take away their iniquities, Isa. xxvii. 9; and when that is done, who shall keep bound what God will loose? When sin is taken away from within, trouble must depart from without.
2. Because the church’s sorrows are commensurate unto, and do contemporize with, the joys and prosperity of God’s enemies and hers. Now, wicked men’s prosperity hath assured bounds: “The wickedness of the wicked shall come to an end.” There is a time when the “iniquity of the Amorites comes to the full,” Gen. xv. 16. It comes up to the brim in the appointed day of slaughter. When their wickedness hath filled the ephah, a talent of lead is laid upon the mouth thereof, and it is carried away on wings, Zech. v. 6–8, swiftly, certainly, irrecoverably. If, then, the church’s troubles contemporize, rise and fall with their prosperity, and her deliverance with their destruction, — if the fall of Babylon be the rise of Zion, — if they be the buckets which must go down when the church comes up, — if they be the rod of the church’s chastisement, — their ruin being set and appointed, so also must be the church’s mercies.
Use. In every distress learn to wait with patience for this appointed time. “He that believeth will not make haste.” “Though it tarry, wait for it, it will surely come.” He that is infinitely good hath appointed the time; and therefore it is best. He that is infinitely wise hath determined the season; and therefore it is most suitable. He who is infinitely powerful hath set it down; and therefore it shall be accomplished. Wait for it believing, wait for it praying, — wait for it contending. Waiting is not a lazy hope, a sluggish expectation. When Daniel knew the time was come, he prayed the more earnestly, Dan. ix. 2, 3. You will say, perhaps, What need he pray for it, when he knew the time was accomplished? I answer, The more need. Prayer helps the promise to bring forth. Because a woman’s time is come, therefore shall she have no midwife? nay, therefore give her one. He that appointed their return, appointed that it should be a fruit of prayer. Wait,167167 “Bonum agonem subituri estis, in quo agonothetes Deus vivus est: Christarchos Spiritus Sanctus, corona æternitatis brabium, epithetes Jesus Christus.” — Tertul. ad Mar. contending also in all ways 86wherein you shall be called out; and be not discouraged that you know not the direct season of deliverance. “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand; for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good,” Eccles. xi. 6.
But proceed we with the prophet’s prayer.
From verse 3 to 17, he layeth down several arguments, taken from the majesty, power, providence, and former works of God, for the supporting of his faith to the obtaining of those good things and works of mercy which he was now praying for. We shall look on them, as they lie in our way.
Verse 3. “God came from Teman, the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, the earth was full of his praise.”
Teman168168 Gen. xxxvi. 15; Jer. xlix. 7; Obad. 9. was a city of the Edomites, whose land the people of Israel compassed in the wilderness, when they were stung with fiery serpents, and healed with looking on a brazen serpent, set up to be a type of Christ. Teman is put up for the whole land of Edom; and the prophet makes mention of it for the great deliverance and mercy granted there to the people when they were almost consumed; — that’s God’s coming from Teman. See Num. xxi. 5–9. When they were destroyed by fiery serpents, he heals them by a type of Christ, — giving them corporeal, and raising them to a faith of spiritual, salvation.
Paran,169169 Deut. i. 1. the next place mentioned, was a mountain in the land of Ishmael, near which Noses repeated the law; and from thence God carried the people immediately to Canaan; — another eminent act of mercy.
Unto these he addeth the word Selah; as it is a song, a note of elevation in singing; as it respects the matter, not the form, a note of admiration and special observation. Selah, — consider them well, for they were great works indeed. Special mercies must have special observation.
Now, by reason of these actions the prophet affirms that the glory of God covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise; — lofty expressions of the advancement of God’s glory, and the fulness of his praise amongst his people of the earth, which attended that merciful deliverance and gracious assistance. Nothing is higher or greater than that which covers heaven, and fills earth. God’s170170 “Gloria est frequens de aliquo fama cum laude.” — Cic. lib. ii., De Inv. “Consentiens laus bonorum, incorrupta vox bene judicantium de excellente virtute.” — Idem. Tusc., lib. iii. glory is exceedingly exalted, and his praise increased everywhere, by acts of favour and kindness to his people.
87That which I shall choose, from amongst many others that present themselves, a little to insist upon, is, that —
VII. Observation — Former mercies, with their times and places, are to be had in thankful remembrance unto them who wait for future blessings.
Faith is to this end separated by them. “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?” Isa. li. 9, 10. The breaking of Rahab, — that is, Egypt, so called here, and Ps. lxxxvii. 4, lxxxix. 10, for her great strength, which the word signifies, — and the wounding of the dragon, that great and crooked afflicter, Pharaoh, is remembered, and urged for a motive to a new needed deliverance. So Ps. lxxiv. 13, 14, “Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.” Leviathan, — the same dragon, oppressing, persecuting Pharaoh, — thou brakest his heads, his counsels, armies, power; and gavest him for meat, that the people for forty years together might be fed, sustained, and nourished with that wonderful mercy. “Out of the eater came forth meat; out of the strong came forth sweetness.”
In this reciprocation God walketh with his people. Of free grace he bestoweth mercies and blessings on them; by grace works the returns of remembrance and thankfulness unto himself for them; then showers that down again in new mercies. The countries which send up no vapours, receive down no showers. Remembrance with thankfulness of former mercies is the matter, as it were, which by God’s goodness is condensed into following blessings. For, —
1. Mercies have their proper end, when thankfully remembered. What more powerful motive to the obtaining of new, than to hold out that the old were not abused? We are encouraged to cast seed again into that ground whose last crop witnesseth that it was not altogether barren. That sad spot of good Hezekiah, that he rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him, is set down as the opening a door of wrath against himself, Judah, and Jerusalem, 2 Chron. xxxii. 25. On the other side, suitable returns are a door of hope for farther mercies.
2. The remembrance of them strengthens faith, and keeps our hands from hanging down in the time of waiting for blessings. When faith is supported, the promise is engaged, and a mercy at any time more than half obtained. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” Heb. xi. 1. “God,” saith the apostle, “hath delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver.” Now, what conclusion makes he 88of this experience? — “In whom we trust that he will yet deliver us,” 2 Cor. i. 10. It was a particular mercy with its circumstances, as you may see verse 9, which he made the bottom of his dependence. In the favours of men we cannot do so; they may be weary of helping, or be drawn dry, and grow helpless. Ponds may be exhausted, but the ocean never. The infinite fountains of the Deity cannot be sunk one hair’s breadth by everlasting flowing blessings. Now, circumstances of actions, time, place, and the like, ofttimes make deep impressions; mercies should be remembered with them. So doth the apostle again, 2 Tim. iv. 17, 18, “He did deliver me from the mouth of the lion,” — Nero, that lion-like tyrant. And what then? “He shall deliver me from every evil work.” David esteemed it very good logic, to argue from the victory God gave him over the lion and the bear, to a confidence of victory over Goliath, 1 Sam. xvii. 37.
Use. The use of this we are led unto, Isa. xliii. 16–18, “Thus saith the Lord, which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters; which bringeth forth the chariot and horse, the army, and the power; They shall lie down together, they shall not rise: they are extinct, they are quenched as tow. Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.” Let former mercies be an anchor of hope in time of present distresses. Where is the God of Marston Moor, and the God of Naseby? is an acceptable expostulation in a gloomy day. O what a catalogue of mercies hath this nation to plead by in a time of trouble! God came from Naseby, and the Holy One from the west. Selah. “His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.” He went forth in the north, and in the east he did not withhold his hand. I hope the poor town wherein171171 No place in the county so threatened; no place in the county so preserved: small undertakings there blessed; great opposition blasted. Non nobis, Domine, non nobis. I live is more enriched with a store-mercy of a few months, than with a full trade of many years. “The snares of death compassed us, and the floods of ungodly men made us afraid,” Ps. xviii. 4; but “the Lord thundered in the heavens, the Highest gave his voice; hailstones and coals of fire. Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them. He sent from above, he took us, he drew us out of many waters. He delivered us from our strong enemy, and from them which hated us: for they were too strong for us,” verses 13, 14, 16, 17. How may we say with the same Psalmist, in any other distress, “O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar!” Ps. xlii. 6. “Where is the Lord God of Elijah,” — who divides anew the waters of Jordan? 2 Kings ii. 14.
89The following verses set forth the glory and power of God, in the accomplishment of that great work of bringing his people into the promised land, with those mighty things he performed in the wilderness.
Verse 4, if I mistake not, sets out his glorious appearance on Mount Sinai; of which the prophet affirms two things:—
1. That “his brightness was as the light.”
2. That “he had horns coming out of his hand, and there was the hiding of his power.”
1. For the first. Is it not that brightness which appeared when the mountain burned with fire to the midst of heaven, Deut. iv. 11, — a glorious fire in the midst of clouds and thick darkness? The like description you have of God’s presence, Ps. xviii. 11, 12, “He made darkness his secret place,” and brightness was before him: as the light, the sun, the fountain and cause of it, called “light,” Job xxxi. 26. Now, this glorious appearance holds out the kingly power and majesty of God in governing the world, which appeareth but unto few. “The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice. Clouds and darkness are round about him. A fire goeth before him; his lightnings enlightened the world,” Ps. xcvii. 1–4.
2. “He had horns coming out of his hand.” So the words most properly, though by some otherwise rendered. That horns in Scripture are taken for strength and power,172172 Deut. xxxiii. 17; Ps. lxxv. 10; Zech. i. 18. needs no proving. The mighty power of God, which he made appear to his people, in that glorious representation of his majesty on Mount Sinai, is by this phrase expressed. There his chariots were seen to be twenty thousand, even many thousands of angels; and the Lord among them in that holy place, Ps. lxviii. 17. There they perceived that “he had horns in his hand;” — an almighty power to do what he pleased. Whence it is added, “And there was the hiding of his power.” Though the appearance of it was very great and glorious, yet it was but small to the everlasting hidden depths of his omnipotency. The most glorious appearance of God comes infinitely short of his own eternal majesty as he is in himself; — it is but a discovery that there is the hiding of infinite perfection; or, there his power appeared to us, which was hidden from the rest of the world.
VIII. Observation. When God is doing great things, he gives glorious manifestations of his excellencies to his secret ones.
The appearance on Sinai goes before his passage into Canaan: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets,” Amos iii. 7. When he is to send Moses for the deliverance of his people, he appears to him in a burning, unconsumed bush, Exod. iii. 2, — a sign manifesting the presence 90of his power to preserve his church unconsumed in the midst of burning, fiery afflictions. Unto this very end were all the visions tint are recorded in the Scripture, all of them accommodated to the things which God was presently doing. And this he doth, —
1. That they may thereby be prepared to follow him, and serve him in the great works he hath for them to do. Great works are not to be done without great encouragements. If God appears not in light, who can expect he should appear in operation? He that is called to serve Providence in high things, without some especial discovery of God, works in the dark,173173 John xii. 35; Rev. xvi. 10. and knows not whither he goes, nor what he doth. Such a one travels in the wilderness without a directing cloud. Clear shining from God must be at the bottom of deep labouring with God. What is the reason that so many in our days set their hands to the plough, and look back again? — begin to serve Providence in great things, but cannot finish? — give over in the heat of the day? They never had any such revelation of the mind of God upon their spirits, such a discovery of his excellencies, as might serve for a bottom of such undertakings. Men must know that if God hath not appeared to them in brightness, and showed them “the horns in his hand,” hid from others, though they think highly of themselves, they’ll deny God twice and thrice before the close of the work of this age. If you have no great discoveries, you will wax vain in great undertakings. New workings on old bottoms, are like new wine in old bottles, — both are spoiled and lost. The day is the time of work, and that because of the light thereof; — those who have not light may be spared to go to bed.
2. That they may be the better enabled to give him glory, when they shall see the sweet harmony that is between his manifestations and his operations, — when they can say with the Psalmist, “As we have heard, so have we seen,” Ps. xlviii. 8. As he revealeth himself, so he worketh. When his power and mercy answer his appearance in the bush, it is a foundation to a prayer: “The good-will of him that dwelt in the bush bless thee.” When a soul shall find God calling him forth to employments, perhaps great and high, yet every way suiting that light and gracious discovery which he hath given of himself, one thing answering another, it sets him in a frame of honouring God aright.
This might be of rich consideration could we attend it. For, —
Use 1. Hence, as I said before, is apostasy from God’s work. He appears not unto men; — how can they go upon his employment. Men that have no vision of God, are in the dark, and know not what to do. I speak not of visions beyond the Word; but answers of prayers, gracious applications of providences, with wise consideration 91of times and seasons. Some drop off every day, some hang by the eyelids, and know not what to do: the light of God is not sent forth to lead and guide them, Ps. xliii. 3. Wonder not at the strange backslidings of our days: many acted upon by engagements, and for want of light, know not to the last what they were a-doing.
Use 2. Hence also is the suiting of great light and great work in our days. Let new light be derided whilst men please, he will never serve the will of God in this generation, who sees not beyond the line of foregoing ages.
Use 3. And this, thirdly, may put all those whom God is pleased to employ in his service upon a diligent inquiry into his mind. Can a servant do his master’s work without knowing his pleasure? We live for the most part from hand to mouth, and do what comes next; few are acquainted with the designs of God.
The going forth of the Lord with his people towards their rest, with reference to his harbingers, is described, verse 5.
Verse 5. “Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet.”
“Before him,” — at his face. “The pestilence:” This is often reckoned amongst the weapons wherewith God fighteth with any people to consume them;174174 Exod. ix. 15; Lev. xxvi. 25; 2 Sam. xxiv. 13; Ezek. xiv. 19; Matt. xxiv. 7. and as speeding an instrument of destruction it is as any the Lord ever used towards the children of men. “At his feet went forth burning coals;” — a redoubling, say some, of the same stroke, — burning coals for burning diseases. When one blow will not do the work appointed, God redoubles the stroke of his hand, Lev. xxvi. 22–25. Or, burning, coals, dreadful judgments, mortal weapons, as fire and flames, are often taken in other descriptions of God’s dealing with his enemies, Ps. xi. 6, xviii. 8. Prevailing fire is the most dreadful means of destruction, Heb. xii. 29; Isa. xxxiii. 14. In Exod. xxiii. 28, God threateneth to send the hornet upon the Canaanites, before the children of Israel; some stinging judgments, either on their consciences or bodies, or both:— something of the same kind is doubtless here held out. He sent plagues and diseases among them, to weaken and consume them, before his people’s entrance. His presence was with Israel; and the pestilence consuming the Canaanites before their entrance is said to be לְפָנָיו, — “at his faces,” or appearances, before him, before the entrance of the presence of his holiness. And the following judgments, that quite devoured them, were “the coals going out at his feet,” which he sent abroad when he entered their land with his own inheritance, to cast out those “malæ fidei possessores.” Sicknesses, diseases, and all sorts of judgments, are wholly at God’s disposal. “Affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the 92ground; yet man is born to trouble, as the sons of the burning coal lift up in flying,” Job v. 6, 7. When God intends the total destruction of a people, he commonly weakens them by some previous judgments. Let the truth of this be found upon them that hate us, and the interpretation thereof be to the enemies of this nation; but the Lord knows all our hearts may well tremble at what will be the issue of the visitations of the last year.
IX. Observation. God never wants instruments to execute his anger, and ruin his enemies.
His treasury of judgments can never be exhausted. If Israel be too weak for the Amorites, he will call in the pestilence and burning diseases to their assistance. What creature hath not this mighty God used against his enemies? An angel destroys Sennacherib’s host, Isa. xxxvii. 36, and smites Herod with worms, Acts xii. 23. Heaven above sends down a hell of fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah; Gen. xix. 24. The stars in their courses fought against Sisera, Judges v. 20. Devils do his will herein; he sent evil angels among the Egyptians, Ps. lxxviii. 49. Fire consumes persecuting Ahaziah’s companies, 2 Kings i. 10, 11. The water drowns Pharaoh and his chariots, Exod. xiv. 28. Earth swallows up Korah, with his fellow-rebels, Num. xvi. 32. Bears rend the children that mocked Elisha, 2 Kings ii. 24. Lions destroy the strange nations in Samaria, 2 Kings xvii. 25. Frogs, lice, boils, hail, rain, thunder, lightning, destroy the land of Egypt, Exod. viii. 9, 10. Locusts are his mighty army to punish Israel, Joel ii. 25. Hailstones destroy the Canaanites, Josh. x. 11. Stones of the wall slay the Syrians, 1 Kings xx. 30. Pestilence and burning diseases are his ordinary messengers. In a word, all creatures serve his providence, and wait his commands for the execution of his righteous judgments. Neither the beasts of the field nor the stones of the earth will be any longer quiet than he causeth them to hold a league with the sons of men.
Use 1. To teach us all to tremble before this mighty God. Who can stand before him, — “qui tot imperat legionibus?” If he will strike, he wants no weapons; if he will fight, he wants no armies. All things serve his will. He saith to one, Come, and it cometh; to another, Go, and it goeth; to a third, Do this, and it doth it. He can make use of ourselves, our friends, our enemies, heaven, earth, fire, water, any thing, for what end he pleaseth. There is no standing before his armies, for they are all things, and himself to make them effectual. There is no flying from his armies, for they are every where, and himself with them. Who would not fear this King of nations? He that contends with him shall find “as if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him,” Amos v. 19. 93No flying, no hiding, no contending. Worms kill Herod; a fly choked Adrian, etc.
Use 2. To be a bottom of confidence and dependence in an evil day. He that hath God on his side, hath also all things that are seen, and that are not seen. The mountain is full of fiery chariots for Elisha’s defence, when outwardly there was no appearance, 2 Kings vi. 17. All things wait their Master’s beck, to do him service, — as for the destruction of enemies, so for the deliverance of his. What though we had no army in the time of war? God hath millions, many thousands of angels, Ps. lxviii. 17, — one whereof can destroy so many thousands of men in a night, Isa. xxxvii. 36. He can choose (when few others will appear, with him against the mighty, as in our late troubles) “foolish things to confound the wise, and weak things to confound the strong.” Sennacherib’s angel is yet alive, and the destroyer of Sodom is not dead: and all those things are at our command, if their help may be for our good. “Judah ruleth with God,” Hos. xi. 12, — hath a rule by faithful supplications over all those mighty hosts. Make God our friend, and we are not only of the best, but also the strongest side. You that would be on the safest side, be sure to choose that which God is on. Had not this mighty, all-commanding God, been with us, where had we been in the late tumults? So many thousands in Kent, so many in Wales, so many in the north, so many in Essex, — shall they not speed? shall they not divide the prey? is not the day of those factious Independents come? was the language of our very neighbours. The snare is broken, and we are delivered.
The Lord having sent messengers before him into Canaan, stands himself as it were upon the borders, and takes a view of the land.
Verse 6. “He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting.”
Two things are here considerable:—
1. The Lord’s exact foreview of the promised land: “He stood, and measured the earth, and beheld the nations.”
2. His operation at that time: “He drove asunder the nations,” etc.
1. “He stood and measured:” The prophet here representeth the Lord on the frontier of Canaan, as one taking view of a piece of land, and exactly measuring it out, as intending it for his own; weighing and considering the bounds and limits of it, to see if it will answer the end for which he purposeth it. God’s exact notice and knowledge of his people’s possession is in those words held out. He views where the lines of every tribe shall run. Nothing happens or is made out to any of God’s people, without his own careful providential predisposition. 94He views the circuit of the whole, where and how divided, and separated from the dwellings of the unclean, and habitations of the uncircumcised. Fixed bounds, measured limits of habitation is a necessary ingredient to the making up of a national church.
2. What he did, which is two ways expressed: (1.) In reference to the inhabitants; (2.) To the land itself.
(1.) For the inhabitants: He drove them asunder, וַיַתֵּר “and he made to leap” out of their old channels. Those nations knit and linked together amongst themselves, by leagues and civil society, he separated, disturbed, divided in counsels and arms (as in the case of the Gibeonites175175 Josh. ix. 3.), persecuted by the sword, that they suddenly leaped out of their habitations, the residue wandering as no people. God’s justly nation-disturbing purposes are the bottom of their deserved ruin.
(2.) For the land: “The everlasting mountains,” etc., those strong, firm, lasting mountains of Canaan, not like the mountains of sand in the desert where the people were, but to continue firm to the world’s end, as both the words here used, עַד and עוֹלָם, “perpetuity” and “everlasting,” do in the Scripture frequently signify. Now, these are said to be scattered, and to bow, because of the destruction of the inhabitants of those lasting hills, being many of them high and mighty ones,176176 Numb. xiii. 33. like perpetual mountains; they being given in possession to the sons of Israel, even “the chief things of the ancient mountains, and the precious things of the lasting hills,” Deut. xxxiii. 15.
X. Observation. God takes an exact foreview of his people’s portion and inheritance.
Like a careful father, he knows beforehand what he intends to bestow upon them. He views it, measures it, prepares it to the utmost bounds. They shall not have a hair’s breadth which he hath not allotted them, nor want the least jot of their designed portion.
Use. Learn to be contented with your lot. He is wise also who took a view of it, and measured it, and found it just commensurate to your good:— had he known that a foot’s breadth more had been needful, you would have had it. Had he seen it good, you had had no thorns in your lands, no afflictions in your lives. O how careful, how solicitous are many of God’s people! how full of desires! — Oh, that it were with me thus or thus! Possess your souls in patience; as you cannot add to, no more shall any take from your proportion. He took the measure of your wants and his own supplies long since. That which be hath measured out he will cut off for you. He knows how to suit all his children.
XI. Observation. It is dangerous encroaching, for any of the sons of men, upon God’s people’s portion, lot, privileges, or inheritance.
God hath measured it out for them, and he will look that they 95enjoy it. Shall men remove his bounds and land-marks,177177 Vid. Tertul. ad Scapulam, de persecutione. and be free? will it be safe trespassing upon the lands of the Almighty? will it be easy and cheap? will he not plead his action with power, — especially seeing he hath given them their portion? If he hath given Seir to Edom, what doth he vexing and wasting Jacob? Shall they not possess what the Lord their God gives them to possess? Judges xi. 24. He hath cautioned all the world, kings and others, in this kind, “Touch not mine anointed, do my prophets no harm,” Ps. cv. 14, 15. Touch them not, nor any thing that is theirs: harm them not in any thing I bestow on them. They have nothing but what their Father gives them, and Christ hath bought for them. Will a tender father, think you, contentedly look on, and see a slave snatch away his children’s bread? If a man hath engaged himself to give a jewel to a dear friend, will he take it patiently to have an enemy come and snatch it away before his face? God is engaged to his people for all their enjoyments, and will he quietly suffer himself to be robbed, and his people spoiled? Shall others dwell quietly in the land which he hath measured for his own?
Use 1. See whence the great destructions of people and nations in these latter ages have come. Is it not for touching these forbidden things? The holy vessels of the temple at Jerusalem ruined Babylon. Is not the wasting of the western nations at this day from hence, that they have served the whore to deck herself with the spoils of the spouse? helped to trim her with the portion of God’s people, taking away their liberties, ordinances, privileges, lives, to lay at her feet? Doubtless God is pleading with all these kingdoms for their encroaching. They who will not let him be at peace with his, shall have little quiet of their own. The eagle that stole a coal from the altar fired her nest I know how this hath been abused to countenance the holding of Babylonish wedges. God will preserve to his people his own allowance, not Rome’s supplement. This nation hath yet itching fingers, and a hankering mind after the inheritance of God’s people. Let them take heed; he hath knocked off their hands a hundred times, and sent them away with bloody fingers. O that we were wise, that we be not quite consumed! Of you I hope better things, and such as accompany salvation; yet give me leave to cautionate you a little.
(1.) As to privileges and liberties of this life. Their liberties and estates are not as other men’s, but more exactly measured for their good, and sanctified to them in the blood of Christ. If in these things God hath called you to the defence and protection of his, he will expect a real account, You had better give away a kingdom that belongs to others, than the least of that which God hath made for 96his saints. Think not any thing small which God accounts worthy to bestow on his. If he hath meted out liberty for them, and you give them slavery, you will have a sad reckoning.
(2.) In point of ordinances, and Christ-purchased privileges. Here it is dangerous encroaching indeed.178178 “Nero primus in Christianos ferociit, tali dedicatore damnationis nostræ etiam gloriamur, qui enim scit ilium, intelligere potest, non nisi aliquod bonum grande à Nerone damnatum.” — Tertul. Apol. God exactly measured Canaan, because it was to be the seat of a national church, If you love your lives, if you love your souls, be tender on this point. Here if you meddle with that which belongs not unto you, were you kings, all your glory would be laid in the dust, 2 Chron. xxvi. 18. Woe to them who cut short the saints of God in the least jot of what he hath allotted to them in spirituals! Is it for any of you, O ye sons of men! to measure out God’s children’s portion, long since bequeathed them by Christ? Let them alone with what is given them. If God call Israel out of Egypt to serve him, shall Pharaoh assign who, and how they shall go, — first men only, then all, without their cattle? “Nay,” says Moses, “we will go as God calls,” Exod. x. 26.
Was not one main end of the late tumults to rob God’s people of their privileges, — to bring them again under the yoke of superstition What God brake in war, do not think he will prosper in peace. If you desire to thrive, do not the same, nor any thing like it. Take they any thing of yours that belongs to Cæsar, the civil magistrate, restrain them, keep them within bounds; but if they take only what Christ hath given them, — O touch them not, harm them not! The heap is provided for them, let them take for themselves. Think it not strange that every one should gather his own manna. The Lord forbid that I should ever see the magistrates of England taking away liberties, privileges, ordinances, or ways of worship, from them to whom the Almighty hath made a free grant of them!
(3.) If in taking what God hath measured out for them, they should not all comply with you in the manner and measure of what they take, do them no harm, impoverish not their families, banish them not, slay them not. Alas!179179 “Nova et inaudita est ista prædicatio, quæ verberibus exigit fidem.” — Greg., Epist. lii. your judgments, were you kings and emperors, is not a rule to them. They must be tried by their own faith. Are their souls, think you, more precious to you than themselves? You say they take amiss; — they say, No, and appeal to the Word.180180 Magistrum neminem habemus nisi solum Deum; hic ante te est, nec abscondi potest, sed cui nihil facere possis. Should you now smite them? Speak, blood; is that the way of Jesus Christ? Should it be as you affirm, you would be puzzled for your warrant. To run when you are not sent, surely in 97this case is not safe. But what if it should prove, in the close, that they have followed divine directions? Do you not then fight against God, wound Jesus Christ, and prosecute him as an evil-doer? I know the usual colours, the common pleas, that are used for the instigation of authority to the contrary. They are the very same, and no other, that have slain the saints of God this twelve hundred years. Arguments for persecution are dyed in the blood of Christians for a long season; — ever since the dragon gave his power to the false prophet, they have all died as heretics and schismatics. Suppose you saw in one view all the blood of the witnesses of Christ, which had been let out of their veins by vain pretences, — that you heard in one noise the doleful cry of all pastorless churches, dying martyrs, harbourless children of parents inheriting the promise, wilderness-wandering saints, dungeoned believers, wrested out by pretended zeal to peace and truth; — and perhaps it may make your spirits tender as to this point.
Use 2. See the warrantableness of our contests for God’s people’s rights. It was Jephthah’s only argument against the encroaching Ammonites, Judges xi. 1. By God’s assistance they would possess what the Lord their God should give them. If a grant from heaven will not make a firm title, I know not what will. Being called by lawful authority, certainly there is not a more glorious employment than to serve the Lord in helping to uphold the portion he hath given his people. If your hearts be upright, and it is the liberties, the privileges of God’s saints, conveyed from the Father, purchased by Christ, you contend for, — go on and prosper, the Lord is with you.
XII. Observation. The works and labours of God’s people are transacted for them in heaven, before they once undertake them.
The Israelites were now going to Canaan: God doth their work for them beforehand; they did but go up and take possession. Joshua and Caleb tell the people, not only that their enemies’ defence was departed from them, but that they were but bread for them, Num. xiv. 9, — not corn that might be prepared, but bread, ground, made up, baked, ready to eat. Their work was done in heaven. “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world,” Acts xv. 18. All that is done here below, is but the writing of a visible copy, for the sons of men to read, out of the eternal lines of his own purpose.
Use. Up and be doing, you that are about the work of the Lord. Your enemies are bread ready to be eaten and yield you refreshment. Do you think if our armies had not walked in a trodden path, they could have made such journeys as they have done of late? Had not God marched before them, and traced out their way from Kent to Essex, from Wales to the north, their carcasses had long ere this been cast into the field. Their work was done in heaven before they began 98it. God was gone over the mulberry-trees, 2 Sam. v. 24. The work might have been done by children, though he was pleased to employ such worthy instruments. They see, I doubt not, their own nothingness in his all-sufficiency. Go on, then; but with this caution, search by all ways and means to find the footsteps of the mighty God going before you.
The trembling condition of the oppressing nations round about, when God appeared so gloriously for his people, is held out, verse 7.
Verse 7. “I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.”
You have here three things considerable.
1. The mention of two nations, enemies of the church: Cushan and Midian.
2. The state and condition of those nations: the tents of the one in affliction, and the curtains of the other in trembling.
3. The view the prophet had of this, — I saw it, saith he: “I saw,” etc.
1. For the first; — these two nations, Cushan and Midian, were the neighbouring people to the Israelites, being in the wilderness when God did such great things for them.
(1.) Cushan; that is, the tent-dwelling Arabians on the south side, towards Ethiopia, — being, as the Ethiopians, of the posterity of Cush (thence called Cushan), the eldest son of scoffing Ham, Gen. x. 6; enemies and opposers of the church (doubtless) all the way down from their profane ancestors.181181 2 Kings xix. 9; Jer. xiii. 23; Joseph. Antiq.; Isa. xxxvii. 9. These now beheld the Israelites going to root out their allies and kindred, the Amorites of Canaan, the posterity of Canaan, the younger brother of their progenitor Cush, Gen. x. 6.
(2.) Midian was a people inhabiting the east side of Jordan, on the borders of Moab; so called from their forefather, Midian, the son of Abraham by Keturah, Gen. xxv. 2. These obtained a temporal blessing for a season, from the love borne to their faithful progenitor. In the days of Jacob they were great merchants, Gen. xxxvii. 28. At this time, in less than four hundred years, they were so multiplied, that they had five kings of their nation, Num. xxxi. 8. Some knowledge of the true God was retained, as it should seem, until now, amongst some of them, being received by tradition from their fathers. Moses’ father-in-law was a priest of this country, Exod. ii. 15, 16, — not altogether unacquainted with Jehovah, Exod. xviii. 1, — and was himself, or his son, persuaded to take up his portion in Canaan, Num. x. 29, 30. But for the generality of the nation, being not heirs of the promise, they were fallen off to superstition and idolatry. Exceeding enemies they were to the people in the wilderness, vexing 99them with their wiles, and provoking them to abominations, that the Lord might consume them, Num. xxv. 18. None so vile enemies to the church as superstitious apostates. These two nations then set out all manner of opposers; — gross idolaters, as Cushan; and superstitious, envious apostates, as Midian.
2. Their state and condition severally.
(1.) “The tents of Cushan” were in affliction; the tents, the Arabian Ethiopians of Cush, dwelling in tents, the habitation for the inhabitant, by a hypallage. They were “in affliction, under vanity, under iniquity, the place of vanity,” so variously are the words rendered, תַּחַת אָוֶן, “under affliction, vanity, or iniquity.” Sin and the punishment of it are frequently in the Scripture of the same name, so near is the relation. אָוֶן is properly and most usually iniquity; but that it is here taken for the consequent of it, — a consuming, perplexed, vexed condition, — can be no doubt. The Cushanites, then, were in affliction, full of anguish, fear, dread, vexation, to see what would be the issue of those great and mighty things which God was doing in their borders for his people:182182 “Tantos invidus habet pœnâ justâ tortores, quantos invidiosus habuerit laudatores.” — Prosp. de Vita Contemplativa. — afflicted with Israel’s happiness and their own fears; as is the condition of all wicked oppressors.
(2.) “The curtains of the land of Midian,” for the Midianites dwelling in curtained tabernacles, by the same figure as before. They trembled, — יִרְגְּזוּן, “moved themselves, were moved;” that is, shaken with fear and trembling, as though they were ready to run from the appearance of the mighty God with his people. The story of it you have in the Book of Numbers,183183 Numb. xxv., xxxi. as it was prophetically foretold by Moses concerning other nations, Exod. xv. 14–16, “The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestine. Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab,” etc. God filled those nations with anguish, sorrow, and amazement, at the protection he granted his people.
3. The prophet’s view of all this: “I saw” it, or “I see” it. Though it were eight hundred and seventy years before, supposing him to prophesy about the end of Josiah or beginning of Jehoiakim, yet, taking it under the consideration of faith, he makes it present to his view.
Faith looketh backwards and forwards, — to what God hath done, and to what he hath promised to do. Abraham saw the day of Christ, so many ages after, because he found it by faith in the promise. Habakkuk saw the terrors of Cushan and Midian so many days before, because faith found it recorded among the works of God, to support itself in seeking the like mercies to be renewed. So that 100this is the sum of this verse: “O Lord, faith makes it evident, and presents it before my view, how in former days, when thou wast doing great things for thy people, thou filledst all thine and their enemies with fear, vexation, trembling, and astonishment.”
XIII. Observation. Faith gives a present subsistence to forepast works as recorded, and future mercies as promised, to support the soul in an evil day.
I have made the doctrine, by analogy, look both ways, though the words of the text look but one.
The apostle tells us, that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” Heb. xi. 1.
1. “Of things hoped for.” It looks forward to the promises, and so gives the substance of them in present possession, confirming our minds and hearts, that they may have a subsistence, as it were, within us, though not actually made out unto us.
2. It is “the evidence of things not seen.” It extends itself not only to things promised, but, taking for its object the whole word of God, it makes evident and present things that are past also. The faith commended, verse 3, is of things long since done, — even the “making of the things that are seen of the things that do not appear.” “Abraham saw my day,” saith our Saviour, John viii. 56. He saw it as Habakkuk saw the tents of Cushan in affection; — faith made it present to him; all the ages between him and his promised seed were as nothing to his keen-sighted faith. Hence the apostle puts the mercies of the promise all in one form and rank, as already wrought, though some of them were enjoyed, and some of them in this life cannot be, Rom. viii. 30, “Whom he hath justified, them he hath glorified:” he hath done it for them already, because he hath made them believe it, and that gives it a present subsistence in their spirit. And for forepast works, they are still mentioned by the saints as if they had been done in their days, before their eyes. Elisha calls up to remembrance a former miracle, to the effecting the like, 2 Kings ii. 14.
There be three things in the past or future mercies which faith makes present to the soul, giving, in the substance of them, — (1.) Their love; (2.) Their consolation; (3.) Their use and benefit.
(1.) The love of them. The love that was in former works, and the love that is in promised mercies, that faith draws out, and really makes ours. The love of every recorded deliverance is given to us by faith. It looks into the good-will, the free grace, the loving-kindness of God, in every work that ever he did for his, and cries, Yet this is mine:— this is the kernel of that blessing, and this is mine; for the same good-will, the same kindness he hath towards me also. Were the same outward actings needful, I should have them also. The free 101love of every mercy is faith’s proper object. It makes all Joshua’s great victories present to every one of us. The promise that had the love and grace in it, which ran through them all, is given him, Josh. i. 5, “I will be with thee, I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” Now the apostle tells us that the truth and love of this promise is ours, Heb. iv. 8. Faith may, doth assure itself, that what good-will soever was in all the great mercies which Joshua received upon that promise, is all ours. All the good-will and choice love of, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee,” is mine and thine, if we are believers. He that hath this present, hath all Joshua’s victories present. The very glory of the saints in heaven is ours in the love of it. We enjoy that love which gave them glory, and will crown us also in due time.
(2.) In their comforts and refreshments: “Thou gavest leviathan to be meat to the people in the wilderness,” Ps. lxxiv. 14. They fed their souls full of the sweetness of that mercy, the destruction of their oppressing tyrant; we chew the cud upon the blessings of former ages. Who hath not, with joy, delight, and raised affections, gone over the old preservations of the church in former years? How does David run them over with admiration, closing every stop with, “His mercy endureth for ever!” Ps. cxxxvi. And for things, to come, as yet in the promise only, — whether general to the whole church, as the calling of the Jews, the coming in of the fulness of the Gentiles, the breaking out of light, beauty, and glory upon the churches and saints, the confusion of nations not subjecting themselves to the standard of the gospel, etc., — or in particular, farther assurance of love than at present enjoyed, nearer communion with Father and Son, being with Christ, freed from misery and corruption, dwelling with God for ever; — how does faith act over these and the like things in the heart, leaving a savour and relish of their sweetness continually upon the soul? O how sweet are the things of the world to come unto poor believers! Christ leads the soul by faith, not only into the chambers of present enjoyed loves, but also into the fore-prepared everlasting mansions in his Father’s house. Thus it gives poor mortal creatures a sweet relish of eternal joys; — brings heaven into a dungeon, glory into a prison, a crown into a cottage, Christ into a slaughter-house. And this arises, —
[1.] From the nature of faith. Though it do not make the thing believed to be (the act cannot create its own object), yet applying it, it makes it the believer’s. It is the bond of union between the soul and the thing promised. He that believes in Christ, by that believing receives Christ, John i. 12; — he becomes his. It is a grace uniting its subject and object, — the person believing and the thing believed. There needs no ascending into heaven, or descending; the word of 102faith makes all things nigh, even within us, Rom. x. 6–8. Some glasses will present things at a great distance very near; faith looking through the glass of the gospel, makes the most remote mercies to be not only in a close distance, but in union. It “is the subsistence of things hoped for;” — that which they have not in themselves, it gives them, — in the full-assured minds of believers.
[2.] From the intendment of all mercies. They are for every believer. All things are theirs, — “world, life, death, things present, things to come,” 1 Cor. iii. 22. All promises being made to every believer, and all mercies being the fruit of these promises, they must all belong to every believer. Now, if all these should be kept from us, at that distance wherein they fail in their accomplishment in respect of time, what would they avail us? God, therefore, hath appointed that they shall have a real, though not a natural presence and subsistence at all times, to all believers.
Use 1. See hence what use you make of past mercies, deliverances, blessings, with promised incomings; — carry them about you by faith, that you may use them at need. “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” “Awake, awake, O arm of the Lord!” etc. “I saw the tents of Cushan.” Take store mercies along with you in every trial. Use them, or they will grow rusty, and not pass in heaven. Learn to eat leviathan many years after his death. Forget not your perils; — scatter not away your treasure; — be rich in a heap of mercies, — faith will make you so. The love, the comfort, the benefit, of all former and future blessings are yours, if you know how to use them. Oh, how have we lost our mercies in every hedge and ditch! Have none of us skill to lay up the last eminent deliverance against a rainy day?
Use 2. Learn how to make the poorest and most afflicted condition comfortable and full of joy. Store thy cottage, thy sick-bed, by faith, with all sorts of mercies; they are the richest furniture in the world. Gather up what is already cast out, and fetch the rest from heaven. Bring the first-fruits of glory into thy bosom. See the Jews called, — the residue of opposers subdued, the gospel exalted, — Christ enthroned, — all thy sins pardoned, — corruption conquered, — glory enjoyed. Roll thyself in those golden streams every day. Let faith fetch in new and old; — ancient mercies for thy supportment, everlasting mercies for thy consolation. He that hath faith, hath all things.
XIV. Observation. God’s dealing with his enemies in the season of his church’s deliverance is of especial consideration.
“I saw the tents,” etc. So did the Israelites behold the Egyptians dead on the shore, Exod. xiv. 30, 31. “The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The Lord 103of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth,” Ps. xlvi. 6–8. The enemies’ undertaking, verse 6, — God’s protection to his people, verse 7, — a view of the adversaries’ desolation, verse 8, — are all orderly held out.
The Lord tells Moses that he will harden the heart of Pharaoh, that he might show his power; to this very end, that it might be considered, and told to one another, Exod. x. 2, 3. How many psalms have we, that are taken up in setting forth God’s breaking, yoking, befooling, terrifying his adversaries at such a season! The remembrance of the slaughter of the firstborn of Egypt was an ingredient in the chiefest ordinance the ancient church enjoyed, Exod. xii. The reasons of this are, —
1. Much of the greatness and intenseness of God’s love to his own is seen in his enemies’ ruin, Isa. xliii. 3, 4, “I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee; therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.” When God gives such mighty kingdoms for a small handful, it appears they are precious to him: “Whosoever shall gather together against thee, shall fall for thy sake,” Isa. liv. 15. When God will maintain a quarrel with all the world, — swear that he will never have peace with Amalek until he be consumed, — break nations, kings, and kingdoms, — stretch out his hand in judgment round about, — and all to save, preserve, prosper, protect a small handful; — surely he hath endeared affections for them. In the days wherein we live, can we look and see wise men befooled, mighty warriors vanquished, men of might become as children, their persons slain and trodden down in the field, — can we but cry, “Lord, what are we, and what is our house, that thou shouldst do such things for us?” A serious view of what God hath done in this nation of late, — what armies he hath destroyed, what strongholds demolished, what proud, haughty spirits defeated, what consultations made vain, — is enough to make us admire the riches of his love all our days. We may know what esteem a man sets upon a jewel, by the price he gives for it. Surely God values them for whom he hath given the honours, the parts, the polities, the lives of so many tall cedars, as of late he hath done. The loving-kindness of God to his church is seen, as in a glass, in the blood of their persecutors.
2. The manifestation of God’s sovereignty, power, and justice, is as dear to him as the manifestation of his mercy. The properties he lays out in destruction are equally glorious with those he lays out in preservation.
104Use. Let not our eyes in the late deliverance be always on the light side of the work, our own mercies; — the dark side of terror and judgment is not without its glory. The folly that was in their counsels, the amazement that was in their armies, the trembling that accompanied all their undertakings, the tympanous products of all their endeavours, do all cry out, “Digitus Dei est hìc.” Had not God showed infinite wisdom, they had not been so abundantly foolish: had not he been infinite in power, the many thousands of enemies had not been so weak.
In the late engagement in this country, when God stirred us up, with some others in these parts, to make some opposition to the enemy gathering at Chelmsford, what were, think you, the workings of God’s providences against them? How came it to pass that we were not swallowed up by them? For, —
1. They were desirous to ruin us, if we may judge their desires to answer their interest; or their expressions, with the language of their friends round about us, to answer their desires.
2. They were able to do it. They had from the beginning, and so all along, near as many thousands as we had hundreds; — of them very many old, experienced soldiers; with us not three men that had ever seen any fighting.
3. They were resolved to do it. Witness their own confessions, and frequent declarations of their purposes, whilst the business was in agitation.
4. They were provoked to it. For the first and only considerable opposition was made to them in this place; — first, By hindering their assistance from Colchester; which how much they valued, witness the senseless letter they would have forced the committee to subscribe, to persuade us not to disturb their levies there; — secondly, Suppressing and discouraging all those affected to them and their designs in these parts of the country; restraining some, disarming others, awing all; — thirdly, Hastening the coming of the army, lest their friends should suffer; — fourthly, Encouraging their coming, by declaring that they had friends here: by which, and the like, they were abundantly provoked.
5. That they were also invited to it, though by persons somewhat inconsiderable, with promises of a full party of friends to assist them, which they might have had, and a rich booty from their enemies to support them, which they might have found, is too apparent.
Now, being thus advantaged, thus encouraged, thus provoked and resolved, why did they not attempt it, why did they not accomplish their desires? Is it not worth the while to consider how they were restrained?184184 Gen. xx. 6; Ps. lxxvi. 10. Was not much of God’s wisdom seen in mixing a spirit 105of giddiness and error in the midst of them, that they knew not well how to determine, nor at all to execute their determinations? Was not his power seen in causing experienced soldiers, as they were, with their multitudes, to be afraid of a poor handful of unskilful men, running together because they were afraid to abide in their houses? Was not his justice exalted in keeping them only for the pit which they had digged for others? Doubtless the hand of God was lifted up. O that we could all learn righteousness, peculiarly amongst ourselves of this place! Is there nothing of God to be discerned in the vexations, birthless consultations, and devices of our observers? — nothing of power in their restraint? — nothing of wisdom in the self-punishment of their anxious thoughts? — nothing of goodness, that after so long waiting for advantage, they begin themselves to think that neither divination nor enchantment will prevail?
XV. Observation. The measuring out of God’s people’s portion fills Cushan with affliction and Midian with trembling.
Their eye is evil, because God is good. Israel’s increase is Pharaoh’s trouble, Exod. i. 10. When Nehemiah comes to build the walls of Jerusalem, it grieved the enemy exceedingly “that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel,” Neh. ii. 10. This is the season of that dispensation which you have mentioned, Isa. lxv. 13–15, “Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry: behold, my servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty: behold, my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed: behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall howl for vexation of spirit. And ye shall,” etc.
The reasons of this are taken, — 1. From their envy; 2. From their carnal fear; — the two principles whereby they are acted in reference to the saints of God.
1. Their envy. They have a devouring envy at them,185185 “Quis facile potest, quale sit hoc malum, verbis exprimere, quo invidus odio hominis persequitur divinum munus in homine?” — Pros. Vit. Cont. “Invidia est tristitia de bono proximi, prout proprium malum æstimatur et est diminutivum proprii boni.” — Aq 22, æ. q. 36, A. 1, c. which at length shall shame them and consume them, Isa. xxvi. 11. They are of their father the devil, and he (through envy) was a “murderer from the beginning,” John viii. 44. The portion God measureth out unto his people is in distinguishing mercies, differencing blessings, — in such things as the world hath not, giveth not. Now, this is that which envy takes for its proper object. That others should have enjoyments above them, beyond them, this envious men cannot bear. God accepts Abel, not Cain; presently Cain is wroth, and his countenance falls, Gen. iv. 6. Jacob gets the blessing, and this fills the heart of 106Esau with murderous revenge, Gen. xxvii. 41. Upon all God’s appearances with the apostles, how were the Jews cut to the heart, vexed, perplexed! God gives distinguishing mercies to his people, such protections, such deliverances; — this Cushan and Midian cannot bear.
2. Their carnal fear. They have all of them that conclusion in their breasts which Haman’s wise men and wife made to him, Esth. vi. 13. If they begin to fall before the seed of the Jews, utter ruin will follow. When God begins to own his people, as them in the Acts v. 24, “they doubt whereunto this will grow;” — their hearts tell them secretly they are usurpers of all they have, and when God owns any, they instantly fear lest for their sakes they should be called to account. When a distinction begins to be made in ordinances, privileges, deliverances, protections, evidently given to some peculiar ones, they tremble within that they are set apart for no good. This picking and choosing of men by the Lord, Ps. iv. 3, they cannot bear with. Such mighty works attend the Israelites! what, thinks Midian, will be the end of this? It is true, their pride calls on them to act openly more of their malice than their fear; but yet this lies at the bottom, like a boasting Atheist’s nightly thoughts.186186 Noctu dubitant. The chief priests and Pharisees having gotten the apostles before them, — what big words they use to countenance the business! “Who gave you this power?” Acts iv. 7. But when they are by themselves, they cry, “What shall we do?” and, “Whereunto will this grow?” This lies at the bottom with many at this day; — though they boast, and lift up their mouth to heaven, their hearts do tremble as an aspen leaf.
Use. Learn not to be troubled at the great tumultuating which is amongst many against the ways of God at this day. God is measuring out his children’s portion, giving them their bread in season, viewing for them the lot of their inheritance. Men of the world, profane Cushanites, superstitious, apostatical Midianites, will not, cannot be quiet. Vexed they are, envious, and afraid, and will act according to those principles. Cushanites see religion owned, Midianites theirs disclaimed, and both are alike provoked. The Lord convert them, or rebuke them; or the one will have the armies, the other their wiles. Only judge not their hearts by the outward appearance always. They seem gallant to you; — indeed they are frighted, galled, vexed. I have seen a galled horse, under dressing, leap and curvet as though it had been out of mettle and spirit, when indeed it was pain and smart that made him do it. They pretend to despise us, when they envy us. They look like contemners, but are tremblers. Be not troubled at their outward appearance, they have inward anguish; — they bite others, but are lashed themselves.
107XVI. Observation. The season of the church’s deliverance being come, Cushan and Midian must wax vain, and perish.
That there is such a season, I told you before. When four hundred and thirty years are expired, Egypt must be destroyed, the Amorites rooted out, and all the nations round made to tremble. When seventy years of captivity expire, Babylon must be ruined, and the Chaldean monarchy quite wasted, that the Jews may return. The church being to be delivered, Haman must be hanged. This you have fully set out, Rev. vi. 12–17. It is the fall of heathenish tyranny, by the prevailing of the gospel, which you have there described. Rome and Constantinople, Pope and Turk, are preserved for a day and an hour wherein they shall fall, and be no more. If the season of enjoying ordinances and privileges be come to this nation, that the tabernacle of God will be here amongst men; woe be to Cushanites! woe be to Midianites! — open opposers, and secret apostates. They shall not be able to be quiet, nor to prevail; God will not let them rest, nor obtain their purposes. The story of Haman must be acted over again; their hearts shall be stirred up to their own ruin, Rev. xx. 8. This is the frame of perishing Babylonians in the day of Zion’s restoration. The reasons are:—
1. Because at the deliverance of his people, God will plead with their enemies for their oppressions. “It is the day of the Lord’s vengeance, the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion,” Isa. xxxiv. 8. It is the vengeance of the Lord and his temple that lights upon them in that day, Jer. l. 28. “The violence done to me and my flesh be upon Babylon, shall the inhabitant of Zion say; and, My blood upon the inhabitants of Chaldea, shall Jerusalem say,” Jer. li. 35. In this day great Babylon must come into remembrance, Rev. xvi. 19, 20.
2. The discerning trial that shall and doth come along with the church’s vindication, will cut off all superfluous false professors, so that they also shall perish, Mal. iii. 2, 3. Christ comes with a fan, to send away the chaff in the wings of the wind. Have we not seen this end of many zealots?
3. The Amorites live in Canaan, and must be removed. Oppressors and hypocrites enjoy many rites of the church, which must be taken from them. Rome and her adherents shall not have so much left as the name or title, appearance or show of a church. The outward court, which they have trodden down and defiled, shall be quite left out in the measuring of the temple, Rev. xi. 2.
Use. Bring this observation home to the first from this verse, and it will give you the use of it: proceed we to the next verse.
Verse 8. “Was the Lord displeased against the rivers? was thine anger against the rivers? was thy wrath against the sea, that thou didst ride upon thine horses, and thy chariots of salvation?”
108“Was the Lord displeased?” חָרָה “kindled,” did he burn? — that is, in wrath. Heat is a great ingredient in the commotion of anger in us, here alluded to, or because the effects of anger are so often compared to fire. “Against the rivers” or floods? Again: “Was thine anger?” אַפֶּךָ “thy nose or face, or thine anger,” אַף signifies both. The face187187 “Cætera licet abscondere, et in abdito alere; ira se profert, et in faciem exit.” — Senec. de ira. is the seat of anger’s appearance: fury comes up into the face. “Was thine anger, thy troubling anger” (so the word) “against the sea,” — the Red sea, through which thy people passed; “that thou didst ride upon thy horses, and thy chariots of salvation?” or, “thy chariots were salvation, — ‘currus salutares,’ thy safety-bringing chariots.”
The words are an admiring expostulation about the mighty works of the Lord for his people, upon the sea, rivers, and inanimate creatures.
1. The rivers:— Jordan and its driving back is doubtless especially intended. The Lord showed his power in disturbing that ancient river in his course, and making his streams run backward. The story of it you have Josh. iii. 15, 16. The people being to enter into Canaan, the Lord divides the waters of that river, making them beneath to sink away, and those above to stand on a heap. This the prophet magnifies, Ps. cxiv. 5, “What ailed thee, O Jordan, that thou wast driven back?” What marvellous, powerful, disturbing thing is happened to thee, that, contrary to thy ancient natural course, thy streams should be frighted, and run back to the springs from whence they came?
2. The sea:— that is, the Red sea, which, in like manner, was divided, Exod. xiv. 21; which the prophet also admires in the fore-cited psalm: “The sea saw it, and fled. What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest?” What strong, mighty impression of power was on thee, that the multitudes of thy waters should be parted, and thy channel discovered dry to the bottom?
3. “That thou didst ride upon thine horses, and thy chariots of salvation” This you have again, verse 15, “Thou didst walk through the sea with thine horses.” These were those clouds and winds which the Lord sent before the Israelites, to the sea and Jordan, to drive them back. “He maketh the clouds his chariot, and walketh upon the wings of the wind,” Ps. civ. 3. So Ps. xviii. 10, “He did fly upon the wings of the wind.” After the manner of men, God is represented as a mighty conqueror, riding before his armies and making way for them. The power and majesty of God was with and upon those clouds and winds which went before his people, to part those mighty waters, that they might pass dry; and therefore they are called his saving chariots, because by them his people were delivered. Or 109by horses and chariots here you may understand the angels, who are the host of God. Ps. lxviii. 17, “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels.” They have appeared as horses and chariots of fire, 2 Kings vi. 17. And their ministry, no doubt, the Lord used in these mighty works of drying rivers and dividing seas. Either way, the glorious power and majesty of God, in his delivering instruments, is set forth.
Thus the words severally; — now jointly.
This admiring interrogation includes a negation. “Was the Lord kindled against the rivers? was thy face against the rivers,” etc. Was it that the deep had offended the Most High, that, by thine angels, winds, and clouds, thou didst so disturb the floods in their ancient course, and madest naked their hidden channels, until the hoary deep cried out for fear, and lifted up his aged hands to the Almighty, as it were, for pity? verse 10. No, surely, no such thing. All those keep the order by thee unto them appointed; it was all for the salvation and deliverance of thy people. God was not angry with Jordan when he drove it back, nor with the sea when he divided it; but all was effected for Israel’s deliverance.
XVII. Observation. The very senseless creatures are, as it were, sensible of the wrath and power of the Almighty.
Effects of anger being in and upon the deep, “he utters his voice, and lifts up his hands on high,” verse 10. God often in the Scripture sets forth his power and majesty by the trembling of heaven and the shaking of the earth, the vanishing of mountains and the bowing of perpetual hills, the professed humble subjection of the most eminent parts of the creation. The sea shall fly, as afraid; the rocks, as weak, rend and crumble; the heavens be darkened; the mountains skip like rams, and the little hills like young sheep, Ps. cxiv. 4.
Τρέμει δ’ ὄρη, καὶ πελώριος
Βυθὸς θαλάσσης, κᾠρέων ὕψος μέγα,
Ὅταν ἐπεβλέψῃ γοργὸν ὄμμα δεσπότου.
Æsch. apud Justin., Apol. ii.
“The earth shook, the heavens dropped at the presence of God,” Ps. lxiii. 8. The almighty Creator holds the whole frame of the building in his own hand, and makes what portion he pleaseth, and when he pleaseth, to tremble, consume, and vanish before him. Though many things are not capable of sense and reason, yet he will make them do such things as sense and reason should prompt the whole subjected creation unto, to teach that part their duty who were endued therewith. A servant is beat, to make a child learn his duty.
Use. See hence the stoutness of sinful hearts, — more stubborn than the mountains, more flinty than the rocks, more senseless than the great deep. Friend, art thou stronger than Horeb? yet that trembled 110at the presence of this mighty God, whom it never had provoked. Are thy lusts like the streams of Jordan? yet they ran back from his chariots of salvation. Are thy corruption? more firmly seated on thy soul than the mountains on their bases? yet they leaped like frighted sheep before that God against whom they had not sinned. And wilt thou, a small handful of sinful dust, that hast ten thousand times provoked the eyes of his glory, not tremble before him, coming on his horses and chariots of salvation, — his mighty works and powerful word? Shall a lion tremble, and thou not be afraid, who art ready to tremble with a thought of that poor creature? Shall the heavens bow, the deep beg for mercy, and thou be senseless? Shall all creatures quake for the sin of man, and sinful man be secure? Know you not that the time is coming wherein such men will desire the trembling rocks to be a covert to their more affrighted souls?
XVIII. Observation. No creatures, seas nor floods, greater or lesser waters, shall be able to obstruct or hinder God’s people’s deliverance, when he hath undertaken it.
Is the sea against them? it shall be parted. Is Jordan in the way? it shall be driven back. Both sea and Jordan shall tremble before him. Euphrates shall be dried up, to give the kings of the east a passage, Rev. xvi. 12. Waters in the Scriptures are sometimes afflictions, sometimes people and nations. Be they seas (kings and princes), or be they rivers (inferior persons), they shall not be able to oppose. God has decked his house, and made it glorious with the spoils of all opposers. There you have the spoils of Pharaoh, gathered up on the shore of the Red sea, and dedicated in the house of God, Exod. xv. 1. There you have all the armour of Sennacherib’s mighty host, with the rest of their spoils, hung up to show, 2 Chron. xxxii. 21. There you have the glory, and throne, and dominion of Nebuchadnezzar, himself being turned into a beast, Dan. iv. 33. There you shall have the carcasses of Gog and Magog, with all their mighty hosts, for coming to encamp against the city of God, Ezek. xxxix. 1. There you have the imperial robes of188188 Euseb. Vit. Con. Const. Orat. Diocletian and his companion, abdicating them — selves from the empire for very madness that they could not prevail against the church. Kings of armies shall fly apace; and she that tarries at home shall divide the spoil, Ps. lxviii. 12. All opposers, though nations and kingdoms, shall perish and be utterly destroyed, Isa. lx. 12, Rev. xix. 18.
God will not exalt any creature unto a pitch of opposition to himself, or to stand in the way of his workings. The very end of all things, in their several stations, is to be serviceable to his purposes towards his own. Obedience in senseless creatures is natural, even against the course of nature, in the season of deliverance. “Sun, 111stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon,” Josh. x. 12. “Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain,” Zech. iv. 7. The most mountainous opposers shall be levelled, when the Spirit of God sets in for that purpose. There is a strength in every promise and engagement of God unto his people, that is able to carry the whole frame of heaven and earth before it. If they can believe, all things are possible to them that believe. When the decree is to bring forth the fruit of the promise, it will overturn empires, destroy nations, divide seas, ruin armies, open prisons, break chains and fetters, and bear down all before it; as the wind shut up in the earth will shake the pillars, as it were, of its mighty body, but it will find or make a passage. The least promise of deliverance, if the season thereof be come, though it were shut up under strong and mighty powers, crafty counsels, dungeons, and prisons, like the doors and lasting bars of the earth, the truth and power of God shall make them all to tremble, and give birth to his people’s deliverance.
Use 1. Have we seen nothing of this in our days? — no seas divided? no Jordans driven back? no mountains levelled? no hills made to tremble? Whence, then, was the late confusion of armies? casting down of mighty ones? reviving of dead bones? opening of prison doors? bringing out the captives appointed to be slain? Is it not from hence, that nothing can stand against the breaking out of a promise in its appointed season? “Was the Lord displeased with the rivers?” was his anger against the walls and houses, “that he rode upon his horses, and chariots of salvation?”
Use 2. Let faith be strengthened in an evil time. Poor distressed soul, all the difficulty of thy deliverance lies in thine own bosom! If the streams of thy unbelief within be not stronger than all seas of opposition without, all will be easy. O learn to stand still with quietness, between a host of Egyptians and a raging sea, to see the salvation of God! Be quiet in prison, between your friends’ bullets and your enemies’ swords; God can, God will, make a way. If it were not more hard with us to believe wonders than it is to the promise to effect wonders for us, they would be no wonders, so daily, so continually, would they be wrought.
XIX. Observation. God can make use of any of his creatures to be chariots of salvation.
This is the other side of that doctrine which we gathered from verse 5, “Winds and clouds shall obey him.” Ravens189189 Ἐχβάλλει τοὺς νεοττοὺς ὁ χόραξ. — Arist. Hist. Anima., vi. “Pellunt nidis pullos sicut et Corvi.” — Plin. Nat. Hist. shall feed Elijah, that will not feed their own young. The sea shall open for Israel, and return upon the Egyptians. And this both in an ordinary 112way, as Hos. ii. 21, 22; and in an extraordinary way, as before. So many creatures as God hath made, so many instruments of good hath he for his people. This is farther confirmed, verse 9.
Verse 9. “Thy bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word. Selah. Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers.”
“With nakedness thy bow was made naked.” The rest is elliptical, and well supplied in the translation.
The verse hath two parts.
1. A general proposition: “Thy bow was made naked,” etc.
2. A particular confirmation of that proposition by instance: “Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers.”
1. The proposition holds out two things.
(1.) What God did: “He made his bow quite naked.”
(2.) The rule he proceeded by herein: “According to the oaths of the tribes, even his word.”
The assertion of this verse is not of some particular act or work, as the former, but a general head or fountain of those particular works which are enumerated in the following verses.
(1.) A bow is a weapon of war, an instrument of death; and being ascribed to God, after the manner of men, holds out his strength, power, might, and efficacy, to do whatever he pleaseth. And this is said to be quite naked. When a man goes about to use his bow, he pulls it out of his quiver,190190 [The gorytus or bow-case; so explained by Grotius, Drusius, etc. Sir J. Chardin states, that the oriental bows were usually carried in a case of cloth or leather attached to the girdle. — Harmer, ii. 513. Vid. Hom. Odys., xxi. 53, 54.] and so makes it naked. The exercising of God’s power is the making naked of his bow. This he did in all those wonders wherein he stretched out his hand, in bringing his people into the promised land, here pointed at. And it is said that with nakedness it was made naked, because of those very high dispensations and manifestations of his almighty power. This is the making naked of his bow.
(2.) For the rule of this, it is “the oaths of the tribes;” or as afterward, “his word,” — the oaths of the tribes, that is, the oaths made to them, — the word he stood engaged to them in. The promise God made by oath unto Abraham, that he would give him the land of Canaan for an inheritance, even to him and his posterity, Gen. xiii. 14–17, is here intimated. This promise was often renewed to him and the following patriarchs. Hence it is called oaths, though but the same promise often renewed: and it had the nature of an oath, because it was made a covenant. Now, it was all for the benefit of the several tribes, in respect of actual possession, and was lastly renewed to them, Exod. iii. 17; hence called “the oaths of the tribes,” 113not which they sware to the Lord, but that which the Lord sware to them. So afterward it is called his word, — “Thy word.” This, then, is the purport of this general proposition, “O Lord, according as thou promisedst, and engagedst thyself by covenant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with their posterity, that thou wouldst give them the land of Canaan to be theirs for an inheritance; so by the dispensation of thy mighty power thou hast fully accomplished it.” And this he layeth down for the supportment of faith in a time of trouble.
The words would afford many observations; I shall insist only on one.
XX. Observation. The Lord will certainly make good all his promises and engagements to his people, though it cost him the making of his bow quite naked, — the manifestation of his power in the utmost dispensations thereof.
God’s workings are squared to his engagements. This is still the close of all gracious issues of providence, — God hath done all according “as he promised,” Josh. xxii. 4; 2 Sam. vii. 21. He brought out his people of old with a mighty hand, with temptations, signs, and wonders, and a stretched-out arm; and all because he would keep the oath which he had sworn, and the engagement which he had made to their fathers, Deut. vii. 8. What obstacles soever may lie in the way, he hath done it, he will do it. Take one instance; particular places are too many to be insisted on. It was the purpose of his heart to bring his elect home to himself, from their forlorn condition. This he engageth himself to do, Gen. iii. 15, — assuring Adam of a recovery from the misery he was involved in by Satan’s prevalency. This, surely, is no easy work. If the Lord will have it done, he must lay out all his attributes in the demonstration of them to the uttermost. His wisdom and power must bow their shoulders, as it were, in Christ unto it. He was “the power of God, and the wisdom of God;”191191 1 Cor. i. 24. his engaged love must be carried along through so many secret, mysterious marvels, as the angels themselves “desire to look into,”192192 1 Pet. i. 12. and shall for ever adore. Though the effecting of it required that which man could not do, and God could not suffer; yet his wisdom will find out a way, that he shall both do it and suffer it who is both God and man. To make good his engagement to his elect, he spared not his only Son: and in him were hid, and by him laid out, “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”193193 Col. ii. 3.
Now, this is a precedent of God’s proceeding in all other engagements whatsoever. Whatever it cost him, he will spare nothing to make them good to the uttermost. He is our rock, and his work is perfect. A good man, if he want not power, will go through with his serious promises, though he be engaged to his own hurt, Ps. xv. 4. The power of the mighty God is serviceable to his will to the uttermost. 114He cannot will what he cannot do: his will and power are essentially the same. And his power shall not be wanting to execute what his goodness hath moved him to engage unto for his own glory. The reasons of this are, —
1. Deut. xxxii. 4, “He is the Rock, his work is perfect; all his ways are judgment: a God of truth, and without iniquity.” Here are many attributes of God to make good this one thing, that his work is perfect, — this αὐτάρκεια, self-sufficiency, perfection, righteousness. I will pitch on one, — he is a God of truth. So he is again called, Ps. xxxi. 5, and in other places. The truth of God in his promises and engagements requires an accomplishment of them, whatever it cost, what power soever is required thereunto. This the saints make their bottom to seek it: “Where are thy loving-kindnesses, which thou swarest in thy truth,” Ps. lxxxix. 49. It is impossible but that should come to pass which thou hast sworn in thy truth. No stronger plea than “Remember the word wherein thou hast caused thy servants to put their trust.” Jacob says, he is less than all the mercy and all the truth of God, Gen. xxxii. 10. He sees God’s truth in all his mercy, by causing all things to come to pass which he hath promised him. It is true, some particular promises have their conditions, whose truth consists not in the relation between the word and the thing, unless the condition intercede. But the great condition under the gospel being only the good of them to whom any engagement is made, we may positively lay down, that God’s truth requires the accomplishment of every engagement for his people’s good, Rom. viii. 28. It is neither mountain nor hill, king, kingdom, nor nation, hell nor mortality, nor all combined, that can stand in the way to hinder it, Matt. xvi. 18.
2. His people stand in need of all that God hath engaged himself to them for. God’s promises are the just measure of his people’s wants. Whatever he hath promised, that his people do absolutely want; and whatsoever they want, that he hath promised:— our wants and his promises are every way commensurate. If thou knowest not what thou standest in need of, search the promises and see: whatever God hath said he will do for thee, that thou hast absolute need should be done. Or if thou art not so well acquainted with the promises, search thine own wants: what thou standest absolutely in need of for thy good, that assuredly God hath promised. If, then, this be the case of engagements, they shall all be made good. Think you, will God let his people want that which they have absolute necessity of? By absolute necessity I mean such as is indispensable, as to their present estate and occasions. That may be of necessity in one generation which is not in another, according to the several employments we are called to. Does God call forth his saints “to execute 115vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people; to bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; to execute upon them the judgment written,” as Ps. cxlix. 7–9? — doth he bring them forth to burn the whore, to fight with the beast, and overcome him and his followers? — it is of indispensable necessity that he give them glorious assistance in their undertakings. They shall be assisted, protected, carried on, though it cost him the making of his bow quite naked. According to the several conditions he calls them to, the several issues of providence which he will have them serve in, so want they his appearance in them, with them, for them; and it shall be present. Let them be assured they are in his way, and then, though some prove false and treacherous, some base and cowardly, — though many combine and associate themselves against them in many places, in all places, — though whole kingdoms and mighty armies appear for their ruin, — be they reviled and clamoured by all round about them, — all is one; help they need, and help they shall have, or God will make his bow quite naked.
Use. 1. This day is this doctrine fulfilled before us. God’s bow is made quite naked, according to his word. We are less than all the truth he hath showed unto us. Though great working and mighty power hath been required, such as he hath not shown in our days, nor in the days of our fathers; yet the Lord hath not stood at it, for his word’s sake, wherein he hath made us to put our trust. I speak of the general mercies we have received. The surrender of Colchester, the particular celebrated this day, though marching in the rear for time, is for the weight in the van, — a mercy of the first magnitude. Essex hath seen more power in a three months’ recovery than in the protection of six years. That the mouths of men are stopped, and their faces filled with shame, who made it their trade to revile and threaten the saints of God; — that the adverse strength, which hath lain hid these seven years, should be drawn forth, united, and broken to pieces; — that the people of God, divided, and naturally exasperated through their abuse of peace, should, by the sword of a common enemy and the help of a common friend, have their wrath abated, their counsels united, and their persons set in a hopeful way of closing or forbearance; — that God by their own counsels should shut up men, collected from sundry parts to ruin others, in a city with gates and walls, for their own ruin; — that they should deny peace tendered upon such conditions, because of the exigencies of the time, as might have left them power as well as will for a farther mischief; — that such salvation should go forth in other parts as that the proceedings here should not be interrupted; — that the bitter service which men here underwent should ever and anon be sweetened with refreshing tidings from other places, to keep up their spirits in wet, watching, cold, and 116loss of blood:— all these, I say, and sundry other such-like things as these, are “the Lord’s doing, and marvellous in our eyes.”
Especially let us remember how in three things the Lord made his bow quite naked in his late deliverance.
(1.) In leavening the counsels of the enemy with their own folly.
(2.) In ordering all events to his own praise.
(3.) By controlling with his mighty power the issue of all undertakings.
(1.) In leavening their counsels with their own folly. God’s194194 “Quod homines peccant eorum est, quod peccando hoc vel illud agant ex virtute Dei est, tenebras prout visum est dividentis.” — Aug., de Præd. “Oportet hæreses esse, sed tamen non ideo bonum hæreses, quia eas esse oportebat, quasi non et malum oportuerit esse; nam et Dominum tradi oportebat, sed væ traditori!” — Tertul., Præf. ad Hær. power and the efficacy of his providence is not more clearly manifested in any thing than in his effectual working in the debates, advices, consultations, and reasonings of his enemies, compassing his ends by their inventions. When God is in none of the thoughts of men by his fear, he is in them all by his providence. The sun is operative with his heat where he reacheth not with his light, and hath an influence on precious minerals in the depths and dark bottoms of rocks and mountains. The all-piercing providence of God dives into the deep counsels of the hearts of the sons of men, and brings out precious gold from thence, where the gracious light of his countenance shines not at all. Men freely advise, debate, use and improve their own reasons, wisdom, interests, not once casting an eye to the Almighty; and yet all this while do his work more than their own. All the counselings, plottings of Joseph’s brethren, — all the transactions of the Jews, Herod, and Pilate, about the death of Christ, with other the like instances, abundantly prove it.195195 Gen. xlv. 7, l. 20; Acts iv. 27, 28. Take a few instances wherein God “made his bow quite naked” in the counsels of his and our enemies.
In general, they consult to take arms, wherein God had fully appeared against them, — when, in all probability, their work would have been done without them. Had they not fought, by this time they had been conquerors. One half-year’s peace more, — which we desired on any terms, and they would on no terms bear, — in all likelihood had set them where they would be. Their work went on, as if they had hired the kingdom to serve them in catching weather. What with some men’s folly, others’ treachery, all our division, — had not their own counsels set them on fighting, — I think we should suddenly base chosen them and theirs to be umpires of our quarrels. God saw when it was time to deal with them. In their undertaking in our own county, I could give sundry instances how God mixed a perverse 117spirit of folly and error in all their counsels. A part of the magistracy of the county is seized on. Therein their intention towards the residue is clearly discovered; yet not any attempt made to secure them, — which they might easily have accomplished, — although they could not but suppose that there were some gentlemen of public and active spirits left that would be industrious in opposition unto them. Was not the Lord in their counsels also, when they suffered a small, inconsiderable party, in a little village within a few miles of them, to grow into such a body as at length they durst not attempt, when they might have broken their whole endeavour with half a hundred of men? Doubtless, of innumerable such things as these we may say, with the prophet, “The princes of Zoan are become fools, the princes of Noph are deceived; they have also seduced” the people, “even they that are the stay of the tribes thereof. The Lord hath mingled a perverse spirit in the midst thereof; and they have caused” the people “to err in every work thereof, as a drunken man staggereth in his vomit,” Isa. xix. 13, 14. Doubtless the wrath of man shall praise the Lord, and the remainder of it will he restrain.
(2.) In ordering all events to his own praise. The timing of the enemies’ eruptions in several places is that which fills all hearts with wonder, and all mouths with discourse, in these days. From the first to the last they had their season. Had they come together, to the eyes of flesh the whole nation had been swallowed up in that deluge. In particular, let Essex take notice of the goodness of God. The high thoughts and threats of men, which made us for divers weeks fear a massacre, were not suffered to break out into open hostility until the very next day after their strength was broken, in the neighbour county of Kent; — as if the Lord should have said, “I have had you in a chain all this while: though you have showed your teeth, you have not devoured; now go out of my chain, — I have a net ready for you.” For the armies coming to our assistance, I cannot see how we needed them many days sooner, or could have wanted them one day longer. Farther, these home-bred eruptions were timely seasoned, to rouse the discontented soldiery and divided nation to be ready to resist the Scottish invasion; — God also being magnified in this, that in this sweet disposal of events unto his glory, the counsels of many of those in whom we thought we might confide ran totally cross to the appearance of God in his providence. What shall we say to these things? If the Lord be for us, who shall be against us? All these things came forth from the Lord of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in operation, Isa. xxviii. 29. Whoso is wise will ponder them, and they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord.
(3.) In controlling mighty actions, — I mean, giving success to his 118people in all their undertakings. The commander-in-chief of all the forces in this kingdom, since his sitting down before Colchester, was proffered a pass to go beyond the seas for his security. Whence is it that he hath now the necks of his enemies, and hath given any of them their lives at their entreaty? Greater armies than this have been buried under lesser walls. Did not the number of the besieged at first exceed the number of the besiegers? were not their advantages great? their skill in war, amongst men of their own persuasion, famous and renowned? so that the sitting down before it was judged an action meet only for them who could believe they should see the bow of God made quite naked. It had been possible, doubtless, to reason’s eye, that many of those fictions wherewith a faction in the great city fed themselves, — of the many routings, slaughters, and destructions of the army, — might have been true. Some of them, I say; for some were as childish as hellish. In brief, they associated themselves, and were broken in pieces; — high walls, towering imaginations, lofty threats, — all brought down. “So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might;” and let the land have rest for many years, Judges v. 31.
Use 2. This will discover unto us the bottom and rise of all God’s appearances for his people, — even the engaging of his own free grace. He doth not “make his bow quite naked,” according to their deservings, but his own word; not because they of themselves are better than others, but because he loves them more than others. Were God’s assistances suited to our walkings, they would be very uneven; but his good-will is constant; so are our deliverances.
Use 3. Be exhorted to thankfulness; not verbal,196196 “In beneficio reddendo plus animus, quam census operatur.” — Ambr. Offi., lib. i. cap. 32. but real; not the exultation of carnal affections, but the savoury obedience of a sound mind. There are many ingredients in thanksgiving; — suitable and seasonable obedience to answer the will of God in his mercies is doubtless the crown of all. Look, then, under the enjoyment of blessings in general, to close walking with God in the duties of the covenant, — and in particular, to the especial work of this your generation, — and you are in the way to be thankful.
Use 4. Be sedulously careful to prevent that which God hath mightily decried by our late mercies, — viz., mutual animosities, strife, contention, and violence against one another;197197 Ἡ διαφωνία τῆς νηστείας, τὴν ὁμόνοιαν τῆς πίστεως συνίστησιν. — Iren. Epist. ad Vict. apud Euseb., lib. v. cap. 23. Φιλόνικοί ἐστε ἀδελφοὶ καὶ ζηλωταὶ περὶ μὴ ἀνηκόντων εἰς σωτηρίαν. — Clem. Ep. ad Cor. I mean, of those that fear his name. God hath interposed in our quarrels from heaven The language of our late deliverance is, Be quiet, “lest a worse thing happen unto you.” Our poor brethren of Scotland would not see the hatefulness 119of their animosities towards their friends, until God suffered that very thing to be the means to deliver them up to the power of their enemies. The weapons they had formed were used against themselves. Let us learn betimes to agree about our pasture, lest the wolves of the wilderness devour us. Persecution and idolatry have ruined all the states of the Christian world.
2. Of the assertion we have spoken hitherto: come we now to the particular confirmation of it by instance. “Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers,” — cleave the earth, or make channels in the earth, for waters to flow in.
Another most eminent work of almighty power is here set forth, — eminent in itself, and eminent in its typical signification. And the same thing being twice done, hath a plural expression, — “rivers.”
(1.) Eminent of itself. The bringing of streams of waters from the rock, for the thirsty people in the wilderness, is that which is here celebrated. Now this the Lord did twice:— First, Exod. xvii. 6, when the people were in Rephidim, in the first year after their coming from Egypt, they fainted in their journeys for want of water, and (according to the wonted custom of that rebellious people) complained with murmuring. So they extorted all their mercies; and therefore they were attended with such sore judgments. Whilst the meat was in their mouths, the plague was on their bones. Mercies extorted by murmurings, unseasoned with loving-kindness, though they may be quails in the mouth, will be plagues in the belly. Let us take heed lest we repine the Almighty into a full harvest and lean soul, Ps. cvi. 15. Get and keep mercies in God’s way, or there is death in the pot.
Forty years after this, when the first whole evil generation was consumed, the children, who were risen up in their fathers’ stead, fall a murmuring for water in the wilderness of Zin, and, with a profligacy of rebellion, wish they had been consumed with others in the former plagues, Num. xx. 4. Here also the Lord gives them water, and that in abundance, verse 11. Now, of this observe, —
[1.] The places from whence this water marvellously issued. They were rocks that, in all probability, never had spring from the creation of the world. Farther, they are observed to be rocks of flint, Ps. cxiv. 8, “Which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters:” so Deut. viii. 15. A rock into a pool, and a flint into a stream, is much beyond Samson’s riddle of sweetness from the eater.
[2.] The abundance of waters that gushed out, — waters to satisfy that whole congregation, with all their cattle, consisting of some millions. Yea, and not only they, but all the beasts of that wilderness were refreshed thereby also, Isa. xliii. 20, “The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragon and the owl; because I give waters in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen.” 120The very worst of the sons of men, dragons and owls, fare the better for God’s protecting providence towards his own.198198 “Vir bonus commune bonum.” — Gen. xxxi. 3.
And all this was in such abundance, that it was as plentiful as a sea. “He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths. He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers,” Ps. lxxviii. 15, 16. So also it is celebrated, Isa. xli. 18, xlviii. 21, Hos. xiii. 5, and in many other places. Great deliverances call f or frequent remembrances.
Thus were rivers brought out of the rocks, and with or for these rivers God did cleave the earth; — that is, either he provided channels for those streams to run in, that they might not be wasted on the surface of that sandy wilderness, but preserved for the use of his people; or else the streams were so great and strong, that they pierced the earth, and parted channels for themselves. Great rivers of water, brought out of flinty rocks, running into prepared channels, to refresh a sinful, thirsty people, in a barren wilderness, I think, is a remarkable mercy.
(2.) As it was eminent in itself, so likewise is it exalted in its typical concernment. Is there nothing but flints in this rock? nothing but water in these streams? nothing but the rod of Moses in the blows given to it? Did the people receive no other refreshment, but only in respect of their bodily thirst? Yes, saith the apostle, “They drank of that spiritual rock which followed them; and that rock was Christ,” 1 Cor. x. 4. Was not this rock a sign of that Rock of Ages on which the church is built? Matt. xvi. 18. Did not Moses’ smiting hold out his being smitten with the rod of God? Isa. liii. 4, 5. Was not the pouring out of these plentiful streams as the pouring out of his precious blood, in a sea of mercy, abundantly sufficient to refresh the whole fainting church in the wilderness? “Latet Christus in petra;” — “Here is Christ in this rock.” Had Rome had wisdom to build on this Rock, though she had not had an infallibility as she vainly now pretends, she might have had an infallibility (if I may so speak), yea, she had never quite failed. Give me leave to take a few observations from hence. As, —
[1.] Sinners must be brought to great extremities, to make them desire the blood of Jesus; — weary and thirsty, before rock-water come. Thirst is a continually galling pressure. When a soul gaspeth like a parched land, and is as far from self-refreshment as a man from drawing waters out of a flint, then shall the side of Christ be opened to him. You that are full of your lusts, drunk with the world, here is not a drop for you. If you never come into the wilderness, you shall never have rock-water.
[2.] Mercy to a convinced sinner seems ofttimes as remote as 121rivers from a rock of flint. The truth is, he never came near mercy, who thought not himself far from it. When the Israelites cried, We are ready to die for thirst, then stood they on the ground where rivers were to run.
[3.] Thirsty souls shall want no water, though it be fetched for them out of a rock. Panters after the blood of Jesus shall assuredly have refreshment and pardon, through the most unconquerable difficulties. Though grace and mercy seem to be locked up from them, like water in a flint, — whence fire is more natural than water; yet God will not strike the rock of his justice and their flinty hearts together, to make hell-fire sparkle about their ears; but with a rod of mercy on Christ, that abundance of water may be drawn out for their refreshment.
[4.] The most eminent temporal blessings, and suitable refreshment (water from a rock for them that are ready to perish), is but an obscure representation of that love of God, and refreshment of souls, which is in the blood of Jesus. Carnal things are exceeding short of spiritual, — temporal things of eternal.
[5.] The blood of Christ is abundantly sufficient for his whole church to refresh themselves, — streams, rivers, a whole sea.
These, and the like observations, flowing from the typical relation of the blessing intimated, shall not farther be insisted on; — one only I shall take from the historical truth.
XXI. Observation. God sometimes bringeth plentiful deliverances and mercies for his people from beyond the ken of sense and reason; yea, from above the ordinary reach of much precious faith.
I mean not what it ought to reach, which is all the omnipotency of God; but what ordinarily it doth, as in this very business it was with Moses. I say, plentiful deliverances, mercies like the waters that gushed out in abundant streams, until the earth was cloven with rivers, — that the people should not only have a taste and away, but drink abundantly, and leave for the beasts of the field, — from beyond the ken of sense and reason, by events which a rationally wise man is no more able to look into, than an eye of flesh is able to see water in a flint; or a man probably suppose that divers millions of creatures should be refreshed with waters out of a rock where there was never any spring from the foundation of the world.
Now, concerning this, observe, —
1. That God hath done it.
2. That he hath promised he wall yet do it.
3. Why he will so do.
1. He hath done it. I might here tire you with precedents. I could lead you from that mother deliverance, the womb of all others, the redemption that is in the blood of Jesus, down through many dispensations 122of old and of late, holding out this proposition to the full One shall suffice me; and if some of you cannot help yourselves with another, you are very senseless.
Look upon Peter’s deliverance, Acts xii. 1. The night before he was to be slain, he was kept safe in a prison, — a prison he had neither will nor power to break. He was bound with two chains, beyond his skill to unloose or force asunder. Kept he was by sixteen soldiers, doubtless men of blood and vigilancy, having this to keep them waking, that if Peter escaped with his head, they were to lose theirs. Now, that his deliverance was above sense and reason himself intimates, verse 11, “He hath delivered me from the expectation of the Jews.” The wise, subtle Jews, concluded the matter so secure, that, without any doubts or fears, they were in expectation of his execution the next day. That it was also beyond the ready reach of much precious faith, you have an example in those believers who were gathered together in the house of Mary, verse 12, calling her mad who first affirmed it, verse 15, and being astonished when their eyes beheld it, verse 16; — the whole seeming so impossible to carnal Herod, after its accomplishment, that he slays the keepers as false in their hellish trust; — a just recompense for trusty villains.
The time would fail me to speak of Isaac,199199 Gen. xxii. 14, xxxix. 1, etc. and Joseph, Gideon, Noah, Daniel, and Job, — all precedents worthy your consideration. View them at your leisure; and you will have leisure, if you intend to live by faith.
2. He hath said it. It is a truth abounding in promises and performances. I shall hold out one or two; it will be worth your while to search for others yourselves. He that digs for a mine finds many a piece of gold by the way.
Isa. xli. 14–16, “Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye few men of Israel. Behold, I will make thee a new sharp thrashing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thrash the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them,” etc. To make a worm a thrashing instrument with teeth, to cause that instrument to beat mountains and hills into chaff, that chaff to be blown away with the wind, that that worm may rejoice in God; — to advance a small handful of despised ones to the ruin of mountainous empires and kingdoms, until they be broken and scattered to nothing, — is a mercy that comes from beyond the ken of an ordinary eye. Ezek. xxxvii. 3, the prophet professeth that the deliverance promised was beyond his apprehension: “Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.” The Lord intimates in the following verses that he will provide a means for his church’s recovery when it seemeth as remote therefrom as dry bones scattered upon the 123face of the earth are from a mighty living army. This he calls opening their graves, verses 12, 13.
3. The reasons of this are, —
(1.) Because he would have his people wholly wrapt up in his all-sufficiency, not to straiten themselves with what their faith can ken in a promise, much less to what their reason can perceive in appearance. In the application of promises to particular trials and extremities, faith oftentimes is exceedingly disturbed, either in respect of persons, or things, or seasons; but when it will wholly swallow up itself in all-sufficiency, the fountain of all promises, there is no place for fear or disputing. Have your souls in spiritual trials never been driven from all your out-works unto this main fort? Hath not all hold of promises in time of trial given place to temptations, until you have fallen down in all-sufficiency, and there found peace? God accounts a flight to the strong tower of his name to be the most excellent valour. This is faith’s first, proper, and most immediate object. To particular promises it is drawn out on particular occasions; here is, or should be, its constant abode, Gen. xvii. 1. And, indeed, the soul will never be prepared to all the will of God, until its whole complacency be taken up in this sufficiency of the Almighty. Here God delights to have the soul give up itself to a contented losing of all its reasonings, even in the infinite unsearchableness of his goodness and power. Therefore will he sometimes send forth such streams of blessings as can flow from no other fountain, that his may know where to lie down in peace. Here he would have us secure our shallow bottoms in this quiet sea, this infinite ocean, whither neither wind nor storm do once approach. Those blustering temptations which rage at the shore, when we were half at land and half at sea, — half upon the bottom of our own reason and half upon the ocean of providence, — reach not at all unto this deep. Oh, if we could in all trials lay ourselves down in these arms of the Almighty, his all-sufficiency in power and goodness! Oh, how much of the haven should we have in our voyage, how much of home in our pilgrimage, — how much of heaven in this wretched earth! Friends, throw away your staves, break the arm of flesh, lie down here quietly in every dispensation, and you shall see the salvation of God. I could lose myself in setting out of this, wherein I could desire you would lose yourselves in every time of trouble. “Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; 124they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint,” Isa. xl. 28–31.
(2.) To convince the unbelieving world itself of his power, providence, and love to them that put their trust in him, that they may be found to cry, “Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth,” Ps. lviii. 11.
When the Egyptian magicians see real miracles, beyond all their juggling pretences, they cry out, “This is the finger of God,” Exod. viii. 19.
Profane Nebuchadnezzar, beholding the deliverance of those three worthies from the fiery furnace, owns them for the “servants of the most high God,” Dan. iii. 26. Daniel being preserved in the lions’ den, Darius acknowledgeth the power and kingdom of “the living God,” Dan. vi. 26.
Glorious appearances of God for his people, beyond the reach of reason, wrest from the world amazement or acknowledgment; and in both God is exalted. He will appear in such distresses, as that he win be seen of his very enemies. They shall not be able, with the Philistines, to question whether it be his hand or a chance happened to them, 1 Sam. vi. 9; but conclude, with the Egyptians, that fly they must, for God fights for his people, Exod. xiv. 25. If God should never give blessings but in such a way as reason might discover their dependence on secondary causes, men would not see his goings, nor acknowledge his operations. But when he mightily makes bare his arm, in events beyond their imaginations, they must vail before him.
Use 1. Consider whether the mercy celebrated this day ought not to be placed in this series of deliverances, brought from beyond the ken of sense and reason, from above the reach of much precious faith. For the latter, I leave it to your own experience; — to the former let me for the present desire your consideration of these five things.
(1.) By whom you were surprised and put under restraint. Now these were of two sorts: [1.] The heads and leaders; [2.] The tumultuous multitude.
[1.] For the first, some of them being dead, and some under durance, I shall not say any thing. “Nullum cum victis certamen, et æthere cassis.” I leave the stream from the flint to your own thoughts.
[2.] For the multitude, — an enraged, headless, lawless, godless multitude, gathered out of inns, taverns, alehouses, stables, highways, and the like nurseries of piety and pity. Such as these having got their superiors under their power, governors under their disposal, their restrainers under their restraint, their oppressors, as they thought, under their fury, — what was it that kept in their fury and their revenge, which upon the like occasions and advantages hath almost always been executed? Search your stories, — you will not find many that speak of such a deliverance. For a few governors prevailed on unto durance, by a godless rout, in an insurrection, and yet come 125off in peace and safety, is surely a work of more than ordinary providence.
(2.) Consider the season of your surprisal; — when all the kingdom was in an uproar, and the arm of flesh almost quite withered as to supply, — the north invaded, the south full of insurrections, Wales unsubdued,200200 “Idem huic urbi dominandi finis erit, qui parendi fuerit.” — Senec. de Rom. the great city at least suffering men to lift up their hands against us; so that, to the eye of reason, the issue of the whole was, if not lost, yet exceedingly hazardous, and so your captivity endless. Had they gone on, as was probable they would, whether you had this day been brought out to execution, or thrust into a dungeon, or carried up and down as a pageant, I know not; but much better condition, I am sure, rationally you could not expect.
(3.) The end of your surprisal. Amongst others, this was apparently one, to be a reserve for their safety who went on in all ways of ruin. You were kept to preserve them in those ways wherein they perished. Whether could reason reach this or no, that you being in their power, kept on purpose for their rescue if brought to any great strait, with the price of your heads to redeem their own, — that they should be brought to greater distress than ever any before in this kingdom, and you be delivered, without the least help to them in their need? It was beyond your friends’ reason, who could not hope it; — it was beyond our enemies’ reason, who never feared it: if you believed it, you have the comfort of it.
(4.) The refusal of granting an exchange for such persons as they accounted more considerable than yourselves, and whose enlargement might have advantaged the cause they professed to maintain exceedingly more than your restraint, — what doth it but proclaim your intended ruin?
This was the way of deliverance which for a long season reason chiefly rested on, the main pillar of all its building; — which, when it was cut in two, what could be seen in it but desolation.
(5.) The straits you were at length reduced to, between your enemies’ swords and your friends’ bullets, which, intended for your deliverance, without the safeguard of Providence might have been your ruin, piercing more than once the house wherein you were. Surely it was, then, an eminent work of faith, to “stand still, and see the salvation of God.”
The many passages of Providence, evidently working for your preservation, which I have received from some of yourselves, I willingly pass over. What I have already said is sufficient to declare that to reason’s eye you were as dead bones upon the earth. For our parts, who were endangered spectators at the best, we were but in the prophet’s frame; and to any question about your enlargement, could answer only, The Lord alone knows. And now, behold, the Lord hath 126chosen you out to be examples of his loving-kindness, in fetching mercy for you from beyond the ken of reason; yea, from above the reach of much precious faith. He hath brought water for you out of the flint. Reckon your deliverance under this head of operations, and I hope you will not be unthankful.
Use 2. You that have received so great mercy, we that have seen it, and all who have heard the doctrine confirmed, let us learn to live by faith Live above all things that are seen; subject them to the cross of Christ. Measure your condition by your interest in God’s all-sufficiency. Do not in distress calculate what such and such things can effect; but what God hath promised. Reckon upon that, for it shall come to pass. If you could get but this one thing by all your sufferings and dangers, to trust the Lord to the utmost extent of his promises, it would prove a blessed captivity. All carnal fears would then be conquered, all sinful compliances with wicked men removed, etc.
Use 3. Be exhorted to great thankfulness,201201 “Erunt homicidæ, tyranni, fures, adulteri, raptores, sacrilegi, proditores; infra ista omnia, ingratus est.” — Senec. Benef., lib. i. “Gratiarum cessat decursus, ubi recursus non fuerit.” — Bern. Serm 50. you that have been made partakers of great deliverances. In great distresses very nature prompts the sons of men to great promises. You have heard the ridiculous story of him who in a storm at sea promised to dedicate a wax candle to the blessed Virgin as big as the mast of his ship, which he was resolved when he came on shore to pay with one of twelve in the pound! Let not the moral of that fable be found in any of you. Come not short of any of your engagements. No greater discovery of a hypocritical frame, than to flatter the Lord in trouble, and to decline upon deliverance, in cold blood. The Lord of heaven give you strength to make good all your resolutions:— as private persons, in all godliness and honesty, following hard after God in every known way of his; — as magistrates, in justice, equity, and faithful serving the kingdom of Christ. Especially, let them never beg in vain for help at your hands, who did not beg help in vain for you at the hands of God.
Use 4. Consider, if there be so much202202 “Si tanti vitrum, quanti Margaritum?” — Tertul. sweetness in a temporal deliverance, oh! what excellency is there in that eternal redemption which we have in the blood of Jesus! If we rejoice for being delivered from them who could have killed the body, what unspeakable rejoicing is there in that mercy whereby we are freed from the wrath to come! Let this possess your thoughts, let this fill your souls, — let this be your haven from all former storms. And here strike I sail, in this to abide with you and all the saints of God forever.
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