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But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: you, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
THE business of the day is not unknown to you: we are called by public authority to the work of humiliation; and the cause and occasion of this work you are acquainted with, to wit, the deplorable eruption of a sad distemper in sundry parts of the nation; and the cause of this we are to know is sin. There is no calamity, but, if we track it to its original, we shall find it issue from sin. They are the distempers of the soul that cause the distempers of the body; therefore, if we would recover our bodily health, we must begin the cure at the soul. Fasting and humiliation is a sovereign remedy to evacuate all spiritual distempers; and what is true in physic of the body, tertia pars morborum sanatnr jejunio, that the third part of diseases is cured by fasting, is much more true in divinity in respect of the soul; that not only some, but all its diseases are removed, or at least weakened and diminished, by a spiritual fasting.
In this chapter we have the example of a fast celebrated by heathens, but worthy of the imitation of 388the best Christians; and if we do not fast and humble ourselves, now a judgment is actually lying upon us from God, certainly the men of Nineveh will rise up in judgment against this generation, and condemn it; for they fasted and humbled themselves upon the very approach of a judgment.
Here are several things considerable.
1st, Jonah’s denunciation of a judgment of God impendent upon them.
2dly, Their humiliation upon the hearing of this judgment; in which fast or humiliation there is considerable,
I. The manner of it; which consists in two things:
1st, The external humiliation of the body.
2dly, An internal, spiritual separation from sin.
II. The universal extent of it, Let man and beast, &c. and withal the particular application of it, ver. 8, let them turn every one from, &c.
III. The ground or motive of this humiliation; which was hope of mercy, and a pardon upon the exercise of this duty.
The words will afford several observations.
1st, The consideration of a judgment approaching unto, or actually lying upon a people, is a sufficient argument for fasting and humiliation, ver. 4, 5.
2dly, That an afflicting of the body is a good preparative to the humiliation of the soul. ver. 6, 7.
3dly, That the nature of a fast more especially consists in a real, sincere separation from sin. ver. 8.
4thly, That national sins do deserve national humiliation, ver. 5.
5thly, The best and most effectual way to remove 389a national judgment, is for every particular man to inquire into and to amend his own personal, particular sins. ver. 8.
6thly, Upon a serious humiliation for, and forsaking of our sins, there is sufficient argument in Cod’s mercy to hope for a removal of the severest judgment, ver. 8.
I chiefly intend the discussing the five observations; but I shall speak something to them all.
1st Obs. Concerning the first: That the consideration of a judgment, &c. Extraordinary cases call for extraordinary services. Every judgment overspreading a nation is an extraordinary judgment; and fasting bears some proportion to it, as being an extraordinary duty. When God shall shake his sword over a nation, and the inhabitants take no notice of it; when he shall begin to take hold of judgment, and the people not take hold of his mercy in prayer and repentance; these are sad symptoms of a decaying, if not perishing state. When the son sees his father about to whip him, and has already laid hold of the rod, will he not fall down upon his knees, and ask him pardon? Now we ought to humble ourselves under a judgment upon several accounts.
1st, Because in every judgment God calls for humiliation; they are the alarums of the Almighty, by which he terrifies and awakens sleepy souls. We read of the voice of God’s rod, Micah vi. 9, and the rod of God in every judgment speaks this; either that we should begin or renew our repentance. For a people to hear the dreadful voice of a displeased God in a judgment, and yet not to be wrought upon to proceed to a speedy humiliation; it is like Samuel’s hearing the Lord speaking to him when he 390was a child, in the midst of his sleep; the voice comes, and awakes him, he hears it, yet takes little notice of it, but presently returns to sleep again. If we can so pass over the voice of God in a judgment, as presently to return to our former sleep and security, it is an act of high contempt and disobedience.
The proudest of the heathens, and the greatest contemners of a Deity, yet would be amazed, and endeavour to hide themselves when they heard it thunder. Could the voice of the cloud make them shrink and tremble, and shall not the voice of a national judgment make us mourn and repent? God calls for mourning and lamentation, his voice is plain and loud, and woe be to us if we do not hear it.
2dly, We ought to humble ourselves under every judgment, because it deserves our humiliation: though this be an unpleasing duty to the flesh, yet it is abundantly countervailed by the greatness of the trouble it does remove. Not only Christianity, but nature bids us mourn under an affliction. To what do we reserve our sorrows, if we do not spend them upon this occasion? Lament. iii. 48, Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water, for the destruction of the daughter of my people. The prophet found no such time for weeping as the time of public calamity. Then did Hezekiah mourn and humble himself, when there was a devouring army of the Assyrians approaching. If the securing of your health, your lives, your temporal, your spiritual estates, does not merit the deepest of our humiliations, our strongest wrestlings with God in fasting and prayer, then keep these duties for something that may better deserve them.391
2d Obs. That the affliction of the body is a good preparative to the humiliation of the soul: thus we see in the second of Joel, where there was a solemn fast proclaimed, and directions given for the keeping of it, it is said, in the sixteenth verse, Let the bride groom go out of hit chamber, and the bride out of her closet. Bodily and sensual enjoyments must be laid aside; and that which is prescribed to us for the right celebration of the sabbath, that a man should not find his own pleasure, in Isaiah lviii. 3, is upon the same account requisite to a due performance of this duty. Sensual delights are not consistent with spiritual services.
Now the reasons that the affliction of the body is so good a preparative to the humiliation of the soul, are,
1st, Because the operations of the soul do much follow the disposition and temper of the body. There is a near connection and a sympathy between these two. There can scarce be grief and pleasure in one, but the other partakes. Pleasure! it melts the soul through the body, as lightning does the sword through the scabbard. Can the body be pampered, and the soul not grow wanton? Can the carnal objects of sense be received, without leaving a tincture upon the mind? When the body is filled and feasted, the soul is not in so fit a posture to hunger and thirst after righteousness. Herod, after his feast, is fit to behead, but not to hear John Baptist.
2dly, The afflicting of the body, it curbs the flesh, and makes it serviceable to the spirit. The flesh is unruly, and repugnant to the yoke of a spiritual service; 392it has a natural averseness to them, and as long as it is indulged, the opposition is so much the stronger: wherefore, if we would keep our hearts close to so heavenly a duty, we must sequester them from the incentives of carnal objects. I keep under my body, says St. Paul. In all these engagements the spirit must keep under the body, or the body will be above the spirit. The body is and ought to be the soul’s instrument in the execution of all duties; but if it be not rightly fixed and disposed, it may recoil upon the soul, and hurt it: as a hatchet, if not rightly ordered, may fly off, and mischief him that uses it. O let us therefore lay aside all flesh-pleasing vanities; let us abandon those delights that encumber the soul, that clip its wings, and hinder its aspiring to heaven. It will be part of our happiness and perfection hereafter to have spiritual bodies; let us endeavour to make them so now: Canst thou not watch with me an hour? says Christ: canst not thou fast with me a day? It is our duty to deny ourselves in these outward refreshments, so far as it may quicken and enable us to a more nimble performance of so severe a duty. Let us follow the example of the Ninevites in the text; Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let our brutish part, our body, as well as our manly part, our soul, be brought under the spiritual yoke of humiliation. But it may be here said,
(Objection.} Is not this contrary to what our Saviour prescribes in the gospel, who in express terms forbids us this afflicting of the body, in our fastings; Matt. vi. 16, 17, 18, When ye fast, be not as hypocrites, of a sad countenance, &c. Now, how can 393this scripture consist with the truth of this doctrine, that the affliction of the body tends to advance the devotion and humiliation of the soul?
In answer to this, we may observe;
1st, That Christ does not absolutely forbid them to le of a sad countenance, but with this qualification; Be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance. There is a difference between a religious and an affected sadness; between a due composure, and a dissembling of the countenance: one is spiritual duty, the other is spiritual pride; one adorns, the other destroys humiliation. And those that do in this manner, and for this end, disfigure their faces, that they may appear to fast, they make themselves more deformed in the eyes of God than in the eyes of men.
2dly, Christ does not forbid such a sadness of countenance as was the natural effect of an inward sorrow. For as it is said, Mine eye affecteth mine heart, Lament, iii. 51, so the heart will affect the eye; spiritual sorrow will break out into the countenance. But the Pharisees had a peculiar way among themselves, of making and deforming their faces, in their days of fasting; in which they placed the chief part of the duty, (as the papists do in whipping themselves;) and it was against this abuse that Christ cautioned his disciples. For when he bids them, on the contrary, anoint their head, and wash their feet, it was not meant of ornament, but of a decent dressing of themselves, according to the custom of those places. So that he does not here oppose jollity and looseness to a due and serious sadness, so as to command that in the room of this; but he does oppose a prudent decency to an absurd 394superstition. And thus much in answer to this objection, and concerning the second observation.
3d Obs. I proceed now to the third; viz. That the nature of a fast especially consists in a real, sincere separation from sin. The truth of this will appear from these considerations.
1st, That fasting, it is a spiritual duty: the humbling of the body indeed is required, not so much as a part, as an instrument of this duty: it is separation from sin that God requires, and the soul must intend; it is thy heart, and not thy stomach, that God would have empty. It is not thy outward mourning or complaining, not the presence of thy body in the church, not thy abstaining from bodily food, that makes a fast; for what does it avail thee to forbear thy meat, if thou dost feed upon thy sin? What does the sackcloth and the ashes, if thou art not clothed with righteousness? God overlooks and rejects all these services, as a piece of a provoking mockery, if they are not attended with a sincere renouncing of thy sin. Thou mayest have a thin, pining body, and yet a luxurious soul: thou mayest hang the head, like a bulrush, and yet aspire in thy mind, like a Lucifer. Let us not deceive ourselves, for God is not deceived. If our sin abides, after all our fasting, we shall return to it with a greater appetite. To leave our sin, and exercise the opposite duties of holiness, this is that which gives a relish and a savour to all our humiliations before God. In Isaiah lviii. 4, 5, 6, God roundly tells his people what was truly a fast, and what was no fast, in his esteem.—Not to abstain from bread, but to deal it to the hungry; this is properly to fast: not to wrap thyself in sackcloth, but to cover and clothe 395thy naked brother; this is to be humbled. Hence, in Jerem. xxxvi. 6, 7, we have the prophet presenting the children of Israel, upon their fasting days, with a catalogue of God’s commands: this was their bill of fare upon such days.—Take therefore a survey of the state of thy soul. Is there such a corruption in thy heart? remove it; such a sin in thy hands, such a blot upon thy conscience? wash it out with the tears of a true repentance. He that only forbears his meat, and not his sin, the beasts of Nineveh kept as good a fast as he. It is as unseemly to come to a fast with a foul heart, as to dinner with foul hands.
2dly, The nature of a fast chiefly consists in our separation from sin, because this is the proper end of it. As the end of eating is to strengthen the body, so the end of fasting is to strengthen the soul. For as our Saviour speaks of some unclean spirits, Matt. xvii. 21, so it is true of some kind of sins, that they are not to be cast out but by fasting and prayer. This is the greatest means of mortification of sin, and that which of all others carries it on most effectually; it is that which lays the axe to the very root of our corruption. It is a duty that is marked out by God’s institution, for this very purpose. David, that was most in this work of mortifying his sin, that omitted the use of no means that might weaken his corruption, he gives us an account of what course he took; Psalm cii. 4, he tells us, that he forgot to eat his bread; and Psalm cix. 24, that his knees were weak through fasting. Now all that he aimed at in this, was the getting the upper hand of his corruption, that he might starve his sin. So that it follows, that if our fasting attain not the 396proper end for which God designed it, it falls short of its nature, and cannot properly be called a duty. True it is, that one end of a religious fast is to prevent or remove God’s judgments; but how does it effect this? Is it not by removing sin, that is the cause of those judgments? No humiliation ever took off an affliction, before it first took off the sin. Misery is the natural consequent of iniquity; and he that endeavours to rid himself of one, before he has freed himself of the other, would hinder the streams before he has stopped the fountain. Humiliation! it quenches the wrath of God, by removing the combustible matter of sin, upon which it preys. When this affords no fuel, God’s anger ceases to burn. A plague, or a disease, sent from God, will scarce be able to hurt or infect that soul, which has cleansed and purged off all its ill humours by a thorough humiliation. It is clear therefore, that the removal of sin is the very essence of this duty, without which all other humbling ourselves is so far from being profitable, that it is abominable; Joel ii. 13, Rend your hearts, and not your garments. If the heart be not torn off from sin, to rend only the garment, it further provokes God, and (as I may so speak) makes the breach wider. To what purpose does the riotous drunkard strain himself to a fast, if he does not from this gain strength against his intemperance? To what end does the profane, the covetous, the neglector of sabbaths, engage in this duty, unless he gathers spiritual strength, to walk more closely with God for the future? This we must know, that there is no religious duty that attains its end, but when it weakens our sin.
And thus much of the third observation.397
4th Obs. National sins deserve national humiliation: there must be some proportion between sin and sorrow. Humble repentance is to cure us of our sins and miseries; and there can be no cure wrought, unless the plaster be as broad as the sore. If a whole nation sins, a whole nation must also repent, or perish. If a whole world corrupts itself before God, it must either be humbled or be drowned. The highest to the lowest have provoked God; there has been a joint concurrence in sin, therefore all must jointly concur in humiliation. When a distemper has seized the whole body, there must be a general change of the whole habit and frame of it, otherwise no sound recovery can be expected. The body of a nation should speak to God, as Peter did to Christ, when he washed his feet; Lord, wash not my feet only, but also my head and my hands. Let thy Spirit enable, not only the vulgar sort, but the great ones, to abase themselves in tears and repentance. The spirit of humiliation should be like Aaron’s precious ointment, running down from the head to the skirts and hem of his garment. This was the custom of the religious princes of Judah, when they were to deal with God about public mercies; they knew their sins were general, and therefore that their humiliation was to be of the same extent; 2 Chron. xx. 3, 4, And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah: and Jerem. xxxvi. 9, it is said of the princes of the people, that they proclaimed a fast before the Lord to all the people in Jerusalem, and to all the people that came from the cities of Judah unto Jerusalem. Now the reasons 398that there is such an universality required in our humiliations, may be,
1st, Because a general humiliation tends most to solve the breach of God’s honour. A prince that has been offended by a general rebellion, cannot be appeased but by a general submission. This is a lively acknowledgment of God’s majesty; when a nation shall lie in the dust before him; when he shall be praised and adored in the great congregation: by this we confess him the Lord of nations; and that he is able to destroy us, though we unite ourselves into multitudes; and that we need be humbled, and tremble at his power, as much as if we were but one single person.
2dly, Generality gives force and strength to humiliation. When an army of humble penitents be sieges heaven, it is hard, if their prayers do not force their way through: Credidimus junctas fortius ire preces; many hands give despatch to a difficult business. And humiliation is a very hard task, and justly requires many helping hands to be lift up together in prayer. General sins are strongest to bring down a judgment; therefore, general humiliation must needs be strongest to prevent it. I proceed to the
5th Obs. viz. That the best and most effectual way to avert a national judgment, is for every particular man to inquire into, and to amend his own personal, particular sins.
I shall prove the truth of this assertion by several reasons.
1st, Because particular sins oftentimes fetch down general, universal judgments. Sin, like a leprosy, 399though it begin in a small compass, yet it quickly, in the effects of it, overspreads the whole. It may first appear like that cloud, no bigger than a man’s hand, 1 Kings xviii. 44, but it presently overclouds and darkens the heavens over us, and showers down the heaviest of God’s judgments. Adam’s sin was but the sin of one man, and yet how large and extensive were the dimensions of the curse! it diffused itself to all his posterity, and that in all places, in all ages. When David numbered the people, none but David sinned; yet all Israel felt the smart of the punishment, thousands fell under the pestilence: the penalty of this sin was as large as his dominions; the curse, it reached from Dan to Beersheba. But here it may be replied, these indeed were public persons, and their offences public, and therefore the punishment might be so too. But then what shall we think of Achan? he was no public person, no governor, no representative of a people; yet we see his one particular trespass, in meddling with the cursed thing, caused the whole armies of Israel to fly before their enemies: that one sin chased a thousand, and put ten thousand to flight, Joshuah vii. And again, did not the sin of a few profane Benjamites scatter and almost devour a whole tribe? Judges xx. From these examples we may make this natural conclusion to ourselves, that what God did then, if he please, he may do the same now.
The reasons that God sometimes, for particular sins, inflicts general judgments, may be these.
1st, To shew us the provoking nature of sin; and that we live upon the score of mercy, and not by any title that we claim to life from our own righteousness: it is a mercy that God does not destroy 400for the sins of other men. Was it not a singular mercy to Lot, that he was delivered from the common destruction, though he never shared in the common sin? The righteousness of the whole world, since the fall, is not able to save one man; but the sin of one man, if God should deal according to the rigour of his justice, was enough to destroy a whole world.
2dly, God deservedly sometimes sends a general judgment for a particular sin; because, though the sin is particular, in respect of the subject and cause of it, yet it may be general, in respect of its contagion. The plague, though but in one man, yet it is able to derive a general infection over a whole city. Thy sin, though the commission of it abides upon thy particular person, yet thou dost not know how far the example of it may spread. David’s murder and adultery, as to the personal guilt of it, went no further than himself; but we know the scandal of it was very infectious; it caused the enemies of God to blaspheme: God therefore may deservedly avenge particular sins with general judgments.
2dly, As some particular sins are the total cause of a general judgment, so all and every particular sin shares and contributes its part in the bringing down of a judgment upon a nation, though it be not always the only cause of that judgment: a universal sin is made up of many particulars: if there were no personal, there could be no national sin. We may look upon our own particular miscarriages as small things, and not discernible in so great a crowd; we may think, that the sins of one man are no more considerable, in respect of the sins of a nation, 401than one man is in comparison of all the inhabitants of the nation: yet one man’s sin, though in itself it should be weaker, yet, as it is joined with the sins of a multitude, it will do execution. One soldier, taken by himself, is of no considerable force; but as joined to the body of an army, he will conquer and trample down towns and cities. One single drop of water, how contemptible is it! but as it is joined to the ocean, so it is terrible; it drowns, it destroys. Wherefore let none flatter himself, and think that his sin has no share in the misery of the nation; for every particular man may think so, as well as one: and if it should be true of every one to whose sin should we ascribe the calamities we endure? For the sin of the inhabitants a land is said to mourn; a fruitful land to be made barren, for the wickedness of those that dwell therein. And who knows but mine and thy sins may have provoked God to visit the nation with this distemper? How dost thou know, but thy profaneness, thy drunkenness, may cause the land to mourn? thy slighting God’s ordinances, and thy causeless absenting thyself from his worship, may cause God to appear against the nation in anger? When a barrel of gunpowder is fired, does not one corn, as much as another, contribute to the blowing up of the house? Certainly, if the nation should receive some great blessing from God, upon the score of desert, would not every particular man be apt to thrust in, and ascribe some part of it to the merit of his own particular righteousness? How much more should we take shame and confusion to ourselves, and mark out our own personal sins, as those that have stuck deep in the nation’s misery! As it is the duty of every particular 402soldier in the army to fight in the day of battle, so it is equally the duty of every particular Christian to mourn in a day of humiliation.
3d Reason. Because God takes special notice of particular sins: punishing of a multitude does not make God overlook particulars; but he takes a distinct view of each several man’s transgression; as in our reading over a volume, the eye takes a distinct view of every letter. It is our prudence to take notice of those sins that God takes notice of; and as it is our prudence to take notice of them, so it is our greater prudence to lament them. Hence we have God in scripture so often singling out some sinners; in particular, Deut. xxix. 18, God, speaking to the whole body of the Israelites, says, Take heed, lest there be amongst you a root that beareth gall and bitterness. One would think that in so large a garden one weed might escape his eye: but the eye of God, like the sun, as it enlightens the whole world, so it discovers every little atom. It is said, that God would search Jerusalem with candles; so exact is he in his survey of each several man’s condition. In Psalm xiv. 2, God looketh down from heaven, to see if there were any one whose heart sought the Lord: and in the third verse he brings a particular report of their wickedness; There is none that doeth good, no, not one. He speaks as if he had searched and considered them one by one. Now the consideration of this, that God takes a particular notice of our personal misdemeanours, should engage us to set about a particular amendment. When workmen know their master will come, and take a particular account of each man’s several task, this is a sufficient argument to make them fearful to 403be negligent, and incite them to be accurate in their performance of it. God oftentimes, in a general judgment, has a more especial design upon some few particular sinners; as when Joab drew up a party of men to be slain by the Ammonites, his design was only directed to the death of Uriah. God, when he commissions his plagues to go over a nation, he gives them more especial charge to visit such and such a sinner. God sends a war and the sword abroad to such nation; but be sure, says he, take such a secure sinner, such a covetous person in your way; let his goods and his substance be rifled and made a spoil: I have observed, that his heart has been estranged from me, and wholly set upon the world. he bids a sickness go to such a people; but be sure, says he, forget not to take off such a backsliding, incorrigible sinner: he cumbers the ground, and I can hear with him no longer. To speak according to the manner of men, God does as really mark out and separate some sinners, more especially, to a general destruction, as David gave his captain a more especial command to preserve Absalom. This is a third reason, why men should in their humiliations descend to a particular removal of their personal sins, because God accurately considers them.
4th Reason. No humiliation can be well and sincere, unless it be personal and particular. It is a saying, that there is dolus in universalibus, deceit and cozenage in universals. In general acknowledgments, a man is apt to put a fallacy upon his soul, and to take that for repentance which is no repentance. He that is truly humbled and repents, his voice must be, not, We have sinned, but, I have 404 sinned against the Lord. Nathan, when he would force home a sound, real humiliation upon David, he makes his case particular, Thou art the man, 2 Sam. xii. 7. The only word that dropped from Pharaoh, that seemed to have something in it of true humiliation, was that in Exod. ix. 27 In this I have sinned: the Lord is righteous, but I and my people are wicked. Now it is clear, that this is the only true way of humiliation; for this is the way and the method that the Spirit of God takes in humbling the soul; it makes a personal, particular application of all God’s curses against sinners to the soul. The word in general says, Cursed be he that continues not in all these things that are written in the law, to observe and do them. Here the Spirit comes in, and with much power tells a soul, Thou art the man; thou art he that has broke God’s commands, violated his laws, trampled upon all his precepts, and therefore thou art he that liest under the dint of this heavy curse: God means thee; God speaks to thee in particular; therefore take it to thyself, and be humbled. Now the reason that a man’s consideration of his particular sins is the means to produce a true and thorough humiliation is, because man is only humbled for those things in which he is concerned; and no man looks upon himself as concerned in a general evil, till he makes it particular by a personal application. When we hear of sickness abroad, we are not much moved; but when we find the symptoms of it upon our own bodies, then we speak more feelingly of it, and use the utmost care to remove it. The notions we have of sin, and misery that follows sin, are but common and superficial, till we make them particular by our 405own experience. If we would kill our sins, we must not shoot our sorrows at random, at sin in general, but single them out, and take a distinct aim at every sin in particular. Although, to make the work of humiliation more easy, I should advise the soul to this way, because we may master and conquer these sins by our sorrows, that we take severally and apart, which we could not so well deal with in the heap. Those evils most affect our sorrows that most affect our apprehensions; but sins, as they are represented to us in particular, chiefly affect our apprehensions: generals and universals leave a confused, imperfect notion in the mind; but particulars leave a more clear and evident impression. Thus much of the fourth reason to prove this doctrine, that it is the best and most effectual way to avert a general judgment, for every particular man seriously to inquire into and amend his personal, particular sins.
6th Observation is, That upon our serious humiliation for, and forsaking of our sins, there is sufficient argument in God’s mercy to hope for a removal of the severest judgment.
Now the truth of this will appear from these three things.
1st, Because God has promised, upon true humiliation, to remove his judgments.
2dly, Because he has often actually removed them upon such humiliation.
3dly, Because when we are brought to be thus humbled, God has attained the end of his judgments.
1st, There is argument for this hope, because God has promised it. Mercy, it is the only refuge 406of a lost creature, the only prop of a decaying confidence, it is God’s endearing attribute. But since we have sinned, God’s justice keeps us from relying upon his mercy, till his promise gives us leave; this is that alone that opens a door of mercy to a forlorn soul, and makes that confidence become duty which would otherwise be presumption. In the 26th of Leviticus, the Spirit of God reckons up many sad and dismal curses which should befall the children of Israel, if they did apostatize from God, and break his commands. Yet in the 41st and 42d verses, he promises them an after-return of mercy upon their humiliation. So merciful is God, that he closeth his threatenings with prescriptions how to avoid them; and in the midst of judgment shews the way how to regain mercy. What God promised to Israel he does as truly promise to us; for his mercy, that caused him to make this promise, is the same yesterday and to-day. And as the apostle observes, no promise is of private interpretation. In the forementioned Jer. xxxvi. 3, It may be, says God, that the house of Judah will hear all the evil that I purpose to do unto them; that they may return every man from his evil way; that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin. Where God forgives the sin, he always removes the judgment. Why do we not then engage our utmost in these duties? Is not God’s promise true, that we should not believe it? And if it be true, and we do believe it, is it not worthy our closing with it, by fulfilling its conditions? We have cause enough to believe, that God is much more willing to remove than to bring judgments upon men. It is reason enough that we should humble ourselves under God’s judgment, 407though he had made no such promise of mercy; even for this cause, that by our humiliations we might prevail with him to make us such a promise. But how much readier should we be in this duty, now the promise is prepared and presented to our hands! Surely if our miseries abide upon us, it is not because God is wanting to us, but we are wanting to ourselves.
2dly, There is argument for hope, because God has often removed judgments upon a sincere humiliation. And if we cannot command our faith to believe what God has promised to do, yet let us believe what God has done already. Every instance in this nature, it is an overplus of evidence to overrule us into this persuasion. A promise with an instance, it is like an excellent medicine with a probatum est, ratified by experience. The first instance of those that have tasted mercy after humiliation is that in the text, the 10th verse, And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them, and he did it not. God will let men see that he can more easily repent of his anger than they of their sins. The second instance is that of Manasses; a prodigy of sin, one as it were raised up on purpose, in whom it might appear how far wickedness might proceed; yet we know, upon his humiliation, God turned his captivity, and set him loose from his chains, and from a prison, (a thing seldom known in any age;) he returned him to a kingdom, 2 Chron. xxxiii. 12, 13. Now is there any man that can rationally doubt of the strength of humiliation, after it has restored a Manasses?
3dly, The third instance is that of Ahab, one 408almost as deep in sin as Manasses; one that sold himself to do wickedly; a king of Israel, yet a slave to sin; polluted with the blood of his innocent neighbour; yet when the curse of God met him, and shook him into an humiliation, 1 Kings xxi. 29? God’s anger thereupon leaves him for a while, and though his justice could not let him take away the punishment, yet his mercy caused him to defer it. God’s fury in this case (if I may so express it) some thing resembling an ague; it shook him for a while, and then it left him. All divines do agree, that Ahab’s humiliation was not sincere, but only hypocritical. Now if God were so merciful as to reward the bare outside of an humble repentance with such an abatement of a judgment, will he not answer and reward thy hearty, sincere humiliation with an entire removal of it? In Psalm cvii. 17, 18, 19, Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted; their soul abhorreth all manner of meat, and they draw near unto the gates of death. Then they cry unto the Lord in their troubles, he saveth them out of their distresses. Here we have another kind of unsincere repentance, seconded with an undeserved reward. And can God so love the very picture of humiliation, and not love and embrace that much more? Can the bare show of repentance delay God’s stroke, and shall not the reality and truth of it avert it? Certainly this is the only reason that God shews himself so favourable to hypocrites’ bare pretences, that he may encourage our real endeavours.
3dly, There is argument to hope for the removal of a judgment upon true humiliation, because in this God attains the end of his judgments. No 409need of further purging when the humour is carried off. God’s actions extend no further than his designs. God does not punish that he may punish, but that he may humble; wherefore, when humility is produced, his punishments proceed no further. God is of too great mercy to triumph over a prostrate soul. There is a resurrection from misery as well as from the grave. It is true, God is said to kill, 1 Sam. ii. 6, but in the next words it is added, that he makes alive. God does not punish as that he may thence receive satisfaction for our sins; for then, as our sin is infinite, so our punishments would be endless. All satisfaction is laid up in Christ, and when we are thoroughly humble for sin, that satisfaction is then actually made ours. No wonder therefore, if God’s judgments vanish before that satisfaction; if it removes a temporal judgment, that rescues from an eternal. This is certain, and worth our observation, that God never sends a judgment upon any of his children, but it is for one of these two ends, either to prevent or remove sin. O, says God, here is a poor soul that is hugging and embracing its sin, pleasing itself in its own ruin; unless sin be embittered to it by some severe affliction, it will never leave it, but perish in it. Here is another ready to sin, in a posture to close with any temptation, going on in the ready road to death. O, says God, here is another poor creature, that if some sharp judgment does not meet and stop it, it is posting on with a full career to its own perdition. Now God does effect both these works, to wit, the removal and the prevention of sin, by the instrumental help of a thorough humiliation. Consider therefore with thyself, thou that hast lain a long 410time under any cross or affliction from God, has thy affliction humbled thee? has it weakened thy sin, strengthened thy hands to duty? If it has not, thou hast cause to fear that God will either continue that judgment that now presses thee, or bring a greater and a sorer evil upon thee. But, on the other hand, if thy affliction has wrought kindly, if it had cleansed off the filth and corruption of thy heart, if it had brought thee to disesteem the world, and value Christ, to look upon sin as a greater evil than death, believe it, God has done his work upon thee, and he will quickly remove either the judgment itself, or the venom and sting of it. Now the showers of repentance are fallen, the clouds of God’s wrath are vanishing: and he is coming forth to meet thee as a poor returning prodigal. He looks upon thee as he did once upon Ephraim, Jer. xxxi. 18, 19, 20, I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself, &c. therefore my bowels are troubled for him: I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord. If thou hast an heart to mourn over thy sin, God has bowels of compassion to yearn and relent over thee. If thou canst in sincerity say, I will sin no more, God is as ready to say, that he will afflict no more. Believe it, if thou hast a purpose to return to God, God has mercy to return to thee.
To which God, therefore, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for ever more. Amen.411
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