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SERMON LV.

1 JOHN iii. 8.

For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the Devil.

THERE is nothing that contributes so much to the right understanding of the nature of any thing or action, as a true notion of the proper end and design of it; the ignorance of which bereaves mankind of many of the blessings of heaven: because oftentimes while they enjoy the thing, they yet mistake its use; and so pervert the intentions of mercy, and become miserable amidst the very means of happiness.

Certainly therefore it concerns men infinitely, not to entertain an error about the greatest of God’s favours, and the very masterpiece of his goodness, the sending of his Son into the world. The meaning of which providence should we misconstrue, we should frustrate our grand and last remedy, and perish, not for want, but for misapplication of the means of life. Wherefore this divine apostle, who had been honoured with so near an admittance into his master’s mind, and lain so familiarly in the bosom of truth, endeavours to give the world a right information about this so great and concerning affair in this chapter, and particularly in these words; in which we have these two parts.

I. An account of Christ’s coming into the world, 235 in this expression; The Son of God was manifested.

II. The end and design of his coming; which was, to destroy the works of the Devil.

I. As for the first of these, the manifestation of the Son of God, though it principally relates to the actual coming of Christ into the world, according to my application of it to the present purpose, yet it is a term of a larger comprehension; and so ought to carry our notice both to passages before and after his nativity. For as in the coming of a prince, or great person, to any place, the pomp of harbingers and messengers is as it were some appearance of him before he is seen; so Christ declared himself at vast distances of time, by many semblances and intimations, enough to raise, though not to satisfy the world’s expectation.

We shall find him first exhibited in promises, and those as early as the first need of a Saviour, even immediately after the fall; by such an hasty provision of mercy, that there might be no dark interval between man’s misery and his hope of recovery; Gen. iii. 15, The seed of the woman shall break the serpent’s head. He was afterwards further shadowed out in types and sacrifices, and such other emblems and arts of signification; still with this method of proceeding, that the manifestation brightened and grew greater and greater, according to the nearer and nearer approach of the full discovery.

He that at first was known only as the seed of the woman, was in process of time known to be the seed of Abraham, Gen. xxii. 18. And after that, the seed of David, in Isaiah xi. 1. And from thence 236proceeding to greater particularities relating to the manner of his coming, he was known to be born of a virgin, Isaiah vii. 14. And for the place where; to be born at Bethlem, Micah v. 2. And for his person and condition, that he should be a man of sorrows, Isaiah liii. 3. And that he should suffer and die for sin, verse 8. That he should rise again, Psalm xvi. 10. That he should ascend into heaven, and lead captivity captive, &c. Psalm lxviii. 18. That he should reign till he had subdued his enemies, and saw the world brought under him, Psalm cx. 1. Thus by a continual gradation the promise advanced itself with further steps and increases, shining more and more unto a perfect day; displaying fresh and fuller discoveries through the several ages of the world; every new degree of manifestation being a mercy great enough to oblige an age.

But when at length prophecy ripened into event, and shadows gave way upon the actual appearance of the substance, in the birth of Christ, yet then, though the Son of God could be but once born, he ceased not to be frequently manifested: there was a choir of angels to proclaim his nativity, and a new star to be his herald; the wise men of the east came to worship a new sun, where they saw and acknowledged the first miracle of his birth, a star appearing when the sun was up. When he disputed with the doctors, every argument was a demonstration of his deity; and during the whole course of his ministry, all the mighty works he did were further manifestations of a divine nature wrapped up in the flesh: even his death proved, that there was something in him that could not die; and the very 237effects of mortality, by a strange antiperistasis, declared him to be immortal; 1 Pet. iii. 18, Put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit. And lastly, after all this, the perfection and height of evidence shone forth in the stupendous passage of his resurrection; in which, according to the apostle Paul’s phrase, Rom. i. 4, he was declared to be the Son of God with power. God made it his business to shew him publicly, to hold him up to be seen, admired, and believed in. Every thing that concerned him was writ in capital letters, and such as might not only entertain, but help the sight.

Now upon the strength of this consideration it is, that we pronounce the Jews inexcusable for persisting in their unbelief. Concerning which as we are to observe, that in order to the convincing of men’s belief, it is not only required that the proposition, proposed to be believed, be in itself true, but that it also appear such; so Christ, to comply with the strictest methods of human reason, asserted his being the Son of God with such invincible arguments, that he was manifested to be so: yea, and to that degree, that the Jews’ rejection of him is not stated upon ignorance, or the cause of it want of evidence in the thing that they were to know; but upon the malice and depravation of their wills acting counter to their knowledge, in John xv. 24; If I had not done amongst them the works which no other man did, they had not had sin: but now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father. It was not a blind hatred; they saw well enough what they did: they had an open, as well as an evil eye; a resolved obstinacy to outlook the sun and outstare the light.

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For so was Christ, he was the light of the world; and nothing is more manifest or visible than that which manifests both itself and all things else; and needs no invitation to the eye, but will certainly enter, unless it be forcibly kept out.

But they were purposed not to believe their eyes; to question whether it was day when the sun shined; to doubt whether he that did the works of God was sent by God; whether miracles could prove any thing, or signs could signify; and lastly, whether he that fulfilled all prophecies was intended by them. It is clear therefore, that the Jews rejected the Son of God, not because he was not manifested, but because they delighted to be ignorant, and to be sceptics and unbelievers even in spite of evidence.

And thus much for the first thing, the manifestation of the Son of God: pass we now to the next, which is, the end of his manifestation, that he might destroy the works of the Devil.

In the prosecution of which I shall first shew, 1. What were those works of the Devil that the Son of God destroyed: 2. And secondly, the means and ways by which he destroyed them.

1st. For the first of these. I reduce the works of the Devil, destroyed by the manifestation of the Son of God, to these three: 1. Delusion: 2. Sin: 3. Death.

There is a natural coherence and concatenation between these: for sin being a voluntary action, and so the issue of the will, presupposes a default in the understanding, which was to conduct the will in its choices: and then when the delusion and inadvertency of the understanding has betrayed the will to sin, the consequent and effect of sin is death. 239Christ therefore, that came to repair the breaches and to cure the miseries of human nature, and to redeem it from that phrensy into which it had cast itself, designs the removal and conquest of all these three.

1. And first for delusion. The Devil, as his masterpiece and first art of ruining mankind, was busy to sow the seeds of error and fallacy in the guide of action, their understanding. And surely he has not gained higher trophies over any faculty of man’s nature than this. For where, upon a survey of the world lying under gentilism, can we find truth even in principles of speculation, but much less in those of practice?

As for the first fundamental thing, the original of nature and the beginning of the world; what dissonant and various opinions may we find, and consonant in nothing but their absurdity! Some will not allow it to have had any beginning; others refer it to accident. And those who acknowledge it to have been efficiently framed and produced by an infinite eternal mind, yet assert the matter and rude chaos, out of which he framed it, to have been as old, or rather as eternal as the artificer. Thus ridiculously making two eternals, and one of them infinitely imperfect; whereas the very notion of eternity and self-existence, pursued into its due consequences, must of necessity infer an infinite perfection in all other respects whatsoever. For all imperfection and finiteness proceeds from the restraint of a superior cause: and what cause could limit that which had no cause; and keep that which had its being from itself, from having all the perfections of being?

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And for the principles of practice, they were equally ridiculous and uncertain. Some fixed the chief good of man in pleasure, some in contemplation, and some thrust the means into the place of the end, and made the chief good of man to act virtuously; whereas indeed the chief good was to enjoy God, and the way to attain it was to act virtuously. And then if you would know what they understood by acting virtuously, you would find them stating the rates of virtue so, that many actions were taken into that number, which we account vicious and unwarrantable. Ambition was an excellent thing amongst them, and an insatiable desire of honour a current virtue. Lust, if it did not proceed to adultery, that is, to a downright act of injustice, was accounted a very innocent and allowable recreation. In a word, they were at an infinite loss where to state the ground and reason of men’s actions; and all their practical maxims were deficient at least, if not unjust.

And for those that acknowledged God for the end of all that they were to do, yet did they pursue the enjoyment of that end by means any ways suitable or proportionable to it? Did they worship him as God? No, we know, that they waxed vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened: they changed the glory of the eternal, all-wise, incorruptible God, into the images of silly, sinful, mortal men; nay, and what is yet more incredible and intolerable, into the similitude of beasts, and fowls, and creeping things. All this time worshipping the works of their own hands, or at least using them as instruments of worship and proper conveyances of divine adoration to God himself, held 241forth to them by such ways of representation; which was a great absurdity in reason, a great impiety in religion, and an horrible injury and affront to the Deity: for could any thing be more injurious, than that men should take their notions of God from such resemblances; and then depress their religious worship of him to the proportion of those notions?

Now all this was done by the wisest of the heathens, by the philosophers, the sages, the governors and teachers of the rest of the world; and if these could so degenerate and ride down their reason to such a strange weakness and deception, what can we think of the rout and the vulgar, who could not salve their idolatry with art and distinction? They certainly were in outer darkness, in such thick darkness as might be felt. Their priests’ images were their realities; and what they saw with their eyes they worshipped with their heart, thinking of no other deity but what shined upon them in the golden statue or the curious picture; still raising their devotion as the skill of the graver had advanced the object.

But then, since the exercise of virtue is not to be bound upon men’s consciences, (at least respecting the generality of men,) but by hopes and fears grounded upon the proposal of future rewards and punishments; if we look further, and consider how they acquitted themselves in giving an account of these to the world, we need require no further account of the error and delusion under which the Devil had sealed them. All the reward they proposed to virtue, even in its greatest austerities, self-denials, and forbearances, was to live for ever in the Elysian fields. A goodly reward indeed; a man 242must forego many of his pleasures, defy his clamorous appetites, and submit to many inconveniences in pursuing the rigidum honestum, the harshnesses of virtue: and afterwards, for all this, we shall be gratified with taking a turn now and then in a fair meadow.

And then the punishments they designed for ill lives were no ways inferior in point of unlikelihood and absurdity: as the filling of tubs full of holes, which let out the water as fast as it was poured in. The rolling of a great stone up a steep mountain, which perpetually returned back upon the person that forced it upwards. The being whipt with snakes by three furies. The being bound hand and foot upon a rock, and having one’s liver gnawed by a vulture; still growing and renewing itself according as it was devoured. These and such like old wives’ or old poets’ fables they amused the world withal; which could keep nobody that was witty from being wicked: all awe and dread vanishing upon the discovery of such ill-contrived cheats, such thin and transparent fallacies.

Yet this was the economy of the religion of the gentiles before the coming of the Messiah. And for that little handful of men, that God chose from the rest of the world, to impart his law to them, the church of the Jews; even this, sometimes before the birth of Christ, was like an enclosed garden overrun with weeds, the very influences it lived under being noxious and pestilential. Their fountains were poisoned: their teachers were only so many authentic perverters of the law; so many doctors of heresy and immorality; abusing the authority of Moses while they sat in his chair. So that there was a 243kind of universal error and delusion, and that in matters of the greatest importance, spread over all nations, by that diligent, indefatigable enemy of truth and mankind the Devil. This being his groundwork, to delude men’s apprehensions, that so he might command their services: and so blind were their eyes, that he might lead them whither he would.

2. The second great work of the Devil to be destroyed by the manifestation of the Son of God, was sin. It were a sad story to give a full account of this. For the truth is, the Devil deceived men only for this cause, to make them sinful. And such was his cursed success in this attempt, and the vile fertility of this ill thing brought by him into the world, that it conveyed a general infection into all the faculties of man: so that at length the thoughts of his heart were evil, and only evil, and that continually, Gen. vi. 5. It had so corrupted and fouled the world, that it put God to attempt the cleansing of it by a deluge. But neither so was the work effected; for after so many sinners were cashiered, yet sin still survived, and grew and multiplied, like a plant rather watered only than drowned; thriving and increasing as fast as those that peopled the world by a commission and command from heaven.

It would be a fearful sight to see those sins that have stained man’s nature ranked into their several kinds and degrees, and displayed in their filthy colours: to see one nation branded with one vice; another nation notorious for another; and each in some degree tainted with all. St. John tells us, that the whole world lies in wickedness, 1 John v. 19. And St. Paul gives us a large account of the 244vices of the gentile world, in Rom. i. from the 26th verse to the end of the chapter. They were possessed with vile affections, acted by unnatural lusts, delivered over to a reprobate mind, being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, &c. And for a concluding epiphonema, it is said of them in the last verse, that knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in those that do them. And certainly for men to take pleasure not only in their own sins, but also in the sins of other men, is the very height and perfection of an overgrown impiety: yet thus far were they arrived. Every one delighted to see the sin of his own temper and practice exemplified, and so in a manner countenanced by another man’s behaviour; to see himself transcribed, and his vice propagated into the manners of those that were about him.

And to proceed further, their vice did not only reign in their ordinary converse, but also got into their divine worship: and as before I shew that they worshipped their gods idolatrously and foolishly; so their histories tell us that they worshipped them also viciously: revels, drunkenness, and lasciviousness, were the peculiar homage and religious service that they performed to them. What were their bacchanalia, but solemn debauches in honour of a drunken deity? And the rites of their bona dea, in which Publius Clodius was deprehended under the habit of a woman, were transacted with so much filth and villainous impurity, that they are scarce to be thought of without a trespass upon modesty. 245Now certainly if these courses could propitiate or please their deities, there could be no such dishonour or defiance to them, as the practices of virtue and sobriety.

We see here to what a maturity sin was grown amongst the heathens: and amongst the Jews it was not much shortened in its progress. For what are all the writings of the prophets, but so many loud declarations of the prevailing sway that sin had amongst them? How does Isaiah complain, that the faithful city was become an harlot! Isaiah i. 21. How does Jeremy bemoan himself, that he was constrained to dwell and converse with so much impiety, in chap. ix. 2; Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them! for they be all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. And again, in verse 4, Take ye heed every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any brother: for every brother will utterly supplant. It seems there was scarce truth and sincerity enough amongst them to serve the common intercourses of society and human life. The truth is, he that fully enlarges himself upon this theme must be endless and infinite, and declaim to eternity. But now when such an enormous corruption of manners had seized upon the church, to whom was committed the law of God, and the living oracles, and all the means of instruction to piety and virtue, and whatsoever was excellent; what was to be expected, but that God should either destroy or reform the world?

And therefore having pitched upon the latter, it was now full time for him to send his Son, to 246cleanse this Augean stable, to purge away the dross of the world; for this was the design of his coming, Mal. iii. 2, 3, to be like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s sope, to purify the sons of Levi, and to purge them as gold and silver; and if it were possible, to recover the world to its former innocence, or at least to such a degree of it, as to break the sceptre and kingdom of the wicked one, who triumphed in the possession that he had got of men’s hearts, by the sin that dwelt there, and raged in their lives.

Would we know the great purpose that brought Christ out of his Father’s bosom, and clothed him with the infirmities and meannesses of our nature, and made him submit to all the indignities that an obscure birth, an indigent life, and an ignominious death could bring upon him? Why it was not through these miseries to acquire a crown, and to advance his glory; for this he had by an eternal birthright, beyond any increase or addition; and his glorification did not so much invest him with any new honour, as restore to him his old.

But all this long and miraculous scene of transactions was to redeem poor mortal men from the beloved bonds and shackles of their sins, to disenslave them from the tyranny of ruling corruptions; to dispossess the usurper, and to introduce the kingdom of God, by setting it up first in men’s minds; to recover all their faculties to the liberty of innocence and purity; and so, in a word, to restore men both to God and to themselves.

Now if this were the grand design of Christ’s coming into the world, to conquer and destroy sin; certainly it concerns us not to celebrate the memory 247of that coming by any thing that may contradict the design of it. To be vain, and dissolute, and intemperate, are strange commemorations of his nativity, who was born into the world to make men otherwise. It is indeed such a solemnity as is the proper and deserved object of our joy; but then it is to be such a joy as is in heaven, of which divine love is the principle, and purity the chief ingredient. And thus much for the second grand work of the Devil, which Christ was manifested to destroy, namely sin.

3. The third and last is death, the inseparable concomitant of the former. This is the Devil’s triumphing work, by which he vaunts and shews forth the spoils of our conquered nature, the marks and trophies of his unhappy victory. For since the first entrance of sin into the world, death has dwelt amongst us, and continued, and with a perpetual, irresistible success prevailed over us. Rom. v. 12. Sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. Sin, as it were, opened the sluice, and death immediately, like a mighty torrent, rushed in, and overwhelmed the world. Or like a commanding enemy, it invaded mankind with a ruining, destructive army following it. Plagues, fevers, catarrhs, consumptions, shame, poverty, and infinite accidental disasters; and the rear of all brought up with death eternal.

But now Christ, intending to be a perfect Saviour, came to destroy this enemy also; for the apostle tells us, in 1 Cor. xv. 26, that the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. Where yet it is not to be understood, that this benefit of Christ is to 248extend to all men; but to those only who should believe, and be renewed by the Spirit, and become the sons of God; these are the persons over whom the second death shall have no power. For since this deliverance proceeds upon the conditions of faith and obedience, those who reach not these conditions are not at all concerned in it; but remaining in sin, are consigned over to death. But some will say, Do not saints and believers die as well as the wicked and unbelievers? I answer, that though they do, yet the sting of death is taken away; so that from a curse, it is made a means to translate them to a better life; and that sickness, misery, or temporal death, that has nothing of curse or punishment in it, but, on the contrary, ends in that that gives an end to all misery, according to the estimate of God, comes not into the accounts of death. And this is sufficient to render Christ truly and properly a conqueror of death; that he actually conquers and destroys it in some, and has it in his power to do it in all others, would they but come up to those terms upon which only he is pleased to do it.

2dly. And thus I have shewn what those works of the Devil are, for the destruction of which the Son of God was manifested. I come now to the last thing proposed, which is to shew, what are the ways and means by which he destroys them. Where we must observe, that as those works of the Devil were three, so Christ encounters them by those three distinct offices belonging to him as mediator.

1. As a prophet, he destroys and removes that delusion that had possessed the world, by those divine and saving discoveries of truth exhibited in the doctrine 249and religion promulged by him. The apostle tells the Athenians, that before the coming of Christ God winked at the ignorance and idolatry that had blinded the gentiles; but after his coming, commanded all men every where to repent, Acts xvii. 30. And in chap. xiv. 15, he tells the men of Lystra, that the design of his preaching was, that they should turn from those vanities unto the living God. And still we find, that according as the gospel found reception and success, men began to be undeceived, and to shake off the yoke of their former delusions. In Acts xix. 19 we find, that upon the preaching of the gospel, those that were addicted to magic and conjuration, brought their books, though of never so great value, and burnt them publicly, as a sacrifice to the honour of Christ, and a solemn owning of the efficacy of that religion. And again, in 2 Tim. i. 10, the apostle tells us, that it was Christ that brought life and immortality to light. The heathens’ notion about the future estate of souls was absurd and phantastic; and that which the Jews had was but dim and obscure: but Christ cleared it up to mankind, under evidence and demonstration; he uttered things kept secret from the foundation of the world; he unlocked and opened the cabinet of God’s hidden counsels, and has afforded means to enlarge men’s knowledge in proportion to their concernment.

In a word, the doctrine of Christ gives the best account of the nature of God and of the nature of man; of the first entrance of sin into the world, and of its cure and remedy: of those terms upon which God will transact with mankind, and upon which men must approach to God in point of worship, and 250depend upon him in reference to rewards. And this is the circle of knowledge necessary and sufficient to make mankind what they so much desire to be, happy. Which if it be sought for any where but in the discoveries of Christianity, it is like seeking for the living amongst the dead; or the expectation of a vintage from a field of thistles. All that the philosophers teach about these things is either falsity or conjecture; and so tends either to make men sinful, or at the best unsatisfied.

But Christ was to be a light to the gentiles; and there is no cozenage in the light, no fallacy in the day: wheresoever he shines, mists presently vanish, and delusions disappear.

2. As for the second work of the Devil, sin, this the Son of God destroyed as a priest, by that satisfaction that he payed down for it; and by that supply of grace that he purchased, for the conquering and rooting it out of the hearts of believers. By the former he destroys the guilt of sin, by the latter the power. Christ when he was in his lowest condition, suffering upon the cross as a malefactor, even then he broke the chief support of the Devil’s kingdom, and triumphed over his strongest principality, in cashiering the guilt and loosing the bands of sin by a full expiation.

Sin, that has so much venom in it as to poison a whole creation, to kindle an eternal fire and an unsupportable wrath, to shut up the bowels of an infinite mercy to poor perishing creatures, and, in a word, to overturn and confound the whole universe; yet being once satisfied for, it is a weak and harmless thing; it is a lion without teeth, or a snake without a sting.

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But none could make it so but the Son of God, the eternal high priest of souls, who exhausted the guilt and full measure of its malignity, by a superabundant ransom given for sinners to the offended justice of his Father.

3. As for the third and last work of the Devil, which is death; this Christ, as he is a king, destroys by his power: for it is he that has the keys of life and death,, opening where none shuts, and shutting where none opens: this even amongst men is the peculiar prerogative of princes. At the command of Christ the sea shall give up its dead, the graves shall open, and deliver up their trust; and all the devourers of nature shall make a faithful restitution.

And surely this is that which should comfort every Christian when he is upon his death-bed, and about to lay his head upon a pillow of dust, and to take his long sleep; that he has the greatest ground in the world to expect that he shall rise again, if an omnipotence can awaken him, if the eternal Son of God can snap asunder the bonds of death, and if the word of the King of kings can give him assurance of all this.

Christ has fully finished the work for which he was manifested; he has vanquished the Devil, beat down all his forts, frustrated his stratagems; and so having delivered his elect, in spite of delusion, sin, and death, and all other destructive contrivances for the ruin of souls; as a king and a conqueror he is set down at the right hand of the Most High, receiving the homage of praises and hallelujahs from saints and angels, who are continually saying, Blessing, honour, glory, and power, be unto him that 252sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.

To whom, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, do we also render and ascribe, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for ever. Amen.

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