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For it is a people of no understanding: therefore lie that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no favour.
THIS chapter is one of the eloquent strains of the most oratorical of the prophets, describing a severe judgment to be inflicted on the Jews, in the deplorable destruction of Jerusalem, the demolishing their stately buildings, and the wasting their pleasant and delightful habitations. All this is set down in the 10th and 11th verses; the defenced city shall be desolate: no defence or munition can keep out a judgment, when commissioned by God to enter. And the habitation forsaken: when God forsakes a place, the inhabitants do not stay long behind. And there shall the calf feed, there shall he lie down: when men forget their Maker, and degenerate into brutish affections, it is but just with him, that they, who have changed affections with beasts, should change dwellings with them too. When the boughs thereof are withered, &c. For the exposition of these words, we must note, that they admit of a double construction.
1. They may be either understood literally, and so they set forth the destruction of Jerusalem, in the devastation of the pleasant gardens and vineyards; which shall be left so desolate, that the vines and 363trees shall wither, and poor women shall come and gather them into bundles, for the making of fires and heating ovens. Thus we see the vintage of sin, and the clusters of Sodom; they destroy the vines, and fire the vineyard.
2. Another sense of these words is figurative and metaphorical: and so this expression, When the boughs thereof are withered, they shall be broken off, signifies thus much: when the inhabitants have filled up the measure of their sins, when they are spiritually withered and dead, and fruitful to no good work, then they shall be broken off, and ruined with the heaviest destruction. And to aggravate this judgment, to put an edge upon this misery, it is added in the next words, that women shall come and set them on fire: that is, a womanish and effeminate generation of men (for such were the Babylonians) shall triumph over them. A hint of their luxury we have in the seventh chapter of Joshua; it was a Babylonish garment that enamoured Achan. We know how Lucian brings in Menippus, speaking of Sardanapalus, one of the womanish kings of Babylon. Ἐπίτρεψον μὴ ὦ Ἑρμῆ τὴν Σαρδανάπαλον πατάξαι κατὰ κόῤῥης. Now a generous spirit, that has the least spark of honour and virility, does not feel so much smart in the punishment, as in the unworthiness of the hand that does inflict it. And this was the emphasis of Samson’s disgrace, to be held in captivity by a woman. And it is the height and aggravation of this judgment, for men to be fired and destroyed by women; the valiant to be made a prey to the luxurious.
And thus having described the judgment, he does in the next words assign a reason of it; for it is a 364 people of no understanding. One would have thought that ignorance should have excused the sin: he that sins out of ignorance is rather to be pitied than punished. Is any father so cruel, so hardhearted, as to disown and cast off his son, be cause he is a fool? No; an innocent ignorance excuses from sin, both before God and man: and God himself will own that maxim of equity, Ignorantia excusat peccatum. But then there is another sort of ignorance, which is not an ignorance of an empty understanding, but of a depraved heart; such an ignorance as does not only consist in a bare privation, but in a corrupt disposition; where the under standing is like that sort of blind serpents, whose blindness is attended with much venom and malignity. This was such a blindness as struck the Sodomites; there was darkness in their eyes, and withal, villainy in their hearts. There is an ignorance that could not be remedied, the schools call it an invincible ignorance, and this excuses from sin, and that deservedly; for this is a man’s unhappiness, not his fault. But there is also an affected ignorance, such an one as is contracted by a wilful neglect of the means; and this is not excusing, but condemning. Such a want of understanding it was, that is here charged upon the Jews, as the sad occasion of this woful punishment: for they had large and enriching means of grace; the mysteries of God, the arcana coeli, were intrusted with them, and explained to them; the fountains of this great deep of knowledge were broken up before them. And in this case to be ignorant; in the midst of light to be in darkness; for an Israel to have an Egypt in a Goshen; this is highly provoking, and may justly 365cause God to lay hold on vengeance. Where by the way we observe, that some want of understanding, some ignorance, is so far from excusing sin, that it is its highest aggravation: It is a people of no under standing: therefore he that made them, &c.
Here we ought also to note, in what strange terms God expresses his anger. It is not said, the Lord, the just God will punish them; this was not so wonderful: little to be expected from God’s justice but a sinner’s misery. No; God assumes the most endearing titles, and under them gives the severest judgments: he joins the creator and the destroyer, such expressions as almost confute one another: he clothes himself in the robes of mercy, and in these pronounces the sentence of death upon the sinner.
From the words thus explained, we may naturally deduce these two observations.
I. The relation of a Creator strongly engages God to put forth acts of love and favour towards his creature.
This is clear from the strength of the antithesis in the words, he that made them will not save them: where, for the advantage of the expression, it is redoubled; he that formed them will shew them no favour. As if he should say, It may seem strange to you that your Creator, which very name speaks nothing but bowels of love and tenderness, should break and ruin, utterly confound and destroy you. Yet thus it must be; though the relation make it strange, yet your sins will make it true.
II. Sin does totally disengage God from all those acts of love and goodness to the creature, that the relation of a Creator can engage him to.
Or more clearly thus:366
There is more provocation in sin for God to destroy, than there is obligation upon him as a Creator to preserve the creature.
Conclusion the first, viz. That the relation of a Creator strongly obliges God, &c.
The strength of this obligement appears in these two considerations.
1. That it is natural; and natural obligements, as well as natural operations, are always the strongest.
2. That God put this obligement upon himself; therefore it must needs be a great and a strong one: and this is clear, because the relation of a Creator is, in order of nature, antecedent to the being of the creature; which not existing, could not oblige God to create it, or assume this relation.
There are three engaging things, that are implied in the creature’s relation to God, that oblige him to manifest himself in a way of goodness to it.
1. The first is, the extract or original of the creature’s being, which is from God himself. It is the nature of every artificer to tender and esteem his own work: and if God should not love his creature, it would reflect some disparagement upon his workmanship, that he should make any thing which he could not own. God’s power never produces what his goodness cannot embrace. God oftentimes, in the same man, distinguishes between the sinner and the creature; as a creature he can love him, while as a sinner he does afflict him. Hence arises that dearness between the parent and the child: what wonder is it to see him in his father’s arms, who before lay in his loins? or to see that child admitted to the bosom, that before lay in the womb? It is mentioned as a sign of strange, unnatural disaffection in the 367ostrich, that it hardens itself against its young ones, Job xxxix. 16. It has a stony heart without love; a flint without fire. God is not an heathen god, a Saturn, to devour his children. It casts an obligement upon the very place where we are born to regard us; and if there be no father known, it ought not only to be our country, but our parent.
Now the creature’s deriving its being from God, includes in it two other endearing considerations.
(1.) It puts a certain likeness between God and the creature. The foundation of love is laid in the likeness that is between things: now the likeness that is between the creature and the Creator consists in this, that he has taken it into the participation and society of that great privilege of being: and it is in respect of this that the creature is a copy of God, a rough draught of some perfection that is in his Maker. What is written in a large, fair character in him, is imprinted upon the creature in a small. Now although God loathes and abominates any likeness that we make of him, yet he loves and embraces the likeness that he has drawn of himself. And as, in respect of holiness, it is not the perfection of it only that God accepts, but he is ready to cherish our very breathings and longings after righteousness; he will embrace purity, not only in practice, but in inclination. So for the perfections of being; though he does absolutely acquiesce in the contemplation of his own, yet he does not despise those weaker draughts of it, visible in created things; but is ready to own whatsoever he sees of himself in the creature: and, like the sun, can, with much serenity, behold his image in the lowest waters. Every thing has a 368 strong interest in that, by which it had its being and beginning.
(2.) Whatsoever comes from God, by way of creation, is good; and so, by reason of the native agreement that is between that and the will of God, there naturally does result an act of love: for where there is nothing but goodness on the creature’s part, there can be nothing but love on God’s. Although the acts of God’s love do not always presuppose a moral goodness; for he loves the persons of the elect, while they are unconverted: yet it is probable, that the acts of dislike presuppose a want of that goodness. Though a man is not always good before God loves him, yet many are so favourable as to think, that he is always evil before he hates him; those especially that are of this judgment, that in the very act of man’s reprobation, God did not reprobate him as a man, but as a sinner. Now the creature as such, and immediately issuing from the hands of God, has no evil cleaving to it, to provoke his detestation; but, like a sword, comes shining out of the hands of the artificer, though afterward it chance to gather rust. God made man upright; however since, he has sought out to himself many inventions. And this is the first consideration that endears the creature to God, viz. the original of its being.
2. The second thing that bespeaks God’s love to the creature is, the dependence of its being upon God. As the fruit is produced by the tree, so it hangs upon the tree. If by creation the creature is endeared to God, then much more by its dependence upon him; for this is founded upon a continual creation. Every creature is upheld from relapsing into 369nothing, by a continual influence of that creative power by which it was made. A moral dependence upon any one, that is, the voluntary placing of all a man’s hopes and confidence upon the goodness of such an one, puts a strong obligement upon the party confided in, to employ the utmost of his power and interest to preserve and defend that man. For to desert him who relies upon me; to elude those hopes, that have no refuge but myself; for that reed, upon which I lean, to pierce my hand; this is a thing that ordinary humanity would detest. But now the natural dependence of the creature upon God is much greater, and consequently much more obliging, than the moral dependence of one man upon another; forasmuch as that is necessary, this voluntary, and from choice. If I desert a man that depends upon me, I disappoint his hopes; but if God forsakes the creature, he disappoints his being. Not to give a being to a thing, could be no misery to it; because to be miserable, presupposes first to be: but when it has a being, then to desert or for sake it, this is a calamity, and an evil to that very existence of which God himself was author; and he will not thus deal with the creature till he is provoked. The same goodness which did incite him to make a thing before it was, certainly, now it is made, will much more oblige him to preserve it. Not to beget a child, could be no injury to it; but when it is begot, and born, to deny it food and education, this is an inhuman, an unfatherly temper. He that does not provide for his family, the Spirit of God counts him worse than an infidel, 1 Tim. v. 8; and the reason is, because his family has a dependence upon him. The creature’s depending upon God, engages 370 him to uphold it with love and mercy. A poor, empty bladder, if we rely upon it, will keep us from sinking: if we hold fast upon any thing, it will rescue us from falling. He that took Israel, as an eagle does her young, and bore him upon his wings, as it is elegantly expressed, Deut. xxxii. 11, would he, think you, without cause, have let him fall? This we may be assured of, that those impressions of love and compassion that are in us, are also in God; only with this difference, that in him they are infinite.
3. The third consideration that engages the love of God to the creature is this; that the end of the creature’s being is God’s glory. Now God, that loves his own glory, must needs also respect the instrument that advances it. There is no artificer, that intends a work, that would break his tools. Why does a man tender and regard his servant, but be cause he is for his use? The ability and aptness of the creature for the serving of God’s use, does induce God so far to preserve him. For he that has a rational respect to the end, must of necessity bear a suitable affection to the means. The being of the creatures stands related by the tie of a natural connection to God’s glory; they are the materials of his praise. Hence we have the business excellently stated by the prophet Isaiah, chap. xxxviii. 18, 19, The grave cannot praise thee; death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down to the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee. God’s glory is the motto inscribed upon every created being; and wheresoever God reads, he owns this superscription. It is all the creature has, under God’s hand and seal, to shew for its life. As 371God stampt a mark upon Cain to secure him from men, so it is this that secures us, in respect of God. Whatsoever we are, we are not our own, but his. We are by nature servants to the interest of his glory; and if my life, my actions are devoted to such an one’s service, I may very well claim a maintenance from him whose interest I serve. And thus much of the third thing that endears God’s love to the creature, viz. the designation of its being for the use of his glory.
II. I proceed to the second proposition, to shew how sin disengages and takes off God from all those acts of favour, that the relation of a creation engaged him to.
1. It turns that which, in itself, is an obligation of mercy, to be an aggravation of the offence. True it is, to make a creature, to give it being upon a rational ground, is an argument of love. But for a creature to sin against him from whom it had its whole being; and that a puny creature, the first born of nothing, a piece of creeping clay, one whom, as God created, so he might uncreate with a breath; for such an one to fly in his Creator’s face! this gives a deeper die to sin; this makes it ten times more sinful. What, my son! the son of my womb! the son of my vows! dost thou give thy strength to women? What, my creature! the work of my hands! the product of my power! and the object of my care! dost thou sin against me? dost thou dishonour me? The treason of an Absalom, the stab of a Brutus, is doubled by the circumstance of so near a relation. The nearer the party that offends, the distance is so much the wider. Nemo tam prope, tam proculque; none so near in respect of alliance, 372 none so far off in respect of the offence. Between friends, the same friendship that passes by some affronts, heightens others. It is the cause why some are pardoned, and why some cannot, ought not to be pardoned. Such an one speaks slightly of me, but my friendship pleads his pardon; yes, but he endeavoured to take away my life, my reputation; the same friendship speaks this injury unpardonable; in Psalm lv. 12, 13, If it had been an enemy, I could have borne it; but it was thou, mine equal, mine acquaintance. The relation of a Creator is always very strong, and before sin, this strength appears in love; but after sin, the same strength vents itself in revenge. Where it meets with holiness, it protects; where it meets with sin, it destroys; as the same wind that carries a ship well ballasted, if ill rigged or accoutred, it drowns it. The same strength of constitution that keeps off diseases from the body, when it comes to be infected, and to comply with a disease, quickens its dissolution. The same argument that proves this assertion, by a subtle inversion of the terms, will prove the contrary. The same relation of a Creator, that endears God to the innocent, fires him against a sinner. God looks upon the soul, as Amnon did upon Tamar: while it was a virgin, he loved it; but now it is defloured, he hates it. We read in the law, that he that cursed his father was to be stoned to death: we do not read, that if he had cursed another, he had been dealt withal so severely. One would have thought, that the nearness of a father would have saved him; but it was this alone that condemned him. Build not therefore upon the sandy foundation of a false surmise of God’s mercy as a Creator; for this relation 373is (as I may so speak) indifferent, and may be determined, as to its influence, either to be helpful or destructive, according to the goodness or badness of the creature. While thou doest well, it will embrace thee; but upon the least transgression, it will confound thee. The same sword that now hangs by thy side, and defends thee, may be one day brought to run thee through.
2. Sin disengages God from shewing love to the creature, by taking away that similitude that is between God and him; which, as has been observed, was one cause of that love. The creature, indeed, still retains that resemblance of God, that consists in being; but the greatest resemblance, that consists in moral perfections, this is totally lost and defaced. A mere existence or being is an indifferent thing, (it is a rasa tabula,) that may be coloured over with sin or holiness: and accordingly it receives its value from these; as a picture is esteemed not from the materials upon which it is drawn, but from the draught itself. Holiness elevates the worth of the being in which it is, and is of more value than the being itself. As in scarlet, the bare dye is of greater value than the cloth. Sin debases the being in which it is; and makes the soul more unlike God, in respect of its qualities, than it is like him in respect of its substance. It is not the alliance of flesh and blood, but the resemblance of virtue, that makes the greatest likeness between the father and the son. Consanguinity and likeness of features will not so much incite him to love, as a dissimilitude, by reason of vice, will cause him to disinherit him. Better have no son, than a prodigal, profane, unclean son; better not to be a man, than an irreligious man; better an 374 innocent nothing, than a sinful being. God has shed some of his perfections upon the natural fabric of the soul, in that he made it a spiritual, immaterial substance, refined from all the dross of body and matter: but the chief perfection of it consisted in this, that he did adorn it with holiness. As the temple of Solomon was glorious, because built with cedar; but its chief magnificence was the over laying it with gold. But now, when this part of God’s image is blotted out, he cannot read his likeness in the soul’s other perfections. Be the soul ever so spiritual in its substance, yet if it be carnal in its affections; be it ever so purified from the grossness of body, yet if it be polluted with the corruption of sin; it has nothing to shew why God should not disown it, even to its eternal perdition. If we meet with a letter drawn over with filthy, scurrilous, unbecoming lines, the fineness of the paper will not rescue it from the fire. It is not thy strength, thy wit, thy eloquence, that God so much regards; these indeed may adorn thee, but it is thy holiness that must save thee. A sinner appearing before God, adorned with the greatest confluence of natural endowments, is like Agag presenting himself to Samuel in his costly robes: the richness of his attire could not compound for the vileness of his person. When those glorious pleas shall be produced in the court of heaven; We have prophesied, we have cast out devils, we have wrought wonders; God shall answer them with one word, weightier than them all, but ye have sinned. Howsoever we flatter ourselves, and misjudge of things, yet God will overlook all the natural perfections of the soul, and punish us for want of moral.375
3. Sin discharges God from shewing love to the creature, by taking off the creature from his dependence upon God. I know it cannot dissolve its natural dependence: for in God we live, and move, and have our being, Acts xvii. 28, whether we will or no. But our moral dependence, which is a filial reliance and recumbency upon God, this it destroys. For in sin the creature quits his hold of God, and seeks to shift for himself, to find his happiness within the centre of his own endeavours, totally departing and apostatizing from God; for sin is properly defined, aversio a Creatore ad creaturam. It was an absolute, independent happiness that was aimed at in the first sin, which made it so detestable. Our first parents, they would be as gods, they would have an αὐτάρκεια, a self-sufficience; they would stand upon their own bottom, without the support of divine influence; they would fetch all their happiness from within, without repairing to the bounty of Providence. Now when the creature depends upon God, and yet scorns to own this dependence; but in a high strain of arrogance would derive his satisfaction entirely from himself; this is the highest provocation. For one to live upon an alms, and yet to scorn an alms; to be a proud beggar; through weakness to lean upon another; and yet through pride to pretend to go alone: this is odious and in sufferable; a temper made up of those two abominable ingredients, pride and ingratitude. He that pretends to live upon his own means, does not deserve the continuance of his pension: he that will not acknowledge his felicity from his Creator, deserves to lose it. If we depart and quit our reliance upon God, it is but equitable for him to let go his 376 hold of us; if we desire to be miserable, can we blame him, if he punisheth us with the answer of our own desires? God is not so married to us by creation, but if we leave him voluntarily, it may be the just cause of a perpetual divorce. Yea, sin proceeds so far, as that although the creature cannot dissolve its natural dependence upon God, yet there is nothing that it desires more, and it proceeds to attempt it as far as it is able, that is, in a wish. What would the damned, forlorn spirits give to wring themselves out of God’s hand by annihilation? What would the devils give for a full discharge from their being? Job speaks the natural desire of a tormented sinner; Job vi. 8, 9, Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! even that it would please God to destroy me! And thus we see how sin takes off the creature from its dependence upon God: first, in the commission of sin, he let go his dependence, as to his confidence; and then in the punishment of sin, he would willingly let it go, as to his very being.
4. Sin disengages the love of God to the creature, because it renders the creature useless, as to the end for which it was designed. Things, whose essence and being stand in relation to such an end, have their virtue and value from their fitness to attain it. Every thing is ennobled from its use, and debased as far as it is useless. As long as a man continues an instrument of God’s glory, so long his title to life and happiness stands sure, and no longer. But now, sin in scripture, and in God’s account, is the death of the soul; Ephes. ii. 1, We were dead in trespasses and sins. Now death makes a thing 377utterly useless, because it renders it totally unactive; and in things that are naturally active, that which deprives them of their action, bereaves them of their use. The soul, by reason of sin, is unable to act spiritually; for sin has disordered the soul, and turned the force and edge of all its operations against God: so that now it can bring no glory to God by doing, but only by suffering, and being made miserable. It is now unfit to obey his commands, and fit only to endure his strokes. It is uncapable by any active communion, or converse with him, to enjoy his love, and a proper object only to bear his anger and revenge. We may take the case in this similitude: A physician or chirurgeon has a servant; while this servant lives honestly with him, he is fit to be used, and to be employed in his occasions; but if this servant should commit a felony, and for that be condemned, he can then be actively serviceable to him no longer; he is fit only for him to dissect, and make an object upon which to shew the experiments of his skill. So while man was yet innocent, he was fit to be used and employed by God in a way of active obedience; but now having sinned, and being sentenced by the law to death as a malefactor, he is a fit matter only for God to torment, and shew the wonders of his vindictive justice upon. In short, sin has unframed the fabric of the whole man; it has made all the members and faculties of his body and soul weapons of unrighteousness, and placed them in open defiance against God. But now God made the world, and the fulness thereof, to display the riches of his glory, and he continues it to this day to advance his great name, and for no other cause. And it is very probable (which is worth our 378 observation) that if other creatures should bring no more glory to God, within the sphere of their actings, than man does, that the world could not^stand, but would certainly provoke God to throw it back into confusion. So long therefore as man continues in sin, he is a useless lump, a burden to God that made him, and to the earth that bears him, an usurper of his being, and a devourer of the creatures that do God more honour and service than himself, not able to think, speak, or do any thing for his glory. And can God preserve such a creature with any credit to his goodness? Will he strain the riches of his mercy to the damage of his honour? Man would provide for his credit better than so; certainly therefore the wise God will much more.
First use, is to obviate and take off that usual and common argument, that is frequently in the mouths of the ignorant, and in the hearts of the most knowing; that certainly God would never make them to destroy them: and therefore since he has made them, they roundly conclude that he will not destroy them. Erasmus said, that he could not presume so far as to hope for heaven; but he thought God was too merciful to send him to hell. Now the very design of the Spirit, in these words, is to anticipate and forestall this objection, which he knew was apt to rise in the hearts of men, who, upon the hearing of God’s fiery judgments, are ready to shelter them selves under such poor, groundless considerations. How does a poor soul strive to dispute and baffle itself into this persuasion! but how feeble and in consequent are all his arguments! God made thee, 379and formed thee: true; but since thou hast sinned against so dear a relation, this very thing is an argument that he should destroy thee: God has imprinted his image upon thee, but sin has defaced it. God is the potter, and thou the vessel; but when the potter has made a vessel, if it chance to leak, or get a crack, the very same hand that made it, will break it in pieces. Thou art God’s possession, a creature designed for his use: true; but sin has made thee totally useless. Thy soul was made an habitation for God himself; but sin and Satan have got it in possession: and when an house or castle is possessed by the enemy, the very owner himself will set it on fire. As long as thou dost remain entire, thou mayest have recourse to God, and he will receive and own thee, upon this score, that thou art his workmanship; but if broken and defiled through sin, he will not own thee upon this account. As when a man makes and sells a watch, while it is entire we may return it, and he will own it, because he made it: but when it is broke, there is no returning it; though it were of his own making, yet he will not receive it. All the wheels, the faculties of the soul, they are disordered and broke; all the motions of it are depraved: and can God, who made nothing but what was good, who gave every thing its due and exact proportion, acknowledge and embrace such a piece of disorder? A child may be so disfigured and deformed, and changed from its native visage by some diseases, that the very father may not know it, but pass it by as none of his. We can now shew nothing but the ruins of our creation, the just argument of our shame before God; but not at all the matter of our plea. We can say, indeed, 380 Here stood God’s image, these understandings were the candle of the Lord, these hearts were the entertaining rooms of Christ, these bodies were the temple of the Holy Ghost; but, alas! what does all this amount to, but a miserum est felicem fuisse? Does former holiness excuse present impiety? Because God embraced us in our purity, must he love us in our sins? Is any person in love with a face because it was beautiful heretofore? Now the reasons, I conceive, from whence men frame these kind of objections, may be these two.
1. A self-love, and a proneness to conceive some extraordinary perfection in themselves, which may, as I may so speak, compound for their misdemeanours. Certainly, says the proud heart, God could not be without the service and attendance that he receives from me; he could not well want that revenue of honour that he receives from my prayers and praises. Though I may have slipt and sinned, yet the excellency of my being will outweigh the merit of my sin; not at all considering, why it should not be as easy for God to create -a new innocent world, as to preserve an old sinful one. It is natural for every carnal heart, upon the commission of sin, instead of repenting for sin, to look out for some good in itself that may countervail the sin. When it lays its sins in one balance, it will lay its perfections in the other. If it must acknowledge its magna vitia, it will take shelter here by opposing non minores virtutes. What is spoke of true, evangelical love, may in another sense be said of this self-love, that it covers a multitude of sins. The soul will never view any of its sinful actions, but through those that are religious; and we may be very confident, that 381many, by reflecting upon some of their good performances, have even by them been emboldened to sin, thinking that those have set them so far before hand with God, that the delinquency of a few sins may well be tolerated. Questionless the pharisee could not have devoured widows’ houses with so good an appetite, had it not been for his long prayers. And it is as little to be doubted, but that we may ascribe it to the persuasion that many have of their piety and regeneration, that they dare give their consciences scope to practise as they do; and by their actions so notoriously to confute their professions. Thus the soul is apt to deck and paint itself, as Jezebel did, upon the approach of Jehu; and then presently to imagine, that God would fall in love with it. But now the Spirit of God is no where more full, than in the beating down this proud self-esteem; to this intent it expresses the most exact of our services by the vilest of things, in Isaiah lxiv. 6, All our righteousness is compared to filthy rags; and in Ezekiel xvi. 5, 6. the sinner in his natural condition is presented wallowing and polluted in his blood, to the loathing of his person. And can we think that these are such amiable objects in God’s eye? Can filth and pollution afford any thing that may enamour God’s affections? If a sinner did but dwell upon the serious meditation of his exceeding vileness by reason of sin, he would never be able to entertain the least thought of meriting acceptance before God.
2. The second reason is, our readiness to think that God is not so exceeding jealous of his honour, but he may easily put up the breach of it, without the ruin of his creature. Nay, we are even apt to 382 doubt, whether or no our sins make any breach upon it at all. For alas! his honour is above the reach of our sins; his glory is so solid and entire, that as it is not capable of receiving any addition from our choicest services, so neither of suffering any diminution from our vilest impieties; neither our goodness nor our evil does extend to him. If we do well, what is he the better? and if we sin, he is not at all the worse. We know the very heavens have this royal property, to be impassible from any thing that is below.
And moreover, what is this sin? Is it not a mere privation? a nothing? so weak, so low, that we can not ascribe any active influence or operation to it? And shall such a nothing, such a mere deficiency, be expiated by nought under the eternal ruin of an immortal soul? Is this such a thing, for which God should keep anger for ever? especially since it is that which gives him so fair an opportunity for the glorifying his dearest attribute, his mercy. For the proper, formal act of mercy is to pardon and to spare: and if the creature had not sinned, how could God have pardoned? Such reasonings as these the soul is apt to mutter out against God. Hence it is that God so often in scripture sets his face against this imagination; he tells us over and over, that he is a jealous God, Exod. xx. 5. xxxiv. 14; and that he will in no wise acquit the guilty, Nahum i. 3. Shall a poor, mortal man, the best of whose glory is but a fading flower. I say, shall he stand so upon the punctilios of his credit, as to vindicate the least breach of his reputation with duel and bloodshed? and shall not the great God vindicate his honour with fire and sword against all transgressors? We shall 383one day see, that it is not so easy a matter to escape God’s revenging justice for sin.
But now to clear off all these pleas and objections of men, I shall state and answer this question, viz.
Whence is it, that the offence of a child against a parent does not disengage him from acting according to the relation of a father? I speak of ordinary offences; for there are some that do, as it were, even dissolve this relation, as has been already specified in him that cursed his father, that was incorrigible, Deut. xxi. 20. In this case, the hand of the parent was to be first upon him, both in his accusation and execution. But now, for ordinary offences, whence is it, that a father ought not upon these to cast off a child? And yet, the least offence against God so far dissolves the relation, as to discharge him from manifesting himself in any further acts of goodness towards the creature; notwithstanding the mercies of God are infinitely, inconceivably greater than the most tender compassions of an earthly father.
In answer to this, to omit this consideration, that a man owes infinitely more to God than to an earthly father, even in respect of those things that he received from his father; God gave him his life, the parent only conveyed it. And shall we owe as much to the casket that brought the jewel, as to the friend that sent it?
But I say, to pass by this,
1. The reason that every ordinary offence does not disentitle a son to the love of his father, as it does the creature to the protection and favour of his Creator, is not from the obliging nature of that relation 384 beyond the other, but from the law and command of God; which, on this side, commands men to exercise a mutual forgiveness of injuries, and so much more obliges the father freely to forgive his son: and, on the other side, the law says, that the soul that has sinned, it shall die. So that God can not, upon the same terms, forgive a sinner: there is a word gone out against him.
2. Every offence of a child against a parent, though it immediately strikes him, yet it is ultimately resolved not into him, but into God, of whose righteous command and law it is a breach and violation. But every offence against God is ultimately resolved into God, and no other. And therefore a father is not so much concerned in an injury offered him by his son, as God in the offence of the creature; and, consequently, he is not so much provoked by that, to let fall the tenderness of a father, as God to lay aside the affection of a Creator.
3. That which hinders an offence from pardon, is the vindicative justice of him against whom the of fence is committed. But there is no such thing as vindicative justice in men one towards another, naturally and from themselves; for they are all equal, and this is founded in God’s essential sovereignty. All coaction, (as Grotius observes,) of which punishment is the greatest, being peculiar τῇ ὑπερεχούσῃ ἐξουσίᾳ: and God himself says, Vengeance is mine. Wherefore there is not the same reason for God to forgive a sinful creature, that there is for one man to forgive another.
I think these considerations sufficiently clear the question. But before I leave this use, I shall add 385this one thing, which may more fully state the case between God and the sinner; viz.
When I say the sin of the creature disengages God from shewing him any favour, it is not hence to be gathered, that it must therefore engage him to shew him none; for this was no less to put a bond of restraint upon God, than if we should admit of a contrary obligation. As for those that say, that God, after the sin of man, is so engaged by the necessity of his nature, that he can with no accord to his justice shew him any mercy, till a full satisfaction be paid down; J think they cannot say, that God’s giving of Jesus Christ did presuppose any satisfaction given before; which if so, it may be left to the impartial consideration of any one, Whether for God, being so offended by man, yet upon the free, spontaneous motion of his own will, to find out, give, and constitute a mediator for him, be not as great or greater mercy, than, when a mediator is given, to accept of a satisfaction from him in man’s be half?
Second use. This may serve to inform us of the cursed, provoking nature of sin. Certainly there is something in it more than ordinary, that should make the great and merciful God take a poor creature, and shake it almost into nothing, to rid his hands of it, to disown and let it fall out of his protection into endless, unspeakable woe and misery; that should make a Creator the executioner of his own creature; a loving father the butcher of his own child; that should sour the sweet relation of a maker into the terrible name of a revengeful destroyer. O let him that commits sin with pleasure and delight, consider this, and tremble; him that 386 can please himself in his drunkenness, his uncleanness, poor creature! Does such an one know what he is now doing? He is now fixing the insupportable wrath of his great Creator against his poor guilty soul. He is now dissolving that bond of love, by which alone his Maker had bound him to himself. Wouldest thou have all the poison and malignity of thy sin strained into one expression, take it thus in short; it is able to make thy Creator be come thine enemy.
Third use. This may inform us under what notion we are to make our addresses to God; not as a Creator, for so he is no ways suitable to our necessities. He is offended and provoked, and we stand as outlaws and rebels to our Maker. Under this notion, no sinner can see God, and live. He is, to such an one, a consuming fire, an everlasting burning, no thing but wrath and vengeance. And can we find any comfort in a consuming fire? Is there any refreshment in an everlasting burning? If we cast ourselves upon his mercy, his justice will break forth upon us, and devour us. But you will then say, What shall poor sinners do? whither shall they repair? Why there is yet hope: God’s wisdom has reconciled his justice to his mercy, and consequently us to himself. And now he represents himself under a more desirable relation, as a reconciled God. And although, under the former relation, he drives us from him; yet, under this, he tenderly invites us to him. He therefore that trembles at the name of an offended Creator, yet let him comfort himself in the title of a reconciled Father. Though we have cause to dread the tribunal of his justice, yet let us come confidently to the throne of his mercy: let us come 387freely, and spread all our wants before him; lay open our complaints, tell him all the distresses and secret anguishes of our burdened consciences. Believe it, we cannot be more ready to tell them, than he is to hear them; nor he to hear them, than to relieve them. Let us anchor our hopes, our trust, our confidence, upon his goodness: for although, as our Creator, he will not save us; yet, as our Redeemer, he will.
And could we now have a greater or an happier instance of his reconcilement to us, than the present solemnity that we are engaging in? in which we have the very arts and inventions of omniscience to endear us to himself. Could we have a more pregnant demonstration of a reconciled God, than a sacrificed Son; nay, than the blood of that Son? and that so mysteriously, and yet so really, conveyed to us? that he does not only invite us to come to him, but to come within him; not only to an embrace, but to an union; and by ineffable and seraphic in corporations for us to be in him, and for him to be in us: not only endearing, but amazing us with his affection; and at the same time feeding our necessities, and entertaining our admiration.
Only let us see that we so come to him, that we do not put him to receive sins as well as sinners. For though Christ is willing to make us part of his body, yet he is not willing to unite himself to ulcers and putrefaction. And therefore he that comes hither with a Judas’s heart and hypocrisy, will find a Judas’s entertainment: and though he may receive the morsel from Christ’s hand, yet he will find that the Devil will enter and go along with it. It will be only the nutriment of his sin, and the repast of 388 his corruption. He that comes to this dreadful duty profane, unclean, or intemperate, will go away with quicker dispositions and livelier appetites to those sins. Every corruption shall rise and recover itself, like a giant refreshed with wine. For Christ has given the Devil full commission to enter into such swine, and to drive them headlong to their own destruction.389
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