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SERMON XCVII.

THE NATURE AND INFLUENCE OF THE PROMISES OF THE GOSPEL.

Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine nature.—2 Pet. i. 4.

I MADE entrance into these words the last day, in the handling whereof I proposed to do these two things:—

First, To consider the promises here spoken of: “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises.”

Secondly, The influence which these promises Ought to have upon us: “that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine nature.”

The first of these I have done with, and proceed now to the

Second, viz. The influence which these promises ought to have upon us: “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine nature.” Not that we can partake of the essence and nature of God, as some have blasphemously affirmed, pretending, in their canting and senseless language, to be Godded with God and Christed with Christ. In this sense it is impossible for us to “partake of the Divine nature;” for this would be for men to become gods, and to be advanced to the state and perfection of the Deity. But the word φύσις doth 198frequently, in Scripture, signify a temper and disposition; and to be “partakers of a Divine nature” is to be of a Divine temper and disposition, to have our corrupt natures rectified and purged from all sinful lusts and irregular passions, and from all vicious and corrupt affections; and therefore it follows in the text: “Having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust; and, besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly-kindness, and to brotherly-kindness charity.” So that we are “made partakers of a Divine nature,” as the apostle here explains it, these two ways: by cleansing ourselves from the lusts of the flesh, which the apostle here calls the “corruption or defilement which is in the world through lust;” and by a diligent endeavour after all Christian graces and virtues, faith, and temperance, and patience, a sincere love of the brethren, and an universal charity and good-will towards all men.

And that this is the proper influence and efficacy of the great promises of the gospel upon the hearts and lives of men, the apostle St. Paul fully declares to us: (2 Cor. vii. 1.) “Having, therefore, these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit;” that is, from the lusts of the flesh, and of uncleanness, and from all evil and corrupt affections of the mind, such as wrath, envy, malice, hatred, strife, revenge, cruelty, pride, and the like; “perfecting holiness in the fear of God;” that is, continually aspiring still more and more after further degrees of holiness, and virtue, and goodness, which are the great perfections 199of the Divine nature. And thus, by a constant and sincere endeavour “to cleanse ourselves from all impurity of flesh and spirit,” and by “practising all the virtues of a good life,” we shall, by degrees, raise and advance ourselves to a godlike temper and disposition, imitating in all our actions the goodness, and mercy, and patience, and truth, and faithfulness of God, and all those other perfections of the Divine nature, which are comprehended under the term of holiness. This is that which the apostle here calls “partaking of a Divine nature;” or, as our blessed Saviour expresseth it, “to he perfect, as our Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

This the gospel designs to raise us to; and one of the great instruments whereby this is effected, are those “exceeding great and precious promises” which I have insisted upon; and they are capable of (fleeting it these two ways:—

First, By way of internal efficacy and assistance; and,

Secondly, By way of external motive and argument: both these ways some or other of these promises have a mighty influence upon us (if we he not wanting to ourselves) to raise us to a godlike temper and disposition; that is, to the greatest perfection of virtue and goodness which we are capable of in this life.

First, By way of internal efficacy and assistance. And this influence the promise of God’s Holy Spirit, and of his gracious help and assistance thereof, hath upon the minds of men, inclining them to that which is good, and enabling them to do it. For the Holy Spirit is promised to us, in consideration and commiseration of that impotency and weakness which we have contracted in that degenerate and depraved 200condition into which mankind is sunk; to help us, who are without strength, to recover ourselves out of that evil and miserable state into which, by wilful transgression, we are fallen; to “quicken us who are dead in trespasses and sins (as the Scripture expresseth the condition of unregenerate persons), to raise us to a new life,” and to cherish this principle of spiritual life, which is commonly weak at first, and to carry it through all discouragements and oppositions; to excite us continually to our duty, and to enable us to the most difficult parts of obedience, such as are most contrary to our natural inclinations, and against the grain of flesh and blood; to bear down the strength of sin and temptation; and in all our conflicts with the world, the flesh, and the devil, and all the powers of darkness, to make us victorious over them; and, in a word, to be a principle within us more mighty and powerful than the lusts and inclinations of our evil hearts, than the most obstinate and inveterate habits of sin and vice, and than all the temptations and terrors of sense. So that if we w ill make use of this assistance, and lay hold of this strength which God affords us in the gospel, and (as the apostle expresseth it) “be workers together with God,” we need not despair of victory and success; for our strength will continually increase, and the force and violence of our lusts will be abated; God will give us more grace, and we shall “walk from strength to strength,” and “our path will be (as Solomon says of ‘the way of the righteous’) as the light which shines more and more unto the perfect day.”

For the Holy Spirit of God conducts and manageth this great work of our sanctification and salvation, from first to last, by opening our hearts 201to let in the light of Divine truth upon our minds, by representing to us with advantage such arguments and considerations as are apt to persuade us to embrace it and yield to it; by secret and gentle reprehensions softening our hard hearts, and bending our stiff and stubborn wills to a compliance with the will of God and our duty. And this is that great work which the Scripture calls our regeneration and sanctification, the “turning us from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God,” a new creation and a resurrection from the death of sin to the life of holiness. And then by leading mid directing us in the ways of holiness and obedience, by quickening our devotion, and stirring up in us holy desires and dispositions of soul, rendering us fit to draw near to God in prayer, with a due sense of our own wants and unworthiness, and an humble confidence in the goodness of God, that he Mill grant us those good things that we ask of him, in supporting and comforting us in all our afflictions and sufferings especially for truth and righteousness sake; and by sealing and confirming to us the blessed hopes of eternal life. Thus the Spirit of God carries on the work of our sanctification, and makes us partakers of a Divine nature, by way of inward efficacy and assistance.

Secondly, The promises of the gospel are apt likewise to have a mighty influence upon us by way of motive and argument, to engage and encourage us to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God.” For,

First, A full pardon and indemnity for what is past, is a mighty encouragement for us to return to our duty, and a forcible argument to keep us to it 202for the future. For since God, who hath been so highly injured and affronted by us, is so willing and ready to forgive us, as not only to provide and purchase for us the means of our pardon, by the grievous sufferings of his dear Son, but to offer it so freely, and invite us so earnestly to accept of it, and to be reconciled to him; the consideration of this ought in all reason, ingenuity, and gratitude, to melt us into sorrow and repentance for our sins, and a deep sense of the evil of them, and to inflame our hearts with a mighty love to God, and our blessed Redeemer, “who hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood;” and to make us extremely unwilling, nay, most firmly resolved never more to offend that merciful and gracious God, who is so slow to punish, and so forward to forgive; and effectually to engage us to a dutiful, and constant, and cheerful obedience to God’s holy laws and commandments, lest by our wilful transgression and violation of them, we should run ourselves into a deeper guilt, and aggravate our condemnation. Now that by the tender mercies of our God we are made whole, we should be infinitely afraid to sin any more, lest worse things should come to us; lest we relapse into a more incurable state, and bring a heavier load of guilt and misery upon ourselves.

Secondly, The promise of God’s grace and Holy Spirit is, likewise, a very powerful argument and encouragement to holiness and goodness, engaging us to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit,” that our souls and minds may be a fit temple for the Holy Ghost, which will not dwell in an impure soul: and likewise encouraging us hereto by this consideration, that we have so unerring a guide to counsel and direct us, so powerful an assistant to 203“strengthen us with all might in the inner man, to stand by us in all our conflicts with sin and Satan, and make us (as the apostle expresseth it) “more than conquerors” over all our spiritual enemies. For though we be weak, and our lusts strong, our enemies many, and temptations mighty and violent; yet we need not be disheartened, so long as we know that God is with us, and the grace of his Holy Spirit sufficient for us, against all the strength of sin and hell; though our duty be hard, and our strength small, yet we cannot fail of success, if we be sure that the omnipotent grace of God is always ready to second our sincere, though never so weak, endeavours. So that, when we see all the enemies of our salvation drawn up in array against us, we may encourage ourselves, as the prophet Elisha did his servant, when he told him, that an host compassed the city with horses and chariots, and said, “Alas! my master, how shall we do?” And “he answered, Fear not, for they that be with us, are more than they that be with them;” (2 Kings vi. 10.) or, as Hezekiah comforted the people, when they were afraid of the mighty force of the King of Assyria: (2 Chron. xxxii. 7, 8.) “Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the King of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us, and to fight for us.” This is the case of every Christian; the force that is against us is finite and limited; but the Almighty God is on our side, and fights for us; and every one of us may say with St. Paul, (Phil. iv. 13.) “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

Thirdly, The promise of eternal life and happiness, 204if duly weighed and considered, hath a mighty force in it, to take us off from the love and practice of sin, and to encourage our obedience and patient continuance in well-doing. The assurance of enjoying unspeakable and endless happiness in another world, and of escaping extreme and eternal misery, is a consideration of that weight, as one would think could not fail of its efficacy upon us, to put all temptations to sin out of countenance, and to bear down before us all the difficulties and discouragements in the way of our duty. And if this make no impression upon us, if heaven and hell be of no weight with us, it will be in vain to use any other arguments, which, in comparison of this, are but as the very small dust upon the balance. For if, on the one hand, the hopes of perfect comfort, and joy, and felicity, perpetual in duration, and vast beyond all imagination, such as “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath entered into the heart of man to conceive:” and if, on the other hand, the dread of the terrible wrath of God, and of the vengeance of eternal fire, together with the insupportable torments of a guilty conscience, and the perpetual stings of bitter remorse and anguish for the wilful folly of our wicked lives, and the rage of horrible despair of ever getting out of so miserable a state; if neither of these considerations, if both of them will not prevail upon us to cease to be evil, and to resolve to be good, that we may obtain one of these conditions, and may escape the other; there is no hope that any words that can be used, any arguments and considerations that can be offered, should work upon us, or take place with us. He that is not to be tempted by such hopes, nor to be terrified by such fears, is proof against all the force of persuasion in the world.

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And thus I have done with the two things which I proposed to consider from these words; the nature of these promises, and the influence they are apt, and ought, to have upon us, to raise us to the perfection of virtue and goodness, which the apostle here calls our being partakers of a Divine nature. All that now remains is, to make some useful reflections upon what hath been discoursed upon these two heads.

First of all, If we expect the blessings and benefits of these exceeding great and precious promises of the gospel, we must be careful to perform the conditions which are indispensably required on our parts. It is a great mistake, and of very pernicious consequence to the souls of men, to imagine that the gospel is all promises on God’s part, and that our part is only to believe them, and to rely upon God for the performance of them,. and to be very confident that he will make them good, though we do nothing else but only believe that he will do so. That the Christian religion is only a declaration of God’s good-will to us, without any expectation of duty from us: this is an error which one could hardly think could ever enter into any who have the liberty to read the Bible, and do attend to what they read and find there.

The three great promises of the gospel are very expressly contained in our Saviour’s first sermon upon the Mount. There we find the promise of blessedness often repealed; but never absolutely made, but upon certain conditions, and plainly required on our parts; as repentance, humility, righteousness, mercy, peaceableness, meekness, patience. Forgiveness of sins is likewise promised; but only to those that make a penitent acknowledgment of 206them, and ask forgiveness for them, and are ready to grant that forgiveness to others, which they beg of God for themselves. The gift of God’s Holy Spirit is likewise there promised; but it is upon condition of our earnest and importunate prayer to God. The gospel is every where full of precepts, enjoining duty and obedience on our part, as well as of promises on God’s part, assuring blessings to us; nay, of terrible threatenings also if we disobey the precepts of the gospel. St. Paul gives us the sum of the gospel in very few and plain words, declaring upon what terms we may expect that salvation which the gospel offers to all men: (Tit. ii. 11, 12, 13, 14.) “The grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men; teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, and righteously, and godly in this present world, looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” And then he adds, “these things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority;” intimating, that though men were very averse to this doctrine, it ought to be inculcated with great authority and earnestness, and those who opposed and despised it, to be severely rebuked: and with great reason, because the contrary doctrine does most effectually undermine and defeat the whole design of the Christian religion.

Secondly, From hence we learn, that if the promises of the gospel have not this effect upon us, to make us partakers of a Divine nature, it is our own fault, and because we are wanting to ourselves. God is always ready to do his part, if we do not fail 207in ours. There is a Divine power and efficacy goes along with the gospel, to make way for the entertainment of it in the hearts of men, where they put no bar and obstacle to it. But if men will resist the motions of God’s blessed Spirit, and quench the light of it, and obstinately hold out against the force of truth, God will withdraw his grace and Holy Spirit from them. The gospel would raise us to the perfection of all virtue and goodness, and the promises of it are admirably fitted to relieve the infirmities and weakness of human nature, and to renew us “after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness;” to take us off from sin and vice, and to allure us to goodness, and to assist and encourage us iii the practice of it: but if we will not comply with the gracious design of God in the gospel, and suffer these promises to have their due influence and efficacy upon us, we wilfully deprive ourselves of all the blessings and benefits of it; we “reject the counsel of God against ourselves,” and “receive the grace of God in vain;” and, by rejecting and despising his promises, we provoke him to execute his threatenings upon us.

Thirdly and lastly, If the promises of the Christian religion are apt in their own nature to work this great effect upon us, to make us like to God, and to bring us to so near a resemblance of the Divine perfections, to make us good, and just, and merciful, and patient, and “holy in all manner of conversation, to purge us from our iniquities, and to make us a peculiar and excellent people, zealous of good works;” I say, if this be the proper tendency of the gospel, and the promises of it, how doth this upbraid the degenerate state of the Christian world at this day, which does so abound in all kind of wickedness 208and impiety; so that we may cry out as he did, upon reading the gospel; Profecto aut hoc non est evangelium; aut nos non sumus evangelici; “Either this is not the gospel which we read, and the Christian religion which we profess; or we are no Christians.” We are so far from that pitch of goodness and virtue which the Christian religion is apt to raise men to, and which the apostle here calls the Divine nature, that a great part of us are degenerated into beasts and devils, wallowing in abominable and filthy lusts, indulging ourselves in those devilish passions of malice and hatred, of strife and discord, of revenge and cruelty, of sedition and disturbance of the public peace, to that degree, as if the grace of God had never appeared to us to teach us the contrary. And therefore, it concerns all those who have the face to call themselves Christians, to demean themselves at another rate, and for the honour of their religion, and the salvation of their own souls, to have their “conversation as becometh the gospel of Christ;” and by departing from the vicious practices of this present evil world, to do what in them lies to prevent the judgments of God which hang over us; or if they cannot do that, to “save themselves from this untoward generation.”

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