« Prev Sermon CLXXI. The Usefulness of Consideration, in… Next »

SERMON CLXXI.

THE USEFULNESS OF CONSIDERATION, IN ORDER TO REPENTANCE.

Oh that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!Deut. xxxii. 29.

THIS chapter is called Moses’s Song, in which he briefly recounts the various providences of God to wards the people of Israel, and the froward carriage of that people towards him.

First, He puts them in mind how God had chosen them for his peculiar people, and had by a signal care and providence conducted them all that tedious journey, for the space of forty years in the wilderness, until he had brought them to the promised land, which they had now begun to take possession of.

And then he foretels, how they would behave themselves after all this mercy and kindness God had shewn to them: (ver. 15.) “Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked, and forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the rock of his salvation.” Upon this, he tells them, God would be extremely displeased with them, and would multiply his judgments upon them: (ver. 19, 20.) “When the Lord saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons and of his daughters: and he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be; for they are a very froward generation, children in 487whom is no faith.” And, (ver. 23.) “I will heap mischief upon them, I will spend mine arrows upon them.” And then he enumerates the particular judgments which he would send upon them: nay, he declares he would have utterly consumed them, but that he was loath to give occasion of so much triumph to his and their enemies: (ver. 26, 27.) “I said, I would scatter them into corners, I would make the remembrance of them to cease from among men; were it not, that I feared the wrath of the enemy, lest their adversaries should behave themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high, and the Lord hath not done all this.” And he adds the reason of all this severity; because they were so very stupid and inconsiderate: (ver. 28.) “For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them,”

And in the conclusion of all, he represents God, as it were, breaking out into this vehement and affectionate wish, “Oh that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!”

“Oh that they were wise, that they understood this!” What is that? This may refer to all that went before. Oh that they were wise to consider what God had clone for them, and what they had done against him, and what he will do against them, if they continue or renew their former provocations! Oh that they were but duly apprehensive of this, and would lay it seriously to heart!

But from what follows, it seems more particularly to refer to those particular judgments which God had threatened them withal, and which would certainly befal them, if they still continued in their disobedience. “Oh that they were wise, that they understood 488this, that they would consider their latter end!” That is, the sad consequences of these their provocations, that, by the consideration thereof, they might prevent all those evils and calamities, by turning from those sins which would unavoidably bring them upon them.

From the words thus explained, I shall observe these four things:

I. That God doth really and heartily desire the happiness of men, and to prevent their misery and ruin. For the very design of these words is to express this to us, and it is done in a very vehement, and, as I may say, passionate manner.

II. That it is a great point of wisdom, to consider seriously the last issue and consequence of our actions, whither they tend, and what will follow upon them. And therefore wisdom is here described by the consideration of our latter end.

III. That this is an excellent means to prevent that misery which will otherwise befal us. And this is necessarily implied in this wish, that if they would but consider these things, they might be prevented.

IV. That the want of this consideration is the great cause of men’s ruin. And this is likewise implied in the words, that one great reason of men’s ruin is because they are not so wise, as to consider the fatal issue and consequence of a sinful course. I shall speak briefly to each of these.

I. That God doth really and heartily desire the happiness of men, and to prevent their misery and ruin. To express this to us, God doth put on the vehemency of a human passion: “Oh that they were wise!” &c. The laws of God are a clear evidence of this; because the observance of them tends to 489our happiness. There is no good prince makes laws with any other design, than to promote the public welfare and happiness of his people: and with much more reason may we imagine, that the infinite good God does by all his laws design the happiness of his creatures. And the exhortations of Scripture, by which he enforceth his laws, are yet a greater evidence how earnestly he desires the happiness of his creatures. For it shews that he is concerned for us, when he useth so many arguments to persuade us to our duty, and when he expostulates so vehemently with us for our neglect of it, saying to sinners, “Turn ye, turn ye, why will you die, O house of Israel?” “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life,” says our blessed Saviour, with great trouble to see men so obstinately set against their own happiness; and again, “How often would I have gathered you, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” and to satisfy us yet further, that it is his real desire, by our obedience to his laws, to prevent our ruin, God doth frequently in Scripture put on the passions of men, and use all sorts of vehement expressions to this purpose: (Deut. v. 29.) “Oh that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” And, (Psal. lxxxi. 13.) “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries.” (Jer. xiii. 27.) “O Israel! wilt thou not be made clean? when shall it once be?” And, to name but one text more, when our blessed .Saviour wept over Jerusalem, how passionately does he wish that “she had 490known in that her day the things that belonged to her peace!”

And if, after all this, we can doubt whether the faithful God means as he says, he hath for our farther assurance, and to put the matter out of all doubt, confirmed his word by an oath: (Ezek. xxxiii. 11.) “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his ways and live. Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” So that if words can be any declaration of a hearty and sincere desire, we have no reason to doubt, but that God does really desire the happiness of men, and would gladly prevent their ruin and destruction.

If any now ask, Why then are not all men happy? Why do they not escape ruin and destruction? And particularly, why the people of Israel, for whom God here makes this wish, did not escape those judgments which were threatened? the prophet shall answer for me, (Hos. xiii. 9.) “O Israel! thou hast destroyed thyself,” And David, (Psal. lxxxi. 11.) “My people would not hearken to my voice, Israel would none of me.” And our blessed Saviour, (Matt. xxiii. 37.) “How often would I have gathered thee, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” and, (John v. 40.) “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life.” You see what account the Scripture plainly gives of this matter; it rests upon the wills of men, and God hath not thought fit to force happiness upon men, and to make them wise and good whether they will or no. He presents men with such motives, and offers such arguments to their consideration, as are fit to prevail with reasonable men, and is ready to afford them all necessary assistance, if they be not 491wanting to themselves; but if they will not be wise and consider, if they will stand out against all the arguments that God can offer, if they will “receive the grace of God in vain, and resist his blessed Spirit, and reject the counsel of God against themselves,” God hath not, in this case, engaged himself to provide any remedy against the obstinacy and perverseness of men, but “their destruction is of themselves,” and “their blood shall be upon their own heads.” And there is no nicety and intricacy in this matter; but if men will consider Scripture and reason impartially, they will find this to be the plain resolution of the case.

So that no man hath reason either to charge his fault or his punishment upon God; he is “free from the blood of all men,” he sincerely desires our happiness; but we wilfully ruin ourselves: and when he tells us that he “desires not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live;” that he “would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth;” that he is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance;” he plainly means as he says, and doth not speak to us with any reserve, or dark distinction between his secret and revealed will; he does not decree one thing and declare another.

And if this be so, no man hath reason to be discouraged from attempting and endeavouring his own happiness, upon a jealousy and surmise that God hath, by any fatal decree, put a bar to it from all eternity; for if he had so absolutely resolved to make the greatest part of mankind miserable, with out any respect to their actions in this world, he would never have said, that he desires “that all 492should be saved;” he would not have exhorted all men “to work out their own salvation:” had he taken up any such resolution, he would have declared it to all the world; for he hath power enough in his hands “to do what he pleaseth, and none can resist his will;” so that he did not need to have dissembled the matter, and to have pretended a desire to save men, when he was resolved to ruin them.

This is the first, that God doth really and heartily desire the happiness of men, and to prevent their misery and ruin. I proceed to the

II. Second, That it is a great part of wisdom, to consider seriously the last issue and consequence of our actions, and whither the course of life which we lead does tend, and what will follow upon it. And therefore wisdom is here explained by consideration; “Oh that they were wise, that they would consider their latter end!” that is, what will befal them hereafter, what will be the issue and consequence of all the sins and provocations which they are guilty of.

And this is a principal point and property of wisdom, to look forward, and not only to consider the present pleasure and advantage of any action, but the future consequence of it: and there is no greater argument of an imprudent man, than to gratify himself for the present in the doing of a thing which will turn to his greater prejudice afterwards; especially if the future inconvenience be great and intolerable, as it is in the case we are speaking of. For eternal happiness or misery depends upon the actions of this present life; and according as we behave ourselves in this world, it will go well or ill with us for ever: so that this is a matter of vast importance, and deserves our most serious thoughts; 493and, in matters of mighty consequence, a wise man will take ail things into consideration, and look before him as far as he can. And indeed this is the reason why things of great moment are said to be things of consequence, because great things depend and are likely to follow upon them: and then surely that is the greatest concernment, upon which, not only the happiness of this present life, but our happiness to all eternity, does depend; and if the good and bad actions of this life be of that consequence to us, it is fit every man should consider what he does, and whither the course of life he is engaged, or about to engage in, will lead him at last. For this is true wisdom, to look to the end of things, and to think “seriously beforehand what is likely to be the event of such an action, of such a course of life. If we serve God faithfully, and do his will, what will be the consequence of that to us in this world and the other: and, on the other hand, if we live wickedly, and allow ourselves in any unlawful and vicious practice, what will be the end of that course.

And to any man that consults the law of his own nature, or the will of God revealed in Scripture, nothing can be plainer than what will be the end of these several ways. God hath plainly told us, and our own consciences will tell us the same, that if we do well we shall be accepted of God, and rewarded by him; but if we do ill, “the end of these things is death, that indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, will be upon every soul of man that doeth evil; but honour, and glory, and peace to every man that doeth good, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to the gospel.”

494

So that God hath given us a plain prospect of the different issues of a virtuous and wicked life, and there wants nothing but consideration to make us to attend to these things, and to lay them seriously to heart. For while men are inconsiderate, they go on stupidly in an evil way, and are not sensible of the danger of their present course, because they do not attend to the consequence of it: but when their eyes are once opened by consideration, they cannot but be sadly apprehensive of the mischief they are running themselves upon. If men would take but a serious and impartial view of their lives and actions; if they would consider the tendency of a sinful course, and whither it will bring them at last; if the vicious and dissolute wan would but look about him and consider how many have been ruined in that very way that he is in, how many lie slain and wounded in it; that “it is the way to hell, and leads down to the chambers of death;” the serious thought of this could not but check him in his course, and make him resolve upon a better life. If men were wise, they would consider the consequence of their actions, and upon consideration would resolve upon that which they are convinced is best. I proceed to the

III. Third thing I propounded, which was, that consideration of the consequence of our actions, is an excellent means to prevent the mischiefs which otherwise we should run into. And this is necessarily implied in the wish here in the text, that if we would but consider these things, they might be prevented. For how can any man, who hath any love or regard for himself, any tenderness for his own interest and happiness, see hell and destruction before him, which, if he hold on his evil course, will 495certainly swallow him up, and yet venture to go on in his sins? Can any man that plainly beholds misery hastening towards him like an armed man, and “destruction coming upon him as a whirlwind,” think himself unconcerned to prevent it and fly from it? The most dull and stupid creatures will start back upon the sight of present danger. Balaam’s ass, when she saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his sword drawn ready to smite her, starts aside, and could not be urged on. Now God hath given us, not only sense to apprehend a present evil, but reason and consideration to look before us, and to discover dangers at a distance, to apprehend them as certainly and with as clear a conviction of the reality of them, as if they threatened us the next moment: and will any considerate man, who hath calculated the dangerous events of sin, and the dreadful effects of God’s wrath upon sinners, go on to “provoke the Lord to jealousy, as if he were stronger than he?” It is not to be imagined, but that, if men would seriously consider what sin is, and what shall be the sad portion of sinners hereafter, they would resolve upon a better course. Would any man live in the lusts of the flesh, and of intemperance, or out of covetousness defraud or oppress his neighbour, did he seriously consider that God is the avenger of such, and that, “because of these things, the wrath of God comes upon the children of disobedience?”

I should have great hopes of men’s repentance and reformation, if they could but once be brought to consideration; for in most men it is not so much a positive disbelief of the truth, as inadvertency and want of consideration, that makes them to go on so securely in a sinful course. Would but men consider 496what sin is, and what will be the fearful consequence of it, probably in this world, but most certainly in the other, they could not choose but fly from it as the greatest evil in the world.

And to shew what power and influence consideration will probably have to bring men to repentance, and a change of their lives, I remember to have somewhere met with a very remarkable story, of one that had a son that took bad courses, and would not be reclaimed by all the good counsel his father could give him; at last, coming to his father, who lay upon his death-bed, to beg his blessing, his father, instead of upbraiding him with his bad life, and undutiful carriage toward him, spake kindly to him, and told him, he had but one thing to desire of him, that every day he would retire and spend one quarter of an hour alone by himself; which he promised his father faithfully to do, and make it good. After a while it grew tedious to him, to spend even so little time in such bad and uneasy company, and he began to bethink himself, for what reason his father should so earnestly desire of him to do so odd a thing for his sake, and his mind presently suggested to him, that it was to enforce him to consideration; wisely judging, that if by any means he could but bring him to that, he would soon reform his life, and become a new man. And the thing had its desired effect; for after a little consideration, he took up a firm resolution to change the course of his life, and was true to it all his days. I cannot answer for the truth of the story, but for the moral of it I will; namely, that consideration is one of the best and most likely things in the world, to bring a bad man to a better mind. I now come to the

497

IV. Fourth, and last particular, namely, that the want of this consideration is one of the greatest causes of men’s ruin. And this likewise is implied in the text; and the reason why God does so vehemently desire that men would be wise and consider, is, because so many are ruined and undone for want of it. This is the desperate folly of man kind, that they seldom think seriously of the consequence of their actions, and least of all such as are of greatest concernment to them, and have the chief influence upon their eternal condition. They do not consider what mischief and inconveniency a wicked life may plunge them into in this world, what trouble and disturbance it may give them when they come to die; what horror and confusion it may fill them withal, when they are leaving this world, and passing into eternity; and what intolerable misery and torment it may bring upon them to all eternity. Did men ponder and lay to heart death and judgment, heaven and hell; and would they but let their thoughts dwell upon these things, it is not credible that the generality of men could lead such profane and impious, such lewd and dissolute, such secure and careless, lives as they do.

Would but a man frequently entertain his mind with such thoughts as these—I must shortly die, and leave this world, and then all the pleasures and enjoyments of it will be to me as if they had never been, only that the remembrance of them, and the ill use I have made of them, will be very bitter and grievous to me; after all, death will transmit me out of this world, into a quite different state and scene of things, into the presence of that great and terrible, that inflexible and impartial Judge, who will “render to every man according to his works;” and then 498all the evils which I have done in this life will rise up in judgment against me, and fill me with ever lasting confusion, in that great assembly of men and angels; will banish me from the presence of God, and all the happiness which flows from it, and procure a dreadful sentence of unspeakable misery and torment to be passed upon me, which I can never get reversed, nor yet never be able to stand under the weight of it. If men would but enter into the serious consideration of these things, and pursue these thoughts to some issue and conclusion, they would take up other resolutions; and I verily believe, that the want of this hath ruined more than even infidelity itself. And this I take to be the meaning of that question in the Psalmist, “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge?” that is, no consideration? intimating, that if they had, they would do better.

All that now remains is, to persuade men to apply their hearts to this piece of wisdom, to look before them, and to think seriously of the consequence of their actions, what will be the final issue of that course of life they are engaged in; and if they continue in it, what will become of them hereafter, what will become of them for ever.

And here I might apply this text, as God here does to the people of Israel, to the public condition of the nation, which is not so very unlike to that of the people of Israel; for God seems to have chosen this nation for his more peculiar people, and hath exercised a very particular providence towards us, in conducting us through that wilderness of confusion, in which we have been wandering for the space of above forty years; and when things were come unto the last extremity, and we seemed to stand 499upon the very brink of ruin, then (as it is said of the people of Israel, ver. 36, of this chapter), “God repented himself for his servants, when he saw their power was gone:” that is, that they were utterly unable to help themselves, and to work their own deliverance. And it may be said of us, as Moses does of that people, (chap. xxxiii. 29.) “Happy art thou, O Israel, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency!” Never did any nation struggle with, and get through, so many, and so great difficulties, as we have several times done.

And I fear we have behaved ourselves towards God not much better than the people of Israel did; but, like Jeshurun, after many deliverances and great mercies, “have waxed fat and kicked, have forsaken the God that made us, and little esteemed the Rock of our salvation;” by which we have “provoked the Lord to jealousy,” and have, as it were, forced him to multiply his judgments, and to spend his arrows upon us, “and to hide his face from us, to see what our end will be:” so that we have reason to fear, that God would have brought utter ruin and destruction upon us, and “scattered us into corners, and made the remembrance of us to have ceased from among men, had he not feared the wrath of the enemy, and lest the adversaries should have behaved themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high, and the Lord hath not done all this ,” that is, lest they should ascribe this just vengeance of God upon a sinful and unthankful nation, to the goodness and righteousness of their own cause, and to the favour and assistance of the idols and false gods whom they worshipped, to the patronage and aid of the Virgin 500Mary, and the saints; to whom, contrary to the will and command of the true God, they had offered up so many prayers and vows, and paid the greatest part of their religious worship. But “the Lord hath shewn himself greater than all gods, and in the things wherein they dealt proudly, that he is above them: for our Rock is not as their rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.”

And we have been too like the people of Israel in other respects also; so fickle and inconstant, that after great deliverances we are presently apt to murmur and be discontented, to grow sick of our own happiness, and “to turn back in our hearts into Egypt;” so that God may complain of us, as he does of his people Israel, that nothing that he could do, would bring them to consideration, and make them better, neither his mercies nor his judgments: (Isa. i. 2, 3.) “Hear, O heaven! and give ear, O earth! for the Lord hath spoken: I have nourished and brought up children, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know; my people doth not consider.” And so likewise he complains that his judgments had no effect upon them; (ver. 5.) “Why should ye be smitten any more? Ye will revolt more and more.” Well, therefore, may it be said of us, as it was of them in the verse before the text, “They are a nation void of knowledge, neither is there any understanding in them.” And the wish that follows in the text, is as seasonable for us as it was for them, “Oh that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!”

And by parity of reason, this may likewise be applied to particular persons, and to persuade every 501one of us to a serious consideration of the final issue and consequence of our actions. I will only offer these two arguments:

1. That consideration is the proper act of reasonable creatures, and that whereby we shew ourselves men. So the prophet intimates, (Isa. xlvi. 8.) “Remember this, and shew yourselves men; bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors!” That is, consider it well, think of it again and again, ye that run on so furiously in a sinful course, what the end and issue of these things will be. If ye do not do this, you do not shew yourselves men, you do not act like reasonable creatures, to whom it is peculiar to propose to themselves some end and design of their actions; but rather like brute creatures, which have no understanding, and act only by a natural instinct, without any consideration of the end of their actions, or of the means conducing to it.

2. Whether we consider it or not, our latter end will come; and all those dismal consequences of a sinful course, which God hath so plainly threatened, and our own consciences do so much dread, will certainly overtake us at last; and we cannot, by not thinking of these things, ever prevent or avoid them. Death will come, and after that the judgment, and an irreversible doom will pass upon us according to all the evil that we have done, and all the good that we have neglected to do in this life, under the heavy weight and pressure whereof we must lie groaning, and bewailing ourselves to everlasting ages.

God now exerciseth his mercy, and patience, and long-suffering towards us, in expectation of our amendment; he reprieves us on purpose that we 502may repent, and in hopes that we will at last consider and grow wiser; for “he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance:” but if we will trifle away this day of God’s grace and patience, if we will not consider and bethink ourselves, there is another day that will certainly come, “That great and terrible day of the Lord, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also, and the works that are there in, shall be burnt up.”

“Seeing then all these things shall be,” let us consider seriously “what manner of persons we ought to be, in all holy conversation and godliness, waiting for, and hastening unto, the coming of the day of God;” to whom be glory now and for ever.

503
« Prev Sermon CLXXI. The Usefulness of Consideration, in… Next »



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |