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Discourse XII.1212    Delivered March 14, 1678.

I did at two meetings inquire among ourselves what was required in the time of approaching judgments and calamities, that the world hath been, and is like to be, filled withal? And God was pleased to guide us to the discovery of the necessary exercise of many graces, and the necessary attendance unto many duties, for that end and purpose. And we did design to spend our time this day to beg that God would give us those graces, and stir them up by his Spirit unto a due exercise; and that he would help us unto such a performance of those duties, that when the Lord Christ shall come, by any holy dispensation of his providence, we may be found of him in peace. That was the especial occasion of allotting the present time unto this duty; no ways excluding the reasons, occasions, and matter of prayer, which at other times we attend to for ourselves, the church, and the nation.

I would offer a few words that may stir us up unto this duty:—

The Scripture doth everywhere, upon all such occasions, call expressly unto us for a special preparation, by the exercise of grace, in reformation and holiness: “Judgment must begin at the house of God;” and “what will be the end of them that obey not the gospel?” What, then, is our duty? Why, saith he, “Seeing that 399all these things shall be dissolved” (all this outward frame of things), “what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness?” Brethren, we ought at all times to attend unto “all holy conversation and godliness;” but saith the apostle, “The approach of judgment is a peculiar motive thereunto; — ‘seeing that all these things are to be dissolved.’ ” It is true, seeing Christ hath died for us, washed us in his blood, and given his Holy Spirit unto us, “What manner of persons ought we to be?” But the great motives are not exclusive of occasional exercises, but give an addition unto them. “Take heed that ye be not overtaken with surfeiting and drunkenness,” — with any excess in the use of the creature. What if it be so? “Then that day will come upon you at unawares;” — the day when all shall be dissolved, — the day of judgment, — the day of approaching calamities. “You ought at all times to take care of these things; but if your minds are not influenced in the consideration of the approach of that day, ‘you are not my disciples.’ ” I do not at all speak unto what preparations are required.

I could also reflect on those places where God expresseth his great displeasure against such who did not labour for a peculiar preparation upon approaching calamities. Isa. xxii. 12–14, “ ‘I called for mourning, and fasting, and girding with sackcloth,’ and you betook yourselves unto feasting on all occasions.” “Surely, saith the Lord, this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die.” And it is reckoned among the sins of the most profligate persons, that when God’s hand is lifted up and ready to strike, they will not see, so as to learn righteousness, Isa. xxvi. 11.

Let us, therefore, beg for grace. Though God multiplieth warnings, makes appearances of mercy, and then writes death upon them, and entangles every thing in darkness, yet our work goes slowly on in preparation. Cry earnestly unto God for such supplies of his grace and Spirit that may effectually bring us unto him; that we may no longer abide in the frame wherein we are.

There are three things, and no more, that I know of (others may be named, but they may be reduced unto these three heads), that are required of us in reference unto approaching judgments; and there is not one of them through which we can pass, or which we can perform in a due manner, comfortably unto ourselves, and unto the glory of God, without we have some singular and eminent preparation for it. And they are these:— First. That we ourselves stand in the gap, to turn away the threatened judgments. Secondly. That we may be fit for deliverance, if it please the Lord graciously to give it unto us. Saith Christ, speaking of great calamities, “Lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” Thirdly. That we may cheerfully and comfortably go through the calamities, if they shall overtake us.

400These three are comprehensive of all the threats of approaching judgments and darkness that encompass us at this day. Now, there is not one of them that we can be any way fit for, unless our hearts and lives are brought into an extraordinary preparation, according as God calls and requires. I do not know whether we believe these things or no, but they will be shortly found to be true.

First. Who dares among us to propose himself to stand in the gap, to divert judgments from the nation, otherwise than in a formal manner, who is not prepared by these things we have spoken of, and hath not some good and comfortable persuasion of his own personal interest in Christ, and hath not freed himself from those sins that have procured these judgments, and who lives not in a resignation of himself unto the will of God? who dares to do this? We shall provoke God, if we think to stand in the gap, and turn away judgments from the nation, when we see ourselves are concerned in procuring those judgments.

Secondly. We cannot be meet for deliverance, unless we are thus prepared. I have heard a notion preached and spoken upon other occasions, — which I confess I never liked, and the more I consider it, the more I dislike it; and that is, that God, in the deliverance of his people, works for his own name’s sake, that he may have all the glory, — that it shall be seen merely to be of grace: and therefore he will oftentimes deliver his people, when they are in an unreformed and unreforming condition, that he may shame them and humble them by his mercy and grace afterward. I know no rule of Scripture upon which this notion may be grounded, nor one instance or example whereby it may be made out.

Here lies the truth of it, — when there are two things concurring in the deliverance of the church, God will deliver them, notwithstanding all their sins and unworthiness, without any previous humiliation in themselves:— first, When God hath fixed and limited a certain season in his word and promise for their deliverance; and, secondly, When, antecedent unto their deliverance, they want means for humiliation. God delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt when they were in a very bad condition, — an ignorant, stubborn, faithless generation; but both these things were concurring:— God was engaged, in point of his promise, that, at the end of four hundred and thirty years, he would visit and deliver them; and they were deprived of all ordinances of worship in Egypt: not a sacrifice could they offer while they were there; not a Sabbath, I believe, though it is not expressed in Scripture, could they observe; — the way of worship and knowledge of God was taken from them. So, when God delivered the children of Israel out of Babylon, they were in no very good condition; but God was engaged in point of promise as to that time, 401that at the end of seventy years they should be delivered; and in Babylon they had no means for instruction or reformation, — no temple, no sacrifice; — these were denied. But whenever God doth afford unto persons all the means of grace for humiliation, reformation, and turning unto himself, — it may be as good as ever they shall in this world, — that God did ever deliver that people out of their distresses, when they refused to be reformed, humbled, or to turn unto him, neither instances of Scripture nor God’s dealing with his church will make this good. Therefore it is vain for us to expect any thing of this nature. If, indeed, for so many years we had been thrown into a wilderness condition, and had no preaching, no assemblies, no administration of ordinances, no warnings or charges from God, we might have expected the Lord would have given us deliverance; but to us, who have had all these things, and yet will not make use of what we have now at present, we have no ground to expect any such thing. Therefore I confess, neither by rule, instance, or example, do I expect deliverance, until God come in to work a thorough change and reformation in our hearts and lives; which makes it very necessary to be preparing to meet God in the way of his judgments.

Thirdly. The third thing that may lie before us is, how we may cheerfully go through the calamities which may overtake us. I will say no more unto that, because it is that which we did expressly insist upon in our former discourse. As to the best of us, who have been long in the ways of God, woeful will be our surprisal when the days of calamity come, if we have lived in negligence of complying with the calls and warnings of God that we have had, to bring ourselves unto a more even and better frame. We shall find our strength to fail us, and have our comforts to seek, and be left to inward darkness when outward darkness increaseth, and not know whither to cause our sorrows to go.

These things, brethren, I thought fit to mention unto you, that, if it be the will of God, they may be of use to take us off from those false hopes and false expectations which we are wonderfully ready to feed ourselves withal in such a day as this is wherein we live. It is high time for us to be calling upon God for this end.


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