The Works of
A PRACTICAL EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX.;
Index of Fourth Verse
410b AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
Forgiveness discovered or revealed only to faith -- Reasons thereof.
FOR a close of this discourse, I shall only add what is included in that proposition which is the foundation of the whole, -- namely, that this discovery of forgiveness is and can be made to faith alone. The nature of it is such as that nothing else can discover it or receive it. No reasonings, no inquiries of the heart of man can reach unto it. That guess or glimpse which the heathens had of old of somewhat so called, and which false worshippers have at present, is not the forgiveness we insist upon, but a mere imagination of their own hearts.
This the apostle informs us, Rom. i. 17, "The righteousness of God is" (in the gospel) "revealed from faith to faith." Nothing but faith hath any thing to do with it. It is that righteousness of God whereof he speaks that consists in the forgiveness of sins by the blood of Christ, declared in the gospel. And this is revealed from the faith of God in the promise to the faith of the believer, -- to him that mixes the promise with faith. And again more fully, 1 Cor. ii. 9, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." The ways whereby we may come to the knowledge of any thing are, by the seeing of the eye or hearing of the ear, or the reasonings and meditations of the heart; but now none of these will reach to the matter in hand, -- by none of these ways can we come to an acquaintance with the things of the gospel that are prepared for us in Christ. How, then, shall we obtain the knowledge of them? That he declares, verse 10, "God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit." Now, it is faith only that receives the revelations of the Spirit; nothing else hath to do with them.
To give evidence hereunto, we may consider that this great mystery, -- 1. Is too deep, 2. Is too great, for aught else to discover; and, -- 3. That nothing else but faith is suited to the making of this discovery.
1. It is too deep and mysterious to be fathomed and reached by any thing else. Reason's line is too short to fathom the depths of the
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Father's love, of the blood of the Son, and the promises of the gospel built thereon, wherein forgiveness dwells. Men cannot by their rational considerations launch out into these deeps, nor draw water by them from these "wells of salvation." Reason stands by amazed, and cries, "How can these things be?" It can but gather cockleshells, like him of old, at the shore of this ocean, a few criticisms upon the outward letter, and so bring an evil report upon the land, as did the spies. All it can do is but to hinder faith from venturing into it, crying, "Spare thyself; this attempt is vain, these things are impossible." It is among the things that faith puts off and lays aside when it engageth the soul into this great work. This, then, that it may come to a discovery of forgiveness, causeth the soul to deny itself and all its own reasonings, and to give up itself to an infinite fulness of goodness and truth. Though it cannot go unto the bottom of these depths, yet it enters into them, and finds rest in them. Nothing but faith is suited to rest, to satiate, and content itself in mysterious, bottomless, unsearchable depths. Being a soul-emptying, a reason-denying grace, the more it meets withal beyond its search and reach, the more satisfaction it finds. "This is that which I looked for," saith faith, "even for that which is infinite and unsearchable, when I know that there is abundantly more beyond me that I do not comprehend, than what I have attained unto; for I know that nothing else will do good to the soul." Now, tiffs is that which really puzzles and overwhelms reason, rendering it useless. What it cannot compass, it will neglect or despise. It is either amazed and confounded, and dazzled like weak eyes at too great a light; or fortifying of itself by inbred pride and obstinacy, it concludes that this preaching of the cross, of forgiveness from the love of God, by the blood of Christ, is plain folly, a thing not for a wise man to take notice of or to trouble himself about: so it appeared to the wise Greeks of old, 1 Cor. i. 23. Hence, when a soul is brought under the power of a real conviction of sin, so as that it would desirously be freed from the galling entanglements of it, it is then the hardest thing in the world to persuade such a soul of this forgiveness. Any thing appears more rational unto it, -- any self-righteousness in this world, any purgatory hereafter.
The greatest part of the world of convinced persons have forsaken forgiveness on this account; masses, penances, merits, have appeared more eligible. Yea, men who have no other desire but to be forgiven do choose to close with any thing rather than forgiveness. If men do escape these rocks, and resolve that nothing but pardon will relieve them, yet it is impossible for them to receive it in the truth and power of it, if not enabled by faith thereunto. I speak not of men that take it up by hearsay, as a common report, but of those
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souls who find themselves really concerned to look after it. When they know it is their sole concernment, all their hope and relief; when they know that they must perish everlastingly without it; and when it is declared unto them in the words of truth and soberness, -- yet they cannot receive it. What is the reason of it? what staves off these hungry creatures from their proper food? Why, they have nothing to lead them into the mysterious depths of eternal love, of the blood of Christ, and promises of the gospel. How may we see poor deserted souls standing every day at the side of this pool, and yet not once venture themselves into it all their days!
2. It is too great for any thing else to discover. Forgiveness is a thing chosen out of God from all eternity, to exalt and magnify the glory of his grace; and it will be made appear to all the world at the day of judgment to have been a great thing. When the soul comes in any measure to be made sensible of it, it finds it so great, so excellent and astonishable, that it sinks under the thoughts of it. It hath dimensions, a length, breadth, depth, and height, that no line of the rational soul can take or measure. There is "exceeding greatness" in it, Eph. i. 19. That is a great work which we have prescribed, Eph. iii. 19, even "to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge." Here, I suppose, reason will confess itself at a stand and an issue; to know that which passeth knowledge is none of its work. "It cannot be known," saith reason; and so ends the matter. But this is faith's proper work, even to know that which passeth knowledge; to know that, in its power, virtue, sweetness, and efficacy, which cannot be thoroughly known in its nature and excellency; to have, by believing, all the ends of a full comprehension of that which cannot be fully comprehended. Hence, Heb. xi. 1, it is said to be the [--GREEK--] of "things not seen," their subsistence; though in themselves absent, yet faith gives them a present subsistence in the soul. So it knows things that pass knowledge; by mixing itself with them, it draws out and communicates their benefit to the soul. From all which is evident what in the third place was proposed, of faith's being only suited to be the means of this discovery; so that I shall not need farther to insist thereon.
Discovery of forgiveness in God a great supportment to sin-entangled souls: -- Particular assurance attainable.
FOURTHLY. THERE yet remains a brief confirmation of the position 1 at first laid down and thus cleared, before I come to the improve-
1 Our author seems to deviate from the order of the four principal propositions, as arranged on page 384, when he begins the exposition of this verse. He now illustrates the fourth proposition, and afterwards considers the third. See page 427. -- ED.
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ment of the words, especially aimed at. I say, then, this discovery of forgiveness in God is a great supportment for a sin-entangled soul, although it hath no special persuasion of its own particular interest therein. Somewhat is supposed in this assertion, and somewhat affirmed.
First, [As to what is supposed]: --
1. It is supposed that there may be a gracious persuasion and assurance of faith in a man concerning his own particular interest in forgiveness. A man may, many do, believe it for themselves, so as not only to have the benefit of it but the comfort also. Generally, all the saints mentioned in Scripture had this assurance, unless it were in the case of depths, distresses, and desertions, such as that in this psalm. David expresseth his confidence of the love and favour of God unto his own soul hundreds of times; Paul doth the same for himself: Gal. ii. 20, "Christ loved me, and gave himself for me;" 2 Tim. iv. 8, "There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day." And that this boasting in the Lord and his grace was not an enclosure to himself he shows, Rom. viii. 38, 39.
Nothing can be more vain than what is usually pleaded to remove this sheet-anchor of the saints' consolation, -- namely, that no man's particular name is in the promise. It is not said to this or that man by name that his sins are forgiven him; but the matter is far otherwise. To think that it is necessary that the names whereby we are known among ourselves, and are distinguished here one from another, should be written in the promise, that we may believe in particular every child of God is in the promise, is a fond conceit. And believing makes it very legible to him. Yea, we find by experience that there is no need of argumentation in this case. The soul, by a direct act of faith, believes its own forgiveness, without making inferences or gathering conclusions; and may do so upon the proposition of it to be believed in the promise. But I will not digress from my work in hand, and, therefore, shall only observe one or two things upon the supposition laid down: --
(1.) It is the duty of every believer to labour after an assurance of a personal interest in forgiveness, and to be diligent in the cherishing and preservation of it when it is attained. The apostle exhorts us all unto it, Heb. x. 22, "Let us draw near in full assurance of faith;" that is, of our acceptance with God through forgiveness in the blood of Jesus. This he plainly discourseth of; and this principle of our faith and confidence he would have us to hold fast unto the end, chap. iii. 14. It is no small evil in believers not to be pressing after perfection in believing and obedience. Ofttimes some sinful indulgence to self, or the world, or sloth, is the cause of it.
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Hence few come up to gospel assurance. But yet most of our privileges, and upon the matter all our comforts, depend on this one thing. A little by the way, to encourage unto this duty, I shall desire you to consider both whence this assurance is produced and what it doth produce, -- what it is the fruit of, and what fruit it bears: --
 It is, in general, the product of a more plentiful communication of the Spirit than ordinary, as to a sense and participation of the choice fruits of the death of Christ, procured for those who are justified by their acceptance of the atonement. It flourisheth not without his sealing, witnessing, establishing, and shedding abroad the love of God in our hearts. See Rom. v. 1-5. And what believer ought not to long for and press after the enjoyment of these things? Nay, to read of these things in the gospel, not experiencing them in our own hearts, and yet to sit down quietly on this side of them, without continual pressing after them, is to despise the blood of Christ, the Spirit of grace, and the whole work of God's love. If there are no such things, the gospel is not true; if there are, if we press not after them, we are despisers of the gospel. Surely he hath not the Spirit who would not have more of him, all of him that is promised by Christ. These things are the "hundredfold" that Christ hath left us in the world to counterpoise our sorrows, troubles, and losses; and shall we be so foolish as to neglect our only abiding riches and treasures, -- in particular, as it is the product of an exercised, vigorous, active faith? That our faith should be such always, in every state and condition, I suppose it our duty to endeavour. Not only our comforts but our obedience also depends upon it. The more faith that is true and of the right kind, the more obedience; for all our obedience is the obedience of faith.
[2.] For its own fruit, and what it produceth, they are the choicest actings of our souls towards God, -- as love, delight, rejoicing in the Lord, peace, joy, and consolation in ourselves, readiness to do or suffer, cheerfulness in so doing. If they grow not from this root, yet their flourishing wholly depends upon it; so that surely it is the duty of every believer to break through all difficulties in pressing after this particular assurance. The objections that persons raise against themselves in this case may be afterward considered.
(2.) In ordinary dispensations of God towards us, and dealings with us, it is mostly [by] our own negligence and sloth that we come short of this assurance. It is true it depends in a peculiar manner on the sovereignty of God. He is as absolute in giving peace to believers as in giving grace to sinners. This takes place and may be proposed as a relief in times of trial and distress. He createth light and causeth darkness, as he pleaseth. But yet, considering what promises are made unto us, what encouragements are given us, what love and
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tenderness there is in God to receive us, I cannot but conclude that ordinarily the cause of our coming short of this assurance is where I have fixed it. And this is the first thing that is supposed in the foregoing assertion.
2. It is supposed that there is or may be a saving persuasion or discovery of forgiveness in God, where there is no assurance of any particular interest therein, or that our own sins in particular are pardoned. This is that which hath a promise of gracious acceptance with God, and is therefore saving: Isa. l. 10, "Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God." Here is the fear of the Lord and obedience, with a blessed encouragement to rest in God and his all-sufficiency, yet no assurance nor light, but darkness, and that walked in or continued in for a long season; for he cannot walk in darkness, meet with nothing but darkness, without any beam or ray of light, as the words signify, who is persuaded of the love of God in the pardon of his sins. And yet the faith of such a one, and his obedience springing from it, have this gracious promise of acceptance with God. And innumerable testimonies to this purpose might be produced, and instances in great plenty. I shall only tender a little evidence unto it, in one observation concerning the nature of faith, and one more about the proposal of the thing to be believed, or forgiveness. And, --
(1.) Faith is called, and is, a cleaving unto the Lord: Deut. iv. 4, "Ye that did cleave," or adhere, "unto the LORD;" that is, who did believe. Josh. xxiii. 8, "Cleave," or adhere, "unto the LORD your God." The same word is used also in the New Testament: Acts xi. 23, "He exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord," or continue steadfast in believing. It is also often expressed by trusting in the Lord, rolling our burden, or casting our care upon him, by committing ourselves or our ways unto him. Now, all this goes no farther than the soul's resignation of itself unto God, to be dealt withal by him according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, ratified in the blood of Christ. This a soul cannot do, without a discovery of forgiveness in God; but this a soul may do, without a special assurance of his own interest therein. This faith, that thus adheres to God, that cleaves to him, will carry men to conclude that it is their duty and their wisdom to give up the disposal of their souls unto God, and to cleave and adhere unto him as revealed in Christ, waiting the pleasure of his will. It enables them to make Christ their choice; and will carry men to heaven safely, though it may be at some seasons not very comfortably.
(2.) The revelation and discovery of forgiveness that is made in the gospel evidenceth the same truth. The first proposal of it or con-
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cerning it is not to any man that his sins are forgiven. No; but it is only that there is redemption and forgiveness of sins in Christ. So the apostle lays it down, Acts xiii. 38, 39, "Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through tiffs man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses" All this may be believed without a man's assurance of his own personal interest in the things mentioned. Now, where they are believed with the faith the gospel requires, that faith is saving, and the root of gospel, acceptable obedience. The ransom, I say, the atonement by Christ, the fulness of the redemption that is in him, and so forgiveness in his blood for believers, from the good will, grace, and love of the Father, is the first gospel discovery that a sinner in a saving manner closeth withal. Particular assurance ariseth or may arise afterward; and this also is supposed in the assertion.
Secondly, That which is affirmed in it is, that a discovery of forgiveness in God, without any particular assurance of personal interest therein, is a great supportment to a sin-entangled soul. And let no man despise the day of this small thing; small in the eyes of some, and those good men also, as if it did not deserve the name of faith. Now, as hath been made to appear, this discovery of forgiveness is the soul's persuasion, on gospel grounds, that however it be with him, and whatever his state and condition be, or is like to be, yet that God in his own nature is infinitely gracious, and that he hath determined, in a sovereign act of his will from eternity, to be gracious to sinners, and that he hath made way for the administration of forgiveness by the blood of his Son, according as he hath abundantly manifested and declared in the promises of the gospel. "However it be with me, yet thus it is with God; there is forgiveness with him." This is the first thing that a soul in its depths riseth up unto; and it is a supportment for it, enabling it unto all present duties until consolation come from above.
Thus hath it been to and with the saints of old: Hos. xiv. 3, "Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy." A solemn renunciation we have of all other helps, reliefs, or assistances, civil or religious, that are not God's; thereon a solemn resolution, in their great distress, of cleaving unto God alone; -- both which are great and blessed effects of faith. What is the bottom and foundation of this blessed resolution? -- namely, that proposition, "In thee the fatherless findeth mercy;" that is, "There is forgiveness with thee for helpless sinners." This lifted up their hearts in their depths, and supported them in waiting unto the receiving of the blessed promises of mercy, pardon, grace,
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and holiness, which ensue in the next verses. Until they came home unto them in their efficacy and effects, they made a life on this, "In thee the fatherless findeth mercy."
The state and condition of things seem to lie yet lower in that proposal we have, Joel ii. 13, 14, "Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessings" That which is proposed to the faith of those here spoken unto is, that the Lord is gracious and merciful, -- that there is forgiveness in him. The duty they are provoked unto hereupon is gospel repentance. The assent unto the proposition demanded, as to their own interest, amounts but unto this, "Who knows but that the LORD may return, and leave a blessing?" or, "deal with us according to the manifestation he hath made of himself, that he is merciful and gracious." This is far enough from any comfortable persuasion of a particular interest in that grace, mercy, or pardon. But yet, saith the prophet, "Come but thus far, and here is a firm foundation of dealing with God about farther discoveries of himself in a way of grace and mercy." When a soul sees but so much in God as to conclude, "Well, who knoweth but that he may return, and have mercy upon me also?" it will support him, and give him an entrance into farther light.
The church in the Lamentations gives a sad account of her state and condition in this matter; for she maketh that hard conclusion against herself, chap. iii 18, "My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD . . . . . Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer," verse 8. So far is she from a comfortable persuasion of a particular interest in mercy and acceptance, that, under her pressures and in her temptations, she is ready positively to determine on the other side, namely, that she is rejected and cast off for ever. What course, then, shall she take? Shall she give over waiting on God, and say, "There is no hope?" "No," saith she, "I will not take that way; for (verse 26) 'It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of God.' But yet there seems small encouragement for her so to do if things be with her as was expressed. "Things, indeed," saith she, "are very sad with me. 'My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is bowed down in me,' verse 20; but yet somewhat 'I recall to mind, and therefore have I hope,' verse 21, -- 'It is of the LORD's mercy that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.' [verse 22.] There is mercy and never-failing compassion in God, so that though my own present condition be full of darkness, and I see no deliverance, yet I purpose still to abide waiting on him. Who knows what those infinite stores and treasures
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of mercy and relief that are with him may at length afford unto me?" And many instances of the like kind may be added.
We may observe, by the way, how far this relief extends itself, and what it enables the soul unto; as, --
1. The soul is enabled thereby to resign itself unto the disposal of sovereign grace in self-abhorrency, and a renunciation of all other ways of relief: Lam. iii. 29, "He putteth his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope." "What God will," is his language. Here he lies at his disposal, humble, broken, but abiding his pleasure. "Though he slay me," saith Job, "yet will I trust in him," chap. xiii 15; -- "It is all one how he deals with me; whatever be the event, I will abide cleaving unto him. I will not think of any other way of extricating myself from my distress. I will neither fly like Jonah, nor hide like Adam, nor take any other course for deliverance." Saith the soul, "'God is a God that hideth himself' from me, Isa. xlv. 15; 'I walk in darkness and have no light, ' chap. l. 10. 'My flesh faileth and my heart falleth, ' Ps. lxxiii. 26; so that I am overwhelmed with trouble. 'Mine iniquities have taken such hold on me that I cannot look up, ' Ps. xl. 12. 'The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. ' [Isa. xlix. 14.] Every day am I in dread and terror, and I am ready utterly to faint, and no relief can I obtain. What, then, shall I do? Shall I 'curse God and die?' or cry, 'This evil is of the LORD; why should I wait for him any longer?' Shall I take the course of the world, and, seeing it will be no better, be wholly regardless of my latter end? No; I know, whatever my lot and portion be, that there is forgiveness with God. This and that poor man trusted in him; they cried unto him, and were delivered. So did David in his greatest distress; he encouraged his heart in the Lord his God, 2 Sam. xv. 25, 26. It is good for me to cast myself into his arms. It may be he will frown; it may be he is wroth still: but all is one, this way I will go. As it seems good unto him to deal with me, so let it be." And unspeakable are the advantages which a soul obtains by this self-resignation, which the faith treated of will infallibly produce.
2, It extends itself unto a resolution of waiting in the condition wherein the soul is. This the church comes unto, Lam. iii. 26, "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD;" -- " I will not give over my expectation, I will not make haste nor limit God; but I will lie at his feet until his own appointed time of mercy shall come." Expectation and quietness make up waiting. These the soul attains unto with this supportment. It looks upwards, "as a servant that looks to the hands of his master," still fixed on God, to see what he will do, to hear what he will speak concerning him; missing no season, no opportunity
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wherein any discovery of the will of God may be made to him. And this he doth in quietness, without repining or murmuring, turning all his complaints against himself and his own vileness, that hath cut him short from a participation of that fulness of love and grace which is with God. That this effect also attends this faith will fully appear in the close of the psalm.
3. It supports unto waiting in the use of all means for the attainment of a sense of forgiveness, and so hath its effect in the whole course of our obedience. "There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared." To fear the Lord, is an expression comprehensive of his whole worship and all our duty. "This I am encouraged unto, in my depths," saith the psalmist, "because there is forgiveness with thee. I will abide in all duties, in all the ways of thy worship, wherein thou mayst be found." And however it be for a while, the latter end of that soul, who thus abideth with God, will be peace.
Let us, then, nextly see by what ways and means it yields this supportment: --
1. It begets a liking of God in the soul, and consequently some love unto him. The soul apprehends God as one infinitely to be desired and delighted in by those who have a share in forgiveness. It cannot but consider him as good and gracious, however its own estate be hazardous. Ps lxxiii. 1, 2, "Yet God is good to Israel, to such as are of a clean heart. As for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had wellnigh slipped;" -- "However the state stands with me, yet I know that God is good, good to Israel; and therewith shall I support myself." When once this ground is got upon the soul, that it considers God in Christ as one to be delighted in and loved, great and blessed effects will ensue -- (1.) Self-abhorrency and condemnation, with resignation of all to God, and permanency therein, do certainly attend it. (2.) Still, somewhat or other in God will be brought to mind to relieve it under faintings, some new springs of hope will be every day opened. (3.) And the soul will be insensibly wrought upon to delight itself in dealing with God. Though, in its own particular, it meets with frownings, chidings, and repulses, yet this still relieves him, that God is so as hath been declared; so that he says, "However it be, yet God is good; and it is good for me to wait upon him." Without this discovery the soul likes not God, and whatever it doth with respect unto him, it is because it dares do no otherwise, being overawed with his terror and greatness; and such obedience God may have from devils.
2. It removes sundry overwhelming difficulties that lie in the soul's way before it close with this discovery of forgiveness; as, --
(1.) It takes away all these hinderances that were formerly insisted on from the greatness, holiness, and severity of God, the inexor-
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ableness and strictness of the law, and the natural actings of conscience rising up against all hopes of forgiveness. All these are by this faith removed, and taken out of the way. Where this faith is, it discovers not only forgiveness, as hath been showed, but also the true nature of gospel forgiveness; it reveals it as flowing from the gracious heart of the Father, through the blood of the Son. Now, this propitiation in the blood of the Son removeth all these difficulties, even antecedently unto our special sense of an interest therein. It shows how all the properties of God may be exalted and the law fulfilled, and yet forgiveness given out to sinners. And herein lies no small advantage unto a soul in its approaches unto God. All those dreadful apprehensions of God, which were wont to beset him in the first thoughts of coming to him, are now taken out of the way, so that he can quietly apply himself unto his own particular concernments before him.
(2.) In particular, it removes the overwhelming consideration of the unspeakable greatness of sin. This presseth the soul to death, when once the heart is possessed with it. Were not their sins so great, such as no heart can imagine or tongue declare, it might possibly be well with them, say distressed sinners. They are not so troubled that they are sinners, as that they are great sinners; not that these and those sins they are guilty of, but that they are great sins, attended with fearful aggravations. Otherwise they could deal well enough with them. Now, though this discovery free men not from the entanglement of their sins as theirs, yet it doth from the whole entanglement of their sins as great and many. This consideration may be abstracted. The soul sees enough in God to forgive great sins, though it doth not as yet to forgive his sins. That great sins shall be pardoned, this discovery puts out of question. Whether his sins shall be pardoned is now all the inquiry. Whatever any faith can do, that this faith will do, unless it be the making of particular application of the things believed unto itself. The soul, then, can no longer justly be troubled about the greatness of sin; the infiniteness of forgiveness that he sees in God will relieve him against it. All that remains is, that it is his own sin about which he hath to deal; whereof afterwards. These and the like difficulties are removed by it.
3. It gives some life in and encouragement unto duty. And that, first, unto duty as duty. Eyeing God by faith, in such a fulness of grace, the soul cannot but be encouraged to meet him in every way of duty, and to lay hold upon him thereby; -- every way leading to him, as leading to him, must be well liked and approved of. And, secondly, to all duties. And herein lies no small advantage. God is oftentimes found in duties, but in what, or of what kind, he will be
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found of any one in particular, is uncertain. This faith puts the soul on all: so it did the spouse in the parallel to that in hand, Cant. iii. 2-4. Now, what supportment may be hence obtained is easily apprehended, -- supportment not from them or by them, but in them, as the means of intercourse between God and the soul.
From these effects of this discovery of forgiveness in God three things will ensue, which are sufficient to maintain the spiritual life of the soul: --
(1.) A resolution to abide with God, and to commit all unto him. This the word, as was observed, teaches us: "There is forgiveness with thee, and therefore thou shalt be feared;" -- "Because this I found, this I am persuaded of, therefore I will abide with him in the way of his fear and worship." This our Saviour calls unto, John xv. 4, "'Abide in me;' except ye do so ye can bear no fruit." So the Lord, representing his taking of the church unto himself under the type of the prophet's taking an adulteress in vision, doth it on these terms: Hos. iii. 3, "Thou shalt abide for me many days; thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be for another man: so will I also be for thee." Now, this abiding with God intimates two things: -- [1.] Oppositions, solicitations, and temptations unto the contrary. [2.] Forbearing to make any other choice, as unto that end for which we abide with God.
[1.] It argues oppositions. To abide, to be stable and permanent, is to be so against oppositions Many discouragements are ready to rise up in the soul against it: in fears especially that it shall not hold out, that it shall be rejected at last, that all is naught and hypocritical with it, that it shall not be forgiven, that God indeed regards it not, and therefore it may well enough give over its hopes, which seems often as the giving up of the ghost; [these] will assault it. Again, oppositions arise from corruptions and temptations unto sin, contrary to the life of faith; and these often proceed to a high degree of prevalency, so that the guilt contracted upon them is ready to cast the soul quite out of all expectation of mercy. "I shall one day perish by these means," saith the soul, "if I am not already lost."
But now, where faith hath made this discovery of forgiveness, the soul will abide with God against all these discouragements and oppositions. It will not leave him, it will not give over waiting for him. So David expresseth the matter in the instance of himself: Ps. lxxiii. 2, "But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well-nigh slipped:" and, verse 13, "Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain." But yet, after all his conflicts, this at last he comes unto, verse 26, "Though 'my flesh and my heart faileth,' yet (verse 28) 'It is good for me to draw near unto God;' -- I will yet abide
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with God; I will not let go his fear nor my profession. Although I walk weakly, lamely, unevenly, yet I will still follow after him." As it was with the disciples, when many, upon a strong temptation, went back from Christ, and walked no more with him, "Jesus said unto them, Will ye also go away?" to which Peter replies, in the name of the rest of them, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life," John vi. 66-68; -- "It is thus and thus with me," saith the soul; "I am tossed and afflicted, and not comforted; little life, little strength, real guilt, many sins, and much disconsolation." "What then?" saith God by his word; "wilt thou also go away?" "No," saith the soul; "there is forgiveness with thee; thou hast the words of eternal life, and therefore I will abide with thee."
[2.] This abiding with God argues a forbearance of any other choice. Whilst the soul is in this condition, having not attained any evidences of its own special interest in forgiveness, many lovers will be soliciting of it to play the harlot by taking them into its embraces. Both self-righteousness and sin will be very importunate in this matter. The former tenders itself as exceeding useful to give the soul some help, assistance, and supportment in its condition. "Samuel doth not come," saith Saul, "and the Philistines invade me; I will venture and offer sacrifice myself, contrary to the law." The promise doth not come to the soul for its particular relief; it hath no evidence as to an especial interest in forgiveness. Temptation invades the mind: "Try thyself," says it, "to take relief in somewhat of thine own providing." And this is to play the harlot from God. To this purpose self-righteousness variously disguises itself, like the wife of Jeroboam when she went to the prophet. Sometimes it appears as duty, sometimes as signs and tokens; but its end is to get somewhat of the faith and trust of the soul to be fixed upon it. But when the soul hath indeed a discovery of forgiveness, it will not give ear to these solicitations. "No," saith it; "I see such a beauty, such an excellency, such a desirableness and suitableness unto my wants and condition, in that forgiveness that is with God, that I am resolved to abide in the gospel desire and expectation of it all the days of my life; here my choice is fixed, and I will not alter." And this resolution gives glory to the grace of God. When the soul, without an evidence of an interest in it, yet prefers it above that which, with many reasonings and pretences, offers itself as a present relief unto it, hereby is God glorified, and Christ exalted, and the spiritual life of the soul secured.
(2.) This discovery of forgiveness in God, with the effects of it before mentioned, will produce a resolution of waiting on God for peace and consolation in his own time and way. "He that believeth shall not make haste," Isa. xxviii. 16. Not make haste, to what? Not
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to the enjoyment of the thing believed. Haste argues precipitation and impatience; this the soul that hath this discovery is freed from, resolving to wait the time of God's appointment for peace and consolation. God, speaking of his accomplishment of his promises, says, "I the LORD will hasten it," Isa. Ix. 22. Well, then, if God will hasten it, may not we hasten to it? "Nay," saith he, "I will hasten it, but in its time." All oppositions and impediments considered, it shall be hastened, but in its time, its due time, its appointed time. And this the soul is to wait for; and so it will. As when Jacob had seen the beauty of Rachel, and loved her, he was contented to wait seven years for the enjoyment of her to be his wife, and thought no time long, no toil too hard, that he might obtain her; so the soul having discovered the beauty and excellency of forgiveness as it is with God, as it is in his gracious heart, in his eternal purpose, in the blood of Christ, in the promise of the gospel, is resolved to wait quietly and patiently for the time wherein God will clear up unto it its own personal interest therein. Even one experimental embracement of it, even at the hour of death, doth well deserve the waiting and obedience of the whole course of a man's life.
And this the psalmist manifests to have been the effect produced in his heart and spirit; for upon this discovery of forgiveness in God, he resolved both to wait upon him himself, and encourageth others so to do.
(3.) This prepares the soul for the receiving of that consolation and deliverance out of its pressures, by an evidence of a special interest in forgiveness, which it waiteth for: --
[1.] For this makes men to hearken after it. It makes the soul like the merchant who hath great riches, all his wealth, in a far country, which he is endeavouring to bring home safe unto him. If they come, he is well provided for; if they miscarry, he is lost and undone. This makes him hearken after tidings that they are safe there; and, as Solomon says, "Good news," in this case, "from a far country, is as cold waters to a thirsty soul," Prov. xxv. 25, -- full of refreshment. Though he cannot look upon them as his own yet absolutely, because he hath them not in possession, he is glad they are safe there. So is it with the soul. These riches that it so values are as to its apprehensions in a far country. So is the promise, that "he shall behold the land that is very far off," Isa. xxxlii. 17. He is glad to hear news that they are safe, to hear forgiveness preached, and the promises insisted on, though he cannot as yet look upon them as his own. The merchant rests not here, but he hearkeneth with much solicitousness after the things that should bring home his riches, especially if they have in them his all. Hence such ships are called ships of desire, Job ix. 26. Such a man greatly desires the speeding of them
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to their port. He considers the wind and the weather, all the occasions, and inconveniences, and dangers of the way; and blame him not, -- his all is at stake. The soul doth so in like manner: it hearkeneth after all the ways and means whereby this forgiveness may be particularly brought home unto it; is afraid of sin and of temptation, glad to find a fresh gale of the Spirit of grace, hoping that it may bring in his return from the land of promise. This prepares the heart for a spiritual sense of it when it is revealed.
[2.] It so prepares the soul, by giving it a due valuation of the grace and mercy desired. The merchantman in the gospel was not prepared to enjoy the pearl himself, until it was discovered to him to be of great price; then he knew how to purchase it, procure it, and keep it. The soul having, by this acting of faith, upon the discovery of forgiveness insisted on, come to find that the pearl hid in the field is indeed precious, is both stirred up to seek after possession of it, and to give it its due. Saith such a soul, "How excellent, how precious is this forgiveness that is with God! Blessed, yea, ever blessed, are they who are made partakers of it! What a life of joy, rest, peace, and consolation do they lead! Had I but their evidence of an interest in it, and the spiritual consolation that ensues thereon, how would I despise the world and all the temptations of Satan, and rejoice in the Lord in every condition!" And this apprehension of grace also exceedingly prepares and fits the soul for a receiving of a blessed sense of it, so as that God may have glory thereby.
[3.] It fits the soul, by giving a right understanding of it, of its nature, its causes, and effects. At the first the soul goes no farther but to look after impunity, or freedom from punishment, any way. "What shall I do to be saved?" is the utmost it aims at. "Who shall deliver me? how shall I escape?" And it would be contented to escape any way, -- by the law, or the gospel, all is one, so it may escape. But upon this discovery of forgiveness treated of, which is made by faith of adherence unto God, a man plainly sees the nature of it, and that it is so excellent that it is to be desired for its own sake. Indeed, when a soul is brought under trouble for sin, it knows not well what it would have. It hath an uneasiness or disquietment that it would be freed from, -- a dread of some evil condition that it would avoid. But now the soul can tell what it desires, what it aims at, as well as what it would be freed from. It would have an interest in eternal love; have the gracious kindness of the heart of God turned towards itself, -- a sense of the everlasting purpose of his will shed abroad in his heart; have an especial interest in the precious blood of the Son of God, whereby atonement is made for him; and that all these things be testified unto his conscience in a word of promise mixed with faith. These things he came for; this way alone he
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would be saved, and no other. It sees such a glory of wisdom, love, and grace in forgiveness, such an exaltation of the love of Christ in all his offices, in all his undertaking, especially in his death, sacrifice, and blood-shedding, whereby he procured or made reconciliation for us, that it exceedingly longs after the participation of them.
All these things, in their several degrees, will this discovery of forgiveness in God, without an evidence of an especial interest therein, produce. And these will assuredly maintain the spiritual life of the soul, and keep it up unto such an obedience as shall be accepted of God in Christ. Darkness, sorrow, storms, they in whom it is may meet withal; but their eternal condition is secured in the covenant of God, -- their souls are bound up in the bundle of life.
From what hath been spoken, we may make some inferences in our passage concerning the true notion of believing; for, --
1. These effects ascribed to this faith of forgiveness in God, and always produced by it, make it evident that the most of them who pretend unto it, who pretend to believe that there is forgiveness with God, do indeed believe no such thing. Although I shall, on set purpose, afterward evince this, yet I cannot here utterly pass it by. I shall, then, only demand of them who are so forward in the profession of this faith that they think it almost impossible that any one should not believe it, what effects it hath produced in them, and whether they have been by it enabled to the performance of the duties before mentioned? I fear with many, things on the account of their pretended faith are quite otherwise. They love sin the more for it, and God never the better. Supposing that a few barren words will issue the controversy about their sins, they become insensibly to have slight thoughts of sin and of God also. This persuasion is not of him that calls us. Poor souls, your faith is the devil's greatest engine for your ruin, -- the highest contempt of God, and Christ, and forgiveness also, that you can be guilty of, -- a means to let you down quietly into hell, -- the Pharisees' Moses, trusted in, and [yet] will condemn you. As none is saved but by faith, so you, if it were not for your faith (as you call it), might possibly be saved. If a man's gold prove counterfeit, his jewels painted glass, his silver lead or dross, he will not only be found poor when he comes to be tried, and want the benefit of riches, but have withal a fearful aggravation of his poverty by his disappointment and surprisal. If a man's faith, which should be more precious than gold, be found rotten and corrupt, if his light be darkness, how vile is that faith, how great is that darkness! Such, it is evident, will the faith of too many be found in this business.
2. The work we are carrying on is the raising of a sin-entangled soul out of its depths; and this we have spoken unto is that which
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must give him his first relief. Commonly, when souls are in distress, that which they look after is consolation. What is it that they intend thereby? That they may have assurance that their sins are forgiven them, and so be freed from their present perplexities. What is the issue? Some of them continue complaining all their days, and never come to rest or peace, so far do they fall short of consolation and joy; and some are utterly discouraged from attempting any progress in the ways of God. What is the reason hereof? Is it not that they would fain be finishing their building, when they have not laid the foundation? They have not yet made thorough work in believing forgiveness with God, and they would immediately be at assurance in themselves. Now, God delights not in such a frame of spirit; for, --
(1.) It is selfish. The great design of faith is to "give glory to God," Rom. iv. 20. The end of God's giving out forgiveness is the "praise of his glorious grace," Eph. i. 6. But let a soul in this frame have peace in itself, it is very little solicitous about giving glory unto God. He cries like Rachel, "Give me children, or I die;" -- "Give me peace, or I perish." That God may be honoured, and the forgiveness he seeks after be rendered glorious, it is cared for in the second place, if at all. This selfish earnestness, at first to be thrusting our hand in the side of Christ, is that which he will pardon in many, but accepts in none.
(2.) It is impatient. Men do thus deport themselves because they will not wait. They do not care for standing afar off for any season with the publican. They love not to submit their souls to lie at the foot of God, to give him the glow of his goodness, mercy, wisdom, and love, in the disposal of them and their concernments. This waiting compriseth the universal subjection of the soul unto God, with a resolved judgment that it is meet and right that we, and all we desire and aim at, should be at his sovereign disposal. This gives glow to God, -- a duty which the impatience of these poor souls will not admit them to the performance of. And both these arise, --
(3.) From weakness. It is weak It is weakness in any condition, that makes men restless and weary. The state of adherence is as safe a condition as the state of assurance; only, it hath more combats and wrestling attending it. It is not, then, fear of the event, but weakness and weariness of the combat, that makes men anxiously solicitous about a deliverance from that state before they are well entered into it.
Let, then, the sin-entangled soul remember always this way, method, and order of the gospel, that we have under consideration. First, exercise faith on forgiveness in God; and when the soul is fixed
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therein, it will have a ground and foundation whereon it may stand securely in making application of it unto itself. Drive this principle, in the first place, unto a stable issue upon gospel evidences, answer the objections that lie against it, and then you may proceed. In believing, the soul makes a conquest upon Satan's territories. Do, then, as they do who are entering on an enemy's country, -- secure the passages, fortify the strongholds as you go on, that you be not cut off in your progress. Be not as a ship at sea, which passeth on, and is no more possessed or master of the water it hath gone through than of that whereunto it is not yet arrived. But so it is with a soul that fixeth not on these foundation principles: he presseth forwards, and the ground crumbles away under his feet, and so he wilders away all his days in uncertainties. Would men but lay this principle well in their souls, and secure it against assaults, they might proceed, though not with so much speed as some do, yet with more safety. Some pretend at once to fall into full assurance; I wish it prove not a broad presumption in the most, It is to no purpose for him to strive to fly who cannot yet go, -- to labour to come to assurance in himself who never well believed forgiveness in God.
THIRDLY. 1 NOW, that we may be enabled to fix this persuasion against all opposition, that which in the next place I shall do is, to give out such unquestionable evidences of this gospel truth as the soul may safely build and rest upon; and these contain the confirmation of the principal proposition before laid down.
Evidences of forgiveness in God -- No inbred notions of any free acts of God's will -- Forgiveness not revealed by the works of nature nor the law.
First, THE things that are spoken or to be known of God are of two sorts: --
l. Natural and necessary; such as are his essential properties, or the attributes of his nature, his goodness, holiness, righteousness, omnipotency, eternity, and the like. These are called, [--GREEK--] [--GREEK--] , Rom. i 19, -- "That which may be known of God." And there are two ways, as the apostle there declares, whereby that which he there intimates of God may be known, -- (1.) By the inbred light of nature: [--GREEK--] [--GREEK--] , verse 19, -- "It is manifest in themselves," in their own hearts; they are taught it by the common conceptions and presumptions which they have of God by the light of nature. From hence do all mankind know concerning
1 See note on page 412.
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God that he is, that he is eternal, infinitely powerful, good, righteous, holy, omnipotent. There needs no special revelation of these things, that men may know them. That, indeed, they may be known savingly, there is; and, therefore, they that know these things by nature do also believe them on revelation: Heb. xi. 6, "He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder." Though men know God by the light of nature, yet they cannot come to God by that knowledge. (2.) These essential properties of the nature of God are revealed by his works. So the apostle in the same place, Rom. i. 20, "The invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead." See also Ps. xix. 1-3. And this is the first sort of things that may be known of God.
2. There are the free acts of his will and power, or his free, eternal purposes, with the temporal dispensations that flow from them. Now, of this sort is the forgiveness that we are inquiring after. It is not a property of the nature of God, but an act of his will and a work of his grace. Although it hath its rise and spring in the infinite goodness of his nature, yet it proceeds from him, and is not exercised but by an absolute, free, and sovereign act of his will. Now, there is nothing of God or with him of this sort that can be any ways known but only by especial revelation; for, --
(1.) There is no inbred notion of the acts of God's will in the heart of man; which is the first way whereby we come to the knowledge of any thing of God. Forgiveness is not revealed by the light of nature. Flesh and blood, which nature is, declares it not; by that means "no man hath seen God at any time," John i. 18, -- that is, as a God of mercy and pardon, as the Son reveals him. Adam had an intimate acquaintance, according to the limited capacity of a creature, with the properties and excellencies of the nature of God. It was implanted in his heart, as indispensably necessary unto that natural worship which, by the law of his creation, he was to perform. But when he had sinned, it is evident that he had not the least apprehension that there was forgiveness with God. Such a thought would have laid a foundation of some farther treaty with God about his condition. But he had no other design but of flying and hiding himself, Gen. iii. 10; so declaring that he was utterly ignorant of any such thing as pardoning mercy. Such, and no other, are all the first or purely natural conceptions of sinners, -- namely, that it is [--GREEK--] , "the judgment of God," Rom. i. 32, that sin is to be punished with death. It is true, these conceptions in many are stifled by rumours, reports, traditions, that it may be otherwise; But all these are far enough from that revelation of forgiveness which we are inquiring after.
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(2.) The consideration of the works of God's creation will not help a man to this knowledge, that there is forgiveness with God. The apostle tells us, Rom. i. 20, what it is of God that his works reveal, "even his eternal power and Godhead," or the essential properties of his nature, but no more; not any of the purposes of his grace, not any of the free acts of his will, not pardon and forgiveness. Besides, God made all things in such an estate and condition, -- namely, of rectitude, integrity, and uprightness, Eccles. vii. 29, -- that it was impossible they should have any respect unto sin, which is the corruption of all, or to the pardon of it, which is their restitution, whereof they stood in no need. There being no such thing in the world as a sin, nor any such thing supposed to be, when all things were made of nothing, how could any thing declare or reveal the forgiveness of it?
(3.) No works of God's providence can make this discovery. God hath, indeed, borne testimony to himself and his goodness in all ages, from the foundation of the world, in the works of his providence: so Acts xiv. 15-17, "We preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." [--GREEK--] [--GREEK--] -- "He left not himself without witness;" that is, by the works of his providence, there recounted, he thus far bare testimony to himself, that he is, and is good, and doth good, and ruleth the world; so that they were utterly inexcusable, who, taking no notice of these works of his, nor the fruits of his goodness, which they lived upon, turned away after [--GREEK--] , "vain things," as the apostle there calls the idols of the Gentiles. But yet these things did not discover pardon and forgiveness; for still God suffered them to go on in their own ways, and winked at their ignorance. So again, Acts xvii. 23-27, "Whom ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth" (where, by the way, there is an allusion to that of Gen. xi. 8, "The LORD scattered them abroad upon the face of all the earth" ), "and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us." By arguments taken from the works of God, both of creation and provi-
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dence, the apostle proves the being and the properties of God; yea, he lets them know with whom he had to do, that God designed by his works so far to reveal himself unto them as the true and living God, the maker and governor of all things, as that they ought to have inquired more diligently after him, and not to look on him alone as the "unknown God" who alone might be known, all their idols being vain and nothing. But of the discovery of pardon and forgiveness in God by these ways and means he speaks not; yea, he plainly shows that this was not done thereby: for the great call to saving repentance is by the revelation of forgiveness. But now, by these works of his providence, God called not the Gentiles to saving repentance. No; saith he, "He suffered them to walk still in their own ways," Acts xiv. 16, "and winked at the times of their ignorance; but now," -- that is, by the word of the gospel, -- "commandeth them to repent," chap. xvii. 30.
Secondly; Whereas there had been one signal act of God's providence about sin, when man first fell into the snares of it, it was so far from the revealing forgiveness in God, that it rather severely intimated the contrary. This was God's dealing with sinning angels. The angels were the first sinners, and God dealt first with them about sin. And what was his dealing with them the Holy Ghost tell us, 2 Pet. ii. 4, [--GREEK--] [--GREEK--] -- "He spared not the sinning angels." "He spared them not;" it is the same word which he useth where he speaks of laying all our iniquities on Christ, he undergoing the punishment due unto them: Rom. viii. 32, [--GREEK--] -- "He spared him not;" that is, he laid on him the full punishment that by the curse and sanction of the law was due unto sin. So he dealt with the angels that sinned: "He spared them not," but inflicted on them the punishment due unto sin, shutting them up under chains of darkness for the judgment of the great day. Hitherto, then, God keeps all thoughts of forgiveness in his own eternal bosom; there is not so much as the least dawning of it upon the world. And this was at first no small prejudice against any thoughts of forgiveness. The world is made; sin enters by the most glorious part of the creation, whose recovery by pardon might seem to be more desirable, but not the least appearance of it is discovered. Thus it was "from the beginning of the world hid in God," Eph. iii. 9.
Thirdly, God gave unto man a law of obedience immediately upon his creation; yea, for the main of it, he implanted it in him by and in his creation. This law it was supposed that man might transgress. The very nature of a law prescribed unto free agents, attended with threatenings and promises of reward, requires that supposition. Blow, there was not annexed unto this law, or revealed with it, the
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least intimation of pardon to be obtained if transgression should ensue. Gen. ii. 17, we have this law, "In the day thou eatest thou shalt surely die;" -- "Dying thou shalt die;" or "bring upon thyself assuredly the guilt of death temporal and eternal." There God leaves the sinner, under the power of that commination. Of forgiveness or pardoning mercy there is not the least intimation. To this very day that law, which was then the whole rule of life and acceptance with God, knows no such thing. "Dying thou shalt die, O sinner," is the precise and final voice of it.
From these previous considerations, added to what was formerly spoken, some things preparatory to the ensuing discourse may be inferred; as, --
1. That it is a great and rare thing to have forgiveness in God discovered unto a sinful soul. A thing it is that, as hath been showed, conscience and law, with the inbred notions that are in the heart of man about God's holiness and vindictive justice, do lie against; a matter whereof we have no natural presumption, whereof there is no common notion in the mind of man; a thing which no consideration of the works of God, either of creation or providence, will reveal, and which the great instance of God's dealing with sinning angels renders deep, admirable, and mysterious. Men who have common and slight thoughts of God, of themselves, of sin, of obedience, of the judgment to come, of eternity, -- that feed upon the ashes of rumours, reports, hearsays, traditions, without looking into the reality of things, -- may and do take this to be an ordinary and acknowledged truth, easy to be entertained, which upon the matter no man disbelieves. But convinced sinners, who make a trial of these things as running into eternity, have other thoughts of them. And as to that which, it is pretended, every one believes, we have great cause to cry out, "Lord, who hath believed our report? to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed,"
2. That the discovery of forgiveness in God, being a matter of so great difficulty, is a thing precious and excellent, as being the foundation of all our communion with God here, and of all undeceiving expectation of our enjoyment of him hereafter. It is a pure gospel truth, that hath neither shadow, footstep, nor intimation elsewhere. The whole creation hath not the least obscure impression of it left thereon. So that, --
3. It is undoubtedly greatly incumbent on us to inquire diligently, as the prophets did of old, into this salvation; to consider what sure evidences faith hath of it, such as will not, as cannot fail us. To be slight and common in this matter, to take it up at random, is an argument of an unsound, rotten heart. He that is not serious in his inquiry into the revelation of this matter, is serious in nothing
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wherein God or his soul is concerned. The Holy Ghost knows what our frame of heart is, and how slow we are to receive this blessed truth in a gracious, saving manner. Therefore doth he confirm it unto us with such weighty considerations as, Heb. vi. 17, 18, "God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation." It is of forgiveness of sin that the apostle treats; as hath been made evident by the description of it before given. Now, to give evidence hereunto, and to beget a belief of it in us, he first engages a property of God's nature in that business. He with whom we deal is [--GREEK--] as Tit. i. 2, the God that cannot lie, that cannot deceive or be deceived: it is impossible it should be so with him. Now, as this extends itself in general to all the words and works of God, so there is peculiarly in this, whereof he treats, [--GREEK--] [--GREEK--] -- an especial "immutability of his counsel." [Heb. vi. 17.] Men may think that although there be words spoken about forgiveness, yet it is possible it may be otherwise." "No," saith the apostle; "it is spoken by God, and it is impossible he should lie." Yea, but upon the manifold provocations of sinners, he may change his mind and thoughts therein. "No," saith the apostle; "there is a peculiar immutability in his counsel concerning the execution of this thing: there can be no change in it." But how doth this appear, that indeed this is the counsel of his will? "Why," saith he, "he hath declared it by his word, and that given in a way of promise: which, as in its own nature it is suited to raise an expectation in him or them to whom it is made or given, so it requires exact faithfulness in the discharge and performance of it which God on his part will assuredly answer. But neither is this all; but that no place might be left for any cavilling objection in this matter, [--GREEK--] . 'he interposed himself by an oath.'" Thus we have this truth deduced from the veracity of God's nature, one of his essential excellencies; established in the immutable purpose of his will; brought forth by a word of promise; and confirmed by God's interposing himself against all occasions of exception (so to put an end unto all strife about it) by an oath, swearing by himself that so it should be. I have mentioned this only to show what weight the Holy Ghost lays upon the delivery of this great truth, and thence how deeply it concerns us to inquire diligently into it and after the grounds and evidences which may be tendered of it; which, among others, are these that follow: --
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Discovery of forgiveness in the first promise -- The evidence of the truth that lies therein -- And by the institution of sacrifices -- Their use and end -- Also by the prescription of repentance unto sinners.
I. THE first discovery of forgiveness in God (and which I place as the first evidence of it) was made in his dealing with our first parents after their shameful sin and fall. Now, to make it appear that this is an evidence that carries along with it a great conviction, and is such as faith may securely rest upon and close withal, the ensuing observations are to be considered: --
1. The first sin in the world was, on many accounts, the greatest sin that ever was in the world. It was the sin, as it were, of human nature, wherein there was a conspiracy of all individuals: "Omnes eramus unus ille homo;" -- "In that one man, or that one sin, 'we all sinned,' Rom. v. 12. It left not God one subject, as to moral obedience, on the earth, nor the least ground for any such to be unto eternity. When the angels sinned, the whole race or kind did not prevaricate. "Thousand thousands" of them, and "ten thousand times ten thousand," continued in their obedience, Dan. vii. 10. But here all and every individual of mankind (He only excepted which was not then in Adam)were embarked in the same crime and guilt. Besides, it disturbed the government of God in and over the whole creation. God had made all things, in number, weight, and measure, in order and beauty; pronouncing himself concerning his whole work that it was [--HEBREW--] , "exceeding beautiful and good," Gen. i. 31. Much of this beauty lay in the subordination of one thing to another, and of all to himself by the mediation and interposition of man, through whose praises and obedience the rest of the creation, being made subject unto him, was to return their tribute of honour and glory unto God. But all this order was destroyed by this sin, and the very "creation made subject to vanity," Rom. viii. 20; on which and the like accounts, it might be easily made to appear that it was the greatest sin that ever was in the world.
2. Man, who had sinned, subscribed in his heart and conscience unto the righteous sentence of the law. He knew what he had deserved, and looked for nothing but the immediate execution of the sentence of death upon him. Hence he meditates not a defence, expects no pardon, stays not for a trial, but flies and hides, and attempts an escape: Gen. iii. 10, "I was afraid," saith he, "and hid myself;" than which never were there words of greater horror in the world, nor shall be until the day of judgment. Poor creature! he was full of expectation of the vengeance due for a broken covenant.
3. God had newly declared in the sinning angels what his justice
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required, and how he could deal with sinning man, without the least
impeachment of his government, holiness, or goodness. See 2 Pet.
4. There was nothing without God himself that should move him in the least, so much as to suspend the execution of his wrath for one moment. He had not done so with the angels. All things lay now under wrath, curse, confusion, and disorder; nothing was left good, lovely, or desirable in his eye. As in the first creation, that which was first brought forth from nothing was [--HEBREW--] , "without form, and void," empty of all order and beauty, -- nothing was in it to induce or move God to bring forth all things in the glory that ensued, but the whole design of it proceeded from his own infinite goodness and wisdom, -- so was it now again. There was an emptiness and vanity brought by sin upon the whole creation. Nothing remained that might be a motive unto a merciful restoration, but all is again devolved on his sovereignty. All things being in this state and condition, wherein all doors stood open to the Glow of God's justice in the punishing of sin, nothing remaining without him to hold his hand in the least, the whole creation, and especially the sinner himself, lying trembling in expectation of a dreadful doom, what now cometh forth from him? The blessed word which we have, Gen. iii. 15, "The seed of the woman shall break the serpent's head." It is full well known that the whole mystery of forgiveness is wrapped up in this one word of promise. And the great way of its coming forth from God, by the blood of the Messiah, whose heel was to be bruised, is also intimated. And this was the first discovery that ever was made of forgiveness in God. By a word of pure revelation it was made, and so faith must take it up and receive it. Now, this revelation of forgiveness with God in this one promise was the bottom of all that worship that was yielded unto him by sinners for many ages; for we have showed before, that without this no sinner can have the least encouragement to approach unto him. And this will continue to the end of the world as a notable evidence of the truth in hand, a firm foundation for faith to rest and build upon. Let a sinner seriously consider the state of things as they were then in the world, laid down before, and then view God coming forth with a word of pardon and forgiveness, merely from his own love and those counsels of peace that were between the Father and the Son, and he cannot but conclude, under his greatest difficulties, that yet "there is forgiveness with God, that he may be feared." Let now the law and conscience, let sin and Satan, stand forth and except against his evidence. Enough may be spoken from it, whatever the particular case be about which the soul hath a contest with them, to put them all to silence.
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II. God revealed this sacred truth by his institution of sacrifices. Sacrifices by blood do all of them respect atonement, expiation, and consequently forgiveness. It is true, indeed, they could not themselves take away sin, nor make them perfect who came unto God by them, Heb. x. 1; but yet they undeniably evince the taking away of sin, or the forgiveness of it, by what they did denote and typify. I shall, therefore, look back into their rise and intendment: --
1. The original and first spring of sacrifices is not in the Scripture expressly mentioned, only the practice of the saints is recorded. But it is certain, from infallible Scripture evidences, that they were of God's immediate institution and appointment. God never allowed that the will or wisdom of man should be the spring and rule of his worship. That solemn word wherewith he fronts the command that is the rule of his worship, [--HEBREW--] -- , "Thou shalt not make to thyself," which is the life of the command (that which follows being an explanation and confirmation of the law itself by instances), cuts off all such pretences, and is as a flaming sword, turning every way to prevent men's arbitrary approaches to God's institutions. God will not part with his glory of being the only lawgiver, as to the whole concernment of his worship, or any part of it, unto any of the sons of men.
2. Neither is the time of their institution mentioned. Some of the Papists dispute (as there are a generation of philosophical disputers amongst them, by whom their tottering cause is supported) that there should have been sacrifices in paradise, if a man had not sinned. But as, in all their opinions, our first inquiry ought to be, What do they get by this or that? their whole religion being pointed unto their carnal interest, so we, may in particular do it upon this uncouth assertion, which is perfectly contradictious to the very nature and end of most sacrifices, -- namely, that they should be offered where there is no sin. Why, they hope to establish hence a general rule, that there can be no true worship of God, in any state or condition, without a sacrifice. What, then, I pray? Why, then it is evident that the continual sacrifice of the mass is necessary in the church, and that without it there is no true worship of God; and so they are quickly come home to their advantage and profit, -- the mass being that inexhaustible spring of revenue which feeds their pride and lust throughout the world. But there is in the church of Christ an altar still, and a sacrifice still, which they have rejected for the abominable figment of their mass, -- namely, Christ himself, as the apostle informs us, Heb. xiii. 10. But as the sacrifices of beasts could not have been before the entrance of sin, so it may be evidenced that they were instituted from the foundation of the world, -- that is,
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presently after the entrance of sin. Christ is called "The Lamb of God," John i. 29, which he was in reference unto the sacrifices of old, as 1 Pet. i. 18, 19; whence he is represented in the church as a "Lamb slain," Rev. v. 6, or giving out the efficacy of all sacrifices to his church. Now, he is said to be a "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," Rev. xiii. 8, which could not be unless some sacrifice, prefiguring his being slain, had been then offered; for it denotes not only the efficacy of his mediation, but the way. Besides, the apostle tells us that "without shedding of blood there was no remission," Heb. ix. 22, -- that is, God, to demonstrate that all pardon and forgiveness related to the blood of Christ from the foundation of the world, gave out no word of pardon but by and with blood. Now, I have showed before that he revealed pardon in the first promise; and therefore there ensued thereon the shedding of blood and sacrifices; and thereby that testament or covenant "was dedicated with blood" also, verse 18. Some think that the beasts, of whose skins God made garments for Adam, were offered in sacrifices. Nor is the conjecture vain; yea, it seems not to want a shadow of a gospel mystery, that their nakedness, which became their shame upon their sin (whence the pollution and shame of sin is frequently so termed), should be covered with the skins of their sacrifices: for in the true sacrifice there is somewhat answerable thereunto; and the righteousness of Him whose sacrifice takes away the guilt of our sin is called our clothing, that hides our pollution and shame.
3. That after the giving of the law, the greatest, most noble, and solemn part of the worship of God consisted in sacrifices. And this kind of worship continued, with the approbation of God, in the world about four thousand years; that is, from the entrance of sin until the death of the Messiah, the true sacrifice, which put an end unto all that was typical
These things being premised, we may consider what was the mind I and aim of God in the institution of this worship. One instance, and that of the most solemn of the whole kind, will resolve us in this inquiry. Lev. xvi. 5, "Two kids of the goats" are taken for "an offering for sin." Consider only (that we do not enlarge on particulars) how one of them was dealt withal: Verses 20-22, "He shall bring the live goat: and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited."
Let us see to what end is all this solemnity, and what is declared thereby. Wherefore should God appoint poor sinful men to come
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together, to take a goat or a lamb, and to confess over his head all their sins and transgressions, and to devote him to destruction under that confession? Had men invented this themselves, it had been a matter of no moment; but it was an institution of God, which he bound his church to the observation of upon the penalty of his highest displeasure. Certainly this was a solemn declaration that there is forgiveness with him. Would that God who is infinitely good, and so will not, who is infinitely true, holy, and faithful, and so cannot deceive, call men out, whom he loved, to a solemn representation of a thing wherein their chiefest, their eternal concernment doth lie, and suffer them to feed upon ashes? Let men take heed that they mock not God; for of a truth God mocketh not man until he be finally rejected by him. For four thousand years together, then, did God declare by sacrifices that there is forgiveness with him, and led his people by them to make a public representation of it in the face of the world. This is a second uncontrollable evidence of the truth asserted, which may possibly be of use to souls that come indeed deeply and seriously to deal with God; for though the practice be ceased, yet the instruction intended in them continues.
III. God's appointment of repentance unto sinners doth reveal that there is forgiveness in himself. I say, the prescription of repentance is a revelation of forgiveness. After the angels had sinned, God never once called them to repentance. He would not deceive them, but let them know what they were to look for at his hands; he hath no forgiveness for them, and therefore would require no repentance of them. It is not, nor ever was, a duty incumbent on them to repent. Nor is it so unto the damned in hell. God requires it not of them, nor is it their duty. There being no forgiveness for them, what should move them to repent? Why should it be their duty so to do? Their eternal anguish about sin committed hath nothing of repentance in it. Assignation then, of repentance is a revelation of forgiveness. God would not call upon a sinful creature to humble itself and bewail its sin if there were no way of recovery or relief; and the only way of recovery from the guilt of sin is pardon. So Job xxxiii. 27, 28, "He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; he will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light. " In the foregoing verses he declares the various ways that God used to bring men unto repentance. He did it by dreams, verses 15, 16; by afflictions, verse 19; by the preaching of the word, verse 23. What, then, doth God aim at in and by all these various ways of teaching? It is to cause man to say, "I have sinned, and perverted that which was right. " It is to bring him to repentance. What now if he obtain his end, and cometh to that
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which is aimed at? Why, then, there is forgiveness for him, as is declared, verse 28.
To improve this evidence, I shall confirm, by some few obvious considerations, these two things: -- l. That the prescription of repentance doth indeed evince that there is forgiveness with God. 2. That every one in whom there is repentance wrought towards God, may certainly conclude that there is forgiveness with God for him.
1. No repentance is acceptable with God but what is built or leans on the faith of forgiveness. We have a cloud of witnesses unto this truth in the Scripture. Many there have been, many are recorded who have been convinced of sin, perplexed about it, sorry for it, that have made open confession and acknowledgment of it, that, under the pressing sense of it, have cried out even to God for deliverance, and yet have come short of mercy, pardon, and acceptance with God. The cases of Cain, Pharaoh, Saul, Ahab, Judas, and others, might be insisted on. What was wanting, that made all that they did abominable? Consider one instance for all. It is said of Judas that he repented: Matt. xxvil. 3, G, "He repented himself. " But wherein did this repentance consist? (1.) He was convinced of his sin in general: [--GREEK--] , saith he, -- "I have sinned, " verse 4. (2.) He was sensible of the particular sin whereof he stood charged in conscience before God. "I have, " saith he, "betrayed innocent blood;" -- "I am guilty of blood, innocent blood, and that in the vilest manner, by treachery. " So that he comes, -- (3.) To a full and open confession of his sin. (4.) He makes restitution of what he was advantaged by his sin, "He brought again the thirty pieces of silver, " verse 3; -- all testifying a hearty sorrow that spirited the whole. Methinks now Judas' repentance looks like the young man's obedience, who cried out, "All these things have I done; is there any thing yet lacking?" Yea, one thing was wanting to that young man, -- he had no true faith nor love to God all this while; which vitiated and spoiled all the rest of his performances. One thing also is wanting to this repentance of Judas, -- he had no faith of forgiveness in God; that he could not believe; and, therefore, after all this sorrow, instead of coming to him, he bids him the utmost defiance, and goes away and hangs himself.
Indeed, faith of forgiveness, as hath been showed, hath many degrees. There is of them that which is indispensably necessary to render repentance acceptable. What it is in particular I do not dispute. It is not an assurance of the acceptance of our persons in general. It is not that the particular sin wherewith, it may he, the soul is perplexed, is forgiven. A general, so it be a gospel discovery that there is forgiveness in God, will suffice. The church expresseth
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it, Hos. xiv. 3, "In thee the fatherless findeth mercy;" and Joel ii. 14, "Who knoweth but he will return and repent? . . . . I have this ground, " saith the soul, "God is in himself gracious and merciful; the fatherless, the destitute and helpless, that come to him by Christ, find mercy in him. None in heaven and earth can evince but that he may return to me also. " Now, let a man's convictions be never so great, sharp, wounding; his sorrow never so abundant, overflowing, abiding; his confession never so full, free, or open, -- if this one thing be wanting, all is nothing but what tends to death.
2. To prescribe repentance as a duty unto sinners, without a foundation of pardon and forgiveness in himself, is inconsistent with the wisdom, holiness, goodness, faithfulness, and all other glorious excellencies and perfections of the nature of God; for, --
(1.) The apostle lays this as the great foundation of all consolation, that God cannot lie or deceive, Heb. vi. 18. And again, he engageth the faithfulness and veracity of God to the same purpose: Tit. i. 2, "God, who cannot lie, hath promised it. " Now, there is a lie, a deceit, in things as well as in words, He that doth a thing which in its own nature is apt to deceive them that consider it, with an intention of deceiving them, is no less a liar than he which affirms that to be true which he knows to be false. There is a lie in actions as well as in words. The whole life of a hypocrite is a lie; so saith the prophet of idolaters, there is "a lie in their right hand, " Isa. xliv. 20.
(2.) The proposal of repentance is a thing fitted and suited in its own nature to beget thoughts in the mind of a sinner that there is forgiveness with God. Repenting is for sinners only. "I come not, '. ' saith our Saviour, "to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. " It is for them, and them only. It was no duty for Adam in Eden, it is none for the angels in heaven, nor for the damned in hell. What, then, may be the language of this appointment? "O sinners, come and deal with God by repentance. " Doth it not openly speak forgiveness in God? and, if it were otherwise, could men possibly be more frustrated or deceived? would not the institution of repentance be a lie? Such a delusion may proceed from Satan, but not from Him who is the fountain of goodness, holiness, and truth. His call to repentance is a full demonstration of his readiness to forgive, Acts xvii. 30, 31. It is true, many do thus deceive themselves: they raise themselves unto an expectation of immunity, not on gospel grounds; and their disappointment is a great part of their punishment. But God deceives none; whoever comes to him on his proposal of repentance shall find forgiveness. It is said of some, indeed, that "he will laugh at their calamity, and mock when their fear cometh, " Prov. i. 26. He will aggravate their misery, by giving them
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to see what their pride and folly hath brought them unto. But who are they? Only such as refuse his call to repentance, with the promises of the acceptation annexed.
(3.) There is, then, no cause why those who are under a call to repentance should question whether there be forgiveness in God or no. This concerns my second proposition. "Come, " saith the Lord unto the souls of men, "leave your sinful ways, turn unto me; humble yourselves with broken and contrite heart. " "Alas!" say poor convinced sinners, "we are poor, dark, and ignorant creatures; or we are old in sin, or greater sinners or backsliders, or have fallen often into the same sins; -- can we expect there should be forgiveness for us?" Why, you are under God's invitation to repentance; and to disbelieve forgiveness is to call the truth, holiness, and faithfulness of God into question. If you will not believe forgiveness, pretend what you please, it is in truth because you hate repentance. You do but deceive your souls, when you pretend you come not up to repentance because you cannot believe forgiveness; for in the very institution of this duty God engageth all his properties to make it good that he hath pardon and mercy for sinners.
(4.) Much less cause is there to doubt of forgiveness where sincere repentance is in any measure wrought. No soul comes to repentance but upon God's call; God calls none but whom he hath mercy for upon their coming. And as for those who sin against the Holy Ghost, as they shut themselves out from forgiveness, so they are not called to repentance.
(5.) God expressly declares in the Scripture that the forgiveness that is with him is the foundation of his prescribing repentance unto man. One instance may suffice: Isa. Iv. 7, "Let the wicked forsake his way" ( [--HEBREW--] , "a perverse wicked one, " [--HEBREW--] , "and the man of iniquity his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy; and to our God, for [--HEBREW--] , he will multiply to pardon. " You see to whom he speaks, -- to men perversely wicked, and such as make a trade of sinning. What doth he call them unto? Plainly, to repentance, to the duty we have insisted on. But what is the ground of such an invitation unto such profligate sinners? Why, the abundant forgiveness and pardon that is with him, superabounding unto what the worst of them can stand in need of; as Rom. v. 20.
And this is another way whereby God hath revealed that there is forgiveness with him; and an infallible bottom for faith to build upon in its approaches unto God it is. Nor can the certainty of this evidence be called into question but on such grounds as are derogatory to the glory and honour of God. And this connection of repentance and forgiveness is that principle from whence God convinces a stubborn, unbelieving people that all his ways and dealings with sinners
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are just and equal, Ezek. xviii. 25. And should there be any failure in it, they could not be so. Every soul, then, that is under a call to repentance, whether out of his natural condition or from any backsliding into folly after conversion, hath a sufficient foundation to rest on as to the pardon he inquires after. God is ready to deal with him on terms of mercy. If, out of love to sin or the power of unbelief, he refuse to close with him on these terms, his condemnation is just. And it will be well that this consideration be well imprinted on the minds of men. I say, notwithstanding the general presumptions that men seem to have of this matter, yet these principles of it ought to be inculcated; for, --
[1.] Such is the atheism that lies lurking in the hearts of men by nature, that, notwithstanding their pretences and professions, we have need to be pressing upon them evidences of the very being and essential properties of God. In so doing, we have the assistance of inbred notions in their own minds, which they cannot eject, to help to carry on the work. How much more is this necessary in reference unto the free acts of the will of God, which are to be known only by mere revelation! Our word had need to be "line upon line;" and yet, when we have done, we have cause enough to cry out, as was said, "Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?"
[2.] What was spoken before of the obstacles that lie in the way, hindering souls from a saving reception of this truth, ought to be remembered. Those who have no experience of them between God and their souls seem to be ignorant of the true nature of conscience, law, gospel, grace, sin, and forgiveness.
[3.] Many who are come to a saving persuasion of it, yet having not received it upon clear and unquestionable grounds, and so not knowing how to resolve their faith of it into its proper principles, are not able to answer the objections that lie against it in their own consciences, and so do miserably fluctuate about it all their days. These had need to have these principles inculcated on them. Were they pondered aright, some might have cause to say, with the Samaritans, who first gave credit to the report of the woman, John iv. they had but a report before, but now they find all things to be according unto it, yea, to exceed it. A little experience of a man's own unbelief, with the observation that may easily be made of the uncertain progresses and fluctuations of the spirits of others, will be a sufficient conviction of the necessity of the work we are engaged in.
But it will yet be said, that it is needless to multiply arguments and evidences in this case, the truth insisted on being granted as one of the' fundamental principles of religion. As it is not, then, by
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any called in question, so it doth not appear that so much time and pains is needful for the confirmation of it; for what is granted and plain needs little confirmation. But several things may be returned in answer hereunto; all which may at once be here pleaded for the multiplication of our arguments in this matter: --
1. That it is generally granted by all is no argument that it is effectually believed by many. Sundry things are taken for granted in point of opinion that are not so believed as to be improved in practice. We have in part showed before, and shall afterward undeniably evince, that there are very few that believe this truth with that faith that will interest them in it and give them the benefit of it. And what will it avail any of us that there is forgiveness of sin with God, if our sins be not forgiven? No more than that such or such a king is rich, whilst we are poor and starving. My aim is not to prove it as an opinion or a mere speculative truth, but so to evidence it in the principles of its being and revelation as that it may be believed; whereon all our blessedness depends.
2. It needs never the less confirmation because it is a plain fundamental truth, but rather the more; and that because both of the worth and weight of it. "This is a faithful saying, " saith the apostle, "worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. " So I say of this, which, for the substance of it, is the same with that. It is worthy of all acceptation, namely, that there is forgiveness with God; and therefore ought it to be fully confirmed, especially whilst we make use of no other demonstrations of it but those only which God hath furnished us withal to that purpose: and this he would not have done, but that he knew them needful for us. And for the plainness of this truth, it is well if it be so unto us. This I know, nothing but the Spirit of God can make it so. Men may please themselves and others sometimes with curious notions, and make them seem to be things of great search and attainment, which, when they are well examined, it may be they are not true; or if they are, are yet of a very little consequence or importance. It is these fundamental truths that have the mysteries of the wisdom and grace of God inwrapped in them; which whoso can unfold aright, will show himself "a workman that needs not be ashamed. " These still waters are deep; and the farther we dive into them, the greater discovery shall we make of their depths. And many other sacred truths there are whose mention is common, but whose depths are little searched and whose efficacy is little known.
3. We multiply these evidences, because they are multitudes that are concerned in them. All that do believe, and all that do not believe, are so, -- those that do believe, that they may be established; and those that do not believe, that they may be encouraged so to do.
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Among both these sorts, some evidences may he more profitable and useful, one to one, some to another. It may be, amongst all, all will be gathered up, that no fragments be lost. They are all, I hope, instruments provided by the Holy Ghost for this end; and by this ordinance do we endeavour to put them into his hand, to be made effectual as he Will. One may reach one soul, another another, according to his pleasure. One may be of use to establishment, another to consolation, a third to encouragement, according as the necessities of poor souls do require. However, God, who hath provided them, knows them all to he needful
4. They are so, also, upon the account of the various conditions wherein the spirits of believers themselves may be. One may give help to the same soul at one season, another at another; one may secure the soul against a temptation, another stir it up to thankfulness and obedience,
These things have I spoken, that you may not think we dwell too long on this consideration. And I pray God that your consolation and establishment may abound in the reading of these meditations, as I hope they have not been altogether without their fruit in their preparation.
Farther evidences of forgiveness with God -- Testimonies that God was well pleased with some that were sinners -- The patience of God towards the world an evidence of forgiveness -- Experience of the saints of God to the same purpose.
IV. LET US, then, in the fourth place, as a fourth evidence of this truth, consider those, both under the Old Testament and the New, concerning whom we have the greatest assurance that God was well pleased with them, and that they are now in the enjoyment of him. And this argument unto this purpose the apostle insists upon, and presseth from sundry instances, Heb. xi. How many doth he there reckon up who of old "obtained a good report, " and "this testimony, that they pleased God!" verses 2, 5. "All these inherited the promises" through believing, -- that is, obtained the "forgiveness of sins " for whereas "by nature they were children of wrath, " and "under the curse" as well as others, obtaining an infallible interest in the favour of God, and this testimony, "that they pleased him, " it could no otherwise be; for without this, on a just account, every one of them would have continued in the state wherein Adam was when he "heard the voice of God, and was afraid. " Wherefore, it being evident that some persons, in all generations, have enjoyed the friendship, love, and favour of God in this world, and at their de-
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parture out of it have entered into glory, it makes it evident that there is forgiveness of sin with him; without which these things could not be.
Let us, after the example of the apostle, mention some particular instances in this matter. Look unto Abraham: he was the "friend of God, " and walked with God. God made a solemn covenant with him, and takes it for his memorial throughout all generations that he is the "God of Abraham. " And he is doubtless now at rest with God. Our Saviour calls the place or condition whereinto blessed souls are gathered, "Abraham's bosom. " He is at rest with whom others are at rest.
The condition was the same with Isaac and Jacob. They also are in heaven, being alive unto and with God. Our Saviour proves it from the tenor of the covenant: "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, " Matt. xxii. 32. They are yet alive, alive unto God, and with him by virtue of the covenant; or, after their death, God would not be said to be their God. This is the force of our Saviour's argument in that place, that after their death God was still their God. Then death had not reached their whole persons. They were still alive with God in heaven; and their bodies, by virtue of the same covenant, were to be recovered out of the dusk
The same is the state with David. He was a "man after God's own heart, " that did his will and fulfilled all his pleasure. And although he died, and his body saw corruption, yet he is not lost; he is with God in heaven. Hence he ended his days triumphantly, in a full apprehension of eternal rest, beyond what could in this world be attained, and that by virtue of the covenant; for these are the last words of])avid, "Although my house be not so with God, yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, " ascertaining unto him sure and eternal mercies, 2 Sam. xxiii. 5.
Peter also is in heaven. Christ prayed for him that his faith should not fail; and in his death he glorified God, John xxi. 19. So is Paul; he also is in heaven. He knew that when he was dissolved he should be with Christ.
Here, then, "we are compassed about with a cloud of witnesses;" for, --
1. It is most certain that they were all sinners. They were all so by nature; for therein there is no difference between any of the children of men. And personally they were sinners also. They confessed so of themselves, and some of the sins of all of them stand upon record. Yea, some of them were great sinners, or guilty of great and signal miscarriages; -- some before their conversion, as Abraham, who was an idolater, Josh. xxiv. 2, 3, and Paul, who was
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a persecutor and a blasphemer; some after their conversion; some in sins of the flesh against their obedience, as David; and some in sins of profession against faith, as Peter. Nothing, then, is more evident than that no one of them came to rest with God but by forgiveness. Had they never been guilty of any one sin, but only what is left upon record concerning them in holy writ, yet they could be saved no other way; for he that transgresseth the law in any one point is guilty of the breach of the whole, James ii. 10.
What shall we now say? Do we think that God hath forgiveness only for this or that individual person? No man questions but that all these were pardoned. Was it by virtue of any especial personal privilege that was peculiar unto them? Whence should any such privilege arise, seeing by nature they were no better than others, nor would have been so personally had not they been delivered from sin, and prepared for obedience by grace, mercy, and pardon? Wherefore, they all obtained forgiveness by virtue of the covenant, from the forgiveness which is with God. And this is equally ready for others who come to God the same way that they did; that is, by faith and repentance.
2. Many of those concerning whom we have the assurance mentioned were not only sinners but great sinners, as was said; which must be also insisted on, to obviate another objection. For some may say, that although they were sinners, yet they were not such sinners as we are; and although they obtained forgiveness, yet this is no argument that we shall do so also, who are guilty of other sins than they were, and those attended with other aggravations than theirs were. To which I say, that I delight not in aggravating, no, nor yet in repeating, the sins and faults of the saints of God of old. Not only the grace of God, but the sins of men have by some been turned into lasciviousness, or been made a cloak for their lusts. But yet, for the ends and purposes for which they are recorded by the Holy Ghost, we may make mention of them. That they may warn us of our duty, that we take heed lest we also fall, that they may yield us a relief under our surprisals, are they written. So, then, where the mention of them tends to the advancement of sovereign grace and mercy, which is the case in hand, we may insist on them. I think, then, that, without mention of particulars, I may safely say that there is no sin, no degree of sin, no aggravating circumstance of sin, no kind of continuance in sin (the only sin excepted), but that there are those in heaven who have been guilty of them.
It may be, yet some will say that they have considered the sins and falls of Lot, David, Peter, Paul, and the thief himself on the cross, and yet they find not their own condition exemplified, so as to conclude that they shall have the same success with them.
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Ans. 1. I am not showing that this or that man shall be pardoned, but only demonstrating that there is forgiveness with God, and that for all sorts of sins and sinners; which these instances do assuredly confirm. And, moreover, they manifest that if other men are not pardoned, it is merely because they make not that application for forgiveness which they did.
2. Yet by the way, to take off this objection also, consider what the apostle says in particular concerning the several sorts of sinners that obtained mercy: I Cor. vi. 9-11, "Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified. " Hell can scarce, in no more words, yield us a sadder catalogue. Yet some of all these sorts were justified and pardoned.
3. Suppose this enumeration of sins doth not reach the condition of the soul, because of some especial aggravation of its sin not expressed; -- let such a one add that of our Saviour: Matt. xii. 31, "I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. " They are not, they shall not be, all actually remitted and pardoned unto all men; but they are all pardonable unto those that seek to obtain pardon for them according unto the gospel. There is with God forgiveness for them all. Now, certainly there is no sin, but only that excepted, but it comes within the compass of" All manner of sin and blasphemy;" and so, consequently, some that have been guilty of it are now in heaven.
We take it for a good token and evidence of a virtuous healing water, when, without fraud or pretence, we see the crutches of cured cripples and impotent persons hung about it as a memorial of its efficacy. And it is a great demonstration of the skill and ability of a physician, when many come to a sick person and tell him "We had the same distemper with you, -- it had the same symptoms, the same effects; and by his skill and care we are cured. " "Oh!" saith the sick man, "bring him unto me, I will venture my life in his band. " Now, all the saints of heaven stand about a sin-sick soul; for in this matter "we are compassed about with a cloud of witnesses, " Heb. xii. 1. And what do they bear witness unto? what say they unto a poor guilty sinner? "As thou art, so were we; so guilty, so perplexed, so obnoxious to wrath, so fearing destruction from God. " "And what way did you steer, what course did you take, to obtain the blessed condition wherein now you are?" Say they, "We went all to God through Christ for forgiveness; and found plenty of grace,
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mercy, and pardon in him for us all. " The rich man in the parable thought it would be a great means of conversion if one should "rise from the dead" and preach; but here we see that all the saints departed and now in glory do jointly preach this fundamental truth, that "there is forgiveness with God."
Poor souls are apt to think that all those whom they read or hear of to be gone to heaven, went thither because they were so good and so holy. It is true many of them were eminently and exemplarily so in their generations, all of them were so according to their degrees and measures; for "without holiness no man can see God, " -- and it is our duty to labour to be like unto them in holiness, if ever we intend to be so in happiness and glory; -- but yet not one of them, not any one that is now in heaven, Jesus Christ alone excepted, did ever come thither any other way but by forgiveness of sin; and that will also bring us thither, though we come short of many of them in holiness and grace.
And this evidence of forgiveness! the rather urge, because I find the apostle Paul doing of it eminently in his own person: 1 Tim. i. 12-16, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. " "A great sinner, " saith he, "the chiefest of sinners I was;" which he manifests by some notable instances of his sin. "I was, " saith he, "a blasphemer, " -- the highest sin against God; "a persecutor, " -- the highest sin against the saints; "injurious, " -- the highest wickedness towards mankind. "But, " saith he, "I obtained mercy, I am pardoned;" -- and that with a blessed effect; first, that he should after all this be so accounted faithful as to be put into the ministry; and then that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in him and towards him was exceeding abundant. And what was the reason, what was the cause, that he was thus dealt withal? Why, it was that he might be a pattern, an evidence, an argument, that there was grace, mercy, forgiveness, to be had for all sorts of sinners that would believe to life everlasting.
To conclude, then, this evidence -- Every one who is now in heaven hath his pardon sealed in the blood of Christ. All these pardons are, as it were, hanged up in the gospel; they are all enrolled in the
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promises thereof, for the encouragement of them that stand in need of forgiveness to come and sue out theirs also. Fear not, then, the guilt of sin, but the love of it and the power of it. If we love and like sin better than forgiveness, we shall assuredly go without it. If we had but rather be pardoned in God's way than perish, our condition is secure.
V. The same is evident from the patience of God towards the world, and the end of it For the clearing hereof we may observe, --
1. That upon the first entrance of sin and breach of that covenant which God had made with mankind in Adam, he might immediately have executed the threatened curse, and have brought eternal death upon them that sinned. Justice required that it should be so, and there was nothing in the whole creation to interpose so much as for a reprieve or a respite of vengeance. And had God then sent sinning man, with the apostate angels that induced him into sin, immediately into eternal destruction, he would have been glorified in his righteousness and severity by and among the angels that sinned not. Or he could have created a new race of innocent creatures to have worshipped him and glorified him for his righteous judgment, even as the elect at the last day shall do for the destruction of ungodly men.
2. God hath not taken this course. He hath continued the race of mankind for a long season on the earth; he hath watched over them with his providence, and exercised exceeding patience, forbearance, and long-suffering towards them. Thus the apostle Paul at large discourseth on, Acts xiv. 15-17, xvii. 24-30, as also Rom. ii. 4. And it is open and manifest in their event. The whole world is every day filled with tokens of the power and patience of God; every nation, every city, every family is filled with them.
3. That there is a common abuse of this patience of God visible in the world in all generations. So it was of old: God saw it to be so, and complained of it, Gen. vi. 5, 6. All the evil, sin, wickedness, that hath been in the world, which no heart can conceive, no tongue can express, hath been all an abuse of this patience of God. This, with the most, is the consequent of God's patience and forbearance. Men count it a season to fulfil all the abominations that their evil hearts can suggest unto them, or Satan draw them into a combination with himself in. This the state of things in the world proclaims, and every one's experience confirms.
4. Let us, therefore, consider what is the true and proper end of this patience of God towards the world, enduring it in sin and wickedness for so long a season, and suffering one generation to be multiplied after another. Shall we think that God hath no ether design in all this patience towards mankind, in all generations, but
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merely to suffer them, all and every one, without exception, to sin against him, dishonour him, provoke him, that so he may at length everlastingly destroy them all? It is confessed that this is the consequent, the event of it with the most, through their perverse wickedness, with their love of sin and pleasure. But is this the design of God, -- his only design? Hath he no other purpose but merely to forbear them a while in their folly, and then to avenge himself upon them? Is this his intendment, not only towards those who are obstinate in their darkness, ignorance, and rebellion against him, whose "damnation is just, and sleepeth not, " but also towards those whom he stirs up by his grace to seek after a remedy and deliverance from the state of sin and death? God forbid; yea, such an apprehension would be contrary to all those notions of the infinite wisdom and goodness of God which are ingrafted upon our hearts by nature, and which all his works manifest and declare. Whatever, therefore, it be, this cannot be the design of God in his patience towards the world. It cannot be but that he must long since have cut off the whole race of mankind, if he had no other thoughts and purposes towards them.
5. If this patience of God hath any other intention towards any, any other effect upon some, upon any, that is to be reckoned the principal end of it, and for the sake whereof it is evidently extended unto some others, consequentially unto all. For those concerning whom God hath an especial design in his patience, being to be brought forth in the world after the ordinary way of mankind, and that in all ages during the continuance of the world, from the beginning unto the end thereof, the patience which is extended unto them must also of necessity reach unto all in that variety wherein God is pleased to exercise it. The whole world, therefore, is continued under the patience of God and the fruits of it, for the sake of some that are in it.
6. Let us, therefore, see what is the end of this patience, and what it teacheth us. Now, it can have no end possible but only that before rejected, unless there be forgiveness of sins with God. Unless God be ready and willing to forgive the sins of them that come to him according unto his appointment, his patience is merely subservient unto a design of wrath, anger, severity, and a resolution to destroy. Now, this is an abomination once to suppose, and would reflect unspeakable dishonour upon the holy God. Let a man but deal thus, and it is a token of as evil an habit of mind, and perverse, as any can befall him. Let him bear with those that are in his power in their faults, for no other end or with no other design but that he may take advantage to bring a greater punishment and revenge upon them; and what more vile affection, what more
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wretched corruption of heart and mind, can he manifest? And shall we think that this is the whole design of the patience of God? God forbid.
It may be objected "That this argument is not cogent, because of the instance that lies against it in God's dealing with the angels that sinned. It is evident that they fell into their transgression and apostasy before mankind did so, for they led and seduced our first parents into sin; and yet God bears with them, and exerciseth patience towards them, to this very day, and will do so unto the consummation of all things, when they shall be east into the fire 'prepared for the devil and his angels;' and yet it is granted that there is no forgiveness in God for them: so that it cloth not necessarily follow that there is so for man, because of his patience towards them."
I answer, that this must be more fully spoken unto when we come to remove that great objection against this whole truth which was mentioned before, taken from God's dealing with the sinning angels, whom he spared not. At present two or three observations will remove it out of our way; for, --
(1.) The case is not the same with the sinning angels and the race of mankind in all generations. There are no other angels in this condition, but only those individuals who first sinned in their own persons. They are not, in the providence and patience of God, multiplied and increased in ensuing times and seasons, but they continue the same individual persons who first sinned, and no more; so that immediate execution of the whole punishment due unto their sin would not have prevented any increase of them. But now with man it is otherwise; for God continues his patience towards them to the production of millions of other persons, who were not actually in the first sin. Had not God so continued his forbearance, their being, and consequently their sin and misery, had been prevented; so that the case is not the same with sinning angels and men.
(2.) Indeed God exerciseth no patience toward the angels that sinned, and that because he had no forgiveness for them. So Peter tells us, 2 Epist. ii. 4, "God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness. " Immediately upon their sin they were cast out of the presence of God, whose vision and enjoyment they were made for, and which they received some experience of; and they were cast into hell, as the place of their ordinary retention and of their present anguish, under the sense of God's curse and displeasure. And although they may some of them be permitted to compass the earth, and to walk to and fro therein, to serve the ends of God's holy, wise providence, and so to be out of their prison, yet they are still in their
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chains; for they were delivered unto chains of darkness, to be kept unto the last judgment. And in these things they lie actually under the execution of the curse of God, so that there is indeed no patience exercised towards them. If a notorious malefactor or murderer be committed unto a dungeon, and kept bound with iron chains to prevent his escape, until the appointed day of his solemn judgment and execution, without the]east intention to spare him, none will say there is patience exercised towards him, things being disposed only so as that his punishment may be secure and severe. And such is the case, such is the condition of the angels that sinned; who are not, therefore, to be esteemed objects of God's patience.
(3.) The reason why the full and final punishment of these angels is reserved and respited unto the appointed season is not for their own sakes, their good, benefit, or advantage at all, but merely that the end of God's patience towards mankind might be accomplished. When this is once brought about they shall not be spared a day, an hour, a moment. So that God's dispensation towards them is nothing but a mere withholding the infliction of the utmost of their punishment, until he hath accomplished the blessed ends of his patience towards mankind.
But you will say, secondly, "Is it not said that God, ' willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endures with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction?' Rom. ix. 22; so that it seems that the end of God's endurance and long-suffering, to some at least, is only their fitting unto destruction."
Ans. 1. It is one thing to endure with much long-suffering, another thing to exercise and declare patience. The former only intimates God's withholding for a season of that destruction which he might justly inflict, which we speak not of; the other denotes an acting in a way of goodness and kindness for some especial end.
2. The next verse declares the great end of God's patience, and answers this objection: "That he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, " verse 23. This is the great end of God's patience, which whilst he is in the pursuit of towards the vessels of mercy, he endureth others with much long-suffering and forbearance. This, then, is fully evident, that there could be no sufficient reason assigned of the patience of God towards sinners, but that there is forgiveness prepared for them that come to him by Christ.
And this the Scripture clearly testifies unto, 2 Pet. iii. 9. The question is, What is the reason why God forbears the execution of his judgment upon wicked and ungodly men? Some would have it that God is slack, that is, regardless of the sins of men, and takes no notice of them. "No, " saith the apostle; "God hath another
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design in his patience and long-suffering. " What is this? "It is to manifest that he is not willing we should perish. " That is it which we have proved; for our freedom from destruction is by repentance, which necessarily infers the forgiveness of sin. So Paul tells us that in the gospel is declared what is the end of God's patience and forbearance: "It is, " saith he, "the remission of sins, " Rom. iii. 25.
Let us, therefore, also mind this evidence in the application of ourselves to God for pardon. It is certain that God might have taken us from the womb, and have cast us into utter darkness; and in the course of our lives we have been guilty of such provocations as God might justly have taken the advantage of to glorify his justice and severity in our ruin; but yet we have lived thus long, in the patience and forbearance of God. . And to what end hath he thus spared us, and let pass those advantages for our destruction that we have put into his hand? Is it not that he might by his patience give us leave and space to get an interest in that forgiveness which he thus testifies to be in himself? Let us, then, be encouraged by it to use it unto the end and purpose for which it is exercised towards us. You that are yet in doubt of your condition, consider that the patience of God was extended unto you this day, this very day, that you might use it for the obtaining of the remission of your sins. Lose not this day, nor one day more, as you love your souls; for woful will be their condition who shall perish for despising or abusing the patience of God.
VI. The faith and experience of the saints in this world give in testimony unto this truth; and we know that their record in this matter is true. Let us, then, ask of them what they believe, what they have found, what they have experience of, as to the forgiveness of sin. This God himself directs and leads us unto by appealing unto our own experience, whence he shows us that we may take relief and supportment in our distresses: Isa. xl. 9. 8, "Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard?" -- " Hast not thou thyself, who now criest out that thou art lost and undone because God hath forsaken thee, found and known by experience the contrary, from his former dealings with thee?" And if our own experiences may confirm us against the workings of our unbelief, so may those of others also. And this is that which Eliphaz directs Job unto, chap. v. 1, "Call now, if there be any that will answer thee; and to which of the saints wilt thou look?" It is not a supplication to them for help that is intended, but an inquiry after their experience in the case in hand, wherein he wrongfully thought they could not justify Job. [--HEBREW--] [--HEBREW--] , "To which of the saints, on the right hand or left, wilt thou have regard in this matter?" Some would foolishly hence seek to confirm the invocation of the saints departed; when, indeed, if
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they were intended, it is rather forbidden and discountenanced than directed unto. But the [--HEBREW--] here are the [--HEBREW--] , Ps. xvi. 2, "The saints that are in the earth, " whose experiences Job is directed to inquire into and after. David makes it a great encouragement unto waiting upon God, as a God hearing prayer, that others had done so and found success: Ps, xxxiv. 6, "This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. " If he did so, and had that blessed issue, why should not we do so also? The experiences of one axe often proposed for the confirmation and establishment of others. So the same David: "Come, " saith he, "and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul. " He contents not himself to mind them of the word, promises, and providence of God, which he doth most frequently; but he will give them the encouragement and supportment also of his own experience. So Paul tells us that he "was comforted of God in all his tribulation, that he might be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith he himself was comforted of God, " 2 Cor. i. 4; that is, that he might be able to communicate unto them his own experience of God's dealing with him, and the satisfaction and assurance that he found therein. So also he proposeth the example of God's dealing with him in the pardon of his sins as a great motive unto others to believe, 1 Tim. i. 18-16. And this mutual communication of satisfying experiences in the things of God, or of our spiritual sense and evidence of the power, efficacy, and reality of gospel truths, being rightly managed, is of singular use to all sorts of believers. So the same great apostle acquaints us in his own example, Rom. i. 11, 12, "I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; that is, that I may be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith both of you and me. " He longed not only to be instructing of them, in the pursuit of the work of the ministry committed unto him, but to confer also with them about their mutual faith, and what experiences of the peace of God in believing they had attained.
We have in our case called in the testimony of the saints in heaven, with whom those on earth do make up one family, even that one family in heaven and earth which is called after the name of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Eph. iii. 14, 1. 5. And they all agree in their testimony, as becomes the family and children of God. But those below we may deal personally with; whereas we gather the witness of the other only from what is left upon record concerning them. And for the clearing of this evidence sundry things are to be observed; as, --
1. Men living under the profession of religion, and not experi-
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encing the power, virtue, and efficacy of it in their hearts, are, whatever they profess, very near to atheism, or at least exposed to great temptations thereunto. If "they profess they know God, but in works deny him, " they are "abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate," Tit. i. 16. Let such men lay aside tradition and custom, let them give up themselves to a free and a rational consideration of things, and they will quickly find that all their profession is but a miserable self-deceiving, and that, indeed, they believe not one word of the religion which they profess: for of what their religion affirms to be in themselves they find not any thing true or real; and what reason have they, then, to believe that the things which it speaks of that are without them are one jot better? If they have no experience of what it affirms to be within them, what confidence can they have of the reality of what it reveals to be without them? John tells us that "he who saith he loves God whom he hath not seen, and doth not love his brother whom he hath seen, is a liar. " Men who do not things of an equal concernment unto them wherein they may be tried, are not to be believed in what they profess about greater things, whereof no trial can be had. So he that believes not, who experienceth not, the power of that which the religion he professeth affirms to be in him, if he says that he doth believe other things which he can have no experience of, he is a liar. For instance, he that professeth the gospel avows that the death of Christ doth crucify sin; that faith purifieth the heart; that the Holy Ghost quickens and enables the soul unto duty; that God is good and gracious unto all that come unto him; that there is precious communion to be obtained with him by Christ; that there is great joy in believing. These things are plainly, openly, frequently insisted on in the gospel Hence the apostle presseth men unto obedience on the account of them; and, as it were, leaves them at liberty from it if they were not so, Phil. ii. 1, 2. Now, if men have lived long in the profession of these things, saying that they are so, but indeed find nothing of truth, reality, or power in them, have no experience of the effects of them in their own hearts or souls, what stable ground have they of believing any thing else in the gospel whereof they cannot have experience? A man professeth that the death of Christ will mortify sin and subdue corruption; why doth he believe it? Because it is so affirmed in the gospel. How, then, doth he find it to be so? hath it this effect upon his soul, in his own heart? Not at all; he finds no such thing in him. How, then, can this man believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God because it is affirmed in the gospel, seeing that he finds no real truth of that which it affirms to be in himself? So our Saviour argues, John iii. 12, "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how will ye believe
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if I tell you heavenly things?" -- " If you believe not the doctrine of regeneration, which you ought to have experience of, as a thing that is wrought in the hearts of men on the earth, how can you assent unto those heavenly mysteries of the gospel which at first are to be received by a pure act of faith, without any present sense or experience?"
Of all dangers, therefore, in profession, let professors take heed of this, -- namely, of a customary, traditional, or doctrinal owning such truths as ought to have their effects and accomplishment in themselves, whilst they have no experience of the reality and efficacy of them. This is plainly to have a form of godliness, and to deny the power thereof. And of this sort of men do we see many turning atheists, scoffers, and open apostates. They find in themselves that their profession was a lie, and that in truth they had none of those things which they talked of; and to what end should they continue longer in the avowing of that which is not? Besides, finding those things which they have professed to be in them not to be so, they think that what they have believed of the things that are without them are of no other nature; and so reject them altogether.
You will say, then, "What shall a man do who cannot find or obtain an experience in himself of what is affirmed in the word? He cannot find the death of Christ crucifying sin in him, and he cannot find the Holy Ghost sanctifying his nature, or obtain joy in believing; what shall he, then, do? shall he not believe or profess those things to be so, because he cannot obtain a blessed experience of them?" I answer, our Saviour hath perfectly given direction in this case: John vii. 17, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. " Continue in following after the things revealed in the doctrine of the gospel, and you shall have a satisfactory experience that they are true, and that they are of God. Cease not to act faith on them, and you shall find their effects; for "then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD, " Hos. vi. 3. Experience will ensue upon permanency in faith and obedience; yea, the first act of sincere believing will be accompanied with such a taste, will give the soul so much experience, as to produce a firm adherence unto the things believed. And this is the way to "prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God, " which is revealed unto us, Rom. xii. 2.
2. Where there is an inward, spiritual experience of the power, reality, and efficacy of any supernatural truth, it gives great satisfaction, stability, and assurance unto the soul. It puts the soul out of danger or suspicion of being deceived, and gives it to have the testimony of God in itself. So the apostle tells us, "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself, " 1 John
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v. 10. He had discoursed of the manifold testimony that is given in heaven by all the holy persons of the Trinity, and on earth by grace and ordinances, unto the forgiveness of sin and eternal life to be obtained by Jesus Christ. And this record is true, firm, and stable, an abiding foundation for souls to rest upon, that will never deceive them. But yet all this while it is without us, -- it is that which we have no experience of in ourselves; only we rest upon it because of the authority and faithfulness of them that gave it. But now he that actually believeth, he hath the testimony in himself; he hath by experience a real evidence and assurance of the filings testified unto, -- namely, "That God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son, " verse 11. Let us, then, a little consider wherein this evidence consisteth, and from whence this assurance ariseth. To this end some few things must be considered; as, --
(1.) That there is a great answerableness and correspondency between the heart of a believer and the truth that he doth believe. As the word is in the gospel, so is grace in the heart; yea, they are the same thing variously expressed: Rom. vi. 1 7, "Ye have obeyed from the heart, " [--GREEK--] [--GREEK--] , "that form of doctrine which was delivered you. " As our translation doth not, so I know not how in so few words to express that which is emphatically here insinuated by the Holy Ghost. The meaning is, that the doctrine of the gospel begets the form, figure, image, or likeness of itself in the hearts of them that believe, so they are cast into the mould of it. As is the one, so is the other. The principle of grace in the heart and that in the word are as children of the same parent, completely resembling and representing one another. Grace is a living word, and the word is figured, limned grace. As is regeneration, so is a regenerate heart; as is the doctrine of faith, so is a believer. And this gives great evidence unto and assurance of the things that are believed: "As we have heard, so we have seen and found it. " Such a soul can produce the duplicate of the word, and so adjust all things thereby.
(2.) That the first original expression of divine truth is not in the word, no, not as given out from the infinite abyss of divine wisdom and veracity, but it is first hid, laid up, and expressed in the person of Christ. He is the [--GREEK--] , the first pattern of truth, which from him is expressed in the word, and from and by the word impressed in the hearts of believers: so that as it hath pleased God that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge should be in him, dwell in him, have their principal residence in him, Col. ii. 3; so the whole word is but a revelation of the truth in Christ, or an expression of his image and likeness to the sons of men. Thus we are said to learn "the truth as it is in Jesus, " Eph. iv. 21. It is in Jesus
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originally and really; and from him it is communicated unto us by the word. We are thereby taught and do learn it, for thereby, as the apostle proceeds, "we are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and do put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness, " verses 23, 24. First, the truth is in Jesus, then it is expressed in the word; this word learned and believed becomes grace in the heart, every way answering unto the Lord Christ his image, from whom this transforming truth did thus proceed. Nay, this is carried by the apostle yet higher, namely, unto God the Father himself, whose image Christ is, and believers his through the word: 2 Cor. iii. 18, "We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord;" whereunto add chap. iv. 6, "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. " The first pattern or example of all truth and holiness is God himself; hereof "Christ is the image, " verse 4. Christ is the image of God, "The brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, " Heb. i. 8; "The image of the invisible God, " Col. i. 15. Hence we are said to "see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ;" because he being his image, the love, grace, and truth of the Father are represented and made conspicuous in him: for we are said to "behold it in his face, " because of the open and illustrious manifestation of the glory of God in him. And how do we behold this glory? In a glass, -- " As in a glass;" that is, in the gospel, which hath the image and likeness of Christ, who is the image of God, reflected upon it and communicated unto it. So have we traced truth and grace from the person of the Father unto the Son as a mediator, and thence transfused into the word. In the Father it is essentially; in Jesus Christ originally and exemplarily; and in the word as in a transcript or copy. But doth it abide there? No; God by the word of the gospel "shines in our hearts, " 2 Cor. iv. 6. He irradiates our minds with a saving light into it and apprehension of it. And what thence ensues? The soul of a believer is "changed into the same image" by the effectual working of the Holy Ghost, chap. iii. 18; that is, the likeness of Christ implanted on the word is impressed on the soul itself, whereby it is renewed into the image of God, whereunto it was at first created. This brings all into a perfect harmony. There is not, where gospel truth is effectually received and experienced in the soul, only a consonancy merely between the soul and the word, but between the soul and Christ by the word, and the soul and God by Christ. And this gives assured establishment unto the soul in the things that it doth believe. Divine truth so conveyed unto us is firm, stable, and immovable; and we can say of it in a spiritual sense, "'That which
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we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life, ' we know to be true. " Yea, a believer is a testimony to the certainty of truth in what he is, much beyond what he is in all that he saith. Words may be pretended; real effects have their testimony inseparably annexed unto them.
(3.) Hence it appears that there must needs be great assurance of those truths which are thus received and believed; for hereby are "the senses exercised to discern both good and evil, " Heb. v. 14. Where there is a spiritual sense of truth, of the good and evil that is in doctrines, from an inward experience of what is so good, and from thence an aversation unto the contrary, and this obtained [--GREEK--] , by reason of a habit or an habitual frame of heart, there is strength, there is steadfastness and assurance. This is the teaching of the unction, which will not, which cannot, deceive. Hence many of old and of late that could not dispute could yet die for the truth. He that came to another, and went about to prove by sophistical reasonings that there was no such thing as motion, had only this return from him, who either was not able to answer his cavilling or unwilling to put himself to trouble about it, -- he arose, and, walking up and down, gave him a real confutation of his sophistry. It is so in this case. When a soul hath a real experience of the grace of God, of the pardon of sins, of the virtue and efficacy of the death of Christ, of justification by his blood, and peace with God by believing; let men, or devils, or angels from heaven, oppose these things, if it cannot answer their sophisms, yet he can rise up and walk, -- he can, with all holy confidence and assurance, oppose his own satisfying experience unto all their arguings and suggestions. A man will not be disputed out of what he sees and feels; and a believer will abide as firmly by his spiritual sense as any man can by his natural.
This is the meaning of that prayer of the apostle, Col. ii. 2, "That your hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ. " Understanding in the mysteries of the gospel they had; but he prays that, by a farther experience of it, they might come to the "assurance of understanding. " To be true, is the property of the doctrine itself; to be certain or assured, is the property of our minds. Now, this experience doth so unite the mind and truth, that we say, "Such a truth is most certain;" whereas certainty is indeed the property of our minds or their knowledge, and not of the truth known. It is certain unto us; that is, we have an assured knowledge of it by the experience we have of it. This is the assurance of understanding here mentioned. And he farther prays that we may come to the "riches" of this assur-
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ance, -- that is, to an abundant, plentiful assurance; and that [--GREEK--] , "to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, " owning it from a sense and experience of its excellency and worth.
And this is in the nature of all gospel truths, -- they are fitted and suited to be experienced by a believing soul. There is nothing in them so sublime and high, nothing so mysterious, nothing so seemingly low and outwardly contemptible, but that a gracious soul hath experience of an excellency, reality, power, and efficacy in it all. For instance, look on that which concerns the order and worship of the gospel. This seems to many to be a mere external thing, whereof a soul can have no inward sense or relish. Notions there are many about it, and endless contentions, but what more? Why, let a gracious soul, in simplicity and sincerity of spirit, give up himself to walk with Christ according to his appointment, and he shall quickly find such a taste and relish in the fellowship of the gospel, in the communion of saints, and of Christ amongst them, as that he shall come up to such riches of assurance in the understanding and acknowledgment of the ways of the Lord, as others by their disputing can never attain unto. What is so high, glorious, and mysterious as the doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity? Some wise men have thought meet to keep it vailed from ordinary Christians, and some have delivered it in such terms as that they can understand nothing by them. But take a believer who hath tasted how gracious the Lord is, in the eternal love of the Father, the great undertaking of the Son in the work of mediation and redemption, with the almighty work of the Spirit creating grace and comfort in the soul; and hath had an experience of the love, holiness, and power of God in them all; and he will with more firm confidence adhere to this mysterious truth, being led into it and confirmed in it by some few plain testimonies of the word, than a thousand disputers shall do who only have the notion of it in their minds. Let a real trial come, and this will appear. Few will be found to sacrifice their lives on bare speculations. Experience will give assurance and stability.
We have thus cleared the credit of the testimony now to be improved. It is evident, on these grounds, that there is a great certainty in those truths whereof believers have experience. Where they communicate their power unto the heart, they give an unquestionable assurance of their truth; and when that is once realized in the soul, all disputes about it are put to silence.
These things being so, let us inquire into the faith and experience of the saints on the earth as to what they know of the truth proposed unto confirmation, namely, that there is forgiveness with God. Let us go to some poor soul that now walks comfortably under the light of God's countenance, and say unto him, "Did we not know
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you some while since to be full of sadness and great anxiety of spirit; yea, sorrowful almost to death, and bitter in soul?" -- Ans. "Yes, " saith he, "so it was, indeed. My days were consumed with mourning, and my life with sorrow; and I walked heavily, in fear and bitterness of spirit, all the day long."
"Why, what ailed you, what was the matter with you, seeing as to outward things you were in peace?" -- Ans. "The law of God had laid hold upon me and slain me. I found myself thereby a woful sinner, yea, overwhelmed with the guilt of sin. Every moment I expected tribulation and wrath from the hand of God; my sore ran in the night and ceased not, and my soul refused comfort."
"How is it, then, that you are thus delivered, that you are no more sad? Where have you found ease and peace? Have you been by any means delivered, or did your trouble wear off and depart of its own accord?" -- Ans. "Alas, no! had I not met with an effectual remedy, I had sunk and everlastingly perished. "
"What course did you take?" -- Ans. "I went unto Him by Jesus Christ against whom I have sinned, and have found him better unto me than I could expect or ever should have believed, had not he overpowered my heart by his Spirit. Instead of wrath, which I feared, and that justly, because I had deserved it, he said unto me in Christ, 'Fury is not in me.' For a long time I thought it impossible that there should be mercy and pardon for me, or such a one as I. But he still supported me, sometimes by one means, sometimes by another; until, taking my soul near to himself, he caused me to see the folly of my unbelieving heart, and the vileness of the hard thoughts I had of him, and that, indeed, there is with him forgiveness and plenteous redemption. This hath taken away all my sorrows, and given me quietness, with rest and assurance."
"But are you sure, now, that this is so? May you not possibly be deceived?" -- Ans. Says the soul, "I have not the least suspicion of any such matter; and if at any time aught doth arise to that purpose, it is quickly overcome."
"But how are you confirmed in this persuasion?" -- Ans. "That sense of it which I have in my heart; that sweetmess and rest which I have experience of; that influence it hath upon my soul; that obligation I find laid upon me by it unto all thankful obedience; that relief, supportment, and consolation that it hath afforded me in trials and troubles, in the mouth of the grave and entrances of eternity, -- all answering what is declared concerning these things in the word, -- will not suffer me to be deceived. I could not, indeed, receive it until God was pleased to speak it unto me; but now let Satan do his utmost, I shall never cease to bear this testimony, that there is mercy and forgiveness with him."
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How many thousands may we find of these in the world, who have had such a seal of this truth in their hearts, as they can not only securely lay down their lives in the confirmation of it, if called thereunto, but also do cheerfully and triumphantly venture their eternal concernments upon it! yea, this is the rise of all that peace, serenity of mind, and strong consolation, which in this world they are made partakers of.
Now this is to me, on the principles before laid down, an evidence great and important. God hath not manifested this truth unto the saints, thus copied it out of his word, and exemplified it in their souls, to leave them under any possibility of being deceived.
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