The Works of
A PRACTICAL EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX.;
Index of Fourth Verse
Ver. 4.] EVIDENCE OF FORGIVENESS WITH GOD. 487
Forgiveness manifested in the sending of the Son of God to die for sin -- And from the obligation that is on us to forgive one another.
XII. IN the next place we shall proceed unto that evidence which is the centre wherein all the lines of those foregoing do meet and rest, -- the fountain of all those streams of refreshment that are in them, -- that which animates and gives life and efficacy unto them. This lies in God's sending of his Son. The consideration hereof will leave no pretence or excuse unto unbelief in this matter.
To make this evidence more clear and legible, as to what is intended in it, we must consider, -- First, What was the rise of this sending we speak of. Secondly, Who it was that was sent. Thirdly, How, or in what manner he was sent. Fourthly, Unto what end and purpose.
First, The rise and spring of it is to be considered. It came forth from the eternal mutual consent and counsel of the Father and the Son: Zech. vi. 13, "The counsel of peace shall be between them both. " It is of Christ, the Branch, of whom he speaks. "lie shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both;" -- that is, between God the Father, who sends him, and himself. There lay the counsel of peace-making between God and man, in due time accomplished by him who is "our peace, " Eph. ii. 14: so he speaks, Prov. viii. 30, 31, "Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men. " They are the words of the Wisdom, that is, of the Son of God. When was this done? "Then I was by him. " Why, "before the mountains were settled, while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields;" that is, before the creation of the world, or from eternity, verses 25, 26. But how then could he "rejoice in the habitable part of the earth?" and how could his "delights be with the sons of men, " seeing as yet they were not? I answer, It was the counsel of peace towards them before mentioned, in the pursuit whereof he was to be sent to converse amongst them on the earth. He rejoiced in the fore-thoughts of his being sent to them, and the work he had to do for them. Then, with his own consent and delight, was he "fore-ordained" unto his work, even "before the foundation of the world, " 1 Pet. i. 20, and received of the Father "the promise of eternal life, even before the world began, " Tit. i. 2; that is, to be given unto sinners by way of forgiveness through his blood.
488 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
So is this whole counsel expressed, Ps. xl. 7, 8, -- whence it is made use of by the apostle, Heb. x. 5-7, -- " Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God. Thy law is in the midst of my heart. " There is the will of the Father in this matter, and the law of its performance; and there is the will of the Son in answer thereunto, and his delight in fulfilling that law which was prescribed unto him.
Let us now consider to what purpose was this eternal counsel of peace, this agreement of the Father and Son from eternity, about the state and condition of mankind. If God would have left them all to perish under the guilt of their sins, there had been no need at all of any such thoughts, design, or counsel. God had given unto them a law righteous and holy, which if they transgressed, he had threatened them with eternal destruction. Under the rule, disposal, and power of this law, he might have righteously left them to stand or fall, according to the verdict and sentence thereof. But now he assures us, he reveals unto us, that he had other thoughts in this matter; that there were other counsels between the Father and the Son concerning us; and these such as the Son was delighted in the prospect of his accomplishment of them. What can these thoughts and counsels be, but about a way for their deliverance? which could no otherwise be but by the forgiveness of sins; for whatever else be done, yet if God mark iniquities, there is none can stand. Hearken, therefore, poor sinner, and have hope. God is consulting about thy deliverance and freedom. And what cannot the wisdom and grace of the Father and Son effect and accomplish? And to this end was the Son sent into the world; which is the second thing proposed to consideration.
Secondly, Whom did God send about this business? The Scripture lays great weight and emphasis on this consideration, faith must do so also: John iii. 16, "God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son;" so, 1 John iv. 9, "In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. " And again, verse 10, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. " And who is this that is thus sent, and called the only-begotten Son of God? Take a double description of him, one out of the Old Testament and another from the New; -- the first from Isa. ix. 6, "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace;" the other from Heb. i. 2, 3, "God hath spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who
Ver. 4.] EVIDENCE OF FORGIVENESS WITH GOD. 489
being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. " This is he who was sent. In nature he was glorious, even "over all, God blessed for ever;" -- in answerableness unto the Father, "the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, " possessed of all the same essential properties with him, so that what we find in him we may be assured of in the Father also; for he that hath seen him hath seen the Father, who is in him; -- in power omnipotent, for he made all things, and "upholding all things, " with an unspeakable facility, "by the word of his power;" -- in office exalted over all, sitting "on the right hand of the Majesty on high;" -- in name, "The mighty God, The everlasting Father " so that whatever he came about he will assuredly accomplish and fulfil; for what should hinder or let this mighty one from perfecting his design?
Now, this consideration raiseth our evidence to that height as to give an unquestionable assurance in this matter. Here is a near and a particular object for faith to be exercised about and to rest in. Wherefore did this glorious Son of God come and tabernacle amongst poor sinners? "We beheld the glory of the eternal Word, the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, and he was made flesh ( [--GREEK--]), and pitched his tabernacle amongst us, " John i. 14. To what end? It was no other but to work out and accomplish the eternal counsel of peace towards sinners before mentioned; to procure for them, and to declare unto them, the forgiveness of sin. And what greater evidence, what greater assurance can we have, that there is forgiveness with God for us? He himself hath given it as a rule, that what is done by giving an only-begotten or an only-beloved son gives assured testimony of reality and sincerity in the thing that is confirmed by it. So he says unto Abraham, Gen. xxii. 12, "Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing that thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me. " This way it may be known, or no way. And they are blessed conclusions that faith may make from this consideration: "Now I know that there is forgiveness with God, seeing he hath not withheld his Son, his only Son, that he might accomplish it. " To this purpose the apostle teacheth us to reason, Rom. viii. 32, "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"
What farther can any soul desire? what ground remains for unbelief to stand upon in this matter? Is there any thing more to be done herein? It was to manifest that there is forgiveness with him, and to make way for the exercise of it, that God sent his Son, that the Son of God came into the world, as will afterwards more fully appear.
490 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
Thirdly, To this sending of the Son of God to this purpose, there is evidence and security added from the manner wherein he was sent. How was this? Not in glow, not in power, -- not in an open discovery of his eternal power and Godhead. Had it been so, we might have thought that he had come merely to manifest and glorify himself in the world; and this he might have done without thoughts of mercy or pardon towards us. But he came quite in another manner: he was seen in the "likeness of sinful flesh, " Rom. viii. 3; in "the form of a servant, " Phil. ii. 7; being "made of a woman, made under the law, " Gal. iv. 4. What he endured, suffered, underwent in that state and condition, is in some measure known unto us all. All this could not be merely and firstly for himself. All that he expected at the close of it was, to be "glorified with that glow which he had with the Father before the world was, " John xvii. 5. It must, then, be for our sakes. And for what? To save and deliver us from that condition of wrath at present, and future expectation of vengeance, which we had cast ourselves into by sin; that is, to procure for us the forgiveness of sin. Had not God designed pardon for sin, he would never have sent his Son in this manner to testify it; and he did it because it could no other way be brought about, as hath been declared. Do we doubt whether there be forgiveness with God or no? or whether we shall obtain it if we address ourselves unto him for to be made partakers of it? Consider the condition of his Son in the world, -- review his afflictions, poverty, temptation, sorrows, sufferings, -- then ask our souls, "To what end was all this?" And if we can find any other design in it, any other reason, cause, or necessity of it, but only and merely to testify and declare that there is forgiveness with God, and to purchase and procure the communication of it unto us, let us abide in and perish under our fears. But if this be so, we have sufficient warranty to assure our souls in the expectation of it.
Fourthly, Besides all this, there ensues upon what went before, that great and wonderful issue in the death of the Son of God. This thing was great and marvellous, and we may a little inquire into what it was that was designed therein. And hereof the Scripture gives us a full account; as, --
1. That he died to make atonement for sin, or "reconciliation for iniquity, " Dan. ix. 24. He "gave his life a ransom for the sins of many, " Matt. xx. 28; 1 Tim. ii. 6. He was in it "made sin, " that others "might be made the righteousness of God in him, " 2 Cor. v. 21; Rom. viii. 3. Therein he "bare our sins in his own body on the tree, " 1 Pet. ii. 24. This was the state of this matter -- Notwithstanding all the love, grace, and condescension before mentioned, yet our sins were of that nature, and so directly opposite unto the justice and
Ver. 4.] EVIDENCE OF FORGIVENESS WITH GOD. 491
holiness of God, that unless atonement were made and a price of redemption paid, there could be no pardon, no forgiveness obtained. This, therefore, he undertook to do, and that by the sacrifice of himself; answering all that was prefigured by and represented in the sacrifices of old, as the apostle largely declares, Heb. x. 5-10. And herein is the forgiveness that is in God copied out and exemplified so clearly and evidently, that he that cannot read it will be cursed unto eternity. Yea, and let him be accursed; for what can be more required to justify God in his eternal destruction? He that will not believe his grace, as testified and exemplified in the blood of his Son, let him perish without remedy. Yea, but, --
2. The curse and sentence of the law lies on record against sinners. It puts in its demands against our acquittance, and lays an obligation upon us unto punishment: and God will not reject nor destroy his law; unless it be answered, there is no acceptance for sinners. This, therefore, in the next place, his death was designed unto. As he satisfied and made atonement by it unto justice (that was the fountain, spring, and cause of the law), so he fulfilled and answered the demands of the law as it was an effect of the justice of God: so Rom. viii. 1-4. He suffered "in the likeness of sinful flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled" and answered. He answered "the curse of the law" when he was "made a curse for us, " Gal. iii. 13; and so became, as to the obedience of the law, "the end of the law for righteousness unto them that do believe, " Rom. x. 3, 4. And as to the penalty that it threatened, he bore it, removed it, and took it out of the way. So hath he made way for forgiveness through the very heart of the law; it hath not one word to speak against the pardon of them that do believe. But, --
3. Sinners are under the power of Satan. He lays a claim unto them; and by what means shall they be rescued from his interest and dominion? This also his death was designed to accomplish: for as he was "manifested to destroy the works of the devil, " 1 John iii. 8, so "through death he destroyed him that had the power of death, " Heb. ii. 14; -- that is, to despoil him of his power, to destroy his dominion, to take away his plea unto sinners that believe; as we have at large elsewhere declared.
And by all these things, with many other concernments of his death that might be instanced in, we are abundantly secured of the forgiveness that is with God, and of his willingness that we should be made partakers thereof.
Fifthly, Is this all? Did his work cease in his death? Did he no mere for the securing of the forgiveness of sins unto us, but only that he died for them? Yes; he lives also after death, for the same end and purpose. This Son of God, in that nature which he assumed to
492 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
expiate sin by death, lives again after death, to secure unto us and to complete the forgiveness of sins. And this he doth two ways: --
1. Being raised from that death which he underwent, to make atonement for sin, by the power and good will of God, he evidenceth and testifieth unto us that he hath fully performed the work he undertook, and that in our behalf, and for us, he hath received a discharge. Had he not answered the guilt of sin by his death, he had never been raised from it.
2. He lives after death a mediatory life, to make intercession for us, that we may receive the forgiveness of sin, as also himself to give it out unto us; which things are frequently made use of to encourage the souls of men to believe, and therefore shall not at present be farther insisted on.
Thus, then, stands this matter -- That mercy might have a way to exercise itself in forgiveness, with a consistency unto the honour of the righteousness and law of God, was the Son of God so sent, for the ends and purposes mentioned. Now, herein consisteth the greatest work that God did ever perform, or ever will. It was the most eminent product of infinite wisdom, goodness, grace, and power; and herein do all the excellencies of God shine forth more gloriously than in all the works of his hands. Let us, then, wisely ponder and consider this matter; let us bring our own souls, with their objections, unto this evidence, and see what exception we have to lay against it. I know nothing will satisfy unbelief. The design of it is, to make the soul find that to be so hereafter which it would persuade it of here, -- namely, that there is no forgiveness in God. And Satan, who makes use of this engine, knows full well that there is none for them who believe there is none, or rather will not believe that there is any; for it will, at the last day, be unto men according unto their faith or unbelief. He that believeth aright, and he that believeth not that forgiveness is with God, as to their own particulars, shall neither of them be deceived. But what is it that can be reasonably excepted against this evidence, this foundation of our faith in this matter? God hath not sent his Son in vain; which yet he must have done, as we have showed, had he not designed to manifest and exercise forgiveness towards sinners. Wherefore, to confirm our faith from hence, let us make a little search into these things in some particular inquiries --
1. Seeing the Son of God died in that way and manner that he did, according to the determinate counsel and will of God, wherefore did he do so, and what aimed he at therein?
Ans. It is plain that he died for our sins, Rom iv. 25; that is, "to make reconciliation for the sins of the people, " Heb. ii. 17, 18. This Moses and the prophets, this the whole Scripture, testifieth
Ver. 4.] EVIDENCE OF FORGIVENESS WITH GOD. 493
unto. And without a supposal of it, not one word of it can be aright believed; nor can we yield any due obedience unto God without it.
2. What, then, did God do unto him? What was in transaction between God as the Judge of all, and him that was the Mediator of the church?
Ans. God indeed "laid on him the iniquity of us all, " Isa. liii. 6, -- all the sins of all the elect; yea, he made him "a curse for us, " Gal. iii. 13; and making him a "sin-offering, " or "an offering for sin, " he "condemned sin in the flesh, " Rom. viii. 3, 2 Cor. v. 21: so that all that which the justice or law of God had to require about the punishment due unto sin was all laid and executed on him.
3. What, then, did Christ do in his death? What did he aim at and design? what was his intention in submitting unto and undergoing the will of God in these things?
Ans. "He bare our sins in his own body on the tree, " 1 Pet. ii. 24; "he took our sins upon him, " undertook to answer for them, to pay our debts, to make an end of the difference about them between God and sinners, Dan. ix. 24. His aim undoubtedly was, by all that he underwent and suffered, so to make atonement for sin as that no more could on that account be expected.
4. Had God any more to require of sinners on the account of sin, that his justice might be satisfied, his holiness vindicated, his glory exalted, his honour be repaired, than what he charged on Christ? Did he lay somewhat of the penalty due to sin on him, execute some part of the curse of the law against him, and yet reserve some wrath for sinners themselves?
Ans. No, doubtless. He came to do the whole will of God, Heb. x. 7, 9; and God spared him not any thing that in his holy will he had appointed to be done unto sin, Rom. viii. 32. He would never have so dealt with his Son, to have made a half-work of it; nor is the work of making satisfaction for sin such as that any, the least part of it, should ever be undertaken by another. Nothing is more injurious or blasphemous against God and Christ than the foolish imagination among the Papists of works satisfactory for the punishment due to sin or any part of it; as also is their purgatory pains to expiate any remaining guilt after this life. This work of making satisfaction for sin is such as no creature in heaven or earth can put forth a hand unto. It was wholly committed to the Son of God, who alone was able to undertake it, and who hath perfectly accomplished it; so that God now says, "'Fury is not in me. ' lie that will lay hold on my strength that he may have peace, he shall have peace, " Isa. xxvii. 4, 5.
5. What, then, became of the Lord Christ in his undertaking? Did he go through with it? or did he faint under it? Did he only
494 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
testify his love, and show his good will for our deliverance? or did he also effectually pursue it, and not faint, until he had made a way for the exercise of forgiveness?
Ans. It was not possible that he should be detained by "the pains of death, " Acts ii. 24. He knew beforehand that he should be carried through his work, that he should not be forsaken in it, nor faint under it, Isa. 1. 5-9. And God hath given this unquestionable evidence of his discharge of the debt of sin to the utmost, in that he was acquitted from the whole account when he was raised from the dead; for he that is given up to prison, upon the sentence of the law, for the debt of sin, shall not be freed until he have paid the utmost farthing. This, therefore, he manifested himself to have done, by his resurrection from the dead.
6. What, then, is now become of him? where is he, and what doth he? Hath he so done his work and laid it aside, or doth he still continue to carry it on until it be brought unto its perfection?
Ans. It is true, he was dead, but he is alive, and lives for ever; and hath told us that "because he liveth we shall live also, " and that because this is the end of his mediatory life in heaven: "He ever liveth to make intercession for us, " Heb. vii 25-27; and to this end, that the forgiveness of sin, which he hath procured for us, may be communicated unto us, that we might be partakers of it, and live for ever.
What ground is left of questioning the truth in hand? What link of this chain can unbelief break in or upon? If men resolve, notwithstanding all this evidence and assurance that is tendered unto them thereof, that they will not yet believe that there is forgiveness with God, or will not be encouraged to attempt the securing of it unto themselves, or also despise it as a thing not worth the looking after; it is enough for them that declare it, that preach these things, that they are a sweet savour unto God in them that perish as well as in them that are saved. And I bless God that I have had this opportunity to bear testimony to the grace of God in Christ; which if it be not received, it is because "the god of this world hath blinded the eyes of men, that the light of the gospel of the glory of God should not shine into their minds. " But Christ will be glorified in them that believe on these principles and foundations.
XIII. Another evidence of the same truth may be taken from hence, that God requires forgiveness in us, that we should forgive one another; and therefore, doubtless, there is forgiveness with him for us. The sense of this consideration unto our present purpose will be manifest in the ensuing observations: --
First, It is certain that God hath required this of us. The testimonies hereof are many and known, so that they need not particularly
Ver. 4.] EVIDENCE OF FORGIVENESS WITH GOD. 495
to be repeated or insisted on: see Luke xvii. 3, 4; Eph. iv. 32; Matt. xviii. 23, unto the end. Only, there are some things that put a singular emphasis upon this command, manifesting the great importance of this duty in us, which may be marked; as, --
1. That our Saviour requires us to carry a sense of our integrity and sincerity in the discharge of this duty along with us in our addresses unto God in prayer. Hence, he teacheth and enjoins us to pray or plead for the forgiveness of our debts to God (that is, our sins or trespasses against him, which make us debtors to his law and justice), even "as we forgive them that so trespass against us" as to stand in need of our forgiveness, Matt. vi. 12. Many are ready to devour such as are not satisfied that the words of that rule of prayer which he hath prescribed unto us are to be precisely read or repeated every day. I wish they would as heedfully mind that prescription which is given us herein for that frame of heart and spirit which ought to be in all our supplications; it might possibly abate of their wrath in that and other things. But here is a rule for all prayer, as all acknowledge; as also of the things that are requisite to make it acceptable. This, in particular, is required, that before the Searcher of all hearts, and in our addresses unto him, in our greatest concernments, we profess our sincerity in the discharge of this duty, and do put our obtaining of what we desire upon that issue. This is a great crown that is put upon the head of this duty, that which makes it very eminent, and evidenceth the great concern of the glory of God and our own souls therein.
2. We may observe, that no other duty whatever is expressly placed in the same series, order, or rank with it; which makes it evident that it is singled out to be professed as a token and pledge of our sincerity in all other parts of our obedience unto God. It is by Christ himself made the instance for the trial of our sincerity in our universal obedience; which gives no small honour unto it. The apostle puts great weight on the fifth commandment, "Honour thy father and mother;" because it "is the first commandment with promise, " Eph. vi. 2. All the commandments, indeed, had a promise, "Do this, and live, " life was promised to the observance of them all; but this is the first that had a peculiar promise annexed unto it, and accompanying of it. And it was such a promise as had a peculiar foundation through God's ordinance in the thing itself. It is, that the parents should prolong the lives of their children that were obedient. . [--HEBREW--], Exod. xx. 12, -- "They shall prolong thy days;" that is, by praying for their prosperity, blessing them in the name of God, and directing them in those ways of obedience whereby they might live and possess the land. And this promise is now translated from the covenant of Canaan into the covenant of grace; the
496 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
blessing of parents going far towards the interesting their children in the promise thereof, and so prolonging their days unto eternity, though their days in this world should be of little continuance. So it is said of our Saviour that "he should see his seed, and prolong his days, " Isa. liii. 10; which hath carried over that word, and that which is signified by it, unto eternal things. But this by the way. As the singular promise made to that command renders it singular, so doth this especial instancing in this duty in our prayer render it also; for though, as all the commandments had a promise, so we are to carry a testimony with us of our sincerity in universal obedience in our addresses unto God, yet the singling out of this instance renders it exceeding remarkable, and shows what a value God puts upon it, and how well he is pleased with it.
3. That God requires this forgiveness in us upon the account of the forgiveness we receive from him; which is to put the greatest obligation upon us unto it that we are capable of, and to give the strongest and most powerful motive possible unto its performance. See Eph. iv. 32.
4. That this duty is more directly and expressly required in the New Testament than in the Old. Required then it was, but not so openly, so plainly, so expressly as now. Hence we find a different frame of spirit between them under that dispensation and those under that of the New Testament. There are found amongst them some such reflections upon their enemies, their oppressors, persecutors, and the like, as although they were warranted by some actings of the Spirit of God in them, yet, being suited unto the dispensation they were under, do no way become us now, who, by Jesus Christ, receive "grace for grace. " So Zechariah, when he died, cried, "The LORD look upon, and require;" but Stephen, dying in the same cause and manner, said, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. " Elijah called for fire from heaven; but our Saviour reproves the least inclination in his disciples to imitate him therein. And the reason of this difference is, because forgiveness in God is under the New Testament far more clearly (especially in the nature and cause of it) discovered in the gospel, which hath brought life and immortality to light, than it was under the law; for all our obedience, both in matter and manner, is to be suited unto the discoveries and revelation of God unto us.
5. This forgiveness of others is made an express condition of our obtaining pardon and forgiveness from God, Matt. vi. . 14, 15; and the nature hereof is expressly declared, chap. xviii. 23-35. Such evangelical conditions we have not many. I confess they have no causal influence into the accomplishment of the promise; but the non-performance of them is a sufficient bar against our pretending
Ver. 4.] EVIDENCE OF FORGIVENESS WITH GOD. 497
to the promise, a sufficient evidence that we have no pleadable interest in it. Our forgiving of others will not procure forgiveness for ourselves; but our not forgiving of others proves that we ourselves are not forgiven. And all these things do show what weight God himself lays on this duty.
Secondly, Observe that this duty is such as that there is nothing more comely, useful, or honourable unto, or praiseworthy in, any, than a due performance of it. To be morose, implacable, inexorable, revengeful, is one of the greatest degeneracies of human nature. And no men are commonly, even in this world, more branded with real infamy and dishonour, amongst wise and good men, than those who are of such a frame, and do act accordingly. To remember injuries, to retain a sense of wrongs, to watch for opportunities of revenge, to hate and be maliciously perverse, is to represent the image of the devil unto the world in its proper colours; he is the great enemy and self-avenger. On the other side, no grace, no virtue, no duty, no ornament of the mind or conversation of man, is in itself so lovely, so comely, so praiseworthy, or so useful unto mankind, as are meekness, readiness to forgive, and pardon. This is that principally which renders a man a good man, for whom one would even dare to die. And I am sorry to add that this grace or duty is recommended by its rarity. It is little found amongst the children of men. The consideration of the defect of men herein, as in those other fundamental duties of the gospel, -- in self-denial, readiness for the cross, and forsaking the world, -- is an evidence, if not of how little sincerity there is in the world, yet at least it is of how little growing and thriving there is amongst professors.
Thirdly, That there is no grace, virtue, or perfection in any man, but what is as an emanation from the divine goodness and bounty, so expressive of some divine excellencies or perfection., -- somewhat that is in God, in a way and manner infinitely more excellent. We were created in the image of God. Whatever was good or comely in us was a part of that image; especially the ornaments of our minds, the perfections of our souls. These things had in them a resemblance of, and a correspondency unto, some excellencies in God, whereunto, by the way of analogy, they may be reduced. This being, for the most part, lost by sin, a shadow of it only remaining in the faculties of our souls and that dominion over the creatures which is permitted unto men in the patience of God, the recovery that we have by grace is nothing but an initial renovation of the image of God in us, Eph. iv. 24. It is the implanting upon our natures those graces which may render us again like unto him. And nothing is grace or virtue but what so answers to somewhat in
498 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
God. So, then, whatever is in us of this kind is in God absolutely, perfectly, in a way and manner infinitely more excellent.
Let us now, therefore, put these things together -- God requires of us that there should be forgiveness in us for those that do offend us, forgiveness without limitation and bounds. The grace hereof he bestoweth on his saints, sets a high price upon it, and manifests many ways that he accounts it among the most excellent of our endowments, one of the most lovely and praiseworthy qualifications of any person. What, then, shall we now say? is there forgiveness with him or no? "He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?" He that thus prescribes forgiveness to us, that bestows the grace of it upon us, is there not forgiveness with him? It is all one as to say, "Though we are good, yet God is not; though we are benign and bountiful, yet he is not. " He that finds this grace wrought in him in any measure, and yet fears that he shall not find it in God for himself, doth therein and so far prefer himself above God; which is the natural effect of cursed unbelief.
But the truth is, were there not forgiveness with God, forgiveness in man would be no virtue, with all these qualities that incline thereto, -- such are meekness, pity, patience, compassion, and the like; which what were it but to set loose human nature to rage and madness? For as every truth consists in its answerableness to the prime and eternal Verity, so virtue consists not absolutely nor primarily in a conformity to a rule of command, but in a correspondency unto the first absolute perfect Being and its perfections.
Properties of forgiveness -- The greatness and freedom of it.
THE arguments and demonstrations foregoing have, we hope, undeniably evinced the great truth we have insisted on; which is the life and soul of all our hope, profession, religion, and worship. The end of all this discourse is to lay a firm foundation for faith to rest upon in its addresses unto God for the forgiveness of sins, as also to give encouragements unto all sorts of persons so to do. This end remains now to be explained and pressed; which work yet before we directly close withal, two things are farther to be premised. And the first is, to propose some of those adjuncts of, and considerations about, this forgiveness, as may both encourage and necessitate us to seek out after it; and to mix the testimonies given unto it and the promises of it with faith, unto our benefit and advantage.
Ver. 4.] PROPERTIES OF DIVINE FORGIVENESS. 499
The other is, to show how needful all this endeavour is, upon the account of that great unbelief which is in the most in this matter. As to the first of these, then, we may consider, --
First, That this forgiveness that is with God is such as becomes him; such as is suitable to his greatness, goodness, and all other excellencies of his nature; such as that therein he will be known to be God. What he says concerning some of the works of his providence, "Be still, and know that I am God, " may be much more said concerning this great effect of his grace. Still your souls, and know that he is God. It is not like that narrow, difficult, halving, and manacled forgiveness that is found amongst men, when any such thing is found amongst them; but it is full, free, boundless, bottomless, absolute, such as becomes his nature and excellencies. It is, in a word, forgiveness that is with God, and by the exercise whereof he will be known so to be. And hence, --
1. God himself doth really separate and distinguish his forgiveness from any thing that our thoughts and imaginations can reach unto; and that because it is his, and like himself. It is an object for faith alone, which can rest in that which it cannot comprehend. It is never safer than when it is, as it were, overwhelmed with infiniteness. But set mere rational thoughts or the imaginations of our minds at work about such things, and they fall inconceivably short of them. They can neither conceive of them aright nor use them unto their proper end and purpose. Were not forgiveness in God somewhat beyond what men could imagine, no flesh could be saved. This himself expresseth: Isa. lv. 7-9, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. " They are, as is plain in the context, thoughts of forgiveness and ways of pardon whereof he speaks. These our apprehensions come short of; we know little or nothing of the infinite largeness of his heart in this matter. He that he speaks of is. [--HEBREW--], "an impiously wicked man," and. [--HEBREW--], "a man of deceit and perverse wickedness;" he whose design and course is nothing but a lie, sin, and iniquity; such a one as we would have little or no hopes of, -- that we would scarce think it worth our while to deal withal about, -- a hopeless conversion; or can scarce find in our hearts to pray for him, but are ready to give ' him up as one profligate and desperate. But let him turn to the Lord, and he shall obtain forgiveness. But how can this be? is it possible there should be mercy for such a one? Yes; for the Lord
500 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
[--HEBREW--], "will multiply to pardon. " He hath forgiveness with him to outdo all the multiplied sins of any that turn unto him and seek for it. But this is very hard, very difficult for us to apprehend. This is not the way and manner of men. We deal not thus with profligate offenders against us. "True, " saith God; "but' your ways are not my ways. ' I do not act in this matter like unto you, nor as you are accustomed to do. " How then shall we apprehend it? how shall we conceive of it? "You can never do it by your reason or imaginations; ' for as the heavens are above the earth, so are my thoughts, ' in this matter, 'above your thoughts. '" This is an expression to set out the largest and most inconceivable distance that may be. The creation will afford no more significant expression or representation of it. The heavens are inconceivably distant from the earth, and inconceivably glorious above it. So are the thoughts of God: they are not only distant from ours, but have a glory in them also that we cannot rise up unto. For the most part, when we come to deal with God about forgiveness, we hang in every brier of disputing, quarrelsome unbelief. This or that circumstance or aggravation, this or that unparalleled particular, bereaves us of our confidence. Want of a due consideration of him with whom we have to do, measuring him by that line of our own imaginations, bringing him down unto our thoughts and our ways, is the cause of all our disquietments. Because we find it hard to forgive our pence, we think he cannot forgive talents. But he hath provided to obviate such thoughts in us: Hos. xi. i, "I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I AM GOD, AND NOT MAN. " Our satisfaction in this matter is to be taken from his nature. Were he a man, or as the sons of men, it were impossible that, upon such and so many provocations, he should turn away from the fierceness of his anger. But he is God. This gives an infiniteness and an inconceivable boundlessness to the forgiveness that is with him, and exalts it above all our thoughts and ways. This is to be lamented, -- presumption, which turns God into an idol, ascribes unto that idol a greater largeness in forgiveness than faith is able to rise up unto when it deals with him as a God of infinite excellencies and perfections. The reasons of it, I confess, are obvious. But this is certain, no presumption can falsely imagine that forgiveness to itself from the idol of its heart, as faith may in the way of God find in him and obtain from him; for, --
2. God engageth his infinite excellencies to demonstrate the greatness and boundlessness of his forgiveness. He proposeth them unto our consideration to convince us that we shall find pardon with him suitable and answerable unto them. See Isa. xl. 27-31, "Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid
Ver. 4.] PROPERTIES OF DIVINE FORGIVENESS. 501
from the LORD, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. " The matter in question is, whether acceptance with God, which is only by forgiveness, is to be obtained or no. This, sinful Jacob either despairs of, or at least desponds about. But saith God, "My thoughts are not as your thoughts" in this matter. And what course doth he take to convince them of their mistake therein? what argument doth he make use of to free them from their unbelief, and to rebuke their fears? Plainly, he calls them to the consideration of himself, both who and what he is with whom they had to do, that they might expect acceptance and forgiveness such as did become him. Minding them of his power, his immensity, his infinite wisdom, his unchangeableness, all the excellencies and properties of his nature, he demands of them whether they have not just ground to expect forgiveness and grace above all their thoughts and apprehensions, because answering the infinite largeness of his heart, from whence it doth proceed.
And Moses manageth this plea for the forgiveness of that people under a high provocation, and a most severe threatening of their destruction thereon, Numb. xiv. 17, 18. He pleads for pardon in such a way and manner as may answer the great and glorious properties of the nature of God, and which would manifest an infiniteness of power and all-sufficiency to be in him.
This, I say, is an encouragement in general unto believers. We have, as I hope, upon unquestionable grounds, evinced that there is forgiveness with God; which is the hinge on which turneth the issue of our eternal condition. Now this is like himself; such as becomes him; that answers the infinite perfections of his nature; that is exercised and given forth by him as God. We are apt to narrow and straiten it by our unbelief, and to render it unbecoming of him. He less dishonours God (or as little), who, being wholly under the power of the law, believes that there is no forgiveness with him, none to be obtained from him, or doth not believe it that so it is, or is so to be obtained, -- for which he hath the voice and sentence of the law to countenance him, -- than those who, being convinced of the principles and grounds of it before mentioned, and of the truth of the testimony given unto it, do yet, by straitening and narrowing
502 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
of it, render it unworthy of him whose excellencies are all infinite, and whose ways on that account are incomprehensible. If, then, we resolve to treat with God about this matter (which is the business now in hand), let us do it as it becomes his greatness; that is, indeed, as the wants of our souls do require. Let us not entangle our own spirits by limiting his grace. The father of the child possessed with a devil, being in a great agony when he came to our Saviour, cries out, "If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us, " Mark ix. 22. He would fain be delivered, but the matter was so great that he questioned whether the Lord Christ had either compassion or power enough for his relief. And what did he obtain hereby? Nothing but the retarding of the cure of his child for a season; for our Saviour holds him off until he had instructed him in this matter. Saith he, verse 23, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth;" -- " Mistake not; if thy child be not cured, it is not for want of power or pity in me, but of faith in thee. My power is such as renders all things possible, so that they be believed. " So it is with many who would desirously be made partakers of forgiveness. If it be possible, they would be pardoned; but they do not see it possible. Why, where is the defect? God hath no pardon for them, or such as they are; and so it may be they come finally short of pardon. What! because God cannot pardon them? -- it is not possible with him? Not at all; but because they cannot, they will not believe, that the forgiveness that is with him is such as that it would answer all the wants of their souls, because it answers the infinite largeness of his heart. And if this doth not wholly deprive them of pardon, yet it greatly retards their peace and comfort. God doth not take it well to be limited by us in any thing, least of all in his grace. This he calls a tempting of him, a provoking temptation: Ps. lxxviii. 41, "They turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. " This he could not bear with. If there be any pardon with God, it is such as becomes him to give. When he pardons, he will "abundantly pardon. " Go with your half-forgiveness, limited, conditional pardons, with reserves and limitations, unto the sons of men; it may be it may become them, it is like themselves; -- that of God is absolute and perfect, before which our sins are as a cloud before the east wind and the rising sun. Hence he is said to do this work with his whole heart and his whole soul,. [--GREEK--], "freely, " bountifully, largely to indulge and forgive unto us our sins, and "to cast them into the depths of the sea, " Micah vii. 19, into a bottomless ocean, -- an emblem of infinite mercy. Remember this, poor souls, when you are to deal with God in this matter: "All things are possible unto them that do believe. "
Ver. 4.] PROPERTIES OF DIVINE FORGIVENESS. 503
Secondly, This forgiveness is in or with God, not only so as that we may apply ourselves unto it if we will, for which he will not be offended with us, but so also as that he hath placed his great glory in the declaration and communication of it; nor can we honour him more than by coming to him to be made partakers of it, and so to receive it from him. For the most part, we are, as it were, ready rather to steal forgiveness from God, than to receive from him as one that gives it freely and largely. We take it up and lay it down as though we would be glad to have it, so God did not, as it were, see us take it; for we are afraid he is not willing we should have it indeed. We would steal this fire from heaven, and have a share in God's treasures and riches almost without his consent: at least, we think that we have it from him "aegre, " with much difficulty; that it is rarely given, and scarcely obtained; that he gives it out. [--GREEK--], with a kind of unwilling willingness, -- as we sometimes give alms without cheerfulness; and that he loseth so much by us as he giveth out in pardon. We are apt to think that we are very willing to have forgiveness, but that God is unwilling to bestow it, and that because he seems to be a loser by it, and to forego the glory of inflicting punishment for our sins; which of all things we suppose he is most loath to part withal. And this is the very nature of unbelief. But indeed things are quite otherwise. He hath in this matter, through the Lord Christ, ordered all things in his dealings with sinners, "to the praise of the glory of his grace, " Eph. i. 6. His design in the whole mystery of the gospel is to make his grace glorious, or to exalt pardoning mercy. The great fruit and product of his grace is forgiveness of sinners. This God will render himself glorious in and by. All the praise, glory, and worship that he designs from any in this world is to redound unto him by the way of this grace, as we have proved at large before. For this cause spared he the world when sin first entered into it; for this cause did he provide a new covenant when the old was become unprofitable; for this cause did he send his Son into the world. This hath he testified by all the evidences insisted on. Would he have lost the praise of his grace, nothing hereof would have been done or brought about.
We can, then, no way so eminently bring or ascribe glory unto God as by our receiving forgiveness from him, he being willing thereunto upon the account of its tendency unto his own glory, in that way which he hath peculiarly fixed on for its manifestation. Hence the apostle exhorts us to "come boldly unto the throne of grace, " Heb. iv. 16; that is, with the confidence of faith, as he expounds "boldness, " chap. x. 19-22. We come about a business wherewith he is well pleased; such as he delights in the doing of,
504 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4
as he expresseth himself, Zeph. iii. 17, "The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing. " This is the way of God's pardoning; he doth it in a rejoicing, triumphant manner, satisfying abundantly his own holy soul therein, and resting in his love. We have, then, abundant encouragement to draw nigh to the throne of grace, to be made partakers of what God is so willing to give out unto us.
And to this end serves also the oath of God, before insisted on, -- namely, to root out all the secret reserves of unbelief concerning God's unwillingness to give mercy, grace, and pardon unto sinners. See Heb. vi. 17, 18, where it is expressed. Therefore, the tendency of our former argument is, not merely to prove that there is forgiveness with God, which we may believe and not be mistaken, but which we ought to believe; it is our duty so to do. We think it our duty to pray, to hear the word, to give alms, to love the brethren, and to abstain from sin; and if we fall in any of these, we find the guilt of them reflected upon our conscience, unto our disquietment: but we scarce think it our duty to believe the forgiveness of our sins. It is well, it may be, we think, with them that can do it; but we think it not their fault who do not. Such persons may be pitied, but, as we suppose, not justly blamed, no, not by God himself. Whose conscience almost is burdened with this as a sin, that he doth not, as he ought, believe the forgiveness of his sins? And this is merely because men judge it not their duty so to do; for a non-performance of a duty, apprehended to be such, will reflect on the conscience a sense of the guilt of sin. But now what can be required to make any thing a duty unto us that is wanting in this matter? for, --
1. There is forgiveness with God, and this manifested, revealed, declared. This manifestation of it is that which makes it the object of our faith. We believe things to be in God and with him, not merely and formally because they are so, but because he hath manifested and revealed them so to be, 1 John i. 2. What he so declares it is our duty to believe, or we frustrate the end of his revelation.
2. We are expressly commanded to believe, and that upon the highest promises and under the greatest penalties. This command is that which makes believing formally a duty. Faith is a grace, as it is freely wrought in us by the Holy Ghost; the root of all obedience and duties, as it is radically fixed in the heart; but as it is commanded, it is a duty. And these commands, you know, are several ways expressed, by invitations, exhortations, propositions; which all have in them the nature of commands, which take up a great part of the books of the New Testament.
Ver 4.] FORGIVENESS BELIEVED BY FEW. 505
3. It is a duty, as we have showed, of the greatest concernment unto the glory of God.
4. Of the greatest importance unto our souls here and hereafter. And these things were necessary to be added, to bottom our ensuing exhortations upon.
Evidences that most men do not believe forgiveness.
THAT which should now ensue is the peculiar improvement of this truth, all along aimed at, -- namely, to give exhortations and encouragements unto believing; but I can take few steps in this work, wherein methinks I do not hear some saying, "Surely all this is needless. Who is there that doth not believe all that you go about to prove? and so these pains are spent to little or no purpose. " I shall, therefore, before I persuade any unto it, endeavour to show that they do it not already. Many, I say, the most of men who live under the dispensation of the gospel, do wofully deceive their own souls in this matter. They do not believe what they profess themselves to believe, and what they think they believe. Men talk of "fundamental errors;" this is to me the most fundamental error that any can fall into, and the most pernicious. It is made up of these two parts: -- ]. They do not indeed believe forgiveness. 2. They suppose they do believe it, which keeps them from seeking after the only remedy. Both these mistakes are in the foundation, and do ruin the souls of them that live and die in them. I shall, then, by a brief inquiry, put this matter to a trial. By some plain rules and principles may this important question, whether we do indeed believe forgiveness or no, be answered and decided. But to the resolution intended, I shall premise two observations --
1. Men in this case are very apt to deceive themselves. Self-love, vain hopes, liking of lust, common false principles, sloth, unwillingness unto self-examination, reputation with the world, and it may be in the church, all vigorously concur unto men's self-deceivings in this matter. It is no easy thing for a soul to break through all these, and all self-reasonings that rise from them, to come unto a clear judgment of its own acting in dealing with God about forgiveness. Men also find a common presumption of this truth, and its being an easy relief against gripings of conscience and disturbing thoughts about sin, which they daily meet withal. Aiming, therefore, only at the removal of trouble, and finding their present imagination
506 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
of it sufficient thereunto, they never bring their persuasion to the trial
2. As men are apt to do thus, so they actually do so; they do deceive themselves, and know not that they do so. The last day will make this evident, if men will no sooner be convinced of their folly. When our Saviour told his disciples that one of them twelve should betray him, though it were but one of twelve that was in danger, yet every one of the twelve made a particular inquiry about himself. I will not say that one in each twelve is here mistaken; but I am sure the Truth tells us that "many are called, but few are chosen. " They are but few who do really believe forgiveness. Is it not, then, incumbent on every one to be inquiring in what number he is likely to be found at the last day? Whilst men put this inquiry off from themselves, and think or say, "It may be the concernment of others, it is not mine, " they perish, and that without remedy. Remember what poor Jacob said when he had lost one child, and was afraid of the loss of another: Gen. xliii. 14, "If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved. " As if he should have said, "If I lose my children, I have no more to lose; they are my all. Nothing worse can befall me in this world. Comfort, joy, yea, life and all, go with them. " How much more may men say in this case, "If we are deceived here, we are deceived; all is lost. Hope, and life, and soul, all must perish, and that for ever!" There is no help or relief for them who deceive themselves in this matter. They have found out a way to go quietly down into the pit.
Now, these things are premised only that they may be incentives unto self-examination in this matter, and so render the ensuing considerations useful. Let us, then, address ourselves unto them;: --
1. In general, This is a gospel truth; yea, the great fundamental and most important truth of the gospel. It is the turning-point of the two covenants, as God himself declares, Heb. viii. 7-13. Now, a very easy consideration of the ways and walkings of men will satisfy us as to this inquiry, whether they do indeed believe the gospel, the covenant of grace, and the fundamental principles of it. Certainly their ignorance, darkness, blindness, their corrupt affections, and worldly conversations, their earthly-mindedness, and open disavowing of the spirit, ways, and yoke of Christ, speak no such language. Shall we think that proud, heady, worldly self-seekers, haters of the people of God and his ways, despisers of the Spirit of grace and his work, sacrificers to their own lusts, and such like, do believe the covenant of grace or remission of sins? God forbid we should entertain any one thought of so great dishonour to the gospel! Wherever that is received or believed it produceth other effects,
Ver. 4.] FORGIVENESS BELIEVED BY FEW. 507
Tit. ii. 11, 12; Isa. xi. 6-9. It "teacheth men to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts. " It changeth their hearts, natures, and ways. It is not such a barren, impotent, and fruitless thing as such an apprehension would represent it.
2. They that really believe forgiveness in God do thereby obtain forgiveness. . Believing gives an interest in it; it brings it home to the soul concerned. This is the inviolable law of the gospel. Believing and forgiveness are inseparably conjoined. Among the evidences that we may have of any one being interested in forgiveness, I shall only name one, -- they prize and value it above all the world. Let us inquire what esteem and valuation many of those have of forgiveness, who put it out of all question that they do believe it. I)o they look upon it as their treasure, their jewel, their pearl of price? Are they solicitous about it? I)o they often look and examine whether it continues safe in their possession or no? Suppose a man have a precious jewel laid up in some place in his house; suppose it be unto him as the poor widow's two mites, all her substance or living; -- will he not carefully ponder on it? will he not frequently satisfy himself that it is safe? We may know that such a house, such fields or lands, do not belong unto a man, when he passeth By them daily and taketh little or no notice of them. Now, how do most men look upon forgiveness? what is their common deportment in reference unto it? Are their hearts continually filled with thoughts about it? Are they solicitous concerning their interest in it? I)o they reckon that whilst that is safe all is safe with them? When it is, as it were, laid out of the way by sin and unbelief, do they give themselves no rest until it be afresh discovered unto them? Is this the frame of the most of men? The Lord knows it is not. They talk of forgiveness, but esteem it not, prize it not, make no particular inquiries after it. They put it to an ungrounded venture whether ever they be partakers of it or no. For a relief against some pangs of conscience it is called upon, or else scarce thought of at all.
Let not any so minded flatter themselves that they have any acquaintance with the mystery of gospel forgiveness.
3. Let it be inquired of them who pretend unto this persuasion how they came by it, that we may know whether it be of Him who calleth us or no; that we may try whether they have broken through the difficulties, in the entertaining of it, which we have manifested abundantly to lie in the way of it.
When Peter confessed our Saviour to be "the Christ, the Son of the living God, " he told him that "flesh and blood did not reveal that unto him, but his Father who is in heaven, " Matt. xvi. 17. It is so with them who indeed believe forgiveness in God: "flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto them;" -- it hath not been furthered
508 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
by any thing within them or without them, but all lies in opposition unto it. "This is the work of God, that we believe, " John vi. 29; -- a great work, the greatest work that God requireth of us. It is not only a great thing in itself (the grace of believing is a great thing), but it is great in respect of its object, or what we have to believe, or forgiveness itself. The great honour of Abraham's faith lay in this, that deaths and difficulties lay in the way of it, Rom. iv. 18-20. But what is a dead body and a dead womb to an accusing conscience, a killing law, and apprehensions of a God terrible as a consuming fire? all which, as was showed, oppose themselves unto a soul called to believe forgiveness.
What, now, have the most of men, who are confident in the profession of this faith, to say unto this thing? Let them speak clearly, and they must say that indeed they never found the least difficulty in this matter; they never doubted of it, they never questioned it, nor do know any reason why they should do so. It is a thing which they have so taken for granted as that it never cost them an hour's labour, prayer, or meditation about it. Have they had secret reasonings and contendings in their hearts about it? No. Have they considered how the objections that lie against it may be removed. Not at all. But is it so, indeed, that this persuasion is thus bred in you, you know not how? Are the corrupted natures of men and the gospel so suited, so complying? Is the new covenant grown so connatural to flesh and blood? Is the greatest secret that ever was revealed from the bosom of the Father become so familiar and easy to the wisdom of the flesh? Is that which was folly to the wise Greeks, and a stumbling-block to the wonder-gazing Jews, become, on a sudden, wisdom and a plain path to the same principles that were in them? But the truth of this matter is, that such men have a general, useless, barren notion of pardon, which Satan, presumption, tradition, common reports, and the customary hearing of the word, have furnished them withal; but for that gospel discovery of forgiveness whereof we have been speaking, they are utterly ignorant of it and unacquainted with it. To convince such poor creatures of the folly of their presumption, I would but desire them to go to some real believers that are or may be known unto them. Let them be asked whether they came so easily by their faith and apprehensions of forgiveness or no. "Alas!" saith one, "these twenty years have I been following after God, and yet I have not arrived unto an abiding cheering persuasion of it. " "I know what it cost me, what trials, difficulties, temptations I wrestled with, and went through withal, before I obtained it, " saith another. "What I have attained unto hath been of unspeakable mercy; and it is my daily prayer that I may be preserved in it by the exceeding greatness of the
Ver. 4.] FORGIVENESS BELIEVED BY FEW. 509
power of God, for I continually wrestle with storms that are ready to drive me from my anchor. " A little of this discourse may be sufficient to convince poor, dark, carnal creatures of the folly and vanity of their confidence.
4. There are certain means whereby the revelation and discovery of this mystery is made unto the souls of men. By these they do obtain it, or they obtain it not. The mystery itself was a secret, hidden in the counsel of God from eternity; nor was there any way whereby it might be revealed but by the Son of God, and that is done in the word of the gospel. If, then, you say you know it, let us inquire how you came so to do, and by what means it hath been declared unto you. Hath this been done by a word of truth, -- by the promise of the gospel? Was it by preaching of the word unto you, or by reading of it, or meditating upon it? or did you receive it from and by some seasonable word of or from the Scriptures spoken unto you? or hath it insensibly gotten ground upon your hearts and minds, upon the strivings and conflicts of your souls about sin, from the truth wherein you had been instructed in general? or by what other ways or means have you come to that acquaintance with it whereof you boast? You can tell how you came by your wealth, your gold and silver; you know how you became learned, or obtained the knowledge of the mystery of your trade, who taught you in it, and how you came by it. There is not any thing wherein you are concerned but you can answer these inquiries in a reference unto it. Think it, then, no great matter if you are put to answer this question also -- By what way or means came you to the knowledge of forgiveness which you boast of? Was it by any of those before mentioned, or some other? If you cannot answer distinctly to these things, only you say you have heard it and believed it ever since you can remember (so those said that went before you, so they say with whom you do converse; you never met with any one that called it into question, nor heard of any, unless it were one or two despairing wretches), it will be justly questioned whether you have any portion in this matter or no. If uncertain rumours, reports, general notions, lie at the bottom of your persuasion, do not suppose that you have any communion with Christ therein.
5. Of them who profess to believe forgiveness, how few are there who indeed know what it is! They believe, they say; but as the Samaritans worshipped, -- they "know not what. " With some, a bold presumption, and crying "Peace, peace, " goes for the belief of forgiveness. A general apprehension of impunity from God, and that they are sinners, yet they shall not be punished, passeth with others at the same rate. Some think they shall prevail with God by their prayers and desires to let them alone, and not cast them into hell.
510 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
One way or other to escape the vengeance of hell, not to be punished in another world, is that which men fix their minds upon. But is this that forgiveness which is revealed in the gospel? that which we have been treating about? The rise and spring of our forgiveness is in the heart and gracious nature of God, declared by his name. Have you inquired seriously into this? Have you stood at the shore of that infinite ocean of goodness and love? Have your souls found supportment and relief from that consideration? and have your hearts leaped within you with the thoughts of it? Or, if you have never been affected in an especial manner herewithal, have you bowed down your souls under the consideration of that sovereign act of the will of God that is the next spring of forgiveness; that glorious acting of free grace, that when all might justly have perished, all having sinned and come short of his glow, God would yet have mercy on some? Have you given up yourselves to this grace? Is this any thing of that you do believe? Suppose you are strangers to this also; what communion with God have you had about it in the blood of Christ? We have showed how forgiveness relates thereunto; how way is made thereby for the exercise of mercy, in a consistency with the glory and honour of the justice of God and of his law; how pardon is procured and purchased thereby; with the mysterious reconciliation of love and law, and the new disposal of conscience in its work and duty by it. What have you to say to these things? Have you seen pardon flowing from the heart of the Father through the blood of the Son? Have you looked upon it as the price of his life and the purchase of his blood? Or have you general thoughts that Christ died for sinners, and that on one account or other forgiveness relates unto him, but are strangers to the mystery of this great work? Suppose this also; let us go a little farther, and inquire whether you know any thing that yet remains of the like importance in this matter? Forgiveness, as we have showed, is manifested, tendered, exhibited in the covenant of grace and promises of the gospel. The rule of the efficacy of these is, that they be "mixed with faith, " Heb. iv. 2. It is well if you are grown up hereunto; but you that are strangers to the things before mentioned are no less to this also. Upon the matter, you know not, then, what forgiveness is, nor wherein it consists, nor whence it comes, nor how it is procured, nor by what means given out unto sinners. It is to no purpose for such persons to pretend that they believe that whereunto, either notionally or practically, or both, they are such utter strangers.
6. Another inquiry into this matter regards the state and condition wherein souls must be before it be possible for them to believe forgiveness. If there be such an estate, and it can be evinced that
Ver. 4.] FORGIVENESS BELIEVED BY FEW. 511
very many of the pretenders concerning whom we deal were never brought into it, it is then evident that they neither do nor can believe forgiveness, however they do and may delude their own souls.
It hath been showed that the first discovery that was made of pardoning grace was unto Adam, presently after the fall. What was then his state and condition? how was he prepared for the reception of this great mystery in its first discovery? That seems to be a considerable rule of proceeding in the same matter. That which is first in any kind is a rule to all that follows. Now, what was Adam's condition when the revelation of forgiveness was first made to him? It is known from the story. Convinced of sin, afraid of punishment, he lay trembling at the foot of God: then was forgiveness revealed unto him. So the psalmist states it, Ps. cxxx. 3, "If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?" Full of thoughts he is of the desert of sin, and of inevitable and eternal ruin, in case God should deal with him according to the exigence of the law. In that state is the great support of forgiveness with God suggested unto him by the Holy Ghost. We know what work our Saviour had with the Pharisees on this account. "Are we, " say they, "blind also?" "No, " saith he; "you say you see, 'therefore your sin remaineth, '" John ix. 40, 41; -- " It is to no purpose to talk of forgiveness to such persons as you are; you must of necessity abide in your sins. I came not to call such righteous persons as you are, but sinners to repentance; who not only are so, as you are also, and that to the purpose, but are sensible of their being so, and of their undone condition thereby. ' The whole have no need of the physician, but the sick. ' Whilst you are seeming righteous and whole, it is to no end to tell you of forgiveness; you cannot understand it nor receive it. " It is impossible, then, that any one should, in a due manner, believe forgiveness in God, unless in a due manner he be convinced of sin in himself. If the fallow ground be not broken up, it is to no purpose to sow the seed of the gospel. There is neither life, power, nor sweetness in this truth, unless a door be opened for its entrance by conviction of sin.
Let us, then, on this ground also, continue our inquiry upon the ordinary boasters of their skill in this mystery. You believe there is forgiveness with God? Yes. But have you been convinced of sin? Yes. You know that you are sinners well enough. Answer, then, but once more as to the nature of this conviction of sin which you have. Is it not made up of these two ingredients; -- ]. A general notion that you are sinners, as all men also are; 2. Particular troublesome reflections upon yourselves, when on any eruption of sin conscience accuses, rebukes, condemns? You will say, "Yes; what would you require more?" This is not the conviction we are
512 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
inquiring after: that is a work of the Spirit by the word; this you speak of, a mere natural work, which you can no more be without than you can cease to be men. This will give no assistance unto the receiving of forgiveness. But, it may be, you will say you have proceeded farther than so, and these things have had an improvement in you. Let us, then, a little try whether your process has been according to the mind of God, and so whether this invincible bar in your way be removed or no; for although every convinced person do not believe forgiveness, yet no one who is not convinced doth so. Have you, then, been made sensible of your condition by nature, what it is to be alienated from the life of God, and to be obnoxious to his wrath? Have you been convinced of the universal enmity that is in your hearts to the mind of God, and what it is to be at enmity against God.? Hath the unspeakable multitude of the sins of your lives been set in order by the law before you? And have you considered what it is for sinners as you are to have to deal with a righteous and a holy God? Hath the Holy Ghost wrought a serious recognition in your hearts of all these things, and caused them to abide with you and upon you? If you will answer truly, you must say, many of you, that indeed you have not been so exercised. You have heard of these things many times, but to say that you have gone through with this work, and have had experience of them, that you cannot do. Then, I say, you are strangers to forgiveness, because you are strangers unto sin. But and if you shall say that you have had thoughts to this purpose, and are persuaded that you have been thoroughly convinced of sin, I shall yet ask you one question more: What effects hath your conviction produced in your hearts and lives? Have you been filled with perplexities and consternation of spirit thereupon? have you had fears, dreads, or terrors, to wrestle withal? It may be you will say, "No;" nor will I insist upon that inquiry. But this I deal with you in: Hath it filled you with self-loathing and abhorrency, with self-condemnation and abasement? If it will do any thing, this it will do. If you come short here, it is justly to be feared that all your other pretences are of no value. Now, where there is no work of conviction there is no faith o f forgiveness, whatever is pretended. And how many vain boasters this sword will cut off is evident.
7. We have yet a greater evidence than all these. Men live in sin, and therefore they do not believe forgiveness of sin. Faith in general "purifies the heart, " Acts xv. 9; our "souls are purified in obeying the truth, " 1 Pet. i. 22. And the life is made fruitful by it: James ii. 22, "Faith worketh by works, " and makes itself perfect by them. And the doctrine concerning forgiveness hath a special influence into all holiness: Tit. ii. 11, 12, "The grace of God
Ver. 4.] FORGIVENESS BELIEVED BY FEW. 513
that bringeth salvation, teacheth us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world. " And that is the grace whereof we speak. No man can, then, believe forgiveness of sin without a detestation and relinquishment of it. The ground of this might be farther manifested, and the way of the efficacy of faith of forgiveness unto a forsaking of sin, if need were; but all that own the gospel must acknowledge this principle. The real belief of the pardon of sin is prevalent with men not to live longer in sin.
But now, what are the greatest number of those who pretend to receive this truth? Are their hearts purified by it? Are their consciences purged? Are their lives changed? Do they "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts?" Doth forgiveness teach them so to do? Have they found it effectual to these purposes? Whence is it, then, that there is such a bleating and bellowing to the contrary amongst them?
Some of you are drunkards, some of you swearers, some of you unclean persons, some of you liars, some of you worldly, some of you haters of all the ways of Christ, and all his concernments upon the earth; proud, covetous, boasters, self-seekers, envious, wrathful, back-biters, malicious, praters, slanderers, and the like. And shall we think that such as these believe forgiveness of sin? God forbid. Again; some of you are dark, ignorant, blind, utterly unacquainted with the mystery of the gospel, nor do at all make it your business to inquire into it. Either you hear it not at all, or negligently, slothfully, customarily, to no purpose. Let not such persons deceive their own souls; to live in sin and yet to believe the forgiveness of sin is utterly impossible. Christ will not be a minister of sin, nor give his gospel to be a doctrine of licentiousness for your sakes; nor shall you be forgiven that you may be delivered to do more abominations, God forbid.
If any shall say that they thank God they are no such publicans as those mentioned, they are no drunkards, no swearers, no unclean persons, nor the like, so that they are not concerned in this consideration (their lives and their duties give another account of them), then yet consider farther, that the Pharisees were all that you say of yourselves, and yet the greatest despisers of forgiveness that ever were in the world; and that because they hated the light, on this account, that their deeds were evil. And for your duties you mention, what, I pray, is the root and spring of them? Are they influenced from this faith of forgiveness you boast of or no? May it not be feared that it is utterly otherwise? You do not perform them because you love the gospel, but because you fear the law. If the truth were known, I doubt it would appear that you get nothing by
514 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
your believing of pardon but an encouragement unto sin. Your goodness, such as it is, springs from another root. It may be, also, that you ward yourselves by it against the strokes of conscience or the guilt of particular sins; this is as bad as the other. It is as good be encouraged unto sin to commit it, as be encouraged under sin so as to be kept from humiliation for it. None under heaven are more remote from the belief of grace and pardon than such persons are; all their righteousness is from the law, and their sin in a great measure from the gospel.
8. They that believe forgiveness in a due manner, believe it for the ends and purposes for which it is revealed of God. This will farther improve and carry on the former consideration. If God reveals any thing for one end and purpose, and men use it quite unto another, they do not receive the word of God, nor believe the thing revealed, but steal the word and delude their own souls.
Let us, then, weigh to what ends and purposes this forgiveness was first revealed by God, for which also its manifestation is still continued in the gospel. We have showed before who it was to whom this revelation was first made, and what condition he was in when it was so made unto him. A lost, wretched creature, without hope or help he was; how he should come to obtain acceptance with God he knew not. God reveals forgiveness unto him by Christ to be his all. The intention of God in it was, that a sinner's all should be of grace, Rom. xi. 6. If any thing be added unto it for the same end and purpose, then "grace is no more grace. " Again; God intended it as a new foundation of obedience, of love, and thankfulness. That men should love because forgiven, and be holy because pardoned, as I have showed before, -- that it might be the righteousness of a sinner, and a spring of new obedience in him, all to the praise of grace, -- were God's ends in its revelation.
Our inquiry, then, is, Whether men do receive this revelation as unto these ends, and use it for these purposes, and these only? I might evince the contrary, by passing through the general abuses of the doctrine of grace which are mentioned in the Scripture and common in the world; but it will not be needful. Instead of believing, the most of men seem to put a studied despite on the gospel. They either proclaim it to be an unholy and polluted way, by turning its grace into lasciviousness, or a weak and insufficient way, by striving to twist it in with their own righteousness; both which are an abomination unto the Lord.
From these and such other considerations of the like importance as might be added, it is evident that our word is not in vain, nor the exhortation which is to be built upon it. It appears that notwithstanding the great noise and pretences to this purpose that are in
the world, they are but few who seriously receive this fundamental truth of the gospel, -- namely, that there is forgiveness with God. Poor creatures sport themselves with their own deceivings, and perish by their own delusions.
Exhortation unto the belief of the forgiveness that is with God -- Reasons for it, and the necessity of it.
WE shall now proceed unto the direct uses of this great truth; for having laid our foundation in the word that will not fail, and having given, as we hope, sufficient evidence unto the truth of it, our last work is to make that improvement of it unto the good of the souls of men which all along was aimed at. The persons concerned in this truth are all sinners whatever. No sort of sinners are unconcerned in it, none are excluded from it. And we may cast them all under two heads: --
First, Such as never yet sincerely closed with the promise of grace, nor have ever yet received forgiveness from God in a way of believing. These we have already endeavoured to undeceive, and to discover those false presumptions whereby they are apt to ruin and destroy their own souls. These we would guide now into safe and pleasant paths, wherein they may find assured rest and peace.
Secondly, Others there are who have received it, but being again entangled by sin, or clouded by darkness and temptations, or weakened by unbelief, know not how to improve it to their peace and comfort. This is the condition of the soul represented in this psalm, and which we shall therefore apply ourselves unto in an especial manner in its proper place.
Our exhortation, then, is unto both -- to the first, that they would receive it, that they may have life; to the latter, that they would improve it, that they may have peace; -- to the former, that they would not overlook, disregard, or neglect so great salvation as is tendered unto them; to the latter, that they would stir up the grace of God that is in them, to mix with the grace of God that is declared unto them.
I shall begin with the first sort, -- those who are yet utter strangers from the covenant of grace, who never yet upon saving grounds believed this forgiveness, who never yet once tasted of gospel pardon. Poor sinners! this word is unto you.
Be it that you have heard or read the same word before, or others like unto it, to the same purpose, -- it may be often, it may be a hun-
516 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4
dred times, -- it is your concernment to hear it again; God would have it so; the testimony of Jesus Christ is thus to be accomplished. This "counsel of God" we must "declare, " that we may be "pure from the blood of all men, " Acts xx. 26, 27; and that not once or twice, but in preaching the word we must be "instant in season, out of season; reproving, rebuking, exhorting with all long-suffering and doctrine, " 2 Tim. iv. 2. And for you, woe unto you when God leaves thus speaking unto you! when he refuseth to exhort you any more, woe unto you! This is God's departure from any person or people, when he will deal with them no more about forgiveness; and saith he, "Woe to them when I depart from them!" Hos. ix. 12. O that God, therefore, would give unto such persons seeing eyes and hearing ears, that the word of grace may never more be spoken unto them in vain!
Now, in our exhortation to such persons, we shall proceed gradually, according as the matter will bear, and the nature of it doth require. Consider, therefore, --
First, That notwithstanding all your sins, all the evil that your own hearts know you to be guilty of, and that hidden mass or evil treasure of sin which is in you, which you are not able to look into; notwithstanding that 'charge that lies upon you from your own consciences, and that dreadful sentence and curse of the law which you are obnoxious unto; notwithstanding all the just grounds that you have to apprehend that God is your enemy, and will be so unto eternity; -- yet there are terms of peace and reconciliation provided and proposed between him and your souls. This, in the first place, is spoken out by the word we have insisted on. Whatever else it informs us of, this it positively asserts, -- namely, that there is a way whereby sinners may come to be accepted with God; for "there is forgiveness with him, that he may be feared. " And we hope that we have not confirmed it by so many testimonies, by so many evidences, in vain. Now, that you may see how great a privilege this is, and how much your concernment lies in it, consider, --
1. That this belongs unto you in an especial manner; it is your peculiar advantage.
It is not so with the angels that sinned. There were never any terms of peace or reconciliation proposed unto them, nor ever shall be, unto eternity. There is no way of escape provided for them. Having once sinned, as you have done a thousand times, God "spared them not, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment, " 2 Pet. ii. 4.
It is not so with them that are dead in their sins, if but one moment past. Ah! how would many souls who are departed, it may be not an hour since, out of this world, rejoice for an interest
in this privilege, the hearing of terms of peace, once more, between God and them! But their time is past, their house is left unto them desolate. As the tree falleth, so it must lie: "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment, " Heb. ix. 27. After death there are no terms of peace, nothing but judgment. "The living, the living, " he alone is capable of this advantage.
It is not so with them to whom the gospel is not preached. God suffers them to walk in their own ways, and calls them not thus to repentance. The terms of reconciliation which some fancy to be offered in the shining of the sun and falling of the rain, never brought souls to peace with God. Life and immortality are brought to light only by the gospel. This is your privilege who yet live, and yet have the word sounding in your ears.
It is not thus with them who have sinned against the Holy Ghost, though yet alive, and living where the word of forgiveness is preached. God proposeth unto them no terms of reconciliation. "Blasphemy against him, " saith Christ, "shall not be forgiven, " Matt. xii. 31. There is no forgiveness for such sinners; and we, if we knew them, ought not to pray for them, 1 John v. 16. Their sin is "unto death. " And what number may be in this condition God knows.
This word, then, is unto you; these terms of peace are proposed unto you. This is that which in an especial manner you are to apply yourselves unto; and woe unto you if you should be found to have neglected it at the last day! Wherefore, consider, --
2. By whom these terms are proposed unto you, and by whom they were procured for you. By whom are they proposed? Who shall undertake to umpire the business, the controversy between God and sinners? No creature, doubtless, is either meet or worthy to interpose in this matter, -- I mean, originally on his own account; for "who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor?" Wherefore, it is God himself who proposeth these terms; and not only proposeth them, but invites, exhorts, and persuades you to accept of them. This the whole Scriptures testify unto. It is fully expressed, 2 Cor. v. 18-20. He hath provided them, he hath proposed them, and makes use only of men, of ministers, to act in his name. And excuse us if we are a little earnest with you in this matter. Alas! our utmost that we can, by zeal for his glory or compassion unto your souls, raise our thoughts, minds, spirits, words unto, comes infinitely short of his own pressing earnestness herein. See Isa. Iv. 1-4. Oh, infinite condescension! Oh, blessed grace! Who is this that thus bespeaks you? He against whom you have sinned, of whom you are justly afraid; he whose laws you have broken, and whose name you have dishonoured; he who needs
518 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
not you, nor your love, nor your friendship, nor your salvation! It is he who proposeth unto you these terms of reconciliation and peace! Consider the exhortation of the apostle upon this consideration: Heb. xii. 25, "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh from heaven. " It is God that speaks unto you in this matter, and he speaks unto you from heaven. And he doth therein forego all the advantage that he hath against you for your destruction. Woe would be unto your souls, and that for ever, if you should refuse him.
3. By whom were these terms procured for you? and by what means? Do not think that this matter was brought about by chance, or by an ordinary undertaking. Remember that the proposal made unto you this day cost no less than the price of the blood of the Son of God. It is the fruit of the travail of his soul. For this he prayed, he wept, he suffered, he died. And shall it now be neglected or despised by you? Will you yet account the blood of the covenant to be a common thing? Will you exclude yourselves from all benefit of the purchase of these terms, and only leave your souls to answer for the contempt of the price whereby they were purchased?
4. Consider that you are sinners, great sinners, cursed sinners; some of you, it may be, worse than innumerable of your fellow-sinners were who are now in hell. God might long since have cast you off everlastingly from all expectation of mercy, and have caused all your hopes to perish; or he might have left you alive, and yet have refused to deal with you any more. He could have caused your sun to go down at noon-day, and have given you darkness instead of vision. He could respite your lives for a season, and yet "swear in his wrath that you should never enter into his rest. " It is now otherwise. How long it may be so, nor you nor I know any thing at all. God only knows what will be your time, what your continuance. We are to speak whilst it is called "To-day. " And this is that for the present which I have to offer unto you -- God declares that there is forgiveness with him, that your condition is not desperate nor helpless. There are yet terms of peace proposed unto you. Methinks it cannot but seem strange that poor sinners should not at the least stir up themselves to inquire after them. When a poor man had sold himself of old and his children to be servants, and parted with the land of his inheritance unto another, because of his poverty, with what heart do you think did he hear the sound of the trumpet when it began to proclaim the year of jubilee, wherein he and all his were to go out at liberty, and to return unto his possession and inheritance? And shall not poor servants of sin, slaves unto Satan, that have forfeited all their inheritance in this world and that which is to come, attend unto any proclamation of the year of rest, of the ac-
Ver. 4] EXHORTATIONS UNTO BELIEVING FORGIVENESS. 519
ceptable year of the Lord? And this is done in the tender of terms of peace with God in this matter. Do not put it off; this belongs unto you; the great concernment of your souls lies in it. And it is a great matter; for consider, --
5. That when the angels came to bring the news of the birth of our Lord Jesus, they say, " We bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people, " Luke ii. 10. What are these joyful tidings? what was the matter of this report? Why, "This day is born a Saviour, Christ the Lord, " verse 11. It is only this, "A Saviour is born; a way of escape is provided, " and farther they do not proceed. Yet this they say is a matter of "great joy;" as it was indeed. It is so to every burdened, convinced sinner, a matter of unspeakable joy and rejoicing. Oh, blessed words! "A Saviour is born!" This gives life to a sinner, and opens "a door of hope in the valley of Achor, " the first rescue of a sin-distressed soul. Upon the matter, it was all that the saints for many ages had to live upon; and that not in the enjoyment, but only the expectation. They lived on that word, "The seed of the woman shall break the serpent's head;" that is, a way of deliverance is provided for sinners. This with all "diligence they inquired into, " 1 Pet. i. 10-12; and improved it to their eternal advantage. As of old, Jacob, when he saw the waggons that his son Joseph had sent to bring him unto him, it is said his spirit "revived;" so did they upon their obscure discovery of a way of forgiveness. They looked upon the promise of it as that which God had sent to bring them unto him; and they saw the day of the coming of Christ in it, and rejoiced. How much more have sinners now reason so to do, when the substance of the promise is exhibited, and the news of his coming proclaimed unto them! This, then, is a great matter, -- name]y, that terms of peace and reconciliation are proposed, in that it is made known that there is forgiveness with God. Upon these considerations, then, we pursue that exhortation which we have in hand.
If any of you were justly condemned to a cruel and shameful death, and lay trembling in the expectation of the execution of it, and a man designed for that purpose should come unto him and tell him that there were terms propounded on which his life might be spared, only he came away like Ahimaaz before he heard the particulars; -- would it not be a reviving unto him? Would he not cry out, "Pray, inquire what they are; for there is not any thing so difficult which I will not undergo to free myself from this miserable condition?" Would it not change the whole frame of the spirit of such a man, and, as it were, put new life into him? But now, if, instead hereof, he should be froward, stubborn, and obstinate, take no notice of the messenger, or say, "Let the judge keep his terms to himself, " without inquiring what they are, that he would have no-
520 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
thing to do with them; -- would not such a person be deemed to perish deservedly? Doth he not bring a double destruction upon himself, -- first of deserving death by his crimes, and then by refusing the honest and good way of delivery tendered unto him? I confess it oftentimes falls out that men may come to inquire after these terms of peace, which, when they are revealed, they like them not, but, with the young man in the gospel, they go away sorrowful: the cursed wickedness and misery of which condition, which befalls many convinced persons, shall be spoken unto afterwards; at present I speak unto them who never yet attended in sincerity unto these terms, nor seriously inquired after them. Think you what you please of your condition and of yourselves, or choose whether you will think of it or no, -- pass your time in a full regardlessness of your present and future estate, -- yet, indeed, thus it is with you as to your eternal concerns: you lie under the sentence of a bitter, shameful, and everlasting death; you have done so in the midst of all your jollity, ever since you came into this world; and you are in the hand of Him who can, in the' twinkling of an eye, destroy both body and soul in hell-fire. In this state and condition men are sent on purpose to let you know that there are terms of peace, there is yet a way of escape for you; and that you may not avoid the issue aimed at, they tell you that God, that cannot lie, hath commanded them to tell you so. If you question the truth of what they say, they are ready to produce their warrant under God's own hand and seal. Here, then, is no room for tergiversation or excuses. Certainly, if you have any care of your eternal estate, if you have any drop of tender blood running in your veins towards your own souls, if you have any rational considerations dwelling in your minds, if all be not defaced and obliterated through the power of lust and love of sin, you cannot but take yourselves to be unspeakably concerned in this proposal. But now, if, instead hereof, you give up yourselves unto the power of unbelief, the will of Satan, the love of your lusts and this present world, so as to take no notice of this errand or message from God, nor once seriously to inquire after the nature and importance of the terms proposed, can you escape? shall you be delivered? will your latter end be peace? The Lord knows it will be otherwise with you, and that unto eternity.
So the apostle assures us, 2 Cor. iv. 3, 4, "If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. " If you receive not this word, if it be hid from you, it is from the power and efficacy of Satan upon your minds. And what will be the end? Perish you must and shall, and that for ever.
Ver. 4] EXHORTATIONS UNTO BELIEVING FORGIVENESS. 521
Remember the parable of our Saviour: Luke xiv. 31, 32, "What king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. " That which he teacheth in this parable is, the necessity that lies on us of making peace with God, whom we have provoked, and justly made to be our enemy; as also our utter impotency to resist and withstand him when he shall come forth in a way of judgment and vengeance against us. But here lies a difference in this matter, such as is allowed in all similitudes. Amongst men at variance, it is not his part who is the stronger, and secure of success, to send to the weaker, whom he hath in his power, to accept of terms of peace. Here it is otherwise: God, who is infinitely powerful, justly provoked, and able to destroy poor sinners in a moment, when now he is not very far off, but at the very door, sends himself an ambassage with conditions of peace. And shall he be refused by you? will you yet neglect his offers? How great, then, will be your destruction!
Hear, then, once more, poor sin-hardened, senseless souls, ye stout-hearted, that are far from righteousness. Is it nothing unto you that the great and holy God, whom ye have provoked all your days, and whom you yet continue to provoke, -- who hath not the least need of you or your salvation, -- who can, when he pleaseth, eternally glorify himself in your destruction, -- should of his own accord send unto you, to let you know that he is willing to be at peace with you on the terms he had prepared? The enmity began on your part, the danger is on your part only, and he might justly expect that the message for peace should begin on your part also; but he begins with you. And shall he be rejected? The prophet well expresseth this, Isa. xxx. 15, "Thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not. " The love and condescension that is in these words, on the one hand, on the part of God, and the folly and ingratitude mentioned in them on the other hand, is inexpressible. They are fearful words, "But ye would not. " Remember this against another day. As our Saviour says, in the like manner, to the Jews, "Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. " Whatever is pretended, it is will and stubbornness that lie at the bottom of this refusal.
Wherefore, that either you may obtain advantage by it, or that the way of the Lord may be prepared for the glorifying of himself upon you, I shall leave this word before all them that hear or read it, as the testimony which God requires to be given unto his grace.
592 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
There are terms of peace with God provided for and tendered unto you. It is yet called To-day; harden not your hearts like them of old, who could not enter into the rest of God by reason of unbelief, Heb. iii. 19. Some of you, it may be, are old in sins and unacquainted with God; some of you, it may be, have been great sinners, scandalous sinners; and some of you, it may be, have reason to apprehend yourselves near the grave, and so also to hell; some of you, it may be, have your consciences disquieted and galled; and it may be some of you are under some outward troubles and perplexities, that cause you a little to look about you; and some of you, it may be, are in the madness of your natural strength and lusts, -- " your breasts are full of milk and your bones of marrow, " and your hearts of sin, pride, and contempt of the ways of God. All is one: this word is unto you all; and I shall only mind you that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. " You hear the voice or read the words of a poor worm; but the message is the message, and the word is the word, of Him who shaketh heaven and earth. Consider, then, well what you have to do, and what answer you will return unto Him who will not be mocked.
But you will say, "Why, what great matter is there that you have in hand? Why is it urged with so much earnestness? We have heard the same words a hundred times over. The last Lord's day such a one, or such a one, preached to the same purpose; and what need it be insisted on now again with so much importunity?"
But is it so, indeed, that you have thus frequently been dealt withal, and do yet continue in an estate of irreconciliation? My heart is pained for you, to think of your woful and almost remediless condition. If "he that being often reproved, and yet hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy, " Prov. xxix. 1, how much more will he be so who, being often invited unto peace with God, yet hardeneth his heart, and refuseth to treat with him! Methinks I hear his voice concerning you: "Those mine enemies, they shall not taste of the supper that I have prepared. " Be it, then, that the word in hand is a common word unto you, you set no value upon it, -- then take your way and course in sin; stumble, fall, and perish. It is not so slight a matter to poor convinced sinners, that tremble at the word of God. These will prize it and improve it. We shall follow, then, that counsel, chap. xxxi. 6, "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. " We shall tender this new wine of the gospel to poor, sad-hearted, conscience-distressed sinners, -- sinners that are ready to perish: to them it will be pleasant; they will drink of it and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more. It shall take away all their sorrow and sadness, when you shall be drunk
Ver. 4.] EXHORTATIONS UNTO BELIEVING FORGIVENESS. 523
with the fruit of your lusts, and spue, and lie down and not rise again.
But now, if any of you shall begin to say in your hearts that you would willingly treat with God, -- " Oh that the day were come wherein we might approach unto him! let him speak what he pleaseth, and propose what terms he pleaseth, we are ready to hear, " -- then consider, --
Secondly, That the terms provided for you, and proposed unto you, are equal, holy, righteous, yea, pleasant and easy. This being another general head of our work in hand, before I proceed to the farther explication and confirmation of it, I shall educe one or two observations from what hath been delivered on the first; as, --
1. See here on what foundation we preach the gospel. Many disputes there are whether Christ died for all individuals of mankind or no. If we say, "No, but only for the elect, who are some of all sorts;" some then tell us we cannot invite all men promiscuously to believe. But why so? We invite not men as all men, no man as one of all men, but all men as sinners; and we know that Christ died for sinners. But is this the first thing that we are, in the dispensation of the gospel, to propose to the soul of a sinner under the law, that Christ died for him in particular? Is that the beginning of our message unto him? Were not this a ready way to induce him to conclude, "Let me, then, continue in sin, that grace may abound?" -- No; but this is in order of nature our first work, even that which we have had in hand; this is the "beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ;" this is" the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord: " -- "There is a way of reconciliation provided. 'God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself. ' There is a way of acceptance; there is forgiveness with him to be obtained. " At this threshold of the Lord's house doth the greatest part of men to whom the gospel is preached fall and perish, never looking in to see the treasures that are in the house itself, never coming into any such state and condition wherein they have any ground or bottom to inquire whether Christ died for them in particular or no. They believe not this report, nor take any serious notice of it. This was the ministry of the Baptist, and they who received it not "rejected the counsel of God" concerning their salvation, Luke vii. 10, and so perished in their sins. This is the sum of the blessed invitation given by Wisdom, Prov. ix. 1-5. And here men stumble, fall, and perish, chap. i. 29, 30.
2. You that have found grace and favour to accept of these terms, and thereby to obtain peace with God, learn to live in a holy admiration of his condescension and love therein. That he would provide such terms; that he would reveal them unto you; that he
524 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
would enable you to receive them; -- unspeakable love and grace lies in it all. Many have not these terms revealed unto them; few find favour to accept of them. And of whom is it that you have obtained this peculiar mercy?
Do you aright consider the nature of this matter? The Scripture proposeth it as an object of eternal admiration: "So God loved the world; . . . . Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us" first. Live in this admiration, and do your utmost, in your several capacities, to prevail with your friends, relations, acquaintance, to hearken after this great treaty of peace with God, whose terms we shall nextly consider, as before in general they were expressed.
Secondly, The terms provided for you, and proposed unto you, are equal, holy, righteous, yea, pleasant and easy, Hos. ii. 18, 19. They are not such as a cursed, guilty sinner might justly expect, but such as are meet for an infinitely good and gracious God to propose; -- not suited to the wisdom of man, but full of the "wisdom of God, " 2 Cor. ii. 6, 7. The poor, convinced wretch thinking of dealing with God, Micah vi. 6, 7, rolls in his mind what terms he is like to meet withal; and fixes on the most dreadful, difficult, and impossible that can be imagined. "If, " saith he, "any thing be done with this great and most high God, it must be by 'rivers, ' 'thousands, ' and 'ten thousands, ' children, 'first-born;' whatever is dreadful and terrible to nature, whatever is impossible for me to perform, that is it which he looks for. " But the matter is quite otherwise. The terms are wholly of another nature: it is a way of mere mercy, a way of free forgiveness. The apostle lays it down, Rom. iii. 21-26. It is a way of propitiation, of pardon, of forgiveness in the blood of Christ; the terms are, the acceptance of the forgiveness that we have described. Who would not think, now, that the whole world would run in to be made partakers of these terms, willingly accepting of them? But it proves for the most part quite otherwise. Men like not this way, of all others. "It had been something, " says Naaman, "if the prophet had come and done so and so; but this, ' Go wash, and be clean, ' I do not like it; I am but deluded. " Men think within themselves, that had it been some great thing that was required of them that they might be saved, they would with all speed address themselves thereunto; but to come to God by Christ, to be freely forgiven, without more ado, they like it not. Some rigid, austere penances, some compensatory obedience, some satisfactory mortification or purgatory, had been a more likely way. This of mere pardon in and by the cross, it is but folly, 1 Cor. i. 18, 20. "I had rather, " saith the Jew, "have it ' as it were by the works of the law, ' Rom. ix. 32, x. 3. This way of grace and forgiveness I like not. " So say others also; so practise others every
Ver. 4.] EXHORTATIONS UNTO BELIEVING FORGIVENESS. 525
day. Either this way is wholly rejected, or it is mended by some additions; which with God is all one with the rejection of it.
Here multitudes of souls deceive themselves and perish. I know not whether it be more difficult to persuade an unconvinced person to think of any terms, or a convinced person to accept of these. Let men say what they will, and pretend what they please, yet practically they like not this way of forgiveness. I shall therefore offer some subservient considerations, tending to the furtherance of your souls in the acceptance of the terms proposed --
1. This is the way, these are the terms of God's own choosing; he found out this way, he established it himself. He did it when all was lost and undone. He did it, not upon our desire, request, or proposal, but merely of his own accord; and why should we contend with him about it? If God will have us saved in a way of mere mercy and forgiveness, if his wisdom and sovereignty be in it, shall we oppose him, and say we like it not? Yet this is the language of unbelief, Rom. x. 3. Many poor creatures have disputed it with God, until at length, being overpowered as it were by the Spirit, [they] have said, "If it must be so, and God will save us by mercy and grace, let it be so; we yield ourselves to his will;" and yet throughout their disputes dreamed of nothing but that their own unworthiness only kept them from closing with the promise of the gospel.
Of this nature was that way of Satan whereby he deceived our first parents of their interest in the covenant of works. "The terms of it, " saith he, "as apprehended by you, are unequal. 'Yea, hath God said, Ye shall eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil ye shall not eat, lest ye die?' Come; 'ye shall not die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof then your eyes shall be opened. ' There is no proportion between the disobedience and the threatening; the issue cannot be such as is feared. " And by these means he ruined them. Thus, also, he proceeds to deprive souls of their interest in the covenant of grace, whereunto they are invited: "The terms of it are unequal, how can any man believe them? There is no proportion between the obedience and the promise. To have pardon, forgiveness, life, and a blessed eternity, on believing! -- who can rest in it?" And here lies a conspiracy between Satan and unbelief, against the wisdom, goodness, love, grace, and sovereignty of God. The poison of this deceit lies in this, that neither the righteousness nor the mercy of God is of that infiniteness as indeed they are. The apostle, to remove this fond imagination, calls us to the pleasure of God: 1 Cor. i. 21, "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching, " -- that is, by the gospel preached, which they esteemed foolishness, -- " to save them that believe. " He suffered men, indeed, to make trial of other ways; and when their insufficiency for the ends
526 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX [Ver. 4.
men proposed to themselves was sufficiently manifested, it pleased him to reveal his way. And what are we, that we should contend about it with him? This rejection of the way of personal righteousness, and choosing the way of grace and forgiveness, God asserts: Jer. xxxi. 31-35, "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers" (in which administration of the covenant, as far as it had respect unto typical mercies, much depended on their personal obedience): "but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law, " etc., "for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. " Let, then, this way stand, and the way of man's wisdom and self-righteousness perish for ever.
2. This is the way that above all others tends directly and immediately to the glory of God. God hath managed and ordered all things in this way of forgiveness, so as "no flesh should glory in his presence, " but that "he that glorieth should glory in the Lord, " 1 Cor. i. 29, 31. "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? by the law of works? Nay; but by the law of faith, " Rom. iii. 27. It might be easily manifested that God hath so laid the design of saving sinners by forgiveness according to the law of faith, that it is utterly impossible that any soul should, on any account whatever, have the least ground of glorying or boasting in itself, either absolutely or in comparison with them that perish. "If Abraham, " saith the same apostle, "were justified by works, he had whereof to glory; but not before God, " chap. iv. 2. The obedience of works would have been so infinitely disproportionate to the reward, which was God himself, that there had been no glorying before God, but therein his goodness and grace must he acknowledged; yet in comparison with others who yielded not the obedience required, he would have had wherein to glory: but now this also is cut off by the way of forgiveness, and no pretence is left for any to claim the least share in the glory of it but God alone. And herein lies the excellency of faith, that it "gives glory to God, " chap. iv. 20; the denial whereof, under various pretences, is the issue of proud unbelief. And this is that which God will bring all unto, or they shall perish, -- namely, that shame be ours, and the whole glory of our salvation be his alone. So be expresseth his design, Isa. xlv. 22-25. Verse 22, he proposeth himself as the only relief for sinners: "Look unto me, " saith he, "and be saved, all the ends of the earth. " But what if men take some other course, and look well to themselves, and so decline this way of mere mercy and grace? Why, saith he, verse 23, "I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in right-
Ver. 4.] EXHORTATIONS UNTO BELIEVING FORGIVENESS. 527
eousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. " Look you unto that, "But I have sworn that you shall either do so, or answer your disobedience at the day of judgment;" whereunto Paul applies those words, Rom. xiv. 11. What do the saints hereupon? Isa. xlv. 24, 25, "Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength. In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory. " They bring their hearts to accept of all righteousness from him, and to give all glory unto him.
God at first placed man in a blessed state and condition, -- in such a dependence on himself as that he might have wrought out his eternal happiness with a great reputation of glory unto himself. "Man being in this honour, " saith the psalmist, "abode not. " God now fixes on another way, as I said, wherein all the glory shall be his own, as the apostle at large sets it forth, Rom. iii. 21-26. Now, neither the way from which Adam fell, nor that wherein some of the angels continued, which for the substance were the same, is to be compared with this of forgiveness, as to the bringing glory unto God. I hate curiosities and conjectures in the things of God, yet, upon the account of the interposition of the blood of Christ, I think I may boldly say there comes more glory to God by saving one sinner in this way of forgiveness, than in giving the reward of blessedness to all the angels in heaven: so seems it to appear from that solemn representation we have of the ascription of glory to God by the whole creation, Rev. v. 9-14. All centres in the bringing forth forgiveness by the blood of the Lamb.
I insist the more on this, because it lies so directly against that cursed principle of unbelief which reigns in the hearts of the most, and often disquiets the best. That a poor ungodly sinner, going to God with the guilt of all his sins upon him, to receive forgiveness at his hand, doth bring more glory unto him than the obedience of an angel, men are not over ready to think, nor can be prepared for it but by itself. And the formal nature of that unbelief which worketh in convinced sinners lies in a refusal to give unto God the whole glory of salvation. There are many hurtful controversies in religion that are managed in the world with great noise and clamour, but this is the greatest and most pernicious of them all; and it is for the most part silently transacted in the souls of men, although under various forms and pretences. It hath also broken forth in writings and disputations; -- that is, whether God or man shall have the glory of salvation; or whether it shall wholly be ascribed unto God, or that man also, on one account or other, may come in for a share.]Now, if this be the state and condition with any of you, that you will rather perish than God should have his glory, what shall we say
528 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
but, "Go, ye cursed souls, perish for ever, without the least compassion from God, or any that love him, angels or men."
If you shall say, for your parts you are contented with this course, -- let God have the glory, so you may be forgiven and saved; there is yet just cause to suspect lest this be a selfish contempt of God. It is a great thing to give glory unto God by believing in a due manner. Such slight returns seem not to have the least relation unto it. Take heed that, instead of believing, you be not found mockers, and so your bands be made strong.
But a poor convinced sinner may here find encouragement. Thou wouldst willingly come to acquaintance with God, and so attain salvation? "Oh, my soul longeth for it!" Wouldst thou willingly take that course for the obtaining those ends which will bring most glory unto God? "Surely it is meet and most equal that I should do so. " What, now, if one should come and tell thee from the Lord of a way whereby thou, poor, sinful, self-condemned creature, mightst bring as much glory unto God as any angel in heaven is able to do? "Oh, if I might bring the least glory unto God, I should rejoice in it!" Behold, then, the way which himself hath fixed on for the exaltation of his glory, even that thou shouldst come to him merely upon the account of grace in the blood of Christ for pardon and forgiveness; and the Lord strengthen thee to give up thyself thereunto!
3. Consider that if this way of salvation be refused, there is no other way for you. We do not propose this way of forgiveness as the best and most pleasant, but as the only way. There is no other name given but that of Christ; no other way but this of forgiveness. Here lies your choice; take this path, or perish for ever. It is a shame, indeed, unto our cursed nature that there should be any need to use this argument, -- that we will neither submit to God's sovereignty nor delight in his glory; but seeing it must be used, let it be so. I intend neither to flatter men nor to frighten them, but to tell them the truth as it is. If you continue in your present state and condition; if you rest on what you do or what you hope to do; if you support yourselves with general hopes of mercy, mixed with your own endeavours and obedience; if you come not up to a thorough gospel-closure with this way of God; if you make it not your all, giving glory to God therein, -- perish you will, you must, and that to eternity. There remains no sacrifice for your sins, nor way of escape for your souls. You have not, then, only the excellency of this way to invite you, but the absolute, indispensable necessity of this way to enforce you. And now, let me add that I am glad this word is spoken, is written unto you. You and I must one day be accountable for this discourse. That word that hath already been spoken, if neglected, will prove a sore testimony against you. It will not
Ver. 4.] EXHORTATIONS UNTO BELIEVING FORGIVENESS. 529
fare with you as with other men who have not heard the joyful sound. All those words that shall be found consonant to the gospel, if they are not turned to grace in your hearts here, will turn into torment unto your souls hereafter. Choose not any other way; it will be in vain for you; it will not profit you. And take heed lest you suppose you embrace this way when indeed you do not; about which I have given caution before.
4. This way is free and open for and unto sinners. He that fled to the city of refuge might well have many perplexed thoughts, whether he should find the gates of it opened unto him or no, and whether the avenger of blood might not overtake and slay him whilst he was calling for entrance. Or if the gates were always open, yet some crimes excluded men thence, Numb. xxxv. 16. It is not so here, Acts xiii. 38, 39.
This is the voice of God, even the Father: "Come, " saith he, "to the marriage, for all things are prepared, " -- no fear of want of entertainment, Matt. xxii. 4; whence the preachers of the gospel are said in his stead to beseech men to be reconciled, 2 Cor. v. 20. And
It is the voice of the Son: "Whosoever, " saith he, "cometh to God by me, 'I will in no wise cast out, '" John vi. 37. Whoever he be that comes shall assuredly find entertainment. The same is his call and invitation in other places, as Matt. xi. 28; John vii. 37. And
This is the voice of the Spirit, and of the church, and of all believers: Rev. xxii. 17, "The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. " All centre in this, that sinners may come freely to the grace of the gospel. And
It is the known voice of the gospel itself, as Isa. lv. 1-3; Prov. ix. 1-5. And
It is the voice of all the saints in heaven and earth, who have been made partakers of forgiveness; they all testify that they received it freely.
Some, indeed, endeavour to abuse this concurrent testimony of God and man. What is spoken of the freedom of the grace of God, they would wrest to the power of the will of man; but the riches and freedom of God's mercy do not in the least interfere with the efficacy of his grace. Though he proclaim pardon in the blood of Christ indefinitely, according to the fulness and excellency of it, yet he giveth out his quickening grace to enable men to receive it as he pleaseth; for he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy. But this lies in the thing itself; the way is opened and prepared, and it is not because men cannot enter, but because they will not, that they do not enter. As our Saviour Christ tells the Pharisees, "Ye
530 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
therefore hear not God's word, because ye are not of God, " John viii. 47, vi. 44; so he doth, "Ye will not come to me that ye might have life, " John v. 40. In the neglect and inadvertency of the most excusable, there is a positive act of their will put forth in the refusing of Christ and grace by him; and this is done by men under the preaching of the gospel every day. There is nothing that at the last day will tend more immediately to the advancement of the glory of God, in the inexcusableness of them who obey not the gospel, than this, that terms of peace, in the blessed way of forgiveness, were freely tendered unto them. Some that hear or read this word may perhaps have lived long under the dispensation of the word of grace, and yet it may be have never once seriously pondered on this way of coming to God by forgiveness through the blood of Christ, but think that going to heaven is a thing of course, that men need not much trouble themselves about. Do they know what they have done? Hitherto, all their days, they have positively refused the salvation that hath been freely tendered unto them in Jesus Christ. Not they, they will say; they never had such a thought, nor would for all this world. But be it known unto you, inasmuch as you have not effectually received him, you have refused him; and whether your day and season be past or no, the Lord only knows.
5. This way is safe. No soul ever miscarried in it. There is none in heaven but will say it is a safe way; there is none in hell can say otherwise. It is safe to all that venture on it so as to enter into it. In the old way we were to preserve ourselves and the way; this preserves itself and us. This will be made evident by the ensuing considerations --
(l.) This is the way which, in the wisdom, care, and love of God in Christ, was provided in the room of another, removed and taken out of the way for this cause and reason, because it was not safe nor could bring us unto God: Heb. viii. 7, 8, "For if the first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. But finding fault with them, he saith, " etc. And, --
[1.] He tells us that the first covenant was not faultless; for if it bad, there would have been no need of a second. The "commandment, " indeed, which was the matter of that covenant, the same apostle informs us to be "holy, and just, and good, " Rom. vii. 12. But this was faulty as to all ends of a covenant, considering our state and condition as sinners; it could not bring us unto God. So he acquaints us, chap. viii. 3, "It was weak through the flesh, " -- that is, by the entrance of sin, -- and so became unuseful as to the saving of souls. Be it so, then: through our sin and default this good and holy law, this covenant, was made unprofitable unto us; but
Ver. 4.] EXHORTATIONS UNTO BELIEVING FORGIVENESS. 531
what was that unto God? was he bound to desert his own institution and appointment, because through our own default it ceased to be profitable unto us? Not at all. He might righteously have tied us all unto the terms of that covenant, to stand or fall by them unto eternity; but he would not do so. But, --
[2.] In his love and grace he "finds fault with it, " Heb. viii. 8; not in itself and absolutely, but only so far as that he would provide another way, which should supply all its defects and wants in reference to the end aimed at. What way that is the apostle declares in the following verses to the end of that chapter. The sum is, verse 12, "I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. " It is the way of pardon and forgiveness. This is substituted in the room of that insufficient way that was removed.
Let us consider, then, whether the infinitely wise and holy God, pursuing his purpose of bringing souls unto himself, -- laying aside one way of his own appointment as useless and infirm, because of the coming in of sin, against which there was no relief found in it, and substituting another way in the room of it, -- would not provide such a one as should be absolutely free from the faults and inconveniences which he charged upon that which he did remove. That which alone rendered the former way faulty was sin; it could do any thing but save a sinner. This, then, was to be, and is, principally provided against in this way of forgiveness. And we see here how clearly God hath severed, yea, and in this matter opposed, these two things, -- namely, the way of personal righteousness and the way of forgiveness. He finds fault with the first. What then doth he do? what course doth he take? Doth he mend it, take from it what seems to be redundant, mitigate its severity, and supply it where it was wanting by forgiveness, and so set it up anew? This, indeed, is the way that many proceed in their notions, and the most in their practice; but this is not the way of God. He takes the one utterly away, and establishes the other in its place. And men's endeavours to mix them will be found of little use to them at the last. I can have no great expectation from that which God pronounced faulty.
(2.) The unchangeable principles and foundations that this way is built upon render it secure and safe for sinners; for, --
[1.] It is founded on the purpose of God: Gal. iii. 8, "The Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith. " God would do so; he had purposed and determined to proceed this way; and all the purposes of God are attended with immutability. And, --
[2.] His promise also is engaged in it, and that given out in the way of a covenant, as hath been already declared. And, --
532 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
[3.] This promise is confirmed by an oath; and it may be observed, that God doth not in any filing interpose with an oath, but what relates to this way of coming to himself by forgiveness; for the oath of God, wherever it is used, respecteth either Christ typically or personally, or the covenant established in him; for, --
[4.] This way is confirmed and ratified in his blood; from whence the apostle at large evinceth its absolute security and safety, Heb. ix. Whatever soul, on the invitation under consideration, shall give up himself to come to God by the way proposed, he shall assuredly find absolute peace and security in it. Neither our own weakness or folly from within, nor the opposition of any or all our enemies from without, shall be able to turn us out of this way. See Isa. xxxv. 4-10.
(3.) In the other way, every individual person stands upon his own bottom, and must do so to the last and utmost of his continuance in this world. You are desirous to go unto God, to obtain his favour, and come to an enjoyment of him. What will you do, what course will you fix upon, for the obtaining of these ends? If you were so holy, so perfect, so righteous, so free from sin as you could desire, you should have some boldness in going unto God. Why, if this be the way you fix upon, take this along with you: You stand upon your own personal account all your days: and if you fail in the least, you are gone for ever; "for whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all, " James ii. 10. And what peace can you possibly obtain, were you as holy as ever you aimed or desired to be, whilst this is your condition? But in this way of forgiveness we all shalt stand upon the account of one common Mediator, in whom we are "complete, " Col. ii. 10. And a want of a due improvement of this truth is a great principle of disconsolation to many souls. Suppose a man look upon himself as loosed from the covenant of works, wherein exact and perfect righteousness is rigidly required, and to be called unto gospel, evangelical obedience, to be performed in the room thereof in sincerity and integrity; yet if he be not cleared in this also, that he stands not in this way purely on his own account, he will never be able to make his comforts hold out to the end of his journey. There will be found in the best of men so many particular failings, as will seem in difficult seasons to impeach their integrity; and so many questionings will after arise, through the darkness of their minds and power of their temptations, as will give but little rest unto their souls. Here lies the great security of this way, -- we abide in it on the account of the faithfulness and ability of our common Mediator, Jesus Christ
And this is another consideration, strengthening our invitation to
Ver. 4.] EXHORTATIONS UNTO BELIEVING FORGIVENESS. 533
a closure with the way of coming unto God under proposal. There is nothing wanting that is needful to give infallible security to any soul that shall venture himself into it and upon it. There are terms of peace proposed, as you have heard. These terms are excellent, and holy, and chosen of God, tending to the interest of his glory; -- free, safe, and secure unto sinners. What hath any soul in the world to object against them? or wherein do men repose their trust and confidence in the neglect of this so great salvation? Is it in their lusts and sins, that they will yield them as much satisfaction and contentment as they shall need to desire? Alas! they will ruin them, and bring forth nothing but death. Is it in the world? It will deceive them; the figure of it passeth away. Is it in their duties and righteousness? They will not relieve them; for, did they follow the law of righteousness, they could not obtain the righteousness of the law. Is it in the continuance of their lives? Alas! it is but a shadow, "a vapour that appeareth for a little while. " Is it in a future amendment and repentance? Hell is full of souls perishing under such resolutions. Only this way of pardon remains; and yet of all others is most despised! But yet I have one consideration more to add before I farther enforce the exhortation.
6. Consider that this is the only way and means to enable you unto obedience, and to render what you do therein acceptable unto God. It may be that some of you are under the power of convictions, and have made engagements unto God to live unto him, to keep yourselves from sin, and to follow after holiness. It may be you have done so in afflictions, dangers, sicknesses, or upon receipt of mercies But yet you find that you cannot come unto stability or constancy in your course, -- you break with God and your own souls; which fills you with new disquietments, or else hardens you and makes you secure and negligent, so that you return unto your purposes no oftener than your convictions or afflictions befall you anew. This condition is ruinous and pernicious, which nothing clan deliver you from but this closing with forgiveness; for, --
(1.) All that you do without this, however it may please your minds or ease your consciences, is not at all accepted with God. Unless this foundation be laid, all that you do is lost; -- all your prayers, all your duties, all your amendments, are an abomination unto the Lord. Until peace is made with him, they are but the acts of enemies, which he despiseth and abhorreth. You run, it may be earnestly, but you run out of the way; you strive, but not lawfully, and shall never receive the crown. True gospel obedience is the fruit of the faith of forgiveness. Whatever you do without it is but a building without a foundation, a castle in the air. You may see the order of gospel obedience, Eph. ii. 7-10. The foundation
534 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
must be laid in grace, riches of grace by Christ, -- in the free pardon and forgiveness of sin. From hence must the works of obedience proceed, if you would have them to he of God's appointment, or find acceptance with him. Without this God will say of all your services, worship, obedience, as he did to the Israelites of old, Amos v. 21-23, "I despise all, reject it all. " It is not to him nor to his glory. Now, if you are under convictions of any sort, there is nothing you more value, nothing you more place your confidence in, than your duties, your repentance, your amendment, what you do, and what in good time you will be. Is it nothing unto you to lose all your hopes and all your expectations which you have from hence; to have no other reception with God than if all this while you had been wallowing in your sins and lusts? Yet thus it is with you. If you have not begun with God on his own terms, if you have not received the atonement in the blood of his Son, if you are not made partakers of forgiveness, if your persons are not pardoned, all your duties are accursed.
(2.) This alone will give you such motives and encouragements unto obedience as will give you life, alacrity, and delight in it. You perform duties, abstain from sins, but with heaviness, fear, and in bondage. Could you do as well without them as with them, would conscience be quiet, and hope of eternity hold out, you would omit them for ever. This makes all your obedience burdensome, and you cry out in your thoughts with him in the prophet, "Behold, what a weariness is it!" The service of God is the only drudgery of your lives, which you dare not omit, and delight not to perform. From this wretched and cursed frame there is nothing can deliver you but this closing with forgiveness. This will give you such motives, such encouragements, as will greatly influence your hearts and souls. It will give you freedom, liberty, delight, and cheerfulness, in all duties of gospel obedience. You will find a constraining power in the love of Christ therein, -- a freedom from bondage, when the Son truly hath made you free. Faith and love will work genuinely and naturally in your spirits; and that which was your greatest burden will become your chiefest joy, 2 Cor. vii. 1. Thoughts of the love of God, of the blood of Christ, or of the covenant of grace, and sense of pardon in them, will enlarge your hearts and sweeten all your duties. You will find a new life, a new pleasure, a new satisfaction, in all that you do. Have you yet ever understood that of the wise man, Prov. iii. 17, "Wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her path s are peace?" Have the ways of holiness, of obedience, of duties, been so unto you? Whatever you pretend, they are not, they cannot be so, whilst you are strangers unto that which alone can render them so unto you. I speak unto them that are under the law. Would you
Ver. 4.] EXHORTATIONS UNTO BELIEVING FORGIVENESS. 535
be free from that bondage, that galling yoke in duties of obedience? would you have all that you do towards God a delight and pleasantness unto you? This, and this alone, will effect it for you.
(3.) This will place all your obedience upon a sure . foot of account in your own souls and consciences, even the same that is fixed on in the gospel. For the present, all that you do is indeed but to compound with God for your sin. You hope, by what you do for him and to him, to buy off what you have done against him, that you may not fall into the hands of his wrath and vengeance. This makes all you do to be irksome. As a man that labours all his days to pay an old debt, and brings in nothing to lay up for himself, how tedious and wearisome is his work and labour to him! It is odds but that, at one time or other, he will give over and run away from his creditor. So it is in this case: men who have secret reserves of recompensing God by their obedience, every day find their debt growing upon them, and have every day less hopes of making a satisfactory payment. This makes them weary, and for the most part they faint under their discouragements, and at length they fly wholly from God. This way alone will state things otherwise in your consciences: it will give you to see that all your debts are paid by Christ, and freely forgiven unto you by God; so that what you do is of gratitude or thankfulness, hath an influence into eternity, leads to the glory of God, the honour of Christ in the gospel, and your own comfortable account at the last day. This encourageth the soul to labour, to trade, to endeavour; all things now looking forward, and unto his advantage.
(4.) Find you not in yourselves an impotency, a disability unto the duties of obedience, as to their performance unto God in an acceptable manner? It may be you are not so sensible hereof as you ought to be; for, respecting only or principally the outward part and performance of duties, you have not experience of your own weakness. How to enliven and fill up duties with faith, love, and delight, you know not; and are therefore unacquainted with your own insufficiency in this matter. Yet if you have any light, any convictions (and to such I speak at present), you cannot but perceive and understand that you are not able in your obedience to answer what you aim at; you have not strength or power for it. Now it is this faith of forgiveness alone that will furnish you with the ability whereof you stand in need. Pardon comes not to the soul alone, or rather, Christ comes not to the soul with pardon only; it is that which he opens the door and enters by, but he comes with a Spirit of life and power. And as "without him we can do nothing, " so through his enabling us we may "do all things. " Receiving of gospel forgiveness engageth all the grace of the gospel unto our assistance.
536 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
This is the sum of what hath been spoken -- The obedience that you perform under your convictions is burdensome and unpleasant unto you; it is altogether unacceptable to God. You lose all you do, and all that you hope to do hereafter, if the foundation be not laid in the receiving of pardon in the blood of Christ. It is high time to cast down all that vain and imaginary fabric which you have been erecting, and to go about the laying of a new foundation, which you may safely and cheerfully build upon, -- a building that will abide for ever.
7. Again: it is such a way, so excellent, so precious, so near the heart of God, so relating to the blood of Christ, that the neglect of it will assuredly be sorely revenged of the Lord. Let not men think that they shall despise the wisdom and love of the Father, the blood of the Son, and the promises of the gospel, at an easy rate. Let us in a very few words take a view of what the Holy Ghost speaks to this purpose. There are three ways whereby the vengeance due to the neglect of closing with forgiveness or gospel grace is expressed: --
(1.) That is done positively: "He that believeth not shall be DAMNED, " Mark xvi. 16. That is a hard word; many men cannot endure to hear of it. They would not have it named by their good wills, and are ready to fly in the face of him from whose mouth it proceeds. But let not men deceive themselves; this is the softest word that mercy and love itself, that Christ, that the gospel speaks to despisers of forgiveness. It is Christ who is this legal terrifying preacher; it is he that cries out, "If you believe not, you shall be damned;" and he will come himself "in flaming fire, to take vengeance on them that obey not the gospel, " 2 Thess ii 8. This is the end of the disobedient, if God, if Christ, if the gospel may be believed.
(2.) Comparatively, in reference unto the vengeance due to the breach of the law, 2 Cor. ii. 16. We are in the preaching of forgiveness by Christ, unto them that perish, "a savour of death unto death, " a deep death, a sore Condemnation. So Heb. x. 29, "Of how much sorer punishment suppose ye shall he be thought worthy?" sorer than ever was threatened by the law, or inflicted for the breach of it, -- not as to the kind of punishment but as to the degrees of it; hence ariseth the addition of "Many stripes."
(3.) By the way of admiration at the inexpressibleness and unavoidableness of the punishment due unto such sinners: Heb. ii 3, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation!" -- " Surely there is no way for men to escape, they shall unavoidably perish, who neglect so great salvation. " So the Holy Ghost says, 1 Pet. iv. 17, "What shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel?" -- "What understanding can reach to an apprehension of their miserable and
Ver. 4.] EXHORTATIONS UNTO BELIEVING FORGIVENESS. 537
woful condition?" "None can, " saith the Holy Ghost, "nor can it be spoken to their capacity. " Ah! what shall their end be? There remains nothing but "a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries, " Heb. x. 27, -- a certain fearful expectation of astonishable things, that cannot be comprehended.
And these are the enforcements of the exhortation in hand which I shall insist upon. On these foundations, on the consideration of these principles, let us now a little confer together, with the words of truth and sobriety. I speak to such poor souls as, having deceived themselves, or neglected utterly their eternal condition, are not as yet really and in truth made partakers of this forgiveness. Your present state is sad and deplorable. There is nothing but the woful uncertainty of a dying life between you and eternal ruin. That persuasion you have of forgiveness is good for nothing but to harden you and destroy you. It is not the forgiveness that is with God, nor have you taken it up on gospel grounds or evidences. You have stolen painted beads, and take yourselves to be lawful possessors of pearls and jewels. As you are, then, any way concerned in your own eternal condition, which you are entering into (and how soon you shall be engaged in it you know not), prevail with yourselves to attend a little unto the exhortation that lies before you; it is your own business that you are entreated to have regard unto.
1. Consider seriously what it is you bottom your hopes and expectation upon as to eternity. Great men, and in other things wise, are here very apt to deceive themselves. They suppose they think and believe much otherwise than indeed they think and believe, as their cry at the last day will manifest. Put your souls a little unto it. I)o you at all seriously think of these things? or are you so under the power of your lusts, ignorance, and darkness, that you neglect and despise them? or do you rise up and lie down, and perform some duties, or neglect them, with a great coldness, remissness, and indifferency of spirit, like Gallio, not much caring for these things? or do you relieve yourselves with hopes of future amendment, purposing that if you live you will be other persons than you are, when such and such things are brought about and accomplished? or do you not hope well in general upon the account of what you have done and will do? If any of these express your condition, it is unspeakably miserable. You lie down and rise up under the wrath of the great God, who will prevail at last upon you, and there shall be none to deliver.
2. If you shall say, "Nay, this is not our state; we rely on mercy and forgiveness, " then let me, in the fear of the great God, entreat a few things yet farther of you: --
538 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
That you would seriously consider whether the forgiveness you rest on and hope in be that gospel forgiveness which we have before described; or is it only a general apprehension of impunity, though you are sinners, -- that God is merciful, and you hope in him that you shall escape the vengeance of hell-fire? If it be thus with you, forgiveness itself will not relieve you. This is that of the presumptuous man, Deut. xxix. 19. Gospel pardon is a thing of another nature; it hath its spring in the gracious heart of the Father, is made out by a sovereign act of his will, rendered consistent with the glory of his justice and holiness by the blood of Christ, by which it is purchased in a covenant of grace; as hath been showed. If you shall say, "Yea, this is the forgiveness we rely upon, it is that which you have described, " then I desire farther that you would,
(1.) Examine your own hearts, how you came to have an interest in this forgiveness, to close with it, and to have a right unto it. A man may deceive himself as effectually by supposing that true riches are his, when they are not, as by supposing his false and counterfeit ware to be good and current. How, then, came you to be interested in this gospel forgiveness? If it hath befallen you you know not how, -- if a lifeless, barren, inoperative persuasion of it hath crept upon your minds, -- be not mistaken, God will come and require his forgiveness at your hands, and it shall appear that you have had no part nor portion in it. If you shall say, "Nay, but we were convinced of sin, and rendered exceeding unquiet in our consciences, and on that account looked out after forgiveness, which hath given us rest, " then I desire, --
(2.) That you would diligently consider to what ends and purposes you have received, and do make use of, this gospel forgiveness. Hath it been to make up what was wanting, and to piece up a peace in your own consciences? that whereas you could not answer your convictions with your duties, you would seek for relief from forgiveness? This and innumerable other ways there are whereby men may lose their souls when they think all is well with them, even on the account of pardon and mercy. Whence is that caution of the apostle, "Looking diligently lest any one should seem to fall, " or come short, "of the grace of God," Heb. xii. 15. Men miss it and come short of it when they pretend themselves to be in the pursuit of it, yea, to have overtaken and possessed it. Now, if any of these should prove to be your condition, I desire, --
(3) That you would consider seriously whether it be not high time for you to look out for a way of deliverance and escape, that you may save yourselves from this evil world, and flee from the wrath to come. The Judge stands at the door. Before he deal with you as a judge, he knocks with a tender of mercy. Who knows but that this
Ver. 4.] EXHORTATIONS UNTO BELIEVING FORGIVENESS. 539
may be the last time of his dealing thus with you. Be you old or young, you have but your season, but your day. It may, perhaps, be night with you when it is day with the rest of the world. Your sun may go down at noon; and God may swear that you shall not enter into his rest. If you are, then, resolved to continue in your present condition, I have no more to say unto you. I am pure from your blood, in that I have declared unto you the counsel of God in this thing; and so I must leave you to a naked trial between the great God and your souls at the last day. Poor creatures! I even tremble to think how he will tear you in pieces when there shall be none to deliver. Methinks I see your poor, destitute, forlorn souls, forsaken of lusts, sins, world, friends, angels, men, trembling before the throne of God, full of horror and fearful expectation of the dread fill sentence. Oh, that I could mourn over you, whilst you are joined to all the living, whilst there is but hope! oh, that in this your day you knew the things of your peace!
But now if you shall say, "Nay, but we will' seek the LORD whilst he may be found, ' we will draw nigh unto him before he cause darkness, " then, --
(4.) Consider, I pray, what Joshua told the children of Israel, when they put themselves upon such a resolution, and cried out, "We will serve the LORD, for he is our God " chap. xxiv. 19, "Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God, a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. " Go to him upon your own account, and in your own strength, with your own best endeavours and duties, you will find him too great and too holy for you to deal withal. You will obtain neither acceptance of your persons nor pardon of your sins. But you will say, "This is heavy tidings, 'If you sit still you perish, and if you rise to be doing, it will not be better. ' Is there no hope left for our souls? Must we pine away under our sins and the wrath of God for ever?" God forbid. There are yet other directions remaining to guide you out of these entanglements. Wherefore, --
(5.) Ponder seriously on what hath been spoken of this way of approaching unto God. Consider it in its own nature, as to all the ends and purposes for which it is proposed of God; consider whether you approve of it or no. Do you judge it a way suited and fitted to bring glory unto God? Doth it answer all the wants and distresses of your souls? Do you think it excellent, safe, and glorious unto them who are entered into it? or have you any thing to object against it? Return your answer to him in whose name and by whose appointment these words are spoken unto you. If you shall say, "We are convinced that this way of forgiveness is the only way for the relief and deliverance of souls, " then, --
540 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
(6.) Abhor yourselves for all your blindness and obstinacy, whereby you have hitherto despised the love of God, the blood of Christ, and the tenders of pardon in the gospel. Be abased and humbled to the dust in a sense of your vileness, pollutions, and abominations; which things are every day spoken unto, and need not here be repeated. And, --
(7.) Labour to exercise your hearts greatly with thoughts of that abundant grace that is manifested in this way of sinners coming unto God, as also of the excellency of the gospel wherein it is unfolded. Consider the eternal love of the Father, which is the fountain and spring of this whole dispensation, -- the inexpressible love of the Son in establishing and confirming it, in removing all hinderances and obstructions by his own blood, bringing forth unto beauty and glory this redemption or forgiveness of sin at the price of it. And let the glory of the gospel, which alone makes this discovery of forgiveness in God, dwell in your hearts. Let your minds be exercised about these things. You will find effects from them above all that hath as yet been brought forth in your souls. What, for the most part, have you hitherto been conversant about? When you have risen above the turmoiling of lusts and corruptions in your hearts, the entanglements of your callings, business, and affairs, what have you been able to raise your hearts unto? Perplexing fears about your condition, general hopes, without savour or relish, yielding you no refreshment, legal commands, bondage duties, distracted consciences, broken purposes and promises, which you have been tossed up and down. withal, without any certain rest. And what effects have these thoughts produced? Have they made you more holy and more humble? Have they given you delight in God, and strength unto new obedience? Not at all. Where you were, there you still are, without the least progress. But now bring your souls unto these springs, and try the Lord if from that day you be not blessed with spiritual stores.
(8.) If the Lord be pleased to carry on your souls thus far, then stir up yourselves to choose and close with the way of forgiveness that hath been revealed. Choose it only, choose it in comparison with and opposition unto all others. Say you will be for Christ, and not for another; and be so accordingly. Here venture, here repose, here rest your souls. It is a way of peace, safety, holiness, beauty, strength, power, liberty, and glory. You have the nature, the name, the love, the purposes, the promises, the covenant, the oath of God; the love, life, death or blood, the mediation, or oblation and intercession of Jesus Christ; the power and efficacy of the Spirit, and gospel grace by him administered, -- to give you assurance of the excellency, the oneness, the safety of the way whereunto you are engaging.
Go back to INDEX of Psalm 130
Go back to BOOKS page