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It is time for thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void thy law.—Ver. 126.
IN the words we have—(1.) A prayerful suggestion, it is time for thee, Lord, to work. (2.) The reason of it, for they have made void thy law.
In the first branch take notice of—
1. The person to whom the address is made, for thee, Lord.
2. The suggestion itself, what and when; what they would have the Lord to do, to work; and when, even now, it is time to work.
To open these, I begin with—
1. The person to whom the address is made, the Lord. Some read the words, It is time to work for thee, O Lord, because they have made void thy law. It is time indeed to work for God, when so many work against him, in an evil generation; lest the law should perish and fall to the ground, some should keep up the authority of it, and they that fear God are to encourage one another, Mal. iii. 16. The Chaldee paraphrase reads it, ‘It is time to do the will of the Lord.’ But the Hebrew original carries it as we do, it is time for Jehovah to do. The Septuagint, καιρὸς τοῦ ποιῆσαι τῷ κυρὶῳ. The vulgar Latin, Tempus faciendi, Domine.
2. Here is the suggestion itself—(1.) What they would have God to do. It is expressed by a general word, work; as also Jer. xiv. 7, ‘Do, for thy name’s sake.’ What should he do? Tempus mittendi Filium Dei, saith Augustine; to set about the work of redemption, to send the Son of God. But that is a work rather to exercise and show forth his justice, power, and truth, both in punishing his enemies and delivering his people, to work his own proper work of justice, as becometh the judge of all the world to do; namely, to punish the wicked, and help his servants out of their hands. (2.) When it is time. Then it seemeth to be a time when man’s wickedness is grown to the height: Gen. xv. 16, ‘In the fourth generation they shall come again, for the sins of the Amorites are not yet full.’ Good men are put to the uttermost of their patience, and God’s glory abused beyond mea sure, Isa. lii. 5. Lord, it is time to work; they are as bad as bad may be; thy people have quite spent all their faith and patience; when thine ordinances and word are despised and affronted, and thy people trodden under foot, it is time for-thee to work.
Secondly. Let us explain the reason, ‘For they have made void thy law.’ The law is made void two ways, formaliter et interpretative.
1. Formally, when any deny the authority of God, as Pharaoh: Exod. v. 5, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?’ Or those rebels, Ps. xii. 4, ‘Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?’ Or we make void the law when we deny it to be given of God, as Marcion and his followers, that the law was given by an evil god. Many now question the scriptures themselves, or deny the obligation of the moral law to believers, as the antinomians and libertines, as the apostle telleth us, Rom. iii. 31, that we ‘do not make void the law by faith; yea, we establish the law.’ It was the greatest ratification to it that could be. Or, finally, those that take upon them to enact things contrary to the law of God, or besides the law, as necessary to salvation, and enforce their own traditions beyond and before the law of God. These make void the law, as Christ telleth the pharisees that they ‘made the commandments of God of no effect by their traditions,’ Mat. xv. 6. Especially when they obtrude these things upon the consciences of others under the highest penalties.
2. Interpretatively, when men by consequence take away the honour and authority that is due to the law, by their wickedness and rebellion against God. Though in words they acknowledge the authority of God and the obligation of his law, yet they have no respect to it in their carriage and practice, doing whatever pleaseth themselves, stand in no awe of God and his word, reject it as a thing of nought. Obedience to the law is a ratifying and confirming the law by our consent: Deut. xxvii. 26, ‘Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.’ Our words do not confirm the law so much as our works. So, on the contrary, they repeal or make void the law that observe it not in their practice. Finis operis is made finis operantis, as if they intended to abolish, whilst they make no reckoning of the law. Where observe, that this is a notion to make sin odious to us; it is not only ἀνομία, a transgression of the law, 1 John iii. 4; but a despising the law, 2 Sam. xii. 9; a judging or censuring the law, James iv. 11; yea, a repealing and disannulling the law, which is the notion of the text.
Doct. That when a flood of wickedness is broken out, we may put God in mind of doing his work of punishing the wicked and delivering his people.
I shall give you the sum of this doctrine in these four considerations.
1. That God doth for a while hold his hand, and bear with the wickedness of his enemies.
2. Though he doth for a while bear with them, yet he hath his times to punish and proceed to execution.
3. This time is usually when the impiety and insolency of wicked men is come to a height.
4. When it is come to a height, we may and must mind God of doing his work, or arising to judgment.
The first consideration is implied in the doctrine and the text; the other three are express.
First, It is implied that God doth for a while hold his hand, and not seem to mind his work. Though the least sin deserveth the greatest plagues, even when it is first committed, yet such is God’s patience and long-suffering, that he wilt not at first punish even the sins of his enemies, but will let them ripen and come to a height before he smite. This he doth—
1. To show his bounty and goodness to all his creatures. He will not easily destroy the workmanship of his hands, even the provoking wicked; but giveth them time to repent and change their course; Rev. ii. 21, ‘I gave her space to repent of her fornications, and she repented not.’ The worst have leave to repent, means to repent, time to repent; and if they have not the grace to repent, they may blame themselves: Rom. ix. 22, ‘He endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction,’ ἐν πολλῇ μακροθυμίᾳ. The reprobate taste of God’s common goodness as they are members of the world, are forborne for a long time, till they be sear and rotten through, fit for the burning. Nay, let me observe this: God, that is very quick with his people, is very patient towards them that perish. God is quick with his own people; he will visit their iniquities with scourges, and will not suffer sin to lie upon them; and therefore they are chastened every morning. Yet this God is very patient to them that know no better, profess no better, have had no experience of his ways; and though they finally perish, it is long first, till their sins do even extort vengeance out of his hands.
2. To chastise, exercise, and prove his own people, he beareth with the wickedness of their enemies.
[1.] To chastise them for their sins, that they may be brought low, and their souls be humbled to the dust. Certainly this God expects before he will appear for us: 1 Peter v. 6, ‘Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.’ And because his people are backward to this work, he permitteth such instruments as will not spare, but lay on to the purpose: Isa. x. 5, 6, ‘O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.’ When God is angry with his people, he can easily find a rod for them; yea, not only a rod, but a staff, which is a more heavy instrument of correction: he can find instruments sufficiently exasperated, and full of malice, severe executioners; and he lets them alone till they have done his work, though they manage his controversy with cruel minds, and evil and destructive intentions. Sometimes God punisheth his people with divisions among themselves; and though they are very troublesome one to another, yet a sheep cannot worry a sheep, as a wolf will; they do it to the purpose, in a most cruel and despiteful manner. Now, though he will reckon with wicked men for their violence, for transgressing their bounds, and going beyond his revealed will and approbation, Zech. i. 15, yet not till his work be done upon Mount Zion and Jerusalem: Isa. x. 12, ‘When the Lord hath done his work upon Mount Zion and Jerusalem, I will punish the stout heart of the king of Assyria.’ He will not cast the rod into the fire till we have felt the smart of it, and be thoroughly humbled under his mighty hand.
[2.] To exercise his people, that they may not contract rust, and languish and grow idle in heaven’s way. Alas! when we live at ease, and have nobody to trouble us, God is little owned, loved, and acknowledged, the throne of grace lieth neglected and unfrequented; and therefore he permitteth enemies to keep us in breath: Ps. lix. 11, ‘Slay them not, lest my people forget.’ Things in conceit do not leave such an impression upon us as things in feeling. Scipio would have Carthage stand, to whet and exercise the Roman valour. We need vigilant enemies as a guard upon us, that we may be kept aweful, serious, mindful of God, constantly in the exercise of faith and dependence. Wicked men have their ministry and service, to be as goads in our sides and scourges on our backs, to whip us to our duty, and make us mend our pace heavenward: Ps. xciv. 12, ‘Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, and teachest him out of thy law;’ chastened by the molestations of the wicked, for all along he complaineth of the delay of vengeance on the persecutors; and in the next verse he saith, ‘Until the pit be digged for the wicked;’ as condemned men are suffered to live till their gallows and grave be made ready: if they trouble us in the meanwhile, it is to reduce us to a sense and practice of our duty; and that we may not securely go on in a course of vanity and sin. Till that be done, the pit is not ready for the wicked and ungodly oppressors; they dig their own pit by their sin and oppression.
[3.] To prove his people as well as to exercise them. To prove their faith and their patience; their faith, to see whether they can live by faith, and not by sense and present appearance; whether we are persuaded that there is a just and righteous God, that is the supreme governor of the world, notwithstanding all the oppositions and confusions they groan under: Hab. ii. 3, 4, ‘Because it will surely come, and will not tarry. Behold, his soul that is lifted up is not upright in him, but the just shall live by his faith;’ that is, the Lord’s purpose in delaying to perform the vision is to try and discover who are the lofty and unsound, and who can subsist and hold out by faith on God’s being, and providence, and promises, and world to come, and so wait upon God in hard times without fainting. If God should smite as soon as his enemies provoke him, faith would be of no use, and the whole world would be governed by sense. To believe the justice and mercy of God, though for the time we do not see any manifestation of it, that is the trial of faith. We know there is one that sits above and seeth all. Though the world be in an uproar, and they that work wickedness are set up, and God’s servants persecuted, yet we know that God will reckon with them in due time. And secondly, to prove their patience, in bearing the present difficulties, and tarrying the Lord’s leisure: Rev. xiii. 10, ‘Here is the patience and faith of the saints;’ that is, a sensible proof of it, when a powerful enemy carrieth. all before him: there would be little use of such a grace but for such times. This is submission to God, when we are resolved to tarry for his season, though we know it not, and will wait as long as God will have us wait, when all human probabilities are taken away, and we have nothing but God’s providence to live upon.
Second consideration. Though he bear long, yet he hath his times to punish and arise to judgment.
1. With respect to himself and his own glory: Ps. ix. 16, ‘The Lord is known by the judgment which he executeth.’ Little of God would be taken notice of in the world unless he did now and then give out sensible demonstrations of his power and justice, and mindfulness of human affairs. What strange conceits would men else have of God! as if no God, no providence, no distinction between good and evil; but as if God were indifferent to either, and did favour good and bad alike: and therefore it is in vain to trouble ourselves about the worship and service of God, no reward nor punishment. These are the uses the wicked make of God’s forbearance, either to deny God and providence: Ps. lv. 19, ‘Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.’ If they have shifted from vessel to vessel, they corrupt and settle upon the lees, Zeph. i. 12; they say God will not do good, neither will he do evil, nor interpose; but suffereth enemies to trample upon his people and glorious name. Or else pervert the interpretation of providence: Ps. l. 21. ‘Thou thoughtest I was altogether such a one as thyself;’ as if he did favour their ways. They misinterpret providence, and make the sun go according to their dial, or else ascribe the act of providence to themselves; Deut. xxxii. 27, ‘Lest they should say, Our hand is high, and the Lord hath not done all this.’ When long permitted to prosper, they think they have mastered heaven, that there is no power superior to theirs, and they can carry all before them at their pleasure. Therefore God must vindicate himself by his works, and give out some demonstrations to sense that there is a distinction between good and evil; that God is differently affected to either, that he hateth the evil and loveth the good, and accordingly there is a reward and punishment: Ps. lviii. 11, ‘Verily there is a reward for the righteous.’ God is fain to teach them by briers and thorns, or else the stupid world would not take notice of it, but think the world is governed by chance, not administered by an almighty, all-wise, and most just providence. They knew not what to think of providence when they saw the godly oppressed and the wicked high in power.
2. With respect to his people. Surely God will not always chide; for God considers the weakness of man: Ps. ciii. 14, ‘He remembers we are but dust.’ The hearts of his people would fail and faint, and they would be tempted to some forbidden course to ease themselves, Isa. lix. 16. He knows our spirits would fail; God would not have us utterly to be discouraged. We are liable to temptations: Ps. cxxv. 3, ‘The rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous, lest the righteous put forth their hands to iniquity.’ Therefore he hath his breathing times, and times of intermission from trouble. The spirits of a poor creature would soon be drunk up if there were not some well days; therefore he will show himself to his people.
3. With respect to the wicked, who would grow excessive and outrageous in sin: Rom. ii. 5, ‘But after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath;’ Eccles. viii. 11, ‘Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of the sons of men are fully set in them to do evil;’ grow bold, resolute, and settled in an evil way; go on without remorse, because they go on without trouble, and so grow to be monsters in sin. It is only faith that can see afar off, but infidelity and atheism mind not what is to come, and look only to what is present. Well, then, lest wicked men should thus continue themselves in sin, God hath his time to reckon with them; his justice is not asleep all this while, but God keeps a petty sessions in this world before the general assizes. Now concerning this time, let me tell you four things:—
[1.] There is a time appointed. There is an end of all things, not only an expected end. but also an appointed end: Hab. ii. 3, ‘The vision is for an appointed time;’ things are not left to their own hazard and chance to work out their own end; but ordered and appointed by the wise God: Dan. xi. 27, ‘Yet the end shall be at the time appointed;; ver. 35, ‘To try them, and purge them, and to make them white, even to the time of the end; because it is yet for a time appointed.’ There is a course of providence set by God which shall at length come to its end and period.
[2.] This is the best time: 1 Peter v. 6, ‘That he may exalt you in due time.’ There is a due time, as well as a set time. There is nothing in the whole administration of God preposterous, unseasonable, or disorderly. Wait but a little, and you shall see the reason of all this course of dispensations; for God doth all things in number, weight, and measure. If it had come sooner or later, it would not have come so seasonably: Eccles. iii. 11, ‘He hath made everything beautiful in its time.’ When God’s work is done, and all things are put together, you will see a marvellous beauty in it. It is just with the work of providence as with the work of creation, every day’s work was ‘good;’ but when God saw all his works together, in their frame and correspondence, all was ‘very good,’ Gen. i. 31. We would think that God should come sooner to our deliverance: God is not slack, but we are too hasty; if he should come sooner, it would be the worse for us. We would have thought God should have owned Joseph in the pit. No; God stays till he be cast into prison; and in prison Joseph would fain come out as soon as Pharaoh’s butler was come out, but he forgot him. God would not have it so; he must tarry there till God’s time was come, and then had not only deliverance out of prison, but preferment. So many times we would be contented with half a deliverance, and would have it now, but God will give it us in the best season.
[3.] It is but a short time. Say sense what it will, it is but μικρὸν ὅσον ὅσον, ‘a little little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry,’ Heb. x. 37. It is not so long as enemies would make it, for they would root out the memorial of God’s children; not so long as sin would make it, or as fancy would conceive it. Suffering hours pass tediously; we count quarters and minutes when we are in pain or anxious expectation; we think an hour a week, a week a month, a month a year, and every year seven. Yea, not so long as reason would make it as to probabilities and the course of second causes. When things are fortified and backed with a strong interest, to reason it will be a long time. It is not so long as sense would make it; though we count the years, the winter is over, and the spring is come, and yet we are not saved, and can say, It is thus long; yet this is not long in comparison of eternity, 2 Cor. iv. 17. It is not long to faith, for to the eye of faith things future and afar off are present, Heb. xi. 1. Not long to love, Gen. xxix. 20: seven years are as a few days; they that believe an eternity, and have any love to God, will say it is short. But a short walk is a long journey to the sick and weak; the impatience of our flesh makes it seem long.
[4.] When the time is come, God will make speedy work: Isa. lx. 2, ‘The Lord will hasten it in his time;’ Luke xviii. 7, ‘Shall not God avenge his own elect?’ Rev. xviii. 7, ‘Her plagues shall come in one day;’ Isa. lxvi. 8, ‘A nation born in a day.’ All these places show (and it is a comfort to us) that no difficulty shall hinder when the season calls for it. He that produced heaven and earth at once, what cannot he do? We are dismayed when we consider an evil party fortified with combined interests, strength of opposite factions, force of laws and worldly powers; but God can make a nation be born in one day. It will be quick work when God once begins.
Third consideration. This time is usually when the impiety and insolency of wicked men is come to a height. Indeed there are other notes; as when his people’s hearts are prepared to receive and improve deliverance, when God’s glory calleth for it. But this is the season mentioned in the text; therefore I shall show you—
1. That this is a season.
2. Inquire when iniquity is come to a height.
3. Why then God doth usually interpose.
1. That this is a season: Gen. xv. 16, ‘The sins of the Amorites are not yet full.’ God showeth his patience to that wicked people, till the measure of their sins were filled up. So wrath came upon the persecuting Jews when they had filled up the measure of their fathers, Mat. xxiii. 32. While the enemy’s cup is a-filling, God delayeth, and we must wait. So Dan. viii. 23, ‘When the transgressors are come to the full.’ Once more, Joel iii. 13, ‘Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe; come, get ye down, for the press is full, the fats overflow, for their wickedness is great.’ The Lord compares sinners to a field of ripe corn ready to be cut, full fats and wine-presses to be trod out. When sin is ripe, the execution of vengeance will not be long forborne.
2, When doth iniquity come to a height? I answer—Their iniquities may be considered as to the two branches of it—their rebellion and disobedience to God, and their injuries and vexation of the saints.
[1.] Their disobedience and contempt of God.
(1.) When this is general. All orders and ranks of persons have corrupted their way, as the Sodomites compassed the house, Gen. xix. 4; both young and old, all the people from every quarter. Usually in making a judgment upon the state of a people, you will find it thus: If any part be right, it keeps off the judgment from the rest; if a zealous magistracy, though a corrupt people, or an unsavoury ministry, and a praying, mourning people, God holds his hand, and will not proceed to judgment. They are ‘the salt of the earth,’ Mat. v. 13; and Isa. vi. 13, ‘The holy seed shall be the substance thereof.’ But when all join in one, in a neglect of God, and common enmity to his ways; then, I say, the judge of the earth will do his work, then wrath breaketh out.
(2.) When it groweth impudent and outrageous, as if they would obliterate and extinguish the law of God, or take away all force and authority from it by their perverse actions and pernicious examples. They do not obliquely, and under the show of divers pretences, break God’s laws, but openly set themselves against him, and break a commandment without any shame: Isa. iii. 9, ‘They declare their sin as Sodom, and hide it not;’ yea, ‘they glory in their shame,’ Phil. iii. 19; as if they would out-face heaven and religion at once, and all honesty and ingenuity by their debaucheries. Bold-faced sin doth not go long unpunished.
(3.) Desperate incorrigibleness. All remedies are unprofitable, and hope of amendment taken away, Jer. vi. 3; Ezek. xxiv. 13, ‘When God would have purged them, they would not be purged.’ He trieth them with several conditions, he hath a love for them as they are his creatures; judgments and mercies they had, yet they are no change lings, but go on as wicked as ever. God trieth key after key, one providence after another, yet not a whit the better or wiser; but are like men that have slept: still abuse his patience, and defeat all the methods of his grace, show the same corruption they did before.
(4.) When they run into unnatural sins, and the corruption of human society is endangered: Lev. xviii. 27, 28, ‘For all these abominations have the men of the land done,’ &c.; when men are so wicked and filthy that a man needs to be a criminal to be acceptable to them; they think it strange that others run not into the same excess of riot, 1 Peter iv. 4; certainly then God needeth to strike in, that virtue may be upheld in some kind of reputation.
[2.] Their violence and vexation of the saints. It was Bede’s observation, Odium in religionis professores, &c.—that hatred of the professors of religion was that undid his country. God is angry when his people are wronged; the world is kept up for their sakes. Were it not for the elect to be gathered, time would be no more; for their sakes kingdoms and churches are preserved; they are the staff and stay, the chariots and horsemen of Israel. God is tender of them as the apple of his eye; therefore, when they are wronged, and men are not only evil themselves, but haters of those that are good, and do not only break God’s laws themselves, but would force others to do so, God will hold no longer. As their violence increaseth, so doth their ruin hasten, Rev. xii. 12. When they abuse their power to such an end, though God may bear with them for a time till they have done their work, yet he will reckon with them: Zech. i. 15, ‘I am sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease; for I was a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction.’ God will not forget his relation to his sinning people, and will not suffer them to be abused out of measure. When they would destroy and root out whom God would only correct and purge, it is a sign of their approaching ruin. Now these things should be considered by us to a good end; not to feed an evil humour, or to increase our hatred and exasperation against a party, whom, it may be, we hate too much already with a carnal hatred; but to a good purpose. Partly that we may not be too confident of carnal ease too soon. God will, it may be, have the enemies’ cup yet fuller, and that they shall appear more in their own colours. And so our trials may be greater. We know not the bounds of the Lord’s patience. We, that are apt to extenuate our own sins, are apt to aggravate the sins of others, look upon them in the glass of fashion, and cry too soon, It is time. But of this by and by. And partly that we may see the greatness of our transgressions, by which we have provoked the Lord to give us up into the hands of such men as blaspheme his name every day, Isa. lii. 5. Our sins were full in our kind, in the abuse of God’s truth and worship; and though not such moral wickedness, yet a great deal of spiritual wickedness. And God is more quick and severe upon us, and will not bear that in a professing people that he beareth in others: ‘Judgment begins at the house of God,’ 1 Peter iv. 17. The cup of trembling goes round, and his own people drink first, and our staggering is not yet over; in time they shall pledge us. God beareth with Balaam, though he tempted him again and again, when he would not bear with the young prophet whom the lion slew. He bore with the Philistines a long time ere they were plagued. We feel the smart of the rod sooner, Zech. xii. Yet it is apparent our kind of sins were grown to a ripeness, our self-seeking, factions, turbulency, unquietness under government, abuse of Christian liberty, uncharitable divisions among ourselves, vexing one another, vain opinions, slighting God’s ministers and ordinances. And partly that we may be humbled for their sins. It should be a grief to us to see men break God’s laws, to see men out-dare heaven. David fasted for his enemies, Ps. xxxv. 14-16; and Ps. cxix. 136, ‘Rivers of tears run down mine eyes, because men keep not thy law;’ because God is so much dishonoured, human nature so much corrupted. If more of this spirit were stirring, it were the better for us. And partly that we may fear ourselves. We are bound up in the same community, and when God judgeth them, how shall we escape? The Jews have a proverb, that two dry sticks may set a green one on fire. The meaning is, the godly man may fall in the common calamity: wheat is plucked up with the tares. ‘God saith in Deut. vii. 22, that they should not destroy all the Canaanites, ‘lest the beasts of the field should increase upon them.’ The safety of his people are involved in the safety of their sinning and persecuting enemies. A hedge of thorns may serve for a fence to a garden of roses, and all the relief we have is, The Lord can make a distinction: 2 Peter ii. 9, ‘The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.’
3. Why doth God take this time? (1.) For his own glory. His justice is more discovered when men have filled up their measure: Ps. li. 4, ‘That thou mayest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.’ It justifieth God’s proceedings, and maketh us the more inexcusable. So also his power; it is God’s time to send help and remedy, when all things are gone to utter confusion; when things are at the most desperate pass, Ps. cxxiv. 3-5, in our low estate, then is God seen. (2.) Hereby God’s work upon Mount Zion is promoted. His people are humbled when their adversaries are chief, and rage against them: Ps. cxxiii. 4, ‘Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorning of those that are at ease, and with contempt of the proud.’ When things come to extremity their prayers are quickened: Ps. cxxx. 1, ‘Oat of the depths I cried unto thee, O Lord.’ They are fitted to prize mercy, Ps. cii. 13, 14. They that thought it no great matter to have a standing temple, delight in the dust of a ruinous heap. Then shepherds’ tents look lovely, we set a higher rate on despised ordinances. In short, they are waiting and praying, and humbling their souls before God.
Fourth consideration. When a flood of wickedness is thus broken out, we may mind God of the deliverance of his people. But what needs that? Doth not God know his seasons, and will not he exactly observe them? In the answer I shall show you why and how.
1. Why? (1.) Because God loveth to be awakened by the prayers of his people; and when he hath a mind to work, he sets the spirit of prayer a-work: Jer. xxix. 11, 12, ‘I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.’ So thus and thus will I do: Ezek. xxxvi. 37, ‘Yet for this will I be inquired of by the house of Israel.’ We are to give a lift by our prayers; it is a time of finding, Ps. xxxii. 6. (2.) He hath put an office upon us. God acts the part of a judge, we as solicitors and remembrancers: Isa. lxii. 6,7, ‘I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace night nor day. Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give him no rest till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.’ We are to put God in mind, so that we but do our duty.
2. How? The principle and manner must be right.
[1.] The principle; be sure it be not the impatiency of the flesh, or love to our own ease, or a mere tediousness and irksomeness of the cross. Be sure it be not passion and a principle of revenge, but a desire of promoting his honour and vindicating his glory. David doth not say how troublesome they were to himself, but, They make void thy law; as if he had said, Lord, if my own interest were only concerned, I would not open my mouth, nor ever call upon thee to revenge my private quarrels; but it is my zeal for thy honour and ordinances; not that I have received injury, but thy worship is corrupted. Work, else what will become of thy name and poor people? Offences done against God should grieve us more than our own injuries, and we should rather regard the general interest of religion than any personal offence done to us. There is often a carnal spirit breathing in our prayers, and our zeal is fleshly; the people of God beat it back: Ps. cxv. 1, ‘Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory;’ and Ps. lxxiv. 10, ‘O Lord, how long shall the adversary reproach, and the enemy blaspheme thy name for ever?’ The godly can endure their own troubles better than they can bear the open dishonouring and blaspheming of God. This is the true sense, but because the heart is deceitful—(1.) Be sure your cause be good, your adversaries evil, that ye may say, Ps. lxxiv. 22, ‘Arise, O Lord, plead thine own cause.’ It is not for your sins, but your righteousness; the hatred is not against the body. Indeed they pretend some little faults. It is as if a leper should hate a man because he hath some pimples in his face. Some thing they would lay to their charge. (2.) That we use all means with God and men to reclaim them, praying for them: Mat. vi. 44, ‘Pray for them that despitefully use you.’ Mourning for their sins: Jer. xxiii. 19, ‘My soul shall weep in secret for your pride.’ Heaping coals of fire upon their heads by all acts of kindness, condescending to them as far as possibly we can, Rom. xii, 18. These arts become his kingdom, that is not to be planted by force, but consent, them that would have the zeal of God, not of a party. (3.) Be sure your principle be zeal for God’s glory, not a desire to establish your own interest, and to see revenge on a party that differeth from you: Luke ix. 54, 55, ‘You know not what spirit you are of.’ Religious affections overset us, and fleshly zeal puts on a holy spiritual guise and mask, and we think it is for the honour of Christ. (4.) Not against particular persons, but the opposite faction to godliness. In general, destroy all the enemies of Christ, &c.
[2.] For the manner how. We must seek to God, first, with submission, not prescribing to God, nor making a snare to ourselves. We, that have short and revengeful spirits, cannot judge aright of God’s patience, which is infinite, out of fleshliness and affection to our own ease. And so our times, John vii. 6. Your time is always ready; if none of these be, yet we are limited creatures, and great is the wisdom of God and his power admirable; it doth not belong to us to guide the affairs of the world, Ps. lxxviii. 41. We must not prescribe opportunity to him, fixing times. Besides that, it argueth a spirit too much addicted to, and eyeing of, temporal happiness. It doth much unsettle us and harden others. The devil maketh advantage of our disappointment. Therefore not only when it seemeth seasonable to us we may seek to him for deliverance. Once more, there are other things concur besides the enemies’ ripeness for judgment,—preparing his people’s hearts, fitting those instruments for his work; therefore ‘all is left to God’s will, and let him take his time.
Use of all is—
1. To teach us how to behave ourselves in these times with patience, and yet with hope and waiting. It is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but there will be a time of deliverance, Jer. xxx. 7. With patience; God will have a time to chastise his people. We must bear it patiently; it will make crosses sit easy; they may be greater and longer than our joys: Ps. xc. 15, ‘Make us glad, according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.’
2. With hope let us expect it. Certainly it will not exceed the time limited by God. That time is not long: Isa. xiii. 22, ‘Her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged;’ Ezek. xii. 21-28, ‘And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth? Tell them therefore, Thus saith the Lord, I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision. For there shall be no more any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel. For I am the Lord: I will speak, and the word that I shall speak shall come to pass; it shall be no more prolonged.’ Faith should see it as present, approaching; and then let us wait his leisure, minding God in prayer.
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