[In this final part of Owen’s treatment of Luke 13:1-5, (see the previous part here), he deals with the question of what should the few do who heed Christ’s warnings about future judgments, when the majority ignores them.
But I proceed unto that which is more our immediate concern. Wherefore,
VIII. What if all these means do fail? what if all expectations from them be in vain? what is incumbent on them in particular who are really sensible of these things, namely, of the abounding of provoking sins, and the near approach of deserved judgments?
That which I design herein is, to give some directions as unto what frame of heart ought to be found in us, and the practice of what duties we ought to be found in at such a season as this is. It is no common, no easy thing, to wait for the Lord in the way of His judgments (Isa 26:8,9). There is inward soul-work night and day, as well as outward duties, required unto it. That God may be glorified in a due manner, that we may be “found in peace” whatever be the event of things, that we may be useful unto others, and in all serve the will of God in our generation, are all expected from us in a way of duty. Unto this end, the ensuing directions may be made use of:
First. Take heed of stout-heartedness, and a contempt or neglect thereby of divine warnings.
There is a generation who, either really or in pretence, are bold, fearless, stout-hearted, regardless of these things; they seem to provoke and dare God to do His utmost, all that He seems to threaten. So they speak, “Let Him make speed, and hasten His work, that we may see it: and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it” (Isa 5:19). Here is much talk, indeed, of the judgments of God, and of their near approach: When shall we see them? why do not they come? when shall He bring forth His work?
This has been the great controversy between the church and the wicked world from the beginning of it. Those that truly feared God were always testifying that God would come, and take vengeance on them for their impieties and impenitency; but because these judgments were not speedily executed, the sinful world did always despise their warnings, and scoff at their message. So Enoch, the seventh from Adam, he preached and prophesied of these things, namely, of the coming of God to take vengeance on ungodly men, Jude 14,15. And this message was scoffed at, as is evident, because no reformation ensued thereon, until the flood took them all away. So was it with Noah and his preaching; and so it has been with all that fear God, in their several generations. And this was one especial thing that the pagans laughed and mocked at the primitive Christians about, as is plain in Lucian’s Philopatris. So the apostle Peter gives us an account both of what was past, and what would afterward come to pass (2 Pet 3:3 to the end).
And such as these abound amongst us. All the warnings of God have been turned into ridicule, previous judgments despised, and sin itself made a scoff of. But, of all others, God most abhors this sort of men. They are said to be “far from righteousness” (Isa 46:12). Unto such He speaks in His wrath, “Hear, ye despisers; wonder, and perish.” Yea, the Scripture is full with the severest threatenings against this sort of men; nor shall any, in the appointed season, drink deeper of the cup of God’s indignation. See Isaiah 28:14,15; Deuteronomy 29:19,20. Such secure despisers, such scoffers at approaching judgments, such deriders of the signs and tokens of them, God will deal withal.
And some there are who, it may be, not from the same spirit of open profaneness, but out of prejudices, corrupt arguings, pretended observations of things past, disbelief of all they do not feel, and such like effects of long security, do utterly scorn and scoff at all these things. They account it a matter of weakness, pusillanimity [cowardice], or superstition, to concern themselves in these warnings of Providence, or the explication of them by the word. But their judgment sleeps not.
And it may be observed, and will be found true, that when judgments do really approach, of all sorts of men they are the most cowardly, distracted, fearful, and void of counsel. For when God begins to deal with them, their hearts cannot endure, nor their hands be strong. He smites through their loins, and fills them with a spirit of horror and fear, that they shall tremble like the leaves of the forest. In that day you may say unto them, as Zebul did to boasting Gaal, upon the approach of Abimelech, his enemy, “Where is now thy mouth wherewith thou saidst, Who is Abimelech?” (Judges 9:38). Where is now your mouth and your vauntings with respect unto these judgments of God? So Micaiah the prophet told Zedekiah the false prophet, in his boasting and confidence of success (1 Kings 22:25), With all thy confidence and boasting, thou shalt be one of the first that shall endeavour to fly and hide thyself. Yea, this sort of persons are commonly the most ridiculous and contemptible, when real danger overtakes them, of any sort of men in the world.
That which God requires of us, in such a season, is called in Scripture “trembling;” “They that tremble at My word.” This He regards, this He accepts, this He approves of (Isa 66:2,5; Jer 5:22). It is not a weakening, an astonishing, heartless consternation of spirit that is intended; not such a dread and terror as should obstruct us in the cheerful performance of duty, and preparation to comply with the will of God; such is that mentioned in Deuteronomy 28:66,67, which is the most severe of judgments: but it is an awful reverence of the greatness and holiness of God, in the way of His judgments, casting out all carnal security, self-confidence, and contempt of divine warnings, so bringing the soul into a submissive compliance with the will of God in all things. But look well, in the first place, that this evil, on no pretences, do make any approach unto you. If one evil seems to be diverted, do not say, with Agag, “Surely the bitterness of death is past” (which will prove an entrance into this evil frame), and so grow regardless of your duty. God expects other things from you. “The lion,” says He, “hath roared, who will not fear?” (Amos 3:8). There is the voice of a lion roaring for his prey in the present divine warnings: take heed that you despise not that which, when it comes to pass, you can neither abide nor avoid.
Secondly. Take heed of a frame of heart that is regardless of these things.
We have a sort of men who, although they will not (they dare not) openly, as others, despise divine warnings, yet they see all things in such a light as suffers them not to take notice of any concern of their own in them (Ps 28:5, Jer 36:24). The land is defiled with sin; it is true, but they are the sins of other men, not theirs. There are tokens and signs of God’s displeasure, in heaven above, and the earth beneath; but men are not agreed whether these things be of any signification or no: some say Yea, and some Nay; but they are new and strange, and so are meet to be the subject of discourse. Previous judgments have been upon us; they are but such accidents as fall out frequently in the world. But the divisions among ourselves, and contrivances of our adversaries, seem to threaten ruin to the nation; it may be so, but these things belong unto our rulers; and men are divided about this also: some say one thing, and some another; some say there was a plot, and some say there was none. In the meantime they are filled with their own occasions, and will not be diverted from them unto any serious regard of God in His present dispensations; like the “wild ass in her occasion, who can turn her away?” (Jer 2:24). Of this frame the prophet complains, as that which God will surely avenge: “Lord, when Thy hand is lifted up, they will not see; but they shall see and be ashamed, for their envy at the people; yea, the fire of Thine enemies shall devour them” (Isa 26:11).
Others look on all things in another light, and under another notion; for whereas it is part of our sin and punishment in this nation, an evident fruit of the evil of our ways, that we are divided into designing parties, the one seeking the ruin of the other, they consider all providences as relating unto such differences. This gives them a zealous concernment in them, and continued talk about them; but the will, work, and design of God in them, are not laid to heart.
Some are so well pleased with their present advantages, in promotions, dignities, and wealth, as their interest, that they cannot endure to think of these things. Whatever warnings are portended of approaching judgments, they look on them as the threatenings of such as have ill-will against them, and would have these things to portend their trouble. Guilt makes them fearful and sensible, and they think it best to hide those things from themselves, which, if they are so, they cannot remedy.
To free us from this miscarriage also, this unanswerableness unto the mind of God in His present dispensation, we may consider:
1. That a deep consideration of, and inquiry into, the mind of God in such a season as we have described, is required of us in a way of duty.
It is our sin to neglect it, and that attended with many aggravations. It is not a thing that we may attend unto or omit, as it seems convenient; but it is required as a duty of us, without which we cannot glorify God in a due manner. He that is not daily exercised with prevalent thoughts about the present ways of God in the approach of His judgments, lives in such a neglect of duty as will bring in a negligence and coldness in all other duties whatsoever; for this is certain, that when God calls unto any especial duty in an extraordinary way or manner, in any season, those by whom it is neglected are really cold, formal, and negligent in all other ordinary duties whatever. That grace which will not be excited unto especial duties on extraordinary occasions, is very lifeless in all other things. This is the best note to try, if not the truth, yet the power of grace. When it is in its vigour and due exercise, it makes the soul to be ready, inclinable, and disposed unto all intimations of the divine will and pleasure; as speaks the psalmist, “Thou shalt guide me by thine eye, and lead me with thy counsel”. He attended to each look and guidance of divine Providence, to comply with it, when others must be forced with strong curbs and bridles, like the horse and mule.
2. It is such a duty as whereunto real wisdom and diligence are required.
We think it needful to use our wisdom about other things, our own affairs; but in this it is most necessary. “The Lord’s voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name” (Mic 6:9). Ordinary, slight, and transient thoughts will not answer this duty. Such all men that are sober cannot but have; and their discourse is answerable thereunto. But consideration, with diligence and prudence, is required of us. Let these testimonies be consulted to this purpose: Psalm 64:9; Deuteronomy 12:30; Hosea 14:9; Psalm 107:43. Prayer, study, and meditation, are all diligently to be engaged herein.
Thirdly. Take heed of vain confidences.
Men are apt, in such seasons, to fix on one thing or other, wherewith they relieve and support themselves; and there is not any thing that is more effectual to keep them off from this duty and the frame of spirit which is required in them. If you speak with any man almost, you may, with a little heed, discover wherein his confidence lies, and what it is that he trusts unto. But, says the prophet unto such persons, “The Lord hath rejected thy confidences, and thou shalt not prosper in them” (Jer 2:37). There are sundry sorts of vain confidences wherewith men are apt to relieve their minds in such a season, so as to countenance themselves in their security and a neglect of this especial duty. Two in particular I shall only mention, as I do only name the heads of things, which might be much enlarged:
1. The first is some certain privileges whereon they trust for an exemption from common calamities; they are the church, they are the people of God, they are separated from the world, and persecuted by it; and hence there is a secret reserve in their minds, that indeed they shall not be in trouble as other men.
So was it with the Jews of old: when they were threatened with the judgments of God for their sins, and called thereon to repentance, they justified themselves in their ways, and despised all divine warnings, on a confidence they had in their church privileges. They cried against the prophet, “The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, are these,” and no evil shall come nigh us (Jer 7:4). And in confidence hereof, namely, that they were the church, and enjoyed the privileges belonging thereunto, and the solemn worship of God therein, they gave themselves up unto all abominable immoralities, under an assurance of impunity by their privileges; as the prophet upbraids them, “Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not, and say you shall be delivered?” (Jer 7:8-10). [The last clause is not according to the Authorised Version, but seems another translation of the words, to which Owen was inclined. Blayney renders it, “And say, Deliver us,” etc, Ed.] At this day all sorts of men claim a refuge in their privileges. Those who design the ruin of the nation, and of all true religion therein, do it with confidence of success from hence, That they are the church, that the temple of God is with them, that all the privileges belonging unto the church are theirs, and so are the promises made unto it. And such is the infatuating efficacy of their prejudicate [preconceived] persuasion herein, that it has had two marvellous effects; the one against the light of nature, and the other against the fundamental principles of religion.
For, first, under the influence of this confidence they have engaged into as vile immoralities as ever were perpetrated under the sun; murder, persecution, assassinations, dying in falsehoods, with a general design to pursue the same ways unto the utmost, in the destruction of multitudes of innocent persons, as they did formerly in Ireland. But what if they do all those abominations? yet they are the church! the promises and privileges of it are theirs! and all they do is accepted with God! a principle tending directly to the vilest atheism.
Again; although God, in a marvellous, yea, a miraculous manner, has discovered and frustrated their hellish designs, and brought many of them into the pit they digged for others, yet they will accept of no rebuke from God, but go on in an obstinate presumption that they are the church, and shall prevail at last. And that church which shall prevail by these means, no doubt they are. Some, indeed, pretend highly to be the church; but they lay claim, so far as I can find, to no other advantages thereby but dignities and promotions. And others also are apt to relieve themselves with this confidence, that they are the people of God, and shall have an especial interest in deliverance on that account.
And I say, Far be it from me to weaken any persuasion of God’s especial regard of those that are truly His. God has a peculiar people in the world, let the world scoff at it whilst they please, unto whom all the promises of the Scripture and all the privileges of the church do belong. These promises they ought to mix with faith, and plead before God continually; and they shall be all accomplished towards them, in the way and time of God’s appointment. Nor do any sort of dissenting professions, as they are called, that I know of, appropriate this right and privilege unto themselves, unto the exclusion of others; but extend it to all who are sincere believers.
But this is that which I say concerning all sorts of men, That if an apprehension or persuasion that they are the church or people of God do keep them off from that duty of repentance and reformation which God calls unto, it is a confidence which God rejecteth, and in which they will not prosper. I desire to ask of any, Has not the church sinned? have not professors sinned? are there not sins amongst us against the Lord our God proper unto our state, and according to our measure? If it be so, our being the people of God, any of us, if we are so, unless we repent, doth only, as unto these providential dispensations, expose us unto his just severity; for judgment must begin at the house of God, it must begin at us. Take heed of this failing reserve. I have observed much security to arise from hence, and great negligence of known duties. If you are the people of God, you had the more need to tremble at his judgments, and at the tokens of his displeasure. Especially ought it to be so with you at this day, when God seems in a peculiar manner to be “displeased with the rivers,” as the prophet speaks (Hab 3:8), those who should send forth streams of refreshment unto the nation. To me, at present, all things appear in that condition, that there is no reserve left, as unto public judgments, but only in sovereign grace and mercy, to be waited for in a way of repentance and reformation. As unto our privileges, God speaks unto us as he did to the people of old concerning their ornaments (Exod 33:5), Put them off, “that I may know what to do unto thee.” We are to lay aside our pleas and pretences, betaking ourselves to sovereign grace and mercy alone.
2. Another ground of vain confidence may be, an unjust expectation of an accomplishment of such Scripture promises, prophecies, and predictions, as are not applicable unto our present condition.
It is undeniable, that there are such promises, prophecies, and predictions concerning the deliverance of the church, the ruin of its adversaries, the glory and beauty of the kingdom of Christ, as those intended. For although the most of that kind in the Old Testament are of a spiritual interpretation, and have their accomplishment in all the elect in every age, whatever be their outward state and condition; yet that there are such also as concern the state of the church in this world, and the ruin of all its antichristian enemies, with peace and glory ensuing thereon, cannot be denied.
And concerning them we may observe sundry things, that we may not abuse them into vain and groundless confidences in such a season as this is:
(1.) That we ought to have a firm faith of their accomplishment in their proper season. The rule of them all is that of the prophet, “I the Lord will hasten it in his time” (Isa 60:22); as it is also in Habakkuk 2:2,3. Though they seem to be prolonged, and tarry beyond their proper season, yet they have their fixed and determinate time, beyond which they shall not tarry. And two things I would offer on this occasion:
[1.] That we are not only to believe their accomplishment, but to be in the actual exercise of faith about it; for without this, we shall lack a great support of patient long-suffering in every time of trial. And by this faith do we take in the power and comfort of things promised, things not actually enjoyed; for “faith is the sub stance of things hoped for” (Heb11:1), that which gives a previous subsistence in the mind and soul, as unto the benefit and comfort of them, of “the things hoped for.” And those whose minds are exercised unto these things do know what benefit they have by such a perception of them. They are carried sometimes, by a way of believing, into communion with them who lived in the old world, as they had with us in the expectation of what we enjoy; and into the same kind of communion with those who hereafter shall enjoy the accomplishment of those promises which may yet be afar off.
[2.] This faith ought to be most firm when all things seem to conspire in rendering the accomplishment of such promises not only improbable, but also impossible, as unto present outward causes; as in the state of things at this day in the world. There are no visible or appearing means of the fulfilling any of them, yea, the whole world is joined in a conspiracy to defeat them; but true faith rises against those oppositions, and is prevalent against them all. For, having God alone His power, faithfulness, and truth for its object, it values not the opposition that men can make against them. That shall be done in this kind which God is able to do, let men do what they please. God laughs all their proud attempts to scorn; and so may the virgin daughter of Zion also.
(2.) It is our duty to pray for the accomplishment of all the promises and predictions that are on record in the book of God concerning the kingdom of Christ and His church in this world. God will do these things; yet for all of them He will be sought unto by the house of Israel. This has been the practice of believers in all ages, both under the Old Testament and the New. Prayer for the accomplishment of promises has been the life-breath of the church in all ages; and faith hereby brings in great refreshment unto the soul. And the greatest evidence of its approach will be a plentiful effusion of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers, be they few or more at any time in the world, stirring them up and enabling them to pray effectually and fervently for their accomplishment; as in the example of Daniel (Dan 9:1-3). Wherefore,
(3.) There are three things considerable in such promises and predictions: [1.] The grace and mercy that is in them; [2.] The suitableness of that grace and mercy unto the state of believers, at any time; [3.] The literal accomplishment of them in their outward circumstances. The two former belong unto us at all times, and we may plead with God in faith for the effects of them in all our trials and distresses.
With respect hereunto it is that the people of God have faith in Him against the world, with all their enemies and oppressors, which they have been so reproached withal, as the Lord Christ was with His faith unto the same purpose (Ps 22:8). When things seem to go evil with them, when they are shut up in the hands of their enemies and oppressors, as the Lord Christ was upon the cross, the world is ready to reproach them with their confidence in God, and their owning themselves to be His people; but they faint not herein. However things may go for a season, they are secured of the grace and mercy which is in the promises; which are suited unto all their wants, all that they can desire absolutely, yea, their full deliverance, when it is best for them. But,
(4.) Remember, that, as unto the application of the accomplishment of such promises and predictions, in their outward effects, unto certain times and seasons, many have been wofully mistaken; which has been the ground and occasion of very scandalous miscarriages. The world has scarce seen greater outrages of sin and wickedness than have been countenanced by this pretence, that such or such a time was now come, and that therein such and such things were to be done by those who made such interpretations and applications. For when such a conceit befalls the minds of men, it sets them loose from all rules but their own inclinations. And many have, from such apprehensions, fallen under sad and scandalous disappointments. Wherefore,
(5.) Such an expectation or confidence of the events of promises, prophecies, and predictions, as hinders men from applying their minds thoroughly unto the present duties that God calls for, is heedfully to be watched against. I have heard many arguing and pleading for the strengthening of such confidences, but I never saw good effect of them. They please for the present; they profit not. The story of the prophets Jeremiah and Hananiah is applicable in this case (Jer 28). And it is certain that, before the final destruction of Jerusalem, that which principally hardened the people unto their utter ruin, so as they would hearken neither to the voice of God nor man for their safety, was a presumption they had, that at that time their Messiah would come and save them.
(6.) Few know of what sort that day of the Lord will be, which they desire, long for, and expect. We know how it proved unto the church of the Jews (Mal 3:1,2). A day may be coming which, although it may be a glorious issue, yet it may consume all the hopes that men have treasured up in their expectation of it. But I will not touch farther on these things: my design is only to take us all off from such vain confidences as may obstruct us in a diligent attendance unto those duties which God at this season calls us unto; which shall be declared immediately.
3. Some place their confidence in secret reserves which they have in themselves, that however it go with others, yet they shall escape well enough.
They are rich, and they intend to be wise: they intend not to be engaged in any thing, civil or religious, that should prejudice them in their possessions: whilst things pass at the cheap rate of talking, they will be like unto others; but when trials come, they will make a safe retreat. We have their character and their doom, Jer 28:15-17.
Fourthly. A fourth direction for our deportment in such a season is, that we diligently consider and search our own hearts and ways, to find out and understand how it is between God and our souls.
This direction is given us in Lamentations 3:39,40, “Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.” When trials and punishments draw nigh, or are upon us, it is not our business nor duty to lie complaining under them, but so to search and try our ways as to turn unto the Lord. This is the first word of the voice of God in approaching judgments, “Search yourselves, try your hearts and your ways, try how it is with you.” At such a season, to pass by the consideration of ourselves, of our state, of our walk, of our actions, in an ordinary manner, or with slight or common thoughts, is to despise the voice of God. God speaks aloud: “The voice of God crieth unto the city.” He does so by the ways before mentioned; He speaks articulately, distinctly, so as that a man of wisdom may see His name, and know His mind; He speaks unto us, and says, Search now yourselves.
And in this search, respect is to be had unto the things ensuing:
1. In general, search into your state and condition. Try whether it be built on a good foundation; on the rock, by faith; or on the sand, by profession only; whether it will hold His trial who will bring it to the refiner’s fire: “He shall slay the hypocrite with the breath of his mouth.” And many dreadful discoveries will be made of the false and rotten states of men when the Lord’s day of trial shall come. This is one certain end of a fiery trial, namely, to discover and consume the profession of hypocrites; as hath been done in part already.
2. With respect unto those ways and sins which are the peculiarly provoking sins of churches and professors; such as the Lord Christ testifies His displeasure against in them, and which may have as great an influence into the procurement of temporal judgments as the more flagitious sins of open sinners: such are decays in love, zeal, and fruits of obedience; want of delight, warmth, and life in the ordinances of gospel worship; with pride, elation of mind, self-conceit, and barrenness in good works. If we would know what are the sins, in churches and professors, that the Lord Christ is so displeased with as to threaten his departing from them, we cannot better learn it than in the declaration of His mind which he makes unto the churches of Asia in Revelation 2 and 3. And these are the things which he charges on them.
For persons under the capacities of church members and professors, to content themselves with such a search of their outward actions and duties of all sorts, religious, moral, and civil, as none may justly cast blame upon them, it no way answers the search that God calls them unto. How is it as unto the inward frame of the heart? What is the vigour and power of faith and love in you? How do they act themselves? What is your real delight in the ways of God? Where is your fruitfulness in works of charity and mercy? Where is your readiness to forgive your enemies? Are there no failings, no decays in these things? Are there no indispositions, deadness, and coldness in duties grown upon you? How is it as unto constant meditation on spiritual things, and the fixing your affections on things that are above? With respect unto these things ought we to search ourselves diligently in such a day as this is; and if we find ourselves under decays in them, let us know of a truth that God calls us unto repentance, on pain of his highest displeasure. For our parts, we cannot search into, we cannot judge, the hearts of others, any other way but by the application of the word unto their consciences; but I must needs say, that if men’s outward actions be an indication of the inward frame of their minds, there is reason enough for the most of us to be jealous over ourselves herein.
3. With respect unto your callings, circumstances, and inclinations, and the sins that are peculiar unto them. There are sins which are very apt to insinuate themselves into the callings and circumstances of men, both of high and low degree, that do easily beset them; as, hardness, oppression, severity, and unmercifulness, in those that are great and have large possessions; and deceit, equivocations, overreachings, in those of more ordinary employments. I speak not of these at present; they are of the number of those which “go beforehand unto judgment.” But these things namely, men’s callings, circumstances, and inclinations are apt to influence their mind with vicious habits, and to render their ways crooked. Pride of life, self-conceit, negligence in holy duties, distempered passions and lusts, devouring cares, carnal fears, with other hurtful evils, do spring from these things, if not watched against. In reference unto them, therefore, are we called to search ourselves in a day wherein God is pleading with us. With respect unto them ought we to be exceeding jealous over ourselves; for verily they have rendered the ways and walkings of the generality of professors a great provocation unto Christ Jesus.
4. In an especial manner with a respect unto love of the world, and conformity thereunto. This is that which the Lord Jesus Christ will not always bear withal in His churches; for it lies in opposition unto the whole work of faith and all the precepts of the gospel. It is not against this or that command only, but it is against the whole design of the gospel, and the grace administered therein.
Now, at present, concerning our outward conformity unto the world, there needs no great search to be made. It is open and evident unto all; so that, as unto attire, fashions, manner of ordinary converse, misspense [misspending] of time, feastings of rich ones, and jollities, there is little difference left between professors and the world; which God will not long bear with them in; especially not in those who have increased their wealth in, and grown into conformity with, the world, whilst others, under the same profession, have been harassed, imprisoned, impoverished, and ruined by the world. And as for inordinate love unto the world, I have spoken so often to it, treated so much of it, that I shall not here again insist upon it. I shall only say, that when men grow proud, high-minded, and value themselves according to the increase of their earthly enjoyments, and think themselves wronged if others do not also so value them, it is in vain for them to pretend that their hearts do not inordinately cleave unto the world and the things of it.
This self-searching is the first duty we are at this season called unto; and if we are negligent or overly herein, we shall not answer the mind and will of God in any one duty or instance of any other kind. We are, therefore, herein to call in God and men unto our aid and assistance, as also to stir up ourselves unto it with diligence and perseverance. So the psalmist, lest he should not be able to make a diligent, effectual examination of himself and his ways, cries unto God to search and try him, that he might be known unto himself, especially with respect unto any evil way of sin or wickedness (Ps 139:23,24). So we ought to cry for fresh communications of the Holy Spirit of God in His convincing efficacy, to acquaint us thoroughly with ourselves, and to deliver us from all self-deceivings in this matter. For when we go about this search, a thousand pretences and arguings will arise, to the concealment or countenance of self and sin against a discovery and pursuit. Nothing can remove and scatter them but the power of the Holy Spirit acting in His convincing efficacy. The whole deceit of the heart in such a season will be put forth, to hide, palliate, excuse, and countenance such frames and actings as ought to be seized on and brought to judgment. There is need of the “candle of the Lord, to search the inward parts of the belly” (Prov 20:27); of spiritual light, to look into the secret recesses of the mind and affections, to discover what is amiss in them. And there is need of spiritual strength, to cast down all the strongholds and fortifications of sin; which will be all set up at such a time, and will not be demolished or scattered without powerful actings of grace. This, therefore, in the first place, we are to apply ourselves unto, if we intend any success in this work of self-examination.
So also are we to pray that the word, in the preaching and dispensation of it, may be effectual unto the same end, that we may find it quick and powerful (Heb 4:12), that it may so judge the secrets of our hearts (1 Cor 14:25), that we may fall down and judge ourselves also. To hide ourselves at such a season from the power of the word, is an open evidence of a ruining security.
This work, in the use of these means, is to be called over and persisted in, if we design a compliance with the present calls of God, or an endeavour to be found of Him in peace when He comes.
Fifthly. To be deeply humbled before the Lord for our own sins, with a relinquishment of them all thereon, is the principal part of our duty in this season.
This the whole Scripture testifies unto, speaking of these things. Without this, all that we do, or can do, signifies nothing, as unto a compliance with the calls of God. This is the end of the search before insisted on. We are to find out, to know every one the plague, the stroke, the disease of his own heart, so as to be humbled before the Lord for it.
And unto this humiliation it is required,
1. That it be internal and sincere. There is a humiliation commonly expressing itself in the observation of days of fasting and prayer; which oftentimes is but the hanging down of the head like a bulrush for a day. However, it may be so carried, sometimes, as to divert or prolong the execution of threatened judgments; but that which God requires of us is to be in the fixed affections of the heart. When the Lord Christ comes to enjoin repentance and reformation, He gives Himself that title, “I am He that searcheth the reins and hearts” (Rev 2:23).
It is an internal, hidden work which He looks after, in our humiliation for sin. So says David in the same case, “Thou requirest truth in the inward parts” (Ps 51). Truth or sincerity in the affections is that which God regards in our humiliation; which answers the charge in the prophet, “Rend your hearts, and not your garments;” inward power, not outward signs, are accepted with God in this matter. Let us every one take it on our own souls, every one charge his own conscience in private, with the performance of this duty. God will bear no longer with pretences; no outward appearances or evanid affections, in a temporary humiliation for a day, though in the observation of the most solemn duties required on such a day, will answer the mind of God herein. For,
2. It must be extraordinary. Humiliation for our own sins is a duty constantly incumbent on us. To walk humbly with God is the principal thing that he requires of us in this world (Mic 6:8). Hereof self-abasement, in a sense of sin, is the life and soul; the principle of all other acts and duties belonging thereunto. But when the calls of God are extraordinary, as they are at this day, it is necessary that we attend hereunto in an extraordinary manner. Failing in the necessary degrees of a duty renders it ineffectual and unacceptable. If, as unto times and seasons, ways, means, and manner, of this duty, we do not apply ourselves unto it with more than ordinary diligence, and with great intention of mind, we fail in what is expected from us. To deal with God on extraordinary occasions in an ordinary frame of spirit, is to despise Him; or argues, at least, no due reverence of Him in His judgments, nor a due apprehension of our own concerns in them.
3. It is required that humiliation for sin be accompanied with a relinquishment of sin: “He that confesseth his sins, and forsaketh them, shall find mercy.” Confession is grown a cheap and easy labour, whether it be read out of a book, or discharged by virtue of spiritual gifts. Humiliation may be pretended when it is not, and expressed when it is transitory; no way answering the mind and will of God. But the real relinquishment of sinful frames, sinful ways, sinful neglects, can neither be pretended nor represented better than it is. He that thinks he has nothing to forsake, no evil way, no sinful negligence, no frame of heart, will be awakened to a better knowledge of himself when it is too late. This we may, therefore, evidently try ourselves by: What real change has there been in us, in compliance with the calls of God? what have we relinquished in our ways, frames, or actings? what vain thoughts are utterly excluded, whereunto we have given entertainment? what passions or affections have been reduced into order, which have exceeded their due bounds and measures? what vain communication, formerly accustomed unto, has been watched against and prevented? what dissimulation in love has been cured or cast out? what irregular actings, in our persons, families, or occasions of life, have been forsaken? An inquiry into these things will give us real, sensible evidence whether our humiliation for our own sins be compliant with the present calls of God.
Sixthly. Another duty of the season is, that we mourn for the sins of others, of those especially in whom we are providentially concerned; as relations, churches, the whole people of the land of our nativity, with whom we are engaged by manifold bonds and means of conjunction [connection].
It is well known that this sincere mourning for the sins of the places and times wherein we live, of the people and churches whereunto we do belong, is eminently approved of God, and a token unto themselves in whom that sense is of deliverance in a day of calamity (Ezek 9:4-6). To have minds careless and regardless of the sins of other men, is a great evidence of want of sincerity in our profession of the detestation of sin. Many pretences there are of it; as, that they will not hear us; we are not concerned in them; that they are wicked enemies of God, and the worse they are, the more will their destruction be hastened. By such pretences do men deceive their souls into a neglect of this duty, yea, unto provoking sin, such as this is.
It is a matter of sorrow unto them that truly fear God, and have any concernment in [concern for] His glory, or the honour of Christ, that the whole world, so far as we know, is filled with all abominable, provoking sins. It lies under a deluge of sin, as it lay of old under a flood of waters; only here and there appears an ark, that is carried above it. Atheism, antiscripturism, disbelief of gospel mysteries, contempt of the religion which they themselves profess, amongst all sorts of Christians, the loss of all public faith and trust, with a litter of unclean lusts, ambition, pride, covetousness, in many who have the outward conduct of the church, have spread themselves over the face of the earth. When God thus deals with the world, when He gives it up unto this open profligate excess which now abounds in it, it becomes, unto all that truly fear Him, a place of darkness and sorrow, which calls for a mourning frame of heart.
It is so, much more as unto the land of our nativity. From a conjunction [connection] with this people in blood, language, manners, laws, civil interests, relations, arising from the common law of nativity, in a place limited and bounded by Providence unto especial ends, we cannot but have a great concern in their good or evil. It is greater from hence, that the same true religion has been professed in the whole nation, with innumerable privileges accompanying it. On these and the like considerations, the whole nation is laid under the same law of providence for good or evil. In the sin, therefore, of this people, we are in a peculiar manner concerned; and shall be so in their sufferings. Whether sin abound in the land at present, we have already made inquiry; and nothing spoken before shall be repeated. If we have not a sense of these provocations, if we endeavour not to affect our hearts with them, and mourn over them, we are very remote from that frame which God calls unto.
And this mourning for the sins of others arises from a double spring: 1. Zeal for the glory of God; 2. Compassion for the souls of men, yea, for the woful, calamitous state and condition which is coming upon them even in this world.
Surely, those who are true believers cannot but be concerned in all the concerns of the glory of God. If in all our afflictions He is afflicted, in all the sufferings of His glory we ought to suffer. In the blessed direction given us for our prayers, as unto what we ought to pray for, that which in the first place is prescribed, as that which principally and eminently we ought to insist on, is the glory of God in the sanctification of His name, the progressive coming of the kingdom of Christ, and the accomplishment of His will by the obedience of men in the world. If we are sincere herein, if we are fervent in these supplications, is it nothing unto us, when all these things are quite contrary amongst us? When the name of God is blasphemed, and all things whereon He has placed His name are derided; when the whole internal interest and kingdom of Christ are opposed, and the outward court of the temple given everywhere to be trodden down of the Gentiles; when all manner of sins abound, in opposition unto the will and commands of God; when the earth is almost as unlike unto heaven as hell itself; is there nothing to be mourned for herein? We are for the most part selfish; and so it may go well with ourselves, according to the extent of our relations and circumstances, we are not greatly moved with what befalls others. There is evil enough herein; but shall we be, moreover, so minded towards Jesus Christ, that whilst we are in safety, we care not though His concerns are in the utmost hazard? Do we love the name of God, the ways of God, the glory of God in His kingdom and rule? We cannot but be deeply affected with the suffering of them all in these days.
The other spring of this mourning frame, is compassion for the souls of sinners, and their persons also, in the approach of calamitous desolations. I am hastening to an end, and cannot insist on these things: this only I shall say, he that can take a prospect of the eternally miserable condition of multitudes among whom we live, and the approaching miseries which, without repentance and reformation, will not be avoided, and not spend some tears on them, has a heart like a flint or adamant, that is capable of no impression.
Seventhly. It is a season wherein we are called to a diligent, heedful attendance unto the duties of our stations, places, and callings; duties in our church relations, duties in our families, duties in our callings and manner of conversation in the world.
This is the advice given by the apostle, with respect unto such a season, “Seeing that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be, in all holy conversation and godliness? Wherefore, be diligent that you may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (2 Pet 3:11,14). Without a sacred diligence in all these duties, we cannot be found in peace of the Lord Christ when He comes to judge the world, and purify His church with a fiery trial.
Negligence, coldness, and sloth in these things, are tokens of approaching judgments. And of some of them at this day the generality of professors seem to be almost weary, and to attend unto them in a very indifferent and overly manner. But we may know assuredly, that if we thrive not in our diligence in these things, if the vigour of our spirits in watchfulness be not engaged in them, we are not compliant with the present calls of God
Eighthly. It is required of us that we cry earnestly, continually, with perseverance, for such an effusion of the Holy Spirit from above, as may dispose and work the inhabitants of the land unto repentance and reformation.
That this is the only way, the only means of relief, of a sanctified deliverance from desolating judgments, has been declared. And this is the only way which some of us have to help and assist the nation in its distress. Wherefore, by a constant continuance in supplication for such effusions of the Holy Spirit, we shall have a threefold advantage:
1. We shall hereby discharge the duty we owe unto the land of our nativity in such a way as none can deny or hinder. We owe a duty unto it on all good accounts, moral, political, spiritual. We are, for the most of us, shut up from giving any other assistance unto it, by advice, counsel, or action. This is that which none can hinder, wherein the poorest may be as useful and service able as the mighty. And if it be diligently attended unto, it will be far above whatever can be contributed by wisdom, wealth, or strength, unto the same end. For by this means we shall be saved, or perish.
2. It will preserve our own hearts in the best frame for what we ourselves may be called unto. He that is earnest and sincere in his supplications for the communication of the Spirit unto others, shall not want blessed supplies of Him in his own soul. He will not withdraw from them, as unto themselves, who so esteem, prize, and value His work towards others.
3. We shall hereby give testimony unto God and His grace against the cursed profaneness of the world, who reject and despise this only means of relief and deliverance; for when all other remedies fail, if God will not utterly forsake a church or people, he constantly assigns this as the only means of their safety. See Jeremiah 31:31-33; Ezekiel 11:17-19, 36:25-27. This way the world despises, regards not; wherefore we can in nothing give a greater testimony unto God than by insisting on this way with faith and patience, contemning the reproaches of the world on the account of it.
Ninthly. Let us labour ourselves to be exemplary in reformation, thereby to promote it among others.
Let us plead and exhort what we will, unless we give an evidence in our own persons of the necessity which we judge that there is of present reformation, we shall be of little use unto the promotion of it. Many retrenchments of liberty in conversation may be made among the best of us; many duties may be attended with more diligence; many causes of offence avoided; many evidences given of a deep sense of deserved judgments, and of our reverence of the name of God therein; much fruitfulness in charity and good works be declared.
I have heard that in the country, where a man is looked on to be a wise man and a good husbandman among his neighbours, they will note the times of his ploughing, sowing, and manuring his ground, and not undertake anything until they find him going before them in it. And if men are looked on in a peculiar manner as professors of religion at such a time as this, under calls and warnings from God for repentance and reformation, the eyes of other men will be towards them, to see what they do on this occasion. And if they find them, as unto all outward appearance, careless and negligent, they will judge themselves unconcerned, and abide in their security. Wherefore, so far as I know, if such persons be not exemplary, not only in repentance, but also in the evidence and demonstration of it by its outward fruits, they may be, and are, the great obstructers of the reformation of the cities, towns, and places wherein they do inhabit; nor can any contract the guilt of a greater sin. And if God should bring an overflowing scourge on the inhabitants of this land, because they have not turned unto Him at His calls, it is most righteous that they should share in the judgment also who were an occasion of their continuance in security, a matter we have all just cause to tremble at.