Providential changes, an argument for universal holiness, Part 2
by John Owen
2. The second ground is, because every such day is a lesser day of judgment, — a forerunner, pledge, and evidence of that great day of the Lord which is to come. God’s great and signal judgments in the world are to be looked on as pledges of the final judgment at the last day. So Jude tells us that, in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, “God set forth an example of them that shall suffer the vengeance of eternal fire,” verse 7. And Peter calls the time of the destruction of the Judaical church and state expressly “the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men,” 2 Epist. iii. 7. So to the full is the destruction of the Roman persecuting state expressed, Dan. vii. 9, 10, 14. The solemnity of the work and whole procedure bespeaks a great day, a day of judgment; it is so, and a representation of that which is to come. And the like also is set forth, chap. xii. 1–3; and the same description have we of the like day of Christ, Mal. iv. 1.
Every such day, I say, then, is a lesser day of judgment, wherein much judging-work is accomplished. This Daniel tells us, chap. xii. 10, — it is a trying, a purifying, a teaching, a hardening, a bleeding time. There are great works that are done upon the souls and consciences of men by Christ in such a day, as well as outwardly; and all in a way of judgment. To let pass, then, the outward, visible effects of his wrath and power, of his wisdom and righteousness, I shall consider some few of the more secret judiciary acts that the Lord Christ usually exerts in such a day:—
(1.) He pleads with all flesh that are concerned in the alterations and desolations he makes. God puts this as one act of his in judgment, that he pleads with men, Ezek. xxxviii. 22. In his judgments he pleads with and against men about their sins. And in that great representation of the day of judgment, Joel iii. 2, God is said to “plead with all nations.” Now, I say, in general, Christ in such a day pleads with all men concerned. His providences have a voice, and that a contending, pleading voice. Unless men are utterly blinded and hardened (as, indeed, the most are), they cannot but hear him, in his great and mighty works, contending with them about their sin and unbelief, — representing to them his righteous judgment to come. Though men now cast off things, on this account and that; and, being filled with their lusts, passions, fury, revenge, or ease, sensuality and worldliness, think these things concern them not; yet the day will come wherein they shall know, that the Lord Christ in his mighty works was pleading even with them also, and that in a way of judgment about their sin and folly.
(2.) In such a day Christ judges and determines the profession of many a false hypocrite, who hath deceived the church and people of God. One great work of the last day shall be the discovery of hypocrites: it is thence principally called, “The day wherein the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed.” Many a fair pretender in the world shall be found to have been an enemy of Christ and the gospel. So is the day of Christ’s coming in the flesh represented, Mal. iii. 1, 2. All were high in their professions of desiring his coming, and of delighting in him; but when he came, what was the issue? How few endured the trial! The false, hypocritical, selfish hearts, who had treasured up the hopes of great things to themselves, being discovered by the trials and temptations wherewith his coming was attended, themselves were utterly cast off from their profession into open enmity to God and his Son. So dealeth the Lord Christ in and under the dispensations whereof we speak, to this day. What by the fury of their own lusts, what by the temptations which lie in their way, what by the advantages they meet withal for the exercise of their vile affections, their hypocrisy is discovered, and themselves cast out of their profession. Notable effects of this acting of Christ as a judge have we seen in the dispensation that is passing over us. Some he hath judged by the sentence and judgment of his churches. How many false wretches have been cast out of churches, that have withered under their judgment, and returned no more! Some who have not walked in the order of his churches by him appointed, he hath judged by the world itself; — suffered their sin and folly so to break forth, that the world itself hath cast them out from the number of professors, and owned them as its own. Some have been judged as to their profession of him by strong temptations; that is, their lusts, ambition, selfishness, which have carried them into ways and compliances wherein they have been compelled to desert, and almost renounce all their former profession. Some have been tried and judged by the errors and abominations of the times, and turned aside from the simplicity of the gospel. Now, though there have been, and are, these and many other ways and means of casting men out of and from the profession that they have made, some good, some bad, some in themselves of a mere passive nature, and indifferent; yet they all proceed from Christ in a judiciary way, — they are acts of his in his day of judgment; — and O that England might not yet be farther filled with instances and examples of this kind!
(3.) He doth exercise his judgment in blinding and hardening of wicked men; yet they shall not see nor perceive what he is doing, but shall have advantages to do wickedly, and prejudices to blind them therein. So expressly, Dan. xii. 10, “They shall do wickedly, and they shall not understand.” There are two parts of his judgment in such a day, about and against them. First, His giving of them up to their own lusts, to do wickedly: “They shall do wickedly.” Wicked they are, and they shall act accordingly; they shall do it in such a day to the purpose, Rev. xvi. 10, 11. Christ will providentially suffer occasions, advantages, provocations, to lie before them, so that they shall do wickedly to the purpose; they shall have daily fresh occasions to curse, repine, blaspheme, oppose Christ and his interest, or to seek themselves, and the satisfaction of their lusts, which at other times they shall not be able to do. Be they in what condition they will, high or low, exalted or depressed, in power or out of it, they shall in such a season do wickedly, according as their advantages and provocations are. And for men to be given up to their own hearts’ lusts, is the next door to the judgment of the great day, when men shall be given up to sin, self, and Satan, unto eternity. Secondly, He blinds them: “None of the wicked shall understand.” Strange! Who seems so wise and so crafty as they? Who do understand the times, and their advantages in them, more than they? Who more prudent for the management of affairs than they? But the truth is, none of them, no, not one of them, shall, or do, or can understand; that is, they understand not the work of Christ, the business and design that he hath in hand, nor what is the true and proper interest of them who are concerned in these dispensations. There are many ways whereby Christ exerts this blinding and infatuating efficacy of his providence towards wicked men in such a day of judgment, that they shall not understand or know that he is at all concerned in the works that are in the world.
Sometimes the very things that he doth are such, and so contrary to the prejudicate opinions of men, that they can never understand that they are things which he will own. How many have been kept from understanding any thing of Christ in the world, in the days wherein we live, from their inveterate prejudices on the account of old superstitions, and forms of government which have been removed! They will rather die than believe that Christ hath any hand in these things: “They shall not understand.”
Sometimes the persons by whom he doth them, keep them from understanding. “Shall these men save us?’ — these whom they look upon as the offscouring of the earth. “Sure, if Christ had any work to do in the world, he would make use of other manner of instruments for the accomplishing of them.” They are no less offended with the persons that do them than the things that are done. Christ worketh all this, that they should not understand.
Sometimes the manner of doing what he hath to do [keeps them from understanding,] — the darkness wherewith it is attended, the strange process that he makes, — sometimes weak, sometimes foolish, sometimes disorderly to the reasoning of flesh and blood, though all beautiful in itself, and in relation to him.
And sometimes Christ sends a spirit of giddiness into the midst of them, that they shall err and wander in all their ways, and not see nor discern the things that are before them: “None of the wicked shall understand.”
By these, and many such ways as these, doth Christ in these days of his coming exercise judgment on ungodly men; — not to mention the outward destruction, desolation, and perdition, which usually in such seasons he brings upon them.
(4.) He exerciseth judgment at such a time even among the saints themselves. Ps. lxxxii. 1: He is judging in the great congregation. So Ps. l. 4–8: All this solemnity of proceeding is for the judgment of his own people; and his judging of them is in a plea about their obedience and failing therein. The sum of this his dealing with them is expressed, Rev. iii. 9.
We may, then, consider, — [1.] What it is that Christ pleadeth with his own people about his coming; [2.] What are the ways and means whereby he doth so:—
[1.] There are sundry things on the account whereof Christ at his coming pleads with his saints. One or more of them:—
1st. On the account of some secret lusts that have defiled them, and which they have either indulged themselves in, or not so vigorously opposed as their loyalty unto Christ required. Times of peace and outward prosperity are usually times wherein, through manifold temptations, even the saints themselves are apt to sully their consciences, and to have breaches made upon their integrity; sometimes in things they do know, and sometimes in things they do not know, nor take notice of. Instances may be given in abundance of such things. In this condition Christ deals with them, as Isa. iv. 4. There is blood and filth upon them; the spirit of judgment and burning must be set at work; which, as it principally aims at the internal efficacy of the Spirit in the cleansing of sin, so it respects a time of providential alterations and trials, wherein that work is effectually exerted. Christ in these dispensations speaks secretly to the consciences of his saints, and minds them of this and that folly and miscarriage, and deals with them about it. He asks them if things be not so and so with them? — if they have not thus and thus defiled themselves? — whether these hearts are fit to converse with him? and leaves not until their dross and tin be consumed.
2dly. On the account of some way or ways wherein they may have been unadvisedly, or through temptation, or want of seeking counsel aright from him, engaged. They may be got, in their employments, in their callings, in the work that lies before them in this world, into ways and paths wherein Christ is not pleased they should make any progress. What through leaning to their own understandings, what through an inclination of saying “A confederacy” to them to whom the people say “A confederacy,” what through the common mistakes in the days wherein they live, even the saints may be engaged in ways that are not according to the mind and will of Christ. Now, in such a day of Christ’s coming, though he spares the souls of his saints and forgives them, yet he “takes vengeance of their inventions,” Ps. xcix. 8. He will cast down all their idols, and destroy and consume every false way wherein they were. One is, it may be, in a way of superstition and false worship; another in a way of pride and ambition; another in a way of giving countenance to the men of the world, and things wherein God delights not; — Christ will take vengeance of all these their inventions in the day of his coming. He acts as refiner’s fire,” and as “fullers’ soap.”
3dly. On the account of inordinate cleaving unto the shaken, passing things of the world. This is a peculiar controversy that Christ hath with his, upon the account of adherence to the passing world; and it is a thing wherein, when he comes, too many will be found faulty. I might also insist on their unbelief, and other particulars. But, —
[2.] The ways and means whereby Christ judgeth and pleadeth with his own, on these accounts, are also various:—
1st. He doth it by the afflictions, trials, and troubles, that he exerciseth them with at his coming. The use of the furnace is to take away dross; and the issue of afflictions and trials, to take away sin:— this is their fruit. So, Dan. xii. 1, the time of Christ’s coming shall be a day of trouble, such as never was. And what shall be the issue? Verse 10, “Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried.” Their trials and troubles, their great tribulations, shall be purifying and cleansing. Though the design of Christ in the issue, at the appointed season, be the peace and deliverance of his saints; yet, in the carrying on of his work, great trials and tribulations may befall them all; and many may fall in the way, and perish as to the outward man. Hence, Dan. xii. 13, there is an appointed time of rest, and it will be a blessed thing for them that shall be preserved unto it; but whilst those days and seasons are coming to their period, there is often “a time of great trouble,” verse 1. And “the power of the holy people may be scattered,” verse 7, and many afflictions and trials may befall them. Now, by these doth Christ plead with his, for the consumption of their lusts, and the destruction of their inventions, — for the purging and purifying of them. All our trials, pressures, troubles, disappointments, in such a day, are the actings of Christ to this end and purpose. The influences that affliction hath unto these ends are commonly spoken unto.
2dly. He doth it by pouring out of his Spirit in a singular manner, for this end and purpose, so to plead with, judge, and cleanse his saints. It is in the administration of his Spirit that at his coming “he sits as a refiner and purifier of silver,” Mal. iii. 1–3; and we see what work he accomplishes thereby. The Holy Ghost, who is the great pleader for the saints, and in them, doth at such a time effectually plead with them, by convictions, persuasions, arguings, application of the word, motions, strivings, and the like. Hence those who are unrefined at such a season are said in a peculiar manner “to vex,” to grieve “the Holy Spirit” of God, Isa. lxiii. 10. His design upon them is a design of love; and to be rejected, resisted, opposed, in his actings and motions, — this grieves and vexes him. Men know not what they do, in neglecting the actings of the Holy Ghost; which are peculiarly suited to providential dispensations. When God is great in the world in the works of his providence, — in alterations, dissolutions, shakings, changings, removals, — and sends his Spirit to move and work in the hearts of men, answerably to his mind and will in these dispensations, so that there is a harmony in the voice of God without and within, both speaking aloud and clearly; then to neglect the workings of the Spirit brings men into that condition complained of, Ezek. xxiv. 13, “Because I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged, thou shalt not be purged any more.”
It may be observed, that at such seasons when Christ hath any great and signal work to bring forth in the world, he doth by his Spirit deal with the hearts and consciences of the most wicked and vile men; which, when the secrets of all hearts shall be discovered at the last day, will exceedingly exalt the glory of his wisdom, patience, goodness, holiness, and righteousness. So did he with them before the flood; as is evident from Gen. vi. 3. When an utter destruction was to come, he saith, his Spirit shall strive with them no more; — that is, about their sin and rebellion. That this Spirit was the Spirit of Christ, and that the work of dealing with these ungodly men was the work of Christ, and that it was a fruit of longsuffering, Peter declares, 1 Pet. iii. 18–20. And if he deals thus with a perishing world, by a work that perisheth also, — how much more doth he it in an effectual work upon the hearts of his own! It is the Spirit that speaks to the churches in all their trials, Rev. ii. 3.
By this means, I say, then, Christ pleads with his saints; secretly and powerfully judging their lusts, corruptions, failings, — consuming and burning them up. He first, by frequent motions and instructions, gives them no rest in any unequal path; then discovers to them the beauty of holiness, the excellency of the love of Christ, the vanity and folly of every thing that hath interrupted their communion with him; and so fills them with godly sorrow, renunciation of sin, and cleaving unto God; — which is the very promise that we have, Ezek. vi. 10.
3dly. As he doth it by the inward, private, effectual operation of his Spirit, so he doth it by the effusion of his light and gifts in the dispensation of the word. Christ seldom brings any great alteration upon the world, but together with it, or to prepare for it, he causeth much effectual light, to break forth in the dispensation of his word. Before the first destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, how he dealt with them he declares, 2 Chron. xxxvi. 15, “And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling-place.” And before the final dissolution of the heavens and earth of that church and state, he preached to them himself in the flesh. A glorious light! Before the ruin of the antichristian world, he sends the angel with the everlasting gospel, and his two witnesses to hold forth the light of the gospel; and we must witness to this his way and wisdom in our generation. Now, though there are many rebels against light, and many whose lusts are enraged by the breaking forth of truth in its beauty and lustre; and many that, being dazzled with it, do run out of its paths into ways of error and folly, and none of the wicked do understand; yet, among the saints, the more light the more holiness, — for their light is transforming. This, then, is another means whereby, in such a day, Christ consumes the lusts and judges the inordinate walking of his own, — even by the light which in an eminent manner he sends forth in the dispensation of the word.
Now, if the time and season whereof we speak be such a day of judgment, wherein Christ thus pleads with all men, and with his own in an especial manner, I think the inference unto eminency in universal holiness may be left upon the thoughts and minds of all that are concerned. Especially from these considerations doth the inference lie strong unto the ensuing particulars, in the ways of holiness and godliness:— First, Of self-searching and self-judging in reference to our state and condition. Dreadful are the actings of Christ in such a day on the souls and consciences (ofttimes on the names and lives) of corrupt, unsound professors; — in part I declared them before. If any now should be found in such a condition, his day of judgment is come, his sealing to destruction. This the apostle calls to in such a dispensation, 1 Cor. xi. 31, 32. Self-judging, as to our state and condition, ways and practices, is a great principle of holy conversation and godliness. When Christ comes to judge, we ought surely to judge ourselves; and abounding in that work is a great means of preservation from the temptations of the days whereunto we are exposed. Secondly, Of weanedness from the world and the things thereof. Christ’s coming puts vanity on all these passing things. This is surely contained in the text, “Seeing that these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons,” etc. At best they are vain and passing, uncertain things; in such a dispensation as is spoken of, they are all obnoxious to dissolution, and many of them certainly to be removed and taken away. And why should the heart of any one be set upon them? why should we not fix our souls on things more profitable, more durable? It is no small matter to meet the Lord Christ at his coming, Mal. iii. 1–3. They were all full of desires of the coming of Christ; they sought after him: “The Lord whom ye seek.” They delighted in the thoughts of him: “Whom ye delight in.” Well, he came, according to their desires; he whom they sought was found. And what was the issue? Why, very few of them could abide the day of his coming, or stand when he appeared. He had a work to do they could not away with. They desired his coming, — they desired the day of the Lord; but, as the prophet says, Amos v. 18, “Woe unto them! to what end have they desired it? — it was darkness to them, not light.” That was the coming of Christ in person to his temple. It is not otherwise in any of his other comings in providential dispensations. Many men long for it, delight in it, — it is our duty so to do; but what is the issue? One is hardened in sin and lust; — another is lifted up, as though himself were something, when he is nothing; — a third stumbles at the coming itself, and falls: “Woe unto them! the day of the Lord is darkness unto them, and not light.”
I proceed now to the use. But to make way for the due improvement of the apostle’s exhortation unto us, some previous considerations must be laid down:—
First. It is known to all the world that we have had great providential alterations and dissolutions in these nations. He must be a stranger, not in England only, but in Europe, almost in the whole world, that knows it not. Our heavens and our earth, our sea and our dry land, have been not only shaken, but removed also. The heavens of ancient and glorious fabric, both civil and ecclesiastical, have been taken down by fire and sword, and the fervent heat of God’s displeasure. It is needless for me to declare what destructions, what dissolutions, what unparalleled alterations we have had in these nations. Persons, things, forms of government of old established, and newly-framed constitutions, we have seen all obnoxious to change or ruin.
Secondly. It is no less certain that we may say, concerning all these things, “Come and see what God hath wrought.” And as to these desolations of nations, ruin of families, alterations of governments, we may say of them all, as the psalmist, Ps. xlvi. 8 “Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth.” It is his work; he hath done it himself. There is no evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it, Amos iii. 6. Have there been any exaltations of men, recoveries from depression, relief of the oppressed, establishments of new frames and order of things? — it hath been all from him, Dan. ii. 21, iv. 32. Indeed, the days wherein we live are full of practical atheism. Some, out of mere stoutness of heart and innate unbelief, will take no notice of God in all these things. Ps. x. 4, “The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.” As things have been, so they suppose they are, and will be; but as to the consideration of him who disposeth of all as seems good unto him, they are strangers unto it. Some have had their lusts enraged, and themselves so provoked and disappointed, that, flying upon the instruments which God hath used, they have been filled with prejudice, and utterly blinded as to any discovery of the ways or work of God in these revolutions. Some have been utterly cast down in their thoughts, because they have not been able to discover the righteousness, beauty, and order, of the ways of God; his footsteps having been in the deep, while his paths have not been known. And some, having found an open door for the satisfaction of their lusts, — pride, covetousness, ambition, love of the world, reputation, vain-glory, and uncleanness, — have been so greedily engaged in the pursuit of them, that they have taken little or no notice of the hand of God in these things. And others are at a stand, like the Philistine priests and diviners, 1 Sam. vi. 9. They know not whether all this hath been from the hand of God, or whether some chance hath befallen us. I shall not need to mention those in Isa. xlvii. 13, — “astrologers, star-gazers, and monthly prognosticators,” who have endeavoured also to divert the thoughts of unbelieving, foolish men, from a due consideration of the Author of all our revolutions. To all which I shall answer in general in the words of Hannah, 1 Sam. ii. 3–9, “God hath done all these things.” And men that will not take notice of him and his proceedings, shall at length be forced so to do, Isa. xxvi. 11.
These things being premised, one principal inquiry, which must be the bottom and foundation of the ensuing directions, is, whether it may appear that these providential alterations and dissolutions have related to Christ and his interest in the world in an especial manner?
That we may yet a little farther clear our way, you may farther observe, what I intend, by relating unto Christ and his church in an especial manner:—
1. Whereas the Lord Christ is, by the appointment of the Father, made “heir of all things,” Heb. i. 2, and “hath all judgment committed unto him,” over all flesh, in all the world, — which include his right to send his gospel into what nation and place he pleaseth; — so all the alterations that are in the world, all things relate to him, and do lie in a remote tendency to the advancement of his glory. He will work out his own glorious ends from all the breakings of all the nations in the world; even where the interest of his gospel seems outwardly to be very little, or nothing at all. But it is not in this sense that we make our inquiry; for so there would be nothing peculiar in the works that have been among us.
2. Things may relate unto Christ and his church upon the account of special promise. Christ hath a special and peculiar concernment in providential dissolutions when they so relate to him; and that appears in these things:—
(1.) When the judgments that are exercised in such a dispensation flow from provocations given unto the Lord Christ, upon the account of his church. So Isa. xxxiv. 8. All the dissolutions mentioned of the heavens and the earth, verse 4, were on Zion’s account, and the controversy that Christ had with Idumea about her. So, chap. lxiii. 4, the day of vengeance is the year of the redeemed. Whence, in such a day, the saints themselves are stirred up to take notice that the desolations wrought in the earth are on their account, Jer. li. 35; and so it is fully expressed in the ruin of antichristian Babylon, in the Revelation. Where, then, there is a peculiar relation of any dissolving providence unto Christ and his church, the judgments exerted in and under it regard the vengeance of the church, and proceed from the provocations of Christ on that account.
(2.) Some promises made unto Christ concerning his inheritance, — some promises of Christ unto his church, — are, in such a day, brought forth unto accomplishment. The promises of Christ to the church are of two sorts:— First, General, essential to the new covenant; and these belong equally to all saints, of all ages, in all places, — not to one more than another. Every saint hath an equal right and interest in the essential promises of the covenant with any other saint whatever; there is no difference, but one God, Lord, and Father of all, is good unto them all alike. And, secondly, There are promises which are peculiarly suited to the several states and conditions into which the visible kingdom of Christ is, in his wisdom, to be brought in several ages. Such are the promises of the calling of the Jews, — of the destruction of Antichrist, — of the increase of light in the latter days, — of the peace, rest, and prosperity of the church in some times or ages, after trials and tribulation. Now, they are the promises of this latter sort that relate unto providential dispensations.
Having premised these things, I shall now briefly offer some grounds of hope, that such have been the alterations and dissolutions wherein we have been exercised in this generation:—
First. Because very many of the saints of God have obtained real, evident, soul-refreshing communion with Christ in and about these things, on this foundation, that the things on the wheel amongst us have had a peculiar relation unto him. There is nothing of more certainty to the souls of any, than what they have real, spiritual experience of. When the things about which they are conversant lie only in notion, and are rationally discoursed or debated, much deceit may lie under all; but when things between God and the soul come to be realized by practical experience, they give a never-failing certainty of themselves. Now, by holding communion about these things with Christ, I understand the exercise of faith, love, hope, expectation, delight, on and in Christ, on the one hand; and the receiving relief, supportment, consolation, joy, patience, perseverance, on the other; from both which, holiness, faithfulness, and thankfulness have proceeded and been increased. Now, this communion with Christ, in and about the works of his providence amongst us, very many of the saints have obtained; and, which is the height and complement of it, died in the clear visions of Christ in such communion. Now there are two things that offer sufficient security against any deceit or mistake in this thing:—
1. The goodness, care, and faithfulness of God towards his own; which will not suffer us to fear that he would lead all his people into such a temptation wherein, in their chiefest communion (as they apprehended) with himself, they should feed on the wind and delusion. If the foundation of all this intercourse with God was false, and not according to his mind, then so was the whole superstructure. Now, that God for many years should lead his people into a way of prayer, faith, hope, thankfulness, and yet all false and an abominable thing, because all leaning on a false ground and supposition; none that consider his goodness and tender pity towards his own, with the delight of his soul in their worship and ways, can once imagine. It is true, men may be zealously engaged in ways and acts of worship, and that all their lives, wherein they think they do God good service; and yet both they and their service be abominated by him for ever. But men cannot do so in faith, love, obedience, thankfulness; which alone we speak of. At least, he will not suffer his saints to do so; of whom alone we speak. We have, then, the tender mercies and faithfulness of God to assure us in this case.
2. The self-evidencing efficacy of faith in spiritual experiences strengthens their persuasion. Many, doubtless, may persuade themselves that they have communion with God, and yet feed upon ashes, and a deceived heart turns them aside. The principle of such a delusion I shall not now lay open. But when it is indeed obtained by faith, it is always accompanied with a soul-quieting, refreshing evidence; for faith in its operation will evince itself to the soul where it is. I do not say it always doth so. It may be so clouded with darkness of mind, so overpowered by temptations, that in its most spiritual and genuine acting, it may be hid from the soul wherein it is, — which we find to be the condition of many a gracious soul; but in itself it clears up its own actings. Things that have a self-evidencing power, may be hindered from exerting it; but when they do exert it, it is evident. Put a candle under a bushel, it cannot be seen; but take away the hinderance, and it manifests itself. It is so in faith, and its actings. They may be so clouded to the soul itself in which they act, that it may not be able to attain any comforting evidence of it. But take away the bushel, — fear, prejudices, temptations, corrupt reasonings, — and it will assure the soul of itself and its working. Neither is its working more evident than its fruit, or the product of its operations in the soul; it brings forth love, rest, peace, all with a spiritual sense upon the heart and spirit. Now, these have been in this thing so evident in the souls of the saints, that they have bespoken that faith which cannot deceive nor be deceived.
The bottom, then, of the communion which the saints had with Christ in this work, and have, must either be faith or fancy. If faith, then the communion was and is real, and the work true that it is built upon. That it was not, that it is not, the fancy or imagination of a deluded heart, may appear from these considerations:—
(1.) From its extent. We know it possessed the minds of the universality of believers in this nation, who were not, nor are at this day, combined in our political interest, but are woefully divided among themselves; yet have all had, more or less, this persuasion of the work relating unto Christ. Now, that this should, be any corrupt imagination, seems to me impossible. I speak not of outward actions and proceedings; for so, I know, whole nations may politically combine in evil, — though I will not believe that ever the generality of the saints of Christ shall do so. But I speak of the frame of their hearts and spirits as to communion with Christ in faith and love; whereunto no outward reasonings or interests could influence them in the least: “Digitus Dei est hoc.”
(2.) It appears from the permanency and flourishing of this principle in straits and difficulties. A corrupt imagination, be it never so strong and vigorous in its season, and whilst its food is administered to it, in the temptation it lives upon, yet, in trials great and pressing, it sinks and withers; or, if the difficulty continue, for the most part — unless where it falls on some natures of an unconquerable pertinacy — utterly vanisheth. But now, this principle of the saints’ communion with Christ about the work of our generation was never more active, vigorous, and flourishing, did never more evidence itself to be of a divine extract, than in the greatest straits and difficulties, — in the mouth and entrance of the greatest deaths. Then did it commonly rise up to its greatest heights and assurance. Our temptations, whether Christ be in this work or no, have, for the most part, befallen us since we had deliverance from pressing, bloody troubles. And I think I may say, that there are very many saints in these nations who can truly say, that the best and the most comfortable days that ever they saw in their lives, were those wherein they were exercised with the greatest fears, dangers, and troubles; and that upon the account of the strengthening of this principle of communion with Christ. And in very many hath it been tried out to the death, when corrupt fancies were of little worth.
(3.) It appears from the fruits of this persuasion. Every corrupt imagination and fancy is of the flesh; and the works of the flesh are manifest. Whatever it may do in conjunction with convictions, and for a season, yet in itself, and in a course, it will bring forth no fruit but what tends to the satisfaction of the flesh. But now, the principle under consideration did bring forth fruits unto God, in godliness and righteousness.
But you will say, “Do we not see what fruit it hath brought forth? Is not the land full of the steam of the lusts of men engaged in the work of this age? Can hell itself afford a worse savour than is sent forth by many of them?”
Answer 1. Very many who have been engaged never pretended to ought of this principle, but followed professedly on carnal (at best, rational and human) accounts solely. Now, these being men of the world, and being fallen into days of notable temptations, no wonder if their lusts work and tumultuate, and that to purpose. The principle is not to suffer for their miscarriages who renounce it.
Ans. 2. There was a mixed multitude which in this business went up with the people of God, who pretended to this principle indeed, and talked and spake of the interest of Christ; but, knowing nothing of the power of it, when these men were brought into the wilderness, and there met with provocations on the one hand and temptations on the other, they fell a lusting: and, indeed, they have pursued and acted their lusts to purpose also; which have been, indeed, the more abominable, in that some of them have still the impudence to pretend this principle of faith as to the interest of Christ, which teacheth no such things, nor produceth any such fruits as they abound withal.
Ans. 3. Many who have really the power of this principle in them, have yet been overpowered by temptations, and have brought forth fruits directly opposite unto that obedience, and holiness, and self-denial, which the principle spoken of tends unto. This, for the most part, hath fallen out since deliverance came in; and so the vigour of faith, raised by daily exercise, was much decayed. None, therefore, of these things can be charged on the principle itself, whose natural, genuine effects we have experienced to be such as no corrupt fancy or imagination could produce.
Many other reasons of this nature might be insisted on; but this is my first ground.
Secondly. Because in this much work hath been really done for Christ. Whatever have been the designs of any or all of the sons of men, Christ hath done so much for himself, as I can from thence with confidence conclude that the whole hath related unto him. Indeed, in the work he doth, his interest ofttimes lies very much in the dark, yea, is utterly hid from the instruments he employs. Little did the Medes and Persians think, in the destruction of Babylon, that they were executing the vengeance of Zion, and [avenging] the blood of Jerusalem, a poor city ruined sixty or seventy years before. And when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, little did they think whose work they had in hand. And whatever instruments thought or intended, Christ hath done notable work for himself. The destruction of false worship as established by a law, the casting down of combinations for persecution, are no small works. I say, much work hath been done for Christ. There was a generation of men that were risen to a strange height in the contempt of the Spirit and ways of Christ, — combined in a resolution to oppose and persecute all the appearance of him, either by light or holiness, in his saints; setting up an outside, formal worship, in opposition unto the spiritual worship of the gospel. And upon the account of the light and truth which he began to command forth in those days, an unspeakable aggravation attended their guilt; — in the pursuit of whose design some were imprisoned, some banished into the ends of the earth, some beggared, many ruined and given up to death itself. Now, what work hath Christ made in these days on the men of that, generation? what vengeance hath he taken on them? This is certain, not to insist on particulars, that whatever new sort or combination of men may rise up in their spirit and design, and whatever success they may obtain, yet the generality of the men of that provocation, at least the heads and rulers of it, are already sealed up under the indignation of the Lord Jesus, and the vengeance he takes for Zion. I shall not insist on more particulars. The wasting and destruction of the most eminent persecutors of the saints; the ruin and destruction of civil and ecclesiastical fabrics and combinations of men designing the opposing and persecuting of the Spirit of Christ; the removal of all that false worship under the pretence whereof they persecuted all the spiritual appearances of Christ, — hath been all work done for him.
Thirdly. The breaking forth of much glorious gospel light under this dispensation evinces its relation unto Christ. Look upon the like outward work at any other time in the world. What is the issue of war, blood, confusion? Is it not darkness, ignorance, blindness, barrenness? Hath it not been so in other places of the world? But now, in the coming forth of Christ, though he hath a sword in one hand, yet he hath the sun in the other; though he cause darkness in the destruction and desolation that attend his vengeance, yet he gives light and faith to his saints, Mal. iv. 1, 2. Christ never comes for vengeance only; his chief design is love. Love brings forth light, and that which reveals him more to his saints, and which endears his saints more to him. But I have manifested before that he brings light with him; and he hath done so in this dispensation. Light as to the mysteries of the gospel, — light as to the riches of his grace, — light as to the way of his worship, of his ordinances and institutions, hath broken out amongst us; — as Dan. xii. 4. It is such a day he speaks of.
I know how obnoxious this observation is to a sad objection:— “Call you these days of light and knowledge? Say you that truth hath shined forth or been diffused? Is it increased or more scattered abroad? Is not the contrary true?”
Ans. It cannot be denied but that many grievous and enormous abominations have been broached in these times, under the name and pretence of light and truth. But is that singular to these days? hath it not been so upon every appearance of Christ? As the light hath been, so hath been the pretence of it in error and darkness. No sooner was Christ come in the flesh, but instantly there were many false Christs: “Lo, here is Christ,” and, “There is Christ,” was common language in those days; as, “This is the only way,” and “That is the only way,” is now; — and yet the true Christ was in the world. And whatever light at any time comes forth, some mock; — false light about the same thing immediately breaks forth. So was it in the first spreading of the gospel, so in the late Reformation, and so in our days; and this is no evidence against the coming of Christ, but rather for it. For, —
1. Satan pours out this flood of abominations on purpose to bring an ill report upon the truth and light that is sent out by Christ. The great prejudice against truth in the world is, that it is new. “He seems to be a setter forth of strange” (or new) “gods,” say they of Paul, because he preached Jesus and the resurrection. To increase this prejudice, the devil, with it or after it, sends forth his darkness; which, first, enables the world to load the truth itself with reproaches, whilst it comes accompanied with such follies as though it also were of the number; secondly, it disables weak friends to find out and close with the truth amidst so many false pretenders. Where much false money is abroad in the world, every man cannot discern and receive only that which is good. Much less will men always keep safe when they are so unstable and uncertain, as they are for the most part, about choosing of truth.
2. God permits it so to be, —
(1.) For the trial of careless professors. There must be heresies, that the approved may be tried. Most men are apt to content themselves with a lazy profession. They will hold to the truth whilst nothing appears but truth. Let error come with the same pretences and advantage, — they are for that also. Now, God delights to judge such persons even in this world, to manifest that they are not of the truth, — that they never received it in the love thereof. And he sifts and tries the elect by it; and that for many advantages not now to be insisted on. As, first, That they may experiment the efficacy of truth; secondly, His power in their preservation; thirdly, That they may hold truth upon firm and abiding grounds.
(2.) God permits it, to set a greater lustre and esteem upon truth. Truth, when it is sought after, when it is contended for, when it is experimented in its power and efficacy, is rendered glorious and beautiful; and all these, with innumerable other advantages, it hath by the competition that is set up against it by error. When men keep to the truth, by the power of God and the sense of its sweetness and usefulness to their own souls, and shall see some by their errors turned aside to one abomination, some to another, — some made to wither by them and under them, — they discern the excellency of the truth they embrace. So that, notwithstanding this exception, the observation stands good.
Fourthly. It appears from the general nature of the dispensation itself, which clearly answers the predictions that are of the great works to be accomplished in the latter days, upon the account of Christ and his church. This is a general head, whose particulars I shall not enter into. They cannot be managed without a consideration of all at least of the most principal prophecies of the last times, and of the kingdom of Christ, as to its enlargement, beauty, and glory in them; — too large a task for me to enter upon at present.
And these are some of the grounds on which I am persuaded that the alterations and providential dissolutions of these days have related unto and do lie in a subserviency to the interest of Christ and his church, whatever be the issue of the individual persons who have been engaged therein.
Come we now to the uses.
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