« AnteriorContinuar »
i. Those sins which by way of defect quench this grace, and here I would mention, hardness of heart, Prov. 28. 14. “ happy is the man that feareth always : but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief;" there is the opposition that is made between them. This hardness of heart
1. Is either natural, that which is an hereditary disease: all men have a heart of stone. This every one brings into the world with him; and it is a wonder of grace, if every one doth not carry it out of the world with them.
2. Voluntary, acquired by frequent acts of sin; men first wound their consciences, and then they sear them by repeated acts of sin. As you know that ice which at first is so tremulous and feeble that it will not bear a pebble, yet by a few days freezing will bear a cart; so it is here, • 3. This hardness is penul, inflicted by God himself, not by the infusion of sin, but by the suspension of grace; and this is contrary to the fear of God, by way of defect. The scriptures represent this hardness to us by three similitudes; first, sometimes by an iron sinew in the neck, and so it connotes an inflexibility to God's commands; sometimes by the hardness of an adamant, and so it implies an impenetrableness to the motions of God's Spirit ; soinetimes by a brawn upon the heart, by a fatness, and so it imports an insensibility of God's threatenings. Now there are two parts of it wherein it opposeth God's fear ;security, which is a privation of God's fear ;--presumption, when there is an accession of boldness.
Security, is one branch of hardness of heart; this is a privation of God's fear. I mean by security, this, when a sinner can sleep out all God's thunder ; when all the threatenings of the word are to a soul as colours to a blind man: for who is so blind as he that will not see? When they are as a tale to a deaf man; and who is so deaf as he that will not hear ? When a person is like that secure emperor, who when he was in the midst of his enemies, yet he proclaimed altum silentium belli, deep silence of war, there must be no discourse of arms : so it is with such a soul, the denouncing of judgments, and the threatenings of the word, and the decision of the great and terrible day, are to such spirits but as a vain fancy, as if there was no existence of these things but in the brain of him that preacheth them. This is that secure wretch who wants the fear of God,
Allow me next to mention presumption, when there is not only a mere privation of fear, but an accesion of boldness. Presumption is security strained up to the highest pitch, it is security dipped in a scarlet dye. Now there is a three-fold presumption ;-It is either in the thought ;-Or in the discourse ;Or in the actions of men; and it proportionably opposeth the fear of God.
1. In the thoughts. There are verba mentalia, whispers of the soul, which are not intelligible by the world. There are presumptuous principles according to which men live, and this in scripture is the voice of the heart, Psalm 50. 21. “ Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself;" what is the meaning of that? The principle that governs the life of a wicked man is this, that God is like unto himself, he draws such à pattern of God as is conformed to his own fancy, he makes a God all of mercy, and sets up this idol in his soul, and bows down himself to it; he robs one attribute to enrich another; he takes away God's justice and holiness, that he may enlarge his goodness; this is presumption in thought, such a person doth .not fear God.
2. There is a presumption in our discourses, and that principally in two things: (1.) When the sinner after his commission of sin justifies it; he is not only an actor of sin, but a defender of it. That man enters into the lists with God that doth defend what he hates; or (2.) when a person is arrived to such a degree of presumption as to boast of his sin. And yet how many are there among us who are thus presumers, that boast how many pliant souls they have drawn to their snares, how many weak brains they have conquered by their cups? These are persons that venture upon a double damnation, first for committing sin, and then for boasting of it. What an irrational thing is it for a man to boast of his sins ?. It is as if an imprisoned felon should boast of his fetters, as if an infected person should boast of his plague-sores, as if a possessed person should boast of his devil; yet we have a number of those persons amongst us, who are heirs to those prostitutes, the very naming of whom drew tears from St. Paul's eyes, who 'glory in their shame.'
3. There are those who are presumptuous sinners in their actions. Now of these there are two sorts; (1.) Such as venture upon sins notwithstanding all those flashes of brimstone which
are cast upon their faces; such as run to the forbidden fruit, notwithstanding those angels (I mean the preachers) who stand with flaming swords in their mouths, threatening God's judgments against those that venture upon them. These are the presuming wretches who look upon theinselves, or at least-wise demean themselves, as if they were stronger than God, as if they were able with an army of lusts, to oppose God with millions of angels; these want this fear. We read in the scripture concerning some persons, who had brows of brass, and faces harder than a rock, who were impenetrable against all God's threatenings; and we have a generation of such among us, who will tear the blessed name of God, and dismember his Son between their teeth : and notwithstanding all the threatenings of the word, yet they ven
their lusts as if they were unconcerned in these things; these are they which have conquered conscience, that have frustrated all the methods of grace, and when ministers excite them to use the reason of men and the faith of christians, they turn all into a mock and a jeer. These certainly are eminently void of the fear of God, and in their kind they are worse than the devils themselves; for the “devils tremble" under the apprehension of this truth, that “God will come to judge them,” Jam. 2. 19. but these daring wretches venture upon their lusts, notwithstanding all warnings that are given to them. (2.) The presumer in his actions, is he that doth encourage himself in sin, by the patronage of grace; who discourseth thus in his heart, though not with his tongue (notwithstanding those various judgments and threatenings which are made known by the ministers of the gospel) certainly there is mercy with God, and he that made them will save them; certainly the rule of the last day's account is not so strict as ministers would make it, there will be a greater liberty; and thus they venture upon the ways of sin, and spiders as they are, draw poison from the flowers of mercy itself; this is the presuming wretch that wants the fear of God. Now to such persons, let me only by way of antidote and cure, present these few directions.
First. Seriously reflect upon those representations which the scripture makes of God, as a God of immaculate holiness, of impartial justice, of infinite power; and press these upon your souls. As a God of immaculate holiness. In that attribute all other terrible attributes are rooted; it is the holiness of God that excites his justice, and arms his power : this is that attribute wherein the creature is most defective, and wherein God doth most excel; and therefore this attribute will produce a fear of God. Do but argue with thyself, that God whose holiness is his glory, before whom the stars are not clean, will that God embrace thee with thy lusts ? Certainly the holiness of God is more dear to him than the salvation of ten thousand worlds. So consider God's justice, that justice that must award and decide men to their eternal state; that justice, that is so eagleeyed, as to discover all thy crimes, with their aggravations. Consider his power, he that is able not only to resolve thee into thy first principles of nothing (for it were happy for thee, if that were thy punishment) but he that can cast body and soul into hell-fire. Let these considerations raise the fear of God in thy soul. There is such a passage in scripture, as this, “O earth tremble at the presence of the Lord.” Psal. 114. 7. If the earth which is so vast and durable a body, if the earth which is incapable of sin (only being stained with the impurities of men) if this earth should fear and tremble at God's presence, how much more should sinful man, who is lighter than vanity, sinful man, who hath provoked the eyes of God's glory; who hath brought a curse upon the whole creation, what reason hath a man to fear? Know thus much, there is no greater contempt of God in the world, than not to fear him. I do not wonder to see a superior to slight his inferior ; but to see a slave not to fear his prince, this is wonderful ; so to see a worm of the earth, a little breathing dust, not to fear an infinite God, this is stupendous.
Secondly. Attend upon an awakening ministry. Ministers should be sons of thunder (not of music) to excite the fear of God in the hearts of men. I confess I look upon nothing as more dangerous and deadly, than a general, soft and toothless ministry: but for the ministry that is full of life and spirits, that ministry which is answerable to the heart of God, this is the proper means which is designed by the Lord for the raising of this fear in men.
Thirdly. Exercise faith in God's threatenings. Believe the truth of the threatenings, and the power of the threatener. Do not fancy as if God would lose a dram of his truth for the saving of the world, as if he would recede from the sharpness and severity of his threatenings. “ Heaven and earth shall pass away, , but not one jot or tittle” of all the threatenings of the “law of God shall pass away.” Know that the law which was first given in fire, shall be at the last required in fire; and then secure and presumptuous sinners shall find all their hopes and all their bravadoes vanish. To conclude, impress this upon your spirits, how infinitely dangerous it is for a person not to fear God until he feels his displeasure ? What a sad thing it is for a man, when death is the first symptom of his disease ? So how inexpressibly tragical is it when a soul never fears God till he feels him? Then it will be too late to have this passion raised in your hearts. The judgments of God to many persons, are like a sleeping lion, that awakes and destroys at once; and therefore fear him that is able thus to deal with you.
Opening slavish fear in respect of God, or men, or ourselves; which oppo.
seth the fear of God by way of excess.
ii. I Now proceed to the next sort of sins, that I shall caution you against, and they are those which oppose the fear of God by way of excess. The fear of God stands between these sins, as a temperate diet opposeth either an immoderate repletion, or else an unnecessary and a prejudicial abstinence: for as a moderate diet keeps the body in its strength and activity, whereas an immoderate repletion produceth surfeits, fevers, and other fatal diseases; so on the other side, total abstinence instead of preventing diseases starveth the body: so doth the fear of God, when it is in that temper that the scripture requires, keep the soul active, vigorous, and enlarged in the ways of obedience; but when this fear shall be excessive, then it produceth many deadly