The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god; Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.
~ Psalm 9:17, ~ Psalm 44:20-21
Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
~ 2 Timothy 1:13, Revelation 3:2-3, Revelation 2:5
Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
~ Romans 11:22
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
~ Revelation 3:19
An Humble Testimony Unto the Goodness and Severity of God in His Dealing with Sinful Churches and Nations; or, The Only Way to Deliver a Sinful Nation from Utter Ruin by Impendent Judgments: In a Discourse on the Words of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by John Owen. 1681. Sermon XVI. The following is an excerpt from his work.
“Cry aloud, spare not; lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” — Isa. lviii. 1. “In publico discrimine omnis homo miles est.”
Luke xiii. 1–5.
There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
VI. I shall therefore in the next place, to bring all things nearer home, inquire, What is the nature of that repentance and reformation which at this time God requires of us all, that we may not perish in his sore displeasure.
After a devastation made of the treasure of the Roman empire by sundry tyrants successively, Vespasian coming to the government, acquainted the senate that there was need of so many millions of money, that the empire might stand; not that it might flourish and grow vigorous, whereunto much more was required, but that it might be pre- served from dissolution and ruin. And I shall propose, not what is requisite to render the church of God in this nation orderly, beautiful, and vigorous, but only what is necessary that it may stand and live, by a deliverance from desolating judgments. And,
First, The repentance which in any case God requireth absolutely, is that which is internal and real, in sincere conversion unto himself, accompanied with fruits meet for such repentance. So is it declared, Ezek. xviii. 30, 31. Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?’ A new heart and a new spirit, or real internal conversion unto God by the grace of the covenant, is required in this repentance, as the renunciation and relinquishment of all iniquities must be the fruit of it. So also is it expressed, Isa. i. 16, 17. Internal purification of the heart, with the practice of universal obedience, and abstinence of all sin, is that which God requires.
This is that repentance which was the subject of the ministry of John the Baptist; on the neglect whereof he threatened the people with final excision, which accordingly not long after befell them. Matt. iii. 8—10. God doth not require a feigned repentance, or that which is merely outward and temporary. In this case, see Joel, ii. 12, 13. But,
Secondly, Where there is repentance and reformation that are real in the root or cause of them, which is an effectual conviction of sin, and sense of ensuing approaching judgments, giving testimony of sincerity in its fruits by an abstinence from open provoking sins, and the performance of known duties, unto its sincerity; in both which a sense and reverence of God is owned, though it be not in many, in the most, it may be in few, absolutely sincere and holy, yet may it prevail to the turning away of threatened judgments, at least for a season.
These things therefore are required unto this repentance.
1. A real conviction of sin in them that are called unto it, or do make profession of it. If this lie not in the foundation, no expression of repentance, no profession of reformation, is of any value in the sight of God. Yea, it is a mocking of him, which is the highest provocation. Men without this conviction may be driven to somewhat that looks like repentance and reformation; as the keeping of days of fasting or humiliation by outward force or compulsion of law; but there is nothing in what they do of what we inquire after. By such days and ways they shall never save the nation, Jer. iii. 10.
2. A real sense of God’s displeasure, and the approach of desolating judgments. It is not enough that we have a conviction and sense of our own sins, but we must have them also of the sins of the nation, whereby God is provoked to anger; and apprehensions of his displeasure are to influence our minds in all that we go about herein. Unless these abide and dwell in our minds, unless they accompany us continually in all our ways and occasions, rise and lie down with us, we shall not cordially engage in this duty.
3. Real reformation is an abstinence from all known sin, and the avowed fruits of a reformed conversation are required hereunto, Matt. iii. 10.
4. That it be persisted in, Hos. vi. 1.
On these suppositions, that this repentance is useful unto the end proposed, is made fully evident in the instances of Nineveh, and of Ahab, 1 Kings xxi. 27—29. Ahab in his repentance and humiliation, manifested a deep sense of the guilt of sin, and divine displeasure. ‘ Seest thou,’ saith God to Elijah, how he humbleth himself?’ It might easily be known and taken notice of. There is a humiliation described by the prophet Isaiah, chap. Iviii. 1 —5. which God abhorreth, and which shall be profitable for nothing. Such have been the humiliations among us for the most part. But, although it be the duty of every man to endeavour that his repentance and reformation do consist in a sincere, internal, cordial conversion unto God, which the divine calls do intend, without which it will not be of advantage unto his own soul, as unto his eternal condition, yet as unto the turning away of temporal calamities, at least as to the suspension of them, such a public repentance and reformation as evidence themselves in their fruits, do proceed from a real sense of sin and judgment, may be useful and prevalent. In brief, the repentance which God requireth with respect to his covenant, that the souls of men may be saved, unto the glory of his grace by Jesus Christ, is internal, spiritual, supernatural, whereby the whole soul is renewed, changed, and turned unto himself. But as God is the supreme governor of the world in temporal things, with respect unto the dispensation of his providence in mercies and judgments, there may be a repentance and reformation wherein his glory is vindicated in a visible compliance with his calls and warnings, and an acknowledgment of him in his righteous judgments, which may be of use unto the end proposed. Besides, wherever there is a general reformation of life sincerely attempted, it is to be believed, that in many it is spiritual and saving.
3. The repentance and reformation required, must be suited unto the state and condition of those who are called thereunto. All are to consider what is amiss in them, as unto their own state and condition; Isa. Ivii. 7. ‘ Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts;’ every one his own way and thoughts in their present condition.
Wherefore, the persons intended in this call are of two sorts.
(1.) Such as are wicked as unto their state and condition, persons unconverted, unregenerate, not born of God.
(2). And as are sincere believers, really converted unto God.
The call of God is unto both sorts; repentance and reformation are required of them both; and they are so in a suitableness unto their different conditions.
In each of these sorts there are various degrees of sin and provocation. Some of the first sort are openly flagitious public, habitual sinners, such as whose sins go beforehand unto judgment,’ as the apostle speaks, 1 Tim. v. 24. And some are more sober in their outward conversation. The call of God respects them in all their several degrees of sinning. ‘ Let the wicked man forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts;’ those which are his own, which are proper to him. None doubts, unless it be themselves, that the first sort ought to reform themselves the generality of men cry out against them, and fear, that for their sins, especially if they be persons in high places, the judgments of God will come upon the land.
But if those of the other sort also, who are apt to justify themselves, because they run not out into the same excess of riot with them, do not apply themselves unto the repentance and reformation which are proper unto their state and condition, the will of God is not answered in his warnings. Yet it is the impenitency of this sort of men, that is the most dangerous symptom at this day in the nation. Their unshaken security keeps all that truly fear God in a trembling posture.
Thirdly, It is so with churches peculiarly reformed, and true believers in them; as also all other true believers, who walk more at large. They also are called unto repentance and reformation, and that according to their state, and their respective degrees therein; for some are more guilty than others in decays of faith, love, zeal, holiness, and fruitful- ness in obedience, with conformity to the world. And if there should be a public reformation in the nation, as to outward provoking sin; yet if these of this sort do not reform themselves, according as their condition doth require, the desired deliverance would scarcely be obtained. And woe be to such persons, if, through their neglect of their duty, the whole nation should be exposed to ruin. Wherefore, Fourthly, The reformation called for, as the condition of escaping of impendent judgments, must be universal, at least general; among stall sorts and degrees, all orders and estates of men. All sorts have sinned, all sorts are threatened; and therefore repentance is required of all, if we would not perish. It is so of magistrates and ministers, of nobles and common people, in city and country; and that to be evidenced by its fruits; so as that it may be said of us, See you not how they humble themselves?
But if this be so, some may be apt to say. It seems if all do not set their hearts and hands unto this work, if all sorts do not engage in it, there is no good effect to be hoped or looked for. But when shall we see any such thing? When shall we see the generality of all sorts of men in this nation cordially to go about this work of repentance and reformation? As good therefore let it alone, as go about to attempt it.
I answer,1. If you cannot be content to perish with the impenitent and unreformed, you may choose to do as they do. If you would avoid their punishment, you must avoid their sin, especially their refusal to turn on the call of God.
2. Some must begin this work, and be exemplary unto others. And blessed are they of the Lord, who shall receive the grace and honour so to do. Let us not then sit looking on others, to see what they will do, but immediately engage unto our own duty.
3. The duty herein of no one private person, much less of whole churches, shall be lost, though the nation should not be reformed in general. For,
(l.)They shall deliver their own souls, and if they be not saved (as I believe they would be in an eminent manner) from somewhat of the outward part of a public calamity, yet they should be from all the wrath and displeasure of God in it.
(2.) A few, for aught I know, one man, may sometimes prevail with God, for the suspending at least, of judgments threatened unto a whole nation. And hereby,
(3.) They shall give unto others a farther season of repentance, which God can bless and make effectual unto them. There are, therefore, blessed encouragements unto all churches, unto all individual persons, to endeavour a compliance with the present calls of God, though the body of the people should not be gathered.
VII. Our next inquiry is. Whence or from what causes such a reformation may be expected, as may be useful unto the turning away of impendent judgments? And these causes are either supreme or subordinate.
The supreme cause hereof must be the sovereign grace of God, in fresh effusions of his Spirit on the souls of men, to turn them unto himself. Without this, all other ways and means of attaining it will be in vain. This is every wherein the Scripture attested unto, as the only supreme efficient cause of the conversion of men unto God.
And unto that state are things come to amongst us, that unless we are made partakers of it in a somewhat more than ordinary manner, our breaches cannot be healed. Whether we have grounds or no to expect any such thing, shall be afterward considered.
At present there seems to be no other hopes of it, but only because it is a sovereign act of divine grace, which hath been exemplified in the church of old. There seems indeed rather, as yet, to be a withdrawing of the communications of the Holy Spirit in effectually prevalent grace on the part of God, and a contempt of them on the part of men; but sovereignty can conquer all obstacles. This way did God heal and recover his church of old, when all other means, all mercies, afflictions, and judgments failed; Ezek. xxxvi. 22—29. And it may at present be for a lamentation, that this work of grace is so disregarded by the most, so despised by many, and so little cried for by the residue. But without it, in vain shall we use any other remedies; we shall not be healed. It is not the best projections of men for reformation by this or that order or state of things in church or state, that without this, will be of advantage unto us.
The subordinate causes hereof must be the diligent discharge of their duty by magistrates and ministers.
I shall but name these things, that I give no place to complaints or indignation, though just and almost necessary. And,
First, As unto the furtherance of it by magistrates, it must consist in three things.
1. By evidencing that the promotion of it is their interest. Unless it be understood so to be, whatever else they do in the countenance of it will be of no use nor advantage. For this is that which the generality will conform unto or comply withal. And if it be once understood that reformation is what they desire, what they design, what they place their chief interest in, as it was with David, Hezekiah, Josiah, and others, it will have an influence on the people, not inferior unto what the design of Jeroboam, in pursuit of his corrupt interest, had on the people of Israel to sin. All other means are dead, unless they are enlivened by an evidence of reality in the minds of magistrates, and a high concernment in the prosperity of their work. Let them make what laws and orders they please, appoint what outward means they can devise, unless it be made uncontrollably evident, that it is their cordial design and what they place their chief interest in, they will not be available. Add hereunto,
2. The due execution of laws against flagitious immoralities. And,
3. An encouraging example in their own persons; without which all things will grow worse and worse, whatever else be done. Men seem to be weary, in some measure, of the dismal effects of sin; but they seem not to be weary of sin. Unto this weariness they yet want motives, encouragements, and examples. And it is strange unto me, that in all our fears and dangers, in the divisions of our councils and confusions amongst all sorts of men, under a high profession of zeal for the protestant religion in the nation, and the preservation of it, that this only expedient for our relief and safety lies wholly neglected.
As unto ministers, the faithful discharge of his duty in preaching’, prayer, and example is required hereunto. Should I stay to shew the necessity hereof at this season; as also what is required thereunto, what care, what diligence, what watchfulness, what compassion, what zeal, what exercise of all gospel grace, with the over-neglect of these things among many, it would take up a volume, rather than become a place in this present inquiry.
But I proceed unto that which is more our immediate concernment.
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. xxvi. 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, Isa. v. 19. 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, that we may know it.’ 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 hath 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 of ungodly men;’ Jude 14, 15. And this message was scoffed at, as is evident, be- cause no reformation ensued thereon, until the flood took them all away. So was it wuth Noah, and his preaching and so it hath 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 ‘ Philopatr.’ So the apostle Peter gives us an account both of what was past, and what would afterward come to pass, 2 Pet. iii. 3. unto 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 abhorreth this sort of men. They are said to be ‘ far from righteousness,’ Isa. xlvi. 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 Isa. xxviii. 14, 15. Deut. xxix. 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 weak- ness, pusillanimity, or superstition to concern themselves in these warnings of providence, or the explication of them by the word; but their judgment sleepeth 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 filleth them with a spirit of horror and fear, that they shall tremble like the leaves of the forest. In ti)at 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?’ 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 xxii. 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 approveth of, Isa. Ixvi. 2. 5. Jer. v. 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, Deut. xviii. 66, 67. which is the must 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,’ saith he, hath roared, who will not fear?’ Amos iii. 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 ofa 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 concernment of their own in them, Psal. xxviii. 5. Jer. xxxvi. 24. The land is filled 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 mean time, 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. i. 24. Of this frame the prophet complains, as that which God will surely avenge, Isa. xxvi. 11. ‘ 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.’
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 is 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 if, 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 voice of the Lord crieth unto the city, the man of wisdom shall see thy name;’ Micah vi. 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, Psal. Ixv. 9. Deut. xii. 10. Hos. iv.19. Psal.cvii.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 doth lie, and what it is that he trusts unto. But saith the prophet unto such persons, The Lord hath rejected thy confidences, and thou shalt not prosper in them ‘ Jer. ii. 37.