And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
~ Genesis 4:10, Genesis 9:5-6, Hebrews 12:24
Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents: I have not found it by secret search, but upon all these. And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. Be merciful, O LORD, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel’s charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them. Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents;
~ Jeremiah 2:34, Deuteronomy 21:7-8, Jeremiah 19:4
For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.
~ 1 John 3:11-12
I will bring it forth, saith the LORD of hosts, and it shall enter into the house of the thief, and into the house of him that sweareth falsely by my name: and it shall remain in the midst of his house, and shall consume it with the timber thereof and the stones thereof.
~ Zechariah 5:4
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.”
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.
~ Luke xiii. 1–5
It is a part and duty of spiritual wisdom, as also an evidence of a due reverence of God, to take notice of extraordinary occurrences in the dispensations of his providence; for they are instructive warnings, and of great importance in his government of the world. In them the “voice of the Lord crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see his name.” And there is a mark left on them, — as profligate persons, — who will not see when his hand is so lifted up. An example of this wisdom is given us here in our blessed Saviour, who, on the report that was made unto him of some severe providential accidents, then newly fallen out, gives an exposition of the mind of God in them, with an application of them unto the present duty of them that heard him, and ours therein.
Some things may be observed in general, to give light into the context, and the design of our Saviour in this holy discourse.
I. The time when the things mentioned did fall out, and wherein our Saviour passed his judgment on them.
1. It was a time of great sin, — of the abounding of all sorts of sins. The nation as such, in its rulers and rule; the church as such, in its officers, order, and worship; and the generality of the people, in their personal capacities, were all overwhelmed in provoking sins. Hypocrisy, oppression, cruelty, superstition, uncleanness, persecution, impenitency, and security, — all proceeding from unbelief, — had filled the land, and defiled it. We have a sufficient account of this state of things in the story of the gospel, so as that it needs no other confirmation. Yea, so wicked were the people, and so corrupt the church-state, and so impenitent were the generality of them therein, that it suited the righteousness and holiness of God to revenge on that generation, not only their own sins, but the sins also of all wicked persecutors from the foundation of the world; — a thing which he doth not do but on high provocations. Luke xi. 50, 51, “That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel, unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.”
There is in this commination an appearance of severity beyond the rule established, Exod. xx. 5. There, God declares that he is “a jealous God;” which title he assumes to himself with respect unto the highest provocations; — that he “will visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate him.” But here, the vengeance and punishment due unto the sins of a hundred generations, is threatened to be inflicted on that which was present.
Something, in our passage, may be spoken for the vindication of divine justice herein, seeing we may be more concerned in that divine commination than the most are aware.
(1.) The case here is particular. That in the commandment respects the common case of all false worshippers and their posterity; but this respects persecution, unto blood and death, of the true worshippers of God. Now, though God be very much provoked with the sins of false worshippers, yet he can either bear with them, or pass over their sins with lesser punishments, or at least for a long season; but when they come to persecution, and the blood of them who worship him in spirit and in truth, in his appointed season he will not spare them; — their own, and the iniquities of their predecessors, shall be avenged on them; which will be the end of the anti-christian church-state after all its present triumph.
(2.) All those who, from the beginning of the world, suffered unto blood on the account of religion, suffered in the cause of Christ, for their faith in him, and confession of him; namely, as he was promised unto the church. Unto him and his office did Abel, by faith, bear testimony in the bloody sacrifice that he offered. So it is said that Moses, in his danger for killing the Egyptian, bare “the reproach of Christ,” because he did it in faith of the promised seed; which was Christ. They were, therefore, all slain in the cause of Christ. And whereas this generation was to slay Christ himself, and did so, they did, therein, approve of and justify all the blood that was shed in the same cause from the foundation of the world; and made themselves justly liable unto the punishment due unto it. Hence, our Saviour tells them, Matt. xxiii. 35, that they, the men of that generation, slew Zechariah, who was actually slain many hundred years before.
(3.) Our blessed Saviour mentions Abel and Zechariah particularly. This Zechariah, called the son of Barachias, was undoubtedly the Zechariah mentioned, 2 Chron. xxiv. 20–22. For concerning those two alone it is observed, that the one dead, and the other dying, “cried for vengeance.” So God testifieth of the blood of Abel, Gen. iv. 10. And Zechariah, when he died, said, “The Lord look upon it, and require it.” Hence the apostle affirms, that “Abel being dead, yet speaketh,” Heb. xi. 4; that is, his blood did so, — it did so then, and it spake for vengeance, as he intimates, chap. xii. 24. It did so before and until the destruction of Jerusalem: for in the rejection and absolute destruction of that apostatised church and people, the blood of all that suffered under the Old Testament was expiated. Abel’s blood cries no more; nor doth God look any more on the blood of Zechariah to require it.
But the mine voice and cry is now continued by another sort of men; namely, those who have suffered in the cause of Christ since his coming, according to the promise, Rev. vi. 9, 10. And this cry shall be continued until the appointed time doth come for the utter destruction of the antichristian, apostatised church-state.
When a sinful church or people have passed the utmost bounds of divine patience and forbearance, they shall fall into such abominable, crying sins and provocations as shall render the utmost vengeance beneath their deserts. So Josephus affirms of this generation, after they had rejected and slain the Lord Christ, that they fell into such a hell of provoking abominations, that if the Romans had not come and destroyed them, God would have sent fire and brimstone upon them from heaven, as he did on Sodom.
And we may, by the way, observe from hence, —
It is a dangerous thing to live in the times of declining churches, when they are hastening unto their fatal period in judgments; such as will inevitably befall them all and every one.
And it is so for these three reasons:—
(1.) Because such times are perilous through temptations from the abounding of the lusts of men in all uncleanness and wickedness. So the apostle states it, 2 Tim. iii. 1–5. If any think they are free from danger, because as yet they feel no evil, whilst the lusts of men professing Christian religion visibly and openly abound and rage in the world, they will be mistaken.
(2.) Though destruction do not immediately befall them, yet, when they have passed the time of divine patience designing their reformation, they shall precipitate themselves into bloody abominations, as did the church of the Jews.
(3.) Judgment shall at length overtake them, and God will revenge on them the sins and provocations — especially the persecutions and blood — of them that went before them, and led them into their apostasy. So when he shall come to destroy mystical Babylon, or the antichristian church-state, it is said, that “in her was found the blood of the prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth,” Rev. xviii. 24. Even the blood of saints that was shed by pagan Rome shall be avenged on antichristian Rome, after she hath espoused the cause and walked in the way of the other, justifying in her own practice what they had done.
2. It was a time wherein judgments were near approaching; — so our Saviour himself affirms it to have been, Luke xix. 42–44, “If thou hadst known, … in this thy day.” They had now but a day, and that now almost ready to expire, though they saw it not, nor would believe it. But the day of their desolation approached continually, and when the apostle wrote his Epistle to the Hebrews, was making its entrance upon them, chap. x. 25, “Ye see the day approaching.” And we may hence learn, —
(1.) That in the approaching of desolating judgments on a sinful, provoking church or nation, God is pleased to give previous intimations of his displeasure, as well in the works of providence as by the rule of his word. Such were those here so interpreted by our Saviour in such a season.
This, I say, is the ordinary process of divine Providence; and, it may be, no nation, heathen or Christian, ever utterly perished without divine warnings of their approaching desolation Some, indeed, seem to be taken away with a sudden surprisal, as God threateneth, Ps. lviii. 9–11.
But this is from their own security, and not for want of warnings. So the old world before the flood had warnings sufficient of their destruction, by the preaching of Noah, and the building of the ark, by which he “condemned the world,” Heb. xi. 7, or left them inexcusable, to divine vengeance. Yet they took no notice of these things, but were surprised with the flood, as if they had never heard or seen any thing that should give them warning of it; as our Saviour declares, Matt. xxiv. 38, 39. And when the time comes of the destruction of mystical Babylon, she shall say, in that very day wherein her judgments come upon her, “I sit as a queen, and shall see no sorrow,” notwithstanding all her warnings in the pouring out of the vials of previous judgments, Rev. xviii. 7, 8.
(2.) It is the height of security, in such a time and season, either to neglect the consideration of extraordinary providences, or to misinterpret them, as any thing but tokens of approaching judgments, if not prevented.
Nothing can be questioned herein without an arraignment of the divine wisdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the interpretation and application that he makes of these accidents. No doubt but they were neglected and despised by the most as common things; — to take any great notice of such occurrences is esteemed pusillanimity or superstition. So it is by many at this day, wherein all things, as we shall see afterward, are filled with tokens of divine displeasure; but things will come shortly unto another account. In the meantime, it is safe to follow this divine example, so as to find out sacred warnings in such providential occurrences.
II. The providential accidents spoken of are two, and of two sorts.
1. The first was that wherein the bloody cruelty of men had a hand, — “The Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” When this was done, on what occasion, and what was the number of the persons so slain, the Scripture is silent. However, it is certain that it was done at Jerusalem; for sacrifices might not be offered anywhere else. Thither came the Galileans with their sacrifices; — that is, either the beasts which they brought to the priests to offer for them, for they might not offer sacrifices themselves; or the paschal lamb, which they might slay themselves.
Whilst they were engaged in this work, Pilate, the bloody Roman governor (on what occasion or provocation is unknown), came upon them, and slew them in a cruel manner; intimated in that expression, that “he mingled their blood with their sacrifices.” And this providence is the more remarkable, in that it fell out whilst they were engaged in their sacred worship; — which carries an indication of divine severity. And, it may be, there was, as it is in the ruin of mankind every day, occasion taken for it from the difference that was between two wicked governors, Pilate and Herod, unto whose jurisdiction these Galileans did belong, in whose blood Pilate thought to revenge himself on his enemy. However, they both combined at last in the killing of Christ, — as others use to do in the world; and so made themselves friends, leaving their example to their successors.
2. The other was a mere effect of divine Providence; — the death of eighteen men by the fall of a tower in Siloam; that is, a place of waters, and a running stream in Jerusalem itself. And our Lord Jesus Christ declares herein, not only that all such accidents are disposed by the providence of God, but that he speaks in them for our instruction.
Both these, as they were warnings, as we shall see, so they were figures of the approaching destruction of the city and people; for that, in the first place, is the perishing here intended, as is manifest in the ensuing parable, wherein the church-state of the Jews is compared unto a barren fig-tree, which was to be cut down and destroyed. And, accordingly, that destruction did befall them, partly by the bloody cruelty of the Romans, and partly by the fall and ruin of the temple, towers, and walls of the city; both included in the word, “likewise:” “Ye shall likewise perish,” or in like manner. But although they were of various kinds, and men might evade the consideration of them on several pretences, the one being nothing but the tyrannical fury of Pilate, the other only a somewhat unusual accident, — yet our Lord Jesus Christ finds out the hand and counsel of God in them both, and declares the same language to be spoken in them both. Signs of the same event are doubled, to show the certainty of it, like Pharaoh’s dreams.
And we may observe, —
First. That all sorts of unusual accidents, or effects of Providence, in a season of sin and approaching judgments, are of the same indication, and ought to have the same interpretation. So is the same application made of both these different signs and warnings by our Saviour; — they have, saith he, the same language, the same signification. There was nothing at this time (that) more hardened the Jews unto their utter ruin, than the false application they made of providential signs and warnings, which were all multiplied among them, as boding their good and deliverance, when they were all tokens of their approaching ruin. For when such things are rejected as warnings, calling to repentance and reformation, as they were by them, on a presumption that they were signs of God’s appearance on their behalf, they became to be nothing but certain forerunners of greater judgments, and infallible tokens of destruction; and so they will be to them likewise by whom they are yet despised. Secondly. God is pleased sometimes to give warnings of approaching judgments, not only as unto the matter of them, that they shall be accompanied with severity, but also as unto the especial nature and manner of them. So was it with these two signs, of blood by the sword, and death by the fall of the tower; representing as in a glass that common calamity which was to befall the city and nation. And I pray God that the prodigious appearance of fiery meteors, like swords, armies, and arms, with other things of the like nature, may not be sent to point out the very kind and nature of the judgments which are coming on England, if not diverted; for as unto these signs not only the Scripture, but all heathen stories are filled with an account of them. Before the approach of desolating judgments, nature, the common parent of mankind, did always put itself forth in irregular, unusual actings, — in fiery meteors, comets, earthquakes, strange appearances in the air, voices heard, and the like.
The brute elements tremble at the approaches of God in his judgment against the inhabitants of the earth. So the prophet expresseth it, Hab. iii. 10, “The mountains saw thee, and they trembled: the overflowings of the water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high.”
They are, as it were, cast into a posture of trembling and supplication. And Æschylus, a heathen poet in Justin Martyr, (thus writes):—
Τρέμει δ’ ὄρη, καὶ γαῖα καὶ πελώριος Βυθὸς θαλάσσης, κῴρέων ὕψος μέγα, Ὅταν ἐπιβλέψῃ γοργὸν ὄμμα δεσπότου.
“When the dreadful eye of God (in his providence) is lifted up,” all things tremble before it.
III. In the interpretation and application made of these severe accidents by our Saviour, in his divine wisdom, we may observe, —
1. Especial judgments in such a season, befalling in any, do not prove an especial guilt or provocation in them. This our Saviour expressly denies, and that with respect unto both the instances insisted on, and that distinctly, verses 2, 4. I do not hence absolutely establish a general rule as unto all times and persons. For, — First, The observation is here confined and limited unto such a season as that under consideration; namely, a time of provoking sins in the generality of the people, and approaching judgments. In such a season, no assignation of especial guilt ought to be made on especial calamitous sufferings. Secondly, Some persons may be guilty of such daring, presumptuous sins, that if they are overtaken with especial judgments in this world, it is the height of impiety not to own the especial revenging hand of God in their destruction. Such was the death of Herod, Acts xii. 22, 23.
2. Judgments on private men in such a season are warnings to the public. This is intimated by our Saviour in this place; namely, that God uses a sovereignty herein, by singling out whom he pleaseth, to make them examples unto others. This, saith he, was the sole reason, as far as you are concerned to judge or know, why God brought these sore destructions upon them; namely, that by these warnings he might call you to repentance. Yet, I judge, God doth not ordinarily exercise his sovereignty in this kind, unless it be when all have de- served to be destroyed: and then, as in the sedition and mutiny of military legions, they decimated them, or slew some for an example and terror unto others; so God calls out of a guilty multitude whom he pleaseth, to make previous instances of approaching judgments.
3. Those who first fall under judgments are not always the worst that judgments shall
befall; nor are the first judgments usually the most severe; — so it is plain in these instances,
And because we have instances of this nature amongst us, we should consider how to make a right judgment concerning them. And these three things we may safely determine:—
1. That those who suffered were sinners also, though they were not so only, or in an especial manner.350 This is necessary unto the vindication of the justice of God. 2. That he who hath made them warnings unto us, might have made us warnings unto them. Herein his sovereignty and mercy towards us who escape is manifest. 3. That we also have a hand in that guilt, forerunning such providences so far as there is any thing penal in them. For such private previous judgments are the effect of public provocations.
IV. Here is a sure rule given us of the interpretation of severe providences in such a season as that here intended; — such, I mean, as we have had amongst us, in plague, and fire, and blood; and such as we have the signs and tokens of at this time in heaven and earth. For three things we are here taught safely to conclude concerning them:— First, That they are warnings from God. This our Saviour plainly declares in the interpretation and application of these two instances. Secondly, That their voice and language is a call to repentance and reformation: “Except ye repent,” etc. Thirdly, When they are neglected as warnings, calling to repentance, they change their nature, and become certain signs of approaching destruction. And in the observation of these rules of interpretation of providential severities given us by our Saviour, we may be preserved from the excesses of neglecting, on the one hand, what is contained in them, and of rash judging of men or causes, on the other.
These things being premised for the opening of the words, the truth wherein we are instructed by them appears to be this:—
When a land, a nation, a city, a church, is filled with sin, so as that God gives them warnings or indications of his displeasure by previous judgments, or other extraordinary signs, if they are not as warnings complied withal by repentance and reformation, they are tokens of approaching judgments, that shall not be avoided.
This is the sacred truth which our Lord Jesus Christ doth here recommend to our observation. It is the great rule of divine Providence, with the especial seal of our Lord Christ annexed to it, “I tell you, Nay; but, unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” When warnings for instruction are not received, they are tokens of destruction. This is a truth which none almost deny, and none almost believe. Had it been believed, many desolating judgments in former ages had been prevented; nations and cities should have abode in prosperity, which are now sunk into ruin, yea, into hell. See Luke xix. 41–44; Matt. xi. 23.
350 These things were spoken on the burning of several persons to death in one of the late fires in London.
And were it believed in the days wherein we live, it would be the means of saving a poor nation from otherwise inevitable ruin. The state, is so with us, that, unless we repent, we shall perish. I do not prescribe unto the sovereignty of God in his providential administrations. He can, if he please, suffer all his warnings to be despised, all his calls neglected, yea, scoffed at, and yet exercise forbearance towards us, as unto a speedy execution of judgment. But woe unto them with whom he so deals; for it hath only this end, that they may have a space to fill up the measure of their iniquities, and so be fitted for eternal destruction, Rom. ix. 22.
There is a threefold issue and event of the state we have described.
1. When a sinful church or nation so attend unto God’s warnings in previous judgments, and other signs of his displeasure, as to comply with them by repentance and reformation. This is a blessed issue, which will certainly divert all impendent judgments; as shall be after- ward declared.
2. When, by reason of the neglect of them, and want of compliance with them, God doth bring distress and calamities upon a people in general. This is a sad event. But, however, under it God doth often preserve a seed and remnant which, being brought through the fire, and thereby purged and purified, though but as a poor and afflicted people, yet they shall be preserved as a seed and reserve for a better state of the church. See Zech. xiii. 8, 9; Isa. vi. 11–13, xxiv. 6, 13; Zeph. iii. 12; Ezek. v. 2, 12.
3. When God utterly forsakes a people, he will regard them no more, but give them up unto idolatry, false worship, and all sorts of wickedness. When he says, “Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more,” — this is the sorest of judgments. “Woe also to them,” saith the Lord, “when I depart from them!” Hos. ix. 12. Of such a people there shall be neither hope nor remnant, Ezek. xlvii. 11. Who would not rather see a nation suffering under some judgments, as the effects of God’s displeasure for the neglect of his warnings, whereby it may be purged, and purified, and restored, than to be left under idolatry and all manner of wickedness forever?
But the way is here proposed for the avoidance of these evils. And these things will be more fully spoken unto afterward.
I shall first give some evidences of the truth laid down, and then the reason of it; which will make way for what I principally intend.
I shall not insist on the especial kind of warnings or signs here mentioned, but only on the general nature of divine warnings, by the word or otherwise, in such a season as wherein an abounding of sin is accompanied with great evidences of approaching judgments.
1. According unto this rule was the dealing of God with the old world; which is set forth unto us for an example. See 1 Pet. iii. 20; 2 Pet. ii. 5.
The men of the old world were a sinful, provoking generation. God gave them warning of his displeasure by the preaching of Noah, and other ways. During his ministry, the longsuffering of God waited for their repentance and reformation; for this was the end both of the season and of the ministry granted unto them therein: but when it was not complied withal, he brought the flood on those ungodly men.
2. So he dealt with the church under the Old Testament. A summary account is given of it, 2 Chron. xxxvi. 15–17. After a contempt of all God’s previous warnings, with a neglect of repentance and reformation, the time came when there was no remedy, but the city and temple must be destroyed, and the people be partly slain, and partly carried into captivity. Accordingly, there is a general rule established for all times and seasons, Prov. xxix. 1.
3. Neither have his dealings been otherwise with the churches of the New Testament. All those of the first plantation have been ruined and destroyed by the sword of God’s displeasure, for impenitency under divine calls and warnings.
4. God gave an eminent instance hereof in the ministry of Jeremiah the prophet. He gives him the law of his prophecy, chap. xviii. 7, 8, “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” Here is the whole of the truth laid down represented unto us. The nation and kingdom especially intended was that of the people and church of the Jews. Concerning them it is supposed that they were evil, — that sin abounded amongst them. In this state God gave them warning by the ministry of Jeremiah, as he did otherwise also. The voice of these warnings was, that they should repent them of their evil, and reform their ways. On a supposition whereof he promises to remove the judgments which they had de- served, and which were impendent over them: upon their failure herein, he declares that fearful desolation should befall them; as it did afterward, verses 15–17. According to this rule, the prophet persisted in his ministry. The sum of his sermon was this: It is a time of great sin and provocation; — these and these are your sins; — these are evident tokens of God’s displeasure against you, and of the near approaching of desolating judgments. In this state, repent, return, and reform your ways, and you shall be delivered:— in case you do not, utter destruction shall come upon you.
But the princes, the priests, and generally all the people, set themselves against him herein, and would not believe his word.
And by three things they countenanced themselves in their unbelief and impenitency,
that they should be delivered; although they did not repent nor reform their ways.
First. By their privileges; — that they were the only church and people of God, who had the temple and his worship amongst them: as if he should say, The best reformed church in the world. This they directly confront his ministry withal, chap. vii. 3, 4. They fear none of his threatenings, they despise his counsel for their safety, approve their ways and their doings, because they were the church, and had the temple for their security.
Secondly. By their own strength for war, and their defence against all their enemies. They gloried in their wisdom, their might, and their riches; as he intimateth, chap. ix. 23.
Thirdly. By the help and aid which they expected from others, especially from Egypt. And herein they thought once that they had prevailed against him, and utterly disproved his rule of safety by reformation only; for when the Chaldeans besieged the city, by whom the judgments he had threatened them withal were to be executed, Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, coming up against them, they departed from Jerusalem for fear of his army, chap. xxxvii. 5, 11. Hereon, no doubt, they triumphed against him, and were satisfied that their own way for deliverance was better than that troublesome way of repentance and reformation which he prescribed unto them. But he knew from whom he had his message, and what would be the event of the false hopes and joys which they had entertained. So he tells them, verses 9, 10, “Deceive not yourselves, saying, The Chaldeans shall surely depart from us: for they shall not depart. For though ye had smitten the whole army of the Chaldeans that fight against you, and there remained but wounded men among them, yet should they rise up every man in his tent, and burn this city with fire.” Which accordingly came to pass.
And so it will be with any other people, against all pleas and pretences to the contrary.
Let the case be stated according as it is laid down in the proposition, and explained in the instance of Jeremiah.
Suppose a church or people do abound with provoking sins; that, during the time of God’s patience towards them, and warning of them, there are signs and tokens of his dis- pleasure and of impendent judgments; — let them feed themselves so long as they please with hopes of deliverance and safety, — unless they comply with the calls of God unto repentance and reformation, they will fall under desolating judgments, or be utterly forsaken of God forever.
The grounds and reasons of this rule and order in divine dispensations are many, plain and obvious; which I shall not at large insist upon.
I shall only at present mention some of them; because those of the most evidence and importance will accrue afterward unto our consideration:
1. This rule of proceeding is suited unto the righteousness of God in the government of the world, in the inbred light of the minds of men. This notion, that judgment or divine vengeance will overtake impenitent sinners, who have been previously warned of their sin, is that which we are not taught, which we do not learn from one another, — which is not only the voice of divine revelation, but that which is born with us, which is inseparable from our nature; the light and conviction whereof, neither with respect unto ourselves or others, we can avoid. This is the voice of nature in mankind, Impenitent sinners, incurable by warnings, are the proper objects of divine displeasure. And the absolute impunity of such persons would be a great temptation unto atheism, as the suspension of deserved judgments on provoking sinners is with some at this day. But ordinarily and finally, God will not act contrary unto the inbred notions of his righteousness in the government of the world, which he himself hath implanted in the minds of men. But as for the times, seasons, and ways of the execution of his judgments, he hath reserved them unto his own sovereignty.
2. It is needful unto the vindication of the faithfulness of God in his threatenings, given out by divine revelation. By this he hath always, from the beginning of the world, testified unto his own holiness and righteousness, whereof they are the most proper expressions. Those first recorded of them are in the prophecy of Enoch, Jude 14, 15. And they have been since continued in all ages. But whereas the wisdom of God, acting in righteousness, hath been accompanied with patience and forbearance in the accomplishment of these threatenings, there have been, and yet are, mockers and scoffers at these divine threatenings, as though they were a mere noise, of no efficacy or signification. So the apostle declares the thoughts of the minds of men profane and ungodly, 2 Pet. iii. 3, 4. Wherefore, there is a condecency unto the divine excellencies, that God, in his own way and time, should vindicate his faithfulness in all his threatenings.
3. God hereby manifests himself to be a God hearing prayers, regarding the cries of his poor and distressed witnesses in the world. When the world abounds in provoking sins, especially in blood and persecution, there is a conjunct cry unto God of those that have suffered, and those that do suffer, in heaven and earth, for vengeance on obstinate, impenitent sinners. See Luke xviii. 7, 8; Rev. vi. 10. The voices of all those, I say, who have suffered unto death in foregoing ages, for the testimony of Jesus, and are now in heaven, in a state of expectancy of complete glory, with all those of them whose sighs and groans under their oppressors do at present ascend unto the throne of God, have the sense in them, by divine interpretation, that punishment be inflicted on impenitent sinners; as is plainly expressed by our Saviour in that place of the gospel affirming that he will avenge his elect speedily, who cry unto him day and night. Herein God will vindicate his glory, as the God that hears prayers.
4. A sense of this divine truth is a great and effectual means of God’s rule in the hearts of men in the world, setting bounds to their lusts, and restraining that superfluity of wickedness and villainy which would otherwise take away the distinction, as to sin, between the earth and hell. If men can at any time free themselves from the terror and restraining power of this consideration, that vengeance is always approaching towards impenitent sinners, there is nothing so vile, so profane, so flagitious, as that they would not wholly give up themselves unto it, Eccles. viii. 11, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” And God knows, that if impunity in this world should always accompany provoking sinners, the temptation would be too strong and powerful for the faith of weak believers; which he will therefore relieve by frequent instances of his severity.
In a successive continuation of previous judgments on impenitent sinners, there is an uncontrollable evidence given of the certainty of that final judgment which all mankind shall be called unto. So the apostle proves it, and intimates that it is a foolish thing, the effect of obstinacy in sin, — if men do not learn the certain determination and approach of the eternal judgment, from the drowning of the old world, the conflagration of Sodom, with the like instances of divine severity, 2 Pet. iii. 3.
My present inquiry hereon is, What is our own concernment in these things, — what are we, for our own good, to learn by the blessed instruction given us by our Lord Jesus Christ, in his interpretation of the providential occurrences mentioned in the text?
And this I shall manifest by an impartial inquiry into the things ensuing:—
I. When doth a church, a nation, a people, or city, so abound in sin, as to be immediately and directly concerned in his divine warning; and what, in particular, is the case of the nation wherein we live, and our own therein?
II. Of what sort are those desolating judgments, which, in one way and sense or another, are impendent with respect unto such a church or nation, and, consequently, unto ourselves, at this season?
III. What warnings, calls, and indications of divine displeasure, and the approach of calamitous distresses, doth God usually grant, and what he hath given, and is giving unto us at present?
IV. What is the equity, and wherein it doth consist, of the divine constitution here at- tested by our blessed Saviour, that in such a case repentance and reformation, and nothing else, shall save and deliver a church, a people, a nation, from ruin?
V. Whereas this rule is so holy, just, and equal, whence is it that all sorts of men are so unwilling to comply with it, even in the utmost extremity, when all other hopes do fail and perish; and whence is it so amongst ourselves at this day?
VI. What is required unto that reformation which may save any nation — this wherein we live — from desolating calamities when they are deserved?
VII. From what causes at present such a reformation may be expected, and by what means it may be begun and accomplished, so as to prevent our utter ruin?
VIII. What is the duty, what ought to be the frame of mind in true believers, what their walk and work, in such a season, that, in case all means of delivery do fail, they may be found of Christ in peace at his coming; for it is but “yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry?”
These things are necessary to be inquired into, that we may help to beat out the paths of truth and peace, — the only ways that lead unto our deliverance. The nation is filled with complaints and fears: mutual charges on one party and another, as unto the causes of our present troubles and approaching dangers, — various designs and contrivances, with vain hopes and vehement desires of this or that way or means of help and deliverance, — cruel hatred and animosities on differences in religion, designing no less than the extirpation of all that is good therein, — do abound in it, by all means rending itself in pieces, wearying itself in the largeness of its ways; and yet (it) says not that there is no hope. But for the most part, the true causes of all our troubles and dangers, with the only remedy of them, are utterly neglected. The world is filled, yea, the better sort of men in it, with other designs, other discourses; — we hear rarely of these things from the pulpits (which are filled with animos- ities about petty interests, and private difference in the approaches of public ruin), nor in the counsel of those who pretend to more wisdom. Some think they shall do great things by their wisdom and counsel, some by their authority and power, some by their number, some by owning the best cause, as they suppose; and with many such-like notions are the minds of men possessed. But the truth is, the land abounds in sin, — God is angry, and risen out of his holy place, — judgment lies at the door; and in vain shall we seek for remedy or healing any other way than that proposed.