When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble: when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops. Thus saith the LORD; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the LORD; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
~ Habakkuk 3:16, Jeremiah 31:16, Romans 9:2, Revelation 5:4-5
And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.
~ Revelation 10:9-11
Then I Daniel looked, and, behold, there stood other two, the one on this side of the bank of the river, and the other on that side of the bank of the river. And one said to the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, How long shall it be to the end of these wonders? I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white. Then said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will shew thee what these be.
~ Daniel 12:5-6, Zechariah 1:8-11
Christ’s Kingdom and the Magistrate’s Power, by John Owen. Sermon IX. This is an except from the text.
Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me. I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things.
~ Daniel 7:15-16
Observation II. The only way to deliver and extricate our spirits from under such perplexities and entanglements, is to draw nigh to God in Christ, for discovery of his will.
So did Daniel here; he went to one of them that ministered before the Lord, to be acquainted with his will. Otherwise thoughts and contrivances will but farther perplex you. Like men in the mire, whilst they pluck one leg out, the other sticketh faster in, — whilst you relieve yourselves in one thing, you will be more hampered in another. Yea, he that increaseth wisdom, increaseth sorrow; — the larger the visions are, the greater will be their troubles; until, being consumed in your own fears, cares, and contrivances, you grow useless in your generation. Those who see only the outside of your affairs sleep securely; those who come nigher, to look into the spirits of men, rest is taken from them; and many are not quiet, bemuse they will not. The great healing of all is in God.
Observation III. When God makes known the interpretations of things, it will quiet your spirits, in your walking before him, and actings with him.
This was that which brought the spirit of Daniel into a settlement. How God reveals his mind in these things, — by what means, — how it may be known by individual persons, for their quiet and settlement, — how all God’s revelations are quieting, and tend to the calming of men’s spirits, not making them foam like the waves of the sea, — should be handled on this observation.
But I begin with the first observation.
Observation I. In the consideration of God’s marvellous actings in the world, in order to the carrying on of the gospel, the hearts of his saints are oftentimes filled with perplexity and trouble.
When John received his book of visions in reference to the great things that were to be done, and the alterations that were to be brought about, though it were sweet in his mouth, and he rejoiced in his employment, yet it made his “belly bitter,” Rev. x. 9, 10. It filled him with perplexity, as our prophet speaks, in the midst of his body. He saw blood and confusion, strife and violence; it made his very belly bitter.
Poor Jeremiah, upon the same account, is so oppressed, that it makes him break out of all bounds of faith and patience, to curse the day of his birth, to wax quite weary of his employment, chap. xv.
Our Saviour, describing such a season, Luke xxi. 26, tells us, that “men’s hearts shall fail them for fear, and for looking after those things that are coming upon the earth.” They will be thinking what will become of them, and what will be the issue of God’s dispensations; fearing that the whole frame of things will be wrapped up in darkness and confusion. Hence our Saviour bids his disciples not be troubled when they hear of these things, Matt. xxiv. 6, intimating that they will be very apt so to be.
Now, the causes and occasions (which are the reasons of the point) arise, —
1. From the greatness and astonishableness of the things themselves which God will do; even great and terrible things, which men looked not for, Isa. lxiv. 2, 3. When he comes to make his name known to the nations, that his adversaries may tremble at his presence, and doth terrible things, quite above and beyond the expectation of men, which they never once looked for, — no wonder if their hearts be surprised with amazement. It hath of late been so with this nation. All professors at the beginning of these days joined earnestly in that prayer, Isa. lxiii. 17–19, lxiv. 1. God, in answer hereunto, comes down and rends the heavens, and the mountains flow down at his presence, according to the desire of their souls; yet withal he doth terrible things, — things that we looked not for. How many poor creatures are turned back with astonishment, and know not how to abide with him! When our Saviour Christ came in the flesh, who had been the desire of all nations for four thousand years, and most importunately sought after by the men of that generation wherein he came, yet doing great and unexpected things at his coming, who was able to abide it? This, says Simeon, will be the issue of it, “He shall be for the fall and rise of many; and the thoughts of many hearts shall be revealed,” Luke ii. 34, 35. Hence is that exclamation, Mal. iii. 2, “Who may abide the day of his coming, and who shall stand when he appeareth?” His coming is desired indeed, but few can bear it. His day will “burn as an oven,” as a furnace, chap. iv. 1: some are overheated by it, some consume in it; — blessed are they that abide. This is one cause of the perplexing of the spirits of men; — the consideration of the things themselves that are done, being above and beyond their expectations; and this even many of the saints of God are borne down under at this day. They little looked for the blood and banishment of kings, change of government, alteration of nations, such shakings of heaven and earth as have ensued; not considering that he who doth these things weighs all the nations in a balance, and the rulers of them are as the dust thereof before him.
2. From the manner whereby God will do these things. Many perplexing, killing circumstances attend his dispensations. I shall instance only in one, — and that is, darkness and obscurity, whereby he holds the minds of men in uncertainty and suspense, for his own glorious ends. Such, he tells us, shall his day and the works thereof be: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark: but it shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening-time it shall be light,” Zech. xiv. 6, 7. Men shall not know what to make of it, nor what to judge. He brings not forth his work all at once, but by degrees; and sometimes sets it backward, and leads it up and down, as he did his people of old in the wilderness, that none might know where they should fall or settle; and he that believeth will not make haste. When God is doing great things, he delights to wrap them up in the clouds; to keep the minds of men in uncertainties, that he may set on work all that is in them; and try them to the utmost, whether they can live upon his care and wisdom, when they see their own care and wisdom will do no good. Men would fain come to some certainty; and commonly, by the thoughts and ways whereby they press unto it, they put all things into more uncertainty than ever, and so promote the design of God, which they so studiously endeavour to decline. Hence is that description of the presence of the Lord in his mighty works, Ps. xviii. 9, 11, “Darkness was under his feet;” men could not see his paths, etc. He hath ends of surprisal, hardening, and destruction towards some, for which they must be left unto their own spirits, and led into many snares and by-paths, for their trial, and the exercise of others; which could not be accomplished did he not come in the clouds, and were not darkness his pavilion and his secret place. On this account is that cry of men of profane and hardened spirits, 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 and come, that we may know it!” They know not what to make of what they see, — of all that is yet done or accomplished. They would have the whole work out, that they might once see the end of it, and so know what to judge; they would be at a point with him, and not always kept at those perplexing uncertainties. And this is another cause of the trouble of men’s spirits, in consideration of the dispensations of God. God still keeps a cloud hanging over, and they know not when it will fall, nor what will be done in the issue of things. This makes some weary of waiting on him, and, with the profane king of Israel, to cry, This evil is of the Lord; there is no end; confusion will be the issue of all; — why should I abide any longer?
3. The lusts of men do commonly, under such dispensations, fearfully and desperately tumultuate, to the disturbance of the most settled and weighed spirits. Satan takes advantage to draw them out in such a season to the utmost, both in spirituals and civils. What will be the constant deportment of men of corrupt minds in such a time our Saviour sets forth, Matt. xxiv. 5. They shall come in the name of Christ to deceive; and shall deceive many, and cause iniquity to abound. In such a day Edom will appear an enemy, and Ephraim with the son of Remaliah will join with Syria for the vexing of Judah: hence are perplexities, and swords piercing through the very souls of men. Take an instance in the days wherein we live. From the beginning of the contests in this nation, when God had caused your spirits to resolve that the liberties, privileges, and rights of this nation, wherewith you were intrusted, should not, by his assistance, be wrested out of your hands by violence, oppression, and injustice; this he also put upon your hearts, to vindicate and assert the gospel of Jesus Christ, his ways, and his ordinances, against all opposition, though you were but inquiring the way to Zion, with your faces thitherward. God secretly entwining the interest of Christ with yours, wrapped up with you the whole generation of them that seek his face, and prospered your affairs on that account: so that, whereas causes of as clear a righteousness among the sons of men as yours have come to nothing, yet your undertaking hath been like the sheaf of Joseph in the midst of the nations, which hath stood up when all the others have bowed to the ground. Being, then, convinced that your affairs have fallen under his promises, and have come up to an acceptance before him, solely upon the account of their subserviency to the interest of Christ, God hath put it into your hearts to seek the propagation of his gospel. What now, by the lusts of men, is the state of things? Say some, There is no gospel at all; say others, If there be, you have nothing to do with it; — some say, Lo, here is Christ; others, Lo, there:— some make religion a colour for one thing; some for another; — say some, The magistrate must not support the gospel; say others, The gospel must subvert the magistrate; — say some, Your rule is only for men as men, you have nothing to do with the interest of Christ and the church; say others, You have nothing to do to rule men but upon the account of being saints. If you will have the gospel, say some, down with the ministers of it, chemarims, locusts, etc.; and if you will have light, take care that you may have ignorance and darkness:— things being carried on as if it were the care of men that there might be no trouble in the world but what the name of religion might lie in the bottom of. Now, those that ponder these things, their spirits are grieved in the midst of their bodies; — the visions of their heads trouble them. They looked for other things from them that professed Christ; but the summer is ended, and the harvest is past, and we are not refreshed. Again, God had so stated your affairs, that you were the mark of the antichristian world to shoot at in the beginning, and their terror in the close: and when you thought only to have pursued Sheba the son of Bichri, the man of your first warfare, behold one Abel after another undertakes the quarrel against you; yea, such Abels as Scotland and Holland, of whom we said in old times, We will inquire of them, and so ended the matter: and there is not a wise man or woman amongst them that can dissuade them. Strange! that Ephraim should join with Syria to vex Judah their brother, — that the Netherlands, whose being is founded merely upon the interest you have undertaken, should join with the great antichristian interest, which cannot possibly be set up again without their inevitable ruin. Hence also are deep thoughts of heart; men are perplexed, disquieted, and know not what to do.
I could mention other lusts, and tumultuatings of the spirits of men, that have an influence into the disturbance of the hearts of the most precious in this nation, but I forbear.
4. Men’s own lusts disquiet their spirits in such a season as this. I could instance in many; I shall name only four:— (1.) Unstableness of mind; (2.) Carnal fears; (3.) Love of the world; (4.) Desire of pre-eminence.
(1.) Unstableness of mind, which makes men like the waves of the sea, that cannot rest. The Scripture calls it ἀκαταστασίαν, “tumultuatingness” of spirit. There is something of that which Jude speaks of, in better persons than those he describes, — “raging like waves of the sea, and foaming out their own shame,” verse 13. If God give men up to a restless spirit, no condition imaginable can quiet them; still they think they see something beyond it that is desirable. Hannibal said of Marcellus, that he could never be quiet, — conqueror nor conquered. Some men’s desires are so enlarged, that nothing can satiate them. Wise men, that look upon sundry godly persons in this nation, and beholding how every yoke of the oppressor is broken from off their necks, that no man makes them afraid, that they are looked on as the head, not as the tail, — enjoying the ordinances of God according to the light of their minds and desires of their hearts, no man forbidding them, — are ready to wonder (I speak of private persons) what they can find to do in their several places and callings, but to serve the Lord in righteousness and holiness, being without fear, all the days of their lives. But, alas! when poor creatures are given up to the power of an unquiet and unstable mind, they think scarce any thing vile, but being wise unto sobriety, — nothing desirable, but what is without their proper bounds, and what leads to that confusion which themselves, in the issue, are least able of many to undergo. It is impossible but that men’s hearts should be pierced with disquietness and trouble, that are given up to this frame.
(2.) Carnal fears. — These even devour and eat up the hearts of men. What shall we do? what shall become of us? Ephraim is confederate with Syria, and the hearts of men are shaken as the trees of the wood that are moved with the wind. What! new troubles still! new unsettlements! This storm will not be avoided; this will be worse than all that hath befallen us from the youth of our undertakings. God hath not yet won upon men’s spirits to trust him in shakings, perplexities, alterations; they remember not the manifestations of his wisdom, power, and goodness in former days, and how tender hitherto he hath been of the interest of Christ, that their hearts might be established. Could we but do our duty, and trust the Lord with the performance of his promises, what quietness, what sweetness might we have!
I shall not instance in the other two particulars. It is too manifest that many of our piercing and perplexing thoughts are from the tumultuating and disorder of our own lusts. So that what remains of the time allotted to me I shall spend only in the use of this point, and proceed no farther.
Use. Of instruction, to direct you into ways and means of quietness, in reference unto all these causes and occasions of piercing, dividing thoughts in such a season as this. The good Lord seal up instruction to your souls, that you may know the things that belong to your peace, and what Israel ought to do at this, even at this time. For my brethren’s and companions’ sake, I wish you prosperity. Though my own portion should be in the dust, for the true, spiritual, not imaginary, carnal interest of the church of God in this nation, and the nations about, I wish you prosperity.
(1.) First, then, in reference to the things that God is doing, both as to their greatness and their manner of doing; whose consideration fills men with thoughts that grieve their spirits in the midst of their bodies. Would you have your hearts quieted in this respect? — take my second observation for your direction; — The only way to extricate and deliver our spirits from under such perplexities and entanglements, is to draw nigh to God in Christ for the discovery of his will. So did Daniel here in my text. I fear this is too much neglected. You take counsel with your own hearts, you advise with one another, — hearken unto men under a repute of wisdom; and all this doth but increase your trouble, — you do but more and more entangle and disquiet your own spirits. God stands by and says, “I am wise also;” and little notice is taken of him. We think we are grown wise ourselves, and do not remember we never prospered but only when we went unto God, and told him plainly we knew not what to do. Public fastings are neglected, despised, spoken against; and when appointed, practised according as men’s hearts are principled to such a duty, — coldly, deadly, unacceptably. Life, heat, warmth is gone; and shall not blood and all go after? The Lord prevent it! Private meetings are used to show ourselves wise in the debate of things, with a form of godly words; sometimes for strife, tumult, division, disorder. And shall we think there is much closet inquiring after God, when all other actings of that principle which should carry out thereunto are opposed and slighted? When we do sometimes wait upon God, do not many seem to ask amiss, to spend it on their lusts; — not waiting on him poor, hungry, empty, to know his will, to receive direction from him; but rather going full, fixed, resolved, settled on thoughts, perhaps prejudices, of our own, — almost taking upon us to prescribe unto the Almighty, and to impose our poor, low, carnal thoughts upon his wisdom and care of his church? Oh, where is that holy and that humble frame wherewith at first we followed our God into the wilderness, where we have been fed and clothed, preserved and protected for so many years? Hence is it that the works of God are become strange, and terrible, and dark unto us; and of necessity some of us, many of us, must shut up all with disappointment and sorrow. We fill our souls boldly, confidently, with cross and contrary apprehensions of the intendments of God, and of the mediums whereby he will accomplish his ends; and do not consider that this is not a frame of men who had given up themselves to the all-sufficiency of God. Some, perhaps, will say, this belongs not unto them; they have waited upon God, and they do know his mind, and what are the things he will do, and are not blind also, nor in the dark, as other men. But if it be so, “what means this bleating of sheep and oxen in mine ears?” yea, what means that roaring and foaming of unquiet waves which we hear and see; — hard speeches, passionate reproaches, sharp revilings of their brethren, in boundless confidence, endless enmity, causing evil surmises, biting, tearing, devouring terms and expressions, casting out the names of men upright in their generations, saying, The Lord be praised? When the Lord discovers his mind and will, it settleth the heart, composeth the mind, fills the soul with reverence and godly fear, conforms the heart unto itself, — fills it with peace, love, meekness, gentleness. And shall we be thought to have received the mind, the will of God, when our hearts, words, ways, are full of contrary qualities? Let it be called what it will, I shall not desire to share in that which would bring my heart into such a frame. Well, then, beloved, take this for your first direction: Be more abundant with God in faith and prayer, deal with him in public and private, take counsel of him, bend your hearts through his grace to your old frame, when it was your joy to meet in this place, — which now, I fear, to many is their burden. Seek the Lord and his face, “seek him while he may be found.” And hereby, —
[1.] You will empty your hearts of many perplexing contrivances of your own, and you will find faith in this communion with God, by little and little, working out, killing, slaying these prejudices and presumptions which you may be strong in, that are not according to the will of God; so you be sure to come not to have your own lusts and carnal conceptions answered, but to have the will of God fulfilled. When men come unto the Lord to have their own visions fulfilled, it is righteous with God to answer them according to those visions, and confirm them in them, to their own disturbance, and the disturbance of others.
[2.] You shall certainly have peace in your own hearts in the all-sufficiency of God. This he will give in upon your spirits, that whatever he doth, all his ways shall be to you mercy, truth, faithfulness, and peace; — yea, the discoveries which you shall have of his own fulness, sweetness, suitableness, and the excellency of things which are not seen, will work your hearts to such a frame, that you shall attend to the things here below, merely upon the account of duty, with the greatest calmness and quietness of mind imaginable.
[3.] You shall surely know your own particular paths, wherein you ought to walk in serving God in your generation. Those that wait upon him, he will guide in judgment; he will not leave them in the dark, nor to distracted, divided, piercing thoughts. But whatever others do, you shall be guided into ways of peace. This you shall have when the lusts of men will neither let themselves nor others be at quiet. Oh, then, return to your rest; look to Him from whom you have gone astray. Take no more disturbing counsel with yourselves, or others; renew your old frame of humble dependence on God, and earnest seeking his face. You have certainly backslidden in this thing. Is the Lord not the God of counsel and wisdom, as well as the God of force and power, that you run to him when in a strait in your actions, but when your counsels seem sometimes to be mixed with a spirit of difficulty and trouble, he is neglected? Only come with humble, depending hearts; — not every one to bring the devices, imaginations, opinions, prejudices, and lusts of their own hearts, before him.
(2.) For the troubles that arise from the lusts of other men, and that about the gospel and the propagation thereof (the tumultuating of the lusts of men in reference whereunto I gave you an account of formerly), there are many piercing thoughts of heart. What extremes, I had almost said extravagances, men have in this matter run out into, I shall now not insist upon; only I shall give you a few directions for your own practice.
If once it comes to that, that you shall say you have nothing to do with religion as rulers of the nation, God will quickly manifest that he hath nothing to do with you as rulers of the nation. The great promise of Christ is, that in these latter days of the world he will lay the nations in a subserviency to him, — the kingdoms of the world shall become his; that is, act as kingdoms and governments no longer against him, but for him. Surely those promises will scarcely be accomplished in bringing commonwealths of men professing his name to be of Gallio’s frame, — to take care for none of those things: or as the Turk, — in an absolute indifferency what any profess; I mean, that are not his own, for in respect of them he changes not his God. Not that I would you should go and set up forms of government to compel men to come under the line of them, or to thrust in your sword to cut the lesser differences of brethren; not that I think truth ever the more the truth, or to have any thing the more of authority upon the conscience, for having the stamp of your authority annexed to it, for its allowance to pass in these nations. Nor do I speak a word of what is, may, or may not be incumbent on you in respect of the most profligate opposers of the truths of the gospel, but only this, that, not being such as are always learning, never coming to the knowledge of the truth, but being fully persuaded in your own minds, certainly it is incumbent on you to take care that the faith which you have received, which was once delivered to the saints, in all the necessary concernments of it, may be protected, preserved, propagated to and among the people which God hath set you over. If a father, as a father, is bound to do what answers this in his family unto his children; a master, as a master, to his servants; if you will justify yourselves as fathers or rulers of your country, you will find in your account this to be incumbent on you. Take heed of them that would temper clay and iron, things that will not mingle, — that would compound carnal and fleshly things with heavenly things and spiritual, that they may not entangle your spirits. The great design of grasping temporal power upon a spiritual account, will prove at last to be the greatest badge of Antichrist. Hitherto God hath appeared against it; and will, no doubt, to the end. If either you, by the authority God hath given you in the world, shall take upon you to rule the house of God, as formally such, as his house, though you rule the persons whereof it is made up; or those who are, or pretend to be, of that house, to rule the world on that account, — your day and theirs will be nigh at hand.
Now, because you wait on God for direction in reference to the propagation of the gospel, and the preventing that which is contrary to sound doctrine and godliness, I shall, — [1.] Show you very briefly what God has promised concerning magistrates to this end; [2.] Give you some principles whereon you may rest in your actings; and, [3.] Lay down some rules for your direction: and so draw to a close.
[1.] Take, in the first place, what God hath promised concerning magistrates, kings, rulers, judges, and nations, and their subserviency to the church. What God hath promised they shall do, that is their duty to do; he hath not measured out an inheritance for his people out of the sins of other men. Let us a little view some of these promises, and then consider their application to the truth we have in hand, and what is cleared out unto us by them. There are many; I shall instance in the most obvious and eminent. “I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning,” Isa. i. 26. It is to Zion redeemed, purged, washed in the blood of Christ, that this promise is made. Isa. xlix. 7, “Kings shall see and arise, and princes shall bow down themselves.” [Hebrew] The Jews being, for the greatest part of them, rejected upon the coming of Christ, this promise is made unto him upon his pouring out of the Spirit for the bringing in of the Gentiles; as it is farther enlarged, verses 22, 23, “Kings shall be thy nursing-fathers, and their queens thy nursing-mothers.” Isa. lx. looks wholly this way. Taste of the nature and intendment of the whole: “And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought. Thou shalt also suck the milk of the Gentiles, and shalt suck the breast of kings: and thou shalt know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty one of Jacob. For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver, and for wood brass, and for stones iron: I will also make thy officers peace, and thine exactors righteousness,” verses 3, 11, 16, 17. To which add the accomplishment of all those promises mentioned, Rev. xi. 15, xxi. 24.
You see here are glorious promises, in the literal expression, looking directly to what we assert concerning the subserviency of rulers to the gospel, and the duty of magistrates in supporting the interest of the church. Let us, concerning them, observe these three things; as, — 1st, To whom they are made; 2dly, On what occasion they are given; 3dly, What is the subject or matter of them in general.
1st, Then, they are all given and made to the church of Christ after his coming in the flesh, and his putting an end to all ceremonial, typical, carnal institutions. For, —
(1st.) They are every way attended with the circumstances of calling the Gentiles, and their flowing into the church; which were not accomplished till after the destruction of the Jewish church. So is the case in that which you have, Isa. xlix. 20, “The children which thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the other, shall say again in thine ears, The place is too strait for me: give place to me that I may dwell.”
It shall be when the church shall have received the new children of the Gentiles, having lost the other of the Jews; which he expresseth more at large, verse 22, “Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.” So also are the rest. When God gives the nations to be the inheritance of Christ, the Holy Ghost cautions rulers and judges to kiss the Son, and pay the homage due to him in his kingdom, Ps. ii. 10, 11.
(2dly.) Because these promises are pointed unto as accomplished to the Christian Church in that place of the Revelation before mentioned: “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever,” chap. xi. 15. “And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it,” chap. xxi. 24. So that there are plainly promises of kings and princes, judges and rulers, to be given to the church, and to be made useful thereunto; and kingdoms and nations, people in their rules and governments, to be instrumental in the good thereof: so that these promises belong directly to us and our rulers, if, under any notion, we belong to the Church of Christ.
2dly. For the occasion of these promises; — it is well known what a trust, by God’s own appointment, there was invested in the rulers, judges, kings, and magistrates, of the judicial state and church under the Old Testament, in reference unto the ways and worship of God, — the prosecution and the execution of the laws of God concerning his house and service being committed to them. Farther, when they faithfully discharged their trust, — promoting the worship of God according to his institutions, — encouraging, supporting, directing, reproving others, to whom the immediate and peculiar administration of things sacred was committed, — destroying, removing whatever was an abomination unto the Lord, — it was well with the whole people and church; they flourished in peace, and the Lord delighted in them, and rejoiced over them to do them good. And, on the other side, their neglect in the discharge of their duty was then commonly attended with the apostasy of the church, and great breakings forth of the indignation of the Lord. This the church found in those days, and bewailed. To hold out, therefore, the happy state of his people that he would bring in, he promises them such rulers and judges as he gave at first, who faithfully discharged the trust committed to them:— not that I suppose them bound to the Mosaical rules of penalties in reference to transgressions and offences against gospel institutions, but only that a duty in general is incumbent on them, in reference to the church and truth of God, which they should faithfully discharge; — of which afterward.
This, then, being the occasion of those promises, and their accomplishment being, as before, in a peculiar manner pointed at, upon the shaking, calling, and new-moulding of the kingdoms and nations of the world which had given their power to the beast, and thereupon framed anew into a due subserviency to the interest of Christ, there is not the least shadow or colour left for the turning off and rejecting the sweetness of all these promises, upon account of their being merely metaphorical, and shadowing out spiritual glories:— neither their beginning nor ending, neither their rise nor fall, will bear any such gloss or corrupting interpretation.
3dly. As to the matter of these promises, I shall only assert this in general, — that the Lord engageth that judges, rulers, magistrates, and such like, shall put forth their power, and act clearly for the good, welfare, and prosperity of the church. This is plainly held out in every one of them. Hence kingdoms are said to serve the church; that is, all kingdoms. They must do so, or be broken in pieces, and cease to be kingdoms. And how can a kingdom, as a kingdom (for it is taken formally, and not materially, merely for the individuals of it, as appears by the threatening of its being broken in pieces) serve the church, but by putting forth its power and strength in her behalf Isa. lx. 12. And therefore, upon the accomplishment of that promise, they are said to become the kingdoms of the Lord Christ, Rev. xi. 15, because, as kingdoms, they serve him with their power and authority; having before, as such, and by their power, opposed him to the utmost. They must nurse the church, not with dry breasts, nor feed it with stones and scorpions, but with the good things committed to them. Their power and substance, in protection and supportment, are to be engaged in the behalf thereof: hence God is said to give these judges, rulers, princes, kings, queens to the church; not setting them in the church, as officers thereof, but ordering their state in the world (Rev. xi. 15) to its behoof. In sum, there is not any one of the promises recited but holds forth the utmost of what I intend to assert from them all; viz., that the Lord hath promised that the magistrates whom he will give, own, and bless, shall put forth their power, and act in that capacity wherein he hath placed them in the world, for the good, furtherance, and prosperity of the truth and church of Christ. They shall protect them with their power, feed them with their substance, adorn them with their favour and the privileges wherewith they are intrusted; they shall break their forcibly oppressing adversaries, and take care that those who walk in the truth of the Lord may lead a peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty. If, then, you are such magistrates as God hath promised, (as woe be unto you if you are not!) know that he hath undertaken for you, that you shall perform this part of your duty; and I pray that you may rule with him therein, and be found faithful.
[2.] The second ground that I would point unto, as a bottom of your actings in this thing, ariseth from sundry undoubted principles, which I shall briefly mention. And the first is, —
1st. That the gospel of Jesus Christ hath a right to be preached and propagated in every nation, and to every creature under heaven. Jesus Christ is the “Lord of lords, and King of kings,” Rev. xvii. 14. The nations are given to be his inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth to be his possession, Ps. ii. 8, 9. He is appointed the “heir of all things,” Heb. i. 2. God hath set him over the works of his hands, and put all things in subjection under his feet, Ps. viii. 6. And upon this account he gives commission to his messengers to preach the gospel to all nations, Matt. xxviii. 19, or, to every creature under heaven, Mark xvi. 15. The nations of the world being of the Father given to him, he may deal with them as he pleaseth, and either bruise them with a rod of iron, and break them in pieces as a potter’s vessel, Ps. ii. 9, — he may fill the places of the earth with their dead bodies, and strike in pieces the heads of the countries, Ps. cx. 6, — or, he may make them his own, and bring them into subjection unto himself; — which towards some of them he will effect, Rev. xi. 15. Now, the gospel being the rod of his power, and the sceptre of his kingdom, the grand instrument whereby he accomplisheth all his designs in the world, whether they be for life or for death, 2 Cor. ii. 16, — he hath given that a right to take possession, in his name and authority, of all that he will own in any nation under heaven. And, indeed, he hath in all of them some that are his peculiar purchase, Rev. v. 9; whom, in despite of all the world, he will bring in unto himself. To have free passage into all nations is the undoubted right of the gospel; and the persons of Christ’s good-will have such a right to it and interest in it, that, look, from whomsoever they may claim protection in reference unto any other of their most undoubted concernments amongst men, of them may they claim protection in respect of their quiet enjoyment and possession of the gospel.
2dly. That wherever the gospel is by any nation owned, received, embraced, it is the blessing, benefit, prosperity, and advantage of that nation. They that love Zion shall prosper, Ps. cxxii. 6. Godliness hath the promise of this life, and is profitable unto all things, 1 Tim. iv. 8. The reception of the word of truth, and subjection to Christ therein, causing a people to become willing in the day of his power, entitle that people to all the promises that ever God made to his church. They shall be established in righteousness; they shall be far from oppression; and for fear and terror, they shall not draw nigh unto them: whosoever contends against such a people, shall fall thereby. No weapon that is formed against them shall prosper; every tongue that shall rise against them in judgment, they shall condemn. For this is the inheritance of the servants of the Lord, Isa. liv. 14, 15, 17.
To the prosperity of a nation two things are required:— (1st.) That they be freed from oppression, injustice, cruelty, disorder, confusion, in themselves, from their rulers, or others; (2dly.) That they be protected from the sword and violence of them that seek their ruin from without. And both these do a people receive by receiving the gospel.
(1st.) For the first, they have the promise of God that they shall have “judges as at the first,” Isa. i. 26, — such injustice and judgment shall bear rule over them and among them, as the first judges whom he stirred up and gave to his ancient people; their officers shall be peace, and their exactors righteousness, Isa. lx. 17. Even the very gospel which they do receive is only able to instruct them to be just, ruling in the fear of the Lord; for that only effectually teacheth the sons of men to live righteously, soberly, and godly in this present world, Tit. ii. 12.
(2dly.) And for the second, innumerable are the promises that are given to such a people; whence the psalmist concludes, upon the consideration of the mercies they do and shall enjoy, “Happy is the people whose God is the Lord,” Ps. cxliv. 15. The glorious Lord will be to them a place of broad rivers and waters, in which no galley with oars, nor gallant ship shall pass by; the Lord will be their redeemer, lawgiver, king, and saviour, Isa. xxxiii. 21. It will interest any people in all the promises that are made for the using of the church to thrash, break, destroy, burden, fire, consume, and slay the enemies thereof; — so far shall a people be from suffering under the hands of oppressors, that the Lord will use them for the breaking and destruction of the Nimrods of the earth: and this blessing of the nations do they receive by the faith of Abraham.
3dly. The rejection of the gospel by any people or nation to whom it is tendered, is always attended with the certain and inevitable destruction of that people or nation; which, sooner or later, shall, without any help or deliverance, be brought upon them by the revenging hand of Christ.
When the word of grace was rejected and despised by the Jews, the messengers of it professedly turning to the Gentiles, Acts xiii. 46, xxviii. 28, — God removing it from them, unto a nation that would bring forth fruit, Matt. xxi. 43, as it did in all the world, or among all nations, for a season, Col. i. 6, — with what a fearful and tremendous desolation he quickly wasted that people, is known to all; — he quickly slew and destroyed those husbandmen that spoiled his vineyard, and let it forth unto others, that might bring him his fruit in due season. Hence, when Christ is tendered in the gospel, the judges and rulers of the nations are exhorted to obedience to him, upon pain of being destroyed upon the refusal thereof, Ps. ii. 12. And we have the experience of all ages, ever since the day that the gospel began to be propagated in the world. The quarrel of it was revenged on the Jews by the Romans, — upon the Romans by the Goths, Vandals, and innumerable barbarous nations; and the vengeance due to the anti-Christian world is at hand, even at the door. The Lord will certainly make good his promise to the utmost, that the kingdom and nations which will not serve the church, even that kingdom and those nations shall utterly perish, Isa. lx. 12.
4thly. That it is the duty of magistrates to seek the good, peace, and prosperity of the people committed to their charge, and to prevent, obviate, remove, take away every thing that will bring confusion, destruction, desolation upon them; as Mordecai procured good things for his people, and prosperity to his kindred, Esth. x. 3. And David describes himself with all earnestness pursuing the same design, Ps. ci. 1. Magistrates are the ministers of God for the good, universal good, of them to whom they are given, Rom. xiii. 1–4; and they are to watch and apply themselves to this very thing, verse 6. And the reason the apostle gives to stir up the saints of God to pray, amongst all sorts of men, in special for kings and those that are in authority, — to wit, that they may, in general, come to the knowledge of the faith, and be saved; and, in particular, discharge the duty and trust committed to them (for on that account are they to pray for them as kings and men in authority), — is, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty,” 1 Tim. ii. 1–4. It being incumbent on them to act even as kings and men in authority, that we may so do; they are to feed the people committed to their charge with all their might, unto universal peace and welfare.
Now, the things that are opposite to the good of any nation or people are of two sorts:— (1st.) Such as are really, directly, and immediately opposed to that state and condition wherein they close together, and find prosperity. In general, seditions, tumults, disorders; in particular, violent or fradulent breakings in upon the respective designed bounds, privileges, and enjoyments of singular persons, without any consideration of Him who ruleth all things, are of this kind. If nations and rulers might be supposed to be Atheists, yet such evils as these, tending to their dissolution and not-being, they would, with all their strength, labour to prevent, either by watching against their commission, or inflicting vengeance on them that commit them, that others may hear, and fear, and do so no more. (2dly.) Such as are morally and meritoriously opposed to their good and welfare; in that they will certainly pluck down the judgments and wrath of God upon that nation or people where they are practised and allowed. There are sins for which the wrath of God will be assuredly revealed from heaven against the children of disobedience. Sodom and Gomorrah are set forth as examples of his righteous judgment in this kind. And shall he be thought a magistrate, to bear out the name, authority, and presence of God to men, that so he and his people have present peace, [who,] like a herd of swine, cares not though such things as will certainly first eat and devour their strength, and then utterly consume them, do pass for current?