And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory. And I will sanctify the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar: I will sanctify also both Aaron and his sons, to minister to me in the priest’s office. I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen.
~ Exodus 29:43-44, Ezekiel 20:41
And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, O Zidon; and I will be glorified in the midst of thee: and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall have executed judgments in her, and shall be sanctified in her.
~ Ezekiel 28:22
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire. God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.
~ Hebrews 12:28-29, Psalm 89:7
Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.
~ John 12:28, John 13:31-32
Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, Good is the word of the LORD which thou hast spoken. He said moreover, For there shall be peace and truth in my days.
~ Isaiah 39:8
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
~ Matthew 10:37
Gospel Worship, by Jeremiah Burroughs. Sermon One.
Gospel Worship, Or, The Right Manner of Drawing Nigh to God, in General: And Particularly in These Three Great Ordinances: Viz.
1. Hearing of the Word.
2. Receiving the Lord’s Supper.
Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord spoke, saying; I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the People I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.
~ Leviticus 10:3
These words are the speech of Moses to Aaron his Brother, endeavouring to quiet and comfort his heart, which was (no question) exceedingly troubled upon that great and sore affliction that was upon him, in the strange death of his two sons, Nadab and Abihu: The story is this:
After Aaron’s sons were consecrated to the priestly-office, they coming to attend this their office, the very first day after their consecration to offer incense unto God, they ventured to offer incense with strange fire, with other fire than God had appointed: Upon that the fire of God’s wrath broke out upon them, and slew them both presently in the very sanctuary before all the people, for it was a solemn time: being the beginning of the solemn consecration of the priesthood. Upon this, the spirit of Aaron could not but be exceedingly troubled, to see his two sons thus struck. Now Moses comes to him and saith, This is that which the Lord spoke, I will be sanctified in them that draw nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And upon this, Aaron held his peace.
We read that once fire came down from Heaven in a way of mercy to consume the sacrifices: but now fire comes down from Heaven in a way of judgment to consume the sacrificers, even Nadab and Abihu: they were Aarons sons, the sons of a godly man, the sons of the high-priest, they were his eldest sons, for Aaron had other sons besides Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, but these were his two eldest sons: they were two young men, they were struck in the very prime of their age, they were two that were newly consecrated in the priests office, for so you find it in the 9th Chapter. And they were two men of renown in the country, and before all the people of Israel two men that God had much honoured heretofore; as you shall find in Exod. Chap. 24. and the beginning; this Nadab and Abihu were men of great repute, and great renown, that God did much honour in former times; for when God called Moses and Aaron with the Elders to come to him, he singles out Nadab and Abihu amongst the rest, and names them. And he said unto Moses, Come up unto the Lord, thou and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and 70 of the Elders of Israel. Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu are only named, and then 70. of the Elders in general, but Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, as if these were the four eminent men of renown among all the people of Israel, he names none of the 70. Elders but these two, besides Moses and Aaron: therefore these two that were consumed by strange fire, were renowned men, and newly consecrated into their office.
What was their sin?
Their sin it was offering of strange fire, so the text saith that they offered strange fire, which God commanded them not, in the beginning of the chapter.
But had God ever forbidden it? Where do we find that ever God had forbidden them to offer strange fire, or appointed that they should offer only one kind of fire? There is no text of Scripture that you can find from the beginning of Genesis to this place, where God hath said in terminis, in so many words expressly, You shall offer no fire but one kind of fire. And yet here they are consumed by fire from God, for offering strange fire. I find in the 30. of Exod. ver. 9. that there they were forbidden offering strange incense, but I do not find that they were forbidden offering strange fire. In Levit. 6. 13. and divers verses in that Chapter we find that God had appointed that they should keep constantly the fire on the altar burning, and never to let it go out: Now that was (it seems) God’s intention that therefore they should make use of that fire, and that fire only. God would have them to pick out his meaning: God sent fire down from heaven upon the altar, so in the latter end of the 9th chapter God sent down fire from heaven, and gave them a charge to keep that fire on the altar constantly, and never to let it go out: so that it seems God would have them pick out his meaning, that because he had sent down fire from heaven upon the altar, and gave them power to keep that constantly, God would have them therefore to understand, that what incense or sacrifice he would have the use of fire in, it should be only that fire and no other, though God did never say to them directly in these words, You shall make use of this fire and no other, but God would have them to understand this. That’s their sin therefore in offering of strange fire. Now fire comes from the Lord and doth consume them. Some think this fire came from the altar, but surely it could not be any ordinary fire that did consume Nadab and Abihu at this time: for you shall find in the next verse to my text, that the bodies of Nadab and Abihu were not consumed by the fire, no, not their clothes, they were killed by the fire and yet their clothes were whole, therefore it was not an ordinary fire, it was some celestial fire struck into them to slay them, for so saith the text in the 4th verse: come near, carry away your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp: and so they went and carried them in their crates out of the camp, so that their clothes and bodies were not consumed, only they were killed by the fire: they were struck with a sudden death, and that in the presence of the Lord: such a death as God had never threatened in the word before, God had never threatened the priests and said, If you offer strange fire you shall be consumed by fire: but yet God smites them with death by fire, they had not time to seek God, no not so much as to say, Lord have mercy upon me: they had no time to promise amendment at all: now upon this heavy judgment, the, heart of Aaron could not possibly but be very much troubled, yea, and the spirit of Moses too, for Moses was their uncle, and Aaron their father, they could not but be exceedingly much grieved: but Moses being the brother of Aaron, seeing his spirit (no question) exceedingly troubled, being under such a sad affliction, and that such a godly man even as Aaron was, should have such a sad judgment befall his children: Moses comes and speaks comfortably to him, and labors to support his spirit: and how doth he do it? He comes not as ordinarily you use to visit your brethren, Oh! you must be content with this: no, but he comes and applies the word of God, and shows how God must be sanctified; and by that he comes to quiet the heart of his brother Aaron This is that which the Lord hath spoke saith Moses: He seeks to stay the heart of his brother with that which God spoke. But where do we find that God spoke this?
It’s hard to find in any Scripture these very words in terminis before this time: and therefore Augustine thinks it was only the word God spoke, but not written, and so they had it from hand to hand by tradition as many other things, as the Prophecy of Enoch that the Apostle Jude speaks of, you do not find it written in the Book of God, and yet the Apostle speaks of it, so that indeed it was from hand to hand: yea and we find in the New Testament when Paul speaks of a thing that Christ should say, how that our Lord saith, It is a more blessed thing to give than to receive; you find it not recorded in the Gospels that Christ said so. So, this is that which the Lord said, though it was not written from the beginning of Genesis to this very place, or otherwise though it be not recorded in express terms, yet something is recorded to the same purpose and effect: and so it may seem to have reference to that Scripture Exod. 29:43. There we have a Scripture comes as near to it as any I know. And there will I meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory, that’s as much in effect, as I will be sanctified in those that come nigh me, in those that come to worship me in my tabernacle, I will be sanctified in all things that concern my worship, I will be sure to be sanctified there.
I will be sanctified, I will be hallowed, for it is the very same that you have in the Lords Prayer, hallowed be thy Name, only that’s the Greek word, and this is the Hebrew: but if you would translate this word into Greek, you must translate it by the same word that Christ spoke when he taught his disciples to pray, hallowed be thy Name, hallowed and sanctified is all one. Lord let thy Name appear to be holy: so I will be sanctified, that is, I will have my Name appear to be holy, I will be made known unto my people, and to all the world that I am a Holy God: that’s the meaning of, I will be sanctified, I will be known to all the world that I am a holy God.
And before all the people I will be glorified, so it is in the latter part of the verse, as if God should say I account it to be my glory that I should be manifested to be holy before all the world.
I will be sanctified; that is, I will have my people to demean and carry themselves so, as to hold forth their acknowledgment of my holiness so, as by their carriage I may appear to be a holy God. I will be sanctified by them, or otherwise if they shall not in an active way sanctify my Name, that is, if they shall not demean themselves so as to hold forth the glory of my holiness, then I will be sanctified upon them; I will demean and carry myself towards them so, as by my actions upon them, I will make it appear what a holy God I am: So God is sanctified two ways, either by the holiness of his people, in their carriage towards him holding forth the glory of God’s holiness: and so in that 1 Pet. 3. 15. sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; the saints do sanctify God in their hearts when they fear God as a holy God, and reverence him, and love him as a holy God, and so sanctify him in their lives, when their lives do hold forth the glory of God’s holiness, then God is sanctified.
But then if we do not do so, then God sanctifies himself, that is in ways of judgment upon those that do not in ways of holiness sanctify his Name. And thus you have it, Ezek. 28. 22. And say, Thus saith the Lord God, Behold I am against thee O Zidon, and I will be glorified in the midst of thee, and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall have executed judgment in her, and shall be sanctified in her. And this is all one with I will be glorified in the midst of them. And in the 38. of Ezek. 16. 23 you have to the same purpose, And thou shalt come up against my people of Israel, as a cloud to cover the land: it shall be in the latter days: and I will bring thee against my land that the heathen may know me, when I shall be sanctified in thee O Gog, before their eyes. And in the 23. ver. Thus will I magnify my elf, and sanctify myself, and will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord, in the way of the execution of judgment: thus I will sanctify my self, so I will be sanctified in those that draw nigh me.
In those that are nigh me. Nigh ones, so it may be read: that is, especially the priests that did approach to God. Ezek. 42. 13. they approach to God especially. But it is meant generally of all those that shall have to deal in my worship, whosoever shall come to worship me, let them look to it, they must sanctify my Name, they must so demean themselves in my worship, as to hold forth my Name to be holy: or otherwise, I will manifest myself against them in the ways of judgment, for I will appear to be a holy God. I will have the glory of my holiness one way or other (saith God) in those that come near Me; As if God should say, Though it’s otherwise with men, they indeed will be ready to favour those that are near them, but I will not do so. Men will sooner pass by the offences of those that are near them, than those that are not: as suppose that a stranger commits an offence, you would be severe towards him; but suppose it were one of your own children, or kinsmen, what would you do then? Do not we see that men will rather favour their own kindred than strangers, though the offence be the same? But I will not do so saith God. Suppose it be one of your own family, will not you be ready to excuse them? Suppose it were your own child that should commit such an offence, Oh! what friends would you make to take him off from punishment? Though men would do so towards their own, yet be bitter & severe towards strangers; Yet I will not be so saith God: Let those that are near me look to it, I will be sanctified by them. I will be sanctified in those that draw near me.
Now upon this, when Moses said thus, that God would be sanctified in those that draw near him: this was Moses scope to Aaron, as if Moses should say, Aaron, though I confess the hand of God is heavy upon you this day: Yet it is fit for you to submit to God, ’tis fit that God should be glorified whatever becomes of you; you are dear to God, but God’s Name is dearer to him than you are: what ever the lives of your sons were, yet it is fit that God should be honoured, and his Name sanctified what ever become of your sons, or of your comforts, and therefore let your heart be quieted, you have had a great loss and affliction upon you; but God hath had glory; God hath glorified himself. How hath God glorified himself? Very much by this way; for God by this way hath done an act to make all the people of the land fear before him; to cause them to worship him with all reverence. All the people of the land seeing such a judgment as this, and hearing of it; they will learn forever to fear and reverence this God: they will say, How shall we appear before this holy God? We had need take heed how we appear in his presence, and worship him according to the way that He Himself would be worshiped; As if Moses should say, This honour that God hath by this means in the hearts of his people; it is that that you should account a greater good than the lives of your children, whatever they are. This is the scope of Moses speech to Aaron. Now upon this the Text saith: Aaron held his peace. He was silenced. It may be before, he was expressing himself in grief, and sorrowed exceeding much in words; but now he was quiet and had nothing to say: he did by his silence acknowledge his children were dear to him, but it’s fit that God should be glorified what ever becomes of his children, and therefore Aaron holds his peace.
But the word that is here translated, holds his peace, It hath more in it than mere silence; for the Hebrews have another word that signify mere silence of speech: but this signifies, a staying of the heart, that it doth not further proceed in and trouble of spirit, a silence in the very heart, and staying of it; a staying of the motions of the heart. I find the same word to be used in Scripture, when Joshua said to the Sun, stand still, stay thyself on Gibeon, Jos 10. 12. It is the same word that is here translated, and Aaron held his peace, that is, he was stayed from further vexing or troubling of himself, or being disquieted; whereas his heart was in a strong violent motion: Now Moses speech did stop him, and gave a stop to his heart to make it stand still in a wonderful manner, As the Sun, when Joshua spoke to it to stand still. As if the Lord should have spoken to his heart, Aaron, thy heart is in a mighty strong motion, but consider that I must be sanctified in those that draw nigh me; and let all those motions of thy heart be stopped and quiet. Thus now you see the meaning of the Scripture, and the scope of it. Now in this Scripture you have these three special and notable points.
1. That in worshiping of God, there is a drawing nigh unto Him.
2. That when we do draw nigh to God, we should take heed to ourselves that we sanctify God’s Name.
3. If we do not sanctify God’s Name in our drawings nigh to Him, then certainly God will sanctify his own Name upon us.
These are the three points that I intend to handle; And especially the second to handle largely among you. I confess upon another occasion in one sermon I have spoke out of these words, but now I intend not only in general, to show you how you should sanctify God’s Name in worship, but likewise in the particular acts of worship: As sanctifying His Name in prayer, in receiving the sacrament, in hearing the word; in the several chief parts of the worship of God, how his Name should be sanctified: For in all these you do draw nigh to God. And for that end I have pitched my thoughts upon this Scripture. But before I come to these three great points, that are the principal points in the words read unto you; I shall take up divers other notes of observation that lie up and down as it were scattered, that are of great use, and will help us further to make use of this Scripture in the other points that I shall come to afterward, and handle more largely.
The first note is this, That in God’s worship there must be nothing tendered up to God but what he hath commanded, whatsoever we meddle with in the worship of God, it must be what we have a warrant for out of the word of God.
For this speech of Moses is upon occasion of the judgment of God upon Aaron’s sons for offering strange fire: They offered fire that God had not commanded. Hence I say, that all things in God’s worship must have a warrant out of God’s word, must be commanded, It’s not enough that it is not forbidden: I beseech you observe it: it is not enough that a thing is not forbidden, and what hurt is there in it? But it must be commanded: I confess in matters that are civil and natural, there this may be enough; If it be but according to the rules of prudence, and not forbidden in the word; we may make use of this in civil and natural things. But now when we come to matters of Religion, and the worship of God, we must either have a command, or some what out of God’s word by some Consequence drawn from some command wherein God manifests his will; either a direct command, or by comparing one thing with another, or drawing consequences plainly from the words. We must have a warrant of the worship of God. One would have thought that these priests offering incense to the true God, what hurt was there in taking other Fire? But there was no Command for it, and therefore it was not accepted. It’s true, there are some things in the worship of God that are natural and civil helps, and there we need not have any command: As for instance; when we come to worship God, the congregation meets, they must have a convenient place to keep the air and weather from them: now this is but a natural help, and so far as I use the place of worship as a natural help I need have no command. But if I will put any thing in a Place beyond what it hath in its own nature, There I must look for a Command. For if I account one place more Holy than another; or to think that God should accept of worship in one place rather than in another: This is to raise it above what it is in its own nature. So that when any creature is raised in a religious way, above what it hath in it by nature; if I have not Scripture to warrant me I am therein superstitious. It’s a very useful rule for to help you: If any Creature that you make any use of in a way of Religion beyond what it hath in its own Nature, if you have not some warrant from the word of God (whatsoever specious show there may be in it) it is superstition. As now for the place, there was a place that was holy, but then it had an institution from God. And so for garments, to use those that are decent, the light of reason is enough: but if I will put any thing upon them beyond what there is in them in their own Nature, as heretofore in a surplus, what, had that any more decency in its own nature, but only man’s institution? Now when man shall put a religious respect upon a thing, by virtue of his own institution when he hath not a warrant from God; here’s superstition! we must al be willing worshipers, but not Will-worshippers; We must come freely to worship God; but we must not worship God according to our own wills, and therefore whatever we do in the worship of God, if we have not a warrant for it, when this is said, Who requireth this at your hands? It will stop our mouths another day: In Matthew 15. 9. In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men. In vain: it is a vain thing to worship God, when there is nothing but a commandment of man for this worship. If you would worship God, you must have a commandment of God for the worship: And in Isa. 29. 13. there is a place to the same purpose, that shows how the Lord is offended with any man that shall teach his fear by their own precepts, Wherefore the Lord said, forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear towards me taught by the precepts of men. Mark it: Now if this be so, the Lord have mercy upon us in this thing. You have cause to be humbled every one of you; I believe in some degree or other, this congregation very much, and most congregations that have had the fear of God taught them by the precepts of men: How many things have there been in the worship of God that you can show no warrant in the word for? A great many things merely men’s inventions, however they are now cast out, because authority came in and cast them out, and so you submit to it; but that is not enough for you to submit to it because authority would have it so; but you ought to be humbled before God for all your will-worship, for all your yieldings to any thing in the worship of God, that was taught by the precepts of men: You see how severe God was to Nadab and Abihu for but taking other fire than that which God had appointed to offer up incense, though there was no direct Commandment against it. If the Lord hath spared you, and not manifested any displeasure upon you, you have cause to acknowledge God’s mercy, and to be humbled for all your false worship; Certainly God doth expect it from this land to be humbled for their will-worship, or otherwise they sow among thorns: All the Reformation that is among us, if there be not a humiliation before, for all our false worship; ’tis not enough that we set up now the true worship of God, but we must be humbled for our false worship. And that’s the first note; That in the worship of God there must be nothing but what God commands.
The Second Note is, In the matters of worship, God stands upon little things: Such things as seem to be very small and little to us, yet God stands much upon them in the matter of worship. For there is nothing wherein the prerogative of God doth more appear than in worship: as princes, they stand much upon their Prerogatives: Now God hath written the law of natural worship in our hearts, as that we should love God, fear God, trust in God, and pray to God; this God hath written in our hearts: But there are other things in the worship of God that are not written in our hearts, that only depend upon the will of God revealed in his word, which were no duties except they were revealed in his word. And these are of such a nature as we can see no reason for, but only this, because God will have them. As now, there are many kinds of ceremonies to manifest honour to princes that there is no reason for them at all, but merely because it is a civil institution so appointed: So God would have some ways for the honouring of him, that the creature should not see into the reason of them, but merely the will of God to have them so: Now God stands much upon little things, though men would think it a little matter whether this fire, or that fire, and will not this burn as well as that? But God stands upon it: And so for the ark, when Uzza did but touch the ark, when it was ready to fall, we would think it no great matter, but one touch of the ark cost him his life. There is not any one minimum in the worship of God, but God stands mightily upon it: In the matter of the Sabbath, that’s His worship, for a poor man to gather a few sticks, what great matter is it? But God stands upon it. And so when the men of Bethshemesh did but look into the ark, it cost the lives of fifty thousand threescore and ten men. If it be a matter of a holy thing that concerns his worship, he would not have it abused in anything. Let us learn to make conscience of little things in the worship of God, and not to think, O how nice such are, and how precise and nice in such small things! Thou doest not understand the nature of Divine worship if so be thou art not nice about it; God is nice and stands upon little things in the matter of his worship.
Another Note is this; That there is no privileges or dignities of man that can secure them from God’s stroke.
First, Moses the man of God, he was their uncle, Aaron that great instrument of God’s glory, he was their father: They were men that were newly consecrated to the priests office, they were renowned, men that God put much glory upon; yet if they will venture but to offend God in this little thing, God’s wrath breaks out upon them, and kills them presently. Let us take heed then of venturing, and do not think that any services that we have done heretofore can bear us out; If the greatest cannot be bore out with all their privileges, how dare we poor worms venture upon the displeasure of God? Thou that art a worthless creature of no use at all in the world, darest thou provoke this God, when as the Lord is so angry against men that are of great use and service, to let out his wrath upon them suddenly? If you should see a prince not spare his favourite, or his nobles that are about him, but upon one offence that we think is but a little offence, that the princes anger should be so much against them as to cost them their lives; what cause is there for poor people to tremble then, when they have done that which may incur the anger of the prince? You see all outward privileges and greatness will not excuse from the stroke of God’s Justice, it should not excuse from the stroke of mans justice: It’s true, among men, poor people they go to it if they offend, but if great men offend, they escape; but it is not so with God, for Nadab and Abihu were great and renowned men.
The fourth note is, that the more the dignity of men is, the more is their danger if they look not to it: And this note I gather from hence, That Nadab and Abihu were the two eldest sons of Aaron, and we find in the Scripture that Eleazer and Ithamer that were the two other sons of Aaron, they escaped and were not thus consumed. Why? Because the two elder sons had the dignity and privilege to come and offer the incense, and having greater dignity than the younger, and not being careful to behave themselves as they ought to do, the Lord smote them, and the younger they escaped. And so many times they that are in a meaner condition they escape, when those that are in a higher condition they are struck. Let men that are in higher conditions than others look to themselves, for their danger is greater: And you that are in a meaner condition, envy not those that are higher, for you may be more safe in that mean condition which you are in, than they in theirs.
The fifth note is this, that the beginnings of things of high concernment, do meet sometimes with great difficulties and interruptions. This note I gather from hence, That Nadab and Abihu were struck at the very beginning of their priesthood: As now, suppose there were a new office erected in a commonwealth that concerned the public good of the Kingdom, and in the very first erecting of the office there falls out some hideous accident that rings throughout the whole Kingdom, as if God from heaven had done something against them in that office: As now, suppose that the first time the judges should come at the bench, that God should strike them from heaven dead at the very bench, it would be a mighty matter to darken the glory and honour of that office. So one would think that it should have been a mighty matter to have darkened the glory and the honour of the priesthood always: but God stands not upon that, many times the beginnings of great things are darkened by sad accidents, and therefore let us not be offended though we see some sad accidents to fall out at the beginning of great things, for though accidents fall out sadly at first, yet God may prosper it afterwards, as he did the priesthood.
The sixth note is, that those that enter into public places. and especially such places as concern the worship of God, they had need have the fear of God much upon them when they first enter into those places. Now this were a very good point if I were to preach to an auditory of ministers. You see Nadab and Abihu upon their first consecration the Lord smote them for this little miscarriage as we would think. And that’s a sixth note which especially concerns ministers, and therefore I pass it over.
The seventh note that we have, and that’s very useful for us all, God would have us all to pick out his mind from dark expressions in his word. Though he doth not express His will fully, and in express terms; yet if there be any thing in His word whereby we may come to gather the mind of God, God expects that we should gather His mind out of His word, and if we do not it’s at our own peril. The mind of God about this strange fire that these offered, you will say, they were to pick it out: How could they have known that it was God’s mind that they should not offer any fire but that on the altar?
They should have reasoned thus with themselves, what hath God let fire come down from heaven upon the altar, and hath He commanded that that should be preserved on the altar for His service? Surely this must be God’s mind then, that we should make use of this fire rather than any other fire: God expects that they should have reasoned thus, but because they did not pick out God’s mind by reasoning after this manner, therefore the hand of God came out upon them. They offended, and it may be it was through ignorance, but it was at their peril, if they were ignorant of the mind of God when it might be known though it were but darkly revealed, and were to be picked out from several places compared together, it was at their peril. It is a point that we have a great deal of need of: for this is the vain heart of man, that if there be any thing that God would have that is not suitable to his own ends, he will stand wrangling against it, and cavelling at it; how doth it appear (will he say) can you bring express Scripture for it? Bring me express Scripture in words for to prove it, and then I will believe it; and so stands out till you bring so many words of Scripture that forbids such a thing, or commands such a duty. Now my brethren if you be of this temper, that you will forbear nothing, nor set up any thing but what you have directly express words of Scripture for, you may run at your own peril into woeful dangers, into woeful sins: know that God hath so revealed a great part of his mind as it is only to be known by gathering one thing from another, and by comparing one thing with another. And God expects this from you, that if upon examination of Scripture that one thing appear more likely to be his mind and will than another; you are bound to go that way that is more likely. I told you before, that in matters of worship we must have warrant from the word; but it doth not follow, that we must have a direct express warrant in every thing: As it is many times in some kind of picture, the great art, it is in the cast of the looks; you cannot say, it’s in the drawing of this line, or the other line, but altogether, it is the cast of the looks that causes the beauty of the picture: So in the Scripture, you cannot say that this one line, or the other line, take it single that proves it, but let them be laid all together and there will be a kind of aspect of God’s mind, that we may see that this is the mind of God rather than the other, and we are bound to go that way.
Now so far Nadab and Abihu might have seen, that they should rather have taken fire off the altar than any other fire: But they presumed because they had not express word, and you see it was at their peril. Oh take heed of standing out, and wrangling against what is required, because you have not express words; the Lord hath laid things so, and especially in the New Testament, for the ordering of the Church in the New Testament, as you have not express command for abundance of things, but sometimes an example in some things, and sometimes not a clear example neither; but compare one thing with another, and that which seems to be nearest the mind of God that should be bond enough to us, to tie us to go according to what the mind of God seems most probable to be in the Scripture; and an humble teachable heart will soon be convinced, when another man will not.
We find it clearly, that such things that are most suitable to mens own ends, a little matter will serve the turn to persuade men to it, though one might argue against it: I could easily show it, but that I think it not so convenient in pulpits to meddle with such things as those are. Those things I say which are suitable to men’s own ends and ways, them they will close withal; but other things that do cross the flesh, that are most opposite to looseness, and would bring men most under the government of Christ, those things men stand out against, and they must have clear and express words, express and clear warrant out of the word in so many terms, or otherwise by no means they will not so much as yield to it: That’s a point that if God would but settle it upon our hearts, might be of very great use; A gracious heart will see the truth through a very little crevice; But it is marvelous to consider what a do there is to convince a man before he is humbled, of some part of God’s will; and how easy is it to convince a man after he is humbled.
The eighth note is this, that sinners may meet with some judgments of God that were never threatened in his word. God did never threaten beforehand, and say, whosoever offers strange fire, I will consume them with fire from heaven; But they meet with a judgment that was not threatened; consider of this, it may be when we come to speak out of the word, and show you plainly how God doth threaten such and such sins, you are afraid then; but know, if thou venturest upon ways of sin, thou mayest meet with dreadful judgments executed that never yet were threatened: Besides all those judgments that are threatened in the Book of God, thou mayest meet with judgments unheard of, unexpected: As God hath mercies beyond what he hath expressly revealed in his word, for never was it heard since the beginning of the world what God hath laid up for them that love him: So God hath judgments beyond what is in his word. Sometimes when the ministers of God do open the threatening that are in God’s word, you think that they are terrible: But know that God in the treasury of his judgments hath more dreadful things than ever yet hath been revealed in his word; and therefore learn to tremble, not only at what is revealed in God’s word against thy sin, but tremble at what there is in that infinite justice, power, and wisdom of God to find out, and execute upon sinners; for thou art a sinner, and especially if thou beest a bold and presumptuous sinner; thou mayest I say expect to meet with whatsoever evil an infinite wisdom is able to devise, and that an infinite power is able to bring upon thee that thou art capable of: Thou committest such and such a sin; perhaps thou doest not know of any particular judgment that is threatened against it; but think thus, I that do provoke God by my sins, what may I look for? ‘Tis more than I know to the contrary, but that whatsoever the infinite wisdom of God is able to find out, and what misery soever I am capable of, that the Lord may bring upon me. Consider of this, and take heed of sin.
The ninth observation is this, that God is very quick with some in the ways of his judgments. It may be he may spare others for a long time, but concerning thee he may say, thou shalt not offend twice. If thou wilt venture the first act, God may strike thee with death; he did so here with Nadab and Abihu, for they were but newly consecrated, so I find it by interpreters, that they were to be in consecration for seven days, and this was the first day that they came to their place, and in the very first act that they did, God did smite them: Let us tremble: the Lord is quick towards some, he is patient towards others, but do not thou presume because he is patient to others, he may take thee in the very first act of thy sin, and be quick with thee.
The tenth note is this, that the holiness of a duty will never bear a man out in the miscarriage of it. This was a holy duty, they were the true priests of God, they came to offer incense to the true God, It was right incense that they offered, there was but this one miscarriage, They had not the same fire that God would have; now this miscarriage God comes upon them for, and all the good there was in the duty it would not bear them out.
Consider of this, you that perform many holy duties, take heed of giving way to yourselves in any miscarriage, for do not think, that because your duties are very good and holy, that by doing thereof you may venture upon mixture; take heed of mixing any evil, any miscarriage in any holy thing, though you have performed a thousand holy duties, yet it will not bear you out in the miscarriage of them.
The eleventh note is this, that the Lord is very terrible out of his holy places. The note is the same that you have in Psal. 68. 35. The Lord is terrible out of his holy places: When we have to deal with God, who can stand before this holy God? our God is a consuming fire: The Lord manifests himself here most dreadfully to strike with fire these two priests, as in Ezek. 9. 6. Begin at my Sanctuary, saith God. God is terrible, terrible towards those that shall dare to approach unto him, and yet are wicked and ungodly in their approaching, he is terrible to those that are near unto him, God would have us all to tremble at his presence.
In the twelfth place, God’s judgments are often very suitable to men’s sins. Here they sinned by fire, and they are consumed by fire. They offended by strange fire, and God strikes them by a strange fire. The judgments of God are very suitable to the sins of men oftentimes. As here by fire, so another time we find it by water: Pharaoh he sins by drowning the infants of the people of Israel in the waters, and God drowns him in the sea. If you will be drowning by water, you shall have water enough saith God: And so here, if you will be meddling with strange fire, you shall have strange fire saith God: God doth many times proportion judgments to sinners that his righteousness might the more appear: those very creatures in which we sin, many times God makes them, or others of the same kind, to be the executioners of his wrath. So it was with the Jews, they would sell Christ for 30 pieces of silver, and they were sold 30 of them for a penny afterwards. And so the story of Adoni-bezek in the first of Judges, that was so cruel in such a way to cut off thumbs and toes of Kings, even so he was served in the like kind: and it’s ordinary for men that are of cruel fiery spirits, to meet with cruel fiery spirits likewise.
And I would apply it in this particular, You that are stout children to your parents, if God lets you live, you many times meet with the very same in your children, and when you that are parents meet with stubborn children, you should reflect, doth not God come righteously upon me? And so you that are servants, you are stout to your masters, and afterwards when you come to have servants they will be so to you; and perhaps you were unfaithful to your governors, afterwards when you come to have servants, it’s a thousand to one but they will be so to you. Now you should strike your hand upon your heart and say, It’s just with God that it should be so, and that He should come upon me in my own kind.
Another note is this, they offered strange fire. Let’s take heed all of us, how we bring strange fire into God’s service. Bring strange fire into God’s service, what’s that? I find diverse writers speaking upon this, saith Ambrose, lusts, and covetousness are this strange fire. That which I would have you consider of, is this, above all strange fire, take heed of the strange fire of passion and anger; and especially in the worship of God; and at any time when you find your hearts heated and fired with anger, when you are about to worship God, remember this Scripture, Nadab and Abihu were consumed by God, with fire from God, for coming into God’s presence with strange fire: Now, O Lord, how often have we come into thy presence with strange fire! Perhaps your hearts have been burning hot with passion when you have been coming into God’s presence: You are to pray with fervency, for so the Scripture saith: we are indeed to be heat in prayer, by the Holy Ghost in our hearts, but certainly not to come with the fire of passion and anger: Lift up your hands without wrath and doubting. If you have been passionate, and your hearts have been heat that way, be sure you get your hearts cold before you go to prayer. And so when you come to hear the word, if your hearts have been heat with passion, be sure you get them cold before you come to hear the word: Receive with meekness the ingrafted word that may save your souls.
And so when you come to the Lord’s Supper, Take heed of coming with wrath and malice, for then you come but to offer strange fire. It is a special consideration for ministers that come to preach, they should take heed of bringing strange fire into their pulpits; that is, of venting their own passions; That hath been ever a rule, that I have been convinced of since I knew any thing of preaching, That that man that is appointed to reveal God’s wrath, had need to conceal his own wrath: that’s certainly a rule for all preachers, for the Lord sends his preachers to make known his wrath against mens sins; but now, the more they make known his wrath, the more they should conceal their own; and so by that means when they come in the openest way to manifest God’s wrath, the more their preaching would be accepted. Now it’s true, a carnal heart would be ready to think, that when a preacher speaks out of true zeal to God, he will be ready to say, that he hath aiming at himself: take heed of that, I believe you have had but little occasion of such a temptation in this place: but however this I know, it is the duty of the ministers of God to be sure to bring nothing but the fire of the Spirit of God, the fire that they have from the alter; their tongues being touched with one of these coals, and not that they should come with their own passions to further the righteousness of God, no, the wrath of man doth not accomplish the righteousness of God. There are some other particulars which being laid down, we shall come to the three main points.