O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem.
~ Isaiah 40:9-10, Isaiah 27:13
Set the trumpet to thy mouth. He shall come as an eagle against the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.
~ Hosea 8:1, Revelation 1:10, Revelation 4:1
Behold, O LORD, and consider to whom thou hast done this. Shall the women eat their fruit, and children of a span long? shall the priest and the prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord? For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?
~ Lamentations 2:20, 1 Peter 4:17-18
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
~ Matthew 3:1-2
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.
~ Matthew 12:43-45
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
~ Revelation 12:11
Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
~ Romans 11:22
An Humble Testimony Unto the Goodness and Severity of God in His Dealing with Sinful Churches and Nations; or, The Only Way to Deliver a Sinful Nation from Utter Ruin by Impendent Judgments: In a Discourse on the Words of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by John Owen. 1681. Sermon XVI. The following is an excerpt from his work.
“Cry aloud, spare not; lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” — Isa. lviii. 1. “In publico discrimine omnis homo miles est.”
Luke xiii. 1–5.
There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
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 animosities 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. This, therefore, we shall inquire into.
The first thing supposed in the proposition before laid down was taken from the circumstance of the time wherein, and with reference whereunto, our Lord Jesus Christ delivered the rule of the necessity of repentance and reformation, unto an escape from total destruction; and this was a time when sin greatly abounded in the church and nation. And this supposition is the foundation of the truth of the whole assertion; for in other cases it may not always hold.
I. Our first inquiry must, therefore, be, — “When is a people or nation so filled with sin, or when doth sin so abound among them, as, in conjunction with the things afterward to be insisted on, to render their salvation or deliverance impossible, without repentance and reformation?” And it doth so, —
First. When all sorts of sin abound in it. I do not judge that every particular sin, or kind of sinning, that may be named, or may not be named, is required hereunto; nor is it so, that there should be the same outrage in public sins — for instance, in blood and oppression — as there hath been at some times, and in some places of the world, the dark places of the each being filled with habitations of cruelty; nor is it so, that sin doth reign at that height, and rage at that rate, as it did before the flood, or in Sodom, or before the final destruction of Jerusalem, or as it doth in the kingdom of Antichrist: for in that case there is no room or place either for repentance or reformation. God hides from them the things that concern their peace, that they may be utterly and irrecoverably destroyed. But this, I will grant, is required hereunto, — namely, that no known sin that is commonly passant in the world can be exempted from having a place in the public guilt of such a church or nation. If any such sin be omitted in the roll of the indictment, peace may yet dwell in the land. It would be too long, and not to my purpose, to draw up a catalogue of sins — from the highest atheism, through the vilest uncleanness, unto the lowest oppression that are found amongst us. I shall only say, on the other hand, that I know no provoking sin, condemned as such in the book of God, whereof instances may not be found in this nation. Who dares make this a plea with God for it, namely, that yet it is free and innocent from such and such provoking sins? “Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob;” let us stand up, if we can, and plead for ourselves herein. But the only way whereby we may come to plead with God in this matter is fully described, Isa. i. 16–20. It must be repentance and reformation, laying a ground for pleading and arguing with God for pardon and mercy, that must save this nation, if it be saved, and not a plea for exemption from judgments on the account of our innocency. This is that which, of all things, God most abhorred in the people of old, and which all the prophets testified against in them.
But yet, to speak somewhat more particularly unto the first part of the proposition, in reference unto ourselves, — There are four sins, or four sorts of sins, or ways in sinning, which, unless God prevent, will be the ruin of this nation.
1. The first is atheism, — an abomination that these parts of the world were unacquainted withal until these latter ages. I do not speak concerning speculative or opinionative atheism, in them that deny the being of God, or, which is all one, his righteous government of the world; for it will not avail any man to believe that God is, unless withal he believe that “he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him;” — yet, of this sort it is to be feared that there are many amongst us; yea, some that make great advantages of religion, do live and talk as if they esteemed it all a fable. But I speak of that which is called practical atheism, — when men live and act as if they were influenced by prevalent thoughts that there is no God. Such the nation is replenished withal, and it exerts itself especially two ways:—
(1.) In cursed oaths and blasphemous execrations, whereby the highest contempt is cast on the divine name and being. The most excellent Thuanus 351, Parisian massacre, with the horrible desolations that ensued thereon, ascribes it, in the first place, unto the anger of God revenging the horrid oaths and monstrous blasphemies which, from the court, had spread themselves over all the nation, Hist., lib. liii. Nor is it otherwise among us at present; though not generally amongst all, yet amongst many, and those unpunished.
(2.) Boldness, confidence, and security in sinning. Many are neither ashamed nor afraid to act, avow, yea, and boast of the vilest of sins. The awe that men have of the knowledge, conscience, and judgment of others, concerning their evil and filthy actions, is one means whereby God rules in the world for the restraint of sin. When the yoke hereof is utterly cast
351 Jacques-Auguste de Thou, born at Paris in 1553, was made one of the presidents of the Parlement de Paris in 1594. The first eighteen books of his History were published in 1604. Though a Roman Catholic, he gives a candid and graphic description of the horrors of St Bartholomew’s day; on which account, and for other similar reasons, his work was placed on the “Index Expurgatorius,” in 1609. — Ed.
giving an account of the away, and men proclaim their sins like Sodom, it is the height of practical atheism. Nor, I think, did it ever more abound in any age than in that wherein we live.
2. The loss of the power of that religion whose outward form we do retain. We are all Protestants, and will abide to be of the Protestant religion. But wherein? In the Confession, and all the outward forms of the rule and worship of the church. But are men changed, renewed, converted to God, by the doctrine of this religion are they made humble, holy, zealous, fruitful in good works by it? — have they experience of the power of it in their own souls, in its transforming of them into the image of God? Without these things, it is of very little avail what religion men profess, This is that which is of evil abode to the professors of the Protestant religion at this day through the world. The glory, the power, the efficacy of it, are, if not lost and dead, yet greatly decayed; and an outward carcase of it, in articles of faith and forms of worship, doth only abide. Hence have the Reformed Churches, most of them, “a name to live,” but are dead; living only on a traditional knowledge, principles of education, advantages and interest; — in all which the Roman religion doth every way exceed them, and will carry the victory, when the contest is reduced unto such principles only. And unless God be pleased, by some renewed effusion of his blessed Spirit from above, to revive and reintroduce a spirit of life, holiness, zeal, readiness for the cross, conformity unto Christ, and contempt of the world, in and among the churches which profess the Protestant religion, he will ere long take away the hedge of his protecting providence, which now for some ages he hath kept about them, and leave them for a spoil unto their enemies. So he threateneth to do in the like case, Isa. v. 5, 6. Such is the state described, 2 Tim. iii. 1–5.
3. Open contempt and reproach, of the Spirit of God, in all his divine operations, is another sin of the same dreadful abode. Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us, that he who “speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come,” Matt. xii. 32; — that is, those who persist in opposing or reproaching the Holy Ghost, and his dispensation and operations under the New Testament, shall not escape vengeance and punishment even in this world; for so it befell that generation unto whom he spake. For continuing to do despite unto the Spirit of grace, wrath at length came upon them, even in this world, unto the utmost; which is the sense of the place. Now, scarcely, where the name of Christ was known, did this iniquity more abound than it doth at this day amongst us; for not only is the divine person of the Holy Spirit by some denied, and the substance of the preaching and writing of many is to oppose all his peculiar operations, but they are all made a scoff, a derision, and a reproach, openly and on all occasions, every day. Especially as he is a Spirit of regeneration and supplication, he is the object of multiplied sober blasphemies. This iniquity will be revenged.
4. The abounding of uncleanness, which, having broken forth from a corrupt fountain, hath overspread the land like a deluge. These sins, I say, among others, have such a predominancy among us, as to threaten perishing, without repentance.
Secondly. It is required, that all sorts and degrees of persons are concerned in the guilt of some of these provoking sins; for destruction is threatened unto all: “Ye shall all likewise perish;” — all, not universally, “pro singulis generum;” but generally, “pro generibus singulorum.” Therefore all must be, in some way, guilty of them. And this they may be three ways:—
1. Personally, in their own hearts, lives, and practices; which includes a great multitude.
2. By not hindering and preventing these sins in others, so far as their duty leads and their power enables them unto. What number of magistrates, of ministers, of parents, of masters of families are comprised herein, is evident unto all, especially ministers. See Mal. ii. 7, 8; Jer. xxiii. 14, 15.
3. By not mourning for what they cannot help or remedy; for it is such alone as shall be exempted from public calamities, Ezek. ix.: and this, in some measure, takes us all in. And the due consideration hereof is necessary upon a double account:—
(1.) It is so unto the manifestation of the glory of God in public calamities and desolations, when the sword slays suddenly, and destroys the righteous with the wicked. One way or other, in one degree or another, we have all of us an access unto the guilt of those things whereby such judgments are procured. Who can say he is innocent? who can complain of his share and interest in the calamities that are coming upon us? who can plead that he ought to be exempted? There will be at last an eternal discrimination of persons; but as unto temporal judgments, we must own the righteousness of God if we also fall under them. And, —
(2.) It is so, for the humbling of our souls under a sense of sin; which would better become some of us, than feeding on the ashes of reserves for exemption in the day of distress.
Some may suppose, that, by reason of their personal freedom from those public provoking sins which abound in the nation, — that on one account or other, by one means or other, they shall be safe, as in some high place, whence they may look down and behold others in distress and confusion. But it is to be feared their mistake will serve only to increase their surprisal and sorrow.
But yet farther; even the practice of provoking sins abounds among all sorts of persons. I do not say that all individuals amongst us are guilty of them; for were it so, our case were irreparable, like that of Sodom, when there were not ten righteous persons to be found in it, — that is, such as were free from the guilt of those sins whose cry came up to heaven; for then there would be no room for repentance or reformation. But whereas there are several sorts and degrees of persons, some high and some low, some rulers and some ruled, some rich and some poor, — there is no order, sort, or degree, in court, city, country, church, or commonwealth, that are free from provoking sins Individuals of all sorts may be so, but no entire sort is so. And this farther entitles a nation unto the condition inquired after.
Thirdly. It is so when the world is full of such sins as are its own, — as are proper to it; and the churches or professors, of such as are peculiar unto them. If either of these were free from their several provocations, there might be yet room for patience and mercy. And these are distinct.
The sins of the world are, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” — sensuality, luxury, uncleanness, covetousness, ambition, oppression, and the like, with security. In these things the nation is fertile towards its own ruin.
The sins peculiar unto churches and professors are intimated by our blessed Saviour in his charge on the Asian churches, Rev. ii. 3 — decays in grace, loss of faith and love, barren- ness in good works, deadness, formality, coldness in profession, self-pleasing, pride, hypocrisy, want of zeal for God and delight in him, divisions among themselves, and conformity unto the world. And some of these things at present are so prevalent among us, that they can never be sufficiently bewailed.
It is no small evidence that the day of the Lord is nigh at hand, because the virgins are all slumbering. And it is not unlikely that judgment will begin at the house of God. All flesh hath corrupted its way; and therefore the end of all, as to its present condition, is at hand.
Fourthly. It is so when the sins of a people are accompanied with the highest aggravations that they are capable of in this world; and those arise from hence, — when they are committed against warnings, mercies, and patience. These comprise the ways and means which God in his goodness and wisdom useth to reclaim and recall men from their sins; and by whomsoever they are despised, they treasure up unto themselves “wrath against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God,” Rom. ii. 4, 5. What can save a people, by whom the only remedies of their relief are despised? What warnings and previous judgments we have had in this nation shall be afterward spoken unto. That there hath been no effect, no fruit of them, is evident unto all. Their language is, “Except ye repent, ye shall perish.” Who hath complied with the calls of God herein? what reformation hath been en- gaged in on this account? Have we not turned a deaf ear to the calls of God? Who hath mourned? who hath trembled? who hath sought for an entrance into the chambers of providence in the day of indignation? By some these warnings have been despised and scoffed at; by some, put off unto others, as their concernment, — not their own; by the most, neglected, or turned into matter of common discourse, without laying them to heart.
And as for mercies, the whole earth hath been turned into a stage for the consumption of them on the lusts of men. The nation hath been soaked with “showers of mercies,” enough to have made it very fruitful unto God; but, through a vicious, malignant humour in the hearts of men, there have been truly brought forth nothing but pride, vanity, gallantry, luxury, and security, in city and country, everywhere. The pestilent, deceitful art of sin, hath turned the means of our conversion unto God into instruments of rebellion against God. How will England answer for abused mercies in the day of visitation And in all these things hath the patience also of God been abused, which hath been extended unto us beyond all thoughts and expectations. And yet, men of all sorts please themselves; as if that, were they over this or that difficulty, all would be well again, without any return unto God.
Fifthly. These things render impendent judgments inevitable, without repentance and reformation, when they are committed in a land of light and knowledge. Such the land hath been; and wherein yet there is any defect therein, it is a part of the sin and punishment of the nation. See Isa. xxvi. 10. From the light that was in it, it might well be esteemed “a land of uprightness;” but how it hath been rebelled against, hated, opposed, maligned, and persecuted, in all the fruits of it, is rather (for the sake of some) to be bewailed than declared.
And thus much may suffice to be spoken unto the first supposition in our proposition concerning the sins of a church, nation, or people, which unavoidably expose them unto desolating judgments, when God gives indication of their approach, unless they are prevented by repentance; and we have seen a little, and but a little, of what is our concernment herein.
II. Our second inquiry is, “Of what sort those judgments are, which, in a time of great provocation, are to be looked on as impendent, and ready to seize on us?” And they are of three sorts:—
First. Such as are absolute, decretory, and universal.
There is mention in the Scripture of judgments threatened, which God hath, as it were, repented him of, and changed the actings of his providence, that they should not be inflicted. See Amos vii. 3, 6. And there are judgments threatened, which have been diverted by the repentance of men; as it was in the case of Nineveh. But in this case, neither will God repent, nor shall man repent; but those judgments shall be universal and unavoidable. And of this sort we have three instances recorded in Scripture; — two are past, and one is yet for to come:—
1. The first is that of the old world. It is said that, upon their provocations, “God repented him that he had made man on the earth;” that is, he would deal with him as if he had done so, — which must be by a universal destruction. He would not repent of the evil he had determined; but positively declared that “the end of all flesh was come before him.” Nor did man repent; for, as our Saviour testifies, they continued in their security “until the day that Noah entered into the ark,” Matt. xxiv. 38. Yet it may be observed, that, after things were come to that pass that there was no possibility of turning away the judgment threatened, yet God exercised forbearance towards them, and gave them the outward means of repentance and reformation, 1 Pet. iii. 20. They had amongst them the ministry of Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and that continued for a long season, in the patience of God.
(And let none please themselves, that they have the outward means of the ministry continued unto them; for notwithstanding that fruit of God’s patience, their destruction may be inevitable. For as God may grant it unto them to satisfy his own goodness, and glorify his patience; so unto them it may have no other end but the hardening of them in their sin, and the aggravation of their sins, Isa. vi. 9–12. And this example of the old world is frequently proposed, and that to Christians, to professors, to churches, to deliver them from security in a time of approaching judgments.) 352
2. The second instance hereof was in the Judaical church-state; — the people, nation, temple, worship, and all that was valuable among them. This judgment also, in its approach, was such as with respect whereunto God would not repent, and man could not repent, al- though a day, a time and space, of repentance was granted unto them. So it is declared by our Lord Jesus Christ, Luke xix. 41–44. They had a day, — it was theirs in a peculiar manner, — a day of patience and of the means of conversion, in the ministry of Christ and his apostles. Yet, saith he, the things of thy peace are now hid from thee; — so as that they must irrecoverably and eternally perish. So is their state described by the apostle, 1 Thess. ii. 14–16.
But it may be said, If their destruction was so absolutely determined that it was impossible it should be either longer suspended or diverted, unto what end did God grant them a day — such a day of grace and patience — which they could not make use of? I answer, He did it for the manifestation of the glory of his grace, righteousness, and severity; and that these two ways:—
(1.) In the calling, conversion, and gathering of his elect out of the perishing multitude of them that were hardened. During the continuance of that day of grace and patience among 618 them, for about the space of forty years, all the elect of that generation were converted to God, and delivered from the curse that came upon the church and nation. For although I will not say but some of them might suffer, yea, fall, in the outward public calamities of that season; yet they were all delivered from the wrath of God in them, and saved eternally.
Hereof the apostle gives an account, Rom. xi. 5–10. It is therefore, in a time of great provocations, no certain evidence that inevitable public judgments are not approaching, because the word and other means of grace are effectual to the conversion of some amongst us; for God may hereby be gathering of his own unto himself, that way may be made for the pouring out of his indignation on them that are hardened.
(2.) He did it that it might be an aggravation of their sin, and a space to fill up the measure of their iniquity; to the glory of his severity in their destruction, — “Towards them that fell, severity.” They had time to contract all the guilt mentioned by the apostle, 1 Thess. ii. 14–16; and were brought into the state and condition described by the same apostle, Heb. x. 26–30. See Isa. vi. 10–12.
352 These brackets occur in the original edition, and are retained as they seem to indicate the digressive character of the remark contained in the paragraph. — Ed.
Of this judgment and destruction, that of the old world was a precedent and token, which was despised by those obdurate sinners, 2 Pet. iii. 5–7.
3. The third instance of a judgment of this nature, which is yet to come, is in the destruction of Antichrist, and the idolatrous kingdom of the great adulteress and the persecuting beast. With respect hereunto, also, God will not repent, nor shall men do so; so that it is inevitable. So is it declared, Rev. xviii. 8. This God hath determined, and it shall be accomplished in its appointed season; “for strong is the Lord God who judgeth” them, and none shall deliver them out of his hand, because of the improbability of it, because of the great power of Babylon in itself, and in its allies, the kings and merchants of the earth. The omni- potency of God is engaged to secure the church of its destruction; “strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.” She also hath her day, wherein she will not, wherein she shall not, repent. When God begins to execute his plagues against her, none that belong unto her will repent of any of their abominations, Rev. ix. 20, 21, xvi. 9, 11. Yet is there a day of patience continued unto this idolatrous, persecuting church; — partly that they may “fill up the measure of their iniquities;” and partly that God may, by the word and means of grace, gather out all his people from amongst them, according unto his call, Rev. xviii. 4. And our slowness in coming forth from them is probably one means of prolonging the day of her desolation. And now the Lord Jesus Christ seems to say unto his people what the angel said unto Lot, when he led him out of Sodom, Make haste to escape, for I cannot do any thing until you are escaped, Gen. xix. 22. And I hope the time is approaching wherein he will deal with his people as the angel dealt with Lot, verse 16. They are apt to linger, and know not how to leave the outward accommodation of the Babylonish state, nor clear themselves of innumer- able prejudices received therein; but he, being merciful unto them, will at length lay hold on them by the word of his power, and take them out of the city in a complete relinquishment of that cursed state.
Now, unto this sort of judgments there are two things concurring:—
1. That there is a determinate decree concerning them.
2. That there is a judicial obduration upon the people whom they are determined against, accompanying them; that no calls to repentance or reformation shall be complied withal so as to divert them. I am satisfied, upon such evidence as I shall give afterward, that this is not the condition of England; howbeit we have cause enough to tremble at the severest of divine judgments.
Secondly. The second sort of judgments are such as are deservedly threatened and determined, yet so as that no judicial hardness doth go along with them, to make utterly void the preceding day of grace and patience, and all reformation impossible.
They cannot, they shall not, be utterly removed, by a total deliverance from them; but yet they may have many alleviations and mitigations, and be sanctified unto them whom they do befall. A full instance hereof we have in the Babylonish captivity, as an account is given us of it, 2 Kings xxiii. 25–27, “Like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses: neither after him arose there any like him.
Notwithstanding the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal. And the Lord said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem, which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.”
God had decreed and determined to cast off Judah and Jerusalem for their sin, — to bring a wasting desolation upon them. When this judgment was approaching, Josiah endeavours a thorough reformation of all things in the land, religious, civil, and moral; yet would not God revoke his sentence of a great calamity on the whole nation. The secret reason hereof was, that the body of the people was hypocritical in that reformation, and quickly returned unto their former abominations, Jer. iii. 10, “Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the Lord.” See chap. iv. 18. Howbeit, this reformation of Josiah was accepted with God, and had its influence into the mitigation or sanctification of the ensuing desolation.
And this sort of judgment is very different from that before insisted on. For, —
1. It is but partial; there is a remnant always left among a people, that shall escape it. So was there in those days; there was an escape of it, a remnant whom God delivered and preserved; — which were as a blessing in the cluster, on the account whereof the whole was not utterly destroyed. This the Scripture very much insists on, Isa. lxv. 6–8; Zech. xiii. 8, 9; Amos ix. 8, 9.
2. As it is not total, so it is not final. Even in the severity of his wrath, God designed the recovery of that people again in the appointed season, — giving promises thereof unto them that feared him. And so it came to pass, in the return of their captivity. See the history hereof, Jer. xxxi. 32. God may have, for our sins, determined a desolating calamity on this nation; yet if there be not a judiciary hardness upon us, it may only be partial, and recoverable; — not as it was with Israel, 1 Kings xiv. 10. See Jer. iv. 27, v. 18, xxx. to xxxii.
3. It was sanctified and blessed unto them who were upright and sincere, and who endeavoured the removal of it by reformation, though they suffered in the outward calamity. The good figs, or those typed by them, were carried into captivity; but the dealing of God with them therein was in mercy, Jer. xxiv. 6, 7, “I will,” saith God, “set mine eyes upon them for good: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” Whatever was their outward condition, those internal, spiritual mercies and privileges made it sweet and useful unto them. The third part was brought through the fire, Zech. xiii. 8, 9.
4. God makes this sort of judgment a means fully to reclaim and reform them, as many of those who in general suffer under them. They are God’s furnace, but not to burn; — they purify and cleanse as silver is tried, and do not bum up as stubble is consumed. So was that church by their captivity purged from their idols forever. And many other differences of the like nature might be assigned.
And in the consideration of this sort of judgments lies our concernment. Who knows but that God, for our horrible neglect and contempt of the gospel, with all the cursed im- moralities and abominations which have ensued thereon, and the cold, dead frame of professors under various means of instruction, hath determined to bring a wasting calamity on this nation, and that he will not turn away from the fierceness of his wrath, but it shall overtake us? If there be a judicial hardness upon the land, so as that there is no repentance, no reformation endeavoured in this day of patience and forbearance which we yet enjoy, our desolation will be total, unsanctified, irrevocable; and though another people may be raised up to profess the gospel in the land, yet shall we be unconcerned in the mercy. So hath it been before in this nation, and in all the Christian nations of Europe. Woe unto us, if we thus betray the land of our nativity, — if we thus give it up to be a hissing and astonishment! Hearken not unto vain words; this or that way we shall be delivered: it is the day of our trial, and who knows what will be the evening thereof? But, on the other hand, although a public calamity should be determined irrevocably against us, if we use the day of forbearance unto the ends of it, — in repentance and returning unto God, — we shall at length have all the advantages before mentioned. It will be but partial; it will be but for a time; it will be sanctified; — it will purify the church, and restore it unto a more glorious state than ever before.
Thirdly. There are judgments which are deserved and threatened, but not decreed and determined, which may be absolutely diverted and escaped. This sort of judgments is frequently mentioned in the Scripture; and so also are frequent deliverances from them, by the ways and means of God’s appointment.
And concerning them we may observe, —
1. That this threatening of approaching judgments, which yet may be averted, is a declaration of the ordinary rule of divine justice, according whereunto a nation or people, without an interposition of sovereign mercy, ought to be destroyed.
God doth not threaten, he doth not give warnings, signs, or indications of approaching judgments, but when they are deserved, and may righteously be executed; nor is there any known rule of the word to give an assurance of the contrary. All that can be said is, “Who knows but that the Lord may repent, and turn from the fierceness of his wrath?”
2. The threatening of them is an ordinance of God, to call us unto the use of such means as whereby they may be prevented.
He foretells our destruction, that we may not be destroyed; as it was in the case of Nineveh. And this is the only symptom whereby we find out and discern the nature of threatened impendent judgments. If the consideration of them be an ordinance of God, stirring us up to the diligent use of the means whereby they may be prevented, the design of God is to give in deliverance in the issue. If it doth not, they are inevitable. God holds the balance yet in his hand, and we know not which way we incline. The best prognostication we can take, is from the frame of our own hearts under the threatenings of them.
Here lies the trial of this poor land and nation at this day; judgment is deserved, judgment is threatened, judgment is approaching, — the clouds are the dust of his feet. If all sorts of men turn not to God by repentance, — if we are not humbled for our contempt of the gospel and outrage against it, — if we leave not our provoking sins, — evil will overtake us, and we shall not escape. And yet, on the other hand, by a due application unto him who holds the balance in his hand, mercy may glory against justice, and we may have deliverance.
Those great men who suppose all things pervious unto their wisdom, and conquerable by their industry, who have a thousand flattering contrivances for the safety of a nation, cannot more despise these things than I do all their counsels without them. And when they shall be at a loss, and shall find one disappointment following on the neck of another, those who attend unto the advice of God in this case shall find rest and peace in their own souls. And as for them who scoff at these things, and say, “Where is the promise of his coming?” — that is, in the way of judgment, — “for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the creation;” there needs no regard unto God in these things; trouble us not with the fooleries of your repentance and reformation; — God will “laugh at their calamity,” etc., Prov. i. 26, to the end.
This is the second thing we were to insist on, for the clearing and confirmation of the general proposition before laid down.