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PSALM xcv. 11.
Unto whom I sware in my wrath, that they should not enter
rest. IN these words we have an account of the severest proceeding of an angry God against sinners. What Calvin says of reprobation, that it was decretum horribile, a dreadful, amazing decree, the like may be here said of this sentence pronounced against Israel. For certainly, if such decrees are so terrible in the constitution of them, they cannot but appear much more terrible in the promulgation.
We have, in the precedent verses, a narrative of the Israelites' provoking sins, like a black cloud gathering over their heads, and here we have it breaking out into this dreadful thunder ; a thunder much more dreadful than all those that sounded in their ears at the promulging of the law from mount Sinai : for if the terror of the Almighty was so great in giving the law, no wonder if it was much greater in pronouncing the curse.
The words in themselves seem very plain and easy; and by this expression, I sware in my wrath, is meant God's peremptory declaring his resolution to destroy those murmuring and rebellious Jews. The word swearing is very significant, and seems to import these two things.
First, The certainty of the sentence here pronounced. Every word of God both is and must be truth; but ratified by an oath, it is truth with an advantage. It is signed irrevocable. This fixes it, like the laws of the Medes and Persians, beyond all possibility of alteration, and makes God's word, like his very nature, unchangeable.
Secondly, It imports the terror of the sentence. If the children of Israel could say, Let not God speak to us, lest we die, what would they have said, had God then sworn against them? It is terrible to hear an oath from the mouth but of a poor mortal; but from the mouth of an omnipotent God, it does not only terrify, but confound. An oath from God is truth delivered in anger; truth (as I may so speak) with a vengeance. When God speaks, it is the creature's duty to hear; but when he swears, to tremble. As for the next expression, that they should not enter into my rest, we must observe, that the word rest may
have a double interpretation. 1st, It may be taken for a temporal rest in Canaan, the promised land; or, 2dly, for an eternal rest in the heavenly Canaan.
Concerning which, some, who interpret spiritual truths according to the model of their own carnal conceptions, will have the whole sense of these words to be no more than God's excluding that generation of the Jews that murmured from a temporal possession of the land of Canaan, by destroying them in the wilderness. But this does not reach the matter. For since the church of the Jews, as to the whole economy and design of it, was in every thing typical; (so that it is observed by all writers, that there was no dispensation that befell them from God,
in respect of any temporal blessing or curse, but it did signify and couch under it the same in spirituals ;) from the warrant of this rule we must admit in this scripture, as well as in many others of the like nature, both of a literal and of a spiritual, or mystical sense. And,
1st, Considered according to the literal meaning of the words, as they are an historical passage relating to God's cutting off that murmuring generation of the Jews in the wilderness, set down in Numb. xiv. 21, 22, 23, so questionless they signify only God's denying them an entrance into the temporal Canaan. For to affirm, that all those that fell in the wilderness were excluded from heaven, would be both an harsh and an unwarrantable interpretation. But then,
2dly, Considered according to the spiritual or mystical sense of the words. So the meaning of them runs thus : as God in his fierce anger destroyed many of the children of Israel for their murmurings in the wilderness, and so denied them an entrance into the promised land of Canaan; so he will eternally destroy all obstinate unbelievers, and for ever exclude them from an enjoyment of a perpetual rest with himself in heaven. This I pitch upon as the prime intendment and sense of the words, though not so as wholly to exclude the other; and I ground it upon the apostle's own interpretation of these words in Heb. iv. 5, compared with Heb. ix. 11, where he interprets this word rest, of such a rest as a man may fall short of through unbelief. But now unbelief does not so much exclude from a temporal, as from an eternal rest. He applies it also to the Jews his contemporaries, living
in the same age with himself; and those could not possibly be said to miss or fall short of the earthly Canaan, since they and their ancestors had possessed that long before. It is clear, therefore, that it is to be understood chiefly of the heavenly.
The words thus explained I shall draw into this one proposition, viz.
That God sometimes in this life, upon extraordinary provocations, may and does inevitably design and seal up obstinate sinners to eternal destruction.
The prosecution of which I shall manage under these following particulars.
I. I shall shew how and by what means God seals up a sinner to perdition.
II. What sort of obstinate sinners those are that God deals with in this manner.
III. I shall answer and resolve one or two questions that may arise from the foregoing particulars. And,
IV. and lastly, Draw some uses from the whole. Of these in their order. And,
I. For the first of these. There are three ways by which God usually prepares and ripens a sinner for certain destruction.
1st, By withholding the virtue and power of his ordinances : and when God seals up the influences of these conduits, no wonder if the soul withers and dies with drought. For, alas! what is a conduit by which nothing is conveyed! The ordinances of themselves can do nothing but as they are actuated and enlivened by a secret, divine energy working in them. Now God, while he freely dispenses them, can suspend the other; and as he can give rain, and yet deny fruitfulness, and even send famine with an
harvest; so he can fix such a curse upon the means of grace, that a man may really want them, while he enjoys them ; that is, he may want them in their force and power, while he enjoys them in the letter : as a man may eat, and yet not be nourished; for it is not the bread that nourishes, but the blessing. Thus the Israelites had leanness in their bones, together with their quails; the hidden, nutritive power of the divine benediction being withheld. So in spirituals, a man may have an unthriving soul in the midst of the greatest evangelical provisions, because unblest; and in the midst of such plenty, suffer a real scarcity and famine.
The truth of this will appear from those different effects that are ascribed to the same word in scripture. For is not that which is a savour of life to some, that is, to those that are within the purpose of God's love, and whom he intends effectually to call, and to convert to himself; I say, is not the same termed a savour of death to others ? that is, to the obstinate and impenitent, and such as God leaves to themselves. That which God uses as an instrument to save, meeting with the corruption of some obdurate hearts, is made a means to ruin : as it softens some, so it hardens others. The chosen of God are qualified by it for glory; the reprobates prepared for wrath. So contrary are the workings of the same principle upon different subjects. As the same rain, that, falling upon a tree or plant, makes it flourish, falling upon wood cut down and dried, makes it rot and decay. By this means God does very powerfully fit the sons of perdition for their final sentence. For when men grow worse and worse by sermons and sacraments, and under the continual