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2. Whether a man may know such a purpose to have passed upon him, antecedently to its execution? In answer to which, from a consideration of the ordinary ways by which God imparts his will to men, namely, 1st, By his word, 13. 2dly. By men's collection of it from its effects, 14. It is affirmed, that no man in this life can pass any certain judgment concerning the will of God in reference to his own final estate, 15. But here is observed a wide difference between the purpose of God hitherto discoursed of, and that which the schools call God's decree of reprobation. 1st. Because that decree is said to commence upon God's good pleasure and sovereign will, but this purpose upon the provocation of the sinner. 2dly. Because that decree is said to be from all eternity; but this purpose is taken up after some signal provocation, 15; from all which,
IV. We are exhorted to beware of sinning under sin-aggravating circumstances, 16, and shown the danger of dallying with and venturing upon the Almighty, by a daring continuance in a course of sin, 17.
THE FOLLY OF ATHEISM.
PSALM XIV. 1.
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.
In the words we have two particulars, wherein we may consider,
1. The thing asserted, which may be understood, (1.) Of an absolute removal of the divine being and existence; or (2.) Of a removal of God's vidence, by which he governs and takes account of all the particular affairs of the world, and more especially of the lives and actions of men, 19.
2. The manner of the assertion, "The fool hath said in his heart ;” it wears the badge of guilt, privacy, and darkness, 20.
By" the fool's saying in his heart, There is no God," may be implied, 1. An inward wishing that there was no God, 21.
2. His seeking out arguments to persuade himself that there is none, 21. 3. Not only seeking for reasons and arguments, but also a marvellous readiness to acquiesce in any seeming probability or appearance of reason that may make for his opinion, 22.
4. Another way, different from all the former, for a man to place his sole dependence, as to his chief good and happiness, on any thing besides God, is, as we may so speak, virtually and by consequence for him to "say in his heart, There is no God," 23.
II. The second particular considered is, the person who made this assertion, "the fool;" whose folly will appear from these following reasons:
1. That in making and holding this assertion, he contradicts the general judgment and notion of mankind, 24.
2. That he lays aside a principle easy and suitable to reason, and substitutes in the room of it one strange and harsh, and, at the best, highly improbable, 25.
3. His folly appears from the causes and motives inducing him to take up this opinion, which, amongst others, are (1.) Great impiety, and disquiet of conscience consequent thereupon. (2.) Great ignorance of nature and natural causes, 26.
4. From those cases, in which such persons begin to doubt and waver, and fly off from their opinion, instanced, (1.) In the time of some great and imminent danger. (2.) In the time of approaching death, 27.
The modern and more thorough-paced sinners affect a superiority in villany above their ancestors; therefore this discourse against atheism is supposed to be of some use; and if so, the most proper use is, to give every one of us a view and prospect into his own heart: and such as are willing to watch over that, so as to prevent this monstrous birth, are advised to beware,
1. Of great and crying sins, such as make the conscience raw and sick. 2. Of discontents about the cross passages of God's providence towards them.
3. Of devoting themselves to pleasure and sensuality, there being nothing in the world that casts God out of the heart like it, 29.
THE ISRAELITES' INGRATITUDE TO GOD.
[Preached on the 29th of May, at Westminster Abbey.]
PSALM CVI. 7.
Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies; but provoked him at the sea, even at the Red sea.
The resemblance between the transactions of Providence with the children of Israel in their redemption from Egypt, and with ourselves in the restoration of the royal family, being briefly considered, 30, 31; to show how like we are to them for their miraculous ingratitude, we must observe three things in the text:
I. The unworthy and ungrateful deportment of the Israelites towards God, upon a most signal mercy and deliverance," they provoked him;" which expression seems to import an insolent daring resolution to offend; and, as it relates to God, strikes at him in a threefold respect:
1. It rises up against his power and prerogative, 32.
2. It imports an abuse of his goodness, 32.
3. It is an affront upon his long-suffering and his patience, 33.
II. The second thing to be observed is, the aggravation of this deportment from the nature and circumstance of the deliverance, "They provoked him at the sea, even at the Red sea," 33. The baseness and ingratitude of which God casts in their teeth, by confronting it with the glorious deliverance he vouchsafed them; a deliverance ennobled with these four qualifications:-1. Its greatness, 34, 2. Its unexpectedness, ib. 3. The eminent seasonableness of it, 37. 4. Its absolute undeservedness, 38. Our case is severally shown in the above particulars to be parallel to that of the Israelites, and likewise in the return made to God for his goodness.
III. The third thing observable is, the cause of this misbehaviour, "They understood not thy wonders in Egypt." Now in every wonderful passage of providence, two things are to be considered, 40.
1. The author, by whom it is done, 40.
2. The end for which it is done: neither of these, in the cases before us, were understood by the Israelites, nor have been attended to by us as they ought to have been, 41.
FASTING A MEANS OF SUBDUING SIN.
MATTHEW XVII. 21.
Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.
It was a general received command, and an acknowledged rule of practice in all ages and places of the Christian world, that we are to "hear the church ;" which, being acted by the immediate guidance of the Holy Ghost, hath set apart the time of our Saviour's fasting in the wilderness, to be solemnized with the anniversary exercise of abstinence, for the subduing the flesh and quickening the spirit, 42.
As for the words, among other expositions, they are more judiciously inter
preted of an evil spirit, having had long and inveterate possession of the party out of whom it was cast; and the sense of them, as improvable into a standing, perpetual precept, is this, that there are some vices which, partly by our temper and constitution, partly by habit and inveterate continuance, have so firm a hold of us, that they cannot be thoroughly dispossessed but with the greatest ardour and constancy of prayer, joined with the harshest severities of mortification, 43, 44.
In the text are two parts:
1st. An intimation of a peculiar duty, prayer and fasting.
2dly. The end and design of it, which is to eject and dispossess the unclean spirit. The entire discussion is managed in three particulars.
I. In taking a survey of the extent of this text, 44.
This duty of fasting admits of several kinds and degrees; the first kind is of constant, universal exercise; universal, both because it obliges at all times, and extends to all persons, 44. The second is a fast of a total abstinence, when for some time we wholly abstain from all bodily repasts, 45. The third is an abstinence from bodily refreshments, in respect of a certain sort or degree, and that undertaken for some space of time, 46. This head is closed with a caution, that the observation of fasting in this solemn season should be so strict as not to bend to any man's luxury; so dispensable as not to grate upon his infirmity of body, 48-50.
II. In showing what are the qualifications that must render this duty of fasting acceptable to God, and efficacious to ourselves, 50.
There are four conditions or properties, a joint concurrence of all which is a necessary qualification of it for this great purpose. 1. That it is to be used not as a duty either necessary or valuable in itself, but only as an instrument, 50. 2. That it be done with a hearty detestation of the body of sin, for the weakening of which it is designed, 53. 3. That it be quickened and enlivened with prayer, 54. 4. That it be attended with alms and works of charity, 55.
III. In showing how this duty of fasting comes to have such an influence in dispossessing the evil spirit, and subduing our corruptions, 56.
It do not effect this, either, 1st. By any causal orce naturally inherent in itself. Neither, 2dly. By way of merit, as procuring and engaging the help of that grace, that does effect it, 56. But it receives this great virtue, 1. From divine institution. 2. By being a direct defiance to that disposition of body and mind, upon which especially the devil works, 57. But when we have taken all these courses to eject the evil spirit, we must remember, that it is to be the work of God himself, whom the blessed spirits adore, and whom the evil obey, 58.
SERMONS V. VI.
THE NECESSITY OF IMMEDIATE REPENTANCE.
REV. II. 16.
Repent; or I will come unto thee quickly, and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
It is wonderful upon what ground a rational discerning man can satisfy and speak peace to his conscience in the very career of those sins, which, by his own confession, lead him to assured perdition, 59. One would think that the cause of it must of necessity be one of these three:
1st. That he is ignorant of the curse attending his sin, 59. Which cannot be here the cause.
2dly. That he may know the curse, and yet not believe it.
3dly. That though he knows and believes the curse, yet perhaps he relaxes nothing of his sin, because he resolves to bear it, 60.
But it is shown, that it can proceed from neither of these reasons, therefore the true one is conceived to be a presuming confidence of a future repentance: other reasons indeed may allure, this only argues a man into sin,
61. Now the face of these words is directly set against this soul-devouring imposture of a deferred repentance. In the prosecution of them, it will be convenient to inquire into their occasion. In the 12th verse we find, they are part of a letter to the church (here collectively taken as including in it many particular churches) of Pergamos, indited by the Spirit of God, and directed to the angel, that is the chief pastor of that church, 62.
The letter contains a charge for some sinful abuse that had crept in, and was connived at, ver. 14. This abuse was its toleration of the Nicolaitans, whose heresy consisted in this, 1st. That they held and abetted the eating of sacrifices offered to idols to be lawful. 2dly. That they held and abetted the lawfulness of fornication, 63.
It likewise contained the counsel of speedy and immediate repentance, in the words of the text, in which are two parts:
1. The first stands directed to the church itself: "Repent, or I will come unto thee quickly." God's coming is shown to mean here his approach in the way of judgment, 63.
2. The other part of the words relates to those heretics, " And I will fight against thee with the sword of my mouth :" that is, with the reprehending, discovering force of the word, and the censures of the church, 65. From this expression these two occasional observations are collected:
1. That the word of God, powerfully dispensed, has the force and efficacy of a spiritual sword, 66.
2. When God undertakes the purging of a church, or the reformation of religion, he does it with the weapons of religion, with "the sword of his mouth," 66.
The general explication of the words thus finished, the principal design of them is prosecuted, by enforcing the duty of immediate repentance; which is done,
I. In showing what that repentance is that is here enjoined, 67.
1. It is taken for the first act by which the soul turns from sin to God, 68. 2. It is taken for the whole course of a pious life, from a man's first turning from a wicked life to the last period of a godly: which is the only repentance that Socinus will admit. But this is not the proper notion of repentance; 1st. Because then no man could properly be said to have repented till his death. 2dly. Because scripture no less than the natural reason of the thing itself, places repentance before faith. 3dly. Because scripture makes all those subsequent acts of new obedience after our first turning to God, not to be the integral constituent parts, but the effects, fruits, and consequents of repentance, 68, 69.
3. Repentance is taken for a man's turning to God after the guilt of some particular sin, 69.
II. Arguments are produced to engage us in the speedy and immediate exercise of this duty; which are,
1. That no man can be secure of the future, 70.
2. That, supposing the allowance of time, yet we cannot be sure of power to repent, 71.
3. That, admitting a man has both time and grace to repent, yet, by such delay, the work will be incredibly more difficult, 74. And the delay of this duty is most eminently and signally provoking to God, upon these reasons,
1. Because it is the abuse of a remedy, 77.
2. Because it clearly shows that a man does not love it as a duty, but only intends to use it for an expedient of escape, 78.
3. Because it is evidently a counterplotting of God, and being wise above the prescribed methods of salvation, to which God makes the immediate dereliction of sin necessary, 79.
After the general nature of this subject, follows a consideration of it in particular. The grand instance of it is a death-bed repentance; the efficacy of which, having been much disputed in the world, is here discussed under two heads:
I. This great case of conscience is resolved, whether a death-bed repentance ever is or can be effectual to salvation, 80. Several arguments against it being stated and answered, 80-85; six positive arguments are produced to prove and assert it.
1. That such a repentance, commenced at the last hour of a man's life, has de facto proved effectual to salvation, 85.
2. Is taken from the truth and certainty of that saying, owned and attested by God himself, that "if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that a man hath not,” 86.
3. Because repentance saves not, as it is a work, or such a number of works, but as it is the effect of a renewed nature and a sanctified heart, from which it flows, 87.
4. If to repent sincerely be a thing at the last moments of our lives impossible to be done, then, for that instant, impenitence is not a sin, 88.
5. That to deny that a death-bed repentance can be effectual to salvation, is a clear restraint and limitation of the compass and prerogative of God's mercy, 88.
6. That if a death-bed repentance cannot possibly be effectual to salvation, then a sinner upon his death-bed, having not repented before, may lawfully and without sin despair, 88.
II. Supposing a death-bed repentance may prove effectual, yet for any one to design and build upon it beforehand, is highly dangerous, and therefore absolutely irrational; which appears from these considerations:
1. From the exceeding unfitness of a man at this time, above all others, to exercise this duty, 89.
2. That there can be no arguments, from which either the dying person himself, or others by him, can certainly conclude that his repentance is sound and effectual, 91.
In fine, this alone can be said for it (and to a considering person no more need to be said against it), that it is only not impossible, 92.
CHRIST'S RESURRECTION A PROOF OF HIS DIVINITY.
Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was made of the seed of David, according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
Where the construction of the text lies so, that we cannot otherwise reach the full sense of it without making our way through doubts and ambiguities, philosophical discourses are necessary in dispensing the word.
The present exercise therefore consists of two parts:
I. An explication of the words: for the scheme of the Greek carries a very different face from our translation, which difference renders the sense of them very disputable, 93.
The explication is comprised in the resolution of these four inquiries:
1. Whether the translation rightly renders it, that Christ was "declared to be the Son of God," since the original admits of a different signification, 94. 2. What is imputed by this term, "with power," 95.
3. What is intended by the following words, "according to the Spirit of holiness," 95.
4. How those words, "by the resurrection from the dead," are to be understood, 96.
II. An accommodation of the words to the present occasion, which is in showing, first, how Christ's resurrection may be a proper argument to prove his divinity and eternal sonship, 98. Next, that it is the greatest and principal of all others.