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Just before Christ came in the flesh, the world was degenerated as it is now. The generality of the men in Jerusalem, were become either high and famous for hypocrisy, or filthily base in their lives. The devil also was broke loose in a hideous manner, and had taken possession of many: yea, I believe that there was never a generation before nor since, that could produce so many possessed with devils, deformed, lame, blind, and infected with monstrous diseases, as that generation could. But what was the reason thereof, I mean the reason from God? Why one (and we may sum up more, in that answer that Christ gave to his disciples concerning him that was born blind) was, that the works of God might be made manifest in them, and that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. John ix. 2, 3; xi. 4.
Now if these devils and diseases, as they possessed men then, were to make way and work for an approaching Christ in person, and for the declaring of his power, why may we not think that now, even now also, he is ready to come by his Spirit in the gospel to heal many of the debaucheries of our age? I cannot believe that grace will take them all, for there are but few that are saved; but yet it will take some, even some of the worst of men, and make blessed ones of them. But, o how these ringleaders in vice will then shine in virtue! They will be the very pillars in churches. They will be as an ensign in the land. “The Lord their God shall save them in that day, as the flock of his people, for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon the land.” But who are these ? Even idolatrous Ephraim, and backsliding Judah.
I know there is ground to fear, that the iniquity of this generation will be pursued with heavy judgments. But that will not hinder what we have supposed. God took him a glorious church out of bloody Jerusalem, yea, out of the chief of the sinners there, and left the rest to be taken and spoiled, and sold, thirty for a penny, in the nations where they were captives. The gospel working gloriously in a place, to the seizing upon many of the ringleading sinners thereof, promiseth no security to the rest, but rather threateneth them with the smartest and heaviest judgment; as in the instance now given, we have a full demonstration. But in defending, the Lord will defend his people; and in saving, he will save his inheritance.
Nor does this speak any great comfort to a decayed and backsliding sort of Christians; for the next time God rides post with his gospel, he will leave such Christians behind him. But I say, Christ is resolved to set up his light in the world; yea, he is delighted to see his graces shine; and therefore he commands that his gospel should to that end be offered, in the first place to the greatest sinners; for by great sins it shineth most; therefore he saith, “Begin at Jerusalem.”
Eighthly, and lastly, Christ Jesus will have mercy to be offered in the first place to the greatest sinners; for by that means the impenitent that are left behind will be at the judge ment left the more without excuse.
God's word has two edges; it can cut back-stroke and fore-stroke. If it doth thee no good, it will do thee hurt. It is the savor of life unto life to those that receive it, but of death unto death to them that refuse it. 2 Cor. ii. 15, 16. But this is not all; the tender of grace to the greatest sinners in the first place, will not only leave the rest, or those that refuse it, in a deplorable condition, but will also stop their mouths, and cut off all pretence to excuse at that day. “If I had not come and spoken unto them,” saith Christ, " they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin,” for their sin of persevering in impenitence.
But what did he speak to them? Why, even that which I have told you, namely, That he has in special a delight in saving the greatest sinners. He spake this in the way of his doctrine; he spake this in the way of his practice, even
to the pouring out of his last breath before them and for them. Luke xxiii. 34.
Now, since this is so, what can the condemned at the judgment say for themselves, why sentence of death should not be passed upon them? I say, what excuse can they make for themselves, when they shall be asked why they did not in the day of salvation come to Christ to be saved ? Will they have ground to say to the Lord, Thou wast only for the saving of little sinners; and therefore because we were great ones, we durst not come unto thee?' or “Thou hadst not compassion for the greatest sinners, therefore I died in despair? Will these be excuses for them, as the case now standeth with them? Is there not every where in God's book a flat contradiction to this, in multitudes of promises, of invitations, of examples, and the like? Alas, alas! there will then be there millions of souls to confute this plea; ready, I say, to stand up, and say, "O! deceived world, heaven swarms with such, as were, when they were in the world, to the full as bad as you.'
Now, this will kill all plea or excuse, why they should perish in their sins. Yea, the word says, they shall see them there. “There shall be weeping, when you shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.” Out of which company it is easy to pick such as sometime were as bad people as any that now breathe on the face of the earth. What think you of the first man, by whose sins there are millions now in hell? And so I may say, What think you of ten thousand more besides?
But if the word will not stifle and gag them up (I speak now for amplification's sake), the view of those who are saved shall. There comes an incestuous person to the bar, and pleads, that the greatness of his sins was a bar to his receiving the promise. But will not his mouth be stopped as to that, when Lot and the incestuous Corinthian shall be set before him? Gen. xix, 33–36; 1 Cor. v. 1, 2. There comes a thief, and says, Lord, my sin of theft, I thought, was such as could not be pardoned by thee! But when he shall see the thief that was saved on the cross stand by, as clothed with beauteous glory, what further can he be able to object?
Yea, the Lord will produce ten thousand of his saints at his coming, who shall after this manner execute judgment upon all, and so convince all that are ungodly among them, of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. And these are hard speeches against him, to say that he was not able or willing to save men, because of the greatness of their sins, or to say that they were discouraged by his word from repentance, because of the heinousness of their offences. These things, I say, shall then be confuted: he comes with ten thousand of his saints to confute them, and to stop their mouths from making objections against their own eternal damnation.
Here is Adam, the destroyer of the world; here is Lot, that sinned with both his daughters; here is Abraham, that was sometime an idolater, and Jacob that was a supplanter, and Reuben that lay with his father's concubine, and Judah that sold his brother to slavery, and Levi and Simeon that wickedly slew the Schechemites, and Aaron that made an idol to be worshipped, and that proclaimed a religious feast unto it. Here is also Rahab the harlot, and Bathsheba that bare a bastard to David. Here is Solomon that great backslider, and Manasseh that man of blood and witchcraft. Time would fail to tell you of the woman of Canaan's daughter, of Mary Magdalen, of Matthew the publican, and of Gideon and Samson, and many thousand more.
Alas! alas ! I say, what will those sinners do, that have, through their unbelief, eclipsed the glorious largeness of the
mercy of God; and that have given way to despair of salvation, because of the greatness of their sins ?
For all these, though now glorious saints in light, were sometime sinners of the greatest size, who had sins that were of a notorious hue; yet now, I say, they are in their shining and heavenly robes before the throne of God and of the Lamb, blessing for ever and ever that Son of God for their salvation, who died for them upon the tree; admiring that ever it should come into their hearts once to think of coming to God by Christ; but above all, blessing God for granting them light to see those encouragements in his testament; without which, without doubt, they had been daunted and sunk down under the guilt of sin and despair, as their fellowsinners have done.
But now they also are witnesses for God, and for his grace against an unbelieving world; for, as I said they shall come to convince the world of their speeches, their hard and unbelieving words, that they have spoken concerning the mercy of God, and the merits of the passion of his blessed Son, Jesus Christ. But will it not, think you, strangely put to silence all such thoughts, and words, and reasonings of the ungodly before the bar of God? Doubtless it will; yea, and will send them away from his presence also, with the greatest guilt that possibly can fasten upon the consciences of men.
For what will sting like this?-'I have, through mine own foolish, narrow, unworthy, undervaluing thoughts, of the love and ability of Christ to save me, brought myself to everlasting ruin. It is true, I was a horrible sinner; not one in a hundred did live so vile a life as I. But this should not have kept me from closing with Jesus Christ. I see now that there are abundance in glory that once were as bad as I have been: but they were saved by faith, and I am damned by unbelief. Wretch that I am! why did not I give glory to the redeeming blood of Jesus? Why did I