by Stephen Charnock
PSALM 103:19.—The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens: and his kingdom ruleth over all.
THE Psalm begins with the praise of God, wherein the penman excites his soul to a right and elevated management of so great a duty (ver. 1): “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name:” and because himself and all men were insufficient to offer up a praise to God answerable to the greatness of his benefits, he summons in the end of the psalm the angels, and all creatures, to join in concert with him. Observe,
1. As man is too shallow a creature to comprehend the excellency of God, so he is too dull and scanty a creature to offer up a due praise to God, both in regard of the excellency of his nature, and the multitude and greatness of his benefits.
2. We are apt to forget Divine benefits: our souls must therefore be often jogged, and roused up. “All that is within me,” every power of my rational, and every affection of my sensitive part: all his faculties, all his thoughts. Our souls will hang back from God in every duty, much more in this, if we lay not a strict charge upon them. We are so void of a pure and entire love to God, that we have no mind to those duties. Wants will spur us on to prayer, but a pure love to God can only spirit us to praise. We are more ready, to reach out a hand to receive his mercies, than to lift up our hearts to recognize them after the receipt. After the Psalmist had summoned his own soul to this task, he enumerates the Divine blessings received by him, to awaken his soul by a sense of them to so noble a work. He begins at the first and foundation mercy to himself, the pardon of his sin and justification of his person, the renewing of his sickly and languishing nature (ver. 3): “Who forgives all thy iniquities, and heals all thy diseases.” His redemption from death, or eternal destruction; his expected glorification thereupon, which he speaks of with that certainty, as if it were present (ver. 4): “Who redeems thy life from destruction, who crowns thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies.” He makes his progress to the mercy manifested to the church in the protection of it against, or delivery of it from, oppressions (ver. 6): “The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.” In the discovery of his will and law, and the glory of his merciful name to it (ver. 7, 8): “He made known his ways unto Moses, and his acts unto the children of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy:” which latter words may refer also to the free and unmerited spring of the benefits he had reckoned up: viz., the mercy of God, which he mentions also (ver. 10): “He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities;” and then extols the perfection of Divine mercy, in the pardoning of sin (ver. 11, ver. 12); the paternal tenderness of God (ver. 13); the eternity of his mercy (ver. 17); but restrains it to the proper object (ver. 11, 17), “to them that fear him;” i. e. to them that believe in him. Fear being the word commonly used for faith in the Old Testament, under the legal dispensation, wherein the spirit of bondage was more eminent than the spirit of adoption, and their fear more than their confidence. Observe,
1. All true blessings grow up from the pardon of sin (ver. 3): “Who forgives all thine iniquities.” That is the first blessing, the top and crown of all other favors, which draws all other blessings after it, and sweetens all other blessings with it. The principal intent of Christ was expiation of sin, redemption from iniquity; the purchase of other blessings was consequent upon it. Pardon of sin is every blessing virtually, and in the root and spring it flows from the favor of God, and is such a gift as cannot be tainted with a curse, as outward things may.
2. Where sin is pardoned, the soul is renewed (ver. 3): “Who heals all thy diseases.” Where guilt is remitted, the deformity and sickness of the soul is cured. Forgiveness is a teeming mercy; it never goes single; when we have an interest in Christ, as bearing the chastisement of our peace, we receive also a balsam from his blood, to heal the wounds we feel in our nature. (Isa.3:5): “The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed.” As there is a guilt in sin, which binds us over to punishment, so there is a contagion in sin, which fills us with pestilent diseases; when the one is removed, the other is cured. We should not know how to love the one without the other. The renewing the soul is necessary for a delightful relish of the other blessings of God. A condemned malefactor, infected with a leprosy, or any other loathsome distemper, if pardoned, could take little comfort in his freedom from the gibbet without a cure of his plague.
3. God is the sole and sovereign Author of all spiritual blessings: “Who forgives all thy iniquities, and heals all thy diseases.” He refers all to God, nothing to himself in his own merit and strength. All, not the pardon of one sin merited by me, not the cure of one disease can I owe to my own power, and the strength of my freewill, and the operations of nature. He, and he alone is the Prince of pardon, the Physician that restores me, the Redeemer that delivers me; it is a sacrilege to divide the praise between God and ourselves. God only can knock off our fetters, expel our distempers, and restore a deformed soul to its decayed beauty.
4. Gracious souls will bless God as much for sanctification as for justification. The initials of sanctification (and there are no more in this life) are worthy of solemn acknowledgment. It is a sign of growth in grace when our hymns are made up of acknowledgments of God’s sanctifying, as well as pardoning grace. In blessing God for the one, we rather show a love to ourselves; in blessing God for the other, we cast out a pure beam of love to God: because, by purifying grace, we are fitted to the service of our Maker, prepared to every good work which is delightful to him; by the other, we are eased in ourselves. Pardon fills us with inward peace, but sanctification fills us with an activity for God. Nothing is so capable of setting the soul in a heavenly tune, as the consideration of God as a pardoner and as a healer.
5. Where sin is pardoned, the punishment is remitted (ver. 3, 4): “Who forgives all thy iniquities, and redeems thy life from destruction.” A malefactor’s pardon puts an end to his chains, frees him from the stench of the dungeon, and fear of the gibbet. Pardon is nothing else but the remitting of guilt, and guilt is nothing else but an obligation to punishment as a penal debt for sin. A creditor’s tearing a bond frees the debtor from payment and rigor.
6. Growth in grace is always annexed to true sanctification. So that “thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (ver. 5). Interpreters trouble themselves much about the manner of the eagle’s renewing its youth, and regaining its vigor: he speaks best that saith, the Psalmist speaks only according to the opinion of the vulgar, and his design was not to write a natural history. Growth always accompanies grace, as well as it doth nature in the body; not that it is without its qualms and languishing fits, as children are not, but still their distempers make them grow. Grace is not an idle, but an active principle. It is not like the Psalmist means it of the strength of the body, or the prosperity and stability of his government, but the vigor of his grace and comfort, since they are spiritual blessings here that are the matter of his song. The healing the disease conduceth to the sprouting up and flourishing of the body. It is the nature of grace to go from strength to strength.
7. When sin is pardoned, it is perfectly pardoned. “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us” (ver. 11, 12). The east and west are the greatest distance in the world; the terms can never meet together. When sin is pardoned, it is never charged again; the guilt of it can no more return, than east can become west, or west become east.
8. Obedience is necessary to an interest in the mercy of God. “The mercy of the Lord is to them that fear him, to them that remember his commandments, to do them” (ver. 17). Commands are to be remembered in order to practice; a vain speculation is not the intent of the publication of them.
After the Psalmist had enumerated the benefits of God, he reflects upon the greatness of God, and considers him on his throne encompassed with the angels, the ministers of his providence. “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens and his kingdom rules over all” (ver. 19). He brings in this of his dominion just after he had largely treated of his mercy. Either,
1. To signify, That God is not only to be praised for his mercy, but for his majesty, both for the height and extent of his authority.
2. To extol the greatness of his mercy and pity. What I have said now, O my soul, of the mercy of God, and his paternal pity, is commended by his majesty; his grandeur hinders not his clemency though his throne be high, his bowels are tender. He looks down upon his meanest servants from the height of his glory. Since his majesty is infinite, his mercy must be as great as his majesty. It must be a greater pity lodging in his breast, than what is in any creature, since it is not damped by the greatness of his sovereignty.
3. To render his mercy more comfortable. The mercy I have spoken of, O my soul, is not the mercy of a subject, but of a sovereign. An executioner may torture a criminal, and strip him of his life, and a vulgar pity cannot relieve him, but the clemency of the prince can perfectly pardon him. It is that God who hath none above him to control him, none below him to resist him, that hath performed all the acts of grace to thee. If God by his supreme authority pardons us, who can reverse it? If all the subjects of God in the world should pardon us, and God withhold his grant, what will it profit us? Take comfort, O my soul, since God from his throne in the highest, and that God who rules over every particular of the creation, hath granted and sealed thy pardon to thee. What would his grace signify, if he were not a monarch, extending his royal empire over everything, and swaying all by his sceptre?
4. To render the Psalmist’s confidence more firm in any pressures. Ver. 15, 16. He had considered the misery of man in the shortness of his life; his place should know him no more; he should never return to his authority, employ menu, opportunities, that death would take from him; but, howsoever, the mercy and majesty of God were the ground of his confidence. He draws himself from poring upon any calamities which may assault him, to heaven, the place where God orders all things that are done on the earth. He is able to protect us from our dangers, and to deliver us from our distresses; whatsoever miseries thou mayest he under, O my soul, cast thy eye up to heaven, and see a pitying God in a majestic authority: a God who can perform what he hath promised to them that fear him, since he hath a throne above the heavens, and bears sway over all that envy thy happiness, and would stain thy felicity: a God whose authority cannot be curtailed and dismembered by any. When the prophet solicits the sounding of the Divine bowels, he urgeth him by his dwelling in heaven, the habitation of his holiness (Isa. 63:15). His kingdom ruleth over all: there is none therefore hath any authority to make him break his covenant, or violate his promise.
5. As an incentive to obedience. The Lord is merciful, saith he, to them “that remember his commandments to do them” (ver. 17, 18): and then brings in the text as an encouragement to observe his precepts. He hath a majesty that deserves it from us, and an authority to protect us in it. If a king in a small spot of earth is to be obeyed by his subjects, how much more is God, who is more majestic than all the angels in heaven, and monarchs on earth; who hath a majesty to exact our obedience, and a mercy to allure it! We should not set upon the performance of any duty, without an eye lifted up to God as a great king. It would make us willing to serve him; the more noble the person, the more honorable and powerful the prince, the more glorious is his service. A view of God upon his throne will make us think his service our privilege, his precepts our ornaments, and obedience to him the greatest honor and nobility. It will make us weighty and serious in our performances: it would stake us down to any duty. The reason we are so loose and unmannerly in the carriage of our souls before God, is because we consider him not as a “great King” (Mal. 1:14). “Our Father, which art in heaven,” in regard of his majesty, is the preface to prayer.
Let us now consider the words in themselves. “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.”
The Lord hath prepared.—The word signifies “established,” as well as “prepared,” and might so be rendered. Due preparation is a natural way to the establishment of a thing: hasty resolves break and moulder. This notes, 1. The infiniteness of his authority. He prepares it, none else for him. It is a dominion that originally resides in his nature, not derived from any by birth or commission; he alone prepared it. He is the sole cause of his own kingdom; his authority therefore is unbounded, as infinite as his nature: none can set laws to him, because none but himself prepared his throne for him. As he will not impair his own happiness, so he will not abridge himself of his own authority. 2. Readiness to exercise it apon due occasions. He hath prepared his throne: he is not at a loss; he needs not stay for a commission or instructions from any how to act. He hath all things ready for the assistance of his people; he hath rewards and punishments; his treasures and axes, the great marks of authority lying by him, the one for the good, the other for the wicked. His “mercy he keeps by him for thousands” (Exod. 34:7). His “arrows” he hath prepared by him for rebels (Psalm 7:13). 3. Wise management of it. It is prepared; preparations imply prudence; the government of God is not a rash and heady authority. A prince upon his throne, a judge upon the bench, manages things with the greatest discretion, or should be supposed so to do. 4.
Successfulness and duration of it. He hath prepared or established. It is fixed, not tottering; it is an immovable dominion; all the strugglings of men and devils cannot overturn it, nor so much as shake it. It is established above the reach of obstinate rebels; he cannot be deposed from it, he cannot be mated in it. His dominion, as himself, abides forever. And as his counsel, so his authority, shall stand, and “he will do all his pleasure” (Isa. 46:10).
His throne in the heavens.—This is an expression to signify the authority of God; for as God hath no member properly, though he be so represented to us, so he hath properly no throne. It signifies his power of reigning and judging. A throne is proper to royalty, the seat of majesty in its excellency, and the place where the deepest respect and homage of subjects is paid, and their petitions presented. That the throne of God is in the heavens, that there he sits as Sovereign, is the opinion of all that acknowledge a God; when they stand in need of his authority to assist them, their eyes are lifted up, and their heads stretched out to heaven; so his Son Christ prayed; he “lifted up his eyes to heaven,” as the place where his Father sat in majesty, as the most adorable object (John 17:1). Heaven hath the title of his “throne,” as the earth hath that of his “footstool” (Isa. 64:1.) And, therefore, heaven is sometimes put for the authority of God (Dan. 4:26). “After that thou shat have known that the heavens do rule,” i. e. that God, who hath his throne in the heavens, orders earthly princes and sceptres as he pleases, and rules over the kingdoms of the world.
His throne in the heavens notes, 1. The glory of his dominion. The heavens are the most stately and comely pieces of the creation. His majesty is there most visible, his glory most splendid (Psalm 19:1). The heavens speak out with a full mouth his glory. It is therefore called “the habitation” of his “holiness and of his glory” (Isa. 63:15). There is the greater glister and brightness of his glory. The whole earth, indeed, is full of his glory, full of the beams of it; the heaven is full of the body of it; as the rays of the sun reach the earth, but the full glory of it is in the firmament. In heaven his dominion is more acknowledged by the angels standing at his beck, and by their readiness and swiftness obeying his commands, going and returning as a flash of lightning (Ezek. 1:14). His throne may well be said to be in the heavens, since his dominion is not disputed there by the angels that attend him, as it is on earth by the rebels that arm themselves against him. 2. The supremacy of his empire. The heavens are the loftiest part of the creation, and the only fit palace for him; it is in the heavens his majesty and dignity are so sublime, that they are elevated above all earthly empires. 3. Peculiarity of this dominion.. He rules in the heavens alone. There is some shadow of empire in the world. Royalty is communicated to men as his substitutes. He hath disposed a vicarious dominion to men in his footstool, the earth; he gives them some share in his authority; and, therefore, the title of his name (Psalm 82:6): “I have said, ye are gods;” but in heaven he reigns alone without any substitutes; his throne is there. He gives out his orders to the angels himself; the marks of his immediate sovereignty are there most visible. He hath no vicars-general of that empire. His authority is not delegated to any creature; he rules the blessed spirits by himself; but he rules men that are on his footstool by others of the same kind, men of their own nature. 4. The vastness of his empire. The earth is but a spot to the heavens; what is England in a map to the whole earth, but a spot you may cover with your finger? much less must the whole earth be to the extended heavens; it is but a little point or atom to what is visible; the sun is vastly bigger than it, and several stars are supposed to be of a greater bulk than the earth; and how many, and what heavens are beyond, the ignorance of man cannot understand. If the “throne” of God be there, it is a larger circuit he rules in than can well be conceived.
You cannot conceive the many millions of little particles there are in the earth; and if all put together be but as one point to that place where the throne of God is seated, how vast must his empire be! He rules there over the angels, which “excel in strength” those “hosts” of his “which do his pleasure,” in comparison of whom all the men in the world, and the power of the greatest potentates, is no more than the strength of an ant or fly; multitudes of them encircle his throne, and listen to his orders without roving, and execute them without disputing. And since his throne is in the heavens, it will follow, that all things under the heaven are parts of his dominion; his throne being in the highest place, the inferior things of earth cannot but be subject to him; and it necessarily includes his influence on all things below: because the heavens are the cause of all the motion in the world, the immediate thing the earth doth naturally address to for corn, wine, and oil, above which there is no superior but the Lord (Hos. 2:21, 22): “The earth hears the corn, wine, and oil; the heavens hear the earth, and the Lord hears the heavens.” 5. The easiness of managing this government. His throne being placed on high, he cannot but behold all things that are done below; the height of a place gives advantage to a pure and clear eye to beholy things below it. Had the sun an eye, nothing could be done in the open air out of its ken. The “throne” of God being in heaven, he easily looks from thence upon all the children of men (Psalm 14:2): “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand.” He looks not down from heaven as if he were in regard of his presence confined there: but he looks down majestically, and by way of authority, not as the look of a bare spectator, but the look of a governor, to pass a sentence upon them as a judge. His being in the heavens renders him capable of doing “whatsoever he pleases” (Psalm 114:3). His “throne” being there, he can by a word, in stopping the motions of the heavens, turn the whole earth into confusion. In this respect, it is said, “He rides upon the heaven in thy help” (Deut. 33:26); discharges his thunders upon men, and makes the influences of it serve his people’s interest. By one turn of a cock, as you see in grottoes, he can cause streams from several parts of the heavens to refresh, or ruin the world. 6. Duration of it. The heavens are incorruptible; his throne is placed there in an incorruptible state. Earthly empires have their decays and dissolutions. The throne of God outlives the dissolution of the world.
His kingdom rules over all.—He hath an absolute right over all things within the circuit of heaven and earth; though his throne be in heaven, as the place where his glory is most eminent and visible, his authority most exactly obeyed, yet his kingdom extends itself to the lower parts of the earth. He doth not muffle and cloud up himself in heaven, or confine his sovereignty to that place, his royal power extends to all visible, as well as invisible things: he is proprietor and possessor of all (Deut. 10:14): “The heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God, the earth also, with all that is there.” He hath right to dispose of all as he pleases. He doth not say, his kingdom rules all that fear him, but, “over all;” so that it is not the kingdom of grace he here speaks of, but his natural and universal kingdom. Over angels and men; Jews and Gentiles; animate and inanimate things. The Psalmist considers God here as a great monarch and general, and all creatures as his hosts and regiments under him, and takes notice principally of two things. 1. The establishment of his throne together with the seat of it. He hath prepared his throne in the heavens. 2. The extent of his empire.—His kingdom rules over all. This text, in all the parts of it, is a fit basis for a discourse upon the dominion of God, and the observation will be this.
Doctrine.—God is sovereign Lord and King, and exerciseth a dominion over the whole world, both heaven and earth. This is so clear, that nothing is more spoken of in Scripture. The very name, “Lord,” imports it; a name originally belonging to gods, and from them translated to others. And he is frequently called “the Lord of Hosts,” because all the troops and armies of spiritual and corporeal creatures are in his hands, and at his service: this is one of his principal titles. And the angels are called his “hosts” (ver. 21, following the text) his camp and militia: but more plainly (1 Kings 22:19), God is presented upon his throne, encompassed with all the “hosts of heaven” standing on his right hand and on his left, which can be understood of no other than the angels, that wait for the commands of their Sovereign, and stand about, not to counsel him, but to receive his orders. The sun, moon, and stars, are called his “hosts” (Deut. 4:19); appointed by him for the government of inferior things: he hath an absolute authority over the greatest and the least creatures; over those that are most dreadful, and those that are most beneficial; over the good angels that willingly obey him, over the evil angels that seem most incapable of government. And as he is thus “Lord of hosts,” he is the “King of glory,” or a glorious King (Psalm 24:10). You find him called a “great King,” the “Most High” (Psalm 92:1), the Supreme Monarch, there being no dignity in heaven or earth but what is dim before him, and infinitely inferior to him; yea, he hath the title of “Only King” (1 Tim. 6:15). The title of royalty truly and properly only belongs to him: you may see it described very magnificently by David, at the free-will offering for the building of the temple (1 Chron. 29:11, 12): “Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty; thine is the kingdom, O God, and thou art exalted as Head above all: both riches and honor come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thy hand is power and might; and in thy hand it is to make great, and to give strength to all.” He hath an eminency of power or authority above all: all earthly princes received their diadems from him, yea, even those that will not acknowledge him, and he hath a more absolute power over them than they can challenge over their meanest vassals: as God hath a knowledge infinitely above our knowledge, so he hath a dominion incomprehensibly move any dominion of man; and, by all the shadows drawn from the authority of one man over another, we can have but weak glimmerings of the authority and dominion of God.
There is a threefold dominion of God. 1. Natural, which is absolute over all creatures, and is founded in the nature of God as Creator. 2. Spiritual, or gracious, which is a dominion over his church as redeemed, and founded in the covenant of grace. 3. A glorious kingdom, at the winding up of all, wherein he shall reign over all, either in the glory of his mercy, as over the glorified saints, or in the glory of his justice, in the condemned devils and men. The first dominion is founded in nature; the second in grace; the third in regard of the blessed in grace; in regard of the damned, in demerit in them, and justice in him. He is Lord of all things, and always in regard of propriety (Psalm 24:1): “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and all that dwell therein.” The earth, with the riches and treasures in the bowels of it; the habitable world, with everything that moves upon it, are his; he hath the sole right, and what right soever any others have is derived from him. In regard also of possession (Gen. 14:22): “The Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth:” in respect of whom, man is not the proprietary nor possessor, but usufructuary at the will of this grand Lord.
In the prosecution of this, I. I shall lay down some general propositions for the clearing and confirming it. II. I shall show wherein this right of dominion is founded. III. What the nature of it is. IV. Wherein it consists; and how it is manifested.
I. Some general propositions for the clearing and confirming of it.
1. We must know the difference between the might or power of God and his authority. We commonly mean by the power of God the strength of God, whereby he is able to effect all his purposes; by the authority of God, we mean the right he hath to act what he pleases: omnipotence is his physical power, whereby he is able to do what he will; dominion is his moral power, whereby it is lawful for him to do what he will. Among men, strength and authority are two distinct things; a subject may be a giant, and be stronger than his prince, but he hath not the same authority as his prince: worldly dominion may be seated, not in a brawny arm, but a sickly and infirm body. As knowledge and wisdom are distinguished; knowledge respects the matter, being, and nature of a thing; wisdom respects the harmony, order, and actual usefulness of a thing; knowledge searcheth the nature of a thing, and wisdom employs that thing to its proper use: a man may have much knowledge, and little wisdom; so a man may have much strength, and little or no authority; a greater strength may be settled in the servant, but a greater authority resides in the master; strength is the natural vigor of a mail: God hath an infinite strength, he hath a strength to bring to pass whatsover he decrees; he acts without fainting and weakness (Isa. 40:28), and impairs not his strength by the exercise of it: as God is Lord, he hath a right to enact; as he is almighty, he hath a power to execute; his strength is the executive power belonging to his dominion: in regard of his sovereignty, he hath a right to command all creatures; in regard of his almightiness, he hath power to make his commands be obeyed, or to punish men for the violation of them: his power is that whereby he subdues all creatures under him; his dominion is that whereby he hath a right to subdue all creatures under him. This dominion is a right of making what he pleases, of possessing what he made, of disposing of what he doth possess; whereas his power is an ability to make what he hath a right to create, to hold what he doth possess, and to execute the manner wherein he resolves to dispose of his creatures.
2. All the other attributes of God refer to this perfection of dominion. They all bespeak him fit for it, and are discovered in the exercise of it (which hath been manifested in the discourses of those attributes we have passed through hitherto). His goodness fits him for it, because he can never use his authority but for the good of the creatures, and conducting them to their true end: his wisdom can never be mistaken in the exercise of it; his power can accomplish the decrees that flow from his absolute authority. What can be more rightful than the placing authority in such an infinite Goodness, that hath bowels to pity, as well as a sceptre to sway his subjects? that hath a mind to contrive, and a will to regulate his contrivances for his own glory and his creatures’ good, and an arm of power to bring to pass what he orders? Without this dominion, some perfections, as justice and mercy, would lie in obscurity, and much of his wisdom would be shrouded from our sight and knowledge.
3. This of dominion, as well as that of power, hath been acknowledged by all. The high priest was to “waive the offering,” or shake it to and fro (Exod. 29:24), which the Jews say was customarily from east to west, and from north to south, the four quarters of the world, to signify God’s sovereignty over all the parts of the world; and some of the heathens, in their adorations, turned their bodies to all quarters, to signify the extensive dominion of God throughout the whole earth. That dominion did of right pertain to the Deity, was confessed by the heathen in the name “Baal,” given to their idols, which signifies Lord; and was not a name of one idol, adored for a god, but common to all the eastern idols. God hath interwoven the notion of his sovereignty in the nature and constitution of man, in the noblest and most inward acts of his soul,—in that faculty or act which is most necessary for him, in his converse in this world, either with God or man: it is stamped upon the consicence of man, and flashes in his face in every act of self judgment conscience passes upon a man: every reflection of conscience implies an obligation of man to some law “written in his heart” (Rom. 2:15). This law cannot be without a legislator, nor this legislator without a sovereign dominion; these are but natural and easy consequences in the mind of man from every act of conscience. The indelible authority of conscience in man, in the whole exercise of it, bears a respect to the sovereignty of God, clearly proclaims not only a supreme Being, but a supreme Governor, and points man directly to it, that a man may as soon deny his having such a reflecting principle within him, as deny God’s dominion over him, and consequently over the whole world of rational creatures.
4. This notion of sovereignty is inseparable from the notion of a God. To acknowledge the existence of a God, and to acknowledge him a rewarder, are linked together (Heb. 6:6). To acknowledge him a rewarder, is to acknowledge him a governor; rewards being the marks of dominion. The very name of God includes in it a supremacy and an actual rule. He cannot be conceived as God, but he must be conceived as the highest authority in the world. It is as possible for him not to be God as not to be supreme. Wherein can the exercise of his excellencies be apparent, but in his soverign rule? To fancy an infinite power without a supreme dominion, is to fancy a mighty senseless statue, fit to be beheld, but not fit to be obeyed; as not being able or having no right to give out orders, or not caring for the exercise of it.
God cannot be supposed to be the chief being, but he must be supposed to give laws to all, and receive laws from none. And if we suppose him with a perfection of justice and righteousness (which we must do, unless we would make a lame and imperfect God) we must suppose him to have an entire dominion, without which he could never be able to manifest his justice. And without a supreme dominion he could not manifest the supremacy and infiniteness of his righteousness.
(1.) We cannot suppose God a Creator, without supposing a sovereign dominion in him. No creature can be made without some law in its nature; if it had not law, it would be created to no purpose, to no regular end. It would be utterly unbecoming an infinite wisdom to create a lawless creature, a creature wholly vain; much less can a rational creature be made without a law: if it had no law, it were not rational: for the very notion of a rational creature implies reason to be a law to it, and implies an acting by rule. If you could suppose rational creatures without a law, you might suppose that they might blaspheme their Creator, and murder their fellow-creatures, and commit the most abominable villanies destructive to human society, without sin; for “where there is no law, there is no transgression.” But those things are accounted sins by all mankind, and sins against the Supreme Being: so that a dominion, and the exercise of it, is so fast linked to God, so entirely in him, so intrinsic in his nature, that it cannot be imagined that a rational creature can be made by him, without a stamp and mark of that dominion in his very nature and frame; it is so inseparable from God in his very act of creation.
(2.) It is such a dominion as cannot be renounced by God himself. It is so intrinsic and connatural to him, so inlaid in the nature of God, that he cannot strip himself of it, nor of the exercise of it, while any creature remains. It is preserved by him, for it could not subsist of itself; it is governed by him, it could not else answer its end. It is impossible there can be a creature, which hath not God for its Lord. Christ himself, though in regard of his Deity equal with God, yet in regard of his created state, and assuming our nature, was God’s servant, was governed by him in the whole of his office, acted according to his command and directions; God calls him his servant (Isa. 42:1): and Christ, in that prophetic psalm of him, calls God his Lord (Psalm 16:2): “O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord.” It was impossible it should be otherwise; justice had been so far from being satisfied, that it had been highly incensed if the order of things in the due subjection to God had been broke, and his terms had not been complied with. It would be a judgment upon the world if God should give up the government to any else, as it is when he gives “children to be princes” (Isa. 3:4); i. e. children in understanding.
(3.) It is so inseparable, that it cannot be communicated to any creature. No creature is able to exercise it; every creature is unable to perform all the offices that belong to this dominion. No creature can impose laws upon the consciences of men: man knows not the inlets into the soul, his pen cannot reach the inwards of man. What laws he hath power to propose to conscience, he cannot see executed; because every creature wants omniscience; he is not able to perceive all those breaches of the law which may be committed at the same time in so many cities, so many chambers. Or, suppose an angel, in regard to the height of his standing, and the insufficiency of walls, and darkness, and distance to obstruct his view, can behold men’s actions, yet he cannot know the internal acts of men’s minds and wills, without some outward eruption and appearance of them. And if he be ignorant of them, how can he execute his laws? If he only understand the outward fact without the inward thought, how can he dispense a justice proportionable to the crime? he must needs be ignorant of that which adds the greatest aggravation sometimes to a sin, and inflicts a lighter punishment upon that which receives a deeper tincture from the inward posture of the mind, than another fact may do, which in the outward act may appear more base and unjust; and so while he intends righteousness, may act a degree of injustice. Besides, no creature can inflict a due punishment for sin; that which is due to sin, is a loss of the vision and sight of God; but none can deprive any of that but God himself; nor can a creature reward another with eternal life, which consists in communion with God, which none but God can bestow.
II. Wherein the dominion of God is founded.
1. On the excellency of his nature. Indeed, a bare excellency of nature bespeaks a fitness for government, but doth not properly convey a right of government. Excellency speaks aptitude, not title: a subject may have more wisdom than the prince, and be fitter to hold the reins of government, but he hath not a title to royalty. A man of large capacity and strong virtue is fit to serve his country in parliament, but the election of the people conveys a title to him. Yet a strain of intellectual and moral abilities beyond others, is a foundation for dominion. And it is commonly seen that such eminences in men, though they do not invest them with a civil authority, or an authority of jurisdiction, yet they create a veneration in the minds of men; their virtue attracts reverence, and their advice is regarded as an oracle. Old men by their age, when stored with more wisdom and knowledge by reason of their long experience, acquire a kind of power over the younger in their dictates and councils, so that they gain, by the strength of that excellency, a real authority in the minds of those men they converse with, and possess themselves of a deep respect for them. God therefore being an incomprehensible ocean of all perfection, and possessing infinitely all those virtues that may lay a claim to dominion, hath the first foundation of it in his own nature. His incomparable and unparalleled excellency, as well as the greatness of his work, attracts the voluntary worship of him as a sovereign Lord (Psalm 86:8): “Among the gods, there is none like unto thee; neither are there any works like unto thy work. All nations shall come and worship before thee.” Though his benefits are great engagements to our obedience and affection, yet his infinite majesty and perfection requires the first place in our acknowledgements and adorations. Upon this account God claims it (Isa.
46:9): “I am God, and there is none like me; I will do all my pleasure:” and the prophet Jeremiah upon the same account acknowledgeth it (Jer. 10:7): “Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O Lord, thou art great, and thy name is great in might: who would not fear thee, O King of nations? for to thee doth it appertain: forasmuch as there is none like unto thee.” And this is a more noble title of dominion, it being an uncreated title, and more eminent than that of creation or preservation. This is the natural order God hath placed in his creatures, that the more excellent should rule the inferior. He committed not the government of lower creatures to lions and tigers, that have a delight in blood, but no knowledge of virtue; but to man, who had an eminence in his nature above other creatures, and was formed with a perfect rectitude, and a height of reason to guide the reins over them. In man, the soul being of a more sublime nature, is set of right to rule over the body; the mind, the most excellent faculty of the soul, to rule over the other powers of it: and wisdom, the most excellent habit of the mind, to guide and regulate that in its determinations; and when the body and sensitive appetite control the soul and mind, it is an usurpation against nature, not a rule according to nature. The excellency, thereof, of the Divine nature is the natural foundation for his dominion. He hath wisdom to know what is fit for him to do, and an immutable righteousness whereby he cannot do any thing base and unworthy: he hath a foreknowledge whereby be is able to order all things to answer his own glorious designs and the end of his government, that nothing can go awry, nothing put him to a stand, and constrain him to meditate new counsels. So that if it could be supposed that the world had not been created by him, that the parts of it had met together by chance, and been compacted into such a body, none but God, the supreme and most excellent Being in the world, could have merited, and deservedly challenged the government of it; because nothing had an excellency of nature to capacitate it for it, as he hath, or to enter into a contest with him for a sufficiency to govern.
2. It is founded in his act of creation. He is the sovereign Lord, as he is the almighty Creator. The relation of an entire Creator induceth the relation of an absolute Lord; he that gives being, motion, that is the sole cause of the being of a thing, which was before nothing, that hath nothing to concur with him, nothing to assist him, but by his sole power commands it to stand up into being, is the unquestionable Lord and proprietor of that thing that hath no dependence but upon him; and by this act of creation, which extended to all things, he became universal Sovereign over all things and those that waive the excellency of his nature as the foundation of his government, easily acknowledge the sufficiency of it upon his actual creation. His dominion of jurisdiction results from creation. When God himself makes an oration in defence of his sovereignty (Job 38.). his chief arguments are drawn from creation; and (Psalm 95:3, 5), “The Lord is a great King above all gods; the sea is his, and he made it:” and so the apostle, in his sermon to the Athenians. As he “made the world, and all things therein,” he is styled, “Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 17:24). His dominion, also, of property stands upon this basis: “The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world, and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them” (Psalm 89:11). Upon this title of forming Israel as a creature, or rather as a church, he demands their service to him as their Sovereign: “O Jacob and Israel, thou art my servant, I have formed thee: thou art my servant, O Israel” (Isa. 44:21). The sovereignty of God naturally ariseth from the relation of all things to himself as their entire Creator, and their natural and inseparable dependence upon him in regard of their being and well-being. It depends not upon the election of men; God hath a natural dominion over us as creatures, before he hath a dominion by consent over us as converts: as soon as ever anything began to be a creature, it was a vassal to God, as a Lord. Every man is acknowledged to have a right of possessing what he hath made, and a power of dominion over what he hath framed: he may either cherish his own work, or dash it in pieces; he may either add a greater comeliness to it, or deface what he hath already imparted. He hath a right of property in it: no other man can, without injury, pilfer his own work from him. The work hath no propriety in itself; the right must he in the immediate framer, or in the person that employed him. The first cause of everything hath an unquestionable dominion of propriety in it upon the score of justice. By the law of nations, the first finder of a country is esteemed the rightful possessor and lord of that country, and the first inventor of an art hath a right of exercising it. If a man hath a just claim of dominion over that thing whose materials were not of his framing, but from only the addition of a new figure from his skill; as a limner over his picture, the cloth whereof he never made, nor the colors wherewith he draws it were never endued by him with their distinct qualities, but only he applies them by his art, to compose such a figure; much more hath God a rightful claim of dominion over his creatures, whose entire being, both in matter and form, and every particle of their excellency, was breathed out by the word of his mouth. He did not only give the matter a form, but bestowed upon the matter itself a being; it was formed by none to his hand, as the matter is on which an artist works. He had the being of all things in his own power, and it was at his choice whether he would impart it or no; there can be no juster and stronger ground of a claim than this. A man hath a right to a piece of brass or gold by his purchase, but when by his engraving he hath formed it into an excellent statue, there results an increase of his right upon the account of his artifice. God’s creation of the matter of man gave him a right over man; but his creation of him in so eminent an excellency, with reason to guide him, a clear eye of understanding to discern light from darkness, and truth from falsehood, a freedom of will to act accordingly, and an original righteousness as the varnish and beauty of all; here is the strongest foundation, for a claim of authority over man, and the strongest obligation on man for subjection to God. If all those things had been past over to God by another hand, he could not be the supreme Lord, nor could have an absolute right to dispose of them at his pleasure: that would have been the invasion of another’s right. Besides, creation is the only first discovery of his dominion. Before the world was framed there was nothing but God himself, and, properly, nothing is said to have dominion over itself; this is a relative attribute, reflecting on the works of God. He had a right of dominion in his nature from eternity, but before creation he was actually Lord only of a nullity; where there is nothing it can have no relation; nothing is not the subject of possession nor of dominion.
There could be no exercise of this dominion without creation: what exercise can a sovereign have without subjects? Sovereignty speaks a relation to subjects, and none is properly a sovereign without subjects. To conclude: from hence doth result God’s universal dominion; for being Maker of all, he is the ruler of all, and his perpetual dominion; for as long as God continues in the relation of Creator, the right of his sovereignty as Creator cannot be abolished.
3. As God is the final cause, or end of all, he is Lord of all. The end hath a greater sovereignty in actions than the actor itself: the actor hath a sovereignty over others in action, but the end for which any one works hath a sovereignty over the agent himself: a limner hath a sovereignty over the picture he is framing, or hath framed, but the end for which he framed it, either his profit he designed from it, or the honor and credit of skill he aimed at in it, hath a dominion over the limner himself: the end moves and excites the artist to work; it spirits him in it, conducts him in his whole business, possesses his mind, and sits triumphant in him in all the progress of his work; it is the first cause for which the whole work is wrought. Now God, in his actual creation of all, is the sovereign end of all; “for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11); “The Lord hath made all things for himself” (Prov. 16:4). Man, indeed, is the subordinate and immediate end of the lower creation, and therefore had the dominion over other creatures granted to him: but God being the ultimate and principal end, hath the sovereign and principal dominion; all things as much refer to him, as the last end, as they flow from him as the first cause. So that, as I said before, if the world had been compacted together by a jumbling chance, without a wise hand, as some have foolishly imagined, none could have been an antagonist with God for the government of the world; but God, in regard of the excellency of his nature, would have been the Rector of it, unless those atoms that had composed the world had had an ability to govern it. Since there could be no universal end of all things but God, God only can claim an entire right to the government of it; for though man be the end of the lower creation, yet man is not the end of himself and his own being; he is not the end of the creation of the supreme heavens; he is not able to govern them; they are out of his ken, and out of his reach. None fit in regard of the excellency of nature, to be the chief end of the whole world but God; and therefore none can have a right to the dominion of it but God: in this regard God’s dominion differs from the dominion of all earthly potentates. All the subjects in creation were made for God as their end, so are not people for rulers, but rulers made for people for their protection, and the preservation of order in societies.
4. The dominion of God is founded upon his preservation of things. (Psalm 95:3, 4); “The Lord is a great King above all gods:” why? “In his hand are all the deep places of the earth.” While his hand holds things, his hand hath a dominion over them. He that holds a stone in the air, exerciseth a dominion over its natural inclination in hindering it from falling. The creature depends wholly upon God in its preservation; as soon as that Divine hand which sustains everything were withdrawn, a languishment and swooning would be the next turn in the creature. He is called Lord, Adonai, in regard of his sustentation of all things by his continual influx; the word coming of אדז, which signifies a basis or pillar, that supports a building.
God is the Lord of all, as he is the sustainer of all by his power, as well as the Creator of all by his word. The sun hath a sovereign dominion over its own beams, which depend upon it, so that if he withdraws himself, they all attend him, and the world is left in darkness. God maintains the vigor of all things, conducts them in their operations; so that nothing that they are, nothing that they have, but is owing to his preserving power. The Master of this great family may as well be called the Lord of it, since every member of it depends upon him for the support of that being he first gave them, and holds of his empire. As the right to govern resulted from creation, so it is perpetuated by the preservation of things.
5. The dominion of God is strengthened by the innumerable benefits he bestows upon his creatures: the benefits he confers upon us after creation, are not the original ground of his dominion. A man hath not authority over his servant from the kindness he shows to him, but his authority commenceth before any act of kindness, and is founded upon a right of purchase, conquest, or compact. Dominion doth not depend upon mere benefits; then inferiors might have dominions over superiors. A peasant may save the life of a prince to whom he was not subject; he hath not therefore a right to step up into his throne and give laws to him: and children that maintain their parents in their poverty, might then acquire an authority over them which they can never climb to; because the benefits they confer cannot parallel the benefits they have received from the authors of their lives. The bounties of God to us add nothing to the intrinsic right of his natural dominion; they being the effects of that sovereignty, as he is a rewarder and governor; as the benefits a prince bestows upon his favorite increases not that right of authority which is inherent in the crown, but strengthens that dominion as it stands in relation to the receiver, by increasing the obligation of the favorite to an observance of him, not only as his natural prince, but his gracious benefactor. The beneficence of God adds, though not an original right of power, yet a foundation of a stronger upbraiding the creature, if he walks in a violation and forgetfulness of those benefits, and pull in pieces the links of that ingenuous duty they call for; and an occasion of exercising of justice in punishing the delinquent, which is a part of his empire (Isa. 1:2): “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, the Lord hath spoken; I have nourished children, and they have rebelled against me.” Thus the fundamental right as Creator is made more indisputable by his relation as a benefactor, and more as being so after a forfeiture of what was enjoyed by creation. The benefits of God are innumerable, and so magnificent that they cannot meet with any compensation from the creature; and, therefore, do necessarily require a submission from the creature, and an acknowledgment of Divine authority. But that benefit of redemption doth add a stronger right of dominion to God; since he hath not only as a Creator given them being and life as his creatures, but paid a price, the price of his Son’s blood, for their rescue from captivity; so that he hath a sovereignty of grace as well as nature, and the ransomed ones belong to him as Redeemer as well as Creator (1 Cor. 6:19, 20): “Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price;” therefore your body and your spirit are God’s. By this he acquired a right of another kind, and bought us from that uncontrollable lordship we affected over ourselves by the sin of Adam, that he might use us as his own peculiar for his own glory and service. By this redemption there results to God a right over our bodies, over our spirits, over our services, as well as by creation; and to show the strength of this right, the apostle repeats it, “you are bought;” a purchase cannot be without a price paid; but he adds price also, “bought with a price.” To strengthen the title, purchase gave him a new right, and the greatness of the price established that right.
The more a man pays for a thing, the more usually we say, he deserves to have it, he hath paid enough for it; it was, indeed, price enough, and too much for such vile creatures as we are.
III. he third thing is, The nature of this dominion.
1. This dominion is independent. His throne is in the heavens; the heavens depend not upon the earth, nor God upon his creatures. Since he is independent in regard of his essence, he is so in his dominion, which flows from the excellency and fulness of his essence; as he receives his essence from none, so he derives his dominion from none; all other dominion except paternal authority is rooted originally in the wills of men. The first title was the consent of the people, or the conquest of others by the help of those people that first consented; and in the exercise of it, earthly dominion depends upon assistance of the subjects, and the members being joined with the head carry on the work of government, and prevent civil dissensions; in the support of it, it depends upon the subjects’ contributions and taxes; the subjects in their strength are the arms, and in their purses the sinews of government; but God depends upon none in the foundation of his government; he is not a Lord by the votes of his vassals. Nor is it successively handed to him by any predecessor, nor constituted by the power of a superior; nor forced he his way by war and conquest, nor precariously attained it by suit or flattery, or bribing promises. He holds not the right of his empire from any other; he hath no superior to hand him to his throne, and settle him by commission; he is therefore called “King of kings, and Lord of lords,” having none above him; “A great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:3): needing no license from any when to act, nor direction how to act, or assistance in his action; he owes not any of those to any person; he was not ordered by any other to create, and therefore received not orders from any other to rule over what he hath created. He received not his power and wisdom from another, and therefore is not subject to any for the rule of his government. He only made his own subjects, and from himself hath the sole authority; his own will was the cause of their beings, and his own will is the director of their actions. He is not determined by his creatures in any of his motions, but determines the creatures in all; his actions are not regulated by any law without him, but by a law within him, the law of his own nature. It is impossible he can have any rule without himself, because there is nothing superior to himself, nor doth he depend upon any in the exercise of his government; he needs no servants in it, when be uses creatures: it is not out of want of their help, but for the manifestation of his wisdom and power. What he doth by his subjects, he can do by himself: “The government is upon his shoulder” (Isa. 9:6), to show that he needs not any supporters. All other governments flow from him, all other authorities depend upon him; Dei Gratiâ, or Dei Providentiâ, is in the style of princes. As their being is derived from his power, so their authority is but a branch of his dominion. They are governors by Divine providence; God is governor by his sole nature. All motions depend upon the first heaven, which moves all; but that depends upon nothing. The government of Christ depends upon God’s uncreated dominion, and is by commision from him; Christ assumed not this honor to himself, “But he that said unto him, Thou art my Son,” bestowed it upon him. “He put all things under his feet,” but not himself (1 Cor. 15:27). “When he saith, All things are put under him, he is excepted, which did put all things under him.” He sits still as an independent governor upon his throne.
2. This dominion is absolute. If his throne be in the heavens, there is nothing to control him. If he be independent, he must needs be absolute; since he hath no cause in conjunction with him as Creator, that can share with him in his right, or restrain him in the disposal of his creature. His authority is unlimited; in this regard the title of “Lord” becomes not any but God properly. Tiberius, though none of the best , though one of the subtilest princes, accounted the title of “Lord” a reproach to him: since he was not “absolute.”
1st. Absolute in regard of freedom and liberty. (1.) Thus creation is a work of his mere sovereignty; he created, because it was his pleasure to create (Rev. 4:11). He is not necessitated to do this or that. He might have chosen whether he would have framed an earth and heavens, and laid the foundations of his chambers in the waters. He was under no obligation to reduce things from nullity to existence. (2.) Preservation is the fruit of his sovereignty. When he had called the world to stand out, he might have ordered it to return into its dark den of nothingness, ripped up every part of its foundation, or have given being to many more creatures then he did. If you consider his absolute sovereignty, why might he not have divested Adam presently of those rational perfections wherewith he had endowed him? And might he not have metamorphosed him into some beast, and elevated some beast into a rational nature? Why might he not have degraded an angel to a worm, and advanced a worm to the nature and condition of an angel? Why might he not have revoked that grant of dominion, which he had passed to man over all creatures? It was free to him to permit sin to enter into the earth, or to have excluded it out of the earth, as he doth out of heaven. (3.) Redemption is a fruit of his sovereignty. By his absolute sovereignty he might have confirmed all the angels in their standing by grace, and prevented the revolt of any of their members from him; and when there was a revolt both in heaven and earth, it was free to him to have called out his Son to assume the angelical, as well as the human, nature, or have exercised his dominion in the destruction of men and devils, rather than in the redemption of any; he was under no obligation to restore either the one or the other. (4.) May he not impose what terms he pleases? May he not impose what laws he pleases, and exact what he will of his creature without promising any rewards? May he not use his own for his own honor, as well as men use for their credit what they do possess by his indulgence? (5.) Affliction is an act of his sovereignty. By this right of sovereignty, may not God take away any man’s goods, since they were his doles? As he was not indebted to us when he bestowed them, so he cannot wrong us when he removes them. He takes from us what is more his own than it is ours, and was never ours but by his gift, and that for a time only, not forever. By this right he may determine our times, put a period to our days when he pleases, strip us of one member, and lop off another. Man’s being was from him, and why should he not have a sovereignty to take what he had a sovereignty to give? Why should this seem strange to any of us, since we ourselves exercise an absolute dominion over those things in our possession, which have sense and feeling, as well as over those that want it? Doth not every man think he hath an absolute authority over the utensils of his house, over his horse, his dog, to preserve or kill him, to do what he please with him, without rendering any other reason than, It is my own? May not God do much more? Doth not his dominion over the work of his hands transcend that which a man can claim over his beast that he never gave life unto? He that dares dispute against God’s absolute right, fancies himself as much a god as his Creator: understands not the vast difference between the Divine nature and his own; between the sovereignty of God and his own, which is all the theme God himself discourseth upon in those stately chapters (Job. 38; 39, &c.); not mentioning a word of Job’s sin, but only vindicating the rights of his own authority. Nor doth Job, in his reply (Job 40:4), speak of his sin, but of his natural vileness as a creature in the presence of his Creator. By this right, God unstops the bottles of heaven in one place, and stops them in another, causing it “to rain upon one city, and not upon another” (Amos 4:7); ordering the clouds to move to this or that quarter where he hath a mind to be a benefactor or a judge. (6.) Unequal dispensations are acts of his sovereignty. By this right he is patient toward those whose sins, by the common voice of men, deserve speedy judgments, and pours out pain upon those that are patterns of virtue to the world. By this he gives sometimes the worst of men an ocean of wealth and honor to swim in, and reduceth an useful and exemplary grace to a scanty poverty. By this he “rules the kingdoms of men,” and sets a crown upon the head of the basest of men (Dan. 4:17), while he deposeth another that seemed to deserve a weightier diadem. This is, as he is the Lord of the ammunition of his thunders, and the treasures of his bounty. (7.) He may inflict what torments he pleases. Some say, by this right of sovereignty he may inflict what torments he pleaseth upon an innocent person; which, indeed, will not bear the nature of a punishment as an effect of justice, without the supposal of a crime; but a torment, as an effect of that sovereign right he hath over his creature, which is as absolute over his work as the “potter’s” power is “over his own clay” (Jer. 18:6; Rom. 9:21). May not the potter, after his labor, either set his “vessel” up to adorn his house, or knock it in pieces, and fling it upon the dunghill; separate it to some noble use, or condemn it to some sordid service? Is the right of God over his creatures less than that of the potter over his vessel, since God contributed all to his creature, but the potter never made the clay, which is the substance of the vessel, nor the water which was necessary to make it tractable, but only moulded the substance of it into such a shape? The vessel that is framed, and the potter that frames it, differ only in life: the body of the potter, whereby he executes his authority, is of no better a mould than the clay, the matter of his vessel. Shall he have so absolute a power over that which is so near him, and shall not God over that which is so infinitely distant from him? The “vessel,” perhaps, might plead for itself that it was once part of the body of a man, and as good as the “potter” himself; whereas no creature can plead it was part of God, and as good as God himself. Though there be no man in the world but deserves affliction, yet the Scripture sometimes lays affliction upon the score of God’s dominion, without any respect to the sin of the afflicted person. Speaking of a sick person (James 5:10), “If he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him;” whereby is implied, that he might be struck into sickness by God, without any respect to a particular sin, but in a way of trial; and that his affliction sprung not from any exercise of Divine justice, but from his absolute sovereignty; and so, in the case of the blind man, when the disciples asked for what sin it was, whether for his “own,” or his “parents sin,” he was born blind? (John 9:3), “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents;” which speaks, in itself, not against the whole current of Scripture; but the words import thus much, that God, in this blindness from the birth, neither respected any sin of the man’s own, nor of his parents, but he did it as an absolute sovereign, to manifest his own glory in that miraculous cure which was wrought by Christ. Though afflictions do not happen without the desert of the creature, yet some afflictions may be sent without any particular respect to that desert, merely for the manifestation of God’s glory, since the creature was made for God himself, and his honor, and therefore may be used in a serviceableness to the glory of the Creator.
2d. His dominion is absolute in regard of unlimitedness by any law without him. He is an absolute monarch that makes laws for his subjects, but is not bound by any himself, nor receives any rules and laws from his subjects, for the management of his government. But most governments in the world are bounded by laws made by common consent. But when kings are not limited by the laws of their kingdoms, yet they are bounded by the law of nature, and the providence of God. But God is under no law without himself, his rule is within him, the rectitude and righteousness of his own nature; he is not under that law he hath prescribed to man. The law was not made for a “righteous man” (1 Tim. 1:9), much less for a righteous God. God is his own law; his own nature is his rule, as his own glory is his end; himself is his end, and himself is his law. He is moved by nothing without himself; nothing hath the dominion of a motive over him but his own will, which is his rule for all his actions in heaven and earth. (Dan. 4:32), “He rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever he will.” And, (Rom. 9:18,) “He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy;” as all things are wrought by him according to his own eternal ideas in his own mind, so all is wrought by him according to the inward motive in his own will, which was the manifestation of his own honor. The greatest motives, therefore, that the best persons have used, when they have pleaded for any grant from God, was his own glory, which would be advanced by an answer of their petition.
3d. His dominion is absolute in regard of supremacy and uncontrollableness. None can implead him, and cause him to render a reason of his actions. He is the sovereign King, “Who may say unto him, What dost thou?” (Eccles. 8:4.) It is an absurd thing for any to dispute with God. (Rom. 11:20), “Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?” Thou, a man, a piece of dust, to argue with a God incomprehensibly above thy reason, about the reason of his works! Let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth, but “not with Him that fashioned them” (Isa. 45:9). In all the desolations he works, he asserts his own supremacy to silence men. (Psalm 46:10), “Be still, and know that I am God!” Beware of any quarrelling motions in your minds; it is sufficient than I am God, that is supreme, and will not be impleaded, and censured, or worded with by any creature about what I do. He is not bound to render a reason of any of his proceedings. Subjects are accountable to their princes, and princes to God, God to none; since he is not limited by any superior, his prerogative is supreme.
4th. His dominion is absolute in regard of irresistibleness. Other governments are bounded by law; so that what a governor hath strength to do, he hath not a right to do; other governors have a limited ability, that what they have a right to do, they have not always a strength to do; they may want a power to execute their own counsels. But God is destitute of neither; he hath an infinite right, and an infinite strength; his word is a law; he commands things to stand out of nothing, and they do so. “He commanded,” or spake, ὁ εἰπών, “light to shine out of darkness” (2 Cor. 4:6). There is no distance of time between his word: “Let there be light; and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). Magistrates often use not their authority, for fear of giving occasion to insurrections, which may overturn their empire. But if the Lord will work, “who shall let it?” (Isa. 43:19): and if God will not work, who shall force him? He can check and overturn all other powers; his decrees cannot be stopped, nor his hand held back by any: if he wills to dash the whole world in pieces, no creature can maintain its being against his order. He sets the ordinances of the heavens, and the dominion thereof in the earth; and sends lightnings, that they may go, and say unto him, “Here we are” (Job 38:33, 34).
3. Yet this dominion, though it be absolute, is not tyrannical, but it is managed by the rules of wisdom, righteousness, and goodness. If his throne be in the heavens, it is pure and good: because the heavens are the purest parts of the creation, and influence by their goodness the lower earth. Since he is his own rule, and his nature is infinitely wise, holy, and righteous, he cannot do a thing but what is unquestionably agreeable with wisdom, justice, and purity. In all the exercises of his sovereign right, he is never unattended with those perfections of his nature. Might not God, by his absolute power, have pardoned men’s guilt, and thrown the invading sin out of his creatures? But in regard of his truth pawned in his threatening, and in regard of his justice, which demanded satisfaction, he would not. Might not God, by his absolute sovereignty, admit a man into his friendship, without giving him any grace? but in regard of the incongruity of such an act to his wisdom and holiness, he will not. May he not, by his absolute power, refuse to accept a man that desires to please him, and reject a purely innocent creature? but in regard of his goodness and righteousness, he will not. Though innocence be amiable in its own nature, yet it is not necessary in regard of God’s sovereignty, that he should love it; but in regard of his goodness it is necessary, and he will never do otherwise. As God never acts to the utmost of his power, so he never exerts the utmost of his sovereignty: because it would be inconsistent with those other properties which render him perfectly adorable to the creature. As no intelligent creature, neither angel nor man, can be framed without a law in his nature, so we cannot imagine God without a law in his own nature, unless we would fancy him a rude, tyrannical, foolish being, that hath nothing of holiness, goodness, righteousness, wisdom. If he “made the heavens in wisdom” (Psalm 136:5), he made them by some rule, not by a mere will, but a rule within himself, not without. A wise work is never the result of an absolute unguided will.
(1.) This dominion is managed by the rule of wisdom. What may appear to us to have no other spring than absolute sovereignty, would be found to have a depth of amazing wisdom, and accountable reason, were our short capacities long enough to fathom it. When the apostle had been discoursing of the eternal counsels of God, in seizing upon one man, and letting go another, in neglecting the Jews, and gathering in the Gentiles, which appears to us to be results only of an absolute dominion, yet he resolves not those amazing acts into that, without taking it for granted that they, were governed by exact wisdom, though beyond his ken to see and his line to sound. “O, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God; how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out” (Rom. 2:33)!
There are some things in matters of state, that may seem to be acts of mere will, but if we were acquainted with the arcana imperii, the inward engines which moved them, and the ends aimed at in those undertakings, we might find a rich vein of prudence in them, to incline us to judge otherwise than bare arbitrary proceedings. The other attributes of power and goodness are more easily perceptible in the works of God than his wisdom. The first view of the creation strikes us with this sentiment, that the Author of this great fabric was mighty and beneficial; but his wisdom lies deeper than to be discerned at the first glance, without a diligent inquiry; as at the first casting our eyes upon the sea, we behold its motion , color, and something of its vastness, but we cannot presently fathom the depth of it, and understand those lower fountains that supply that great ocean of waters. It is part of God’s sovereignity, as it is of the wisest princes, that he hath a wisdom beyond the reach of his subjects; it is not for a finite nature to understand an Infinite Wisdom, nor for a foolish creature that hath lost his understanding by the fall, to judge of the reason of the methods of a wise Counsellor. Yet those actions that savor most of sovereignty, present men with some glances of his wisdom. Was it mere will, that he suffered some angels to fall? But his wisdom was in it for the manifestation of his justice, as it was also in the case of Pharaoh. Was it mere will, that he suffered sin to be committed by man? Was not his wisdom in this for the discovery of his mercy, which never had been known without that, which should render a creature miserable? “He hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32). Though God had such an absolute right, to have annihilated the world as soon as ever he had made it, yet how had this consisted with his wisdom, to have erected a creature after his own image one day, and despised it so much the next, as to cashier it from being? What wisdom had it been to make a thing only to destroy it; to repent of his work as soon as ever it came out of his hands, without any occasion offered by the creature? If God be supposed to be Creator, he must be supposed to have an end in creation; what end can that be but himself and his own glory, the manifestation of the perfections of his nature? What perfection could have been discovered in so quick an annihilation, but that of his power in creating, and of his sovereignty in snatching away the being of his rational creature, before it had laid the methods of acting What wisdom to make a world, and a reasonable creature for no use; not to praise and honor him, but to be broken in pieces, and destroyed by him?
(2.) His sovereignty is managed according to the rule of righteousness. Worldly princes often fancy tyranny and oppression to be the chief marks of sovereignty, and think their sceptres not beautiful till died in blood, nor the throne secure till established upon slain carcasses. But “justice and judgment” are the foundation of the throne of God (Psalm 89:14); alluding perhaps to the supporters of arms and thrones, which among princes are the figures of lions, emblems of courage, as Solomon had (1 Kings 10:19). But God makes not so much might, as right, the support of his. He sits on a “throne of holiness” (Psalm 47:8). As he reigns over the heathens, referring to the calling of the Gentiles after the rejecting of the Jews; the Psalmist here praising the righteousness of it, as the Apostle had the unsearchable wisdom of it (Rom.
11:33). “In all his ways he is righteous” (Psalm 145:17): in his ways of terror as well as those of sweetness; in those works wherein little else but that of his sovereignty appears to us. It is always linked with his holiness, that he will not do by his absolute right anything but what is conformable to it: since his dominion is founded upon the excellency of his nature, he will not do anything but what is agreeable to it, and becoming his other perfections. Though he be an absolute sovereign, he is not an arbitrary governor; “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right” (Gen. 18:25)? i. e. it is impossible but he should act righteously in every punctilio of his government, since his righteousness capacitates him to be a judge , not a tyrant, of all the earth. The heathen poets represented their chief god Jupiter with Themis, or Right, sitting by him upon his throne in all his orders. God cannot by his absolute sovereignty command some things, because they are directly against unchangeable righteousness; as to command a creature to hate or blaspheme the Creator, not to own him nor praise him. It would be a manifest unrighteousness to order the creature not to own him, upon whom he depends both in its being and well-being; this would be against that natural duty which is indispensably due from every rational creature to God. This would be to order him to lay aside his reason, while he retains it; to disown him to be the Creator, while man remains his creature. This is repugnant to the nature of God, and the true nature of the creature; or to exact anything of man, but what he had given him a capacity, in his original nature, to perform. If any command were above our natural power, it would be unrighteous; as to command a man to grasp the globe of the earth, to stride over the sea, to lave out the waters of the ocean; these things are impossible, and become not the righteousness and wisdom of God to enjoin. There can be no obligation on man to an impossibility. God had a free dominion over nullity before the creation; he could call it out into the being of man and beast, but he could not do anything in creation foolishly, because of his infinite wisdom; nor could he by the right of his absolute sovereignty make man sinful, because of his infinite purity. As it is impossible for him not to be sovereign, it is impossible for him to deny his Deity and his purity. It is lawful for God to do what he will, but his will being ordered by the righteousness of his nature, as infinite as his will, he cannot do anything but what is just; and therefore in his dealing with men, you find him in Scripture submitting the reasonableness and equity of his proceedings to the judgment of his depraved creatures, and the inward dictates of their own conscience. “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard” (Isa. 5:3). Though God be the great Sovereign of the world, yet he acts not in a way of absolute sovereignty. He rules by law; he is a “Lawgiver” as well as a “King” (Isa. 33:22). It had been repugnant to the nature of a rational creature to be ruled otherwise; to be governed as a beast, this had been to frustrate those faculties of will and understanding which had been given him. To conclude this: when we say, God can do this or that, or command this or that, his authority is not bounded and limited properly. Who can reasonably detract from his almightiness, because he cannot do anything which savors of weakness; and what detracting is it from his authority, that he cannot do anything unseemly for the dignity of his nature? It is rather from the infiniteness of his righteousness than the straitness of his authority; at most it is but a voluntary bounding his dominion by the law of his own holiness.
(3.) His sovereignty is managed according to the rule of goodness. Some potentates there have been in the world, that have loved to suck the blood, and drink the tears, of their subjects; that would rule more by fear than love; like Clearchus, the tyrant of Heraclea, who bore the figure of a thunderbolt instead of a sceptre, and named his son Thunder, thereby to tutor him to terrify his subjects. But as God’s throne is a throne of holiness, so it is a “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16), a throne encircled with a rainbow: “In sight like to an emerald” (Rev. 4:23): an emblem of the covenant, that hath the pleasantness of a green color, delightful to the eye, betokening mercy. Though his nature be infinitely excellent above us, and his power infinitely transcendent over us, yet the majesty of his government is tempered with an unspeakable goodness. He acts not so much as an absolute Lord, as a gracious Sovereign and obliging Benefactor. He delights not to make his subjects slaves; exacts not from them any servile and fearful, but a generous and cheerful, obedience. He requires them not to fear, or worship him so much for his power, as his goodness. He requires not of a rational creature anything repugnant to the honor, dignity, and principles of such a nature; not anything that may shame, disgrace it, and make it weary of its own being, and the service it owes to its Sovereign. He draws by the cords of a man; his goodness renders his laws as sweet as honey or the honey-comb to an unvitiated palate and a renewed mind.
And though it be granted he hath a full dispose of his creature, as the potter of his vessel, and might by his absolute sovereignty inflict upon an innocent an eternal torment, yet his goodness will never permit him to use this sovereign right to the hurt of a creature that deserves it not. If God should cast an innocent creature into the furnace of his wrath, who can question him? But who can think that his goodness will do so, since that is as infinite as his authority? As not to punish the sinner would be a denial of his justice, so to torment an innocent would be a denial of his goodness. A man hath an absolute power over his beast, and may take away his life, and put him to a great deal of pain; but that moral virtue of pity and tenderness would not permit him to use this right, but when it conduceth to some greater good than that can be evil; either for the good of man, which is the end of the creature, or for the good of the poor beast itself, to rid him of a greater misery; none but a savage nature, a disposition to be abhorred, would torture a poor beast merely for his pleasure. It is as much against the nature of God to punish one eternally, that hath not deserved it, as it is to deny himself, and act anything foolishly and unbeseeming his other perfections, which render him majestical and adorable. To afflict an innocent creature for his own good, or for the good of the world, as in the case of the Redeemer, is so far from being against goodness, that it is the highest testimony of his tender bowels to the sons of men. God, though he be mighty, “withdraws not his eyes,” i. e. his tender respect, “from the righteous” (Job 36:5, 7–10). And if he “bind them in fetters,” it is to “show them their transgressions,” and “open their ear to discipline,” and renewing commands, in a more sensible strain, “to depart from iniquity.” What was said of Fabritius, “You may as soon remove the sun from its course, as Fabritius from his honesty,” may be of God: you may as soon dash in pieces his throne, as separate his goodness from his sovereignty.
4. This sovereignty is extensive over all creatures. He rules all, as the heavens do over the earth. He is “King of worlds, King of ages,” as the word translated “eternal” signifies (1 Tim. 1:17), Τῷ δὲ βασιλεῖ τῶν αἰώνων: and the same word is so translated (Heb. 1:2), “By whom also he made the worlds.” The same word is rendered “worlds” (Heb. 11:3): “The worlds were framed by the Word of God.” God is King of ages or worlds, of the invisible world and the sensible; of all from the beginning of their creation, of whatsoever is measured by a time. It extends over angels and devils, over wicked and good, over rational and irrational creatures; all things bow down under his hand; nothing can be exempted from him: because there is nothing but was extracted by him from nothing into being. All things essentially depend upon him; and, therefore, must be essentially subject to him; the extent of his dominion flows from the perfection of his essence; since his essence is unlimited, his royalty cannot be restrained. His authority is as void of any imperfection as his essence is; it reaches out to all points of the heaven above, and the earth below. Other princes reign in a spot of ground. Every worldly potentate hath the confines of his dominions. The Pyrenean mountains divide France from Spain, and the Alps, Italy from France. None are called kings absolutely, but kings of this or that place. But God is the King; the spacious firmament limits not his dominion; if we could suppose him bounded by any place, in regard of his presence, yet he could never be out of his own dominion; whatsoever he looks upon, wheresoever he were, would be under his rule. Earthly kings may step out of their own country into the territory of a neighbor prince; and as one leaves his country, so he leaves his dominion behind him; but heaven and earth, and every particle of both, is the territory of God. “He hath prepared his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.”
(1.) The heaven of angels, and other excellent creatures, belong to his authority. He is principally called “The Lord of Hosts,” in relation to his entire command over the angelical legions: therefore, ver. 21, following the text, they are called his “hosts,” and “ministers that do his pleasure.” Jacob called him so before (Gen. 32:1, 2). When he met the angels of God, he calls them “the host of God;” and the Evangelist, long after, calls them so (Luke 2:13): “A multitude of the heavenly host, praising God;” and all this host he commands (Isa. 45:12): “My hands have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.” He employs them all in his service; and when he issues out his orders to them to do this or that, he finds no resistance of his will. And the inanimate creatures in heaven are at his beck; they are his armies in heaven, disposed in an excellent order in their several ranks (Psalm 147:4): “He calls the stars by name;” they render a due obedience to him as servants to their master, when he singles them out, “and calls them by name,” to do some special service; he calls them out to their several offices, as the general of an army appoints the station of every regiment in a battalia. Or “he calls them by name,” i. e. he imposeth names upon them, a sign of dominion: the giving names to the inferior creatures being the first act of Adam’s derivative dominion over them. These are under the sovereignty of God. The stars, by their influences, fight against Sisera (Judges 5:20). And the sun holds in its reins, and stands stone still, to light Joshua to a complete victory (Josh. 10:12). They are all marshalled in their ranks to receive his word of command, and fight in close order, as being desirous to have a share in the ruin of the enemies of their Sovereign. And those creatures which mount up from the earth, and take their place in the lower heavens, vapors, whereof hail and snow are formed, are part of the army, and do not only receive, but fulfil, his word of command (Psalm 148:8). These are his stores and magazines of judgment against a time of trouble, and “a day of battle and war” (Job 38:22, 23). The sovereignty of God is visible in all their motions, in their going and returning. If he says, Go, they go; if he say, Come, they come; if he say, do this, they gird up their loins, and stand stiff to their duty.
(2.) The hell of devils belong to his authority. They have cast themselves out of the arms of his grace into the furnace of his justice; they have, by their revolt, forfeited the treasure of his goodness, but cannot exempt themselves from the sceptre of his dominion; when they would not own him as a Lord Father, they are under him as a Lord Judge; they are cast out of his affection, but not freed from his yoke. He rules over the good angels as his subjects, over the evil ones as his rebels. In whatsoever relation he stands, either as a friend or enemy, he never loses that of a Lord. A prince is the lord of his criminals as well as of his loyalest subjects. By this right of his sovereignty, he uses them to punish some, and be the occasion of benefit to others: on the wicked he employs them as instruments of vengeance; towards the godly, as in the case of Job, as an instrument of kindness for the manifestation of his sincerity against the intention of that malicious executioner. Though the devils are the executioners of his justice, it is not by their own authority, but God’s; as those that arc employed either to rack or execute a malefactor, are subjects to the prince not only in the quality of men, but in the execution of their function. The devil, by drawing men to sin, acquires no right to himself over the sinner: for man by sin offends not the devil, but God, and becomes guilty of punishment under God. When, therefore, the devil is used by God for the punishment of any, it is an act of his sovereignty for the manifestation of the order of his justice. And as most nations use the vilest persons in offices of execution, so doth God those vile spirits. He doth not ordinarily use the good angels in those offices of vengeance, but in the preservation of his people. When he would solely punish, he employs “evil angels” (Psalm 78:49), a troop of devils. His sovereignty is extended over the “deceiver and the deceived” (Job 12:16); over both the malefactor and the executioner, the devil and his prisoner. He useth the natural malice of the devils for his own just ends, and by his sovereign authority orders them to be the executioners of his judgments upon their own vassals, as well as sometimes inflicters of punishments upon his own servants.
(3.) The earth of men and other creatures belongs to his authority (Psalm 47:7). God is King of “all the earth,” and rules to the “ends” of it (Psalm 59:13). Ancient atheists confined God’s dominion to the heavenly orbs, and bounded it within the circuit of the celestial sphere (Job 22:14): “He walks in the circuit of heaven,” i. e. he exerciseth his dominion only there. Pedum positio was the sign of the possession of a piece of land, and the dominion of the possessor of it; and land was resigned by such a ceremony, as now, by the delivery of a twig or turf. But his dominion extends,
1st. Over the least creatures. All the creatures of the earth are listed in Christ’s muster-roll, and make up the number of his regiments. He hath an host on earth as well as in heaven (Gen. 2:1): “The heavens and earth were finished, and all the host of them.” And they are “all his servants” (Psalm 114:91), and move at his pleasure. And he vouchsafes the title of his army to the locust, caterpillar, and palmer worm (Joel 2:25); and describes their motions by military words, “climbing the walls, marching, not breaking their ranks” (ver. 7). He hath the command, as a great general, over the highest angel and the meanest worm; all the kinds of the smallest insects he presseth for his service. By this sovereignty he muzzled the devouring nature of the fire to preserve the three children, and let it loose to consume their adversaries; and if he speaks the word, the stormy waves are hushed, as if they bad no principle of rage within them (Psalm 89:9). Since the meanest creature attains its end, and no arrow that God hath by his power shot into the world but hits the mark he aimed at, we must conclude, that there is a sovereign hand that governs all: not a spot of earth, or air, or water in the world, but is his possession; not a creature in any element but is his subject.
2d. His dominion extends over men. It extends over the highest potentate, as well as the meanest peasant; the proudest monarch is no more exempt than the most languishing beggar. He lays not aside his authority to please the prince, nor strains it up to terrify the indigent. “He accepts not the persons of princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor; for they are all the work of his hand” (Job 34:19). Both the powers and weaknesses, the gallantry and peasantry of the earth, stand and fall at his pleasure. Man, in innocence, was under his authority as his creature; and man, in his revolt, is further under his authority as a criminal: as a person is under the authority of a prince, as a governor, while he obeys his laws; and further under the authority of the prince, as a judge, when he violates his laws. Man is under God’s dominion in everything, in his settlement, in his calling, in the ordering his very habitation (Acts 17:26): “He determines the bounds of their habitations.” He never yet permitted any to be universal monarch in the world, nor over the fourth part of it, though several, in the pride of their heart, have designed and attempted it: the pope, who hath bid the fairest for it in spirituals, never attained it; and when his power was most flourishing, there were multitudes that would never acknowledge his authority.
3d. But especially this dominion, in the peculiarity of its extent, is seen in the exercise of it over the spirits and hearts of men. Earthly governors have, by his indulgence, a share with him in a dominion over men’s bodies, upon which account he graceth princes and judges with the title of “gods” (Psalm 82:6); but the highest prince is but a prince “according to the flesh,” as the apostle calls masters in relation to their servants (Col. 3:22).
God is the sovereign; man rules over the beast in man, the body; and God rules over the man in man, the soul. It sticks not in the outward surface, but pierceth to the inward marrow. It is impossible God should be without this; if our wills were independent of him, we were in some sort equal with himself, in part gods, as well as creatures. It is impossible a creature, either in whole or in part, can be exempted from it; since he is the fashioner of hearts as well as of bodies. He is the Father of spirits, and therefore hath the right of a paternal dominion over them. When he established man lord of the other creatures, he did not strip himself of the propriety; and when he made man a free agent, and lord of the acts of his will, he did not divest himself of the sovereignty. His sovereignty is seen,
[1.] In gifting the spirits of men. Earthly magistrates have hands too short to inspire the hearts of their subjects with worthy sentiments: when they confer an employment, they are not able to convey an ability with it fit for the station: they may as soon frame a statue of liquid water, and gild, or paint it over with the costliest colors, as impart to any, a state-head for a state-ministry. But when God chooseth a Saul from so mean an employment as seeking of asses, he can treasure up in him a spirit fit for government; and fire David, in age a stripling, and by education a shepherd, with courage to encounter, and skill to defeat, a massy Goliath. And when he designs a person for glory, to stand before his throne, he can put a new anal a royal spirit into him (Ezek. 36:26). God only can infuse habits into the soul, to capacitate it to act nobly and generously.
[2.] His sovereignty is seen in regard of the inclinations of men’s wills. No creature can immediately work upon the will, to guide it to what point he pleaseth, though mediately it may, by proposing reasons which may master the understanding, and thereby determine the will. But God bows the hearts of men, by the efficacy of his dominion, to what centre he pleaseth. When the more overweaning sort of men, that thought their own heads as fit for a erown as Saul’s, scornfully despised him; yet God touched the hearts of a band of men to follow and adhere to him (1 Sam. 10:26, 27). When the anti-christian whore shall be ripe for destruction, God shall “put it into the heart” of the ten horns or kings, “to hate the whore, burn her with fire, and fulfil his will” (Rev. 17:16, 17). He “fashions the hearts” alike, and tunes one string to answer another, and both to answer his own design (Psalm 33:15). And while men seem to gratify their own ambition and malice, they execute the will of God, by his secret touch upon their spirits, guiding their inclinations to serve the glorious manifestation of truth. While the Jews would, in a reproachful disgrace to Christ, crucify two thieves with him, to render him more incapable to have any followers, they accomplished a prophecy, and brought to light a mark of the Messiah, whereby he had been charactered in one of their prophets, that he should be “numbered among transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). He can make a man of not willing, willing; the wills of all men are in his hand; i. e. under the power of his sceptre, to retain or let go upon this or that errand, to bend this or that way; as water is carried by pipes to what house or place the owner of it is pleased to order. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of waters; he turns it whithersoever he will” (Prov. 21:1) without any limitation. He speaks of the heart of princes; because, in regard of their height, they seem to be more absolute, and impetuous as waters; yet God holds them in his hand, under his dominion; turns them to acts of clemency or severity, like waters, either to overflow and damage, or to refresh and fructify. He can convey a spirit to them, or “cut it off” from them (Psalm 76:12). It is with reference to his efficacious power, in graciously turning the heart of Paul, that the apostle breaks off his discourse of the story of his conversion, and breaks out into a magnifying and glorifying of God’s dominion. “Now unto the King eternal,” &c. “be honor and glory forever and ever” (1 Tim. 1:17). Our hearts are more subject to the Divine sovereignty than our members in their motions are subject to our own wills. As we can move our hand east or west to any quarter of the world, so can God bend our wills to what mark he pleases. The second cause in every motion depends upon the first; and that will, being a second cause, may be furthered or hindered in its inclinations or executions by God; he can bend or unbend it, and change it from one actual inclination to another. It is as much under his authority and power to move, or hinder, as the vast engine of the heavens is in its motion or standing still, which he can affect by a word. The work depends upon the workman; the clock upon the artificer for the motions of it.
[3.] His dominion is seen in regard of terror or comfort. The heart or conscience is God’s special throne on earth, which he hath reserved to himself, and never indulged human authority to sit upon it. He solely orders this in ways of conviction or comfort. He can flash terror into men’s spirits in the midst of their earthly jollities, and put death into the pot of conscience, when they are boiling up themselves in a high pitch of worldly delights, and can raise men’s spirits above the sense of torment under racks and flames. He can draw a hand-writing not only in the outward chamber, but the inward closet; bring the rack into the inwards of a man. None can infuse comfort when he writes bitter things, nor can any fill the heart with gall, when he drops in honey. Men may order outward duties, but they cannot unlock the conscience, and constrain men to think them duties which they are forced, by human laws, outwardly to act: and as the laws of earthly princes are bounded by the outward man, so do their executions and punishments reach no further than the case of the body: but God can run upon the inward man, as a giant, and inflict wounds and gashes there.
5. It is an eternal dominion. In regard of the exercise of it, it was not from eternity, because there was not from eternity any creature under the government of it; but in regard of the foundation of it, his essence, his excellency, it is eternal; as God was from eternity almighty, but there was no exercise or manifestation of it till he began to create. Men are kings only for a time; their lives expire like a lamp, and their dominion is extinguished with their lives; they hand their empire by succession to others, but many times it is snapped off before they are cold in their graves. How are the famous empires of the Chaldeans, Medes, Persians, and Greeks, mouldered away, and their place knows them no more! and how are the wings of the Roman eagle cut, and that empire which overspread a great part of the world, hath lost most of its feathers, and is confined to a narrower compass! The dominion of God flourisheth from one generation to another: “He sits King forever” (Psalm 29:10). His “session” signifies the establishment , and “forever” the duration; and he “sits now,” his sovereignty is as absolute, as powerful as ever. How many lords and princes hath this or that kingdom had! in how many families hath the sceptre lodged! when as God hath had an uninterrupted dominion; as he hath been always the same in his essence, he hath been always glorious in his sovereignty: among men, he that is lord to-day, may be stripped of it to- morrow; the dominions in the world vary; he that is a prince may see his royalty upon the wings, and feel himself laden with fetters; and a prisoner may be “lifted from his dungeon” to a throne. But there can be no diminution of God’s government; “His throne is from generation to generation” (Lam. 5:19); it cannot be shaken: his sceptre, like Aaron’s rod, is always green; it cannot be wrested out of his hands; none raised him to it, none therefore can depose him from it; it bears the same splendor in all human affairs; he is an eternal, an “immortal King” (1 Tim. 1:17); as he is eternally mighty, so he is eternally sovereign; and, being an eternal King, he is a King that gives not a momentary and perishing, but a durable and everlasting life, to them that obey him: a durable and eternal punishment to them that resist him.
IV. Wherein this dominion and sovereign consists, and how it is manifested.
First. The first act of sovereignty is the making laws. This is essential to God; no creature’s will can be the first rule to the creature, but only the will of God: he only can prescribe man his duty, and establish the rule of it; hence the law is called “the royal law” (James 2:8): it being the first and clearest manifestation of sovereignty, as the power of legislation is of the authority of a prince. Both are joined together in Isa. 53:22: “The Lord is our Lawgiver; the Lord is our King;” legislative power being the great mark of royalty. God, as King, enacts his laws by his own proper authority, and his law is a declaration of his own sovereignty, and of men’s moral subjection to him, and dependence on him. His sovereignty doth not appear so much in his promises as in his precepts: a man’s power over another is not discovered by promising, for a promise doth not suppose the promiser either superior or inferior to the person to whom the promise is made. It is not an exercising authority over another, but over a man’s self; no man forceth another to the acceptance of his promise, but only proposeth and encourageth to an embracing of it. But commanding supposeth always an authority in the person giving the precept; it obhgeth the person to whom the command is directed; a promise obligeth the person by whom the promise is made. God, by his command, binds the creature; by his promise he binds himself; he stoops below his sovereignty, to lay obligations upon his own majesty; by a precept he binds the creature, by a promise he encourageth the creature to an observance of his precept: what laws God makes, man is bound, by virtue of his creation, to observe; that respects the sovereignty of God: what promises God makes, man is bound to believe; but that respects the faithfulness of God. God manifested his dominion more to the Jews than to any other people in the world; he was their Lawgiver, both as they were a church and a commonwealth: as a church, he gave them ceremonial laws for the regulating their worship; as a state, he gave them judicial laws for the ordering their civil affairs; and as both, he gave them moral laws, upon which both the laws of the church and state were founded. This dominion of God, in this regard, will be manifest,
(1.) In the supremacy of it. The sole power of making laws doth originally reside in him (James 4:12); “There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save, and to destroy.” By his own law he judges of the eternal states of men, and no law of man is obligatory, but as it is agreeable to the laws of this supreme Lawgiver, and pursuant to his righteous rules for the government of the world. The power that the potentates of the world have to make laws is but derivative from God. If their dominion be from him, as it is, for “by him kings reign” (Prov. 8:15), their legislative power, which is a prime flower of their sovereignty, is derived from him also: and the apostle resolves it into this original when he orders us to be “subject to the higher powers, not only for wrath, but for conscience sake” (Rom. 13:5). Conscience, in its operations, solely respects God; and therefore, when it is exercised as the principle of obedience to the laws of men, it is not with respect to them, singly considered, but as the majesty of God appears in their station and in their decrees. This power of giving laws was acknowledged by the heathen to be solely in God by way of original; and therefore the greatest lawgivers among the heathen pretended their laws to be received from some deity or supernatural power, by special revelation: now, whether they did this seriously, acknowledging themselves this part of the dominion of God,—for it is certain that whatsoever just orders were issued out by princes in the world, was by the secret influence of God upon their spirits (Prov. 8:15): “By me princes decree justice;” by the secret conduct of Divine wisdom,—or whether they pretended it only as a public engine, to enforce upon people the observance of their decrees, and gain a greater credit to their edicts, yet this will result from it, that the people in general entertained this common notion, that God was the great Lawgiver of the world. The first founders of their societies could never else have so absolutely gained upon them by such a pretence. There was always a revelation of a law from the mouth of God in every age: the exhortation of Eliphaz to Job (Job 22:22), of receiving a “law from the mouth” of God, at the time before the moral law was published, had been a vain exhortation had there been no revelation of the mind of God in all ages.
(2.) The dominion of God is manifest in the extent of his laws. As he is the Governor and Sovereign of the whole world, so he enacts laws for the whole world. One prince cannot make laws for another, unless he makes him his subject by right of conquest; Spain cannot make laws for England, or England for Spain; but God having the supreme government, as King over all, is a Lawgiver to all, to irrational, as well as rational creatures. The “heavens have their ordinances” (Job 38:33); all creatures have a law imprinted on their beings; rational creatures have Divine statutes copied in their heart: for men, it is clear (Rom. 2:14), every son of Adam, at his coming into the world, brings with him a law in his nature, and when reason clears itself up from the clouds of sense, he can make some difference between good and evil; discern something of fit and just. Every man finds a law within him that checks him if he offends it: none are without a legal indictment and a legal executioner within them; God or none was the Author of this as a sovereign Lord, in establishing a law in man at the same time, wherein, as an Almighty Creator, he imparted a being. This law proceeds from God’s general power of governing, as he is the Author of nature, and binds not barely as it is the reason of man, but by the authority of God, as it is a law engraven on his conscience: and no doubt but a law was given to the angels; God did not govern those intellectual creatures as he doth brutes, and in a way inferior to his rule of man. Some sinned; all might have sinned in regard to the changeableness of their nature. Sin cannot be but against some rule; “where there is no law, there is no transgression;” what that law was is not revealed; but certainly it must be the same in part with the moral law, so far as it agreed with their spiritual natures; a love to God, a worship of him, and a love to one another in their societies and persons.
(3.) The dominion of God is manifest in the reason of some laws, which seem to be nothing else than purely his own will. Some laws there are for which a reason may be rendered from the nature of the thing enjoined, as to love, honor, and worship God: for others, none but this, God will have it so: such was that positive law to Adam of “not eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:17), which was merely an asserting his own dominion, and was different from that law of nature God had written in his heart. No other reason of this seems to us, but a resolve to try man’s obedience in a way of absolute sovereignty, and to manifest his right over all creatures, to reserve what he pleased to himself, and permit the use of what he pleased to man, and to signify to man that he was to depend on him, who was his Lord, and not on his own will. There was no more hurt in itself, for Adam to have eaten of that, than of any other in the garden; the fruit was pleasant to the eye, and good for food; but God would show the right he had over his own goods, and his authority over man, to reserve what he pleases of his own creation from his touch; and since man could not claim a propriety in anything, he was to meddle with nothing but by the leave of his Sovereign, either discovered by a special or general license. Thus God showed himself the Lord of man, and that man was but his steward, to act by his orders. If God had forbidden man the use of more trees in the garden, his command had been just; since, as a sovereign Lord, he might dispose of his own goods; and when he had granted him the whole compass of that pleasant garden, and the whole world round about for him and his posterity, it was a more tolerable exercise of his dominion to reserve this “one tree,” as a mark of his sovereignty, when he had left “all others” to the use of Adam. He reserved nothing to himself, as Lord of the manor, but this; and Adam was prohibited nothing else but this one, as a sign of his subjection. Now for this no reason can be rendered by any man but merely the will of God; this was merely a fruit of his dominion. For the moral laws a reason may be rendered; to love God hath reason to enforce it besides God’s will; viz., the excellency of his nature, and the greatness and multitudes of his benefits. To love our neighbor hath enforcing reasons; viz., the conjunction in blood, the preservation of human society, and the need we may stand in of their love ourselves: but no reason can be assigned of this positive command about the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but the pleasure of God. It was a branch of his pure dominion to but merely the pleasure of God. It was a branch of his pure dominion to try man’s obedience, and a mark of his goodness to try it by so and light a precept, when he might have extended his authority further. Had not God given this or the like order, his absolute dominion had not been so conspicuous. It is true, Adam had a law of nature in him, whereby he was obliged to perpetual obedience; and though it was a part of God’s dominion to implant it in him, yet his supreme dominion over the creatures had not been so visible to man but by this, or a precept of the same kind. What was commanded or prohibited by the law of nature, did bespeak a comeliness in itself, it appeared good or evil to the reason of man; but this was neither good nor evil in itself, it received its sole authority from the absolute will of God, and nothing could result from the fruit itself, as a reason why man should not taste it, but only the sole will of God. And as God’s dominion was most conspicuous in this precept, so man’s obedience had been most eminent in observing it: for in his obedience to it, nothing but the sole power and authority of God, which is the proper rule of obedience, could have been respected, not any reason from the thing itself. To this we may refer some other commands, as that of appointing the time of solemn and public worship, the seventh day; though the worship of God be a part of the law of nature, yet the appointing a particular day, wherein he would be more formally and solemnly acknowledged than on other days, was grounded upon his absolute right of legislation: for there was nothing in the time itself that could render that day more holy than another, though God respected his “finishing the work of creation” in his institution of that day (Gen. 2:3). Such were the ceremonial commands of sacrifices and washings under the law, and the commands of sacraments under the gospel: the one to last till the first coming of Christ and his passion; the other to last till the second coming of Christ and his triumph. Thus he made natural and unavoidable uncleannesses to be sins, and the touching a dead body to be pollution, which in their own nature were not so.
(4.) The dominion of God appears in the moral law, and his majesty in publishing it. As the law of nature was writ by his own fingers in the nature of man, so it was engraven by his own finger in the “tables of stone” (Exod. 31:18), which is very emphatically expressed to be a mark of God’s dominion. “And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraven upon the tables” (Exod. 32:16); and when the first tables were broken, though he orders Moses to frame the tables, yet the writing of the law he reserves to himself (Exod. 34:1). It is not said of any part of the Scripture, that it was writ by the finger of God, but only of the Decalogue: herein he would have his sovereignty eminently appear; it was published by God in state, with a numerous attendance of his heavenly militia (Deut. 32:2); and the artillery of heaven was shot off at the solemnity; and therefore it is called a fiery law, coming from his right hand, i. e. his sovereign power. It was published with all the marks of supreme majesty.
(5.) The dominion of God appears in the obligation of the law, which reacheth the conscience. The laws of every prince are framed for the outward conditions of men; they do not by their authority bind the conscience; and what obligations do result from them upon the conscience, is either from their being the same immediately with Divine laws, or as they are according to the just power of the magistrate, founded on the law of God. Conscience hath a protection from the King of kings, and cannot be arrested by any human power. God hath given man but an authority over half the man, and the worst half too, that which is of an earthly original; but reserved the authority over the better and more heavenly half to himself. The dominion of earthly princes extends only to the bodies of men; they have no authority over the soul, their punishment and rewards cannot reach it: and therefore their laws, by their single authority, cannot bind it, but as they are coincident with the law of God, or as the equity of them is subservient to the preservation of human society, a regular and righteous thing, which is the divine end in government; and so they bind, as they have relation to God as the supreme magistrate. The conscience is only intelligible to God in its secret motions, and therefore only guidable by God; God only pierceth into the conscience by his eye, and therefore only can conduct it by his rule. Man cannot tell whether we embrace this law in our heart and consciences, or only in appearance; “He only can judge it” (Luke 12:3, 4), and therefore he only can impose laws upon it; it is out of the reach of human penal authority, if their laws be transgressed inwardly by it. Conscience is a book in some sort as sacred as the Scripture; no addition can be lawfully made to it, no subtraction from it. Men cannot diminish the duty of conscience, or raze out the law God hath stamped upon it. They cannot put a supersedeas to the writ of conscience, or stop its mouth with a noli prosequi.
They can make no addition by their authority to bind it; it is a flower in the crown of Divine sovereignty only.
2. His sovereignty appears in a power of dispensing with his own laws. It is as much a part of his dominion to dispense with his laws, as to enjoin them; he only hath the power of relaxing his own right, no creature hath power to do it; that would be to usurp a superiority over him, and order above God himself. Repealing or dispensing with the law is a branch of royal authority. It is true, God will never dispense with those moral laws which have an eternal reason in themselves and their own nature; as for a creature to fear, love, and honor God; this would be to dispense with his own holiness, and the righteousness of his nature, to sully the purity of his own dominion; it would write folly upon the first creation of man after the image of God, by writing mutability upon himself, in framing himself after the corrupted image of man; it would null and frustrate the excellency of the creature, wherein the image of God mostly shines; nay, it would be to dispense with a creature’s being a Creator, and make him independent upon the Sovereign of the world in moral obedience. But God hath a right to dispense with the ordinary laws of nature in the inferior creatures; he hath a power to alter their course by an arrest of miracles, and make them come short, or go beyond his ordinances established for them. He hath a right to make the sun stand still, or move backward; to bind up the womb of the earth, and bar the influences of the clouds; bridle in the rage of the fire, and the fury of lions; make the liquid waters stand like a wall, or pull up the dam, which he hath set to the sea, and command it to overflow the neighboring countries: he can dispense with the natural laws of the whole creation, and strain everything beyond its ordinary pitch. Positive laws he hath reversed; as the ceremonial law given to the Jews. The very nature, indeed, of that law required a repeal, and fell of course; when that which was intended by it was come, it was of no longer significancy; as before it was a useful shadow, it would afterwards have been an empty one: had not God took away this, Christianity had not, in all likelihood, been propagated among the Gentiles. This was the “partition wall between Jews and Gentiles” (Eph. 12:14); which made them a distinct family from all the world, and was the occasion of the enmity of the Gentiles against the Jews. When God had, by bringing in what was signified by those rites, declared his decree for the ceasing of them; and when the Jews, fond of those Divine institutions, would not allow him the right of repealing what he had the authority of enacting; he resolved, for the asserting his dominion, to bury them in the ruins of the temple and city, and make them forever incapable of practising the main and essential arts of them; for the temple being the pillar of the legal service, by demolishing that, God hath taken away their rights of sacrificing, it being peculiarly annexed to that place; they have no altar dignified with a fire from heaven to consume their sacrifices, no legal high-priest to offer them. God hath by his providence changed his own law as well as by his recept; yea, he hath gone higher, by virtue of his sovereignty, and changed the whole scene and methods of his government after the fall, from King Creator to King Redeemer. He hath revoked the law of works as a covenant; released the penalty of it from the believing sinner, by transferring it upon the Surety, who interposed himself by his own will and Divine designation. He hath established another covenant upon other promises in a higher root, with greater privileges, and easier terms. Had not God had this right of sovereignty, not a man of Adam’s posterity could have been blessed; he and they must have lain groaning under the misery of the fall, which had rendered both himself and all in his loins unable to observe the terms of the first covenant. He hath, as some speak, dispensed with his own moral law in some cases; in commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son, his only son, a righteous son, a son whereof he had the promise, that “in Isaac should his seed be called;”i yet he was commanded to sacrifice him by the right of his absolute sovereignty as the supreme Lord of the lives of his creatures, from the highest angel to the lowest worm, whereby he bound his subjects to this law, not himself. Our lives are due to him when he calls for them, and they are a just forfeit to him, at the very moment we sin, at the very moment we come into the world, by reason of the venom of our nature against him, and the disturbance the first sin of man (whereof we are inheritors) gave to his glory. Had Abraham sacrificed his son of his own head, he had sinned, yea, in attempting it; but being authorized from heaven, his act was obedience to the Sovereign of the world, who had a power to dispense with his own law; and with this law he had before dispense in the case of Cain’s murder of Abel, as to the immediate punishment of it with death, which, indeed, was settled afterwards by his authority, but then omitted because of the paucity of men, and for the peopling the world; but settled afterwards, when there was almost, though not altogether, the like occasion of omitting it for a time.
3. His sovereignty appears in punishing the transgression of his law.
(1.) This is a branch of God’s dominion as lawgiver. So was the vengeance God would take upon the Amalekites (Exod. 17:16): “The Lord hath sworn, that the Lord will have war;” the Hebrew is, “The hand upon the throne of the Lord,” as in the margin: as a “lawgiver” he “saves or destroys” (James 4:12). He acts according to his own law, in a congruity to the sanction of his own precepts; though he be an arbitrary lawgiver, appointing what laws he pleases, yet he is not an arbitrary judge. As he commands nothing but what he hath a right to command, so he punisheth none but whom he hath a right to punish, and with such punishment as the law hath denounced. All his acts of justice and inflictions of curses are the effects of this sovereign dominion (Psalm 29:10): “He sits King upon the floods;” upon the deluge of waters wherewith he drowned the world, say some. It is a right belonging to the authority of magistrates to pull up the infectious weeds that corrupt a commonwealth; it is no less the right of God, as the lawgiver and judge of all the earth, to subject criminals to his vengeance, after they have rendered themselves abominable in his eyes, and carried themselves unworthy subjects of so great and glorious a King. The first name whereby God is made known in Scripture, is Elohim (Gen. 1:1): “In the beginning God created the heaven and earth;” a name which signifies his power of judging, in the opinion of some critics; from him it is derived to earthly magistrates; their judgment is said, therefore, to be the “judgment of God” (Deut. 1:17). When Christ came, he proposed this great motive of repentance from the “kingdom of heaven being at hand;” the kingdom of his grace, whereby to invite men; the kingdom of his justice in the punishment of the neglecters of it, whereby to terrify men. Punishments as well as rewards belong to royalty; it issued accordingly; those that believed and repented came under his gracious sceptre, those that neglected and rejected it fell under his iron rod; Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple demolished, the inhabitants lost their lives by the edge of the sword, or lingered them out in the chains of a miserable captivity. This term of “judge,” which signifies a sovereign right to govern and punish delinquents, Abraham gives him, when he came to root out the people of Sodom, and make them the examples of his vengeance (Gen. 18:25).
(2.) Punishing the transgressions of his law. This is a necessary branch of dominion. His sovereignty in making laws would be a trifle, if there were not also an authority to vindicate those laws from contempt and injury; he would be a Lord only spurned at by rebels. Sovereignty is not preserved without justice.
When the Psalmist speaks of the majesty of God’s kingdom, he tells us, that “righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne” (Psalm 97:1, 2). These are the engines of Divine dignity which render him glorious and majestic. A legislative power would be trampled on without executive; by this the reverential apprehensions of God are preserved in the world. He is known to be Lord of the world “by the judgments which he executes” (Psalm 9:16). When he seems to have lost his dominion, or given it up in the world, he recovers it by punishment. When he takes some away “with a whirlwind, and in his wrath,” the natural consequence men make of it, is this: “Surely there is a God that judgeth the earth” (Psalm 58:9, 11). He reduceth the creature, by the lash of his judgments, that would not acknowledge his authority in his precepts. Those sins which disown his government in the heart and conscience, as pride, inward blasphemy, &c., he hath reserved a time hereafter to reckon for. He doth not presently shoot his arrows into the marrow of every delinquent, but those sins which traduce his government of the world, and tear up the foundations of human converse, and a public respect to him, he reckons with particularly here, as well as hereafter, that the life of his sovereignty might not always faint in the world.
(3.) This of punishing was the second discovery of his dominion in the world. His first act of sovereignty was the giving a law; the next, his appearance in the state of a judge. When his orders were violated, he rescues the honor of them by an execution of justice. He first judged the angels, punishing the evil ones for their crime: the first court he kept among them as a governor, was to give them a law; the second court he kept was as a judge trying the delinquents, and adjudging the offenders to be “reserved in chains of darkness” till the final execution (Jude 6); and, at the same time probably, he confirmed the good ones in their obedience by grace. So the first discovery of his dominion to man, was the giving him a precept, the next was the inflicting a punishment for the breach of it. He summons Adam to the bar, indicts him for his crime, finds him guilty by his own confession, and passeth sentence on him, according to the rule he had before acquainted him with.
(4.) The means whereby he punisheth shows his dominion. Sometimes he musters up hail and mildew; sometimes he sends regiments of wild beasts; so he threatens Israel (Lev. 26:22). Sometimes he sends out a party of angels to beat up the quarters of men, and make a carnage among them (2 Kings 19:35).
Sometimes he mounts his thundering battery, and shoots forth his ammunition from the clouds, as against the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:10). Sometimes he sends the slightest creatures to shame the pride and punish the sin of man, as “lice, frogs, locusts,” as upon the Egyptians (Exod. 8–10.).
Secondly. This dominion it manifested by God as a proprietor and Lord of his creatures and his own goods. And this is evident,
1. In the choice of some persons from eternity. He hath set apart some from eternity, wherein he will display the invincible efficacy of his grace, and thereby infallibly bring them to the fruition of glory (Eph. 1:4, 5): “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love, having predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” Why doth he write some names in the “book of life,” and leave out others? Why doth he enrol some, whom he intends to make denizens of heaven, and refuse to put others in his register? The apostle tells us, it is the pleasure of his will. You may render a reason for many of God’s actions, till you come to this, the top and foundation of all; and under what head of reason can man reduce this act but to that of his royal prerogative? Why doth God save some, and condemn others at last? because of the faith of the one, and unbelief of the other. Why do some men believe? because God hath not only given them the means of grace, but accompanied those means with the efficacy of his Spirit. Why did God accompany those means with the efficacy of his Spirit in some, and not in others? because he had decreed by grace to prepare them for glory. But why did he decree, or choose some, and not others? Into what will you resolve this but into his sovereign pleasure? Salvation and condemnation at the last upshot, are acts of God as the Judge, conformable to his own law of giving life to believers, and inflicting death upon unbelievers; for those a reason may be rendered; but the choice of some, and preterition of others, is an act of God as he is a sovereign monarch, before any law was actually transgressed, because not actually given. When a prince redeems a rebel, he acts as a judge according to law; but when he calls some out to pardon, he acts as a sovereign by a prerogative above law; into this the apostle resolves it (Rom. 9:13, 15). When he speaks of God’s loving Jacob and hating Esau, and that before they had done either good or evil, it is, “because God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and compassion on whom he will have compassion.” Though the first scope of the apostle, in the beginning of the chapter, was to declare the reason of God’s rejecting the Jews, and calling in the Gentiles; had he only intended to demolish the pride of the Jews, and flat their opinion of merit, and aimed no higher than that providential act of God; he might, convincingly enough to the reason of men, have argued from the justice of God, provoked by the obstinacy of the Jews, and not have had recourse to his absolute will; but, since he asserts this latter, the strength of his argument seems to he thus: if God by his absolute sovereignty may resolve, and fix his love upon Jacob and estrange it from Esau, or any other of his creatures, before they have done good or evil, and man have no ground to call his infinite majesty to account, may he not deal thus with the Jews, when their demerit would be a bar to any complaints of the creature against him? If God were considered here in the quality of a judge, it had been fit to have considered the matter of fact in the criminal; but he is considered as a sovereign, rendering no other reason of his action but his own will; “whom he will he hardens” (ver. 18). And then the apostle concludes (ver. 20), “Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?” If the reason drawn from God’s sovereignty doth not satisfy in this inquiry, no other reason can be found wherein to acquiesce: for the last condemnation there will be sufficient reason to clear the justice of his proceedings. But, in this case of election, no other reason but what is alleged, viz., the will of God, can be thought of, but what is liable to such knotty exceptions that cannot well be untied.
(1.) It could not be any merit in the creature that might determine God to choose him. If the decree of election falls not under the merit of Christ’s passion, as the procuring cause, it cannot fall under the merit of any part of the corrupted mass. The decree of sending Christ did not precede, but followed, in order of nature, the determination of choosing some. When men were chosen as the subjects for glory, Christ was chosen as the means for the bringing them to glory (Eph. 1:4): “Chosen us in him, and predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ.” The choice was not merely in Christ as the moving cause; that the apostle asserts to be “the good pleasure of his will;” but in Christ, as the means of conveying to the chosen ones the fruits of their election. What could there be in any man that could invite God to this act , or be a cause of distinction of one branch of Adam from another? Were they not all hewed out of the same rock, and tainted with the same corruption in blood? Had it been possible to invest them with a power of merit at the first, had not that venom, contracted in their nature, degraded all of power for the future?
What merit was there in any but of wrathful punishment, since they were all considered as criminals, and the cursed brood of an ungrateful rebel? What dignity can there be in the nature of the purest part of clay, to be made a vessel of honor, more than in another part of clay, as pure as that which was formed into a vessel for mean and sordid use? What had any one to move his mercy more than another, since they were all children of wrath, and equally daubed with original guilt and filth? Had not all an equal proportion of it to provoke his justice? What merit is there in one dry bone more than another, to be inspired with the breath of a spiritual life? Did not all he wallowing in their own filthy blood? and what could the steam and noisomeness of that deserve at the hands of a pure Majesty, but to be cast into a sink furthest from his sight? Were they not all considered in this deplorable posture, with an equal proportion of poison in their nature, when God first took his pen, and singled out some names to write in the book of life? It could not be merit in any one piece of this abominable mass, that should stir up that resolution in God to set apart this person for a vessel of glory, while he permitted another to putrefy in his own gore. He loved Jacob, and hated Esau, though they were both parts of the common mass, the seed of the same loins, and lodged in the same womb.
(2.) Nor could it be any foresight of works to be done in time by them, or of faith, that might determine God to choose them. What good could he foresee resulting from extreme corruption, and a nature alienated from him? What could he foresee of good to be done by them, but what he resolved in his own will, to bestow an ability upon them to bring forth? His choice of them was to holiness, not for a holiness preceding his determination (Eph. 1:4). He hath chosen us, “that we might be holy” before him; he ordained us “to good works,” not for them (Eph. 2:10). What is a fruit cannot be a moving cause of that whereof it is a fruit: grace is a stream from the spring of electing love; the branch is not the cause of the root, but the root of the branch; nor the stream the cause of the spring, but the spring the cause of the stream. Good works suppose grace, and a good and right habit in the person, as rational acts suppose reason. Can any man say that the rational acts man performs after his creation were a cause why God created him? This would make creation, and everything else, not so much an act of his will, as an act of his understanding. God foresaw no rational act in man, before the act of his will to give him reason; nor foresees faith in any, before the act of his will determining to give him faith: “Faith is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). In the salvation which grows up from this first purpose of God, he regards not the works we have done, as a principal motive to settle the top-stone of our happiness, but his own purpose, and the grace given in Christ; “who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our own works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ, before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9). The honor of our salvation cannot be challenged by our works, much less the honor of the foundation of it. It was a pure gift of grace, without any respect to any spiritual, much less natural , perfection. Why should the apostle mention that circumstance, when he speaks of God’s loving Jacob, and hating Esau, “when neither of them had done good or evil” (Rom. 9:11), if there were any foresight of men’s works as the moving cause of his love or hatred? God regarded not the works of either as the first cause of his choice, but acted by his own liberty, without respect to any of their actions which were to be done by them in time. If faith be the fruit of election, the prescience of faith doth not influence the electing act of God. It is called “the faith of God’s elect” (Tit. 1:1): “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect;” i. e. settled in this office to bring the elect of God to faith. If men be chosen by God upon the foresight of faith, or not chosen till they have faith, they are not so much God’s elect, as God their elect; they choose God by faith, before God chooseth them by love: it had not been the faith of God’s elect, i. e. of those already chosen, but the faith of those that were to be chosen by God afterwards. Election is the cause of faith, and not faith the cause of election; fire is the cause of heat, and not the heat of fire; the sun is the cause of the day, and not the day the cause of the rising of the sun. Men are not chosen because they believe, but they believe because they are chosen: the apostle did ill, else, to appropriate that to the elect which they had no more interest in, by virtue of their election, than the veriest reprobate in the world. If the foresight of what works might be done by his creatures was the motive of his choosing them, why did he not choose the devils to redemption, who could have done him better service, by the strength of their nature, than the whole mass of Adam’s posterity? Well, then, there is no possible way to lay the original foundation of this act of election and preterition in anything but the absolute sovereignty of God. Justice or injustice comes not into consideration in this case. There is no debt which justice or injustice always respects in its acting: if he had pleased, he might have chosen all; if he had pleased, he might have chosen none. It was in his supreme power to have resolved to have left all Adam’s posterity under the rack of his justice; if he determined to snatch out any, it was a part of his dominion, but without any injury to the creatures he leaves under their own guilt. Did he not pass by the angels, and take man? and, by the same right of dominion, may he pick out some men from the common mass, and lay aside others to bear the punishment of their crimes. Are they not all his subjects? all are his criminals, and may be dealt with at the pleasure of their undoubted Lord and Sovereign. This is a work of arbitrary power; since he might have chosen none, or chosen all, as he saw good himself. It is at the liberty of the artificer to determine his wood or stone to such a figure, that of a prince, or that of a toad; and his materials have no right to complain of him, since it lies wholly upon his own liberty. They must have little sense of their own vileness, and God’s infinite excellency above them by right of creation, that will contend that God hath a lesser right over his creatures than an artificer over his wood or stone. If it were at his liberty whether to redeem man, or send Christ upon such an undertaking, it is as much at his liberty, and the prerogative is to be allowed him, what person he will resolve to make capable of enjoying the fruits of that redemption. One man was as fit a subject for mercy as another, as they all lay in their original guilt: why would not Divine mercy cast its eye upon this man, as well as upon his neighbor?
There was no cause in the creature, but all in God; it must be resolved into his own will: yet not into a will without wisdom. God did not choose hand over head, and act by mere will, without reason and understanding; an Infinite Wisdom is far from such a kind of procedure; but the reason of God is inscrutable to us, unless we could understand God as well as he understands himself; the whole ground lies in God himself, no part of it in the creature; “not in him that wills, nor in him that runs, but in God that shows mercy” (Rom. 9:15, 16). Since God hath revealed no other cause than his will, we can resolve it into no other than his sovereign empire over all creatures. It is not without a stop to our curiosity, that in the same place where God asserts the absolute sovereignty of his mercy to Moses, he tells him he could not see his face: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious;” and he said, “Thou canst not see my face” (Exod. 33:19, 20): the rays of his infinite wisdom are too bright and dazzling for our weakness. The apostle acknowledged not only a wisdom in this proceeding, but a riches and treasure of wisdom; not only that, but a depth and vastness of those riches of wisdom; but was unable to give us an inventory and scheme of it (Rom. 11:33). The secrets of his counsels are too deep for us to wade into; in attempting to know the reason of those acts, we should find ourselves swallowed up into a bottomless gulf: though the understanding be above our capacity, yet the admiration of his authority and submission to it are not. “We should cast ourselves down at his feet, with a full resignation of ourselves to his sovereign pleasure.” This is a more comely carriage in a Christian than all the contentious endeavors to measure God by our line.
2. In bestowing grace where he pleases. God in conversion and pardon works not as a natural agent, putting forth strength to the utmost, which God must do, if he did renew man naturally, as the sun shines, and the fire burns, which always act, ad extremum virium, unless a cloud interpose to eclipse the one, and water to extinguish the other. But God acts as a voluntary agent, which can freely exert his power when he please, and suspend it when he please. Though God be necessarily good, yet he is not necessitated to manifest all the treasures of his goodness to every subject; he hath power to distil his dews upon one part, and not upon another. If he were necessitated to express his goodness without a liberty, no thanks were due to him. Who thanks the sun for shining on him, or the fire for warming him? None; because they are necessary agents, and can do no other. What is the reason he did not reach out his hand to keep all the angels from sinking, as well as some, or recover them when they were sunk? What is the reason he engrafts one man into the true Vine, and lets the other remain a wild olive? Why is not the efficacy of the Spirit always linked with the motions of the Spirit? Why does he not mould the heart into a gospel frame when he fills the ear with a gospel sound? Why doth he strike off the chains from some, arid tear the veil from the heart, while he leaves others under their natural slavery and Egyptian darkness? Why do some lie under the bands of death, while another is raised to a spiritual life? What reason is there for all this but his absolute will? The apostle resolves the question, if the question be asked, why he begets one and not another? Not from the will of the creature, but “his own will,” is the determination of one (James 2:18).
Why doth he work in one “to will and to do,” and not in another? Because of “his good pleasure,” is the answer of another (Phil. 2:13). He could as well new create every one, as he at first created them, and make grace as universal as nature and reason, but it is not his pleasure so to do.
(1.) It is not from want of strength in himself. The power of God is unquestionably able to strike off the chains of unbelief from all; he could surmount the obstinacy of every child of wrath, and inspire every son of Adam with faith as well as Adam himself. He wants not a virtue superior to the greatest resistance of his creature; a victorious beam of light might be shot into their understandings, and a flood of grace might overspread their wills with one word of his mouth, without putting forth the utmost of his power.
What hindrance could there be in any created spirit, which cannot be easily pierced into and new moulded by the Father of spirits? Yet he only breathes this efficacious virtue into some, and leaves others under that insensibility and hardness which they love, and suffer them to continue in their benighting ignorance, and consume themselves in the embraces of their dear, though deceitful Delilahs. He could have conquered the resistance of the Jews, as well as chased away the darkness and ignorance of the Gentiles. No doubt but he could overpower the heart of the most malicious devil, as well as that of the simplest and weakest man. But the breath of the Almighty Spirit is in his own power, to breathe “where he lists” (John 3:8). It is at his liberty whether he will give to any the feelings of the invincible efficacy of his grace; he did not want strength to have kept man as firm as a rock against the temptation of Satan, and poured in such fortifying grace, as to have made him impregnable against the powers of hell, as well as he did secure the standing of the angels against the sedition of their fellows: but it was his will to permit it to be otherwise.
(2.) Nor is it from any prerogative in the creature. He converts not any for their natural perfection, because he seizeth upon the most ignorant; nor for their moral perfection, because he converts the most sinful; nor for their civil perfection, because he turns the most despicable.
[1.] Not for their natural perfection of knowledge. He opened the minds and hearts of the more ignorant. Were the nature of the Gentiles better manured than that of the Jews, or did the tapers of their understandings burn clearer? No; the one were skilled in the prophecies of the Messiah, and might have compared the predictions they owned with the actions and sufferings of Christ, which they were spectators of. He let alone those that had expectations of the Messiah, and expectations about the time of Christ’s appearance, both grounded upon the oracles wherewith he had entrusted them. The Gentiles were unacquainted with the prophets, and therefore destitute of the expectations of the Messiah (Eph. 2:12): they were “without Christ;” without any revelation of Christ, because “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world,” without any knowledge of God, or promises of Christ. The Jews might sooner, in a way of reason, have been wrought upon than the Gentiles, who were ignorant of the prophets, by whose writings they might have examined the truth of the apostles’ declarations. Thus are they refused that were the kindred of Christ, according to the flesh, and the Gentiles, that were at a greater distance from him, brought in by God; thus he catcheth not at the subtle and mighty devils, who had an original in spiritual nature more like to him, but at weak and simple man.
[2.] Not for any moral perfection, because he converts the most sinful: the Gentiles, steeped in idolatry and superstition. He sowed more faith among the Romans than in Jerusalem; more faith in a city that was the common sewer of all the idolatry of the nations conquered by them, than in that city which had so signally been owned by him, and had not practised any idolatry since the Babylonish captivity. He planted saintship at Corinth, a place notorious for the infamous worship of Venus, a superstition attended with the grossest uncleanness; at Ephesus, that presented the whole world with a cup of fornication in their temple of Diana; among the Colossians, votaries to Cybele in a manner of worship attended with beastly and lascivious ceremonies. And what character had the Cretians from one of their own poets, mentioned by the apostle to Titus, whom he had placed among them to further the progress of the gospel, but the vilest and most abominable? (Titus 1:12): “liars,” not to be credited; “evil beasts,” not to be associated with; “slow bellies,” fit for no service. What prerogative was there in the nature of such putrefaction? as much as in that of a toad to be elevated to the dignity of an angel. What steam from such dunghills could be welcome to him, and move him to cast his eye on them, and sweeten them from heaven? What treasures of worth were here to open the treasures of his grace! Were such filthy snuffs fit of themselves to be kindled by, and become a lodging for, a gospel beam? What invitements could he have from lying, beastliness, gluttony, but only from his own sovereignty? By this he plucked firebrands out of the fire, while he left straighter and more comely sticks to consume to ashes.
[3.] Not for any civil perfection, because he turns the most despicable. He elevates not nature to grace upon the account of wealth, honor, or any civil station in the world: he dispenseth not ordinarily those treasures to those that the mistaken world foolishly admire and dote upon (1 Cor. 1:26); “Not many mighty, not many noble:” a purple robe is not usually decked with this jewel; he takes more of mouldy clay than refined dust to cast into his image; and lodges his treasures more in the earthly vessels than in the world’s golden ones; he gives out his richest doles to those that are the scorn and reproach of the world. Should he impart his grace most to those that abound in wealth or honor, it had been some foundation for a conception that he had been moved by those vulgarly esteemed excellencies to indulge them more than others. But such a conceit languisheth when we behold the subjects of his grace as void originally of any allurements, as they are full of provocations. Hereby he declares himself free from all created engagements, and that he is not led by any external motives in the object.
[4.] It is not from any obligation which lies upon him. He is indebted to none: disobliged by all. No man deserves from him any act of grace, but every man deserves what the most deplorable are left to suffer. He is obliged by the children of wrath to nothing else but showers of wrath; owes no more a debt to fallen man, than to fallen devils, to restore them to their first station by a superlative grace. How was he more bound to restore them, than he was to preserve them; to catch them after they fell, than to put a bar in the way of their falling? God, as a sovereign, gave laws to men, and a strength sufficient to keep those laws. What obligation is there upon God to repair that strength man wilfully lost, and extract him out of that condition into which be voluntarily plunged himself? What if man sinned by temptation, which is a reason alleged by some, might not many of the devils do so too? Though there was a first of them that sinned without a temptation, yet many of them might be seduced into rebellion by the ringleader. Upon that account he is no more bound to give grace to all men, than to devils. If he promised life upon obedience, he threatened death upon transgression. By man’s disobedience God is quit of his promise, and owes nothing but punishment upon the violation of his law. Indeed man may pretend to a claim of sufficient strength from him by creation, as God is the author of nature, and he had it; but since he hath extinguished it by his sin, he cannot in the least pretend any obligation on God for a new strength. If it be a “peradventure” whether he will “give repentance,” as it is 2 Tim. 2:25, there is no tie in the case; a tie would put it beyond a peradventure with a God that never forfeited his obligation. No husbandman thinks himself obliged to bestow cost and pains, manure and tillage, upon one field more than another; though the nature of the ground may require more, yet he is at his liberty whether he will expend more upon one than another. He may let it be fallow as long as he please. God is less obliged to till and prune his creatures, than man is obliged to his field or trees. If a king proclaim a pardon to a company of rebels, upon the condition of each of them paying such a sum of money; their estates before were capable of satisfying the condition, but their rebellion hath reduced them to an indigent condition; the proclamation itself is an act of grace, the condition required is not impossible in itself: the prince, out of a tenderness to some, sends them that sum of money, he hath by his proclamation obliged them to pay, and thereby enabled them to answer the condition be requires; the first be doth by a sovereign authority, the second he doth by a sovereign bounty. He was obliged to neither of them; punishment was a debt due to all of them; if he would remit it upon condition, he did relax his sovereign right; and if he would by his largess make any of them capable to fulfil the condition, by sending them presently a sufficient sum to pay the fine, he acted as proprietor of his own goods, to dispose of them in such a quantity to those to whom he was not obliged to bestow a mite.
[5.] It must therefore be an act of his mere sovereignty. This can only sit arbitrator in every gracious act. Why did he give grace to Abel and not to Cain, since they both lay in the same womb, and equally derived from their parents a taint in their nature; but that he would show a standing example of his sovereignty to the future ages of the world in the first posterity of man? Why did he give grace to Abraham, and separate him from his idolatrous kindred, to dignify him to be the root of the Messiah?
Why did he confine his promise to Isaac, and not extend it to Ishmael, the seed of the same Abraham by Hagar, or to the children he had by Keturah after Sarah’s death? What reason can be alleged for this but his sovereign will? Why did he not give the fallen angels a moment of repentance after their sin, but condemned them to irrevocable pains? Is it not as free for him to give grace to whom he please, as create what worlds he please; to form this corrupted clay into his own image, as to take such a parcel of dust from all the rest of the creation whereof to compact Adam’s body? Hath he not as much jurisdiction over the sinful mass of his creatures in a new creation, as he had over the chaos in the old? And what reason can be rendered, of his advancing this part of matter to the nobler dignity of a star, and leaving that other part to make up the dark body of the earth; to compact one part into a glorious sun, and another part into a hard rock, but his royal prerogative? What is the reason a prince subjects one malefactor to punishment, and lifts up another to a place of trust and profit? that Pharaoh honored the butler with an attendance on his person, and remitted the baker to the hands of the executioner? It was his pleasure. And is not as great right due to God, as is allowed to the worms of the earth? What is the reason he hardens a Pharaoh, by a denying him that grace which should mollify him, and allows it to another? It is because he will. “Whom he will he hardens” (Rom. 9:18). Hath not man the liberty to pull up the sluice, and let the water run into what part of the ground he pleases? What is the reason some have not a heart to understand the beauty of his ways? Because the Lord doth not give it them (Deut. 29:4). Why doth he not give all his converts an equal measure of his sanctifying grace? some have mites and some have treasures. Why doth he give his grace to some sooner, to some later? some are inspired in their infancy, others not till a full age, and after; some not till they have fallen into some gross sin, as Paul; some betimes, that they may do him service: others later, as the thief upon the cross, and presently snatcheth them out of the world? Some are weaker, some stronger in nature, some more beautiful and lovely, others more uncomely and sluggish. It is so in supernaturals. What reason is there for this, but his own will? This is instead of all that can be assigned on the part of God. He is the free disposer of his own goods, and as a Father may give a greater portion to one child than to another. And what reason of complaint is there against God? may not a toad complain that God did not make it a man, and give it a portion of reason? or a fly complain that God did not make it an angel, and give it a garment of light; had they but any spark of understanding; as well as man complain that God did not give him grace as well as another? Unless he sincerely desired it, and then was denied it, he might complain of God, though not as a sovereign, yet as a promiser of grace to them that ask it. God doth not render his sovereignty formidable; he shuts not up his throne of grace from any that seek him; he invites man; his arms are open, and the sceptre stretched out; and no man continues under the arrest of his lusts, but he that is unwilling to be otherwise, and such a one hath no reason to complain of God.
3. His sovereignty is manifest in disposing the means of grace to some, not to all. He hath caused the sun to shine bright in one place, while he hath left others benighted and deluded by the devil’s oracles. Why do the evangelical dews fall in this or that place, and not in another? Why was the gospel published in Rome so soon, and not in Tartary? Why hath it been extinguished in some places, as soon almost as it had been kindled in them? Why hath one place been honored with the beams of it in one age, and been covered with darkness the next? One country hath been made a sphere for this star, that directs to Christ, to move in; and afterwards it hath been taken away, and placed in another; sometimes more clearly it hath shone, sometimes more darkly, in the same place; what is the reason of this? It is true something of it may be referred to the justice of God, but much more to the sovereignty of God. That the gospel is published later, and not sooner, the apostle tell us is “according to the commandment of the everlasting God” (Rom. 16:26).
(1.) The means of grace, after the families from Adam became distinct, were never granted to all the world. After that fatal breach in Adam’s family by the death of Abel, and Cain’s separation, we read not of the means of grace continued among Cain’s posterity; it seems to be continued in Adam’s sole family, and not published in societies till the time of Seth. “Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26). It was continued in that family till the deluge, which was 1523 years after the creation, according to some, or 1656 years, according to others. After that, when the world degenerated, it was communicated to Abraham, and settled in the posterity that descended from Jacob; though he left not the world without a witness of himself, and some sprinklings of revelations in other parts, as appears by the Book of Job, and the discourses of his friends.
(2.) The Jews had this privilege granted them above other nations, to have a clearer revelation of God. God separated them from all the world to honor them with the depositum of his oracles (Rom. 3:2): “To them were committed the oracles of God.” In which regard all other nations are said to be “without God” (Eph. 2:12), as being destitute of so great a privilege. The Spirit blew in Canaan when the lands about it felt not the saving breath of it. “He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them” (Psalm 147:20). The rest had no warnings from the prophets, no dictates from heaven, but what they had by the light of nature, the view of the works of creation, and the administration of Providence, and what remained among them of some ancient traditions derived from Noah, which, in tract of time, were much defaced. We read but of one Jonah sent to Nineveh, but frequent alarms to the Israelites by a multitude of prophets commissioned by God. It is true, the door of the Jewish church was open to what proselytes would enter themselves, and embrace their religion and worship; but there was no public proclamation made in the world; only God, by his miracles in their deliverance from Egypt (which could not but be famous among all the neighbor nations), declared them to be a people favored by heaven: but the tradition from Adam and Noah was not publicly revived by God in other parts, and raised from that grave of forgetfulness wherein it had lain so long buried. Was there any reason in them for this indulgence? God might have been as liberal to any other nation, yea, to all the nations in the world, if it had been his sovereign pleasure: any other people were as fit to be entrusted with his oracles, and be subjects for his worship, as that people; yet all other nations, till the rejection of the Jews, because of their rejection of Christ, were strangers from the covenant of promise. These people were part of the common mass of the world: they had no prerogative in nature above Adam’s posterity. Were they the extract of an innocent part of his loins, and all the other nations drained out of his putrefaction? Had the blood of Abraham, from whom they were more immediately descended, any more precious tincture than the rest of mankind? They, as well as other nations, were made of “one blood” (Acts 17:26); and that corrupted both in the spring and in the rivulets. Were they better than other nations, when God first drew them out of their slavery? We have Joshua’s authority for it, that they had complied with the Egyptian idolatry, “and served other gods,” in that place of their servitude (Josh. 24:14). Had they had an abhorrency of the superstition of Egypt, while they remained there, they could not so soon have erected a golden calf for worship in imitation of the Egyptian idols. All the rest of mankind had as inviting reasons to present God with, as those people had. God might have granted the same privilege to all the world, as well as to them, or denied it them, and endowed all the rest of the world with his statutes: but the enriching such a small company of people with his Divine showers, and leaving the rest of the word as a barren wilderness in spirituals, can be placed upon no other account originally than that of his unaccountable sovereignty, of his love to them: there was nothing in them to merit such high titles from God as his first-born, his peculiar treasure, the apple of his eye. He disclaims any righteousness in them, and speaks a word sufficient to damp such thoughts in them, by charging them with. their wickedness, while he “loaded them with his benefits” (Deut. 9:4, 6). The Lord “gives thee not” this land for “thy righteousness;” for thou art a stiff-necked people. It was an act of God’s free pleasure to “choose them to be a people to himself” (Deut. 7:6).
(3.) God afterwards rejected the Jews, gave them up to the hardness of their hearts, and spread the gospel among the Gentiles. He hath cast off the children of the kingdom, those that had been enrolled for his subjects for many ages, who seemed, by their descent from Abraham, to have a right to the privileges of Abraham; and called men from the east and from the west, from the darkest corners in the world, to “sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven,” i. e. to partake with them of the promises of the gospel (Matt. 8:11). The people that were accounted accursed by the Jews enjoy the means of grace, which have been hid from those that were once dignified this 1600 years; that they have neither ephod, nor teraphim, nor sacrifice, nor any true worship of God among them (Hos. 3:4). Why he should not give them grace to acknowledge and own the person of the Messiah, to whom he had made the promises of him for so many successive ages, but let their “heart be fat,” and “their ears heavy” (Isa.
6:10)?—why the gospel at length, after the resurrection of Christ, should be presented to the Gentiles, not by chance, but pursuant to the resolution and prediction of God, declared by the prophets that it should be so in time?—why he should let so many hundreds of years pass over, after the world was peopled, and let the nations all that while soak in their idolatrous customs?—why he should not call the Gentiles without rejecting the Jews, and bind them both up together in the bundle of life?—why he should acquaint some people with it a little after the publishing it in Jerusalem, by the descent of the Spirit, and others not a long time after?—some in the first ages of Christianity enjoyed it; others have it not, as those in America, till the last age of the world;—can be referred to nothing but his sovereign pleasure.
What merit can be discovered in the Gentiles? There is something of justice in the case of the Jews’ rejection, nothing but sovereignty in the Gentiles’ reception into the church. If the Jews were bad, the Gentiles were in some sort worse: the Jews owned the one true God, without mixture of idols, though they owned not the Messiah in his appearance, which they did in a promise; but the Gentiles owned neither the one nor the other. Some tell us, it was for the merit of some of their ancestors. How comes the means of grace, then, to be taken from the Jew, who had (if any people ever had) meritorious ancestors for a plea?
If the merit of some of their former progenitors were the cause, what was the reason the debt due to their merit was not paid to their immediate progeny, or to themselves, but to a posterity so distant from them, and so abominably depraved as the Gentile world was at the day of the gospel-sun striking into their horizon? What merit might be in their ancestors (if any could be supposed in the most refined rubbish), it was so little for themselves, that no oil could be spared out of their lamps for others. What merit their ancestors might have, might be forfeited by the succeeding generations. It is ordinarily seen, that what honor a father deserves in a state for public service, may be lost by the son, forfeited by treason, and himself attainted. Or was it out of a foresight that the Gentiles would embrace it, and the Jews reject it; that the Gentiles would embrace it in one place, and not in another? How did God foresee it, but in his own grace, which he was resolved to display in one, not in another? It must be then still resolved into his sovereign pleasure. Or did he foresee it in their wills and nature? What, were they not all one common dross? Was any part of Adam, by nature, better than another? How did God foresee that which was not, nor could be, without his pleasure to give ability, and grace to receive? Well, then, what reason but the sovereign pleasure of God can be alleged, why Christ forbade the apostles, at their first commission, to preach to the Gentiles (Matt. 10:15), but, at the second and standing commission, orders them to preach to “every creature?” Why did he put a demur to the resolutions of Paul and Timothy, to impart light to Bithynia, or order them to go into Macedonia? Was that country more worthy upon whom lay a great part of the blood of the world shed in Alexander’s time Acts 16:6, 7, 9, 10)? Why should Corazin and Bethsaida enjoy those means that were not granted to the Tyrians and Sidonians, who might probably have sooner reached out their arms to welcome it (Matt.11:21)? Why should God send the gospel into our island, and cause it to flourish so long here, and not send it, or continue it, in the furthest eastern parts of the world? Why should the very profession of Christianity possess so small a compass of ground in the world, but five parts in thirty, the Mahometans holding six parts, and the other nineteen overgrown with Paganism, where either the gospel was never planted, or else since rooted up? To whom will you refer this, but to the same cause our Saviour doth the revelation of the gospel to babes, and not to the wise— even to his Father? “For so it seemed good in thy sight” (Matt. 11:25, 26); “For so was thy good pleasure before thee” (as in the original); it is at his pleasure whether he will give any a clear revelation of his gospel, or leave them only to the light of nature. He could have kept up the first beam of the gospel in the promise in all nations among the apostasies of Adam’s posterity, or renewed it in all nations when it began to be darkened, as well as he first published it to Adam after his fall; but it was his sovereign pleasure to permit it to be obscured in one place, and to keep it lighted in another.
4. His sovereignty is manifest in the various influences of the means of grace. He saith to these waters of the sanctuary, as to the floods of the sea, “Hitherto you shall go, and no further.” Sometimes they wash away the filth of the flesh and outward man, but not that of the spirit; the gospel spiritualizeth some, and only moralizeth others; some are by the power of it struck down to conviction, but not raised up to conversion; some have only the gleams of it in their consciences, and others more powerful flashes; some remain in their thick darkness under the beaming of the gospel every day in their face, and after a long insensibleness are roused by its light and warmth; sometimes there is such a powerful breath in it, that it levels the haughty imaginations of men, and lays them at its feet that before strutted against it in the pride of their heart. The foundation of this is not in the gospel itself, which is always the same, nor in the ordinances, which are channels as sound at one time as at another, but Divine sovereignty that spirits them as he pleaseth, and “blows when and where it lists.” It has sometimes conquered its thousands (Acts 2:41); at another time scarce its tens; sometimes the harvest hath been great, when the laborers have been but few; at another time it hath been small, when the laborers have been many; sometimes whole sheaves; at another time scarce gleanings. The evangelical net hath been sometimes full at a cast, and at every cast; at another time many have labored all night, and day too, and catched nothing (Acts 2:47): “The Lord added to the church daily.” The gospel chariot doth not always return with captives chained to the sides of it, but sometimes blurred and reproached, wearing the marks of hell’s spite, instead of imprinting the marks of its own beauty. In Corinth it triumphed over many people (Acts 18:10); in Athens it is mocked, and gathers but a few clusters (Acts 17:32, 34). God keeps the key of the heart, as well as of the womb.
The apostles had a power of publishing the gospel, and working miracles, but under the Divine conduct; it was an instrumentality durante bene placito, and as God saw it convenient. Miracles were not upon every occasion allowed to them to be wrought, nor success upon every administration granted to them; God sometimes lent them the key, but to take out no more treasure than was allotted to them. There is a variety in the time of gospel operation; some rise out of their graves of sin, and beds of sluggishness, at the first appearance of this sun; others lie snorting longer. Why doth not God spirit it at one season as well as at another, but set his distinct periods of time, but because he will show his absolute freedom? And do we not sometimes experiment that after the most solemn preparations of the heart, we are frustrated of those incomes we expected? Perhaps it was because we thought Divine returns were due to our preparations, and God stops up the channel, and we return drier than we came, that God may confute our false opinion, and preserve the honor of his own sovereignty. Sometimes we leap with John Baptist in the womb at the appearance of Christ; sometimes we lie upon a lazy bed when he knocks from heaven; sometimes the fleece is dry, and sometimes wet, and God withholds to drop down his dew of the morning apon it. The dews of his word, as well as the droppings of the clouds, belong to his royalty; light will not shine into the heart, though it shine round about us, without the sovereign order of that God “who commanded light to shine out of the darkness” of the chaos (2 Cor. 4:6). And is it not seen also in regard of the refreshing influences of the word? sometimes the strongest arguments, and clearest promises, prevail nothing towards the quelling black and despairing imaginations; when, afterwards, we have found them frighted away by an unexpected word, that seemed to have less virtue in it itself than any that passed in vain before it. The reasonings of wisdom have dropped down like arrows against a brazen wall, when the speech of a weaker person hath found an efficacy. It is God by his sovereignty spirits one word and not another; sometimes a secret word comes in, which was not thought of before, as dropped from heaven, and gives a refreshing, when emptiness was found in all the rest. One word from the lips of a sovereign prince is a greater cordial than all the harangues of subjects without it; what is the reason of this variety, but that God would increase the proofs of his own sovereignty? that as it was a part of his dominion to create the beauty of a world, so it is no less to create the peace as well as the grace of the heart (Isa.
57:19): “I create the fruit of the lips, peace.” Let us learn from hence to have adoring thoughts of, not murmuring fancies against, the sovereignty of God; to acknowledge it with thankfulness in what we have; to implore it with a holy submission in what we want. To own God as a sovereign in a way of dependence, is the way to be owned by him as subjects in a way of favor.
5. His sovereignty is manifested in giving a greater measure of knowledge to some than to others. What parts, gifts, excellency of nature, any have above others, are God’s donative; “He gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding” (Dan. 2:21); wisdom, the habit, and knowledge, the right use of it, in discerning the right nature of objects, and the fitness of means conducing to the end; all is but a beam of Divine light; and the different degrees of knowledge in one man above another, are the effects of his sovereign pleasure. He enlightens not the minds of all men to know every part of his will; one “eats with a doubtful conscience,” another in “faith,” without any staggering (Rom. 14:2). Peter had a desire to keep up circumcision, not fully understandmg the mind of God in the abolition of the Jewish ceremonies; while Paul was clear in the truth of that doctrine. A thought comes into our mind that, like a sunbeam, makes a Scripture truth visible in a moment, which before we were poring upon without any success; this is from his pleasure. One in the primitive times had the gift of knowledge, another of wisdom, one the gift of prophecy, another of tongues, one the gift of healing, another that of discerning spirits; why this gift to one man, and not to another? Why such a distribution in several subjects? Because it is his sovereign leasure. “The Spirit divides to every man severally as he will” (1 Cor. 12:11). Why doth he give Bezaleel and Aholiab the gift of engraving, and making curious works for the tabernacle (Exod. 31:3), and not others Why doth he bestow the treasures of evangelical knowledge upon the meanest of earthen vessels, the poor Galileans, and neglect the Pharisees, stored with the knowledge both of naturals and morals? Why did he give to some, and not to others, “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt. 13:11.) The reason is implied in the words, “Because it was the mystery of his kingdom,” and therefore was the act of his sovereignty. How would it be a kingdom and monarchy if the governor of it were bound to do what he did? It is to be resolved only into the sovereign right of propriety of his own goods, that he furnisheth babes with a stock of knowledge, and leaves the wise and prudent empty of it (Matt. 11:26): “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.” Why did he not reveal his mind to Eli, a grown man, and in the highest office in the Jewish church, but open it to Samuel, a stripling? why did the Lord go from the one to the other? Because his motion depends upon his own will. Some are of so dull a constitution, that they are incapable of any impression, like rocks too hard for a stamp; others like water; you may stamp what you please, but it vanisheth as soon as the seal is removed. It is God forms men as he pleaseth: some have parts to govern a kingdom, others scarce brains to conduct their own affairs; one is fit to rule men, and another scarce fit to keep swine; some have capacious souls in crazy and deformed bodies, others contracted spirits and heavier minds in a richer and more beautiful case. Why are not all stones alike? some have a more sparkling light, as gems, more orient than pebbles;—some are stars of first, and others of a less magnitude; others as mean as glow-worms, a slimy lustre:—it is because be is the sovereign Disposer of what belongs to him; and gives here, as well as at the resurrection, to one “a glory of the sun;” to another that of the “moon;” and to a third a less, resembling that of a “star” (1 Cor. 15:40). And this God may do by the same right of dominion, as he exercised when he endowed some kinds of creatures with a greater perfection than others in their nature. Why may he not as well garnish one man with a greater proportion of gifts, as make a man differ in excellency from the nature of a beast? or frame angels to a more purely spiritual nature than a man? or make one angel a cherubim or seraphim, with a greater measure of light than another? Though the foundation of this is his dominion, yet his wisdom is not uninterested in his sovereign disposal; he garnisheth those with a greater ability whom he intends for greater service, than those that he intends for less, or none at all; as an artificer bestows more labor, and carves a more excellent figure upon those stones that he designs for a more honorable place in the building. But though the intending this or that man for service be the motive of laying in a greater provision in him than in others, yet still it is to be referred to his sovereignty, since that first act of culling him out for such an end was the fruit solely of his sovereign pleasure: as when he resolved to make a creature actively to glorify him, in wisdom he must give him reason; yet the making such a creature was an act of his absolute dominion.
6. His sovereignty is manifest in the calling some to a more special service in their generation. God settles some in immediate offices of his service, and perpetuates them in those offices, with a neglect of others, who seem to have a greater pretence to them. Moses was a great sufferer for Israel, the solicitor for them in Egypt, and the conductor of them from Egypt to Canaan; yet he was not chosen to the high priesthood, but that was an office settled upon Aaron, and his posterity after him, in a lineal descent; Moses was only pitched upon for the present rescue of the captived Israelites, and to be the instrument of Divine miracles; but notwithstanding all the success he had in his conduct, his faithfulness in his employment, and the transcendent familiarity he had with the great Ruler of the world, his posterity were left in the common level of the tribe of Levi, without any special mark of dignity upon them above the rest for all the services of that great man. Why Moses for a temporary magistrate, Aaron for a perpetual priesthood, above all the rest of the Israelites? hath little reason but the absolute pleasure of God, who distributes his employments as he pleaseth; and as a master orders his servant to do the noblest work, and another to labor in baser offices, according to his pleasure. Why doth he call out David, a shepherd, to sway the Jewish sceptre, above the rest of the brothers, that had a fairer appearance, and had been bred in arms, and inured to the toils and watchings of a camp? Why should Mary be the mother of Christ, and not some other of the same family of David, of a more splendid birth, and a nobler education? Though some other reasons may be rendered, yet that which affords the greatest acquiescence, is the sovereign will of God. Why did Christ choose out of the meanest of the people the twelve apostles, to be heralds of his grace in Judea, and other parts of the world; and afterwards select Paul before Gamaliel, his instructor, and others of the Jews, as learned as himself, and advance him to be the most eminent apostle, above the heads of those who had ministered to Christ in the days of his flesh? Why should he preserve eleven of those he first called to propagate and enlarge his kingdom, and leave the other to the employment of shedding his blood? Why, in the times of our reformation, he should choose a Luther out of a monastery, and leave others in their superstitious nastiness, to perish in the traditions of their fathers? Why set up Calvin, as a bulwark of the gospel, and let others as learned as himself wallow in the sink of popery? It is his pleasure to do so. The potter hath power to separate this part of the clay to form a vessel for a more public use, and another part of the clay to form a vessel for a more private one. God takes the meanest clay to form the most excellent and honorable vessels in his house. As he formed man, that was to govern the creatures of the same clay and earth whereof the beasts were formed, and not of that nobler element of water, which gave birth to the fish and birds: so he forms some, that are to do him the greatest service, of the meanest materials, to manifest the absolute right of his dominion.
7. His sovereignty is manifest in the bestowing much wealth and honor upon some, and not vouchsafing it to the more industrious labors and attempts of others. Some are abased, and others are elevated; some are enriched, and others impoverished; some scarce feel any cross, and others scarce feel any comfort in their whole lives; some sweat and toil, and what they labor for runs out of their reach; others sit still, and what they wish for falls into their lap. One of the same clay hath a diadem to beautify his head, and another wants a covering to protect him from the weather. One hath a stately palace to lodge in, and another is scarce master of a cottage where to lay his head. A sceptre is put into one man’s hand, and a spade into another’s; a rich purple garnisheth one man’s body, while another wraps himself in dunghill rags. The poverty of some, and the wealth of others, is an effect of the Divine sovereignty, whence God is said to be the Maker of the “poor as well as the rich” (Prov. 22:2), not only of their persons, but of their conditions. The earth, and the fulness thereof, is his propriety; and he hath as much a right as Joseph had to bestow changes of raiment upon what Benjamins he please. There is an election to a greater degree of worldly felicity, as there is an election of some to a greater degree of supernatural grace and glory: as he makes it “rain upon one city, and not upon another” (Amos 4:7), so he causeth prosperity to distil upon the head of one and not upon another; crowning some with earthly blessings, while he crosseth others with continual afflictions: for he speaks of himself as a great proprietor of the corn that nourisheth us, and the wine that cheers us, and the wood that warm us (Hos. 2:8, 9): “I will take away,”
not your corn and wine, but “my corn, my wine, my wool.” His right to dispose of the goods of every particular person is unquestionable. He can take away from one, and pass over the propriety to another. Thus he devolved the right of the Egyptian jewels to the Israelites, and bestowed upon the captives what before he had vouchsafed to the oppressors; as every sovereign state demands the goods of their subjects for the public advantage in a case of exigency, though none of that wealth was gained by any public office, but by their private industry, and gained in a country not subject to the dominion of those that require a portion of them. By this right he changes strangely the scene of the world; sometimes those that are high are reduced to a mean and ignominious condition, those that are mean are advanced to a state of plenty and glory. The counter, which in accounting signifies now but a pcnny, is presently raised up to signify a pound. The proud ladies of Israel, instead of a girdle of curious needlework, are brought to make use of a cord; as the vulgar translates rent, a rag, or list of cloth (Isa. 3:24), and sackcloth for a stomacher instead of silk. This is the sovereign act of God, as he is Lord of the world (Psalm 75:6, 7): “Promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south, but God is the Judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.” He doth no wrong to any man, if he lets him languish out his days in poverty and disgrace: if he gives or takes away, he meddles with nothing but what is his own more than ours: if he did dispense his benefits equally to all, men would soon think it their due. The inequality and changes preserve the notion of God’s sovereignty, and correct our natural unmindfulness of it. If there were no changes, God would not be feared as the “King of all the earth” (Psalm 55:19): to this might also be referred his investing some countries with greater riches in their bowels, and on the surface; the disposing some of the fruitful and pleasant regions of Canaan or Italy, while he settles others in the icy and barren parts of the northern climates.
Excerpt from The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock