God's Faithfulness from Generation to Generation

by Thomas Manton

Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth.—Ver. 90.

THESE words contain a truth which is—(1.) Asserted; (2.) Represented by a fit and lively emblem, thou hast established the earth, and it abideth. He had before said, ‘Thy word is settled in the heavens:’ now he speaketh of it as manifested in the earth. There the constancy of God’s promises was set forth by the duration and equal motion of the heavenly bodies, now by the firmness and immovableness of the earth. God’s powerful word and providence reacheth to the whole world, this lower part here upon earth, as well as the upper part in heaven.

Doct. That in all ages God ever showed himself a true God, and faithful in all his promises. It is here confirmed by experience, and represented by an emblem.

1. God’s faithfulness relateth to some promise wherein he hath engaged himself to his people: Heb. xi. 11, ‘She judged him faithful who had promised.’ It is his mercy to make promises, but it is his faithfulness and truth to fulfil them. His truth is pawned with the creature till he discharge it, Micah vii. 20.

2. His truth dependeth upon his unchangeable nature, but it is confirmed to us by experience. His unchangeable nature, Heb. vi. 18. If a promise can be made out to be of God, we have no more reason to doubt of it than of the nature and being of God. Yet, quoad nos, it is confirmed by experience: Ps. xviii. 30, ‘The word of the Lord is a tried word.’ We are led by sensible things, and what hath been done doth assure us of what shall be done, or may be expected from God.

3. That therefore God hath been ever tender of his truth, that the event may answer the promise, and we might know that God that hath been faithful, and kept touch with the world hitherto, will not fail at last. The heathens ascribed a double perfection to their gods— ἀληθεύειν καὶ εὐργετεῖν. So the true God is known by his mercy and his fidelity; he never failed to perform his part of the covenant with any: Ps. cxxxviii. 2, ‘1 will praise thy name, for thy lovingkindness and thy truth; for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.’ As he hath made us admirable and great promises of giving his Son, and with him all things, so he will certainly perform all to the utmost importance of them. The matter of his word is mercy and loving-kindness, and in the performance thereof there is great truth and fidelity; as he hath made great and excellent promises, so he performeth them most punctually. So that in fulfilling his word, God will be known above all that is named, or famed, or believed, or apprehended, and spoken of them. Here is his great glory and excellency.

4. That the experience of all generations doth confirm God’s faithfulness in his promises; for it is said in the text, ‘His faithfulness is unto all generations.’ In the Hebrew it is, ‘From generation to generation.’

The point may be amplified by two considerations:—

First, That some promises have been received by one generation, and fulfilled in another.

Secondly, That the same common promises have been fulfilled to the faithful in all ages.

First, That some promises have been received by one generation, and fulfilled in another, when the matter so required; as, for instance, Israel’s going out of Egypt: Gen. xv. 13, 14, ‘And he said unto Abraham, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years: and also that nation whom they shall serve will I judge; and afterwards they shall come out with great substance.’ Compare now Exod. xii. 41, ‘and it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the self-same day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.’ Thirty years were added, because of their fathers dwelling in Canaan; but God kept touch to a day. So for the promise of the Messiah and calling the Gentiles; that God fulfilled in due time, and sent a Saviour into the world: Gal. iv. 4, ‘In the fulness of time God sent his son.’ When the sceptre was gone from Judah, Gen. xlix. 10, when the crown was possessed by Herod, a tributary and foreigner, during the Roman monarchy, which at length Christ should utterly destroy. Dan. ii. 35, Nebuchadnezzar had a vision of an image of four different metals, the head of gold, arms and breasts silver, belly and thighs brass, and the feet part iron and clay. While he beheld the image, and surveyed it from head to foot, he saw a stone hewn out of the mountain without hands, which stone smote the image, not upon the head, breast, or belly, but upon the feet of iron and clay, upon which it vanished away, and the stone became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. This vision Daniel expounded of four Gentile kingdoms, which should succeed one another with great extent of dominion. The first of the Babylonians, which then was; the second of the Medes and Persians; the third of the Grecians; the fourth of the Romans, which subdued all the others, and because possessed of the riches and glory of the former; during this last kingdom was the stone hewn out of the mountain, and smote the iron feet. This stone was the kingdom of the God of heaven, which Christ set up. But not to trouble you with mysteries and nice debates, the apostle telleth us, Rom. xv. 8-10, ‘That Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers: and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. And again, it is said, Rejoice, ye Gentiles.’ The event in all these cases afterwards did speak for itself; so in all that is yet to come, we should depend upon the veracity of God; as the calling of the Jews, the destruction of antichrist, a more ample effusion of gifts on the church, together with a dilation of its borders; as the patriarchs ‘all died in faith:’ Heb. xi. 13, ‘Having not received the promises, but having seen them afar off, were persuaded of them, and embraced them.’

Secondly, That the same common promises have been fulfilled to 409the faithful in all ages; there is but one and the same way to eternal life in necessary things, and the dispensations of God to every age are still the same; and so in every generation the promises of God are still fulfilled as if they were directed to that time only. God’s faithfulness hath been tried many ways and at many times, but every age furnisheth examples of the truth of his promises. From the beginning of the world to the end, God is ever fulfilling the scripture in his providential government, which is double—external or internal.

[1.] External, in the deliverance of his people, the answers of prayer, and manifold blessings vouchsafed to believers and their seed See Ps. xxii. 4, 5, ‘Our fathers trusted in thee; they trusted, and thou didst deliver them: they cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.’ The godly in former times trusted God, and trusted constantly in their troubles, and in their trusting they cried, and did never seek God in vain; which should support us in waiting upon God, and to depend on his mercy and fidelity; for they that place their full affiance in God, and seek his help by constant and importunate addresses, shall never be put to shame.

[2.] Internal, in conversion to God, the comforts of his Spirit, establishment of the soul in the hopes of the gospel, as to the pardon of sins and eternal life. Certainly God, that hath blessed the word throughout many successions of ages, to the converting and comforting of many souls, showeth that we may depend upon the covenant for pardon and eternal life. How many have found comfort by the promises! Now, as the apostle speaketh of Abraham, ‘It was not written for himself alone, but us also,’ Rom. iv. 23, 24; so these comforts were not dispensed for their sake alone, but for our benefit, that we might be comforted of God; having the same God, the same Redeemer, the same covenant and promises, and the same Spirit to apply all unto us. If they looked to God and were comforted, why should not we? His faithfulness is to all generations; he is alike to believers, as they be alike to him: Rom. iii. 22, ‘There is no difference.’

5. That the experience of God’s faithfulness in former ages is of use to those that follow and succeed, to assure them of God’s faithfulness; for God’s wonderful and gracious works were never intended merely for the benefit of that age in which they were done, but for the benefit also of those that should hear of them by any creditable means whatsoever. It is a scorn and vile contempt put upon those wonderful works, which God made to be had in remembrance, if they should be buried in oblivion, or not observed and improved by those who live in after ages; yea, it is contrary to the scriptures: Ps. cxlv. 4, ‘One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts;’ Joel i. 3, ‘Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation;’ Josh. iv. 6-8, ‘That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, What mean you by these stones? then shall you answer them, that the waters of Jordan were cut off from before the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God.’ So Ps. lxxviii. 3-7, ‘That which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. we will not hide them from their children, showing 410to the generations to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children; that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.’ From all which I observe:—

[1.] That we should tell generations to come what we have found of God in our time, and more especially parents should tell their children; they are bound to transmit this knowledge to their children, and they to improve it, either by word or deed. By word, by remembering the passages of providences, and publishing his mercies to posterity: Ps. lxxxix. 1, ‘I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth I will make known thy faithfulness to all generations.’ Or by deed, putting them in possession of a pure religion, confirmed to us by so many providences and instances of God’s goodness and truth.

[2.] That this report of God’s gracious works, and owning his covenant, is a special means of edification. Why else should God enjoin it, but that the ages following should receive benefit thereby? Surely it is an advantage to them to hear how God hath owned us in ordinances and providences.

[3.] And more particularly I observe, that this tradition is a great means and help to faith; for it is said, ver. 7, ‘That they may set their hope in God.’

6. That to be satisfied in point of God’s faithfulness is of great importance to believers. Partly because their fidelity to God is much encouraged by his fidelity to us. They that do not trust God cannot be long true to him: Heb. iii. 12, ‘Take heed lest there be found in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God;’ and James i. 8, ‘A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways,’ δίψυχος ἀνὴρ, one that doth not stick fast to God, and is ever unresolved, being divided between hopes and fears concerning his acceptance with God. A wavering Christian is divided between God and some unlawful course for his safety, divided between God’s ways and his own, and cannot quietly depend upon his promises, but is tossed to and fro, doth not entirely trust himself in God’s hands, but doth wholly lean upon his own carnal confidence. And partly because God is invisible, and dealeth with us by proxy, by messengers, who bring the word to us. We see not God in person: Heb. xiii. 7, ‘Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken to you the word of God, whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversations;’ their manner of living, their perseverance till death in this faith and hope. And partly because the promises are future, and the main of them is to be accomplished in another world. Now, nothing will support us but the faithfulness of God: Prov. xi. 18, ‘The wicked worketh a deceitful work, but to him that soweth righteousness there shall be a sure reward.’ Men think to be happy by their sin, but find themselves deceived at last; but none can be deceived that trust in the living and true God. Partly because many of the promises contradict sense; as when the soul is filled with anguish because of the 411guilt of sin: 1 John i. 9, ‘If we confess our sins, be is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ And the power of sin: 1 Thes. v. 24, ‘Faithful is he who calleth you, who also will do it.’ Supported in great distress: 1 Cor. x. 13, ‘He will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able.’ That we may be able to stand in the judgment: 1 Cor. i. 9, ‘God is faithful, by whom ye are called into the fellowship of his son Jesus Christ.’ Here is a Christian’s great security and support, God’s faithfulness, testified by Christians now and in all ages, confessing they have found by their experience the word of God to be true; for they have transmitted religion to us by their constant consent, and left it to us under a seal of God’s faithfulness; and therefore we should persevere in our duty to God.

Secondly, As represented by an emblem. We should consider it, for it is a help to frequent meditation, as being always before our eyes; and they are without excuse who see not God in this thing; every time we set foot on the ground we may remember the stability of God’s promises. And it is also a confirmation of faith, thus:—

1. The stability of the earth is the effect of God’s word, this is the true pillar upon which the earth standeth; for ‘he upholdeth all things by the word of his power:’ Ps. xxxiii. 9, Tor he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.’ Now his word of power helpeth us to depend upon his word of promise. God, that doth what he pleaseth, never faileth in what he promiseth. We see plainly that whatever standeth by God’s will and word, cannot be brought to nought. Whence is it? how came this world to have a being? It is the work and product of that God whose word and promise we have in scripture. Certainly the power of this God cannot fail, it is as easy for him to do as to say.

2. Nothing appeareth whereon the globe of the earth and water should lean and rest: Job xxvi. 7, ‘He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.’ Now, that this vast and ponderous body should lean upon the fluid air as upon a firm foundation is matter of wonder. The question is put. in the book of Job, chap, xxxviii. 6, ‘Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who hath laid the corner-stone thereof?’ Yet firm it is, though it hang as a ball in the air. The globe of the earth is encompassed with the regions of the air and the celestial spheres, and hath no visible support to sustain so heavy a body hanging in the midst of so vast an expansion; yet God hath settled and established it so firm as if it rested on the most solid basis and foundation; fitted so strange a place for it that, being a heavy body, one should think it would fall every moment; yet which, whensoever we would imagine it, it must, contrary to the nature of such a body, fall upwards, and so can have no possible ruin but by falling into heaven. Now since his word beareth up such a weight, all the church’s weight, and our own burden leaneth on the promise of God; he can, by the power of his word, do the greatest things without visible means: Luke vii. 7, ‘But say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.’ Therefore his people may trust his providence; he is able to support them in any distresses, when no way of help and relief appeareth.

3. The firmness and stability offereth itself to our thoughts. The earth abideth in the same seat and condition wherein God left it, as long as the present course and order of nature is to continue: Ps. civ. 5, ‘He hath laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be moved for ever.’ God’s truth is as immovable as the earth: Ps. cxvii. 2, ‘The truth of the Lord endureth for ever.’ Surely, if the foundation of the earth abideth sure, the foundation of our salvation laid by Jesus Christ is much more sure: ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but not one tittle of the word and law of God, till all be fulfilled,’ Mat. v. 18. If the law given by Moses be so sure, much more the promises of salvation by Christ: 2 Cor. i. 20, ‘For all the promises of God in him are yea and amen.’

4. The stability in the midst of changes: Eccles. i. 4, ‘One generation passeth away and another cometh, but the earth abideth for ever.’ When man passeth away, the earth stayeth behind him, as a habitation for other comers, and abideth where it was, when the inhabitants go to and fro, and can enjoy it no more. All things in the world are subject to many revolutions, but God’s truth is one and the same. The vicissitudes in the world do not derogate from his fidelity in the promises; he changeth all things, and is not changed. Though there be a new face of things in the world, yet we have a sure rule to walk by, and sure promises to build upon. And therefore, in all conditions, we should be the same to God, and there is no doubt but he will be the same to us.

5. In upholding the frame of the world, all those attributes are seen which are a firm stay to a believer’s heart, such as wisdom, power, and goodness. Wisdom: Prov. iii. 19, ‘The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth, by understanding hath lie established the heavens,’ Look on it, it is the work of a wise agent. So for power: This great fabric is supported by his almighty power. His goodness is seen in that he hath made the earth to be firm and dry land, that it may be a fit habitation for men; this is a standing miracle of goodness. Luther saith we are always in medio rubri maris—kept, as the Israelites were, in the midst of the Red Sea. The Psalmist telleth us, Ps. xxiv. 2, ‘He hath founded the earth upon the seas, and established the world upon the floods.’ That part of the world whereon we dwell would suddenly be overwhelmed and covered with waters were it not for the goodness of God, for this the order of nature showeth in the beginning of the creation, Gen. i. 7, that next under the air were the waters covering the whole surface of the earth. But God made such cavities in the earth as should receive the waters into them, and such banks as should bound and bridle the vast ocean, that it might not break forth, Gen. i. 9; and so now by his providence the water is beneath the earth, and the earth standeth firm upon that fluid body as upon the most solid foundation; which, as it is a work of wise disposal and contrivance, so an effect of the goodness of God for the preservation of mankind. And though once, for the sins of the world, these waters were appointed to break out and overwhelm the earth, yet God hath firmly promised that they shall never be so again; wherein his truth is also verified, and applied to the covenant of grace: Isa. liv. 9, ‘For this is as the waters of Noah to me; for as I have sworn 413that the waters of Noah shall no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wrath with thee, nor rebuke thee.’ The covenant of grace is as sure as the covenant made after the deluge; so that we cannot look upon this earth but as an emblem of those attributes which confirm our faith in waiting upon God till his promises be fulfilled to us.

Use. Let us be then more firmly persuaded of God’s faithfulness, that we may depend upon it both for his preserving the church and ourselves in the way of our duty, till we enjoy our final reward.

1. For the preservation of Christ’s kingdom, God’s faithfulness chiefly appeareth in the government of his church or spiritual kingdom, and this is a kingdom that cannot be moved when all things else are shaken: Heb. xii. 28, ‘Having received a kingdom that cannot be shaken.’ Christ cannot be a head without members, a king without subjects. And we are told. Mat xvi. 18, ‘That the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.’ Many disorders happen, but let us depend upon the faithful God. The world was well guided before we came into it, and other generations have had experience of God’s faithfulness, though we complain that we see not our signs, nor any tokens for good.

2. For the preservation of our bodies to the heavenly kingdom. We have many discouragements within and without, but while we persevere in our duty, God will not fail us; his word is as sure as the earth: 2 Thes. iii. 3, ‘The Lord is faithful, who shall establish and keep you from evil.’ God hath promised not only to give us our final reward, but to secure and defend his people by the way, that they be not overcome by the evils they meet with in their passage.

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