by Thomas Manton
That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.—HEB. 6:18.
To give you the occasion of these words, we must look back into the context. The apostle proveth the firmness of the promises, and yet the great need of faith and patience ere they be accomplished. He proveth both by the instance of Abraham, who was long exercised in waiting, and had God's promise ratified with the most solemn assurance that can be conceived under heaven, with an oath, which is held sacred and inviolable among all nations. But here some might object, that if Abraham had such a special assurance from God, what is that to us? To this the apostle replies, that though God's oath were given to Abraham, yet it concerns all the heirs of promise, every believer hath the same ground of certainty that Abraham had; so it is asserted, ver. 17, 'Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath.' There is an emphasis in the phrase, 'more abundantly.' God's oath was not given out of necessity, but out of condescension. Not out of necessity, as if his word was not valid and authentic without an oath, but he would give his oath that, over and above and by all solemn ways of assurance, the Lord would provide for our certainty and assurance, that we might have strong consolation upon solid grounds, 'That by two immutable things,' &c.
In the words we have the purport and the aim of God's oath, which is to give believers more solemn assurance. Take notice of three things—
1. The ground of this assurance, 'That by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie.'
2. The fruit of this assurance, 'That we might have strong consolation.'
3. The persons to whom God hath given this assurance, we 'who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope that is set before us.'
Suitable to the three parts there are three main points—
[1.] God's word and oath are the immutable grounds of a believer's certainty and confidence.
[2.] That the fruit of this confidence and certainty is strong consolation.
[3.] That the persons to whom God hath deposited his oath, and by it administereth so strong a comfort and consolation, are those who fly for refuge to take hold of the hope that is set before them.
Doct. 1. That God's word and God's oath are the immutable grounds of a believer's confidence and certainty; for these are the two immutable things spoken of. I shall speak of each distinctly.
First, God's single word is an immutable ground; having this, you have enough. And so it will appear if you consider the power and the certainty of it.
1. The power of God's word. His word is nothing else but the declaration of his powerful will; the force of it was discovered in creating the world. God created all things by his word: Ps. 33:9, 'He spake and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.' This whole fabric of heaven and earth, which we now behold with wonder, was made with a word. And mark, God's creating word and word of promise do not differ, they are both the word of God; and there is as much force and power in this word 'I will take away the heart of stone,' as there was in this word, 'Let there be light.' There is as much power in this sentence, 'I will make your vile bodies to be like to Christ's glorious body,' as there was in that word, 'Let there be a firmament.' God's word was powerful enough to make a world when it was nothing before. All the works of God subsist by the force of his word: Heb. 1:3, 'Upholding all things by the word of his power.' It is but for God to say, Let it continue, let it be, and either are accordingly. One word is enough to undo the world, and one word is enough to uphold and preserve it. God's word is the declaration of his almighty and powerful will; whatever he did in the world, he did it by his word. Therefore if you have this immutable ground, if God hath deposited and plighted his word, you have enough to establish strong consolation, for it is powerful to all purposes and intents whatsoever.
2. Consider the certainty of it. When the word is gone out of God's mouth, it shall not be recalled. The Lord prizeth his faithfulness above all things. The scripture must be fulfilled whatever inconveniences come of it. Mark the whole course of providence, and you will find that God is very tender of his word; he valueth it above all his works: Luke 21:33, 'Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.' God is not so tender of heaven and earth but that he will break it all to pieces rather than not make good his word; though it be a curious frame and fabric, in which he hath displayed much of his glory, yet that shall be dissolved. Heaven and earth do only continue till all that is prophesied of in the word be fulfilled. We shall enjoy the comfort of his word in heaven, when all these things are melted away with a fervent heat. Nay, which is more, God valueth his word above the human life of Christ his own Son. If God passed his word for it, his Son, who was the delight of his soul, equal to him in glory, must come from heaven, take a body, and suffer a cruel death: 'Lo, I come, in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O God,' Ps. 40:7. God had passed his word to the church that it should be so; therefore, rather than he would go back from his word, he sent Christ to die for a sinful world. There was no promise of more difficulty for God to grant nor for us to believe, than this of the incarnation and death of Christ; yet rather than go back from his word Christ must come and die an accursed and shameful death.
Secondly, The main thing is, what ground of consolation we have in God's oath. And there I shall—(1.) Show the reasons why God gives us his oath over and above his word; (2.) The several advantages which we have by his oath in believing.
1. For the reasons why God should give this oath. An oath you know is given in matters doubtful. Philo saith, An oath is given for the manifestation of a matter which is secret and doubtful, and which cannot otherwise be determined. To swear in things apparent and matters clear is to take the name of God in vain. All matters which are clear are otherwise decided; matters of opinion, by argument; matters of fact, by testimony; matters of promise, by the single word of the party that promises, if he be a person of honour and credit; but always an oath supposes some doubt and controversy that cannot otherwise be determined. And so much the apostle intimates when he says, Heb. 6:16, 'It is the end of all strife' or controversy. Well, then, God's promises being of such absolute certainty, why doth the Lord deposit his oath with the creature, since his single and bare word is enough.
I answer—The matter itself needs it not, but only in regard of us. We look upon the promises with doubtful thoughts; there is a controversy between God and us; we have hard thoughts of God, as if he would not be so good as his word; therefore his oath is given, not to show the doubtfulness of the thing that is sworn, but the greatness of our unbelief. Austin saith, Est exprobatio quædam infidelitatis nostræ—God hereby upbraids us with our unbelief, when he gives us an oath for the confirmation of any matter. Briefly, God's oath is given us for two reasons—to show us the certainty, and to show us the excellency of our privileges in Christ.
Reason 1. To show us the certainty of our privileges in Christ. The world makes it a controversy and doubtful matter whether Christ came to die for sinners, yea or nay? whether God will save those that take sanctuary at Christ? God saith, Ay, and we say, No; and how shall the matter be decided? Observe it, and you will find that there are two things which we are apt to suspect in God—his good affection in making the promise, and his truth in keeping the promise. We suspect his good affection, especially when we are in pangs and gripes of conscience; and we suspect his truth in straits and difficulties, whenever in the course of God's providence we are cast into such a condition that we think he hath forgotten his promise. Now the Lord might be highly offended with us for those wicked thoughts we entertain of his majesty, but in a gracious condescension he is pleased to put an end to the controversy by an oath. As if the Lord had said, Do you doubt of this? Will you put me to my oath? Here I am ready to take it; and that the matter may no longer remain in suspense, I swear by my life, by my holiness, by whatever you count sacred and excellent in me, that whoever among you, whatever he be, that is touched with a sense of his sin and misery by nature, if he will run to Christ for refuge, take sanctuary in Christ, if he doth belong to my unchangeable purposes of grace, I will surely without miscarrying bring him to a sure and eternal possession of glory; and for the present I will be a father to him, and guide him and keep him as the apple of mine eye; I will be his present help, his guardian, his counsellor, during the whole time of his abode in the world, where he is only liable to dangers. This was the matter in controversy, and this is the substance of God's oath. And I shall show you how apt we are to distrust God in all this. We suspect, as I said, either his good affection in making the promise, or his truth in keeping the promise, so that we need this solemn way of assurance. Therefore—
First, I shall speak to this, that we distrust his good affection, and will not believe God upon his single word. What should be the reason that nature is so abhorrent from this certainty and assurance, which so much concerneth our own peace and comfort? Take six reasons—
1. Partly because guilt is full of suspicion. We hate those whom we have wronged. Proprium est humani ingenii odisse quos Iæserit. First we hurt a person, then we hate him; so out of fear of revenge we suspect all that he doth, all acts of kindness, all tenders and offers of reconciliation which come from him. Let me exemplify it in men. Thus David speaks of his enemies: Ps. 120:7, 'I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war.' David was the wronged party, and Doeg and Saul's courtiers had slandered him, and done him wrong. David was willing to forget all this injury, and he comes with an offer of peace, but all treaties of peace are in vain. This you will find to be the fashion of the world, when they have wronged a person, never to trust him any more, lest they should give him opportunity of revenge. Thus do we deal with God; conscience knows we have wronged him, slighted his love, and put affronts upon his grace, and therefore, though he makes the first offer, we believe it not. Revengeful man cannot think God will be so gracious and merciful, therefore we cannot believe those ample purposes of reconciliation. It breaks the back of patience to think of forgiving seven times: 'Must I forgive seven times?' saith Peter. And therefore how can we believe the Lord will pardon so many thousand affronts we put upon him day by day? Thus we wrong God and sin away our faith, and therefore are not capable of so rich a comfort.
2. Partly because the way of salvation is so rare and wonderful, that a man can find no faith for it. The gospel is a mystery, so called by the apostle, 1 Tim. 3:16, 'Great is the mystery of godliness.' Nature affords no help here. Theology is natural, but not christology. Nature believes there is a God, but not that there is a Christ. The sun and moon preach up a God, their sound is gone out into all lands, and proclaim everywhere that there is one infinite and eternal power; and conscience preacheth up a judge. But all these natural preachers are dumb and silent concerning Christ, not a word concerning a saviour and mediator. It could not enter into the thought of an angel to pitch upon such a remedy if God had not revealed it to them by the church: Eph. 3:10, 'To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.' The angels did conceive of this great mystery by observing God's dispensations to the church. Well, then, the way of salvation being so rare and wonderful, we should never acquiesce and rest satisfied with bare declarations, but we need God's oath that the controversy may be determined. When an angel came to bring tidings of it to the Virgin Mary, though she were a holy woman, and had such an extraordinary way of assurance, yet you find her unbelief outstarts her obedience and submission to the will of God: 'How shall this be?' Luke 1:34. The incarnation of God, the conception of a virgin, the death of life itself, all these things are riddles and golden dreams to reason; and without a higher assurance than a bare word, we should not be easily satisfied.
3. Partly because the blessings and privileges we have in Christ are so great, and the persons which enjoy them so unworthy, as being nothing and deserving nothing, that they exceed all thought and belief: 1 Cor. 2:9, 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love him.' Mark, all the ways by which we can gain any knowledge of a thing, they come short; sense, fancy, reason, eye, ear, heart, of man cannot conceive and cannot tell what to make of these excellent privileges we have in Christ; they cannot furnish him with fit notions and apprehensions of such excellent glory as is revealed to us in him. To illustrate it by the creatures: If a man had been by when God made the world, as the angels were, if he had seen God laying the foundations of all things, he would have wondered what God was about to do, for what rare creature the Lord was about to frame this stupendous and wonderful fabric, arched with heaven, floored with earth, interlaced with waters, decked with fruits and plants, stored with creatures, and glazed, if I may so speak, with stars; who would ever have thought that all this furniture and provision was for man, a handful of dust, a poor worm not six feet long, that he might be lord of all things, vice-king and deputy under God? Now, if a man would wonder at the honour and glory God put upon man at his creation, much more at the privileges of our redemption by Christ; they are matters to be wondered at indeed: 2 Thes. 1:10, 'Christ shall be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe.' This place chiefly concerns the angels, when God puts such clarity and splendour upon the body that they shall wonder what Christ is about to do with such a contemptible creature as man, that newly came out of the grave of rottenness and dust. This text I am upon speaks of 'a hope set before us.' If this were but a little opened, as our ear hath received a little thereof, if we should tell you what preparation Christ hath made to bring the saints to glory, with what a glorious train of angels he will come from heaven, what mansions he hath prepared for us in his Father's house, and all this for those that have nothing and deserve nothing, unless it be extremity of misery; if a man should tell you Christ would come in such a state, and entertain the saints with such dearness of affection, and receive sinners into his bosom, that he would make them his fellow-judges, liken their bodies to his own glorious body for brightness and splendour, that such pieces of worms, and clods of earth shall be many times brighter than the sun, I tell you this would require a strong faith to believe it, and we had need of all the averment and assurance that can be given us under heaven. If an angel admires at the saints, certainly inferior creatures will suspect it. Alas! what a valuable price can we bring and pay to God for all this glory! We that judge all things by the laws of reason and commutative justice, for we give nothing but upon valuable consideration, what valuable price can we bring to God? What consideration can we give him for so great a glory, and how shall we think ever to be partakers of an estate so disproportionable to our merit and condition? Therefore, because our privileges in Christ are so great and wonderful, we need not only God's word, but also his oath.
4. Partly because we ourselves are so false and fickle in all our contracts with one another, especially in our dealings with God, that we need to be bound with promise upon promise, and oath upon oath, and all little enough to restrain and hold us within the bounds of duty. Man is changeable, and breaks vows and covenants and promises, and snaps them asunder as a thread and tow is burnt asunder with fire, and will not be held with any obligation. It is a Greek proverb, Children play with nuts, and men with oaths. It is too often so. Perjury, though it be monstrous and barbarous, and dissolves the bonds of human societies and confederacies, yet it is no rare thing in the world, especially in the latter times. They are said among other sins to be infamous for covenant-breaking: 2 Tim. 3:3, 'Truce-breakers,' &c. Thus we deal with one another. But if we should be more faithful to men for the safety of our interest, yet how often do we break with God, and compass him about with lies: 2 Sam. 23:5, 'He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure.' We are false and fickle when God is sure. To-day we promise, to-morrow we fail. What vow did we ever make to God and kept it? Now we are apt to judge of God's promises by our own. It is usual with man to transform God into his own likeness, and to muse of him as we use ourselves. The heathens did it grossly, and by a sensible picture; the apostle chargeth it upon them: Rom. 1:23, 'They changed the glory of God into an image made like to corruptible man.' They shaped God into the picture of man, and still according to the particular genius and fancy of each nation. The Spartans, being a warlike people, painted their gods in armour, suiting most with their disposition; the Ethiopians painted their gods black and their devils white, because they were a black people. But now we do it all spiritually: Ps. 50:23, 'Thou thoughtest I was altogether such an one as thyself.' We judge of God by ourselves, and draw a monstrous misshapen picture of him in our minds, as if he were revengeful, fierce, fallacious, fickle, and changeable as we are. Therefore, to meet with this sin doth the Lord so often disclaim the dispositions of a man, that we should not fancy him according to the lineaments of a man: Hosea 11:9, 'I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God, and not man.' As if he had said, Do not measure me according to your model; I am not revengeful as you are, and changeable as you are; this is not my fashion. So Isa. 55:8, 9, 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.' You see the distance between earth and heaven is so wondrous great that the earth cannot reach it with its mountains, cedars, turrets, smoke, and vapours; it is so great that a star of the heavens, as big as the earth, seems to be but a spangle: so infinitely more are the workings of my thoughts, and my heart different from your thoughts and your heart. More particularly and suitable to the present case: Num. 23:19, 'God is not a man that he should lie, neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken it, and shall he not make it good?' Man is as unstable as water; his point varieth according to the different posture of the times and situation of his own interest and advantage; but it is not so with me, saith the Lord. Men say and do not, but God's Yea is always yea, and his No is always no. This was the speech of Balaam, who was called a false prophet, not from the matter of his prophecy, but only from his aims. But if you will have it from a more authentic hand, you have it out of the mouth of Samuel: 1 Sam. 15:29, 'The strength of Israel will not lie, nor repent; for he is not a man that he should repent.' Mark the reason, for he is not a man. To be a man and to be changeable is all one. Certainly the frequent inculcation of such passages in scripture showeth that we are apt to measure infiniteness by our own scantling and size. And therefore, this being man's natural thought, God in a condescension, and by way of check, is pleased to give the creature this assurance, we have his word and his oath; so that if we would but afford him the favour we use to show to an honest man, we have no ground of diffidence and distrust.
5. Another cause of this unbelief is enmity to the gospel. There is a natural contrariety in our hearts both to the privileges and duties of the gospel, and because we hate it, we do not easily believe it. The pride of man's heart sets him against the privileges of the gospel, and carnal liberty against the obedience of it. Man is a proud creature, and would be self-sufficient; he is loath to be beholden to God, as a proud man loves a russet coat of his own better than a silken garment that is borrowed of another. Thus the apostle complains of the Jews: Rom. 10:3, 'They being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish a righteousness of their own, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God.' There needs some submission and bearing down of the pride of man, all is borrowed; here Christ is all, and doth all, he hath merited for all, and suffered for all. Now this suits not with the pride of man's heart, who would be sufficient to himself, and establish a personal merit in himself. And then especially is this pride bewrayed when a man hath anything to trust to and rest in, as civil righteousness or a formal profession; it is a hard matter then to bring men to submit to the righteousness of God, to come hungry and thirsty for Christ's righteousness. There is no pride so deadly and mischievous, and opposite to the gospel, as the pride of self-conceit and self-sufficiency; yet this is natural to us; therefore God doth not only say, but swear, that we shall never enter into his rest unless we take this course, and run to this hope that is before us. And as pride opposeth the privileges of the gospel, so carnal liberty opposeth the obedience of the gospel. Men are loath to stoop and submit to God's terms. Christ is to be Lord as well as Saviour. Now the world will not hear of laws and restraints. You know the nations were all for casting away the bonds and cords: Ps. 2:3, 'Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their cords from us.' In the latter ages of the world, it is foretold in the prophecies of scripture, that the church is in danger of turning to libertinism: we cast away yoke after yoke, till we have left Christ nothing but an empty title. How busy are men now to find out a north-east-passage, a nearer cut to heaven; and therefore the Lord swears, and ratifies the whole tenor of the gospel by an oath, to meet with our enmity and natural contrariety, which makes us so apt to misbelieve.
6. Another cause why those that are touched with a sense of sin suspect God's good affection is a jealousy of assurance, or a secret fear of presuming. All the doubts and scruples of a troubled conscience come to this issue, and may all be referred to this head, a fear of presuming. Many will plead the number of their sins, and how many affronts they have put upon the grace of God. Some will plead the greatness and the aggravations of their sins, relapses into sin, sins against light, against the advantages of grace; but they all end in this one thing, a fear of being too bold with the comforts of the gospel, and that comfort doth not belong to persons in their case. This is the cable-rope which keeps them from floating out amain upon the ocean of God's mercy, as if the Lord delighted in their grief rather than in their assurance and satisfaction. Usually thus it is with disturbed consciences. Trouble that is once swallowed is hardly got up again; and men think sadness is more pleasing to God than comfort, and that doubts suit with a christian frame rather than confidence, and so they hug a distemper instead of a duty. Therefore the Lord is fain to swear that certain it is. Nay, it is not for nothing that this makes the heart of Christ so joyful, that we live upon the provision he hath made for us: John 15:11, 'These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.' This is the very aim of God's oath; he would show, as I shall further clear by and by, that our assurance is more pleasing to him than our doubting; that he is better pleased with our comfort, nay, though it rise up to strong comfort, than with our sorrow. Thus you see that diffidence and incredulity is deeply rooted in our nature; yea, believers themselves are liable to many doubts, out of the relics of atheism and unbelief that yet remain in them.
Secondly, I am to show that we are apt to suspect his truth in keeping his promise. When straits and difficulties come, and things go cross to our expectation, we had need of more than God's single word. There is not one of an hundred that lives by faith, and can bottom his comfort on a single promise, and can rejoice in the Lord his God when outward supports fail. We are led altogether by sense, and therefore in cross providences we look upon promises as words of course, and are apt to say, Where are his promises, and the soundings of his bowels? and where is the ready help which God hath promised in the time of trouble? And therefore, as a prop to the soul, he hath backed his promise with an oath. Mark it, christians, it is very usual, even with God's dearest children, to unravel their hopes, and to question all upon a cross providence; as David: Ps. 116:11, 'I said in my haste, All men are liars.' Why doth David retract that charge, and impute it to his haste? The apostle saith, Rom. 3:4, 'Let God be true, and every man a liar.' We are changeable creatures, our beings are a lie; today we are, and to-morrow we are not; and so our promises are a lie; we say, and do not; and therefore why doth David impute it to his haste, as if he had spoken something that were untrue? Certainly, there was some blame in the expression, for he acknowledgeth it was spoken in haste. The speech hath respect to those messages and assurances which were brought to him from the mouth of God by Samuel, Nathan, and other prophets. They comforted him with God's promises, and now he was thunderstruck, blasted with some sore affliction, far enough from the case of a man that had many assurances from heaven; now 'all men are liars,' prophets and all. Once more, Ps. 31:22, 'I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes; nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications, when I cried unto thee.' God hath cast off all care of David; he doth not look after a poor banished man, which wandereth up and down in the wilderness, a poor flea that is chased and hunted to and fro. Such pets and passions of distrust, such irregular and unbelieving thoughts usually have we upon any cross providence, when sense contradicts the promise. Always we find sense and distrust making lies of God; therefore a single promise will not serve the turn, but we need an oath. Surely if God hath sworn, we may wait upon him. Doubts, now God hath passed his oath, do but accuse him of perjury. And therefore you shall see the oath of God hath always been the refuge of the saints even in the worst of times, when they seemed most of all to lour upon their hopes and expectations, Hab. 3:9. The affairs of the church were at that time desperate; but saith the prophet, 'Thy bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word. Selah.' God for his covenant and oath's sake revived the affairs of the church when they were at a desperate pass. It is there expressed in: the plural number, oaths, because they were often renewed with the church; and they are called 'the oaths of the tribes,' because this was the church's treasure, because of the oath God made with the tribes, for it is not meant of the oaths the church made with God. Look, as the covenant of Abraham is God's covenant made with Abraham, and the mercies of David were God's mercies bestowed upon David, so the oaths of the tribes are not taken actively for the oaths which the tribes deposited with God, but passively for the oath God deposited with the tribes, that is, the church. God took this bow out of the case, and bestows the arrows of his vengeance upon the adversaries of the church. That this exposition is true, it appeareth in what follows, 'Even thy word. Selah.' There is his word, and that confirmed by an oath, the two immutable things; these relieve the sinking state of the church. It goes ill with the church a long time, that we might have experience what God can do. Look what Florus said of the state of Rome, Romani prœlio sæpe victi, bello nunquam—The Romans were often overcome in battle, but never in war. So of the church; they go by the worst in some particular cases, and in some particular times, that we might try God, and God may try us: but we are safe; God will remember the oaths of the tribes; the oath of God will relieve the most desperate case. It is rude blasphemy to say God will not make good his oath. Thus you see why God would deposit his oath.
Reason 2. God sweareth, as for the confirmation of his grace in Christ, and to show the certainty of our privileges in Christ, so for the commendation and excellency of them. An oath is not lawful but in weighty matters; it must be taken in judgment, as well as in righteousness and truth, Jer. 4:2. In judgment, that is, considerately, upon weighty occasions. It is a profaning the name of God, and of such a solemn ordinance and part of worship, to make an oath to lacquey upon trifles, and upon every small matter; it must be in matters of weighty concernment. There is a severe penalty and sanction annexed to the taking of God's name in vain, either rashly or falsely: 'The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.' So whatever is established by God's oath must needs be great and excellent. Certainly God would not swear but in weighty matters; therefore one of his aims was that we might the more regard our privileges in Christ. The apostle proveth the excellency of Christ's priesthood by the oath wherewith it was ratified: Heb. 7:20, 21, 'And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest; for those priests were made without an oath, but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware, and will not repent,' &c. He alludes to Ps. 110:4, where God is brought in, saying to Christ, 'The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedeck.' Such administrations as are confirmed with an oath have upon them a seal and mark of special excellency. The Lord foresaw that as we were apt to disbelieve the gospel, so also to despise it; and therefore, to shame us for our neglect as well as our unbelief, to awaken our attention and quicken our speed and earnest pursuit, the Lord swears; his word should be regarded, much more his oath. When we are busy about the world; and neglect the great salvation, we put a scorn upon God, as if the things he hath confirmed by oath were not worth the looking after. When we prefer worldly comforts as more certain, oh! what an injury is this to the oath of God! We read of the sure mercies of David, but you are all for lying vanities. We are naturally for the comforts that are before us, and look upon it as a riddle to grow rich in promises and to live by faith. Are uncertain riches more to be trusted, and a better refuge and sanctuary for your souls than God's oath? It is a sign you slight his confirmation and commendation, and so count him false and foolish in all the things he proposeth to you. God forbid, say you, that we should be guilty of such a blasphemy. You do it not in word, but this is the necessary interpretation of your actions. If a man should offer you a good bargain upon very easy terms, that would bring you a thousand pounds profit, and should confirm it by oath, though you did not tell him that he did deceive you with words, yet if you go away never heeding it, but should run after smaller matters which you purchase with great hazard, would not this argue you counted him but false and foolish; or the thing not worth the taking and looking after? So when God hath pawned his oath, that his grace and immutable counsel for salvation belonged to you if you would but take sanctuary in Christ, do you not count him false and foolish in the proposal when you run after carnal satisfactions, which are purchased with the loss of your souls?
That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, &c.—HEB. 6:18.
II. THE advantages we have by God's oath. What greater assurance can we have?
1. Consider the sacredness of an oath in general. You know among all nations an oath is accounted a sacred and most solemn way of engagement among the sons of men. The apostle saith it is πέρας ἀντιλογίας the end of strife: Heb. 6:16, 'An oath for confirmation is to men an end of all strife.' When men solemnly call God to witness, though the matter were never so doubtful and controverted before, when they take an oath we have no more to say, but believe every honest man upon his oath. The heathens have spoken much of an oath. One saith, this is the final assurance; we are bound up, and contented when men swear. Another that it is the highest faith that men can expect. We owe so much to humanity. All nations by the light of nature have found out this remedy and way to end differences. So among the Jews; if there were a strife between Israelite and Israelite, Exod. 22:11, 'Then shall an oath of the Lord be between them both, and he shall accept thereof.' There was no more stir to be about the matter. Perjured persons are the scorn of men, and they have forfeited the privilege of humanity. Well, then, if the oath of man be so sacred and valuable, how much more is the oath of God! It is impossible for God to lie. He can do all things which argue power, but nothing which argueth impotency and weakness, for this were to deny himself.
2. This oath is so sacred, because the name of God is invoked in it. It is the name of God that giveth credit to all other oaths. When men swear, saith the apostle, 'They swear by a greater,' Heb. 6:16, by a higher power. Men by sin have lost their credit, and therefore they pawn the credit of God. Every oath is an appeal to God as witness and judge. For want of other sufficient proof we appeal to God as a witness; so we acknowledge his omnisciency, that he is the searcher of the heart and reins. And indeed herein an oath differeth from a vow; in a vow we deal with God as a party, but in an oath we appeal to God as a witness. Nay, and in case of forswearing, we appeal to him as a judge, and challenge and imprecate his vengeance, wherein we acknowledge his justice and power to avenge the wrong that is done to his name. For mark, if a man violate his oath, and forswear himself, the wrong is directly done to God; his truth is falsified, his witness is abused, his name is blasphemed; therefore there is an implicit appeal to him for vengeance, if not expressed. Sometimes the execration and imprecation is expressed in an oath; as 1 Kings 2:23, 'Then King Solomon sware by the Lord, saying, God do so to me, and more also, &c. So Ruth 1:17, 'The Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.' Sometimes it is suppressed, as Ps. 95:11, 'Unto whom I sware in my wrath, If they enter into my rest.' If! What then? Then count me not a God. The imprecation is suppressed; because the expression is dreadful, it is not mentioned. Furious gallants belch out curses against themselves, whereas usually the imprecatory part in scripture is not expressed, but left to be conceived in silence. However, every oath ends in an imprecation and curse, and it is understood, if it be not mentioned and expressed in all oaths. And this is that which makes the oath to be the more binding, for in charity it is not to be supposed that a man will draw God's curse upon himself wittingly and willingly. Now it is the name of God which makes all other oaths to be valid and binding; we swear by a higher, because our own credit is lost. Now when the Lord swears by himself, shall not he be believed, when he could swear by no higher?
3. This advantage faith hath by God's oath, it is a pledge of his love and good-will, that he would condescend so far to give us his oath for our assurance and satisfaction. Man's oath is necessary in weighty matters, because we are vain and foolish, and deceive and are deceived, and our vanity makes our speech to be less believed; but God's oath is not necessary, but only to show his love and condescension; he would satisfy us in the highest manner that possibly he could. Man takes it ill if he be forced to his oath. Oh! how far then doth the great God stoop to give us this satisfaction! Over and above his word he hath deposited his oath. What could God say more? He is willing to do what he can, not only for our safety, but for our assurance. Take this observation, the Lord not only hath given us an assuring oath, but an inviting oath in Ezek. 33:11, 'As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.' And all showeth his readiness to do good to his creatures.
4. God's oath is an argument that he delighteth in our comfort and assurance. Some look upon doubting as a kind of humility, but it is quite contrary to the aim of God's oath. With what care doth he provide not only for our salvation but security! He would deliver us not only from hurt, but from fear. Certainly a fluctuating spirit always, like the waves of the sea, tossed to and fro, displeaseth the Lord exceedingly. His premise is confirmed by an oath, that the comfort might be more strong, and remain with us both in life and death, and that he might take away all doubt and scruple. Certainly it is not a thing acceptable with God always to be uncertain and in terms of suspense. Nothing can be more directly contrary to his purpose than a course of doubting; therefore it is not presumption to rise to assurance, as carnal men think, and godly men fear.
5. Consider the special nature of God's oath. In every oath God is invoked as a witness and as a judge. As God is called upon as a witness, so there is an appeal; and as he is called upon as a judge, so there is an execration. With reverence and wonder think of it. In God's oath there is, as it were, an appeal to our thoughts of him. God appeals to the reverence and confidence we put in his holiness, excellency, and power; nay, and there is somewhat that answers the imprecation and execration, and all his excellency is laid at pawn, and exposed, as it were, to forfeiture, if he doth not make good his word.
To clear it by instances. Sometimes the Lord swears 'by himself,' Jer. 51:14; sometimes 'by his holiness,' Amos 4:2; and in other places 'by his excellency,' Amos 6:8; and by his life, 'As I live, saith the Lord.' Now in all these there is something answers the appeal; as if the Lord should say to the creature, What do you think of me? Can you think that I will deceive you? As you esteem of me a living, holy, excellent, glorious God, so surely will I perform all my promises. Then there is something answers to the execration or appeal to God as a judge, there is his honour laid at stake upon such an issue; never count me a living, glorious, excellent God more. God draws an imprecation (let me speak it with reverence) upon himself, if I do not accomplish this for you. All the glory of his godhead is laid at pawn and pledge with the creature.
Use 1. Information.
1. We see the greatness of the condescension of God. Herein God considereth rather what is fit for our infirmity than his own glorious excellences. Such is the sovereign majesty of God, that it is enough for him to declare his mind to his creatures, to command what he would have done, and to forbid what he dislikes; but he addeth a promise, and would indent with us in the solemn way of a covenant, as if we were altogether free before the contract. Now, as if his word were not enough (though it be enough; he can as well deny his nature as his truth; he can do all things, but he cannot lie) he addeth his oath. We take it ill to be forced to our oath. That God should engage himself at all is much, for he is debtor to no man. We account it a wrong to a friend to require a bond of him for the assuring of a free gift. God is willing to do anything, not only for our safety, but assurance, that the comfort might be more strong, and remain with us in life and death. It is not acceptable to God that we should always fluctuate, and be upon terms of uncertainty, therefore he was pleased to yield thus far.
2. What reason we have to bind ourselves to God. There was no need on God's part why God should bind himself to us, but great need on our part why we should bind ourselves to God. We start aside like a deceitful bow, and therefore we should solemnly bind ourselves to God: Ps. 119:106, 'I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments.' We need the strongest cords; we have sometimes motions to good, but they die presently, and come to nothing Well, then, out of necessity, as well as out of gratitude, let our engagement in the covenant answer to the Lord's. Only take heed of resting in it, and take heed of breaking it. Take heed of resting in it; remember Peter's confident promise would not bear him out; a rash and presumptuous confidence is soon disappointed What feathers are we, for all our vows and oaths, when the blast of a temptation is let loose upon us! Take heed of breaking it; remember Ananias, Acts 5. God hath a double right; an oath bindeth us more than a bare promise. Better never have sworn than not perform our vows.
3. You see the great wrong you do to God in giving so little credit to his promises. You make God a liar: 1 John 5:10, 'He that believeth not God hath made him a liar.' But John 3:33, 'He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.' It is a great dishonour to God not to receive God's testimony; you put the lie upon him, and so make him to be no God. You would not do so to your equals. A lie is the greatest reproach; it rendereth a man unfit for society and commerce. It is a fearful thing to make the God of truth a father of lies. When God hath given his word, and oath, and seals, all this while shall he not be believed? God never gave us cause to distrust him, he never failed in one promise; all that have had to do with him have found him a faithful God. Nebuchadnezzar doth him this honour and right after he had tasted of the whip, and was again restored to the use of reason: Dan. 4:37, 'Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth;' not only justice, but truth, not only as I deserved, but as he foretold. It is a shame that you have made no observations upon providence, that you may give it under hand and seal that God is true and faithful. God expecteth such a testimony from his people; all that have long had to do with him have found him a true God both in a way of justice and mercy, that he ever stood to his word. God cannot lie: Titus 1:2, 'In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.' God can do all things that argue power and perfection of nature, but he cannot lie, for that argueth weakness and impotency: 2 Tim. 2:13, 'If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful; he cannot deny himself;' he should then cease to be God. He is truth itself, the primitive and supreme truth, the original author of all truth. If he should not be true, who should be so?
But is any so impudent as to put the lie upon God? I answer—Yes: 1 John 5:10, 'He that believeth not God hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.' We accuse him not only of a lie, but of perjury—
[1.] By our carelessness, and the little regard we have to those great and precious promises that he has given us. Great things are offered, and you look upon them as notions and fancies. It was otherwise with the patriarchs of old: Heb. 11:13, 'All these died in faith, not, having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them.' We cast off the tenders of grace, as matters of which we never made any great account. We grasp after the world, and let heaven go; when we mind it not, we believe it not. A man toileth hard all day for a small piece of silver; do we seek heaven with a like earnestness? How many adventures do merchants run, when the gain is uncertain! But we are not uncertain of our reward: 1 Cor. 15:58, 'Forasmuch as ye know that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.' Did we more steadfastly believe this, we should not be so cold in duties, and so bold in sinning.
[2.] By our despondencies in all cross providences. We have a sure word, and why are we up and down, and so full of distractions and unquietness of soul? James 1:8, 'A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways,' unsettled in all his thoughts, uneven in all his ways, raised up and cast down with contrary hopes and fears, off and on, as worldly things ebb and flow. We shall never want discouragements if we live upon sense, but if we could live upon the promises, we should not be at such a loss. The fruit of faith in the promises is strong consolation, too strong to be overcome by sin, death, or hell. A believer is content with the promises, though all the world say, No: 2 Cor. 1:20, 'For all the promises of God in him are, Yea, and in him, Amen.' Yea to our hopes, Amen to our desires. Whatever changes happen, the promises are the same; upon desire of such a thing, Amen, saith the promise; upon hope of such a thing, Yea, saith the promise. In difficult cases you ask of the creatures, they say, No, but the promise saith, Yea.
[3.] When we will venture nothing on the promises. Christ told the young man of treasure in heaven, and he went away sad; he doth not like such a bargain: Luke 18:22, 23, 'Sell all that thou hast, and distribute to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come follow me. And when he had heard this, he was very sorrowful, for he was very rich.' Thus God dealeth with us: Prov. 19:17, 'He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth to the Lord, and that which he hath given will he pay him again;' Eccles. 11:1, 'Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days.' But the words and engagements of men, that deceive and are deceived, are esteemed above them. We would trust a man of sufficiency upon his bond with hundreds and thousands, if we have his hand and seal to show for it, but we refuse God's assurance. Who is careful to provide bags that wax not old, and to draw over his estate into the other world? Luke 12:33, 'Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags that wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.' What adventures do you make upon God's bond or bill? Do you account no estate so sure as that which is adventured in Christ's hands? Can we believe the promises, and part with nothing for them, with neither our lusts nor our interests?
[4.] When temporal things work far more than eternal things, visible things than invisible. If we had such promises from men, we would be more cheerful. If a beggar did hear of a great inheritance fallen to him, he would often think of it, rejoice in it, long to go see it. We have a promise of eternal life, who thinks of it, or puts in for a share of it? We are contented with any slight assurance in matters of such weight. Men love great earnest and great assurance in temporal affairs, but any slight hope serves the turn in spiritual affairs. Why do we so little rejoice in it? If the reversion of an earthly estate be passed over to us, how are we contented with such a conveyance! but God hath made over pardon and grace, and we are not satisfied.
[5.] Our confidence bewrayeth it. The pretended strength of our faith about Christ and hopes of glory showeth the weakness of it, and that it is but a slight overly apprehension. Most men will pretend to be able to trust God for pardon of sin and heaven, and yet cannot trust God for daily bread; they find it difficult to believe in temporals, and yet very easy in spirituals and eternals. What should be the reason? Heaven and things to come are greater mercies, the way of bringing them about more difficult; if conscience were opened, and the heart serious, they are more hardly obtained; there are more natural prejudices against our coming to Christ, and coming to heaven. The whole earth is full of his goodness. God feedeth all his creatures, even the young ravens that cry; there is not a worm but he provides for it; but he pardoneth but a few, blesseth but a few with spiritual blessings, saveth but a few. But here is the reason: bodily wants are more pressing, and faith is presently put in exercise. Men are careless of their souls, and content themselves with some loose hopes of ease and eternal welfare. Certainly he that dareth not venture his estate in Christ's hands, he dareth not venture his soul there. They say they find no difficulty in believing in Christ for pardon of sin and eternal life, and yet cannot trust God for such maintenance and support as he giveth the young ravens: John 11:24, 'Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.' As if it were an easier matter to raise him up after so many years than after four days. But the reason is, faith is not put to a present trial, and men are careless of things to come, and do not mind the danger and hazard of eternity. Certainly he that dareth not in the use of means trust God for this life, doth not trust him for everlasting life. Eternal things are counted a fancy, but worldly things are desired in good earnest.
Use 2. To press us to improve these two immutable grounds, that we may grow up into a greater certainty. His saying is as immutable as his swearing; God's word is valuable enough of itself, but only because we count an oath more sacred. God hath added it over and above. Men are slight in speech, but serious in an oath. Well, then, since you have a double holdfast on God, make use of it in prayer and in meditation; in prayer, when you speak to God; in meditation, when you discourse with yourselves.
1. In prayer, you may urge God with his promise and oath. We put ourselves in remembrance by pleading with God, therefore God alloweth the humble challenges of faith. 'Put me in remembrance,' saith God, Isa. 43:26; or rather, put yourselves in remembrance. By pleading with God we wrestle with him, that we may catch a heat ourselves. Tell the Lord what an holdfast you have upon him; show him his handwriting. As Austin said of his mother, she showed him his handwriting; or as Tamar brought out to Judah the bracelets and staff and ring, and said, Whose are these? So you may plead, Ah! Lord, are not these thine own promises, and is not this thy oath? The children of God have done both; they put him in mind of his word: Ps. 119:49, 'Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope.' As if he had said, Lord, thou hast invited my hope; I should never have had the boldness to have expected so great a mercy and privilege in Christ if thy promise was not passed. God forgetteth not, and yet he loveth that the saints should put him in remembrance; he would have you to revive these grounds of trust and confidence. Then they put him in mind of his oath: Ps. 89:49, 'Lord, where are thy former loving-kindnesses, which thou swearest unto David in thy truth? It is a great advantage in believing thus to put in a modest challenge to God.
2. Improve God's word and oath in meditation when you discourse with yourselves. And here I shall show—(1.) How we may improve God's oath in meditation; (2.) When, and in what seasons.
[1.] How? Thus: God, that cannot lie, hath passed his sword, he who is truth itself, the supreme truth, the original of all truth. Then say, Hath he given me his word and oath? and why am I still upon terms of suspense? The word of an honest man is wont to be enough, and an oath is the end of strife if there be a controversy. God hath passed his oath, and why doth the controversy still remain between me and God? How is it with me? Is the controversy ended and taken up? Am I satisfied with God's oath? Do I live as one to whom God hath given such a highway of assurance? The world lives by guess and devout aims, and hath good meanings and conjectures. Ay! but christians should not rest in a may-be, or content themselves with a possible salvation, with lazy conjectures or loose hopes. Art thou still upon uncertainty, upon terms of hesitancy and suspense? See how St James describes them, chap. 1:8, 'A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways;' and it is our character, we are double-minded, divided between hopes and fears, full of anxious thoughts; and as chaff is driven in the air, or waves tossed in the sea to and fro with various and uncertain motion, so are we carried up and down. Dost thou live up to the assurance that God hath given thee, and to the preparation and provision he hath made for thy certainty and confidence?
Briefly, that you may know what a sin it is to be upon uncertainty, consider the dishonour you do to God, and the damage you do to yourselves.
(1.) The dishonour you do to God. Unbelief accuseth God not only of a lie, but of perjury; you accuse him of a lie with respect to his word, and of perjury with respect to his oath and solemn engagement: 1 John 5:10, 'He that believeth not God hath made him a liar'. But God forbid, will you say. Why then are you so doubtful, notwithstanding so many offers of grace and mercy? why so full of trouble and jealousy when difficulties do arise? Oh! base barbarous ingratitude! you take a stranger's oath, but you deny God the honour that you vouchsafe to any that bears the face of a man. If a man pass his oath, his brother shall accept of it, Exod. 22:11, and will you not do thus to the great God that cannot lie?
(2.) The damage you do to yourselves; you frustrate the oath of God, and weaken your own comfort. Wherefore did God give us his oath? What! that we might rest in a possible salvation, and walk with him, as dancers do upon ropes, every moment to be in fear of falling? Did God lay so great a foundation for so weak a building? Who would build a hovel on such a foundation as would serve to bear a palace? God's oath is a foundation for the highest confidence, and do you think God gave it only that you might rest in conjectural hopes and uncertainties? Nay, you run the hazard of a dreadful curse. God hath sworn in judgment as well as in mercy: Ps. 95:11, 'Unto whom I sware in my wrath, that they should not enter into my rest.' Do you think this rest only concerned Canaan? No, but it reacheth the unbelievers of all ages. Oh! it is terrible when God swears against us. The greater his condes ension in the gospel, the greater is his wrath when it is refused and neglected. It is very sad when God is provoked to swear to the damnation of any creature. Who are the persons that may stand in dread of this oath? Why, they that believe not: Heb. 3:18, 'To whom swear he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believe not.' It is the sin of unbelief after many tenders and offers of mercy, which provokes God to this indignation. Here is oath against oath, the one to drive us, the other to draw us, and pull in the heart to God. If you continue in this course, you shall have neither part nor portion in Christ, nor in the land of promise. It is better to be satisfied with God's oath in mercy, than to run the hazard of his oath in judgment. Therefore speak to conscience, Do I come up to this certainty and confidence? Is the controversy ended between God and me? Are all suspicions laid aside?
Object. But you will say, I do not doubt of the truth of the gospel, but of my own interest. I doubt that I am not the person to whom God hath sworn. The truth of God is sure, but my interest is not clear.
Sol. In answer to this, consider—
(1st.) It doth but seem so that all doubts are about our own interest, but it is not so indeed. If once you were heartily persuaded of God's good affection in Christ, doubts and scruples about our own estate would soon vanish. Look, as the fire, when it is well kindled, bursts out of its own accord into a flame, so if faith were once well laid in the soul, if men could rest upon these two immutable things, consolation would not be so far from them; if there were a firm assent to the doctrine of the gospel, there would not be so many buts; if you did firmly believe his mercy in Christ, it would soon end in a steadfast confidence. This appeareth from the nature of the thing. All uncertainty ariseth either from a neglect of the great salvation, or else from trouble of conscience. Now carnal men neglect it, because they are not persuaded of the worth and excellency of it; and men under horrors of conscience distrust it; they are such sinners they dare not apply it, and are so full of doubts and scruples because they are not persuaded of the truth of the gospel. See how the apostle proposeth the gospel: 1 Tim. 1:15, 'This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.' If negligent and carnal men would but look upon it as 'worthy of all acceptation,' and troubled conscience look upon it as 'a faithful saying,' there would be more regular actings and effects found in their hearts and lives; the negligent would give more diligence, and the contrite would rise up into a greater hope and confidence. If men did believe the worth of salvation, they would not run after lying vanities. If they did believe the truth of salvation for sinners there would not be so many scruples and fears. It is notable that the scriptures very seldom do press assurance of the subject, but assurance of the object in very many places, to believe the doctrine itself, for there is the greatest difficulty; and in the word of God we have no precedent of any that were troubled about their own interest. If an earthly king should proclaim a general pardon, and an act of grace to all persons in rebellion, only on terms of submission and laying down their hostility and returning to their duty and allegiance, the doubt would not be of their own interest, but of the truth of his intention to show them such grace and mercy. So it is with God; he hath proclaimed terms of grace in the gospel, provided we will lay down the weapons of our defiance, and return to the duty of our allegiance. Now that which we suspect is the heart of God and the gospel in the general, whether there be mercy for such kind of sinners as we are.
(2d.) Because we cannot persuade men to a certainty against their consciences, what should hinder but that now you should establish your interest, and that you now make your plea and claim according to God's word and oath, for joy must arise from a sense of it. Your complaining is not the way to ease your conscience, but obedience. It is an advantage to find ourselves in an ill condition, not a discouragement. As the woman in the gospel made an argument of that, that she was a dog: Mat. 15:27, 'Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their master's table.' As when the man-slayer saw the avenger of blood at his heels, this made him mend his pace, and fly for refuge, so when we see we are under the wrath of God, this should make us more earnest to look after Christ, and salvation in and by him. The cities of refuge under the law stood open for every comer, and there was free admission till their cause was heard; so Christ is the sanctuary of a pursued soul, and whosoever comes shall be received: John 6:37, 'Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.' God excludeth none but those that exclude themselves. No sin is excepted but the sin against the Holy Ghost. Therefore make your claim till your cause be heard. The great affront we put upon God's oath is not so much doubting of our condition, but not running to Christ for refuge. If we still stand complaining of our lost estate, and do not attempt the work of faith, we put an affront upon God's oath. If the Lord had bid thee do some great thing (I allude to the speech of Naaman's servants), wouldst thou not have done it to be freed from death and hell? How much rather when he saith unto thee, Only come; fly as for thy life, and see if I will cast thee out? Take up a resolution to try God, and see if he will not be as good as his word and oath. Say, Lord, thou hast given two immutable grounds of hope; here I come, I will wait to see what thou wilt do for me in Christ.
(3.) I answer—Do but see whether thy interest in Christ be not established or no? Here is the lowest qualification of an heir of promise, and yet the highest and most solemn way of assurance. Here are two immutable grounds, and yet what is the description? We who have fled for refuge, 'to lay hold upon the hope set before us.' Here is a driving work that belongs to the law, implied in these words, 'We fly for refuge;' then a drawing work, which belongs to the gospel, in these words, 'To lay hold on the hope set before us.' The law begins and works preparatively, as Moses brought the children of Israel to the borders, then Joshua led them into the land of Canaan. The law shows us our bondage, and makes us fly for refuge, but then the gospel pulls in the heart to God. There is a necessity of the preparing work of the law, that we might be driven out of ourselves; sin else would not be bitter, nor Christ sweet, our motions and addresses to mercy would not be serious; every one hath this, some in one degree, some in another; though all be not anxious, yet all are solicitous: Oh! what shall I do? Now, canst thou speak of this driving work of the law? Thou canst not say but thou art a poor lost sinner, one willing to fly and take sanctuary in Christ, and to wait upon him in obedience till thy great hopes be accomplished. This is the lowest trial; what canst thou deny in it? Art thou not a poor chased pursued soul, else what mean these fears and scruples? and what hath the Lord required of thee, but to run to Christ for refuge? Many christians have not assurance, but though they dare not say, Christ is theirs, yet here they will wait, and not let go their holdfast for all the world. God hath promised to be gracious to every one that takes hold of his covenant, Isa. 56:6, when the soul will not let go the grace of God in Christ, though it hath many discouragements; but, in the face of all doubts and scruples, will anchor and hold fast, whatever comes of it. I am a lost and undone creature; it is Christ that must save me, and here I will stick and hold. This is the qualification, why should we be afraid to be comforted upon God's terms? If you are resolved to wait upon God in and through Christ, you are the heirs of promise, God hath plighted his oath to you, if there be such a disposition in you, being startled and awakened with the sense of your sinful condition, to take hold, and not let it go, then what mean those fears and scruples? Do not you desire to take sanctuary in Christ, and wait upon him with strong resolution not to be discouraged? When therefore God hath put it upon such low conditions, why should we stand off?
Object. All the fear is, these terms are too easy and cheap to give a solid comfort, and many miscarry by sudden and delusive hopes, and this makes christians stand at a distance from their own comfort.
Ans. When a man hath God's warrant to show for his confidence, why should he doubt? If men were once serious in the business of salvation, there is no fear of delusion. You will find comfort cannot be counterfeited, as the life of a creature cannot be painted. Carnal men, that feed themselves with delusive hopes, who make an account they shall go to heaven, are not serious, and mind not what they do, as appears by their contradictions, for they blow hot and cold. They think that he is in a dangerous condition that doubts of his salvation, and yet they say it is presumption for a man to say he is assured of his salvation. The one saying suiteth with their carelessness, and the other with their own private feeling. They have no deliberate and advised confidence, only a rash presumption. And because of their miscarrying, we have no reason to weaken our own hopes; because a man that is in a dream thinketh that he is awaked when he is not, shall not a man that is really awake know himself to be so? Shall we suspect all our interest in Christ and the terms of the gospel as too free and easy? Let me tell you, by experience you will find, when you are serious and deliberate, it is not so easy a matter to have rest for your souls. Certainty and solid assurance is not so soon had. Guilty nature is subject to bondage, and presagious more of evil than of good, more prone to fear than hope, and to mourn than to rejoice; therefore go on with your business, wait upon God, and take his way without jealousy and doubting. Thus I have showed how you should meditate on these two immutable things.
[2.] When must you meditate on God's word and oath? Ans. Very often. The less you apply God's promise and oath, the weaker will your consolation be in Christ; and the oftener, the stronger; for by these two immutable things we have strong consolation. Christians lose much of their peace and comfort, because they do not exercise themselves in thinking of the condescension and satisfaction which God hath given them in this kind, that he should lay all his holiness, his life, his excellency at pledge with poor creatures. I am confident if you did but think of these unchangeable grounds and advantages of faith mentioned before, your comfort would not be upon such loose terms. But there are some solemn times when it must be done.
(1.) Whenever you are conversant about the seals of the covenant, and go to the Lord's table. Why should I doubt, when I have God's promise and oath? The sacraments are visibilia juramenta, visible oaths; here God reneweth his oath to us, and we to God. It is an oath of allegiance to Christ, to walk in all his ways; and it is God's oath of assurance to us, that he will perform the promises of the covenant. As under the law, the blood of the covenant was to be sprinkled half upon the altar and half upon the people, Exod. 24:6–8, God takes an engagement upon himself, and reneweth his oath to be good and gracious to us in Christ; and we take an obligation upon ourselves to walk before him in all obedience. There is a mutual stipulation, therefore there is a special time to meditate of the sureness on God's part; God that cannot lie, hath said and sworn it.
(2.) In times of outward trouble, when you are in danger of fainting and making revolt from God, meditate of the unchangeableness of his word and oath: 'Unless thy law had been my delight, I should then have perished in mine affliction,' Ps. 119:92. God's word and oath were given on purpose to revive a fainting soul. This is the design of the text; the apostle is dissuading from apostasy, and pressing to keep our hopes to the end: ver. 11, 'We desire that every one of you do show the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope unto the end.' Why? We are not upon conjectures and probabilities; and though outward encouragements fail, yet God's promise and oath is a sure ground of comfort in the midst of all difficulties and hardships. This reviveth the soul; we have a glorious inheritance in reversion, and we have God's word and oath to show for it, as much as the patriarchs had to show for Christ. It is notable that when the patriarchs were exercised with any new trouble, then God renewed his oath, implying this is a sure holdfast we have upon God. When outward encouragements in the service of God are like to fail, then think of the two immutable grounds of comfort.
(3.) In pangs of conscience, when guilt lies heavy and burdensome upon the soul, God's word and oath is a proper meditation. The Lord hath sworn that if I will, out of a sense of this misery that is upon me, take sanctuary in Christ, I shall have strong consolation. And we have not only an assuring, but an inviting oath, to help us in such a case: Ezek. 33:11, 'As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.' Count me not a living God if I delight in your scruples and in your death.
(4.) In fears of death. We must die by faith, as well as live by faith; and then comfort ourselves with the promise and oath of God, called here two unchangeable things. We need all the props of faith that can be used. When all things are about to change, then think, God changeth not, though I am changing apace. As one comforted himself with that passage: Isa. 54:10, 'For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.' Sight is almost gone, and speech doth even fail, but God's loving-kindness will never be gone. You are changing, but you may look upon death itself as an act of faithfulness, and sent in mercy to break the shell, that you may have the kernel; to dissolve the union between body and soul, that the soul may flit away to God.