There are none can behold their own vileness as it is, but in the sight of God's glorious holiness. Sin is darkness, and neither sees itself, nor any thing else, therefore must his light shine to discover this darkness. If we abide within ourselves, and men like ourselves, we cannot wisely judge ourselves, our dim sparkle will not make all the imperfections and spots appear. But, if men would come forth into the presence of his Majesty, who turns darkness into light, and before whom hell is naked, -- O how base and vile would they appear in their own eyes! Is it any wonder that the multitude of you see not yourselves, when holy Isaiah and Job had this lesson to learn? Isaiah gets a discovery of his own uncleanness in the sight of God's glorious holiness, (chap. vi.5,) which I think made all his former light darkness. He cries out "unclean," as if he had never known it before, and so Job, "Since I saw thee I abhorred myself in dust and ashes." Ye hear much of him, and it doth not abase you, but if ye saw him, ye would not abide yourselves; ye would prefer the dust you tread on to yourselves. Ye who know most, there is a mystery of iniquity in your hearts, that is not yet discerned, ye are but yet on the coast of that bottomless sea of abomination and vileness. Among all the aggravations of sin, nothing doth so demonstrate the folly, yea, the madness of it, as the perfection, goodness, and absolute unspottedness of God. It is this that takes away all pretence of excuse, and leaves the same nothing -- no place in which to hide its confusion and nakedness and shame. And therefore it is that Moses, when he would convince this people of their ways, and make them inexcusable, draws the parallel of God's ways and their ways, declares what God is, how absolutely perfect in himself, and in his works, who had given no cause of provocation to them to depart from him, and then, how odious must their departing be! When both are painted on a board before their eyes it makes sin become exceedingly sinful. When the Lord would pierce the hearts of his people, and engrave a challenge with the point of a diamond, he useth this as his pen, -- "Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness? Why say my people, We are lords, we will come no more to thee?" Jer. ii.31. "What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity?" Jer. ii.5.
There are two things in sin that exceedingly abuse the creature, -- the iniquity of it, and the folly and madness of it. It is contrary to all equity and reason to depart from him that hath made us, and given us a law, to whom we are by so many obligations tied, but what is the folly and madness of it, to depart from the fountain of living waters, and dig broken cisterns that can hold none? verse 13. This is a thing that the heavens may be astonished at, and, if the earth had sense to understand such a thing, the whole fabric of it would tremble for horror at such madness and folly of reasonable souls and this evil hath two evils in it, -- we forsake life and love death, go from him and choose vanity. It is great iniquity to depart without an offence on his part. He may appeal to all our consciences, and let them sit down and examine his way most narrowly, -- "What iniquity have ye found in me? What cause have ye to leave me!" But when withal he is a living fountain, he is our glory, he is a fruitful land, a land of light, our ornament and attire, in a word, our life and our consolation, our happiness and our beauty; what word shall be found to express the extreme madness of men to depart from such an one, and change their glory into that which doth not profit? If either he were not a fountain of living waters, or if there were any fountain beside, that could yield water to satisfy the insatiable desires of men, it were more excusable, but what shadow shall be found to cover such an iniquity that is both infinite sin, and incompatable loss? It is the scripture's style given to natural men, "fools and simple." All sin hath folly in it, but the people of God's departing from him hath extremity of folly in it, beside iniquity, because they do embrace a dunghill instead of a throne, they make the maddest exchange that can be imagined, glory for shame, life for death, -- at least, consolation and peace, for vanity and vexation and anguish of spirit.
If ye would be duly affected with the sight of your own evils, look upon them in this consideration, and, in the view of God, your large portion, ye will be forced to confess yourselves beasts in his sight, Psal. lxxiii.22. Oh! that men would consider how good and blessed the Lord is, how he is alone, and nothing beside him in heaven and earth, -- all broken cisterns, all dung and unprofitable, all vanity and vexation, -- he only self-sufficient, all others insufficient, and therefore a proportioned good for our necessity and desires, and I am sure ye would be constrained to cry out with David, "Whom have I in heaven but thee, or in the earth beside thee? It is good for me to draw near to God." Ye would look on drawing near, and walking with him, and before him, not only as the most reasonable thing, but the best thing, most beautiful for you, most profitable for you, and all other ways would be looked on as the ways of death.
"His work is perfect." The Lord looked, and behold all was good that was made. So it was at first. The fabric of this world was an exquisite and perfect work, a suitable demonstration of his infinite wisdom, wonderful in all the parts of it, and in the unity and harmony of the whole. But so also his work of providence is perfect. Divine wisdom hath framed and contrived all, and it cannot be better. If anything seem imperfect in itself, yet it is perfect in relation to his glorious ends he directs it unto. And so would we look on all the works among us. If anything seemed a spot and disgrace of the creation, certainly the sin of men and angels, -- nay, but even that is so ordered by his holy sovereignty, that in relation to his majesty, it may be called a perfect work. If ye do but consider what a glorious high throne he hath erected to himself for justice and judgment to be the habitation of it, and mercy and truth to go before it upon the ruins of defaced man, what a theatre of justice he hath erected upon the angels fall, ye would call it as perfect a work as is in the world. His work is one in the world, subordinate to one great design of manifesting his own glorious justice and mercy, omnipotency and wisdom. Now what do ye see of it but parcels? Though ye comprehend all your time in one thought, yet certainly ye cannot judge it aright, for it is but one work that all the several buildings and castings down, all the several dispensations of his providence, from the beginning to the end, make up, and when we think upon these disjoined, limit our consideration within the bounds of our own time, can we rightly apprehend it? Nay, which is worse, we use to have no more within the compass of our thought, but some present thing, and how much more do we err then? What beauty, what perfection can such a small part have? But it is present to him, who beholds with a glance all these parts. Though succeeding in many generations, he sees it altogether, joins the end with the beginning, sees the first mould, the first foundation stone, and the last completing, all flowing from himself, and returning thither, and ending in himself. He hath made an interchange in nature, which might teach us -- the night alone hath no beauty. Nay, but it beautifies the day. Your darkest hours and tempests, public and personal, are they perfect works? Yes, certainly, if ye compound them with your sunshines and calms. Several colours make pictures beautiful, -- the one is as needful as the other, and if ye did consider your profit more than your honour and pleasure, ye would say so. He doth not model his works according to our fancy to please us, but our good to profit us, and he is wiser than we, and so then it is the most perfect work in itself, that possibly displeaseth us most. Therefore ye would judge of his dealing by another rule than your own satisfaction, for please you and perish you. If he spared the rod, he should hate us indeed, fond love is real hatred. Christians, if ye would judge his works by his word, and not by your sense, -- by your well, and not by your will, certainly we would say, as the men did of Christ, "He hath done all well." The world would discover to you a perfection, even in imperfection, a perfection in infirmities, that ye should not only rejoice in them, but glory in them. "Most gladly therefore will I glory," &c. saith Paul. Are infirmities a perfect work? Or is the suffering of Paul, to be buffetted and tempted, a perfect work? What comfort is in it? Yes, much. Infirmities alone are infirmities indeed, nay but infirmities in me, and strength in Jesus, weakness in me, and strength dwelling in me, -- these make up one perfect work that could as little want the infirmities as the strength. The glory of God, and our well and consolation, require the one, as well as the other, they could not be complete without any of them. What do ye think of the times now? Are England's apostacy, and Ireland's desolation,(262) perfect works? That great work of reformation, that seemed to be above our shoulders, is now razed to the ground, and the very foundations removed? Is deformation a perfect work? Certainly, if we look on these things in the scripture's light, and consider them in relation to him who is the chief builder, and doth in heaven and earth what he pleaseth, that deformation is a perfect work, though not a perfect reformation. Though we could not inform you of the perfection of it, yet the general might silence us; all this shall be no miss, no mar in the end. His work, at the end of accounts, shall appear so complete, as if it had never had interruption. He is wise, and knows what he doth, if this were not for his glory and his people's good, certainly it should not be. Was not the people wandering in the wilderness forty years a most strange work -- a longer interruption of the expected and begun voyage out of Egypt? What human reason would have styled this work with perfection? Did they not often murmur against it? Yet Moses calls this a perfect work also. What if the Lord be digging the ground deeper in England, that the foundation may be the surer? What if he be on a work of judgment, filling the cup of many deluded blasphemers, that he may have another cup of wrath prepared? What if this be his great purpose, to execute vengeance upon a profane generation, that will not abide the very name and form of godliness, by those who pretend to the name of it as their honour? What if the Lord hath defaced all that this kingdom was instrumental in building up in England, that he alone may have the glory in a second temple more glorious?(263) Many things there may be in his mind, and "he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doth, and this may be enough to satisfy us, he sees and knows all his works from the beginning."
And without all controversy he hath provided it so, that the reproach of his name shall be made up with(264) the more shining of his glory, and the afflictions of his people shall be compensed with songs of deliverance. May ye not give him so much credit, as ye would give to a skilful man in his own trade? Ye know it is his name, "excellent in counsel, and wonderful in working." Then take his work, expound it according to his word, and not your apprehension. It may be his work appears not excellent, nay, but if ye knew his counsel, ye would think it so. His wonderful counsel makes all his works excellent, and therefore do not take upon you to judge his works unless ye could wade the depth of his counsels, else ye declare yourselves to be both ignorant and presumptuous. "There is a time to build, and a time to cast down, a time for every thing," saith the wise man. Now, I say, he knows the time and season, he does every thing in his time. If ye come by a workman that is casting down a house that in your appearance seems good, would ye condemn him presently? No, but stay till ye see what he will do next, wait till the due time, and when ye see a better piece of workmanship on that ground, ye shall absolve him. Though God often change his work, do not think he changes his counsel and purposes as men do, no, "he is in one mind, and who can turn him?" Therefore he had that change in his mind when he made the work, when he erected such a throne, he had this in his mind to cast it down within such a space, and so his change -- his throwing down -- is as perfect in his mind, as his building up. Ye have large and big apprehensions of temporal kingdoms and crowns of government, and such like, as if they were great, yea, only things, but they are not so to him. All this world and its standing, all the kingdoms and their affairs are not his great work and business. He hath a great work, the bringing of many sons to glory, and the completing of Jesus Christ; building of that glorious mystical building, the holy temple made up of living stones, of which Christ is the foundation, and chief corner-stone both, and it is this that he attends to most. Other works among men, though they have more noise, they are less concerned. All these are but in the by, and subservient to his great design, and like the scaffolds of a building, that are, it may be, sometimes very needful. Nay, but when the building is completed, he shall remove all these, he hath no more use of them: kings shall be thy nurse fathers, kings shall bow to thee. He is not much concerned in government nor in governors, but for his little flock's sake, and if these were gathered, all these shall have an end, and the flock alone abide for ever.
"And all his ways are judgment." This is to the same purpose, -- his ways and his works are one. And this is the perfection of his work, that it is all right and equal; whether they be in justice or mercy, they are all righteous and holy, no iniquity in them, his ways are straight and equal, exact as if they were measured by an exact even rule, but because we make application of a crooked rule to them, we do imagine that they are crooked, as the blind man judges no light to be, because he sees it not. How may the Lord contend and plead with us, as with that people, Ezek. xviii.25. Is it possible that any can challenge him and clear themselves, who will be justified of all when he is judged, and before whom no flesh can be justified? And yet, behold the iniquity of men's hearts. There is a secret reflection of our spirits upon his Majesty, as if his ways were not equal, whenever we repine against them, and when we do not take with our iniquity, and stop our mouths with dust. Behold, the Lord will assert his own ways, and plead with all flesh this controversy, that all his proceedings are full of equity. He walks according to a rule, though he be not tied to a rule. He walks according to the rules of wisdom, justice, and mercy, though his illimited sovereignty might be a sufficient ground of clearing of all his proceedings. But we walk not according to a rule, though we be bound to a rule, and a rule full of equity.
Here is the equity and justice of his ways, the gospel holds it forth in a twofold consideration. First, If any man turn from his iniquity, and flee unto my Son as the city of refuge, he shall live, he hath eternal life, iniquity shall not be his ruin, although he hath done iniquity. O "who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity!" Is not this complete mercy? Whatever iniquity hath been, aggravate it as ye can, though it could have ruined a world yet it could not have ruined thee that turnest in to Jesus Christ from iniquity. What exception can all the world have against this, or his walking according to it? And on the other hand, whosoever continueth in sin, though he appear to himself and others never so righteous, if he entertain and love any known sin, and will not part with it for Jesus Christ, shall not he die in his iniquity? Is there any iniquity in this, that he receive the wages of his works -- his reward that he eat of the fruit of his own ways, and drink of his own devices? But how many hearts censure this way as a rigid and strict severe dealing! The multitude think it cruelty to condemn any christened soul -- to put so many in hell. The civil man will think it is too hard measure that he should be ranked in hell with the profane. But certainly, all mouths shall be stopped one day, and he shall be justified when he judges. Ye that will not justify him in his sayings, and set to your seal to the truth of the word, you shall be constrained to justify him, when he executes that sentence. Ye shall precipitate your own sentence, and rather wonder at his clemency in suffering you so long.
This way of the Lord is equal and right in itself, but it is not so to every one. The just man shall walk in it and not stumble; as in an even way, nothing shall offend him, Hosea xiv. last verse. Yet for as equal and straight as it is, many other transgressors shall fall therein; they stumble even in the noon-day and highway, where no offence is. It is true, often his own people stumble in it, as David, Psal. lxxiii, and xciv. David's foot was slipping, yet a secret hold was by mercy. It often requires a wise and prudent man to understand it, because his footsteps are in the deep waters; Psal. lxxxvii.19. His way is in the depths of the sea, his paths in great waters, so that men must wait till the Lord expound his own ways, till he come out of the waters, and make them a dry plain. And this is our advantage; the word says, "He is near thee, in thy mouth, and neither above, nor beneath in the depths, that thou needest neither descend nor ascend to know it," Deut. xxx.11-14. But his way is in the depths, and his footsteps are not known, so that we ought to hold us by the word till he expound his work. His word will teach us our duty, and we may commit unto him his own way; the word is a commentary to expound his ways. David lost the sight of God's footsteps and was like to wander, till he came to the sanctuary, and this shined as a candle in a dark place; he learned there to know the unknown footsteps and to follow them. By all means embrace the word, and be satisfied with it, when ye do not comprehend his work; it teaches as much in general, as may put us to quietness; all his ways are judgment, just and true in all his ways is the King of saints. If I do not comprehend how it is, -- no wonder, for he makes darkness his covering, he spreads over his most curious engines and pieces of workmanship a vail of darkness for a season; and "who can behold him when he hides himself?" says Job; and though he withdraw the covering, yet what am I? "Who can by searching find out God?" If I shall examine his way, what rule shall I take to try it by? If I measure by my shallow capacity, or by my crooked way, shall I have any just account of it? Will my arm measure the heavens as his doth? If I examine it, or try it by himself, he is high as heaven and unsearchable. Therefore it becomes us to hearken to his word, and believe its sentence of his work, when reason cannot comprehend it.
One thing, if it were deeply engraven on our hearts, would be a principle, of settling our spirits, in all the mysteries and riddles of providence, -- the knowledge and faith of his sovereignty, of his highness, and of his wisdom. Should he give account of his matters to us? He is wise and knows his works; but is he bound to make us know them? His ways are above our thoughts and ways, as heaven is above the earth, Isa. lv. And therefore, O grasshopper in the earth, that dwelleth in tabernacles of clay, do not presume to model his ways according to thy conceptions. One thing is certain, -- this is enough for faith, "all his ways are mercy and truth to those that keep his covenant and his testimonies," Psal. xxv.10. And there is no way or path of God so far above our reach, and unsearchable, as his mercy in pardoning sin; and this is only the satisfying answer to all your objections and scruples. In these ye do but vent your own thoughts: but says the Lord, my thoughts are above your thoughts, as heaven above earth. Ye but speak of your own ways, but my ways are far above yours, they are not measured by your iniquity; and therefore, David subjoins, Psal. xxv. ver.11, "Pardon my iniquity, for it is great."