We doubt this people would take well with such a description of themselves as Moses gives. It might seem strange to us, that God should have chosen such a people out of all the nations of the earth, and they to be so rebellious and perverse, if our own experience did not teach us how free his choice is, and how long-suffering he is, and constant in his choice. His people are called to a conformity with himself, "Be ye holy, for I am holy," (Lev. chap. xix. and xx.) and to a deformity and separation from the rest of the world in their conversation, from whom God had separated them in profession and privileges, Lev. xviii.24. But behold what unlikeness there is between God and his people. If ye were to paint out to the life a heathen people, you needed no other image or pattern to copy at but this same description of this people. It is this that makes Moses in the preface turn to the heavens and earth, and call them to hear his song, and Isaiah begins his preaching thus, "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, &c." A strange thing it must be, that senseless creatures are called to wonder at. It must surpass all the wonders and prodigies of nature and art. And what is that? "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me," &c. If we consider what this people seemed once to be, and thought themselves to be, we may easily know how they corrupted themselves. If ye look on them at one time, (Exod. xix.8, Deut. v.27,) ye would call them children. There was never a fairer undertaking of obedience than this, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do," so that the Lord commends them for speaking well, verse 28, "They have well said all that they have spoken," verse 29, "O that there were such an heart in them!" But compare all this people's practice with this profession, and you shall find it exceeding contrary; they indeed corrupted themselves, though they got warning to take heed of it. "Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves, lest ye corrupt yourselves," Deut. iv.15, 16. But alas, it was within them that destroyed them; there was not such a heart in them as to hear and obey, but they undertake, being ignorant of their own deceitful hearts, which were desperately wicked. And therefore, behold what corruption ensued and followed upon such a professed resolution. They never sooner promised obedience, but they disobeyed; they did abominable works, and did no good, and this is to corrupt their way, Psalm xiv.1, &c. We need not instance this longer in this people, we ourselves are a sufficient proof of it. We may make this song our own, "we have corrupted ourselves." Once we had a fair show of zeal for God, of love and desire of reformation of life, many solemn undertakings were that we should amend our ways and doings, but what is the fruit of all? Alas, we have corrupted ourselves more than they. Israel promised, but we vowed and swore to the Most High, reformation and amendment of life in our conversations and callings. Lay this rule to our practices, and are we not a perverse and crooked generation? Oh! that we were more affected with our corruptions, and were more sensible of them, then we could not choose but mourn for our own and the land's departing from God. Did not every man vow and swear to the most high God to endeavour reformation of his life, even a personal reformation?(265) But alas, where is it? "He that is filthy" is "filthy still." Nay, which is worse, the evil man waxeth worse and worse. There is a great noise of a public reformation of ordinances and worship, but alas, the deformation of life and practice outcries all that noise. Nay, certainly all that is done in the public, must come to no account before God since our practices outcry it. Public reformation is abomination, where personal corruptions do not cease. This made the Jews' solemn days hateful, their hands were "full of blood." Isa. i.15. All that ye have spent on the public will never be reckoned, since ye will not consecrate your lives to God, will not give your lusts up to him. Ye are his enemies in the mean time, though you account yourselves religion's friends. I beseech you consider your ways. Would any of us have thought to have seen such profanity, mocking of godliness, and ignorance in Scotland in so short a time? Nay, it is to be feared that the day is not far off, when ye will corrupt yourselves, and do abominable things, yea, defile yourselves as ill as the nations that know not God.
Every man useth to impute his faults to something beside himself. Ere men take with their own iniquity, they will charge God that gave no more grace, but if men knew themselves, they would deduce their corruption and destruction both from one fountain, that is, from themselves. Ignorance of ourselves maketh us oft undertake fair, and promise so well on our own head. What was the fountain of this people's corruption, and apostatizing from their professions? The Lord hints at it, Deut. v.29, &c. "Oh that they had such a heart." Alas, poor people, ye know not yourselves, that speak so well. I know thee better than thou dost thyself, I will declare unto thee thy own thought, thou hast not such a heart as to do what thou sayest; there is a desperate wicked heart within thee, that will destroy thee by lying unto thee. If thou knewest this fountain of original corruption, thou wouldest despair of doing, and say, I cannot serve the Lord. Now here is the fountain of the land's corruption this day. Why is our way corrupted? Because our hearts within were not cleansed, and because they were not known. If we had dried up the fountain, the streams had ceased, but we did only dam it up, and cut off some streams for a season; we set up our resolutions and purposes as an hedge to hold it in, but the sea of the heart's iniquity, that is above all things, hath overflowed it, and defiled our way more than in former times. Ye thought upon no other thing, but that presently ye would be all changed people, and would reform without more ado, -- and thus it is with you in all your public repentances. But alas! you know not yourselves, it is still within you which will yet corrupt you, and it was within us that hath undone us, we were too confident of ourselves, and it is no wonder that the Lord suffers us to prove ourselves, that we may know what is in our heart. Now, therefore, since ye have so often tried it, I beseech you follow not such a way again. Ye are called to deny yourselves, and to follow Christ and this is a great part of it, that ye may never expect for any good within yourselves, or the helping of any evil. "In me is thy help found." Look to the fountain of life, Jesus Christ, and despair of your own hearts, for they are desperately wicked, so wicked, that if ye knew them, ye would despair of them, and give them over to another hand, who can create a new heart within you. Ye use to impute your backslidings to the times, to temptations, to company, and such like. This is the way that men shift the challenges of sin: the drunkard puts it on his companion, the servant on his master that led him wrong, the people put rulers in the fault, and absolve themselves, and rulers put one another in the wrong, and absolve themselves. But, alas! all of us are ignorant of ourselves; it is not times nor temptations that corrupt us, but ourselves. No man is tempted, saith James, of God, "but every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed," James i.14. Temptation were no temptation, if our hearts were not wicked hearts. Nay, many of us are ready to tempt temptations, to provoke the devil to temptations; we cast ourselves open to temptations. Temptations find lust within, and lust within is the mother to conceive sin, if temptation be the father. Times do not bring evils along with them, they do but discover what was hid before. All the evils and corruptions you now see among us, where were they in the day of our first love, when we were as a loving and beloved child? Have all these risen up of late? No certainly, all that you have seen and found were before, though they did not appear; before they were in the root, now you see the fruit. All the apostacy and profanity that hath been vented in these days, was all shut up within the corners of men's hearts at the beginning. Time and temptation hath but uncovered the heart, and made the inside out, hath but opened a sluice to let out this sea of corruption. It is not bred since, but seen since.
Now so it is with us, we have corrupted ourselves, and so we corrupt ourselves still more. Backsliding cometh on as gray hairs, here and there and is not perceived by beholders. Nemo repente fit turpissimus.(266) No man becometh worst at first. There are many steps between that and good. Corruption comes on men's ways as in fruits, some one part beginneth to alter, and then it groweth worse, and putrifieth and corrupteth the rest of the parts. An apple rots not all at once, so it is with us. Men begin at leisure, but they run post before all be done. In some one step of our way we take liberty and think to keep the rest clean, but when that part is corrupted, "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump," and all followeth: and then he that corrupted himself, is ready to corrupt others. "Children that are corrupters," Isa. i.4. Every one by his example corrupts another, and by corrupting others they again corrupt themselves more. Oh! how infectious an evil is sin, of a pestilentious nature, and truly our hearts are more ready to receive such impressions, than either a world or a devil is to make them.
"Their spot is not." Why doth the Lord take pleasure to reckon their sins, to describe so abominable a people? Is not this Jacob in whom he saw no iniquity?(267) Is not this Israel, whose transgressions are not known?(268) Certainly if this people would have charged themselves so, he would not have done it. He loves to forget, when we remember our sins, but he must remember them when we forget them. What is the Lord's great controversy with men? Here it is, -- How can ye say or think that ye are not polluted? Or if ye take with such a general, yet, why is not the conviction of your sin and misery so deeply engraven, as to pursue you out of all hope of remedy in yourselves, (Jer. ii.22, 23)? "And therefore is thine iniquity marked before me, saith the Lord." God hath determined not to wrong his justice. If men should go away unpunished and unjudged both, where were his righteousness? If there were no record of men's transgressions, were he a righteous judge? Therefore, those who do not judge themselves must leave judgment to him, for once the mouth of all flesh must be stopped, and all become guilty before God. Why pleads the Lord with man? Because man says, "I am innocent, I have not sinned, his anger will turn away," Jer. ii.35. Will any speak so in terms? No indeed, but the Lord constructs so of the most part, because they do more consider the wrongs done to them, than their own wrongs done to God. All men confess the general, that they are sinners, but who searches and tries his way to find out particulars? And in as far as ye do not charge yourselves with particular guiltiness, until ye be afraid of his anger, as long as the consideration or your sins is so superficial and shallow, that ye apprehend no danger of wrath, or immunity from it, certainly God will plead with you. Justice must so far be glorified, as once to conclude you under the sentence of death; if ye do it not now, then ye leave God to be your judge and party. But if any man shall take with his guiltiness, till his mouth be stopped, and condemn himself in God's sight, I say, mercy and grace in God must not be wronged, he that judges himself shall not be judged of the Lord. What a fair offer is this to you all the Lord offers to you! If ye will in time be your own judges, I will resign my judgment to you. If you will in earnest pass the sentence, I will neither pass it nor execute it. If ye come to the Mediator, Christ Jesus, to escape from the wrath of a judge, you shall meet with a reconciled Father, and with such love in him as shall hide a multitude of offences. O the depth, and height, and breadth of that love! Well then, it shall be a sea to cast your offences into, that shall drown them. Had not his people many spots? Is there any man can say, I have cleansed my heart from iniquity? No, not one. Yet behold, he sees no spots in his people. He doth not make them his people because spotless, but he seeth them spotless, because he makes them his people. There is no covering that can hide men's uncleanness from his piercing eye, but one even Jesus Christ his righteousness, and "Blessed is he whose sins are covered." If this covering were spread over the mouth of all hell, then hell should have a covering from his eyes. If ye therefore strip yourselves naked of your own pretences and leaves, and think not yourselves secure under any created shelter. If ye hide not your iniquity, then it shall be hid indeed, here is a covering that shall hide it from his eyes. There is no spot so heinous, none so ingrained, but the blood of Jesus can wash it as perfectly out, as if it had never been, Isa. i.16, 17. Though your spots were such as are not incident to his children, yet this blood cleanses from one and all, it is of an infinite nature. But though it be so, that the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin, that there is a fountain opened in the house of David for sin and for uncleanness, for sin and separation, for such heinous offences as may separate people even from the congregation of the Lord's people, yet there are some sins, some spots, that ordinarily his people are not defiled with, and in this respect they may be called holy and undefiled in the way. There are some marks and characters of unregenerated men so legible and express, that we may even read from men's conversation, that they are not the children of God. Though the blood of Christ wash from all, yet the child of God ordinarily is kept from some kind of spots, so that if a man shall be spotted with them it is no marvel he question if he be a child or not. There are two, which I think so gross and unclean spots that I cannot conceive how a soul washen by Jesus Christ can be defiled with them. One is, a course of profanity. The common walk of the multitude is so gross and profane, so void of God and godliness, that it witnesseth to their face that they are not the sons of God. "He that is born of God sinneth not; he maketh not sin his way and trade to walk into, and please himself into." What are the most part of you, I pray you? Is your spot like the spot of his children? Do not ye declare your sin as Sodom, ye drunkards, who wallow in it daily, and though ye profess repentance, yet never amend? Ye who have a custom of swearing and blaspheming his holy name, do not ye carry in your forehead a spot that is not like his children? The child of God may fall in many particulars, but it is not the spot of a child to continue in them to add drunkenness to thirst, and yet to dream of escaping wrath. I pray you, consider it, for it is of great moment. Do ye carry such a black mark, -- the devils mark? O do not think yourselves safe. May not this persuade you? Do but compare yourselves in your converse and walk with an heathen without the church. Set aside your public profession of coming to the church, and hearing the word, and church privileges, and is the difference visible between you and them? Many of you pray no more in secret or in your families than they. Ye curse and swear as they, ye are covetous and worldly as they. If ye can, do but draw a line of difference, and if ye cannot, then I ask, what are ye? Is not this the spot of bastards? Another spot is, hatred of godliness and the godly. This is indeed the most lively image of the devil: who hates his brother is of the devil. He that hates the Son, can he love the Father? he that hates him that is begotten, hates also him that begat him and he that loves him that begat, loves him that is begotten. Now, how can he be begotten of God, who hates that nature he is said to partake of -- who hates him that is begotten? I wonder that many of your consciences are not touched with this? How can ye imagine ye are children of God, when there are none of your neighbours that your heart riseth more against, that ye can less abide, than those who seek God most diligently, whose conversation is different from the worlds? Do not flatter yourselves, as if it were hypocrisy ye hated. No, no ye can agree with profanity, and how can ye hate hypocrisy? Ye can agree with a profane hypocrite -- with a profane man, that feigns and dissembles repentance but if once he were so thoroughly changed, as to hate his former way, and forsake it, then your antipathy beginneth. What a ridiculous thing is it for profanity to take upon it to censure hypocrisy! Certainly if profanity cast out with hypocrisy, it must be because it hath a form of godliness, which it so much detesteth. It is a strange hatred at godliness that a profane man hath, that he cannot abide the very shadow of it. I beseech you who love not holiness in your own persons, who hate to be reformed yourselves, do not add this height of sin to it, as to hate it in others also. If ye be not godly yourselves, do not add this declared manifest character of a child of the devil to it, to hate godliness in others. There were some hope of you, if ye held it in reverence and estimation where ye saw it. There are many other spots not incident to his children, as this, that men will not take with their sin and the curse. It is a great difficulty to convince the most part of men how miserable they are, how void of God. All the world will not put them out of a good opinion of themselves, and I think this hath been the spot of this people, they would not take with their guiltiness -- a stubborn hearted people, wholehearted. There needs no more to declare a number of you not to be God's children, but this, -- ye have lived all your time in the opinion and belief that ye were God's children, that ye believed in him, ye never saw yourselves lost and miserable. This was the spot of this people that they esteemed themselves children, though they had many spots that testified to their face that they were no children. They waxed worse and worse, neither mercies nor judgments amended them. "When he slew them," it may be, "they sought him, and flattered him with their mouth, but their hearts were not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant," Psal. lxxviii.34. Ye would have thought them a godly people, while under the rod for a season, but all that was but extorted and pressed out by violence of affliction, as the groans of a beast under a burden. But a little time declared that it was but flattery, though they thought themselves ingenuous, and therefore they returned to their old provocations, as a sow to the puddle, or a dog to his vomit. And is not this our spot, even the spot of great and small? If any would look upon us in our engagements and vows under trouble, we appear like his people, a praying, repenting, and believing people,(269) but how quickly doth all this prove flattery? Do we not still return to our old ways that we have been exemplarily punished for, and which we so solemnly engaged against? The heat of the furnace dieth out, and they wax colder and harder, a little time wears away all their tenderness. Every man seeks his own things, and no man seeks the things of Jesus Christ. This was this people's sin and spot. "Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation." When their heads were lifted up to government, when they were raised out of the waters of affliction and poverty, then they forgat God, they oppressed the poor and needy, eat up his people as bread, and could not abide to have their faults told them, they said to the seers, "See not, and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things," &c. Isa. xxx.10. I think likewise, that oppression is not the spot of his children, whoever uses it. And covetousness presses men to it, when power is in their hand to compass it. This is a vile spot, unworthy of any ruler, let be(270) a Christian. It was abhorred among Pagans. O but it cries to heaven, saith the Scripture, it hath a double cry when other sins cry once! The heinousness of it crieth once, and the poor people cry again, and both these come up to the ears of the Lord of hosts, nay, it hath the cry of murder, and another beside. He that is greedy of gain, is said to take away the life of the owners thereof, Prov. i, 19. So he is a murderer before God, and the poor man's blood crieth for vengeance, and then himself seconds it either by prayer, or crying out for misery, Job xxxv.9. All men's prayers and professions will not outcry these two. The people's many prayers could not be heard, (Isa. i.15), because their hands were "full of blood," which had a louder cry than their prayers. The poor also oppressing the poor, is like a sweeping rain that leaves nothing behind it.
It is read in the margin, "that they are not his children, -- that is their blot." And indeed it is so. It is a great blot and stain in the face of any man whoever he be, that he is not born of God -- that he can reckon kindred to none but Adam. But what indignity is it and disgrace, for a people professing his name, yet to have no other generation, to reckon no higher than the earth and the earthly. What is now the great blot of our visible church? Here it is, the most part are not God's children, but called so; and it is the greater blot that they are called so, and are not.(271) O poor saints, esteem your honour and high privilege; ye have received this, to be the sons of God! It is no blot to you that you are poor and despised in the world; but it is and shall be an eternal blot to the great and rich, and wise in the world, that they are not the children of God. Christianity is no blot, though it be in reproach among men, but it is really the glory and excellency of a man; but the want of it, alas! how doth it abase many high and noble, impoverish many rich, and infatuate many wise! Ye think all of you are the children of God, because ye are in the church, and partake of the ordinances and sacraments; and so did this people. But Moses did not flatter these Jews, but told both princes and people in their face, that they were not children of God, because only Israel in the letter, they had not children's manners. O that it might not be said of the most part of you, that ye are not children of God, and that that is your blot and shame! It is the shame of rulers not to be the children of God. They are wise, they are active, they are noble, but one spot disgraceth all, one fly maketh their ointment to stink, they are not gracious, many of them, but sons of men at the farthest reckoning, are not begotten again to a lively hope. "Not many wise, not many noble, not many rich." The scantiness of gracious men is the spot of judicatories,(272) that there are many children of the world, but few children of light in them. O how beautiful and glorious would judicatories be, if all the members were children of light! What glory would there be, if all of them did shine and enlightened one another! But what beauty or comeliness, what majesty can be in rulers or judicatures, when the image of God is not in them! This is also the spot of assemblies, synods, presbyteries, that there are few godly ministers. Alas, that this complaint should be, even among those whose office it is to beget many children to God! How few of them are begotten, or have the image of their Father! And thus church assemblies have no beauty, such as the courts of Jesus Christ should have. O that we were in love with Christianity and grace; that it were our grand question, how shall I be put among the children? The Lord seems to wonder at it, and make a question of it, How can such as we be put among the children? Jer. iii.19. But he answers it himself, "Thou shalt call me, My Father, and shall not turn away from me." There is no more to do, but to take with(273) your wanderings and wrongs done to God, embrace him in Jesus Christ, and he becomes your Father; and if ye be children, sure ye will resolve to abide in your Father's house, and turn no more to a present world, or your former lusts.
They are a "perverse and crooked generation." What pleasure hath the Lord in speaking thus, when he upbraids none? Certainly, in a manner it is drawn out of him. Would he object our faults, if we did not defend them by obstinacy? Perverseness and crookedness is obstinacy and incorrigibleness against mercies and judgments, -- "that that which is crooked cannot be made straight," saith Solomon. Then doth the Lord take notice of sins, when men refuse to return, and so maintain their sins. It is this which heightens provocations, and makes out the controversy, -- perverseness in sin. It is not ordinary common infirmities that the Lord punisheth, either in a land or person; but when infirmities are discovered by the light of the word, when the Lord useth means to reclaim men in his providence, and yet no means prevail, then are they reckoned perverse. Now, perverseness is not the spot of his children: the child of God daily bows and folds to him, receives challenges from him, takes with iniquity and yields unto God. O that this title might not be written above the head of this generation deservedly -- "This is a perverse and crooked generation!"