It is strange to think what mercy is mixed with the most wrath like strokes and threatenings. There is no prophet whose office and commission is only for judgment, nay, to speak the truth, it is mercy that premises threatenings. The entering of the law, both in the commands and curses, is to make sin abound, that grace may superabound, so that both rods and threatenings are the messengers of Jesus Christ, to bring sinners to him for salvation. Every thing should be measured and named by its end, so, call threatenings promises, call rods and judgments mercies, name all good, and good to you, if so be you understand the purpose of God in these. The shortest preaching in the Bible useth to express itself what it means, though it be never so terrible. This is a sad and lamentable beginning of a prophet's ministry, the first word is, to the heavens and to the earth(282) a weighty and horrible regrate(283) of this people, as if none of them were to hear, as if the earth could be more easily affected than they. The creatures are taken witnesses by God of their ingratitude, and then who shall speak for them? If heaven and earth be against them, who shall speak good of them? Will their own conscience? No certainly, it will, in the day of witnessing and judging, precipitate its sentence, and spare the judge the labour of probation, "a man's enemy shall be within his own house," though now your consciences agree with you. Nay, why doth the Lord speak to them? Because the people consider not, because consciences have given over speaking to them, therefore the Lord directs his word to the dumb earth. Yet how gracious is he, as to direct a second word even to the people, though a sad word? It is a complaint of iniquity and backsliding, and such as cannot be uttered, yet it is mercy to challenge them, yea, to chasten them. If the Lord would threaten a man with pure and unmixed judgments, if he would frame a threatening of a rod of pure justice, I think it should be this, "I will no more reprove thee, nor chasten thee," and he is not far from it, when he says, "Why shall ye be stricken any more?" &c. ver.5. As if he would say, It is in vain now to send a rod, ye receive no correction. I sent the rod, that it might open your hearts and ears to the word, and seal your instruction, -- but to what purpose is it? -- Ye grow worse and worse. Well, the prophet compares here sin and judgment, and the one far surmounts the other. Ye would think a desolate country, burnt cities, desolation made by strangers, a sufficient recompense of their corruption and misorders, of their forsaking and backsliding. Ye would think now, if your present condition and the land's pressed you to utter Jeremiah's lamentation, a sadder than which is not almost imaginable, ye would think, I say, that you had received double for all your sins. And yet, alas! how are your iniquities of infinite more desert? All that were mercy, which is behind infinite and eternal punishment. That there is room left for complaint, is mercy, that there is a remnant left, is mercy.
Now, to proclaim unto this people, and convince them that their judgment was not severe, he gives them one word from God. And, indeed, it is strange, that when the rod is sent, because of the despising of the word, that after the despising of both word and rod, another word should come. Always this word is a convincing word, a directing word, and a comforting word. These use to be conjoined, and if they be not always expressed, we may lawfully understand them. We may join a consolation to a conviction, and close a threatening with a promise, if we take with a threatening. Jonah's preaching expressed no more but a threatening and denunciation of judgment, but the people understood it according to God's meaning and made it a rule of direction, and so a ground of consolation. How inexcusable are we, who have all these expressed unto us, and often inculcated, "line upon line, and precept upon precept," and yet so often divide the word of truth, or neglect it altogether. Most part fancy a belief of the promises and neither consider threatenings nor commands. Some believing the threatenings, are not so wise for their own salvation as to consider what God says more, but take it for his last word. Shall not Nineveh rise up in judgment against this generation? They repented at one preaching, and that a short one, and in appearance very defective, and yet we have many preachings of the Son of God and his apostles in this Bible, -- both law and gospel holden forth distinctly, and these spoken daily in our audience, and yet we repent not.
This is a strange preface going before this preaching, and more strange in that it is before the first preaching of a young prophet. He speaks both to rulers and people, but he gives them a name such as certainly they would not take to themselves, but seeing he is to speak the word of the Lord, he must not flatter them, as they did themselves. Is not this the Lord's people, his portion and inheritance which he chose out of the nations? Are not these rulers the princes of Judah, and the Lord's anointed? Were they not both in covenant with God, and separated from the nations both in privileges and profession? How then are they "rulers of Sodom" and "people of Gomorrah" likened to the worst of the nations, and not likened to them but spoken of as if they were indeed all one. When ye hear the preface ye would think that the prophet was about to direct his speech to Sodom and Gomorrah, but when you look upon the preaching ye find he means Judah and Jerusalem, and these are the rulers and people he speaks of. Certainly, according as men walk, so shall they be named and ranked. External privileges and profession may give a name before men, and separate men from men before the world, but they give no name, make no difference, before God, if all other things be not suitable to these. "He is not a Jew, saith Paul, who is one outwardly," but he who hath that circumcision in the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter. Outward profession and signs may have praise of men, but it is this that hath praise of God, Rom. ii.28, 29. Circumcision and uncircumcision, baptism or unbaptism, availeth nothing, but a new creature. A baptized Christian and an unbaptized Turk are alike before God, if their hearts and ways be one, Gal. vi.15. All Christians profess faith, and glory in baptism, but it avails nothing except it work by love, Gal. v.6.
Now, what name shall we give you? How shall our rulers be called? How shall ye, the people, be called? If we shall speak the truth, we fear it will instruct you not, but irritate you, yet the truth we must speak, whether ye choose or whether ye refuse. You would all be called Christians, the people of God, but we may not call you so, except we would flatter you, and deceive you by flattering, and murder you by deceiving. We would gladly name you Christians in the spirit, saints chosen and precious. O that we might speak so to rulers and people! but, alas, we may not call you so except ye were so indeed, we may not call you Christians lest ye believe yourselves to be so. And yet, alas, ye will think yourselves such, speak what we can. Would you know your name then? I perceive you listen to hear what it is. But understand, that it is your name before God, which bears his account of you. What matter of a name among men? It is often a shadow without substance, a name without the thing. If God name you otherwise, you shall have little either honour or comfort in it, when men bless you and praise you, if the Lord reckon you among the beasts that perish, are ye honoured indeed? Well, then, hear your name before God. What account hath he of you? Ye rulers are rulers of Sodom, and ye people are people of Gomorrah. And if ye think this a hard saying, I desire you will notice the way that the prophet Isaiah takes to prove his challenge against them, and the same may be alleged against rulers and people now. We need no proof but one of both, see ver.23, -- "Thy princes are rebellious, because, though they hear much against their sins, yet they never amend them, they pull away their shoulder, if they hear, yet they harden their heart." Is there any of them hath set to pray in their families, though earnestly pressed? Well, what follows? "Every one loves gifts." Covetousness, then, and oppression proves rulers to be rulers of Sodom. Shall then houses stand, "shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar?" Jer. xxii.15. No certainly, men shall one day take up a proverb against them. "Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his, and ladeth himself with thick clay, they shall be for booties to the Lord's spoilers," Hab. ii.6. Woe to them, for they have consulted shame to their houses, and sinned against their own soul. Their design is to establish their house, and make it eminent, but they take a compendious way to shame and ruin it. Alas, it is too public, that rulers seek their own things, for themselves and their friends, and for Jesus and his interests they are not concerned. But are ye, the people, any whit better? O that it were so! But alas, when ye are involved in the same guiltiness, I fear ye partake of their plagues! What are ye then? "People of Gomorrah." Is not the name of God blasphemed daily because of you? Are not the abominations of the Gentiles the common disease of the multitude, and the very reproach of Christianity? Set apart your public services and professions, and is there any thing behind in your conversation, but drunkenness, lying, swearing, contention, envy, deceit, wrath, covetousness, and such like? Have not the multitude of them been as civil, and carried themselves as blamelessly, and without offence, as the throng of our visible church? What have ye more than they? It is true, ye are called Christians, and ye boast in it. Ye know his will, and can speak of points of religion, can teach and instruct others, and so have, as it were, in your minds a form and method of knowledge, -- the best of you are but such. But I ask, as Paul did the Jews in such a case, "Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that makest a boast of the law, through breaking of it, dishonourest thou God?" Rom. ii.17-23. Why then, certainly all thy profession and baptism avail nothing, and will never extract thee from the pagans, with whom thou art one in conversation. Thy profession is so far from helping thee in such a case, that it shall be the most bitter ingredient in thy cup of judgment, for it is the greatest aggravation of thy sin, for through it God's name is blasphemed. If they had not known, they had not had sin. Pagan's sin is no sin in respect of Christians. If ye consider Christ's sermon, Matt. xi., ye will say Isaiah is a meek and moderate man in regard of him. Isaiah calls them people of Gomorrah, but Christ will have them worse, and their judgment more intolerable than theirs. And that not only the profane of them, but the civil and religious like who believe not in him. Well, then, here is the advantage ye get of your name of Christianity, of your privilege of hearing his word daily, ye who never ponder it, to tremble at it, or to rejoice in it, who cannot be moved either to joy or grief for spiritual things, neither law nor gospel moves the most part of you. I say, here is all your gain, -- ye shall receive a reward with Gentiles and pagans, yea, ye shall be in a worse case than they in the day of the Lord. The civil Christian shall be worse than the profane Turk, and ye shall not then boast that ye were Christians, but shall desire that ye had dwelt in the place where the gospel had never been preached. It is a character of the nations, that they call not on God, and of heathen families, that they pray not to him, (Jer. x.25,) and wrath must be poured on them. What, then, are the most part of you? Ye neither bow a knee in secret nor in your families, to God. Your time is otherwise employed, ye have no leisure to pray twice or thrice a day alone, except when ye put on your clothes ye utter some ordinary babblings. Ye cannot be driven to family worship. Shall not God rank you in judgment with those heathen families? Or shall it not be more tolerable for them than for you? And are not the most part of you every one given to covetousness, your heart and eye after it, seeking gain and advantage more than the kingdom of heaven? Doth not every one of you, as you have power in your hand, oppress one another, and wrong one another? Now, our end in speaking thus to you, is not to drive you to desperation. No, indeed, but as there was a word of the Lord sent to such by Isaiah, so we bring a word unto you. That which ruins you, is your carnal confidence. Ye are presumptuous as this people, and cry, "The temple of the Lord, the work of the Lord," &c. as if these would save you. Know, therefore, that all these will never cover you in the day of wrath. Know there is a necessity to make peace with God, and your righteousness must exceed the righteousness of a profession, and external privileges and duties, or else ye shall be as far from the kingdom of heaven as Sodom and Gomorrah. We speak of rulers' sins, that ye may mourn for them, lest ye be judged with them. If ye do not mourn for them in secret, know that they are your sins, ye are companions with them. Many fret, grudge, and cry out against oppression, but who weeps in secret? Who prays and deprecates God's wrath, lest it come upon them? And while it is so, the oppression of rulers becomes the sin of the oppressed themselves.
"Hear the word of the Lord." It were a suitable preparation for any word that is spoken, to make it take impression, if it were looked on "as the word of the Lord," and "law of our God." And truly no man can hear aright unless he hear it so. Why doth not this word of the Lord return with more fruit? Why do not men tremble or rejoice at it? Certainly, because it is not received as God's word. There is a practical heresy in our hearts, which rather may be called atheism -- we do not believe the Scriptures. I do not say men call it in question, but I say, ye believe them not. It is one thing to believe with the heart, another thing not to doubt of it. Ye doubt not of it, not because ye do indeed believe it, but because ye do not at all consider it. It is one thing to confess with the mouth, and another thing to believe with the heart, for ye confess the Scriptures to be God's word, not because ye believe them, but because ye have received such a tradition from your fathers, have heard it from the womb unquestioned. O that this were engraven on your heart -- that these commands, these curses, these promises are divine truths, the words and the oath of the Holy One! If every word of truth came stamped with his authority, and were received in the name of God himself, what influence would it have on the spirits and the practices of men? This would be a great reformer, would reform more in a month, than church and state hath done these many years. Why are rulers and people not converted and healed for all that is spoken? Here it is, "Who believes our report?" Who believes that our report is thy own testimony, O Lord? When ministers threaten you in God's name, -- if his authority were stamped on the threatening, if men did seriously apprehend it were God's own voice, would they not tremble? When the gospel and the joyful sound comes forth, if he apprehended that same authority upon it, which ye who are convinced believe to be in the law, would ye not be comforted? Finally, I may say, it is this point of atheism, of inconsideration and brutishness, that destroys the multitude, makes all means ineffectual to them, and retards the progress of Christians. Men do not consider, that this word is the word of the eternal, and true, and faithful God, and that not one jot of it will fail. Here is a point of reformation I would put you to, if ye mind indeed to reform, let this enter into your hearts and sink down, that the law and gospel is the word of God, and resolve to come and hear preachings so, as the voice "of Jesus Christ, the true and faithful witness." If ye do not take it so now, yet God will judge you so at the end. "He that despiseth you, despiseth me, and he that hears not you, hears not me." If ye thought ye had to do with God every Sabbath, would ye come so carelessly, and be so stupid and inconsiderate before the Judge of all the earth? But ye will find in the end, that it was God whom ye knew not.