Here they join the punishment with the deserving cause, their uncleanness and their iniquities, and so take it upon them, and subscribe to the righteousness of God's dealing.
We would say this much in general -- First, Nobody needeth to quarrel God for his dealing. He will always be justified when he is judged. If the Lord deal more sharply with you than with others, you may judge there is a difference between your condition and theirs, as well as in the Lord's dispensation, even as this people do, ver.5, 6. It is a strange saying, Lam. iii.33. The Lord "doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men." That is, as we conceive, the Lord hath not such pleasure in trampling on men, as he might do on the dust of his feet. Though he be absolute sovereign Lord of the creature, and men be but as the dust of his feet, and he may do with his own what he pleaseth, and none ask, what dost thou? yet the Lord useth not to walk according to his own absoluteness, -- he hath another ordinary rule whereby he worketh, a rule of justice and equity. Especially in the punishing of men, he useth not to afflict men for his pleasure, as tyrants use to destroy their people. The Lord exerciseth his sovereignty another way, and if he be absolute and unlimited in any thing, it is in showing mercy on men. But in judgment, there may be still some reason gotten for it in the creature beside the will of God; so that, to speak with reverence of his majesty, strokes are often drawn out of his hands. He getteth so much provocation ere he strike, and holdeth off so long, -- threateneth, and giveth warning thus before strokes, as if it were against his will to lay on, as if his heart were broken with us.
Secondly, If men knew themselves and their own sinfulness, they would not challenge God with unrighteousness, but put their mouth in the dust, and keep silence. And it is from this ground, that this people do not charge God. Sin is of such infinite desert and demerit, because against infinite majesty, that God cannot go beyond it in punishment; and therefore Jeremiah, when he is wading out of the deep waters of sore temptation and sad discouragement, pitcheth and casteth anchor at this solid ground, "It is of the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed," Lam. iii.22. What! do I mean thus to charge God, as if he dealt rigorously? No, no: It is his mercy that a remnant is left, -- our strokes are not pure justice, our cup is mixed, mercy is the greatest part. Whatever is behind utter destruction, whatever is below the desert of sin, which is hell and damnation, all this must be reckoned up to mercy. That I am yet alive, and so may have hope, this is mercy, "For why should a living man complain?" ver.39. That a rod is come to awake us out of security, this is mercy, for we might have slept to death. And this wholesome counsel got Job of his friends, -- to stay his murmuring and grudging at God's dispensations, Job. xi.6. Why dost thou complain, Job? Know but thy sins, and there shall be no room for complaint. Look but unto God's secrets of wisdom, and his law, and see it is double to what you have known, -- your obligation is infinitely more than you thought upon, and then how great and numberless must iniquities be? "Know, therefore," saith Zophar, "God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquities deserve." God exacteth not according to law, he craveth not according to the obligation, but bids write down fifty in his bill of affliction, when an hundred are written in our bill of deserving. So then, complain not, -- it is mercy that life is saved. Are you men, and living men? Wonder at this, and wonder not that you are not wealthy, are not honourable, seeing you are sinners: all that came on Jerusalem maketh not Ezra think God out of bounds, chap. ix.13. As we are less than the least of God's mercies, and all our goodness deserveth none of them, so is the least sin greater than the greatest of all his judgments, and deserveth still more. Nay, if there were no more but original corruption common to men, and the filthiness that accompanieth men's good actions, yet is God righteous in punishing severely, and this people acknowledge it so. You use to inquire what sin hath such a man done, when so terrible judgments come on? Nay, inquire no more; -- he is a sinner, and it is mercy there is not more, and it is strange mercy that it is not so with you also. You use to speak foolishly when God's hand is upon you: I hope I have my punishment here, I hope to suffer here for my sins. Poor souls, if God make you suffer for sins, it will be another matter. Though now your punishment be above your strength and patience, yet it is below your sin. As sin hath all evil in it, so must hell have all punishment in it. The torment of the gravel, racking with the stone, and such like, are but play to hell, -- these are but drops of that ocean that you must drink out, and you shall go out of one hell into a worse; eternity is the measure of its continuance, and the degrees of itself are answerable to its duration. There is much impatience even among God's children under the rod, you vex and torment yourselves, and do well to be angry. Any piece of thwarting dispensation, that goes cross to your humour and inclination, imbitters your spirit against God and maketh you go cross to his providence; how often do your hearts say, Why am I thus? What aileth the Lord at me? But, Christians, learn to study your own deservings, and stop your mouth with that, that you may not speak against heaven. If you knew sin well, you would not wonder at judgments, you would rather wonder that you are out of hell. Know what right God hath over you, and how little use he maketh of it against you. When you repine at a little, shall it not be righteousness with God to exact more, and let you know your deserving better? He that thinketh it rigour in God to exact fifty, it is justice that God crave an hundred. If the law require forty stripes, and he give but one, will you not rather commend and proclaim his clemency, than speak of his cruelty? Wonder that God hath spared us so long. Sin is come to great maturity. As pride is said to blossom and bud into a rod, so all sins are blossomed and budded into the very harvest, that the sickle may be put in. If we should have cities desolate, and our land consumed, if we should take up Jeremiah's lamentation, and our case be made parallel to theirs, we have then been punished less than our iniquities deserved.
There are some godless people so black mouthed as to speak against heaven when God correcteth them, they follow the counsel of Job's wife, curse God and die. If God but touch them a little in that which is dearest unto them, they kick against the pricks, and run hard heads with God. As we have known some foolish women, when their only child hath been removed, blaspheme, saying, What can God do more to me? -- let him do what he can. O madness and wickedness of men! Cannot God do more when he casteth them into hell? Thou shalt acknowledge that it is more. Some have left off to seek God and turned profane, because of the Lord's correction but you should know that all that is here is but arles.(309) If God had done his worst, you might think yourselves out of his common, nay, but he hath yet more to do, the full sum is to be paid. It were therefore wisdom yet to make supplication to thy judge.
But, Thirdly, Sins and iniquities have a great influence in the decay of nations and persons, and change of their outward condition, when it is joined with the wind of God's displeasure. The calamity of this people is set down in excellent terms, alluding to a tree in the fall of the leaf. We, saith he, were once in our land as a green tree busked round about with leaves and fruit; our church and state was in a flourishing condition, at least nothing was wanting to make outward splendour and glory. We were immovable in our own land, as David said in his prosperity, "I shall never be moved," so did we dream of eternity in earthly Canaan. But now Lord, we are like a tree in the fall of the leaf, sin hath obstructed the influence of heaven, hath drawn away the sap of thy presence from among us, so that we did fade as a leaf before its fall, we were prepared so by our sins for judgment, -- visible draughts and prognostics of it were to be read upon the condition and frame of all spirits and people, and then did our iniquities raise the storm of thy indignation, and that, like a whirlwind, hath blown the withering leaves off the tree, hath driven us out of our own land, and scattered us among strangers. Sin and uncleanness and the filthiness of our righteousness prepared us for the storm, made us light matter that could resist no judgment, made us matter combustible, and then iniquities, and sin rising up to iniquities, coming to such a degree, hath accomplished the judgment, put fire among us, made us as the birk in Yule even.(310)
First, It is familiar in the Scripture that people in a prosperous condition are compared unto a green tree flourishing, Psal. xxxvii.35. The wicked's prospering is like a green bay tree spreading himself in power, spreading out his arms, as it were, over more lands to conquer them, over more people, to subject them. And this is often the temptation of the godly, and so doth the Lord himself witness of this people, Jer. xi.16, "I have called thy name a green olive tree, fair and of goodly fruit." This was once their name, though it be now changed. Now they are called a fading withering tree without both leaves and fruit. Now their place doth not so much as know them, they are removed as in a moment, Psal. xxxvii.36. And this comparison giveth us to understand something of the nature of human glory and pomp. The fairest and most beautiful excellency in the world, the prosperity of nations and people, is but like the glory of a tree in the spring or summer. Yea, the Scripture useth to undervalue it more than so and the voice commandeth to cry, (Isa. xl.6, 7, 8,) "All flesh is grass and the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field: the one withereth, and the other fadeth, because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it." A tree hath some stability in it, but the flower of the field is but of a month or a week's standing, nay, of one day's standing, for in the morning the grass is green, and the sun scorcheth it ere night, so that one sun's course shall see it both growing green and fading. So is the goodliness, the very perfection, the quintessence, so to speak, and the abstract of creatures' perfections. Outward accommodation in a world is as fading a thing as the flower is, as smoke is, it is so vanishing that it bides but a puff of his breath to blow it to nothing. Job hath a strange expression, "Thou lookest upon me, and I am not," Job vii.8. The Lord needeth no more but stare on the most durable creature, and look it not only out of countenance, but also look it into its first nothing -- look it out of glory, out of being; and therefore you should not trust in those uncertain things, that can take wings and leave you. When you have accommodation outwardly to your mind do not build your nest in it; these leaves of prosperity will not cover you always, there is a time when they will fall. Nations have their winter and their summer, persons have them likewise, as these must change in nature, so must they do in their lot. Heaven only is one day, one spring perpetually blossoming and bringing forth fruit. There is the tree of life that bringeth forth fruit every month, that hath both spring and harvest all the year over. Christians, sit not down under the green tree of worldly prosperity, if you do, the leaves will come down about you, the gourd you trust in may be eaten up in a night, your winter will come on so as you shall forget the former days as if they had never been. We desire you to be armed for changes; are not matters in the kingdom still going about? All things are subject to revolution and change, and every year hath its own summer and winter, so hath it pleased the Lord to set the one over against the other, that man might find nothing after him, Eccl. vii.14. Therefore we would have you cast your accounts so as the former days of darkness may return, and the land be covered with mourning clothes.
But would you know what is the original of the creatures' vanity, what is the moth that eats up the glory and goodliness of creatures' enjoyments? Here it is -- sin and iniquities. It was sin that first subjected the creation to vanity, Rom. viii.19, 20. This inferior world was to have been a durable house for an immortal soul, but sin made man mortal, and the world corruptible, and from this proceed all the tempests and disorders that seem to be in the creation. It is this still -- it is sin that raiseth the storm of the Lord's wrath, which bloweth away the withered leaves of men's enjoyments. Sin drieth up all the sap and sweetness of the creature comforts, -- it maketh the leaves of the tree wither, drives the sap away to the root, hindereth the influence of God's blessing to come through the veins of worldly prosperity. For what is the virtue and sap of creatures? It is even God's blessing, and therefore the bread nourisheth not, but the word and command of God, Matt. iv.4. That is a right unto the creatures by Jesus Christ, when possession of them is entered into by prayer and thanksgiving, for all right is sanctified by these, and it is the iniquities of men that separate between God and them, Isa. lix.2. And when God is separated and divided from enjoyments, they must needs be empty shells and husks, no kernel in them, for God "filleth all in all," is all in all, and remove him, and you have nothing -- your meat and drink is no blessing, your table is a snare, your pleasures and laughter have sadness in them. At least they are like the vanishing blaze of thorns under a pot, and therefore, when God is angry for sin, men's beauty consumeth as before the moth, Psalm xxxix.11. When God beginneth to show himself terrible, because of sin, poor man, though of late spreading his boughs out, yet all falleth, and like ice melteth as before the sun, which just now seemed as solid as stone. O but David was sensible of this and could speak from much experience, Psal. xxxii.3, 4. The anger of the Lord did eat him up, and dried his moisture. It might be read in his countenance, -- all the world could not content him, all the showers of creatures' dropping fatness could not keep sap in him. God's displeasure scorcheth so, nay, is within him, that no hiding-place is to be found in the world, no shadow of a rock among all the creatures in such a weary land. Moses and the people knew this well, Psal. xc.5-9. The Lord's displeasure carried them away, as a flood coming down carrieth all headlong with it, it scorched them and made them wither as grass. When God setteth iniquities before him, and that which is the soul's secret, beginneth to imprint it in visible characters on the rod, and writeth his sin on his punishment, then no wonder that days be spent in vanity and grief, since they are passed over in his wrath, Job xiii.25. Then doth a soul loathe its dainty meat, and then doth the ox low over his fodder. Meat is laid before him, and he cannot touch it, because of the terrors of the Almighty, and that which before he would not once touch, would not enter into terms of communing with, as the Lord's threatenings, he must now sit down and eat them up as his meat, how sorrowful soever, Job vi.4-7.
But, secondly, when sin hath prepared a man for judgment, then, if iniquity be added to sin, this raiseth the storm, and kindleth the fire to consume the combustible matter. When sin hath given many blows, by preparatory corrections at the root of a man's pleasure and credit, it will at length bring on a fatal stroke that shall drive the tree to the ground. There are some preparatory judgments, and some consummatory, some wither the leaf, and some blow it quite off, some make men like the harvest, ripe to put the sickle of judgment into it. The corruption of a land, the universality of it, and formality in worshipping of God, ripeneth a land for the harvest of judgment, -- exposeth it to any storm, -- leaveth it open to the Lord's wrath, so that there is nothing to hold his hand and keep off the stroke, but when the wind ariseth, and iniquities have made it tempestuous, then who may stand? It will sweep away nations and people as a flood, and make their place not to know them, so that there shall be neither leaf nor branch left. There is often a great calm with great provocations, and iniquities cry, "Peace, peace!" But when once the cry of it is gone up to heaven, and hath engaged God's anger against a people or person, then it raiseth a whirlwind that taketh all away. Now, all this belongeth to you, -- we told you the acknowledgment of sin was yours already, and a wonder it is, that the complaint is not ours also. Always this ought to be an admonition and example to us, on whom the ends of the world are fallen. Therefore we would declare this unto you, that sin and iniquities have judgment in the tail. Now you sit at peace, every one in his own dwelling, and spread forth your branches, but is there not much uncleanness among you? We would have you trouble your carnal peace and security, trouble your ease with thoughts of this. And we have ground to give this warning, because, if there were no more but the iniquity of our holy things -- the formality of our service -- the commonness of spirit in worship, this might be enough to raise the storm. You know not for what reasons to be afraid of judgment. Look but on original corruption, look on the defilement of your religious actions, and then find ground sufficient of fading away. Though now you sit still, and seem to be so settled, as you would never be moved, you dream of an eternity here -- you cleave in your hearts to your houses and lands -- you stick as fast to the world, and will not part with it, as a leaf to a tree, yet behold the wind of the Lord may arise, that shall drive you away; take your soul from these things, and then whose shall they be? If you will not fear temporal judgments, yet I pray you fear eternal -- fear hell. May not the Lord shake you off this tree of time, and take you out of the land of the living, to receive your portion? There is not only an universal deadness of spirit on the land, but a profane spirit, -- iniquities, abominable sins, abound. Every congregation is overgrown with scandals,(311) and for you, none may more justly complain. We are all unclean, sin is not in corners but men declare their sin as Sodom, sin is come to the maturity -- defection and apostacy(312) is the temper of all spirits, and, above all, the general contempt and slighting of this glorious gospel, is the iniquity of Scotland,(313) so that we wonder that the withered leaves yet stick to, that the storm is not yet raised, and we blown away. Now, you are like stones -- your hearts as adamants, and cannot be moved with his threatening, the voice of the Lord's word doth not once move you. You sin and are not afraid, nay, but when God's anger shall join with iniquity, and the voice of his rod and displeasure roar, this shall make the mountains to tremble, the rocks to move, and how much more shall it drive away a leaf? You seem now mountains, but when God shall plead, you shall be like the chaff driven to and fro. O how easy a matter shall it be to God to blow a man out of his dwelling place! Sin hath prepared you for it, he needeth no more but blow by his Spirit, or look upon you, and you will not be. You who are now lofty and proud, and maintain yourselves against the word, when you come to reckon with God, and he entereth into judgment, you shall not stand -- you will consume as before the moth; your hearts will fail you -- "who may abide the day of his coming?" It will be so terrible, and so much the more terrible, that you never dreamed of it. If the example of this people will not move you, do but cast your eyes on Ireland,(314) who all do fade as a leaf, and their iniquities have taken them away out of their own land. Shall not the seeing of the eye, nor the hearing of the ear teach you? What security do you promise to yourselves? Have not we sinned as much as they? Were not they his people as well as we? Certainly, since God waiteth longer on you, the stroke must be the greater: provoked patience must turn fury. If you would then prevent this people's complaint, go about such a serious acknowledgment of your sins. "Search your ways, and turn again to the Lord." And let not every man sit down in a general notion of sin, but unbowel it until you see uncleanness, go up to the fountain head, original corruption, go down to all the streams, even the iniquity of holy things. Let every man be particular in the search of his own provocations personal, and every one be public in the general sins of the land, that you may confess out of knowledge and sense, "We are all unclean," &c.