God is the chief good -- good so as nothing is but himself. He is in himself most happy; yea, all good and all true happiness are only to be found in God, as that which is essential to his nature; nor is there any good or any happiness in or with any creature or thing but what is communicated to it by God. God is the only desirable good; nothing without him is worthy of our hearts. Right thoughts of God are able to ravish the heart; how much more happy is the man that has interest in God. God alone is able by himself to put the soul into a more blessed, comfortable, and happy condition than can the whole world; yea, and more than if all the created happiness of all the angels of heaven did dwell in one man's bosom. I cannot tell what to say. I am drowned. The life, the glory, the blessedness, the soul-satisfying goodness that is in God, are beyond all expression.
It was this glory of God, the sight and visions of this God of glory, that provoked Abraham to leave his country and kindred to come after God. The reason why men are so careless of and so indifferent about their coming to God, is because they have their eyes blinded -- because they do not perceive his glory.
God is so blessed a one, that did he not hide himself and his glory, the whole world would be ravished with him; but he has, I will not say reasons of state, but reasons of glory, glorious reasons why he hideth himself from the world and appeareth but to particular ones.
What is heaven without God? But many there be who cannot abide God; no, they like not to go to heaven, because God is there. The nature of God lieth cross to the lusts of men. A holy God, a glorious holy God, an infinitely holy God; this spoils all. But to the soul that is awakened, and that is made to see things as they are, to him God is what he is in himself, the blessed, the highest, the only eternal good, and he without the enjoyment of whom all things would sound but empty in the ears of that soul.
Methinks, when I consider what glory there is at times upon the creatures, and that all their glory is the workmanship of God, "O Lord," say I, "what is God himself?" He may well be called the God of glory, as well as the glorious Lord; for as all glory is from him, so in him is an inconceivable well-spring of glory, of glory to be communicated to them that come by Christ to him. Wherefore, let the glory and love and bliss and eternal happiness that are in God, allure thee to come to him by Christ.
MAJESTY OF GOD.
What is God's majesty to a sinful man, but a consuming fire? And what is a sinful man in himself, or in his approach to God, but as stubble fully dry?
What mean the tremblings, the tears, those breakings and shakings of heart that attend the people of God, when in an eminent manner they receive the pronunciation of the forgiveness of sins at his mouth, but that the dread of the majesty of God is in their sight mixed therewith? God must appear like himself, speak to the soul like himself; nor can the sinner, when under these glorious discoveries of its Lord and Saviour, keep out the beams of his majesty from the eyes of its understanding.
Alas, there is a company of poor, light, frothy professors in the world, that carry it under that which they call the presence of God, more like to antics than sober, sensible Christians; yea, more like to a fool of a play, than those who have the presence of God. They would not carry it so in the presence of a king, nor yet of the lord of their land, were they but receivers of mercy at his hand. They carry it even in their most eminent seasons, as if the sense and sight of God, and his blessed grace to their souls in Christ, had a tendency in it to make men wanton: but indeed it is the most humbling and heart-rending sight in the world; it is fearful.
OBJECTION. But would you not have us rejoice at the sight and sense of the forgiveness of our sins?
ANSWER. Yes; but yet I would have you, and indeed you shall when God shall tell you that your sins are pardoned indeed, "rejoice with trembling;" for then you have solid and godly joy: a joyful heart and wet eyes in this, will stand very well together; and it will be so, more or less. For if God shall come to you indeed, and visit you with the forgiveness of sins, that visit removeth the guilt, but increaseth the sense of thy filth; and the sense of this, that God hath forgiven a filthy sinner, will make thee both rejoice and tremble. O, the blessed confusion which will then cover thy face, while thou, even thou, so vile a wretch, shalt stand before God to receive at his hand thy pardon, and so the first-fruits of thy eternal salvation. "That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God." Jer.33:8, 9; Ezek.16:63.
Since the NAME of God is that by which his nature is expressed, and since he naturally is so glorious and incomprehensible, his name must needs be the object of our fear; and we ought always to have a reverent awe of God upon our hearts at what time soever we think of or hear his name; but most of all when we ourselves do take his holy and fearful name into our mouths, especially in a religious manner; that is, in preaching, praying, or holy conference.
Make mention then of the name of the Lord at all times with great dread of his majesty on your hearts, and in great soberness and truth. To do otherwise is to profane the name of the Lord, and to take his name in vain.
Next to God's nature and name, his service, his instituted worship, is the most dreadful thing under heaven. His name is upon his ordinances, his eye is upon the worshippers, and his wrath and judgment upon those that worship not in his fear.
His presence is dreadful; and not only his presence in common, but his special, yea, his most comfortable and joyous presence. When God comes to bring a soul news of mercy and salvation, even that visit, that presence of God is fearful. When Jacoh went from Beersheba to Haran, he met with God in the way by a dream, in the which he apprehended a ladder set upon the earth, whose top reached to heaven. Now in this dream, at the top of this ladder, he saw the Lord, and heard him speak unto him, not threateningly, not as having his fury come up into his face, but in the most sweet and gracious manner, saluting him with promise of goodness after promise of goodness, to the number of eight or nine. Yet, I say, when he awoke, all the grace that discovered itself in this heavenly vision to him could not keep him from dread and fear of God's majesty: "And Jacob awoke out of his sleep and said, 'Surely the Lord was in this place, and I knew it not;' and he was afraid, and said, 'How dreadful is this place; this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.'"
At another time, when Jacob had that memorable visit from God, in which he gave him power as a prince to prevail with him; yea, and gave him a name, that by his remembering it he might call God's favor the better to his mind; yet, even then and there such dread of the majesty of God was upon him, that he went away wondering that his life was preserved. Man crumbles to dust at the presence of God; yea, though he show himself to us in his robes of salvation. Gen.28:10-17; 32:30.
JUSTICE OF GOD.
You may see a few of the sparks of the justice of God against sin and sinners, by his casting off angels for sin from heaven and hell, by his drowning the old world, by his burning of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes.
God is resolved to have the mastery. God is merciful, and is come forth into the world by his Son, tendering grace unto sinners by the gospel, and would willingly make a conquest over them for their good by his mercy. Now he being come out, sinners like briars and thorns do set themselves against him, and will have none of his mercy. Well, but what says God? Saith he, "Then I will march on. I will go through them, and burn them together. I am resolved to have the mastery one way or another; if they will not bend to me and accept of my mercy in the gospel, I will bend them and break them by my justice in hell-fire."
HOLINESS OF GOD.
The holiness of God makes the angels cover their faces, and crumbles Christians, when they behold it, into dust and ashes.
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD.
The will of God is the rule of all righteousness, neither knoweth he any other way by which he governeth and ordereth any of his actions. Whatsoever God doeth, it is good because he doeth it; whether it be to give grace or to detain it, whether in choosing or refusing. The consideration of this made the holy men of old ascribe righteousness to their Maker, even when yet they could not see the reason of his actions; they would rather stand amazed and wonder at the heights and depths of his unsearchable judgments, than quarrel at the most strange and obscure of them.
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN CONVERSION.
Mercy may receive him that we have doomed to hell, and justice may take hold on him whom we have judged to be bound up in the bundle of life. We, like Joseph, are for setting of Manasseh before Ephraim; but God, like Jacob, puts his hands across, and lays his right hand upon the worst man's head and his left hand upon the best, Gen.48, to the amazement and wonderment even of the best of men.
PROVIDENCE OF GOD IN CONVERSION.
Doth no man come to Jesus Christ by the will, wisdom, and power of man, but by the gift, promise, and drawing of the Father? Then here is room for Christians to stand and wonder at the effectual working of God's providence, that he hath made use of as means to bring them to Jesus Christ.
What was the providence that God made use of as a means, either more remote or near, to bring thee to Jesus Christ? Was it the removing of thy habitation, the change of thy condition, the loss of relations, estate, or the like? Was it the casting of thine eye upon some good book, the hearing thy neighbors talk of heavenly things, the beholding of God's judgments as executed upon others, or thine own deliverance from them, or thy being strangely cast under the ministry of some godly man? O take notice of such providence or providences. They were sent and managed by mighty power to do thee good. God himself hath joined himself to this chariot, yea, and so blessed it that it failed not to accomplish the thing for which it was sent.
CONDESCENSION OF GOD.
Notwithstanding there is such a revelation of God in his word, in the book of creatures, and in the book of providences, yet the scripture says, "Lo, these are parts of his ways, but how little a portion is heard of him;" so great is God above all that we have read, heard, or seen of him, either in the Bible, in heaven, or earth, or sea, or what else is to be understood. But now that a poor mortal, a lump of sinful flesh, or, as the scripture phrase is, poor dust and ashes, should be in the favor, in the heart, and wrapped up in the compassions of such a God! O amazing; O astonishing consideration! And yet, "this God is our God for ever and ever, and he will be our guide even unto death."
MERCY OF GOD.
As God has mercies to bestow, and as he has designed to bestow them, so those mercies are no fragments or the leavings of others, but mercies that are full and complete to do for thee what thou wantest, wouldst have, or canst desire. As I may so say, God has his bags that were never yet untied, never yet broken up, but laid by him through a thousand generations for those that he commands to hope in his mercy.
I tell you, sirs, you must not trust your own apprehensions nor judgments of the mercy of God; you do not know how he can cause it to abound: that which seems to be short and shrunk up to you, he can draw out and cause to abound exceedingly. There is a breadth and length and depth and height therein, when God will please to open it, that for its infiniteness can swallow up not only all thy sins, but all thy thoughts and imaginations, and that also can drown thee at last. "Now unto him that is able," as to mercy, "to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen."
This therefore is a wonderful thing, and shall be wondered at to all eternity, that the river of mercy, that at first did seem to be but ancle deep, should so rise and rise that at last it became "waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over." Ezck.47:5.
GOD THE JUSTIFIER.
The first cause of justification before God dependeth upon the will of God, who will justify because he will; therefore the meritorious cause must also be of his own providing, else his will cannot herein be absolute; for if justification depend upon our personal performances, then not upon the will of God. He may not have mercy upon whom he will, but on whom man's righteousness will give him leave; but his will, not ours, must rule here, therefore his righteousness and his only. So then, men are justified from the curse in the sight of God, while sinners in themselves.
GLORY OF GOD IN REDEMPTION.
In redemption by the blood of Christ, God is said to abound towards us in all WISDOM. Here we see the highest contradictions reconciled; here justice kisseth the sinner; here a man stands just in the sight of God, while confounded at his own pollutions; and here he that hath done no good, hath yet a sufficient righteousness, "even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ."
The JUSTICE of God is here more seen than in punishing all the damned.
The MYSTERY OF GOD'S WILL is here more seen than in hanging the earth upon nothing; while he condemneth Christ though righteous, and justifieth us though sinners, while he "maketh him to be sin for us, and us the righteousness of God in him."
The POWER of God is here more seen than in making heaven and earth; for, for one to hear and get the victory over sin when charged by the justice of an infinite Majesty, in so doing he shows the height of the highest power; for where sin by the law is charged, and that by God immediately, there an infinite Majesty opposeth, and that with the whole of his justice, holiness, and power; so then, he that is thus charged and engaged for the sin of the world, must not only he equal with God, but show it by overcoming that curse and judgment that by infinite justice is charged upon him for sin.
When angels and men had sinned, how did they fall and crumble before the anger of God! They had not power to withstand the terror, nor could there be worth found in their persons or doings to appease displeased justice. Here then is power seen: sin is a mighty thing; it crusheth all in pieces, save him whose Spirit is eternal. Heb.9:14. Set Christ and his sufferings aside, and you neither see the evil of sin nor the displeasure of God against it; you see them not in their utmost. Jesus Christ made manifest his eternal power and godhead more by bearing and overcoming our sins, than in making or upholding the whole world.1 Cor.1:24.
The LOVE AND MERCY of God are more seen in and by this doctrine than any other way. Here is love, that God sent his Son -- his darling -- his Son that never offended -- his Son that was always his delight! Herein is love, that he sent him to save sinners -- to save them by bearing their sins, by bearing their curse, by dying their death, and by carrying their sorrows! Here is love, in that while we were yet without strength, Christ died for the ungodly!
GOD A FATHER.
O how great a task is it for a poor soul that comes, sensible of sin and the wrath of God, to say in faith but this one word, Father! I tell you, however hypocrites think, yet the Christian that is so indeed finds all the difficulty in this very thing; he cannot say God is his Father. O, saith he, I dare not call him Father. And hence it is that the Spirit must be sent into the hearts of God's people for this very thing, to cry Father; it being too great a work for any man to do knowingly and believingly without it. When I say knowingly, I mean knowing what it is to be a child of God and to be born again; and when I say believingly, I mean for the soul to believe, and that from good experience, that the work of grace is wrought in him. This is the right calling of God, Father; and not as many do, to say in a babbling way the Lord's prayer by heart. No, here is the life of prayer, when in or with the Spirit, a man being made sensible of sin and how to come to the Lord for mercy, he comes, I say, in the strength of the Spirit, and crieth, Father. That one word spoken in faith, is better than a thousand prayers in a formal, cold, lukewarm way.
Naturally the name of God is dreadful to us, especially when he is discovered to us by those names that declare his justice, holiness, power, and glory; but the word FATHER is a familiar word; it frighteth not the sinner, but rather inclineth his heart to love and be pleased with the remembrance of him. Hence Christ also, when he would have us to pray with godly boldness, put this word FATHER into our mouths, saying, "When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven;" concluding thereby that in the familiarity which by such a word is intimated, the children of God may take more holdness to pray for and ask great things. I myself have often found that when I can say but this word, FATHER, it doth me more good than when I call him by any other scripture name.
It is worth your noting, that to call God by his relative title was rare among the saints in Old Testament times; but now in New Testament times, he is called by no name so often as this, both by the Lord Jesus Christ himself and by the apostles afterwards. Indeed the Lord Jesus was he that first made this name common among the saints, and that taught them in their discourses, in their prayers, and in their writings, so much to use it; it being more pleasing to, and discovering more plainly our interest in God, than any other expression. For by this one name we are made to understand that all our mercies are the offspring of God, and that we also who are called are his children by adoption.
FAITHFULNESS OF GOD.
Faithfulness in him that rules is that which makes Zion rejoice, because thereby the promises yield milk and honey. For now the faithful God, that keepeth covenant, performs to his church that which he told her he would. Wherefore our rivers shall run and our brooks yield honey and butter. Job 20:17.
Let this teach all God's people to expect, to look, and wait for good things from the throne. But O, methinks this throne out of which good comes like a river, who but would be a subject to it? who but would worship before it?
PRESENCE OF GOD.
God's presence is renewing, transforming, seasoning, sanctifying, commanding, sweetening, and lightening to the soul. Nothing like it in all the world: his presence supplies all wants, heals all maladies, saves from all dangers, is life in death, heaven in hell, all in all.
"And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth." Repentance in us is a change of the mind, but in God a change of his dispensations; for otherwise he repenteth not, neither can he, because it standeth not with the perfection of his nature. "In him is no variableness, nor shadow of turning."
Wherefore it is man, not God, that turns. When men reject the mercy and ways of God, they cast themselves under his wrath and displeasure; which, because it is executed according to the nature of his justice and the severity of his law, they miss of the mercy promised before; which that we may know, those shall one day feel that shall continue in final impenitency. Therefore God, speaking to their capacity, tells them he hath repented of doing them good. It repented the Lord that he had made Saul king; and yet this repentance was only a change of the dispensation which Saul by his wickedness had put himself under; otherwise the Strength, the Eternity of Israel will not lie nor repent.
The sum is, therefore, that men had now by their wickedness put themselves under the justice and law of God; which justice, by reason of its perfection, could not endure they should abide on the earth any longer; and therefore now, as a just reward of their deed, they must be swept from the face thereof.
PROVIDENCE OF GOD.
We should tremblingly glory and rejoice when we see God in the world, though upon those that are the most terrible of his dispensations. God the Creator will sometimes mount himself and ride through the earth, in such majesty and glory that he will make all to stand in the tent-doors to behold him. O how he rode in his chariots of salvation, when he went to save his people out of the land of Egypt. How he shook the nations. Then his glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. His brightness was as the light: he had horns coming out of his hand, and there was the hiding of his power.
These are glorious things, though shaking dispensations God is worthy to be seen in his dispensations as well as in his word, though the nations tremble at his presence. "O that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest comedown," saith the prophet, "that the mountains might flow down at thy presence."
"We know God, and he is our God, our own God; of whom or of what should we be afraid? When God roars out of Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, when the heavens and the earth do shake, the Lord shall be the hope of his people and the strength of the children of Israel."
He that knows the sea, knows the waves will toss themselves; he that knows a lion, will not much wonder to see his paw or to hear the voice of his roaring. And shall we that know our God, be stricken with a panic fear when he cometh out of his holy place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity? We should stand like those that are next to angels, and tell the blind world who it is that is thus mounted upon his steed, and that hath the clouds for the dust of his feet, and that thus rideth upon the wings of the wind: we should say unto them, "This God is our God for ever and ever, and he shall be our guide even unto death."
There are providences of two sorts, seemingly good and seemingly bad; and those do usually as Jacob did when he blessed the sons of Joseph, cross hands and lay the blessing where we would not. There are providences unto which we would have the blessings entailed; but they are not. And these are providences that smile upon the flesh, such as cast into the lap health, wealth, plenty, ease, friends, and abundance of this world's good: because these, as Manasseh's name doth signify, have in them an aptness to make us forget our toil, our low estate, and from whence we were; but the great blessing is not in them.
There are providences again, that take away from us whatever is desirable to the flesh; such are sickness, losses, crosses, persecution, and affliction; and usually in these, though they shock us whenever they come upon us, blessing coucheth and is ready to help us. For God, as the name of Ephraim signifies, makes us fruitful in the land of affliction. He therefore, in blessing his people, lays his hands across, guiding them wittingly and laying the chiefest blessing on the head of Ephraim, or in that providence that sanctifies affliction. Abel-what to the reason of Eve was he, in comparison with Cain? Rachel called Benjamin the son of her sorrow; but Jacob knew how to give him a better name. Jabez, also, though his mother so called him because, as it seems, she brought him forth with more than ordinary sorrow, was yet more honorable, more godly, than his brethren.
He that has skill to judge of providences aright, has a great ability in him "to comprehend with other saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height;" but he that has no skill as to discerning them, is but a child in his judgment in those high and mysterious things. And hence it is that some shall suck honey out of that at which others tremble, for fear it should poison them. I have often been made to say, "Sorrow is better than laughter, and the house of mourning better than the house of mirth." And I have more often seen that the afflicted are always the best sort of Christians. There is a man never well, never prospering, never but under afflictions, disappointments, and sorrows; why, this man, if he be a Christian, is one of the best of men: "They that go down to the sea, that do business in great waters, they see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep."
I do not question but that there are some that are alive who have been able to say the days of affliction have been the best unto them, and who could, if it were lawful, pray that they might always be in affliction, if God would but do to them as he did when his hand was last upon them; for by them he caused his light to shine.
Oh how should we, and how would we were but our eyes awake, stand and wonder at the preservations, the deliverances, the salvations, and benefits with which we are surrounded daily, while so many mighty evils seek daily to swallow us up as the grave!
How many deaths have some been delivered from and saved out of before conversion. Some have fallen into rivers, some into wells, some into the sea, some into the hands of men; yea, they have been justly arraigned and condemned, as the thief upon the cross, but must not die before they were converted. They were preserved in Christ, and called.