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3. Sin testifies two things for God against the man. First, their sins witness their unworthiness of any favour from the Lord, and makes them say, with the centurion, "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof." And with Jacob, "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant." Sins also testify against men their liableness to punishment, yea, to a curse instead of a blessing, so that the soul is often made to fear some remarkable judgment; for a guilty conscience is a terrible companion in the presence of a holy God. When sin gives in such a testimony, no wonder they stand trembling, fearing to hear the doom pronounced next.
4. This witness is convincing. So, in the text, we find the panel denies not the testimony, but pleads for mercy. Sin, testifying against the man before the Lord, stops the sinner's mouth. "I acknowledge my transgressions," says David, "and my sin is ever before me." A man may shift the conviction of others, and deny their testimony; but here, himself is both the guilty person, the accuser, and the witness.
5. Upon this, the gracious soul is filled with holy shame, and self-loathing. The person says, with Ezra, "O my God, I am ashamed, and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass grown up unto the heavens." So the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Now his sin has found him out; and as a thief is ashamed when his crime is discovered, so is that soul; and this holy shame is vented by confession, self-judging, self-condemning, and self-abhorring. Then he hath a difficulty to get a name to express sufficiently his own vileness, and then he is the chief of sinners in his own esteem.
Lastly, He is damped, and his confidence before the Lord is marred as to any access to him, or obtaining favour at his hand. "For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God." When the man lived near God, he had boldness and access with confidence unto the Father; but now his backslidings stare him in the face, and it is much if he be not quite overcome, and made to say, "my hope and strength is perished from the Lord." Then faith has difficulties indeed to grapple with, which may make it stagger; but then the soul must fall to the plea, "for his own name's sake." I now proceed,
II. To shew how comes it, that sin is found thus testifying against
1. It flows from the nature of sin and guilt upon an enlightened conscience. God hath said, "But if ye will not do so, behold ye have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out." Conscience is a tender part, and when it has light it cannot but testify against the man, when he appears in the presence of an offended God. The conscience of some is seared, and so they find nothing of this testimony; but sin will lie down in the grave with them; and awake when they awake.
2. It is a punishment from the Lord for former backslidings and miscarriages. Sin that is sweet in the mouth, is hereby often made bitter in the belly Confidence with God is no small mercy, and the want of it can be no small judgment to them that know the happiness of such a case.
Lastly, God so orders it, that it may be a mean to humble them, and make them more watchful against sin for the time to come. Then the Lord says to them, "Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know, therefore, and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of Hosts." "What fruit had ye then in those things, whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death." By these, the soul is brought to repenting Israel's resolution. "I will go and return to my first husband; for then it was better with me than now." And the bankrupts resolve, in the Lord's strength, that if they had their stock recovered again, they will look better to it.
III. I shall speak a little to the plea. "For thy name's sake." I told you in the explanation, that it imports two things: 1. That we must plead with him for his Christ's sake; and when guilt stares us in the face, we must look to God through the vail of Christ's flesh. A guilty conscience presents to the sinner a God armed with vengeance. It is then the wisdom of the sinner to desire, Exod. xx. 18, 19. When the avenger of blood pursues, let us flee to the city of refuge; and when we are to appear before the Lord, we must embrace Christ in the arms of faith. It was the custom of the Molossians, when they were to seek a favour of their prince, they took up his son in their arms. This is the way in the court of heaven. This is a safe and sure way, for in him the father is well pleased, and we shall be accepted in the beloved.
2. We must plead with him for his glory's sake. Punishing of sin glorifies God much, but pardoning of sin glorifies him more. He is tender of his own glory, and so should we. So our Lord teaches us to pray, "for thine is the glory." When God hears, the benefit redounds to us, the glory to him; and so we are to make use
1. Plead the sufferings of Christ, and his satisfaction to justice. Plead the sufficiency of his merit, whereby he is able to save to the uttermost; the design of his sufferings to save sinners, and even the chief of sinners; the fruit of his sufferings; and cast yourself on Christ, resolved, if you perish, to perish at his footstool, and there will be no fear. Here you will get an answer to all the objections that conscience and the law can form against you.
2. Plead free grace and mercy, Exod. xxxiv. 6, 7. The sun shines without hire, and God is gracious to sinners, because he will be gracious. Are our sins great, grace will be the more magnified in pardoning them. Wherefore is free grace manifested, but to be communicated? Depth of misery is the most fit object for exceeding riches of grace. This pleading is very acceptable to God. "The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy."
Plead the glory of his name in the world, Joshua vii. 9. called by his name. Without his help you cannot stand; and if you fall, his name will be dishonoured. If you get access to him, and communion with him, you shall live. If he send down the influences of his Spirit, you shall bring forth much fruit, and this will tend to his glory, John xv. 8. If he deny his influences, you will be withered creatures, and so God will be dishonoured.
Lastly, Plead his word. Say, "Lord, thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name." All men are liars, but he is faithful and cannot deny himself. Get hold of a promise, and in time of need bring it forth, as Tamar did Judah's signet, &c., Gen. xxxviii. 25. This was Jacob's way, " And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good." O! but I fear the promises belong not to me. ANSWER. Lay thou hold on Christ as he is freely offered, and then be sure all the promises are thine, for they all meet in him. Amen.
Ettrick, Fast before the Sacrament, June, 1712.
THE UNEQUALITY OF MAN'S WAYS.
EZEKIEL XViii. 29,
Are not your ways unequal?
MEN may be under the deepest affliction, and yet far from true humiliation. A stone broken in a thousand pieces, each piece is a stone. A hard heart, untouched by the grace of God, will be an unhumbled heart, under the severest affliction. Here is a people, some of them captives in Babylon, some of them in hard circumstances in their own land; both groaning under affliction, but not to God, but against God. Let not people wish the evil day, upon the assurance that it will humble the generation. If hell were opened to flash out on the faces of a graceless generation; if the fire of the Spirit do not withal melt their hearts, "the bellows are burnt, the lead is consumed of the fire; the founder melteth in vain; for the wicked are not plucked away." They will quarrel God's ways as unequal, as if they deserved not the punishments inflicted upon them; while in the meantime it may be justly retorted on them, as in the text, "Are not your ways unequal?"
The words are a solemn appeal made by God himself to this people themselves, touching their way and manner of life. Consider here,
1. The antagonists, even God, and his own people, on whom he had heaped benefits and privileges, and who had made to him repeated professions of duty; and here God being the complainer, and they defenders, there is no doubt they must lose the cause.
2. The crime libelled against them; the unequality of their ways. They had the impudence to charge God with unequalness in his ways; as if he had punished them for that of which they were not guilty. The Lord clears himself, vers. 26-28; then he retorts the charge upon themselves, that their ways were unequal. The word signifies such an inequality as there is betwixt two things that are weighed; but the one cannot balance the other, there is no proportion or equality betwixt them; so their ways in which they walked with God, their carriage and behaviour to him, was most unequal and unevenly. Unequal among themselves, unequal in respect of his ways towards them; so that bring the balance from heaven or from VOL. IV.
earth by which their actions should be weighed, they would be found light, unequal, disagreeable and disproportionable. Well then might he say, "talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed." And this charge is made on all and every one of their ways, as is the import of the singular number joined with the plural, in the Hebrew text; as if he had said, take every one of them, weigh them one by one, with my dealings with you, or with one another, you shall find them a confused disorderly mass; the whole thread of your life nothing but outs and ins, the whole of your conversation a rabble of inequalities.
3. The bar to which God brings this plea: it is that of their own consciences, whose tribunal was within their own breasts. Here God condescends to plead his cause against the criminals, where they themselves should be both judge and parties; being assured that though their corruptions did pass sentence in their favours, yet their consciences would reverse that sentence, and oblige them, out of their own mouths, to pronounce themselves guilty. In such a matter, where conscience is made judge, the sinner must lose the cause. This is a day in which conscience should be set on a tribunal, and each of us should sist ourselves before it, to have our cause there judged. There are two things call for this, this day.
I. God seems to be mounting his throne for judgment this day; and the dispensations of the day towards us, and our Protestant churches, seem to sound that alarm of the judge's coming. "For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place, to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall discover her blood, and shall no more cover her slain." Providence appears to be whetting the glittering sword, and his arm to take hold on vengeance. It is time for us now to be going inward into our own breasts, as Isa. vi. 1-5. We have three sad tokens of God's
mounting his throne:
1. The posts of the temple door with us are moved, as Isa. vi. 4. By this was signified the pulling down of the door, and exposing the temple to the profane, Amos ix. 1. And is not that this day fulfilled before our eyes, by that most unbounded toleration now set on foot in this Church, under the shadow of which the vilest errors and blasphemies may set up their heads; and men on whom the door of our temple was most justly shut, may now come in with their profane lives, erroneous preaching, and superstitious worship; and others must come in by the door of a patron's presentation, a door of which there was no pattern shewn in the mount; while that which Christ himself appointed, the call of the Church, is broken