A Word in Season to Suffering Saints
The special presence of God with His people,
in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses,
and most deadly dangers.
By Thomas Brooks, London, 1675
It is God's favorable, special, and eminent presence with his people, which makes them persevere in an evil day: Romans 8:31, "If God is for us—who can be against us?" that is, none; but this is a more forcible denying, "Who can?" Do you Paul ask, "Who can?" I will tell you. The devil can, and tyrants can, and persecutors can, and the whole world can; but they are as nothing, and can do nothing against us. Wicked men may set themselves against the saints—but they shall not prevail against the saints. What if all the world should strive to hinder the sun from rising or shining, or the wind from blowing, or the rain from falling; or, like those pygmies who went with their arrows and bows to repress the flowing of the sea. Ridiculous acts! Mere follies! All that wicked men can do against the people of God will be but as throwing stones against the wind. "If God is with us, who can be against us?" Methinks these are words of great resolution; as if he should say, "We have many enemies, and powerful enemies, and daring enemies, and malicious enemies, and designing enemies, and enraged enemies—yet let the proudest of them show their faces, and lift up their banners, I fear them not, I regard them not: Who can?" who dare be against us? Let me give a little light into this precious scripture, "If God is for us—who can be against us?" That is, none!
[1.] First, None can be so against us—so as to HURT us or HARM us.Therefore Aquinas well expounds that "Who can be against us—so as to hurt us?" Dan. 25, 27, and 6:22. [Justin Martyr said to his murderers in the behalf of himself and his fellow-martyrs, "You may kill us—but you can never hurt us!"]
Acts 18:9-10, "One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision—Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." God had many souls in this city to convert and to bring in to Christ, and therefore he animates and encourages Paul to preach boldly, and to go on in his work undauntedly. "Ay—but, Lord, there are many in the city, who will set themselves against me!" "Ay—but I am with you!" "Ay—but, Lord, there are many in the city who hate me!" "Ay—but there is no man who shall set on you to hurt you!"
Though there were many in the city of Corinth that would be ready furiously to harm Paul—yet there would not be a man who would be able to hurt Paul. God would be his lifeguard to protect him, and he would make void all the mischievous designs and endeavors of his adversaries against him. When in a city the Lord has those who are ordained to salvation, he will bless the labors of his faithful servants with happy success; so that faithful ministers may not, yes, must not, for fear of the invincible malice of some, neglect the salvation of others. All the arrows that men of might and malice should shoot at Paul in the city of Corinth, would never reach him, they would never hurt him, nor harm him!
1 Pet. 3:13, "And who is he who will harm you, if you are followers of that which is good?" They may oppose you—but they cannot harm you; they may hate you—but they cannot harm you; they may plot and devise mischief against you—but they cannot harm you; they may persecute you—but they cannot harm you. Caesar told Metellus that he could as easily take away his life; but this was only bravado, for death is a royal prerogative which belongs to God alone, "to whom belong the issues of death," Psalm 68:20, or the goings out from death; that is, deliverances from death and deadly dangers. It is an allusion to one who keeps a passage or a door; that is, God has all the ways which lead out from death in his own keeping. Christ has the keys of death, the sole dominion and disposal of it, Rev. 1:18; 2 Pet. 2:9. The Lord knows how to deliver his people from the most desperate and deadly dangers; he can deliver them out of the mouth of the lion, he can pull them out of the jaws of death, and so secure them from all harm or hurt. None can be so against the people of God as to harm their souls, as to hurt their happiness. But, "If God is for us—who can be against us?" I answer,
[2.] Secondly, None can be so against us—so as to PREVAIL over us.The gates of hell may fight against us—but the gates of hell cannot prevail against us. Christ is the captain of your salvation, God has made him general of the field, and therefore you may be sure that he will stand by you and bring you off with honor, Mat 16:18; Heb. 2:10; Jer. 1:19, and 20:11. You need never fear winning the day, who have Christ as your captain. Though your persecutors are as so many roaring lions—yet Christ, who is the lion of the tribe of Judah, will make you victorious over them all, Rev. 5:5. In all storms and tempests the church will stand fast, because it stands upon a rock, Psalm 129:2. God is on Zion's side, and the enemies of Zion must first prevail against Zion's God—before they can prevail over Zion herself. Zion's God will be a wall of fire about her, and therefore Zion's enemies shall never prevail over her, Zech. 2:5; Deut. 33:26-29. Were Zion's shelter stones, these might be battered; were it walls of lead, these might be melted; were it a defense of waters, these might be dried up; were it garrisons of mighty men, these might be scattered; were it engines of war, these might be defeated; were it trenches, these might be stopped; were it bulwarks, these might be overthrown; but Zion is guarded with a wall of fire round about her, and therefore all her opposers can never prevail over her.
The enemies of Zion are weak enemies, they are smitten enemies, they are conquered enemies, they are limited enemies, they are chained enemies, they are cursed enemies, and they are naked enemies—and therefore they shall never be prevalent enemies over Zion, 2 Chron. 32:7-8; Romans 8:37; Gen. 3:12; Num. 14:9. Pharaoh followed the Israelites—but he and his mighty men were drowned, and Israel delivered—for God was with them, Exod. 14. Saul hunted David as a partridge in the mountains, 1 Sam. 26:20—but Saul perishes, and David was crowned—for God was with him. Haman hated Mordecai and plotted against Mordecai—but Haman is hanged and Mordecai advanced—for God was with him, Esther 6:7. The Babylonian princes inform against Daniel and plot against Daniel—but they themselves are torn and devoured by the lions, and Daniel is delivered and exalted—for God was with him, Dan. 6. Herod kills James with the sword and imprisons Peter—but Herod is devoured by worms, and Peter is delivered out of prison by an angel—for God was with him, Acts 12.
Let atheists, papists, and persecutors cease from plotting against Zion, from persecuting of Zion, for it is utterly impossible to prevail against Zion. Let all Zion's adversaries remember once for all, what if any policy, counsel, lying, cursing, strength, or cruelty could have prevailed against Zion; Zion would have been rooted out of the world long ago. If Balaam was at our enemies' elbows he would tell them roundly and plainly, that it is "in vain to curse those whom God blesses," Num. 23:8. "It is hard to kick against the goads," Acts 9:5. It is high madness for men to run their naked bodies against a sword's point. Let Zion's enemies remember that God, who takes pleasure in Zion, sits upon the circle of the earth, and all the inhabitants are as grasshoppers; yes, all the nations as a drop of a bucket, and less than the dust of the balance, Isaiah 40:12, 15, 17, and therefore he can easily revenge all the wrongs and injuries which are done to Zion by those who would gladly prevail over her, and triumph in her ruin. [Some observe that Paul's style is so beautified with wonderful eloquence and rhetoric, that not Tully nor Demosthenes could ever have so spoken. Some report of Augustine that he wished for three things: (1.) To see Christ in the flesh; (2.) To see Rome in the pride of it; (3.) To have heard Paul preach. But,
[3.] Thirdly,"If God is for us—who can be against us?" I answer, None can be so against us—so as to be able to separate us from the love of God and the love of Christ. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation—will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:35-39.
It is neither the pleasures of life, nor the pains of death; it is neither evils felt, nor evils feared; it is neither the height of prosperity, nor the depth of adversity; it is neither bonds, nor banishment; it is neither power, nor policy; it is neither honor, nor baseness; it is neither violent persecutions, nor multiplied tribulations; it is neither the scorns of men, nor reproaches of men, nor revilings of men, nor designs of men, nor anything else—which can separate us from the love of the Father or the love of the Son!
In the 35th verse Paul states that neither crosses nor creatures can deprive us of the love of God, which is set down in a double interrogation, that he might add the more force and life to it and ravish the readers: "Who shall separate us?" That is, none can. But he speaks with contempt; "Who shall? shall tribulation?" as if he should say, I scorn it. As Goliath defied David, saying, "Do you come to me with a stick?" just so, Paul defies all crosses, sufferings, trials, etc., as things not able to deprive sincere Christians of Christ's love! "Shall tribulation," etc. He had before spoken of people, now here he speaks of things, because Satan and his sworn slaves think by such things to separate between God and his people. Chrysostom observes Paul's wisdom in three things.
(1.) That he says not, Shall the love of riches, pleasures, honors, etc., which have a mighty force in them to bewitch us; but "shall tribulation, distress," etc.
(2.) That he begins with the lighter, and so rises to greater troubles, placing them in this order, not casually—but by design.
(3.) That though these which he here rehearses consist of a certain number—yet every one as a general has special troops under it: as when he says tribulation, he says imprisonments, bonds, slanders, banishments, etc. "Shall tribulation, distress, persecution," etc.? No! They are "blessed, who endure these things," Mat. 5:10-11. Shall famine? He who feeds on Christ shall never perish for hunger. Shall nakedness? Christ's righteousness is my clothing; I shall willingly follow him even naked; who when he was clothed with infinite glory as with a garment was content to be born naked and to be stripped on the cross for my sake. Shall peril? I know the hardest. Shall the sword? Christ is to me in life and death advantage. But,
[4.] Fourthly,"If God is for us—who can be against us?" I answer, None can be against us so—so as to bring us under submission to their beck, their will, their desires, their lusts. 1 Kings 19:18, "Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him." 1 Kings 19:18. That is, I have many thousands who have not worshiped Baal. Here a set number is put for an indefinite number; he means a very great number. Idolaters used not only to bow and kneel before their idols—but also to kiss them, according to that Hosea 13:2, "Let the men who sacrifice kiss the calves." Kissing was an outward token—
(1.) Of great and entire affection;
(2.) Of submissive reverence;
(3.) Of willing and ready subjection. Cicero says that the chin of the statue of Hercules was much worn with the kisses of those who adored him. Now God had several thousands of true Israelites indeed that had not in the least kind polluted themselves with the idolatry of Baal. The denial of bowing the knee and kissing with the mouth shows that God's faithful servants were so far from setting their hearts upon Baal, as that they would not make the least show of any affection or subjection to him. These good souls had too great spirits to be conformable to the idolatry of the times. Jeroboam with his eight hundred thousand chosen men, his popish priests, and his golden calves, could not bring Judah to bow to him, 2 Chron. 13:3, 20. Nebuchadnezzar, nor his fiery furnace, could never bring the three Hebrew children to bow to him; the three champions would be Nonconformists, though court, city, and country were violent for conformity, Dan. 3. Neither Darius, his presidents, nor princes, could ever bring Daniel to bow, Dan. 6; Daniel would keep off from idolatry, and keep close to his God, and close to his duty, let all his enemies do their worst.
The rulers and elders of Israel charged the apostles, and threatened the apostles, and beat the apostles, and commanded the apostles, that they should not speak in the name of Jesus; but they could never bring them to bow to them, Acts 3, 4, 5. For "they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name, and daily in the temple, and in every house they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ," Acts 5:41-42. Pharaoh by all his oppressions could never bring Israel to submit; nor Saul by all his persecutions could never bring David to bow to him; nor could Haman by all his plots and designs ever bring Mordecai to bow to him; and Paul will rather die upon the spot than be brought bow to his enemies', Acts 20:21-24, and 21:13. The ten persecuting emperors could never bring the primitive Christians to bow to them; nor could the bloody, fierce, and fiery papists ever bring the martyrs to bow to them, as you may see throughout the books of martyrs. Among the many hundred instances that are there, I shall only refresh your memory with this one: There were endeavors to bring Hawkes to bow to them—but all in vain. At last some of his Christian friends desired him, for their encouragement and confirmation, to give some token when he was in the flames; a strange time one would think to attend upon signs by friends, whether the pains were tolerable or not. He was bound to the stake, fire put to the wood, it burns, it flames, it consumes his flesh, his eyes start out of his head, his fingers are consumed with the fire; and when everyone thought him dead, expecting the fall of his body—lo, suddenly he lifts up his stumps, and thrice as a famous conqueror he claps them over his head. In this he was more than conqueror.
In former times the sense of the love of God made the martyrs esteem tyrants as gnats and fleas; and torments as flea-bitings. Tertullian, speaking of his times, says, That to be accused was the wish of Christians, and punishment for Christ they counted felicity. A certain woman, running in all haste with her child in her arms, being asked the cause, "Oh," says she, "I hear a great sort of Christians are appointed to be martyred, and I am afraid lest I and my little one will come too late." When the Emperor Valens banished Basil, and the tribune threatened his death, "I wish," said Basil, "I had anything of worth, I would bestow it on him who should cut Basil's windpipe." And when he had that night given him to deliberate, he answered, that "he would be the same man tomorrow, and wished that the punishment should not be changed."
Chrysostom, being in banishment by the means of Eudoxia the empress, wrote and tells of his resolution before he was banished: "I thought with myself," says he, "that if she banishes me—the earth is the Lord's; if she will saw me asunder—I remembered the prophet Isaiah; if she drowns me—Jonah came to my mind; if she stones me—I thought of Stephen; if she beheads me, John Baptist came to my mind; if she takes away my goods, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb." By all which you may clearly see, that let the wicked do their worst, they can never bring the saints to bow to them. But,
[5.] Fifthly,"If God is for us—who can be against us?" I answer—None, so as to hinder the operation of all things for our good. When men and devils have done their worst, all the great troubles, deep distresses, and most deadly dangers, which attend the saints, shall work for their good: Romans 8:28, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose." In this verse there are two things observable:
First, A proposition, or a glorious privilege. "All things work together for good." This word, "work together," is a physical expression. Several poisonful ingredients put together, being tempered by the skillful apothecary, make a sovereign medicine, and work together for the good of the patient. They work together, not between themselves—but together with God; not of their own nature, for so they do not co-operate—but contra-operate. But being sanctified by God, they work together for our good. Indeed, take away God, and afflictions work for our hurt; but all God's providences, being divinely tempered and sanctified, do work together for the best, to the people of God. When the worst of men have done their worst against the saints, all things shall sweetly concur, yes, conspire for their good.
Second, The proof, which is double.
(1.) From the experience of all saints, "We know;" it is not a doubtful matter. The apostle does not say, "We think," but "We know." Nor does he say, "We hope," but "We know."Nor does he say, "We guess," "we conjecture," but "We know." Nor does he say, "We desire that all things may work together for good," but "We know all things work together for good." Nor does he say, "We pray" that all things may work together for good—but "We know all things work together for good." The wicked do not know this secret, as the Philistines did not understand Samson's riddles, Judg. 14:12-14; but we know that all the world shall not hinder the cross from working for our good.
(2.) From a description of those who love God, they are "called according to God's purpose;" that is, God has purposed the salvation of his people, he has chosen them to salvation, and called them to it; and therefore it must needs be, that all these afflictions which befall his people, must work together for their spiritual and eternal good, otherwise God should do that which should cross his own purpose, which wise men will not do; and oh, how much less will the most wise God act counter-cross to his own purpose! So Jer. 24:5-6, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them." To be carried captive to Babylon was doubtless a very sore and matchless affliction: Dan. 9:12, "You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing upon us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem."
This may be the abridgment of Jeremiah's Lamentations: Lam. 1:12, "Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see if there is any suffering like mine, which the LORD brought on me in the day of his fierce anger." Chapter 4:16, "The punishment of my people is greater than that of Sodom, which was overthrown in a moment without a hand turned to help her." Sodom sustained not any siege from foreign forces, they were not vexed and plagued with the armies of the Chaldeans; there was no hand of man in the destruction of Sodom—but a hand of heaven only. Sodom was not kept long in pains and misery as I and my people have been—but was suddenly overwhelmed, and in an instant despatched; all which shows that their miseries and sufferings were incomparable and matchless; and that they were so indeed will evidently appear, if you please but seriously to consider either the antecedents of it, or the consequences of it. The antecedents of it—what went before their captivity—namely, blood, and slaughter, and dreadful devastations. Or if you consider the consequences of it—what went after their captivity—namely:
(1.) The enslaving of their persons under a fierce and most cruel enemy;
(2.) The loss of their estates;
(3.) The leaving of their country and the land of their nativity;
(4.) A deprivation of the ordinances and worship of God;
(5.) The scorns and reproaches, the exultations and triumphs of their adversaries, who pleased and delighted themselves in their captivity and misery. [See Psalm 137:7; Obad. 12:13-16; Ezek. 25:6; Psalm 44:13-14.] These were the woeful consequences of that captivity—and yet all the power and malice of men in the world could not hinder these amazing and astonishing trials from working together for the spiritual and everlasting good of his captive people. That God will do his people good by the most terrible dispensations that they are under, you may see more and more evident by comparing these scriptures together. [Deut. 8:15-16; Psalm 119:71, 75; Heb. 12:10.]
As the apothecary makes one poison to drive out another poison, so can God make the poison of afflictions, which in themselves are the curse of the law, to drive out the poison of sin. All the world can never hinder the affliction, troubles, and evils which befall the people of God, from working for their good; for God does and will by these means,
(1.) Discover sin;
(2.) Prevent sin;
(3.) Embitter sin;
(4.) Mortify sin.
And God will by afflictions, troubles, etc.,
(1.) Revive, quicken, and recover his children's decayed graces;
(2.) Exercise his children's graces;
(3.) Increase his children's graces;
(4.) Make a further trial and discovery of his children's graces.
Let the enemies of Zion storm and rage, plot and combine, etc.—yet they shall never be able to hinder the greatest troubles, the deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—from working for the spiritual and eternal good of all the sincere lovers of God. I have read a story of Pereus, who, attempting to kill another with a thrust of a sword; only pierced and opened his abscess; and so he was instrumental to save him, whom he designed to have killed! Just so, all the afflictions and troubles which the righteous meet with, they do but serve to cure them of the abscess of pride, or of the abscess of earthly-mindedness, or of the abscess of self-love, or of the abscess of hypocrisy.
The people of God have many enemies in the world, whose course and scope, whose aims and ends and actions are not the same, yes diverse, nay adverse, one thwarting and crossing the other—yet the overruling providence so sways all subordinate and inferior instruments and enemies, that in the midst of their mutual jars they conspire in a sacred harmony, as if they were entered into a holy league, or some sacred combination for the good of his chosen people. Wherever our enemies be in respect of their places, whoever they be in regard of their persons, and however they are disjoined in regard of their affections—yet all their projects and practices shall tend and end in the good of those who love God. But,
 Sixthly,"If God is for us—who can be against us?" I answer, None—so as to hinder our communion and fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit. 1 John 1:3, "That which we have seen and heard, we declare unto you, that you may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." Man's summum bonum stands in his communion with God, as Scripture and experience both evidence. A man whose soul is conversant with God, shall find more pleasure in a desert, in a den, in a dungeon, in a fiery furnace, yes, and in the valley of the shadow of death—than in the palace of a prince! [Never less alone than when alone, said the heathen; and may not a saint say so much more, who has communion with Father, Son, and Spirit? "My God and I are good company," said famous Dr. Sibbes.]
There is a sweet and intimate communion which believers have with God the Father; hence they are said to "walk with God," Gen. 5:24, and 6:9; and to "talk with God," as Moses frequently did; and to "dwell in God," 1 John 4:15; and to "sup with God," Rev. 3:20; and to "lodge with God," Cant. 7:11. The nearness of this fellowship which we have with the Father, is represented by a gradation of allusions in Scripture, all which excellently illustrate this truth. There is some kind of participation that a servant has with his master; yet greater is that which one friend has with another; but yet greater is that which a son has with the father; but greatest of all is that which the bride has with the bridegroom. Now in all these relations we stand to the Father; we are his servants and he is our Lord, Exod. 12:7; we are his friends, John 15:14-15; James 2:23; and he is our friend, Cant. 5:1; an able friend, a sure friend, a faithful friend, a close friend, a constant friend. Plutarch's reasoning is good, "Friends have all things in common." But God is our friend: consequently we cannot lack! He is our Father, Isaiah 63:16, and 64:8; and we are his children, Isaiah 63:8. He is our bridegroom, and we are his bride, Isaiah 61:10; Hosea 2:19-20; Isaiah 62:5. And therefore it is no pride nor presumption for believers to say, "Our fellowship is with the Father."
Our fellowship with Jesus Christ is set forth by the parable of the wedding-feast, and by the entertainment of the prodigal son; and by such relations or various similitudes, as carry communion in their bosoms, as of the head and the members, root and branches, foundation and building, husband and wife, Mat. 22:1-3; Luke 15. The head has communion with the body by sense, influence, motion. The root has communion with the branches, by leaf, sap, and juice. The foundation has communion with the building, by support and strength. The husband has communion with the wife, by love and consent. Thus it is between Christ and the believers: 1 Cor. 1:9, "God is faithful, by whom you are called to the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ." All believers have fellowship with Christ, whether they are strong—or weak, rich—or poor, high—or low, ripe and well grown—or new-born babes, and very tender, Gal. 3:28; 1 Pet. 2:2; John 17:20-23.
The head has conjunction with all the members, and an influence into all the members, even the little toes, as well as into the strongest arms. The root, in the virtue of it, extends to the weakest branches, as well as to the strongest limbs of the tree. Communion with Christ is as large as union with Christ. All believers are united to Christ, and all believers have communion with Christ. Though one star exceeds another in magnitude—yet all are alike seated in the heavenly orb; and though one member is larger in the body than another—yet each one has an equal conjunction with the head.
And as believers have fellowship with the Father and the Son, so they have fellowship with the Spirit also. Every believer's communion extends to all the persons in the Trinity: 2 Cor. 13:14, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen." Now no men, no devils, no wrath, no rage, no malice, no enmity, no afflictions, no oppositions, no persecutions, no troubles, no trials, no bonds, no banishment—can interrupt or hinder a believer's communion with the three persons in Trinity. But,
[7.] Seventhly, "If God is for us—who can be against us?" I answer, None—so as to hinder our private trade to heaven. All the world can never hinder a sincere Christian from driving a secret trade with heaven, as you may see by comparing these scriptures together. [Psalm 3:2-4; Psalm 6:8-10; Psalm 138:3; Lam. 3:55-59.] A Christian can as well hear without ears, and live without food, and fight without hands, and walk without feet—as he is able to live without secret prayer. Secret prayer is the life of our lives, the soul, the sweet, the heaven of all our earthly enjoyments. Of all the duties of piety, secret prayer is the most soul-sweetening, soul-strengthening, soul-nourishing, soul-fattening, soul-refreshing, soul-satisfying, and soul-encouraging duty. In all the ages of the world, the saints have kept the trade. In spite of all opposers and persecutors, in prisons, in dungeons, in dens, in bonds, in banishments, on racks, and in the very flames, the saints have still kept up this secret trade; as you may see at large in my treatise on closet prayer, called "The Privy Key of Heaven," to which I refer you. But,
[8.] Eighthly,"If God is for us—who can be against us?" I answer, None—so as to deprive us of the sweet testimony of our renewed consciences. 2 Cor. 1:12, "Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace." They were in great and pressing troubles in Asia, verse 8—and yet they boasted in the testimony of their consciences; they were under a sentence of death in themselves, verse 9—and yet gloried in the testimony of their consciences. Joy of conscience is the greatest joy, as trouble of conscience is the greatest trouble! When conscience bears its testimony with us, and for us, how full of joy is the soul, even in the midst of the deepest sorrows and greatest sufferings! A good conscience has sure confidence, and he who has it, sits Noah-like—quiet in the greatest upheavals; freed, if not from the common destruction—yet from the common distraction.
A good conscience is an impregnable fort. It fears no opponent; it will enable a man to stand against the fiercest batteries of men and devils. A good conscience will fill a man with courage and comfort in the midst of all his troubles and distresses. Paul had enough to say for himself when standing before the council; he could say, "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day," Acts 23:1-2. And though as soon as he had said so, Ananias commanded to smite him on the mouth—yet he bears up bravely, because his conscience did not smite him—but acquit him. That man can never lack music, whose conscience speaks in consort, and is harmonious with himself. A good conscience is a paradise in a wilderness, it is riches in poverty, and health in sickness, and strength in weakness, and liberty in bonds, and life in death, Isaiah 38:3. A good conscience will enable a man to triumph over innumerable evils, yes, over death itself. Death to such a person is not the king of terrors—but the king of desires, Phil. 1:23.
A good conscience will be a Christian's best friend in the worst times; it will be a sword to defend him, a staff to support him, a pillar of fire to lead him, a Joseph to nourish him, a Dorcas to clothe him, a Canaan to refresh him, and a feast to delight him: "He who is of a merry heart has a continual feast," Proverbs 15:15. Now there is nothing which can make a man divinely merry, below a good conscience. "A good conscience," says one, "is the bed of God, the palace of Christ, the habitation of the Holy Spirit, the paradise of delights, and wherein every tree yields a feast."
The tranquility of conscience, and the security of innocence, excel all the things which the world counts good. He who has a good conscience enjoys a continual serenity, and sits continually at that blessed feast, whereat the blessed angels are cooks and butlers, as Luther has it, and the three persons in Trinity glad guests. All other feasts, compared to this of a good conscience, are stark hunger. The feast of a good conscience is a full feast, a noble feast, a lasting feast; not for a day, as that of Nabal's; nor for seven days, as that of Samson's; nor of nine score days, as that of Ahasuerus; but a durable, continual feast, without intermission of solace, or interruption of society. The best way in this world for a man to turn his whole life into a merry festival, is to get and keep a good conscience. "A godly man keeps holiday all the year around." It was the testimony of a good conscience which made the apostles rejoice when they were beaten and abused by the council. It was the testimony of a good conscience which made Paul and Silas to sing in the prison, Acts 5:40-42, and 16:25-26. It was the testimony of a good conscience which made Moses prefer Christ's cross before Egypt's crown, and Christ's reproaches before Egypt's treasures. It was the testimony of a good conscience which made those worthies in that 11th chapter of the Hebrews more willing to die than to live, to die than to dine, Heb. 11:35. It was the testimony of a good conscience which made the martyrs to kiss the stake, to hug their executioners, to clap their hands in the flames, and to tread upon burning coals as upon beds of roses! Now it is not in the power or policy of men or devils to deprive a Christian of the testimony of his conscience; and as long as that bird in the bosom sings—no troubles, no trials, no oppositions, no persecutions, no dangers, no death can make a Christian miserable. The testimony of a good conscience will make a man triumph over the worst of men, and the worst of sufferings. But,
[9.] Ninthly,"If God is for us—who can be against us?" I answer, None—so as to hinder the help, assistance, and support of God. Heb. 13:5, "Let your way of life be without covetousness,"—or "without the love of silver," as the Greek word signifies—"and be content with such things as you have." So Beza, "Be content with present things." These Hebrew Christians had been plundered of all they had; though they had nothing they must be content, Heb. 10:34. If men cannot bring their means to their minds, let them bring their minds to their means; a little will serve our turn until we get to heaven, until we come to our Father's house: "For he has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you." There are five negatives in the Greek; I read not the like throughout the New Testament. In that this promise is set down negatively, "I will never leave you," this makes the promise to be of a larger extent; for it includes all times, all places, all estates, all dangers, all needs, all distresses whatever; as if he had more largely said, you shall never stand in need of any of my help and protection—but you shall be sure to find it. Affirmative promises are not of that extent as negative promises are; for if a man should promise to assist, help, support, or counsel me, if he does it now and then, or upon some special occasions, he has kept his promise; but negatively for a man to say, "I will not fail you, I will never leave you," though he should help, assist, support, or stand by me, a hundred, yes, a thousand times—and yet fail me but once, that negative promise is not punctually kept, it is not perfectly kept.
It is further considerable that there is a great emphasis in doubling and trebling a negative particle in Greek. Doubling and trebling negatives in Greek makes them much the stronger. The doubling of the negative particle does in this place carry the greater emphasis, because, in setting down the same thing, it is not only twice doubled—but in the latter place it is trebled; so as there are in all five negatives, as I have already hinted. These two phrases, "Never leave nor forsake," are so general as they include all the needs, all dangers, all distresses, all necessities, all calamities, all miseries, which can befall us in this world. [A general promise comprises all particulars of that kind.]
These two phrases, "God's not leaving, God's not forsaking," imply all needful assistance. It is more than if he had said, I will supply all your needs, I will heal all your diseases, I will secure you against all sorts of dangers, I will ease you of all your pains, I will free you of all your oppressors, I will break all your bonds, I will bring you out of prison, I will vanquish all your enemies, I will knock off all your chains, and I will make you triumph over all your sufferings; for these generals comprise all manner of particulars under them.
Heb. 13:6, "So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." In this verse there is an inference made upon the former promise of God's not leaving nor forsaking his people; the conjunction, "so that," implies an inference, and such an inference in this place as teaches us to make a good use of the forenamed promise. The use here set down is double: the first is confidence in God, "The Lord is my helper;" secondly, courage against man, "I will not fear what man shall do unto me." Assurance of God's presence to help at all times and circumstances, should raise us up above all base and slavish fears of the power of men, of the harmings of men, of the evil designs of men, etc. God being with us, and for us, and on our side, we may boldly, safely, and confidently, rest upon it, that he will freely, readily, graciously, afford all needful help, assistance, and support, when we are in the greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers.
The Greek word "helper," according to the notation of it, signifies one who is ready to run at the cry of another. This notation implies a willing readiness, and a ready willingness in God, to help and support his people when they are in deep distress. You know the tender father, the indulgent mother--they immediately run when they hear the child cry, or see the child in any danger or distress. Just so, when God sees his poor children in any danger or distress, when he hears them complain and cry out of their sufferings, their bonds, their burdens, their oppressions, their dangers, etc., he immediately runs to their relief and support, Exod. 2:23-25, and 3:7-10. Psalm 33:20, "Our soul waits for the Lord: he is our help and our shield." Psalm 49:17, "You are my deliverer: God is the Lord Almighty, with him alone is strength and power to deliver Israel out of all his troubles." He may do it, he can do it, he will do it—he is wise in heart and mighty in strength; besides him there is no Savior, no deliverer; he is a shield to the righteous, strength to the weak, a refuge to the oppressed; he is Instar omnium, all in all. [Psalm 9:7, 8; Isaiah 43:11; Psalm 5:12, and 22:12; 2 Kings 6:26-27.]
Who is like him in all the world—to help his people in each and every direful circumstance? When friends cannot help, when power cannot help, when human wisdom cannot help, when riches cannot help, when princes cannot help, when governments cannot help—yet then God can and will help his people—when all human help fails. "The LORD will judge his people and have compassion on his servants when he sees their strength is gone and no one is left," Deut. 32:36. When God's people are at the very brink of ruin, then God will come in seasonably to their help; their extremity shall be his opportunity, to support his people, and to judge their enemies. No men, no devils, no power, no policy, can hinder God from helping, aiding, assisting, and supporting of his people in any needful circumstance. But,
[10.] Tenthly,"If God is for us—who can be against us?" I answer, None—so as to hinder the springs of joy and comfort from rising and flowing in their souls. Psalm 71:20-21, "Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again." The psalmist was in those desperate dangers, that he seemed to be as a man who was dead and buried—and yet he had faith enough to believe that God would surround him with cordials, and supply him with comforts from all sides. There is no true comfort to be drawn out of the stagnant pools of creature sufficiencies—but only out of the living fountains of the all-sufficiencies of the Lord Almighty.
"You shall comfort me on every side." Psalm 94:19, "In the multitude of my thoughts within me," or of my careful, troubled, perplexed thoughts, as the word properly signifies, "your comforts delight my soul." As the psalmist always found God a present help, so he always found him a present comfort in the day of troubles. God never did, nor ever will lack a cordial to revive and keep up the spirits of his people from fainting and sinking in an evil day. When the psalmist was under many griefs, cares, fears, and perplexities of spirit, God came in with those comforts which delighted his soul, and cheered up his spirits, Psalm 119:49-50. The word of the Lord is never more a word of comfort, nor the Spirit of the Lord is never more a Spirit of comfort—than when the saints are in their deepest distresses and sorest perplexities.
John 14:16, "And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another comforter, that he may abide with you forever;" verse 26, "But the comforter, who is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name." Hudson, the martyr, being at the stake, he went from under his chain, and having prayed earnestly, he was so comforted and refreshed by the Holy Spirit, that he suffered valiantly and cheerfully. The Holy Spirit is called again and again the comforter, because his office is to work consolation in the hearts of God's people in all their troubles and distresses. Spiritual comfort is therefore called "joy in the Holy Spirit," because the Holy Spirit creates it in the soul, Romans 14:17. When a man suffers for righteousness' sake, God comes with his cordials in the very nick of time, 1 Pet. 4:13. When a man's suffering is upon the account of Christ, God seldom fails to send the Comforter for the refreshing and relieving of his heart. When a man is under bodily confinement for the cause of Christ, God will never fail to be a spring of life, a well of salvation, and breast of consolation to him, Isaiah 12:3, and 66:11. When a Christian is brought down to his last "piece of bread," then is the season for God to feed him with heavenly manna.
"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior." Habakkuk 3:17-18. In these words you have these two parts:
(1.) A sad supposition, "Though the fig tree does not bud," etc.;
(2.) A noble and comfortable resolution, "Yet I will be joyful in God my Savior."
Let me first hint a little atthe sad supposition, "Though the fig tree does not bud," etc.
[1.] First, Though there should be a famine in that land, that of all lands was the most plentiful and fruitful land—yet Habakkuk "will be joyful in God my Savior." The land of Canaan, of all lands, was the most fruitful. It was as the garden of God. It was a land which "flowed with milk and honey," a land of vineyards, the best of all lands, as Moses describes it; a land that brought forth to Isaac no less than a hundredfold. It was so rich a land that it was the granary of other neighboring cities and countries. It had not only plenty for itself—but bounty for others. Yet now, when God shall turn a paradise into a wilderness, Habakkuk will rejoice in the God of his salvation, Deut. 8:7-9, and 32:13-14; Gen. 26:12; 1 Kings 5:11; Acts 12:20. But,
[2.] Secondly, When the anger and wrath of God shall cause a dearth in those fruits which naturally are most yielding and pleasant—yet then Habakkuk would rejoice in the God of his salvation. The fig-tree, of all trees, is most fruitful, bringing forth of its own accord, with the least care and culture, fructifying in the most barren and stony places, bearing twice a year, soonest ripening, and rarely failing. Just so, the vine, that is a fruitful plant, is made the emblem of plenty and fruitfulness. Now when there shall be a dearth upon these pleasant fruits—yet then Habakkuk will "rejoice in the God of his salvation." But,
[3.] Thirdly, Another print of divine displeasure in the scarcity threatened is, that it is a national famine, a general famine, an overspreading famine. Usually, if one part of the land suffers scarcity, other parts abound with plenty; but when God calls for a famine, he turns a whole land into a desert, into a barren wilderness. "Bashan languishes, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languishes," Psalm 107:33-34; Nah. 1:4. These were the richest soil of all the country—yet these were parched up and fruitless by God's displeasure. And yet for all this Habakkuk "will rejoice in the God of his salvation." But,
[4.] Fourthly, Another print of divine displeasure is this, that the Lord makes it a universal scarcity upon all kind of foods and supports of life. Here is the "staff of bread" broken, and "the herds and flocks fail," and the refreshing of the wine-press, "the seed and the vine, and the fig-tree and the olive-tree," all become fruitless. Such a desolation is more than ordinary. Usually, when one commodity fails, another abounds. If corn be costly, cattle will be cheap. That weather which ofttimes hinders one kind of grain, helps another; but here God blasts all the helps of nature. Therefore God compares his judgments to a fire which burns all before it: Joel 2:3, "The land is as the garden of Eden before it, and behind it a desolate wilderness," and this the Lord points at as a wonder: Joel 1:2, "Hear this, you old men"—who can talk of many years—"has this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers? that which the palmer-worm has left, has the caterpillars eaten." When God begins in a way of judgment, he makes an end, he makes the decays of nature excessive and violent; and yet Habakkuk will "rejoice in the God of his salvation."
In his resolution you have the first particle, "although," verse 17. Now this particle is an act of forecast; these miseries may befall us; and in the 18th verse you have the particle "yet," and that is an act of preparation against these miseries. That particle "although" forecasts the misery, and that particle "yet" foresees the remedy. He foresees sorrows in the first, and he provides against them in the second, "Yet I will rejoice in the God of my salvation."
Just so, Paul comes with a benediction in his mouth—and surely it was in his heart before it was in his mouth: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." 2 Corinthians 1:3-5. The apostle begins here with praise and thanksgiving, according to his accustomed manner in all his epistles; but contrary to his custom does he apply this thanksgiving wholly to himself. "The reason was," says Beza, "because the Corinthians began to despise him for his afflictions—it being the common course of the world to despise the people of God when they are under sufferings;" therefore he answered confidently for himself, that though he had been much afflicted—yet he had been much comforted; and rejoiced the more in his comforts, because God had comforted him for that very cause, that he might be able and willing to comfort others.
God is the God of all sorts and degrees of comfort. He has all comforts at his disposal. This phrase, "The God of all comforts," intimates to us;
(1.) That no comfort can be found anywhere else; God has the sole gift of comfort.
(2.) Not only some—but all comfort; no imaginable comfort is lacking in him, nor to be found outside of him. Look! as the air lights not without the sun, and as fuel heats not without fire, so neither can anything soundly comfort us without God.
(3.) All degrees of comfort are to be found in him, in our greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers. The lower the ebb—the higher the tide; the deeper the distress—the greater the comforts. Though the apostle was greatly afflicted—yet his comforts did exceed his afflictions: 2 Cor. 7:6, "God, who comforts the downcast." When the Corinthians were in a very low condition, when they were even spent with grief and swallowed up in sorrows, when they were destitute of all relief and comfort, then the God of all comforts did comfort them. The comfort of God is his most sweet attribute; it is a breast which we should be always sucking at. No tribulations, no persecutions, no grievances, no prison doors, no bolts, no bars, can keep out the consolations of God from flowing in upon his people. God loves to comfort his people when all their outward comforts fail them. God's comforts are not only sweet—but seasonable; he never comes too soon, nor ever stays too long.
"If one drop of the joy of the Holy Spirit should fall into hell, it would swallow up all the torments of hell," says Austin. "The joy of the Holy Spirit" will certainly swallow up all the troubles and sufferings that we meet with in a way of righteousness. None have been more divinely cheerful and merry than the saints have been under their greatest sufferings, 1 Pet. 4:12-14. John Noyes took up a faggot at the fire and kissed it, saying, "Blessed be the time that ever I was born to come to this preferment." When they fastened Alice Driver to the stake to be burnt, "Never did any necklace," said she, with a cheerful countenance, "suit me so well as this chain." Mr. Bradford took off his cap and thanked God when he was brought word that he was to be burnt on the morrow. Mr. Taylor began to dance when he had come near the place where he was to suffer. Thus you see that it is not the greatest troubles, nor the deepest distresses, nor the most deadly dangers, that can hinder the joy of the Lord from overflowing the soul. But,
[11.] Eleventhly,""If God is for us—who can be against us? I answer, None—so as to deprive us of our graces, which next to Christ are our choicest jewels. 1 John 3:9, "No one who is born of God will continue to sin." That is, he does not give himself over to a voluntary serving of sin; he does not make a trade of sin; he sins not totally, finally, maliciously, habitually, studiously, resolutely, willfully, delightfully, deadly. "He does not make it his work to sin," he cannot follow his lusts, as a workman follows his trade, "because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God." "God's seed," the seed of grace, is an abiding seed. Grace in itself is certain and unchangeable, though the feeling of grace, is uncertain. Grace has an abiding excellency in it; grace has eternity stamped upon it. It is durable riches. Other riches "make themselves wings, and fly from us," Proverbs 8:18, and 27:24; but grace will keep us company until we get to heaven. Our last step in holiness, will be into happiness. Grace is a blossom of eternity.
Grace is an anointing which abides, 1 John 2:27; John 4:14, and 7:38. That is, the principle of grace infused into you, which was typified by the unctions or anointings in the ceremonial law, which was signified by the precious ointment poured upon the head of Aaron, that ran down to the skirts of his garments—this principle will prove durable and lasting. Grace is "a well of water, springing up into everlasting life." Grace is a river of living water. Now this river can never be dried up, because the Spirit of God is the constant spring that feeds it and maintains it. Grace is not a stream or a pond which may run dry—but a well, yes, a springing well of inexhaustible fullness, sweetness, virtue, and refreshment.
Grace will still be springing up and flowing out in all the deportments of a Christian. Grace will be flowing out in all a Christian's duties and services, in his outward calling and employments, in his trials and sufferings. Grace will break out at a Christian's eyes, ears, tongue, hands, feet. Where grace is a well of water, a river of living water, there that Christian will see for Christ, and hear for Christ, and talk for Christ, and do for Christ, and walk with Christ. Grace is a well, a river, which will be springing up to everlasting life.
Grace and glory differ in degree, not in kind. Grace differs very little from glory. The one is the seed, the other the flower. Grace is glory militant, and glory is grace triumphant. Grace is a beginning of glory. It may be compared to the golden chain in Homer, whose top was fastened to the chair of Jupiter. Grace and glory are individual, yet inseparable. The psalmist joins them together, "The Lord will give grace and glory," Psalm 84:11. Grace is a living spring which never fails, a seed which never dies, a jewel which never consumes, a sun which never sets. All other gifts of whatever kind, worth, or excellency, are but like a cloud soon dispelled, a vessel of clay soon broken, a sandy foundation soon sunk. Grace is more excellent than gold. Gold draws the heart from God, grace draws the heart to God; gold does but enrich the mortal part, the ignoble part—but grace enriches the angelical part, the noble part; gold perishes—but grace perseveres, 1 Peter 1:7. If grace were not permanent, it could not be excellent; if grace were not durable, it could not be pleasurable; if grace were not lasting, yes everlasting, it could not be a Christian's comfort in life, his support in death, and his glorious crown in the great day of account. Grace in itself is permanent, incorruptible; it never fades away; it is a birth which shall never die; it is a plant of renown which shall never wither—but grow up more and more until grace is turned into glory. Upon which account, Jerome would rather have Paul's poor coat with his heavenly graces—than the purple of kings with their kingdoms. No troubles, no distresses, no dangers can deprive us of our graces, can rob us of our spiritual treasure. But,
[12.] Twelfthly, "If God is for us—who can be against us?" I answer, None, so as to deprive us of our inward peace, rest, and quiet. Though it thunders, and lightenings, and rains, and blows abroad—yet a man may be at peace and rest and quiet at home. A man may have much trouble in the world—and yet rest and quiet in his own spirit: John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world gives give I unto you," "let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." No men nor devils, no troubles nor distresses, can deprive a Christian of that inward and blessed peace which Christ has purchased and paid so dear for. Peace with God, and peace of conscience, are rare jewels, which none can strip us of.
The world may wish you peace—but it is only Christ, who can give you peace, Romans 5:1, and 2 Cor. 1:12. The world's peace is commonly a dearly-bought peace; but Christ's peace is a cheap peace, a free peace. "My peace I give unto you." The world's peace is commonly a sinful peace—but Christ's peace is a holy peace. The world's peace is a cursed peace—but Christ's peace is a blessed peace. The world's peace is but an earthly peace—but Christ's peace is a heavenly peace, Romans 14:17; Heb. 12:14, and Psalm 29:11. The kingdom of God consists not in food or drink—but "in righteousness, and peace, and joy of the Holy Spirit." The world's peace is but an imaginary peace—but Christ's peace is a real peace. The world's peace is but a superficial peace—but Christ's peace is a solid and substantial peace. The world's peace is but a transient peace—but Christ's peace is a permanent peace. The world's peace is but a temporary peace—but Christ's peace is an eternal peace. It is a peace which all the world can't give to a Christian, and it is a peace which all the world can't take from a Christian, 1 Thes. 5:3; 1 Pet. 3:11; James 3:21; Isaiah 9:6-7; Psalm 37; Isaiah 26:3, and 27:5.
When the tyrant threatened one of the ancients that he would "take away his house," he answered, "But you cannot take away my peace." "I will break up your school;" "But I shall I keep whole my peace." "I will confiscate all your goods;" "But you cannot take away my peace." "I will banish you your country." "Yet I shall carry my peace with me."
All above a believer is at peace; the controversy between God and him is ended. Christ takes up the quarrel between God and a believer. "We have peace with God," Romans 5:1.
All within a believer is at peace. A peaceable God makes all at peace. When our peace is made in the court of heaven, which is upon the first act of believing, then follows peace in the court of conscience, "peace which passes all understanding," Phil. 4:7.
And all below a believer is at peace with him. He has peace with all the creatures. When we are friends with God, then all the creatures are our friends. "The stones of the field shall be at league with you, the beasts of the field shall be at peace with you," etc., Job 5:23.
The peace which Christ gives is the inheritance of saints only. It was all the legacy which the Prince of peace left to his subjects, and this legacy none can take from them. Persecutors may take away my goods—but they cannot take away my peace; they may take away my estate—but they cannot take away my peace; they may take away my liberty—but they cannot take away my peace; they may take away my good name—but they cannot take away my peace; they may take away my family—but they cannot take away my peace; they may take away my life—but they cannot take away my peace.
I grant that the best Christians have no perfection of peace, because they have no perfection of grace. If there were a perfection of grace, then there might be a perfection of peace; but the perfection of both is reserved for the eternal world; and it must be granted that though sometimes a believer may lack the sense of peace, the sweet of peace—yet the grounds of his peace are still fixed, certain, and constant; they are "like mount Zion, which cannot be moved."
Now the grounds of a Christian's peace are these—namely, a saving interest in Christ, reconciliation with God, justification, remission of sin, adoption, the covenant of grace and peace, etc. Now these are always sure and everlasting, though the sense of peace may ebb and flow, rise and fall, in a believer's bosom, especially when he is a-combating with strong corruptions, or high temptations, or under sad desertions, or when unbelief has got the throne, or when their hearts are quarrelsome—for commonly a quarrelsome heart is a troublesome heart, or when they have blotted their evidences for heaven, or when they are fallen from their first love, or when they have contracted eminent guilt upon their souls, or when they are declined in their communion with God, etc.
Now in these cases, though a believer may lose the sense of peace—yet the grounds of his peace remain firm and sure. And though he may lose the sense of his peace—yet in all these sad and dark conditions, his soul is day and night in the pursuit of peace, and he will never leave the chase until he has recovered his peace, knowing that God will sooner or later speak peace to his soul. Yes, though he has lost the sense of peace—yet he has that abiding seed of grace in his soul, which will in time recover his peace, Psalm 85:8.
Do your enemies threaten to take away this or that from you? You may bid them do their worst, for they can never take that peace from you, which Christ has given as a legacy to you, 1 John 3:9. When there are ever so great storms within or without—yet then a believer may find peace in the prince of peace, Isaiah 9:6. When his imperfections are many, a perfect Savior can keep him in perfect peace in the midst of them all, Isaiah 26:3-4. Though his sacrifices are imperfect—yet Christ a perfect priest can speak peace to his soul, Heb. 7.
Peace is that never-fading garland which Christ will so set and settle upon the heads of the upright, that none shall be able to take it off. A Christian can never lose his inward peace—either totally or finally. It is true by sin, Satan, and the world—a Christian's peace may be somewhat interrupted—but it can never be finally lost. The greatest storms in this world which beat upon a believer will in time blow over, and the Sun of righteousness, the prince of peace, will shine as gloriously upon him as ever.
Under this word Shalom, the Jews comprehend all peace, prosperity, and happy success. When the worst of men have done their worst against the people of God—yet the outcome shall be peace, prosperity, and happy success. "My peace I give unto you;" that is, that "peace with God, and peace with conscience, which I have purchased with my blood—I give unto you." And what power or policy is there, which can deprive us of this legacy? surely none! The peace which Christ gives is founded upon his blood, upon his righteousness, upon his atoning sacrifice, upon his intercession, and upon a covenant of peace—and therefore it must needs be a lasting peace, an abiding peace. But,
[13.] Thirteenthly,"If God is for us—who can be against us?" I answer—None, so as to hinder us from being hidden, secured, guarded, and protected by God in an evil day, or in a day of greatest trouble, distress, or danger. "Now Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had given these orders about Jeremiah through Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard—Take him and look after him; don't harm him but do for him whatever he asks." Jeremiah 39:11-12. Here you shall see the admirable power, wisdom, and goodness of God, in inclining the heart of this great monarch and conqueror to provide for the prophet's safety and security. He who was a dreadful scourge to punish the wicked—is made by God the deliverer and preserver of the prophet. In the 12th verse you have the king's royal commission to the captain of his guard to be as kind to him, as tender of him, and to behave as courteously to him even as the prophet himself should desire: "Take him and look after him; don't harm him but do for him whatever he asks." Let him have all the contentment, all the satisfaction, and all the accommodations which he himself shall require.
Jer. 15:11, "The Lord said—All will be well with you, Jeremiah." A speech in the nature of an oath, as if God had said, "Let me not be deemed a God of my word, let me not be accounted true, let none reckon me faithful in my promise—if I don't turn his sufferings into his advantage, and save him from danger in the midst of danger." If in the time of the enemies' invasion, I be not "a wall of fire about him," Zech. 2:5, if in the time of public calamity I don't secure him—never more trust me for a God. If he doesn't find more favor at the hand of his enemies than he has formerly found among his own people, never more own me for a God. Verse 20, "I am with you to save you, and to deliver you—says the Lord;" verse 21. "And I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem you out of the hand of the terrible," Jer. 40:1-5, 26:23-24, and 45:4. God engages himself to protect him against all the might and malice of his most terrible enemies; and though he should fall into their hands—yet he would deliver him out of their hands.
Psalm 33:3, "They have consulted against your hidden ones." The saints are:
(1.) hidden in God's decree,
(2.) hidden in Christ's wounds,
(3.) hidden in the chambers of divine providence,
(4.) hidden in common dangers, as Noah was hid in his ark, and as Lot was hid in Zoar, and as Daniel was hid in the lions' den, and as the three Hebrew children were hidden in the fiery furnace, and as Jonah was hidden in the whale's belly, Isaiah 26:20;
(5.) hidden "with Christ in God," Col. 3:3.
In times of greatest trouble the saints are hidden under the hollow of God's hand, under the shadow of God's wing, Psalm 91:1, 4. Psalm 27:5, "For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion." A little pavilion or cottage where God is—shall be sufficient to safeguard the saints in the day of adversity. "He shall hide me in his hut, as a shepherd does his sheep in a stormy day." In the secret of his tabernacle, shall he hide me. I shall be as safe as if I were shut up in his holy ark, tabernacle, or temple—where they use to flee for shelter to the horns of the altar, yes, as if a man were hidden in the most holy place, where none might enter but only the high-priest once a year, which is therefore called "God's secret place." A shepherd could not be more careful to shelter his sheep in a tent or tabernacle from the heat of the sun, nor could a king not be more ready to protect a favorite in his pavilion, whence none dared venture to take him-than God would be careful and ready to shroud and shelter his people from the rage, madness, and malice of their enemies, Ezek. 7:22.
How did God hide his church in Egypt? the bush was still burning—and yet was not consumed, Exod. 3:2-3. And how did he hide seven thousand in Elijah's time, who had not bowed their knees to Baal? 1 Kings 19:18. Though "the woman," the church, "is driven to flee into the wilderness—yet there she is hidden, and there she had a place prepared of God, that they give her care for 1,260 days," Rev. 12:6. Let our enemies do their worst, they shall not hinder us of divine protection. No power nor policy can hinder our being preserved and secured by God in the greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers which can attend us. But,
[14.] Fourteenthly,"If God is for us—who can be against us?" I answer—None, so as to deprive us of our union with Christ, as to dissolve that blessed union which is between Christ and our souls, John 15:1-5. When men and devils have done their worst, our marriage-union with Christ holds good. This union is indissoluble. This union between Christ and believers is not capable of any separation. They are so one, that all the violence of the world, nor all the power of darkness, can never be able to make them two again. Hence the apostle's triumphant challenge, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" Romans 8:35. If the question did not imply a strong negation, the apostle himself does give us a negation in words at length, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." verse 38-39.
Here you have a long catalogue, consisting of a large induction of various particulars; but none of all these can dissolve the union between Christ and believers. None can untie that knot which is tied by the Spirit on Christ's part, and by faith on ours. Christ and believers are so firmly joined together, that all the powers on earth, and all the united strength of hell—shall never be able to put them asunder, or to separate them one from another! Look! as no distance of place can hinder this union, so no force or violence from devils or men shall ever be able to dissolve this union; and herein lies the peculiar transcendent blessedness of this union above all other unions. They all may cease, be broken, and come to nothing; everyone of them must be broken. The head must be separated from the members, and the members from the head; the husband must be separated from the wife, and the wife from the husband; the parents must be separated from the children, and the children from the parents, and bosom friends must be separated one from another. The foundation and the house may be separated, and the branches may be cut off from the vine—yes, the soul and body must be disunited by death—but the mystical union stands fast forever. Christ and a gracious soul can never be separated; God has joined them together, and no mortal shall ever be able to put them asunder, Mat. 19:6.
There is not only a continuation of our union with Christ all our life—but also in death itself. Our very bodies sleeping in the dust are even then in union with Christ. There are two abiding things in the saints, their unction and their union. Their unction abides, "But the anointing which you have received of him abides in you," 1 John 2:27; and their union abides, for it follows, "and you shall abide in him." Christ earnestly prays that we might be one, as he and his Father are one, John 17:20-23; not essentially, nor personally—but spiritually, so as no other creature is united to Christ. There can be no divorce between Christ and the believing soul. Christ hates divorce, Mal. 2:16. Sin may for a time seemingly separate between Christ and the believer—but it can never finally separate between Christ and the believer. Look! as it is impossible for the leaven that is in the dough to be separated from the dough after it is once mixed, for it turns the nature of the dough into itself; so it is impossible for the saints ever to be separated from Christ: for Christ is in the saints as nearly and as really as the leaven is in the dough. Christ and believers are so incorporated, as if Christ and they were one lump, Romans 8:10; Col. 1:27; 1 John 3:21; John 17:23.
Our nature is now joined to God by the indissoluble tie of the hypostatic union in the second person; and we in our persons are joined to God by the mystical indissoluble bond of the Spirit, the third person. Our union with the Lord Jesus is so near, so close, and so glorious—that it makes us one spirit with him. In this blessed union the saints are not only joined to the graces and benefits which flow from Christ—but to the person of Christ, to Christ himself! 1 Cor. 6:17. All the powers on earth, and all the powers in hell, can never separate Christ from the believer, nor the believer from Christ. When all other unions are dissolved, this union holds good, John 1:16; Romans 8:32; 1 Cor. 3:21-23.
I readily grant that the sense and apprehension of this union may in this life be much interrupted, and many times greatly darkened—but the substance of the union still remains. And I readily grant that a believer may be much assaulted and tempted to doubt of his union with Christ, and to question his union with Christ—and yet nevertheless a believer's union with Christ continues and abides forever. And I readily grant that the influences of it for some time may be suspended—but yet the union itself is not—nay, cannot be dissolved! As it was in the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ; for a time there was a suspending of the comforting influences of the divine nature in the human, insomuch that our Savior cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Mat. 27:46; yet for all this the union between the two natures was not in the least abolished. Just so, here in the mystical union the sensible effects, comforts, and benefits of our union with Christ may sometimes be kept hidden and not appear—but yet the union itself abides, and shall abide firm and inviolable forever; it is an inseparable and insuperable union.
Look! as no power on earth is sufficient to overpower the Spirit of Christ, which on Christ's part makes the union, so no power on earth shall be able to conquer faith, which on our part also makes the union, John 10:27-31; 1 John 4:4; 1 Pet. 1:5; Luke 22:31-32. Satan and the world may make attempts upon this union—but they will never be able to break this union, to dissolve this union; yes, though death is the bane of all natural unions—yet death can never be the bane of this mystical union. Though death puts an end to all other unions—yet death can never put a period to this union. When the believer is in his grave, his union with Christ holds good. But,
[15.] Fifteenthly,"If God is for us—who can be against us?" I answer—None, so as to deprive us of our crowns. There is no power nor policy on earth or in hell, which can deprive a Christian of his eternal crowns.
First, Of his crown of RIGHTEOUSNESS. 2 Tim. 4:8, "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." It is a metaphor, say several commentators, from the custom in war, that the conquerors were crowned with honor, etc. It is a similitude taken from fighters or combatants, who for a prize received a crown when they had conquered their opponent. The reward of eternal life here is called "a crown of righteousness":
(1.)Because it is purchased for us by the righteousness of Christ. By his perfect and complete righteousness and obedience, dear Jesus has merited this for us; and so in Christ—it is due to us by way of merit; though in respect of us—it is of mere grace, of rich grace, of sovereign grace, of infinite grace, of glorious grace!
(2.)Because he is righteous, who has promised this crown. Though every promise that God makes is of free and rich grace—yet when once they are made, the truth and justice of God obliges him to keep his promise; for as he cannot deny himself, so he cannot do anything unworthy of himself, Rev. 2:10, and 21; 1 John 2:25; 2 Thes. 1:5-7, 10. Men say and unsay, they promise one thing and mean another. Men many times eat their words as soon as they have spoken them; but God never can, and God never will break any of his promises. God can never repent of his promises; he can never waver, he can never go back from his word: God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: "has he said, and shall he not do it? or has he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" Num. 23:19.
All the promises of God are sure, firm, faithful, unchangeable, immutable. All the promises are the word of a God, and given upon the honor of a God, that they shall be made good. O my friends, the all-sufficiency of God, the omniscience of God, the omnipotence of God, the loving-kindness and faithfulness of God, yes, and the oath of God—may fully, yes, abundantly, satisfy us, and secure us—that God will certainly make good all his precious promises to us. We commonly say, when an honest man pledges his word to give us some money, "Oh, it is as sure as if it were in our purse!" But God's word of promise is abundantly more sure, for as his nature is eternal, so his word of promise is unchangeable. The promises are a firm foundation to build our hopes and happiness upon; they are an anchor both sure and steadfast, Hab. 2:3; Jer. 32:41; Psalm 89:34. Memorable is that saying of David, Psalm 138:2, "For you have magnified your word above all your name;" which is to be understood—that you have by your word, that is, by performing your word and promises, magnified your name above all things.
(3.)Because it is a just and righteous thing with God to crown them with glory at last—who have been crowned with shame, reproach, and dishonor for his name and interest in this world; so that eternal life is a crown of righteousness. God has promised it to such as overcome; and it is just with God to give unto his suffering servants rest and peace.
(4.)Because it is given only to righteous men. All who wear this crown come to it in a way of righteousness. A righteous crown cannot be had but in the use of righteous means. The Chaldean, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman princes commonly gained their crowns by fraud, flattery, policy, blood, etc.; so that their crowns were bloody crowns, and not righteous crowns.
(5.)And lastly, the apostle calls it "a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give him," the more fitly to follow the metaphor taken from runners and wrestlers for prizes at their solemn exercises or games in Greece, in which there were certain judges appointed to observe the games, and gave just sentence on the conqueror's side, if he strove lawfully, and fairly won the prize.
Now this crown is "laid up;" or "in store". The Greek word imports two things:
(1.) A designation of that which is laid up, is for some peculiar person;
(2.) A reservation and safe keeping of it, to the use of those it is designed for. Earthly crowns have been often pulled off from princes' heads—but this crown of righteousness is so safely laid up, that none can reach it, none can touch it, none can pull it from a believer's head. Xerxes crowned his steersman in the morning, and beheaded him in the evening of the same day. And Andronicus the Greek emperor crowned his admiral in the morning, and then took off his head in the afternoon. Roffensis had a cardinal's hat sent him—but his head was cut off before it came to him. "Does the crown," says Solomon, "endure to every generation?" Proverbs 27:24. It is a question which implies a strong negation: oh, no! there is nothing more uncertain than earthly crowns. Henry the Sixth was honored with the crowns of two kingdoms, France and England; the first was lost by the faction of his nobles, the other was twice pulled from his head. Princes' crowns are withering things. Earthly crowns may be soon put on, and as soon be pulled off. Most princes' crowns do but hang on one side of their heads.
But neither all the powers on earth, nor all the devils in hell, can ever reach this crown of righteousness. Though wicked men have long reaches—yet they can never reach a believer's crown, which is his joy and comfort in the midst of all his sorrows and sufferings. Thus Basil speaks of some martyrs who were cast out all night naked in a bitter cold frosty season, and were to be burned the next day, how they comforted themselves in this manner: "The winter is sharp—but paradise is sweet; here we shiver for cold—but the bosom of Abraham will make amends for all." One said to the tyrant's face: "You may kill me—but you cannot hurt me; you may take away my head—but you cannot take away my crown." O Christians! let this be your joy and triumph—that the crown of righteousness is laid up safe for you; no tyrant's arm is long enough to reach that crown. But,
Secondly,There is no power nor policy on earth or in hell, which can deprive a Christian of his crown of LIFE: James 1:12, "Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love him." "The crown of life," that is eternal life, whereby after the fight and conquest, he shall be glorified as with a crown; just as there was a crown for him who overcame in their games among the Grecians, (Piscator.) Blessedness is the general reward, the crown of life is the particular reward. In these words, as Chrysostom observes, there is a great emphasis, they are both emphatic; for life is the best of all natural things, and a crown is the best of all civil things. Here is the best and the best. Words are too weak to express what a rare blessing a crown of life is. "The crown of life is for the eternal world," says Gregory. This life is the life of conflict; eternity is for crowns and wreaths. But you will say, What does this crown of life signify? I answer,
(1.)First, The crown of life signifies solid and substantial honor and glory; as a crown is a solid and substantial thing. Heaven admits of no honor and glory, but what is solid and substantial. The crown of life is a massive crown, a ponderous crown—to show that the glory above is a massive glory, substantial glory. That you may see it is massive and substantial, observe how the apostle describes: "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all!" 2 Cor. 4:17. Such a weight as infinitely over-poises all afflictions. The apostle alludes to words, which signify both weight and glory. The Arabic version renders it, "Works for us a weight of glory in the most eminent and largest degree and measure." The Syriac reads it, "An infinite glory." Haymo reads it, "A greatness of glory, beyond all bounds and measure." Beza reads it, "Exceedingly excellent." Yet none of these reach the height of the apostle's rhetoric, neither is any translation able to express it. Glory is so great a weight that if the saints were not upheld by the infinite power and strength of God—it would be impossible they should be able to bear it.
To gold and precious things, the weight adds to the value; as the more massive and weighty a crown is, the more it is worth. The glory of heaven is not only eternal glory—but it is "an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." Yes, such a weight as exceeds all expressions, all comparisons. The honor and glory of this present world is but like the crackling of thorns under a pot; it is but like a blaze, a shadow, a dream, a vapor; it is but like a fading flower, or the picture of a prince drawn upon the ice, with his purple robes and his glorious crown, etc., which melts away as soon as the sun rises! The consideration of which made one prince say of his crown: "O crown more noble than happy!"
A crown is the choicest and chief of all human rewards. Among all earthly gifts, none more honorable and glorious than a crown. This is the height of human excellencies, and for the attainment of which many have made most sad, desperate, and dangerous adventures. But, alas what are all earthly crowns, for honor and dignity, compared to the crown of life? No more than shadows compared to substances; pebbles compared to pearls; or dross compared to gold! But,
(2.)Secondly, The crown of life signifies the greatest honor and glory. There is nothing higher in the estimation and in the admiration of men, than a crown. A crown is the highest emblem of majesty, and so it notes that imperial and kingly dignity to which believers are advanced by Christ, Psalm 8:7. There is nothing that men esteem of above a crown, or admire than a crown, or are ambitious of than a crown, Eph. 1:3. The crown is the top of royalty. All earthly crowns have crosses hanging upon them; all earthly crowns are stuffed with thorns. Which made the great Xerxes say, "You look upon my crown and my purple robes—but did you but know how they are lined with thorns, you would not stoop to take them up!" Queen Elizabeth is said to swim to her crown through a sea of sorrow. And so many of the princes of this world have swam to their crowns through a sea of sin, a sea of trouble, a sea of sorrow, and a sea of blood.
But the crown of life is an honorable crown, and that is the reason why the heavenly glory is expressed by a crown, Rev. 3:21. The saints are heirs, not only of Christ's cross in this life—but also of his eternal crown; that is, of his honor and glory. The honor and glory of all earthly crowns are greatly darkened and obscured by the cares and troubles, the temptations and dangers which are inseparably annexed to them; but no cares, no troubles, attend the crown of life, the crown of glory! Eternal life is a coronation day! But,
(3.)Thirdly, The crown of life signifies the reward of victory. A crown is the honor of those who strive; crowns were always the rewards of conquerors: Rev. 2:10, "Be faithful to the death, and I will give you a crown of life." That is, a crown without cares, rivals, competition, envy, or end—a crown not of gold, silver, pearls, laurels, or such like fading, perishing, corruptible things—but a crown of life, an ever-living crown, an everlasting crown, a never-fading crown. It is an allusion to a custom that was among the Grecians, for such as got the mastery in their games of wrestling, or running, or the like, were crowned with a garland in token of victory. It is not he who fights—but he who conquers, who carries the crown. The crown of life is for that man, and that man is for the crown of life—who holds on conquering and to conquer, as Christ his head has done before him.
The heathens in their Olympics had their cups, and garments, and crowns which were the rewards of the conquerors; yes, if a horse did but run a race and won, he had a cup or a crown; and thereupon Theocritus says, "See what poor things the world glories in—when conquerors are crowned—so are their horses!" But what were all their cups, garments, and crowns of ivy and laurel, etc., compared to this crown of life which is promised to the overcoming Christian? You must first be conquering Christians before you shall be crowned Christians!
Says Ambrose, "Why would you preposterously have the crown, before you overcome? While we are in our warring state, fighting against the world, the flesh and the devil—a crown does not befit us." I have read how that upon a triumph of Emperor Severus, all his soldiers, for the greater pomp, were to put on crowns of ivy. But there was one Christian among them who wore it on his arm, and being asked the reason why, he boldly answered, "It befits not a Christian to wear his crown in this life!" That crown which is made out of the tree of life is a wreath of laurel which never withers—a crown which never fades—a crown which will sit fast on no head but the conqueror's! But,
(4.)Fourthly, The crown of life signifies a lasting crown, a living crown. To say the crown of life, is to say a living crown; and living crowns are only to be found in heaven, Proverbs 27:24; Ezek. 21:25-27. The word crown notes the perpetuity of glory. A crown is round, and has neither beginning nor ending; and therefore the glory of the saints in heaven is called an immortal, incorruptible, and never-fading crown, 2 Pet. 1:4; 1 Cor. 9:24. The crown of life signifies the lasting honor and glory of the saints in heaven. I have read of an emperor who had three crowns—one on his sword; another on his head; and says he, "The third is in heaven. My hope shall be in the everlasting crown."
The life to come is only the true life, the happy life, the safe life, the honorable life, the lasting, yes, the everlasting life; and therefore the crown of life is reserved for that life. King William the Conqueror was crowned different three times every year of his reign, at three different places—namely, Gloucester, Winchester, and Westminster—but death has long since put an end to his crown. The crowns of the greatest monarchs in the world, though they last long—yet are corruptible, subject to wearing, cracking, stealing. Their crowns will either be taken away from them—or they will be taken away from their crowns, suddenly. Witness that pile of crowns, as the historian speaks, which was piled up, as it were, at Alexander's gates, when he sat down and wept because there were no more worlds to conquer. All scripture and histories do abundantly tell us, that there is nothing more fading than princes' crowns! But,
(5.)Fifthly, The crown of life notes a well-entitled crown; a crown which comes by a true and noble title. A Christian has the best title imaginable to the crown of life.
(1.) He has a title by Christ's blood;
(2.) He has a title by the new birth;
(3.) He has a title by free and precious promises;
(4.) He has a title by donation;
(5.) He has a title by marriage union and communion with Christ, who is heir-apparent to all the glory of heaven;
(6.) He has a title by a sure and everlasting covenant. [Eph. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:3-4; 2 Pet. 1:4; Luke 12:32; 2 Cor. 11:2; Heb. 1:2; 2 Sam. 23:5 Jer. 32:40, 41.]
King Henry the Seventh of England pretended a sixfold title to the crown;
(1.) By conquest;
(2.) By the election of the soldiers in the field;
(3.) By parliament;
(4.) By birth;
(5.) By donation;
(6.) By marriage. But what was his pretended title, compared to that real and full title which a believer has to the crown of life? But,
(6.)Sixthly, and lastly, The crown of life notes the perfection of the glory of the saints in heaven. "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." Psalm 16:11. "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him! 1 Corinthians 2:9. As the crown compasses the head, so in heaven there is an aggregation of all spiritual and eternal good. One of the ancients, speaking concerning what we can conceive of the glory of heaven, says, "Our conception of heaven, is but a little drop of the sea, and a little spark of the great furnace. For those glorious things of heaven are so many that they exceed number, so great that they exceed measure, so precious that they are above all estimation!" Neither Christ nor heaven can be hyperbolised!
Says one of the fathers, "What will that life be, or rather, what will that life not be, since all good is in such a life? Light which place cannot comprehend, voices and music which time cannot ravish away, odors which are never dissipated, a feast which is never consumed, a blessing which eternity bestows—but eternity shall never see at an end!"
Says another, "Do you ask me what heaven is? When I meet you there I will tell you!" "The world to come," say the Rabbis, "is the world where all is well." I have read of one who would willingly swim through a sea of brimstone to get to heaven; for there, and only there, is perfection of happiness. What are the silks of Persia, the spices of Egypt, the gold of Ophir, and the treasures of both Indies, compared to the glory of the eternal world?
Says Jerome, "Are you able to put the whole earth, and all the waters of the sea--into a little pot? Can you hold the oceans in your hand? Can you measure the heavens with your fingers--or weight the hills and mountains with a scale? Just so, it is not possible that you can comprehend the least of the joys of heaven! Certainly, the least of the joys of heaven are inconceivable and inexpressible!"
Thirdly, There is no power nor policy on earth or in hell, that can deprive a believer of an INCORRUPTIBLE crown: Psalm 21:3; 1 Cor. 9:25, "Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever." He alludes to the Olympic games—of which running and wrestling were two of the games. Now in these Olympic games the reward was only a corruptible crown, a crown made up of laurels, or olive-branches, or oak-leaves, or of flowers and herbs, or at the highest of silver and gold, which soon faded. But we run for an incorruptible crown of glory! "A man," says Chrysostom, "would dwell in contemplation of heaven—and be reluctant to come out of it." Nay, says Augustine, a man might age himself in it, and sooner grow old than weary! 1 Peter 1:4, "To an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance, and which does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you." Here are superexcellent properties of the heavenly inheritance.
(1.) First, It is "an incorruptible inheritance." [Gen. 3:18; Isaiah 23:9.] All earthly inheritances are liable to corruption; they are true gardens of Adonis, where we can gather nothing but trivial flowers, surrounded with many briars, thorns, and thistles. Oh, the hands, the hearts, the thoughts, the lives—which have been corrupted by earthly inheritances! Oh, the impure love, the carnal confidence, the vain boastings, the sensual joys—which have been the products of earthly inheritances. If a man's estate lies in money, that may rust, or the thieves may break through and steal it. If a man's estate lies cattle, they may die, or fall into the hands of the Sabeans and Chaldeans. If a man's estate lies in houses, they may be burnt. Witness the late dreadful fire that turned London into a ruinous heap. If a man's estate lies in lands, a foreign enemy may invade them and conquer them. [James 5:2-5; Mat. 6:19-20; Job 1:14-15, 17.] All earthly inheritances are no better than the cities which Solomon gave to Hiram, which he called Cabul, that is—'worthless, good-for-nothing, displeasing or dirty.' "But when Hiram went from Tyre to see the towns that Solomon had given him, he was not pleased with them. 'What kind of towns are these you have given me, my brother?' he asked. And he called them the Land of Cabul, a name they have to this day." 1 Kings 9:12-13. Earthly inheritances do but dirt, daub, and dust people; it is only the heavenly inheritance which is incorruptible.
(2.) Secondly, It is "an undefiled inheritance." There are few earthly inheritances—but some defilement or other sticks close to them. Many times they are gotten by fraud, oppression, violence, injustice, etc., and as they are often wickedly gotten—so they are as often wickedly kept. The heavenly inheritance is the only undefiled inheritance. No sin, no sinner, no devil—can enter to defile or pollute the heavenly inheritance, the incorruptible crown. The Greek word signifies a precious stone, which though it be ever so much soiled—yet it cannot be blemished nor defiled; yes the oftener you cast it into the fire and take it out, the more clear, bright, and shining it is! The apostle may probably allude to this stone: and it is as if he should say, The incorruptible crown that you shall receive, shall be studded with these precious stones, which cannot be defiled. No unclean thing shall enter into heaven to defile this crown, this inheritance! The serpent got into the earthly paradise, and defiled Adam's crown, yes he robbed him of his crown! But the subtle serpent can never enter into the heavenly paradise! "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life." Revelation 21:27. But,
(3.) Thirdly, It is an "inheritance which does not fade away." This is a metaphor taken from flowers. The beauty of flowers, and the sweetness of flowers, withers in a moment, and is quickly gone, and then they are good for nothing but to be cast upon the ash-heap. So it is with all earthly inheritances, they soon lose their glory and fragrancy. Where is the glory of the Chaldean, Persian, Grecian, and Roman kingdoms? Dan. 7:3-8. "Fading glory" has been long since written upon them all! Yes, all the glory of the world is like the flower of the field, which soon fades away! Isaiah 40:6; 1 Pet. 1:24. How many great men and great kingdoms have for a time shined in great glory, even like so many suns in the sky—but are now vanished away like so many blazing comets! How has the moon of great men's honors been eclipsed; and the sun of their pomp gone down at noon! How soon is the courtier's glory eclipsed if his prince does but frown upon him! And how soon does the prince become a peasant—if God does but frown upon him!
The Greek word amarantos, say some, is the proper name of a flower which is still fresh and green after it has hung up in the house a long time. It is as if the apostle had said, "Your incorruptible crown shall be garnished or adorned with the precious flower amarantos, which is always fresh and green and flourishing. And indeed this is the excellency of the heavenly inheritance, that it fades not away, that it is a flower that never withers. All the glory of heaven is like God himself—lasting, yes, everlasting! This never-fading crown is always fresh and resplendent. The glory of believers shall never fade nor wither, it shall never grow old nor rusty. Thrice happy are those souls that have a share in this incorruptible crown! When Alexander heard the philosopher's discourse of the eternal world in which he had no part, he wept, to speak with the apostle, as "one without hope," 1 Thes. 4:13. None on earth have such cause to weep, as those who have no interest in that inheritance that fades not away. But,
(4.) Fourthly and lastly, There is no power nor policy on earth or in hell, which can deprive a sincere Christian of a crown of glory. 1 Pet. 5:4, "And when the chief shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a crown of glory which fades not away,"—as the garlands faded, with which the conquerors at games, races, and combats were crowned, which were made of herbs, leaves, and flowers. A crown imports perpetuity, plenty, dignity. A crown is the height of human ambition. The Greek word comes from amarantos, which is a flower that fades not, of which garlands were made in former times, and with which they crowned the images of the heathen gods. A believer's crown, his inheritance, his glory, his happiness, his blessedness—shall be as fresh and flourishing after he has been many millions of years in heaven—as it was at his first entrance into it. Earthly crowns are like tennis-balls, which are bandied up and down from one to another, and in time wear out. When time shall be no more, when earthly crowns and kingdoms shall be no more, yes, when the world shall be no more—a Christian's crown of glory shall be fresh, flourishing, and continuing. All the devils in hell shall never wrangle a believer out of his heavenly inheritance, nor deprive him of his crown of glory. The least thing in—heaven is better than the greatest things in this world. All things on earth are fading—but the crown of glory never fades away.
Thus you see why heaven and the glory above is expressed by a crown. Sometimes it is called a crown of righteousness, to note the grounds and rise of it; sometimes it is called a crown of life, because it is only to be enjoyed in everlasting life; sometimes it is called an incorruptible crown, to note the duration and continuance of it; and sometimes it is called a crown of glory, to note the honor, splendor, and eternity of it. Now let devils, let oppressors, let persecutors do their worst—they shall never be able to deprive the saints of their blessed and glorious crowns. But,
[16.] Sixteenthly,"If God is for us—who can be against us?" I answer—None, so as to make void our covenant-relation, or our covenant-interest; as you may see by comparing these scriptures together. [Psalm 89:30, 35; Jer. 31:31, and 31:38-41; Isaiah 54:10; Heb. 8:8, 10.]
The covenant of grace is founded upon God's free LOVE, upon God's everlasting love, upon God's special and peculiar love, upon God's unchangeable love—so that God can as soon cease to be, as he can cease to love those whom he has taken into covenant with himself, or cease to keep covenant with them. Those whom free grace has brought into covenant, shall continue in covenant forever and ever. Once in covenant—forever in covenant.
The covenant of grace is also founded upon God's immutable counsel and purpose. "The foundation of God stands sure," Heb. 6:17; 2 Tim. 2:19, that is, the degree and purpose of God's election stands firm and sure. Now the purpose of God's election is compared to a foundation, because it is that upon which all our happiness and blessedness is built and bottomed, and because as a foundation it abides firm and sure, John 10:28-32; 1 Pet. 1:5; Jude 1.
The covenant of grace is also founded upon God's glorious POWER, upon God's infinite power, upon God's supreme power, upon God's invincible power, upon God's independent power, upon God's incomparable power; and until you can find a power that can overmatch this divine power, the saints' covenant-relation holds good.
The covenant of grace is also founded upon the OATH of God; "To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, the oath which he swore to our fathers," Luke 1:72-73. Now to think that God will break his oath, or be perjured, is an intolerable blasphemy.
The covenant of grace is bottomed upon the precious blood of Christ. The blood of Christ is called "The blood of the everlasting covenant." "Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant," Mat. 26:28; Heb. 9:15, and 13:20.
Now by these hints it is most evident that the saints' covenant-relation, their covenant-interest, holds good at all times, in all cases, and in all conditions. It is not the indwelling power of sin, nor spiritual desertions, nor violent temptations, nor heavy afflictions, nor divine delays, which can dissolve our covenant-relation. Though sin may work, and Satan may tempt, and fears may be high, and God may hide his face from his people, and stop his ears at the prayers of his people, Isaiah 8:17; Lam. 3:44—yet God will still maintain his interest in his people, and his people's relation to himself. "God has not cast away his people, whom he foreknew," Romans 11:2; "I am the Lord, I change not," Mal. 3:6; "I will betroth you unto me for ever," Hosea 2:19; "I will never leave you, nor forsake you," Heb. 13:5. It is not all the powers of hell, nor all the powers on earth, that can make null or void our covenant-relation, our covenant-interest. But,
(17.) Seventeenthly and lastly,"If God is for us—who can be against us?" I answer—None, so as to hinder our growth in grace, or the thriving and flourishing estate of our precious and immortal souls. The troubles, afflictions, persecutions, and sufferings that the saints meet with in a way of holiness, shall but further the increase and growth of their graces. Grace never rises to so great a height as it does in times of persecution. Suffering times are a Christian's harvest times, Ps. 60:7-9, 12.
Let me instance in that grace of zeal: I remember Moulin, speaking of the French Protestants, says, "When papists hurt us, and persecute us for reading the Scripture, we burn with zeal to be reading of them. But now that persecution is over, our Bibles are like old almanacs." Michal's scoffing at David did but inflame and raise his zeal; "If this is vile—I will be more vile," 2 Sam. 6:20-22. Look! as fire in the winter burns the hotter, because of the coldness of the air; just so, in the winter of persecution, that divine fire, the zeal of a Christian, burns so much the hotter, and flames forth so much the more vehemently and strongly.
Hot persecutions will but set Christians all on fire for God, as you may see among the apostles, primitive Christians, and the martyrs of a later date. Grace usually is in the greatest flourish, when the saints are under the greatest trials. The trimming of the candle makes it burn the brighter. God allows wicked men to beat and bruise his people, to make them burn the brighter; and to pound and bruise his spices, to make them send forth the greater aromatic flavor. Fiery trials are like the teazle, which though it be sharp and scratching, it is to make the cloth more pure and fine. Stars shine brightest in the darkest nights; just so, do the graces of the saints shine brightest in the darkest nights of affliction and tribulation. God does sometimes more carry on the growth of grace by a cross than by an ordinance. Yes, the Lord will sooner or later turn all fiery trials into ordinances, for the helping on the growth of grace in his people's souls.
Commonly the saints' spiritual growth in grace, is carried on by such divine methods, and in such ways as might seem to deaden grace, and weaken it—rather than any ways to augment and increase it. We know that winter is as necessary to bring on harvest as the spring, and so fiery trials are as necessary to bring on the harvest of grace as the spring of mercy is. Though fiery trials are grievous—yet they shall make the saints more gracious. God usually, by sharp sufferings, turns his people's sparks of grace into a mighty flame; their mites into millions; their drops into seas. All the devils in hell, and all the sinners on earth, cannot hinder the Lord from carrying on the growth of grace in his people's souls. When men and devils have done their worst, God will, by all sorts of ordinances, and by all sorts of providences, and all sorts of changes—make his people more and more holy, and more and more humble, and more and more meek and lowly, and more and more heavenly, wise, faithful, fruitful, sincere, courageous, etc.
Though the church of Smyrna was outwardly poor—yet she was inwardly rich, rich in grace, and rich towards God, Rev. 2:9. I think he hit the mark on the head, who said, "It is far better to be a poor man—and a rich Christian; than to be a rich man—and a poor Christian." Though the Corinthians were under great trials and sufferings—yet they abounded in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and diligence, and in their love to gospel ministers, 2 Cor. 8:7. The storm beat hard upon the Romans—and yet you see what a singular testimony the apostle gives of them, "I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able to admonish one another," Romans 15:14. The Thessalonians were under great persecutions and troubles—and yet were strong in the grace that was in Christ Jesus; they were very growing and flourishing Christians.
Singular prophecies speak out the saints' growth and flourishing in grace. "The Lord is exalted; for he dwells on high: he has filled Zion with judgment and righteousness." "The Spirit shall be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness shall be a fruitful field." [2 Thes. 1:3, 8; Isaiah 33:5, 32:15, 35:1.] "The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose: it shall blossom abundantly." "The glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon." "They shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God."
And as singular prophecies, so choice and precious promises, speak out the saints' growth in grace. Take a taste of some of them. "But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day." "The righteous shall hold on his way; and he who has clean hands shall be stronger and stronger." "They shall go from strength to strength; everyone of them in Zion appears before God." "The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon." "Those who be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God; in old age they shall be fat and flourishing," Proverbs 4:18; Job 17:9; Psalm 84:7, and 92:12-14.
I have read of an old man who, being asked whether he grew in grace? answered, "I believe I do, for God has promised that in old age his children should be fat and flourishing." Just so, Isaiah 46:3, "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth." verse 4, "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you." Zech. 12:8, "And he who is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the Lord before them." Hosea 14:5, "I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon." verse 6, "His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive-tree, and his smell as Lebanon." verse 7, "Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon." Mal. 4:2, "But unto you who fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing under his wings; and you shall go forth, and grow up as the calves of the stall." Psalm 1:3, "He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, which brings forth it's fruit in his season: his leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper." John 4:14, "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up to eternal life."
The light and glory of the church rises by degrees;
(1.) Looking forth as the morning; with a little light;
(2.) Fair as the moon; more light;
(3.) Clear as the sun; that is, come up to a higher degree of spiritual light, life, and glory, Cant. 6:10. By all which it is most evident that all the powers of hell, nor all the powers on earth—can hinder the saints' growth in grace, nor the thriving and flourishing estate of their precious and immortal souls.