Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am o jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of then that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.' Exod 20: 4-6.
I. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
In the first commandment worshipping a false god is forbidden; in this, worshipping the true God in a false manner.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.' This forbids not making an image for civil use. Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, It is Caesar's.' Matt 22: 20, 21. But the commandment forbids setting up an image for religious use or worship.
Nor the likeness of any thing,' &c. All ideas, portraitures, shapes, images of God, whether by effigies or pictures, are here forbidden. Take heed lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make the similitude of any figure.' Deut 4: 15, 16. God is to be adored in the heart, not painted to the eye.
Thou shalt not bow down to them.' The intent of making images and pictures is to worship them. No sooner was Nebuchadnezzar's golden image set up, but all the people fell down and worshipped it. Dan 3: 7. God forbids such prostrating ourselves before an idol. The thing prohibited in this commandment is image-worship. To set up an image to represent God, is debasing him. If any one should make images of snakes or spiders, saying he did it to represent his prince, would not the prince take it in disdain? What greater disparagement to the infinite God than to represent him by that which is unite; the living God, by that which is without life; and the Maker of all by a thing which is made?
To make a true image of God is impossible. God is a spiritual essence and, being a Spirit, he is invisible. John 4: 24. Ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake with you out of the midst of the fire.' Deut 4: 15. How can any paint the Deity? Can they make an image of that which they never saw? Quod invisibile est, pingi non potest [There is no depicting the invisible]. Ambrose. Ye saw no similitude.' It is impossible to make a picture of the soul, or to paint the angels, because they are of a spiritual nature; much less can we paint God by an image, who is an infinite, untreated Spirit.
To worship God by an image, is both absurd and unlawful.
(1) It is absurd and irrational; for, the workman is better than the work,' He who has builded the house has more honour than the house.' Heb 3: 3. If the workman be better than the work, and none bow to the workman, how absurd, then, is it to bow to the work of his hands! Is it not an absurd thing to bow down to the king's picture, when the king himself is present? It is more so to bow down to an image of God, when God himself is everywhere present.
(2) It is unlawful to worship God by an image; for it is against the homily of the church, which runs thus: The images of God, our Saviour, the Virgin Mary, are of all others the most dangerous; therefore the greatest care ought to be had that they stand not in temples and churches.' So that image-worship is contrary to our own homilies, and affronts the authority of the Church of England. Image-worship is expressly against the letter of Scripture. Ye shall make no graven image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone to bow down unto it.' Lev 26: 1. Neither shalt thou set up any image; which the Lord thy God hateth.' Deut 16: 22. Confounded be all they that serve graven images.' Psa 97: 7. Do we think to please God by doing that which is contrary to his mind, and that which he has expressly forbidden?
Image worship is against the practice of the saints of old. Josiah, that renowned king, destroyed the groves and images.2 Kings 23: 6, 24. Constantine abrogated the images set up in temples. The Christians destroyed images at Baste, Zurich, and Bohemia. When the Roman emperors would have thrust images upon them, they chose rather to die than deflower their virgin profession by idolatry; they refused to admit any painter or carver into their society, because they would not have any carved state or image of God. When Seraphion bowed to an idol, the Christians excommunicated him, and delivered him up to Satan.
Use one. The Church of Rome is reproved and condemned, which, from the Alpha of its religion to the Omega, is wholly idolatrous. Romanists make images of God the Father, painting him in their church windows as an old man; and an image of Christ on the crucifix; and, because it is against the letter of this commandment, they sacrilegiously blot it out of their catechism, and divide the tenth commandment into two. Image worship must needs be very impious and blasphemous, because it is giving the religious worship to the creature which is due to God only. It is vain for Papists to say, they give God the worship of the heart, and the image only the worship of the body; for the worship of the body is due to God, as well as the worship of the heart; and to give an outward veneration to an image is to give the adoration to a creature which belongs to God only. My glory will I not give to another.' Isa 42: 8.
The Papists say they do not worship the image, but only use it as a medium through which to worship God. Ne imagini quidem Christi in quantum est lignum sculptum, ulla debetur reverentia [Not even to a statue of Christ is any reverence owed, since it is only a piece of carved wood]. Aquinas.
(1) Where has God bidden them worship him by an effigy or image? Who has required this at your hands?' Isa 1: 12. The Papists cannot say so much as the devil, Scriptum est: It is written.
(2) The heathen may bring the same argument for their gross idolatry, as the Papists do for their image-worship. What heathen has been so simple as to think gold or silver, or the figure of an ox or elephant, was God? These were emblems and hieroglyphics only to represent him. They worshipped an invisible God by such visible things. To worship God by an image, God takes as done to the image itself.
But, say the Papists, images are laymen's books, and they are good to put them in mind of God. One of the Popish Councils affirmed, that we might learn more by an image than by long study of the Scriptures.
What profiteth the graven image, the molten image, and a teacher of lies.' Hab 2: 18. Is an image a layman's book? Then see what lessons this book teaches. It teaches lies; it represents God in a visible shape, who is invisible. For Papists to say they make use of an image to put them in mind of God, is as if a woman should say she keeps company with another man to put her in mind of her husband.
But did not Moses make the image of a brazen serpent? Why, then, may not images be set tip?
That was done by God's special command. Make thee a brazen serpent.' Numb 21: 8. There was also a special use in it, both literal and spiritual. What! does the setting up of the image of the brazen serpent justify the setting up images in churches? What! because Moses made an image by God's appointment, may we set up an image of our own devising? Because Moses made an image to heal them that were stung, is it lawful to set up images in churches to sting them that are whole? Nay, that very brazen serpent which God himself commanded to be set up, when Israel looked upon it with too much reverence, and began to burn incense to it, Hezekiah defaced, and called it Nehushtan, mere brass; and God commended him for so doing.2 Kings 18: 4.
But is not God represented as having hands, and eyes, and cars? Why nay we not, then, make an image to represent him, and help our devotion?
Though God is pleased to stoop to our weak capacities, and set himself out in Scripture by eyes, to signify his omniscience, and hands to signify his power, yet it is absurd, from such metaphors and figurative expressions, to bring an argument for images and pictures; for, by that rule, God may be pictured by the sun and the element of fire, and by a rock; for he is set forth by these metaphors in Scripture; and, sure, the Papists themselves would not like to have such images made of God.
If it be not lawful to make the image of God the Father, yet may we not make an image of Christ, who took upon him the nature of man?
No! Epiphanies, seeing an image of Christ hanging in a church, brake it in pieces. It is Christ's Godhead, united to his manhood, that makes him to be Christ; therefore to picture his manhood, when we cannot picture his Godhead, is a sin, because we make him to be but half Christ -- we separate what God has joined, we leave out that which is the chief thing which makes him to be Christ.
But how shall we conceive of God aright, if we may not make any image or resemblance of him?
We must conceive of God spiritually. (1) In his attributes -- his holiness, justice, goodness -- which are the beams by which his divine nature shines forth. (2) We must conceive of him as he is in Christ. Christ is the Image of the invisible God' as in the wax we see the print of the seal. Col 1: 15. Set the eyes of your faith on Christ-God-man. He that has seen me, has seen the Father.' John 14: 9.
Use two. Take heed of the idolatry of image-worship. Our nature is prone to this sin as dry wood to take fire; and, indeed, what need of so many words in the commandment: Thou shalt not make any graven image, or the likeness of anything in heaven, earth, water,' sun, moon, stars, male, female, fish; Thou shalt not bow down to them.' I say, what need of so many words, but to show how subject we are to this sin of false worship? It concerns us, therefore, to resist this sin. Where the tide is apt to run with greater force, there we had need to make the banks higher and stronger. The plague of idolatry is very infectious. They were mingled among the heathen, and served their idols.' Psa 106: 35, 36. It is my advice to you, to avoid all occasions of this sin.
(1) Come not into the company of idolatrous Papists. Dare not to live under the same roof with them, or you run into the devil's mouth. John the divine would not be in the has where Cerinthus the heretic was.
(2) Go not into their chapels to see their crucifixes, or hear mass. As looking on a harlot draws to adultery, so looking on the popish gilded picture may draw to idolatry. Some go to see their idol-worship. A vagrant who has nothing to lose, cares not to go among thieves; so such as have no goodness in them, care not to what idolatrous places they come or to what temptations they expose themselves; but you who have a treasure of good principles about you, take heed the popish priests do not rob you of them, and defile you with their images.
(3) Dare not join in marriage with image-worshippers. Though Solomon was a man of wisdom, his idolatrous wives drew his heart away from God. The people of Israel entered into an oath and curse, that they would not give their daughters in marriage to idolaters. Neh 10: 30. For a Protestant and Papist to marry, is to be unequally yoked (2 Cor 6: 14); and there is more danger that the Papist will corrupt the Protestant, shall hope that the Protestant will convert the Papist. Mingle wine and vinegar, the vinegar will sooner sour the wine, than the wine will sweeten the vinegar.
(4) Avoid superstition, which is a bridge that leads over to Rome. Superstition is bringing any ceremony, fancy, or innovation into God's worship, which he never appointed. It is provoking God, because it reflects much upon his honour, as if he were not wise enough to appoint the manner of his own worship. He hates all strange fire to be offered in his temple. Lev 10: 1. A ceremony may in time lead to a crucifix. They who contend for the cross in baptism, why not have the oil, salt, and cream as well, the one being as ancient as the other? They who are for altar-worship, and will bow to the east, may in time bow to the Host. Take heed of all occasions of idolatry, for idolatry is devil-worship. Psalm 106: 37. If you search through the whole Bible, there is not one sin that God has more followed with plagues than idolatry. The Jews have a saying, that in every evil that befalls them, there is uncia aurei vituli, an ounce of the golden calf in it. Hell is a place for idolaters. For without are idolaters.' Rev 22: 15. Senesius calls the devil a rejoicer at idols, because the image-worshippers help to fill hell.
Use three. That you may be preserved from idolatry and image-worship. (1) Get good principles, that you may be able to oppose the gainsayer. Whence does the popish religion get ground? Not from the goodness of their cause, but from the ignorance of their people. (2) Get love to God. The wife that loves her husband is safe from the adulterer; and the soul that loves Christ is safe from the idolater. (3) Pray that God will keep you. Though it is true, there is nothing in an image to tempt (for if we pray to an image, it cannot hear, and if we pray to God by an image, he will not hear), yet we know not our own hearts, or how soon we may be drawn to vanity, if God leaves us. Therefore pray that you be not enticed by false worship, or receive the mark of the beast in your right hand or forehead. Pray, Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.' Psa 119: 117. Lord, let me neither mistake my way for want of light, nor leave the true way for want of courage. (4) Let us bless God who has given us the knowledge of his truth, that we have tasted the honey of his word, and our eyes are enlightened. Let us bless him that he has shown us the pattern of his house, the right mode of worship; that he has discovered to us the forgery and blasphemy of the Romish religion. Let us pray that God will preserve pure ordinances and powerful preaching among us. Idolatry came in at first by the want of good preaching. The people began to have golden images when they had wooden priests.
II. I the Lord thy God am a jealous God. The first reason why Israel must not worship graven images is, because the Lord is a jealous God. The Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.' Exod 34: 14. Jealousy is taken, In a good sense, as God is jealous for his people. In a bad sense, as he is jealous of his people.
In a good sense; as God is jealous for his people. Thus saith the Lord, I am jealous for Jerusalem, and for Zion, with a great jealousy.' Zech 1: 14. God has a dear affection for his people, they are his Hephzibah, or delight. Isa 62: 4. They are the apple of his eye, Zech 2: 8, to express how dear they are to him, and how tender he is of them, Nihil carius pupilla oculi [Nothing is dearer than the apple of the eye]. Drusius. They are his spouse, adorned with jewels of grace; they lie near his heart. He is jealous for his spouse, therefore he will be avenged on those who wrong her. The Lord shall stir up jealousy like a man of war; he shall roar, he shall prevail against his enemies.' Isa 42: 13. What is done to the saints, God takes as done to himself (2 Kings 19: 22); and the Lord will undo all that afflict Zion. I will undo all that afflict thee.' Zeph 3: 19.
Jealousy is taken in a bad sense, in which God is jealous of his people. It is so taken in this commandment, I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.' I am jealous lest you should go after false gods, or worship the true God in a false manner; lest you defile your virgin-profession by images. God will have his spouse to keep close to him, and not go after other lovers. Thou shalt not be for another man' Hos 3: 3. He cannot bear a rival. Our conjugal love, a love joined with adoration and worship, must be given to God only.
Use one. Let us give God no just cause to be jealous. A good wife will be so discreet and chaste, as to give her husband no just occasion of jealousy. Let us avoid all sin, especially this of idolatry, or image-worship. It is heinous, after we have entered into a marriage covenant with God, to prostitute ourselves to an image. Idolatry is spiritual adultery, and God is a jealous God, he will avenge it. Image-worship makes God abhor a people. They moved him to jealousy with their graven images. When God heard this, he was wrath, and greatly abhorred Israel.' Psa 78: 58, 59. Jealousy is the rage of a man.' Prov 6: 34. Image-worship enrages God; it makes God divorce a people. Plead with your mother, plead; for she is not my wife.' Hos 2: 2. Jealousy is cruel as the grave.' Cant 8: 6. As the grave devours men's bodies, so God will devour image-worshippers.
Use two. If God be a jealous God, let it be remembered by those whose friends are popish idolaters, and who are hated by their friends, because they are of a different religion, and perhaps their maintenance cut off from them. Oh, remember, God is a jealous God; better move your parents to hatred, than move God to jealousy! Their anger cannot do you so much hurt as God's. If they will not provide for you, God will. When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.' Psa 27: 10.
III. Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. Here is the second reason against image-worship. There is a twofold visiting. There is God's visiting in mercy. God will surely visit you:' that is, he will bring you into the land of Canaan, the type of heaven. Gen 50: 25. Thus God has visited us with the sunbeams of his favour; he has made us swim in a sea of mercy. This is a happy visitation. There is God's visiting in anger. Shall I not visit for these things?' that is, God's visiting with the rod. Jer 5: 9. What will ye do in the day of visitation?' that is, in the day when God shall visit with his judgements. Isa 10: 3. Thus God's visiting is taken in this commandment, visiting iniquity,' that is, punishing iniquity. Observe here three things.
That sin makes God visit. Visiting iniquity.' Sin is the cause why God visits with sickness, poverty, &c. If they keep not my commandments, then will I visit their transgressions with the rod.' Psa 89: 31, 32. Sin twists the cords which pinch us; it creates all our troubles, is the gall in our cup, and the gravel in our bread. Sin is the Trojan horse, the Phaeton that sets all on fire; it is the womb of our sorrows, and the grave of our comfort. God visits for sin.
One special sin for which God's visits, is idolatry and image-worship. Visiting the iniquity of the fathers.' Most of his envenomed arrows have been shot among idolaters. Go now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it.' Jer 7: 12. For Israel's idolatry he suffered their army to be routed, their priests slain, the ark taken captive, of the returns of which to Shiloh we never read any more. Jerusalem was the most famous metropolis of the world; there was the temple. Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord.' Psa 122: 4. But for the high places and images, that city was besieged and taken by the Chaldean forces.2 Kings 25: 4. When images were set up in Constantinople, the chief seat of the Eastern empire, a city which in the eye of the world was impregnable, it was taken by the Turks, and many cruelly massacred. The Turks in their triumphs at that time reproached the idolatrous Christians, caused an image or crucifix to be carried through the streets in contempt, and threw dirt upon it, crying, This is the god of the Christians.' Here was God's visitation for their idolatry. God has set special marks of his wrath upon idolaters. At a place called Epoletium, there perished by an earthquake 350 persons, while they were offering sacrifice to idols. Idolatry brought misery upon the Eastern churches, and removed the golden candlesticks of Asia. For this iniquity God visits.
Idolatrous persons are enemies not to their own souls only, but to their children. Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon their children.' As an idolatrous father entails his land of inheritance, so he entails God's anger and curse upon his children. A jealous husband, finding his wife has stained her fidelity, may justly cast her offend her children too, because they are none of his. If the father be a traitor to his prince, no wonder if all the children suffer. God may visit the iniquity of image-worshippers upon their children.
But is it not said, Every man shall die for his own sin; the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father?' 2 Chron 25: 4, Ezek 18: 20. How then does God say, he will visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children?'
Though the son be not damned, yet he may be severely punished for his father's sin. God layeth up his iniquity for his children' (Job 21: 19); that is, God lays up the punishment of his iniquity for his children -- the child smarts for the father's sin. Jeroboam thought to have established the kingdom by idolatrous worship, but it brought ruin upon him, and all his posterity.1 Kings 14: 10. Ahab's idolatry wronged his posterity, which lost the kingdom, and were all beheaded. They took the king's sons, and slew seventy persons.' 2 Kings 10: 7. Here God visited the iniquity of the father upon the children. As a son catches an hereditary disease from his father, the stone or gout, so he catches misery from him: his father's sin ruins him.
Use one. How sad is it to be the child of an idolater! It had been sad to have been one of Gehazi's children, who had leprosy entailed upon them. The leprosy of Naaman shall cleave unto thee and unto thy seed for ever.' 2 Kings 5: 27. So it is sad to be a child of an idolater, or image-worshipper; for his seed are exposed to heavy judgements in this life. God visits the iniquity of the fathers upon their children.' Methinks I hear God speak, as in Isa 14: 21, Prepare slaughter for his children, for the iniquity of their fathers.'
Use two. What a privilege it is to be the children of good parents. The parents are in covenant with God, and God lays up mercy for their posterity. The just man walketh in his integrity, his children are blessed after him.' Prov 20: 7. A religious parent does not procure wrath, but helps to keep off wrath from his child; he seasons his child with religious principles, he prays down a blessing on it; he is a loadstone to draw his child to Christ by good counsel and example. Oh, what a privilege is it to be born of godly, religious parents! Augustine says that his mother Monica travailed with greater care and pains for his new birth, than for his natural. Wicked idolaters entail misery on their posterity; God visits the iniquity of the fathers upon their children;' but religious parents procure a blessing upon their children; God reserves mercy for their posterity.
IV. Of them that hate me. Another reason against image-worship is, that it is hating God. The Papists, who worship God by an image, hate God. Image-worship is a pretended love to God, but God interprets it as hating him. Quae diligit alienum odit sponsum, she that loves another man, hates her own husband.' An image-lover is a God hater. Idolaters are said to go a whoring from God. Exod 34: 15. How can they love God? I shall show that image-worshippers hate God, whatever love they pretend.
They who go contrary to his express will hate him. He says, you shall not set up any statue, image, nor picture, to represent me; these things I hate. Neither shalt thou set up any image; which the Lord thy God hateth.' Deut 16: 22. Yet the idolater sets up images, and worships them. This God looks upon as hating him. How does the child love his father that does all it can to cross him?
They who turned Jephthah out of doors hated him, therefore they laboured to shut him out of his father's house. Judges 11: 7. The idolater shuts the truth out of doors; he blots out the second commandment; he makes an image of the invisible God; he brings a lie into God's worship; which are clear proofs that he hates God.
Though idolaters love the false image of God in a picture, they hate his true image in a believer. They pretend to honour Christ in a crucifix, and yet persecute him in his members. Such hate God.
Use one. This confutes those who plead for image-worshippers. They are very devout people; they adore images; they set up the crucifix; kiss it; light candles to it; therefore they love God. Nay, but who shall be judge of their love? God says they hate him, and give religious adoration to a creature. They hate God, and God hates them; and they shall never live with God whom he hates; he will never lay such vipers in his bosom. Heaven is kept as paradise, with a flaming sword, that they shall not enter in. He repayeth them that hate him to their face.' Deut.7: 10. He will shoot all his deadly arrows among idolaters. All the plagues and curses in the book of God shall befall the idolater. The Lord repays him that hates him to his face.
Use two. Let it exhort all to flee from Romish idolatry. Let us not be among God-haters. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.' 1 John 5: 21. As you would keep your bodies from adultery, keep your souls from idolatry. Take heed of images, they are images of jealousy to provoke God to anger; they are damnable. You may perish by false devotions as much as by real scandal; by image-worship, as by drunkenness and whoredom. A man may die by poison as much as a pistol. We may go to hell by drinking poison in the Romish cup of fornication, as much as by being pistoled with gross and scandalous sins. To conclude, God is a jealous God,' who will admit of no co-rival; He will visit the iniquities of the fathers upon their children;' he will entail a plague upon the posterity of idolaters. He interprets idolaters to be such as hate him. He that is an image-lover is a God-hater. Therefore keep yourself pure from Romish idolatry; if you love your souls, keep yourselves from idols.
V. Showing mercy unto thousands.
Another argument against image-worship, is that God is merciful to those who do not provoke him with their images, and will entail mercy upon their posterity. Shewing mercy unto thousands.'
The golden sceptre of God's mercy is here displayed, shewing mercy to thousands.' The heathen thought they praised Jupiter enough when they called him good and great. Both excellencies of majesty and mercy meet in God. Mercy is an innate propensity in God to do good to distressed sinners. God showing mercy, makes his Godhead appear full of glory. When Moses said to God, I beseech thee, show me thy glory;' I will,' said God, show mercy.' Exod 33: 19. His mercy is his glory. Mercy is the name by which he will be known. The Lord passed by, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious.' Exod 34: 6. Mercy proceeds primarily, and originally from God. He is called the Father of mercies' (2 Cor 1: 3), because he begets all the mercies which are in the creature. Our mercies compared with his are scarcely so much as a drop to the ocean.
What are the properties of God's mercy?
(1) It is free and spontaneous. To set up merit is to destroy mercy. Nothing can deserve mercy or force it; we cannot deserve it nor force it, because of our enmity. We may force God to punish us, but not to love us. I will love them freely.' Hos 14: 4. Every link in the golden chain of salvation is wrought and interwoven with free grace. Election is free. He has chosen us in him according to the good pleasure of his will.' Eph 1: 4. Justification is free. Being justified freely by his grace.' Rom 3: 24. Say not I am unworthy; for mercy is free. If God should show mercy only to such as deserve it, he must show mercy to none.
(2) The mercy which God shows is powerful. How powerful is that mercy which softens a heart of stone! Mercy changed Mary Magdalen's heart, out of whom seven devils were cast: she who was an inflexible adamant was made a weeping penitent. God's mercy works sweetly, yet irresistibly; it allures, yet conquers. The law may terrify, but mercy mollifies. Of what sovereign power and efficacy is that mercy which subdues the pride and enmity of the heart, and beats off those chains of sin in which the soul is held.
(3) The mercy which God shows is superabundant. Abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands.' Exod 34: 6. God visits iniquity to the third and fourth generation' only, but he shows mercy to a thousand generations. Exod 20: 5, 6. The Lord has treasures of mercy in store, and therefore is said to be plenteous in mercy' (Psa 86: 5), and rich in mercy' (Eph 2: 4). The vial of God's wrath drops only, but the fountain of his mercy runs. The sun is not so full of light as God is of love.
God has mercy of all dimensions. He has depth of mercy, it reaches as low as sinners; and height of mercy, it reaches above the clouds.
God has mercies for all seasons; mercies for the night, he gives sleep; nay, sometimes he gives a song in the night. Psa 42: 8. He has also mercies for the morning. His compassions are new every morning.' Lam 3: 23.
God has mercies for all sorts. Mercies for the poor: He raiseth up the poor out of the dust.' 1 Sam 2: 8. Mercies for the prisoner: he despiseth not his prisoners.' Psa 69: 33. Mercies for the dejected: In a little wrath I hid my face from thee but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee.' Isa 54: 8. He has old mercies: Thy mercies have been ever of old.' Psa 25: 6. New mercies: He has put a new song in my mouth.' Psa 40: 3. Every time we draw our breath we suck in mercy. God has mercies under heaven, and those we taste; and mercies in heaven, and those we hope for. Thus his mercies are superabundant.
(4) The mercy of God is abiding. The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.' Psa 103: 17. God's anger to his children lasts but a while (Psa 103: 9), but his mercy lasts for ever. His mercy is not like the widow's oil, which ran awhile, and then ceased (2 Kings 4: 6), but overflowing and everflowing. As his mercy is without bounds, so is it without end. His mercy endureth for ever.' Psa 136. God never cuts off the entail of mercy from the elect.
In how many ways is God said to show mercy?
(1) We are all living monuments of his mercy. He shows mercy to us in daily supplying us. He supplies us with health. Health is the sauce which makes life sweeter. How would they prize this mercy who are chained to a sick-bed! God supplies us with provisions. God which fed me all my life long.' Gen 48: 15. Mercy spreads our tables, and carves for us every bit of bread we cat; we never drink but in the golden cup of mercy.
(2) God shows mercy in lengthening out our gospel-liberties.1 Cor 16: 9. There are many adversaries; many would stop the waters of the sanctuary that that they should not run. We enjoy the sweet seasons of grace, we hear joyful sounds, we see the goings of God in his sanctuary, we enjoy Sabbath after Sabbath; the manna of the word falls about our tents, when in other parts of the land there is no manna. God shows mercy to us in continuing our forfeited privileges.
(3) He shows mercy in preventing many evils from invading us. Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me.' Psa 3: 3. God has restrained the wrath of men, and been a screen between us and danger; when the destroying angel has been abroad, and shed his deadly arrow of pestilence, he has kept off the arrow that it has not come near us.
(4) He shows mercy in delivering us. And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion' (viz., Nero).2 Tim 4: 17. He has restored us from the grave. May we not write the writing of Hezekiah, when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness?' Isa 38: 9. When we thought the sun of our life was setting God has made it return to its former brightness.
(S) He shows mercy in restraining us from sin. Lusts within are worse than lions without. The greatest sign of God's anger is to give men up to their sins. So I gave them up to their own hearts' lust.' Psa 81: 12. While they sin themselves to hell, God has laid the bridle of restraining grace upon us. As he said to Abimelech, I withheld thee from sinning against me.' Gen 20: 6. So he has withheld us from those sins which might have made us a prey to Satan, and a terror to ourselves.
(6) God shows mercy in guiding and directing us. Is it not a mercy for one that is out of the way to have a guide? There is a providential guidance. God guides our affairs for us; chalks out the way he would have us to walk in. He resolves our doubts, unties our knots, and appoints the bounds of our habitation. Acts 17: 26. A spiritual guidance. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel.' Psa 73: 24. As Israel had a pillar of fire to go before them, so God guides us with the oracles of his word, and the conduct of his Spirit. He guides our heads to keep us from error; and he guides our feet to keep us from scandal. Oh, what mercy is it to have God to be our guide and pilot! For thy name's sake, lead me and guide me.' Psa 31: 3.
(7) God shows mercy in correcting us. He is angry in love; he smites that he may save. His rod is not a rod of iron to break us, but a fatherly rod to humble us. He, for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.' Heb 12: l0. Either he will mortify some corruption, or exercise some grace. Is there not mercy in this? Every cross, to a child of God, is like Paul's cross wind, which, though it broke the ship, it brought Paul to shore upon the broken pieces. Acts 27: 44.
(8) God shows mercy in pardoning us, Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity?' Mic 7: 18. It is mercy to feed us, rich mercy to pardon us. This mercy is spun out of the bowels of the free grace, and is enough to make a sick man well. The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick; the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity.' Isa 33: 24. Pardon of sin is a mercy of the first magnitude. God seals the sinner's pardon with a kiss. This made David put on his best clothes, and anoint himself. His child was newly dead, and God had told him the sword should not depart from his house, yet he anoints himself. The reason was that God had sent him pardon by the prophet Nathan. The Lord has put away thy sin.' 2 Sam 12: 13. Pardon is the only fit remedy for a troubled conscience. What can give ease to a wounded spirit but pardoning mercy? Offer him the honours and pleasure of the world. It is as if flowers and music were brought to one that is condemned.
How may I know that my sins are pardoned?
Where God removes the guilt, he breaks the power of sin. He will have compassion: he will subdue our iniquities.' Mic 7: 19. With pardoning love God gives subduing grace.
(9) God shows his mercy in sanctifying us. I am the Lord which sanctify you.' Lev 20: 8. This is the partaking of the divine nature.2 Pet 1: 4. God's Spirit is a spirit of consecration; though it sanctify us but in part, yet it is in every part.1 Thess 5: 23. It is such a mercy that God cannot give it in anger. If we are sanctified, we are elected. God has chosen you to salvation through sanctification.' 2 Thess 2: 13. This prepares for happiness, as the seed prepares for harvest. When the virgins had been anointed and perfumed, they were to stand before the king (Esth 2: 12); SO, when we have had the anointing of God, we shall stand before the King of heaven.
(10) God shows mercy in hearing our prayers. Have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.' Psa 4: 1. Is it not a favour, when a man puts up a petition to the king, to have it granted? So when we pray for pardon, adoption, and the sense of God's love, it is a signal mercy to have a gracious answer. God may delay an answer, and yet not deny. You do not throw a musician money at once, because you love to hear his music. God loves the music of prayer, but does not always let us hear from him at once; but in due season gives an answer of peace. Blessed be God, which has not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.' Psa 66: 20. If God does not turn away our prayer, he does not turn away his mercy.
(11) God shows mercy in saving us. According to his mercy he saved us.' Titus 3: 5. This is the top-stone of mercy, and it is laid in heaven. Here mercy displays itself in all its orient colours. Mercy is mercy indeed, when God perfectly refines us from all the lees and dregs of corruption; when our bodies are made like Christ's glorious body, and our souls like the angels. Saving mercy is crowning mercy. It is not merely to be freed from hell, but enthroned in a kingdom. In this life we desire God, rather than enjoy him; but what rich mercy will it be to be fully possessed of him, to see his smiling face, and to lay us in his bosom! This will fill us with joy unspeakable and full of glory.' 1 Peter 1: 8. I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.' Psa 17: 15.
Use one. Let us not despair. What an encouragement we have here to serve God. He shows mercy to thousands. Who would not be willing to serve a prince who is given to mercy and clemency? God is represented with a rainbow round about him, as an emblem of his mercy. Rev 4: 3. Acts of severity are forced from God; judgement is his strange work. Isa 28: 21. The disciples, who are not said to wonder at the other miracles of Christ, did wonder when the fig-tree was cursed and withered, because it was not his manner to put forth acts of severity. God is said to delight in mercy. Mic 7: 18. Justice is God's left hand: mercy is his right hand. He uses his right hand most; he is more used to mercy than to justice. Pronior est Deus ad parcendum quam ad puniendum [God is more inclined to mercy than to punishment]. God is said to be slow to anger (Psa 103: 8), but ready to forgive. Psa 86: 5. This may encourage us to serve him. What argument will prevail, if mercy will not? Were God all justice, it might frighten us from him, but his mercy is a loadstone to draw us to him.
Use two. Hope in God's mercies. The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.' Psa 147: 11. He counts it his glory to scatter pardons among men.
But I have been a great sinner and sure there is no mercy for me!
Not if thou goest on in sin, and art so resolved; but, if thou wilt break off thy sins, the golden sceptre of mercy shall be held forth to thee. Let the wicked forsake his way, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him.' Isa 55: 7. Christ's blood is a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness.' Zech 13: 1. Mercy more overflows in God, than sin in us. His mercy can drown great sins, as the sea covers great rocks. Some of the Jews who had their hands imbrued in Christ's blood, were saved by that blood. God loves to magnify his goodness, to display the trophies of free grace, and to set up his mercy in spite of sin. Therefore, hope in his mercy.
Use three. Labour to know that God's mercy is for you. He is the God of my mercy.' Psa.59: 17. A man who was being drowned, seeing a rainbow, said, What am I the better, though God will not drown the world, if I am drowned?' So, what are we the better, though God is merciful, if we perish? Let us labour to know God's special mercy is for us.
How shall we know it belongs to us?
(1) If we put a high value and estimate upon it. He will not throw away his mercy on them that slight it. We prize health, but we prize adopting mercy more. This is the diamond ring; it outshines all other comforts.
(2) If we fear God, if we have a reverend awe upon us, if we tremble at sin, and flee from it, as Moses did from his rod turned into a serpent. His mercy is on them that fear him.' Luke 1: 50.
(3) If we take sanctuary in God's mercy, we trust in it as a man saved by catching hold of a cable. God's mercy to us is a cable let down from heaven. By taking fast hold of this by faith, we are saved. I trust in the mercy of God for ever.' Psa 52: 8. As a man trusts his life and goods in a garrison, so we trust our souls in God's mercy.
How shall we get a share in God's special mercy?
(1) If we would have mercy, it must be through Christ. Out of Christ no mercy is to be had. We read in the old law, that none might come unto the holy of holies, where the mercy-seat stood, but the high-priest: to signify that we have nothing to do with mercy but through Christ our High-priest; that the high-priest might not come near the mercy-seat without blood, to show that we have no right to mercy, but through the expiatory sacrifice of Christ's blood, Lev 16: 14; that the high-priest might not, upon pain of death, come near the mercy-seat without incense, Lev 16: 13, to show that there is no mercy from God without the incense of Christ's intercession. If we would have mercy, we must get a part in Christ. Mercy swims to us through Christ's blood.
(2) If we would have mercy, we must pray for it. Show us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation.' Psa 85: 7. Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me.' Psa 25: 16. Lord, put me not off with common mercy; give me not only mercy to feed and clothe me, but mercy to pardon me; not only sparing mercy, but saving mercy. Lord, give me the cream of thy mercies; let me have mercy and loving kindness. Who crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender mercies.' Psa 103: 4. Be earnest suitors for mercy; let your wants quicken your importunity. We pray most fervently when we pray most feelingly.
VI. Of them that love me.
God's mercy is for them that love him. Love is a grace that shines and sparkles in his eye, as the precious stone upon Aaron's breastplate. Love is a holy expansion or enlargement of soul, by which it is carried with delight after God, as the chief good. Aquinas defines love -- Complacentia amantis in amato; a complacent delight in God, as our treasure. Love is the soul of religion; it is a momentous grace. If we had knowledge as the angels, or faith of miracles, yet without love it would profit nothing.1 Cor 13: 2. Love is the first and great commandment.' Matt.22: 38. It is so, because, if it be wanting, there can be no religion in the heart; there can be no faith, for faith works by love. Gal 5: 6. All else is but pageantry, or a devout compliment. It meliorates and sweetens all the duties of religion, it makes them savoury meat, without which God cares not to taste them. It is the first and great commandment, in respect of the excellence of this grace. Love is the queen of graces; it outshines all others, as the sun the lesser planets. In some respects it is more excellent than faith; though in one sense faith is more excellent, virtute unionis, as it unites us to Christ. It puts upon us the embroidered robe of Christ's righteousness, which is brighter than any the angels wear. In another sense it is more excellent, respectu durationis, in respect of the continuance of it: it is the most durable grace; as faith and hope will shortly cease, but love will remain. When all other graces, like Rachel, shall die in travail, love shall revive. The other graces are in the nature of a lease, for the term of life only; but love is a freehold that continues for ever. Thus love carries away the garland from all other graces, it is the most long-lived grace, it is a bud of eternity. This grace alone will accompany us in heaven.
How must our love to God be characterised?
(1) Love to God must be pure and genuine. He must be loved chiefly for himself; which the schoolmen call amor amicitiae. We must love God, not only for his benefits, but for those intrinsic excellencies with which he is crowned. We must love God not only for the good which flows from him, but for the good which is in him. True love is not mercenary, he who is deeply in love with God, needs not be hired with rewards, he cannot but love God for the beauty of his holiness; though it is not unlawful to look for benefits. Moses had an eye to the recompense of reward (Heb 11: 26); but we must not love God for his benefits only, for then it is not love of God, but self-love.
(2) Love to God must be with all the heart. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.' Mark 12: 30. We must not love God a little, give him a drop or two of our love; but the main stream must flow to him. The mind must think of God, the will choose him, the affections pant after him. The true mother would not have the child divided, nor will God have the heart divided. We must love him with our whole heart. Though we may love the creature, yet it must be a subordinate love. Love to God must be highest, as oil swims above the water.
(3) Love to God must be flaming. To love coldly is the same as not to love. The spouse is said to be amore perculsa, sick of love.' Cant 2: 5. The seraphim are so called from their burning love. Love turns saints into seraphim; it makes them burn in holy love to God. Many waters cannot quench this love.
How may we know whether we love God?
(1) He who loves God desires his presence. Lovers cannot be long asunder, they soon have their fainting fits, for want of a sight of the object of their love. A soul deeply in love with God desires the enjoyment of him in his ordinances, in word, prayer, and sacraments. David was ready to faint away and die when he had not a sight of God. My soul fainteth for God.' Psa 84: 2. Such as care not for ordinances, but say, When will the Sabbath be over? plainly discover want of love to God.
(2) He who loves God, does not love sin. Ye that love the Lord, hate evil.' Psa 97: 10. The love of God, and the love of sin, can no more mix together than iron and clay. Every sin loved, strikes at the being of God; but he who loves God, has an antipathy against sin. He who would part two lovers is a hateful person. God and the believing soul are two lovers; sin parts between them, therefore the soul is implacably set against it. By this try your love to God. How could Delilah say she loved Samson, when she entertained correspondence with the Philistine, who were his mortal enemies? How can he say he loves God who loves sin, which is God's enemy?
(3) He who loves God is not much in love with anything else. His love is very cool to worldly things. His love to God moves swiftly, as the sun in the firmament; to the world it moves slowly, as the sun on the dial. The love of the world eats out the heart of religion; it chokes good affections, as earth puts out the fire. The world was a dead thing to Paul. The world is crucified unto me and I to the world.' Gal 6: 14. In Paul we may see both the picture and pattern of a mortified man. He that loves God, uses the world but chooses God. The world is his pension, but God is his portion. Psa 119: 57. The world engages him, but God delights and satisfies him. He says as David, God my exceeding joy,' the gladness or cream of my joy. Psa 43: 4.
(4) He who loves God cannot live without him. Things we love we cannot be without. A man can do without music or flowers, but not food; so a soul deeply in love with God looks upon himself as undone without him. Hide not thy face from me, lest I be like them that go down into the pit.' Psa 143: 7. He says as Job, I went mourning without the sun;' chap.30: 28. I have starlight, I want the Sun of Righteousness; I enjoy not the sweet presence of my God. Is God our chief good, and we cannot live without him? Alas! how do they show they have no love to God who can do well enough without him! Let them have but corn and oil, and you shall never hear them complain of the want of God.
(5) He who loves God will be at any pains to get him. What pains the merchant takes, what hazards he runs, to have a rich return from the Indies! Extremos currit mercator ad Indos [The merchant races to the farthest Indies]. Jacob loved Rachel, and he could endure the heat by day, and the frost by night, that he might enjoy her. A soul that loves God will take any pains for the fruition of him. My soul followeth hard after thee.' Psa 63: 8. Love is pondus animae [the pendulum of the soul]. Augustine. It is as the weight which sets the clock going. It is much in prayer, weeping, fasting; it strives as in agony, that he may obtain him whom his soul loves. Plutarch reports of the Gauls, an ancient people of France, that after they had tasted the sweet wine of Italy, they never rested till they had arrived at that country. He who is in love with God, never rests till he has a part in him. I will seek him whom my soul loveth.' Cant 3: 2. How can they say they love God, who are not industrious in the use of means to obtain him? A slothful man hideth his hand in his bosom.' Prov 19: 24. He is not in agony, but lethargy. If Christ and salvation would drop as a ripe fig into his mouth, he would be content to have them; but he is loath to put himself to too much trouble. Does he love his friend, who will not undertake a journey to see him?
(6) He who loves God, prefers him before estate and life. Before estate. For whom I have suffered the loss of all things.' Phil 3: 8. Who that loves a rich jewel would not part with a flower for it? Galeacius, marquis of Vico, parted with a fair estate to enjoy God in his pure ordinances. When a Jesuit persuaded him to return to his popish religion in Italy, promising him a large sum of money, he said, Let their money perish with them who esteem all the gold in the world worth one day's communion with Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit.' Before life. They loved not their lives unto the death.' Rev 12: 2: Love to God carries the soul above the love of life and the fear of death.
(7) He who loves God loves his favourites, the saints.1 John 5: 1. Idem est motus animi in imaginem et rem [The mind reacts to the likeness of an object just as it does to the object itself]. To love a man for his grace, and the more we see of God in him, the more we love him, is an infallible sign of love to God. The wicked pretend to love God, but hate and persecute his image. Does he love his prince who abuses his statue, or tears his picture? They seem indeed to show great reverence to saints departed; they have great reverence for St. Paul, and St. Stephen, and St. Luke; they canonise dead saints, but persecute living saints; and do they love God? Can it be imagined that he loves God who hates his children because they are like him? If Christ were alive again, he would not escape a second persecution.
(8) If we love God we cannot but be fearful of dishonouring him, as the more a child loves his father the more he is afraid to displease him, and we weep and mourn when we have offended him. Peter went out and wept bitterly.' Matt 26: 75. Peter might well think that Christ dearly loved him when he took him up to the mount where he was transfigured, and showed him the glory of heaven in a vision. That he should deny Christ after he had received such signal tokens of his love, broke his heart with grief He wept bitterly.' Are our eyes dropping tears of grief for sin against God? It is a blessed evidence of our love to God; and such shall find mercy. He shows mercy to thousands of them that love him.
Use. Let us be lovers of God. We love our food, and shall we not love him that gives it? All the joy we hope for in heaven is in God; and shall not he who shall be our joy then, be our love now? It is a saying of Augustine, Annon poena satis magna est non amare te? Is it not punishment enough, Lord, not to love thee?' And again, Animam meam in odio haberem. I would hate my own soul if I did not find it loving God.'
What are the incentives to provoke and inflame our love to God?
(1) God's benefits bestowed on us. If a prince bestows continual favours on a subject, and that subject has any ingenuity, he cannot but love his prince. God is constantly heaping benefits upon us, filling our hearts with food and gladness.' Acts 14: 17. As streams of water out of the rock followed Israel whithersoever they went, so God's blessings follow us every day. We swim in a sea of mercy. That heart is hard that is not prevailed with by all God's blessings to love him. Magnes amoris amor [Love attracts love]. Kindness works even on a brute: the ox knows his owner.
(2) Love to God would make duties of religion facile and pleasant. I confess that to him who has no love to God, religion must needs be a burden; and I wonder not to hear him say, What a weariness is it to serve the Lord!' It is like rowing against the tide. But love oils the wheels, it makes duty a pleasure. Why are the angels so swift and winged in God's service, but because they love him? Jacob thought seven years but little for the love he bare to Rachel. Love is never weary. He who loves money is not weary of telling it: and he who loves God is not weary of serving him.
(3) It is advantageous. There is nothing lost by love to God. Eye has not seen, &c., the things which God has prepared for them that love him.' 1 Cor 2: 9. Such glorious rewards are laid up for them that love God, that as Augustine says, they not only transcend our reason, but faith itself is not able to comprehend them.' A crown is the highest ensign of worldly glory; but God has promised a crown of life to them that love him,' and a never-fading crown. James 1: 12.1 Pet 5: 4.
(4) By loving God we know that he loves us. We love him because he first loved us.' 1 John 5: 19. If ice melts, it is because the sun has shone upon it; so if the frozen heart melts in love, it is because the Sun of Righteousness has shone upon it.
What means should be used to excite our love to God?
(1) Labour to know God aright. The schoolmen say truly, Bonum non amatur quod non cognoscitur; we cannot love that which we do not know.' God is the most eligible good; all excellencies which lie scattered in the creature are united in him; he is Optimus maximus. Wisdom, beauty, riches, love, all concentrate in him. How fair was that tulip which had the colours of all tulips in it! All perfections and sweetnesses are eminently in God. Did we know God more, and by the eye of faith see his orient beauty, our hearts would be fired with love to him.
(2) Make the Scriptures familiar to you. Augustine says that before his conversion he took no pleasure in Scripture, but afterwards it was his chief delight. The book of God discovers God to us, in his holiness, wisdom, veracity, and truth; it represents him as rich in mercy, and encircled with promises. Augustine calls the Scripture a golden epistle, or love-letter, sent from God to us. By reading this love-letter we become more enamoured with God; as by reading lascivious books, comedies, romances, &c., lust is excited.
(3) Meditate much upon God, and this will promote love to him. While I was musing, the fire burned.' Psa 39: 3. Meditation is as bellows to the affections. Meditate on God's love in the gift of Christ. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,' &c. John 3: 16. That God should give Christ to us, and not to angels that fell, that the Sun of Righteousness should shine in our horizon, that he is revealed to us, and not to others; what wonderful love is this! Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?' Prov 6: 28. Who can meditate on God's love, who can tread on these hot coals, and his heart not burn in love? Beg a heart to love God. The affection of love is natural, but not the grace of love. Gal 5: 22. This fire of love is kindled from heaven; beg that it may burn upon the altar of your heart. Surely the request is pleasing to God, and he will not deny such a prayer as Lord, give me a heart to love thee.'
VII. And keep my commandments.
Love and obedience, like two sisters, must go hand and hand. If ye love me, keep my commandments.' John 14: 15. Probatio delectionis est exhibitio operis [We show our love by performing the work]. The son that loves his father will obey him. Obedience pleases God. To obey is better than sacrifice.' 1 Sam 15: 22. In sacrifice, a dead beast only is offered; in obedience, a living soul; in sacrifice, only a part of the fruit is offered; in obedience, fruit and tree and all; man offers himself up to God. Keep my commandments.' It is not said, God shows mercy to thousands that know his commandments, but that keep them. Knowing his commandments, without keeping them, does not entitle any to mercy. The commandment is not only a rule of knowledge, but of duty. God gives us his commandments, not only as a landscape to look upon, but as his will and testament, which we are to perform. A good Christian, like the sun, not only sends forth light, but makes a circuit round the world. He has not only the light of knowledge; but moves in a sphere of obedience.
We should keep the commandments from faith. Our obedience ought, profluere a fide to spring from faith.' It is called, therefore, the obedience of faith.' Rom 16: 26. Abel, by faith, offered up a better sacrifice than Cain. Heb 11: 4. Faith is a vital principle, without which all our services are opera mortua, dead works. Heb 6: 1. It meliorates and sweetens obedience, and makes it come off with a better relish.
But why must faith be mixed with obedience to the commandments?
Because faith eyes Christ in every duty, in whom both the person and offering are accepted. The high-priest under the law laid his hand upon the head of the slain beast, which pointed to the Messiah. Exod 29: 10. So faith in every duty lays its hand upon the head of Christ. His blood expiates their guilt, and the sweet odour of his intercession perfumes our works of obedience. He has made us accepted in the beloved.' Eph 1: 6.
Keeping the commandments must be uniform. We must make conscience of one commandment as well as of another. Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments.' Psa 119: 6. Every commandment has jus divinum, the same stamp of divine authority upon it; and if I obey one precept because God commands, by the same reason I must obey all. Some obey the commands of the first table, but are careless of the duties of the second: some of the second and not of the first. Physicians have a rule that when the body sweats in one part, and is cold in another, it is a sign of a distemper; so when men seem zealous in some duties of religion, but are cold and frozen in others, it is a sign of hypocrisy. We must have respect to all God's commandments.
But who can keep all his commandments?
There is a fulfilling God's commands, and a keeping of them. Though we cannot fulfil all, yet we may be said to keep them in an evangelical sense. We may facere, though not perficere [build, though not complete]. We keep the commandments evangelically: (1) When we make conscience of every command, when, though we come short in every duty, we dare not neglect any. (2) When our desire is to keep every commandment. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!' Psa 119: 5. What we want in strength we make up in will. (3) When we grieve that we can do no better; weep when we fail; prefer bills of complaint against ourselves; and judge ourselves for our failings. Rom 7: 24. (4) When we endeavour to obey every commandment, elicere conatum. I press toward the mark.' Phil 3: 14. We strive as in agony; and, if it lay in our power, we would fully comport with every commandment. (5) When, falling short, and unable to come up to the full latitude of the law, we look to Christ's blood to sprinkle our imperfect obedience, and, with the grains of his merits cast into the scales, to make it pass current. This, in an evangelical sense, is to keep all the commandments; and though it be not to satisfaction, yet it is to acceptation.
Keeping God's commandments must be voluntary. If ye be willing and obedient.' Isa 1: 19. God required a free-will offering. Deut 16: 10. David will run the way of God's commandments, that is freely and cheerfully. Psa 119: 32. Lawyers have a rule that adverbs are better than adjectives; that it is not the bonum, but the bene; not the doing much, but the doing well. A musician is not commended for playing long, but for playing well. Obeying God willingly is accepted. Virtus nolentium nulla est [Righteous deeds done unwillingly are worthless]. The Lord hates that which is forced; which is paying a tax rather than an offering. Cain served God grudgingly; he brought his sacrifice, not his heart. To obey God's commandments unwillingly, is like the devils who came out of the men possessed, at Christ's command, but with reluctance, and against their will. Matt 8: 29. Obedientia praest and adest non timore poenae, sed amore Dei [Obedience is the chief thing, and this not through fear of punishment, but for love of God]. God duties must not be pressed nor beaten out of us, as the waters came from the rock, when Moses smote it with his rod, but must drop freely from us as myrrh from the tree, or honey from the comb. If a willing mind be wanting, the flower is wanting to perfume our obedience, and to make it a sweet-smelling savour to God.
That we may keep God's commandments willingly, let these things be well weighed: (1) Our willingness is more esteemed than our service. David counsels Solomon not only to serve God, but with a willing mind.1 Chron 28: 9. The will makes sin to be worse, and duty to be better. To obey willingly shows we do it with love; and this crowns all our services.
(2) There is that in the law-giver which may make us willing to obey the commandments, which is God's indulgence to us. God does not require the summum jus as absolutely necessary to salvation; he expects not perfect obedience, he requires sincerity only. Do but act from a principle of love, and aim at honouring God in your obedience, and it is accepted. In the gospel a surety is admitted. The law would not favour us so far; but now God so indulges us, that what we cannot do of ourselves we may do by proxy. Jesus Christ is a Surety of a better testament.' Heb 7: 22. We fall short in everything, but God looks upon us in our Surety; and Christ having fulfilled all righteousness, it is as if we had fulfilled the law in our own persons. God gives strength to do what he requires. The law called for obedience, but though it required brick, it gave no straw; but in the gospel, God, with his commands, gives power. Make ye a new heart.' Ezek 18: 31. Alas! it is above our strength, we may as well make a new world. A new heart also will I give you.' Ezek 36: 26. God commands us to cleanse ourselves. Wash you, make you clean.' Isa 1: 16. But who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?' Job 14: 4. Therefore the precept is turned into a promise. From all your filthiness will I cleanse you.' Ezek 36: 25. When the child cannot go, the nurse takes it by the hand. I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms.' Hos 11: 3.
(3) There is that in God's commandments which may make us willing. They are not burdensome.
A Christian, so far as he is regenerate, consents to God's commands. I consent to the law that it is good.' Rom 7: 16. What is done with consent is no burden. If a virgin gives her consent, the match goes on cheerfully; if a subject consents to his prince's laws because he sees the equity and reasonableness of them they are not irksome. A regenerate person in his judgement approves, and in his will consents, to God's commandments and therefore they are not burdensome.
God's commandments are sweetened with joy and peace. Cicero questions whether that can properly be called a burden which is carried with delight and pleasure. Utrum onus appellatur quod laetitia fertur [Is a task performed with joy rightly so called]? If a man carries a bag of money that has been given him, it is heavy, but the delight takes off the burden. When God gives inward joy, it makes the commandments delightful. I will make them joyful in my house of prayer.' Isa 56: 7. Joy is like oil to the wheels, which makes a Christian run in the way of God's commandments, so that it is not burdensome.
God's commandments are advantageous. They are preventive of evil; a curb-bit to check us from sin. What mischiefs should we not run into if we had not afflictions to humble us, and the commandments to restrain us! God's commandments keep us within bounds, as the yoke keeps the beast from straggling. We should be thankful to God for precepts. Had he not set his commandments as a hedge or bar in our way, we might have run to hell and never stopped. There is nothing in the commandments but what is for our good. To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee for thy good.' Deut 10: 13. God commands us to read his word; and what hurt is in this? He bespangles the word with promises; as if a father should bid his son read his last will and testament, wherein he makes over a fair estate to him. He bids us pray and tells us if we ask, it shall be given.' Matt 7: 7. Ask power against sin, ask salvation, and it shall be given. If you had a friend who should say, Come when you will to me, I will supply you with money,' would you think it a trouble to visit that friend often? God commands us to fear him. But fear thy God.' Lev 25: 43. There is honey in the mouth of this command. His mercy is on them that fear him.' Luke 1: 50. God commands us to believe, and why so? Believe, and thou shalt be saved.' Acts 16: 31. Salvation is the crown set upon the head of faith. Good reason then have we to obey God's commands willingly, since they are for our good, and are not so much our duty as our privilege.
God's commandments are ornamental. Omnia quae praestari jubet Deus, non onerant nos sed ornant. Salvianus. God's commandments do not burden us, but adorn us.' It is an honour to be employed in a king's service; and much more to be employed in his by whom kings reign.' To walk in God's commandments proves us to be wise. Behold, I have taught you statutes: keep, therefore, and do them; for this your wisdom.' Deut 4: 5, 6. To be wise is a great honour. We may say of every commandment of God, as Prov 4: 9: It shall give to thy head an ornament of grace.'
The commands of God are infinitely better than the commands of sin, which are intolerable. Let a man be under the command of any lust, and how he tires himself! What hazards he runs to endangering his health and soul, that he may satisfy his lust! They weary themselves to commit iniquity.' Jer 9: 5. And are not God's commandments more equal, facile, pleasant, than the commands of sin? Chrysostom says true, To act virtue is easier than to act vice.' Temperance is less troublesome than drunkenness; meekness is less troublesome than passion and envy. There is more difficulty in the contrivance and pursuit of a wicked design than in obeying the commands of God. Hence a sinner is said to travail with iniquity. Psa 7: 14. A woman while she is in travail is in pain -- to show what pain and trouble a wicked man has in bringing forth sin. Many have gone with more pains to hell, than others have to heaven. This may make us obey the commandments willingly.
Willingness in obedience makes us resemble the angels. The cherubim, types representing the angels, are described with wings displayed, to show how ready the angels are to serve God. God no sooner speaks the word, but they are ambitious to obey. How are they ravished with joy while praising God! In heaven we shall be as the angels, and by our willingness to obey God's commands, we should be like them here. We pray that God's will may be done by us on earth as it is in heaven; and is it not done willingly there? It is also done constantly. Blessed is he who does righteousness at all times.' Psa 106: 3. Our obedience to the command must be as the fire of the altar, which never went out. Lev 6: 13. It must be as the motion of the pulse, always beating. The wind blows off the fruit; but the fruits of our obedience must not be blown off by any wind of persecution. I have chosen you that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.' John 15: 16.
Use. They are reproved who live in a wilful breach of God's commandments, in malice, uncleanness, intemperance; and walk antipodes to the commandments. To live in a wilful breach of the commandment is:
(1) Against reason. Are we able to stand out against God? Do we provoke the Lord, are we stronger than he?' 1 Cor 10: 22. Can we measure arms with God? Can impotence stand against omnipotence? A sinner acts against reason.
(2) It is against equity. We have our being from God; and is it not just that we should obey him who gives us our being? We have all our subsistence from him; and is it not fitting, that as he gives us our allowance, we should give him our allegiance? If a general gives his soldiers pay, he expects them to march at his command; so for us to live in violation of the divine commands, is manifestly unjust.
(3) It is against nature. Every creature in its kind obeys God's law. Animate creatures obey him. God spake to the fish, and it set Jonah ashore. Jonah 2: 10. Inanimate creatures. The wind and the sea obey him. Mark 4: 41, The very stones, if God give them a commission, will cry out against the sins of men. The stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it.' Hab 2: 11. None disobey God but wicked men and devils; and can we find no better companions?
(4) It is against kindness. How many mercies have we to allure us to obey! We have miracles of mercy; the apostle therefore joins these two together, disobedient and unthankful, which dyes sin with a crimson colour.2 Tim 3: 2. As the sin is great, for it is a contempt of God, a hanging out of the flag of defiance against him, and rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, so the punishment will be great. It cuts off from mercy. God's mercy is for them that keep his commandments, but there is no mercy for them that live in a wilful breach of them. All God's judgements set themselves in battle array against the disobedient: temporal judgements and eternal. Lev 26: 15, 16. Christ comes in flames of fire, to take vengeance on them that obey not God.2 Thess 1: 8. God has iron chains to hold those who break the golden chain of his commands; chains of darkness by which the devils are held ever. Jude 6. God has time enough, as long as eternity, to reckon with all the wilful breakers of his commandments.
How shall we keep God's commandments?
Pray for the Spirit of God. We cannot do it in our strength. The Spirit must work in us both to will and to do. Phil 2: 13. When the loadstone draws, the iron moves; so, when God's Spirit draws, we run in the way of his commandments.