Page images

they desire to be his, to all intents and purposes, his entirely, and for ever.

(4.) Since there are many difficult duties incumbent on Christ's subjects, and many blessings which they hope to receive, they express their entire dependance on him for grace, to enable them to behave themselves agreeably to the obligations they are under, that they may not turn aside from him, or deal treacherously with him, as being unsteadfast in his cove nant: they also rely on his faithfulness for the accomplishment of all the promises, which afford matter of relief and encouragement to them; and this is accompanied with a fixed purpose, or resolut on to wait on him, in all his ordinances, as means appointed by him, in which they hope to obtain those blessings they stand in need of.

(5.) This is done with a solemn withdrawing themselves from, renouncing and testifying their abhorrence of those to whom they have formerly been in subjection, whose interest is contrary to, and subversive of Christ's government. These they count to be their greatest, yea, their only enemies, and proclaim open war against them, and that with a fixed resolution, by the grace of God, to pursue it to the utmost; like the courageous soldier, who, having drawn his sword, throws away the scabbard, as one that will not leave off fighting till he has gained a complete victory; and this resolution is increased by that hatred which he entertains against sin, and is exercised in proportion to it: the enemies against whom he engages, are the world, the flesh, and the devil; the motives that induce him thereunto are because they are enemies to Christ, and stand in the way of his salvation. Now, that he might manage this warfare with success, he takes to himself the whole armour of God, which the apostle describes, Eph. vi. 11-17. which is both offensive and defensive, And he also considers himself as obliged to shun all treaties or proposals made by them, to turn him aside from Christ, and all correspondence with them, and to avoid every thing that may prove a snare or temptation to him, or tend to Christ's dishonour.

And to this we may add, that he hath a due sense of his obligation, to endeavour to deliver others from their servitude to sin and Satan, to encourage those who are almost persuaded to submit to Christ, and to strengthen the hands of those who are already entered into his service, engaged with him in the same warfare against his enemies, and pursuing the same design, conducive to his glory. The methods he takes in order hereunto, are truly warrantable, and becoming the servants of Christ: he is not like the scribes and Pharisees, who were very zealous to gain proselytes to their interest, which, when they had done, they made them two-fold more the children of hell than

themselves, Matt. xxiii. 15. but makes it his business to convince those he converses with, that they are subject to the greatest tyranny of those who intend nothing but their ruin; that they serve them who have no right to their service, and, that the only way to obtain liberty, is to enter into Christ's service, and then they will be free indeed, John viii. 36. Moreover, he endeavours to remove those prejudices, and answer all objections which Satan usually brings, or furnishes his subjects with, against Christ and his government. If they say, with the daughters of Jerusalem, What is thy beloved more than another beloved? he has many things to say in his commendation; as, the church is brought in using various metaphorical expressions to set forth his glory, and he joins with them in that comprehensive character given of him, which contains the sum of all that words can express, He is altogether lovely; this is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem, Cant. v. 9, 16. This concerning the way in which Christ's subjects engage against, and oppose Satan's kingdom.

But let it be further considered, that the opposition is mutual: when persons are delivered out of the power of darkness, and translated into Christ's kingdom, they are not to expect to be wholly free from the assaults of their spiritual enemies, and these oftentimes gain great advantages against them from the remainders of corrupt nature, in the best of men. The devil is represented, by the apostle, as a roaring lion, who walketh about seeking whom he may devour, 1 Pet. v. 8. Sometimes he gives disturbance to Christ's subjects, by inclining men to exercise their persecuting rage and fury against the church, designing hereby to work upon their fears; at other times, he endeavours, as it were, by methods of bribery, to engage unstable persons in his interest, by the overture of secular advantage; or else to discourage some, by pretending that religion is a melancholy thing, that they who embrace it, are like to strive against the stream, and meet with nothing but what will make them uneasy in the world. This opposition, which is directed against Christ's kingdom, proves oftentimes very discouraging to his subjects; but there are attempts of another nature often used to amuse, discourage, and destroy their peace, by taxing them with hypocrisy, and pretending, that all their hope of an interest in Christ's favour and protection, is but a delusion, and therefore it had been better for them not to have given in their names to him, since the only consequence thereof will be the aggravating their condemnation. If the providences of God be dark and afflictive, he endeavours to suggest to them hard thoughts of Christ, and to make them question his goodness, and faithfulness, and to say, with the Psalmist, Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain, and have washed my hands in inno

cency, Psal. lxxiii. 13. and, when God is pleased, at any time, for wise ends, to deny them his comforting presence, the enemy is ready, on this occasion, to persuade them, as the Psalmist represents some speaking to the like purpose, that there is no help for them in God, Psal. iii. 2.

These meds are often used, by the enemies of Christ's kingdom, to weaken the hands of his subjects, whereby the exercise of their graces is often interrupted, and they are hurried into many sins, through the violence of temptation; nevertheless they shall not wholly revolt. Grace may be foiled, and weakened thereby, but it shall not be utterly extinguished; for, though they be guilty of many failures and miscarriages, which discover them to be in an imperfect state, yet they are preserved from relapsing into their former state; and not only so, but are often enabled to prevail against their spiritual enemies, in which the concern of Christ, for their good, eminently discovers itself; and, if the advantage gained against them be occasioned by their going in the way of temptation, or not being on their guard, or using those means that might prevent their being overcome thereby, this is over-ruled by Christ, to the humbling and making them more watchful for the future; or if God has left them to themselves, that he may shew them the sin and folly of their self-confidence, or reliance on their own strength, this shall be a means to induce them to be more dependent on him for the future, as well as importunate with him, by faith and prayer, for that grace, which is sufficient to prevent their total and final apostasy, as well as to recover them from their present back-slidings. And these many weaknesses and defects, which gave them so much uneasiness, will induce them to sympathize with others in the like condition; and the various methods which Christ takes for their recovery, will render them skilful in directing others how to escape, or disentangle themselves from this snare, in which they have been taken, and which has given them so much uneasiness.

We might here have enlarged on that particular branch of this subject, which respects the warfare that is to be carried on by every one who lists himself under Christ's banner, and owns him to be his rightful Lord and Sovereign, which takes up a very considerable part of the Christian life; as he is said to wrestle not only against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual wickedness in high places, Eph. vi. 12. and elsewhere we read of the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, Gal. v. 17. But this will be considered under a following answer, in which we shall be led to speak of the imperfection of sanctification in believers,

together with the reasons thereof;* and therefore we pass it over at present, and shall proceed to consider,

4. How Christ deals with his subjects after he has brought them hitherto, and inclined and enabled them to submit to his government: this is expressed in the answer we are explaining, in the following heads.

(1.) He rewards their obedience. This supposes that he requires that they should obey him, and that their obedience should be constant and universal, otherwise they deserve not the character of subjects; and, as to what concerns the regard of Christ to this obedience, though herein men are not profitable to God, as they are to themselves, or to one another, yet it shall not go unrewarded. The blessings which Christ confers on them are sometimes styled a reward, inasmuch as there is a certain connexion between their duty and interest, or their obeying and being made blessed, which blessedness is properly the reward of what Christ has done, though his people esteem it as an act of the highest favour; in this sense he rewards their obedience, and that either by increasing their graces, and establishing their comforts here; or by bringing them to perfection hereafter. But inasmuch as their obedience is, at present, very imperfect, which tends very much to their reproach, and affords matter of daily humiliation before God, it is farther added,

(2.) That Christ corrects them for their sins. This is inserted among the advantages of his government, though it is certain, that afflictions, absolutely considered, are not to be desired; nevertheless, since they are sometimes needful, 1 Pet. i. 6. and conducive to our spiritual advantage, they are included in this gracious dispensation, which attends Christ's government, as by these things men live, Isa. xxxviii. 16. How much soever nature dreads them, yet Christ's people consider them as designed for their good, and therefore not only submit to them, but conclude that herein he deals with them. As we are far from blaming the skilful chirurgeon, who sets a bone that is out of joint, or cuts off a limb, when it is necessary to save our lives, though neither of these can be done without great pain: thus when God visits our transgressions with the rod, and our iniquities with stripes, we reckon that he deals with us as a merciful and gracious Sovereign, and not as an enemy, since his design is to heal our backslidings, and prevent a worse evil from ensuing thereby.

(3.) He preserves and supports his subjects under all their temptations and sufferings. There are two sorts of temptations mentioned in scripture, to wit, such as are merely providential, which are designed as trials of faith and patience; as when the

* See Quest. LXXVIII.

apostle says, My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this, that the trial of your faith worketh patience, James i. 2, 3. and elsewhere the apostle Paul, speaking of the persecutions which he met with from the Jews, calls them temptations, Acts xx. 19. But, besides these, there are other temptations which arise from sin, Satan, and the world, whereby endeavours are used more directly to draw Christ's subjects from their allegiance to him: thus it is said, Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed, James i. 14. and elsewhere, They that will be rich, that is, who use indirect means to attain that end, or make this the grand design of life, fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition, 1 Tim. vi. 9. and the devil, who has a great hand in managing these temptations, and solicits us to comply therewith, is, for that reason, called, by way of eminency, the tempter, 1 Thes. iii. 5. and Matt. iv. 3. In both these respects, believers are exposed to great danger, by reason of temptations, and need either to be preserved from, or supported under them, that they may not prove their ruin; and this Christ does in managing the affairs of his kingdom of grace for his people's advantage, and herein that promise is fulfilled to them, There hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what ye are able, but will, with the temptation also, make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it, 1 Cor.

X. 13.

(4.) Christ powerfully orders all things for his own glory, and his people's good, as they are said to work together for good, Rom. viii. 28. and herein his wisdom, as well as his goodness, is illustrated. Sometimes, indeed, they cannot see from the beginning of an afflictive providence to the end thereof, or what advantage God designs thereby; herein we may apply those words of our Saviour to Peter, though spoken with another view, What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter, John xiii. 7. This will eminently appear, when they shall see how every step which Christ has taken in the management of his government, has had a subserviency to promote their spiritual advantage hereafter. Thus we have considered how Christ executes his Kingly office, more especially towards his people, who are his faithful subjects.

Secondly, We are now to speak concerning the exercise of Christ's Kingly government towards his enemies. He is, as has been before observed, their King; not by consent, or voluntary subjection to him, nor do they desire to own his authority, or yield obedience to his laws; but they are, notwithstanding, to be reckoned the subjects of his government; which is exercised,

« PreviousContinue »