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Hebrews xii. 28, 29. Wherefore we, receiving a Kingdom which cannot he moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear : for our God is a consuming fire.
THE gospel of our salvation, which contains the wholesome words of our Lord Jesus (^hrist, is expressly styled the doctriue which is according to godliness. It manifests the grace of God to sinn<M« of mankind ; but all who receive that grace are thereby taught effectually to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, and righteously, and godly, in this present world. It abounds with great and precious promises; hut all these promises have a practical tendency, that by the belief and improvement of them, we may be made partakers of the divine nature; having escaped the pollution that is in the world througii lust. Hence that exhortation, (3 Cor. vii. i.) '' Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all fiUhiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." If we look through the whole of divine revelation, we shall find in every part, privilege and duty inseparably
SERMO LIX. 323 connected, and the latter uniformly inferred from the former. This connexion is clearly established in the passage I have read to you, which contains,
I. The distinguishing; privilege of believers in Christ. " We," saith tiie Apostle, in the name of all true Christians, '^receiving a king<lora which cannot be moved," II. An exhortation to duty, founded upon this privilege, and the motives with which it is enforced: ** Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with revf rence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming tire." Both these sul)jects are so extensive, that each of them might furnish materials for many discourses. All I can at present propose is, to give some assistance to your minds when you meditate upon them in private, by weighing the import of the words in which they are expressed ; every one of which appears to be strongly emphatical, and full of the most instructive and comfortable meaning. 1 begin with the privilege of believers in Christ Jesus, expressed in these words, ^' We receiving a kingdom that cannot be moved." — Where you will observe, ist, The designation tliat is given to their portion. It is styled a kingdom, which, among earthly possessions is universally admitted to hold the first rank; but what is the highest dignity, and the greatest affluence that this earth can afford, when compared with the kingdom whereof my text speaks? Would you know the extent of it? you may learn it from (1 Cor. iii. SI, &c.) '^ All things are yours." And it must be so, for God himself is the portion of his saint; for as many as receive Christ, "to them gives he power to become the sons of God, even io them that believe on his name; — and if sons, then are they also heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ
321 SERMO LIX.
Jesus." Accordingly they are said, by the apostle Peter, " to be begotten again to the lively liope of an inheritance incorruptible, undetiled, and that fadeth not away." Wliich last expression agrees with the description here given by the Apostle, where he calls it a kingdom that cannot be moved; and the stability of it is explained by Peter, in the passage 1 just now alluded to, AA hire he not only informs us, that tliis inheritance is reserved in heaven, beyond the reach of every adverse power; but likewise, that all who are begotten again to the !iope of it, " are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation." ' You will further observe, that believers are said to receive tiiis kingdom. They have no natural right to it; on the contrary, by the fatal apostacy, they are children of wrath and heirs of destruction. They have no price to give for it; for they are not only wretched and miserable, but poor, and blind, and naked. It is a gift altogether free and unmerited on tlieir part. " It is your Father's good pleasure," said Christ to his disciples, " to give you the kingdom ;" and eternal life is expressly said to be " the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord." Once more, you will observe, that this inheritance is not altogether future. The Apostle speaks of it as a present possession. He doth not say. We looking for a kingdom that cannot be moved ; but, we receiving it in the mean time. This is perfectly agreeable to what he had said, (ver. '22.) '• Ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of tlie living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, an<l to 51!! innumeral)le company of angels, to the genera! asseutijiV and church of the first born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the
SERMO LIX. 325 mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." Believers have not only a title to the glory that shall afterwards be revealed, but they possess the earnest and first fruits of it in the mean time. Heaven is already begun in their hearts; the kingdom of God is within them, that kingdom which "consisteth not in meats and drinks, but in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. — He who loved them, and washed tliem from their sins in his own blood, hath also made them kiuirs and priests unto God. — By beholding his glory with the eye of faith, they are " changed into the same image, from glory to glory," while they sojourn here below, as we read 2 Cor. iii. 18. This resemblance, at present indeed imperfect, shall continually advance, through the influences of the divine Spirit, till, being released from the prison of the body, they shall no more see darkly as through a glass, but face to face; and by seeing him as he is, shall be fully transformed into liis image, which will render them completely happy, as it is written, (1 John iii. 2.) '^ Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know, that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." Thus have I opened the import of the terms by which the Apostle describes the dignity and happiness of believers in Christ Jesus. By their new birth and in consequence of their union with the Lord Jesus Christ, they are constituted heirs of a kingdom, which it is their Father's good pleasure to bestow upon them by free gift; this kingdom cannot be moved; it was prepared for them before the foundation of the world; it is reserved fur them in heaven, and they are kept for it througli failh by the power of God : and though tlie full posses-
326 SERMO LIX. sion of it, in all its glory, awaits them in a future state, yet they have their maintenance and provision out of it in the mean time; the new nature they have e;ot is not only the pledge, but the earnest of the inheritance, being of the same kind with that glory which is afterwards to be revealed ; they at present receive eternal life, a life that cannot die, but, like the morning light, shall continue to shine with increasing brightness^ till in heaven it shall arrive at the perfect day. Such is the present dignity and happiness of all true believers in Christ Jesus; in this sense the weakest, as well as the strong, receive a kingdom which cannot be moved. II. Let us consider the exhortation to duty, founded upon this privilege, ^' Let us have grace." ist. We are called upon to serve God. Believers, though kings, are still the sul)jects of the King of kings; and the honour conferred upon them, instead of relaxing their obligation to duty, rather binds them to serve him with greater zeal and activity. Their very royalty consists in their release from the enemies of God, which formerly enslaved and led them captive at their pleasure. Hence lliat exhortation of the Apostle, "Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies." They are styled, in the book of the Revelation, " Kings and priests to God, even the Ji'ather:" and dominion is given them, not in respect of God, to render them independent on him, but in respect of sin, Satan, tlie world, and death, over all wliich they are made conquerors through him that loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood. They are indeed a chosen generation, and a royal priesthood ; but for what end? It is, that by bringing forth the fruits of righteousness, '^' they may sliew forth the praises of him who hath called them out of darkuess into his marvellous light."
SERMO LIX. 327 ^dlij. We are reraiiidecl of the qualification that is requisite for serving God acceptably. We cannot do this by any strength that is inherent in us. " We are not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves.'" We are indeed exhorted to work out our own salvation; but at the same time we are told, ^' that it is God who worketli in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure." The Apostle's words are chosen with the most significant propriety. He doth not say, Let us take strength to ourselves; or, let us purchase it from another; but, let us have it ; i. e. Let us ask it of him who givetli liberally — Let us possess it, by receiving the gift that is offered ; or, having received it, let us hold it fast, as the word is rendered in the margin, and improve it to the purposes for which it was bestowed. ^dlij. We are directed to the manner of serving God, so as to be accepted of him, viz. " with reverence and godly fear:" i. e. with a deep sense of his infinite greatness, and of our own meanness and unworlliiness. We are indeed exhorted and encouraged to come boldly to a throne of grace ; but it must be such a boldness only as becometh those who stand in need both of mercy and grace; of mercy to pardon what hath been amiss, and of grace to help them in every time of need. " There is forgiveness with thee," said the Psalmist, "that thou mayest be feared." And indeed mercy is dispensed in such a way, as renders God no less awful tlian he is amiable to the pardoned sinner. The sacrifice of Christ, while it manifests the love of God in giving his Son to be the propitiation for our sins, affords, at the same time, the strongest proof and demonstration of his holiness and justice. The new and living way of access to God is consecrated for us through the veil of Christ's flesh. The blood that eleanseth from all sin, by which we have
328 SERMO LIX. boldness to enter into the holiest, is the blood of Emanuel, the Word made flesh, by whom all things were made, and without whom was not any thing made that is made. A proper attention to this, will shew both the meaning and propriety of the Apostle's direction to serve God with reverence and godly fear; not the tormenting fear which cherisheth that enmity against God, whereby the carnal mind is characterised ; but that filial reverence which flows from a supreme love to God, as a reconciled father, and desire to please him, which consists in a holy jealousy of ourselves, an abhorrence of every thing that is offensive to God, and produceth a carefulness to avoid every temptation to sin, and to shun not only the forbidden, but even the doubtful ground, according to that just description which is given of it, (Prov. viii. 12.) " The fear of the Lord is to hate evil." And the genuine effects of this fear are fully expressed in those advices of the Wise Man, which are recorded, (chap. iv. at the close) " Keep thy heart with all diligence — Let thine eyes look riglit on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left; remove thy feet from evil.'^ Such is the reverence and godly fear with which we are directed to serve the Lord. Let us now briefly consider the arguments with which the exhortation is enforced ; and these are two — The one respecting the matter of duty in general — And the other, the manner in which the service that is due to God ought to be performed. ist. We are exhorted to serve God, in testimony of our gratitude for the inestimable benefits his grace hath conferred upon us. This argument is plainly addressed
to believers in Christ, who have received that kingdom
SERMO LIX. 329 which cannot be moved. The Apostle doth not say, Let us serve God tliat we may obtain a kingdom ; but, having received it as the free gift of God, through faith in his Son, who purchased it with Iiis blood, let us express our thankfulness, by devoting ourselves, and all that we have, or can do, to his service. This is the plain and obvious meaning of the Apostle's argument; and in order to make tliis passage of Scripture speak the language of that scheme of religion which is too current in the world, the words of it would need to be transposed and varied in some such manner as this: Prompted by self-love, and the tormenting fear of future punishment, let us resolve in our minds, for we neither need nor expect supernatural grace, that henceforth we will serve God, as well as the world and the flesh will permit, that so we may escape damnation, and procure a title to, or at least the probable chance of a kingdom, whicii, after all, may not only be moved, but so agitated and shaken, that without a vigorous exertion of the powers we possess, we ourselves may be tossed out of it, and fall into perdition. — Thus ridiculous are the best efforts of human wisdom, to corrupt the plain meaning of Scripture language, and to accommodate the constitution of gospel grace to that pride and self- idolatry, which, ever since the apostacy, reign in the heart of every natural man. Whereas the gospel of Christ binds us to duty by the cords of love; and while it presseth holy diligence and activity in tlie service of God, by the most persuasive arguments, it animates us, at tiie same time, with the most comfortable assurance that our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord. Help is laid for us upon one who is
mighty, even that good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep, who gathers the lambs in his bosom, VOL. II. S T
330 SERMO LIX. and gently leads those that arc with young. Therefore they shall never perish, hecanse none are able to pluck them out of his hand. lie i^ives unto them eternal life, and they enter upon the possession of it at their new birth, when, by believing on his name, the power, or rather the privilege is given them, to become the sons of God. His grace is sufficient for them at all times, and ia every situation. He is gone to his Faiher's house to prepare a place for them; and he will come again and receive them to himself, that where he is, there they may be also, to behold that glory which his Father hath given liim. " Wherefore we, receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear." 2d. The argument, which respects the manner of our service, is contained in these words, " For our God is a consuming fire." This, at first sight, does not seem to accord with the other argument, which is addressed to the ingenuity and gratitude of a renewed heart; but appears rather adapted to the s|)irit of bondage, than to that spirit of adoption which believers in Christ receive, whereby they are disposed and enabled to call God Father. But 1 shall direct you to two passages of Scripture, which, I apj)rehend, will remove this difficulty, and lead us to the true meaning and intent of tlie Apostle's argument. One is, Tsaiali xxxi. 9. wliere it is said, as a ground of fear to the enemies of Zion, and consequently as a ground of encouragement to her children, that ^^ the
Lord hath his lire in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem." The other is Mai. iii. 2. where the Messens;er of the Covenant and King of Zion is compared to a refiner's fire, and fuller's soap, " He shall sit as a refiner and
SERMO LIX. 331 purifier of silver, anil he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto tlie Lord an oftering in righteousness." In this sense, he is a consuming fire to the godly; he refines them by consuming their dross. This view of God indeed is lerrihle to the wicked, who are all dross ; but it hath another aspect to the godly, who are made partakers of the divine nature. The fire that burns up the enemies of God altogether, shall only consume the dross that still cleaves to them, and from which they will never be wholly separated, till death dissolve their earthly tabernacles. ev'ertheless, this is urged, with great propriety, as an argument for serving God with reverence and godly fear; for the means of purifying may be very painful in the mean time, and as it is written, (Psalm xcix. 8.) *' Though he forgives their sins, yet he will take vengeance of their inventions." The children of God may be assured of it, that the rod shall not be withheld — their own backslidings shall be made to reprove them; *• for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." And therefore they should serve God with reverence, that a moderate furnace may suffice to purge away their dross^ and that it may not become necessary that God, for their correction, should wound their hearts in the tenrlerest part, by taking from them their dearest earthly comforts, or withdrawing the light of his countenance utterly from them. '^ Wherefore we, receiving a kingdom that cannot he moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear; for our God
is a consuming fire."
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