John Owen.

An exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews; with the preliminary exercitations (Volume 2) online

. (page 29 of 46)
Online LibraryJohn OwenAn exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews; with the preliminary exercitations (Volume 2) → online text (page 29 of 46)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

* Becaufe men would not receive the truth in the

* love thereof,' or improve the day of their gofpel which
they enjoyed, ' God fcnt them ftrong delufions that they

* fliould believe a lie.' And how came it to pafs ? By re-
moving the found and fincerc preaching of the word, he
gave advantage to fcducers and falfe teachers to impofe

Vol. n. T t their


their fuperilition, idolatry, and herefics upon their cre-
dulity. So God puniilicd the ncglc£t and difobedicnce of
the churches of Europe, under the papal apoftacy. And
let us take heed left this phial of wrath be alfo poured upon
us ; or,

3. God may leave to fuch perfons the outward difpen-
fatlon of the means of graccy and yet withhold that efficacy
of his Spirit whicli alone can render them ufeful to the
fouls of men. Hence the word becomes to have a quite
contrary efFedl to what it hath under the influences of
fpecial grace. God then fpake to a people thus : [Ifa. vi.
9, 10.] ' Hear you indeed, but undcriland not, and fee

* you indeed, but perceive not : make the heart of this
' people faft, and make their ears heavy, and fliut theif

* eyes, left they fee with their eyes, and hear with thcit
' ears, and underftand with their hearts, and convert and

* be healed.' I have now done with them, faith God ; I
liave no defign or purpofe any more to deal with them
about their converfion and healing : and therefore,
although I will have the preaching of the word as yet
continued among them, yet it Ihall have no effc£l upon
them, but through their unbelief ^ to blind them and har-
den them to their deftrudlion. And for thefc reafons,
amongft others, ought fuch a day as we have defcribcd
carefully to be attended to.

§ 26. This duty being of {o great importance, it may
be feafonably inquired, how may a man, how may a
church know, that it is fuch a day, fuch a feafon of the
gofpcl with them, fo as to be fuitably ftirrcd up to the
performance of fuch a duty ? 1 anfwer, they may knosT
it two ways.

I. From the ov.tzvard Jig7is of it, as the day is known
by the light and heat of the fun which is the caufe there-
of. Negleft and ignorance of this was charged by our
Saviour on the Jews frequently ; [Sec Matt. xvi. 3.] * C)

* ye hypocrites, ye can difcern the face of the Iky, but yc

* cannot difcern the face of the times.' As God hath
planted fuch flgns in natural thinf:^, hath fo ordered them,
that one fliould be a llgii and difcovcry of another ; \o



he hath appointed figns of this day of grace, of the
coming of the Meffiah, whereby it alfo may be known.
But thefe, faith he, you cannot difcern ; (y ^vytzcr^s) you
eannot ; but withal he lets them know ivhy they could not ;
becaufc they were hypocrites ; and either groilly neglected,
or defpifed the means and advantages they had for that
purpofe. Herein coniifted the wifdom of the children of
Iflachar, that * they had underilanding of the times to
< know what the children of Ifrael ought to do,' [I. Chron.
xii. 32.]

2. Such a day or fcafon will manifeft itfelf by its ef-
ficacy. When God applies fuch a concurrence of means,
he will make men one way or other fenfible of his defign
and end. The word in fuch a day will either refine and
reform men, or provoke and enrage them. Thus wdien
the witnelTes preach, which is a fignal feafon of light and
truth, they torment them that dwell on the earth, [Rev.
xi. 10.] If they are not healed^ they will be tormented. So
it was at the firll preaching of the gofpel ; fome were con-
verted, and the reft were hardened ; a fignal work pafled
on them all, and thofe who difpenfed the word, became
a good favour in them that were faved, and in them that
periflied. The confciences of men will difcover their

§ 27. Ohf. 12. The examples of our forefathers are
objefts of our deepeft confideration ; God in his dealing
with thei"n provides inftru£lions for their pofterity. When
parents do well, when they walk with God, they beat the
path of obedience plain for their children ; and when they
rnifcarry, God fets their fins as buoys, or as beacons, to
warn them who came after of the llielvcs they fplit upon.

* Be not as your fathers were, a ftiff-necked generation,'
is a warning he often repeats. And it is in fcripture an
eminent part of the commendation, or difcommendatioa
of any, that they walked in the way of their progenitors.
Where any of the good kings of Judah are fpoken of for
cheir integrity, this is ftill one part of the teftimonv given
them, that * they walked in the way of David their fa-

* ther \ in the paths that he had trod before them. And on

T t 2 tlue


the other fide, it is a brand on many of the wicked kings of
Ifracl, that ' they walked in the ways of Jeroboam the fon
* of Nebat.' Their examples, therefore, arc of concern to
us. — Oftentimes the Jame kind of temptations are continued
to the children that the fathers were excrcifed with. Now
it is a great zvamhig to men, to confider what fad events
liave befallen them who went before, by yielding to the
very temptations which they themfclves are exercifcd with.
Again, there is a bJt'Jfing or a curfe, that lies hidden in the
ways of progenitors. There is a revenge for the children
of the difobcdient, to the third and fourth generation ;
and a blehing on the pofterity of the obedient for a longer
continuance. When fathers have made themfelves ob-
noxious to the difpleafure of God by their fms, let their
poilcrity know, that there is an addition of puniihment
coming upon them beyond what, in the ordinarv courfe
of providence, is due to themfclves, if they continue in
the fame fms. When one generation after another Ihall
pcrfifl in the fame provoking lins, the weight of God's
indignation grows fo heavy, that ordinarily^ in one part or
otlicr, it begins to fall within the third or fourth genera-
tion. And doth it not concern men to confider what have
been the w'avs of their forefathers, left there be a fccret
confuming curfe againft them in the guilt of their lins ?
Repentance and furfaking their ways wholly intercepts l?hc
progrefs of the curfe. Men know not what arrears may
by this means be chargeable on their inheritances ; and
there is no avoiding the ' writ for fatisfaction,' that is gone
out againft them, but by tu-ning out for the way wherein
they are purfucd. The fame is the cafe with the bleffing
that is ftorcd for the pofterity of the obedient, who arc
found in the way of their forefathers. Thefc things ren-
der them and their ways objc£ls of our confiderations.
For, moreover,

§ 2S. Chf. 13. It is a dangerous condition for children
to ])oaft of the privilege of their fathers, and to Imitate
their Jins. This was almoft continually the ftate of the
Jews. ThevVcre ftill boafting of their progenitors, and
conftantly walking in their fins. I'his they arc every



where in the fcrlpturc charged with, [SeeNumb.xxxii. 14,]
This the Baptill receded qii in his firft dealing with them ,

* Bring forth, faith he, fruits rqeet for repentance, and think
' not to fay within yourfelves, we have Abraham to our

* father.* [Matt, iii. 8, 9.] On every occafion they flill
cried out, * we have Abraham to our father ;' he who was
fo highly favoured of God, and iirft received the promifes,
for his fake and by his mCfins, it fecms, they expefted tq
be faved temporally and eternally. Hence they have a
faying in their Talmud; ' Abraham fits at the gates of
' hell, and will not permit that any tranfgreifors of Ifrael

* fhall go in thither.' Exhilarating referve againft all
tl\€ir fms ! what a pity the pleafing deiulion will deceive
them, as afluredly it will, when they are paft relief.
Whilfl they trufled in their privileges, and continued in
the fins of them who had abufed them, it turned to their
farther ruin. [See Matt. xxix. 29 — 32.] and let their
examples deter others from countenancing themfelves iix
privileges of any kind, whilft they come iliort of per-,
fonal repentance, and obedient faith. Again,

§ 29. Obf, 14. A multitude joining in any fin gives
it thereby a great aggravation. Thofe here that finned
vv'ere all the perfons of one entire generation. This made
it a formal open rebellion, a conipiracy againft God, a
defign as it were to dellroy his kingdom, and to leave him
no fubje£ts in the world. When many confpire in the
fame fin, it is a great inducement for others to follow.
The oppofition to God therein is open and notorious,
which tends greatly to his diflionour in the world. How-
God refented the provocation of Ifrael, is fully exprefled
in Numbers xiv. 20 — 36. In the whole difcourfe,
(which finners ought to read and tremble at) there is re-
prefented, as it were, fuch a rifing of divine anger and in-
dignation, as fcarce appears again in the fcripture. Thus
it is for a multitude to tranigrefs againft God, as it were
by a joint confpiracy. Such will be the iflues of all na-
tional apoftacics and provocations !

§ 30. Obf. 1 5. The finful actions of men againft thofe
who deal with them in the name, and according to the



will of God, arc principally againfl Gcd himfelf. Tlic
people cliodc with Alofes\ but when God came to call
them to an account, he lays, they flrove v/ith him and
provoked him. So Mofes told the people to take them off
from their vain pretences, and covcriiigs of their un-
belief, [Exod.xxix. 2.] * The whole congregation mur-

* mured agaiiift Moles and Aaron.' But, faith he, [ver.
4.] * The Lord hcareth your murmurings, which yc

* murmur againfl him ; and what are we ? Your mur-

* murings are not againfl us, but againfl the Lord.' As
if he had faid, miftake not yourfelves, it is God and not
us, that you have to do with in this matter. What you
fuppofc you fpeak only againfl us, is indeed direcllv,
though not immediately, fpoken againfl God. And under
the New Teflament, our Saviour applies this rule to the
difpenfcrs of the gofpel, [Luke x. 16.] Saith he, * He

* tliat heareth you, Ircareth me ,• and he that defpifeth you,

* defpifeth me ; and he that defpifeth mc, defpifeth him

* that fent mc' To violate the authority of an ambaffador
among men is alwavs efleemed as the diflionour of him
by whom he is employed ; efpecially if it be done to him
in the difchargc of his ofhce. Nor are kings or flatcs
ever more highly provoked, than when an injury or an
affront is done to their ambafTadors. According to the
light of nature, what is done immediately againfl a re-
prefentative as fuch, is done dire£lly and intentionally
<igainfl the perfon reprefcntcd. So it is in this cafe.
The enmity of men is againfl God himfelf, againfl his
way, his work, his will, w^hich his ambafTadors do but
declare. But thefe things in themfelvcs are out of their
reach, they cannot hurt them, nor will they own direftly
an oppofition to them. Therefore are pretences invented
sgainfl thofc who are employed by 'God ; that under their
covert they may execute their rage ag.iinil God himfelf;
but \\t fees that they are all but coverts for their lulls and
obflinacv ; that h'lmldf is intended while his mcflTcngcrs
are attacked, and he eReems it lb. Let the mclTengers of
God take heed, that they neither a£l nor fpeak any thing
but what they have fuflicient warrant from him for. It



is an impious and a dangerous thifig to affix God's name
to our own imaginations. God v/iil not put his leal af
approbation, unlefs we Hand in his counicis, and b«
found in the ways of his will. There is no obje6l of a
more fad confideration, than to fee fome men perfccuting
others for their errors. They that pcrfecute (fuppofc
them in the right as to the matter in difference between
them) do certainly a£l againfl God in what they pretend
to ad for him. For they ufurp his authority over the
fouls and confciences of men. Whether we arc to do^
or to fuffer, any thing for God, it is of great moment
that we look well to our call or warrant. And then, whea
men are fecurcd by the w^ord and Spirit of God, but arc
confcious that their meffage is not tlieir own, but his that
fent them, that they feek not their own glory but his,
they may have hence all defirable grounds of encourage-
ment, fupport, and confolation. They can be no more
utterly prevailed againfl, that is, their tejilmony cannot,
than can God himfelf So he fpeaks to Jeremiah ; * I

* will make thee a fenced brazen wall, they fliall fight

* againft thee, but they fhall not prevail againft thee, for

* I am with thee to fave thee, and deliver thee, faith the

* Lord,' [Jer. xv. 20.] And in what they fuffcr^ God
is fo far concerned in it, as to account all that is done
againfl them, to be done againfl himfelf Chrifl is
hungry with them, and thirfly w^ith them, and in prifoii
with them. [Matt. xxv. 35 — 37.] Again,

§ 31. Ohf. 16. Unbelief manifefling itfelf in a time
of trial, is a mofl provoking fin. Unbelief, I mean, as
working in a diflruil of God, with refpedl to the difpen-
fations of his providence. The Ifraelitcs here blamed
were in the way of God, and no oppofition ought to
have difcouraged them therein. To have 2, fuflcient "jjar-
rant of the prefence and proteftion of God, is what
makes faith and trufl a duty. And this the Ifraelitcs had in
the promife made to Abraham, and others of their fore-
fathers. When he hath given us experience of his good-
ncfs and faithfulnefs, this adds a fpecialty to the general
warrant for faith in the word of promife.



Here it may be inquired, wliat it is that makes anr
time or feafon to be a day of trial ; feeing the mifcarriage
of men in fuch a feafon is exprelTed as a great aggrava-
tion of tluir fin \ and they are the things following :

(i.) That there be a concernment of X.\\cvlory of God
]\\ the ])erformance of that duty wherein wc are to adt
faith, or to truft in God. So God tried the faith of
Abraham, in a duty wherein his glory was greatly con-
cerned. For by his obedience in faith, it appeared to all
the w^orld that Abraham refpeded God, and valued a com-
pliance with his will above all things in the world. So
God himfelf* expreflcth it, [Gen. xxii. 12] 'Now I

* know that thou feared God, feeing thou haft not with-

* held thy fon, thy only Ion from me.' This was tho
tenth and laft trial that bcfcl Abraham. Nine times had
he been tried before ^.

Here, therefore, Abraham in a mod cfpecial manner
acquits himfelf, whence God gives him that teftimony;
' Now I know that thou feareft God ;' that is, now thou
haft made it known beyond all exception : and this puts
ai blefled clofe to all his fignal trials.

(2.) Difficulties and oppoiitions lying in the way of
duty, makes the feafon of it a day of trial. When men
have wind and tide with them in their failing, neither
their ftrength nor their fkill is tried at all. But wlien all
is againft them, then it is known what thev are. \\'hcii
the fun Ibincs and fair weather continues, the houfcs that
are built on the fands continue as well as thofe that are
built on a rock. But when the rain and the floods and
the winds come, they make the trial. ^\'hilft men have
outward advantages to encourage them in the ways of God»
it is not known what principles they a6l fron-^ \ but when

* 1 . 1p. his departure out of his country. 2. By the famine which
drove him into I' tjypr. 3. In the taking ol" his wife ihcrc by Pha-
raoh. 4. In his war with the four kings. 5. In his hopclcflhefs
of ilfue by Sarah, whence he took Hagar. 6, In the law of cir-
cun.cillon. 7. His wile taken from him ngain by Ahimelcch. 8. His
caftitig out of Ha^ar ultci ilic hud conceived. 9. His expullioii
of Llhnvd*:!.



tlieir obedience ai;id profelTion is attended with perfecution,
reproach, jJovcrty, famine, nakednels, death, then it is
tried what men build upon, and what they trull to ; then
It is to them a time of trial.

§32. Farther, to give light to our propofition we may-
inquire, how, or by what means, men a6l and manifcil
tiieir unbelief at fuch a ieafon. And this may be done
leveral ways :

1. By d'lJfaUsfad'iGn with that condition of difficulty,
whereunto they are brought by Providence for their trial.
Herein principally did the Ifraclites offend in the vvilder-
nefs ; this occaiioned all their murmurings and complaints
whereby God was provoked. It is true, they were brought
into many ftreights and difficulties ; but they were brought
into them for their trial by God himfelf, againfl whom
they had no reafon to repine or complain. And this is
no fmall fruit and evidence of unbelief, when we like
not, for inftance, a flate of providential poverty, want,
dangers, or pcrfecutions. If we like it not, it is from
our unbelief, God expedls other things from us : our
condition is the efFeft of his wifdora, his care and love ;
and a$ fuch by faith ought it to be acquiefced in.

2. By the omijjion of any incumbent duty, becaufc of
■ the difficulties that attend it, and the oppolition made to

it. To be ' fearful' and ' unbelieving,' go together, [Rev.
xxi. 9.] Where our fear, or any other affedion, in-
fluenced or moved by earthly things, prevails with us to
forego our duty, there unbelief prevails in the time of
our trials. And this way alfo in particular did the Ifrae-
lites fail. When they heard of fenced cities and fons of
Anak, they gave up all endeavours of going into the
land of Canaan ; and confulted of making a captain to
lead them back again into Egypt. And no otherwife is it
with them who forego their profelfion, becaufe of the
giant-Iikc oppofition which they find againft it.

3. When men turn afide and feek for unwarrantable af-
Jjjlances againft their difficulties. So did this people, they

made a calf to fupply the abfence of Mofes, and w^re
contriving a return into Kgvpt to deliver them out of
Vol. 1 1. U u their


their troubles. ^\ hen men in anything make flefli their
arm, their hearts depart from the Lord. [Jcr. xvii. 5.]

4. Wlien men difbclieve plain and direct promifis^
merely on account of the difficulties that lie againft their
accomplilhmcnt ; this rcric6ls unfpcakabic diflionour on
the veracity and power of God, and was the common
fin of Ifracl in the wildcrnefs. They limited God, and
faid, can he do this or that ? Seldom it was they believed
beyond what they enjoyed. Here lay the main caufc of
their i]\\ and ruin ; they had a promife of entering into
the land, but they believed it not ; and, as our apoftlc
fays, they could not enter in becaufe of unbelief, a time
of trial is the turn, the hinge of the church's peace or
ruin. We fee what their unbelief coft a whole genera-
tion in the wildcrnefs ; and thefe Hebrews, their poftcrity,
were now upon the like trial. And the apoftlc by this in-
Ilancc plainly infmuates what would be the iflue if they
continued therein, which accordingly proved to be their
utter reje(flion. Many pretend that tlicy believe the pro-
mifes of the covenant as to life and falvation, firmly and
immovcably ; God tries them by particular inflances, of
perfccution, difficulty, freights, public or private. Plere
they abide not ; but either complain and murmur, or
defert their duty, or fall to fmful compliances, or arc
weary of God's difpenfations ; and tliis manifcfls their

§ 33. Ohf. 17. There is commonly a day, a timfr
wherein unbelief rifcth to its height in provocation. W'c
Shewed before that there is a day, a fpccial fealbn of God's
dealing with the fons of men, by his word, ai\d other
means of grace. After this, if not clofcd with, if not
mixed with fiiith and obeyed, they cither infcnlibly de-
cline, in rcfp^cl of their tender or efficacy, or are utterly
removed. In like maimer there is a day, a fcafon where-
in the unbelief of men in its provocation comes to its
(aKUYi) height, and uttermofl ilTue, beyond which God
will bear with them no longer, but will break off all gra-
cious intercourfe between himfclf and fuch provoker^-.
This \va£ the dirc£l cafe with thcfc Ifrachtcs. They had



by their unbelief and murmuring, provoked God ten times.
But the day of their provocation, the feafon when it
arrived at its height, came not until this trial mentioned
Numb, xiv. upon the return of the fpies that went to
fearch the land. Before that time God often reproved
them, was angry with them, and varioufly punifhed them ;
but he ftill returned to them in mercy and compafiion ;
and {lill propofed to them an entrance into his red ac-
cording to the promife. But when the day once came,
when the provocation of their '^nbelief was come to its
height, then he would benr with them no longer, but

• fwears in his wrath that they fliould not enter into his

* reft.' And fo it was with their poflerity, as to their
ccclefiaftical and national ftate. God often fent unto
them, and dealt varionfly with them by the prophets
through feveral generations. Some of them they perfe-
cuted, others they killed, and upon die matter rejected
them all, as to the main end of their melTage. Btrtyet
all this while God fpared them, and continued them a
people and a church. Their provocation was not come
to its height, its laft day was not come yet. At length,
according to his promife, he fent his Son to them. Tbis
gave them their laft trial ; this put them to the fame con-
dition with their forefathers in the wildernefs ; as our
apoftie plainly intimates in the ufe of their example.
Again, they defpifed the piomifes ; as their fathers had
done in the type and fhadow, fo did they when the fub-
ftance of all promifes was exhibited to them. This was
the day of their laft provocation, after which God would
bear with them no more in fimilar patience , but enduring
them for the fpace of near forty years, he utterly rejected
them ; fending forth his fervants, he flew thofc murder-
ers and burnt their city. This is that which our Saviour
at large declares in his parable of the houfeholder and hi$
hufbandmen, [Matt. xxi. 31 — 41.]

§ 34. And thus in God's dealing with the anticJ?riJlian

Jlctte, there is ^feafon wherein the angel ' fwears, that there

* Iball be time no longer ;' [Rev. x. 6.] that God would

RQ longer bear with them, or forbear them in their provo-

U u 2 cations


cations and idolatries, but would thenceforth give them
•up to all forts of judgements, fpiritual and temporal, to
their bitter confufions : yea, * fend them llrong delufions

* that they fhould believe a lie, that they all might be

* damned, who believed not the truth, but had pleafure in

* unrighteoufnefs,' [II. Thef. ii. i i, 12.] This day is
uncertain, yet irrecoverable.

I. It is uncertain. Jerufalem knew not, in the en-
trance of her day, that her fin and unbelief were coming
to their iffuc, and fo was not awakened to their preven-
tion ; no more than the men of Sodom knew when the
fun arofe, that there was a cloud of fire and brimflone
hanging over their heads. Men in their fins think they
"will do as at other times, that they fhall ftill have fpacc
and time for their duty , but ere they are aware they have
finifhed their courfe, and lilled up the meafure of their
fins. * As the fiflics that aie taken in an evil net, and
' as birds that are caught in the fnarc, ^o arc the fons of

* men fnared in an evil time, when it falleth fudJenly

* upon them." [Rcclcf. ix. 12.] For the day of the Lord's
indignation comes as a fnare on them that dwell on
the face of the earth, [Luke xxi. 35.] And men aie
often crying peace, peace, when fudJen dcIhu(fIion
cometh npon them. [I. Thef. v. 3.] When Babylon fliall
fay, * I fit as a queen, and am no widow,' (her fons being
again rcflored to her) * and Ihall fee no forrow ^ then fliall

* her plagues come in one dav, deatli and mourning and

* famine, and Ihc fliall be utterly burnt with tire,' [Rev.
xviii. 7, 8.] Hence is Chrift fo often faid to * come as a

* thief;' to manifefl how men will be furprifcd by hini in
their fins and impcnitency. — This day is alfo,

2. 1) recoverable. When the provocations of UJibellcf
come to their height, tlierc is no room left for repentance
cither on the part of God or the (inner. iVo/ for thcjhincr ;
fince men, for the mofl: part after this, have no thought
of repenting. Either they fee thcmfelves irrecoverable,
and fo grow dcfperate ; or become ftupidly fenfolefs and

Online LibraryJohn OwenAn exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews; with the preliminary exercitations (Volume 2) → online text (page 29 of 46)