John Owen.

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

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lie down in fecuritv. So thofe falfe worfliippers in the
Revelation ; ulicr time was granted them no longer, but the
J plague:


plagues of God began to come upon them, it is faid, * they
' repented not, but gnawed their tongues for pain, and blaf-

* phemed the God of heaven.' Inllcad of repenting for
their fins, they rage againfl their punifhment. Rcpcnta7ice
alfo in this matter is hid from the eyes o( God ; when Saul
had finiflied his provocation, Samuel, denouncing the
judgement of God againft him, adds, ' And alfo the

* flrength of Ifrael will not lie, nor repent,' [I. Sam. xv.
29.] God confirms his fentcnce, and makes it irrecovera-
ble, by the engagement of his own immutability. There
is no alteration, no reprieve, no place for mercy when
this day is come and gone. [Ezek. xxi. 25.]

§ 35. Let perfons, let churclies, let nations take heed
left they fall unawares into this evil day. I fay unawares ;
becaufe they know not when they may be overtaken by
it. It is true, all the danger of it arifeth from their own
negligence, fecurity, and fiubbornnefs. If they will give
ear to previous warnings, this day will never come upon
them. It may not, therefore, be unworthy our iiiquiry,
to fearch what prognoftics men niay have of the ap-
proach of fuch a day. And,

I. When perfons, churches, or nations, have already
contra£led the guilt of various provocations, they may
jullly fear that their next fliall be their lafi. You have,
faith God to the Ifraelites, ' provoked me thefe ten times;'
^hat is, frequently, and now your day is come. Yoa
might have conndered before, that I would not always thus
bear with you. Hath God then borne with you in one
and another provocation, temptation, backfliding ; take
heed lefi: the great fin lies at the door, and be ready to
enter upon the next occafion. 7^akc heed, ' Grey hairs

* are fprinklcd upon you, tliougli you perceive it not.*
Death is at the door. Beware, left your next provocation
be your laft. When your tranfgrellions come to three
and four, tlic punifhment of your iiiiquitics will not be
turned away. When that is come, (and O that it may
never coiiic upon you» reader !) God v;ill have no
more to do v/ith vou, but — in judgement, whether tem-
po nl or etcrjial.

2, When


2. ^VHien repentance^ upon convictions of provocation',
kffetis or decays, it is a fad fymptom of an approaching
day, when iniquity will be completed. When the lixcd
boun<is of this repentance arc arrived at, all fprings of it
are dried up. When, therefore, pcrfons fall into thr,
guilt of many provocations, and God gives a manifci'b
convidion of them bv Ins word or providence, and
are humbled for them according to their liglit and prin-
ciples ; but if tlicy ilnd their humiliations, upon their
lencvvcd ccnvidions, grow weak, and klfcn in their
effects, and they do not fo rcflc£l upon thcmfelves with
fclf-difplacency as formerly, nor fo ftir up themfclves to
amendment, as they have done upon former warnings or
conviclions, nor have in fuch cafes their accuflomed fenlc
of the difpleafure and terror of the Lord ; let them be-
ware, evil is before them, and the fatal feafon is at hand.

3. When various difpenfations of God towards men
bave been fruitlefs ; when mercies, judgements, dangers,
deliverances, fignally flamped with a refpe£l to their ilns,
but cfpecially the warnings of the word, have been mul-
tiplied tov.ards any perfons, churches, or nations, and
have pafled over them without reformation or recovery, no
doubt judgement is ready to enter, yea, into the houfe of
Cjod itfelf. Is it thus with any? Is this their cafe and
condition ? Let them pleafe themfelves while they lift,
they are like Jonah aficcp in thejliip, v;hilft it is ready ta
fink, on tiieir account. Sleepy profcffors, awake, and
tremble ! You know not how foon a great, vigorous*
prevalent temptation mav hurry you into your laft pro-
vocation and ruin.

§ 36. Ohf. I 8. To diftruft God, to dia^elicve his pro-
niife?, v;hilll a v/ay of duty lies before us, after wc have
Ijad experience of his goovhicfs, power, and wifdom ii:i his
dealing witli us, is a tempting of God, and a greatly pro-
voking fin. And a truth this is that hath ' meat in its
• mouth,* or inllro^^ion ready for us, wc may know
Jiow to charge this aggravation of our unbelief upon our
fouls a!id confcienccs. Diftruft of God is a lin that we
AVQ apt \y:/.n\ f.r-.urv pcrverfe rcafonings to indulge our-



felves in, and yet is there nothing with which God is more
provoked. Now it appears in»thc proportion, that fun-
dry things are required to render a perfon, a church, or
a people formally guilty of this fin. As,

(i.) That they be called to, or engaged in, fome fpe-
cial way of God. And this is no extraordinary thing;
all believers who attend to their duty, will find it to be
their ilate and condition. It is in his ways that we have
his promifes ; and therefore it is in them, and with refe-
rence to them, that we are bound to believe and trufl in
him ; and, on the fame account, in them alone can wc
tempt God by our unbelief. It is alfo required,

(2.) That, in this way, they meet with oppofxtions,
difficuUies, and hardfl"iips, which, whilfl Satan and the
world continue in power, they fhall be fure to do. Yea God
himfelf is pleafed oft times to exercife them with fundry
things of that nature. Thus it befel the people in the
wildernefs. Sometimes they had no bread, and fome-
tlmes they had no water ; fometimes enemies afTaulted
them, and fometimes ferpents bit them.

(3.) That they have received former experiences of
the goodncfs, pov/er, and wifdom of God in his dealings
with them. That any one hath no experience of the fpe-
cial goodnefs and power of God towards him, hath been
through his own negligence and want of obfervation, and
not from any defeat in God's difpenfations. But as the
mofl in the world take no notice of the effefts of his care
and goodnefs towards them ; fo many believers are negli-
gent in treafuring up experiences of his fpecial care and
love towards them. When he hath revealed his ways to
us, and made known to us our duty ; when he hath given
us pledges of his prefcnce, and of his owning us, fo as
to feal and afcertain his promifes to us ; then, upon the
oppofition of creatures, or difficulties about outward, tem-
porary, perifhing things, for us to difbclieve and diflruji
him, mufl needs be an high provocation of the eves of
his glory. But alas I how frequently do we contrail the
guilt of this fm, both in our perfons, families, and more.



public concerns ? A due confideration of this lays bcforr
us, without doubt, matter of the deepefl humiliation.

§ 37. Ohf. 19/ No place, no retirednefs, no folitary
vvlldernefs will fecurc men from iin or fufFcring, provoca-
tion or punifhment. Thefe perfons were in a iv'ilder-
rcfs, where they had many molives and encouragements to
obedience, and no means of fedudion and temptations
from others, yet there they iinncd, and there they fuffer-
ed. They '•finned in the wildernefs,' and * their carcafes
* fell in the wildernefs.* They filled that defert with fins
and graves. Men have the principle of their llns in
themfelves, in their own hearts, which they cannot leave
behind them, or get rid of by changing their flations.
And the juftice of God, which is the principal caufe of
puniniment, is no lefs in the wildernefs than in the mod
populous cities. The wildernefs is no wildernefs to
him ; he can find its paths in all its intricacies. In this
very wilatrnefs, on the top of Sinai, there is at this
day a monaflry of perfons profefling themfelves to be
religious^ who live there for cultivating fuperior piety. I
once, for fome days, converfed with their chief ; they call
him Archimandrite, here in England. For ought I
could perceive, he might have learned as much clfewhere.
I remember old Jerome fomewhere complains, that
when he was in his horrid cave at Bethlehem, his mind was
frequently amongft the dclecies of Rome. And this will
teach us,

(i.) l\\ every outw^ard condition to look principally to
our own hearts. We may expe6l great advantages from
various conditions, but Ihall indeed meet w^lth none of
them, unlefs we fix and water the root of them in our-
fclves. Oiie thinks he could ferve God better in prof-
perity, if fre.d from the perplexities of poverty, fickncfs,
and pcrfccurion. Others that they ibould ferve him
better if called to afBidions and trials. Some think it
would be better with them if retired and folitary ; others
if they had more fociety and company. But the only
way to ferve (»od better, is to abide in our Nation and
condition, and therein ta get /tetter hearts. It is Solomon's



advice (iQ mD Ssd) Prov. iv. 23. * Jbovc, or before, every
^ watch, or keeping, keep thy heart.' It is good to keep
the tongue, and it is good to keep the feet, and it is good
to keep the way, as he farther declares in that place ; but,
faith he, above all keepings, keep thy heart ; and he adds
a great reafon for his caution, for, faith he, ' out of it

* are the illaes of life.' Life and death, in the means
and caufes of them, come out of the heart. So our Sa-
viour inilrufts us, that in our hearts lie our treafure ;
what they are, that %ue are, and nothing elfe. Thence arc
all our a£lions drawn forth, which not only ' fmell of the

* cafk,' but receive thence principally their whole moral
nature, whether good or bad.

(2.) Look for all relief, and for help againft fin, merely
from grace. A wildernefs will not help you ; no, nor a
paradife. In the one Adam iinned, in the other all Ifrael
finned. Men may to a good purpofe go into a wildernefs
to exercife grace and the principles of truth, when the
a£ling of them is denied elfewhere. But it is to no
purpofe to go into a wildernefs to feek for thefe things ;
their dwelling is in the love and favour of God, and no
where elfe can they be found. Do not expe£l that mer-
cies of themfelves will do you good, that the city or the
wildernefs will do you good ; it is grace alone that can do
that. And if you find inward benefits by outward things,
it is merely from the grace that God is pleafed to admi-
iiifter with them. And he can feparate them when he
pleafeth, he can give mercies that fliall be fo materially,
but not eventually ; like the quails that fed the bodies of
the people, whilft leannefs pofieiTcd their fouls. Learn,
then, in all places, in every flate and condition, to live
in the freedom, riches, and efficacy of grace.

(3.) Let us learn, that whitherfoever fin can enter,
punifhment can follow ; (culpam fequitur poena pede claudo)
though vengeance feems to have a lame foot, yet it will hunt
fin until it overtake the finner. [Pfal cxl. 2.] * Evil fhall

* hunt the violent man to overtake him.' Go where he
will, the fruits of his own evil and violence, the punifl*-
ment due co them, fhall hunt him and follow him ; and

Vol. II. X X though


though it fliould fomctimcs appear to be out of fight, or
off from the fcent, yet it will recover its view and chafe,
until it hath brought him to dellruclion. It will follow
it into the dark^ the dark corners of their hearts and lives ;
and overtake them in the light of the world. God hath
(iV^/xov oiLU-cK,) an eye of revenge that nothing can efcape.

* Can any hide himfclf in fecrct places that I cannot find

* him ? faith the Lord, do not I fill heaven on earth?

* faith the Lord,' [ Jcr. xxiii. 24.] God declares whom
it is, that none can hide from his prefence, or efcape his
juftice. It is from his oymiiprcfencc ; he is every where,
and all places arc alike to him. Adam, when he had
linned, went behind a tree. And others would go under
rocks and mountains ; but all is one, vengeance will find
them out. This is that (S/k->^) 'ucnyeance^ which the bar-
barians thought would not let a murderer live, however
he might efcape for a feafon, [Adis xxviii. 4.]

§ 3S. Obf. 20. Great works of Providence are a great
means of inflrudlion, and a negleft of them as to their
in{lru£live end is a great aggravation of fin. * They faw
' my works/ faith God ; works great and wonderful, and
yet continued in.their lin and difobedience. This heighten-
ed their lin, and haftened their punifliment. We fliall
take an inilance in one of the works here intended, which
will acquaint us with the defign, end, and ufc of them
all ; I mean the appearance of the majefty of God on
mount Sinai at the giving of the law. The works ac-
companying it, confided much in things miraculous and
unufual ; as thunder and lightnings, fire and fmoke and
earthquakes, the found of the trumpet, he. The ufual
workings of the minds of men towards thefe uncommon
effeds of divine power is to gaze on them with admi-
ration and aftonilhment. This God forbids, [Exod. xix.
21.] * Charge the people left they break through unto
*■ the Lord to gaze.' This is not the dffign of God in
thefe works of his power, in thefe appearances and evi-
dences of his Majeftvv that men Ihould gaze at them to
fiUisfy their curio fity. ^Vhat then was aimed at in them ?
It was to inftruft them in Lhc due fear and awful reverence.


of God, whofe hollnefs and inajefty was reprefented to
them ; that they mny know him as ' a confuming fire.'
God doth not often utterly deftroy men with great and
tremendous dellruftions, before be hath given them pre-
vious ivarnhigs o'i his indignation. But yet men that arc'
fecure in fin, will have fo bttlea {^v^'it of thefe warnings,
that they will be crying, peace and fafety when their final
deftrudion is feizing upon tiiem, [1. Tlicf. v. 3.] God
fpeaks out the curfe of the lav/ in his v^^urks of judge-
ments. For thereby is * the wrath of God revealed from

* heaven againfl the ungodlinefs of men,' [Rom. i. 18.]
But yet, even when men hear the voice of the curfe fo
pronounced, if they are fecure they v/ill blefs them.felves
and fay, * thev Hi all have peace, though they acd drunken-

* nefs to thirll:,' [Deut. xxix. 19.] And this for the mofl
part blinds the eyes of the wife men of this v/orld. They
neither fee nor underfhand any of tiie works of God,
though never fo full of dread or terror ; b^caufe being
fecure in their fin, they know not that tliey have any
concernment in them. If at any time they attend to
them, it is as the people did to the voice that came from
heaven to our Saviour ; ' fome faid it thundered, others

* that an angel fpeak ;' one f:iys one thing of them, ano-
ther another thing, but endeavour not to come to any
certainty about them. This is complained of, Ifa. xxvi.
II. * Lord, when thy hand is lifted up they will not fee.*
But they who will wifely confider their own condition,
how it is between God and them, will difcern the voice of
God in his great works of providence, [Dan. xii. 10.]

* Many fliall be- purified and made white and tried, but

* the wicked fliall do wickedly, and none of the wicked

* fhall underfland, but the wife ihall undcrfland.' And
when fliall this be ? When there is a time of great trouble,
[vcr. I.] When God's judgements are greatly in the
world, the end of thefe troubles is to -pur'ify them, to
clcanfe them by the removal of all filth of flelh and fpirit
that they may have contracted, as drofs is taken away
from filver in the furnace ; and to make them white, by
caufing their fincerity, conflancy, and perfeverance in their

X X 2 holy


holy profefTion to appear in their trials. But the wicked,
men iccure in their lins, fhall yet continue in their wick-
cdnefs ; and thereby fhall be fo blind, that none of them
fhall underfland the mind of God in his great works and
tremendous difpenfations. All the works of God, if duly
confidered, will be found to he as his image and fuper-
fcription. They have on them marks and tokens of in-
finite wifdom, power, and goodncfs. Thofe of provi-
dence, which he intends to be greatly inflru6tive, have a
peculiar imprcffion of the defign of God upon them ; and
a wife man may fee the eye of God in them. So he
fpeaks in the pfalmiil, ' I will guide thee with mine eye,*
[Pfalm xxxii. 8.]

§ 39. Obf. 21. The greater evidence God gives of his
power and goodnefs in any of his works, the louder is
his voice in them, and the greater is tlie fin of thofe who
neglefi them ; and if men will fliut their eyes againfl the
light, they iuflly peridi in their darknefs. God fome-
times hides his power ; [Hcb. iii. 4.] • there was the hiding

* of his power.' But fometimes he caufeth it to Jhine forth.
As in the fame place, ' he had horns coming out of his

* head.' Horns, or fliining beams, rays of glory, arofc
from his hand, or his power in its manifeftation by his
works. He caufed his wifdom and power to fliine forth
in them, as the fun gives out light in its full ftrength
and beauty ; then for men not to take notice of them,
will be a fignal aggravation of their fm, and haflening of
their punilhmcnt. Now we can never know what appears
of God in his works, unlefs by a due confidcration of
them wx endeavour to underftand them, or his mind in
them. Again,

§ 40. Obf. 22. The end of all God's works, of his
mighty works of providence, towards a pcrfon, a church,
or nation, is to bring them to faith and dependence.

* Who is wife, and he fliall underhand thofe things ?

* Prudent and he Ihall know them ? For the ways of the

< Lord are right, and the juft fliall walk in them ; but

< the tranfgrelfors fliall fall therein,' [Hof xiv. 9.] There
is fcarce a leaf in the book of God, or a day in the

2 courfe


courfe of his providence, that doth not judge and con-
demn the folly and ftupidity of their pride, who difregard
the inil:rudive kffons of Divine Providence. * Becaufe
' they regard not the works of the Lord, nor confidcr the

* operations of his hands, he fhail deftroy them and not
' build them up,* [Pfal. xxv. 5.]

§ 41. Obf. 23. God is plcafed oftentimes to grant
great oiitivard 7neans to thofe in whom he will not work
more effedually by his grace. Who had more of the firfl:
than the Ifraelites in the wildernefs ? As the works of God
amongll them were the greateft and moil ftupendous that
c\ erhe had wroughtfrom the foundation oftheworld ; fothc
/^w was firft vocally given and promulgated amongfl them;
and not only fo, they had the go/pel 2i\io preached to them as
well as we ; not fo clearly but no lefs truly, [Heb. iv. 1,]
God might well fay of them as he did afterwards of their
poflerity ; * Vvhat could have been done more to any vine-

* yard, that I have not done in it?' [Ifa. v. 3.] for fencing,
and planting, and ftoning, nothing more could have been
done. He did not, indeed, exert an efFedual power of
inward grace during their enjoyment of the outward
means ; and in like manner when our Lord Jefus Chrifl
preached the gofpel to all; yet it was to fome only it was
given to know the myileries of the kingdom of God,
[Matt. xiii. 11 — 16.] I know fome are difpleafed at this;
but for the moil part they are fuch as will be pleafed with
nothing that God either faith or doth, or can do or fay,
unlefs he would give them a law or gofpel to fave them
in and with their fins. They are ready to difpute that
God is unjuft, if he gave not grace to every man to ufe
or abufe at his pleafure, whilft thcmfelves hate grace and
difpute it, and think it not worth acceptance if laid at
their doors. But who art thou, O man, that difputcfl:
againft God ? Nay the rightcoufnefs of God in this mat-
ter is moft confpicuous : for,

(l.) God is not obliged to grant any fpccial privilege?,
even as to the outward means of grace, to any of the fons
of men. And to fliew his fovcreignty and abfolute free-
dom herein, he always grawtcd them with great variety



in a d'lJlingiLiJlnng manner. ?o lie did of old ; < He fhcwed

* his word unto Jacob, his llatutcs and his judgements

* unto Ilrael. He hath not done fo to any nation, and as

* lor his judgements they have not known them,' [Plal.
clxvii. 19, i'j.'\ Thefe outward means themfelves were
their peculiar privilege. This was the advantage of the
Jews, that to them, and to them alone, were committed
the oracles of God. [Rom. iii. 2.] And as God granted
thefe outward meaiis of grace to them alone, fo he might
have juilly denied them t© them alfo \ or elfe he might
have granted them to all others to their exclufion. For
he dealt not thus with them, becaufe they were of them-
felves better tlian thofe who were excluded from their pri-
vileges i [i)cut. vii. 6 — 3.] And thus God dealeth even to
this day v»ith the nations of the world. Some he en-
trudeth with the gofpcl, and fomc have not the found of
it approaching them. IVIan would not abide in tlie con-
dition wherein God made him, [Ecclef. vii. 29.] And
God may juftly leave him in that condition, into which
by fin he hath call himfelf. That he will afford outward
means to any, is of mere liberality and bounty ; and ihall
we fav he is unjuft if he give no more^ when no rule or
law of juftice obligcth him to what he doth ?

(2.) Even outward means themfelves, when fingly dif-
penfed, have many bleflcd cnd<; which Ihall be effcded by
them ; for tlicy all tend varioufly to the glory of God. That
the wifdom, holinefs, goodnefs, righteoufnel's, and fcverity
of God be exalted and glorified, as they are in the difpen-
fiition of the outward means of grace, though eventually
not effectual to the falvation of lome, is a matter of great
rejoicing to all believers, as including important privi-
leges. So faith our Saviour, [Matt. xi. 23.] * And thou,

* Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, fliall be

* brought down to hell, for if the mighty works which

* have been done in tlice, had been done in Sodom, it

* would have remained until this day.* The exaltation of
Capernaum confiUcd in its enjoyment of the outward means
of grace, in the Redeemer's preaching and miracles. And
although the end of all was that flic was to be brought down


Ver.7—^1- epistle to THE HEBREV/S. 34,

to hell for her obflinacy in unbelief; yet whilft flie enjoyed
thefe things, Ihe had a real privilege, and was much ex^
fitted thereby. There are then many mercies in tliis one
of the outward means of grace, confidcrcd abfolutely and
in itfelf. Moreover,

(3.) Where God grants the ufe of the outward means,
of grace to any, ordinarily, if not always, he hath a dcfio-iv
to communicate by them fpecial faving grace to fome.
The gracious means granted to the people \w the wilder-
nefs, where they feem to have had as fad an event as ever
any means had in the w^orld, were not loft, notwithftand-
ing as to their ufe of conveying fpecial grace to fome.
Some, yea doubtlefs manyy were converted to God by
them, and made obedient. That they died in the wilder-
nefs is no argument as to individuals, that they died alL
penally ; for they were members and parts of that people,
that provoking generation, which God dealt with accord-
ing to the demerit of the community. And fo many fall
and are cutoff penally in national defohitions, as thofe de-
folations are juft punilhments for the fins of that nation,
though themfelves were not perfonally guilty of them.
Now the faving of one foul is worth the preaching of
the gofpel to a whole nation for many years. And whilil
God carries on his work vifibly, he will take care fecrctly
that not one hidden grain of his Ifrael Hiall fall to the

§ 42. Ohf. 24. No privileges, no outward means of
grace, no other advantage whatever will fecure men in a
courfe of (inning from the wrath and juftiee of God.
Who could be made partakers of more things of that ki p.d
than were his people at that time? Belides the great pri-
vilege derived to them from their fathers, in that they were.
the pofterity of Abraham the friend of God, and had thc;
token of his covenant in their flefli ; thcv had newly
ercfted amongft them a glorious church (late, wherein
they were intruded with all the ordinances of God^s wor-
fliip. Thefe, privileges the apofile fums up, [Rom. ix.
4, 5.] * Who are IfraclitL'S ; to whom pertainctli thc
* adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the

* giving


* giving of the law, and the fervicc of God ; and the pro-

Online LibraryJohn OwenAn exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews; with the preliminary exercitations (Volume 2) → online text (page 30 of 46)