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thoughts of these things; but when they shall find them revenged
with the whole wrath of God, they w^ll change their minds. What
a folly, what a madness is it, to make light of Christ, unto which an
eternity of punishment is but "a meet recompence of reward !" It is
good, then, to learn the nature of sin from the threatenings of God,
rather than from the common presumptions that pass among secure,
perishing sinners. Consider what the , righteousness, what the holi-
ness, what the wisdom of God hath determined to be due unto sin,
and then make a judgment of the nature of it, that you be not over-
taken with a woful surprisal when all means of relief are gone and
past. As also know that, —

(2.) This world alone is the time and place wherein you are to look
and seek for mercy. Cries will do nothing at the last day, not ob-
tain the least drop of water to cool the tongue in its torment. Some
men, doubtless, have secret reserves that things will not go at the
last day as by others they are made to believe. They hope to meet
_ with better quarter than is talked of, — that God will not be inex-
orable, as is pretended. Were not these their inward thoughts, it
were not possible they should so neglect the season of grace as they
do. But, alas, how will they be deceived! God indeed is gracious,
merciful, and full of compassion ; but this world is the time wherein
he will exercise them. They will be for ever shut up towards un-
believers at the last day. This is the acceptable time, this is the


(lay of salvation. If this be despised, if this be neglected, expect
no more to hear of mercy unto eternity,

III. Every concernment of the law and gospel, both as to their
nature and joromulgation, is to be weighed and considered by be-
liever.^:, to beget in their hearts a right and due valuation of them.
To this end are they liere so distinctly proposed ; as of the law, that
it was "spoken by angels;" and of the gospel, that it is " great salva-
tion," the word "spoken by the Lord," and confirmed with signs and
miracles: all which the apostle would have vis to weigh and distinctly
consider. Our interest lies in them, and our good is intended by
them. And to stir up our attention unto them, we may observe, —

1. That God doth nothing in vain, nor speaks any thing in
vain, especially in the things of his law and gospel, wherein the
great concernments of his own glory and the souls of men are en-
wrapped. And therefore our Saviour lets us know that there is a
worth in the least apex and iota of the word, and that it must have
its accomplishment. An end it hath, and that end shall be fulfilled.
The Jews have a foolish curiosity in reckoning all the letters of the
Scripture, and casting up how ofien every one doth occur. But yet
this curiosity of theirs, vain and needless as it is, will condemn our
negligence, if we omit a diligent inquiry into all the things and cir-
cumstances of it that are of real importance. God hath a holy
and wise end in all that he doth. As nothing can be added unto
his word or work, so nothing can be taken from it ; it is every way
perfect. And this in general is enough to quicken us unto a dili-
gt^nt search into all the circumstances and adjuncts both of law and
gospel, and of the way and manner whereby he was pleased to com-
municate them unto us.

2. There is in all the concernments of the law and gospel a
mixture of divine Avisdom and grace. From this fountain they
all proceed, and the living waters of it run through them all. The
times, the seasons, the authors, the instruments, the manner of their
delivery, were all ordered by the "manifold wisdom of God;" which
especially appears in the disjjensation of the gospel, Eph. iii. 9, 10.
The apostle placeth not the wisdom of God only in the mystery of
the gospel, but also in the season of its promulgation. " It was
hid," saith he, "in God," verse 9, — that is, in the " purpose" of God,
verse 11, — " from ages and from generations, but now is made ma-
nifest," Col. i. 26. And herein doth the manifold wisdom of God
appear. Were we able to look into the depth of any circumstance
that concerns the institutions of God, we should see it full of wisdom
and grace; and the netjlect of a due consideration thereof hath God
sometimes severely revenged. Lev. x. 1, 2.

3. There is in them all a gracious condescension unto our weak-
ness. God knows that we stand in need of an especial mark to


be set on every one of them. Such is our weakness, our slow-
ness to believe, that we have need that the word should be unto us
"line upon line, and precept upon precept; here a little, and there
a little." As God told Moses, Exod. iv. 8, that if the children of
Israel would not believe on the first sign they would on the second,
so it is with us; one consideration of the law or the gospel often-
times proves ineffectual, when another overpowers the heart unto
obedience. And therefore hath God thus graciously condescended
unto our weakness in proposing unto us the several considerations
mentioned of his law and gospel, that by some of them we may be laid
hold upon and bowed unto his mind and will in them. Accordingly, — ■

4. They have had their various infiuences and successes on
the souls of men. Some have been wrought upon by one consi-
deration, some by another. In some the holiness of the law, in
others the manner of its administration, has been effectual. Some
have fixed their hearts principally on the grace of the gospel; some
on the person of its author. And the same persons, at several times,
have had help and assistance from these several considerations of
the one and the other. So that in these things God doth nothing
in vain. Nothing is in vain towards believers. Infinite wisdom is
in all, and infinite glory will arise out of all.

And this should stir us up unto a diligent search into the ivord,
wherein God hath recorded all the concernments of his law and
gospel that are for our use and advantage. That is the cabinet
wherein all these jewels are laid up and disposed according to his
wisdom and the counsel of his will. A general view of it will but
little satisfy, and not at all enrich our souls. This is the mine
wherein we must dig as for hid treasures. One main reason why
we believe not more, why we obey not more, why we love not more,
is because we are not more diligent in searching the word for sub-
stantial motives unto them all. A very little insight into the word
is apt to make men think that they see enough ; but the reason of
it is, because they like not what they see: as men will not like to
look far into a shop of wares, when they like nothing which is
at first presented unto them. But if, indeed, we find sweetness,
benefit, profit, life, in the discoveries that ai'e made unto us in the
word about the law and gospel, we shall be continually reaching
after a further acquaintance with them. It may be we know some-
what of those things; but how know we that there is not some
esi3ecial concernment of the gospel, which God in a holy conde-
scension hath designed for our good in particular, that we are not as
yet arrived unto a clear and distinct knowledge of? Here, if we
search for it with all diligence, may we find it; and if we go maimed
in our faith and obedience all our days, we may thank our own sloth
for it.


Again, whereas God hath distinctly proposed those tilings unto
us, they should have our distinct consideration. We should seve-
rally and distinctly meditate upon them, that so in them all we may
admire the wisdom of God, and receive the effectual influence of
tiiem all upon our own souls. Thus may we sometimes converse in
our hearts with the author of the gospel, sometimes with the man-
ner of its delivery, sometimes with the grace of it; and from every
one of these heavenly flowers draw nourishment and refreshment
unto our own souls. O that we could take care to gather up these
fragments, that nothing might be lost unto us, as in tiiemselves they
shall never peribh !

IV. What means soever God is pleased to use in the revelation
of his will, he gives it a certainty, steadfastness, assurance, and evi-
dence, which our faith may rest in, and which cannot be neglected
without the greatest sin: " The word spoken was steadfast."

Every word spoken from God, by his appointment, is steadfast;
and that because spoken from him and by his appointment. And
there are two things that belong unto this steadfastness of the word
spoken : —

1. That in respect of them unto whom it is spoken, it is the
foundation of faith and obedience, the formal reason of them, and
last ground whereinto they are resolved.

2. That on the part of God, it is a stable and sufficient ground of
righteousness in proceeding to take vengeance on them by whom it
is neglected. The punishment of transgressors is " a meet recom-
pence of reward,'' because the word spoken unto them is " steadfast."
And this latter follows upon the former; for if the word be not a
stable, firm foundation for the faith and obedience of men, they
cannot be justly punished for the neglect of it. That, therefore,
nmst be briefly spoken unto, and this will naturally ensue as a con-
sequent thereof.

God hath, as we saw on the first verse of this epistle, by various
ways and means, declared and revealed his mind unto men. That
declaration, what means or instruments soever he is pleased to
make use of therein, is called his Word; and that because originally
it is his, proceeds from him, is delivered in his name and autho-
rity, reveals his mind, and tends to his glory. Thus sometimes
he spake by angels, using their ministry either in delivering his
messages by words of an outward sound, or by representation of
things in visions and dreams; and sometimes by the inspiration of
the Holy Ghost, enabling them so inspiied to give out the word
which they received purely and entirely, — all remaining his word
still. Now, what ways soever God is pleased to use in the commu-
nication of his mind and will unto men for their obedience, there is
that steadfastness in the woi d itself, that evidence to be irom him, as


to make it the duty of men to believe in it with faith divine and
supernatural ; and it bath that stability which will never deceive them.
It is, I say, thus steadfast upon the account of its being spoken from
God, and stands in no need of the contribution of any strength,
authority, or testimony from men, church, tnidition, or aught else
that is extrinsical unto it. The testimonies given hereunto in the
Scripture itself, which are very many, with the general grounds and
reasons hereof, I shall not here insist upon, and that because I have
done it elsewhere. I shall only mention that one consideration which
thio place of the apostle suggests unto us, and which is contained in
our second observation from the word " steadfast." Take this word
as spoken from God, without the help of any other advantages, and
the steadfastness of it is the ground of God's inflictino- vengeance on
them that receive it not, that obey it not. Because it is his word,
because it is clothed with his authority, if men believe it not they
must perish. But now if this be not sufficiently evidenced unto
them, namely, that it is his word, God could not be just in taking
Vengeance on them ; for he sliould punish them for not believing that
which they had no sufficient reason to believe, which suits not with
the holiness and justice of God. The evidence, then, that this word
is from God, that it is his, being the foundation of the justice of
God in his proceeding against them that do not believe it, it is of in-
dispensable necessity that he himself also do give that evidence unto
it. From whence else should it have it ? from the testimony of the
cluirch, or from tradition, or from probable moral inducements that
men can tender one to another? Then these two things will inevi-
tably follow: — (1.) That if men should neglect their duty in giving
testimony unto the word, as they may do, because they are but men,
then God cannot justly condemn any man in the world for the
neglect of his word, or not believing it, or not yielding obedience
unto it. And the reason is evident, because if they have not suffi-
cient ground to believe it to be his without such testimonies as are
not given unto it, it is the highest injustice to condemn them for
nut believing it, and they should perish without a cause: for what
can be more unjust than to punish a man, especially eternally, for not
doing that which he had no just or sufficient reason to do? This be
far from God, to destroy the innocent v/itli the wicked. (2.) Sup-
pose all men aright to discharge their duty, and that there be a fidl
tradition concerning the word of God, that the church give testi-
mony unto it, and learned men produce their arguments for it; — if
this, all or any part hereof, be esteemed as the sufficient proposition
of the Scripture to be the word of God, then is the execution of
infinite divine justice built upon the testimony of men, which is not
divine or infallible, but such as might deceive: and God, on this
supposal, must condemn men for not believing with faith divine and


infallible that which is proposed unto them by testimonies and
arguments human and fal]il)le; — "quod absit."

It remaineth, then, that the righteousness of tlie act of God iu
condemning- unbehevers is built upon the evidence that tlie object
of faitli or word to be beheved is from iiim.

And this he gives unto it, botii by the impression of his majesty
and authority upon it, and by the power and ejSficacy wherewith by
his Spirit it is accompanied. Tlius is every word of God steadfast as
a declaration of his will unto us, by what means soever it is made
known unto us.

V. Eveiy transaction between God and man is always confirmed
and ratified by jjromises and threatenings, rewards and punishments:
" Every trespass."

VI. The most glorious administrators of the law do stoop to look
into the mysteries of the gospel. See 1 Pet. i. 12.

VII. Covenant transgressions are attended with unavoidable penal-
ties: " Every transgression," — that is of the covenant, disannulling
of it, — " I'eceived a meet recom[)ence of reward."

Vlil. The gospel is a word of salvation to them that do be-

IX. The salvation tendered in the gospel is '* great salvation."

X. Men are apt to entertain thoughts of escaping the wrath of
God, though they live in a neglect of the gospel. This the apostle
insinuates m that interrogation, " Hoav shall we escape ?"

XI. The neglecters of thegospel shall unavoidably perish under the
wrath of God: "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?"

These three last observations may be cast into one proposition, and
so be considered together, namely, " That the gospel is great sal-
vation, which whoso neglecteth shall therefore unavoidably perish
without remedy." We shall first inquire how the gospel is said to
be salvation, and that great salvation; and then show the equity
and unavoidableness of their destruction by whom it is neglected,
and therein the vanity of their hopes who look for an escaping in
the contempt of it.

By the gospel, we understand with the apostle the word preached
or spoken by Christ and his apostles, and now recorded for our use
in the books of the New Testament, but not exclusively unto wdmt was
declared of it in the types and promises of the Old Testament. Bub,
by the way of eminency, we appropriate the whole name and nature
of the gospel unto that delivery of the mind and will of God by
Jesus Christ, which included and perfected all that had preceded
unto that purpose.

Now, FIRST, the gospel is salvation upon a double account: —

First, Declarativeiy, in that the salvation of God by Christ is
declared, taught, and revealed thereby. So the apostle informs us,


Rom. i. 16, 17, " It is the power of God unto salvation, For

therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith;"
tliat is, the righteousness of God in Christ, whereby believers shall
be saved. And therefore it is called -/j %a^/s roD Qsou 5j curripiog, Tit.
ii. 11, "the saving," or salvation-bringing, "grace of God;" — the
grace of God, as that which teacheth and revealeth liis grace. And
thence they that abuse it to their lusts are said to " turn the grace
of God into lasciviousness," Jude 4; that is, the doctrine of it, which
is the gospel. And therefore under the old testament it is called
the preaching or declaring of glad tidings, tidings of peace and sal-
vation, Nahum i. 15, Isa. lii. 7; and is described as a proclamation
of mercy, peace, pardon, and salvation unto sinners, Isa. Ixi. 1— o:
and "life and immortality" are said to be "brought to light" thereby,
2 Tim. i. 10. It is true, God had from all eternity, in his infinite
grace, contrived the salvation of sinners; but this contrivance, and
the purpose of it, lay hid in his own will and wisdom, as in an in-
finite abyss of darkness, utterly imperceptible unto angels and men,
until it was brought to light, or manifested and declared, by the
gospel, Eph. iii. 9, 10; Col. i. 25-27. There is nothing more vain
than the supposal of some, that there are other ways whereby this
salvation might be discovered and made known. The works of
nature, or creation and providence, the sun, moon, and stars, showers
from heaven, with fruitful seasons, are in their judgment preachers
of the salvation of sinners. I know not what else they say, — that
the reason of man, by the contemplation of these things, may find
out of I know not what placability in God, that may incite sinners
to go unto him, and enable them to find acceptance with him. But
we see what success all the world, and all the wise men of it, had
in the use and improvement of these means of the salvation of sin-
ners. Tlie apostle tells us not only that " by their wisdom they knew
not God," 1 Cor. i. 21, but also, that the more they searched, the
greater loss they were at, until they " waxed vain in their imagina-
tions, and their foolish hearts were darkened," Rom. i. 21. And,
indeed, whatever they had amongst them, which had any semblance
of an obscure apprehension of some way of salvation by atonement
and intercession, as in their sacrifices, and mediations of inferior
deities (which the apostle alludes unto, 1 Cor. viii. 5, 6), as they had
it by tradition from those who were somewhat instructed in the will
of God by revelation, so they turned it into horrible idolatries and
the utmost contempt of God. And this was the issue of their dis-
quisitions, who were no less wise in the principles of inbred reason
and the knowledge of the works of nature than those who now con-
tend for their ability to have done better. Besides, the salvation or
sinners is a mystery, as the Scripture everywhere declareth, a blessed,
a glorious " mystery," Rom. xvL 25 : " The wisdom of God in a


mystery," 1 Cor. ii. 7; Eph. i. 9; Col. i. 25, 26; tliat i^, not only a
thing secret and marvellous, but such as hath no dependence on any
causes that come naturally within our cognizance. Now, whatever
men can find out by the principles of reason, and the contemplation
of the works of God in creation and providence, it is by natural
scientifical conclusions; and what is so discovered can be no heavenly,
spiritual, glorious mystery, such as this salvation is. Whatever men
may so find out, — if they may find out any thing looking this way, —
it is but natural science; it is not a mj'stery, and so is of no use in
this matter, whatever it be. Moreover, it is not only said to be a
mystery, but a hidden mystery, and that " hid in God " himself, as
Eph. iii. 9, 10; Col. i. 25,26; 1 Cor. ii. 7, 8; that is, in the wisdom,"
purpose, and will of God. jSTow, it is very strange that men should
be able, by the natural means forementioned, to discover a heavenly,
supernatural wisdom, and that hidden on purpose from their find-
ing by any such inquiry, and that in God himself; so coming unto
the knowledge of it as it were whether he would or no. But we may
pass over these imaginations, and accept of the gospel as the only
way and means of declaring the salvation of God. And therefore
every word and promise in the whole book of God, that intimateth
or revealeth any thing belonging unto this salvation, is itself a part of
the gospel, and so to be esteemed. And as this is the work of the gos-
pel, so is it in an especial manner its proper and peculiar work with
respect unto the law. The law speaks nothing of the salvation of
sinners, and is therefore called the ministry of death and condem-
nation, as the gospel is of life and salvation, 2 Cor. iii. 9, 10. And
thus the gospel is salvation declaratively.

Secondly, It is salvation efficiently, in that it is the great instru-
ment which God is pleased to use in and for the collation and bestow-
ing salvation upon his elect. Hence the apostle calls it " the power
of God unto salvation," Rom. i. 16; because God in and by it exerts
his mighty power in the saving of them that believe; as it is again
called, 1 Cor. i. 18. Hence there is a saving power ascribed unto
the word itself. And therefore Paul commits believers unto "the
word of grace," as that which " is able to build them up, and give
them an inheritance among all them which are sanctified," Acts xx.
32. And James calls it " the ingrafted word, which is able to save
our souls," chap. i. 21 ; the mighty power of Christ being put forth
in it, and accompanying it, for that pur^oose. But this will the
better appear if we consider the several principal parts of this sal-
vation, and the efficiency of the word as the instrument of God in
the communication of it unto us; as, —

1. In the regeneration and sanctification of the elect, the first
external act of this salvation. This is wrought by the won', 1 Pet.
L 23 : " Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of iueorrup-


tible, by the word of God;" wherein not only the thing itself, or our
regeneration by the word, but the manner of it also, is declared. It
is by the collation of a new spiritual life upon us, whereof the word
is the seed. As every life proceeds from some seed, that hath in it-
self virtually the whole life, to be educed from it by natural ways
and means, so the word in the hearts of men is turned into a vital
'principle, that, cherished by suitable means, puts forth vital acts and
operations. By this means we are "born of God" and "quickened,"
who " by nature are children of wrath, dead in trespasses and sins."
So Paul tells the Corinthians that he had " begotten them in Christ
Jesus through the gospel," 1 Cor. iv. 15. I confess it doth not do this
work by any power resident in itself, and alwaj^s necessarily accom-
panying its administration ; for then all would be so regenerated unto
whom it is preached, and there would be no neglecters of it. But
it is the instrument of God for this end; and mighty and powerful
through God it is for the accomplishment of it. And this gives us
our first real interest in the salvation which it doth declare. Of the
same use and efficacy is it in the progress of this work, in our sancti-
fieation, by which we are cariied on towards the full enjoyment of
this salvation. So our Saviour prays for his disciples, John xvii. 17,
" Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth," — as the means
and instrument of their sanctification; and he tells his apostles that
they were " clean through the word that he had spoken unto them,"
chap. XV. 8. For it is the food and nourishment whereby the prin-
ciple of spiritual life which we receive in our regeneration is cherished
and increasetl, 1 Pet. ii. 2 ; and so able to " build us up," until it "give
us an inheritance among them that are sanctified."

2. It is so in the comviunication of the Spirit unto them
that do believe, to furnish them with the gifts and graces of the
kingdom of heaven, and to interest them in all those privileges of
this salvation which God is pleased in this life to impart unto us
and to intrust us withal. So the apostle, dealing with the Gala-
tians about their backsliding from the gospel, asketh them whether
they " received the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the word of
faith," chap. iii. 2 ; that is the gospel. That was the way and means
whereby God communicated unto them his Sfdrit, by whom, among

Online LibraryJohn OwenThe works of John Owen (Volume 12) → online text (page 36 of 70)