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uses His messengers of peace to deal first with the word, sharply indeed, but graciously ;--that sword of the Spirit which kills to make alive, to spare, if it might be, the destroying sword of the enemy. I have hewn them by My prophets, (Hos. vi. 5.) and if that would have served their turn, the other hewing and slaying should not have followed. ' A wise enemy, who is resolved to be avenged, conceals his rage till it be accomplished, and does not threaten before he strikes, but makes the execution of his purpose the first revealing of it. Therefore, we may know that God, who doth all things most wisely intends favour in threatening ; denounces indignation that He may be interrupted. Not to inflict it, that is his desire. He would gladly have us stay His hand. A humble, penitent acknowledgment will do it. Minatur ne cadat, cædit ne occidat ;” says Chrysostom. He threatens that He may not strike, and strikes that He may not destroy. If speaking either mildly or sharply, will prevail with His children. He will not stir the rod to them: and when the rod is in His hand, if shewing or shaking it will serve the turn, He will not strike with it. But this is our folly, that usually we abuse all this goodness, and will not part with our sins, till we smart for them, and be beaten from them. We pull punishment out of God's hand; as Solomon says, The fool's mouth calleth for strokes. Prov. xviii. 6. When these indulgent ways that the Lord uses, avail nothing, then, as a physician wearied in striving with lenitives and gentle medicines in a fixed, stubborn disease that yields not to them, it is no wonder that he betake himself to sharper remedies, and cut and burn, if need be, that He may cure.
The Lord's complaint, in the beginning of the viith chapter of this prophecy, sounds this way, When I would have healed Ephraim. If it be thus, then, with the Church of God, that it is often found guilty of great sins, and withal, great insensibleness and impenitence, it is no wonder that it is often found under great and many afflictions. There being in the Church, in such societies as profess God's name, peculiar sins, such as are found no where else, by reason of God's VOL. III.
peculiar covenant with them, and ordinances among them ; viz., contempt of the ordinances, and breach of the covenant; and, by the same reason too, peculiar aggravations of the common sins, and ingredients of such things as make the same sins that other people commit, to be of a deeper dye among
people; their special relation to Him, and the special means and mercies they receive from Him, by which they are both more instructed and more obliged to obedience; these things make the disobedience more heinous in itself, and more offensive to God. He cannot but take it very ill to be disregarded by his own Ka ON texvov.Thus the Lord makes a great and loud complaint that all may hear, Isa. i, 2.; calls heaven and earth to hear it, that He had nourished and brought up children, and they had rebelled against Him. What do we deserve for our sins ? Do not our oaths and cursing, our pride and deceit, our wonderful ignorance and profaneness, our formality, hypocrisy, and, above all, our deep security, threaten us with some heavy judgment? Which cannot be avoided but by godly sorrow and earnest prayer, by the most humble way of acknowledgment and real amendment. This is our work this day; and unless we set about it for ourselves, and pray for it to the whole kingdom, we know not what we are doing. We cannot do any thing to purpose in behalf of the Church of God, nor be fit supplicants for its deliverance, whilst we remain ungodly ourselves.
II. God's way of afflicting His people: I will go and return to my place. The way that He will afflict them, is indeed the heaviest, as conveyed in this expression; as if He should
say, I will withdraw myself from them, and will not appear to them at all for a time, yea, a long time. Well may it be rendered by affliction in the other clause, for they shall be truly so when the Lord is gone from them. Upon the withdrawing of His gracious presence, as necessarily follows affliction, as mist upon the setting of the sun. heavier than all His corrections. So long as they could but hear and see Him amongst them, although it were chiding, yea,
scourging them, yet, still there was this comfort, that they might speak to Him as being near them, and so, considering His merciful nature, might have hope, by their complaints and cries in His presence, to move Him to compassionate and spare them, and be reconciled. But when He was out of sight and quite gone from them, and so could neither hear nor see them in their misery, this was indeed the chief misery, worse than all that they could suffer in other punishments. In the preceding verses, He threatens to be as a moth to them, consuming them, though more slowly and insensibly; which was by lesser judgments that befel these kingdoms, as the history of them shews: then, as a lion, devouring more suddenly: but the gradation rises to the highest in this last, though to an ignorant creature it sounds least: I will return to my place. I will retire my favourable presence from them, and shut up all the influences and evidences of my grace. Which, in a public national sense, (as here it is to be taken,) imports, not only longer and more grievous troubles than any which before had befallen them, (as indeed they were,) but God's leaving of them in those troubles, and not giving, as before, any sign of His merciful presence. As if God should say, I will give them up to those miseries that are to come upon them, and leave them to themselves and to their cruel enemies, and will take no notice of them, until they know what a grievous thing the want of my presence is, and how hateful their sins are, that have deprived them of it, and so be stirred up to seek my face ;--they would not regard me, either in my word or in my works, whether of mercy or of judgment, so long as I stayed with them, was present amongst them :that so I may teach them to know what is the good of my presence, by the evil of my absence, which is a heavier judgment than all I have yet inflicted on them.
And as it is thus in relation to the public condition of the Church, so is it, in a personal and more spiritual sense, to a child of God. No evil he fears so much, or feels so heavy, as God's absenting and withdrawing Himself in displeasure ; nor is there any good that he will admit to be compared with the light of God's countenance. Let others seek any good, let them have any good they can, but, says David, for himself and all the godly, the good we seek, is this and no other, Lord, lift upon us the light of Thy countenance. Psal. iv. 6. He can hear of any distress with courage and resolution, but this he cannot endure to hear of, but deprecates it, Hide not Thy face from Thy servant. Ag
A godly man may, in the most prosperous condition, have much concern if the face of God be hid from him. That is his great affliction, as it is here called. There needs nothing else to damp all his prosperity. Thou didst hide Thy face, and I was troubled. Psal. xxx. 7. Even in prosperity, riches and power, and other such poor things, do not answer the desires of a soul acquainted with God: all these are nothing without His favour shining on them: no, nor the graces which are within them, which are far more precious than all outward things. The displeased withdrawing of God's countenance, makes a sad night amid all these; as, when the sun is absent, it is night still, notwithstanding all the stars. Although God lay outward affliction on them, yet, if He enlighten them, though in a dungeon, they can rejoice. Yea, when they are inwardly troubled for sin, and God is rebuking them that way, yet, that is not so bad as when He leaves them and returns to His place. This is more grievous than when He chides and rebukes them, which he may do, and yet, not in hot displeasure, as David teaches us to distinguish, it, Psal. vi. 1. It is a more comfortable condition, that He stay with them, and that He reprove them when they sin, (yea, that is a mercy,) than that He leave them, and speak not to them, nor suffer them to speak to Him. They would then desire rather to find Him present though correcting; for then, by speaking to Him, they may express their repentance and requests to Him for pardon. · They would say to God, Strike me, but hear me, rather than be struck out from all intercourse with Him, and He hold them as His enemies. And thus God may sometimes deal with His own, and particularly
for some notable offence, until they be duly humbled and brought to a lowly acknowledgment, and so, to seek His face again; to see if they will be loath to grieve Him again.
Though we all profess to know God, yet, the greatest part of us are so far from duly esteeming Him, that we do not at all know what the spiritual, gracious presence of God is; how sweet the enjoyment, and how bitter and sad the deprivement. Oh, be desirous to understand and know this highest good, and, above all things, seek to enjoy it. And without doubt, the experience of it will persuade you to prize it and entertain it carefully; never willingly to grieve and drive away so great and so good a guest, who brings true happiness along with Him to those with whom He dwells. There is solid peace, and there only, where He is. And for the Church of God, what other thing can we, yea, what need we desire but this, as the assured help of all her distresses and sorrows, that God would return His gracious presence to her again ? Then shall her enemies be turned backward, and she shall sing and rejoice in the God of her salvation. You see, this is the Church's own prayer, Psal. lxxx. 3; she desires no more than this, Cause Thy face to shine ; and we shall be safe. That is the only sun which chases away the mist of her griefs and troubles. So then, the ending of these confusions we are lying and labouring under, is wrapped up in this; that the presence of our God be both entreated and obtained. This would make a sweet union of hearts, and make all attempts prosperous, and strike a terror into the Church's enemies. But if their Rock forsake them, were they never so surely supported with other advantages, yet shall they sink and fall. If He go to His place, and shut up His power and wisdom from their help, and leave them with themselves, this shall suffice to undo them, without any enemy. It was sad news, not only to Moses, but to the whole people, Exod. xxxiii. 3; notwithstanding they were bent to provoke Him to do so, it was very grievous for them to hear, that He had refused them His own guidance and would withdraw himself from them, although it was with