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among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings ?' The persons spoken of are sinners, great sinners and hypocrites; conviction of sin, and the desert of it was fallen upon them; a light to discern forgiveness they had not; they apprehend God as devouring fire and everlasting burnings only; one that would not spare, but assuredly inflict punishment according to the desert of sin; and thence is their conclusion couched in their interrogation, that there can be no intercourse of peace between him and them; there is no abiding, no enduring of his presence. And what condition this consideration brings the souls of sinners unto, when conviction grows strong upon them, the Holy Ghost declares, Micah vi. 6, 7. “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul ? Sense of sin presseth, forgiveness is not discovered (like the Philistines on Saul, Samuel not coming to his direction); and how doth the poor creature perplex itself in vain, to find out a way of dealing with God? Will a sedulous and diligent observation of his own ordinances and institutions relieve me? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings and calves of a year old ?' Alas! thou art a sinner, and these sacrifices cannot make thee perfect, or acquit thee; Heb. x. 1. Shall I do more than ever he required of any of the sons of men? O that I had thousands of rams, and ten thousands of rivers of oil to offer to him! Alas! if thou hadst all the bulls and goats in the world, it is not possible that their blood should take away sins; ver. 4. But I have heard of them who have snatched their own children from their mothers' breasts, and cast them into the fire, until they were consumed, so to pacify their consciences in expiating the guilt of their iniquities. Shall I take this course? Will it relieve me? I am ready to part with my first-born into the fire, so I may have deliverance from my transgressions. Alas! this never came into the heart of God to approve, or accept of. And as it was then, whilst that kind of worship was in force, so is it still as to any duties, really to be performed, or imaginarily. Where
there is no discovery of forgiveness; they will yield the soul no relief, no supportment; God is not to be treated upon such terms.
Greatness and rareness of the discovery of forgiveness in God. Reasons of it. Testimonies of conscience, and law against it, &c.
Secondly, This discovery of forgiveness in God is great, holy, and mysterious, and which very few on gospel-grounds do attain unto. All men indeed say there is; most men are persuaded that they think so. Only men in great and desperate extremities, like Cain, or Spira, seem to call it into question. But their thoughts are empty, groundless, yea, for the most part wicked and atheistical. Elihu tells us, that to declare this aright to a sinful soul, it is the work of a ‘messenger, an interpreter, one among a thousand; Job xxxiii. 23. that is, indeed, of Christ himself. The common thoughts of men about this thing are slight and foolish; and may be resolved into those mentioned by the psalmist, Psal. 1. 21. They think that ‘God is altogether such a one as themselves.” That indeed he takes little or no care about these things, but passeth them over as slightly as they do themselves; that, notwithstanding all their pretences, the most of men never had indeed any real discovery of forgiveness, shall be afterward undeniably evinced; and I shall speedily shew the difference that is between their vain credulity, and a gracious gospel discovery of forgiveness in God. For it must be observed, that by this discovery, I intend, both the revelation of it made by God, and our understanding, and reception of, that revelation to our own advantage, as shall be shewed immediately. Now the grounds of the difficulty intimated, consist partly in the hinderances, that lie in the way of this discovery; and partly in the nature of the thing itself, that is discovered; of both which I shall briefly treat. But here, before I proceed, somewhat must be premised to shew what it is that I particularly intend by a discovery of forgiveness. It may then be considered two ways; 1. For a doctrinal, objective discovery of it in its truth. 2. An experimental subjective discovery of it in its power. In the first sense, forgiveness in God hath been discovered ever since the giving out of the first promise: God revealed it in a word of promise, or it could never have been known, as shall be afterward declared. In this sense, after many lesser degrees and advancements of the light of it, it was fully and gloriously brought forth by the Lord Jesus Christ in his own person; and is now revealed, and preached in the gospel, and by them to whom the word of reconciliation is committed. And to declare this is the principal work of the ministers of the gospel. Herein lie those unsearchable treasures and riches of Christ, which the apostle esteemed as his chiefest honour and privilege that he was intrusted with the declaration and dispensation of ; Eph. iii. 8, 9. I know by many it is despised, by many traduced, whose ignorance and blindness is to be lamented. But the day is coming which will manifest every man’s work of what sort it is. In the latter sense how it is made by faith in the soul, shall in its proper place be farther opened and made known. Here many men mistake and deceive themselves. Because it is so in the book, they think it is so in them also. Because they have been taught it, they think they believe it. But it is not so ; they have not heard this voice of God at any time, nor seen his shape; it hath not been revealed unto them in its power; to have this done is a great work. For, First, The constant voice of conscience lies against it. Conscience, if not seared, inexorably condemneth, and pronounceth wrath and anger upon the soul that hath the least guilt cleaving to it. Now it hath this advantage, it lieth close to the soul, and by importunity, and loud speaking, it will be heard in what it hath to say. It will make the whole soul attend, or it will speak like thunder. And its constant voice is, that where there is guilt there must be judgment; Rom. ii. 14, 15. Conscience naturally knows nothing of forgiveness. Yea, it is against its very trust, work, and office, to hear any thing of it. If a man of courage and honesty be intrusted to keep a garrison against an enemy, let one come and tell him, that there is peace made between those whom he serves, and their enemies, so that he may leave
his guard, and set open the gates, and cease his watchfulness; how wary will he be, lest under this pretence he be betrayed 2 No, saith he, I will keep my hold, until I have express order from my superiors. Conscience is intrusted with the power of God in the soul of a sinner, with command to keep all in subjection with reference unto the judgment to come; it will not betray its trust in believing every report of peace. No, but this it says, and it speaks in the name of God; guilt and punishment are inseparable twins; if the soul sin, God will judge. What tell you me of forgiveness? I know what my commission is, and that I will abide by. You shall not bring in a superior commander, a cross principle into my trust; for if this be so, it seems I must let go my throne; another lord must come in ; not knowing as yet how this whole business is compounded in the blood of Christ. Now whom should a man believe if not his own conscience, which as it will not flatter him, so it intends not to affright him, but to speak the truth as the matter requireth? Conscience hath two works in reference unto sin; one to condemn the acts of sin, another to judge the person of the sinner; both with reference to the judgment of God. When forgiveness comes, it would sever and part these employments, and take one of them out of the hand of conscience. It would divide the spoil with this strong one. It shall condemn the fact, or every sin; but it shall no more condemn the sinner, the person of the sinner; that shall be freed from its sentence. Here conscience labours with all its might to keep its whole dominion; and to keep out the power of forgiveness, from being enthroned in the soul. It will allow men to talk of forgiveness, to hear it preached, though they abuse it every day; but to receive it in its power, that stands up in direct opposition to its dominion; in the kingdom, saith conscience, I will be greater than thou; and in many, in the most, it keeps its possession, and will not be deposed. Nor indeed is it an easy work so to deal with it. The apostle tells us, that all the sacrifices of the law could not do it; Heb. x. 2. they could not bring a man into that estate, wherein he should ‘have no more conscience of sin;’ that is, conscience condemning the person; for conscience in a sense of sin, and condemnation of it, is never to be taken WOL. XIV. G
away. And this can be no otherwise done, but by the blood of Christ, as the apostle at large there declares. It is then no easy thing to make a discovery of forgiveness unto a soul, when the work and employment which conscience upon unquestionable grounds challengeth unto itself, lies in opposition unto it. Hence is the soul's great desire to establish its own righteousness, whereby its natural principles may be preserved in their power. Let self-righteousness be enthroned, and natural conscience desires no more; it is satisfied and pacified. The law it knows, and righteousness it knows, but as for forgiveness, it says, whence is it? Unto the utmost, until Christ perfects his conquest, there are on this account secret strugglings in the heart against free pardon in the gospel, and fluctuations of mind and Spirit about it. Yea, hence are the doubts and fears of believers themselves. They are nothing but the strivings of conscience to keep its whole dominion; to condemn the sinner as well as the sin. More or less it keeps up its pretensions against the gospel, whilst we live in this world. It is a great work that the blood of Christ hath to do upon the conscience of a sinner; for whereas, as it hath been declared, it hath a power, and claims a right, to condemn both sin and sinner, the one part of this its power is to be cleared, strengthened, made more active, vigorous, and watchful, the other to be taken quite away. It shall now see more sins than formerly, more of the vileness of all sins than formerly, and condemn them with more abhorrency than ever, upon more, and more glorious accounts than formerly; but it is also made to see an interposition between these sins, and the person of the sinner, who hath committed them; which is no small or ordinary work. Secondly, The law lies against this discovery. The law is a beam of the holiness of God himself. What it speaks unto us, it speaks in the name and authority of God; and I shall briefly shew concerning it these two things: 1. That this is the voice of the law; namely, that there is no forgiveness for a sinner. 2. That a sinner hath great reason to give credit to the law in that assertion. It is certain that the law knows neither mercy nor forgiveness. The very sanction of it lies wholly against them: