DONALD CARGILL - Sermon Three
We now present our readers with notes of two sermons,
hitherto unpublished, the first preached on December 18th, 1677, and the second
on October 27th, 1678. Gen. xxxv. 1. "And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to
Bethel and dwell there."
Our the s hold out two things unto us whereof this chapter gives us precedents : the one is to draw near to God, and the other is to trust His providence. I say to draw near to God and to trust His providence, for we are surrounded by enemies and we have no other wall of defence about us. This day there is no greater cruelty exercised against all the enemies of religion, kings, kingdoms, and laws than against us. But in speaking from these words we observe-
1. The strait Jacob was in and the causes thereof. As to the occasion, namely, the wicked dealings of his sons with their neighbours, we will not say, indeed, that it would have been such a great sin had there not been first a covenant. But how came it that his children were not better taught? How came it that his household had so much idolatry amongst them of which it would seem he was ignorant? Now the first thing observable is that the deeper our hands are in bringing on of our afflictions, so much the more dreadful will they be when they come upon us. For of all the afflictions in the world the greatest, for the inmost part, hath this blot, that it was of our own procuring. The Lord's people at present are in great trouble and distress for religion, but this in great measure they have brought upon themselves; and as sin is a great trouble, so it is a sad thing to have two storms lying upon us, one within and another without. In all these sad cases judgment will be found to lie most heavily on a guilty conscience.
Another thing evident from the words is this, that in the case of some who fall into sin God comes upon them and consumes them. We may say here that all means have been essayed, and many among us have suffered much, but alas ! all hath availled nothing, and it may be, ere ever this generation be awakened, death or some fearful judgement will overtake them. Another thing is this, that whatever we have brought on us we are not to despise utterly. The Lord may yet help us out of it when groaning under the effects of our own folly. But let repentance and contrition be our endeavour, for there is no other way of relief. Thero is no safety but in fleeing to him against whom we have sinned.
2. The counsel of God to him, "Arise," etc. here we are sure there could not have been a more able and seasonable advice than this. It was even like life from the dead. When they had given themselves over for dead men at this very juncture the Lord appeared for their help. It may be thought strange that he did not give them over into the hands of justice, as He often does with his own when He hides Himself from them for their sin. The main reason I take to be this, that this family was the church of God. Now the Lord hath engaged for His church, and will preserve it, and if there be any other place in the world that He would have His church or people to go to, He himself will direct them. It is high the for folk to remove when they have polluted the place where they formerly were. But we may say that person is in a happy condition when hard storms are coming because of iniquity, if he is made to hear God's Voice saying, " Arise, depart out of this place," and at the same the to see the way wherein he is to walk. But we are in a worse situation, for we have a storm behind us, and were we to flee unto the ends of the earth we would scarcely find one tender-hearted church in the sides thereof that would open her bosom to receive us. We have not a Bethel to go to in all the world. The world is against us, saying, "Britain, thou art cast forth as a branch, and thou shalt have no room or entertainment with us." I shall only add this word, that dreadful things seem to be in our lot, and these should lead us put unto God. If ever a people under heaven had reason to inquire after Him, we are that people. These calamities have come on us because we have been unjust stewards, and we may say with him in the Gospel, "What shall I do, for my master shall put me out of my stewardship?" God will put many of us out of our houses and families, and what shall we do? Our duty is to advise with Him, and He will be our shade by night and by day.
(1) He was to arise and go up to Bethel, where ho had formerly enjoyed a remarkable indication of God's goodness. The Lord had not given out all His mercy at that the , but had reserved another display of it for another strait or difficulty. It may be that when he was first at Bethel he never, perhaps, thought to see such another strait or such another deliverance. And we would observe this that happy is the man that hath the remembrance of God's former goodness when ho comes to straits and hardships again.
(2) He was to build an altar to Him that appeared to him in the day of his distress. (1) We should not forget our religion. Be sure you set up this as soon as ye are set down yourselves. Alas! it is when we are set down that we put away religion, as the great men and the wicked men among us have done, and if ever we be for the setting up of religion again it will be when He hath put us under the pricks, and perhaps obliged us to wander from one end of the land to another. We were once set down at Bethel, but we forgot thanksgiving for former deliverances and prayer for further mercies. And the rising and downfall of prayer goes with the rising and downfall of the altar of God. (2) We should remember Him who answered us in the days of our distress. There is this great difference between God and the devil, that the devil leaves his servants in the midst of their troubles, but when God's servants are in a strait He takes that occasion to manifest His love and kindness to them. Jacob being in the midst of his enemies the, Lord interposes on his behalf. There are two considerations which should urge us to follow this direction. First, gratitude for former mercies, for he has helped us when there was no other to help, neither king nor princes. Second, our own advantage; for he can pull us out from the paw of the bear.
3. The course he followed. He began first with a reformation in his family. And we may observe that, however great the strait be, nothing is so needful for folk to attend to than this. " Put away strange gods," says He. Strange gods! What gods were these? The gods of the nations. 0, sirs, it is a dangerous thing to have any dealings with idoloters or their idols ; and it is sad that when the church of God was confined to one family, it should have been so pestered with idolatry. But have we not among us the relics of papists, and may they not come again and demand them. We have their saints' chapels and monasteries (although of these there are but few) and we have other relics. You are not zealous against idolatry, says God: you spared them but I will not spare you. If Jacob had not put away the idols from his household it would have been telling them. "Be clean, and change your garments. Here he lets them know the terms on which the Lord will deliver them. There must be a thorough reformation. And can we think He will deliver us if we still persist in our sinful courses. We shall say this, that we never heard or read of it but that affliction in some respects bettered a people; but now at this time, for all our persecutions, we are worse than when God extended His goodness to us in the greatest measure. Remember that those have need of a clean heart and clean hands that would draw near to God. Men will repent of some sins, and it's their duty: but this is true, thmat an uncircumcised Imeart will miover be true to God. We may say this now, that times of yore have been days of distress and sore distress to us, but have they put us to petition God and to turn to him. I say, have they put us to this? What will ye do if ye lose this season? Ye know not what trouble ye have yet to go through, that may be as difficult and hard as any ever Jacob experienced. What then? Are your hearts made clean? Are they changed? There have been sad trials to some, but it may be God hath one reserved for all. O that ye were saying, We will go up to Bethel and set up an altar to Him who answered us in the time of our distress."
Well, we will only add this one word, that God will have petitions, promises, amid vows from you before you can be delivered. And we shall leave it.
Jeremiah, iv. 14. "0 Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness that thou mayest be saved : how long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?"
Purity is better than safety, and yet man affects (i.e. desires) safety more than purity. This is man's nature, that he affects the thing that is pleasant rather than the thing that is excellent. But this we say, purity is better than safety, and this can easily be shown. It's the want of purity wherein the state of enmity between God and man consists, and it's the possession of purity wherein the foundation of unity between them is laid. True happiness consists in the inhabitation of the soul by God. Without this we can never be truly happy. But it may well be questioned whether a man hath a greater affection to safety, or a greater aversion to purity. Now this is the sum of the words before us, wash and have salvation, wash not and want it.' Man's uncleanness is like a strong giant that ever goes between him and deliverance. Alas, it is your Uncleaness that has long gone between you and heaven. But when we consider the words we see, first, an exhortation, what he comnmands : second, an expostulation, " how long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee."
I. An exhortation : what He commands. "0 Jerusalom, wash thine heart from wickedness." He has more care of Jerusalem than of all the earth, and He has more care of Jerusalem's purity than of any thing else. Go home, then, go home, and let this be your care too. Begin at yourselves. You will say what the Jews said of the Apostle's preaching, "what! do you intend to bring the Lord's blood upon us?" Yes, we intend to bring no less than the blood of an undelivered church upon you. Why? Because ye will not wash that ye may be saved. So go home with this word - the blood of prisoners shall be on you, the blood of an undelivered church shall be upon you, the blood of the captive spouse of Christ shall be on you unless you wash and be clean. See, then, what He commands, and how far this command goes. The thaw goes as deep as the frosts so the cleansing must go as deep as the uncleanness. And how far has the uncleaness gone into man's heart ? 0 Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness and see If God will be long in setting you free. As Jacob said to his sons, Except ye had lingered in the way ye had returned with food; so may we say, Except ye had lingered on the way the church's bonds would have been loosed. So long as we hide our sins, He hides his face, and so long as He hides his face we are in bondage. 0, if we could come out and say, "Now we are clean, Lord," the next word that would be heard would be, "Babylon the great is fallen!" . . . But how shall we find out our pollutions? We are persuaded of this, there must be a narrow sieve to find them out. Our uncleanness is so mixed with our nature that it cannot be separated. There is nothing in the world that makes a man see more of his own pollution than the reading of the Word and secret prayer.
II. An expostulation : " How long shall vain thoughts lodge within you?" That is to say, ye entertain beguiling thoughts about this church's deliverance, and how long will ye do this? Some think it is this which keeps the church from deliverance, that the enemy is not ready for judgment. It is not this. If the church were ready for mercy, the Lord would not stand on the enemy's being ready for judgement. It is not needful that the deliverance of the church and the execution of wrath upon her enemies should always go together. Besides, the enemy's cup fills faster up when God's people wash from wickedness. Some may say there is not such a necessity for a deliverance. But
1. It is a captive church, and it is no glory for God to have His people in captivity. He delights to rule among a free People. 2. The church is in sore affliction; and the Lord cannot be rightly served where there is great anguish of spirit.
3. God is now despised because He has not already avenged his people's wrongs. It concerns His glory therefore. If there be this necessity, then the fault must either be on our part or on God's why deliverance has not come. Now, there are several things which shew that it is not on God's part - (1) the Lord stands engaged to the church as the husband to his wife. It is His glory, therefore, to fulfil His engagement if their uncleanness stand not in the way. But it's sometimes greater glory to delay the deliverance of a defiled people, for so it's a greater benefit to them. (2) He is always ready. He needs not any time to provide for their deliverance. As Christ said to His disciples, "Your time is always ready, but my time has not yet come," so may we now say of Him that He is always ready. To assign any other cause for His delay than the uncleanness of His people is to speak a little dishonourably of God. It lays an imputation on Him. Yea, by our abiding in uncleanness we beget hard thoughts in our hearts whether He grant a deliverance or deny it. If He deny it, perverse reason will say that it is a failure in the faithfulness of God's promises. If He grant it, it will say that He favours sin, and regards not what persons be if they are only His by profession. So it lays an imputation on God, and this is not taken away except we wash. But it may be said, should not the acknowledgement of sin mend the matter? Yet what will this avail if ye still retain your uncleanness! Yea, this is one cause why deliverance is delayed, that we pray more than reform, we seek more than we mourn. (3) He is always able, for He is omnipotent. His treasures never fail, and there is never less or more in them. What say ye to this? It shall be found when all is tried fully that it is the wickedness of His people that hinders their deliverance.
One or two closing observations (1) he has promised to bestow salvation on those who wash their hearts. Wash, then, and win it Wash not and want it. (2) As long as ye want the one He will keep the other, He would never got the heart of man to affect purity if He had not set salvation behind it. (3) It is heart purity He requires. He will not be satisfied with anything else.
(From Heroes of the Covenant - by W.S.Carslaw)
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