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designs. When once the Devil hath a man upon the hip, when engaged in an evil design, it is hard to stop ; pride then digging pits, and then casting off God's law; and then he never cares whether to please or displease, honour or dishonour, God; is not troubled with such kind of thoughts.
4. Take heed how you engage against God's people, or dig pits for them that fear the Lord ; God's interest usually goeth along with them: “ Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken to pieces, &c. Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought” (Isa. viii. 9, 10). As the captain's servant said, “ Take heed what ye do, for this man is a Roman;" so these men are children of God, he is their patron and protector, God is interested in their protection. They are “little ones” (Matt. xviii. 10). Therefore take heed of having any interest opposite to the strict people of God; for this is but ruin to yourselves.
SERMON XCIII. VERSE 89.--For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in Heaven.
These words are usually rendered as making but one proposition ; but the accent aihnab showeth there are two branches; the one asserting the eternity of God; the other, the constancy and permanency of his word. Thus, 1. “For ever sart thou], O Lord.” 2. “ Thy word is settled in Heaven.” So the Syriac version readeth it; and Geierus, and, after him, others, prove and approve this reading. And so this verse and the following do the better correspond one with the other, if we observe beginning and ending: As thou art “for ever, O Lord,” and “thy faithfulness is unto all generations,” which are exactly parallel; and then the last clauses : “ Thy word is settled in Heaven; thou hast established the earth, and it abideth.” And it implieth, as God is eternal, so is his word, and hath an emblem and fit representation both in Heaven and in earth: in Heaven, in the constant motion of the heavenly bodies; in earth, in the consistency and permanency thereof. That, as his word doth stand fast in Heaven, so doth his faithfulness on earth, where the afflictions of the godly seem to contradict it.
I. Of the first clause, Thou art for ever, O Jehovah.
First, That Jehovah is the one, only, eternal, and everlasting God. What eternity is, passeth our skill exactly to define : as we understand it, it is the duration of a being that is without a beginning and end. Duration is a continual tract of being; and eternal duration implieth an immutable and unterminable abode in being. So it is here.
lst, It is an infinite, unterminable duration, without beginning or ending: “From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Psalm xc. 2). God never was nothing, never shall be nothing. All the generations past were, but now are not. We heretofore were not, but now are. God is the beginning and end of all things, yet himself without beginning or end. He had an infinite, incomprehensible being, before any part of the world was framed, and will remain the same still, when the world shall be no more. The soul, in viewing God, is enclosed between infiniteness before and infiniteness behind ; and, which way soever it looketh, it seeth infiniteness round about it.
2ndly, Immutable : as without beginning and end, so without any change : “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth ; and the hea
vens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure; yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment: as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed ; but thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end” (Psalm cii. 25-27). God, from the mount of eternity, beholdeth all the successions and changes of the creature; but he is not changed, his nature is one and the same from everlasting to everlasting. We change every day ; we are not that to-day which we were yesterday; we have left some part of our life behind us, which is gone, and cannot be recovered ; and our duration lesseneth every day ; but God abideth for ever one and the same, though all things be in continual flux and motion about him.
Secondly, Now, that God is eternal, I shall prove by Scripture and reason.
Ist, By Scripture : Abraham “ called there on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God” (Gen. xxi. 33). The gods of the nations were upstart gods, but lately found out and soon destroyed; but he is the eternal God, who ever was, and is, and ever will be: “ Behold, God is great, and we know him not; neither can the number of his years be searched out" (Job xxxvi. 26). He speaketh of God's eternity, in such terms as man is capable of; for God's being is not to be measured by days and years; but so we express it for our understanding; for his duration is far above our reach and capacity: so, God is said to inhabit eternity (Isa, lvii. 15). Thus the Scripture propounds God's eternity as matter of our faith, reverence, and admiration.
2ndly, By reason: because the perfection of the First Cause requireth that his duration should be without beginning or ending, or, which is all one, eternal. He is Jehovah, that hath his being from himself; and all other things have their being after him, and froin him. Something must be eternal, or else there would be nothing made. It is certain, that, if there had been a time when nothing was, there never would be anything; for something cannot come out of nothing ; therefore we must stop in some first cause and eternal being
Thirdly, That eternity belongeth to God, is to be seen in all his attributes; for, if God be eternal, his wisdom, power, and goodness are eternal also.
Ist, His wisdom is eternal; for all things are present to the knowledge of God. Things come to our knowledge successively; some before, and some after. We see and know things according to their duration and existence. We compute by days, and years, yesterday, to-morrow, last year, and next year; one generation passeth, and another cometh ; but, in God's understanding, there is no succession of before and after : “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning” (Acts xv. 18). God that doth all things in time, knew them all before time; otherwise, his knowledge was not infinite and eternal : they are all present to his understanding. Hence is that expression, “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter iii. 8). All those differences of duration, which to the creatures are longer or shorter, are all alike to God; for all things are constantly present to God, and under his view and prospect. Indeed, the Lord is pleased to condescend to our shallow capacities, and to give us leave to express his duration in our own terms, whilst he calleth himself “ yesterday, and to-day, and for ever” (Heb. xiii. 8); and, “ From him which is, and which was, and which is to come” (Rev. i. 4). Yet, in proper speaking, God always is: “I Am," is his name; and all things to him are present, either past, present, or to come. Time hath no succession to him; he beholdeth at once, what is not at once, but at several times : there is nothing past to him, to come to him, but all present. He knoweth the end of all things, before he giveth them a beginning.
2ndly, His power is eternal : therefore it is said, that “ his eternal power and godhead” is clearly “understood from the creation of the world." and seen in “the things that are made” (Rom. i. 20). How else could so many things be educed out of nothing, and still kept from returning into their original nothing, if there were not an infinite and eternal power then and still at work ? So, “ Trust ye in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength" (Isa. xxvi. 4). We may depend upon him; for his arm is never dried up, nor doth his strength fail; there is no wrinkle upon the brow of eternity, God is where he was at first; he continueth for ever a God of infinite power, able to save those that trust in him.
3rdly, His good ness and mercy, they are eternal. Psa. cxxxvi., it is often repeated, “For the mercy of the Lord endureth for ever.” It is true a parte ante, his mercy did not begin of late, but was towards us before we or the world were: from all eternity, we were thought upon, that he might do us good himself. It is said, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. xxxi. 3) ; whomsoever God draweth to himself in time, he loved them before all time. And, a parte post, it holdeth good: his love and affection continueth the same, and shall do for ever; he is not weary of doing good, nor is his mercy spent; you have both : “ The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him” (Psalm ciïi. 17). The mercy was decreed and prepared before the beginning of the world; and we shall have the fruits and effects of it, when the world shall be no more. It was “from everlasting;” for God, foreseeing the fall of Adam, provided us a remedy in Christ, and, having all lapsed mankind in his prospect and view, did out of his free love choose some (whilst others are passed by) to life and salvation by Christ. That God did from eternity decree and purpose this, is manifest, because he doth in time effect it: otherwise, he should not work “ all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. i. 11); or else his will would be mutable, willing that in time which he willed not from eternity ; whereas in him there is no variableness or shadow of turning. And that his mercy is “to everlasting” appeareth, because he doth in time convert and sanctify them, and so brings them to glory and blessedness; for the eternal God will make his people eternally happy with himself.
Fourthly, That God showeth himself as an eternal being, both as a governor and benefactor.
Ist, As a governor. His eternity is seen in his government, in threatening eternal misery to the wicked, and appointing eternal happiness to the godly : “ These shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal” (Matt. xxv. 46). The joys of the blessed are everlasting: there shall never be a change of, nor an interruption in, their happiness; but, after millions of years, they are to continue in this life as if it were the first moment. Thy crown will be thy crown for ever; thy kingdom, thy kingdom for ever; this glory will be thy glory for ever; the God will be thy God, and thy Christ, for ever. We affect the con
tinuance of this life, though it be a life of pain and misery: “Skin for skin, all that a man hath will he give for his life.” Oh! how much more valuable should this eternal lite be, which is a life of uninterrupted joy and felicity! On the other side, the punishment is everlasting, the loss is eternal, the wicked are everlastingly deprived of the favour of God. The disciples wept, when Paul said, “Ye shall see my face no more.” Oh! how much more terrible will it be, to be banished everlastingly out of God's presence! (Matt. xxv. 41.) Besides, the pain will be eternal, as well as the loss: this “worm dieth not,” this “fire is not quenched” (Mark ix. 44). Neither Heaven nor Hell hath any period or end; either of them is eternal. Now, this way God ruleth and governeth the creature, as becoming his infinite and eternal majesty. The laws of kings and parliaments can reach no further than some temporal punishment: their highest pain is the killing of the body; their highest reward is some vanishing and fading honour, or perishing riches; but God's law concerneth our everlasting estate, our eternal well or ill-being; eternal life, or eternal death, is wrapped up in these commandments. These are rewards suitable to the eternal majesty of the Lawgiver. And, if thou do evil, there is an eternal loss of Heaven, and an eternal sense of the wrath of God. If you believe and obey the Gospel, there is eternal salvation provided for you; for Christ is “the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. v. 9).
2ndly, As a benefactor, he showeth himself also an eternal being. There is a double beneficial goodness of God, common and special. His common goodness runneth in the channel of creation and common providence; his special goodness, in the channel of redemption and renovation by Christ.
1. He is a benefactor to all men : he hath given them an immortal spirit, that shall abide for evermore: “ Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Eccl. xii. 7). There is an immortal soul, that dwelleth in a mortal body. The body was made of corruptible principles, was dust in its composition; it is true, God can annihilate it; but the soul, as it is a spirit, hath no corruptible principles in it; it is a thing that cannot be killed or destroyed by any created power. Now, this Divine spark, which cannot be quenched, is a pledge and effect of God's eternity; for he that giveth immortality, certainly is immortal himself: nothing can give what it hath not. And besides, because our souls are immersed and sunk into matter, and forget their Divine original, therefore God, by the blessings of his providence, seeks to raise them up to look after this supreme and spiritual being, and giveth us all kind of comforts and mercies, whose creatures we are, that we may seek the Lord, if haply we may feel after him and find him (Acts xvii. 27); that we may own him as the first cause, or Father of lights, by whom this spark was kindled in us; or seek him as the chief good, in whom alone this restless soul of ours can find contentment and satisfaction.
2. He is a benefactor in a way of grace and recovery by Christ. This also sets forth his eternity: the first rise and bottom cause of all this grace and favour, that stirred and set all the causes on work which concurred to it, was God's everlasting love (John iii. 16). And Christ saith, “I was set up from everlasting" (Prov. viii. 23); and this grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Tim. i. 9). Before the foundation of the world was laid, this business was transacted with Christ for our benefit. And then, the way how it was brought about, it was by an everlasting redemption (Heb. ix. 12), of an eternal force, value, and efficacy; and the grace wrought in us, it is called incorruptible seed (1 Peter i. 23). There is an eternal principle in our hearts, and that is the reason why a believer is so often said to have eternal life abiding in him, because of the beginning, seed, and principle of it, that is sown in his heart: and the comfort and fruit of it that we have here, is called “ everlasting consolation :" " Which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace" (2 Thes. ii. 16). It is not bottomed on any poor fading thing, but on matters of an eternal duration : the happiness itself is the eternal fruition of the ever-blessed God : “ We shall be ever with the Lord” (1 Thes. iv. 17). So that we are made eternal also, both in body and soul; whence you see how abundantly God discovereth his eternal being, in all his gists and graces by Christ.
Fifthly, When the creatures are spoken of as eternal, it must be understood it is a communicated, dependent, half-eternity; and so no derogation to that perfection which is proper to God.
Ist, It is communicated to us; for originally God “only hath immortality” (1 Tim. vi. 16). We have it by derivation; God hath it originally in himself, and from himself. God dispenseth and measureth out the duration and continuance of all other things, their races and stages; when they shall begin, and when they shall end. And that immortality which the angels and the souls of men have, it is ascribed to us by participation; we have it from God, because he was pleased to give it to us.
2ndly, It is a dependent eternity; for every moment we depend upon God: if he take away his Spirit, we are gone, man or angel. We assert the immortality of the soul, because it hath not the principles of corruption in it, as the body hath; but yet we cannot, must not, cut off the dependence upon the first cause and fountain of being; in his hand is the breath of all living, and he is often called “ the God of your life,” and “the God of the spirits of all flesh.” It is but a half-eternity: we sometimes were not, God is from everlasting to everlasting; but we are appointed to eternal life, and time was when we lay in the womb of nothing: we are but of yesterday, poor upstarts, that had but an existence and a new being given us of God; if he will lengthen it out, and continue it to all eternity: it is not such an eternity as he hath, but a half-eternity; not an eternity without beginning, but only without ending.
Sixthly, This eternity of God is not seriously and sufficiently enough thought of and improved, till it lessen all other things in our opinion and estimation of them, and affection to them. Two things should especially be lessened; the time we spend in the world, and the things that we enjoy in the world.
Ist, The time we spend in the world. Alas! what is this to God's eternity! “Behold, thou hast made my days as a hand-breadth, and mine age is as nothing before thee” (Psalm xxxix. 5). Whether our days be spent in prosperity or adversity, they are but short; a hand-breadth, a mere nothing, compared with God's eternity: “A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night " (Psalm xc. 4). A thousand years, compared to eternity, are but as a drop spilt, and left in the ocean; or as time insensibly passed over in sleep.