The Great Gain of Godliness ( 3 )
by Thomas Watson, 1681
B. The second good effect of the saints piety—was that God RECORDED it. “A book of remembrance was written before him”; the word in the original for “book of remembrance” signifies “a book of memorials” or “monuments”. The words immediately foregoing recite God’s hearkening and hearing; but lest any should say, though God does at the present hear the holy speech and thoughts of his children—yet may they not in time slip out of his mind? Therefore these words are added, “a book of remembrance was written before him.” The Lord did not only hear the godly speeches of the saints—but recorded them, and wrote them down! “A book of remembrance was written.”
This is spoken after the manner of men—not that God has any book of records by him. He does not need to write down anything for the help of his memory. He is not subject to forgetfulness. Things done a thousand years ago are as fresh to him—as if they were done but yesterday: “A thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past” (Psalm 90:4).
This “book of remembrance”, therefore, is a borrowed form of speech, taken from kings, who have their chronicles wherein they note memorable things. King Ahasuerus had his book of records, wherein were written the worthy deeds of Mordecai (Esther 6:1-2). Just so, God bears in mind, all the godly speeches and pious actions of his children. God’s particular and critical assessment is a book of records, where nothing can be lost or torn out.
Doctrine: God eternally remembers all the good designs and pious endeavors of his people. “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him, as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” (Heb. 6:10). There are eight things which God writes down in his book of remembrance:
1. The Lord writes down the NAMES of his people. “Whose names are written in the Book of Life” (Phil. 4:3). This book has no errata, “I will never erase their names from the Book of Life!” (Rev. 3:5).
2. The Lord writes down the godly SPEECH of his people. When Christians speak together of the mysteries of heaven (which is like music in concert), God is much delighted with it. When their tongues are going on earth—God’s pen is going in heaven! “Those who feared the Lord spoke often one to another, and a book of remembrance was written!”
3. The Lord writes down the TEARS of his people. Tears drop down to the earth—but they reach heaven! God has his bottle and his book: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book!” (Psalm 56:8). Tears drop from the saints—as water from the roses—they are fragrant to God—and he puts them in his bottle. And besides this, he has his book of remembrance, where he writes them down, “You have recorded each one in your book!” Especially God writes down such tears as are shed for the sins of the times. “There was another man among them, clothed in linen, with writing equipment at his side” (Ezek. 9:2). This was to write down the tears of the mourners, and to “put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations committed in the city” (verse 4).
4. God writes down the THOUGHTS of his people. We can write down men’s words—but we cannot write down their thoughts. It would perplex the angels—to write men’s thoughts! But be assured, never a holy thought comes into our mind—but God writes it down! So in the text—a book of remembrance was written for those who thought upon his name. Two things are silent—yet have a voice:
1. Tears: “the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping” (Psalm 6:8).
2. Thoughts: “I know what they are thinking” (Isaiah 66:18).
5. God writes down the DESIRES of his people. “Lord, my every desire is known to You!” (Psalm 38:9); that is, “It is set down in your book!” Desire is the spiritual appetite, or the soul’s panting and breathing after God (Psalm 84:2). In this life we do rather desire God—than enjoy him. Can we say that we take our souls out of the quiver of our bodies, and shoot them into heaven? Do our affections sally forth towards Christ? Do we desire him superlatively and incessantly? Every such desire is put down in God’s register book! Lord, my every desire is known to You!”
6. The Lord writes down the PRAYERS of his people. (Jonah 2:7). Prayer, though it be not vocal, only mental, is recorded. “Hannah spoke in her heart” (1 Sam. 1:13). That prayer, God wrote down and answered. God was better to her than her prayer; she prayed for a son—and God gave her a prophet! At times the heart is so full of grief, that it can only groan in prayer; yet a groan is sometimes the best part of a prayer, and God writes it down: “My groaning is not hidden from You!” (Psalm 38:9). If we cannot speak with elegance in prayer; if it is only lisping and chattering, God puts it in his book of remembrance: “I chattered like a swallow, and then I moaned like a mourning dove. I am in trouble, Lord. Help me!” (Isaiah 38:14); yet that prayer was heard and registered, “I have heard your prayer—I have seen your tears!” (verse 5).
7. God writes down the WORKS of his people. Works of mercy must be done out of love to God. As Mary out of love brought her ointments and sweet spices, and anointed Christ’s dead body—so out of pure love we must bring our ointments of charity to anoint the saints, which are Christ’s living body. Such alms are not lost. With such sacrifices God is well pleased (Heb. 13:16). And that we should see how well the Lord is pleased with them, he writes them down thus: “Your gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” (Acts 10:4).
8. God has a book of remembrance for the SUFFERINGS of his people. The saints purgatory is in this life. But there are two things which may bear up their spirits:
First, every groan of theirs goes to God’s heart: “I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel” (Exod. 6:5). In music when one string is touched—all the rest sound. When the saints are stricken—God’s heart reverberates.
Secondly, God has a book of records, to write down his people’s injuries. The wicked make wounds in the backs of the righteous, and then pour in vinegar. God writes down their cruelty: “I remember what Amalek did to Israel” (1 Sam. 15:2). Amalek was Esau’s grandchild (Gen. 36:12), a bitter enemy of Israel. The Amalekites showed their spite to Israel in two ways:
First, “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God.” (Deuteronomy 25:17-18)
Secondly, they openly gave battle to them, and would have hindered them from going into Canaan (Exod. 17:8). Now God took notice of Israel’s sufferings by Amalek: “I remember what Amalek did to Israel, and I have my book of remembrance; I write it down.” “This is what the Lord Almighty says—I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” (1 Sam. 15:2-3).
First use of the doctrine: INFORMATION.
I. This shows us that it is not in vain to serve God. The wicked who do not know God, think him to be a hard Master, and say, like those Job speaks of, “What would we gain by praying to him?” (Job 21:15). But the text shows us that God records all the services of his people, “a book of remembrance was written before him.” God’s writing in his book is:
A. An HONOR to the saints. The Romans wrote the names of their senators in a book, and in token of honor they were called the “chosen fathers” of the people. So God’s book of remembrance shows his high esteem of his people and their services. He writes them down.
B. A mark of the SPECIAL FAVOR God bears to his people. He registers them and their services—with an intent to crown them! Tamerlane, wrote down all the memorable deeds of his soldiers, whom he afterwards advanced to places of dignity. God’s service is most desirable; let us make Joshua’s choice: “As for me and my house—we will serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:15).
If we should desert God’s service, where shall we go? When Christ asked his disciples, Will you also go away? Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (John 6:68); as if to say, “If we leave you, we do not know where to get help for ourselves.” Let us adhere to God; he has his book of memorials to record our allegiance. We may be losers for him—but we shall not be losers by him.
2. As God registers the good works of his people—so he has a book of remembrance to write down the sins of the wicked! “Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness. These are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction!” (Isaiah 30:8-9).
Men’s sins are written in the book of conscience—and the book of God’s omniscience. They think that because God does not speak to them by his loud judgments, therefore God does not know their sins. But though God does not speak—he writes: “The sin of Judah is written with an iron stylus. With a diamond point it is engraved.” (Jer. 17:1). God writes down every act of oppression, bribery, and immorality. “They never consider that I remember all their evil. Now their sins are all around them; they are right in front of My face!” (Hos. 7:2). King Belshazzar was carousing and drinking wine in bowls, and praising his gods of gold and silver; but while he was sinning—God was writing! “At that very moment they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, and his face turned pale with fear. Such terror gripped him that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way beneath him!” (Dan. 5:5-6).
We read of God’s book: “The books were opened” (Rev. 20:12); and we also read of his bag: “My transgression is sealed up in a bag” (Job 14:17). This seems to allude to law courts, where indictments against malefactors are sealed up in a bag, and produced at the trials. When God shall open his black book in which men’s names are written, and his bag in which their sins are written—then their hearts will tremble, and their knees will knock together in terror! Every lie a sinner tells, every oath he swears, every drunken bout—God writes it down in his book of remembrance! And woe to him—if the book is not crossed out with the blood of Christ!
3. See the mercifulness of God to his children—who blots their sins out of his book of remembrance, and writes their good deeds in his book of remembrance. “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions” (Isaiah 43:25). This is a metaphor borrowed from the case of a creditor who takes his pen and blots out the debt owing to him; so says God, I will “blot out your transgressions”. Or as the Hebrew has it, “I am blotting them out.”
God in forgiving sin, passes an act of oblivion or amnesty: “I will remember their sin no more!” (Jer. 31:34). God will not upbraid his people with their former offences. We never read that when Peter repented, that Christ upbraided him for his denial of his Lord. Oh, the heavenly indulgence and kindness of God to his people! He remembers everything about them—but their sins! He writes down their good thoughts and speeches in a merciful book of remembrance; but their sins are as if they had never been—they are carried into the land of oblivion!
Second Use: EXHORTATION.
If God records our services—then let us record his mercies. Let us have our book of remembrance. A Christian should keep two books always beside him; one to write his sins in—that he may be humble; the other to write his mercies in—that he may be thankful. David had his book of remembrance: “David appointed some of the Levites to be ministers before the ark of the Lord, to give thanks and praise to Him.” (1 Chron. 16:4). We should keep a book to record God’s mercies—though I think it will be hard to get a book big enough to hold them! At such and such a time we were in straitened circumstances—and God supplied us; at another time under sadness of spirit—and God dropped in the oil of gladness; at another near death—and God miraculously restored us. If God is mindful of what we do for him—shall not we be mindful of what he does for us! God’s mercies, like jewels, are too good to be lost! Get a book of remembrance!
Third Use: COMFORT.
1. It is comfort to the godly—in the case of friends forgetting them. Joseph did Pharaoh’s cupbearer a kindness—”Yet the cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” (Gen. 40:23). It is only too usual to remember injuries—and forget kindnesses; but God has a book of remembrance where he writes down all his old friends. Near relations may sometimes be forgetful. The tender mother may forget her infant: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isa. 49:15). A mother may sooner forget her child—than God be forgetful. Christ our high priest, has the names of the saints written upon his breastplate, and all their good deeds written in his book of memorials! Let this be a remedy to revive the hearts of God’s people; though friends may blot you out of their mind—yet God will not blot you out of his book!
2. This is consolation to the godly—the Lord keeps a book of remembrance for this end—that he may at the last day make a public and solemn mention of all the good which his saints have done. God will open his book of records and say, “Then the King will say to those on His right—Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.” (Matt. 25:34-36).
God will make known all the memorable and pious actions of his people before men and angels! He will say, “Here are those who have prayed and wept for sin; here are those who have been advocates for my truth; here are those who have laid to heart my dishonors, and have mourned for what they could not reform. These are my renowned ones, my Hephzibahs—in whom my soul delights!” (Isaiah 62:4).
What a glorious thing will this be—to have God express the high praise of his saints! When Alexander saw the sepulcher of Achilles, he cried out “O happy Achilles, who had Homer to set forth your praise!” What an honor will it be to have the names and worthy deeds of the saints mentioned, and God himself to be the herald to proclaim their praises! (2 Cor. 4:5).
C. The third good effect of the saints piety—was that God REWARDED it. “And they shall be mine, says the Lord Almighty, in that day when I make up my jewels!” (Mal. 3:17). The reward is threefold.
1. God’s owning them: “They shall he mine, says the Lord Almighty.”
2. God’s honoring them: “In that day when I make up my jewels.”
3. God’s sparing them: “I will spare them, as a man spares his own son that serves him.”
Note first, the Person speaking, “the Lord Almighty”. This is too great a word to he passed by in silence. God is often in Scripture styled, “the Lord Almighty” (Psalm 46:11; Isaiah 1:24); that is, he is the Supreme General, and Commander of all armies and forces, and gives victory to whom he will.
Question: Why is this name, “the Lord Almighty”, given to God?
Answer: Not because God needs any others to protect himself, or suppress his enemies. Earthly princes have armies to defend them from danger—but God needs none to help him: he can fight without an army. God puts strength into all armies. Other captains may give their soldiers armor; they cannot give them strength; but God does: “You have girded me with strength for the battle” (Psalm 18:39). Why then is God said to have armies—if he needs them not?
Firstly, it is to set forth his sovereign power and grandeur; all armies and regiments are under his command.
Secondly, it is to show us that though God can effect all things by himself; yet in his wisdom he often uses the agency of the creature to bring to pass his will and purpose.
Question: What are these hosts or armies, of which God is the sovereign Lord?
Answer 1: God has an army in heaven—angels and archangels: “I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the armies of heaven around him” (1 Kings 22:19). By the armies of heaven, is meant the angels; they, being spirits, are a powerful army: “You his angels, which excel in strength” (Psalm 103:20). We read of one angel who destroyed in one night “a hundred and eighty-five thousand men” (2 Kings 19:35). If one angel destroyed such a vast army, what can a whole legion of angels do? A legion consisted of six thousand, six hundred and sixty six. How many of these legions go to make up the heavenly host! (Dan. 7:10).
The stars are God’s army too (Deut. 4:19). These were set in battalions and fought against God’s enemies: “The stars in their courses fought against Sisera” (Judg. 5:20). That is, the stars charged like an army, raising storms and tempests by their influences, and so destroying the whole army of Sisera.
Answer 2: God has armies upon earth, both rational and irrational. The rational are armies of men. These are under God’s command and conduct. They do not stir without his warrant. The Lord has the managing of all military affairs. Not a stroke is struck—but God orders it! Not a bullet flies—but God directs it! As for the irrational armies, God can raise an army of flies, as he did against King Pharaoh (Exod. 8:24); an army of worms, as he did against King Herod (Acts 12:23). Oh, what a Lord is here—who has so many armies under his authority!
First use of the doctrine: EXHORTATION.
1. Let us dread this Lord Almighty! We fear men who are in power, and is not that God to be adored and feared, who does all thing at his good pleasure? “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him—What have you done?” (Dan. 4:35).
His power is as large as his will. “What his soul desires—that he does” (Job 23:13). God is a sovereign power over all. “He pours contempt upon princes” (Job 12:21). He threw the proud angels to hell. God can with a word, unpin the wheels and break the axle of the creation. God’s power is a glorious power (Col. 1:11). And in this it appears glorious—it is never consumed or exhausted. Men, while they exercise their strength, weaken it. “Have you never heard or understood? Don’t you know that the Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth? He never grows faint or weary.” (Isaiah 40:28). “I will use up My arrows against them.” (Deut. 32:23) Though God “uses up his arrows” upon his enemies—yet he never exhausts his strength.
Oh, then tremble before this Lord Almighty! Remember, O hard-hearted sinner, how many ways God can be revenged on you! He can raise an army of diseases against you in your body. He can arm every creature against you, the dog, the boar, the elephant. He can arm conscience against you, as he did against Spira—making him a terror to himself. Oh, dread this Lord Almighty.
2. If God is the Lord Almighty—let us take heed of hardening our hearts against God. It was the saying of Pompey that with one stamp of his foot—he could raise all Italy up in arms. God can with a word—raise all the militia of heaven and earth against us, and shall we dare affront him! “Who has hardened himself against him, and has prospered?” (Job 9:4). Such as live in the open breach of God’s commandments, harden their hearts against God; they raise a war against heaven! “He has stretched out his hand against God and has arrogantly opposed the Almighty!” (Job 15:25). Like warriors who muster up all the forces they can, to fight with their antagonists, so the sinner hardens and strengthens himself against Jehovah: “He runs upon him, even on his neck, upon the thick bosses of his bucklers” (verse 26). Bucklers anciently had one great boss in the middle with a sharp spike in it to wound the adversary. The grossly wicked sinner encounters the God of heaven—and runs upon the thick bosses of his fury, which will wound mortally. Who ever hardened himself against God—and prospered! Will men go to measure arms with God! Do you have an arm like God’s?” (Job 40:9).
God is almighty—and therefore can hurt his enemies; and he is invisible—therefore they cannot hurt him. Who can fight with a spirit? God will be too hard for his enemies in the long run: “God will smash the heads of his enemies, crushing the skulls of those who love their guilty ways!” (Psalm 68:21).
How easily can God chastise rebels! “The Lord looked down on the Egyptian forces from the pillar of fire and cloud, and threw them into confusion” (Exod. 14:24). It need cost God no more to destroy his proudest adversaries than a look—a cast of the eye! It is better to be prostrate at God’s feet, and to meet him with tears in our eyes—rather than weapons in our hands! We overcome God, not by resistance—but by repentance!
3. If God is the Lord Almighty—let us be so wise as to engage him on our side. “The Lord Almighty is with us!” (Psalm 46:11). Great is the privilege of having the Lord Almighty for us!
1. If the Lord Almighty is on our side, he can discover the subtle plots of enemies. Thus he detected the counsel of Ahithophel (2 Sam. 17:14). And did not the Lord discover the Popish conspirators of late, when they would have subverted true religion and, like Italian butchers, turned England into an Aceldama—a field of blood?
2. If the Lord Almighty is on our side, he can bridle his enemies and lay such a restraint upon their spirits that they shall not do the harm they intend. “It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt (said Laban to Jacob) but the God of your father spoke unto me saying, Take heed that you speak not to Jacob either good or bad” (Gen. 31:29). Laban had power to do hurt—but no heart. When Balak called upon Balaam to curse Israel, God so dispirited Balaam that he could not discharge his thunderbolt: “How shall I curse, those whom God has not cursed?” (Num. 23:8). He had a good mind to curse—but God held him back.
3. If the Lord Almighty is for us—he can help us, though means fail, and things seem to he given up for lost. When Gideon’s army was small, and rendered despicable, then God crowned them with victory (Judges 7:2, 22). When the arm of flesh shrinks, then is the time for the arm of omnipotence to be put forth: “The Lord will indeed vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants when He sees that their strength is gone” (Deut. 32:36). The less seen of man—the more of God.
4. If the Lord Almighty is on our side—he can save us in that very way, in which we think he will destroy us. Would not all have thought that the great fish’s belly would have been Jonah’s grave? But God made a fish to be a ship, in which he sailed safely to shore. Paul got to land by the breaking of the ship (Acts 27:44). God can make the adverse party do his work; he can cause divisions among the enemies, and turn their own weapons against themselves: “I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians” (Isaiah 19:22; Judges 7:22).
5. If the Lord Almighty is on our side—he can make the church’s affliction—a means of her augmentation: “The more they afflicted them—the more they multiplied” (Exod. 1:12). The church of God is like that plant, which grows by cutting. Persecution propagates the church: the scattering of the apostles up and down was like scattering seed—it tended much to the spreading of the
gospel (Acts 8:1, 4).
6. If the Lord Almighty is on our side—he can alter the scene and turn the balance of affairs whenever he pleases. “He changes the times and the seasons” (Dan. 2:21). God can remove mountains which lie in the way, or leap over them. His power is without limit; he can bring harmony out of discord. He who brought Isaac out of a dead womb, and the Messiah out of a virgin’s womb—what can he not do? The Lord Almighty can in an instant, alter the face of things. There are no impossibilities with God. If means fail, he can create. It is therefore, high prudence to get this Lord Almighty on our side. “If God is for us—who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).
And if we would engage God to he on our side:
First, let us be earnest suitors to him—exercise eyes of faith, and knees of prayer (Jer. 14:9). And in prayer, let us use Joshua’s argument, “What will You do about Your great name?” (Josh. 7:9). Lord, if the cause of true religion loses ground, how will your name suffer!
Secondly, let us put away iniquity. (Job 11:14). Sin is not worth keeping. Who would keep a plague sore? Let us discard and abjure our sins (Jer. 7:3); and then the Lord Almighty will be on our side and, as a pledge of his favorable presence, he will entail the gospel, that crowning blessing, upon us and our posterity.
So much for the Person speaking, “the Lord Almighty”.
A. God Rewards His People by OWNING Them
I now come to the REWARD itself, the first part of which is—God’s owning them, “They shall be mine.” I take the sense of it to be, “They shall be mine in covenant.” “I entered into a covenant with you—and you became mine!” (Ezek. 16:8; Isa 43:1). This is no small blessing—to be in covenant with God. Therefore, when God told Abraham that he would enter into covenant with him, Abraham fell on his face (Gen. 17:3), as being amazed that the great God should bestow such a signal favor upon him. God never entered into covenant with the angels when they fell—but he proclaims himself God in covenant with believers, “They shall be mine.” This covenant enriched with free grace, is a better covenant than that which was made with Adam in innocence, for:
1. The least failing would have made the first covenant null and void—but many failings do not invalidate the covenant of grace. I grant the least sin makes a trespass upon the covenant—but it does not cancel it. Every failing in the marital relation, does not break the marriage bond.
2. If the first covenant was violated, the sinner had no remedy; all doors of hope were shut. But the new covenant allows of a remedy. It provides a Surety, “Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (Heb. 12:24).
First use: INFORMATION.
See the amazing goodness of God to his people, to enter into covenant with them and say, “You are mine!” “He has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure!” (2 Sam. 23:5). The first covenant stood upon the delicate foundation of works. Adam had no sooner a stock of original righteousness to trade with, than he broke the covenant. But this covenant of grace is confirmed with God’s decree, and rests upon two mighty pillars—the oath of God, and the blood of God. That you may see how great a privilege it is to be owned by the Lord federally, consider:
1. If we are in covenant with God, and he says to us “You are mine”—then all that is in God is ours! A person falling on hard times and then marrying a king, has a share in all the crown revenues. God having entered into a near relation with us and saying, “You are mine”—we have a share in his rich revenues! The Lord says to every believer, as the King of Israel said to the King of Syria, “I am yours, and all that I have is yours!” (1 Kings 20:4). My wisdom shall be yours to teach you, my holiness shall be yours to sanctify you, my mercy shall be yours to save you! What richer dowry—than Deity! God is a whole ocean of blessedness. If there is enough in him to fill the angels—then surely, he has enough to fill us!
2. If God says to us, “You are mine”—then he will have a tender care for us. “Cast all your care upon Him, because He cares for you!” (1 Pet. 5:7). God, to show his tender solicitude towards Israel, bore them “on eagles wings” (Exod. 19:4). The eagle carries her young ones upon her wing to defend them; the arrow must first shoot through the old eagle, before it can touch her young ones. A mother’s care is seen in leading a child, so that it may not fall. Such is God’s care: “It was I who taught Israel how to walk, leading him along by the hand.” (Hos. 11:3). We may argue from the lesser to the greater, that if God takes care of the lowest insects and animals which creep upon the earth, much more will he take care of his covenant saints. He is still contriving and planning for their good. If they wander out of the way—he guides them; if they stumble—he holds them by the hand; if they fall—he raises them; if they become dull—he quickens them by his Spirit; if they are obstinate—he draws them with cords of love; if they are sad—he comforts them with his promises.
3. If God says to us, “You are mine”—then he will entirely love us! “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3). The Lord may give a man riches—and not love him; his prosperity may be as Israel’s quails—sauced with God’s wrath (Num. 11:32-33). But when God says, “You are mine”—he cannot but love. Everyone loves his own. If God has any love better than another—his covenant people shall have it; he will extract the essence of his love for them; he loves them as he loves Christ! (John 17:23).
4. If God says to us, “You are mine”—then he will not allow us to be in need. Believers are not only of God’s family—but of Christ’s body; and will the Head let the body starve? “Truly you shall be fed” (Psalm 37:3). God has not promised dainties; he will not satisfy his people’s lusts—but he will supply their needs. If the bill of fare should be restricted, what they lack in worldly comforts, they shall have in spiritual blessing: “He shall bless your bread, and your water” (Exod. 23:25). God will rather work a miracle than that any of his children shall famish. The raven is so unnatural that she will hardly feed her young—yet she became a caterer and brought food to the prophet Elijah.
5. If God says to us, “You are mine”—then we have great freedoms!
1. We are freed from the revenging wrath of God! We are not free from God’s anger as a Father—but as a Judge. God will not pour his vindictive justice upon us. Christ has drunk the red wine of God’s wrath upon the cross—that believers may not taste a drop of it!
2. We are freed from the predominant reign of sin. “Sin shall not have dominion over you” (Romans 6:14). Though believers are not freed from the indwelling of sin, nor from combat with it—yet they are freed from its imperious command. As it it said of those beasts in Daniel, “They had their dominion taken away—yet their lives were prolonged for a season” (Dan. 7:12), so sin lives in the regenerate, but its domination is taken away. And to be thus freed from the jurisdiction, power, and tyranny of sin—is no small blessing! A wicked man is at the command of sin, as the donkey at the command of the driver. The curse of Ham is upon him, “a servant of servants shall he be” (Gen. 9:25). He is a slave to his lusts, and a slave to Satan! Oh, what a privilege it is—to have one’s neck out of the devil’s yoke!
3. We are freed from the accusations of conscience. The worm of conscience is part of the torment of hell. But, God being our God, we are freed from the clamors of this hellish fury. Conscience sprinkled with Christ’s blood speaks peace! A good conscience, like the bee, gives honey. It is like the golden pot which had manna in it (2 Cor. 1:12).
6. If God says to us, “You are mine”—then we shall he his forever! “This God is our God, forever and ever” (Psalm 48:14). You cannot say that you have health—and you shall have it forever. You cannot say that you have a child—and you shall have it forever. But if God is your God—you shall have him forever! The covenant of grace is a royal charter, and this is the happiness of it—it is made for eternity! Justification is never rescinded. The covenant between God and his people shall never be broken off. How false therefore is the opinion of falling from grace! Shall any whom God makes his own by federal union fall finally? Indeed if salvation has no better pillar to rest upon than man’s will (as the Arminians hold) no wonder if there is falling away; but a Christian’s stability in grace, is built upon a surer basis, namely, God’s “everlasting (or inviolable) covenant” (Isaiah 55:3). Once in Christ—forever in Christ. A star may sooner fall out of its place—than a true believer be plucked away from God! “None of them is lost” (John 17:12). “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28)
7. If God says to us, “You are mine”—then he will take us up to himself at death! Death breaks the union between the body and the soul—but perfects the union between God and the soul. This is the emphasis of heaven’s glory—to be forever with God. What is the joy of the blessed—but to have a clear, transparent sight of God, and to be in the sweet and soft embraces of his love forever! This has made the saints desire death, as the bride her wedding day! “I have the desire to depart and be with Christ—which is far better!” (Phil. 1:23). “Lead me, Lord, to that glory”, said a holy man, “a glimpse whereof I have seen as in a glass darkly.”
Second Use: COMFORT.
Let this be for the consolation of the saints. There is a covenant union between God and them. God is theirs—and they are his! “They shall be mine, says the Lord.” Here is a standing cordial for the godly. God looks upon them as having a propriety in them, “They shall be mine!”
1. This is comfort, in respect of Satan’s accusations. He accuses the saints first to God—then to themselves. But if God says, “You are mine”, this answers all of Satan’s accusations. Christ will show the debt book, crossed out in his blood. It was a saying of Bucer, “I am Christ’s, and the devil has nothing to do with me.”
2. This is comfort, in respect of poverty. Believers are married to the King of heaven—and all that is in God is theirs! A philosopher comforted himself with this, that though he had no music or vine trees—yet he had the household gods with him. So we, though we have not the vine or fig tree—yet if God is ours and we are his—this creates joy in the most impoverished condition! And that which may raise the comfort of the godly higher, and cause a jubilation of spirit, is that shortly God will own his people before all the world, and say, “These are mine!” At present the elect are not known: “It does not yet appear what we shall be” (1 John 3:2). The saints are like kings in disguise; but how will their hearts leap for joy—when God shall pronounce that word, “These are mine! The lot of free grace has fallen upon them! These shall lie forever in the bosom of my love!”
Third use: EXHORTATION.
To all who are yet strangers to God: labor to get into covenant with him, that he may say, “You are mine!” Why does God woo and beseech you by his ambassadors, if he is not willing to be in covenant with you?
Question: What shall a poor forlorn creature do, to get into covenant with God?
Answer 1: If you would be in covenant with God–break off the covenant with sin! (1 Sam. 7:3). What king will be in league with a person who serves his enemy?
Answer 2: Labor for faith.
1. Faith in the mercy of God: “I am merciful. I will not be angry with you forever” (Jer. 3:12). As the sea covers great rocks as well as little sands—so Gods mercy covers great sins! Manasseh, a bloody sinner, is held forth as a pattern of mercy. Some of the Jews who had a hand in crucifying Christ—yet had their sins forgiven!
2. Faith in the merit of Christ. Christ’s blood is not only an atoning sacrifice to appease God—but a sacrifice to ingratiate us into God’s favor, and make him look upon us with a smiling aspect (1 John 2:2).
B. God Rewards His People by HONORING Them
The second part of the saints reward—is God’s honoring them: “In that day when I make up my jewels”. Here are three propositions:
1. God greatly honors his people.
2. God’s people are his jewels.
3. There is a day when God will make up his jewels.
1. God greatly honors his people. He speaks of them here with honor: “In that day when I make up my jewels”. “Since you were precious in my sight—you have been honorable” (Isaiah 43:4). Honor attends holiness. That the Lord highly honors those who fear him, is evident by four demonstrations.
1. In that he prefers them before others. He choose, them, and passes by the rest: “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated!” (Mal. 1:2-3).
2. In that God gives them frequent love visits. It is counted an honor for a subject to have his prince visit him. “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). The Rabbis say that Moses had one hundred and fifty conferences with God, and died with a kiss from God’s mouth. What greater honor for a person—than to have God keep him company! (Exod. 33:11)?
3. In that God makes them rich heirs. We are “joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). For a man to adopt another and make him heir to his estate—is no small honor done to him. The youngest believer is an heir, yes, and an heir of the crown! (1 Pet. 5:4). This crown he has in the promise (Rev. 2:10), and in the first fruits (Romans 8:23).
4. In that God sends his angels to be their servants. Such as are God’s servants, have angels to be theirs: “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14).
First use: Who would not be fearers of God! This makes God have an honorable esteem of them. “All men”, says Chrysostom, “are ambitious for honor.” True honor comes from God! (John 5:44).
Second use: If God so honors his people, let them honor him: “Where is my honor?” (Mal. 1:6). Let the saints be God-exalters; let them lift up his name in the world, and make his praise glorious (Psalm 66:2). But I only glance at this.
2. God’s people are his jewels. “In that day when I make up my jewels!” Jewels are precious things; the Hebrew word for jewels signifies a treasure. A treasure is made up of costly things: gold, and diamonds, and rubies. Such a precious treasure, are the saints to God.
Question: In what sense are the saints, God’s jewels?
Answer 1: They are jewels for their sparkling quality. Their holiness shines and sparkles in God’s eyes! (Song of Sol. 4:9), “You have ravished my heart, with one of your eyes!” That is, with one of your graces.
Answer 2: The godly are jewels for their scarcity. Diamonds are not common. Just so, the godly are scarce and rare. There are but few of these to be found. There are many false professors (as there are paste diamonds) but few Israelites indeed. “Few are chosen” (Matt. 20:16). Among the millions in Rome, there were but few senators. Just so, among the swarms of people in the world—there are but few true believers.
Answer 3: The godly are jewels for their price. Queen Cleopatra had two jewels which contained half the price of a kingdom. Thus the saints are jewels, for their value. God esteems them at a high rate; he parted with his best jewel for them. Christ’s precious blood was shed to ransom these jewels!
Answer 4: The saints are jewels for their adorning quality. Jewels adorn those who wear them. The saints are jewels which adorn the world. Their piety mixed with prudence honors the gospel. Hypocrites eclipse true religion and make it badly spoken of. The saints as jewels render it illustrious, by their sanctity.
First use: INFORMATION.
1. See the worth of the godly—they are God’s jewels—”a royal diadem in the hand of your God” (Isaiah 62:3). That is, they are eminent above others, as a crown hung with jewels is a sign of the highest state and honor. The saints are God’s glory (Isaiah 46:13), as if God’s glory did lie in them.
2. See then that which may bring holiness into repute, and make us desire to be godly. It casts a splendor upon us, and makes God number us among his jewels! Some are loath to embrace godliness, for fear it will be a stain on their reputation, and bring them out of favor with great men. But you see how it raises a person’s renown; it makes him precious in God’s sight—he is a jewel! Believers, on account of their mystical union with Christ, have a preciousness above the angels! The angels are morning stars (Job 38:7). Believers are clothed with the sun of righteousness (Rev. 12:1).
3. See the different opinion which God has—of the godly and the wicked. The one he esteems precious, the other vile. “You are vile” (Nahum 1:14). This is spoken of King Sennacherib; though he was by birth noble—yet he was by sin vile. The Hebrew word for vile signifies of base esteem. Though the wicked are high in dignity and worldly grandeur, yet God slights them. A dunghill may be higher than other ground—but it sends forth foul vapors: “They have all together become filthy” (Psalm 14:3). In the original it is, “They have become stinking.”
The wicked are compared to dogs and swine (2 Pet. 2:22) and to dross (Ezek. 22:19). Dross is the filth of the metal. Sinners are compared to chaff (Psalm 1:4). When a wicked man dies—there is only a little chaff blown away! A sinner is the most contemptible thing in the world; there is no worth in him while he lives—and no loss of him when he dies! A sinner is worse than a toad or serpent; a toad has nothing but what God has put into it—but a wicked man has that which the devil has put into him: “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” (Acts 5:3).
4. See what a high estimate we should set upon the godly; they are jewels, they are the glory of the creation. They are compared to stars for their beauty (Rev. 1:20), to spice trees for their perfume (Song of Sol. 4:14). They are the excellent of the earth (Psalm 16:3). The Lord would soon destroy the earth—but that he has some of his jewels in it.
Prize the saints—though they are humbled with poverty. We esteem a diamond, though it lies in the dust. “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey”—yet he was a jewel (Matt. 11:9). He was the morning star to usher in the Sun of righteousness into the world. The saints are precious—for they are God’s lesser heaven! (Isaiah 57:15).
5. See the saints safety: they are God’s jewels, and he will take great care to preserve them. A man is careful that he does not lose his jewels. God often gives his people a temporal salvation. If a storm comes he knows how to hide his jewels. He hid a hundred prophets in a cave (1 Kings 18:4). The angel is commanded, before he poured his vial of curses on the earth, to seal the saints of God on their foreheads (Rev. 7:3), which was a mark of safety. God will ensure the spiritual safety of his jewels: “None of them is lost!” (John 17:12). “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28)
6. It the saints are God’s jewels—then how incensed and enraged will God be, against those who have abused his jewels! Theodosius, counted them traitors who abused his statue. What will become of those who persecute God’s saints, and tread upon his jewels! It goes near to God’s heart—to see his jewels sprinkled with blood! What is done to them—the Lord takes as done to himself: “Why do you persecute me!” (Acts 9:4). When the foot was trod on—the head cried out! The saints are God’s royal diadem (Isaiah 62:3). Will a king endure to have his robes spat upon, or his crown-royal thrown in the dust! “He reproved kings for their sakes!” (Psalm 105:14).
What monuments of God’s vengeance were Nero, Diocletian, Gardiner, and the rest of that persecuting tribe! “Shall not God avenge his own elect! I tell you—he will avenge them speedily!” (Luke 18:7-8). Persecutors stand in the place where all God’s arrows fly! “He ordains his arrows against the persecutors” (Psalm 7:13). That is a killing Scripture: “The Lord will send a plague on all the nations that fought against Jerusalem. Their people will become like walking corpses, their flesh rotting away. Their eyes will shrivel in their sockets, and their tongues will decay in their mouths!” (Zech. 14:12).
Second use: CONSOLATION.
Here is comfort to the people of God, in case of the world’s disesteem of them—God values them as jewels! And his judgment is according to truth (Rom. 2:2). The wicked have low thoughts of the righteous. They beat down the price of these jewels as far as they can. They think them but refuse. They disdain them, and load them with slanders and invectives. The prophet Elijah was looked upon by Ahab as the “troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17), and Luther was called a “trumpet of rebellion”. Paul was judged “a pestilent fellow” (Acts 24:5). The wicked think that of all things in the world, the saints may be best exterminated: “We have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world” (1 Cor. 4:13).
But this is a great consolation to believers that, low as is the esteem the reprobate world has of them—yet God has high thoughts of them; he numbers them among his jewels! They are compared for their preciousness, to gold and silver (Rev. 1:20). They are the coins and medals which bear God’s own image! They are princes in all lands (Ps. 45:16). Christ engraves their names on his breast, as the names of the twelve tribes were engraved on precious stones upon Aaron’s breastplate. God will give whole kingdoms to ransom his jewels (Isaiah 43:3). The wicked think the godly are not worthy to live in the world, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!” (Acts 22:22) But God thinks the world is not worthy of them “The world was not worthy of them.” (Heb. 11:38). Hence it is, that God takes away his jewels so fast, and places them in his heavenly treasury!
Third use: EXHORTATION.
1. To the people of God.
Are you one of God’s jewels? I then beseech you to SHINE as jewels! Walk circumspectly and holily! “That you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world!” (Phil. 2:15). Such as are God’s jewels, should let the world see, that they have worth in them. O Christians, let your lives be an imitation of the life of Christ! Such a jewel was Bradford, the martyr—so humble and innocent in his demeanor that, at his death, many of the Papists could not refrain from weeping!
Are you one of God’s jewels? Do nothing that may eclipse or sully your luster! When professors are proud, envious or censorious; when they break their promises, or cheat their creditors—these do not look like saints! What will others say? These are the devil’s dirt—not God’s jewels. Oh, I beseech you who profess to be of a higher rank than others—honor that worthy name by which you are called; shine as earthly angels! “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession—so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light!” (1 Pet. 2:9).
Alexander would have the Grecians known not only by their garments—but their virtues. God’s people should he known by the sparkling of their graces! Shall there be no difference in behavior between the wicked and the godly—between a clod of earth and a diamond! Let it appear that you are heirs of heaven. You who are God’s people, the Lord expects a holy life from you (Matt. 5:47). He looks that you should bring more glory to him—and by your exemplary piety–make proselytes to piety.
2. The godly should be THANKFUL. God has taken you out of the rubbish of mankind—and made you his jewels! “He raises up the poor out of the dust” (Psalm 113:7), that he may set him with princes. So God has raised you out of the dust of a natural estate, and ennobled you—that he may set you with angels, those princes above. Oh, admire God! Set the crown of your praises upon the head of free grace! A joyful, thankful frame of heart—is pleasing to God. If repentance is the joy of heaven, praise is the music of heaven! Bless God who has wrought such a change in you! From lumps of dirt and sin—he has made you into his jewels!
3. There is a time shortly coming when God will make up his jewels. “In that day when I make up my jewels”.
Question 1: What is meant by God’s making up his jewels?
Answer: There is a difference between God’s making of jewels—and his making up of jewels. God’s making of jewels is when he works grace in their hearts while on earth. What is God’s making up of jewels? This implies two things.
Firstly, God’s GATHERING his saints together. God’s making up his jewels, implies his gathering his saints together. The godly in this life are like scattered diamonds, they are separated from one another, being dispersed all over the world. But there is a day coming when God will gather all his saints together, as one puts all his pearls together on a string. There must be such a collection or gathering together of God’s scattered saints:
1. From the near relation they have to all the persons of the Trinity. God the Father has chosen these jewels and set them apart for himself (Psalm 4:3), and will he lose any of his elect? They are related to Christ—he has bought these jewels with his blood, and will he lose his purchase? They are related to the Holy Spirit. He has sanctified them. When they were a lump of sin, he made them his jewels; and when he has bestowed cost on them, will he lose his cost? Will he not string these pearls, and put them in his celestial cabinet?
2. There must be a gathering together of God’s scattered saints—from the prayer of Christ. It was Christ’s prayer to his Father, that he would make up his jewels, that he would gather together his pearls, that they might be with him in heaven! “That they may be with me—where I am!” (John 17:24). Christ will not be content—until all the elect jewels lie together in his bosom. He does not think himself complete—until all his saints are with him!
Use: Here is a SOVEREIGN COMFORT to the people of God in two cases.
1. In case of scattering. God’s people are scattered up and down in the world; and, which is worse, these jewels lie among rubbish—they dwell among the wicked! “Woe is me that I dwell in the tents of Kedar” (Psalm 120:5). Kedar was Ishmael’s son. “Woe is me”, says David, “that I live with an Ishmael-brood!” The wicked are still molesting the righteous. God’s jewels lie scattered among the vile! But here is the comfort—that shortly God will gather his people from among the wicked—he will make up his jewels—and all his precious jewels shall lie with him in bliss!
2. It is comfort in case of dividing. God’s people are now divided; their love for one another is very little. They often look suspiciously upon one another. These divisions are flaws in God’s diamonds! Discord among Christians brings a reproach upon true religion, advances Satan’s kingdom, and hinders the growth of grace! But this is comfort—God will shortly make up his jewels—he will so gather his saints together—that he will unite them together. They shall be all of one heart (Acts 2:46). What a happy time it will be—when the saints shall be as so many pearls upon one string—and shall accord together in a blessed unity!
Secondly, God’s making up his jewels also implies his PERFECTING his saints. A thing is said to be made up—when it is perfected. You make up a garment, when you perfect it. You make up a watch, when you put all the wheels and pins in perfect order. So God’s making up his jewels, signifies his perfecting them. The godly in this life are imperfect. They cast but a faint luster of holiness; they receive but “the first fruits of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:23), that is, a small measure of grace. The first fruits under the law were but a handful, compared to the whole vintage.
The consideration of this may humble us. We are God’s jewels—yet we are now imperfect. Our knowledge is chequered with ignorance (1 Cor 13:5). Our love to God is feeble. Behold here, flaws in the diamond. This may take down our topsail of pride—to consider how flawed and incomplete we are. But when God shall make up his jewels, and perfect his saints—it will be a glorious time! This brings me to the second question.
Question 2: What is that day—when God will make up his jewels?
Firstly, God makes up his jewels at the day of DEATH. Then he makes the saints’ graces, perfect. For this reason the departed saints are called “just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). Sin so mixes with, and dwells within a Christian—that he cannot write a copy of holiness without blotting it. Grace, though it abates sin—yet it does not abolish corruption. But at death God makes up his jewels—he perfects the graces of his people. Will not that be a blessed time, never to have a vain thought again, never to be within the sight of a temptation, or the fear of a relapse?
This, I think, may make death desirable to the godly; then the Lord will complete the graces of His children! They shall be as holy as they desire to be, and as holy as God would have them to be! How will God’s jewels sparkle–when they shall be without flaws! In that day of death when God makes up his jewels, the saints light will be clear, and their love will be perfect!
Their light will be clear. They shall be so divinely irradiated, that they shall know the “deep things of God”. They shall in this sense be “as the angels” (Matt. 22:30). Their faculty of thought shall be raised higher and made more capacious! Through the crystal glass of Christ’s human nature, the saints shall have glorious transparent sights of God! They shall know as they are known (1 Cor. 13:12); a riddle too mysterious for us mortals, if not for angels, to expound!
In that day the saints love will be perfect. Love is the queen of the graces—it outlives all the other graces. In this life, our love to God is lukewarm and sometimes frozen. A believer weeps that he can love God no more. But at the day of death, when God makes up his jewels—then the saints’ love shall be seraphic! The spark of love shall be blown up into a pure flame! The saints shall love God—as much as they desire! They shall love him superlatively and without defect—they shall be made up wholly of love. Oh, blessed day of death! When God shall make up his jewels, the saints graces shall shine forth in their meridian splendor!
Secondly, God makes up his jewels at the day of the RESURRECTION. Then he makes the saints bodies perfect. These, like sparkling diamonds, shall shine in glory! At the resurrection God is said to change the bodies of the saint, “He will take these weak mortal bodies of ours and change them into glorious bodies like his own!” (Phil. 3:21). How will he change them? Not that they shall be other bodies than they were before. The substance of their bodies shall not be changed—but the qualities. As wool, when it is dyed into a purple color, is not altered in the substance—but in the quality, and is made more illustrious. Just so, God in making up his jewels, will cause a greater resplendency in the saints bodies than before.
When God makes up the jewels of the saints bodies at the resurrection, they shall be perfect in four ways:
1. In amiability or sweetness of beauty. Here the bodies of the righteous are often deformed. Leah has her weak eves, and Barzillai has his lameness; but at the resurrection the bodies of the saints shall be of unspotted loveliness. And no wonder, for they shall be made like Christ’s glorious body (Phil. 3:21).
2. When God at the resurrection makes up the jewels of the saints bodies, they shall have perfection of parts. Their bodies in this world may be maimed and disfigured; but in the day of the resurrection they shall have all the parts of their bodies restored (Acts 3:21). Such as have lost an eye, shall have their eye again; such as lack a leg or an arm, shall have their arm again.
3. When God makes up the jewels of the saints bodies at the resurrection, they shall be swift and lively in their motion. Here on earth, the bodies of the saints move heavily—but then they shall be sprightly, and move rapidly from one place to another. Here the body is a weight; in heaven it shall be a wing!
4. When God makes up the jewels of the saints bodies, they shall be immortal. The body once glorified, shall never be subject to death! “For our perishable earthly bodies must be transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die!” (1 Cor. 15:53). Heaven is a healthy climate; no death-bell goes there. This mortal body shall put on immortality.
Let us labor to he in the number of God’s jewels, that when the Lord shall make up his jewels, he may perfect our souls and bodies in glory
Question: How shall we know that we are in the number of God’s jewels?
Answer: Have we holiness? “But we are washed—but we are sanctified” (1 Cor. 6:11). We are not God’s jewels by creation—but regeneration. If holiness sparkles in us—it is a sign we are God’s jewels; and then when God comes to make up his jewels, he will put glory upon our souls and bodies forever!
C. God Rewards His People by SPARING Them
The third part of the saints reward is God’s sparing them: “I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him.” The Hebrew word to spare signifies to use clemency. In this phrase, there is less said—and more intended. “I will spare them”, that is, “I will deal with them as a father does with his son. The kind of tenderness that a father shows to his child, the same will I show to those that fear me.”
Doctrine: God will deal with those who fear him—as a compassionate father does with his dutiful son.
Two things are in this proposition:
1. That God is a Father. He is a father by creation. He has given us our being: “Have not we all one father? Has not one God created us?” (Mal. 2:20). God is also a father by election: he has chosen out a certain number, to be his children (Eph. 1:4). And God is a father by special grace: he stamps his impress of holiness upon men (Col. 3:10). All God’s children resemble him—though some are more like him than others.
2. That God will deal with those that fear him, as a compassionate father does with his dutiful son.
A. God will accept them, as a father does his son. If the child only lisps and can hardly speak plainly, the father takes all in good part. So God, as a father, will accept what his children do in sincerity: “There will I require your offerings … I will accept you with your sweet savor” (Ezek. 20:40-41).
B. To such as fear God, he will be full of pity to them, as a tender father is to his son. There are in God, affections of compassion and affections of delight.
Affections of compassion. A father feels for his child. God has great pity and tenderness towards his children. (Isaiah 63:15). The compassion of parents are steel and marble compared with God’s—”the tender mercy of our God” (Luke 1:78). In the Greek it is “the affections of mercy”. These affections make God sympathize with his children in misery. He is touched in their wounds: “As a father pities his children so the Lord pities those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13 ).
In God are also affections of delight. How dearly did Jacob love Benjamin! His life was bound up in him (Gen. 44:30). All the affections of parents come from God. They are but a drop of his ocean, a spark of his flame. God’s love is a love that “passes knowledge!” (Eph. 3:19). The saints cannot love their own souls, so entirely as God loves them. In particular,
a. God loves the persons of his children; they are the apple of his eye (Zech. 2:8). He engraves them upon the palms of his hands (Isaiah 49:16). This alludes to those who carry about them, engraved on the stone of their ring, the picture of some dear friend whom they entirely love.
b. God loves the places his children were born in, the better for their sakes: “God loves the gates of Zion” (Psalm 87:2); “This and that man was born in her” (verse 5); that is, “this and that believer”. God loves the very ground his children walk upon. Why was Judea, the ancient seat of Israel, called “a delightsome land” (Mal. 3:12)? Not so much delightful for the fruit growing in it—as for the saints living in it.
c. God so loves his children, that he charges the great ones of the world upon pain of death, not to hurt them. They are sacred to him. “He allowed no one to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings: Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm” (Psalm 105:14-15). By “anointed” are meant such as have the anointing of the Spirit (1 John 2:20).
d. God delights in his children’s company, he loves to see their faces, “Let Me see your face, let Me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” (Song of Sol. 2:14) If but two or three of God’s children meet and pray together, God will he sure to make one of the company: “There am I in the midst of them!” (Matt. 18:20).
e. God so loves his children that his eye is never off them: “The eye of the Lord is upon those who fear him” (Psalm 33:18).
Question: But is this such a privilege—to have God’s eye upon his children? God’s eye is upon the wicked too.
Answer: it is one kind of eye that the Judge casts upon the malefactor; and another that the Prince casts upon his favorite. God’s eye upon the wicked is an eye of vengeance—but his eye upon his children is an eye of benediction.
f. God sets a continual guard about his children, to preserve them from danger. He hides them in his pavilion (Psalm 27:5). He covers them with the golden feathers of his protection (Psalm 91:4). No prince goes so well guarded, as God’s child, for he has a guard of angels about him. The angels are a numerous guard: “The mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire” (2 Kings 6:17). Those horses and chariots of fire were the angels of God, gathered in the manner of a huge army to defend the prophet Elijah.
g. God clothes his children in rich garments: “Her clothing is of wrought gold” (Psalm 45:13). Jacob loved his son Joseph and gave him a finer coat to wear than the rest of his brethren: “He made him a coat of many colors” (Gen. 37:3). God loves his children and gives them a finer coat, more finely woven, a coat of diverse colors. It is
partly made of Christ’s righteousness, and partly of inherent holiness (Rev. 19:8).
h. Such is God’s love that he thinks nothing too good for his children! He enriches them with the upper and lower springs; he gives them the finest of the wheat, and honey out of the rock; he makes them a feast of fat things (Isaiah 25:6). He gives them the body and blood of his Son, and delights to see his children spreading themselves as olive plants round about his table (Psalm 128:3).
3. God will receive the PETITIONS of those who fear him—as a tender father receives his son’s petitions. They may come boldly to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16). If they come for pardon of sin, or strength against temptation, God will not deny them. Three things may cause boldness in prayer—the saints have a Father to pray to, the Spirit to help them to pray, and Jesus Christ as their Advocate to present their prayers.
4. On such as are fearers of God, God will bestow an inheritance, as a father does upon his son. This inheritance is no less than a kingdom! (Luke 12:32). In it are gates of pearl, rivers of pleasure; and (which is to be noted as a difference between God’s settling an inheritance on his children, and an earthly father’s settling an inheritance) a son cannot enjoy the inheritance until his father is dead; but every adopted child of God may at once enjoy both the inheritance and the father, because God is both father and inheritance! (Gen. 15).
5. With such as are fearers of God, God will pass by many infirmities. That is what is meant by this expression in the text, “I will spare them as a man spares his own son.” What a wonder is this—that God did not spare the angels (2 Pct. 2:4)! No, he did not spare his natural Son (Rom. 8:32). Yet he will spare his adopted sons! “I will spare, them, I will not use extremity as I might—but pass by many aberrations.”
Caution: It is not that the sins of God’s children are hidden from him—but such is his paternal clemency that he is pleased to bear with many frailties in his children. He spares them as a father spares his son. How often do God’s people grieve his Spirit by the neglect of spiritual watchfulness, or the loss of their first love; but God spares them! Israel provoked God with their murmurings—but he used fatherly indulgence towards them (Psalm 78:38; Neh. 9:17).
First Use: INFORMATION.
1. From this word, “I will spare them as a man spares his son”, take notice that even the best need sparing. “If you, Lord, should mark iniquities—who shall stand?” (Psalm 130:3). The Papists speak of merits—but how can we merit—when our best services are so defective that we need sparing! How can these two stand together, our meriting and God’s sparing? What will become of us without sparing mercy? We need to pray as Nehemiah, “Remember me, O my God, concerning this also—and spare me according to the greatness of your mercy!” (Neh. 13:22). Let us fly to this asylum, “Lord, spare us as a father spares his son!”
2. See God’s different dealing with the godly and the wicked. The Lord will not spare the wicked: “I will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy—but destroy them!” (Jer. 13:14). It is sad when the prisoner begs of the judge to spare him—but the judge will show him no favor. God’s cup of wrath is unmixed! (Rev. 14:10). Yet it is said to be mixed. The cup of wrath God gives the wicked is mixed with all sorts of punishments. But in this sense it is unmixed— it is without the least drop of mercy in it! (Psalm 78:45-51). God for a while reprieves men—but forbearance is not forgiveness. Though God spares his children—yet obdurate sinners shall feel the weight of his wrath!
3. If the Lord spares his people as a father does his son—then they should serve him as a son does his father.
1. They should serve him WILLINGLY. “Serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands the intention of every thought!” (1 Chron. 28:9). Cain’s sacrifice was rejected, because he brought it grudgingly and against his will. It was rather the paying of a tax than a free-will offering. The best obedience is that which is voluntary, as that is the best honey which drops from the honeycomb. God sometimes accepts of willingness without the work (1 Kings 8:18)—but never of the work without willingness.
2. They should serve God UNIVERSALLY. True obedience is universal; it observes one command as well as another; it fulfills difficult duties and dangerous duties. As the needle points the way that the magnet draws, so a gracious heart inclines to those things which the Word teaches (Luke 1:6). It is the note of a hypocrite to be partial in obedience; some sin he will indulge (2 Kings 5:18), some duty he will dispense with; his obedience is lame on one foot.
3. They should serve God SWIFTLY. Beware of a dull temper of soul; the loveliness of obedience is in the liveliness of it. We read of two women, “The wind was in their wings” (Zech. 5:9). Wings are swift—but wind in the wings denotes great swiftness. Such swiftness should be in our obedience to God. If God spares us as a father does his son, we should serve him as a son does his father.
Second Use: EXHORTATION.
If God spares us as a father does his son—let us imitate God. It is natural for children to imitate their parents; what the father does, the child is apt to learn the same.
Let us imitate God in this one thing—As God spares us, and passes by many failures—so let us be sparing in our censures of others; let us look upon the weaknesses and indiscretions of our brethren with a more tender compassionate eye.
Indeed, in cases of scandal we ought not to bear with others—but sharply reprove them. But if through inadvertence or passion they act wrongly—let us pity and pray for them. How much God bears with us! He spares us, and shall not we be sparing to others? Perhaps they have been wronged, and false things may be said about them. Athanasius was falsely accused by the Arians of adultery; Basil was falsely accused of heresy. It is usual for the world to misrepresent the people of God; therefore let us be sparing in our censures. God spares us–and shall not we be sparing towards others?
Third use: COMFORT.
Here is comfort to the children of God in case of failings. The Lord will not be severe to mark what they have done amiss—but will spare them. He passes by many infirmities: “He will rest in his love” (2eph. 3:17); in the original it is, “He will be silent in his love”. As if the prophet had said, though the church had her failings—yet God’s love was such, that it would not allow him to mention them. God turns a blind eye to our many oversights: “My eye spared them from destruction” (Ezek. 20:17).
I do not speak of presumptuous sins—but of failings such as vain thoughts, deadness in duty, sudden surprises by temptation. These being mourned for, God for Christ’s sake will spare us as a father does his son.
This is one of the richest comforts in the Book of God. Who is he who lives—and sins not? How defective we are in our best duties! How full our lives are either of blanks or of blots! Were it not for God’s sparing mercy—we would all go to hell. But this text is a choice cordial; if our hearts are sincere, God will spare us as a father does his son. “I will not execute the fierceness of my anger” (Hos. 11:9).
I know not a greater rock of support, for a fainting Christian than this—God will abate the severity of the law. Though we come short in our duty, he will not fail of his mercy—but will spare us as a father spares his son.
The Difference Between Righteous and the Wicked
“Then you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (Mal. 3:18).
Here follows the close of the chapter, which I shall little more than paraphrase. These words are spoken to the wicked, as learned expositors assert; for though the godly shall at last discern what a difference God makes between them and the wicked, how merciful he is to the one, and how severe to the other—yet this text is chiefly spoken to the wicked: “You have said, It is vain to serve God!” (verse 14) “From now on we will say, ‘Blessed are the arrogant.’ For those who do evil get rich, and those who dare God to punish them go free of harm.” (verse 15). Well, says God, though now you call the proud happy and the godly foolish—yet when I have made up my jewels—then you wicked ones shall see clearly what a difference I make between the righteous, and the wicked; between him who serves God—and him who does not serve him. Then, when it is too late, when the day of grace is past, and the drawbridge of mercy is pulled up—then shall you discern a difference between the holy and the profane!
Doctrine 1: The wicked at present have their eyes shut! “To this day the Lord has not given you minds that understand, nor eyes that see, nor ears that hear!” (Deut. 29:4). Natural men have the sword upon their right eye, “The sword will cut his arm and pierce his right eye! His arm will become useless, and his right eye completely blind!” (Zech. 11:17). They see no difference between the pious and the impious; they imagine that it fares as well with the wicked as with the righteous; nay, it seems to fare better with the wicked. The wicked flourish: “These are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches” (Psalm 73: 12). Whereas those who pray and fast, are oppressed. The wicked bless themselves, and think they are now in a better condition than the righteous; the matter is not to be wondered at, for “the god of this world has blinded the minds of sinners” (2 Cor. 4:4). But at last their eyes shall he opened; and that brings me to the second doctrine.
Doctrine 2: There is a time shortly coming when impious, grossly wicked sinners, shall SEE an obvious difference between the godly and the nicked. The tables will then be turned! “Then you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”
Question: When is the time when the eyes of sinners shall he opened, and they shall see a difference between the righteous and the wicked?
Answer: There are two times when sinners shall see a manifest difference between the righteous and the wicked.
Firstly, at the day of judgment. That will be a day of manifest difference. Things will then appear in their proper colors; the difference will easily be seen between the godly and the wicked; the one being absolved—the other condemned!
Secondly, at the hour of separation, when God shall eternally separate the reprobate from the elect, as a winnowing fan separates the chaff from the wheat—and there shall be a visible discerning between the righteous and wicked. “All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life!” (Matt. 25:32-33, 46). Jesus Christ will take his saints up with him into glory—and will cast the wicked down to hell. He will make up the godly as jewels, and tie up the wicked in bundles to be burned! “Bind them in bundles to burn them” (Matt. 13:30). Now sinners shall be convinced with a vengeance, that the state of the righteous and the wicked is different! They shall see the righteous advanced to a heavenly kingdom, and themselves cast into a fiery prison!
Oh, the dreadfulness of that place of torment! Could men lay their ears to the infernal lake, and but for one hour hear the groans and shrieks of the damned—they would tell us that they now see what before they would not believe—the infinite difference between the righteous and the wicked! In hell is torment upon torment, “blackness of darkness” (Jude 13), “chains of darkness” (2 Pet. 2:4). These chains are God’s decree ordaining, and his power binding men under wrath! And that which accentuates and puts a sting into the torments of the wicked—is that they shall be always scorching in the fire of God’s wrath! “The smoke of their torment ascends up forever and ever” (Rev. 14:11 ).
Christ said of his suffering on the cross, “It is finished!” But sinners shall never say of their sufferings in hell—that they are finished. No! if the damned had lain in hell as many thousand years as there are drops in the sea—eternity has yet to begin!
First use: INFORMATION.
This may inform all wicked men that, no matter how blind they are now—yet at last the veil shall be taken from their eyes! They now count themselves the only happy men, and look upon the people of God with derision. They load them with invectives and curse them with their slanders. Well, the time is not far off—when the wicked shall clearly discern who belong to Christ—and who belong to the devil. As Moses said to Korah and his company, “Tomorrow the Lord will show who are his” (Num. 16:5), so at the day of judgment the Lord will show who are his—and who are not. Nay, sooner than that: at the day of death the wicked shall see how it will be with them for eternity!
Oh, that the eyes of sinners may be speedily opened—that they may see the difference of things, the beauty which is in holiness, and the astonishing madness that is in sin!
Second use: CONSOLATION to the righteous.
Though at present they are slighted, and have the odium of the world cast upon them—yet shortly God will make a visible difference between them and the wicked. As it was with Pharaoh’s two officers, the butler and the baker; at first there seemed to be no difference between them—but in a short while there was difference made. The chief butler was advanced to honor—but the chief baker was executed (Gen. 40:21-22). So though now God’s people are low and despised, and the wicked treat them with boastful insolence—yet when the critical day comes, there shall be a final separation made between the righteous and the wicked. The one shall be dignified—the other damned! “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life!” (Matt. 25:46).
Be encouraged therefore, saints of God—to persist in a course of holiness. Though now you seem to be lowermost—yet in the resurrection you shall be uppermost: “The upright shall have dominion over them in the morning” (Psalm 49: 14). That is, they shall have dominion over the wicked in the morning of the resurrection. They shall then laugh the wicked to scorn (Psalm 52:6). “Then you will see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” Malachi 3:18