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THE DUTY AND ENCOURAGEMENT OF DRAWING
NIGH TO GOD:
A SERMON PREACHED AT THE TOWER, MARCH 20, 1642*.
BY JOS. NORVIC.
JAMES iv. 8.
Draw nigh unto God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your
hands, ye sinners; and purge your hearts, ye double-minded.
I have pitched upon this Text, as fit for both the time and the season: both of them sad and penitential; and such, as call us to devotion and humiliation: both which are the subjects of this scripture.
There is no estate so happy, if it could be obtained, as that of perfect obedience. But, since that cannot be had, partly through the weakness and partly through the wickedness of our nature; for there is a tò adúverov, an impossibility upon it; Rom. viii. 3: the next to it is that of true repentance; which is no other, than a hearty turning from our evil ways, and an endeavour of better obedience.
And this estate is here recommended to us under a double Allegory: the one, of our drawing nigh to God; the other, of our cleansing and purging. In the former whereof, the sinner is represented to us in a remote distance from God: in the other, as foul and nasty, both in his heart and his hands. And the remedy is prescribed for both: of his remoteness, drawing nigh to God; of his foulness, cleansing and purging.
The former is enough to take up our thoughts at this time: wherein ye have A DUTY ENJOINED, and AN INDUCEMENT URGED: the
* Printed in the Quarto, 1641: but as it is said to have been preached by the author as Bishop of Norwich, and he was not appointed to that See till Nov. 15, 1641, it is manifestly dated according to thar mode of computation, now disused, which made March 25 the beginning of the year. I have therefore alterou it to 1642, in order to remove ambiguity. EDITOR. VOL. V.
Dnty, draw nigh to God; the Inducement, God will draw nigh to
1. To begin with the former: the DUTY of drawing nigh implies something, and requires something; it Impliés a Distance, and Requires an Act of Approach.
1. It IMPLIES A DISTANCE: for we cannot be said to draw near, if we were not afar off.
The sinner, therefore, is in a remote distance from God: and that, in respect of both terms; both as of God, and as of the Sin
(1.) Of God, first: the sinner then is aloof off from God.
Not from the presence of his essence and power: so he would be afar of, and cannot; Ilhi her shall I go from thy presence, or whither shall I fee from thy Spirit? if I go up to heaven, thou art there; and if, as our new Translation hath it, I make my bed in hell, (an uneasy bed, God knows, thar is made there,) yet there thou art also. Yea, the devils tliemselves could not have their being but from God; fo: their being is good, though themselves be wicked: that they are spirits, they have from God; that they are evil spirits, and so devils, is from themselves. And their companions, the woeful reprobate souls, would fain be further off from God, if they couid: they shall in vain call to the rocks and mountains to cover them from his presence: he cannot be excluded from any place, that fills and comprehends all things.
How, then, is the sinner aloof off from God? From the Holiness of God; from the Grace and Mercy of God; from the Glory of God.
From the Holiness of God. He is no less distant, than evil is from good; which is no less than infinitely. There is no local distance, but is capable of a measure: for an actual infinite magnitude is but an atheous paradox in philosophy. If it be to the antipodes themselves, on the other side of the earth, we can have a scale of miles, that can reach them; yea, of furlongs, of paces, of feet, of barley corns: but betwixt good and evil, there is no possible, no imaginable proportion.
And, as from the holiness of God, so from the Grace and Mercy of God. He is no less distant, than guilt is from remission; which is also no less than infinitely: for the sinner, as he is and continues such, is utterly uncapable of remission. It is true, that God's mercy is over all his works; but the sinner is none of them. By him were made all things, that were made ; Johni. 3: but God never made the sinner. God made the man; but it is the Devil and man's freewill, that made the simner. Indeed, sin is nothing else, but the marring of that, which God hath made. Sin, therefore, without repentance may never hope for remission: when repentance comes in place, it ceaseth, in God's imputation, to be itself; but, without it, there is no place for mercy. Many sorrows, saith the Psalmist, shall be to the wicked; but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about ; Psalm xxxii. 10. Lo, sorrows and topment are for the wicked; mercy, only for the penitent and faithful.
fatter himself, as our nature is apt to do, Mens sibi sepe mentitur, with a vain hope of better; but he, that is truth itself, hath said it, There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. Tribulation and anguish on every soul that doth evil. He, that hardens his heart, shall fall into evil.
And, as he is aloof off from grace as the way, so from Glory as the end. Here is indeed éve zárua, a great gulf and unmeasurable, betwixt the sinner and heaven. One is not so much as within the ken of the other. Without holiness there is no seeing of God; saith St. Paul; Heb. xii. 14: no, not so much as afar off; unless it be for an aggravation of torment: much less may any unclean thing enter there. Look, as impossible as it is for a man that hath this clog of flesh about him, to leap into the sky; so impossible it is, for the soul that is clogged with sin, ever to come within the verge, within the view of the third heaven, which is the presence of the Lord of Glory.
(2.) This for the distance, in respect of God: will ye see it, in respect of the Sinner himself ? He is aloof off from God in his Thoughts; in his Affections; in his Carriage and Actions. - In his Thoughts, first : which are only evil, continually. He never thinks of God, but when he feels him punishing; and, then, not without a murmuring kind of regret and indignation: no, not even while he swears by him, doth he think of him; God is not in all his thoughts, saith the Psalmist; Psalm x. 4: that is, by a usual Hebraism, God is not at all in his thoughts; for, otherwise, unless it be virtually and reductively, there is no man, whose thoughts are altogether taken up with the Almighty; the sinner’s, never: nay, he strives to forget God; and, when the notion of a God is forced upon him, he struggles against it; and says to the Almighty, Depart from me.
And even this alone shews how he stands in respect of bis Affections. He loves not God; no, not while be promerits him with his favours. It is the title, that St. Paul gives to wicked men, Rom. i. 30. that they are, SEOSEUYETS, God-haters. One would think this should not be incident into a man; for nothing but evil is the object of hatred, and God is absolute goodness itself: yet, such is the cankered and corrupt nature of the sinner, that, apprehending God sub ratione mali, he hates him, who is in himself infinitely amiable; and, as he says in his heart There is no God, so he wishes in his heart there were no God. He is never well therefore, while he hath any thing to do with God; while he is in his company; or in the company of those, that he thinks belong to him, his consciunable servants; and while he is employed in any of his services, he stands upon thorns. Thus the sinner is in his affections aloof off from God.
And, for his Carriage and Actions, they are answerable to both the other. All his life is nothing else, but a departing from the Living God; and, therefore, he must needs, at last, be far off. Look to all his ways, you shall find how diametrically contrary they
are to God's. God's ways are direct ones; the sinner's are oblique and crooked: God hath chalked out his ways in the Ten Words of his Royal Law; the sinner turns his back upon every one of them, and walks point-blank opposite: God commands a holy and religious disposition towards his Majesty; the sinner gives himself over to a wild and loose profaneness; to a lawless course of godlessness; and walks as without God in the world: God commands all reverent and awful usage of his name; the sinner tears it in pieces with his oaths and blasphemies: God commands all dutiful obedience to authority; not for fear only, but for conscience sake: the sinner is ready to say, Disrumpamus vincula ; Let us break their bonds, and cast iheir corils from us: God commands all sobriety, chastity, temperance; the sinner runs into all excess of riot: finally, God commands all charity and justice to our neighbour: the wicked heart is merciless, and cares not upon whose ruins he raiseth his own advantages.
So, every way, both in his Thoughts, Affections, and Actions, the sinner is afar off from God.
Now the moral and civil man hears this, and turns it off, as nothing concerning him. He is as near to God as the best: and indeed, in some sense, he is so. St. Paul could say to his Athenians, He is not far from every one of us: every creature hath equally his living, moving, being from God: but, as for any relation to God, in respect of holiness, of grace and mercy, of glory; this man is as far off as earth is from heaven, yea as heaven is from hell. For, even by nature, we are, the best of us, the sons of wrath. And, if we had no more than even our birth sin, this alone would estrange us sufficiently from God; but, besides this, our actual sins set us off yet further: and, if we had no sins of commission, as we have numberless, for in many things we sin all, yea in all things we sin all; yet those of omission cannot but put us into an utter distance. For, if the moral man could be supposed to do nothing actually against God's will, yet his thoughts are not upon him, being wholly taken up with the world; his affections are not towards him, being wholly set upon the world, and these earthly things; his best actions are not regulated by the royal law of righteousness, but by the rules of civility and common humanity; and the end, which he proposeth to himself in them, is, not the glory of God, but his own honour or advantage.
And, therefore, both the wicked man and the mere moral man are aloof off from God; and, therefore, out of the benefit of God's favour and protection: even as we know that those, which live under the two poles, are out of the comfortable reach of the sunbeams; or those Antichthones, which are on the other side of the globe of the earth, are now, while it is day with us.
Please yourselves, therefore, ye Sinful and Natural Men, with the spiritual condition wherein ye stand: God is no otherwise near to you, but to plague and punish you. Ye can never receive any glimpse of true comfort in your souls, while you so continue; and, therefore, as ye tender your own present and eternal welfare, stir up yourselves, to take this divine counsel of the Apostle, Draw nigh unto God.
2. And so from the Distance Implied, we descend to the APPROACH ENJOINED. Which we shall consider, as it hath respect to the Presence of God; and to the Motion of Man.
(1.) To the Presence of God; in relation to his Ordinances, and to his Spirit.
First, then, we draw nigh un'o God, when we attend upon him in his Worship and Service; for God is where he is worshipped, and where he reveals himself. In this regard, when Cain was banished from the presence of God, it was not so much an exile, as an excommunication. Hence, is all the legal service called, appearing
before the Lord: so David, When shall I appear in thy sight? Psalm xiii. 2; and can find in his heart, for this cause, to envy the sparrows and swallows, as herein happier than himself: thus Jacob, of his Bethel, God was here and I knew it not! Then, therefore, do we draw nigh unto God, when we come into his house; when we present ourselves to him in our prayers, whether private or public; when we attend upon him in his word whether read or preached, in his holy sacraments, in all religious exercises : and those, that do willingly neglect these holy services, they are no other than aloof off from God; and, certainly, whatsoever they may think of it, this estate of theirs is very dangerous: for, if the worst piece of hellish torment be that of loss and utter departing from the presence of God; then, surely, our voluntary elongation of ourselves from his presence must needs be a fearful introduction to an everlasting distance from him. Let our Recusants, whether out of heresy or faction, make what slight account they please of these holy assemblies, surely the keeping away from the Church is the way to keep out of heaven. Auditus aspectum restituit, as Bernard well; “ It is our hearing, that must restore us to the sight of God."
This in relation to his ordinances: that to his Spirit follows. We do then, Secondly, draw nigh to God, when, upon our conversion to him, we become the receptacles and entertainers of his good Spirit. For God is undoubtedly, where he breathes into the soul holy desires, where he works heavenly grace in the heart. This presence follows upon the other, or accompanies it: for, when we do carefully and conscionably wait upon God's ordinances, then his Spirit offers and conveys itself into the heart: these are Vehiculum gratiæ, “ the carriage of grace” into the soul. Never any scorner, or profane person, hath any sense of this presence. This is that, David speaks so passionately of; Oh, cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. It troubled him, as before, to be kept from God's ordinances; but it troubled him a hundred times more, to be cast out from this, more entire, presence. The Church in the Canticles, Cant. v. 6, 7. when she misses her well-beloved, how impatient she is! how she runs about the city!