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HEB. CHAP. IV. VER. 16.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
IN handling heretofore the doctrine of the conversion of a sinner, I declared and shewed you what man's misery was, and what that great hope of mercy is that the Lord proposeth to the greatest sinner in the world. I shewed unto you the means whereby we may be made partakers of Christ; and that was by the grace of faith, which doth let fall all other things in a man's self, and comes with an open and empty hand, to lay hold on Christ, and fill itself with him. I shewed you also the acts of faith as it jusfies.
And now, because it is a point of high moment, wherein all our comfort stands, and in which it lies, I thought. good to resume it all again, so far as may concern our practice, that we may see what the work of God's Spirit is from the first to the last, and the conversion of a sinner from the corruptions and pollutions of the flesh in which he wallowed; and to this purpose have I chosen this place of Scripture, wherein we are encouraged by God's blessed word, that whatever we are, though accursed, and the greatest sinners in the world; and that whatever we want, we should come to God's throne of grace.
And we are to think that whatever sins are or have been committed, and though our sins are never so great, yet that they are not so great as the infiniteness of God's mercy; especially having such, not only an Intercessor, but Advocate to plead the right of our cause, so that
Christ comes, and he pleads payment; and that however our debts are great, and we run far in score, yet he is our ransom and therefore now God's justice being satisfied, why should not his mercy have place and free course? This is the great comfort that a Christian hath, that he may come freely, and boldly to God, because he comes but as for an acquittance of what is already paid. As a debtor will appear boldly before his creditor, when he knows his debt is discharged, he will not then be afraid to look him in the face. Now we may come and say, Blessed Father, the debt is paid, I pray give me pardon of my sins, give me my acquittance. And this is that boldness and access spoken of: "Ina whom we have access by faith."
Now that I may not spend too much time needlessly, come we to the ground and matter in the words: wherein there is,
1. A preparative grace.
2. The act itself whereby we are made partakers of the grace of God.
First, the preparatives are two, the law and the Gospel, and wrought by them.
The first preparative.
1. Wrought by the law. The law works in a time of great need, or rather by the operative power of the law convincing us of sin, we are made sensible of our need and deep poverty: this is the first preparative, for a man to be brought to see he stands in great need of God's mercy, and Christ's blood; so that the sinner cries out, Lord, I stand in great want of mercy. His eyes being thus opened, he is no longer a stranger at home, but he sees the case is wondrous hard with him; so that he concludes, unless God be merciful unto me in Christ, I am lost and undone for ever. This is the first preparative; and till we come to it, we can never approach the throne of grace. The second is,
2. Wrought by the Gospel: I see I stand in great
Rom. chap. 5. ver. 2.
need; but by this second preparative we see a throne of grace set up, and that adds comfort unto me. If God had only a throne and seat of justice, I were utterly undone; I see my debt is extremely great; but the Gospel reveals unto me, that God of his infinite mercy, hath erected a throne of grace, a city of refuge, that finding myself in need, my soul may fly unto.
And now to fit us for this, God's blessed Spirit works by his word, to open unto us the rigour and strictness of the law, and our wants; to enlighten our understandings, that we stand in great need; to win our affection, and open the Gospel and its comforts.
Therefore, first for the time of need, the law reveals unto us our woful condition, to be born in sin, as the Pharisee said, and yet not able to see it. Every man may say in generalities, I am a sinner; yet to say, and know himself to be such a sinner as indeed he is, to stand in such need; that he cannot do. This one would think to be a matter of sense, but unless God's Spirit open our eyes, we can never see ourselves to be such sinners as we are; or else what is the reason that the child of God cries out more against his sin and the weight thereof after his conversion, than he did before? What, are his sins greater or more, than they were formerly? No, but his light is greater; his eyes are opened, and now he sees more clearly what sin is. When the sun shines, and its rays come in, what a number of motes do we discover, which before we saw not? Not as if the sun-beams made them, or the sun raised the dust; no, there are here as many motes, and as much dust flying about, as if the sun shined here: what is the matter then; why this; the sun discovers them to us. So that here is the point, our sins in our souls are as motes in the air, and are not more than they were before conversion; but we cannot see them, till the glorious beams of God's Spirit shine upon us. The sight of sin, and of the danger that comes by it, is the work of God's Spirit. The Spirit discovers sin unto us; "When the spirit cometh, he shall convince the world of
John, chap. 16. ver. S.
sin:" the word is Aéya, the Spirit shall convince them : and the same word is used where faith is said to be "the evidence of things not seen," λeyxoç. Heretofore we had a slight imagination of our sins; but to have our mouth stopped, and to be convinced, is not a work of flesh and blood, but of " God's Spirit." Till we are awakened by his Spirit, we cannot see, nor feel, the mountains and heaps of sins, that lie upon our souls. Thou art dead in sin. Thou art in bondage; and to know it is a work of the Spirit, not of nature. The spirit of bondage, what is that? Why, however we are all bondmen, until the Son hath made us free, in a woful estate, slaves to sin and Satan; yet till God's Spirit convince us, and shew it us, and make us know it, we shall sleep secure, are not afraid, but think ourselves the freest men in the world, and see not this to be a time of need. This therefore is the first preparative, when God brings his people by Mount Sinai: "For you are not come unto the mountain that may be touched, and that burned by fire, nor unto the blackness, and darkness, and tempest:" so, Mount Sinai is made a figure of the law, which begets bondage. Not that mount which might be touched, and that burned with fire, where was the sound of the trumpet, and voice of words, such a sound as never before was heard, nor never will be till one day we shall hear the same. The sound of the trumpet which sounded at the delivery of the lawh, in Exodus, where it is described; for when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, that Moses heard, it was such a noise, a great noise at first, but it grew higher and higher, and at last it came to that height that it was almost incomprehensible; then Moses spake: and what spake he? The Holy Ghost sets not down what he spake in that place. Look in Hebrews: "So terrible was the voice, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake," such a kind of lightning and loud
Heb. chap. 11. ver. 1.
⚫ Rom. chap. 8.
Gal. chap. 4. ver. 25.
i Heb. chap. 12. ver. 21.
d Rom. chap. 3. ver. 19.
f Heb. chap. 12. ver. 18.
k Isaiah chap. 58. ver. 1.
woice this was; the Lord commands such a voice as this: "Cryk aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins." When God shall sound with the voice of the trumpet of his holy word, of his law, and shew thee that thou art a traitorous rebel, and there is an execution gone out against thee, body and goods: when God sounds thus to a deaf ear of a carnal man, then cometh the spirit of bondage of necessity on him, which shews that we have a time of need. The law must have this operation before thou comest to the throne of grace. None will fly to the city of refuge, till the revenger of blood be hard at his heels: nor any to Christ till he sees his want: thus the Lord makes us know our need by turning the edge of his axe towards us. Offenders, when they are brought to the bar at Westminster for treason, have the edge of the axe turned from them; but when they have received the sentence of condemnation, and are carried back to the tower, the edge of the axe is turned towards them. Thus is it here; the law turns the edge of God's axe towards us; and therefore it is said of St. Peter's hearers: "That' they were pricked to the heart." The law puts the point of God's sword to our very breasts as it were, and brings us to see that we stand in great need of a pardon. This is the first preparative; when God enlightens our minds to see our dangerous estate; and then there must of necessity follow fear, and desire to be rid of this condition; for the will and affections always follow the temper of the mind: and hence, when a man hath a false persuasion that he is in a good case, that he is safe and well, what works it but pride, presumption, confidence and security? So on the contrary, when this persuasion appears to be delusion, contrary effects must follow. If a man be in health and jollity, and on a sudden be proclaimed a traitor, that he must lose his life and goods, is it possible it should be thus, and he not wrought on, nor have any alteration? So when news comes from the
1 Acts, chap. 2. ver. 38.