The Puritan Era – Farewell Sermons
Bates’ Farewell Sermon
Dr. Bates’ Forenoon Farewell Sermon Preached August 17, 1662
by William Bates
Hebrews xii. 20, 21, “Now the God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ: to whom, be glory for ever and ever.”
It would give light to these words, if you consider the scope and design of the apostle in this epistle to the Hebrews: the sum of which is, he writes to them that he might animate their spirits against “apostacy from the doctrine of the Gospel;” they were liable to this from you and others, upon this account, because they dare not displease God. I may in this caution aim at myself and other of my brethren, this upon a double account.
I. Partly in respect of those persecutions to which they were exposed: for the Jews were filled with a brutish zeal, for the ceremonies of the Levitical law, and expressed the greatest rancour against those who left Moses to follow Christ. This is the reason why the apostle lays down so many preservatives against their revolting from religion; and he spends one part of this epistle in a most passionate exhortation to perseverance, and doth in the tenth chapter insinuate himself into them: You have already tasted the first-fruits of affliction, vers. 3, 4. “You took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves, that you have in heaven a better and enduring substance.” This is that temper that martyrs have expressed, who have not only parted with their goods, but with their lives for the gospel. Whew they came to the stake, they would not so much as shed a tear, to quench those flames wherein they should ascend to God, as in a fiery chariot “You took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves, that you have a better and an enduring substance.” Thus he insinuates himself, by representing what they had done, to encourage them to perseverance: and partly he fortifies them against backsliding, by those terrible judgments which he threatened against revolters, as you read chap. vi. 7.
2. As they were liable to this apostacy upon the account of persecution, so upon the account of the unsettledness and instability of their own spirits. There were several of those who had given up their names to Christ, who did compare the ceremonies of the law with the purity of the gospel. Now the apostle to secure them from this mixture, his great design is to represent the vanity and infectiveness of all the ceremonial law, and to express and prove the virtue and efficacy of the Lord Jesus his death, which was the substance of all the shadows. And this takes up one great part of his discourse with them.
Now in these two verses he sums up, by way of recapitulation, all that which he had discoursed of at large, and in them you may observe these two things.
1. A description of God, to whom he addresses this prayer.
2. The substance of the prayer itself.
The “description of God,” that he amplifies by these two things: 1. From the attributes and qualities of God (if I may so express it) “Now (saith he) the God of peace.” 2. From the effects of his power and love; “That brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep.” And these titles, they are not here set down by the apostle to adorn his discourse merely as an ornament, but they have all a peculiar efficacy, as to the obtaining of the request which here he makes for them.
I shall begin with the first, the “description of God” from that attribute. “Now the God of Peace,” the title that is used in the Old Testament frequently is this, “the Lord of Hosts,” but in the New he is called “the God of Peace.” There were darker representations of the mercy and love of God, the more full discoveries of his grace were reserved till the coming of Christ. Their discoveries under the Old Testament were but as the day- star, which ushered in the Sun of Righteousness. Now this title of the “God of Peace” imports two things—1. That he is the author of peace, and works it. 2. That he loves and delights in peace.
First, that he is the author of it. And if you consider peace in all its notions and kinds, it is a fruit of God, and that which descends from him. 1. “Peace in nature” is the harmony that is between all the parts of the world, the union that is between the disagreeing elements that is from God; for without him the whole creation would presently disband, and return to its first chaos of confusion. 2.” Civil Peace,” which is among the societies of men, that which is so amiable and lovely, and which needs no other foil to commend it, and set off its luster than the miseries and cruelties of war—this peace comes from God likewise. Every rash hand is able to make a wound, or to cast a fire-brand, but it is only the God of Peace that is able to heal breaches, and to allay those storms that are in a nation. You know those showers, which render the earth fruitful, descend from heaven, from God; so all the counsels of peace descend from above. The fiery exhalations ascend from the earth counsels of war and disturbance proceed from the devilish hearts of men. Or, 3. If you consider that “Rational Peace,” which is in the spirits of men; that is, when the understanding exercises a coercion and restraint over our licentious appetites, when all our inferior faculties are under the empire and conduct of reason—this proceeds also from God. For since the fall, there is a great deal of tumult, many riots and disorders in the soul of a man. Reason hates a bad guide, and our appetites, those are evil instruments, and so many times surely reason from its regular actings. But, 4. Much more if you consider “Spiritual Peace,” that peace doth not only import an agreement of a man within himself, but the agreement of the soul with God. This is the fruit of the spirit, and it is only God that is able to convey this peace to us. And upon a particular account this title is given to him by way of eminency and property; as,
1. He is alone able to allow and dispense this peace unto us, for all our sins are injuries committed against him, against his crown and dignity; all the arrests of conscience are made in the name of God, and therefore it is only he that can speak peace. As in the civil state, it is an act of supremacy to give a pardon; only he that can condemn is able to speak pardon; so it is our God that is our judge. Provoked and incensed by us, he hath a judicial power to cast body and soul into hell-fire; is alone able to speak peace, and pass a pardon for us in the court of heaven; and this is experienced by a wounded spirit It is just with such a person as with a malefactor, who stands condemned at the bar; he cannot receive encouragement from any of his spectators till the judge speak peace unto him. So if an angel from heaven should come and speak to a wounded spirit, it were impossible unless God did order, command, and dispense it, that the spirit should receive any peace, because our sins are immediately committed against him.
2. He is alone able to reveal and discover it. There is nothing harder in the world than to calm and quiet a disturbed conscience. It must be the same power that makes light to spring out of darkness that must cause a cheerful serenity in a dark and disconsolate soul. I know there is nothing more easy than that “false peace” which is so universal in the world; for the moat among us cheat themselves with presumption, instead of peace with God, and security, instead of peace with conscience; but that peace, which is solid and true, can only be revealed by God himself. We have an instance of this in David, Psal. li. although Nathan had told him from God, “Thy sin is pardoned yet notwithstanding he saith, “Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.” He still addresses himself to God that he would cause him to hear the voice of pardon and reconciliation; for his soul could not be quiet by the voice of the prophet. There is so much infidelity in the soul of a man, that when he comes to take a view of his sins in all their bloody aggravations, only the spirit of God himself is able to allay the terrors of the conscience; and this he doth by an overpowering light, when he doth, in an imperative and commanding manner, silence all the doubts of the soul, and reestablish it in peace with God. Certainly, be that will but consider the terrors, the fain tings, the paleness of a wounded conscience, when you shall see a person disrelish all the things of this world upon this account, “fearing lest God is his enemy,” when all discourses that are addressed to him are ineffectual, and but like warm clothes to a dead carcass, cannot inspire any heat into him-—this shews only God is able to reveal peace. So Job, “If he hide his face, who is able to be at peace?” There needs no other fury to complete the misery of a man than his own accusing conscience. Conscience is a verier devil than the devil himself, and able more to torment and lash the creature. Therefore, if that be once awakened, it is only God, to whose tribunal conscience is liable, which is able to speak peace to the soul. Now you see in what respect this title, “the God of Peace,” is attributed to him as he is the author and worker of it.
2. As he loves and delights in peace. This is that which is so pleasing to him, that he adopts those into the line of heaven, who are peacemakers, far they shall be called the children of God, Mat. v. 6. This characterizes persons to be his children, to be allied to him. God he only delights in the reflection of his own image; for those things that we admire in the world, and delight in, do not affect his heart. “He delights not in the strength of the horse, he takes no pleasure in the legs of a man: the Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.” Nothing attracts his eye and heart, but his own similitude and resemblance; and therefore where he sees peaceable dispositions, that is that which endears the soul to him, and makes it amiable in his eyes. You may judge of his delight in peace by this. It is that grace which in an especial manner prepares us for communion with him: for we can never really honour or enjoy him, unless we bring to him those dispositions which (if I may so speak) are in himself. And therefore it is no wonder that those have little peace of conscience, who make so little conscience of peace. You know when God appeared to Elijah, he did not appear in the storm, nor in the fire, but in the small still voice, and when Elisha was transported with anger, he was fain to allay that passion by music, that so he might be prepared for the holy motions of the spirit, he called for an instrument, and then the spirit moved it him. I bring it for this end, to shew, “how God delights in peace,” and he will only maintain communion with those that are of calm and peaceable spirits. So much way as we give to anger, so much proportionably do we let in the devil, and cast out the God of peace.
Now, the reason why this title is given to God, is upon a double account partly with respect to the “blood of the everlasting covenant,” which made peace between God and us, partly with respect to the covenant itself, which is founded in that blood.
1. In respect of the “blood of the everlasting covenant.” For it was the blood of Christ that hath sprinkled God’s throne and made peace in heaven. You shall read therefore when Christ came into the world, it is said, (Luke ii. 14.) that the heavenly host appeared and sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,” &c. Since the fall God and man are enemies, there is a reciprocal enmity between God and man: God hates the creature as it is unholy, and man hates God as he is just, the avenger of sin, the author of the law. Now Christ was the umpire that composed this difference, he was God and man in one person, and so being allied to both, he was a fit person to reconcile both. He was (as Job speaks) a day’s-man between us. He hath paid every farthing that was due; for he did not compound with God, but paid the utmost that was due to him. He it is that hath reconciled us to God by the power of his spirit, in changing and renewing our natures, and creating in us those dispositions which are like to God; so that his blood is the foundation of this peace. And now, God appears to us not as a consuming fire, but as a refreshing light, full of calmness, serenity, and peace towards us. Christ hath brought more honour to God ,by his obedience, than we brought dishonour by our transgression; and therefore without any injury to God, he might be at peace with us. You know all our sins were but the acts of finite creatures, and only infinite in regard of the object against whom they were committed. But the blood of Christ was of infinite value in regard of the subject; for, he was God, and the enriching union of the Deity conveyed such worth and value to his blood, that he was able to appease God, and not only to free us from condemnation, but to make us the favorites of God. We are not only pardoned, but preferred upon the account of his blood. He is the God of peace with respect to the blood of Christ, which is the purchase of peace; so with respect to the covenant which is made between God and us, “Through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” There are three sorts of covenants amongst men; some are covenants of friendship and amity, some are covenants of trade and commerce, and some are covenants of assistance and help. Now all these qualifications meet in the covenant which is made between God and believers: it is a covenant of peace and friendship, for now we stand upon terms of amity with God. Those who were strangers and enemies are now reconciled. And there between God and us perfect peace; there is a league (as the scripture speaks) between God and the creature. It is the covenant of trade, there is now a way opened to heaven, we may now ascend to God in duties of holiness, and God descends to us by the excitations of his grace and influences of joy. And it is a covenant of assignee, for he promises not only to give us the reward of the covenant, but to secure unto us the condition, he promises to enable us to discharge the condition of faith and repentance. Now upon this account of that covenant which is founded in the blood of Christ, he is the God of peace to his people.
1st Use, is by way of conviction. This may discover us how distant their temper is from God, who are enemies to peace. We un-man ourselves. We unchristian ourselves so far as we are apposite to this blessed temper of peace. Certainly as disturbed water cannot make any reflection unto us of that face that looks into it; so often our spirits are disturbed by animosities, exasperations, beats and divisions, it is impossible for us to see the image of God, as he is the God of peace. And certainly there is no more doleful consideration in the world than this, That man whom God made so sociable a creature, who hath all the engagements and endearments laid upon him, which may cause him to live in peace and gentleness towards those who are of the same nature with turn; yet that in the fierceness of our hearts, should exceed those of the most savage creatures. Man comes into the world naked, and altogether unarmed, as if he were designed for the picture of peace; but could you look into the hearts of men, you would find there such tumults, such divisions, such seeds of enmity against their fellow-creatures, that tigers and lions are calm and peaceable in comparison of them. Now how is this distant from the temper of the God of peace? It is very strange to consider that when promises are made to bury all differences as rubbish under the foundation, that nevertheless the great work of many persons should be only to revive those former animosities, to make those exasperations fresh and keen upon their own spirits; but is this to imitate the God of peace? These to promote divisions and disturbances amongst us, clothe their enemies with the livery of shame and reproach, that so they may be baited by their fury, that make it their design to represent that party which they think is dissonant from them, with the most odious appearances (you know this is the old art) and those showers of calumnies which are in the world, they usually precede the storm of persecution. The devil was first a liar, and then a murderer; and those who are of this seed, they follow his art. In the primitive times, all the persecutions of the heathens arose from the reproaches of Christians: so it is now. It is an easy thing to blast the name of those persons, who are designed for ruin. But if the contending parties would consider, (if I may call one party contending, which is only liable to penalties, and is resolved to bear them patiently) how unlike this is to that God of peace, methinks it should allay the rancour that is in men’s spirits, and make an atonement between all the differences and divisions that is amongst them.
2. If only peace come from God, you may from hence take a trial of that peace that is within you, (for hitherto I have been only discoursing of civil peace) whether it be an effect of this God of peace. I know nothing more common in the world than presumption; there is a false peace which doth not arise from the knowledge of a man’s happiness, but from the ignorance of this misery. Peace, which is only like a torch to shine in the night, or like players that glitter only by torch-light: so is the false peace men cherish in their bosom, merely upon this account, because they do not bring -their souls to the light of the word they never had it from this God of peace, because,
1. God never speaks peace to a soul, but in the way of holiness and obedience. And therefore you shall find it is the counsel of the scripture, “Acquaint thyself with God, and be at peace.”
Our peace is found in the way of duty; and there are none who are more blessed with the peace of conscience, than those who with the greatest fervour, frequency, and delight, maintain communion with God in holy duties. For, a friendship among men is cherished and preserved by visits and conversations, so our peace with God is preserved by those visits we make to heaven in our prayers.
2. That peace that comes from God, always causes in us a war with sin, for God’s covenant with us is offensive and defensive, and therefore it is impossible any person should have true and solid peace, that waking tranquility of soul, which is the reward of holiness and obedience, that entertains sin; for every sin thou dost wilfully commit, it is an act of hostility against God, it is that which makes him thine enemy, and makes thee an enemy to him. As Jehu said, “What peace, so long as the whoredom of thy mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many?” So what peace can there be, so long as thou dost indulge thyself in sin, and make it thy business to gratify thy outward senses, though it be to the displeasure of God? It is the greatest mercy in the world to rob such persons of their peace, and to discover to them their danger; they are only capable of true peace, by the knowledge of that which is false. Therefore bring yourselves to this trial; whether or no doth that peace which now yon please yourselves in, cause in you an eternal hatred of sin? Doth it set you at a distance from your most beloved lusts; then it is that peace that spring from God. The greatest part of the world are in at state of war with God, though they do not feel the effects of that war. “True indeed, God doth not always draw the sword, either of famine, pestilence, or war against a nation, and yet they may be acting in a most hostile way against God: so for a person, God may not blast thy estate, or send diseases upon thy person, or raise a tumult in thy conscience, and make a conspiracy of thy thoughts and passions against thy peace. Thou mayest be quiet within, and yet have war with God; because, as in the world there may be a peace, where there is no peace, the war may still continue, though there is truce between two princes: or father, there is not a truce between God and the sinner, but as a town that is besieged for many days, may not feel the battery of their enemy, because he is undermining them to blow them up at once, so God doth not many times make his battery against sinners, both he is undermining them, and the fall at the last will be dreadful, if there be not a composition.
Use 2. By Way of exhortation, let me press you all to follow peace, it is a duty which the gospel enjoins with the greatest force of words and expressions. The apostle when he is to seal up his affection to them, he doth it with that prayer, 2 Thess. iii. 16, “Now the God of peace himself give you peace always, by all means.” What strange expressions! First, he gives you: hear the title of the God of peace, and then he saith (himself) “the God of peace himself.” There is a great deal of force in that Word. Peace is so excellent a blessing, and there is such an abhorrency in our corrupt nature to it, that it is only the Lord himself that is able to effect it. As if the apostle had said, the Lord must bow the heavens, he must come down himself to create peace among you; and to express the greater vehemency of his desire, he saith, give you peace always, by all means. So another Scripture, “pursue peace, follow peace with all men;” a word that imports our pursuit after it, though it runs from us. This is the strain and tenor of the gospel, and this becomes you as Christians. When Christ came to purchase our peace, he came as a Lamb, an innocent and meek Creature: behold the Lamb of God. When the holy Spirit descended to seal the privilege of peace to us, he descended in the form of a dove; a guile-less creature, in whom there is no rancor nor bitterness. What a strong engagement should this be upon all of us to pursue and promote peace? And for your encouragement consider…
1. That in the times of the gospel, all the promises do as it were empty themselves into this blessing, the blessing of peace. Thus Isa. xi. 6. you shall find there a gracious promise respecting the times of the gospel. “The wolf also shall dwell with the Iamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them; and the cow and the bear shall feed, their young ones shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” That which I observe from thence, is this, that God here promises to cause an universal peace and unity under the gospel; though it be as difficult as to persuade the most disagreeing natures to a peaceable cohabitation. For here the Scripture instances in those creatures between which there is the most natural, and, therefore, the most fierce animosities. The Lord will reconcile men, though their differences be never so great. What is too hard for the God of peace to effect? Is not God of infinite power, of infinite love? Then it should quicken us to pursue peace. 1 By prayer to him, because he is able to effect it; certainly that God that was able to bring order into the world, when it was a mere lump and mass of confusion, is able to bring peace, and to unite our spirits.
And it is observable, the greater our differences and divisions are, the more will the power of this God appeal in reconciling them. It is said in the Psalms, that “God’s throne is in darkness;” that is, his ways of providence are very difficult for us to trace and find out; and, therefore, when our divisions are at the highest, he is able in one word to allay the storm. This should encourage us in prayer. This is the course of God to glorify himself, by putting a stop to the greatest troubles when nearest to us, and to work out one contrary by another. To give you some instances, that so we may encourage our faith, and ‘quicken our prayer to God for this blessing, consider how still God hath made “difficulties the way for enjoyment.” For instance, the promise that Sarah should be the mother of a child; but he made way for that by her dead womb, for all that numerous progeny which like the stars of the sky descended from her. That he first maimed Jacob, and then gave him the blessing. He brought Joseph from the prison to a princely palace. First David was harassed with troubles, and then his head was decked with the imperial crown. So if you look into the kingdom of Christ, who would have thought that a few fishermen should have advanced the empire of Christ in the world? Had you lived to have seen those despicable beginnings, when a few unlearned men were the heralds and preachers of Christ, how would this have caused you to fail and sink in your spirits! And yet the gospel hath been preached in all parts of the world, and that by a few fishermen. The providences of God are like those plated pictures, if you look one way upon them, there is the appearance of a serpent; if you look on the other side, there is the appearance of an angel. So here, many times God is pleased to suffer exasperations to go very high, that so his power may appear more eminent in the composure of them. He it is that enables the faith of his people to draw water out of the rock, when the fountain is dry; that makes meat to come out of the eater (as in Samson’s riddle) that is able to bring a peaceable harmony out of devouring differences, and therefore it should quicken our prayers to him.
2. To make us more serious in our endeavours after peace. Consider what a dishonour it is to the gospel, that those that profess themselves sons of the same God, members of the same Christ, temples of the same spirit, should be at deadly jars one with another. It is strange and unnatural that lilies should prove thorns to one another; that those who are saints in pretense, should bedevils in practice to one another; that God’s diamonds should cut one another; this is very strange; yet thus it is. But now especially it is most sad, when religion, which should restrain and bridle our passions, is made fuel and incentives of them: how far distant is it from the counsel of the apostle, Rom. xiv. 10. where he speaks concerning their lesser differences, “one values one day above another, another esteems every day alike?” What’s his counsel? he speaks as a person that was filled with bowels and compassion. Oh, saith he, let not him that doth not esteem the day judge; him that doth; “for we shall all stand before the judgment seat, of Christ.” There we shall appear all upon a level, stand upon equal ground, and receive our final doom from him; this therefore should calm our spirit. Why may there not be some differences in judgment, without division in affection? For it is as impossible that all judgments should be of the same extent, as all our faces to be of the same colour and figure. Therefore consider what an injury it is to our profession, how doth it obscure the glory of God, and luster of our religion?
3. Doth not the public enemy rejoice over us, I mean the papists? Do they not warm themselves at the sparks of our divisions? for you know the old maxim of divide and reign: therefore it should compose our spirits, and quicken us to labour after union. Unmortified lusts are thence, whence all wars and enmities spring in the world. The apostle Paul when he would compose their differences, he doth not lay down rules to decide their controversies, but to correct their secret passions, pride, self-seeking, revenge &c. this being the seed of all disturbances in the church. And although these lusts may not be conspicuous and visible to the eyes of men, yet they are certainly the fuel of our distempers.
The sum of all is this, those that have the spirit of God, they cannot but mourn and be sensible of these divisions. I know a great part among us are unconcerned. Some rejoice, those that are rather buried in the affairs of the world, and in cumbered with much business, or those that are steeped in the pleasures of sense, are altogether unaffected with these things, stand as neuters, disregarding all events; but the saints of God cannot but mourn over them, when our divisions hinder the progress of the gospel, and are serviceable to nothing but the kingdom of darkness. Therefore I beseech you let what hath been spoken quicken you in your prayers to God, to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, (that is the least effect of our love and desires after peace) and by all endeavours to labor to bring back peace to us that we may see that prophesy fulfilled in our time, that “the Lord should be one, and his name one amongst us.”