Mr. Case’s Sermon Preached August 17, 1662Farewell Sermons of the Ejected Puritans
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Case’s Farewell Sermon Preached August 17, 1662
Revelation 2:5, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent and do thy first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove the candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”
Christ here prescribes precious physic for the healing of this languishing church of Ephesus; it is compounded of a threefold ingredient:—
1. Self-reflection, “Remember…from,” &c.
2. Holy contrition and humiliation before the Lord, “Repent.”
3. Thorough reformation, “Do thy first works.”
I left the last time upon the second of these, namely, “Repentance;” and that which I did upon this part of Christ’s advice was, not so much to open to you the nature of repentance (which is not so proper for this place), as to give in a catalogue or list of such special sins, as Christ doth expect that all his people in these three nations should lay to heart, and repent of before the Lord. I gave you in a list of eleven special sins that we should repent of, and humble ourselves for before the Lord.— As,
1. Omission of duty, prayer, reading the word, meditation, &c.: anything will be for excuse to lay by duties, and we are secretly glad of an excuse.
2. Remissness of duty. In things of the world we are all in all, and all in every part; a man cannot thrust another thought into us; but in prayer, how many things are we doing!
3. Hypocrisy, How unlike are we at home to what abroad? and in company to what in secret?
4. Pride. In apparel, houses, parts, blood, birth-right, yea of grace itself, of humility, ministers, ordinances, &c.
5. Covetousness. Never did covetousness invade the professing party as now: the more goods men get, the less good they do.
6. Sensuality. Voluptuousness, wantonness, Christians let themselves loose to the creature; lay out their affections on things below, as if part in the serpent’s curse as well as their own.
7. Animosities and divisions among Christians. Many have been active to kindle, but few to quench divisions.
8. Uncharitable censuring one another.
9. Formality in duty. Witness, 1. Unprepared coming. 2. Unsuitableness of spirit to, and 3. Want of reflection after, duty; how we have sped, what we have got; Sabbaths, sacraments, come and go; Monday morning finds us the same as before.
10. Misspent Sabbaths, some profane, others idle away the sabbath, &c.
11. Neglect of our Bibles in our families and closets. I pray God it forego not some great evil coming upon you, as before the massacre in Germany it was observed, &c. I proceed.
12. That want of mutual forbearance among Christians. Alas! Christians know not how to bear one with another in the least kind of measure. Oh the short-spiritedness among Christians! they cannot bear one another’s burdens, they cannot bear with one another. It is very sad that we that stand in need of so much forbearance, should express so little to our brother. It is an argument “we know not of what spirit we are of,” as Christ told his disciples. Ob, bow unlike to that God whom we profess to be our God! he is long-suffering, patient, full of goodness, gentleness, mercy, &c. We can bear nothing, we can suffer nothing one from another.
13. Our great murmuring against reformation and reformers. “God hath heard the voice of our murmuring.” Exod. ii.6. As if there had been nothing that would have undone us but reformation; and truly God seems to speak such a word as that was, (Num. vii. 5.) in displeasure and anger, &c. “I will make your murmuring to cease I will take away the cause of your murmuring; I would have reformed you, and you would not be reformed.” As Christ to Jerusalem, “I would, but you would not,” Mat. xxiii. The time may come when we would, and God will not; when we shall cry, at other lords have had dominion over us, &c. Isa. xxvi. 13. but thou, Lord, set up thou thy government; rule thou over us; and God may say, No, it is too late; “I would have healed you, and you would not be healed.”
14. The great neglect of the care of our families. Truly it is not the least sin that threatens the removal of our candlestick. How generally have the duties of religion been let fall in our families, reading the word, singing psalms, &c. Time was, when one could not have come through the streets of London on an evening in the weekday, but we might hear the praises of God, singing of psalms: now it is a stranger in the city, even upon the Lord’s own day. Oh! how have governors of families castoff the care of the souls that God hath committed to them? How careless are they of the souls of their yoke-fellows that lie in their bosom, of their children, the fruit of their loins, masters of their servants, &c. And in the meantime are ready to stand up and justify themselves with the boldness, of Cain, to say to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Am I the keeper of my yokefellows’, children’s, servants’ souls? Yes, thou art the keeper, &c. God hath put them into thy trust, and if they perish through thy fault, u they may die in their sins, but their blood shall be required at thy hand.” God will say to thee as he did to Cain, “Thy brother’s blood crieth in my ear.”
15. Our “indifference as to matter of faith and doc-trine that we have not been more zealous for the truth of Christ, that great trust and depositum which hath been committed to us. We have accounted it no matter of what opinion or judgment men be in these latter times. It is an universal saying, “No matter what judgment men be of, so they be saints:’ as if “truth in the judgment,” did not go to the making up of a saint, as well as holiness in the will and affections: as if Christ had not come into the world to bear witness of the truth, which was his great design: as if it were no matter, if God have the heart, so the devil be in the head: as if no matter that be full of darkness, so the heart be for God.
16. The “unsuitableness of our conversation to the gospel of Christ.” It is the only thing the apostle puts the Philippians in mind of, and commits to their care, Phil. i. 27and truly in these unhappy days it hath been the only thing men have neglected and despised: how little care that our conversations should honour the gospel, &c.
17. “Our living by sense, and not by faith.” Surely (my brethren) among all the sins in England that the people of God have cause to be humbled for, there is not any whereby we have more provoked God than by that in of our unbelief. Murmuring and infidelity have been our two great sins, for which, it is the wonder of God’s mercy that he hath not caused our carcasses to fall in the wilderness: he may take up that complaint of us that he did of Israel, Num. xiv. 22. “Because all those men which have seen my glory and my miracles which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice, surely they shall not see the land, &c. And this is the lamentation we may take up, that truly to this very day we have not faith enough to carry us from one miracle to another, from one deliverance to another, from one-salvation to another: let one deliverance pass over our head, and no sooner one wave rises higher than another, but we are ready to cry out with Peter,” Lord, save me, I perish.”
And well were it if our fears did issue into tears, and cries after Christ: we rather are ready to cry out, as those in Ezek. xxxvii. 11. “Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost, we are cut off for our parts.” We are a people that never knew how to honour God in any distress God hath brought us into; never learnt to glorify God by believing: if we cannot see him, we cannot believe him. Surely that which God hath done for us in such a succession of miracles, it might well at least have been found for our faith, during our sojourning. In our pilgrimage we might have learned by all that we have seen, to believe God: we might have made experience to be the food of our faith: and upon all the providences of divine power, wisdom, and goodness, we might have discoursed ourselves into belief, as David, 1 Sam. xvii. 37. “The Lord hath delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.” So Paul, “He hath delivered, and doth deliver, we trust he will also deliver.”
Oh, my brethren, we dishonour God, and starve our faith, by forgetting our experience, while we proclaim by our own unbelief, that we have a God that we dare not trust. If we perish we may thank ourselves for it; surely if we miscarry, that account may be given for it, that we find, Mat. xiii. 58. “Because of our unbelief.” There is a rest of God before us: if we do not enter in it us because of our unbelief.
18. “Want of sympathy with the bleeding, gasping, groaning, dying, churches of Jesus Christ.” They have been in great afflictions round about; have called to us, pity me! Oh pity me my friends! for the hand of God is gone out against me. We cannot look any way but we see cause of bitter mourning; but we have not laid the blood of Germany, Lithuania, Piedmont, &c. to heart; therefore God may justly lay it to our charge. Want of fellow-feeling, with our brethren in their afflictions, it is a kind of persecution, a kind of being accessary to their sufferings. That we have not mourned, wept, bled with them; that we have not lien in the duet, smote on our thighs, &c. God may justly say to us, as Amos vi. 6, 7, “They shall go captive with the first that go captive, because they are not grieved for the afflictions of Joseph.” The word in the Hebrew signifies, none of them have been sick for the afflictions of Joseph. Ob, my brethren! When did we go to bed sick for the afflictions of God’s people abroad? When did their miseries cost us an hour’s sleep? or a meal’s meat? When did we lie in the dust, and cry out, Ah Lord! their glory! Because we have not shed tears for their blood, God may justly say, The next turn of persecution shall be yours, because you have not been afflicted in the afflictions of my people, &c.
19. “Our grievous unsensibleness of God’s dishonour.” Religion never suffered the like as it hath done these latter days, by the pride and hypocrisy of some pretenders to it God’s name hath been thereby blasphemed by an evil and hypocritical generation, the people of God have lien under the greatest reproaches and contempt that ever any did under the heavens; and yet all this while we have not been concerned in it, carried ourselves as if unconcerned in the reproaches of religion: blasphemously reflected upon the name of God, who in these times of blasphemy, have gone in secret, lien in the dust, and cried with holy Joshua, “What wilt thou do unto thy great name?” Josh. vii. 9. We have not laboured to preserve in our own souls, or stir up our brethren, to a holy sense of God’s name, as those primitive saints, Mai. iii. 16. Where are they that have been affected with, and afflicted for the sufferings of the name of God? O consider how little is God and religion beholden to us for our tear$ sighs, or groans? What is become of that child-like spirit that was wont to possess the spirits of God’s people? It is perished, and with it, without special timely repentance, we shall perish also.
20. “That epidemical sin of self-seeking, and self- pleasing.” Oh, my brethren, we may revive that complaint of the apostle, “all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ,” Phil. ii. 21. This, this hath been the source of all our miseries. While some had power in their hands to have done great things for God, what did they do, but neglect the interest and trust in their hands, and fell a feathering their own nest, and building to themselves house and names, that they thought would continue forever: and to divide the spoil among themselves, as if their own game they hunted, and others in inferior station began to divide, and every one began to snatch, as if the dust of the earth would not serve every one for a handful: and in the meantime a sea of error hath been ready to over-turn us. Yea, all men seeking to be pleased, not to please: whereas our duty is to study to please, not to be pleased, &c.
You see in all this I have not mentioned one of those gross profanenesses, that stare heaven in the face, as drunkenness, filthy and abominable whoredom, fornication poured out in every place, horrible blasphemy, contempt of God and religion, profanation of God’s sabbath, &c. because I speak now to those that are professors. I have given in a catalogue; of the sins of those that profess the name of Christ, that relate to Christ by a special engagement and relation: these have been the sins of God’s family. And if we would have God repent of the evil of punishment, we had need to make haste to . repent of the evil of sin. We have been a long time in sinning, we had need be a long time in repenting. I tell you, Christians/we have been these late twenty years doing nothing else but sinning against God; and should God let us live twenty years more, it would be too little to weep for the procreation thereof. Learn to lay these and other sins to heart, that God may never lay them to your charge.
The third advice Christ gives here for the prevention of the removal of her candlestick, is reformation, “do thy first works.” Reformation indeed is a fruit and evidence of such repentance: repentance is nothing else but the breaking of the heart for and from sin. I have spoken of it merely as it is the contrition of their soul for sin: I come to speak a word of the other part, as it consists in “turning to God, and doing our first works.”
This is the method God prescribes his people, Lam. iii. 39. “Wherefore doth a living man complain, &c.” under God’s afflicting hand? Instead of reforming, men are prone to fall a complaining; not only naturally as irrational creatures may, under some pinching extremity; but sinfully, i.e. when their natural grief is let out in a distempered and inordinate manner; when natural groans are accompanied with, unscriptural affections, which vents itself,
I. Sometimes upon the affliction, as if but our intolerable burden in the world, and God must needs lay that upon them. Lam. i. 12. and iii. 1 and v. 10.
II. Sometimes of instruments. Thus Esau complaint of his brother; u is he not rightly called Jacob, a supplanter?” of his father, “hast thou but one blessing, &c. Gen. xxvii. 3, 4. of any thing rather than of himself. He doth not say, “Am not I rightly called Esau? What a wretch am I that have despised and sold my blessing. Mostly we complain of that which deserves no blame, the guilty of the innocent, 1 Kings xviii. 7. Isa. x. 5. Jer. viii. or we pour too much upon second causes, or complain of instruments, not of ourselves, or of wicked men, not of wickedness; of their cruelty, more than of their blasphemy; of their injuries against us, more than as God’s enemies; or more of revenge in our complaint? than murmuring: our complaints concerning their afflicting us, not accompanied with our prayers for their conversion, &c.
III. Sometimes of God himself, not as one of his children, who complains…
1. To God, not of God: thus “Christ, my God, my God, &c”
2. With a holy confidence, “my God, my God,” two words of faith, for one word of fear, &c.
3. In his complaints, is very tender of God’s glory, afraid to think or speak a hard or uncomely thought or word of God.
4. Carefully distinguishes between what God doth, and what man doth; observes and separates the unrighteousness of men from the righteousness of God.
5. With humble enquiry what cause may be of his dispensation, Job x. 2. and xxxiv. 31.
6. With a disposition to bring up his will to God, not that God should bring down his will to him; if it be possible let this cup pass; however glorify thy name, provide for thy own glory, and do with me as thou pleasest, but as a sinful creature, sometimes ready to call Providence in question, Ezek. viii. 12, or to break forth and to charge God foolishly, either of too much severity, Ezek. xviii. 2. 25, or of too long delay, Isa. xlix. 14, or their mournings are turned into murmurings, Num. xiv. 27- or their complaints are mixed with unbelief: Psal. lxxviii. 19. or of their punishment, not of their sin; and nothing will satisfy them but deliverance.
Now this is not the way; for this way of complaining is,
1. Fruitless, a house on fire is not quenched with tears. Murmuring will not scatter the clouds.
2. Causeless: Thou hast thy life for a prey, Jer. iv. 5, 6What, a living man, and complain, and that when it is for the punishment of his sins? This kind of complaining is causeless: if you compare sin and punishment together, there is no proportion: for sin is a transgression against an infinite God; punishment but an affliction upon the finite creature: Sin is an evil against God; punishment an evil against the- creature: Or if you consider what sin is in its nature, it is a contrariety to God’s nature (God is holy, sin impurity.) A contradiction God’s will: God saith, “Do this;” the sinner saith, “I will not.” God saith, “Do not this abominable thing which I hate:” The sinner saith, “I will;” It is the transgression of God’s pure and holy law: Nay it is a practical blaspheming against all the names of God, the rape of God’s mercy, and the dare of God’s justice, the challenge of God’s power. Sin gives the lie to God’s truth and the fool to God’s wisdom; and what can sin do more, than to take away God’s good name? God’s being? and that sin would do. Or, it is causeless if you consider against whom sin is, i. e. God himself, who is a jealous God. Now a sinner takes another lover into his bosom before his eyes; yea, he is a holy, righteous, omnipotent, almighty, living God. Thoughts of this may well keep us from complaining. Indeed, whatever our affliction be, we have as much cause to give thanks, as to mourn; if you consider, whatever the punishment be, it might be worse; or do but look well into it, you will see more mercy than affliction, Psal. cxix. 75.
3. Sinful. There is in it, 1. Unthankfulness; while we complain of one affliction, we over-look a thousand mercies: whereas true grace is ingenuous, and can see a little kindness mingled with a great deal of severity. The church of God in captivity comparing her afflictions with her mercies, breaks forth, “It is of the Lord’s mercy that we are not consumed,” Lam. iii. 22. Blessed be God, it is not yet so bad, but it might be worse, 2 Cor. iv. 8. “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed though laid wait for, beset on every side, put to strive and struggle, yet we escape; God gives an issue in the temptation. “We are perplexed but not in despair:” we are not so helpless that we know not how to turn us: we have a God to go to as bad as things are, the Lord’s name is a strong tower: “persecuted, but not forsaken,” we are shaken out, but not to shivers; persecuted, but not conquered, our God hath not quite forsaken us. “Cast down, but not destroyed,” Psal. cxviii. 13. we are cast down, but not cast off. So Luther, “they may thrust me back, but they cannot thrust me down: they may crush me, but they cannot kill me, or, they may kill me, but they cannot hurt me: they may shew their teeth, but they cannot devour.” Is it a fever? It might have been eternal flames: Is it scarcity? it might be universal famine.
Is it the danger of losing the gospel? it is the mercy of God it is not done already. Are we in captivity? We might have been in hell. Are we in prison? It might have been Tophet. The Lord hath chastened me sore, but he hath not given me over unto death,” Psal. cxviii.
18. Though men have lost their bowels, God’s compassions fail not; God is as faithful as ever; he hath taken away some of our mercies, but he hath not taken away all; be hath left us more than he hath taken: They are new, they are renewed every morning. When old mercies are spent, God sends us new; ho is the Father of Mercies, begets new mercies every moment. Who can number or measure his mercies of one day? Whatever our fears are, O blessed be God, he loads us with mercies.
Now the complainer overlooks all these, there is much thankfulness in it, and that is a kind of atheism. “She knew not that I gave her corn and wine,” &c. Hos. ii. 8.
2. Pride—only by pride comes contention. Men never quarrel with God about their condition, but it is out of the pride of their heart. Proud man would feign sin, and not hear from God; would take liberty to sin, but would not have God take liberty to punish, Isa. viii. 3. God must take notice of our duties, not of our sins. God shall hear of it, if he take not notice of our prayers; but it shall be by complaining if tie take notice of our sins. A proud man, whatever he hath, it is no more than his due, and whatever he wants, God is his debtor, Hos. vi. 14.
The want of a compliment undoeth him in the midst of honor. If we want but one. thing our hearts would have, surely nature is proud and ready to pick quarrels with God on the least occasion: nay, if he will not give that mercy we would take ail, &c.
3. Rebellion—God strikes him for sin, he strikes against God, Jer. xxxi. 18. God draws one way, and he another, &c.
4. Unbelief—He that complains of his punishment, never believed sin to be so great an evil, or God to be such a one as revealed in the word.
5. Interpretative blasphemy.
1. While we dispute our afflictions, and wrangle with the present dispensation, what is it but to make ourselves wiser than God? We seem to tell God how it might have been better, and so we do, as it were, give God counsel. When he calls for obedience, is not that blasphemy to set up our wisdom against God’s?
2. While we complain of punishment, we take sin’s part against God; we do, as it were justify sin, and judge ‘God. God is unrighteous to punish such a sin as this with such grievous afflictions.
3. By complaining, we do, as it were, summon God to our bar, to come and give an account of his actions at our tribunal. What poor miserable creatures are we, that in our afflictions are so far from helping ourselves, that we commonly add to our own misery!
No affliction is intolerable till sin come in it.
The yoke God hath made easy, we make intolerable; and make God to be our enemy, while he by affliction would become our friend.
Now this being found not to be the way: that which God counsels and advises is—
1. Self-examination — “Let us search and try our ways —Sin and hypocrisy lies close and deep; therefore, we must take pains, dig to the bottom, set up a tribunal in our own conscience, summon, try, judge ourselves over and over in God’s presence. He stands at our closet doors, to hear what we will say, Jer. viii. 6. before execution: what indictment we will bring in against ourselves.
We can tell what such a drunkard, such an unclean person, &c. hath done; but no man saith, what have I done? My pride, my unthankfulness, my unfruitful ness, &c. & Reformation— “and turn attain unto the Lord.” Sin is aversio a Deo, & conversio ad creaturam: reformation is a turning again from the creature to God.
3. Frequent and fervent prayer,— “Let us lift up;” there is the frequency, let us do nothing else but pray; let us be continually lifting up our prayers; make our houses houses of prayer. Thus David “Thou foughtest against me without a cause,” Did he take counsel against princes to be disloyal? to take up arms? No, “but I gave myself unto prayer,” Psal. cix. 4. Therefore if you prayed before, now do nothing else; it notes habitual and constant prayer (our hearts with our hands) to crave, and, as it were, to pull down mercy, as if we would wrestle with God, and say, Nay, nay, “I will not let thee go until thou bless me,” Gen. xxxii. 26. It notes our fervency. And for our encouragement it is (unto God in the Heavens) which expresses his sovereignty, omnisciency, omnipotency, everlastingness, &c.
4. Judging ourselves, or confessing of sin, “We have transgressed.”
5. Aggravating our sins, “and have rebelled,” i. e. we have turned sin into rebellion; rebellion bath been the aggravation of oar sin. We have sinned against the clearest light, dearest love, &c. Neh. ix. Ezek. ix. Dan. vi.
6. Justifying God, “thou hast not pardoned.” A word not of murmuring, complaining, or accusing God of hard dealing, but by way of justifying God: we have transgressed, therefore thou hast not pardoned. Why shouldst thou repent of the evil of punishment, when we have not repented of the evil of sin? Thou hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve.
So in the text, “Do thy first works.” Sin is a departure from God, repentance a coming back again to God. Turn thou to him from whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted. The soul hath many turnings and windings, but there is the best motion of all, when the soul (with the dove) returns to God, from whom it came.
Apostasy is the loss of our first love. Repentance is the recovery of it, and reformation is the doing of our first works. I have not time to enlarge as I desire: I shall only offer a few things that might help to quicken you to so great duty.
My brethren, we have no great cause to boast of England’s first love. Never so good as it should be, yet many can remember when England hath been much better than it is.
Time was, when doctrines have been more sound, discipline more exercised for the suppressing of sin and profaneness; ordinances kept more pure from sinful mixtures; when London kept sabbaths better than now, loved their godly ministers more than now, honoured them that were set over her for their works’ sake, would have thought nothing too good for a faithful minister; when Christians loved one another with a dear, hearty, fervent love; when there was less compliment, but more real love and affection among Christians; when Christians improved their meetings, converse, Christian conference, and other soul duties to better purpose than now; not to foolish disputations, or wanton sensual excess, but to their mutual edification; when they improved their times for comparing their evidences, communicating their experiences, and building up one another in their most holy faith; when there was more industry in professors than now, to bring in converts; when private Christians thought it their duty to be subservient to the works of their ministers, to bring in others to Christ, especially their family.
Time was, when more care of young converts than now, when none could have looked out after religion, but some or other ready to lend them their hand, and shew them the way, explaining it clearly to them; but now young converts may be swept into separation and error, and none look after them.
Time was, when more care of the truly godly poor; when error was more odious; when popery was more hated than now: when the name of a toleration would have made Christians to have trembled; when Christians were better acquainted with their bibles; when more time spent in secret prayer; when more tender of one another’s names and honours, would heal one another’s reputations, and would spread the lap of charity over those misreports and scandals that might be cast upon them; when Christians rejoiced more in one another’s good, and mourned in one another’s sufferings; when Christians did more earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, &c.
Oh do you not only your first works, but our forefathers first works: be as zealous for God and his truths as tender, mutually careful of one another as they.
Our fears be very great, and truly our provocations be greater: our danger are great, but our sins greater: yet here is a word, here is matter of encouragement, that yet there is balm in Gilead, physic of Christ’s own composition, for the reviving and healing of a back-sliding people. Christians, Christ Jesus is become your physician, he hath prescribed you a potion made up of these three ingredient, self-reflection, holy contrition, thorough reformation. Christians, now take this receipt. Christ advises you, if you will not, there is no way but one, “Or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick.”
There is yet a means or two I find in scripture for the preventing of threatened ruin that hath been very near, that God hath prescribed for a people or person in great danger, when ready to be cutoff and destroyed.
Now that which I would commend to you in reference to what you would beg of God for England, is,
First, in your addressing yourself to God for that mercy your souls are set upon, and you wrestle with God for, that you would make some special vow to God. I find the saints have done so, when reduced to great straits, not knowing what to do. Thus Jacob vowed a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then shall the Lord be my God. And this stone which I here set for a pillar, shall be God’s house,” Gen. xxviii.20, 21, 22. The special thing Jacob vows, is, that he would continue in the pure worship of his forefathers, that he would still honour God as his Godin that way be would be worshipped; the special thins: is, that he would build a house for the worship of God; here he would erect a place of public worship. And thus “Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then will I utterly destroy their cities,” Num. xxi. 2. They vowed they would not spare any of the enemies of God, if he would deliver them into their hands. Thus Jeptha, Hannah, David, &c. Judg. xi. 31. I Sam. i. 11. Psal. cxxxii. 1, 2.
Certainly in times of great distress, it is not improper or uncomely, but that which God may expect and take well, that you make some special vow, if God would prevent your fears, if God would continue forfeited mercies, dearer to you than your lives, you would set apart some special thing for God> something for the propagation of the gospel abroad, for the maintenance of a godly ministry at home, for setting up the preaching of the gospel in the dark corners of the kingdom, &c. This must have some cautions with it: As,
1. We must be sure our vow be of what is in our own power, we must not make vows of that which is none of our own. “I hate robbery for burnt-offerings.” We must not make a vow to God of that which hath been unjustly or unrighteously taken away, or with-held from any. It is Sacrilege instead of a Sacrifice.
2. It must be of things warrantable and justifiable by the word.
3. It must be of such things that we are not bound do, before vows, by the standing obligation of religion, and of our profession: but of something that is in our own choice, that we will voluntarily make a free-will offering of it to God.
4. We must take heed that we do not entertain superstitious thought of our own vows, as if we had merited a mercy at God’s hands by our vows. God looks for some special vow at our hands, that we may shew how much we prize and value the mercy we would hare, that we would be content to part with any thing, though to the half of our estate for it.
2. Another thing I find, is, that in the mean time we should do something by way of extraordinary bounty and charity to the relief of God’s indigent servants. Thus the prophet Daniel: Wherefore, “O king, let my counsel be acceptable to thee; break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor? if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility,” Dan. iv. 27.
The prophet advises him to break off his sins by righteousness, there is reformation: and besides reformation, that he would do something in an extraordinary way to the relief of the poor. “Mercy to the poor,” what is that?
Interpreters conceive, by the poor, here he understands God’s poor, i.e. the poor Jews that were now in the Babylonian captivity: he advises, he would do something by way of sympathy to the Jews, to ease their yokes and oppressions. Break off thine iniquities by pitying and shewing mercy to thy poor captives, under thy power now tit this time; take off their yoke, ease their burdens, and restore them to their liberties again. Thus do you, and those that have been the instruments of your conversion, or edification, set apart something extraordinary for their relief and supply. The prophet Daniel seems to advise this to the king, as it were by way of satisfaction.
There be two things in repentance; in wrongs we have done, there must be confession, and satisfaction, or restoration. He seems to advise this to make up complete repentance, namely, to make restoration and retribution of what he had injuriously taken from the Jews. O then! let me say, without breach of charity, that whatsoever, except it be in this case of extraordinary supplies for his poor, it will be found but making restitution and satisfaction. It may be upon a twofold ground.
1. With some it may be truly restitution and restoration of what he hath taken away by unjust means. God knows how, that is between God and their own souls, what unlawful means have been used to augment the heap, and swell their estate.
If there be any that hear me this day, whose consciences shall tell them that they have increased their estate by undue and unwarrantable means, O “restore, restore, break off your iniquities by shewing mercy,” &c. by making reparation as you can. It will be but like Zaccheus giving half his goods to the poor, and restoring four-fold, &c. in a liberal contribution to the poor.
2. It will be restitution in another sense, in reference to an unjust withholding. Some have injuriously, and I am afraid too many have kept injuriously. Have we not robbed the poor by an unjust denying of what God hath Commanded us to distribute to their necessities? “there is that withholdeth more than is meet,” &c. Prov. iii. 17 and xi. 24. It may be God hath given you so much: there is God’s share, there is the minister’s portion, &c. Now all that you have with-held beyond the rule of scripture, is all stolen goods, and is like a wheat- sheaf on fire, will burn down the whole barn of corn.
That which I would exhort you to, is, for every one to set apart some considerable part of your estate, and account it as a solemn thing, dedicated to God, as a thing, which to touch, were sacrilege; that you may be ready on all occasions, in all regular and due ways, to bring out for the relief of the poor. You know objects abounding in every place, and you may expect warrantable means for dispensing of what God shall put into your hearts in this matter.