Sermon 25The Trial and Triumph of Faith (27 Sermons) by Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)
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“Christ’s honeycombs drop honey and floods of consolation upon my soul; my chains are gold. Were my blackness and Christ’s beauty carded through other, His beauty and holiness would eat up my filthiness. The secret formula of the saints: When I am in the cellar of affliction, I look for the Lord’s choicest wines.”
(1.) This obediential power is not any quality created in the creature different from their being, for God may use any creature to infinite effects of omnipotency; and so there should be infinite created qualities in every finite creature. (2.) This obediential power was in that Mother-nothing, out of which God, by an omnipotent act of creation, extracted all the host of creatures that now are; and it is in that other Mother-nothing, yet objected to omnipotency, according to which, God may create infinite more worlds than now are, so it please him. It is then nothing but a non-repugnancy to hear and obey God in these particulars: As, (1.) Omnipotency of strong grace can speak to sin, which none can do, but God: “I said to thee, when thou wast in thy blood, live.” (Ezek. 16:6.) This mandate of omnipotent grace is spoken to Jerusalem as hardened and cold, dead in sin, wherefore he saith, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” (Eph. 5:14.) This is a commandment of Omnipotency, given out of sinful rebellion. If Omnipotency say, ‘See, ye blind; hear, ye deaf;’—grace is a king over sin, and Omnipotency a mighty conqueror: rebellion cannot stand before the grace of God: could we resign rebellious and dead hearts to God, he should change them, though we be most unable to master them. (2.) Mere nothing is a servant to Omnipotency. He sendeth his mandate or statute of heaven to mere nothing; and darkness, as the sergeant and pursuivant of God, must send out light, by virtue of a creating mandate, (2 Cor. 4:6). (3.) Every creature is under the awe of Omnipotency, and dare not without (as it were) a written and signed ordinance and statute of the Almighty, exercise their natural operations. As the Lord sendeth an awful mandate to the sea, and God saith, Do not ebb and flow, and the sea is dried up at his rebuke; “The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee, they were afraid.” (Psalm 77:16.) So saith he, ‘Winds, blow not; seas, rage not; fire, burn not; lions, devour not; sun, move not; clouds, rain not; devils, hurt not; waters, overwhelm not; sword, destroy not:’ and they all obey. (4.) There is a power obediential in creatures, to be instruments, that can be elevated above, and contrary to their nature, to miracles; as clay to be a plaister to blind eyes, to make them see, whereas clay can put out seeing eyes. By this, iron can swim, Peter walk in the sea; yea, devils and men crossing God’s moral will, fulfill his eternal counsel, according to that, Psalm 119:91: “All are thy servants;” hell, devils, cavaliers, malignants, Papists, are God’s servants. (5.) By this power, whereas nature must have time and hours to work, yet nature followeth the swift pace of Omnipotency. The fever departeth from Peter’s mother-in-law in an instant. (6.) By this power, creatures creep into nothing, when God commandeth them so to do. God putteth his arm to the heaven, and shaketh it, and the hangings, pillars, walls, plenishing of the house of heaven and earth, are all dissolved: all the old tenants of the world, the heavens, which have sitten in God’s house five thousand years, at the first warning of their Almighty Landlord, must remove and retire into nothing, if God so command them.
USE 1. It is comfort to the believer that all things are possible. Faith hath Omnipotency at its service: the sword and wars are gone, the enemies of the Lord broken, the temple built, Babylon plagued, at the nod of faith. Devils cannot stand, when Christ’s mandate chargeth them to fall.
USE 2. It is but little that we can do; let us have hosts of men, we cannot have the victory. Let man be swift, yet the race is not to the swift; let him be strong, yet the battle is not to the strong; let him be wise and learned, neither is bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, (Eccles. 9:1,11). The word of the Almighty is his deed also; “He spake, and it was done, he commanded, and it stood fast;” (Psalm 33:9;) for he himself spake, and it was. The Lord’s word giveth being to things; by the contrary, men’s deeds are nothing but words; so the lives, being, and actions of the kings of Israel and Judah, are called (Dibre hajamim), words of days. They are the acts and deeds of men living and dying, and compassed with days: for the deeds and acts of men are but words; they live, and speak a little on earth, and die; their acts are of as little worth, and reality, as the airing out, or breathing forth of words. The greatest prince maketh a sound for a time, as one that speaketh words, and then he is gone, and lieth silent in the grave. Solomon did many acts, but they are called words only, (1 Kings 11:41): “And the rest of the acts of Solomon, (Hebrew, ‘The rest of the words of Solomon,’) are written in the books of the Acts, (Hebrew, ‘of the words’) of Solomon.” “And the rest of the words which Amon did, are written in the book of the words of the days of the kings of Judah.” (2 Kings 21:25.) We use not properly to do or act words, but to speak words; but the holy language maketh man, and all his noble acts, but words, and would express that he is a creature of no great action, and can say more than he can do. Strong and mighty man is but a creature of words; he is a speaking body of clay, and can do but little. We boast much, that this and that we shall do; God hath a lock and a chain of iron on all the creatures: armies are not to be feared, the Lord smites the horse and the rider, and maketh war to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire, (Psalm 46:9). Be not afraid of clay, (Isaiah 51:12).
USE 3. If the Lord’s word create the being of things, then are we to conceive of him, as of an independent sovereign: we forget this, and worship a dependent God. If I suffer the people to go to worship at Jerusalem (saith Jeroboam) I shall lose both life and kingdom; God had promised the contrary, to establish him and his kingdom, so [long as] he would ‘do what is right in the sight of the Lord,’ (1 Kings 11:37,38). But he believed, that God, in the fulfilling of his promise, must depend upon the calves set up at Dan and Bethel. So the Jews will have God, in the preserving of their kingdom and place, to depend upon the sinful murdering of the Lord of glory; (John 11:48,) yea, we imagine, that God cannot carry on the work of reformation, except we comply with some sort of antichristian prelate. The king thinketh he cannot be a monarch, except he have a prerogative to play the tyrant; and his throne must fall, except the antichrist, and blood, and unlawful peace with the bloody Irish murderers, and destroying of the Lord’s redeemed flock in both kingdoms, be the bloody pillars of his throne and royal power. So God cannot save us, if France, Denmark, Spain, and Ireland come against these kingdoms; we are so wasted, except we make a peace dishonourable to Jesus Christ, and his prerogative royal. All this is to place God in a state of dependency: we are too wickedly careful how God shall acquit himself in his office of governing the world. Ere you or I were born, the Lord governed the world and his church without a miscarry (the church’s heaven cannot be marred in Christ’s hand); and when we are rotten in the dust, he shall carry on all in righteousness and wisdom: but we take it ill, if we cannot have a Providence as fair and eye-sweet as white paper, though indeed there be not one spot in God’s ways. So Martha, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died; (John 11:21,) but Christ-God, in preserving lives, dependeth not on his own bodily presence here or there. Another complaineth, ‘God hath forgotten me, he is not my God.’ Why? ‘Because I walk in darkness, and have no light, nor any sense of his love: it is the black and dead hour of midnight with me.’ So the church argueth, (Isa. 49:14,15; Psalm 77:3-9). But his unchangeable love depends not on the ebbing and flowing of your transient, and up and down sense: in this, you worship a dependent God.
There is no rule without God to regulate him, or yet to straighten him in his walking. We are not to misplace God; for though the God of hosts hath purposed to stain (Lechallel), to cast a blot on, and profane the pride of all glory, (Isa. 23:9,) and suffer Parliaments, Assemblies, armies, councils of war, statesmen, the godly, the princes, judges, pastors, men of wisdom, learning, eloquence, parts, to miscarry in this great service against Babylon, it is to cry down the creature’s garland, and the rose of their eminency, that when all spots of sacrilege and idol-confidence in men are washed off the work, the Lord only may be exalted. It is our wisdom to suffer God to be wise for us. Yea, Antinomians will have Christ no independent Redeemer; but to them his grace shall not be perfect in pardoning, except all sin in root and branch be removed from the justified, and they made as sinless as Adam before his fall, and the elect angels. Yea, how many connections of Providence do we spin and twist out of our own head?—as, How happy had we been, if the king had remained with the parliament, to countenance it! Yea, but rather how unhappy; for our reformation had been as an untimely birth, if so it had been. How blessed should I have been, saith another, if I had been rich and learned! Yea, rather, you should have dishonoured God in that condition. The catholic and mother sin is, God must be dependent, we independent.
USE 4. All of us have need of a devil, one or other, to exercise and humble us: but we go wrong to work, when we think to make good our party against the devil by our own strength. This woman yoked Christ and the devil together, and would not yoke with him her alone, and the success is blessed. We go to dispute with temptations ourselves, by reason: you shall not dispute Satan to hell with all your logic; nor can policy and state-wit calm the Prince of the bottomless pit, who is let loose now in these three kingdoms to kill with the sword. The horseman, upon the red and bloody horse, and his footman, Death, are posting through the kingdoms. More wrestling by prayer, the putting of Satan in Christ’s grips, by faith effectual, by love, and sincere humiliation, should create peace; for peace is a work of creation. There is but one only can create: I mean, God, by, or at the exercise of these graces, should create peace. We lie bleeding and dying under our lusts, because Christ was not entrusted with mortification. If we gave in a bill of complaint against our devils, as this woman did, Christ should loose Satan’s works and help us.
“Be it unto thee.”—Faith obtaineth the most excellent favours, refined mercies; and these are immediate favours, acts of immediate Omnipotency. Christ sent an immediate post to the Devil, though in a remote place, (it is an act of immediate creation) and Satan must be gone. No creature here interveneth; it is Christ’s genetheto, his omnipotent Be it so, that doth the turn. It is not faith, it is not a good angel expelling an evil one, nor one devil beating another, nor the disciples helping the woman, though they also did cast out devils. The more immediate mercies be, the more love-expressions of God in them; the first roses, the first trees, and plants that God’s own immediate art produced, and in which nature could not share, are the most perfect creatures; the rest of the creatures, after the fall, come not near in goodness and beauty to God’s first sampler; which are, as it were, the first assays of Omnipotency. The greatest mercies are most immediate; these be sweet favours that come, as it were, hot and new, immediately from God himself. See it in all the excellent things that God giveth us, especially in these four: (1.) In Christ; (2.) Grace; (3.) Glory; (4.) Comfort. (1.) Christ is God’s highest love-gift. Now Christ, the Mediator, was given without any medium, or any intervening mediator. God, out of the mere bottom of free love, giveth Christ. The Lord Christ was not given by so much as request, or counsel of men or angels. Christ, “by himself purged our sins,” (Heb. 1:3). He “gave himself a ransom for all,” (1 Tim. 2:6). “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” (1 Pet. 2:24.) He satisfied and paid in his own person. It was not a deputed work: God, the Lord of life, in proper person, redeemed us. Christ’s love to us was not deputy-love—he loved us not by a vicar; Christ is given freely, as a Redeemer is more essentially a gift of free grace, to speak so, than the grace of faith, which is given to those who hear and are humbled for sin. And Christ given to die for sinners, is a more immediate and pure gift of grace, than remission of sins and eternal life, which are given to us upon condition of faith; whereas a Redeemer is given to die for us, without any condition, thought, desire, any sweating or endeavour in man or angel. (2.) So is grace given out of grace: saving grace is made out of nothing, not out of the potency of the matter. The new heart is a creation; and, as it is grace, is framed without tools, agents, art, or service. Grace issueth immediately out of Christ’s heart; he hath no hire, no payment for it; non-payment, no money, is grace’s hire. (3.) And heaven is given, not by art, not by merit, not for sweating; but how? “It is the Father’s will;” (Luke 12:32;) and (4.) “God shall wipe all tears from their eyes.” (Rev. 21:21.) It is the sweeter, that no napkin, but his own immediate hand, shall wipe my sinful face.
In heaven, the vision of Him that sitteth upon the throne is immediate; the mirror or looking-glass of Word and Sacraments being removed, there is but a vision of God “face to face;” (1 Cor. 13:12). “And I saw no temple therein.” (Rev. 21:22.) If any should ask tidings and say, ‘John, what sawest thou in that new city? Was there any temple, any priests, any prophets, any candlesticks there?’ He should answer, ‘Oh, you know not what you speak! I saw no temple there; I saw a more glorious sight than all the temples of the earth; I saw the Lamb, the King in the midst of them; I saw Christ, the fountain of heaven. And though ye should know Moses, David, Paul, in glory, you should be so taken with beholding the face of the Lamb for evermore in an immediate vision, that you find no leisure to look over your shoulder to Moses or any other; “for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.”’ It must be sweeter, when the sweet immediate hand of Jesus Christ shall pluck the soul-delighting roses of the high garden, and hold them to your senses with an immediate touch, so as you shall see, behold, smell, and touch his hand with the rose, and when he shall put immediately in your mouth the apples of the tree of life, and the King himself shall make himself, as it were, your cupbearer; for there shall be neither need of pastor, prophet, or of any Christian brother, but only Christ himself, to hold to your head “a cup of the water of life,” “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb.” (Rev. 22:1,2.) “He showed me;” which He?—”the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb:” “He that talked with me, who had a golden reed to measure the city;” “He who carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.” (Rev. 21 and 22.) No created angel could show to John “the Bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And what is that, ‘He showed me?’ He made me see. Is that but a naked cast of the eye, or a speculation? No, it is more; he himself who only reveals all the secrets of God, “and measures the temple with a golden reed,” he only gave me a drink of the water of life immediately; for to see, in the holy language, is to enjoy, (Heb. 12:14; Rev. 22:4; Jer. 17:6; Psalm 34:12; Job 19:26). And then, “he showed me,” must be this in good sense, ‘He, he the uncreated King himself made me, or caused me to enjoy.’ Messengers carry love-letters; now, there is no need of love-letters between the Lord Jesus and “the Bride, the Lamb’s wife,” in this condition. Certain it is, a draught of such water at the well-head must be sweetest; then immediate comforts, in a heavy condition, must be sweetest also; as in heavy desertions, word, ministry, pastors, prayer, and ordinances, cannot raise up the spirit. What doth the Lord else speak in this? No less than that mediation of means is but mediation of means, and Christ is Christ. Means in a soul sickness, yea, apostles, angels, watchmen fail; but Christ himself, with his immediate action, faileth not, (Cant. 3:1-4; John 20:8-17). Christ himself, immediately by himself, will do in a moment, that which all means, all ordinances, all sweatings, all endeavours cannot do.
I do not now cry down means, and extol immediate inspirations: the latter I deny not in some cases; but I only compare means and Christ. And is not this an experience of some who are brought to the margin and black borders of hell and despairing, all creature comforts having failed them, and they having received the sentence of the second death? Yet Christ cometh with an immediate glimpse, like a fire-flaught [flash of lightening] in the air, which letteth the lost and bewildered traveler, in an extremely dark night, see a lodging at hand, whereas otherwise he should have fallen in a pit and lost himself: and in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the Lord having rebuked the winds and the stormy tempests in the soul, there is a calm and peace, (Psalm 31:22; Jonah 2:4). Christ is speedy, and swift as a roe; his leap is but a stride over a whole mountain at once, over many “mountains and hills,” (Cant. 2:8,) especially, in his immediates, when he comforts by himself. He then maketh no use of a deputy sun to shine, or of borrowed light; the sun himself riseth with his own immediate salvation, and his own immediate wings; and we see it was Christ’s immediate love, yea comfort, because immediate carrieth with it the heat and smell of Christ’s own hand, it hath the immediate warmness of Christ’s bosom-consolation; it was an act of tender mercy that came hot and smoking from the heart of Christ; the immediate coal of love smelling of the perfume of the hearth it came last from, and that was heaven, and the bowels of Christ. Waters carried from a precious fountain in a vessel many hundred miles, are not so sweet as at the wellhead; because they are separated from the fountain, they lose much of their virtue. Sometimes it is so long since the rose was plucked, that the colour and smell which it had, while it grew on its own stalk, are quite gone. Look how inferior art (which is but medicine for sick nature) is to nature in its beauty and strength: as painted physic can neither purge nor cure, so far are all means and ordinances, being but the deputies of Christ, below Christ himself. What is Paul? What is Apollos? Put all the prophets, all the apostles, all the patriarchs, all the chiefest of saints in one flower, I confess they should cast forth an excellent smell, like the outer borders of the garden of the high paradise; but all their excellency should be mediate excellency, and but somewhat of Christ—but alas! as low, as very nothing to Christ, as the smallest drop of dew that sense can apprehend, to ten thousand worlds of seas, fountains, and floods. We defraud our spirits of much sweetness, because we go no further in our desires than to creature excellency; we rest on mediate comforts, because mediate: painted things do work but objectively: only a painted meadow casteth no smell, a painted tree bringeth forth no apples; the comforts and sweetness of the creatures have somewhat of daubing in them, in comparison of Jesus Christ; all reality, and truth of excellency, is in him.
And we know, God marreth the borrowed influence of means. Armies, parliaments, learning, and all miscarry; therefore, there was never a reformation, nor a great work wrought on earth, but Omnipotency put forth many immediate acts in it. The Lord would not be beholden to Moses; he “himself divided the Red sea.” He would not engage himself to fountains and vine-trees, but “he gave them water out of the rock.” He would not borrow from the earth, and sowing, reaping, and plowing, bread for his people’s food; he would “give them the bread of angels” from heaven immediately. He would have no engines at the taking of Jericho; the blowing of rams’ horns was a sign, not a cause; God immediately cast down the walls. He would not have a sword drawn, nor a drop of blood shed, in the people’s return from Babylon, but the Lord putteth an immediate impulsion upon the spirit of Cyrus, as if he had been in a dead sleep; and he being awaked by God only, sendeth the people away. And the temple must be builded again, but how? Neither by King nor Parliament, nor armies; for, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.” (Zech. 4:6.) When Babylon is to be destroyed (as the work is even now on the wheels in Britain), a mighty angel took up the great millstone, and threw it in the sea. (Rev. 18:21.) Though it be a vision by comparison, yet it holdeth forth an immediate work of God in the ruin of Babylon; and angels pour their vials “on the sea, on the sun, on the river Euphrates,” to make for the destruction of Babylon. And, in delivering of Lot, angels did work. God himself spake to Noah for making an ark. Although angels be creatures, yet the Lord’s action by them is more immediate, than when he worketh by natural causes. When the judges scourge and imprison the apostles, no man will speak for them; the immediate power of God doth it, the chains fall off legs and arms; immediate providence is a key also to open the prison doors, and they are saved. There is a bloody war at the taking of the ark, and thirty thousand footmen of Israel killed, (1 Sam. 4:10,11,) but there is not a sword drawn when it is rescued. The ark cometh home,—it is alone God’s immediate providence that driveth and acteth upon two milch kine to bring it home again, (1 Sam. 6:12-14). Who knoweth but when our strength of two kingdoms hath failed us, the Lord shall make kine to bring home his kingdom and reformation to our doors?
Were it possible that creatures could work salvation for us, and freedom from the sword, and sure peace in England, Scotland, and Ireland, without God, or any subordination to him, let it be a deliverance from the creature only, it should be no deliverance, but a curse: that which maketh salvation to be salvation, is, that God hath a finger of power, and an influence of free grace in it. Oh, but this putteth the lustre, sweetness, and smell of heaven on it, that it is “the salvation of the Lord,” (Exod. 14:13). In regard of irresistible efficacy and success, under-causes, though chained to the influence of God, are but idol-causes; they lie as ciphers, and do nothing, no more than a lame arm can master a sword: “The Lord worketh all our works for us” (Isa. 26:12); and he is daily marring, and shall further mar our armies, parliaments, councils, undertakings, to the end that more of Christ may appear in these wars, than in other wars. Some immediate power must close and crown this glorious work in Britain; God must be alone, and appear alone, and only Jehovah must be visible “in the mount,” to the end that bleeding England, long afflicted Scotland, and wasted Ireland, may, with one shout, cry, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name be the glory.” [Psalm 115.] This discovereth the deceit of our confidence; for when the Lord and the creature work together for our good, Asa, though his heart was perfect, possibly seeth not whether he trust on the Lord or an the physician; and yet the Scripture saith, when he was diseased in his feet, there was a worse disease about his heart. For, because “he sought to the physicians,” he is blamed; yet to seek to physicians is lawful: but the Spirit of God blameth his seeking to the physicians, and saith, (2 Chron. 16:12,) “He sought not the Lord in his sickness;” and the reason is given, “Because he was in the physicians.” So the Hebrew readeth it: he is said, “not to seek the Lord,” not because he sought to the physicians, for that had not been a sin, but because he was wholly, the whole man, soul and all, in, ‘or on the physicians;’ his care, pains, and heart, was all on the physicians. So also the Greek expresses great care and diligence by the like phrase, 1 Tim. 4:15, En tautois isthi, “Give thyself to these things.” Seldom do we seek to God, and trust in him, when God and the creature are yoked together in a work that we are much bent upon, as in wars, in a reformation, yea, in a journey, that the spirit is intent upon; but, in trusting on God, we interpose a folding, and a ply of the creature, between our soul-confidence and the Lord, just as a pillow is put between the man’s shoulder, and a pressing burden, for fear the burden crush a bone. We are afraid we give God too much to do, or more than he is able to bear. When we sail, we seem to betrust ourselves to the Lord and the sea; but the truth is, often we trust more to the strong ship, than to the sea or the Lord. Our confidence shifteth itself from under the Lord, on upon the creature and the arm of flesh; so we walk often in the strength of the Lord, as some walk upon ice—they walk softly and timorously upon it, fearing it should break under them; they put no faith upon cracking and weak ice. We are not daring and venturous in casting ourselves and our “burdens on the Lord.”
So in judgments, David’s choice fell upon the pestilence, rather than the sword. Why? God’s hand is sweeter and softer than the devil’s, than the malignant’s hard hand. Samuel is one of the best children, because he is given of God, and is a child of many prayers. Isaac, the joyful child,—why? No thanks to nature, or to Sarah’s dead womb for him; he is the son of an immediate promise. Free-grace is rather Isaac’s father and mother, than Abraham and Sarah. In ordinances a man speaketh, but if Christ himself would speak, oh, his spikenard, oh, his own perfume, oh, his own lips drop honey! Oh, his own Lebanon-like countenance! Alas, we think Christ is not Christ, except the king help him; religion is not religion, except worldly thrones bear it up. The gospel is a very immediate thing; the “lily amongst the thorns,” is Christ’s lily; the church stands more immediately by Christ, than any worldly thing doth. God maketh the earth to bud and bring forth her fruits; but the sun, the soil, the season of the year, and nature, are his under-servants; God watereth the earth, but by clouds. Kings are indigent, and very mediate and dependent creatures; they need armies, multitude, navies, prelates, Babylon, Ireland, France, Spain, Denmark, Holland, money, friends, parliaments;—but grace and the gospel are more immediate, and less needy. The gospel can live without all these.
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Christian Directions by Rev. Samuel Rutherford
- That hours of the day, less or more time, for the Word and prayer, be given to God; not sparing the twelfth hour, or mid-day, howbeit it should then be the shorter time.
- In the midst of worldly employments, there should be some thoughts of sin, death, judgment, and eternity, with at least a word or two of ejaculatory prayer to God.
- To beware of wandering of heart in private prayer.
- Not to grudge if ye come from prayer without sense of joy. Downcasting, sense of guiltiness, and hunger, are often best for us.
- That the Lord’s Day, from morning to night, be spent always either in private or public worship.
- That words be observed, wandering and idle thoughts be avoided, sudden anger and desire of revenge, even of such as persecute the truth, be guarded against; for we often mix our zeal with our wild-fire.
- That known, discovered, and revealed sins, that are against the conscience, be avoided, as most dangerous preparatives to hardness of heart.
- That in dealing with men, faith and truth in covenants and trafficking be regarded, that we deal with all men in sincerity; that conscience be made of idle and lying words; and that our carriage be such, as that they who see it may speak honourably of our sweet Master and profession.