Sheweth in how many respects wicked men (before their effectual Calling) are afar off from God, and consequently miserable.
THe later part of this Text will continue further new matter unto us, while we treat of this Divine Vocation: and to bring you to the coherence of it, You may take notice of two great and strange wonders recorded in the Chapter: The first is, That admirable Apparition of the holy Ghost in fiery cloven Tongues upon the heads of the Apostles: Wherein take notice of the time when this was, In the day of Pentecost; on this time the Law was given on Mount Sinai by Moses; and now the Gospel is to be preached to the whole world.
2. Consider the Manner of this Apparition, it was with a rushing mighty winde; this did denote the great efficacy and mighty power of the Spirit in the Word preached.
The second way was of Tongues, to shew the gifts that God would bestow upon the Apostles, and fiery Tongues to signifie the light, and the heat, and the purifying vertue that would be in the Word preached, and cloven Tongues, because they would divide the Word aright to every hearer. Thus as once di∣versity of Tongues was a judgement, and by it Babel was built; so here, divers Tongues are a mercy, and by it the spiritual Jerusalem is built.
In the next place you have the Efficacy of this Apparition demonstrated in the Apostle Peters Sermon. And
First, He confirmeth this wonderful work of God by a Prophecie out of Joel, wherein God promised To pour out his Spirit (that denoteth abundance) on their sons and daughters, their men-servants and maid-servants, the meanest and most contemptible, contrary to that wicked saying of the Rabbins, Spiritus Sanctus non cadit super animum pauperis; And after the Apostle Peter had doctrinally in∣structed them about Christ, and practically convinced them of their particular sinne in crucifying of him (for Singularia sunt quae pungunt) you have the won∣derful and savoury effect upon the hearers, described in two things:
1. Their remorse and trouble of conscience for sinne, They were pricked in heart, as a man that is stabbed at the heart with a dagger: This ought to be the fruit of all our Sermons, to send you away grieved and troubled, wounded at the very Page 687 heart. The tears of the hearers are the praises of the Preacher.
2. Their desire and enquiry, What shall we do that we may be saved, then is our Ministery blessed, when it puts you upon these serious Questions. When you go home, What shall I do to be saved? I am out of the way, my sinne is discovered, this Sermon hath told me of all the evil that ever I did: Oh what shall I do to be saved! Now that which is the second wonder in this Chapter is, The Number of those Persons that were converted at this time: its said, ver. 41. That they were about three thousand. Here is one to be admired more then the Heathen Orpheus, that could make beasts follow him, and tame their natures; for ignorant and prophane enemies, even a great multitude imbrace Christ. Here is Peter catching of men, as once he did fish, and the net is so full, that it is ready to break.
In the next place, You have Peters Advice and Councel, directing them into the way of Salvation; wherein consider a two-fold duty; 1. Repent. 2. Be baptized, with the Object, Into the name of Christ; This doth not exclude the other persons.
3. You have a two-fold encouragement; 1. From the benefit sealed in Ba∣ptism, Remission of sins. 2. A gracious Effect God would vouchsife to them, Ye shall receive the holy Ghost. And my Text is brought in as a reason, why they should repent and be baptized, and hope for remission of sins, For the Promise is to you, &c.
Which words are diligently to be opened, because of some late Questions arising about Infant-Baptism, that are started hence. In them you may observe, The mercy spoken of or published, The Promise. 2. The Subject, and that is in a three-fold enumeration, To you, viz. the Jews to whom then he preached. 2. Their Children. 3. To those that are afar off,〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉. Some understand it of place afar off from the Countrey of Judea; Some of the time to come, be∣cause its 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, To the generations that are to come. To be sure its meant of the Gentiles, who in other places are said To be afar off. And therefore you have this explained in the last expression, Even as many as God shall call.
Now first let us consider, What is meant by the Promise. Those that would elude this place so pregnant for baptizing of Infants of believers, because the promise is made to them, say, Its meant of extraordinary gifts, such as those mi∣raculous gifts spoken of. But this is very absurd, because 1 Cor. 14. all that did believe had not those extraordinary gifts, All did not speak with tongues, all had not the gift of healings.
2. Its against experience, for if the promise of these extraordinary gifts be made to believers, then why have they not all extraordinary gifts that thus ex∣pound it? Why do they not speak in the Hebrew and Greek tongues? And
3. Vers. 16. The promise of these extraordinary gifts is said to be fulfilled at that time, and therefore not to be expected at any other time. By the promise therefore which sometimes is in the singular, and sometimes in the plural num∣ber, because of the many good and spiritual things promised therein, we are to understand the Covenant of grace, wherein God promiseth to be the God of believers, and their seed; for that which was made to Abraham, setting aside some personal priviledges, is made to every believer. Now in this Covenant is contained Pardon of sinne, and all other mercies, which Baptism sealeth; and that this is the meaning, is plain, Chap. 3. 25. Ye are the children of the Prophets, and of the Covenant God made with our fathers; So the promise here, is that gra∣cious Covenant of God, whereby he offers grace to those that do accept it; now those that accept it are such as are inwardly sanctified, and these have the inward Covenant as well as the outward administration of it. But secondly, Others do only outwardly accept of it, and professe their obedience to it, are not inwardly regenerated, and these onely have the external Covenant, and a right to Church-priviledges, being destitute of the saving benefit by them: So that Page 688 this promise of grace in the outward offer of it, as also in the Church-priviledg∣es, are dispensed to such, who sometimes have an external profession onely, but are without the inward efficacy of it.
The second subject is Their Children: Here we see God taking parents into Co∣venant, takes also the seed, and upon this one main ground Infant-Baptism is fastned: So that though children be not expresly named in the command to ba∣ptize, yet they are in the promise accompanying the precept, and that may put it out of all doubt.
I chose this verse for the later part, containing the Subjects enumerated, viz. Those that are afarre off, even as many as God shall call. From whence ob∣serve,
First, That all men till called by God, are afar off from him.*
This expression doth contain the dreadful and woful estate of all men by na∣ture, They are afar off from God. As Abraham said to Dives, There was a great gulf between them two; so there is a remote distance between God and all men till called, Ephes. 2. 13. Ye who were sometimes afar off, saith the Apostle speaking of the Gentiles; and so vers. 17. Thus the Prodigal that took his stock to spend it upon sinne, and the lusts of the flesh, he is said To go into a far countrey. Now when we say, All men till God call are afar off, you will easily understand that we speak not of Gods omnipresence, for that is impossible, none can be far off God in that sense. Whether can I go from thy presence, saith David; If I would take the wings of the morning, or go into the depths, or dig into hell, I cannot go from thee, Psal. 139. 7. Now in this sense, God is near even every wicked man, but we speak of Gods gracious presence and demonstration of his loving favour, in which sense its said, That Cain was cast out of Gods presence.
But to open this more particularly, let us shew in how many particulars they * are thus elongated, or made afar off from God. And
First, In regard of the knowledge of God in a true and saving way. They are as little children, in utero ignorantiae, as Tertullian expressed it, no more apprehen∣sive in a right manner of God, then the children in the dark womb are perceiving of the things of reason. Therefore Ephes. 2. part of this distance from God is in that they were 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, without God in the world. Athens that was the eye of Graecia, yet that could see no better, then to dedicate an Altar To the unknown god; Hence the Apostle speaking of the Heathens, said, They did feel or grope in the dark after God, Acts 17. 27. Even as the Egyptians in their thick darkness, or the Sodomites stricken with blindeness did; and therefore Gods willing of men to be saved, is declared in this, That he would have all men come to the knowledge of the truth; and generally the Nations of the world are described by this, That they know not God. Its true, Rom. 1. the Apostle speaks of 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, something that by nature may be known of God, some sparks, some embers, but this is so corrupted, so confuse, so imperfect, that it grosly mistakes like that blinde man recovering a little sight, that saw men like trees: Oh then, if to be a corporally blinde man be so heavy a misery, that such cried to our Saviour, Lord that we might receive our sight! How much rather may we cry out to have the eyes of our eyes opened, who are wandring far from God! For although these that are here said to be farre off are Heathens and Gentiles, yet even Christians by birth are also farre off from God, till they have this spiritual eye-salve; and therefore in two respects men may be said to be far off from God: First, both in respect of inward grace, and the outward means of salvation: and thus all the Heathenish part of the world is afar off God: Or secondly, in respect of the in∣ward grace only: When men do enjoy the outward means of salvation, and in this sense by their duties are said To draw nigh God, but in respect of any saving work of grace, are as farre off as Heathens and Pagans: and this is the conditi∣on, as is to be feared, of many thousands, They are nigh God in respect of the Christian faith they profess in respect of the Duties and Ordinances they exercise Page 689 themselves in, but in respect of their affections and heart, so they are at as great di∣stance from God and his holy waies, as Heathen and Publicans. This distinction must be attended unto, that we do not vainly deceive our selves, as the Jews did, with The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.
Secondly, They are afar off in respect of Gods speciall and gracious love to justifie*their persons, to pardon their sins. This also is urged Ephes. 2. He preached peace to them that were afar off; Peace, so then there was war and enmity before be∣tween God and them. And thus they may be said to be without God, both a∣ctively and passively; actively as before, having no knowledge or love of God; and passively, God hath no approving knowledge or love of them. Thus are we till God cals us, in a state of Gods displeasure; as Absalom cast out from Davids presence. His anger is towards us all the day long: And if the terrour of a King be like the roaring of a lion; what are the frowns and displeasures of the King of Kings! Oh that people were wise to consider, what they are by na∣ture, under what heavy displeasure they are! Doth the Scripture bid us agree with a man that is an adversary quickly in the way, lest he deliver us to the Judge; what reason then is it, to agree with God our adversary speedily, who hath such spiritual and eternal torments to scourge us with, that no man can have? Do not thou please thy self then with these thoughts, that thou hast free accesse to the presence and into the favour of great ones on earth; for if thou art farre off from God, if he regard thee not, if his displeasure be towards thee, thou art in the state of gall and wormwood.
Thirdly, We are by nature afar off from Christ the Mediator between God and*man. And this indeed is the foundation of all calamity; for as in Christ we are blessed with all heavenly blessings, so without him we are cursed with all spiri∣tuall and temporall curses. You speak the summe and abstract of all misery, when you say a people are without Christ. This also is mentioned Ephes. 2. as part of that distance from God. For such is the contrariety between God and man, God an holy and pure God, man a wretched and corrupt enemy to him, that here could never be any reconciliation but by Christ. We see how farre off the Apo∣state Angels are cast from God, never to be reconciled, and all because Christ took not their nature upon him: And thus men without Christ, for the present, have no way of accesse to God; for why? Should they come in their own names? alas! they are sinners, they are adversaries unto God, who then must speak for them? who will plead for them? And consider, that not only the hea∣thens and Pagans in the remote places of the world may be without Christ; but even many of those who have the title of Christians, and professe obedience to him, may yet be without him in a saving manner. Will not Christ say to many who did prophesie and cast out devils in his name, I know you not? So then Christ may not know many within the Church, many that call on his name. Oh be afraid lest this truth should be verified of any of you; that though you be near Christ in words, in prayer, in profession, yet wholly without Christ in respect of any gracious effects. Now what is it, to have riches and honours, and to be without Christ? To have the great things of the world, and to have no portion in him? When God promised great earthly mercies to Abraham, oh saith he, I go childlesse; that troubled him; what was all that wealth, if he had no childe? And thus; although God give thee all externall happinesse, and the desires of thy heart; yet say, behold I am without Christ still, and what will all these things avail me.
Fourthly, Such as are afar off, They have no hope. They are an hopelesse peo∣ple; * which way soever they look, every thing curseth and condemneth them; and no marvell, for, if without the promise, they have not the ground of hope, and if without Christ, the object of hope. And this also is added in the forementi∣oned place, Ephes. 2. Without hope. Now you know the Heathens faigned, that when all things were gone, yet hope was in the bottom of Pandoraes box; im∣plying, Page 690 though we be invironed with calamities, yet as long as there is hope, the heart will not break. When Cain and Judas thought there was no hope (though that was their sin) then they began to feel an hell burning in their conscience. And indeed what is that which makes the fire of hell burn seven times hotter then it would, but that there is no hope there? Hence hope is com∣pared to an Anchor, Heb. 6. 19. implying that a man without hope, is like a Ship without an Anchor in the midst of the raging sea, and tempestuous waves. Thus not only the Gentiles, but Christians also are afar off from hope, till sanctified. Now when we say, They are without hope, the meaning is not, as if God might not shew mercy to them, for how many times doth he call those his people, that were not his people; but in respect of any visible humane help, no created pow∣er can save them: They are like little Isaac, bound to be sacrificed, and the hand lifted up to give the mortall blow; and then God comes in wonderfully, and provideth a Ram in his room to be sacrificed. Lay it then home to your hearts, you that are afar off in respect of saving grace, though not the outward means of it; you are a people of no hope, no true solid hope. Indeed you have a presum∣ption, you have an hope that is a dream, a false imagination, and that will perish like the blaze of straw; but it is not a lively hope, for that property the Scripture giveth the hope of a godly man, It is a lively hope, 1 Pet. 2. 3. such as is not o∣vercome by death. The righteous hath hope in his death. If therefore thou wouldst descend into a serious examination of this matter, thou wilt see thy self for the present an hopeless man. Thou hast no ground to hope upon; there is no pro∣mise to draw out thy hope; What should be like a two edged sword at thy heart, if this be not? This carnall hope of thine will not indure, will not last, seek out for a better hope.
Fifthly, Such are afar off in respect of their love of God, and an universal constant obedience to his holy will. As God loveth not them, so neither do they love God. * As God is not gracious in his promises to them, so neither are they obedient to his precepts. God is not only afar off from them, but they also are afar off from God; hating and hated of God. As Paul, Rom. 4. describing all men by nature, saith, they are all turned out of the way, and the way of God they have not known. Neither is this also true only of the Heathens, who are in every sense afar off, but also of all those, who within the outward means of grace, yet have their hearts set contrary to God. Doth not God of old complain of such, that did draw nigh him with their lips, but their hearts were far from him, Isa. 29. 13? And doth not the same complaint still hold, that men draw nigh him, when their affections and lives are wholly opposite to God? And thus we may say of all those, who draw nigh to God in religious duties, but in their hearts and lives are wholly con∣trary to him; they are afar off; they are at a great distance from God and his grace. Christ saw a young man, and because he answered some questions in a discreet manner, he told him he was not far from the Kingdom of heaven; oh but when we see the prophanenesse, the ungodlinesse of most mens lives, we have cause to say, They are far from the Kingdom of God, or they are not farre from the Kingdom of darknesse. Oh then consider, you who live dissolutely, and in the accomplishment of the lusts of your flesh, you are wholly out of the way; and to the faster you run, still the further off you are from happinesse. You may fancie impossibilities, and think of making heaven and earth meet together; for this you do, all the while you judge that this life and way of yours is consi∣stent with true peace and felicity.
Use first, What cause of thankfulnesse we have, who live under the means of grace; for God hath brought us many degrees nearer to him, then when once we * were the children of Heathens. The time hath been, when this very Iland was wholly without God and Christ; the Gospel was not preached unto us, we lay like a barren heath, and a cursed wildernesse, forsaken, and no notice taken of us by God. But since the Gospel hath been preached, God hath drawn near to us, and Page 691 we to him: Oh! but for all this, we may be as far off from saving Graces as Heathens, if our lives be no better, if our conversations be no more Christi∣annized: Those places to whom the Sun draweth nearer, are warmer then the remote, cold parts, where ice and cold is: Thus it should be with us, where the Sun of Righteousness hath appeared, there should be heat and zeal for God, there should be meltings and mournings for sin, there should be a separating from all dross, and every evil way: Coler separat hetrogenea; whereas frost and cold hath fastened many heterogenous things together, heat that separates them: And thus the heat of the Gospel should separate us from our former lusts, and from our by-past iniquities: and know this, he that is far off from God, he can∣not but be near to the Devil and Hell: Thus the Ephesians that were without God, they were under the power of Satan, and in the state of darkness: why then doest thou not tremble and fear thy condition? the farther that thou art going from God every day, the nearer thou art to hell: Your life is a motion, you are always a going, every action is a step; now if it be sinful, it is from God, and towards hell: What though thou findest the way pleasant? though there be many delights and temptations in the way: Per fallacia bona itur ad vera ma∣la, per fallacia mala itur ad vera bona, Through seeming good and pleasant things, we come to real misery.