Of turning not onely from sin, but to God; And how many wayes men may do the former, and not the latter; Also, what it is to turn to God.
JOEL 2. 12, 13.
THe former part of the Chapter is very elegant and copious in describing a day of darkness, of thick darkness; that is, a day of Gods judgements, and his fierce anger. The Prophet is very Rhetorical and Metaphorical, in setting this judgement before their eyes. Some understand these Verses con∣joyned together, of the Army of the Assyrians, or some other potent Enemy, that God would raise against the Israelites: But Piscator from Verse 25. doth probably gather, that this whole destruction in several Verses, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. is not to be applied to any Army of men and horses, but to that numerous com∣pany of Vermine, Locusts, Caterpillars and Cankerworns, that God sent a∣mong them to devour their fruit and corn; which the Prophet calls verse 25. Gods great Army; and indeed the Prophets phrase seemeth to conclude this; for saith he of this Army, verse 4. The appearance of them, is as the appearance of horsemen, and like the noise of chariots upon the mountains shall they leap: Thus God many times useth the vilest and most loathsom creatures, to punish the stoutest and most lofty men; for as they say of Gods providence and wisdom in making of the creatures, he is Maximus in minimis, the greatest in the least; so is he most dreadful and terrible, in the most contemptible instruments. It trou∣bled Abimelech to be killed by a woman; & what a debasement was it to Pharaoh and Herod to be overmastered by Frogs and Lice? Oh how greatly is God to be feared! who hath thousands of invisible Armies, that he can raise to destroy those that oppose him. After the solemn and magnificent description of this dread∣ful judgement, the Prophet adviseth the Israelites, what is the duty God re∣quireth of them, their case is not yet desperate. Caterpillars and Locusts are loathsom to them; let their sins be so, which are indeed the true Cankerworms that destroy their mercies: This judgement would make the earth and heavens to tremble, verse 10. let it work so upon their hearts. As God would punish them with the vilest of creatures, so let them be more vile in their own eyes, then monsters and beasts: If they would have God turn away his judgements, let them turn from their sins.
This Text I have chosen, because it containeth the term to which of our con∣version:Page [unnumbered] We have already handled the term from which, and that is Sin. Now the term to which is to be considered, and that is, God; so that in the words you have the preface to the duty, and the duty: The preface containeth the au∣thority and divine command inforcing to it, Thus now saith the Lord; its the great God of heaven that requireth this, who by his word made heaven and earth, to whom the winds and seas obey; how much rather should man? Oh apply this to your hearts; Who is it but God that bids me turn from sin? its not the Minister so much, its not the Messenger or Ambassador so much that I re∣fuse, as God himself; Is not his wisdom and his Soveraignty enough to command present obedience. 2. The duty; and there is 1. The duty it self, Turn ye, which is dispatched. 2. The term to which of this motion, Even unto God. 3. The maner, With your whole heart. 4. The effects, With fasting and mourning. 5. The form or nature of it, Rent your hearts and not your garments. 6. The mo∣tive to incourage, For God is gracious and merciful, &c.
We are in order to fix upon the term to which, and that is God. Turn ye even to God. Even to me, implieth, that a man may turn and turn, and yet not turn even to him; he falls short of this center, he cometh not to his journeys end: From whence Observe,
That it is not enough to turn from our sins, but we must turn even to*God.
Its not enough to go out of Egypt, but we must enter into Canaan; its not * enough to hate evil, but we must cleave to that which is good. Turn to me, even to me; let nothing else be the center, the end of your motion. This point is of great consequence; for hereby I shall discover the counterfeit conversions of many, And so set the true and counterfeit together; and not as in other Texts, handle the counterfeits separately by themselves. That it is not enough to turn from sin, unless we turn even to God, appeareth by that complaint, Hosea, 7. 16. They return, but not to the most high; they are like a deceitful bow. How do they return, but not to the most high? because they were diligent in fasting, humiliation, and the outward exercises of repentance, but still they were hy∣pocrites in heart; and therefore proverbially compared to the broken bow, that seemeth, as it were, to send forth its arrow directly upon the mark, but the string breaking, it either falls on the ground, or flieth back on the face of the Archer; so they seemed by all their external duties, to aim at God, and eye him, but all fell upon themselves; they looked no further then to their own advantages. For opening of this, consider, how many ways men may turn from sin, and yet not to God. 2. What it is to turn even to God. And
First; Men turn from sin, but not to God, when they commit them no more, be∣cause*the temptations and occasions are taken away: So that if they would, yet they cannot have an opportunity to satisfie or accomplish their lusts: There is nothing more ordinary then this, men conclude they are converted, because they do not sin as they have done; whereas the true cause is; the temptations and opportunities are removed; so that there is not the work of Gods grace changing thy heart, but the work of his providence removing the objects there∣of. Snakes and Adders they lie in their holes, and are alive as well in winter as in summer, yet because in winter they want the warm reviving beams of the Sun, therefore they appear not out of their holes: Thus sin, it may be, is as lively and powerful in thee as ever, but there are not the kindely and warm temptations to draw it forth: So then, this is no turning to God, because thy heart is still the same. The Lyon is a Lyon, though his claws be pared off, and he tied up in a dungeon: That King who stretched out his hand to lay hold on the Prophet, and his arm withered, was never the more innocent, because he did not actually commit his designed mischief; and certainly if the hearts of godly men have deceived them, that they have thought it not possible for them to commit such sins, as they have been warned about; as we see in Peter about Page 476 his Apostacy, no wonder if wicked men do so greatly delude their own souls: It may be then thou canst not be unclean, as thou hast been, thy body is an old painful decripit body; thou canst not be such a Prodigal as thou hast been, for thou hast not wherewith to do it: Alas! thou art not converted from sin, thou art onely deprived of the instruments of sin; therefore stand thou by, for here is no glad tidings for thee.
Secondly, They turn from sin, but not to God, that forsake their gross wicked*ways, but then either go no further then meer civility, or else divert to some superstiti∣ous way of worship: This is much to be regarded, for here men swallow down poyson, while they think it is honey: And
First, those that turn to civility onely, dye in the wilderness, and never come to Canaan; yet this is a great conversion and change in the worlds account: If they see a Prodigal turned a good husband; if a dissolute debauched man, a so∣ber temperate man, they cry out, Behold a true convert! but this is to turn half way onely to God: They leave the sin, and set upon the contrary duty, but from false and infirm principles: They turn not to God, to close with him, to receive him as their Lord and King, onely they have some inferior reasons, which make them thus change their lives: Fear of poverty and hardship makes them better husbands; so the indangering of their bodily health by gross in∣temperance, makes them more sober: Now in all this a man, though he turn∣eth from his sin, yet because his motions are onely humane, such as wise Hea∣thens have propounded to themselves, therefore they turn not unto God: These that from prophane men, turn to be meer civil men onely, and not godly, are, as it was with Jonah, who had got a goard to defend him from the heat of the Sun, and he thought now he had a sure defence, but a worm ariseth presently to devour it: So thou who art turned more civil and ingenious then once thou wert, beginnest to bless thy self, and admire thy condition, not considering that for thy black coals and dirt thou didst wallow in, thou hast not found gold, but copper. We may indeed, as our Saviour did, look upon such who have this change, and love them, and yet say, Thou art not far from the Kingdom of Heaven. The Prophets and the Apostles press a far other conversion, then the most exact Moralists among the Heathens; when therefore thou beginnest to turn and change, be sure thou goest to the proper end of such a motion; stay not in any thing but God; do not take up thy lodging any where, till thy soul rest on him.
But the second miscarriage in turning from sin, may be into some superstitious and seemingly zealous worship of God; and this is more dangerous poison then the former. It hath been the case of divers, when afflicted in conscience for sin, and feeling the load and burthen of it, presently to fall upon some austere superstitious exercise of Religion, which God never commanded, and by this means they think to make God amends, and to give satisfaction; but this is not so much conversion as subversion. Suppose the Pharisees had gained several pub∣licans and gross sinners to become their Proselytes, to leave their former foul sins, and to be very diligent and strict in outward superstitions; yet our Saviour saith, That such were made the children of wrath; they were not turned to God, but in some respects more from him: Take heed therefore of turning from a publican, to become a Pharisee; this is destruction still: And yet this kinde of conversion is for the most part onely acknowledged in Popery; for they speak much of their converts and conversion, but what is that which they so emi∣nently commend? viz. When men living in the world, and guilty of gross sins, do begin to feel the terror and burthen of them, and thereupon enter into some Monastery, joyn themselves to some Religious order, as they call it, and this i• conv〈…〉 easie and sutable to flesh and blood. As we see the Jews very forward for any 〈◊〉 Sacrifices, though they were ten thou∣sand Rams, and thousand Rivers of Oy•, when yet they would not turn from Page 477 one sin; and thus it is here: To bow to Altars, to go on pilgrimage, to keep a strict Lent, these are far more easie to flesh and blood, then to mortifie sin, Habes quod in to occidas, said Austin. Though we have not Rams or Sheep to kill for Sacrifice, yet we have several lusts to mortifie, and this is a greater pain: So then, beware of this delusion of Satan; for if he cannot keep men in pro∣phane security about their sins, but their consciences will tremble and cry out; then he leads them into dark superstitious ways, and so they damn themselves in a narrow way, that leads to hell; for there is a broad way to hell, and there is also a narrow straight way, which the troubled conscience of a man findes out, wanting the guide of the Scripture: And the Devil makes such take up their cross and follow him.
Thirdly, Then we turn not to God from sin, when we onely change the practice*of sin, gross foul bodily sins, to more spiritual soul-filthiness: As when we with indignation cast away our prophaneness and scandalous ways, but this filleth us with pride and self-confidence, and a carnal trust in our Righteousness: Oh this is not turning to God, but further from him then ever; I come not to call the Righteous, but the sinners to repentance, saith Christ, Mat. 9 13. such as are al∣ready conceited with a self righteousness, because with the Pharisee, they can say, They are no Theives, no Adulterers, nor like other men, these are in a di∣rect opposition to conversion. This was the great sin of the Jews, they went about to establish their own Righteousness, Rom. 10. 1, 2. to set up their own Dagon; but alas, that could not stand before God. Take heed then, that when thou hast cast out some black Devils, there come not white ones in the room; the Devil transforming himself into an Angel of light: Oh its a great matter, when these unclean spirits are cast out of the soul, what comes in the room thereof. Alas! the Parable tells us, that a mans heart may be garnished and fur∣nished to prepare for those Devils that are seven times worse, Luke 11. 25. and as this holds for self-righteousness and pride, so for vain disputations, and affect∣ing new opinions in Religion; for if thou hast given over all thy prophaneness, and on a sudden all thy strength runs out in disputations about Religion: Thou dost not minde mortification of sin, and close communion with God, but thou art of this opinion, and that, and runnest roving up and down in Religion, this is an argument thou art, it may be, unsettled from sin, but yet not settled upon God; Thou art too much a seeker, for it may be thou hast not yet found God. Do not thou think conversion is an exchange of one sin from another; no, its a well advised renouncing of all, and taking God in the room of them.
Fourthly, Though we leave sin, yet we do not turn to God, when afflictions and*calamities are the onely motive to make us keep off: So that we are beaten from our sins, as the dog from sheep, our hearts are not turned to hate those lusts we once loved: This was that which made the Prophet say, They returned not to the most high; because though they were constant in prayer, and humiliation, and fasting; yet it was meerly to divert judgement, and out of love to tempo∣ral mercies: And thus also Zachary the Prophet expostulateth with the Israelites, In those moneths, did ye fast to me, even to me? was it not for your selves? Zach. 7. 5. If therefore these temporal calamities be the great wheel to set all agoing, you return not yet to God.
Lastly, Let a man turn never so far from the committing of any gross sin, yet if*still he do not turn from himself, his self aims, self-ends, self principles, self interests, he is not yet turned to God; For conversion is the unhinging of the soul, hanging it upon another hinge, or setting it upon another bottom then it had before: Therefore the whole requisite to a Disciple of Christ, is comprised in this, To Deny himself: If a man deny his lusts, his sins, all his outward wickedness; yet if still he hath not denied himself, he hath not killed the Serpent in his head, and therefore he will revive again; for therefore were sins committed, because they were self-pleasure, self-ease, or self-profit: This was the blood that ran Page [unnumbered] in every vein; therefore till a man be no longer himself, till he be converted and turned from himself, what a change soever may be in his life, yet he is not turned to God. Thus you see, that several ways men may turn from their sins, and yet not close with God; they are removed from their former life, as the dove was sent out of the Ark, but they have not found any place to rest their souls upon. Oh how much doth this concern you, who have made some motion from sin! you will not, you cannot, you dare not live as you have done: Oh! but upon what terms is all this? Thou mayest turn from sin, and yet go round and round about, till thou hast fallen into the same sins or worse again: As some wan∣dring traveller, that hath lost his way, goeth directly to that place at night from whence he came in the morning: Oh take heed of being a broken Bow, to have all thy seeming turnings to God prove frustrated.
In the next place, let us consider, What it is to turn to God, even to him: And
First, it is, Because he is displeased and offended by sin: This is the very quin∣tessence * and differential mark of conversion. David bewailed this consideration in his sin; and the Prodigal, when he became a convert, this wounded his heart, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and against thee, and am no more worthy to be called a son: All is but forced and counterfeit in conversion, till this be the great motive to set all on work: This will hold for all sin, and at all times, whether in prosperity or adversity, life and death.
Secondly, To turn even unto God, is to be unquiet and restless in soul, till we do*enjoy his favor, and the light of his countenance: So that if all judgements for sin be removed, if all outward comforts and abundance overflow, yet all is nothing, till God be reconciled: Thus it was with David, Restore joy (saith he) and heal the broken bones, Psal. 51. This is a sure Touch-stone of grace, when honors, riches, and all outward accommodations are nothing, unless God speak peace: As Hu∣man said, when he spake of all the honor and greatness he had, yet all availed him nothing, as long as Mordecai lived: Oh say thou much rather, All health, friends, children, comfort me nothing, till God cause his face to shine upon me! Oh desire to bathe thy soul in this meditation! this will manifest the up∣rightness and sincerity of thy conversion: O Lord, in thy light is life, comfort, happiness, and all things else.
Thirdly, To turn to him, even unto him, is when the soul being weary of sinful delights, and earthly pleasures, doth wholly repose it self, and rest on God as its true and*proper center: It was the speech of a true Convert, Lord, whom have I in heaven but thee, and whom in the earth but thee? it was the speech of the converted Church, I will leave all my lovers, and go to my first husband, for then was it better with me then now: Thus in true conversion, the soul forsaketh all, and cleaveth to him onely, Jer. 3. 14. Return, O Israel, for I am married to you: No conversion, as long as God is not the onely center of thy soul; if thou hast other objects, be∣sides him, if other lovers besides him, thou art not turned even to him.
Lastly, To turn to God, is obedientially to resign up our selves unto him as a Lord, & our Soveraign, whose commands we wil faithfully obey, whose Laws we * will readily submit unto: Thus Paul, when converted, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? and the Church cryeth, when converted, Come, let us return unto the Lord; as if she would say, Behold, here I am, do what thou pleasest: So that to turn to him, is to be like wax before the fire, melted into what form God would have it.
Use of Examination, Hast thou forsaken thy sins? art thou no more the beast, the Devil thou wast once? Oh Consider, and again consider, upon what * terms thou and sin did part: How hast thou closed with God? is he thy center, thy fulness? doest not thou take a picture for the true person? doest not thou lodge in some thing on this side God? Oh what sad shipwrack is that which is near the very haven! To turn so far and yet at last to be turned into hell! To get so far out of Egypt, and yet to have Pharaoh recover thee again: Fear imper∣fect and insincere conversion, as much as prophaneness.