Of Gods framing and devising evill of Calamities, That men might turn from their evill doings; Al∣so what Gods framing and devising evill implies; And why Judgements and afflictions which are the good effects of Gods Justice, Wisdome, and Power, are called evil.
JER. 18. 11.
IN the former part of this Chapter, you have an injunction laid by God on Je∣remiah, and the execution of it. The injunction and execution, is in going down to the Potters house, and beholding a work upon the wheels which was mar∣red, the Potter made it another vessel, as it seemed good to him. This was a Type, or outward visible sign, in a lively and ocular manner to represent the power, Soveraignty, and Omnipotency of God, in respect of all Kingdomes and States, and more particularly of that of Israel. Every Kingdom is but as the Potters unformed and •ude clay; God is the Potter, and he can easily make it on a suddain a vessel of honour, or dishonour: He can easily make it, and then break it in pieces again. This is the meaning of that Type, as appeareth by verses, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Now my Text is a conclusion, or inference from this Type ex∣plained, wherein is p•rtly information, and partly exhortation; onely to make these the more prevalent, you may observe Jeremiahs Commission, given him by God himself, which should make him bold and couragious, Go to, speak to the men of Judah, &c. 2. The subject to whom he must perform this embassage, in the Hebrew, To the men of Judah and Jerusalem, to every man; which denoteth the universal and general corruption that was on every man. This coming from God ought to be received by him with all fear, reverence, and submission. The matter of his Commission is partly to instruct, and partly to exhort, as you heard. To instruct, and that is in the beginning of the 8. verse; Behold, I frame evill against you, and devise devices against you; wherein is the efficient cause, 1. God: Our Calamities and Judgements come not by chance, or by inferiour instruments oue∣ly, but God is the principal agent: And it is his sword, his famine, his plague, his War, because arrows shot out of his quiver. 2. The manner of his efficiency, or Page 443 causality, He frames it; a Metaphor alluding to the Potter spoken of before. This Metaphor is plainly expressed, devising a device: How much is observable in this you shal hear af•terwards. 3. There is the effect, which is called Evill. There is a twofold evil, an evil of sin, and an evil of punishment: This latter is here spoken of, as be∣ing the effect of the former; why afflictons are called evil, is anon to be spoken to. The second general part of his Commission is exhortation, wherein is the duty, Return yee. 2. The time, now, Return ye now. 3. The term from which, of their motion, 1. Particularly, Every one from his evill way. 2. Generally, And from your evil doings, which is more positively, and affirmatively urged; Make your waies and doings good. Lastly, you have the peoples incorrigiblenesse, and obstinatenesse notwithstanding, and they said, There is no hope, but we will walk af∣ter the devices of our hearts. You will perceive that the excellent matter to be de∣rived from this Text, will like the widows oyl, or our Saviours bread, multiply ex∣ceedingly in the use and spending of it. But that I may frame a body, and not a monster of discourse, I shall put my self in a methodical way. And first I shall treat of the information, which is Gods forming, and preparing of judgements for this end, to make men turn to God; so that not onely the Ministrie, but all Gods Chastisements, whether publique or personal, are for this end, to turn us unto God from our evil waies.
Obs. God doth frame and prepare evill, calamities, and desolations, that so wicked*men may turn from their evill doings.
God brings his evil (which is indeed a good act of Justice) that we may part from our evil. The same Hebrew word is used for the evil we do, and the evil God doth, though they differ exceedingly; so that we see God preacheth not only by his word, but by his works. His turnings of a Kingdome by Wars and others judgements, is to cause our turnings: God removeth a peoples peace, mercies, and externall good things, that they might remove far from them all their evil things. To open this Do∣ctrine, let us consider these particulars,
- 1. What is implied in Gods framing and devising of evil.
- 2. Why Calamities are called evil, seeing they are the good effects of his Justice Wisdom, and Power.
- 3. How conversion is intended by all these, and why.
For the first, Gods framing of his judgements hath these observable particulars contained in it.
First, That our miseries and calamities come not by chance, or peradventure, they*rise not out of the dust: We are not to blame instruments; but they all come from Gods hand. The Arrow falls not of it self, or by accident, but as it is directed by the Archer: a piece of clay is not of it self made into such a shape and form; but it is as the Potter pleaseth. The stone of it self pierced not into Goliahs head and killed him, but as with skill and power flung by David; so that when it is said, God frameth evil, this should teach us, That there is no evil of punishment in the land, but he doth it. The Evangelist calls diseases 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, Strokes, because they come from Gods hand. Now this is a great matter; for such is mans Atheism, and pro∣phane security, that he conceiveth of God, as keeping himself within the circle of heaven, and not acting and governing the world by his providence here below. The Church was better taught, when in her Captivity and other judgements, shee makes her moans, but still looks over all instruments to God, Why hast thou, O God, cast us off? and why art thou angry with us? Psal. 74. 1. Job also was bet∣ter taught when he considers, not the Sabeans, but God spoyling him of all his comforts, The Lord hath given and the Lord hath taken, Job. 1. •t hath been the great sin of England in judgements upon her, that she hath cried out of instruments; some lay all the blame on oneside, and some on another side; but the anger and just displeasure of God for our sins hath not been acknowledged.
Secondly, This phrase, to frame evil, supposeth Gods Soveraignty, and omnipo∣tent power over all people. He can as easily destroy a flourishing happy Kingdom, as Page 444 the potter can mar his vessel on the wheels, Isa. 41. how excellently is God described in his majesty and greatness, holding all the world in his hand, Ut homo nidum, as Tertullian, as a man doth a birds nest; yea, all the nations of the world are but a drop, but as small dust, as nothing, yea less then nothing: Oh what little cause have men to trust in greatness, power, forces, fenced cities and strong places, when they are but as so much dust, when God breatheth on them! and it is as impossible for any earthly power or greatness to subsist and keep from ruine, when God is angry, as dust to lie still in the air, when a stormy wind doth arise: Well then might Jeremy cry out, Jer. 10. Who would not fear thee, O King of the Nations? Let us not then account any thing great but God; we are clay, and he is the potter: And as it may discourage, when we are a sinful people, though overslowing in all external mercies; so it may incourage a people when converted, though in a desolate confusion, for God can make this rude clay, a glorious vessel of honor; he can make dry bones to become living men: Here is his Soveraignty extolled in this phrase.
Thirdly, It argueth, that God can suddenly and quickly bring judgements upon men: Gods wonderful works of his wrath, are not onely seen in the matter he * doth, but also in the manner: On a sudden, in a moment calamities rise be∣fore any man thought or looked for them; even as the Church saith, When he turned their captivity, they were as men in a dream, Psal. 126. 1. so when he brings their captivity also: Hence you have the expression in this Chapter, At what instant I speak to a land to pull it down, or build it up: He can do those things in an instant, which humane power could not produce in many years. I create light and darkness, Creatio fit in instanti they say; God makes the deluge of his wrath to overflow in an instant: Thus he overthrew Sodom and Gomorrha on a sudden; and that wonderful work of God, in bringing dead bodies out of the grave to appear before his Tribunal, will be in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, 1 Cor. 15. 52. so that when God is said to frame evil against a people, it implieth, that he can bring this in a moment, on a sudden, before men think it possible. How often doth the Prophet tell them, That their miseries shall come upon them as travel upon a woman with childe: Oh how should this make every wicked man speedily turn from his evil ways, for God can bring his judgements on thee in a moment; thou mayest have no time, no space to bewail thy sins, but his anger will consume thee in the twinkling of an eye; yet how securely do men live in open rebellion against God? how do they put far off from them the evil day? They put it far off in their thoughts, when God puts it very near in reality upon them: Could men eat and drink, and rise up to play, if they did consider how obnoxious they are to the sharp arrows of God, which may be shot into their hearts every hour? who can tell thee what evil the next day, the next night, the next hour, may bring upon thee?
Fourthly, Gods framing of evil, as the Potter doth his clay, doth denote an im∣possibility to resist, and to escape his judgements: Can the clay refuse the Potters * hand? no more can wicked men Gods Government, whereby he punisheth wicked men for their sins: There is no running from God, If thou gettest into heaven or hell, as the Psalmist saith, his right hand will finde thee out, Psal. 139. 8. God tells Lu•ifer, that is Nebuchadnezar, Though he build his nests in the clouds, yet he will pull him down: He that escaped the Lyon, the Bear would devour him; and he that escaped the Bear, the Serpent out of the wall would sting him, Amos 5. 19. If then God prepare and frame evil against thee, its not all the policy or power in the world can secure thee. Who art thou, O piece of clay, O mortal man, dust and ashes, that thou shouldst be able to flee from Gods anger, when it pursueth thee?
Fifthly, As it argueth irresistableness, so a necessity of submitting and yielding*to him; Not to strive or repine at his chastisements: Thus the Scripture often, Shall the potsheard rise up against the Potter, and say, Why madest thou me so?Page 445 Rom. 9. 21. The foolishness of a man perverteth his way, and his heart fretteth against the Lord: Thus when we by our evil deeds cause Gods wrath to fall upon us, we are ready to say with the Jews, His ways are not equal; its part of the sin and punishment which the damned have in hell, that they curse, and rage, and blaspheme God continually: Oh take heed of being like the damned in hell, fretting at that evill which God frames against thee! Do thou, as Ieremy here, Go down into the field of the potter, and consider the clay there: Remember thy own self, thy dust, thy clay, and thy sins; all which will make thee not open thy mouth, because God doth it. How should this humble the proud and lofty spirits of haughty and obstinate sinners? God he frames his judgements against thee, and can〈…〉 thou refuse them? must thou not yield the back to his scourges and blows? why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins, Lam. 3.
Sixthly, This phrase doth imply, how unwilling God is to exercise his wrath which*he hath purposed; for here he tells the Israelites, He frameth and deviseth evil a∣gainst them, as his purpose and resolution; therefore let them return from their evil ways, to prevent the actual pouring out of his wrath: Thus in the former part of the Chapter, God speaks to a people about pulling them down, before he doth indeed destroy them. To frame and purpose evil, is not presently to bring evil; No, if that people, against whom it is framed, repent of their evil practised, God will of his evil framed and resolved on: Thus God speaks of Whetting his glistering Sword, before he run it into the bowels; and he is said to roar like a Lyon, which giveth warning before he tear in pieces, and there be none to deliver. The Prophet expresseth this way of God excellently, when having instanced in what judgements God purposed to visit them with, And because I will do this, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel, Amos 4. 12. Take thou our Savi∣ors counsel, Agree with thy adversary in the way, before he hale thee to the judge, and thou be condemned, Mat. 5. 25. from whence thou canst never be re∣prived: So that this expression of framing evil, signifieth much love, goodness, and unwillingness of God actually to destroy.
Seventhly, To frame evil, and devise it, doth excellently represent the justice*of God, that he dealeth with men according to their wickedness; for as this people would not turn to God, but go after the devices and imaginations of their own heart; so God he will imagine and devise from his heart evil against them; so that its a very sutable expression to those wicked men. As in another place, when the Israelites were so obstinate, that they would walk in the way which they should choose; God to answer them, tells them, He would also choose out their delusions, Isa. 66. 4. so true is that of Psal. 18. With the froward thou wilt shew thy self froward: So that this should exceedingly humble and terrifie wicked men, for God will shape out punishments, and frame out such judge∣ments, that will be very answerable and proportionable to thy wicked∣ness.
Eighthly, To frame evil, and devise it, implyeth the wisdom of God:
First, That he afflicts in counsel and deliberation (to speak after the manner * of men) not in sudden, irregular passion; he frameth it, he deviseth it: Thus when God was to destroy the whole world, he saith, Let us go down and see whether it be so or no: These are expressions to humane capacity, to shew how just and wise God is in all the calamities he brings upon a people. When Theo∣dosius had in cruel passion, caused the people of Thessalonica to be put to the sword, for some offence done against him, Ambrose would not admit him to the Sacrament, till he had repented of that cruel passion; and withal, made a law, that when any man was condemned to death, there should be thirty days re∣spite between sentence and execution, that so nothing might be done in pas∣sion.
Secondly, Gods wisdom is seen, in that its not every kinde of judgement Page 446 he takes, but what is fit for his end he propounds: As the Potter doth not make every vessel in one shape, but one one way; another, another, as his use is of it, Thus God sheweth wonderful wisdom, in the variety of his afflictions, one is one way exercised, another, another; because they come not at random, but are framed by God, at his pleasure. Hence Dan. 9. he is said to watch over evil, to bring it upon them. God watcheth over evil, to shew that he considers what is the fittest judgement, what is the fittest season, who are the fittest subjects: Oh how well is it, that the framing and devising of all evil, is not in the Devils hands, and wicked mens hands! they indeed frame evil, and devise malicious devices; but they are onely instruments, every way limited, in power, in time and place, and therefore they cannot devour as they desire: And thus much for the phrase, To frame and devise evil, when attributed to God.
In the next place, consider briefly, why judgements and afflictions are * called evil; For is not God just in dispensing of them? Are not his judge∣ments righteous and holy? Do not the people of God with much joy and praise, acknowledge them? why then should they be called evil? This hath struck so much upon some of the Ancients, Arnobius and others, that they thought onely that good came from God, which was pleasant and comforta∣ble; and that these bitter sore afflictions, come onely Permissivè, as the Orthodox say, about the evil of sin: And the error about this, made the Marcionites hold two first and chief principles: One Good, from whom came onely good; the other Evil and wicked, from whom came onely evil: But the Scripture is very clear, and the Prophets are very diligent to in∣form, That all the judgements they lay under, were brought by God upon them for their sins.
First therefore, They are called evil, because though in their nature and use, the good fruits of Gods justice, yet they deprive us of our temporal and spiritual*good we might enjoy: So that as the happiness and quietness we might have in body and soul, is truly called Good; so that which depriveth us of these, may well be called evil. Thus the Prophet, Your iniquities withhold good things from you, Jer. 5. 25. Oh how should this, if not the love of God, make thee set against thy sin; for its that which depriveth thee of all temporal and spiritual good; its that which turneth all thy honey into gall, all thy wine into vinegar, all thy bread into a stone.
Secondly, It may well be called evil, because its the fruit of that which is truly evil. The evil of punishment is the necessary daughter of the evil of sin; * now it is usual to call any effect by the name of the cause, and nothing is more ordinary in Scripture, to call both sin it self, and the punishment of sin, by the name of sin: Thus sin is said to lie at the door, Gen. 4. 7. Christ became sin for us, 2 Cor. 4. Your sin will finde you out, Numb. 32. 23. that is, sin and punish∣ment: So that no man may commit the evil of sin, with hope to escape the evil of punishment, for they are both chained together.
Thirdly, They are evil, because upon all men naturally where they fall, if not prevented by grace, they draw out their evil, they make them more wicked, as we may*see in the damned: so that afflictions and judgements of themselves, have no sutable power to convert and turn from sin, but rather stir up the fire of cor∣ruption in men to a greater flame. They are as Garlike, and other unsavory herbs, the more they are pounced, the worse is their smell.
But although they be called evil, yet they are nothing so evil, as the evil of sin. The breach of Gods law, the offence done to his Majesty, is infinitely a * greater evil then any temporal or eternal misery; yea, this latter is to be in∣dured, rather then the other committed: Oh! who shall perswade the world of this? that to be poor, to be miserable, to be tormented with all kinde of cruel deaths here, and eternally tormented hereafter, is nothing so bad as to commit the least sin; yet nothing is more true then this thing. Oh thou that Page 447 judgest sin pleasure and profit, hearken to this; few have Anselms resolution, That if sin be on one hand, and hell flames on the other, he would chose rather to run into this latter, then commit the former. Iob was charged for an hypocrite by his friends, though falsly, in this, that he chose sin rather then affliction: An hypocrite will rather venture on the evil of sin, then fall into the evil of af∣fliction.
Use of Admonition, To take heed of all ungodly and wicked ways, for you see you have to do with a wise and just God, who frameth punishments for * thee: Do not think to escape, do not please thy self with impunity, God seeth and looketh on, and accordingly is preparing to smite thee: Oh, while you are jolly, secure and merry, what is doing in heaven against you! Be not any longer prophane Atheists, but set faith on work; imagine with Belshazzar, thou doest not onely see an Hand-writing on every wall against thee, but on every cup, on every pot, on every bed, on every piece of ground thou treadest upon: O turn to God, before he put his purposes in execution, then thou canst not resist, but art undone for ever.