"Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?" -- 2 Pet. iii. 11.
My design is only to go over a few texts of Scripture that may give us light into that instruction which is wrapped up in these words, and a little, if it may be, whet it upon us.
It is not certain what is meant by "All these things," whether all the things of the world, the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them; or whether it be the "all things," the heavens and the earth, of an apostatized church, such as was the church of the Jews, at that time drawing nigh to a fiery destruction. I shall not detain you in discussing the difficulties of it. But that which I would leave with you from the words, and which without all doubt is in them, is this, that all things in and of the world are liable and obnoxious to a destructive dissolution. Our things, and other men's things, the things of the nation, and the things of families, so far as they are in and of this world, are liable to a destructive dissolution.
And then there is this again, I am sure, in the words, that upon the near approach of great, destructive dissolutions, it is highly incumbent upon all professors of the gospel to be signal in holiness and godliness, or assuredly they will not escape the pressure and evil of that destructive dissolution.
I pray let us believe that there is nothing in this world, but only the gospel of Christ, and the interest of Christ, and the grace and mercy of God in the covenant, but it is liable to a destructive dissolution. It is the law that hath passed upon all things since the entrance of sin. All alterations tend to dissolution, and all things in this world are put into a course of change. Things alter every day, and the end of all that alteration is dissolution. Our relations, they must all be dissolved. There is a dissolution lies at the door between you and your estates, between you and your wives, between you and your children. And it is not a perfective dissolution, it is a destructive dissolution; for this dissolution ends it: and it lies at the door of us all, and every day leads us towards it. But there is a gathering up of the spirit of all things into a consistency in Christ Jesus, Eph. i. 10. God hath reconciled all, and gathered all as the first-fruit and spirit of the whole into one head; that is, into Christ. What is gathered up into him never changes, it is obnoxious to no dissolution. Whatever is gathered up into Christ, be it never so little, if all the world should set themselves to dissolve it, they can never do it, -- no, nor the gates of hell to boot; and whatever is not gathered up into Christ, if all the world should combine to preserve it, it shall never do it, -- it will come to its dissolution. Ps. lxxv. 3 are the words of Christ: "The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved: I bear up the pillars of it. Selah." Let there be a mark,' saith he, set upon that, their being dissolved.' "Are," that is only, being obnoxious to dissolution. They have nothing in themselves to give them a consistency or a stability. Christ is pleased for a season to put some pillars in it.
The conclusion made from thence is, that there is a great deal of madness and folly in all men, to pride themselves in any thing hero below; as in the next words, "I said unto the fools, Deal not foolishly: and to the wicked, Lift not up the horn: lift not up your horn on high; speak not with a stiff neck." All pride and elation of mind from the things here below is mere folly and madness, and from want of considering that in their principle they are all dissolvable, and nothing stands but what Christ gives a pillar to. You may see the law of this, Rom. viii. 20, "The creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope." Verse 22, "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." The "creature" in one place is the "whole creation" in the other; and by the entrance of sin it is brought into this state and condition, is "subject unto vanity." "Vanity," that is, to changes and alterations, which will issue in a destructive dissolution. It groans for deliverance. Every thing you see in the world of order, of power, they are all but endeavours in the creation to free itself from this state of vanity, to preserve itself as long as it can from dissolution; and they are but vain endeavours, for there is a dissolution waiteth for it. Some things will be excepted, surely, from this dissolution. It may reach our small concernments, but the heavens and the earth, they will stand firm; there is no danger of those more noble and glorious parts of the creation.' Why, truly, if there were not, yet as long as our interest in them is subject to it, we are not much concerned; but there is [an end] to them also: Ps. cii. 25, 26, "Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands." What will he conclude from thence? Therefore they shall endure? It is quite otherwise; "They shall perish, but thou shalt endure," are the next words: "yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed." A man would have thought from that great preface, "Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands," the conclusion would certainly have been, Then they should endure.' No, saith the psalmist; "They shall perish." God only shall endure, and an especial interest in God only shall endure; as I shall show you afterward from those words.
Go from the heavens and the earth to the inhabitants of them; the inhabitants of the earth, see what is their state and condition: Isa. xl. 6-8, "The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry?" Something God would have taken notice of. Cry out. What shall I cry?' "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth; because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth." All is grass, and all is but grass. It is twice affirmed that all is grass, and it is twice affirmed that all withereth. It may be green and flourishing for a little season; but the wind shall come over it, and shall cause it all to wither. "All flesh," all men living; all their powers, all their honours, all their riches, all their beauty, all their glory, all their wisdom, all their gifts and parts, it is all "flesh" and all "grass," and all liable to a destructive dissolution, that lies at the door.
Ay, but things in the world may come into such a combination as that they may be preserved from any danger of such a dissolution.' No; Ezek. xxi. 26, 27, "Thus saith the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is." One dissolution shall come upon the neck of another, until it all issue in Jesus Christ. I will overturn it,' saith God. But men will set it up again.' I will overturn it again,' saith God, perfectly overturn it. All men's endeavours shall but turn things from one destructive issue to another, till all issue in one whose right it is.' The Jews have a way of remembering things, by a word that one way or other shall direct unto them. Truly, God hath strangely, wrapped up all this mystery in one word: Heb. xii. 27, "This word, saith he, "Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. It is wrapped up in this one word. Carry this about with you as a note of remembrance, that God in dealing about those things hath put a "once more upon them; which is a sign they must come to a dissolution. It signifies that they are shaking, movable things, and must be gone. Remember God hath said concerning every thing, except only the unshaken things of the kingdom of Christ, God hath said of them' "Once more," and they shall have an end.' That mark is set upon every thing but the things of Christ.
If we would look about us we might consider what would preserve any thing in this world from a destructive dissolution. A great consent and agreement would do it. Nations come to be broken and dissolved by differences one with another, and among themselves. If there were but a good consent and agreement, things would stand long enough, at least to the day of judgment.' -- I know not but that men were wonderfully well agreed before the flood, they all went the same way; yet that did not preserve the world; God marred the world he had made. They agreed so well, they would not destroy the world with their own hands; but God had a way to bring the world to a destructive dissolution.
But where an empire is mighty and strong, where there is force and power, we need fear no dissolution there.' -- Pray what is become of that part of Nebuchadnezzar's image that was like iron, and broke every thing in pieces? what is become of the Roman empire, that dashed the world in pieces at its pleasure? It is brought to a destructive dissolution; it is brought to the dust, and that dust scattered away before the wind.
A long-continued title, a long prescription of time in the same state of things, certainly that will secure us from the fear of a dissolution.' -- There is not an empire at this day in the world that hath had a life so long as man had before the flood; and if a prescription of eight or nine hundred years could not preserve men from the grave, will it preserve empires, kingdoms, and nations, when the time of their dissolution is come? God's own institutions, that were not immediately managed in the hands of Christ, were all liable to a dissolution, and had it, that we may be sure to know that there was nothing but should be dissolved, except only what is managed immediately in the hands of Christ. The Lord dissolved all his own institutions, all that glorious worship that he had instituted and appointed under the law.
Let us see our concernment herein, and what use we may make of it. Truly this, that if all our own things, and all things wherein we are concerned in this world, -- our lives, our relations, our enjoyments, our interest in public things, -- if they are all obnoxious to such a destructive dissolution, that waits for them every moment, certainly it is our wisdom to look after an interest in Him that is unchangeable, and in immutable, unchangeable things. Two of the places I mentioned before give us this direction. Ps. cii., the psalmist speaks first of his own condition: Verses 23, 24, "He weakened my strength in the way; he shortened my days. I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days." He had apprehensions of his own frailty and mortality, and that in the appearing midst of his days. He was ready to sink and to fail away. He looked to the creation: Verse 26, "They shall perish," saith he, "all of them shall wax old like a garment." Whereunto doth he betake himself then? Verses 27, 28, "Thou art the same," saith he, "and thy years shall have no end. The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee." In an apprehension of the mutable condition of himself and all things wherein he was concerned, he betakes himself unto an interest in the immutability of God. There is nothing firm, stable, unchangeable, but God himself: "But thou art the same." There is nothing else the same; we are not the same the following moment as the moment before; nothing is the same, but only God: "Thou art the same." What advantage will ensue hereon? In the midst of all these changes, "The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee." ' Where there is an interest in the immutable God, in the midst of all changes whereunto we are obnoxious there is stability and eternal continuance for us and for our seed. The other place also gives the same direction: Isa. xl. 7, 8, "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth." What shall we do, then? "But the word of our God shall stand for ever," saith he; that is, as the apostle Peter explains it, 1 Pet. i. 25, "The word of the gospel which is preached unto you." In this fading condition of all things, if you would come to any thing of stability, it must be in the stability of the word of God, that abides for ever. That contains the whole of what I have been speaking unto you, that there is a destructive dissolution waits for every thing, but only the kingdom and gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Lord keep us from needing that reproof which the psalmist uses to some hereon: "I said unto the fools, Deal not foolishly." But can there be any thing more foolish for us than to fix and set our hearts and minds upon that which God hath told us is grass? Your estates, your parts, your wisdom, your wives and children, are grass; they all wither away, decay, and die. Yourselves are grass: "Surely," saith he, "the people is grass." Let us not be so foolish as to set our hearts upon those things that are withering and decaying; let us not please ourselves. We have security in nothing, when we return to our habitations, but this one thing, "The word of our God shall stand for ever." Wives, children, husbands, may be dead, our houses may be fired and all consumed. There is only this, the word of God, that abides for ever; the promises of God fail not; everything else is obnoxious to dissolution, please yourselves with them as much as you will. Men are apt to have strange contrivances to satisfy themselves in other things, Ps. xlix. The men the psalmist there speaks of, he gives this account of them: "They see wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others." They have convictions upon them, that as to their own persons, all their interest in present things is but perishing: for they see wise men and fools all die; there is no man but dies, be he of what condition he will. But they have contrivances to secure themselves another way; and this overpowers them, that they dare not speak one word that there is a happiness to be had in those outward, earthly things. But "their in ward thought is" (they have a reserve yet), "their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling-places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names," verse 11. Though they cannot continue those things to themselves, yet they will continue them in their posterity: Posterity from generation to generation, they shall enjoy all my wealth, and all I have laboured for, hoarded up, and preserved. What if I do die, seeing all must die, the wise man and the fool alike, yet posterity of generations to come shall enjoy it.' That is their "inward thought;" that is it wherewith they relieve themselves against the open convictions they have that all things here, are uncertain and not worth the setting the mind upon. What judgment doth the Holy Ghost make of it, verse 17? Alas, poor man! he is little concerned in all that comes after him, for "When he dieth he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him." The meaning is this, he hath no manner of concernment in all that is above ground. If he could carry his riches and his glory with him, it were something; but as for all that he leaves behind, he is no more concerned in it than any common man that lives upon the face of the earth: "He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light."
This should teach us, -- and it were a good lesson if we could learn it this day, -- to secure an interest in unchangeable things; about which you need not be careful or solicitous, as you are about all things you enjoy. I know you are so; -- don't deny it. There are none of you so negligent: careless, and stupid, but you may take a prospect of such near-approaching dissolutions as must make you solicitous about all your enjoyments. It were better, then, we should lay out the whole of our concernment in those things that cannot be shaken or moved, -- that never are obnoxious to a destructive dissolution. "The word of our God shall stand for ever;" the things of the kingdom of Christ are unshaken things. Mercy coming from an everlasting covenant to his children and their seed shall be blessed salvation. Though "all these things shall be dissolved," God is "the same." That is for the first observation.
The next observation is this, That upon the approach of a destructive dissolution, it is required of all professors to be signal in holiness: "Seeing that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?"
I take here an approaching, destructive dissolution not to be that which attends all our designs upon the common account, but upon the account of the judgments of God that are in the world, the judgments of God that come upon people and nations. And I would speak to two things:-- 1. What are the evidences of the approach of a destructive dissolution; 2. What are the reasons from thence unto signal holiness and godliness.
First, What are the signs and tokens of an approaching dissolution?
First, There is one in general that never misses; I mean this, that we have no instance in Scripture that ever God brought a destruction upon any place or people where that did not go before it, -- and if we can free ourselves from that, we may free ourselves from the fear of an approaching dissolution, -- and that is, security. The rule of all great, destructive judgments is laid down in 1 Thess. v. 3, "When they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape." You never read of any people or place destroyed with overturning judgments, but it is remarked before their approach that they were secure; though we do not rightly understand this security. There is no security but such as a woman may have that is with child, that yet may be surprised with the hour of travail. It is not every thought and apprehension of danger, every conjecture, every talk of it, that will free men from being in such a security as opens the door to great judgments and destructions. Things are so evident sometimes that men cannot but think, that unless a miracle interpose judgments must come; but yet they come "as travail upon a woman with child." Therefore there are three or four things wherein this security doth consist:--
1. It consists in a general, earnest intension upon the occasions of life and the temptations of life. When a nation is divided into these two sorts, that some are extraordinarily intent upon the occasions of life, and some are extraordinarily compliant with the temptations of life, that nation is under universal security. It was so before the flood. Our Saviour tells us of some of them, Matt. xxiv. 38, that "they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage;" they were earnestly intent upon the occasions of life. And some of them were given up to a compliance with the temptations of life. Surfeiting, drunkenness, violence, the earth was filled withal. Let us now think what we will, talk what we will, if a nation may be distributed into these two parts, -- one part over-intent upon the occasions of this life, and the other over-compliant with the temptations of life, sin and wickedness, -- that nation, that people, is secure.
2. When, upon a prospect of the danger of approaching destructive dissolutions, men betake themselves to any other preparations or provisions than unto the proper remedy and help, there is security. In Isa. xxii. there is a great and terrible vision concerning a destructive dissolution coming upon Jerusalem: Verse 2, "Thou that art full of stirs, a tumultuous city, a joyous city: thy slain men are not slain with the sword, nor dead in battle;" -- that is, not yet. The day cometh: Verse 5, "It is a day of trouble, and of treading down, and of perplexity by the Lord God of hosts in the valley of vision, breaking down the walls, and of crying to the mountains." And in verses 8-11, he tells you what provision was made to avoid this destruction and desolation that was coming upon them: "He discovered the covering of Judah, and thou didst look in that day to the armour of the house of the forest. Ye have seen also the breaches of the city of David, that they are many: and ye gathered together the waters of the lower pool. And ye have numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses have ye broken down to fortify the wall Ye made also a ditch between the two walls for the water of the old pool." Those were not a secure people, surely, who took all this pains, were at all this charge, made all this provision, to prevent destruction from coming upon them. There are a people in the world who can see destruction lie at the door, and make no manner of preparation to keep it off from them. But these people were secure; and the reason is given: Verse 11, "But ye have not looked unto the Maker thereof, neither had respect unto him that fashioned it long ago." They had respect to other things to give relief, and not unto God, who alone ought to have been looked unto. We are not rulers or governors of nations, but poor and private persons. Let us examine our hearts what provision we are most apt to make against a destructive dissolution. Have we not hopes and reserves that we may escape? -- this way and that way we may do it; it may come here, and not there? This is a sign of security.
3. A people are then secure when God's warnings among them are despised. I am persuaded that, such is the goodness and tenderness of God to mankind, so little is he delighted in bringing sore judgments upon them, to their ruin and destruction, he scarce ever destroyed the most wicked and idolatrous nation, -- those that knew nothing of him now of Christ, -- but he gave them some providential warnings of it, that might make them look about them and consider where they were. It is apparent in story. He dealt so with all the heathen of old. There came no great destruction upon any nation but there were providential warnings went before. When these warnings are despised, that people are secure; as Isa. xxvi. 11, "Lord, when thy hand is lifted up, they will not see." The lifting up of the hand is a giving notice that there is a stroke ready to come. And many lesser judgments are but God's lifting up of his hand. Though they are strokes in themselves, yet, comparatively with what follows, they are but the lifting up of his hand, -- they are but warnings. "Lord," saith he, "when thy hand is lifted up, they will not see: but they shall see." "They will not see: but they shall see;" -- how is that? They will not see while thy hand is only lifted up; but they shall see when thy hand is come down.' While under warnings, they will not see; but when warnings are executed, they shall see. May be we will not see in the plague, fire, sword; but when something else comes, many shall see then. When shall they see? They shall see when "the fire of thine enemies shall devour them.' "Fire of thine enemies;" that is, it may be, the fire wherewith God will destroy his enemies. May be it is, when the fiery rage of a people that are enemies to God, shall, by the just judgment of God, be let out upon them. Oftentimes, if God have a nation in the world that is more an enemy to him than any other nation of the world, he will make use of that nation for the execution of corrective or destructive judgments upon others. No nation under heaven were at such enmity unto God as the Babylonians were. How they first began an open apostasy from God, and maintained an idolatrous opposition to him all their days, is known. Yet God would use the Babylonians. And sometimes a nation, by atheism, idolatry, and cursed persecution, may make themselves meet to be God's instrument for the punishing of others before themselves be utterly destroyed. God's hand hath been lifted up in these nations. I need not make application. It is well if the best of us all have been shaken from our security by God's warnings. In truth, brethren, it doth not appear so to be, but that there is security enough yet left to let in a destroying dissolution upon us.
4. The highest thing wherein this security acts itself is by scoffing at warnings given from the word of God: 2 Pet. iii. 3, "Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts." The last days of churches, when they are drawing towards their period, are always filled with this sort of persons. And it must be so. In the last days of any church-state that has had, it may be, some good reputation of life, and has been of use, there shall abound among them a sort of men that shall be scoffers, Ye may know them,' saith the apostle, by this, they walk after their hearts' lusts.' They have no rule but their lusts; they give up themselves wholly to their lusts. Well, but what do they scoff at?' He tells you in verse 4, "Where is the promise of his coming?" say they. What promise of his coming?' Why, truly, the poor persecuted Christians had been letting them know that Christ would come and take vengeance on them for all their bloody cruelty and persecution; and the time is delayed, and they prosper, walking after their lusts, and at length they fall a scoffing, "Where is the promise of his coming? "-- for it was such a coming as God came in when he destroyed the old world with a flood. But scoff you while you will,' say they, a fiery destruction will come upon you.' When leading persons shall be scoffers at the promised coming of Christ to visit his people, and take vengeance on his adversaries, that is the height of security.
Where some are intent upon the occasions of life, and some are given up to the temptations of life; where, in an apprehension of approaching judgments, our relief is not from God, and in God alone; where God's warnings in his providence are not improved, and where God's warnings from his word are despised; -- there a people are secure, if God hath instructed us aright out of his word.
Why are a people to be thus secure? for, as I told you before, God doth not bring destruction ordinarily upon any but upon a secure people. One reason is taken from God, and another reason is taken from the devil.
1. God gives men up to security in a way of judiciary hardening of them. God hath now determined their destruction; but he will take his own time, way, and season.
But may not this work be diverted? and will it be accomplished? Saith God, I will take care for that:' Isa. vi. 9-11, "Go, make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. Then said I, Lord, how long?" how long shall they! be in this state and condition? "And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate." God brings them now under security judicially. It is not preaching, -- it is not men's thundering from heaven; it is not sudden judgments, poverty, misery, distresses, fears; -- nothing shall now awaken such a people. Make their heart fat, and their ears heavy.' How long?' Until the land be utterly desolate. But the time is not yet come, I must stay a little longer, to try and exercise my people's faith, patience, and obedience; and many other things I have to do: but this people shall not escape,' saith he. But if this judgment and the other judgment pass over, they will escape.' No,' saith God; I will make their heart fat, and their ears heavy, that they shall not hear, nor understand, until the land become desolate.'
A man that is not utterly stupid cannot sometimes but wonder and stand amazed whence it is that mankind should be so secure when judgments are compassing them round about. If the word of God be true, and any tokens of God's anger and displeasure are to be taken notice of, whence is it that men are so unconcerned that they will not lend an ear to them? The reason is given, Isa. vi. 10-12.
2. Satan hath a great hand in it. He is a very crafty prognosticator, -- hath great apprehensions that judgments are drawing near to a people; and he was a murderer from the beginning, and delights in nothing but blood and mischief. He is afraid of nothing so much as that judgments should be diverted from a people. When he sees deserved judgments approaching, he knows he hath but this one way to take off all interventions that may hinder them. What is that? He makes them secure. He will now labour more with his temptations with all sorts of people than at any other time or season in the world. This is his day, the hour and power of darkness, now to try his skill, and see what he can do. If he can but keep people secure, judgments will follow. He delights in blood, as being a murderer from the beginning; and he that sees him not at work in the world in a most eminent manner in these days to this very end and purpose, working in men, by their lusts, by occasions and temptations of life, every day, to continue them in their security, I think takes little observation.
This is the first sign of an approaching dissolution, which I have spoken to at large because it is that which the Scripture speaks so much of, and guides us most to consider, -- namely, a general security.
Secondly, Another sign is, a universal corruption of life in all sorts of persona The Holy Ghost tells us, that before the coming of the flood, "all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth," Gen. vi. 12. The way of the flesh is not very good at any time; I mean the way of men: but when they come as it were by general consent, all of them, to corrupt their way, it is to make way for the bringing in of a flood. Such a state and condition as that is described by the prophet Isaiah, chap. iii. 1-5, "The Lord of hosts doth take away the mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, the captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator. And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable." There is a general confusion and corruption of life and manners. The prophet describes what their state and condition was before God, and which would bring those destructive judgments upon the whole nation; as afterwards He did.
Thirdly, When unto universal corruption of life there is added persecution of the church, that is another sign of an approaching destructive dissolution. Our Saviour tells us, Matt. xxiv. 7-9, that "nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places, All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you." A man would think they had something else to do at such a day, when nation rises against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there are pestilences, and famines, and earthquakes. A man would think they should have other employment. No; "Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you." What is the reason of it? That there may be another symptom of approaching desolation, Matt. xxiii. 34-36.
I could name many other signs; -- as, visible apostasy, the love of many waxing cold; God in an eminent manner calling off to rest with himself many of his servants, taking them away from the evil to come: but I have said enough upon this head.
I shall now speak a few words, in the second place, unto the reasons why in such approaching dissolutions all professors ought to be signally holy, signally godly. I shall but name one or two things:--
First, Because in every such dissolution, especially where the gospel hath been professed, there is a peculiar coming of Jesus Christ. Christ is in it, whether we see him or see him not. "Be patient, brethren," saith James, chap. v. 7, "unto the coming of the Lord." How could that generation, to whom he wrote sixteen hundred years ago, "be patient unto the coming of the Lord," who is not yet come? That is not the coming of the Lord James intended; but his coming for the destruction of the impenitent, persecuting, obdurate Jews, "Be patient, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord." When will that be? Why, saith he, verse 8, "The coming of the Lord draweth nigh." It will be within a very few years: Verse 9, "Behold, the Judge standeth before the door." This was the coming of Christ in the great and terrible judgment wherein he executed vengeance upon his stubborn adversaries, according as he had said before, "Those mine enemies, which would not have me to reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." In every signal dissolution and judgment, there is a coming of Christ; and every coming of Christ will be a day of great trial, Mal. iii. 1-3. Their state was then with them, as to the person of Christ, much as it is now with many as unto other appearances of Christ. "The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come, the messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in." He shall comb, yea, he shall come suddenly. What could be more welcome? what more desirable? We desire nothing in this world but that he may come!' "But who may abide the day of his coming?" saith he. That people did nothing but cry out, the Messiah would come; and when he came, it proved their utter ruin and destruction. It is a great thing to have Christ come. We know not what will come to pass when Christ comes. It is a great thing to stand before Christ when he comes. And pray, brethren, what do you think Christ expects of us when he doth come? It is a foolish thing, as the psalmist shows, when men are in expectation of a dissolution, to be engaged in business about earthly matters (I mean beyond what duty requires), so as not to be prepared for it; but it is a wicked thing, when in that dissolution Christ comes, and men are not prepared for his coming. There is Christ in it. There is no dissolution that attends us, in our persons, relations, in the world, but Christ is in it. Christ cometh in it; and how are we prepared to entertain this great guest that cometh? Truly, I am afraid that in regard to many who bear themselves wonderfully high upon the coming of the Lord, when he comes, it will be darkness to them, and not light. Christ comes not to gratify men's lusts; he comes not to exalt them in the world, nor to satisfy them in their desires upon their adversaries Christ comes to make us more holy, more humble, more mortified and weaned from the world; and if we are not so prepared for it, we are no way prepared for the coming of Christ. Oh, what ought to be the frames of our hearts if we lived under this apprehension, that Christ, the glorious, holy one, were coming to us every day!
Secondly, What doth he come for? Why, every such time of dissolution is a lesser day of judgment. I thought to have showed you how Christ in such a season will execute judgment. There are two parts of the judgment that Christ will execute. One is in vengeance upon his adversaries; the other is in trial upon his people. The apostle puts both together, Heb. x. 30, "Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people." The first place is taken out of Deut. xxxii. 35, and the latter place is taken out of Ps. l. 4. In the first place, God doth eminently speak of his stubborn adversaries, of his enemies: "Vengeance belongeth unto me," saith he, "I will recompense." And in the latter place, he directly speaks of his saints, of his own people, "The Lord will judge his people;" as we may see Ps. l. 4. Why doth our apostle put both these together, things of so wonderfully different natures, "Vengeance belongeth unto me," and, "The Lord shall judge his people"? The reason is, because though these works are wonderfully distant and discrepant one from another, yet Christ doth them always at the same time. When he taketh vengeance upon his adversaries, he judgeth his people. He judgeth the profession of many, and will put an end to it, determine it. He judgeth the miscarriages of others, and reproves them. He comes as a spirit of judgment in all such trials. Let none mistake themselves. Whenever Christ comes to take vengeance on his people's enemies, he cometh also to judge his people. We are wonderfully apt to have pleasant thoughts, that when the Lord comes forth in judgment on the world professors shall be hid, and shall escape. No; saith he, "Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense;" and again, "The Lord shall judge his people."
What manner of persons, then, ought we to be? If Christ be coming to judge us, to make a judgment upon ore' profession, he will come into a church, and discard one for a false professor, and another for a false professor. Have none of us seen such a day of judgment already, -- how God, by his providence, hath discarded many already? And he will do so more and more. He will discover hypocritical professors, and bring forth their hidden works of darkness; he will reprove others for their worldliness and unprofitableness under the gospel. How? It may be by consuming them, all they have in this world, bringing them to great poverty and distress. He will judge them in these things. You have loved the world, and you shall have nothing left you in the world.' Don't expect the day of the Lord will be all light; there is sharpness even to his own in the coming of Christ, when he shall come with a destructive dissolution. It is good, therefore, to be preparing beforehand for his entertainment, and considering what manner of persons we ought to be in all holy conversation and godliness, seeing Christ will thus come and call upon us.