But if our gospel he hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
The words have been opened, and this point observed:-
Doct. That the understandings of all unbelievers are blinded by Satan's policies, in order to their everlasting perdition.
We have shown already what the blinding the mind, or hiding of the gospel from it is; it has also been demonstrated that the gospel is hid, and the minds of many blinded under it; you have also seen what policies Satan uses to blind the minds of men, even in the clearest light of the gospel. It remains now that I open to you the dreadful nature of this judgement of God upon the souls of men, and then make application of the whole.
There are many judgements of God inflicted upon the souls and bodies of men in this world; but none of them are so dreadful as those spiritual judgements are which God inflicts immediately upon the soul; and among spiritual judgements few or none are of a more dreadful nature and consequence than this of spiritual blindness; which will appear by considering,
First, The subject of this judgement, which is the soul, and the principal power of the soul, which is the mind and understandings faculty; the soul is the most precious and invaluable part of man, and the mind is the superior and most noble power of the soul; it is to the soul what the eye is to the body, the directive faculty. The bodily eye is a curious, tender, and most precious part of the body. When we would express the value of a thing, we say, we prize it as our eyes. The loss of the eyes is a sore loss, we lose a great part of the comfort of our souls by it. Yet such an affliction (speaking comparatively) is but a trifle to this. If our bodily eyes be blinded, we cannot see the sun, but if our spiritual eye be blinded, we cannot see God, we wander in the paths of sin, 1 John 2: 11. We are led blindfold to hell by Satan, as the Syrians were in Samaria, 2 Kings 6: 19, 20. And then our eyes like theirs will be opened to see our misery when it is too late. "The light of the body is the eye, (saith Christ). If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light; but if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness?" Mat. 6: 22, 23. By the eye he means the practical judgement, the understanding faculty, which is the seat for principles, the common treasury of the rules of practice, according unto which a man's life is formed, and his way directed. If therefore that power of the soul be darkened, how great must that darkness be; for now the blind lead the blind, and both fall into the ditch. The blind judgement misguides the blind-affections, and both fall into hell. O what a sad thing is it, that the devil should lead that that leads thee! That he should sit at the helm, and steer thy course to damnation! The blinding of this noble faculty precipitates the soul into the most dangerous course; persecution, by this means, seems to be true zeal for God, John 16: 2. "They that persecute you shall think that they do God service. Paul once thought verily with himself, that he ought to do many "things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth," Acts 26: 9. i.e. He thought he had pleased God, when he was imprisoning and persecuting his people, as many do at this day; it will make a man to sin conscientiously, which is a very dangerous way of sinning, and difficult to be reclaimed.
Secondly, It is a dreadful judgement, if we consider the object about which the understanding is blinded, which is Jesus Christ, and union with him; regeneration, and the nature and necessity thereof. For this blindness is not universal, but respective and particular. A man may have abundance of light and knowledge in things natural and moral; but spiritual things are hidden from his eyes. Yea, a man may know spiritual things in a natural way, which increaseth his blindness; but he cannot discern them spiritually; this is a sore judgement, and greatly to be bewailed. "Thou hast hid these things (said Christ) from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes," Mat. 11: 21. Learned and knowing men are ignorant of those things, which very babes in Christ understand. They are prudent in the management of earthly affairs; but to save their own souls they have no knowledge. They are able, with Berengarius, to dispute de omni scibili, of every thing investigable by the light of nature; yea, to open the scripture solidly, and defend the doctrines and truths of Christ against his adversaries successfully; and yet blinded in the great mystery of regeneration, Blindness in part, (saith the apostle) is happened unto Israel? and that indeed was the principal part of knowledge, viz. the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and him crucified, we see farther than they. The literal knowledge of Jesus Christ shines clearly in our understanding. We are only blinded about those things which should give us saving interest in him, about the effectual application of Christ to our own souls.
Thirdly, The dreadful nature of this spiritual blindness farther appears from the consideration of the season in which it befalls men, which is the very time of God's patience, and the only opportunity they have for salvation; after these opportunities are over, their eyes will be opened to see their misery, but alas, too late. Upon this account, Christ shed those tears over Jerusalem, Luke 19: 42. "O that thou hadst known, at least in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes." Now the season of grace is past and gone; opportunities are the golden spots of time, and there is much time in a short opportunity, as there are many pieces of silver in one piece of gold. Time signifies nothing when opportunities are gone, to be blinded in the very season of salvation, is the judgement of all judgements, the greatest misery incident to man; to have our eyes opened when the seasons of salvation are past, is but an aggravation of misery: there is a twofold opening of men's eyes to see their danger, viz.
1. Graciously to prevent danger.
2. Judicially to aggravate misery.
They whose eves are not opened graciously in this world, to see their disease and remedy in Christ, shall have their eyes opened judicially in the world to come, to see their disease without any remedy. If God open them now, it is by way of prevention; if they be not opened till then, it will produce desperation.
Fourthly, The horrible nature of this judgement farther appears from the exceeding difficulty of curing it, especially in men of excellent natural endowments and accomplishments, John 9: 40, 41. "And some of the Pharisees which were with him, heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see: therefore your sin remaineth," q. d. the pride and conceitedness of your heart and obstinacy and incurableness to your blindness; these are "the blind people that have eyes;" Isa. 63: 8. In seeing they see not. The conviction of such men is next to an impossibility.
Fifthly, The design and end of this blindness under the gospel is most dreadful; so saith my text, "The god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." Answerable whereunto are those words, Isa. 6: 10. "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 hearts, and convert, and be healed. So that it is plain, this blinding is a praeludium to damnation, as the covering of Haman's face was to his destruction. When the Lord has no purpose of grace and mercy to a man's soul, then, to bring about the damnation of that man by a righteous permission, many occasions of blindness befal him, which Satan improves effectually unto his eternal ruin; among which fatal occasions, blind guides and scandalous professors are none of the least; they shall be fitted with ministers suitably to their humours, which shall speak smooth things: If a man walk in the spirit and falsehood, (i. e. by an "en dia duoin", - the spirit of falsehood) do lie, sayings I will prophesy to thee of wine and strong drink, he shall even be the prophet of this people: and the slips and falls of professors shall do the devil not a little service in this his fatal design; Mat. 18: 7. "Wo to the world because of offences." This shall blind them, and harden them to purpose. Thus you see what a dreadful judgement this is, a stroke of God upon the soul, which cuts off all the present comforts of Christ and religion from it, takes away the bridle of restrains from sin, and makes way for the final ruin of the soul. A far greater judgement it is than the greatest calamity or affliction which can befal us in this world. If our names suffer by the greatest reproaches, our bodies by the most painful diseases, our estates by the greatest losses; if God strike every comfort we have in this world dead by affliction; all this is nothing, compared with this blinding judgement of God upon the soul; for they may come from the tender love of God to us, Heb. 12: 6. but this is the effect of his wrath; they may cleanse sin, Isa. 28: 9. but this increases it; they often prove occasions of conversion, Job 36: 8, 9. but this is the great obstruction to it. In a word, they only wound the flesh, and that with a curable wound; but this stabs the soul, and that with a mortal wound.
First use, of information.
Inference 1. If this be the case of the unbelieving world, to be so blinded by the god of this world; How little should we value the censures and slanders of the blind world! Certainly they should move no other affection but pity in our soul: if their eyes were opened, their mouths would be shut; they would never traduce religion, and the sincere profession of it as they do, if Satan had not blinded their minds: they speak evil of the things they know not; their reproaches, which they let fly so freely, are but so many arrows shot by the blind man's bow, which only stick in our clothes, and can do us no hurt, except we thrust them onward by our own discontent to the wounding of our spirits. "I could almost be proud upon it, said Luther, that I have got an ill name among the worst of men." Beware, Christians that you give them no occasion to blaspheme the name of your God, and then never trouble yourselves, however they use your names. If they tread it in the dirt now, God (as one speaks) will take it up, wash off all the dirt, and deliver it to you again clear and shining. Should such men speak well of us, we might justly suspect ourselves of some iniquity which administers to them the occasions of it.
Infer. 2. How absurd and dangerous must it be for Christians to follow the examples of the blind world? Let the blind follow the blind, but let not those whom God has enlightened do so. Christians, never let those lead you, who are led blindfold by the devil themselves. The holiness and heavenliness of Christians was wont to set the world a wondering that they would not run with them into the same excess of riot, 1 Pet. 4: 4. But sure, since God has opened your eyes, and showed you the dangerous courses they walk in, it would be the greatest wonder of all, if you should be the companions of such men, and tread in the steps of their examples. Christian, as humble and lowly thoughts as thou hast of thyself, yet I would have thee understand thyself to be too good to be the associate of such men. Discamus sanctam superbiam, et sciamus nos esse illis meliores. If they will walk with you in the way of duty and holiness, let them come and welcome; receive them with both arms, and be glad of their company; but beware you walk not in their paths, lest they be a snare unto you. Did they see the end of their way, they would never walk in it themselves; why then will you walk with them who do see it?
Infer. 3. If this be so, Let Christians be exact and circumspect in their walking, lest they lay a stumblingblock before the blind. It is a great sin to do so in a proper sense, Lev. 19: 14. "Thou shalt not put a stumbling-block before the blind." And a far greater to do it in a metaphorical sense, Rom. 14: 18. It is the express will of God, "that no man put a stumbling block, or an occasion to fall in his brother's way." It is an argument of little regard to the honour of Christ, or the souls of men, so to do. O professors, look to your steps; the devil desires to make use of you for such purposes. The sins of thousands of others, who make no profession of godliness, will never so fit his purpose for the blinding of those men's eyes, as the least slip or failing of yours will do. It is the living bird that makes the best stale to draw others into the net: the grossest wickedness of profane sinners passeth away in silence, but all the neighbourhood shall ring with your miscarriages. "A righteous man falling, down before the wicked, is as a troubled fountain and a corrupt spring," Prov. 25: 26. The scandalous falls of good men are like a bag of poison cast by Satan into the spring from whence the whole town is supplied with water. You little know what mischief you do, and how many blind sinners may fall into hell by your occasion.
Infer. 4. How dangerous a thing is zeal in a wicked man? It is like a sharp sword in a blind man's hand, or like a high mettle in a blind horse. How much has the church of God suffered upon this account, and does suffer at this day: The world has ever been full of such blind and blustering zeal, which, like a hurricane, overturns all that stands in its way: yea, as we noted before, it makes a man a kind of conscientious persecutor. I confess it is better for the persecutor himself to do it ignorantly, because ignorance leaves him in a capacity for mercy, and sets him a degree lower than the malicious, enlightened persecutor, 1 Tim. 1: 13. else it were the dreadful case described in Heb. 10. But yet, as it is, John 16: 2 these are the fierce and dreadful enemies of the church of God. Such a man was Paul, a devout persecutor, and such persecution God afterward suffered to befal himself, Acts 13: 50. "But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of that city; and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts." An erroneous conscience binds, as well as an informed conscience, and wherever God gives such men opportunity to vent the spleen and rage of their hearts upon his people, they will be sure to do it to purpose. With other men Gamaliel's counsel may have some influence, and they may be afraid lest they be found fighters against God; but blind zeal spurs on, and saith, as Jehu did, "Come, see my zeal for the Lord of Hosts." O blind sinners, be sure of your mark before you discharge your arrows. If you shoot at a wicked man, as you suppose him, and God finds one of his dear children wounded or destroyed, what account will you give of that fact to God when you shall come before his judgement-seat?
Second use, of exportation?.
This point is very improveable by way of exhortation. Both,
1. Unto those who are blinded by the god of this world.
2. To those that are enlightened in the knowledge of Christ, by the true God.
First, To those who are still blinded by the god of this world, to whom the Lord has not given unto this day eyes to see their misery in themselves, or their remedy in Christ, so as to make an effectual application of him to their own souls. To all such my counsel is,
1. To get a sense of your own blindness.
2. To seek out for a cure, whilst yet it may be had.
First, Labour to get a deep sense of the misery of such a condition; for till you be awakened by conviction, you can never be healed. O that you did but know the true difference betwixt common and saving light; the want of this keeps you in darkness: You think because you know the same things that the most unsanctified men does, that therefore there is no difference betwixt his knowledge and yours; and are therefore ready to say to them, as Job to his friends, "Lo, mine eye has seen all this, mine ear has heard and understood it: what ye know, the same do I know also; I am not inferior unto you," Job 13: 1, 2. But O that you would be convinced that your knowledge vastly differs from the knowledge of believers. Though you know the same things that they do, it is a knowledge of another kind and nature. You know spiritual things in another way, merely by the light of reason, assisted and improved by the common light of the gospel; they know the same things by spiritual illumination, and in an experimental way. 1 John 2: 20. "Ye have an unction from the holy One, and ye know all things." Their knowledge is practical, yours is idle. They are working out their salvation, by that light which God has given them, Psal. 111: 10. Their knowledge of God and Christ produces the fruits of faith, obedience, and mortification, and heavenly-mindedness in them: it has no such fruits in you; whatever light there be in your understandings, it makes no alteration at all upon your hearts. The light brings them to heaven, John 17: 3. Yours shall be blown out by death, 1 Cor. 13: 8. and yourselves left in the mists of eternal darkness, except your eyes be opened seasonably by the anointing of the Holy Ghost. Conviction is a great part of your cure.
Secondly, Labour to act a remedy for this dangerous disease of your minds: "Awake to righteousness, and sin not, for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame," 1 Cor. 15: 34. These things speak encouragement to you, though it be a sore judgement that lies upon you, and very difficult to be removed: yet remember Jesus Christ is commissioned by God the Father to open the blind eyes, Isa. 13: 6, 7. and this excellent physician be speaks you for his patients, Rev. 3: 18. "Anoint thine eyes, (saith he) with eye-salve that thou mayest see. Yea, the most enlightened Christians were once as dark and blind in spiritual things as you are, and Christ has cured them, Eph. 5: 8. "Once were you darkness, now are ye light in the Lord." Attend therefore upon the ordinances of the gospel diligently; that is God's enlightening instrument by which he couches those cataracts which blind the eyes of men's understandings, Acts 26: 28. And if ever you will have your eyes opened, allow yourselves time to ponder and consider what you hear. The duty of meditation is a very enlightening duty: above all, cry to the Lord Jesus Christ, as that poor man did, "Lord, that mine eyes may be opened, that I may receive my sight. Say, Lord, this is my disease and danger, that in seeing I see not. Others see natural things in a Spiritual way, whilst I see spiritual things only in a natural way. Their light is operative upon their hearts, mine is but an idle impractical notion of religion, which brings forth no fruit of holiness. Their knowledge sets their hands a work in duties of obedience; mine only sets my tongue a work in discourses of those things which my heart never felt. Lord, open mine eyes, and make me to see out of this obscurity: All the light that is in me is but darkness. O Lord, enlighten my darkness, enlighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.
Secondly, Let it be a word of counsel and exhortation to such as once were blind, but do now see.
First, I beseech you, bless God for the least degree of spiritual illumination. "Truly light is sweet, and it is a pleasant thing for the eyes to behold the sun," Eccles. 11: 7. But O how sweet is spiritual light! and what a pleasant thing to behold the Sun of righteousness! Blessed are your eyes, for they see God has brought you out of darkness into marvellous light. And marvellous indeed it must needs be, when you consider how many wise and prudent men are under the power of spiritual darkness, whilst such babes as you are enlightened, Mat. 11: 21;. It greatly affected the heart of Christ; O let it affect yours also.
Secondly, Labour to get a clearer sight of spiritual things every day. For all spiritual light is increasing light, "which shines more and more unto the perfect day, Prov. 4: 18. O! if a little spiritual light be so comfortable, what would more be? The wisdom of God is a manifold wisdom, Eph. 3: 10. The best of us see but little of it. Labour therefore to know spiritual things more extensively, and more experimentally, Phil. 2: 8, 9. Be still increasing in the knowledge of God.
Thirdly, Walk as men whose eyes are opened. "Once ye were in darkness, now are ye light in the Lord; walk as children of the light," Eph. 5: 8. else your light will but aggravate your sin. Remember how it displeased God, that Solomon's heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel who appeared to him twice, 1 Kings 11: 9. Remember how angry God was with the Heathens for abusing the dim common light of nature, Rom. 1: 21. How much more evil is it in you to abuse the most precious light that shineth in this world? and what mischievous effects the abuse of your light will have upon this blind world? It was a smart rebuke given once by an Atheist to a good man, who being asked by him how he could satisfy his conscience to live as he did? Nay rather, said the Atheist, I wonder how you can satisfy yourself to live as you do; for did I believe as you do, that there is such a Christ, and such a glory as you believe there are, I would pray and live at another rate than you do.
And now, reader, if all my discourses of the method of Christ in purchasing the great salvation for us, and the way of the Spirit in applying it, and making it effectual to God's elect; thou hast two wonders before thine eyes, either of which may astonish thy soul, in the consideration of them, viz.
1. This admirable grace of God in preparing this great Salvation.
2. The desperate wickedness of man in rejecting this great Salvation.
First, Behold the riches of the goodness and mercy of God in preparing such a remedy as this for lost man. This is that which is justly called "The great mystery of godliness," 1 Tim. 3: 16. that mystery which the prophets inquired diligently after, yea, which the "angels desired to look into," 1 Pet. 1: 10, 12. In this glorious mystery of redemption, that "polutoikilos sofia", manifold wisdom of God, or that wisdom which has such curious and admirable variety in it, is illustriously displayed, Eph. 4: 10. Yea, the contrivance of our redemption, this way, is the most glorious display of divine love that ever was made, or can be made, in this world to the children of men; for so the apostle will be understood, when he saith, Rom. 5: 8. "Sonisesi tes heautou agapen", - God has set forth, or presented his love to man in the most engaging manner, in a way that commends it beyond all compare to the acceptation of men. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners," 1 Tim. 1: 15. It might be justly expected, that when this glorious mystery should come to be published by the gospel in the ears of sinners, all eyes should be withdrawn from all other objects, and fixed with admiration upon Christ, all hearts should be ravished with these glad tidings; and every man pressing to Christ with the greatest zeal and diligence. But behold, instead thereof,
Secondly, The desperate wickedness of the world, in rejecting the only remedy prepared for them. This was long since foretold by the prophet, Isa. 53: 3. "He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not." His poor and mean appearance, which should endear him beyond all considerations to the souls of men, (since it was for their sakes, that he emptied himself of all his glory) yet this lays him under contempt, he is looked on as the very outcast of men, when his own love to man had emptied him of all his riches, the wickedness of men loaded him with contempt, and as it was prophesied of him, so it was, and at this day is sadly verified all the world over; for,
First, The Pagan world has no knowledge of him, they are lost in darkness. "God has suffered them to walk in their own ways," Acts 14: 16.
Secondly, The Mahometans which overspread so great a part of the world reject him, and instead of the blessed gospel, which they hiss at with abhorrence, embrace the blasphemous and ridiculous Alcoran, which they confidently affirm came down from God immediately in that Laylatto Hanzili (as they call it) the night of demission, calling all Christians, Cafirouna, i.e. Infidels.
Thirdly, The Jews reject him with abhorrence, and spit at his very name, and being blind-folded by the devil, they call Jesus Anathema, 1 Cor. 12: 3. And in a blind zeal for Moses, blaspheme him as an impostor. "He came to his own, and his own received him not," John 1: 11.
Fourthly, The far greater part of the Christianised world reject him; those that are called after his name, will not submit to his government. The nobles of the world think themselves dishonoured by submitting their necks to his yoke. The sensualists of the world will not deny their lusts, or forsake their pleasures, for all the treasures of righteousness, life and peace, which his blood has purchased. Worldlings of the earth prefer the dirt and dung of the world before him; and few there be among them that profess Christianity, who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity. The only reason why they are called Christians is, because, by the advantageous cast of providence, they were born and educated in a nation where Christianity is professed and established by the laws of the country; and if the wind should turn, and the public authority think fit to establish another religion, they can shift their sail, and steer a contrary course.
But now, reader, let me tell thee, that if ever God send forth these two grim sergeants, his law, and thine own conscience, to arrest thee for thy sins, if thou find thyself dragged away by them towards that prison from whence none return, that are once clapt up therein, and that in this unspeakable distress Jesus Christ manifest himself to thy soul, and open thy heart to receive him, and become thy surety with God, pay all thy debts, and cancel all thy obligations, thou wilt love him at another rate than others do; his blood will run deeper in thine eves than it does in the shallow apprehensions of the world; he will be altogether lovely, and thou wilt account all things but dung and dross in comparison of the excellency of Jesus Christ thy Lord. To work thy heart to this frame, these things are written, which the Lord prosper upon thy soul, by the blessing of his good Spirit upon thee.