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and he will bring thee safe through, without splitting or sinking
3. As thou art bound to account thyself safe in him, so to admire that love that set thee there. Noah was a holy man; but whence was both his holiness and preservation while the world perished, but because he found favour, or free gruce, as the word is, in the eyes of the Lord. And no doubt hie did much contemplate this, being secure within, when the cries of the rest drowning, were about him. Thus, think you seeing so few are saved in this blessed ark, wherein I am, in comparison of the multitudes that perish in the deluge; whence is this? Why was I chosen, and so many about me left? why, but because it pleased him. But all is straight here. We have neither hearts nor time for ample thoughts of this love, till we be beyond time; then shall we admire and praise without ceasing, and without wearying.
We have now considered the great and remarkable example the apostle makes use of. It is time we proceed to consider, Thirdly, The adapting or ap plying it to the instruction of Christians, for which it is indeed so fit and suitable, which he clears in the particular resemblance of it with the rule of christianity.
Ver. 21. The like figure whereunto, even baptism, doth also
now save us, (not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In which words we have, 1. The end of baptism. 2. The proper virtue or efficacy of it for that end. Avd, 3. A resemblance in both these to Noah's preservation in the flood.
1st. The end of baptism, to save us. This is the great common end of all the ordinances of God; that one high mark they all aim at. And the great and common mistake of them is, that they are not so un. derstood and used. We come and sit a while, and, if we can keep awake, give the word the hearing; but, how few of us receive it as the ingrafted word that is able to save our souls a ? Were it thus taken, what sweetness would be found in it, which most that hear and read it are strangers to ? How precious would these lines be, if we looked on them thus, saw them meeting and concentring in salvation as their end. Thus likewise the sacraments, considered indeed as seals of this inheritance, annexed to the great charter of it, seals of salvation, would be highly regarded : this would powerfully beget a fit appetite for the Lord's Supper, when we are invited to it, and would beget a due esteem of baptism ; would teach you more frequent and fruitful thoughts of your own, and more pious considerations of it when you require it for your children. A natural eye looks upon bread; and wine, and water, and the outward difference of their use there, that they are set apart and differenced, as is evident by external circumstances, from their common use; but the main of the difference, where their excellency lies, it sees not, as the eye of faith above that espies salvation under them: and Oh! what a different thing are they to it, from what they are to a formal user of them. We should aspire to know the hidden rich things of God, that are wrapt up in his ordinances. We stick in the shell and superfices of them, and seek no further; that makes them unbeautiful, and unsavoury to us, and that use of them turns into an empty custom. Be more earnest with him that hath appointed them, and made this their end to save us, that he would clear up the eye of our souls,
, to see them thus under this relation, and see how they suit to this their end, and tend to it, and seriously seek salvation in them from his own hand, and we shall find it. This doth save us.
So that this salvation of Noah and his family from the deluge, and all outward deliverances and salvations, are but dark shadows of this. Let them not be compared, these reprivals and prolongings of this present life, to the deliverance of the soul from death, the second death; the stretching of a moment to the concernment of eternity. How would any of you welcome a full and sure protection from common dangers, if such were to be had ? That you should be ascertained of safety from sword and pestilence; that whatever others suffered about you, you and your family should be free ? (And they that have escaped a near danger of this kind are too apt to rest there, as if no more were to be feared; whereas this common favour may be shewed to these that are far off from God;) and what though you be not only thus far safe, but, I say, if you were secured for the future, which none of you absolutely are? Yet, when you are put out of danger of sword and plague, still death remains, and sin and wrath may be remaining with it; and shall it not be all one to die under these in a time of public peace and welfare, as if it were now? Yea, it may be something more unhappy, by the increase of the heap of sin and wrath; guiltiness augmented by life prolonged; and will be more grievous to be pulled away from the world, in the midst of peaceable enjoyment, and to have everlasting darkness to succeed to that short sun-shine of thy day of ease. Alas! the sad succession ! Happiness of a short date, and misery for ever. What availed it wicked Ham, to outlive the flood, to inherit a curse after it; to be kept undrowned in the waters, to see himself and his posterity blasted with his father's curse? Think seriously, what will be the end of all thy temporary safety and preservation, if thou share not in this salvation, and find not thyself sealed and marked for it; to flatter thyself with a dream of happiness, and walk in the light of a few sparks ", that will soon die out, and then lie down in sorrow ? A sad bed that the most have to go to, after they have wearied themselves all the day, all their life, in a chace of vanity! 2dly, The next thing is, the power and virtue of this means for its end. That baptism hath a power, is clear, in that it is so expressly said, it doth save us : which kind of power is as clear in the way of it here exprest; not by a natural force of the element, though adapted and sacramentally used; it only can wash away the filth of the body ; its physical efficacy or power reaches no farther : but it is in the hand of the Spirit of God, as other sacraments, and as the word itself is, to purify the conscience, and convey grace and salvation to the soul, by the reference it hath to, and union with, that which it represents. It saves by the answer of a good conscience, unto God, and it affords that, by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
a James i. 21.
Thus, then, we have a true account of the power of this, and so of other sacraments, and a discovery of the error of two extremes: (1.) Of those that ascribe too much to them, as if they wrought by a natural inherent virtue, and carried grace in them inseparably. (2.) Of those that ascribe too little to them, making them only signs and badges of our profession. Signs they are, but more than signs, merely representing ; they are means exhibiting, and seals confirming, grace to the faithful. But the working of faith, and the conveying of Christ into the soul to be received by faith, is not a thing put into them to do of themselves, but still in the supreme hand that appointed them: and he indeed both causes the souls of his own to receive these his seals with faith, and makes them effectual to confirm that faith which receives them so. They are then, in a word, neither empty signs to them that believe, nor effectual causes of grace to them that believe not.
The mistake on both sides arises from the want of duly considering the relative nature of these seals, and that kind of union that is betwixt them, and the grace they represent; which is real, though not natural or physical, as they speak. So that though they do not save all that partake of them, yet they do really and effectually save believers, (for whose sal. vation they are means), as the other external ordinances of God do. Though they have not that power which is peculiar to the author of them, yet a power they have, such as befits their nature; and by reason of which they are truly said to sanctify and justify, and so to save, as the apostle here avers of baptism.
Now, that which is intended for our help, our carnal minds are ready to turn into a hinderance and disadvantage. The Lord representing invisible things to the eye, and confirming his promises even by visible seals, we are apt, by the grossness of our unspiritual hearts, instead of stepping up by that which is earthly to the divine spiritual things represented, to stay on the outward element, and go no further : therefore the apostle, to lead us into the inside of this seal of baptism, is very clear in designing the effect and fruit of it: Not (says he) putting away the filth of the fresh ; and water, if
look no further, can do no more. There is an invisible impurity upon our nature, chiefly on our invisible part, our soul: this washing means the taking away of that ; and where it reaches its true effect, it doth so purify the conscience, and makes it good, truly so in the sight of God, who is the judge of it.
Consider: 1. It is a pitiful thing to see the ignorance of the most professing christianity, and partaking of the outward seals of it, yet not knowing what they mean; not apprehending the spiritual dignity and virtue of them. They are blind in the mysteries of the kingdom, and not so much as sensible of that blindness. And being ignorant of the nature of these holy things, they cannot have a due esteem of them, which arises out of the view of their inward worth and efficacy. A confused fancy they have of some good in them; and this rising to the other extreme, to a superstitious confidence in the simple performance and participation of them, as if that carried some inseparable virtue with it, which none could miss of, that are sprinkled with the waters of baptism, and share in the elements of bread and wine in the Lord's supper!