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multitudes of hypocrites, and empty professors, that will at such a time readily abound, when religion is upon an advancing way, and the stream of it ruus strong. Now, by the counter current of troubles, such fall back and are carried away. And the truth of grace in the hearts of believers, receives advantage from these hazards and sufferings, they are put to fasten their hold the better on Christ, to seek more experience of the real and sweet consolations of the gospel, which may uphold them against the counter blasts of suffering. Thus is religion made a more real and solid thing in the hearts of true believers; they are entered to that way of receiving Christ and his cross together, that they may see their bargain, and not think it a surprise.
Judgment.] Though all sufferings are not such, yet, commonly, there is that unsuitable and
unwary walking among Christians, that even their sufferings for the cause of God, though unjust from men, yet are from God just punishments of their miscarriages towards him, in their former ways; their selfpleasing and earthliness, having too high a relish for the delights of this world, forgetting their inheritance and home, and conforming themselves to the world, walking too like it.
Must begin.] The church of God is punished, while the wicked are free and flourish in the world, possibly all their days; or if judgment reach them here, yet it is later; it begins at the house of God. 1. This holds in them who profess his name, and are of the visible church, compared with them who are without the pale of it, and are its avowed enemies. 2. Those who profess a desire of a more religious and holy course of life within the church, compared with the profane multitude. 3. They who are indeed more spiritual and holy, and come nearer unto God, compared with others who fall short of that measure; in all these respects it holds, that the Lord doth more readily exercise them with afflictions, and correct their wanderings, than any other.
And this truly is most reasonable, and the reason lies in the very name given the church, The House of God.
1. There is equity in such a proceeding: the sins of the church' have their peculiar aggravations, which fall not upon others; that which is simply a sin in strangers to God, is, in his people, the breach of a known and received law, and a law daily unfolded and set before them; yea, it is against their oath of allegiance; it is perfidy and breach of covenant, committed both against the clearest light, and strictest bonds, and highest mercies; and the more particular profession of his name, and testimonies of his love, which make sin the more sinful, and the punishment of it the more reasonable. The sins of the church are all twice dipt, Dibapha', have a double dye; they are both breaches of the law, and they are besides ungrateful and disloyal breaches of promise.
2. As there is unquestionable equity, so there is an evident congruity in it. God is ruler of all the world, but particularly of his church, therefore here called his House, wherein he hath a special residence and presence. And therefore it is most suitable that there he be specially observed and obeyed, and if disobeyed, that he take notice of it and punish it; that he suffer not himself to be dishonoured to his face by those of his own house. And therefore, whosoever escape, his own shall not; You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities. He that righteously judges and rules all nations, it is fit he make his justice most evident and exemplary in his own house, where it may best be remarked, and where it will best appear how impartial he is in punishing sin. So a king, as the Psalmist', that he may rule the land well, makes his own house exemplary. It is, you know, one special qualification of a bishop and pastor"; To be one that ruleth well c Isa. i. 18. d Amos iii. 2.
e Psal. ci, 2. fi Tim. iij. 4.
his own house, having his children in subjection ; for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God ? Now this, therefore, more eminently appears in the supreme
Lord of the church; he rules it as his own house; and therefore, when he finds disobedience there, he will first punish that. So he clears himself; and the wicked world being afterwards punished, their mouths are stopped with the preceding punishment of the church: will be not spare his own; yea, shall they be first scourged; What then shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel ?
And indeed the parity of his nature, if it be every where contrary to all sinful impurity, cannot but most appear in his peculiar dwelling-house; that he will be sure to have neat and clean. If he hate sin all the world over, he hates it most, and testifies his hatred of it most, where it is nearest to him. He will not endure it in his presence; as cleanly neat persons cannot well look upon any thing that is nasty, much less will they suffer it to come near them, or touch them, and to continue in their
presence in the house where they dwell. The Lord that is of purer eyes than to behold inquity, will not abide it within his own doors; and the nearer any comes to him, the less can he endure any unholiness, or sinful pollution, in them ; he will be sanctified in all that come nigh him". So in his ministers : Oh! how pure ought they to be, and how provoking and hateful to him are their impurities!' Therefore, in that commission to the destroyers'
, to which place the apostle here may have some eye, Go, says he, slay the old and young; and begin at my sanctuary. They were they who had polluted his worship, and there the first stroke lighted. And, in a spiritual sense, because all his people are his elect priesthood, and should be holiness to the Lord, and when they are not really so, and do not sanctify him in their walking, he sanc8 Hab. i. 17. h Lev. x. 3.
i Ezek. ix. 6.
tifies himself, and declares his holiness in his judgments on them.
3. There is mercy in this dispensation too; even under the habit of judgment, love walks secretly and works; so loving and so wise a Father will not undo his children by sparing the rod, but because he loves, rebukes and chastensk. His church is his house; therefore, that he may delight in it, and take pleasure to dwell in it, and make it happy with his presence, he will have it often washed and made clean, and the filth and rubbish scoured and purged out of it: this argues his gracious purpose of abiding in it.
And as he doth it, that he may delight in his people, so, that they may delight in him, and in him alone, he embitters the breast of the world to wean them; makes the world hate them, that they may the more easily hate it; suffers them not to settle upon it, and fall into a complacency with it; but makes it unpleasant to them by many and sharp afflictions, that they may, with the more willingness, come off, and be untied from it, and that they may remember home the more, and seek their comforts above, that finding so little below, they may turn in to him, and delight themselves in communion with him. That the sweet incense of their prayers may ascend the more thick, he kindles these fires of trial to them; for though it should not be so, yet so it is, that, in times of ease, they would easily grow remiss and formal that way.
He is gracious and wise, knows what he does with them, and the thoughts he thinks toward them'. All is for their advantage, purging their iniquities"; purges out impatience and earthliness, and self-will
, and carnal security; and thus refines them for vessels of honour. We see in a jeweller's shop, that as there are pearls and diamonds, and other precious stones, there are files, cutting instruinents, and many sharp tools, for their polishing: and while * Heb, xii. 6. Prov, iii, 11. Apoc. iii. 19.
1 Jer. xxix. 11. m Isa. xxvii.
they are in the work-house, they are continual neighbours to them, and come often under them. The church is God's jewellery, his work-house, where his jewels are a polishing for his palace and house; and those he especially esteems and means to make most resplendent, he hath oftenest his tools
Thuş observe it, as in the church to other societies, so is it in a congregation or family belonging to it, if there be one more diligently seeking after God than the rest, he shall probably meet with more trials, and be oftener under affliction than any of the company; either under contempt and scorn, or poverty and sickness, or some one pressure or other, outward or inward; and those in ward trials are the nearest and sharpest which the world sees least, and yet the soul feels most: and yet all these, both outward and inward, have love, unspeakable love in them all, to purge and polish them; and, by increasing of grace, do fit them for glory.
Inf. 1. Let us not be so foolish as to promise ourselves impunity on account of our relation to God, as his church in covenant with him. If once we thought so, sure our experience hath undeceived us. And let not what we have suffered harden us, as if the worst were past. We may rather fear its being a pledge, and beginning of sharper judgment. Why do we not consider our unbumbled and unpurged condition, and tremble before the Lord ? Would we save him a labor, he would take it well. Let us purge our souls, that he may not be put to further purging by new judgments. Were we busy reading our present condition, we should see very legible fore-signs of further judgments; as for instance: 1. The Lord taking away his eminent and worthy servants, who are as the very pillars of the public peace and welfare; and taking away counsel and courage, and union, from the rest ; forsaking us in our meetings, and leaving us in the dark to grope and rush one upon another. 2. The dissensions and jarrings in the state and church, are likely from