THE TIME OF NEED, A TIME OF LOVE.
This subject was handled in five sermons. The first was preached on the Sabbath evening immediately after the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper at Dunfermline, July 14, 1734. The other four were delivered after the solemnity.
“Now, when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee,
behold, thy time was a time of love.” Ezekiel 16:8
My friends, if you have been believing communicants this day, your Lord has been giving you a love feast. But now, since the table is drawn, and the feast seems to be over, lest you reckon his love withdrawn also, I am come upon the back of the feast, to give you a love-letter, written with his own hand, and directed to you, that you may lay it up in the cabinet of your hearts, and never either forget nor jealous his love at any time, which he hath shown to you at this, or some other time of your: need. The words of the letter are, “Now, when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee; behold, thy time was a time of love.”
The most remarkable event that befell the Jewish church of old, as to its outward condition, was the shadow of the spiritual mercies, designed for the true Zion of God; and therefore, I am to speak of the blessings whereof this is an emblem; it is a New Testament mercy in Old Testament dress. Under this shadow is hid the most substantial spiritual blessings.
In the words we may observe the four following particulars.
1. A miserable time ascribed to the sinner, called, Thy time.
2. A merciful time ascribed to the Saviour, called, The time of love.
3. The happy conjunction or meeting, between that miserable time, and this merciful time. “Thy time was a time of love,” and wherein I showed my love.
The strangeness and wonderfulness of this conjunction, “Behold! thy time was a time of love.” It is matter of astonishment, and worthy of a note of admiration.
I reserve the explication of these particulars to the prosecution of the following doctrine.
OBSERVATION: That it is matter of wonder and admiration, that God should show his love to sinners, at such a remarkable juncture, that their time of need and misery, appears to be his time of love and mercy. “Behold, thy time was a time of love.”
The method I would incline to handle this subject in under the divine favor, shall be the following.
I. We shall speak a little of the Sinner’s time of need and misery, as it is described in the context.
II. Of God’s time of love, as it is here also represented and shadowed forth.
III. Make it evident, that he shows his love at such a remarkable juncture, as makes it appear, their time of need is his time of love.
IV. Show that this is matter of wonder and admiration.
V. Deduce some inferences for application of the whole.
I. We are to speak a little of the time of need and misery, as here pointed out in the context.
1. The time of need here pointed out is, when we are in a polluted state; represented by the infant cast out of the womb; “I saw thee polluted in thine own blood, neither washed with water, nor salted, nor swaddled, (Ezek 16:4). When grace and mercy take hold of a sinner, it is even when living in the puddle and filthy mire of original and actual pollution; the understanding polluted with darkness, the will with enmity, and the affections with carnality and sensuality.
2. The time of need is when we are in an helpless, naked, and destitute state, having no eye to pity, or have compassion upon us; “No eye pitied thee to do any of these things unto thee, to have compassion upon thee,” (Ezek. 16:5). Grace and mercy step in with help when we can contribute no help to ourselves: when all refuge fails, and all help is gone, surely it is a time of need.
3. The time of need here mentioned is, when we are in a loathsome state; in an unpleasant state, as new-born children wallowing in their blood: “Thou west cast out to the loathing of thy person,” (Ezek 16:5). Grace then beheld with an eye of love and pity, even when we are loathsome to beholders.
4. The time of need is when we are in extreme hazard, upon the very brink and precipice of utter ruin, just choked with our own blood, ready to die and expire, being exposed and cast out to the open fields, (Ezek 16:5). And what was it but a field of blood, a field of death? And what is this time of need, but the time of death, wherein we are dead in sin, and dead in law; which is plainly supposed, (Ezek. 16:6), “I said to thee, when thou west in thy blood, Live:” intimating, that the time of need was a time of spiritual death, and obnoxious to eternal death, upon the brink of hell and damnation. — This is the time of need here represented.
II. The next thing I would touch at also, is God’s time of love, as here shadowed forth; that extremity is his opportunity; that time of need is the time of his showing his love. And what this time of love is may appear particularly from these four things in the context.
1. His time of love is a time of love-calls, wherein he calls to us, Live; “I said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, Live,” (Ezek 16:6). These love-calls are doubled, that they may be effectual; he says it, and repeats it again; and we are never called effectually, till we hear him twice. In the time of love, therefore, he says unto us, Live: yea, he says to us, “In our blood Live:” he says it outwardly, in the word, and then he says it inwardly, by the Spirit; he says it into the ear, and then says it again into the heart; then the heart that was a dead grave opens, and takes in the living Jesus, the Spirit of life enters, and the dead soul begins to live and breathe spiritually. The quickening word creates in the soul a life of care and concern about salvation, “What shall I do to be saved?” A life of desire, after Christ the Saviour O says the poor soul, I would give a thousand worlds for him? And afterwards, in various degrees, a life of faith, hope, and joy.
2. His time of love is a time of love-visits; “When I passed by thee,” says the words here; it is an allusion to passengers, that on their way, meet with miserable objects in a deplorable condition and extend pity toward them: “I passed by thee.” It is spoken after the manner of man, but done after the manner of God who is pleased to give gracious visits to the soul, whom he once quickens by his word of power. It is true, all his visits in this world are but like a passing by; they are but passing visits, as it is said to Moses, “While my glory passes by, I will show thee my back parts; for my face shall not be seen,” (Ex. 32:23). It is in heaven we see him face to face, without interruption; but here we are to be content, if we get some view of his glory, as it passes by.
3. His time of love is a time of love-glances, or of loving looks; “When I passed by thee, and looked upon thee.” It is not a look of observation only, for he beholds all things, they are naked and open before him; but a look of commiseration. It is a look wherein his heart follows his eye. —In the time of love, the Lord gives his people sometimes an appropriating look, an affectionate look; “His countenance beholdeth the upright,” (Ps. 11:7). —Sometimes a directing look, “I will guide thee with mine eye,” (Ps. 33:8). If he takes his directing eye off us, we never make a right step. —Sometimes a convincing look, a penetrating look, such as he gave to Peter, that pierced, melted, and dissolved his heart; “Jesus looked on him, and he went out and wept bitterly.”—Sometimes a comforting look, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word, (Isa. 66:2). With a look he breaks the hard heart; and with a look he heals the broken heart. —These are his love-glances.
4. His time of love is a time of love tokens: and here are many tokens of conjugal love in the context; some antecedent, some concomitant, and some consequent to the marriage.
(1.) Some love-tokens antecedent to the marriage; betwixt Christ and them. Such as, besides what I have already named, these immediately following the text. “Thy time was a time of love, and I spread my skirt over them, and covered their nakedness:” there is the marriage robe wherewith he covers his naked bride, the garment of his righteousness. “Yea, I aware unto thee;” there is the marriage-oath by which his word is confirmed, “That by two immutable things, by which it is impossible for God to lie, they might have strong consolation,” &c. And “I entered into a covenant with thee;” there is the marriage-bond; the covenant that standeth fast in Christ: here all is done to her hand, when she could do nothing. “I entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God.” And “Thou becamest mine!” there is the marriage-relation constitute, and the union betwixt Christ and his bride made up. I became thine, and thou became mine: I became thy Head and Husband, and thou became my bride and spouse: I manifested my good will toward thee; and I made thee willing in the day of my power.
(2.) Some love-tokens concomitant are here mentioned, from verses 9 and 14. “Then washed I thee with water,” (Ezek. 16:9); yea, “I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee,” (Ezek. 16:14). This, points out both pardoning grace, washing the conscience from the guilt of sin; and purifying grace, washing the heart from the filth of sin; Whom he loves, he washes; hence the song of the redeemed is, “To him that loved us, and washed us in his blood.” —And he washed us from our blood; it is bloods in the original; and he washes us from blood-guiltiness; both from the guilt of our own blood, and the guilt of the blood of Christ; in his blood he washed us from our blood. —Again, “I anointed thee with oil,” (Ezek 16:9). Here is another notable love-token concomitant with the marriage. His giving the Spirit, the oil of gladness, wherewith he anointed above measure; this he doth according to his promise, “I will put my Spirit within you,” and that not only to begin the good work, to quicken and renew, but to abide in us, and subdue sin more and more, to help our infirmities, to be a pledge and earnest of the glorious inheritance, to guide us to the land of uprightness, and to comfort us under all our troubles in the wilderness, till we come to enter into the joy of our Lord. —Again, clothing necessary for benefit and comfort, mentioned (Ezek. 16:10), and an inventory of more that served for state and magnificence, mentioned (Ezek. 16:11-13). Whatever literally these things import to the Jewish nation, yet spiritually they refer to the precious graces and blessings wherewith Christ adorns his bride. —Yea, here is not only raiment, but food, “Thou didst eat fine flour, honey, and oil,” (Ezek. 16:13); pointing out the best cheer, “The feast of fat things, and wines on the lees;” heavenly manna: the flesh and blood of the Son of God. Whom he loves with a conjugal love, he gives them food and raiment, and all provisions necessary.—Yea, not only so, but beauty and renown; “Thy renown went forth among the heathen, for thy beauty; for it was perfect through my comeliness which I put upon thee,” (Ezek. 16:14). What comeliness, what glory does he put upon his bride? Even his own glory, according to that wonderful word, “The glory which thou gave me, I have given them,” (John 17:22). What glory the Father gives the Son, the Son gives the bride; and so they are beautiful through his beauty, and glorious within, through his glory; righteous through his righteousness. O what love-tokens are here!
(3.) Some love-tokens consequential are here also mentioned; not only consequential to the marriage, but consequential to our adulterous carriage after marriage; the love-tokens posterior to this is his marvelous recovering of his backsliding bride, after her whorish departure from him: see the sum of the charge, “But thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and played the harlot because of thy renown, and pouredst out thy fornication on every one that passed by,” (Ezek 16:15). This charge of the bride’s whoredom is enlarged to the 60th verse of the chapter in many particulars. And her departure from her Lord is ushered in with distrusting of him, and trusting in her own borrowed robes, and created graces; and indeed, an evil heart of unbelief is the spring of departure from the living God: all our whorish departures from our glorious Lord and Husband arise from that source. But behold the love-tokens of restoring grace and recovering mercy, ushered in with a Nevertheless; “NEVERTHELESS I will remember my covenant with thee, and will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant,” (Ezek 16:60): though thou halt broken covenant with me, 1 will remember my covenant with thee; thou hart been so provoking, and I have been so provoked by thee, that one would think there was no reconciliation to be expected, but that the bargain was wholly broke, yet he was ever mindful of his covenant, that stands fast in Christ; and his remembrance will create a remembrance in us; “Then thou shalt remember thy ways and be ashamed,” (Ezek. 16:61). O here is great love in putting us in remembrance, and putting us to shame This is more fully expressed in the last verse: “That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth anymore, because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee, for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God.” Behold; what rays of love shine out after that dark night of distance and sinful departure! God is in Jesus Christ pacified towards us for all that we have done amiss against him; and when God deals thus graciously, what effect doth it produce? Why, whenever the father of the prodigal ran to him and kissed and embraced him, then the prodigal son was ashamed and confounded, saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.” The more sense we have of pardoning mercy, and of God’s being pacified, the more will grief and shame for sin have room in our hearts, that ever we should have offended such a gracious Lord. The soul is confounded with the sense of God’s astonishing mercy, in returning to such a desperate backslider, that played the harlot with so many lovers; and confounded in the view of its own madness and ingratitude: insomuch, that these love-tokens of recovering and restoring mercy, consequential to the bride’s whorish breaking of the marriage-bond; these love-tokens that are like new conversions, may be even more remarkable than the first conversion, or the first love-tokens ever were.
Now, here is God’s time of love: it is his time of love-calls, love-visits, love-looks, and love-tokens; love-tokens antecedent, concomitant, and consequential to the marriage. The antecedent tokens point out divine commiseration, and his love of pity and compassion in our base and black estate. The concomitant tokens point out divine delectation, and his love of delight and complacency in our beautified state by his grace. The consequential tokens point out divine restoration, or his restoring and receiving love, after our apostasy. This subject of divine love, and of his time of love, is of vast extent, therefore I have confined myself to a glance at it, from the context only.
III. The next thing proposed was, To make it evident, that he shows his love at such a remarkable juncture, as to make it appear our time of need in his time of love; our time of misery in his time of mercy; our worst time, is the time of manifesting most kindness. This is plain from what I have already said: yet it may be necessary further to evince it, both from the beginning of the good work, and from the progress thereof in the Lord’s people, both when they are sinners, and when they are saints; their worst time is still his time of love.
1st, When they are SINNERS, and when he begins the good work, it were enough to say that he comes to convince and convert them in mercy, when they are in a state of nature and alienation from God, and rebellion against him; but I shall advance a few instances, to put the matter beyond question.
1. We find God has showed love and mercy to sinners when they have arrived at monstrous perfection of sinning against him; as we see in Manasseh; “And the Lord spoke to Manasseh, and to his people, but they would not hearken; wherefore the Lord brought upon him the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. And when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And prayed unto him, and he was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God,” (2 Chron. 32:10, 15). God showed mercy to him when he was at his worst, using all magical arts, making the streets of Jerusalem run with blood; then God said to him, when he was in his blood, Live. He cast the skirt of love over him, and his time was a time of love.
2. We find God had showed mercy and love to sinners when they have been imbruing their hands in the blood of the saints, madly persecuting the church and people of God. Thus, you know, he showed mercy to Paul, as he himself declares, in Acts 24. When he rode to Damascus, God snatched him as a brand out of the burning, and shot a beam of love into his heart, when he might have destroyed him with a thunderbolt of wrath.
3. We find God has showed mercy when sin has, to appearance, been beyond mercy, by sinners their imbruing their hands in the blood of the son of God, the Saviour of the world; yet he said to them when they were in their blood, Live. For many of the Christ crucifying Jews are convinced and converted, (Acts 2), and made so many trophies of the riches and freedom of his grace. Their time of sin and misery was his time of love and mercy.
4. We find he has showed mercy to sinners that have spent all their time in sinning against him; witness the thief on the cross, and these called at the eleventh and last hour: mercy has stepped in between them and the pit, when they were just ready to fall into hell. What astonishing mercy is this that the Son of God should say to a man that had spent all his days in sin, to the very last day of his life, and then to tell him, “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” But whether sooner or latter there is none to whom he effectually says, Live, but he says it when they are in their blood; their very worst time is his time of love. But I pass many other instances.
2dly, When they are SAINTS, or in the progress of his loving-kindness towards them, still their time of need is his time of love; their worst time his loving time. Hence,
1. These and the like declarations; “O God, thou hast enlarged me, when I was in distress, (Ps. 4:1); I was brought low, and he helped me, (Ps. 116:6); He remembered us in our low estate; for his mercy endureth for ever, (Ps. 136:28); The Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and that there is none shut up or left,” (Dent. 32:36). Nothing left but black clouds of despair, and black signs of wrath, and fears of ruin, then shine forth the fair beams of love.
2. For this cause is the throne of grace erected, that there we may find grace to help in time of our need, (Heb. 4:6). For this cause God takes names to himself, importing our time of need to be his time of love, his is called a refuge in time of trouble; (Ps. 9:9); “A strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in their distress. A refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible one is as a storm against the wall,” (Isa. 25:4). He is called a hiding place from the wind, a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water from a dry place, and as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land, (Isa. 32:2). He is our hope in an evil day.
3. Consider, for further clearing this, the harmony between our time of need and his time of love: hence ordinarily your time of darkness is his time of enlightening love, according to that word, “To the upright there ariseth light in darkness. Though I walk in darkness, the Lord will be a light unto me.” —Your time of deadness is his time of quickening love; hence that prayer, frequently in the Psalms, “Quicken me, according to thy word.” —Your time of fear is his time of favor, according to that word, “Fear not, for I am with thee.” Your time of difficulty is his time of direction, according to that word, “I will lead the blind in ways they know not; and in paths which they have not known.”
4. His time of love to his people, or of manifesting his love, is ordinarily when their time of need is most notable. He does not always show his love at the time that we think the time of need, but that he knows to be the time of need, which is when the time of need is most extreme. Hence his time of love is sometimes in their extremity of guiltiness, when they have made him serve with their, sins, and wearied him with their iniquities, then he hath said, “I, even I am he that blotteth out thy transgressions, for my name’s sake,” (Isa. 43:25). Sometimes in their extremity of rebellion and incorrigibleness; when, though he hides himself and smites, yet they have gone on frowardly in the way of their hearts, even then he has said, “I have seen his ways, and will heal him,” (Isa. 57:18). Sometimes in their extremity of remissness, when they had neither heart nor hand for prayer and pleading with himself for his pity; “When he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore his own arm brought salvation,” (Isa. 59:16). Sometimes in the extremity of want and necessity; “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear, I the God of Jacob will not forsake them,” (Isa. 41:17). Sometimes in the extremity of affliction, when deep calleth unto deep, and all his waves and billows pass over them, then he commands his loving-kindness in the daytime, and in the night his song is with them, (Ps. 43:7- 8). Sometimes in their extremity of desertion, when they are saying, “The Lord hath forsaken, and my God hath forgotten me;” then he appears saying, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget; yet will I not forget thee,” (Isa. 49:14-15). Sometimes in the extremity of temptation, when burnt with fiery darts, and buffeted by Satan, he readily relieves with loving words: “My grace shall be sufficient for thee, my strength shall be made perfect in thy weakness,” (2 Cor. 12:9). Sometimes in the very last extremity, in the extremity of death, and the extremity of their extremity; when, like Lazarus, they are stinking in their graves of sin and security, then he speaks the quickening word, and says to the dead and dry bones, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”
QUESTION: May not God leave his own in their most extreme need, and in their last battle?
ANSWER: We cannot tell what God may do when he goes out of his ordinary road; judgment is his strange work, especially when it seems to be execute toward a saint; but God may suffer strange and extraordinary things to fall out toward saints themselves, as presages of strange and extraordinary wrath and vengeance coming upon a secure generation; but certainly it is God’s ordinary way to help his people in their last extremities, and make their time of greatest need his time of love, wherein he steps in for their salvation. Nay, what am I saying that it is his ordinary way? Let me correct the word, in spite of the devil, and unbelief, and all dark and dismal-like providences; I will take back the word, and say it is his constant way. Though a saint in the last battle should die distracted, and seem to be a sacrifice to the devil and his instruments; yet that last extremity is the time of love, wherein he leads them through the darkest trance to the fairest field of everlasting joy and triumph. When we consider what power the devil got over the body of Christ, to carry it hither and thither, what do we know how far he may get power over the body of a member of Christ? We find, upon Satan’s application against Job, there was a twofold power given him; the first was, “All that he hath is in thy power: “the second was, he himself; that is, his body; “Behold he is in thine hand, only spare his life.” If God had but allowed a third application, and had let out another link of the enemy’s chain, the utmost would have been, Even take his life, and I will take him home. But this, by way of digression, though yet, I hope, not far out of the way.
I have shown you that all our time of need, both from first to last, is his time of love; “Thy time was a time of love.”
If any further inquire, Why God chooses to make such a time of need and extremity to be his time of love? I shall only answer in a word. God, in his sovereignty, having fixed a time for the decress breaking forth, wherein these with whom he travailed so long in the womb of his electing and redeeming love should be brought forth, he keeps the time to the moment that he fixed on; and he waits to be gracious: that is, he waits the time of love, and he makes it jump with our time of need and extremity, for magnifying the riches and freedom of his grace, and for engaging the sinner more to himself, and to his service; and he makes his time of showing love at first, and always afterwards, to the end of the believer’s life, to jump and agree with their extreme necessity, for accenting the song of the redeemed in heaven, “To him that loved them, and washed them in his blood,” and pulled them out of the fire, and plucked them out of the devil’s hands, and raised them from the bottom of hell, to the battlements of heaven; from the depths of misery, to the heights of glory; he makes the depths of his love to answer the depths of their extremity. As by this means he shows his glory, so he stains the pride of man, makes his visits more precious, kills our enmity with his kindness, quickens love to him, and learns us to trust in him even at the worst: and shows the height of his thoughts above our thoughts, as the heaven is higher than the earth, he having thoughts of peace towards us, when we reckoned he had thoughts of wrath, and designs to ruin us. Thus he shows his wonders.
IV. The next thing was, Too show that this is matter of wonder and admiration, which is the fourth thing in the text, BEHOLD! “Behold, thy time was a time of love.”
1. It is wonderful, if we consider the nature of God, the Lover. If we look to his spotless holiness, and that he is of purer eyes than he can behold iniquity, O how mysterious and wonderful is it! that he should show his love to any of Adam’s black posterity, so spotted with iniquity! If we look to his infinite justice, that he can no more cease to punish sin, than he can cease to be God; justice being as essential to his name as mercy. How wonderful is his love if he had not found a ransom, there would have been no vent for his love; but grace reigns through Christ’s righteousness. Again, if we look to his infinite highness, it makes his love wonderful: his majesty is infinite; “He is the high and lofty One, that inhabits eternity.” Surely, may we cry, when he comes to show his love, Lord, I am not worthy that thou should come under my roof.
2. It is wonderful, if we consider the nature of man, the loved object, to whom he shows mercy. What are we by nature? enemies to God, rebels to the crown of heaven, children of the devil; who but a God could answer his own question? “How shall I put you among the children, and give thee the pleasant land?” How shall I give thee a title to heaven that art no justly entitled to hell? If we look upon our baseness, O the wonders of his kindness! May we not say with wonder, “Will God in very deed dwell with men on earth,” on the earth his footstool! May we not sing, as “Who is like unto the Lord our God, that dwelleth on high, who humbleth himself to behold things that are in heaven?” (Ps. 113:6). And much more may we say, Who is like unto him, that humbleth himself to show his love to worms on the earth? Whence is this that the King of glory should look upon vile dust? If we view the opposition we make to his love, the resistance he meets with from the devils of hell without us, and the devils of lusts, sin, and corruption within us, and how we fight against his love and kindness, is this the manner of man to show love in this case? O wonderful! O condescending Jesus! O patient Christ! whom we have kept so long at the back of the door, that yet he should both forgive and forget all the wrongs we have done him, saying, “Thy sins and iniquities will I remember no more!” We commit the fault, and he makes satisfaction. And if we view not only the bad entertainment he gets from us, at the first discoveries of his love; but the affronts he meets with afterwards, from time to time, the abuses of his goodness, turning his grace to wantonness, grieving his Spirit, and madly following other lovers, till he hedge up your way with thorns, that we may not overtake them: O wonderful I that after this love should reclaim us, and make us say, “We will go and return to our first Husband, for then it was better with us than now,” (Hosea 2:7).
3. It is wonderful, if we consider that a time of love is denied to millions of better creatures than us. It was never allowed to fallen angels; there was never such a word as that, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with angels that fell: but, “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men,” and among men. Has he not passed many nations, and come to us, proclaiming the joyful sound of everlasting love in Christ Jesus? in so much, that nothing hinders our enjoyment of it, but unbelief, and hardness of heart; and amongst us, are there not some more highly privileged than others? O believer, wonder that he hath passed by a thousand, and showed his love to you, the worst of them all, and even when you was at your worst. O wonderful distinguishing love that passes by twenty houses, and falls upon one! that passes by twenty souls, and comes upon yours! Many a heart here this day never yet was touched or fired with this love, and your heart may be set a burning within you.
4. It is wonderful, if we consider the long train of the time of love; both the train of blessing it infers and the train of times it includes. What a train of blessings does the time of love infer? or, what good is done to the soul? It brings life, and light, and pardon, and peace; justification, adoption, and sanctification; grace, glory, and every good thing; it brings God, and Christ, and the Spirit, and with them all things. The time of love is the time of gifts, when God gives Christ and all things with him. What a long train and tract of times it includes! The time of love has a beginning only in our view, but to God it has neither a beginning nor an end; the time of love began before time, in the heart of God from all eternity purposing, and in the heart of Christ from all eternity transacting with the Father in our room; therefore, he has said, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee,” (Jer. 31:3). The time of love to us is when he lets down the cords of his love, like a heart-string, to draw up our hearts to his heart; and as the time of love runs through every period of the believer’s life, while he is here, in so many fruits and effects of divine love, let out from time to time; so it is never at an end, so long as his love to Christ endures; though he visit their transgressions with rods, yet his loving-kindness will he not take away from him, nor consequently from them; for, “His seed shall endure for ever,” (Ps. 89:32, 33, 36). The love that he shows in the time of love, includes love before time from all eternity, and love after time, even to all eternity; therefore it is justly wonderful, and expressed with a Behold! “Behold, thy time was a time of love!”
V. I come to the fifth thing, which was the application. Is it so, as has been said, That God shows his love to sinners at such a remarkable juncture, that their time of need and misery appears to be his time of love and mercy; then,
1. Let us apply it for admiration. O let us admire and adore the wonders of redeeming love! It deserves our highest admiration; when we have spent our thoughts upon it, it is fit we should supply the defect of our thought with admiration. Let us admire the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of this love of God in Christ; that the guilt of criminals should be transferred upon the innocent, and he exposed to the stroke of justice; that the immortal God should be clothed with mortality; the wonder of angels exposed to the reproach of men; that he who was in the form of God should appear in the form of a servant; and the Lord of life become obnoxious to the pains of death, and all that the love of God might vent toward sinners, and that he should take occasion to show his love to sinners when they are at their worst. Herein let us see and admire the freedom of the grace and love of God; that he should take hold of such profane persons, such polluted persons, such loathsome persons! O that the time of loathing should be the time of love! Herein see and admire the power of the grace of God, that can conquer sinners at the height of their rebellion, and overcome their enmity, and supply all their needs. See and admire the wisdom of the grace and love of God, that he should consult the concerns of his own glory and our good so wonderfully. He consults the glory of his justice while mercy vents through a ransom, and grace through righteousness, that magnifies the law, and satisfies the justice of God; he consults our good wonderfully, by showing his love at a time wherein his love may do us most good; see and wonder at the wonderfulness of his mercy, love, and grace.
2. Let us apply it for examination. Try what share you have had of this wonderful love of God in Christ; and whether your time of need has been his time of love, either now, at this occasion, or formerly. For gaining time, I forbear offering marks and evidences of this, and only propose, that you reflect upon what has been said concerning the time of need, and the time of love.
(1.) What sense have you ever had of the time of need? Have you ever seen yourself in your polluted state, lying in your blood? Your helpless state, no eye to pity you? Your loathsome state, cast out to the loathing of your persons? Your dangerous state, in the open field, lying open to the wrath and vengeance of God? Have you ever got a sense and conviction of your dead state, as being under the power of sin, and under the sentence of the law? The time of love is usually ushered in with a sense of sin, and fear of wrath. Was you ever pricked in your hearts, and made to cry, “What shall I do to be saved?” If you never felt a time of extreme “need, it seems you never have known a time of love But,
(2.) What experience have you of the time of love, upon the back of your extreme need? Got you ever a loving call with power? A quickening word, when you were in your blood? A word that put life into your dead soul? Got you ever a love-visit, and a view of the glory of the Lord Jesus, and of God in him? Though it was but a passing visit, yet has he passed by you, so as to give you a sight of his back-parts, by the bye; for, “Now we see through a glass darkly.” Got you ever a love-look, that made you look again unto him? A look that pierced and pained your heart, and made you sick of love to him and desire after him? Got you ever any love-tokens; whether got you these I mentioned, that may be called antecedent to the marriage? Did he ever cast his skirt over you, and make you flee under the covert of his blood and righteousness? Did he ever swear to you, and enter into covenant with you, by making you to take hold of his covenant, and word of grace and promise? What know you of the love-tokens concomitant to the marriage? Did he never wash your heart and conscience in his blood, by giving you joy and peace in believing? Did he never anoint you with the oil of his Spirit, so as the chariot-wheels of your souls have been made to run sweetly and swiftly, by reason of this anointing, in the duties of religion? Has he never satisfied your longing soul? Though you have not got what you would be at, yet by giving you so much as made all the world tasteless to you, and Christ above all things precious? (If he has not fed you with joy, has he fed you with godly sorrow and mourning for sin?) Has he never beautified your deformed soul, by letting you see your own vileness and deformity, and that all your beauty, strength, righteousness, and store was only in himself; and made you to see that all your excellency lay only in him, in whom all the seed of Israel are justified, and shall glory? What know you of the love-tokens consequent to the marriage, and perhaps to your whorish departure from him? Did he ever shame you for your un-kindness by his surprising returns, so as you was confounded and ashamed when he was pacified toward you? Did ever the renewed sense of his love and grace, manifested to a rebel and runaway like you, melt your heart, and lay you in the dust before him? Try what love-tokens he has given you in the time of your extreme need: “Behold, thy time was a time of love.”
I shall now close with a short advice to you who never met with a time of love, in point of power, engaging your heart to the love of Christ. Though you have enjoyed a time of love, in gospel offers and loving courtships, yet you have despised his loving offers to this day. O what art thou doing, sinner, while despising the riches of divine love, goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering? The scripture tells you what you are doing—“Thou art treasuring up wrath to thyself against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,” (Rom. 7:5). O you that were never convinced of a time of need, nor affected with your dismal state, as lying in your blood, nor concerned about a time of love, or a day of power, remember, that there is a time of wrath, and a day of death, and judgment a-coming; and if you remain despisers of the grace and love of God, the wrath coming upon you is both the wrath of God and of the Lamb; not only the wrath of an angry God, which is terrible vengeance, but the wrath of the slighted Lamb of God, which is double vengeance: “How shall you escape, if ye neglect so great a salvation?” Terrible wrath is coming upon gospel-Blighters in Scotland, upon gospel-despisers in Dunfermline: do you hear of this wonderful love, and yet slight it? Then, “Behold, ye despisers, wonder, and perish! He that believeth not, shall be damned; the wrath of God abideth upon him.” Gave you never any entertainment to the news of grace and love, but to abuse it to lasciviousness, and turn the grace of God into wantonness, and to encourage yourselves in sin and wickedness? As sure as you have now a day of grace, the day of wrath is a-coming; and perhaps this is the last hour of the day of grace, and of the time of love, and what will you do with it? Will you let it pass away, and be forever lost? O sinner I since the time of wrath is not yet come, though it is at hand; since the time of love is yet lasting, will you take and accept of divine grace and love, when he comes to give you now, perhaps, the last offer? And he has spared you out of hell till you get it; that either upon refusal, you may be forever inexcusable; or upon acceptance, you may be forever happy.
Well then, you that have misspent all the time of life and the time of love till now; he that yet continues the time of love with you, the time of love-offers, is saying to you, “Behold me, behold me,” in order to marriage with me. Como and take me, for a match to your soul, to make it up forever. O sirs, will you match with him that can pardon all your sins, and pay all your debt, supply all your wants, and heal all your wounds; can cover all your spots, and cleanse all your filthiness, and loose all your bands, these bands of sin, hell and death, wherewith you have been bound all your days? Will you, that can do nothing, leave him that can do all things for you? Will you, to whom death and judgment seem to be terrible, in a little, will you have him, that can make death safe and judgment sweet, and all trials by the way easy to you, by giving either a merciful support under them, or merciful issue to them? O will you, that are liable to an eternity of torments, have him that can give you an eternity of joy and happiness, in the vision and fruition of himself? Will you have him to make you holy and happy? If you have no will to this bargain, then surely, though you perish eternally, God does you no wrong, while he gives you your will, and lets you alone, saying, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” Nothing but his omnipotent power can make you willing; but since this gospel is the organ of his power, and that if his drawing power be let down effectually by any means in the world, it will be by these cords of love and grace that are hanging down among your hands; therefore, Come, sinners.
To let down the cords as far as I can, by his warrant, be what thou wilt, “To you is the word of this salvation sent;” the grace and mercy of God is laid in your lap; if you shake it not away from you, by unbelief and enmity, you shall have it, be what you will: why, what are you, or what have you been? Are you a drunkard, swearer, Sabbath-breaker, whoremonger, adulterer, a filthy Magdalen, or bloody Manasseh, that have hitherto contemned the grace of God, and the Son of God? Are you the worst that ever breathed on the face of the earth; no matter: while this time of love lasts, grace is content to take you at your worst, and to make the worst time that ever you had, to be the best time that ever you saw. What are you, sinner? Are you a monster of sin? Are you a devil of sin? Be it so, since you are not yet a devil in hell, but a devil on earth, and a devil in flesh, that is not such a wonder as a God in flesh; and behold here is an incarnate God come to save incarnate devils. To you that are yet out of hell, he is saying, “Look to me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else.” To you that are in the flesh, and not yet damned spirits, the word of God says of this God in Christ, “O thou that hearest prayer, to thee shall all flesh come,” (Ps. 65:2). All that are yet human flesh are welcome to come to him; whatever sort of flesh you be, be you never such filthy flesh, or devilish flesh. God has sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, that all sinful flesh may come to him, that he may form them into the likeness of an holy God.
If any trembling heart here be thinking, O is it possible that this call is to me, that this offer is to me? Yes, to thee, man, woman; to thee, lass, lad; to you that are farest off and nearest hand me; to every one of you within these walls, this offer of love and mercy comes in his name, that has said, “Go, preach the gospel to every creature,” to every rational creature under heaven. What say you? I was never so unfit to come, or so unable; I am at the very worst in sin and misery, at the very height of wickedness and woe. What? is it the time of the greatest need of grace, power, and pity? Well, God, who waits to be gracious, perhaps has been waiting till this moment, and waiting for this moment, that your time of need may be his time of love, and your time of misery his time of mercy: are you content it should be so? Has this word taken hold of your heart, saying, O “what shall I do to be saved!” O, a thousand worlds for Christ! Indeed, an offer to him is worth a thousand worlds, much more himself: do you see it to be so? and are you made willing to have him, that he may save you from sin, as well as from hell? And to save you presently, that you may never be a slave to your sins any more, but a servant to Jesus? Then we may say, “Behold, his time is a time of love,” not only in point of offer, but a time of love in point of power.
I intended to have addressed myself to you whose time, either now or formerly, has been a time of love; but time does not permit; and this will fall in as natively afterwards.