Ralph Erskine Archive

Ralph Erskine


[The second Sermon on this Text.]

“Now, when I passed by the and looked upon thee;
behold, thy time was a time of love.” Ezekiel 16:8

The time of life is short and uncertain; and we cannot improve it aright, if we be not acquainted with a time of love. The time of trouble is what we may all lay our account with; for, “Man is born to trouble;” and we cannot have true peace or rest therein, if we know not a time of love. The time death is approaching; and what have we to sweeten the thoughts of death, if we know nothing of a time of love? It is, therefore, most necessary we know it.

Having formerly improved this subject in an use of admiration and examination, we shall now, at this time, improve it in an use of information, by deducing two inferences. 1st. Hence see, that God in sovereignty may disappoint his people, and make the time of seeming anger and of wrath-like dispensations to be a time of love. As his thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his ways our ways; so, his time is not our time; we may hope that he will manifest his love at such a time, and he may disappoint our hopes; and we may fear he will display his anger at such a time, and he may disappoint our fears, by manifesting his love. He makes his time of seeming wrath toward his people to be his time of love.

As this inference is suitable to the text, context, and doctrine; so, being suitable to the circumstances of many here, under visible evidences of God’s anger in their families, [At the time when this sermon was preached, most of the children in Dunfermline were seized with the small-pox, and vast numbers of them dying.] I shall insist a little upon this, by answering these four questions.

1. What seeming anger may be showing toward his people, whose time is notwithstanding a time of love?

2. What love-designs may be carrying on by these wrath-like dispensations?

3. What love is there in these angry-like dispensations?

4. What lessons may we learn from this inference?

QUESTION: 1. In what respect may he seem angry with these whose time, notwithstanding, is a time of love?

ANSWER: 1. It is most angry like when they fall into sin, when he suffers them to sin, and leaves them to themselves, as he did David, Peter, Hezekiah, (2 Chron. 32:25, 31); and leave them to heart-hardness: “Wherefore hast thou hardened our hearts from thy fear?” (Isa. 63:17). 2. When they are under many grievous temptations, and buffettings of Satan, as Paul, (2 Cor. 12:7); and Job, as you read, chapter 1. 3. When they are under sad desertion, saying, as Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why halt thou forsaken me? How long wilt thou hide thyself?” (Ps. 13:1, 2). 4. When they are under great outward affliction on their persons, families, friends, names, estates, or otherwise, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth them out of them all,” (Ps. 34:19). “If any man will live godly in Christ Jesus, he must suffer persecution,” (2 Tim. 3:12). You will perhaps, say, Is there no difference between the afflictions of the godly and of the wicked? To this we reply, No difference as to the matter of them, and in their own nature: but vastly different in their use; even as water in baptism taken out of a well, so much of the water of that well may be taken for washing the hands, so much for baptizing; it is the same water, but the latter is made use of as a seal of God’s covenant. Thus, when a fever comes, the godly man’s person, or child, may be as sorely handled as the wicked; but the one is blessed, and not the other; the use of affliction to the one, and to the other, is vastly different, In Jeremiah 24, the prophet here sees a vision of two sorts of figs, the one was good figs, and the other bad and naughty. And what are these but two sorts of people, that were carried captive to Babylon? Some of them as good figs, whom God took a care of when carried away, to whom he says, that he will have his eyes upon them for good and not for evil; and that he will bring them again; but as for the other, he says, that his eyes were upon them for evil and not for good; and that he would pull them down. Thus, all the people go to captivity together; but yet never think he had no more respect to his own among them, than to others. Afflictions come upon the wicked, seeking satisfaction; but upon the godly, for correction; God out of love chastises them for their faults. There is a great difference when God, with a rod, strikes his enemies out of anger; and when, with that same rod, he strikes his children in love. Therefore when judgments come upon a land, or a place, let not the godly themselves think they shall be free; but as when a besom comes to sweep a house, if there be dross and dirt in it, and also diamonds and some gold among it, both of them may be swept to the door together; but this is the difference, the dirt rots away, but the diamonds or gold remains of as great worth as it was at first, till it be sought and got again.

The godly may lay their account with such troubles and afflictions, as the wicked meet with. Why?

(1.) These who are partakers in sin, must be partakers in punishment; for though the godly were guiltless in men’s eyes, yet before God, and in their own eyes, they are guilty, and sinful as others are; for, it is hard to live with the wicked, and not be infected with their plagues, and so they must have part of their judgments.

(2.) There is no promise made to any of that sort, as to exempt them from the cross. Hence the true Israelites and Canaanites cannot be discerned by these outward things; yet say not there is no difference between the afflictions of the one, and the other as I have shown above.

QUESTION: 2. What love designs may be carrying on by those wrath-like dispensations?

ANSWER: 1. The first love designs thereby is to make sin bitter, and bring off their hearts from it, and make them leave it: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child,” even of God’s children, “but the rod of correction drives it off,” (Prov. 22:15). “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: Know then and see, that it is an evil and a bitter thing, that thou halt forsaken the Lord thy God and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts,” (Jer. 2:19). “By this shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged,” (Isa. 27:9).

2. The next love design is, to heal their hearts: to humble the lofty heart, and soften the hard heart: therefore he puts them in the fire to melt them; they are naturally hard, stout, light, and proud. God melts them with this fire: “Thou has tried us with fire, as silver is tried.” (Ps. 66:10). “For God maketh my heart soft,” (Job 23:16).

3. The third-love design is, to make them weary of this world, by finding they meet with such bad entertainment in it; “Arise ye, and depart, for this is not your rest, for it is polluted, it shall destroy you even with a sore destruction;” (Micah 2:10). Hence “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but in me ye shall have peace; be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33)

4. Another love-design is, to awaken them: but he gives them something ado, and keeps them busy and fighting; “These are the nations God left to prove Israel by them; slay them not, lest my people forget,” (Judges 3:1; Jer. 47:11). They would stink and corrupt if they were not carried into captivity, and emptied from vessel to vessel.

5. The next love-design is, to exercise faith and patience; “We glory in tribulation, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope,” (Rom. 5:3) “Count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations; knowing that the trial of your faith worketh patience; but let patience have her perfect work,” (Jam. 1:2, 3).

6. Another love-design is, to bring them to themselves, by prayer, and other duties, otherwise they would mistake themselves: “In their afflictions they shall seek me early, saying, Come let us return to the Lord, for he hath broken, and will heal,” (Hosea 5:15; 6:1). True, indeed, hypocrites may cry, when they are afflicted: “When he slew them, then they sought him; and they returned and enquired early after God;—Yet they flattered him with their mouths,” (Ps. 78:35, 36). But even the children of grace need to be spurred up by the rod; and then they cry to their Father in another manner than hypocrites, in a kindly and cordial manner, (Isa. 26:19). There it is said of his people, “Lord, in trouble have they visited thee; they poured out a prayer when thy chastening hand was upon them: “then they visited thee; they were growing strangers to God before the trouble came; they made him few visits, and were like to grow out of acquaintance with him; but now they begin to renew their acquaintance with him; they poured out a prayer; formerly, before trouble came, they prayed, but their prayers were but drops; they came but slowly forth, drop by drop, like water out of a still; but now their prayers are poured out like water out of a fountain: they pour out their prayers, and pour out their hearts in prayer before the Lord, when his chastening is upon them; “They poured out prayer; “in the margin it is a SECRET SPEECH: they may meet with God in public duties and ordinances, but especially their main intercourse with him is in secret; there they speak with God, and commune with him; and thus by afflictions and chastisements their communion with God is advanced.—In a word, such are his love-designs, by trials and wrath-like dispensations, that thereby he makes his mercy the sweeter to them when it comes: and their love to God the greater, because of his power and pity manifested to them in their afflictions.

QUESTION: 3. What LOVE is there in these afflictions, in punishments and chastisements? What love appears in them?

ANSWER: Besides what I have said, 1. There is love in the measure of the affliction; while it is not in fury, but in measure, and in pity; “Fury is not in me.—In measure when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it: He stayeth his rough wind in the day of his east wind, (Isa. 27:4, 8). As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him,” (Ps. 103:13).

2. There is love in bringing them under one evil, to save them from a greater; They are chastised of the Lord, that they may not be condemned with the world. (1 Cor. 11:32; Heb. 12:6-8).

3. There is love in making them thus sharers of the mercies of the covenant; for, afflictions are a covenant-promise; (See 2 Sam. 7:15, and Ps. 89:31-32). For which the saints have prayed; as “Correct me, Lord, but in judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing;” (Jer. 10:24). “Thus Psalm 6:1, and 38:1).

4. There is love in that thus he favors and honors them to take them under his correction, and care; “What is man, that thou shouldst magnify him? and that thou shouldst set they heart upon him?” (Job. 7:17). Why? how doth he magnify and honor him? It follows, “And that thou shouldst visit him every morning, and try him every moment,” (Job 7:18).

5. There is love in his giving sweet cordials between-hands to bear up their spirits; particularly, some cordials of the new covenant; some words on which he causes them to hope: “Remember thy word unto thy servant, upon which thou hest caused me to hope,” (Ps. 119:49). Hence it follows, “This is my comfort in mine affliction; for thy word hath quickened me,” (Ps. 119:50). He quickens and refreshes with his words of grace.

6. There is love in the constant presence of grace that he allows them under their trouble, according to his promise; “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” (Heb. 13:5). “I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him,” (Ps. 91:15). When the goldsmith has cast the gold into the fire, he leaves it not there; nay, then he waits best upon it, that he may suffer it to get no more of the fire than he sees meet.

In a word, such love there is in their afflictions, that he is therein carrying on all the love-designs that I was mentioning on the former head, and thus preparing them for the heavenly kingdom; “Our light affliction, that is but for a moment, worketh a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” (2 Cor. 4:17). They would die and rot in their sins, if they were not poured out from vessel to vessel.

QUESTION: 4. What lessons may we learn from this inference?

ANSWER: 1. That we ought not to seek so much to be rid of troubles; we ought to submit and comply with the troubles that are upon us, seeing they are such excellent things, so profitable and medicinal; we ought neither to lothe at, nor fret under God’s physic.

1. We ought to accept of the punishment of sin, saying, “I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned.” We should turn up our cheek to him that smiteth, and not weary of the Lord’s chastisements, seeing it is for sin; “Why should a living man complain? a man for the punishment of his iniquities? Therefore,

2. We ought to quit sin, saying, “What have I any more to do with idols?” God designs, by trouble, to destroy some idol: join with him in seeking the destruction thereof: “I will go, and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offences, and seek my face,” (Hosea 5:15).

3. Give way to the Lord Jesus Christ, and make open doors for him; for this is the great design of all afflicting dispensations: for they are so many knocks at the doors of our hearts. Give way to him in a fourfold capacity. (1.) As a reprover; (Rev. 3:15-17), Take with the charge of lukewarmness, in being neither cold nor hot.

(2.) As a Counsellor; (Rev. 3:18), Hearken to his counsel, as a Prophet, and buy his eye salve; his counsel, as a Priest, and buy his white raiment, his counsel, as a King, and buy his tried gold.

(3.) Give way to him as a Corrector, a loving corrector; (Rev. 3:9), “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: “he corrects us for our faults, and for our amendment. Be patient, which is a continued submission; and if sense fail, hold by the word.

4. Give way to him as an importunate Suitor; “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me,” (Rev. 3:20). He knocks by his word, and by his Spirit, and by his rod; invite him to come in, saying as Laban in another case to Abraham’s servant; “Come in, thou blessed of the Lord: wherefore standest thou without?” (Gen. 24:31). O come in and do not stand knocking, but make king’s keys, and exert thy power and come in with salvation. So much may suffice for the first inference. Hence, 2dly, I infer, that neither the sinning nor the suffering circumstances of the people of God, in this world, is inconsistent with his special love to them: “Thy time “(though in the context both a sinful and afflicted time,) “was a time of love.” By the love of God here, I do not understand, either benevolence or good-will, for this is common; “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” He has sworn that he has no pleasure in the death of sinners. God may take pleasure in the execution of his justice, but doth not in the punishment of the creature; “As I live, I have no pleasure in the death of sinners.” Nor do I here understand his love of beneficence; for, he does good to all; “He makes his sun to shine upon the good and evil; and sendeth his rain upon the just and unjust.” Nor his love of destination towards the elect unconverted; because, whatever be his thoughts of peace, and designs of manifesting love to them, yet he can take no pleasure in them, as they are in themselves, while out of Christ. But I understand his love of complacency and delight. Now, I say, his people’s sinning and suffering circumstances here, are not inconsistent with his complacential love to them.

For the further clearing of this inference, I would, 1. Show that the sinning circumstances of his people here are not inconsistent with his love. 2. Give a discovery of these persons whose sinning circumstances are indeed inconsistent with his love. 3. Show that the suffering and afflicted circumstances of God’s people are not inconsistent with his love to them. 4. Give a discovery of these whose carriage in their afflicted circumstances is indeed inconsistent with his complacential love of God.

[1.] We are to show that the sinning circumstances of God’s people here, are not inconsistent with his love. This may be cleared in the four following remarks.

Remark 1. “That none of God’s children, in this world, are free of sin:” they have a body of death in them; the company of two armies; two nations struggling, (Rom. 7:15-25).

Remark 2. “That they not only have sin, but it may be powerful and prevalent;” Powerful, so as to carry them captive; “I see a law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity unto the law of sin, which is in my members,” (Rom. 7:23). Prevalent, as David says, “Iniquities prevail against me.”

Remark 3. “That God observes and regards the truth of grace in his people, though the measure may be small; and he loves all his children, though some of them are babes,” (1 John 2:12-14). Hence they are ready sometimes to speak thus, “I pray indeed; but, alas I do not wrestle, like Jacob; nor water my couch, like David: I believe; but I have not joy and peace in believing: I fear; but I am not in the fear of God all the daylong: I love Christ; but, O my loves goes out after other things.” Thus it is the weakness, not the want of grace that troubles and perplexes them: yet God loves his children though weak.

Remark 4. “That the life of the believer is hid with Christ in God.” It is not so much in himself as it is in Christ; and hence they are ready to conclude their sinful circumstances such, as are not consistent with divine love; but their life is most in their Head. Four things the saints complain of and they get ease only in Christ. Alas! I am guilty well; where get you ease but in Christ, as made of God your righteousness? Oh! I have much pollution; well, where is your relief but in Christ, as made of God to you, sanctification, the fountain of holiness! Alas! there is much folly about me! where is your relief but in Christ, as made of God unto you wisdom? Oh! I have no strength for duty or difficulties; well, where lies your strength but in Christ? “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength!” He is the glory of their strength. Hence the greatest part of the believer’s inherent righteousness, in this world, lies in his faith, faith going out of himself to Christ for all. This shows that however sinful his circumstances are, yet he is a favorite of heaven.

[2.] We are next to give a discovery of these persons whose sinning circumstances are indeed inconsistent with his love. There are six sorts of sinners, whose sinful case is indeed inconsistent with God’s complacential love.

1. These whose religion lies all in externals; and whose hearts were never exercised before God about sin and wrath: “This people draw nigh unto me with their mouths, and honour me with their lips; but their hearts are far removed from me,” (Matt. 15:18). Their hearts were never engaged to approach to God.

2. These who never knew the power of the gospel, but are only taken up with the outward pomp of it; pompous words, the excellency of speech, the flourishes of eloquence, that tickle their fancies: they never got good of the word who never had better to say than this, O! there was a neat sermon; it was gilded with all the flowers of rhetoric, and embellished and set off with all the graces of oratory; a handsome and eloquent discourse; but never could say of any sermon, “Did not our hearts burn within us? “We were touched and conquered thereby. They know nothing that know not the power of the word: “The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power:” “The gospel came not in word, but in power,” (1 Cor. 4:20).

3. These who persecute the people of God, and have no favor for them, no complacency in them; though they can be civil to them as to others, yet they are far from preferring them to others, in esteeming them, or delighting in them. This is the brand of a natural man, for it is otherwise with God’s children; “To the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight,” (Ps. 16:3).

4. These that can live peaceably in any one sin, without remorse, without repentance, or reluctance; or by bribing their judgment to defend it, or offering to God a satisfaction, like the whore in the seventh chapter of the Proverbs, “I have a peace-offering, this day have I performed my vows: come, let us take our fill of love,” (v. 14, 18). God’s children may have sin prevailing, but never have it peaceably reigning in them.

5. These that were never brought off from the pollutions of the world, such as drunkenness, whoredom, swearing, lying, cheating, stealing, Sabbath-breaking, &c. Some may escape these, through the knowledge of Christ, and yet be apostates, the latter-end worse than the beginning, (2 Pet. 2:20). Sure then, they are in a sad state that never escaped sin at all: they are not the spots of God’s children.

6. These that being strangers to a working faith, are never brought beyond the legal or gospel-hypocrite. By the legal-hypocrite, I understand, the man that is full of good works, yet they have not faith for their root: these are cast: for, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” By a gospel-hypocrite, I understand, these that profess faith in Christ, yet their faith has no good works, as the fruits thereof: these are cast: because, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

[3.] We come to show, that the suffering and afflicted circumstances of God’s people, are not inconsistent with his love to them. This may be clear from the following remarks.

Remark 1. “That God has connected sin and suffering:” —By his decree; “Though hand join in hand, sin shall not go unpunished: “By the law;” “The soul that sinneth shall die, or suffer: By the gospel; “If his children break his law, and keep not his commandments; he will visit their iniquity with the rod: “By his providence, wherein he declares himself a God that will by no means clear the guilty. What God has joined, we naturally separate, saying, “We shall have peace, though we walk after the imagination of our hearts.” This was the first heresy the devil bred in the world, “You shall not surely die,” though you sin; but God has connected sin and suffering. Remark 2. “God’s own people may lay their account with suffering, while they have sin.” Though, through Christ, in a way of faith and repentance, they are freed from hell, and eternal damnation, yet they are not always freed from temporal punishments and chastisements; nay, “You only have I known of all the nations of the earth; therefore will I punish you.” Though he pardons their sins, yet he may take vengeance on their inventions.

Therefore, Remark 3. “There are many rods they are visited with.” Sometimes desertion, sometimes affliction, sometimes temptation, sickness, death of friends and children: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivereth them out of them all,” (Ps. 36:19).

Remark 4. “God has glorious and merciful designs in afflicting them.” Glorious with reference to himself; and merciful with reference unto them. As to himself, it is to clear his justice, and manifest his equity in the administration of his government, and that the world may not think he bears with sin in his own, or indulges them in their rebellion; therefore though David repented of his adultery and murder, and got a pardon: yet because his sin was scandalous and offensive and made the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme; therefore he must be punished with the sword of a bloody enemy, and a bloody sword must not depart from his house. As to them it is to do them good, to humble and prove them, to embitter sin to them, and to make them forsake sin and flee to Christ, and that in their affliction they may seek him early, saying, “Come let us return to the Lord, for he hath broken, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up,” (Hosea 5:15 and 6:1, compared).

[4.] We now proceed to give a discovery of these whose carriage in afflicted circumstances is, indeed, inconsistent with this complacential love of God.

1. Such as grow worse by their afflictions, and, instead of turning unto God, turn from him; that gnaw their tongues and blaspheme, like these, (Rev. 16:10). Is it not with many, as with Ahaz, (2 Chron. 28:20-21). In his distress he sinned yet more? It is to be feared, many are worse instead of being better by the rod.

2. Such as are neither better nor worse, but rather stupid and sottish, never affected though afflicted. A child of God may become, in some respects, senseless for a little, with the acuteness and severity of his affliction; but he comes to his senses again, and is stirred up to a suitable affectedness before the Lord; but it is sad when people are no way touched and moved with the hand of God upon them. It is a stubborn child that will not weep when the father chastises; “Thou hast smitten them but they have not grieved,” (Jer. 5:3). Some are past feeling, they are, as, it were, threshed on, and yet they feel it not.

3. Such as feel their misery and trouble, but do not see the cause of it; and therefore never take the right way to be rid a it; but being sensible of external trouble, look out for external help as Ephraim saw his wound, and went to king Jarib; but none says “Where is God my Maker? (Job. 35:9-10). “Though they cry, by reason of the arm of the mighty, yet none saith, Where is God my Maker, who giveth songs in the night?” Few prayers to God, little amendment.

4. Such as in their affliction turn to God, but it is not with their whole heart, but feignedly, (Jer. 3:10). They pray and cry fervently for ease and relief, yet hold fast iniquity; or if they forsake some sins, yet not all; their main business is to get ease from trouble; thus Pharaoh cried, turned, confessed; “Pray for me, that this death may be removed.” Some never desire a prayer to be made for them, till they fear they are on their death-bed: they go to God in affliction, like one that goes to a great man about business, not about a loving visit; and if the business be done, they part and leave him and perhaps never wait upon him again; they have got their business done, and they seek no more: such are selfish seekers, that seek Christ only for the loaves.

5. Such as seem to turn cordially, and to return but it is not to the Most High; they not only pray that God would remove the outward trouble, but they acknowledge sin, and resolve never to be so bad again; but it is merely a moral turning, whereby many deceive themselves: they think their forsaking of some things, and reforming of some things, and performing of some duties, wherein they may be wonderfully affected, that this is true grace, but it is not so; it is a turning, indeed, but not to the Most High. Distance from God is the great evil; and nearness to him, through Christ, is that wherein our great happiness lies. Now, though men should go never such a length in reformation, if they live at a distance from God, it will be of little stead to them; the great design of the rod is not obtained; our righteousness must proceed from the influence of another covenant. People may turn to duty, and not to God; and they may turn to God, and yet not to Christ, or to God in Christ; as Christ said to the disciples, “Ye believe in God, believe also in me.” If we believe in God, and yet not believe in Christ, we believe not in the Most High; for God is most highly exalted only in Christ: “He that honours not the Son, honours not the Father.” He that turns not to Christ by faith, never turns rightly to God by repentance.

6. Such as seem to turn to God and Christ, but turn away from him again, (2 Pet. 2:20, 23). And like these; “When he slew them, they sought him; yet their heart was not right with God, neither were they stedfast in his covenant. If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him,” (Ps. 78:44, 37). It is true, God’s children may have many changes in their frames, and back-drawings in their hearts; but still they have a fixed purpose of heart to follow the Lord: like the mariner, that sets out for such a port, though he may be tossed at sea, and carried backward, with contrary winds, yet his fixed purpose leads him to make for the designed haven, at which he at last arrives. God’s children may draw back, but they are not as these that draw back to perdition “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own way.”

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