Ralph Erskine Archive

Ralph Erskine


[The second Sermon on this Text]

"O Lord, in wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2"

We entered upon these words elsewhere; explained them, and illustrated the following proposition from them, namely, That in wrathful times to the church and people of God, it is most season­able to plead, that he would remember mercy. We showed when a time may be said to be wrathful; inquired what instances of mercy we need at such a time; opened up the import of the Lord’s remem­bering mercy, and our praying that he would do so; and showed that it is both seasonable and reasonable to plead that he would re­member mercy in wrathful times; and also made some improvement of the point.

We shall now, at this time, add a Lesson deducible from the text and doctrine so clearly, that it might be viewed as another doctrine.

LESSON: “That God has terrible and wrathful ways of saving his people, while in wrath he remembers mercy, and allows them to plead mercy in the midst of wrath.”

In opening up and illustrating this lesson, we shall endeavor to do these five things:—

  1. We shall clear this lesson from Scripture.
  2. Observe some terrible and wrathful ways wherein he saves his people.
  3. Consider in what cases and seasons he brings them under these tokens of wrath.
  4. Offer some reasons why he shows mercy in such wrathful ways.
  5. Deduce some inferences for the application.

I. For clearing and confirming this lesson from scripture, you may consult the following passages. “His right hand teacheth him terrible things, (Ps. 45:4); By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation, (Ps. 65:5); Thou broughtest us into the net: thou laidst affliction upon our loins; thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us into a wealthy place, (Ps. 66:11-12); Thou calledst in trouble, and I delivered thee; I answered thee in the secret place of thunder: I proved thee at the waters of Meribah,”( Ps. 81:7). Jacob saith, “All these things are against me:—But God meant it for good,” (Gen. 42:26; See Deut 8:15-16; 10:21; Ps. 68:35). Though we may Apprehend God designs evil against us, and against his church; yet the Lord means it for good: “The Lord is with me, saith the pro­phet, as a mighty terrible one, (Jer. 20:11); I will bring her into the wilderness; there will I speak comfortably, (Hos. 2:14). Thou shalt go to Babylon; there shalt thou be delivered,” (Micah 4:10; Ezek. 22:14-15; Isa. 64:3-4).

II. We proposed, next, to observe some terrible and wrathful ways, wherein he saves. Some of these have been mentioned in the scriptures cited. He showeth mercy to them by terrible ways, while he doth it sometimes by terrible providences; such as heavy afflic­tions, grievous rods upon their bodies, families; names, estates, chil­dren, and relations; of all which I might give instances, were it needful. “They are chastened of the Lord, that they may not be condemned with the world:” and, “Their light affliction worketh for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” By ter­rible temptations: so Paul had a messenger of Satan sent to buffet him, that he might not be exalted above measure. By terrible falls into the mire; so Peter fell into the horrible pit of cursing, swearing, and denying his Master. By terrible words: as when he tells them, in a manner, that he has no commission to save them; and that they are dogs, to whom the children’s bread does not belong. By terrible commotions, disorders, and confusions upon their minds; “I am full of confusion; see thou mine affliction,” (Job 10:15). Thus the arrows of the Almighty may be within them, (Job 4:4). By terrible commands, like that to Abraham; “Go sacrifice Isaac,” (Gen. 22:2). By terrible threatenings, like that to Israel, “Go to the gods whom ye have served; I will deliver you no more,” (Judges 10:14). By terrible challenges, like that; “But thou haat not called on me, 0 Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel,” (Isa. 43:23-24,
&c.). By terrible descriptions of them, like that; “For the iniquity of his covetousness I was wroth, and smote him,” (Isa. 57:17 &c.). By terrible fears and perplexing thoughts: so the Psalmist, “In the multitude of my thoughts with­in me, thy comforts delight my soul:” fear of relinquishing, “When my foot nigh slipt, thy mercy held me up,” (Ps. 94:18). By terrible storms and tempests of angry dispensations, like that towards Jonah, “I went down to the bottom of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever,” (2:6). By terrible disappointments, making them say, “I sought him, but I found him not; I go forward, but he is not there.” By a terrible confluence of trouble and mixture of adversity; troubled on every side with troubles of every sort, outward and inward trouble, deep calling unto deep. By terrible questions; such as that, “How shall I put thee among the children? (Jer. 3:19). How shall I pardon thee for this? (chap. 5:7). How shall I do for the daughter of my people?” (9:7). By terrible delays, making them cry, “How long? how long?” (Ps. 13:1). By terrible tidings: “I will not be afraid of evil tidings;” importing that they are terrible. They may be scared with dreams, and terrified with night visions. By terrible turns, and various changes and vicissitudes: “Because of thine indignation and thy wrath; for thou hast lifted me up and cast me down again,” (Ps. 102:9-10). By terrible extremities, even to the sentence of death, (2 Cor. 1:9); yea, to the grave, and the grave­stone, (Lam. 3:53); yea more, to be as dead and dry bones scattered about the grave’s mouth. These are some of the terrible ways wherein the Lord showeth mercy, or saves his people while he hideth his face from, and showeth his wrath against them.

III. The third thing proposed was, To consider in what cases and seasons he showeth himself in arms and in wrath against them.

1. When they degenerate and make apostasy from him, and from his truth, and their zeal for it, (Jer. 9:1, 7). Hence he saves them, yet so as by fire, (1 Cor. 3:14). To this purpose see Ezekiel 20:33 and 37.

2. When his people become careless and negligent in known duty. Thus God met Moses, and sought to kill him, for his neglect to circumcise his child, (Ex. 4:24). You read of Eli’s neglecting to punish and chastise his sons, (1 Sam. 2:12, 26), wherefore God breaks his neck, and slays his two sons in one day, (4:10, 18).

3. When the people of God break out into any scandalous sins, whereby the name of God is blasphemed. You see David’s murder and adultery severely chastised: “The sword shall never depart from thine house, because thou hut despised me, and hut taken the wife of Uriah to be thy wife, and hut slain him: behold, I will raise up evil against thee, in thine own house. Thou didst it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun,” (2 Sam. 12:10, 14).

4. When the people of God undervalue their mercies, and do not observe the kindness of God, that conveys their mercies to them: “She did not know that I gave her corn, wine, and oil, and multi­plied her mercies; therefore I will take away my corn, wine, oil, and flax, and none shall deliver her out of my hand,” (Hosea 2:8-9). How can we expect God should remember mercy towards us, when we do not remember, but forget his mercy?

5. When the people of God grow willful and obstinate, and will not hear the call of God; as it was even with good Josiah, who will needs go and fight with Necho, king of Egypt, contrary to the call of God; and so he got his death’s wounds, (2 Chron. 35:20, 22). When they will not obey his voice, but walk after the imagination of their own heart, going after Balaam; then he is provoked to say, “Behold! I will feed this people with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink,” (Jer. 9:15). When they desert the call of God, and the cause of God, then he is exceedingly provoked. Jonah will not go the errand God sent him; and how terribly doth God deal with him!

6. When the people of God fall a-doting upon what God hath bestowed upon them, then God deals sharply with them: thus, when David falls a-doting upon Absalom, what a grieved heart got he with him, both in his life and in his death! Beware of doting too much upon your children, or idolizing your enjoyments, lest God break your idols, and break your hearts with them too.

7. When the people of God grow full of animosity, and fall out by the way: I mean, when even the friends of truth, and of the cause of God, are rent one from another. Many of God’s saints, who could agree well enough in a prison, and at a stake, yet could not agree when at liberty. Sharp persecutions have been occasioned by the divisions of the saints, by the dissentions of Luther and Cal­vin. “Whereas there is among you envying, strife, and division; are ye not carnal?” (1 Cor. 3:3). And particularly when, through pride or selfishness, a faithful remnant, that would witness the best way they can for God, are left alone, and few or none will join them, to set up the curtains of the tabernacle: this tends to divide the pastors and scatter the flock. (See Jer. 10:20-21).

8. When the people of God turn carnally confident, still justi­fying themselves: “How canst thou say, I am not polluted? Thou sayest, Behold I am innocent: I will plead with thee, because thou sayest, I have not sinned,” (Jer. 2:23, 35). This is quite the reverse of the precept, “Judge yourselves, and ye shall not be judged,” (1 Cor. 11:30).

9. When they break out into intemperate zeal, zeal without knowledge: this provokes God to bring terrible things upon them, to cure this distemper, and to calm and sober them. Thus it was with Uzza, when he gave a touch to the ark; and with the Jews, “I bear them record,” saith the apostle, “that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge,” (Rom. 10:2). Zeal without knowledge is heat without light; and let there be never so great a zeal for God and a good cause, if it be grounded upon ignorance and want of understanding, it comes to little account; yea, it brings to ruin: so it was with the Jews. Light and heat should bear a pro­portion to one another.

10. When they rashly approach to God in duties and ordi­nances, and worship him in a carnal, formal way; and particularly when they profane the table of the Lord, by unworthy communicat­ing: “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body: for this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep,” (1 Cor. 11:30). Many are punished with sudden death for their sinful way of showing forth the Lord’s death, yet all in mercy to his own; for though he pardon their sin, he takes vengeance on their inven­tions.

IV. The Fourth thing we proposed was, To give the reasons why he saves and shows mercy in such terrible and wrathful ways.

1. It is out of a gracious design; particularly to cause them to seek his face: “In their affliction they shall seek me early,” (Hosea 5:15). God’s own people are sometimes ready to carry strangely towards him, and he saith of them; “Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird; the birds round about are against her. Come up, assemble all the beasts of the field: come to devour,” (Jer. 12:9). He bringeth them into captivity. But notice how he speaks of them elsewhere; “O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs: let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy counte­nance is comely,” (Song 2:4). He makes his speckled bird fly to the clefts of the rock.

2. It is to instruct them, that they may have experimental knowledge, what it is to want him, and what it is to enjoy him; “Then mine anger shall be kindled against them in that day; and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befal them, so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, be­cause our God is not among us,” (Deut. 31:17). It is said; “Israel shall say unto me, My God we know thee,” (Hosea 8:2), namely, ex­perimentally know. It is to instruct them of the evil of sin, so as to be purged from it; “By this shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away sin,” (Isa. 27:9).

3. That his people may understand more fully the love of our Lord Jesus Christ toward them; and that they may know or guess at the greatness of the affliction and trouble that the Lord Jesus underwent; who suffered the wrath of God for our sake and in our room; “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed.”

4. That all may know that God will not spare sin, even in his own: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore will I punish you for your iniquities,” (Amos 3:7). And this he doth in a conformity to his promise, (Ps. 89:30, 34). “If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes and keep not my commandments: then will I visit their transgressions with the rod, and their iniquities with stripes; nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail; my covenant will I not break, nor alter the word that is gone out of my lips.” (See Deut. 28:58, 59).

5. He saves and shows mercy in ways terrible and wrathful, that his mercy towards them may be wonderful and astonishing. When they are brought to the mouth of the pit, to the brink of de­struction, to the midst of the furnace of wrath, and then plucked as brands out of the burning, how wonderful and astonishing is his mercy! And how do they stand amazed, crying, “Is this the manner of man! Then he gives them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”

6. He shows mercy in ways terrible, that his mercy may appear the more amiable. Mercy at any rate is desirable and lovely: but mercy in the midst of wrath and terrible tempests, O how sweet is it! Light is precious when it shines out of darkness; so is mercy when it arises out of wrath.

V. The fifth thing proposed was, the application of this point; which we shall essay in a few inferences.

1. Hence see with what awful reverence we ought to compass the altar of God, and to approach to a communion-table; our God is a consuming fire; a God of terrible majesty, as well as of tender mercy, “Let a man examine himself,” and prepare himself, that he provoke not God, by unworthy communicating, to display his wrath instead of mercy.

2. Let all the children of God be cautious and circumspect: though the Lord will save them; yet he hath terrible ways of doing it. If they provoke their Father to anger; he may write bitter things against them, run upon them like a lion, and break them with breach upon breach: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore will I punish you for your iniquities,” (Amos 3:7). You walk upon pinnacles; none in all the world have more need to walk exactly. You are exposed to dangerous temptations, both from yourselves and from the devil: in yourselves, from the corruption and pride of your nature: and the lion of hell will be upon you with his utmost violence; for he constantly goes about seeking whom he may devour.

3. Let the wicked tremble to meet with the great and terrible God. If he be so terrible to his own, what may they expect who are his enemies! “If the righteous shall scarcely be saved, where shall the wicked and ungodly appear?” When God comes even in mercy to his people, they have not been able to bear it, (Ex. 20:19). Thus Moses said, “I exceedingly fear and quake,” (Heb. 12:21). —John fell down dead, (Rev. 1:17). When God appears in mercy to his people, if there be but one bright beam of his majesty shining forth, it cannot be borne, it is so terrible; if that bright beam of his majesty make them tremble, what will become of you when he ap­pears in his wrath, when the terrible stream of fire and brimstone shall issue from his awful throne! It is said of him, even when he sits as a refiner and purifier, “Who shall abide the day of his coming!” (Mal. 3:2). How will he then burn up the chaff! O but sinners in Zion shall be afraid, fearfulness shall surprise the hypo­crites, (Isa. 33:14). If the saints may have the sentence of death in themselves, (2 Cor. 1:8), and if this be terrible; how will the execution of the sentence of death everlasting, terribly torment the wicked forever!

4. Since the door of hope is yet open, hence let not terrible times, and terrible dispensations, create desperate thoughts; since God saves in terrible ways, look to mercy in the midst of wrath, for; “He multiplies to pardon, and keeps mercy for thousands.”

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