GLAD TIDINGS IN SAD TIMES; OR, THE CITY OF GOD, IN THE TIMES OF TROUBLE AND CONFUSION, WATERED WITH THE RIVER OF CONSOLATION.
This Sermon was preached in Anandale, on Sabbath , August 27th, 1712.
“There is a river, the streams whereof do make glad the City of God.” Psalm 46:4.
The tide of joy and consolation hath never come to a greater height in the people of God, than in the time of affliction, persecution, and tribulation; then they are readily most zealous Christians who are Christians indeed; and when zeal abounds, then joy and peace in believing abound also. I remember Moulin, speaking of the French Protestants, says, “When Papists hurt us, and afflict us for reading the Scriptures, we then burn in zeal to be reading them; but when persecution is over, our Bibles are like old Almanacks.” When the people of God are passing through the fire of affliction, then he uses to let out the streams of the river of life to their hearts, to allay the burning heat of the fire, and to give them the oil of joy for mourning.
The Psalmist here, in the church’s name, most triumphantly expresses her confidence in God, and that in despite of all imaginable dangers, in the second and third verses, “We will not fear, though the earth be removed; and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar, and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereat” By these expressions we are to understand the reelings and commotions that are in the world, with the violence and rage of the enemies of the church. And, in the words of our reading, he subjoins the matter of the church’s consolation, amidst all the reeling and confusions in the world, “There is a river, the streams whereof do make glad the city of God.” Where you have these four things:
The name given to the church; it is a “city.”
The owner and proprietor thereof; it is God; “the city of God.”
The sad circumstances of the city here supposed, while all is in confusion and commotion.
The gladdening provision made for the city, amidst all saddening circumstances of the inhabitants; “There is a river, the streams whereof do make glad the city of God.”
Doctrine: “That the church, which is the city of God, hath the sweetest grounds of encouragement, even in the saddest times.”
Thus, amidst all the confusions that encompassed the church here, we are informed, that “There is a river, the streams whereof do make glad the city of God.”
The method we would lay down, for the prosecution of this subject, through divine assistance, shall be the following:
To speak of the city of God.
Show what these sad times are that puts the city of God into confusion.
Speak of these sweet grounds of encouragement that the church, or city of God, hath in these sad times, imported in this “river, the streams whereof do make glad the city of God.”
Deduce inferences for the application.
I. To speak of the city of God. Many a great and famous city hath been in the world. Tyros was a magnificent city; this was turned desolate by Alexander. Nineveh was a great and populous city; but now it would puzzle a traveler to point out the place where it was. Babylon was a great city: but now, where is it? It is called Babylon the great; but, with the same breath, the angel cries, “It is fallen.” But this city of God hath trampled upon the graves of many great and remarkable cities that had their beginnings several thousand years after it. “Glorious things have been spoken of thee, O city of God,” (Ps. 87:3). And whence this glory is derived, you see in the latter clause of the verse, where my text lies; “The holy things of the tabernacle of the Host High.”
Here two things may be enquired, 1. Why the church of God is compared to a city. 2. Why it is called the city of God.
1st, Why is the church of God compared to a city?
1. A city is a place of security. This was the end why men built cities, to secure themselves from the enemies that might attack them; so this city of God is of such security and defense, that there is no shelter to be had elsewhere, no place free from the incursions of the devil, but this city, wherein his works are destroyed, and his fiery darts quenched. Cities use to have their walls, and then watchmen upon their walls; even so, this city of God is a strong city; “Salvation doth God appoint for walls and bulwarks,” (Isa. 26:1). And there are watchmen upon these walls that shall never hold their peace, nor keep silence, (Isa. 62:6). God himself is the force that defends it; and this makes it impregnable: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” (Ps. 26:1).
2. A city is a place of society, insomuch, that what one wants, another supplies; they have mutual fellowship one with another; so in the church of Christ, there is a sweet society and communion they have together. The saints pray for one another, comfort one another, when they meet together, as the apostle commands, “Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another, without grudging; as every man hath received the gift, even so minister one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God,” (1 Pet. 4:8-9). Yea
3. A city is a place of unity that people may therein live together in peace and concord: so, in the church of God, there is a holy fraternity and agreement in the truth, that should take place, otherwise it is a conspiracy against heaven. A city is a society of men that live and dwell together, united by one common interest even so is the church of God, namely, a society of men united in one undivided interest. “There is one body (whereof Christ is the head), one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one advocate, one God and Father of all. Jerusalem is a city built compactly together,” (Eph. 4:4-5). A city is a society of men that live together under the same common laws, subject to one and the same-government and sovereign power; so it is with the church of God; it is a lovely society, having a rule and governor, even Christ himself, the eternal Son of God, on whose shoulders the government lies. No creature can, without the most palpable blasphemy, assume to himself this power over the church of God: “The Lord is our Judge; the Lord is our Lawgiver; the Lord is our King; he will save us. Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints,” (Rev. 15:3). Christ doth enact laws, and appoint governors in his house: “Obey them that rule over you; for they watch as they that must give an account.”
4. A city is a place of trade and traffic, where there is buying and selling; so the city of God is a place of merchandise. Here is the market of free grace: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price.” Here is the Pearl of great price exposed to sale; for the procuring of which, the wise merchant doth sell all that he hath. Here all things necessary for poor sinners: “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and eye-salve, that thou mayest see,” (Rev. 3:18). And all is to be had freely: “Whosoever will, let him come, and take of the waters of life freely.” Here then is a place of trade and traffic; and if you trade the right way, sirs, in a short time you may make a great purchase, and grow prodigiously rich.
5. The church is compared to a city, because it is a place of freedom and liberty; such as, freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin; from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grave and everlasting damnation; as also freedom of access to God, and yielding obedience unto him, not out of slavish fear, but a childlike love and willing mind.
6. A city is a place of order and regularity; it hath its constitutions and ordinances: and such is the city of God; the constitutions whereof, we think are the articles of the gracious covenant of redemption or grate; such as, “I will take away the heart of stone, and give an heart of flesh; I will write my law in their hearts I will be their God, and they shall be my people; I will put my fear in their heart, that they shall not depart from my statutes.” The city of God is not a lawless city; for whereas the law of God to Adam had the impression thereof defaced by corruption, it is here restored again by the tenor of the second covenant. Again, it hath its institutions and ordinances: the King of the city tells us every day, almost, from his word, what service he will have, and likewise the manner thereof; how the affairs of this city shall be administered, and by whom; and we are not to be wise above what is written, nor to be subject to the ordinances, traditions, inventions, and doctrines of men, (Col. 2:20-23). A city is a society of persons, into which we enter in a regular way. You know it is the custom of all cities that strangers are admitted to the privileges and immunities of the city, by their burgess act; so there is a regular way by which we enter into the city of God. These is a door; and see what the door is; “I am the door, says Christ; by me; if any man enter in, he shall be saved; and shall go in and out, and find pasture,” (John 10:9). Whoever enters into the visible church, if they come not is by this door, they are not of the true citizens, or invisible church; and therefore shall not of the saving privileges thereof.
7. A city is a place of rest, and commodious to live in; and thus it is opposed to a wilderness; “They wandered in a wilderness, in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in,” (Ps.107:4); even so, this city of God is the only place where solid rest is to be found. These that are without the city, without the church, they are in a wilderness, in a solitary way: there is no rest or solid peace to any but these who are made denizens of the city of God.
8. A city is a place of privileges, a privileged place; so the privileges even of the visible church are many and great, much more the invisible.
(1.) There are privileges of the church visible; they have the fountain opened to them for sin and uncleanness, (Zech. 13:1) Grace proclaimed to them, which Turks and Pagans have not: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come to the waters; he that hath no money, let him come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price.” They have a right and title to God’s covenant, by virtue of a general adoption, so as they may plead the same, and lay hold on eternal life, as given to them in the gospel, (Rom. 9:4; 1 John 5:11). They have this right to God’s covenant sealed, ratified, and confirmed in baptism; therein God gives them the sure mercies of David, (Acts 13:34), “The promise is to you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even to as many as the Lord our God shall call,” (Acts 2:39). To whom the covenant belongs, and the promise; to them belongs the seal of the covenant of promise. Hence also the door of access to God, through Christ, is open to them, and they may come with freedom and boldness for mercy and grace to help in time of need, (Heb. 4:16). Again, they have, by virtue of their general adoption, an interest in many fatherly acts of pity towards them, as children of the family, though in an outward sense, such as instruction, correction, and reproof. God instructs them by his word, corrects them by his rod, reproves them by his servants for their security, carnality, formality, unbelief, and whatever other faults. God deals not so kindly with the rest. Again, when they go to the right or left hand, they hear a voice behind them saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it;” they have the way of life and salvation pointed out to them. In a word, they have ministers, word, sacraments, ordinances; many privileges that others want. They have officers in this society; and, as all cities have a right to choose its own officers and magistrates; so, surely, the city of God hath a right to choose its own officers and ministers. If they be robbed of this, they are spoiled of their freedom, as burgesses in the city of God.
(2.) The church invisible hath many great privileges that belong to all the citizens of the city of God, and that none have a right unto, till they become fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God. Many spiritual privileges they have such as these: peace with the king, pardon and reconciliation in the blood of Christ; the Prince of peace is the Lord of the city: they are like their King that dwells in the midst of the city, changed into the same image. They are all kings, “Kings and priests unto their God,” Rev. 1:6). “The Lamb is the light of the place, and they are light in the Lord.” It resembles the city of the new Jerusalem, no temple there but Christ, no light there but Christ; “The Lord shall be thy everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.” They have peace of conscience, sanctification, eternal life. They have access to the king’s table; yea, they have the ear of their Prince without a tedious attendance at court, as it is in this world; in Christ we have boldness and access, with confidence, by the faith of him. In a word, they have the privileges of an undoubted title to the city of the New Jerusalem above. Every true citizen here hath letters of conduct from his prince, and death and hell cannot stop the way; they have their King’s pass, and therefore shall go forward; they are blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ, (Eph. 1:3).
9. A city is a place of pomp and splendor, especially a metropolis, or capital city: there is a king, the court, the throne: so in the church, here is the King of kings, his dwelling-place: here is the court, all believers that attend upon him: here is the throne of grace, and they that dwell in this city, have continual occasion of seeing the King in his beauty.
10. A city is a place of pleasure and beauty, beyond all villages and country-cottages: see what is said of this city, the church of God; “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is mount Zion,” (Ps. 48:2). Here also are to be heard the songs of Zion; the joyful sound, through the silver trumpet of the gospel.
2ndly, Why is the church called the “city of God?” I answer,
1. It may be called the city of God, because he dwells in it; “God is in the midst of her,” says the verse following my text. The place where a man or woman dwells, is called their city; so the town of Bethany is called, “The city, or town of Mary and Martha:” so this is the city of God, because he hath fixed his residence there; “The Lord hath chosen Zion; this is my rest, here will I stay:” it is here the King of glory keeps his court; it is the city of the great King, (Ps. 48:2).
2. It is called the city of God, because he founded it, and built it. This is the answer that is given to the messengers of the nations, “The Lord hath founded Zion, (Isa. 14:32). He hath founded it in his eternal decree, laid the foundation of it in the covenant of redemption or grace, and he hath built it on the foundation of prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone; and so it may be called the city of God.
3. It may be called the city of God, because it derives all privileges and immunities from him. This city hath its magnalia or great things, from him: all that it does enjoy was purchased by the blood of Christ, and came to the church by promise through him, in whom all the promises are Yea and Amen. Grace here and glory hereafter, all are derived from God, as the fruits and effects of his free grace: therefore it may well be called the city of God.
4. It may be called his city because he is the chief ruler and governor in the city. He is the supreme sovereign that hath the chief command of it. He is the legislator here. Here he publishes his commands and royal orders; and he will call all the citizens to an account of their obedience, for he will judge every man according to his works.
5. It is his city, because it is his property. He not only posses it, founded it, privileges it, and governs it, but it is his own property: it belongs to him, and none other: he hath a manifold claim to it. He gave a being to all citizens of the city; “He made them, and not they themselves: he made them as men, and he made them as believers: he redeemed them by his blood.” And,
6. He draws the rent of it. There is a revenue of praise that he doth draw from them, more than all the rest of the world; “This people have I formed for myself and they shall show forth all my praise.” Upon all these accounts the church may well be called the city of God.
II. The next general head proposed was to show, what, are these sad times that put the city of God into confusion. There are sad times with reference to the church in general, and with reference to the people of God in particular.
1st, There are some sad times with reference to the church in general. As,
1. It is a sad time when God’s dispensations towards his church and people seem to contradict his promise, to contradict their prayers, and to contradict their hope and expectation; to contradict their desires and wrestlings when the knife of providence is, as it were, at the throat of Isaac, at the throat of the promise and hope of his people.
2. It is a sad time when the church is oppressed by the wicked, persecuted for the sake of truth, and when the bush is burning, and all in a flame; when he shows his people hard things, and makes them drink the wine of astonishment, (Ps. 60:3). When the enemy breaks in pieces his people, and afflicts his heritage, (Ps. 94:3). And when these afflictions are continued, and enemies make long their furrows, while, like ploughers, they plough upon their back, (Ps. 129:3).
It is a sad time when the Lord seems to disregard the prayer and cry of his people, and rather to be angry at them; “O Lord of Hosts, how long wilt thou be angry at the prayer of thy people, (Ps. 80:4). “When I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer,” (Lam. 3:8). Sometimes he seems inexorable, and will not grant the suit of his special favorites, when interceding in behalf of the church, even the suit of a Noah, Daniel, and Job, the suit of a Moses and Samuel, &c.
4. It is a sad time in the city, when the Lord suffers enemies, within or without doors, to overrun all his own work, to pluck up the vine which his own right-hand hath planted, (Ps. 80:8-16). To cast fire into the sanctuary, to pull down his carved work, as with axes and hammers, (Ps. 84:4-7). He that runs may read that this is the sad case of the church in our day.
5. It is a sad time, when sin and error overflow all their banks, and run in upon the city, and when Satan’s seat is in the midst of the city; “I know thee where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is; and thou hast them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate,” (Rev. 2:13). When in the church of Christ there are [those] that hold the doctrine of Arians, Atheists, Deists; the doctrine of Arminians, Socinians, Pelagians, and the like. Oh! but a sinning time, wherein profanity abounds, and a time of error in doctrine is a sad time.
6. It is a sad time when faithful citizens and officers are removed, and few or none left to fill their room; when woeful apostasy takes place; when the courts of the city are corrupted; when seminaries of learning are defiled; and pulpits and Sabbaths profaned; when reformation is hated, instead of being revived; and when the Spirit is restrained, and nothing but barrenness of the churches appear; few or no real converts to be seen. When there is both a scarcity of faithful pastors, and paucity of sound professors; when ministers are tinctured with loose principles, and study flourishing harangues, instead of powerful, evangelical, applicatory preaching: when saints are become rare, (Ps. 12:1; Isa. 57:1; Jer. 5:1; Micah 7:2).
2dly, There are sad times with reference to the people of God in particular.
1. It is a sad time with them, when the Lord hides his face from them; “Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled,” (Ps. 30:7). When they are made to cry out, “How long wilt thou forget me! how long wilt thou hide thy face!” (Ps. 13:1).
2. It is a sad time, when the Lord contends with them, and yet doth not tell them wherefore, as it was with Job, when he said, “Shew me wherefore thou contendest with me.”
3. It is a sad time with them, when God is a terror to them, and they are put to say, “Lord, be not a terror unto me, (Jer. 17:17). —While I suffer thy terrors, I am distracted.”
4. It is a sad time with them, when they are in darkness, when they walk in darkness, and have no light, (Isa. 50:10). When, encompassed with the darkness of fears and doubts, and sad apprehensions.
5. It is a sad time with them, when grace comes under a lamentable decay in their soul, and they are left to pine away in their iniquity: when instead of tenderness of heart, hardness of heart seizes them; “O Lord, why halt thou made us to err from thy ways? and hardened our heart from thy fear?” (Isa. 63:17).
6. It is a sad time with them, when corruption prevails, and when the slaves and servants come to ride upon horses in their soul; and nothing to be heard but “O wretched man that I am; who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” When, temptations are throng, and inward hellish injections, tending to atheism, infidelity, blasphemy, and profanity, and many thorns in the flesh buffeting them. When, nothing is left but complaints of hardness, blindness, weakness, impotency, treachery, failings, short-comings, and the power of corruptions and temptations.
III. The third general head proposed was, To speak of these sweet grounds of encouragement, that the church or city of God hath amidst these sad times, imported in the River, “the streams whereof do make glad the city of God.” Here I shall show what is the river; why God is compared to a river; and touch at the nature of this gladness.
1st, What is the River that makes glad the city of God?
I answer, God himself is the river, as in the following verso, “God is in the midst of her.”
1. God the Father is the river; “For my people have committed two great evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water,” (Jer. 2:13).
2. God the Son is the river, the fountain of salvation; “In that day, there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness,” (Zech. 13:1).
3. God the Spirit is the river: “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water,” (John 7:38). “Whosoever drinketh the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him, shall be in him a well springing up into everlasting life,” (John 4:14).
2dly, What are the streams of this river?
Answer: The perfections of God, the fullness of Christ, the operations of the Spirit; and these running in the channel of the covenant of promise.
1. The perfections of God. O! What an ocean of gladness and joy is here? Here is wisdom, to direct; power, to protect; holiness, to sanctify; justice, to justify; goodness, to pity; and faithfulness, to make out all that he hath said. There is more ground of comfort in that one word, “I will be thy God,” than there is in thousands of worlds. What can they want that have a God to go to? Can they want water that have the ocean, or want light that have the sun? Besides this, God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in all these perfections. Here then is spirituality, to make the gladness and happiness suited to the nature of the soul: the more spiritual the gladness is, the more pure and pleasant. Here is infinity, to make it boundless: here is eternity, to make it endless: here is unchangeableness and immutability, to make it steady and immoveable.
2. The fullness of Christ is another stream of the river: his fullness of purchase; fullness of wisdom, as a Prophet; righteousness, as a Priest; and power as a King; fullness of grace, as a surety, to pay all our debts; fullness of skill, as a physician, to heal all diseases; and fullness of store, as a treasury, for supplying all wants: “Out of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace,” (John 1:16, Col. 1:19, and 2:9-10).
3. The operations, graces, and influences of the Spirit. Here is another source of pleasure and comfort: he is the Comforter; and he gives sometimes strong consolation. In all his various operations, there are manifold consolations; and hence the Spirit’s working is compared to wind, for fanning and stirring up the dormant graces, (Song 4:16): sometimes to water, for cleansing the foul heart, (John 3:5); sometimes to fire, for warming the cold heart, (Matt. 3:11); and sometimes to oil, for softening the hard heart, (Ps. 45:7; 1 John 2:27). This is the wind that fills their sails, and forwards their voyage to the heavenly harbor: this is the well of water that springs up in them to everlasting life: this the fire that makes their hearts burn within them: and this is the oil of joy that anoints the wheels of their souls for running their Christian race; the joy of the Lord is their strength. And all running in the channel of the covenant of promise; for we receive the Spirit, not by the works of the law, but by the hearing of faith. “Although my house be not so with God, yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure: this is all my salvation, and all my desire. This is my comfort in my affliction, thy word hath quickened me,” (2 Sam. 23:5). One scripture-promise is a cordial beyond all riches, pleasures, and honors of a world; these evanish, but “The word of the Lord endureth for ever.” What comfort can we find without a promise? And what can give sorrow when God gives a promise? Sickness, with a promise, is better that health; poverty, with a promise, is better than riches; a prison, with a promise, is better than a palace; bonds and confinement, with a promise, is better than liberty; yea, death, with a promise, is better than life. All that you have, without a promise, you may lose this night, and your souls and hopes with it; but all that you have, with a promise, you may be sure of it; yea, believer you may be vastly more sure of that which you have in a promise, than of that which you have in possession: the comfort you have in possession, is but the stream-comfort, that may be cut off; but the comfort you have in promise, is the fountain comfort, that cannot be cut off: hence you are called to live by faith, and not by sense. We may go through death rejoicing, with a promise of life in our hand, while infidels lie down in the dust with desperation.
3dly, Why is God in Christ, by the Spirit, running in the channel of the new covenant, compared to a river?
Answer: It may be upon account of these qualities of a river, the openness, plenty, powerfulness, purity, and perpetuity of a river,
1. The openness and patency of a river. It is open, patent, and common to all that pass by; so is God in Christ, by the Spirit, exhibiting himself in the gospel dispensation. No sinner is excluded among mankind: “Go preach the gospel to every creature.”
2. Rivers are profitable to some cities, both for navigation and fortification. Some rivers are profitable for commerce, traffic, and conveyance of rich commodities of one kingdom to another: even so the Spirit of God, that crystal river of the waters of life, proceeding out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb, is that by which we have commerce with heaven: therefore Christ says, “He shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” There is no trading to heaven, but by sailing in this river. The ship of faith cannot sail but as supported by these waters of the sanctuary. Some rivers are profitable to cities for fortification and strength; this river is the strength of the city of God; “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts, (Zech. 4:2). When the enemy comes in like a flood, it is the Spirit of the Lord that lifts a standard.” Some rivers are the safety of the town that they environ: so the Lord is a place of broad rivers and streams, wherein goeth no galley with oars, nor gallant ship passeth thereby, (Isa. 33:21). They that are thus environed need not fear the storms of men and devils. And as some rivers bear up ships of a great burden, so this river bears up the weight of the whole church and people of God, while sailing, like a ship, along these waters.
3. Rivers have plenty of water. Oh! the infinite fullness of God, of God in Christ! Oh! the plenitude of the Spirit that is in Christ, for the behalf of the city of God! “Out of his fullness we all receive, and grace for grace.” Here is all the fullness of the Godhead. A vessel may soon be emptied and drunk out; but this river is inexhaustible: here is enough for men and angels to eternity.
4. Rivers are powerful, and run irresistibly; they cannot be driven back by the force of men: even so are the influences of the Spirit of God, when the promise is accomplished; “I will pour water on the thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground,” (Isa. 44:3). This mighty flood makes its way through all oppositions, and forces them all down before it. What but this stopped Paul in his persecuting career, and made him cry out, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Oh a plentiful effusion of the Spirit would throw down unbelief, atheism, enmity, carnality, and all carnal reasoning.
5. Rivers are pure and purifying. A swift stream washes away all filth. They are more clear and savory than pools and standing water. Wherever this river of the water of life runs, it carries away all pollution, washes away all corruption: in Revelation 22:1, it is called “a pure river, clear as crystal.” What need of this river to run through this generation, to purge it from the pollution and corruption thereof?
6. Rivers are perpetually running, never stand still, but are always in motion. Thus God hath promised to water his church invisible, and to water it every moment, (Isa. 32:3). And Christ says, “He that believeth in me shall never thirst,” never be in total want. He says, “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life,” (John 4:14). In a word, all earthly elementary water hath a beginning; but this river is from everlasting to everlasting, without beginning and without end. Other rivers are fed by springs and fountains; but the river, as I said, is God himself, and his gracious emanations: therefore, though God hath provided a channel of gospel-ordinances, to convey some of the water of this river to us; yet this immense river cannot be limited or circumscribed. This river will run through the city of God forever.
Fourthly, What is the nature of this gladness, that the streams of this river afford to the city of God?
Answer: It is such as transcends all worldly pleasures.
For, 1, It is real, solid, and substantial. Hence it is called, Joy unspeakable, and full of glory, (1 Pet. 1:8); whereas sensual delights are slight, fleeting, full of wind and vanity; “Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools.” They are like Jonah’s gourd, God hath prepared a worm to destroy thenm. Creature-comforts, when a person promises most in them, then a worm eats them up, root and all. They are such comforts, as that the wind can wither them, the water can drown them, the fire can burn them, the moth can consume them, or the thief can steal them, sickness can sink them, or death can destroy them; some worm or other can eat them up: but the gladness and joy that this river brings is so solid and substantial, that it can defy fire and water, (Isa. 43:1-2). It can defy trouble and distress, famine, nakedness, peril and sword; it can defy death, and life, and angels, principalities, powers, &c., (Rom. 8:38-39).
2. This gladness is rational and well-grounded, not founded upon mistake or fancy, but warranted by the promise and oath of God, the two immutable things, by which it is impossible for God to lie. None but a lying devil, and an unbelieving heart, will call in question the foundation of their faith, hope, and comfort: but the wicked rejoice in their own delusions; it is only ignorance and error they are beholden to for their mirth. I have read of a certain weed which makes these that eat it to give up their lives laughing; such a weed do the wicked of the world eat; it makes them go laughing to hell, to which their carnal mirth hastens them.
3. This gladness is spiritual, pure, and holy. It is a piece of commanded duty, Rejoice evermore. The pleasure of Wisdom’s ways are sure, and accompanied with the holy fear of God; they walked in this fear of God, and in the comforts of the Holy Ghost, (Acts 19:31). They are warranted by his command, and promoted by his promise; whereas the pleasures of the ungodly are impure, sinful, and forbidden pleasures; “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked: “he calleth them to weeping and mourning and renting of heart, (Joel 2:12-13; James 5:1-5). This gladness gives spiritual and holy rest in the midst of trouble: “In the multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts delight my soul:” it gives relief from present fear of danger and distress and from future fear of death and judgment; whereas these fears will soon mar all worldly mirth. This gladness is a purifying gladness. No man hateth sin so much as he that tasteth of this joy; and he that rejoiceth most doth also work righteousness most; “The joy of the Lord is his strength;” whereas fleshly pleasures are petrifying instead of purifying. Oh how little of God is in the midst of men’s hunting and hawking, dicing and carding, drinking, dancing, ranting, and revelling? How little of heaven is in their mind? The heart is thereby not only petrified; but petrified, and hardened against the word and warnings of God; then it is that they are foolish, disobedient, deceived, when they are serving divers lusts and pleasures, (Titus 3:3). Such are unwilling soberly to consider the things that concern their everlasting peace; and hence so frequently grow up to be slighters and scorners of the means of salvation. This gladness is fed and maintained by spiritual, heavenly, and lofty things. The carnal man’s pleasures are fed with trifles, like that of children playing with toys and trifles; but, O! this spiritual pleasure is maintained by the love of God, and the hope of the glory of God.
4. This gladness is lasting, yea, everlasting. Indeed, the believer’s joy in this world is often interrupted by the neighborhood of the flesh, the prevalence of sin, and the hidings of God’s face: yet still he keeps their comforts alive, at least in the root, and will make them spring up as we need them, and are meet for them; and they are joys that no man can take from them, (John 16:22). Death cannot kill the believer’s joys; the grave cannot bury them; millions of ages cannot end them; “God hath given us everlasting consolation, and good hope through grace,” (2 Thess. 2:16). It is not a mutable good that the believer rejoices in, but in an immutable good, an immutable God, in the immutable love of God, the immutable promise of the covenant, and in the hope of the kingdom that cannot be moved; these are pleasures for evermore, (Ps. 16:11). But carnal joy and gladness is of a short duration; it cannot stand before a serious thought of death. How foolish are they that choose the pleasures of sin, that are but for a season! (Heb. 11:25); the joy that will be quickly crowned in everlasting sorrow! If folly and stupidity were not predominant, it would be a wonder that ungodly men can be merry, when their conscience tells them that they are not sure if they shall stay one hour out of hell, and that they are sowing the seed of everlasting sorrow; whereas the gladness watered with the streams of this river is the seed of everlasting joy. The bones of thousands lie in the churchyard that have had many a merry, wanton day; but now what better are they of it? Yea, how much worse, that they have lived in sinful pleasures that are now turned to everlasting flames? Whereas these spiritual consolations that are bred by the streams of this river, they carry all the dead in Christ into the ocean of everlasting joy: “At his right hand are rivers of pleasure for evermore.”
IV. The fourth head proposed was, to make application of the subject: and this we shall essay in an use of information, examination, and exhortation.
The first use may be for information; and what I say here shall be according to the three heads I have been insisting upon. 1st, Is it so, that the church of God is a city? Then we may infer,
1. That the church is an orderly society and that there is a form of government therein. There is a settled form of church government, and Jesus Christ is the head and Lord of it: neither dare any presume to alter it upon the highest peril. Christ is the foundation of the city; and other foundation can no man lay than which is laid.
2. If the church be a city, then it is the duty of all the citizens to advance the common interest of the whole. There is one common interest, which they should jointly promote, namely, the glory of the founder of the city, and their own eternal happiness. Let us join together, Sirs, in opposing, by our prayers and endeavors, anything that may tend to the prejudice of the welfare of the city.
3. If it be a city, then all the citizens should love one another. Let us live, Sirs, in unity and peace, unanimity and concord. Why, “A city divided against itself cannot stand. O how pleasant a thing is it for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
4. If it be a city, then these that go about to disturb the comely order of this city are to be looked upon as fire-brands and incendiaries therein; “Mark these that cause divisions, says the apostle, for they serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; who with good words and fair speeches, deceive the hearts of the simple.”
Question: Who are these that cause division, and disturb the peace of the city? It is Elijah that is the troubler of Israel? No; though he be called so. Is it Micaiah, who would not run with the current of the times, nor join with the four hundred prophets that flattered the king and court, but behooved to be singular? No surely. Nor is it Christ and his apostles, who were called the men that turn the world upside down? No. Who then are these that cause divisions? I love not to speak in the clouds. I think,
(1.) These who come not in by the gate of the city, but climb up some other way, whom the scripture calleth thieves and robbers, look like the disturbers of the peace of the city.
(2.) These who assume offices in the city, from selfish ends, for a piece of bread, not for the good of the city; not for feeding of the flock, but feeding themselves; who seek the fleece and not the flock.
(3.) These who break down the walls of the city, and lift up hammers and axes upon the carved work, to demolish the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof.
(4.) These who wound the citizens: and indeed, many of the people of God, at this day, have occasion to say of the watchmen, “They smote me, they wounded me, they took away my veil from me.”
(5.) These who are like Gallio, indifferent and easy whether the walls be broken down or not. We need to be zealous in the cause of Christ and his church; what would have become of us, if Christ had not been zealous in our cause? When, in the counsel of peace, it came to the vote, Save them or damn them? if Christ had not voted, or if he had been a non liquet [not clear], damnation would have carried it: we should therefore see how we do with his cause.
(6.) These who are wholly silent, when the city is in danger; “Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence.” What I shall all be hushed, even when the city is in extreme danger? This looks not like our reformation days, wherein there were acts of assembly for suspending and deposing ministers who spoke not to the situation of the times. [See Act of the General Assembly, 1596, revived by the Assembly at Glasgow, 1638, and the Act of the Assembly, 1646, Sess. 10. And particularly the Act of the Assembly at Edinburgh, August 8d, 1648, Sess. 26, wherein, enter Alia, “They appoint and ordain, that every minister do, by the word of wisdom, apply his doctrine faithfully against the public sins and corruptions of these times;—that such persons as shall be found not applying their doctrine to corruption., which is the pastoral gift, but cold and wanting of spiritual zeal, flatterers, and dissembling of public sins, and especially of great personages, shall be censured according to the degree of their sins; that silence or ambiguous speaking be timely censured; that if any be found too sparing, general, or ambiguous in the impact applications and reproofs, that they be sharply rebuked, dealt with, and warned to amend, under the pain of suspension from their ministry by the Presbytery or Synod: but if there be any who neglect or omit such applications or reproofs, and continue in such negligence, after admonition and dealing with them, they are to be cited; and, after due trial of the offence, to be deposed, for being pleasers of men, rather than the servants of Christ; for giving themselves to a detestable indifference or neutrality in the cause of God; and for defrauding the souls of people; yes, for being guilty of the blood of souls, in not giving them waning.”] We may allude to Esther, to whom Mordecai said, “If thou altogether hold thy peace at this time, then shall their enlargement and deliverance arise from another way, but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed; and who knoweth, whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” (Esther 5:14).
2dly, Is the church the city of God? Then hence see,
1. That God hath the absolute ordering and disposal of all the concerns of this city. He is the Head and Governor of it himself, it being his own property. It is the height of arrogance for any mortal to take upon them to be supreme head of it. He needs no colleague for the vastness of his dominions, no regent in his minority, or viceroy in his absence.
2. If it be the city of God, then none have any power, without his warrant, to make laws in his city, and appoint things without him. The civil laws of men, and the laws of the city of God, do stand upon separate foundations; and when the laws of men do clash with the privileges and immunities of the church, it is a manifest encroachment upon, and contempt of the royal prerogative of the founder of the city. The church is the city of the living God.
3. If the church be the city of God) hence we infer, That the church is a very honorable society: “Beautiful for situation, the joy and glory of the whole earth is mount Zion, the city of the great King.” Indeed, they are contemned by the majority of the world; but yet they are the excellent ones of the earth, all glorious within, and shall be more glorious one day, when every one of them shall shine as the stars in the firmament of glory. They have an honorable governor, honorable privileges; “Why do ye leap, ye high high mountains? This is the hill where God desires to dwell.”
4 If it be the city of God, then it is the safest city. Why, “God is known in her palaces for a refuge.” It is the city of God. It is fenced with the wisdom, power, and other attributes of God. It is a strong city; for, “As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people, from henceforth, even forever.” It cannot be straitened without, for weakness and want of security; nor within, for fear of want of food; “The place of thy defense shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given thee, and thy water shall be sure.”
5. Is the church the city of God? Then we may infer the perpetuity thereof. If it be the city of God, it shall never be totally ruined. The greatest cities have been brought to ruin and desolation; Jam segos ubi Troja fait [Now corn grows where Troy once stood]. But this is firmly established, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it: “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved.”
6. If it be the city of God, then we see what should be the temper of all the citizens; surely we ought to imitate him whose city it is, to be holy as he is holy. We should seek to be like the Governor of the city; “Be ye perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”
Thirdly, Hath the city of God, the Church of God, sweet grounds of encouragement amidst all the confusions in the world? Then hence we may infer,
1. That it is not the ruin of the church to undergo external confusion and affliction. When human fences are gone, we are not to let our confidence and hope go; for the church hath no dependence on the creature. There is still ground of encouragement its God, on whom it depends. It falls out that the state of the invisible church is best, when the state of the visible church is worst. Lacedaemon was always a gainer by its wars. It is said of the tribe of Levi, that they got no inheritance, with their brethren; for the Lord was their inheritance. Really it was no loss to them; for, if they had another inheritance, perhaps they would have had no share in God.
2. Hence see, what the duty is of the people of God, under the confusions and commotions of our day. Be not discouraged; “Ye are come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God:” and, “There is a river the streams whereof do make glad the city of God.” O what encouragement and comfort have some martyrs had, in embracing the very flames Vincentius spoke in these terms, “Rage,” says he, and do the worst that the spirit of malignity can set thee on work to do; thou shalt see God’s Spirit strengthen the tormented, more than the devil can do the tormentor.” I remember another joyful martyr had these triumphant dying words, “It is but a small matter,” says he, “to die once for Christ; but, if it might possibly be, I could wish to die a thousand deaths for him.” O what gladness and triumph hath filled the hearts of the people of God, not only in the prospect of danger, but in the prospect of death! And all the matter is, “There is a river that makes glad the city of God.”
3. If there be a river that makes glad the city of God, then let the citizens be afraid of doing that which may divert the streams of this river from their souls. Beware of sin, which may provoke God to turn away, and alter the channel of the streams; and then you shall have sorrow instead of gladness. Do not tempt him to withdraw the sense of his favor.
The second use of .the doctrine may be for examination. If you be a true citizen, you will not only have the burgess ticket, baptism (many are like honorary burgesses, that get a burgess-ticket, and perhaps never see the city again, nor are concerned about the welfare thereof); but try what you know,
1. Of the avenue of the city, the avenue that leads to it; I mean, conviction and humiliation, (John 16:8). The Spirit convinces, partly by opening the law, both in its spirituality, as reaching the heart, (Matt. 5:28); and in its severity, as pronouncing a curse against sin, (Gal. 3:10); partly by opening our sin, as a transgression of the law, and an exposing to the curse and wrath threatened. The Spirit humbles as a Spirit of bondage, which imports partly an apprehension of our present evil, sinful condition, as a base condition, a depraved, enslaved, dangerous, weary condition; and partly an expectation of future evil. The man is troubled for what he hath done against God, and for what God may justly do against him.
2. What do you know of the gate or door of the city; I mean, conversion? Here the Spirit opens the door, partly by opening the gospel, and the strong grounds of faith and hope in gospel-offers, answering doubts and fears from former iniquity, or present unworthiness and unfitness; these the Spirit inwardly answers, partly by opening the heart and overcoming it, and drawing it out towards Christ, so as it is united to him by faith, love, desire, delight. Thus the dead soul is raised to life, and now the man is converted.
(1.) From his own righteousness to reliance upon the Lord our righteousness. Men naturally depend upon a righteousness of their own; something wrought by them, or in them, is the ground of their hope and confidence. Some trust to this, that they are good Christians; some to this, that they are good Protestants; some that they have a good honest mind and meaning; some that they do this and the other good duty; some that they are good neighbors, and wrong nobody; some that they are zealous for a good cause, and are always on the best side; some that they have good affections and enlargements at times; they get a tear shed in hearing, and joy in hearing, &c. Every one lays stress upon one thing or another. But evangelical conversion brings a man off from these bottoms and from all confidence in the flesh.
(2.) This conversion frees men from all their sins and idols, reckoning all nothing to the pearl of great price. The man not only confesses sin, but forsakes it; not only forsakes it, but is grieved for it; not only grieves for it, but hates it; not only hates it, but pursues it to death, and seeks the utter ruin of it, saying, O to have sin crucified! O to be avenged on these Philistines! Not only for my two eyes that they have put out, not only for the hurt they have done to me, but for the dishonor and indignities they do unto God.
3. Have you any acquaintance with the streets of the city? particularly these two great streets wherein the citizens walk, viz., obedience to the commanding will of God, and submission to his disposing will.
(1.) A man, by obedience to the commanding will of God, disputes not any of his commands, but approves of his whole will; disapproves of himself for want of conformity to him. He is displeased with himself, saying, “Oh! wretched man that I am!” He hath a secret approbation and satisfaction with himself, when he finds conformity thereunto wrought: he is pleased with this, as evidential of his interest in Christ’s righteousness. When he finds himself brought under the power of holiness, and delivered from the power of sin, then he is best pleased with himself, who is walking along the street of obedience to the commanding will of God.
(2.) The other street of the city is submission to God’s disposing will: and they that know what it is to walk along this are brought to a submission to the providence of God. The man that cannot walk here, he is displeased with every providence, saying “Why doth God suffer these confusions in the world? Why doth he suffer sin to be in me and in the world? Why doth not a holy God take course with his enemies on a sudden? Why am not I redressed instantly of my grievances? Why are not my prayers instantly heard?” The man cannot wait God’s leisure, or God’s time, but limits the holy One of Israel, and repines at every dispensation: but now, when he is brought to be a true citizen, and acquaint with the streets of the city, he is ready to say, Alas! I am ashamed of myself, and my unbelief, and my hellish pride, and all my heart-risings against the divine will. Now, he desires to say, “Lord, what will thou have me to do? What wilt thou have me to suffer? Let me do what thou pleasest, provident thou helpest me; let me suffer what thou pleasest, provided thou upholdest me; I will put a blank in the Lord’s hand. Let me be reproached, if he see that good for me; let me be poor, let me trampled underfoot; yea, if he see it meet sometimes too hide his face, to keep me empty, and deny me these sweet influences that I would gladly have at all times; if it be for his glory and my good, that these be denied, let him even take the government, and rule the reins as he pleaseth; let me not affect the dominion; let him take his own way of dieting me, and keeping me from hand to mouth. I know he will not starve me, but designs my good in all things; “He is a God of judgment, and blessed are all they that wait for him.” How unpleasant were his providences, of this sort once a-day to me! But now he hath brought me to know the streets of the city.”
4. Are you acquainted with the temple of the city? “I saw no temple there, but the Lord God almighty, and the Lamb are in the midst of it.” What acquaintance have you with the temple? and with looking again and again to his holy temple in all your straits? “They looked to him, and were enlightened, and their faces were not ashamed.” Are you acquainted with the trade of the city; trading with heaven, living upon Christ and his fullness? Do you endeavor to support the walls of the city, the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of God’s house? Are you seeking the good of the city and citizens “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.”
5. If you be a true citizen, then you will have somewhat of the disposition of, and conformity to the heavenly Jerusalem; for, “Ye are come to mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven,” (Heb. 12:22). The church militant and triumphant are but one house; the one the lower, the other the upper room. In that city there is perfect vision; they see him as he is. Now, what begun conformity have you to that? What views have you got of Christ? In that city there is full fruition. Now, what conformity have you to that? What fellowship with the Father and Son? In that city there is perfect likeness to Christ. What have you of this? Beholding his glory, are you changed? What holiness have you? or what lamentation over your unholiness, and longings after it! In that city there is perfect joy. What have you of the beginnings hereof, by your sharing of the river that makes glad the city of God? What drops of divine joy strengthen you at times? Though frequently you have sorrow, yet Christ says, “I will see you again, and your hearts shall rejoice.” Do you find his visiting you again and again, giving some joy! I speak not of the measure, but of the reality of the thing.
6. Try if you be a citizen of this city, by the love which you bear to fellow citizens. This is a clear consequence from the union that is between the members of his compacted body; and though some coin is less than other coin, yet, if it bear the image of Cesar, it should pass. If we see the image of Christ, we should love it, though there are some small differences. Some have a greater, and some a less degree. “By this we know that we are passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.”
7. If you are among the inhabitants of the city of God, then you are distinguished from the rest of the world, in your garb, your language, your zeal. You are distinguished in your garb; you are, in some respects all glorious within, clothed with the imputed and implanted righteousness of Christ. You will be distinguished in your language; you will love to speak of Zion’s King and the privileges of the city; and have forgotten the language of Ashdod; the cursed swearer, and the person that loves not to speak, or hear concerning the city of God, he does not look like an inhabitant of it. You will be distinguished also as to your zeal, if you be a citizen; the concerns of the city will lie near your heart; and the zeal you have thereto, will even be like to eat you up.
The last use we shall make of the doctrine shall be for exhortation; and this shall be tendered to three sorts of persons. 1. To these that are not citizens of this city of God. 2. To these that are citizens. And 3. To all in general.
1st. To these that are not citizens of this city of God. It will not make you a citizen that you dwell in the city, profess to be a citizen, or be taken for a citizen. O study to be citizens of this city of God! And to enforce this exhortation, consider,
1. The great confusions and commotion that are in our day the earth is like to be removed, and the mountains cast into the midst of the sea; the waters are roaring and the mountains shaking; the heathen raging, and the people imagining a vain thing: there are many secret and open plots against the Lord and his Anointed.
2. Consider that, notwithstanding of all the confusions and disorders in the world, there is appearance of greater, if the Lord do not prevent, because of our fruitlessness under the gospel; dreadful security, and many other tokens of the Lord’s anger, portending great confusion; and what will you do, if you have not interest in this city, where alone there is safety and peace?
3. Consider the misery of these who are without the city: the suburbs are a dangerous post in time of war; for they are sure to be consumed, either by the citizens or enemies. Though you are beside the ark in a profession of religion, yet you may perish as certainly as these that are an hundred miles from it. And if you shall not escape who neglect this great salvation, by refusing to go into the city, what will become of these who pull down the walls of this city, as many are doing at this day? “God will render vengeance to his enemies.”
4. Consider the happiness of these that are true citizens of this city; they are freed from sin, freed from Satan, freed from the law, freed from death, freed from hell, freed from trouble, or blessed with rest in the midst of it; for, in the greatest commotion in the world, “there is a river, the streams whereof do make glad the city of God.”
Now, if you ask, What you shall do to be citizens? We answer, That there are none born free of this city. All these that are born under the external privileges of it, have not a right to the special privileges that belong to the citizens thereof; but if you would become citizens,
(1.) You must be born again; it is not your natural generation, but spiritual regeneration that will make you free in this city; “Of Zion it shall be said, This man and that man was born in her.”
(2.) You must leave all other cities; you must leave the world and the pollutions thereof; you must come out of Sodom, Tyre, Babylon, Jerusalem, which are in bondage, and come to Mount Zion; we must leave all and come to the city of God, to the Lord Jesus Christ; break off your society with sin and Satan; your covenant with hell must be broken, your agreement with death must be disannulled, and you must go to the society of the godly, however meanly you think of them now: “Depart from the tents of wicked men: Come out from among them, my people, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.”
(3.) Study to get your burgess ticket secured; “Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure:” and if you have this in your hand, you may go through the wilderness with gladness, whatever difficulties may be in the way, saying, with Habakkuk, “Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vine; yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
(4.) Acquaint yourselves with the laws of the city; I mean the scriptures of truth; “He hath given his statutes to Jacob, and, his testimonies to Israel:” therefore, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have everlasting life, and these are they which testify of me.”
(5.) You must accept of the grant of freedom and liberty that Christ offers to you: he offers to make you all free men in this city; and, “If the Son make you free, you shall be free indeed.” Accept of the Lord Jesus Christ, and all his fullness, freely; say, Even so, I take him as he is offered in the gospel.
(6.) You must take the oath of the city. Here is an oath, Sirs, that you may freely take. Some ensnaring oaths in our day are unsuitable to, and inconsistent with the corporation of this holy city; but I can freely offer and tender you the oath of this city of God; enter into a covenant with him under the influences of grace, “An everlasting covenant never to be forgotten:” swear in the name of the Lord, swear by the help of his grace, and swear in the strength of Jehovah, that you will be for him, and not for another: take an oath of abjuration against all your enemies, sin, Satan, and the world that pretend a right to the throne of your heart: take an oath of allegiance to the Son of God, to give him the kingdom, and yield him the obedience. His right to the crown is unquestionable.
The main exhortation and advice I offer to you is, to come to the King of the city, the mighty King, take on with him; Look to him as able to save to the uttermost, whatever powerful objections lie in the way. Are you under the power of death? Behold he is the resurrection and the life; the God that quickens the dead, and calls things that are not as though they were. Are you under the power of darkness? Behold, he is the light of the world; and enlightens every one that cometh into the world. Are you under the power of unbelief? Look to him as the Author of Faith. He is able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by him, as the way and as the Leader. Are you under the power of heart-hardness? Yet, O Sirs, despair not; help is nigh at hand: he can, of these stones, raise up children to Abraham. Put work in his hand that hath said, “I will take away the heart of stone.” Whatever is the plague, here is the cure. O stout-hearted Atheist this mighty grace can conquer you. 2dly, We next tender our exhortation to these who are citizens: and my advice to you is,
1. That you wear the livery of this city, and that is holiness. Let it appear to the world, that ye are citizens by your holy walk.
2. See that ye speak of the language of the city, not the language of Ashdod; let your conversation discover your being citizens of Zion.
3. See that ye bear burdens in the city. Be content to bear the common burden, the cross of Christ; “If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” Endeavour to bear down errors and heresies by your prayers and endeavors.
4. See that ye love the corporation, and be ready to put forth yourself for the good of the city: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall prosper that love her.”
5. See that ye be subject to the government of the city, the statutes of the church, so far, and no farther than they are agreeable to, and set down in the scriptures of truth; “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:” peace, grounded upon truth and holiness, is the chief statute of the city: Buy the truth at any rate, and, sell it not, even for peace itself.
6. See that ye be diligent in following the trade and calling of this city. Activity in our spiritual trade will witness, that you are true citizens of this city; and it is the daily trade thereof to be waiting at the door of the city, waiting at Wisdom’s doorposts, and coming boldly to the throne of grace, and living by faith on the Son of God. Think much of this, that ye are free men in the city, and reckon much upon the privileges that you enjoy, particularly that God should write upon you the name of the city of your God, which is the New Jerusalem which, cometh down out of heaven from your God, and write upon you his new name, (Rev. 3:12). Likewise reckon yourselves dead indeed unto sin, and reckon yourselves righteous in Christ. It is trite humility, not only to acknowledge your natural misery and sinfulness, but also to acknowledge your spiritual privileges and mercies that you enjoy in Christ. Again,
7. Are you citizens? Then make daily use of the river that makes glad the city of God. Be glad and rejoice in the Lord, whatever sad case or circumstance you are in. “O! say you, is there any ground of joy and gladness for me, when I find myself scorched with the wrath of God, ready to burn me up?” Yea, let faith run to the river, and you will find that the streams thereof have a cooling and quenching virtue. We joy in God through Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the atonement, and are saved from wrath through him. “O! is there any ground of gladness when I find nothing but pollution and filthiness taking place in me?” Yea, let faith run to the river, and you will find it hath a cleansing virtue, to take away all pollution; “The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean from all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you.” “O! is there any ground of gladness, when I am all wounds and braises, all overrun with diseases and maladies.” Yea, let faith run to the river, and you will find the streams thereof have a healing virtue. Here are the healing waters of the sanctuary; I am the Lord that healeth thee. “O! is there any ground of joy and gladness, when I find myself dead in sin, having a dead heart, a dead frame, nothing but the image of death about me?” Yea, let faith run to the river, and you will find the streams thereof have a quickening virtue; “Everything shall live whither the river cometh: it is the water of life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live,” (Ezek. 47:9). “O! what ground of gladness, when my heart is so hard and stupid like a rock, harder than an adamant?” Yea, let faith run to the river, and you will find the water hath a softening virtue; “God can, out of stones, raise up children to Abraham,” and take away the heart of stone, melt the adamant. “O what ground of gladness, when I find no fruit, nothing but the curse of barrenness upon me?” Why, let faith run to the river; the streams are of a fructifying virtue, and you shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, bringing forth her fruit in its season. “O is there any ground of joy when I find my strength gone, and that I have no power for any duty? I am not able to move, or to look up.” Yea, let faith run to the river; you will find the streams thereof have a strengthening virtue: you shall be strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man, and when you are weak, you shall then be strong; “Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; while the rain filleth the pools, they go from strength to strength, till they appear before the Lord in Zion,” (Ps. 84:5, 6). “O! is there any ground of joy or gladness for me, when I find I cannot receive any consolation, when I am just in the pit of trouble, and in the depth of despondency?” Yea, let faith run to the river, and you will find the streams thereof have a refreshing virtue, a restoring virtue to restore your soul. The streams are of a gladdening quality: whatever be the ground of sadness, here is everlasting ground of gladness: “There is a river, the streams whereof do make glad the city of God.”
3adly, I would drop a few words to all in general. Let me exhort you to come and drink at the streams of this river, running in the channel of the covenant of promise. Here is a stream of grace for every one of you; a stream of quickening grace, for the dead sinner; pardoning grace, for the guilty sinner; purifying grace for the filthy; healing grace, for the diseased; and drawing grace, for the backward. As rivers lie open to all passengers, so this river lies open to all poor sinners. It is not a fountain sealed, but the fountain opened that we proclaim among you; “Whosoever will,, let him come.” As all may drink at a river, and drink their fill, and it never be missed, so it is here; come with your empty vessels, ye that have nothing, no wit, no grace, no strength, no
righteousness, Christ hath enough for himself, and enough for you; “Let him that is athirst come:—Ho! every one that thirsteth;” that is, every one that needs a drink; ho, every one that is ignorant, you need a drink of teaching and enlightening grace; Christ is a prophet to give that to you: hp, every one that is guilty, you need a drink of pardoning grace, and Christ is a Priest to give that to you: ho, every one that is under the power and dominion of sin and Satan, Christ is a King to give liberating grace to you.
It is the first invitation to come to Jesus that you have got by our hand, and in all probability it will be the last; and it may be now or never; shall this offer then be slighted? Say not you will not be welcome; O! try it; yea, he will be glad of you, and rejoice in you, whatever you have hitherto been: and what is Christ saying? O come without delay: come to me, whatever you have been: you that have been a drunkard, you that have been a swearer, you that have been a whoremonger or adulterer, you that have been a Sabbath-breaker, you that have been an incarnate devil, here is a Saviour come to save you from your sins, an incarnate God come to save incarnate devils. O! here is a mystery of love, that he is content to take a sinner at the close of his days, and even what he hath been giving the flower of his time to his idols, and the strength of his heart unto vanity. O! the mystery of the love of Christ, that he is content to take you at the last, and at the worst; to take you when your idols have forsaken you, and when you can do no better. O! come to the river; “Whosoever will, let him come.” Why come you here, if you come not to Christ? May I say, “What came ye out to the wilderness to see, or to hear?” Many have come to satisfy their curiosity, to see and hear two strangers, [The Reverend Mr. Fisher, late minister at Glasgow, accompanied our author in this embassy to the south, and preached on these words, “Their rock is not as our rock, enemies themselves being judges.” It was the first time they bad been in these bounds preaching]; is that all? Woe is me; you have seen nothing, if you have not got a sight of Christ in this gospel: you have heard nothing, if you have not heard the voice of Christ. Some will go away, perhaps, pleased with the sermons they have heard; but O Sirs, what a matter of moonshine is that? Are we come this length only to please your ears? I think we have lost our errand, if we have win no heart to Christ here: we think we have lost all our pains, if we have not win a soul to Christ here, nor made the savor of his name more known; but if henceforth some stranger to Christ be set a seeking of him, some enemies be made friends, some mockers be turned to mourners, some graceless persons, and families among you, were turned to praying ones, and praying persons were turned to wrestling ones; if these that have only a form of prayer, and a form of godliness, were turned to the power of godliness; if despisers of Christ, and of the gospel, were turned to believers in Christ, and followers of the Lamb, we should think our pains well bestowed, and our travel well recompensed, though it had been a hundred miles further.
May these that are strangers and aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, become true citizens of the city of God; and may all the citizens take home this text with them, and rejoice in this firm word of God, that though the world should run into confusion and disorder; though matters should appear never so dismal and desperate, though the enemies of the church, the people, the city of God, whether it be within, or without the walls, should roar like the ocean, and go to the utmost bounds of fury, yet “There is a river, the streams whereof do make glad the city of God.”