One word more of the rainbow, and then to some other things. As here you read that the rainbow is round about the throne; so if you read on even in the same place, you shall find the glorious effects thereof to be far more than all that I have said. But,
Second. As the throne of grace is known by the rainbow that is round about it; so also thou shalt know it by this, the high priest is continually ministering before it; the high priest, or Christ as priest, is there before God in his high priest's robes, making continual intercession for thy acceptance there. Now, as I said before, Christ is priest and throne and all; throne in one sense, priest in another; even as he was priest, and sacrifice, and altar too, when he became our reconciler to God.
As a priest here, he is put under the notion of an angel, of an angel that came and stood at the altar to offer incense for the church, all the time that the seven angels were to sound out with trumpets the alarm of God's wrath against the anti-christian world; lest that wrath should swallow them up also. 'And,' saith John, 'another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saint upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand' (Rev 8:1-4).
Here then you have before the throne, that is, the throne or mercy-seat, the high priest; for there it was that God appointed that the altar of incense, or that to burn incense on, should be placed (Exo 30:1-7). This incense-altar in the type was to be overlaid with gold; but here the Holy Ghost implies, that it is all of gold. This throne then is the mercy-seat, or throne of grace, to which we are bid to come; and, as you see, here is the angel, the high priest with his golden censer, and his incense, ready to wait upon us. For so the text implies, for he is there to offer his incense with the prayers of all saints that are waiting without at his time of offering incense within (Luke 1:10). So, then, at the throne of grace, or before it, stands the high priest of our propitiation, Christ Jesus, with his golden censer in his hand, full of incense, therewith to perfume the prayers of saints, that come thither for grace and mercy to help in time of need. And he stands there, as you see, under the name of an angel, for he is the angel of God's presence, and messenger of his covenant.
But now it is worth our considering, to take notice how, or in what method, the high priest under the law was to approach the incense-altar. When he came to make intercession for the saints before the throne, he was to go in thither to do this work in his robes and ornaments; not without them, lest he died. The principal of these ornaments were, 'a breast-plate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle' (Exo 28:4). These are briefly called his garments, in Revelation the first, and in the general they show us, that he is clothed with righteousness, girded with truth and faithfulness, for that is the girdle of his reins to strengthen him (Isa 11:5). And that he beareth upon his heart the names of the children of Israel that are Israelites indeed; for as on Aaron's breast-plate was fixed the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and he was to bear the weight of them by the strength of his shoulders, so are we on the heart of Christ (Isa 22:21).
Thus therefore is our high priest within the holiest to offer incense upon the golden altar of incense, that is, before the throne. Wherefore, when thou goest thither, even to 'the throne of grace,' look for him, and be not content, though thou shouldst find God there, if thou findest him not there, I suppose now an impossibility, for edification's sake, for without him nothing can be done; I say, without him as a priest. He is the throne, and without him as a throne, God has no resting-place as to us; he is a priest, and without him as such we can make no acceptable approach to God; for by him as priest our spiritual sacrifices are accepted (1 Peter 2:5). 'By him, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually,—giving thanks,' and confessing to and 'in his name' (Heb 13:15). And for our further edification herein, let us consider, that as God has chosen and made him his throne of grace; so he has sworn, that he shall be accepted as a priest for ever there. For his natural qualifications we may speak something to them afterwards; in the meantime know, that there is no coming to God, upon pain of death without him.
Nor will it out of my mind, but that his wearing the rainbow upon his head doth somewhat belong to him as priest, his priestly vestments being for glory and beauty, as afore was said, compared to the colour of it (Rev 10:1; Eze 1). But why doth he wear the rainbow upon his head; but to show, that the sign, that the everlastingness of the covenant of grace is only to be found in him; that he wears it as a mitre or frontlet of gold, and can always plead it with acceptance to God, and for the subduing of the world and good of his people. But,
Thirdly, The throne of grace is to be known by the sacrifice that is presented there. The high priest was not to go into the holiest, nor come near the mercy-seat; the which, as I have showed you, was a type of our throne of grace, 'without blood.' 'But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people' (Heb 9:7). Yea, the priest was to take of the blood of his sacrifice, and sprinkle it seven times before the Lord, that is, before the mercy-seat, or throne of grace; and was to put some of the blood upon the horns of the altar of incense before the Lord (Lev 4:5-7, 16:13-15). So then the throne of grace is known by the blood that is sprinkled thereon, and by the atonement that by it is made there. I told you before that before the throne of grace there is our high-priest; and now I tell you, there is his sacrifice too; his sacrifice which he there presenteth as amends for the sins of all such as have a right to come with boldness to the throne of grace. Hence, as I mentioned before, there is said to be in the midst of the throne, the same throne of which we have spoken before, 'a lamb as it had been slain' (Rev 5:6). The words are to the purpose, and signify that in the midst of the throne is our sacrifice, with the very marks of his death upon him; showing to God that sitteth upon the throne, the holes of the thorns, of the nails, of the spear; and how he was disfigured with blows and blood when at his command he gave himself a ransom for his people; for it cannot be imagined that either the exaltation or glorification of the body of Jesus Christ should make him forget the day in which he died the death for our sins; specially since that which puts worth into his whole intercession is the death he died, and the blood he shed upon the cross, for our trespasses.
Besides, there is no sight more taketh the heart of God, than to see of the travail of the soul, and the bruisings of the body of his Son for our transgressions. Hence it is said, He 'is in the midst of the throne' as he died, or as he had been slain (Rev 7:17). It is said again, 'The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them.' The Lamb, that is, the Son of God as a sacrifice, shall be always in the midst of the throne to feed and comfort his people. He is the throne, he is the priest, he is the sacrifice. But then how as a Lamb is he in the midst of the throne? Why, the meaning in mine opinion is, that Christ, as a dying and bleeding sacrifice, shall be chief in the reconciling of us to God; or that his being offered for our sins shall be of great virtue when pleaded by him as priest, to the obtaining of grace, mercy, and glory for us (Heb 9:12). By his blood he entered into the holy place; by his blood he hath made an atonement for us before the mercy-seat. His blood it is that speaketh better for us than the blood of Abel did for Cain (Heb 12:24). Also it is by his blood that we have bold admittance into the holiest (Heb 10:19). Wherefore no marvel if you find him here a Lamb, as it had been slain, and that in the midst of the throne of grace.
While thou art therefore thinking on him, as he is the throne of grace, forget him not as he is priest and sacrifice; for as a priest he makes atonement; but there is no atonement made for sin without a sacrifice. Now, as Christ is a sacrifice, so he is to be considered as passive, or a sufferer; as he is a priest, so he is active, or one that hath offered up himself; as he is an altar, so he is to be considered as God; for in and upon the power of his Godhead he offered up himself. The altar then was not the cross, as some have foolishly imagined. But as a throne, a throne of grace; so he is to be considered as distinct from these three things, as I also have hinted before. Wouldst thou then know this throne of grace, where God sits to hear prayers and give grace? then cast the eyes of thy soul about, and look till thou findest the Lamb there; a Lamb there 'as it had been slain,' for by this thou shalt know thou art right. A slain Lamb, or a Lamb as it had been slain, when it is seen by a supplicant in the midst of the throne, whither he is come for grace, is a blessed sight! A blessed sight indeed! And it informs him he is where he should be.
And thou must look for this, the rather because without blood is no remission. He that thinks to find grace at God's hand, and yet enters not into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, will find himself mistaken, and will find a DEAD, instead of 'a living way' (Heb 10:19). For if not anything below, or besides blood, can yield remission on God's part, how should remission be received by us without our acting faith therein? We are justified by his blood, through faith in his blood (Rom 5:6-9). Wherefore, I say, look when thou approachest the throne of grace, that thou give diligence to see for the Lamb; that is, 'as it had been slain' in the midst of the throne of grace; and then thou wilt have, not only a sign that thou presentest thy supplications to God, where, and as thou shouldst; but there also wilt thou meet with matter to break, to soften, to bend, to bow, and to make thy heart as thou wouldst have it; for if the blood of a goat will, as some say, dissolve an adamant, a stone that is harder than flint; shall not the sight of 'a Lamb as it had been slain' much more dissolve and melt down the spirit of that man that is upon his knees before the throne of grace for mercy; especially when he shall see, that not his prayers, not his tears, not his wants, but the blood of the Lamb, has prevailed with a God of grace to give mercy and grace to an undeserving man? This then is the third sign by which thou shalt know when thou art at the throne of grace: that throne is sprinkled with blood; yea, in the midst of that throne there is to be seen to this day, a Lamb as it had been slain; and he is in the midst of it, to feed those that come to that throne, and to lead them by and to 'living fountains of waters' (Rev 7:17). Wherefore,
Fourth. The throne of grace is to be known, by the streams of grace that continually proceed therefrom, and that like a river run themselves out into the world. And, saith John, 'He showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb' (Rev 22:1). Mark you, here is again a throne; the throne of God, which, as we have showed, is the human nature of his Son; out of which, as you read, proceeds a river, a river of water of life, clear as crystal. And the joining of the Lamb also here with God is to show that it comes, I say, from God, by the Lamb; by Christ, who as a lamb or sacrifice for sin, is the procuring cause of the running of this river; it proceedeth out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. Behold, therefore, how carefully here the Lamb is brought in, as one from or through whom proceeds the water of life to us. God is the spring-head; Christ the golden pipe of conveyance; the elect the receivers of this water of life. He saith not here, 'the throne of the Lamb,' but 'and of the Lamb, to show, I say, that he it is out of or through whom this river of grace should come.' But and if it should be understood that it proceedeth from the throne of the Lamb, it may be to show that Christ also has power as a mediator, to send grace like a river into the church. And then it amounts to this, that God, for Christ's sake, gives this river of grace, and that Christ, for his merits sake, has power to do so too. And hence is that good wish, so often mentioned in the epistles, 'Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ' (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2; 1 Thess 1:2; 2 Thess 1:2; Phile 3). And again, 'Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ' (1 Peter 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4). For Christ has power with the Father to give grace and forgiveness of sins to men (John 5:21-26; Mark 2:10). But let us come to the terms in this text. Here we have a throne, a throne of grace; and to show that this throne is it indeed, therefore there proceeds therefrom a river of this grace, put here under the term of 'water of life,' a term fit to express both the nature of grace and the condition of him that comes for it to the throne of grace.
It is called by the name of water of life, to show what a reviving cordial the grace of God in Christ is, shall be, and will be found to be, of all those that by him shall drink thereof. It shall be in him, even in him that drinks it, 'a well of water springing up into everlasting life' (John 4:14). It will therefore beget life, and maintain it; yea, will itself be a spring of life, in the very heart of him that drinks it. Ah! it will be such a preservative also to spiritual health, as that by its virtue the soul shall for ever be kept, I say, the soul that drinks it, from total and final decay; it shall be in them a well of living water, springing up into everlasting life.
But there is also by this phrase or term briefly touched the present state of them that shall come hither to drink; they are not the healthful, but the sick. It is with the throne of grace, as it is with the Bath, and other places of sovereign and healing waters, they are most coveted of them that are diseased, and do also show their virtues on those that have their health and limbs; so, I say, is the throne of grace; its waters are for healing, for soul-healing, that is their virtue (Eze 47:8,9). Wherefore, as at those waters above mentioned, the lame leave their crutches, and the sick [obtain] such signs of their recovery as may be a sign of their receiving health and cure there; so at the throne of grace, it is where true penitents, and those that are sick for mercy, do leave their sighs and tears; 'and the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall,' there, 'wipe away all tears from their eyes' (Rev 7:17). Wherefore, as Joseph washed his face, and dried his tears away, when he saw his brother Benjamin, so all God's saints shall here, even at the throne of grace, where God's Benjamin, or the Son of his right hand, is, wash their souls from sorrow, and have their tears wiped from their eyes. Wherefore, O thou that are diseased, afflicted, and that wouldst live, come by Jesus to God as merciful and gracious; yea, look for this river when thou art upon thy knees before him, for by that thou shalt find whereabout is the throne of grace, and so where thou mayest find mercy.
But again, as that which proceeds out of this throne of grace is called 'water of life,' so it is said to be a river, a river of water of life. This, in the first place, shows, that with God is plenty of grace, even as in a river there is plenty of water; a pond, a pool, a cistern, will hold much, but a river will hold more; from this throne come rivers and streams of water of life, to satisfy those that come for life to the throne of God. Further, as by a river is showed what abundance of grace proceeds from God through Christ, so it shows the unsatiable thirst and desire of one that comes indeed aright to the throne of grace for mercy. Nothing but rivers will satisfy such a soul; ponds, pools, and cisterns, will do nothing: such an one is like him of whom it is said, 'Behold he drinketh up a river, and hasteth not; he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth' (Job 40:23). This David testifies when he saith, 'As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God' (Psa 42:1). Hence the invitation is proportionable, 'Drink abundantly' (Cant 5:1), and that they that are saved, are saved to receive abundance of grace; 'they which receive abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness, shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ' (Rom 5:17). And hence it is said again, 'When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.' But, Lord, how wilt thou quench their boundless thirst? 'I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water' (Isa 41:17,18). Behold here is a pool of water as big as a wilderness, enough one would think to satisfy any thirsty soul. O, but that will not do! wherefore he will open rivers, fountains, and springs, and all this is to quench the drought of one that thirsteth for the grace of God, that they have enough. 'They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house, and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures, for with thee is the fountain of life'; &c. (Psa 36:8,9).
This abundance the throne of grace yieldeth for the help and health of such as would have the water of life to drink, and to cure their diseases withal: it yields a river of water of life. Moreover, since grace is said here to proceed as a river from the throne of God and of the Lamb, it is to show the commonness of it; rivers you know are common in the stream, however they are at the head (Judg 5). And to show the commonness of it, the apostle calls it 'the common salvation'; and it is said in Ezekiel and Zecharias, to go forth to the desert, and into the sea, the world, to heal the beasts and fish of all kinds that are there (Eze 47:8; Zech 14:8). This, therefore, is a text that shows us what it is to come to a throne, where the token of the covenant of grace is, where the high priest ministereth, and in the midst of which there is a Lamb, 'as it had been slain': for from thence there cometh not drops, nor showers, but rivers of the grace of God, a river of water of life.
Again, as the grace that we here read of is said, as it comes from this throne, to come as a river of water of life; so it is said to be pure and clear as crystal. Pure is set in opposition to muddy and dirty waters, and clear is set in opposition to those waters that are black, by reason of the cold and icyish nature of them; therefore there is conjoined to this phrase the word crystal, which all know is a clear and shining stone (Eze 34:19; Job 6:15,16). Indeed the life and spirit that is in this water, will keep it from looking black and dull; and the throne from whence it comes will keep it from being muddy, so much as in the streams thereof. 'The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it' (Prov 10:22). Indeed, all the sorrow that is mixed with our Christianity, it proceedeth, as the procuring cause, from ourselves, not from the throne of grace; for that is the place where our tears, as was showed you, are wiped away; and also where we hang up our crutches. The streams thereof are pure and clear, not muddy nor frozen, but warm and delightful, and that 'make glad the city of God' (Psa 46).
These words also show us, that this water of itself can do without a mixture of anything of ours. What comes from this throne of grace is pure grace, and nothing else; clear grace, free grace, grace that is not mixed, nor need be mixed with works of righteousness which we have done; it is of itself sufficient to answer all our wants, to heal all our diseases, and to help us at a time of need. It is grace that chooses, it is grace that calleth, it is grace that preserveth, and it is grace that brings to glory: even the grace that like a river of water of life proceedeth from this throne. And hence it is, that from first to last, we must cry, 'Grace, grace unto it!'
Thus you see what a throne the Christian is invited to; it is a throne of grace whereon doth sit the God of all grace; it is a throne of grace before which the Lord Jesus ministereth continually for us; it is a throne of grace sprinkled with the blood, and in the midst of which is a Lamb as it had been slain; it is a throne with a rainbow round about it, which is the token of the everlasting covenant, and out of which proceeds, as here you read, a river, a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal. Look then for these signs of the throne of grace, all you that would come to it, and rest not, until by some of them you know that you are even come to it; they are all to be seen have you but eyes; and the sight of them is very delectable, and has a natural tendency in them, when seen, to revive and quicken the soul. But,
Fifth. As the throne of grace is known and distinguished by the things above named, so it is by the effects which these things have wrought. There is about that throne 'four and twenty seats, and upon the seats four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment, and they have on their heads crowns of gold' (Rev 4:4). There is no throne that has these signs and effects belonging to it but this; wherefore, as by these signs, so by the effects of them also, one may know which is, and so when he is indeed come to the throne of grace. And a little as we commented upon what went before, we will also touch upon this.
1. By seats, I understand places of rest and dignity; places of rest, for that they that sit on them do rest from their labours; and places of dignity, for that they are about the throne (Rev 14:13). 'And the four and twenty elders which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces and worshipped God' (Rev 11:16). And forasmuch as the seats are mentioned, before they are mentioned that sat thereon, it is to show, that the places were prepared before they were converted.
2. The elders, I take to be the twelve patriarchs and the twelve apostles, or the first fathers of the churches; for they are the elders of both the churches, that is, both of the Jewish and Gentile church of God; they are the ancients, as also they are called in the prophet Isaiah, which are in some sense the fathers of both these churches (Isa 24:23). These elders are well set forth by that four and twenty that you read of in the book of Chronicles, who had every one of them for sons twelve in number. There therefore the four and twenty are (1 Chron 25:8-31).
3. Their sitting denoteth also their abiding in the presence of God. 'Sit thou at my right hand,' was the Father's word to the Son, and also signifieth the same (Psa 110:1). It is then the throne of grace where the four and twenty seats are, and before which the four and twenty elders sit.
4. Their white robes are Christ's righteousness, their own good works and glory; not that their works brought them thither, for they were of themselves polluted, and were washed white in the blood of the Lamb; but yet God will have all that his people have done in love to him to be rewarded. Yea, and they shall wear their own labours, being washed as afore is hinted, as a badge of their honour before the throne of grace, and this is grace indeed. 'They have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, therefore are they before the throne of God' (Rev 7:14,15). They have washed as others did do before them.
5. 'And they had on their heads crowns of gold' (Rev 4:4). This denotes their victory, and also that they are kings, and as kings shall reign with him for ever and ever (Rev 5:10).
6. But what! were they silent? did they say, did they do nothing while they sat before the throne? Yes, they were appointed to be singers there. This was signified by the four and twenty that we made mention of before, who with their sons were instructed in the songs of the Lord, and all that were cunning to do so then, were two hundred fourscore and eight (1 Chron 25:7). These were the figure of that hundred forty and four thousand redeemed from the earth. For as the first four and twenty, and their sons, are said to sing and to play upon cymbals, psalteries, and harps; and as they are there said to be instructed and cunning in the songs of the Lord; so these that sit before the throne are said also to sing with harps in their hands their song before the throne; and such song it was, and so cunningly did they sing it, that 'no man could learn it, but the hundred and forty and four thousand which were redeemed from the earth' (Rev 14:3).
Now, as I said, as he at first began with four and twenty in David, and ended with four and twenty times twelve, so here in John he begins with the same number, but ends with such a company that no man could number. For, he saith, 'After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands. And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God, which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and the elders, and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God' (Rev 7:9-11). This numberless number seems to have got the song by the end; for they cry aloud, 'Salvation, salvation to our God and to the Lamb'; which to be sure is such a song that none can learn but them that are redeemed from the earth.
But I say, what a brave encouragement is it for one that is come for grace to the throne of grace, to see so great a number already there, on their seats, in their robes, with their palms in their hands, and their crowns upon their heads, singing of salvation to God, and to the Lamb! And I say again, and speak now to the dejected, methinks it would be strange, O thou that art so afraid that the greatness of thy sins will be a bar unto thee, if amongst all this great number of pipers and harpers that are got to glory, thou canst not espy one that when here was as vile a sinner as thyself. Look man, they are there for thee to view them, and for thee to take encouragement to hope, when thou shalt consider what grace and mercy has done for them. Look again, I say, now thou art upon thy knees, and see if some that are among them have not done worse than thou hast done. And yet behold, they are set down; and yet behold they have their crowns on their heads, their harps in their hands, and sing aloud of salvation to their God, and to the Lamb.
This then is a fifth note or sign that doth distinguish the throne of grace from other thrones. There are, before that, to be seen, for our encouragement, a numberless number of people sitting and singing round about it. Singing, I say, to God for his grace, and to the Lamb for his blood, by which they are secured from the wrath to come. 'And the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints, and they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God, kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth' (Rev 5:8-10). Behold, tempted soul, dost thou not yet see what a throne of grace here is, and what multitudes are already arrived thither, to give thanks unto his name that sits thereon, and to the Lamb for ever and ever? And wilt thou hang thy harp upon the willows, and go drooping up and down the world, as if there was no God, no grace, no throne of grace, to apply thyself unto, for mercy and grace to help in time of need? Hark! dost thou not hear them what they say, 'Worthy,' say they, 'is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven,' where they are, 'and on the earth,' where thou art, 'and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever' (Rev 5:12,13).
All this is written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope; and that the drooping ones might come boldly to the throne of grace, to obtain grace and find mercy to help in time of need. They bless, they all bless; they thank, they all thank; and wilt thou hold thy tongue? 'They have all received of his fulness, and grace for grace'; and will he shut thee out? Or is his grace so far gone, and so near spent, that now he has not enough to pardon, and secure, and save one sinner more? For shame, leave off this unbelief! Wherefore, dost thou think, art thou told of all this, but to encourage thee to come to the throne of grace? And wilt thou hang back or be sullen, because thou art none of the first? since he hath said, 'The first shall be last, and the last first.' Behold the legions, the thousands, the untold and numberless number that stand before the throne, and be bold to hope in his mercy.
Sixth. [The throne of grace is known by what proceeds from it.] As the throne of grace is distinguished from other thrones by these, so 'out of this throne proceeds lightnings, and thunderings, and voices.' Also before this throne are 'seven lamps of fire burning, which are the seven spirits of God' (Rev 4:5). This then is another thing by which the throne of grace may be known as an effect of what is before. So again, chapter the eighth, it is said, that from the altar of incense that stood before the throne, 'there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake' (Rev 8:5). All these then come out of the holiest, where the throne is, and are inflamed by this throne, and by him that sits thereon.
1. Lightnings here are to be taken for the illuminations of the Spirit in the gospel (Heb 10:32). As it is said in the book of Psalms, 'They looked unto him,' on the throne, 'and were lightened' (Psa 34:5). Or, as it is said in other places, 'The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven, the lightnings lightened the world' (Psa 77:18). And again, 'His lightnings enlightened the world, the earth saw and trembled' (Psa 97:4). This lightning therefore communicates light to them that sit in darkness. 'God,' saith the apostle, 'who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ' (2 Cor 4:6). It was from this throne that the light came that struck Paul off his horse, when he went to destroy it and the people that professed it (Acts 9:3). These are those lightnings by which sinners are made to see their sad condition, and by which they are made to see the way out of it. Art thou then made to see thy condition how bad it is, and that the way out of it is by Jesus Christ? for, as I said, he is the throne of grace. Why then, come orderly in the light of these convictions to the throne from whence thy light did come, and cry there, as Samuel did to Eli, 'Here am I, for thou has called me' (1 Sam 3:8). Thus did Saul by the light that made him see; by it he came to Christ, and cried, 'Who art thou, Lord?' and, 'What wouldst thou have me do?' (Acts 9:5,6). And is it not an encouragement to thee to come to him, when he lights thy candle that thou mightest see the way; yea, when he doth it on purpose that thou mightest come to him? 'He gives light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death,' what to do? 'to guide our feet into the way of peace' (Luke 1:79). This interpretation of this place seems to me most to cohere with what went before; for first you have here a throne, and one sitting on it; then you have the elders, and in them presented to you the whole church, sitting round about the throne; then you have in the words last read unto you, a discourse how they came thither, and that is, by the lightnings, thunderings, and voices that proceed out of the throne.
2. As you have here lightnings, so thereto is adjoined thunders. There proceeded out of this throne lightnings and thunders. By thunders, I understand that powerful discovery of the majesty of God by the word of truth, which seizeth the heart with a reverential dread and awe of him: hence it is said, 'The voice of the Lord is full of majesty; the voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars' (Psa 29:45). The voice, that is, his thundering voice. 'Canst thou thunder with a voice like him?' (Job 40:9). And 'the thunder of his power who can understand?' (Job 26:14). It was upon this account that Peter, and James, and John, were called 'the sons of thunder,' because, in the word which they were to preach, there was to be not only lightnings, but thunders; not only illuminations, but a great seizing of the heart, with the dread and majesty of God, to the effectual turning of the sinner to him (Mark 3:16,17).
Lightnings without thunder are in this case dangerous, because they that receive the one without the other are subject to miscarry. They were 'once enlightened,' but you read of no thunder they had; and they were subject to fall into an irrecoverable state (Heb 6:4-6). Saul had thunder with his lightnings to the shaking of his soul; so had the three thousand; so had the jailor (Acts 2, 9, 16). They that receive light without thunder are subject to turn the grace of God into wantonness; but they that know the terror of God will persuade men (Rom 3:8; Jude 4; 2 Cor 5:11). So then, when he decrees to give the rain of his grace to a man, he makes 'a way for the lighting of the thunder,' not the one without the other, but the one following the other (Job 28:26). Lightning and thunder is made a cause of rain, but lightning alone is not: 'Who hath divided a water-course for the overflowing of waters? or a way for the lightning of thunder to cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is: on the wilderness wherein there is no man?' (Job 38:25,26).
Thus therefore you may see how in the darkest sayings of the Holy Ghost there is as great an harmony with truth as in the most plain and easy; there must be thunder with light, if thy heart be well poised and balanced with the fear of God: we have had great lightnings in this land of late years, but little thunders; and that is one reason why so little grace is found where light is, and why so many professors run on their heads in such a day as this is, notwithstanding all they have seen. Well then, this also should be a help to a soul to come to the throne of grace; the God of glory has thundered, has thundered to awaken thee, as well as sent lightnings to give thee light; to awaken thee to a coming to him, as well as to the enabling of thee to see his things; this then has come from the throne of grace to make thee come hither; wherefore observe, where it is by these signs made mention of before, and by these effects; and go, and come to the throne of grace.
3. As there proceeds from this throne lightnings and thunders, so from hence it is said voices proceed also: now these voices may be taken for such as are sent with this lightning and thunder to instruct, or for such [instruction] as this lightning and thunder begets in our hearts.
(1.) It may be taken in the first sense for light and dread, when it falleth from God into the soul, is attended with a voice or voices of instruction to the soul, to know what to do (Acts 2:3-7). This it was in Paul's case. He had light and dread, and voices for his instruction; he had lightnings, and thunderings, and voices: 'Good and upright is the Lord; therefore will he teach sinners in the way. The meek will he guide in judgment; and the meek will he teach his way' (Psa 25:8,9).
(2.) Or by voices you may understand, such as the lightning and thunder begets in our hearts: for though man is as mute as a fish to Godward, before this thunder and lightning comes to him, yet after that he is full of voices (2 Cor 4:13, 7:14). And how much more numerous are the voices that in the whole church on earth are begot by these lightnings and thunders that proceed from the throne of grace; their faith has a voice, their repentance has a voice, their subjection to God's word has a voice in it; yea, there is a voice in their prayers, a voice in their cry, a voice in their tears, a voice in their groans, in their roarings, in their bemoaning of themselves, and in their triumphs! (1 Thess 1:2-8; Psa 5:3, 7:17, 20:2-5, 22:1, 138:5; Jer 31:18).
This then is an effect of the throne of grace; hence it is said that they proceed from it, even the lightning, and the thunder, and the voices; that is, effectual conversion to God. It follows then, that if all these are with thy soul, the operations of the throne of grace have been upon thee to bring thee to the throne of grace; first in thy prayers, and then in thy person. And this leads me to the next thing propounded to be spoken to, which is to show who are the persons invited here to come to the throne of grace. 'Let us therefore come.'
[THE PERSONS INTENDED BY THIS EXHORTATION.]
THIRD. Now the persons here called upon to come to the throne of grace, are not all or every sort of men, but the men that may properly be comprehended under this word Us and We; 'let Us therefore come boldly, that We may obtain.' And they that are here put under these particular terms, are expressed both before and after, by those that have explication in them.
They are called [in the epistle to the Hebrews], 1. Such as give the most earnest heed to the word which they have heard (Heb 2:1). 2. They are such as see Jesus crowned with glory and honour (Heb 2:9). 3. They are called the children (Heb 2:14). 4. They are called the seed of Abraham (Heb 2:16). 5. They are called Christ's brethren (Heb 2:17).
So, chapter the third, they are called holy brethren, and said to be partakers of the heavenly calling, and the people of whom it is said that Christ Jesus is the apostle and high priest of their profession (Heb 3:1-6). They are called Christ's own house, and are said to be partakers of Christ (Heb 3:14). They are said to be the believers, those that do enter in into rest, those that have Christ for a high priest, and with the feeling of whose infirmities he is touched and sympathiseth (Heb 4:3,14,15).
So, in chapter the sixth, they are called beloved, and the heirs of promise; they that have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them; they are called those that have hope as an anchor, and those for whom Christ as a forerunner hath entered and taken possession of heaven (Heb 6:9,17-20). So, chapter the seventh, they are said to be such as draw nigh unto God (Heb 7:19). And, chapter the eighth, they are said to be such with whom the new covenant is made in Christ. Chapter the ninth, they are such for whom Christ has obtained eternal redemption, and such for whom he has entered the holy place (Heb 9:12,22). Chapter the tenth, they are such as are said to be sanctified by the will of God, such as have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus; such as draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, or that have liberty to do so, having their hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and their bodies washed with pure water; they were those that had suffered much for Christ in the world, and that became companions of them that so were used (Heb 10:10,19,22-25). Yea, he tells them, in the eleventh chapter, that they and the patriarchs must be made perfect together (Heb 11:40). He also tells them, in the twelfth chapter, that already they are come to Mount Zion, to 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, and to God the Judge of all; and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the New Testament, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel (Heb 12:22-24).
Thus you see what terms, characters, titles, and privileges, they are invested with that are here exhorted to come to the throne of grace. From whence we may conclude that every one is not capable of coming thither, no not every one that is under convictions, and that hath a sense of the need of and a desire after the mercy of God in Christ.
[The orderly coming to the throne of grace.]
Wherefore we will come, in the next place, to show the orderly coming of a soul to the throne of grace for mercy: and for this we must first apply ourselves to the Old Testament, where we have the shadow of what we now are about to enter upon the discourse of, and then we will come to the antitype, where yet the thing is far more explained.
First. Then, the mercy-seat was for the church, not for the world; for a Gentile could not go immediately from his natural state to the mercy-seat, by the high priest, but must first orderly join himself, or be joined, to the church, which then consisted of the body of the Jews (Exo 12:43-49). The stranger then must first be circumcised, and consequently profess faith in the Messiah to come, which was signified by his going from his circumcision directly to the passover, and so orderly to other privileges, specially to this of the mercy-seat which the high priest was to go but once a year into (Eze 44:6-9).
Second. The church is again set forth unto us by Aaron and his sons. Aaron as the head, his sons as the members; but the sons of Aaron were not to meddle with any of the things of the Holiest, until they had washed in a laver: 'And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Thou shalt also make a laver of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash in; and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein. For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat. When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offerings made by fire unto the Lord. So they shall wash their hands and their feet that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever unto them, even to him, and to his seed throughout their generations.' See the margin (Exo 30:17-21, 40:30-32).
Third. Nay, so strict was this law, that if any of Israel, as well as the stranger, were defiled by any dead thing, they were to wash before they partook of the holy things, or else to abstain: but if they did not, their sin should remain upon them (Lev 17:15,16). So again, 'the soul that hath touched any such' uncleanness 'shall be unclean until even, and shall not eat of the holy things,' much less come within the inner veil, 'unless he wash his flesh with water' (Lev 22:4-6). Now, I would ask, what all this should signify, if a sinner, as a sinner, before he washes, or is washed, may immediately go unto the throne of grace? Yea, I ask again, why the apostle supposes washing as a preparation to the Hebrews entering into the holiest, if men may go immediately from under convictions to a throne of grace? For thus, he says, 'let us draw near' 'the holiest' (Heb 12:19), 'with a true heart, in full assurance of faith; having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water' (Heb 12:22). Let us draw near; he saith not that we may have; but having FIRST been washed and sprinkled.
The laver then must first be washed in; and he that washed not first there, has not right to come to the throne of grace; wherefore you have here also a sea of glass standing before the throne of grace, to signify this thing (Rev 4:6). It stands before the throne, for them to wash in that would indeed approach the throne of grace. For this sea of glass is the same that is shadowed forth by the laver made mention of before, and with the brazen sea that stood in Solomon's temple, whereat they were to wash before they went into the holiest. But you may ask me, What the laver or molten sea should signify to us in the New Testament? I answer, It signifieth the word of the New Testament, which containeth the cleansing doctrine of remission of sins, by the precious blood of Jesus Christ (John 15:3). Wherefore we are said to be clean through the Word, through the washing of water by the Word (Titus 3:5). The meaning then is, A man must first come to Christ, as set forth in the Word, which is this sea of glass, before he can come to Christ in heaven, as he is the throne of grace. For the Word, I say, is this sea of glass that stands before the throne, for the sinner to wash in first. Know therefore, whoever thou art, that art minded to be saved, thou must first begin with Christ crucified, and with the promise of remission of sins through his blood; which crucified Christ thou shalt not find in heaven as such; for there he is alive; but thou shalt find him in the Word; for there he is to this day set forth in all the circumstances of his death, as crucified before our eyes (Gal 3:1,2). There thou shalt find that he died, when he died, what death he died, why he died, and the Word open to thee to come and wash in his blood. The word therefore of Christ's Testament is the laver for all New Testament priests, and every Christian is a priest to God, to wash in.
Here therefore thou must receive thy justification, and that before thou goest one step further; for if thou art not justified by his blood, thou wilt not be saved by his life. And the justifying efficacy of his blood is left behind, and is here contained in the molten sea, or laver, or word of grace, for thee to wash in. Indeed, there is an interceding voice in his blood for us before the throne of grace, or mercy-seat; but that is still to bring us to wash, or for them that have washed therein, as it was shed upon the cross. We have boldness therefore to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, that is, by faith in his blood, as shed without the gate; for as his blood was shed without the gate, so it sanctifies the believer, and makes him capable to approach the holy of holies. Wherefore, after he had said, 'That he might sanctify the people with his own blood,' he 'suffered without the gate' (Heb 13:11-15). Let us by him therefore, that is, because we are first sanctified by faith in his blood, offer to God the sacrifice of praise continually, that is, the fruits of our lips, giving thanks in his name. Wherefore the laver of regeneration, or Christ set forth by the Word as crucified, is for all coming sinners to wash in unto justification; and the throne of grace is to be approached by saints, or as sinners justified by faith in a crucified Christ; and so, as washed from sin in the sea of his blood, to come to the mercy-seat.
And it is yet far more evident; for that those that approach this throne of grace, they must do it through believing; for, saith the apostle, 'How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed,' of whom they have not heard, and in whom they have not believed? for to that purpose runs the text (Rom 10:14). 'How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed,' antecedent to their calling on him, 'and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard' first? So then hearing goes before believing, and believing before calling upon God, as he sits on the throne of grace. Now, believing is to be according to the sound of the beginning of the gospel, which presenteth us, not first with Christ as ascended, but as Christ dying, buried, and risen. 'For I delivered unto you first of all, that which I also received; how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the scriptures' (1 Cor 15:3,4).
I conclude then, as to this, that the order of heaven is, that men wash in the laver of regeneration, to wit, in the blood of Christ, as held forth in the word of the truth of the gospel, which is the ordinance of God; for there sinners, as sinners, or men as unclean, may wash, in order to their approach to God as he sits upon the throne of grace.
And besides, Is it possible that a man that passeth by the doctrine of Christ as dead, should be admitted with acceptance to a just and holy God for life; or that he that slighteth and trampleth under foot the blood of Christ, as shed upon the cross, should be admitted to an interest in Christ, as he is the throne of grace? It cannot be. He must then wash there first, or die—let his profession, or pretended faith, or holiness, be what it will. For God sees iniquity in all men; nor can all the nitre or soap in the world cause that our iniquity should not be marked before God (Jer 2:22). 'For without shedding of blood is NO remission' (Heb 9:22). Nothing that polluteth, that defileth, or that is unclean, must enter into God's sanctuary; much less into the most holy part thereof, but by their sacrifice, by which they are purged, and for the sake of the perfection thereof, they believing are accepted. We have 'therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,' and no way else (Heb 10:19).
[HOW WE ARE TO APPROACH THE THRONE OF GRACE.]
FOURTH. But this will yet be further manifest by what we have yet to say of the manner of our approach unto the throne of grace.
FIRST, then, we must approach the throne of grace by the second veil; for the throne of grace is after the second veil. So, then, though a man cometh into the tabernacle or temple, which was a figure of the church, yet if he entered but within the first veil, he only came where there was no mercy-seat or throne of grace (Heb 9:3). And what is this second veil, in, at, or through which, as the phrase is, we must, by blood, enter into the holiest? why, as to the law, the second veil did hang up between the holy and the most holy place, and it did hide what was within the holiest from the eyes or sight of those that went no further than into the first tabernacle. Now this second veil in the tabernacle or temple was a figure of the second veil that all those must go through that will approach the throne of grace; and that veil is the flesh of Christ.
This is that which the holy apostle testifies in his exhortation, where he saith, We have 'boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh' (Heb 10:19,20). The second veil then is the flesh of Christ, the which until a man can enter or go through by his faith, it is impossible that he should come to the holiest where the throne of grace is, that is, to the heart and soul of Jesus, which is the throne. The body of Christ is the tabernacle of God, and so that in which God dwells; for the fulness of the Godhead dwells in him bodily (Col 2:9). Therefore, as also has been hinted before, Christ Jesus is the throne of grace. Now, since his flesh is called the veil, it is evident that the glory that dwells within him, to wit, God resting in him, cannot be understood but by them that by faith can look through, or enter through, his flesh to that glory. For the glory is within the veil; there is the mercy-seat, or throne of grace; there sitteth God as delighted, as at rest, in and with sinners, that come to him by and through that flesh, and the offering of it for sin without the gate. 'I am the way,' saith Christ; but to what? and how? (John 14:6). Why, to the Father, through my flesh. 'And having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things to himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you that were sometime alienated, and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled [but how?] in the body of his flesh, [that then must be first: to what?] to present you holy and unblameable, and unreprovable in his sight' (Col 1:20-22). That is, when you enter into his presence, or approach by this flesh, the mercy-seat, or the throne of grace.
This therefore is the manner of our coming, if we come aright to the throne of grace for mercy, we must come by blood through his flesh, as through the veil; by which, until you have entered through it, the glory of God, and that he is resolved that grace shall reign, will be utterly hid from your eyes. I will not say, but by the notion of these things, men may have their whirling fancies, and may create to themselves wild notions and flattering imaginations of Christ, the throne of grace, and of glory; but the gospel knowledge of this is of absolute necessity to my right coming to the throne of grace for mercy. I must come by his blood, through his flesh, or I cannot come at all, for here is no back door. This then is the sum, Christ's body is the tabernacle, the holiest; 'thy law,' saith he, 'is within my heart,' or in the midst of my bowels (Psa 40:7,8). In this tabernacle then God sitteth, to wit, on the heart of Christ, for that is the throne of grace. Through this tabernacle men must enter, that is, by a godly understanding of what by this tabernacle or flesh of Christ has been done to reconcile us to God that dwells in him. This is the way, all the way, for there is no way but this to come to the throne of grace. This is the new way into the heavenly paradise, for the old way is hedged and ditched up by the flaming sword of cherubims (Gen 3:24). The NEW and LIVING way, for to go the other is present death; so then, this 'new and living way which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh,' is the only way into the holiest, where the throne of grace is (Heb 10:20).
SECOND. We must approach this throne of grace, as having our hearts, first, sprinkled from an evil conscience. The priest that was the representator of all Israel, when he went into the holiest, was not to go in, but as sprinkled with blood first (Exo 29). Thus it is written in t he law; 'not without blood'; and thus it is written in the gospel (Heb 9:7). And now since by the gospel we have all admittance to enter in through the veil, by faith, we must take heed that we enter not in without blood; for if the blood, virtually, be not seen upon us, we die, instead of obtaining mercy, and finding the help of grace. This I press the oftener, because there is nothing to which we are more naturally inclined, than to forget this. Who, that understands himself, is not sensible how apt he is to forget to act faith in the blood of Jesus, and to get his conscience sprinkled with the virtue of that, that attempteth to approach the throne of grace? Yet the scripture calls upon us to take heed that we neglect not THUS to prepare ourselves. 'Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience,' to wit, with the blood of Christ, lest we die (Heb 10:22, 9:14). In the law all the people were to be sprinkled with blood, and it was necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these, that is, with the blood of bulls, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these, that is, with the offering of the body, and shedding of the blood of Christ. By this then must thou be purified and sprinkled, who by Christ wouldst approach the throne of grace.
THIRD. Therefore it is added, 'And our bodies washed with pure water.' This the apostle taketh also out of the law; where it was appointed, as was showed before. Christ also, just before he went to the Father, gave his disciples a signification of this, saying to Peter, and by him to all the rest, 'If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me' (John 13:8). This pure water is nothing but the wholesome doctrine of the word mixed with Spirit, by which, as the conscience was before sprinkled with blood, the body and outward conversation is now sanctified and made clean. 'Now ye are clean through the word,' saith Christ, 'which I have spoken unto you' (John 15:3). Hence, washing, and sanctifying, and justifying, are put together, and are said to come by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:11). Thou must then be washed with water, and sprinkled with blood, if thou wouldst orderly approach the throne of grace: if thou wouldst orderly approach it with a true heart, in full assurance of faith; or if thou wouldst, as the text biddeth thee here, to wit, 'come boldly unto the throne of grace, to obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.'
To tell you what it is to come boldly, is one thing; and to tell you how you should come boldly, is another. Here you are bid to come boldly, and are also showed how that may be done. It may be done through the blood of sprinkling, and through the sanctifying operations of the Spirit which are here by faith to be received. And when what can be said shall be said to the utmost, there is no boldness, godly boldness, but by blood. The more the conscience is a stranger to the sprinkling of blood, the further off it is of being rightly bold with God, at the throne of grace; for it is the blood that makes the atonement, and that gives boldness to the soul (Lev 17:11; Heb 10:19). It is the blood, the power of it by faith upon the conscience, that drives away guilt, and so fear, and consequently that begetteth boldness. Wherefore, he that will be bold with God at the throne of grace, must first be well acquainted with the doctrine of the blood of Christ; namely, that it was shed, and why, and that it has made peace with God, and for whom. Yea, thou must be able by faith to bring thyself within the number of those that are made partakers of this reconciliation, before thou canst come boldly to the throne of grace. But,
[What it is to come to the throne of grace without boldness.]
First. There is a coming to the throne of grace before or without this boldness; but that is not the coming to which by these texts we are exhorted; yet that coming, be it never so deficient, if it is right, it is through some measure an inlet into the death and blood of Christ, and through some management, though but very little, or perhaps scarce at all discerned of the soul, to hope for grace from the throne; I say, it must arise, the encouragement must, from the cross, and from Christ as dying there. Christ himself went that way to God, and it is not possible but we must go the same way too. So, then, the encouragement, be it little, be it much—and it is little or much, even as the faith is in strength or weakness, which apprehendeth Christ—it is according to the proportion of faith; strong faith gives great boldness, weak faith doth not so, nor can it.
Second. There is a sincere coming to the throne of grace without this boldness, even a coming in the uprightness of one's heart without it. Hence a true heart and full assurance are distinguished. 'Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith' (Heb 10:22). Sincerity may be attended with a great deal of weakness, even as boldness may be attended with pride; but be it what kind of coming to the throne of grace it will, either a coming with boldness, or with that doubting which is incident to saints, still the cause of that coming, or ground thereof, is some knowledge of redemption by blood, redemption which the soul seeth it has faith in, or would see it has faith in. For Christ is precious, sometimes in the sight of the worth, sometimes in the sight of the want, and sometimes in the sight of the enjoyment of him.
Third. There is an earnest coming to the throne of grace even with all the desire of one's soul. When David had guilt and trouble, and that so heavy that he knew not what to do, yet he could say, 'Lord, all my desire is before thee, and my groaning is not hid from thee' (Psa 38:1-9). He could come earnestly to the throne of grace; he could come thither with all the desire of his soul: but still this must be from that knowledge that he had of the way of remission of sins by the blood of the Son of God.
Fourth. There is also a constant coming to the throne of grace. 'Lord,' said Heman, 'I have cried day and night before thee, let my prayer come before thee, incline thine ear unto my cry, for my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave' (Psa 88:1-3). Here you see is constant crying before the throne of grace, crying night and day; and yet the man that cries seems to be in a very black cloud, and to find hard work to bear up in his soul; yet this he had, namely, the knowledge of how God was the God of salvation; yea, he called him his God as such, though with pretty much difficulty of spirit, to be sure. Wherefore it must not be concluded, that they come not at all to the throne of grace, that come not with a full assurance; or that men must forbear to come, till they come with assurance; but this I say, they come not at all aright, that take not the ground of their coming from the death and blood of Christ; and that they that come to the throne of grace, with but little knowledge of redemption by blood, will come with but little hope of obtaining grace and mercy to help in time of need.
I conclude then, that it is the privilege, the duty and glory of a man, to approach the throne of grace as a prince, as Job said, could he but find it, he would be sure to do. 'O that I knew where I might find him!' saith he, 'that I might come even to his seat: I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments: I would know the words which he would answer me, and understand what he would say unto me. Will he plead against me with his great power? No; but he would put strength in me. There the righteous might dispute with him: so should I be delivered for ever from my judge' (23:3-7). Indeed, God sometimes tries us. 'He holdeth back,' sometimes, 'the face of his throne, and spreadeth his cloud upon it' (Job 26:9). And this seems to be Job's case here, which made him to confess he was at a loss, and to cry out, 'O that I knew where I might find him!' And this he doth for trial, and to prove our honesty and constancy; for the hypocrite will not pray always. Will he always call upon God? No, verily; especially not when thou bindest them, afflictest them, and makest praying hard work to them (Job 36:13).
But difficulty as to finding of God's presence, and the sweet shining of the face of his throne, doth not always lie in the weakness of faith. Strong faith may be in this perplexity, and may be hard put to it to stand at times. It is said here, that God did hold back the face of his throne, and did spread a cloud upon it; not to weaken Job's faith, but to try Job's strength, and to show to men of after ages how valiant a man Job was. Faith, if it be strong, will play the man in the dark; will, like a mettled horse, flounce in bad way, will not be discouraged at trials, at many or strong trials: 'Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,' is the language of that invincible grace of God (Job 13:15). There is also an aptness in those that come to the throne of grace, to cast all degrees of faith away, that carrieth not in its bowels self-evidence of its own being and nature, thinking that if it be faith, it must be known to the soul; yea, if it be faith, it will do so and so: even so as the highest degrees of faith will do. When, alas! faith is sometimes in a calm, sometimes up, and sometimes down, and sometimes at it with sin, death, and the devil, as we say, blood up to the ears. Faith now has but little time to speak peace to the conscience; it is now struggling for life, it is now fighting with angels, with infernals; all it can do now, is to cry, groan, sweat, fear, fight, and gasp for life.
Indeed the soul should now run to the cross, for there is the water, or rather the blood and water, that is provided for faith, as to the maintaining of the comfort of justification; but the soul whose faith is thus attacked will find hard work to do this, though much of the well-managing of faith, in the good fight of faith, will lie in the soul's hearty and constant adhering to the death and blood of Christ; but a man must do as he can. Thus now have I showed you the manner of right coming to the throne of grace, for mercy and grace to help in time of need.
[None but the godly know the throne of grace.]
The next thing that I am to handle, is, first, To show you, that it is the privilege of the godly to distinguish from all thrones whatsoever this throne of grace. This, as I told you, I gathered from the apostle in the text, for that he only maketh mention thereof, but gives no sign to distinguish it by; no sign, I say, though he knew that there were more thrones than it. 'Let us come boldly,' saith he, 'to the throne of grace,' and so leaves it, knowing full well that they had a good understanding of his meaning, being Hebrews (Heb 9:1-8). They being now also enlightened from what they were taught by the placing of the ark of the testimony, and the mercy-seat in the most holy place; of which particular the apostle did then count it, not of absolute necessity distinctly to discourse. Indeed the Gentiles, as I have showed, have this throne of grace described and set forth before them, by those tokens which I have touched upon in the sheets that go before—for with the book of Revelation the Gentiles are particularly concerned—for that it was writ to churches of the Gentiles; also the great things prophesied of there relate unto Gentile-believers, and to the downfall of Antichrist, as he standeth among them.
But yet, I think that John's discourse of the things attending the throne of grace were not by him so much propounded, because the Gentiles were incapable of finding of it without such description, as to show the answerableness of the antitype with the type; and also to strengthen their faith, and illustrate the thing; for they that know, may know more, and better of what they know; yea, may be greatly comforted with another's dilating on what they know. Besides, the Holy Ghost by the word doth always give the most perfect description of things; wherefore to that we should have recourse for the completing of our knowledge. I mean not, by what I say, in the least to intimate, as if this throne of grace was to be known without the text, for it is that that giveth revelation of Jesus Christ: but my meaning is, that a saint, as such, has such a working of things upon his heart, as makes him able by the Word to find out this throne of grace, and to distinguish it to himself from others. For,
First. The saint has strong guilt of sin upon his conscience, especially at first; and this makes him better judge what grace, in the nature of grace, is, than others can that are not sensible of what guilt is. What it was to be saved, was better relished by the jailor when he was afraid of and trembled at the apprehensions of the wrath of God, than ever it was with him all his life before (Acts 16:29-33). Peter then also saw what saving was, when he began to sink into the sea: 'Lord, save me,' said he, I perish (Matt 14:30). Sin is that without a sense of which a man is not apprehensive what grace is. Sin and grace, favour and wrath, death and life, hell and heaven, are opposites, and are set off, or out, in their evil or good, shame or glory, one by another. What makes grace so good to us as sin in its guilt and filth? What makes sin so horrible and damnable a thing in our eyes, as when we see there is nothing can save us from it but the infinite grace of God? Further, there seems, if I may so term it, to be a kind of natural instinct in the new creature to seek after the grace of God; for so saith the Word, 'They that are after the flesh, do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit' (Rom 8:5). The child by nature nuzzles in its mother's bosom for the breast; the child by grace does by grace seek to live by the grace of God. All creatures, the calf, the lamb, &c., so soon as they are fallen from their mother's belly, will by nature look for, and turn themselves towards the teat, and the new creature doth so too (1 Peter 2:1-3). For guilt makes it hunger and thirst, as the hunted hart does pant after the water brooks. Hunger directs to bread, thirst directs to water; yea, it calls bread and water to mind. Let a man be doing other business, hunger will put him in mind of his cupboard, and thirst of his cruse of water; yea, it will call him, make him, force him, command him, to bethink what nourishing victuals is, and will also drive him to search out after where he may find it, to the satisfying of himself. All right talk also to such an one sets the stomach and appetite a craving; yea, into a kind of running out of the body after this bread and water, that it might be fed, nourished, and filled therewith. Thus it is by nature, and thus it is by grace; thus it is for the bread that perisheth, and for that which endureth to everlasting life. But,
Second. As nature, the new nature, teaches this by a kind of heavenly natural instinct; so experience also herein helpeth the godly much. For they have found all other places, the throne of grace excepted, empty, and places or things that hold no water. They have been at Mount Sinai for help, but could find nothing there but fire and darkness, but thunder and lightning, but earthquake and trembling, and a voice of killing words, which words they that heard them once could never endure to hear them again; and as for the sight of vengeance there revealed against sin, it was so terrible, that Moses, even Moses, said, 'I exceedingly fear and quake' (Heb 12:18-21; Exo 19; 2 Cor 3). They have sought for grace by their own performances; but alas! they have yielded them nothing but wind and confusion; not a performance, not a duty, not an act in any part of religious worship, but they looking upon it in the glass of the Lord, do find it spaked and defective (Isa 64:5-8). They have sought for grace by their resolutions, their vows, their purposes, and the like; but alas! they all do as the other, discover that they have been very imperfectly managed, and so such as can by no means help them to grace. They have gone to their tears, their sorrow, and repentance, if perhaps they might have found some help there; but all has either fled away like the early dew, or if they have stood, they have stunk even in the nostrils of those whose they were. How much more, then, in the nostrils of a holy God!
They have gone to God, as the great Creator, and have beheld how wonderful his works have been; they have looked to the heavens above, to the earth beneath, and to all their ornaments, but neither have these, nor what is of [or resulting from] them, yielded grace to those that had sensible want thereof. Thus have they gone, as I said, with these pitchers to their fountains, and have returned empty and ashamed; they found no water, no river of water of life; they have been as the woman with her bloody issue, spending and spending till they have spent all, and been nothing better, but rather grew worse (Mark 5). Had they searched into nothing but the law, it had been sufficient to convince them that there was no grace, nor throne of grace, in the world. For since the law, being the most excellent of all the things of the earth, is found to be such as yieldeth no grace—for grace and truth comes by Jesus Christ, not by Moses (John 1:17)—how can it be imagined that it should be found in anything inferior? Paul, therefore, not finding it in the law, despairs to find it in anything else below, but presently betakes himself to look for it there where he had not yet sought it—for he sometimes sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law (Phil 3:6-8)—he looked for it, I say, by Jesus Christ, who is the throne of grace, where he found it, and rejoiced in hope of the glory of God (Rom 9:29-31, 5:1-3). But,
Third. Saints come to know and distinguish the throne of grace from other thrones, by the very direction of God himself; as it is said of the well that the nobles digged in the wilderness—they digged it by the direction of the lawgiver, so saints find out the throne of grace by the direction of the grace-giver. Hence Paul prays, that the Lord would direct the hearts of the people into the love of God (2 Thess 3:5). Man, as man, cannot aim directly at this throne; but will drop his prayers short, besides, or the like, if he be not helped by the Spirit (Rom 8:26). Hence the Son saith of himself, 'No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him' (John 6:44). Which text doth not only justify what is now said, but insinuates that there is an unwillingness in man of himself to come to this throne of grace; he must be drawn thereto. He setteth us in the way of his steps, that is, in that way to the throne by which grace and mercy is conveyed unto us.
Fourth. We know the throne of grace from other thrones, by the glory that it always appears in, when revealed to us of God: its glory outbids all; there is no such glory to be seen anywhere else, either in heaven or earth. But, I say, this comes by the sight that God gives, not by any excellency that there is in my natural understanding as such; my understanding and apprehension, simply as natural, is blind and foolish. Wherefore, when I set to work in mine own spirit, and in the power of mine own abilities, to reach to this throne of grace, and to perceive somewhat of the glory thereof, then am I dark, rude, foolish, see nothing; and my heart grows fat, dull, savourless, lifeless, and has no warmth in the duty. But it mounts up with wings like an eagle, when the throne is truly apprehended. Therefore that is another thing by which the Christian knows the throne of grace from all others; it meets with that good there that it can meet with nowhere else. But at present let these things suffice for this.
[MOTIVES FOR COMING BOLDLY TO THE THRONE OF GRACE.]
FIFTH. I come now to the motives by which the apostle stirreth up the Hebrews, and encourageth them to come boldly to the throne of grace. FIRST. The first is, because we have there such an high priest, or an high priest so and so qualified. SECOND. Because we that come thither for grace are sure there to speed, or find grace and obtain it.
[The first motive, because we have such an high priest there.]
FIRST. For the fist of these, to wit, we have an encouragement to move us to come with boldness to the throne of grace, because we have an high priest there; because we have such an high priest there. 'For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace.' Of this high priest I have already made mention before, to wit, so far as to show you that Christ Jesus is he, as well as he is the altar, and sacrifice, and throne of grace, before which he also himself makes intercession. But forasmuch as by the apostle here, he is not only presented unto us as a throne of grace, but as an high priest ministering before it, it will not be amiss if I do somewhat particularly treat of his priesthood also. But the main or chief of my discourse will be to treat of his qualifications to his office, which I find to be in general of two sorts. I. LEGAL. II. NATURAL.
[THE LEGAL qualifications of Jesus Christ for the office of high priest.]
I. LEGAL. When I say legal, I mean, as the apostle's expression is, not by 'the law of a carnal commandment,' but by an eternal covenant, and 'the power of an endless life' thereby; of which the priesthood of old was but a type, and the law of their priesthood but a shadow (Heb 7:16, 9:15,24). But because their law, and their entrance into their priesthood thereby, was, as I said, 'a shadow of good things to come,' therefore where it will help to illustrate, we will make use thereof so to do; and where not, there we will let it pass (Heb 10:1). The thing to be now spoken to is, that the consideration of Jesus Christ being an high priest before the throne of grace, is a motive and encouragement to us to come boldly thither for grace: 'Seeing then that we have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession,' and 'come boldly unto the throne of grace' (Heb 4:14,16). Now, how he was made an high priest; for so is the expression, 'made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec' (Heb 6;20).
First. He took not his honour upon himself without a lawful call thereto. Thus the priests under the law were put into office; and thus the Son of God. No man taketh this honour to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made a high priest, but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee. Wherefore he was 'called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec' (Heb 5:4-6,10). Thus far, therefore, the law of his priesthood answereth to the law of the priesthood of old; they both were made priests by a legal call to their work or office. But yet the law by which this Son was made high priest excelleth, and that in these particulars—
1. He was made a priest after the similitude of Melchisedec, for he testifieth, 'Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec' (Heb 7:17). Thus they under the law were not made priests but after the order of Aaron, that is, by a carnal commandment, not by an everlasting covenant of God.
2. And, saith he, 'inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest, for those priests were made without an oath, but this with an oath, by him that said unto him, The Lord sware, and will not repent, thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec' (Heb 7:20,21).
3. The priesthood under the law, with their law and sacrifices, were fading, and were not suffered to continue, by reason of the death of the priest, and ineffectualness of his offering (Heb 7:23). 'But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood' (v 24). 'For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity, but the word of the oath which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore' (v 28). From what hath already been said, we gather, (1.) What kind of person it is that is our high priest. (2.) The manner of his being called to, and stated in that office.
(1.) What manner of person he is. He is the Son, the Son of God, Jesus the Son of God. Hence the apostle saith, 'we have a great high priest,' such an high priest 'that is passed into the heavens' (Heb 4:14). Such an high priest as is 'made higher than the heavens' (Heb 7:26). And why doth he thus dilate upon the dignity of his person, but because thereby is insinuated the excellency of his sacrifice, and the prevalency of his intercession, by that, to God for us. Therefore he saith again, 'Every' Aaronical 'priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this man,' this great man, this Jesus, this Son of God, 'after he had offered one,' one only, one once, but one (Heb 9:25,26), 'sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified' (Heb 10:11-14). Thus, I say, the apostle toucheth upon the greatness of his person, thereby to set forth the excellency of his sacrifice, and prevalency of his intercession. 'Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and high priest of our profession, Christ Jesus' (Heb 3:1). Or, as he saith again, making mention of Melchisedec, 'consider how great this man was' (Heb 7:4), we have such a high priest, so great a high priest; one that is entered into the heavens: Jesus the Son of God.
(2.) The manner also of his being called to and stated in his office, is not to be overlooked. He is made a priest after the power of an endless life, or is to be such an one as long as he lives, and as long as we have need of his mediation. Now Christ being raised from the dead, dies no more; death hath no more dominion over him. He is himself the Prince of life. Wherefore it follows, 'he hath an unchangeable priesthood.' And what then? Why, then 'he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them' (Heb 7:24,25). But again, he is made a priest with an oath, 'the Lord sware, and will not repent, thou art a priest for ever.' Hence I gather, (a) That before God there is no high priest but Jesus, nor ever shall be. (b) That God is to the full pleased with his high priesthood; and so with all those for whom he maketh intercession. For this priest, though he is not accepted for the sake of another, yet he is upon the account of another. 'For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God,' to make reconciliation for the sins of the people (Heb 5:1,2). And again, he is entered 'into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us' (Heb 9:24). God therefore, in that he hath made him a priest with an oath, and also determined that he will never repent of his so doing, declareth that he is, and for ever will be, satisfied with his offering. And this is a great encouragement to those that come to God by him; they have by this oath a firm ground to go upon, and the oath is, 'Thou art a priest for ever,' shalt be accepted for ever for every one for whom thou makest intercession; nor will I ever reject any body that comes to me by thee; therefore here is ground for faith, for hope and rejoicing; for this consideration a man has ground to come boldly to the throne of grace.
Second. But again, as Christ is made a priest by call and with an oath, and so, so far legally; so he, being thus called, has other preparatory legal qualifications. The High Priest under the law was not by law to come into the holiest, but in those robes that were ordained for him to minister in before God; which robes were not to be made according to the fancy of the people, but according to the commandment of Moses (Exo 28). Christ our high priest in heaven has also his holy garment, with which he covereth the nakedness of them that are his, which robe was not made of corruptible things, as silver and gold, &c., but by a patient continuance in a holy life, according to the law of Moses, both moral and ceremonial. Not that either of these were that eternal testament by which he was made a priest; but the moral law was to be satisfied, and the types of the ceremonial law to be as to this eminently fulfilled; and he was bound by that eternal covenant by which he is made a mediator to do so. Wherefore, before he could enter the holiest of all, he must have these holy garments made; neither did he trust others, as in the case of Aaron, to make these garments for him, but he wrought them all himself, according to all that Moses commanded.
This garment Christ was a great while a-making. What time, you may ask, was required? And I answer, All the days of his life; for all things that were written concerning him, as to this, were not completed till the day that he hanged upon the cross. For then it was that he said, 'It is finished; and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost' (John 19:28-30). This robe is for glory and for beauty. This is it that afore I said was of the colour of the rainbow, and that compasseth even round about this throne of grace, unto which we are bid to come. This is that garment that reaches down to his feet, and that is girt to him with a golden girdle (Rev 1:13). This is that garment that covereth all his body mystical, and that hideth the blemishes of such members from the eye of God, and of the law. And it is made up of his obedience to the law, by his complete perfect obedience thereto (Rom 5:19). This Christ wears always, he never puts it off, as the [former] high priests put off theirs by a ceremonial command. He ever lives to make intercession; consequently he ever wears this priestly robe. He might not go into the holy place without it, upon danger of death, or at least of being sent back again; but he died not, but lives ever; is not sent back, but is set down at God's right hand; and there shall sit till his foes are made his footstool (John 16:10).