Thus you have the story. If I come short in any circumstance, I beg pardon of those that can correct me. It is three or four and twenty years since I saw the book; yet I have, as far as my memory will admit, given you the relation of the matter. However, Luke, as you see, doth here present you with the substance of the whole.21
Alas! Christ Jesus has but little thanks for the saving of little sinners. 'To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.' He gets not water for his feet, by his saving of such sinners. There are abundance of dry-eyed Christians in the world, and abundance of dry-eyed duties too; duties that never were wetted with the tears of contrition and repentance, nor ever sweetened with the great sinner's box of ointment. And the reason is, such sinners have not great sins to be saved from; or, if they have, they look upon them in the diminishing glass of the holy law of God.22 But, I rather believe, that the professors of our days want a due sense of what they are; for, verily, for the generality of them, both before and since conversion, they have been sinners of a lusty size. But if their eyes be holden, if convictions are not shown, if their knowledge of their sins is but like to the eye-sight in twilight; the heart cannot be affected with that grace that has laid hold on the man; and so Christ Jesus sows much, and has little coming in. Wherefore his way is ofttimes to step out of the way, to Jericho, to Samaria, to the country of the Gadarenes, to the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, and also to Mount Calvary, that he may lay hold of such kind of sinners as will love him to his liking (Luke 19:1-11; John 4:3-11; Mark 5:1-20; Matt 15:21-29; Luke 23:33-43).
But thus much for the sixth reason, why Christ Jesus would have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners, to wit, because such sinners, when converted, are apt to love him most. The Jerusalem sinners were they that outstripped, when they were converted, in some things, all the churches of the Gentiles. They 'were of one heart, and of one soul: neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own.' 'Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet,' &c. (Acts 4:32,35). Now, show me such another pattern, if you can. But why did these do thus? Oh! they were Jerusalem sinners. These were the men that, but a little before, had killed the Prince of life; and those to whom he did, that notwithstanding, send the first offer of grace and mercy. And the sense of this took them up betwixt the earth and the heaven, and carried them on in such ways and methods as could never be trodden by any since. They talk of the church of Rome, and set her, in her primitive state, as a pattern and mother of churches; when the truth is, they were the Jerusalem sinners, when converts, that out-did all the churches that ever were.
Seventh, Christ Jesus would have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners, because grace, when it is received by such, finds matter to kindle upon more freely than it finds in other sinners.
Great sinners are like the dry wood, or like great candles, which burn best and shine with biggest light. I lay not this down, as I did those reasons before, to show, that when great sinners are converted, they will be encouragement to others, though that is true; but to show, that Christ has a delight to see grace, the grace we receive, to shine. We love to see things that bear a good gloss; yea, we choose to buy such kind of matter to work upon, as will, if wrought up to what we intend, cast that lustre that we desire. Candles that burn not bright, we like not; wood that is green will rather smother, and sputter, and smoke, and crack, and flounce, than cast a brave light and a pleasant heat; wherefore great folks care not much, not so much, for such kind of things, as for them that will better answer their ends.
Hence Christ desires the biggest sinner; in him there is matter to work by, to wit, a great deal of sin; for as by the tallow of the candle, the first takes occasion to burn the brighter; so, by the sin of the soul, grace takes occasion to shine the clearer. Little candles shine but little, for there wanteth matter for the fire to work upon; but in the great sinner, here is more matter for grace to work by. Faith shines, when it worketh towards Christ, through the sides of many and great transgressions, and so does love, for that much is forgiven. And what matter can be found in the soul for humility to work by so well, as by a sight that I have been and am an abominable sinner? And the same is to be said of patience, meekness, gentleness, self-denial, or of any other grace. Grace takes occasion, by the vileness of the man, to shine the more; even as by the ruggedness of a very strong distemper or disease, the virtue of the medicine is best made manifest. 'Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound' (Rom 5:20). A black string makes the neck look whiter; great sins make grace burn clear. Some say, when grace and a good nature meet together, they do make shining Christians; but I say, when grace and a great sinner meet, and when grace shall subdue that great sinner to itself, and shall operate after its kind in the soul of that great sinner, then we have a shining Christian; witness all those of whom mention was made before.
Abraham was among the idolaters when in the land of Assyria, and served idols, with his kindred, on the other side of the flood (Josh 24:2; Gen 11:31). But who, when called, was there in the world, in whom grace shone so bright as in him? The Thessalonians were idolaters before the Word of God came to them; but when they had received it, they became examples to all that did believe in Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thess 1:6-10).
God the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son, are for having things seen; for having the Word of life held forth. They light not a candle that it might be put under a bushel, or under a bed, but on a candlestick, that all that come in may see the light (Matt 5:15; Mark 4:21; Luke 8:16; 11:33). and, I say, as I said before, in whom is it, light, like so to shine, as in the souls of great sinners?
When the Jewish Pharisees dallied with the gospel, Christ threatened to take it from them, and to give it to the barbarous heathens and idolaters. Why so? For they, saith he, will bring forth the fruits thereof in their season. 23 'Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof' (Matt 21:43).
I have often marvelled at our youth, and said in my heart, What should be the reason that they should be so generally at this day debauched as they are? For they are now profane to amazement; and sometimes I have thought one thing, and sometimes another; that is, why God should suffer it so to be? At last I have thought of this: How if the God, whose ways are past finding out, should suffer it so to be now, that he might make of some of them the more glorious saints hereafter. I know sin is of the devil, but it cannot work in the world without permission: and if it happens to be as I have thought, it will not be the first time that God the Lord hath caught Satan in his own design. For my part, I believe that the time is at hand, that we shall see better saints in the world than has been seen in it this many a day. And this vileness, that at present does so much swallow up our youth, is one cause of my thinking so; for out of them, for from among them, when God sets to his hand, as of old, you shall see what penitent ones, what trembling ones, and what admirers of grace, will be found to profess the gospel to the glory of God by Christ.
Alas! we are a company of worn-out Christians; our moon is in the wane; we are much more black than white, more dark than light; we shine but a little; grace in the most of us is decayed. But I say, when they of these debauched ones that are to be saved shall be brought in—when these that look more like devils than men shall be converted to Christ (and I believe several of them will), then will Christ be exalted, grace adored, the Word prized, Zion's path better trodden, and men in the pursuit of their own salvation, to the amazement of them that are left behind.
Just before Christ came into the flesh, the world was degenerated as it is now: the generality of the men in Jerusalem were become either high and famous for hypocrisy, or filthy, base in their lives. The devil also was broke loose in hideous manner, and had taken possession of many: yea, I believe, that there was never generation before nor since, that could produce so many possessed with devils, deformed, lame, blind, and infected with monstrous diseases, as that generation could. But what was the reason thereof, I mean the reason from God? Why, one—and we may sum up more in that answer that Christ gave to his disciples concerning him that was born blind—was, that 'the works of God should be made manifest' in them, and 'that the Son of God might be glorified thereby' (John 9:2,3; 11:4).
Now, if these devils and diseases, as they possessed men then, were to make way and work for an approaching to Christ in person, and for the declaring of his power, why may we not think that now, even now also, he is ready to come, by his Spirit in the gospel, to heal many of the debaucheries of our age? I cannot believe that grace will take them all, for there are but few that are saved; but yet it will take some, even some of the worst of men, and make blessed ones of them. But, O how these ringleaders in vice will then shine in virtue! They will be the very pillars in churches, they will be as an ensign in the land. 'The Lord their God shall save them in that day as the flock of his people: for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon his land' (Zech 9:16). But who are these? Even idolatrous Ephraim, and backsliding Judah (verse 13).
I know there is ground to fear, that the iniquity of this generation will be pursued with heavy judgments; but that will not hinder that we have supposed. God took him a glorious church out of bloody Jerusalem, yea, out of the chief of the sinners there, and left the rest to be taken and spoiled, and sold, thirty for a penny, in the nations where they were captives. The gospel working gloriously in a place, to the seizing upon many of the ringleading sinners thereof, promiseth no security to the rest, but rather threateneth them with the heaviest and smartest judgments; as in the instance now given, we have a full demonstration; but in defending, the Lord will defend his people; and in saving, he will save his inheritance.
Nor does this speak any great comfort to a decayed and backsliding sort of Christian; for the next time God rides post with his gospel, he will leave such Christians behind him. But, I say, Christ is resolved to set up his light in the world; yea, he is delighted to see his graces shine; and therefore he commands that his gospel should, to that end, be offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners; for by great sins it shineth most; therefore he saith, 'Begin at Jerusalem.'
Eighth, and lastly, Christ Jesus will have mercy to be offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners, for that by that means the impenitent that are left behind will be, at the judgment, the more left withoutexcuse.
God's Word has two edges; it can cut back-stroke and fore-stroke. If it doth thee no good, it will do thee hurt; it is 'the savour of life unto life' to those that receive it, but of 'death unto death' to them that refuse it (2 Cor 2:15,16). But this is not all; the tender of grace to the biggest sinners, in the first place, will not only leave the rest, or those that refuse it, in a deplorable condition, but will also stop their mouths, and cut off all pretence to excuse at that day. 'If I had not come and spoken unto them,' saith Christ,' saith Christ, 'they had not had sin; but now they have no cloke for their sin'—for their sin of persevering in impenitence (John 15:22). But what did he speak to them? Why, even that which I have told you; to wit, That he has in special a delight in saving the biggest sinners. He spake this in the way of his doctrine; he spake this in the way of his practice, even to the pouring out of his last breath before them (Luke 23:34).
Now, since this is so, what can the condemned at the judgment say for themselves, why sentence of death should not be passed upon them? I say, what excuse can they make for themselves, when they shall be asked why they did not in the day of salvation come to Christ to be saved? Will they have ground to say to the Lord, Thou wast only for saving of little sinners; and, therefore, because they were great ones, they durst not come unto him; or that thou hadst not compassion for the biggest sinners, therefore I died in despair? Will these be excuses for them, as the case now standeth with them? Is there not everywhere in God's Book a flat contradiction to this, in multitudes of promises, of invitations, of examples, and the like? Alas! alas! there will then be there millions of souls to confute this plea; ready, I say, to stand up, and say, 'O! deceived world, heaven swarms with such as were, when they were in the world, to the full as bad as you!' Now, this will kill all plea or excuse, why they should not perish in their sins; yea, the text says they shall see them there. 'There shall be weeping-when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of heaven, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God' (Luke 13:28,29). Out of which company, it is easy to pick such as sometimes were as bad people as any [that] now breathe on the face of [the] earth. What think you of the first man, by whose sins there are millions now in hell? And so I may say, What think you of ten thousand more besides?
But if the Word will not stifle and gag them up—I speak now for amplification's sake—the view of those who are saved shall. There comes an incestuous person to the bar, and pleads, That the bigness of his sins was a bar to his receiving the promise. But will not his mouth be stopped as to that, when Lot, and the incestuous Corinthians, shall be set before him (Gen 19:33-37; 1 Cor 5:1,2).
There comes a thief, and says, Lord, my sin of thefts, I thought, was such as could not be pardoned by thee! But when he shall see the thief that was saved on the cross stand by, as clothed with beauteous glory, what further can he be able to object? Yea, the Lord will produce ten thousand of his saints at his coming, who shall after this manner 'execute judgment upon all, and so convince all that are ungodly among them—of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him' (Jude 15). And these are hard speeches against him, to say that he was not able or willing to save men, because of the greatness of their sins, or to say that they were discouraged by his Word from repentance, because of the heinousness of their offences. These things, I say, shall then be confuted. He comes with ten thousand of his saints to confute them, and to stop their mouths from making objections against their own eternal damnation.
Here is Adam, the destroyer of the world; here is Lot, that lay with both his daughters; here is Abraham, that was sometime an idolater; and Jacob, that was a supplanter; and Reuben, that lay with his father's concubine; and Judah, that lay with his daughter-in-law; and Levi and Simeon, that wickedly slew the Shechemites; and Aaron, that made an idol to be worshipped, and that proclaimed a religious feast unto it. Here is also Rahab the harlot, and Bathsheba, that bare a bastard to David. Here is Solomon, that great backslider; and Manasseh, that man of blood and a witch. Time would fail to tell you of the woman of Canaan's daughter, of Mary Magdalene, of Matthew the publican, and of Gideon and Samson, and many thousands more.
Alas! alas! I say, what will these sinners do, that have, through their unbelief, eclipsed the glorious largeness of the mercy of God, and gave way to despair of salvation, because of the bigness of their sins? For all these, though now glorious saints in light, were sometimes sinners of the biggest size, who had sins that were of a notorious hue; yet now, I say, they are in their shining and heavenly robes before the throne of God and of the Lamb, blessing for ever and ever that Son of God for their salvation, who died for them upon the tree; admiring that ever it should come into their hearts once to think of coming to God by Christ; but above all, blessing God for granting of them light to see those encouragements in his Testament; without which, without doubt, they had been daunted, and sunk down under guilt of sin and despair, as their fellow-sinners have done. But now they also are witnesses for God, and for his grace, against an unbelieving world; for, as I said, they shall come to convince the world of their speeches, their hard and unbelieving words, that they have spoken concerning the mercy of God, and the merits of the passion of his blessed Son, Jesus Christ.
But will it not, think you, strangely put to silence all such thoughts, and words, and reasons of the ungodly before the bar of God? Doubtless it will; yea, and will send them away from his presence also, with the greatest guilt that possibly can fasten upon the consciences of men.
For what will sting like this?—'I have, through mine own foolish, narrow, unworthy, undervaluing thoughts, of the love and ability of Christ to save me, brought myself to everlasting ruin. It is true, I was a horrible sinner; not one in a hundred did live so vile a life as I. But this should not have kept me from closing with Jesus Christ. I see now that there are abundance in glory that once were as bad as I have been; but they were saved by faith, and I am damned by unbelief. Wretch that I am! why did not I give glory to the redeeming blood of Jesus? Why did I not humbly cast my soul at his blessed footstool for mercy? Why did I judge of his ability to save me by the voice of my shallow reason, and the voice of a guilty conscience? Why betook not I myself to the holy Word of God? Why did I not read and pray that I might understand, since now I perceive that God said then, He giveth liberally to them that pray, and upbraideth not' (James 1:5).
It is rational to think, that by such cogitations as these, the unbelieving world will be torn in pieces before the judgment of Christ; especially those that have lived where they did or might have heard the gospel of the grace of God. Oh! that saying, 'It shall be more tolerable for Sodom at the judgment than for them,' will be better understood (Luke 10:8-12). This reason, therefore, standeth fast; namely, that Christ, by offering mercy, in the first place, to the biggest sinners now, will stop all the mouths of the impenitent at the day of judgment, and cut off all excuse that shall be attempted to be made, from the thoughts of the greatness of their sins, why they came not to him.
I have often thought of the day of judgment, and how God will deal with sinners at that day; and I believe it will be managed with that sweetness, with that equitableness, with that excellent righteousness, as to every sin, and circumstance and aggravation thereof, that men that are damned, shall, before the judgment is over, receive such conviction of the righteous judgment of God upon them, and of their deserts of hell-fire, that they shall in themselves conclude, that there is all the reason in the world that they should be shut out of heaven, and go to hell-fire: 'These shall go away into everlasting punishment' (Matt 25:46).24
Only this will tear [them,] that they have missed of mercy and glory, and obtained everlasting damnation, through their unbelief; but it will tear but themselves, but their own souls; they will gnash upon themselves, for that mercy was offered to the chief of them in the first place, and yet they were damned for rejecting of it; they were damned for forsaking what they had a propriety in; for forsaking their own mercy.
And thus much for the reasons. Second, I will conclude with a word of application.
First, Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners? Then this shows us how to make a right judgment of the heart of Christ to men. Indeed, we have advantage to guess at the goodness of his heart by many things; as by his taking our nature upon him, his dying for us, his sending his Word and ministers to us, and all that we might be saved. But this of beginning to offer mercy to Jerusalem, is that which heightens all the rest; for this doth not only confirm to us, that love was the use of his dying for us, but it shows us yet more the depth of that love. He might have died for us, and yet have extended the benefit of his death to a few, as one might call them, of the best-conditioned sinners, to those who, though they were weak, and so could not but sin, yet made not a trade of sinning; to those that sinned not lavishingly. There are in the world, as one may call them, the moderate sinners; the sinners that mix righteousness with their pollutions; the sinners that, though they be sinners, do what on their part lies—some that are blind would think so—that they might be saved. I say, it had been love, great love, if he had died for none but such, and sent his love to such; but that he should send out conditions of peace to the biggest of sinners; yea, that they should be offered to them first of all; (for so he means when he says, 'Begin at Jerusalem';) this is wonderful! this shows his heart to purpose, as also the heart of God his Father, who sent him to do thus.
There is nothing more incident to men that are awake in their souls, than to have wrong thoughts of God—thoughts that are narrow, and that pinch and pen up his mercy to scanty and beggarly conclusions, and rigid legal conditions; supposing that it is rude, and an intrenching upon his majesty to come ourselves, or to invite others, until we have scraped and washed, and rubbed off as much of our dirt from us as we think is convenient, to make us somewhat orderly and handsome in his sight.25 Such never knew what these words meant, 'Begin at Jerusalem.' Yea, such in their hearts have compared the Father and his Son to niggardly rich men, whose money comes from them like drops of blood. True, say such, God has mercy, but he is loath to part with it; you must please him well, if you get any from him; he is not so free as many suppose, nor is he so willing to save as some pretended gospellers imagine. But I ask such, if the Father and Son be not unspeakably free to show mercy, why was this clause put into our commission to preach the gospel? Yea, why did he say, 'Begin at Jerusalem': for when men, through the weakness of their wits, have attempted to show other reasons why they would have the first proffer of mercy; yet I can prove, by many undeniable reasons, that they of Jerusalem, to whom the apostles made the first offer, according as they were commanded, were the biggest sinners that ever did breathe upon the face of God's earth (set the unpardonable sin aside); upon which [fact] my doctrine stands like a rock, that Jesus the Son of God would have mercy, in the first place, offered to the biggest sinners. And if this doth not show the heart of the Father and the Son to be infinitely free in bestowing forgiveness of sins, I confess myself mistaken.
Neither is there, set this aside, another argument like it, to show us the willingness of Christ to save sinners; for, as was said before, all the rest of the signs of Christ's mercifulness might have been limited to sinners that are so and so qualified; but when he says, 'Begin at Jerusalem,' the line is stretched out to the utmost; no man can imagine beyond it; and it is folly here to pinch and spare, to narrow, and seek to bring it within scanty bounds; for he plainly saith, 'Begin at Jerusalem,' the biggest sinner is the biggest sinner; the biggest is the Jerusalem sinner.
It is true, he saith, that repentance and remission of sins must go together, but yet remission is sent to the chief, the Jerusalem sinner; nor doth repentance lessen at all the Jerusalem sinner's crimes; it diminisheth none of his sins, nor causes that there should be so much as half an one the fewer; it only puts a stop to the Jerusalem sinner's course, and makes him willing to be saved freely by grace; and for time to come to be governed by that blessed word that has brought the tidings of good things to him. Besides, no man shows himself willing to be saved that repenteth not of his deeds; for he that goes on still in his trespasses, declares that he is resolved to pursue his own damnation further.
Learn then to judge of the largeness of God's heart, and of the heart of his Son Jesus Christ, by the Word; judge not thereof by feeling, nor by the reports of thy conscience; conscience is ofttimes here befooled, and made to go quite beside the Word. It was judging without the Word that made David say, I am cast off from God's eyes, and 'shall perish one day by the hand of Saul' (Psa 31:22; 1 Sam 27:1). The Word had told him another thing; namely, that he should be king in his stead. Our text says also, that Jesus Christ bids preachers, in their preaching repentance and remission of sins, begin first at Jerusalem; thereby declaring most truly the infinite largeness of the merciful heart of God and his Son, to the sinful children of men. Judge thou, I say, therefore, of the goodness of the heart of God and his Son, by this text, and by others of the same import; so shalt thou not dishonour the grace of God, nor needlessly fright thyself, nor give away thy faith, nor gratify the devil, nor lose the benefit of God's Word. I speak now to weak believers.
Second, Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners, to the Jerusalem sinners? Then, by this also, you must learn to judge of the sufficiency of the merits of Christ; not that the merits of Christ can be comprehended, for that they are beyond the conceptions of the whole world, being called 'the unsearchable riches of Christ'; but yet they may be apprehended to a considerable degree. Now, the way to apprehend them most, is, to consider what offers, after his resurrection, he makes of his grace to sinners; for to be sure he will not offer beyond the virtue of his merits; because, as grace is the cause of his merits, so his merits are the basis and bounds upon and by which his grace stands good, and is let out to sinners. Doth he then command that his mercy should be offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners? It declares, that there is a sufficiency in his blood to save the biggest sinners. 'The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.' And again, 'Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man [this man's merits] is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses' (Acts 13:38).
Observe, then, thy rule to make judgment of the sufficiency of the blessed merits of thy Saviour. If he had not been able to have reconciled the biggest sinners to his Father by his blood, he would not have sent to them, have sent to them in the first place, the doctrine of remission of sins; for remission of sins is through faith in his blood. We are justified freely by the grace of God, through the redemption that is in the blood of Christ. Upon the square, as I may call it, of the worthiness of the blood of Christ, grace acts, and offers forgiveness of sin to men (Eph 1:7; 2:13,14; Col 1:20-22). Hence, therefore, we must gather, that the blood of Christ is of infinite value, for that he offereth mercy to the biggest of sinners. Nay, further, since he offereth mercy, in the first place, to the biggest sinners, considering also, that this first act of his is that which the world will take notice of, and expect it should be continued unto the end. Also it is a disparagement to a man that seeks his own glory in what he undertakes, to do that for a spurt, which he cannot continue and hold out in. This is our Lord's own argument, He began to build, saith he, but was not able to finish (Luke 14:30).
Shouldst thou hear a man say, I am resolved to be kind to the poor, and should begin with giving handfuls of guineas, you would conclude, that either he is wonderful rich, or must straiten his hand, or will soon be at the bottom of his riches. Why, this is the case: Christ, at his resurrection, gave it out that he would be good to the world; and first sends to the biggest sinners, with an intent to have mercy on them. Now, the biggest sinners cannot be saved but by abundance of grace; it is not a little that will save great sinners (Rom 5:17). And I say again, since the Lord Jesus mounts thus high at the first, and sends to the Jerusalem sinners, that they may come first to partake of his mercy, it follows, that either he has unsearchable riches of grace and worth in himself, or else he must straiten his hand, or his grace and merits will be spent before the world is at an end. But let it be believed, as surely as spoken, he is still as full as ever. He is not a jot the poorer for all the forgiveness tha the has given away to great sinners. Also he is still as free as at first; for he never yet called back this word, Begin at the Jerusalem sinners. And, as I said, since his grace is extended according to the worth of his merits. I conclude, that there is the same virtue in his merits to save now, as there was at the very beginning, Oh! the riches of the grace of Christ! Oh! the riches of the blood of Christ!
Third, Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered in the first place to the biggest sinners? Then here is encouragement for you that think, for wicked hearts and lives, you have not your fellows in the world, yet to come to him.
There is a people that therefore fear lest they should be rejected of Jesus Christ, because of the greatness of their sins; when, as you see here, such are sent to, sent to by Jesus Christ, to come to him for mercy: 'Begin at Jerusalem.' Never did one thing answer another more fitly in this world, than this text fitteth such a kind of sinners. As face answereth face in a glass, so this text answereth the necessities of such sinners. What can a man say more, but that he stands in the rank of the biggest sinners? let him stretch himself whither he can, and think of himself to the utmost, he can but conclude himself to be one of the biggest sinners. And what then? Why, the text meets him in the very face, and saith, Christ offereth mercy to the biggest sinners, to the very Jerusalem sinners. What more can be objected? Nay, he doth not only offer to such his mercy, but to them it is commanded to be offered in the first place: 'Begin at Jerusalem.' 'Preach repentance and remission of sins among all nations: beginning at Jerusalem.' Is not here encouragement for those that think, for wicked hearts and lives, they have not their fellows in the world?
Objection. But I have a heart as hard as a rock.
Answer. Well, but this doth but prove thee a biggest sinner.
Objection. But my heart continually frets against the Lord.
Answer. Well, this doth but prove thee a biggest sinner.
Objection. But I have been desperate in sinful courses.
Answer. Well, stand thou with the number of the biggest sinners.
Objection. But my gray head is found in the way of wickedness.
Answer. Well, thou art in the rank of the biggest sinners.
Objection. But I have not only a base heart, but I have lived a debauched life.
Answer. Stand thou also among those that are called the biggest sinners. And what then? Why, the text swoops you all; you cannot object yourselves beyond the text. It has a particular message to the biggest sinners. I say, it swoops you all.26
Objection. But I am a reprobate.
Answer. Now thou talkest like a fool, and meddlest with what thou understandest not: no sin, but the sin of final impenitence, can prove a man a reprobate; and I am sure thou hast not arrived as yet unto that; therefore thou understandest not what thou sayest, and makest groundless conclusions against thyself. Say thou art a sinner, and I will hold with thee; say thou art a great sinner, and I will say so too; yea, say thou art one of the biggest sinners, and spare not; for the text yet is beyond thee, is yet betwixt hell and thee; 'Begin at Jerusalem' has yet a smile upon thee; and thou talkest as if thou wast a reprobate, and that the greatness of thy sins do prove thee so to be, when yet they of Jerusalem were not such, whose sins, I dare say, were such, both for bigness and heinousness, as thou art not capable of committing beyond them; unless now, after thou hast received conviction that the Lord Jesus is the only Saviour of the world, thou shouldst wickedly and despitefully turn thyself from him, and conclude he is not to be trusted to for life, and so crucify him for a cheat afresh. This, I must confess, will bring a man under the black rod, and set him in danger of eternal damnation (Heb 6:7,8; 10:8,9). This is trampling under foot the Son of God, and counting his blood an unholy thing. This did they of Jerusalem; but they did it ignorantly in unbelief, and so were yet capable of mercy; but to do this against professed light, and to stand to it, puts a man beyond the text indeed (Acts 3:14-17; 1 Tim 1:13).
But I say, what is this to him that would fain be saved by Christ? His sins did, as to greatness, never yet reach to the nature of the sins that the sinners intended by the text had made themselves guilty of. He that would be saved by Christ, has an honourable esteem of him; but they of Jerusalem preferred a murderer before him; and as for him, they cried, Away, away with him, it is not fit that he should live. Perhaps thou wilt object, That thyself hast a thousand times preferred a stinking lust before him: I answer, Be it so; it is but what is common to men to do; nor doth the Lord Jesus make such a foolish life a bar to thee, to forbid thy coming to him, or a bond to his grace, that it might be kept from thee; but admits of thy repentance, and offereth himself unto thee freely, as thou standest among the Jerusalem sinners.
Take therefore encouragement, man; mercy is, by the text, held forth to the biggest sinners; yea, put thyself into the number of the worst, by reckoning that thou mayest be one of the first, and mayest not be put off till the biggest sinners are served; for the biggest sinners are first invited; consequently, if they come, they are like to be the first that shall be served. It was so with Jerusalem; Jerusalem sinners were they that were first invited, and those of them that came first—and there came three thousand of them the first day they were invited; how many came afterwards none can tell—they were first served.
Put in thy name, man, among the biggest, lest thou art made to wait till they are served. You have some men that think themselves very cunning, because they put up their names in their prayers among them that feign it, saying, God, I thank thee I am not so bad as the worst. But believe it, if they be saved at all, they shall be saved in the last place. The first in their own eyes shall be served last; and the last or worst shall be first. The text insinuates it, 'Begin at Jerusalem'; and reason backs it, for they have most need. Behold ye, therefore, how God's ways are above ours; we are for serving the worst last, God is for serving the worst first. The man at the pool, that to my thinking was longest in his disease, and most helpless as to his cure, was first healed; yea, he only was healed; for we read that Christ healed him, but we read not then that he healed one more there! (John 5:1-10). Wherefore, if thou wouldst soonest be served, put in thy name among the very worst of sinners. Say, when thou art upon thy knees, Lord, here is a Jerusalem sinner! a sinner of the biggest size! one whose burden is of the greatest bulk and heaviest weight! one that cannot stand long without sinking into hell, without thy supporting hand! 'Be not thou far from me, O Lord! O my strength, haste thee to help me!' (Psa 22:19).
I say, put in thy name with Magdalene, with Manasseh, that thou mayest fare as the Magdalene and the Manasseh sinners do. The man in the gospel made the desperate condition of his child an argument with Christ to haste his cure: 'Sire, come down,' saith he, 'ere my child die' (John 4:49), and Christ regarded his haste, saying, 'Go thy way; thy son liveth' (verse 50). Haste requires haste. David was for speed; 'Deliver me speedily'; 'Hear me speedily'; 'Answer me speedily' (Psa 31:2; 69:17; 102:2). But why speedily? I am in 'the net'; 'I am in trouble'; 'My days are consumed like smoke' (Psa 31:4; 69:17; 102:3). Deep calleth unto deep, necessity calls for help; great necessity for present help. Wherefore, I say, be ruled by me in this matter; feign not thyself another man, if thou hast been a filthy sinner, but go in thy colours to Jesus Christ, and put thyself among the most vile, and let him alone to 'put thee among the children' (Jer 3:19). Confess all that thou knowest of thyself; I know thou wilt find it hard work to do thus: especially if thy mind be legal; but do it, lest thou stay and be deferred with the little sinners, until the great ones have had their alms. What do you think David intended when he said, his wounds stunk and were corrupted, but to hasten God to have mercy upon him, and not to defer his cure? 'Lord,' says he, 'I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long.' 'I am feeble and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart' (Psa 38:3-8). David knew what he did by all this; he knew that his making the worst of his case, was the way to speedy help, and that a feigning and dissembling the matter with God, was the next way to a demur as to his forgiveness.
I have one thing more to offer for thy encouragement, who deemest thyself one of the biggest sinners; and that is, thou art as it were called by thy name, in the first place, to come in for mercy. Thou man of Jerusalem, hearken to thy call; men do so in courts of judicature, and presently cry out, 'Here, Sire'; and then they shoulder and crowd, and say, 'Pray give way, I am called into the court.' Why, this is thy case, thou great, thou Jerusalem sinner; be of good cheer, he calleth thee (Mark 10:46-49). Why sittest thou still? arise: why standest thou still? come, man, thy call should give thee authority to come. 'Begin at Jerusalem,' is thy call and authority to come; wherefore up and shoulder it, man; say, 'Stand away, devil, Christ calls me; stand away unbelief, Christ calls me; stand away, all ye my discouraging apprehensions, for my Saviour calls me to him to receive of his mercy.' Men will do thus, as I said, in courts below; and why shouldst not thou approach thus to the court above? The Jerusalem sinner is first in thought, first in commission, first in the record of names; and therefore should give attendance, with the expectation that he is first to receive mercy of God.
Is not this an encouragement to the biggest sinners to make their application to Christ for mercy? 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,' doth also confirm this thing; that is, that the biggest sinner, and he that has the biggest burden, is he who is first invited. Christ pointeth over the heads of thousands, as he sits on the throne of grace, directly to such a man; and says, 'Bring in hither the maimed, the halt, and the blind; let the Jerusalem sinner that stands there behind come to me.' Wherefore, since Christ says, 'Come,' to thee, let the angels make a lane, and let all men give place, that the Jerusalem sinner may come to Jesus Christ for mercy.
Fourth, Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners? Then come, thou profane wretch, and let me a little enter into an argument with thee. Why wilt thou not come to Jesus Christ, since thou art a Jerusalem sinner? How canst thou find in thy heart to set thyself against grace, against such grace as offereth mercy to thee? What spirit possesseth thee, and holds thee back from a sincere closure with thy Saviour? Behold, God groaningly complains of thee, saying, 'But Israel would none of me.' 'When I called, none did answer' (Psa 81:11; Isa 66:4).
Shall God enter this complaint against thee? Why dost thou put him off? Why dost thou stop thine ear? Canst thou defend thyself? When thou art called to an account for thy neglects of so great salvation, what canst thou answer? or dost thou think that thou shalt escape the judgment? (Heb 2:3). No more such Christs! There will be no more such Christs, sinner! Oh, put not the day, the day of grace, away from thee! if it be once gone, it will never come again, sinner.
But what is it that has got thy heart, and that keeps it from thy Saviour? 'Who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord?' (Psa 89:6). Hast thou, thinkest thou, found anything so good as Jesus Christ? Is there any among thy sins, thy companions, and foolish delights, that, like Christ, can help thee in the day of thy distress? Behold, the greatness of thy sins cannot hinder; let not the stubbornness of thy heart hinder thee, sinner.
Objection. I am ashamed.
Answer. Oh! don't be ashamed to be saved, sinner.
Objection. But my old companions will mock me.
Answer. Oh! don't be mocked out of eternal life, sinner.
Thy stubbornness affects, afflicts the heart of thy Saviour. Carest thou not for this? Of old, 'he beheld the city, and wept over it.' Canst thou hear this, and not be concerned? (Luke 19:41,42). Shall Christ weep to see thy soul going on to destruction, and will though sport thyself in that way? Yea, shall Christ, that can be eternally happy without thee, be more afflicted at the thoughts of the loss of thy soul, than thyself, who art certainly eternally miserable if thou neglectest to come to him. Those things that keep thee and thy Saviour, on thy part, asunder, are but bubbles; the least prick of an affliction will let out, as to thee, what now thou thinkest is worth the venture of heaven to enjoy.
Hast thou not reason? Canst thou not so much as once soberly think of thy dying hour, or of whither thy sinful life will drive thee then? Hast thou no conscience? or having one, is it rocked so fast asleep by sin, or made so weary with an unsuccessful calling upon thee, that it is laid down, and cares for thee no more? Poor man! thy state is to be lamented. Hast no judgment? Art not able to conclude, that to be saved is better than to burn in hell? and that eternal life with God's favour, is better than a temporal life in God's displeasure? Hast no affection but what is brutish? what, none at all? No affection for the God that made thee? What! none for his loving Son that has showed his love, and died for thee? Is not heaven worth thy affection? O poor man! which is strongest, thinkest thou, God or thee? If thou art not able to overcome him, thou art a fool for standing out against him (Matt 5:25,26). 'It is a fearful thing to fall into the hand of the living God' (Heb 10:29-31). He will gripe hard; his fist is stronger than a lion's paw; take heed of him, he will be angry if you despise his Son; and will you stand guilty in your trespasses, when he offereth you his grace and favour? (Exo 34:6,7).
Now we come to the text, 'Beginning at Jerusalem.' This text, though it be now one of the brightest stars that shineth in the Bible, because there is in it, as full, if not the fullest offer of grace that can be imagined, to the sons of men; yet, to them that shall perish from under this word, even this text will be to such one of the hottest coals in hell. This text, therefore, will save thee or sink thee: there is no shifting of it; if it saves thee, it will set thee high; if it sinks thee, it will set thee low.
But, I say, why so unconcerned? Hast no soul? or dost think thou mayest lose thy soul, and save thyself? Is it not pity, had it otherwise been the will of God, that ever thou wast made a man, for that thou settest so little by thy soul? Sinner, take the invitation; thou art called upon to come to Christ: nor art thou called upon but by order from the Son of God, though thou shouldst happen to come of the biggest sinners; for he has bid us offer mercy, as to all the world in general, so, in the first place, to the sinners of Jerusalem, or to the biggest sinners.
Fifth, Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners? Then, this shows how unreasonable a thing it is for men to despair of mercy; for those that presume, I shall say something to them afterward.
I now speak to them that despair. There are four sorts of despair. There is the despair of devils; there is the despair of souls in hell; there is the despair that is grounded upon men's deficiency; and there is the despair that they are perplexed with that are willing to be saved, but are too strongly borne down with the burden of their sins.
The despair of devils, the damned's despair, and that despair that a man has of attaining of life because of his own deficiency, are all reasonable. Why should not devils and damned souls despair? yea, why should not man despair of getting to heaven by his own abilities? I, therefore, am concerned only with the fourth sort of despair, to wit, with the despair of those that would be saved, but are too strongly borne down with the burden of their sins. I say, therefore, to thee that art thus, And why despair? Thy despair, if it was reasonable, should flow from thee, because found in the land that is beyond the grave; or because thou certainly knowest that Christ will not, or cannot save thee.
But, for the first, thou art yet in the land of the living; and, for the second, thou hast ground to believe the quite contrary; Christ is able to save to the uttermost them that come to God by him; and if he were not willing, he would not have commanded that mercy, in the first place, should be offered to the biggest sinners. Besides, he hath said, 'And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely'; that is, with all my heart. What ground now is here for despair? If thou sayest, The number and burden of my sins; I answer, Nay; that is rather a ground for faith; because such an one, above all others, is invited by Christ to come unto him, yea, promised rest and forgiveness if they come (Matt 11:28). What ground then to despair? Verily, none at all. Thy despair, then, is a thing unreasonable, and without footing in the Word.
But I have no experience of God's love; God hath given me no comfort, or ground of hope, though I have waited upon him for it many a day. Thou hast e xperience of God's love, for that he has opened thine eyes to see thy sins: and for that he has given thee desires to be saved by Jesus Christ. For by thy sense of sin thou art made to see thy poverty of spirit, and that has laid under thee a sure ground to hope that heaven shall be thine hereafter.
Also thy desires to be saved by Christ, has put thee under another promise, so there is two to hold thee up in hope, though thy present burden be never so heavy (Matt 5:3,6). As for what thou sayest as to God's silence to thee, perhaps he has spoken to thee once or twice already, but thou hast not perceived it (Job 33:14,15). However, thou hast Christ crucified set forth before thine eyes in the Bible, and an invitation to come unto him, though thou be a Jerusalem sinner, though thou be a biggest sinner; and so no ground to despair. What if God will be silent to thee, is that ground of despair? Not at all, so long as there is a promise in the Bible, that God will in no wise cast away the coming sinner, and so long as he invites the Jerusalem sinner to come unto him (John 6:37).
Build not, therefore, despair upon these things; they are no sufficient foundation for it, such plenty of promises being in the Bible, and such a discovery of his mercy to great sinners of old; especially since we have withal a clause in the commission given to ministers to preach, that they should begin with the Jerusalem sinners in their offering of mercy to the world. Besides, God says, 'They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles'; but, perhaps, it may be long first. I waited long, saith David, and did seek the Lord; and, at length, his cry was heard: wherefore he bids his soul wait on God, and says, For it is good so to do before thy saints (Psa 40:1; 62:5; 52:9).
And what if thou waitest upon God all thy days? Is it below thee? And what if God will cross his book, and blot out the handwriting that is against thee, and not let thee know it as yet? Is it fit to say unto God, Thou art hard-hearted? Despair not; thou hast no ground to despair, so long as thou livest in this world. 'Tis a sin to begin to despair before one sets his foot over the threshold of hell-gates. For them that are there, let them despair and spare not; but as for thee, thou hast no ground to do it. What! despair of bread in a land that is full of corn! despair of mercy when our God is full of mercy! despair of mercy, when God goes about, by his ministers, beseeching of sinners to be reconciled unto him! (2 Cor 5:18-20). Thou scrupulous fool, where canst thou find that God was ever false to his promise, or that he ever deceived the soul that ventured itself upon him? He often calls upon sinners to trust him, though they walk in darkness, and have no light (Isa 50:10). They have his promise and oath for their salvation, that flee for refuge to the hope set before them (Heb 6:17,18).
Despair! when we have a God of mercy, and a redeeming Christ alive! For shame, forbear; let them despair that dwell where there is no God, and that are confined to those chambers of death which can be reached by no redemption. A living man despair when he is chid for murmuring and complaining! (Lam 3:39). Oh! so long as we are where promises swarm, where mercy is proclaimed, where grace reigns, and where Jerusalem sinners are privileged with the first offer of mercy, it is a base thing to despair. Despair undervalues the promise, undervalues the invitation, undervalues the proffer of grace. Despair undervalues the ability of God the Father, and the redeeming blood of Christ his Son. Oh unreasonable despair! Despair makes man God's judge; it is a controller of the promise, a contradictor of Christ in his large offers of mercy: and one that undertakes to make unbelief the great manager of our reason and judgment, in determining about what God can and will do for sinners. Despair! It is the devil's fellow, the devil's master; yea, the chains with which he is captivated and held under darkness for ever: and to give way thereto in a land, in a state and time that flows with milk and honey, is an uncomely thing.
I would say to my soul, 'O my soul! this is not the place of despair; this is not the time to despair in; as long as mine eyes can find a promise in the Bible, as long as there is the least mention of grace, as long as there is a moment left me of breath or life in this world, so long will I wait or look for mercy, so long will I fight against unbelief and despair.' This is the way to honour God and Christ; this is the way to set the crown on the promise; this is the way to welcome the invitation and inviter; and this is the way to thrust thyself under the shelter and protection of the word of grace. Never despair so long as our text is alive, for that doth sound it out—that mercy by Christ is offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinner.
Despair is an unprofitable thing; it will make a man weary of waiting upon God (2 Kings 6:33). It will make a man forsake God, and seek his heaven in the good things of this world (Gen 4:13-18). It will make a man his own tormentor, and flounce and fling like 'a wild bull in a net' (Isa 51:20). Despair! it drives a man to the study of his own ruin, and brings him at last to be his own executioner (2 Sam 17:23; Matt 27:3-5).
Besides, I am persuaded also, that despair is the cause that there are so many that would fain be Atheists in the world. For, because, they have entertained a conceit that God will never be merciful to them, therefore they labour to persuade themselves that there is no God at all, as if their misbelief would kill God, or cause him to cease to be. A poor shift for an immortal soul, for a soul who liketh not to retain God in its knowledge! If this be the best that despair can do, let it go, man, and betake thyself to faith, to prayer, to wait for God, and to hope, in despite of ten thousand doubts. And for thy encouragement, take yet, as an addition to what has already been said, the following Scripture: 'The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy' (Psa 147:11). Whence note, They fear not God, that hope not in his mercy; also, God is angry with them that hope not in his mercy; for he only taketh pleasure in them that hope. 'He that believeth,' or 'hath received his testimony, hath set to his seal that God is true' (John 3:33). But he that receiveth it not, 'hath made him a liar,' and that is a very unworthy thing (1 John 5:10,11). 'Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly' multiply 'pardon' (Isa 55:7). Perhaps thou art weary of thy ways, but art not weary of thy thoughts; of thy unbelieving and despairing thoughts; now, God also would have thee cast away these thoughts, as such which he deserveth not at thy hands; for 'he will have mercy upon thee, and he will abundantly pardon.'
'O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!' (Luke 24:25). Mark you, here, slowness to believe is a piece of folly. Ay! but sayest thou, I do believe some, and I believe what can make against me. Ay, but sinner, Christ Jesus here calls thee fool for not believing all. Believe all, and despair if thou canst! He that believes all, believes that text that saith, Christ would have mercy preached first to the Jerusalem sinners. He that believeth all, believeth all the promises and consolations of the Word; and the promises and consolations of the Word weigh heavier than do all the curses and threatenings of the law; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment. Wherefore believe all, and mercy will, to thy conscience, weigh judgment down, and so minister comfort to thy soul. The Lord take the yoke from off thy jaws, since he has set meat before thee (Hosea 11:4). And help thee to remember that he is pleased, in the first place, to offer mercy to the biggest sinners.
Sixth, Since Jesus Christ would have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners, let souls see that they lay right hold thereof, lest they, notwithstanding, indeed, come short thereof. Faith only knows how to deal with mercy; wherefore, put not in the place thereof presumption. I have observed, that, as there are herbs and flowers in our gardens, so there are their counterfeits in the field; only they are distinguished from the other by the name of wild ones. Why, there is faith, and wild faith; and wild faith is this presumption. I call it wild faith, because God never placed it in his garden—his church; 'tis only to be found in the field—the world. I also call it wild faith, because it only grows up and is nourished where other wild notions abound. Wherefore, take heed of this, and all may be well; for this presumptuousness is a very heinous thing in the eyes of God. 'The soul,' saith he, 'that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people' (Num 15:30).
The thoughts of this made David tremble, and pray that God would hold him back from presumptuous sins, and not suffer them to have dominion over him (Psa 19:13). Now, this presumption, then, puts itself in the place of faith, when it tampereth with the promise for life, while the soul is a stranger to repentance. Wherefore, you have in the text, to prevent doing thus, both repentance and remission of sins to be offered to Jerusalem; not remission without repentance, for all that repent not shall perish, let them presume on grace and the promise while they will (Luke 13:1-3).
Presumption, then, is that which severeth faith and repentance; concluding that the soul shall be saved by grace, though the man was never made sorry for his sins, nor the love of the heart turned therefrom. This is to be self-willed, as Peter has it; and this is a despising the Word of the Lord, for that has put repentance and faith together (Mark 1:15). And 'because he hath despised the Word of the Lord, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off: his iniquity shall be upon him' (Num 15:31). Let such, therefore, look to it who yet are, and abide, in their sins; for such, if they hope, as they are, to be saved, presume upon the grace of God.27 Wherefore, presumption and not hearkening to God's Word are put together (Deu 17:12).
Again, THEN men presume, when they are resolved to abide in their sins, and yet expect to be saved by God's grace through Christ. This is as much as to say, God liketh of sin as well as I do, and careth not how men live, if so be they lean upon his Son. Of this sort are they 'that build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity'; that 'judge for reward, and—teach for hire, and—divine for money, and lean upon the Lord' (Micah 3:10,11). This is doing things, with an high hand, against the Lord our God, and a taking him, as it were, at the catch.28 This is, as we say among men, to seek to put a trick upon God; as if he had not sufficiently fortified his proposals of grace, by his holy Word, against all such kind of fools as these. But look to it! Such will be found at the day of God, not among that great company of Jerusalem sinners that shall be saved by grace, but among those that have been the great abusers of the grace of God in the world. Those that say, Let us sin that grace may abound, and let us do evil that good may come, their damnation is just. And if so, they are a great way off of that salvation that is, by Jesus Christ, presented to the Jerusalem sinners.
I have, therefore, these things to propound to that Jerusalem sinner that would know, if he may be so bold [as] to venture himself upon this grace. 1. Dost thou see thy sins? 2. Art thou weary of them? 3. Wouldst thou, with all thy heart, be saved by Jesus Christ? I dare say no less; I dare say no more. But if it be truly thus with thee, how great soever thy sins have been, how bad soever thou feelest thy heart, how far soever thou art from thinking that God has mercy for thee, thou art the man, the Jerusalem sinner, that the Word of God has conquered, and to whom it offereth free remission of sins, by the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.
When the jailor cried out, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' the answer was, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.' He that sees his sins aright, is brought to his wit's end by them; and he that is so, is willing to part from them, and to be saved by the grace of God. If this be thy case, fear not, give no way to despair; thou presumest not, if thou believest to life everlasting in Jesus Christ; yea, Christ is prepared for such as thou art. Therefore, take good courage, and believe. The design of Satan is, to tell the presumptuous that their presuming on mercy is good; but to persuade the believer, that his believing is impudent, bold dealing with God. I never heard a presumptuous man, in my life, say that he was afraid that he presumed; but I have heard many an honest humble soul say, that they have been afraid that their faith has been presumption. Why should Satan molest those whose ways he knows will bring them to him? And who can think that he should be quiet, when men take the right course to escape his hellish snares? This, therefore, is the reason why the truly humbled is opposed, while the presumptuous goes on by wind and tide. The truly humble, Satan hates; but he laughs to see the foolery of the other.
Does thy hand and heart tremble? Upon thee the promise smiles. 'To this man will I look,' says God, 'even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word' (Isa 66:2). What, therefore, I have said of presumption, concerns not the humble in spirit at all. I therefore am for gathering up the stones, and for taking the stumbling-blocks out of the way of God's people; and forewarning of them, that they lay the stumbling-block of their iniquity before their faces; and [of those] that are for presuming upon God's mercy; and let them look to themselves (Eze 14:6-8).
Also, our text stands firm as ever it did, and our observation is still of force, that Jesus Christ would have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners. So them, let none despair, let none presume; let none despair that are sorry for their sins, and would be saved by Jesus Christ; let none presume that abide in the liking of their sins, though they seem to know the exceeding grace of Christ; for though the door stands wide open for the reception of the penitent, yet it is fast29 enough barred and bolted against the presumptuous sinner. Be not deceived, God is not mocked; whatsoever a man sows, that he shall reap. It cannot be that God should be wheedled out of his mercy, or prevailed upon by lips of dissimulation; he knows them that trust on him, and that sincerely come to him, by Christ, for mercy (Nahum 1:7).
It is, then, not the abundance of sins committed, but the not coming heartily to God, by Christ, for mercy, that shuts men out of doors. And though their not coming heartily may be said to be but a sin, yet it is such a sin as causeth that all thy other sins abide upon thee unforgiven. God complains of this. 'They have not cried unto me with their heart—they return, but not to the most High.' They turned 'feignedly' (Jer 3:10; Hosea 7:14,16). Thus doing, his soul hates [them]; but the penitent, humble, broken-hearted sinner, be his transgressions red as scarlet, red like crimson, in number as the sand; though his transgressions cry to heaven against him for vengeance, and seem there to cry louder than do his prayers, or tears, or groans for mercy; yet he is safe. To this man God will look (Isa 1:18; 66:2).
Seventh, Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners? Then here is ground for those that, as to practice, have not been such, to come to him for mercy.
Although there is no sin little of itself, because it is a contradiction of the nature and majesty of God, yet we must admit of divers numbers, and, also, of aggravations. Two sins are not so many as three; nor are three that are done in ignorance so big as one that is done against light, against knowledge and conscience. Also, there is the child in sin, and a man in sin that has his hairs gray and his skin wrinkled for very age. And we must put a difference betwixt these sinners also; for can it be that a child of seven, or ten, or sixteen years old, should be such a sinner—a sinner so vile in the eyes of the law as he is who has walked according to the course of this world, forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years? Now, the youth, this stripling, though he is a sinner, is but a little sinner, when compared with such. Now, I say, if there be room for the first sort, for those of the biggest size, certainly there is room for the lesser size. If there be a door wide enough for a giant to go in at, there is certainly room for a dwarf. If Christ Jesus has grace enough to save great sinners, he has surely grace enough to save little ones. If he can forgive five hundred pence, for certain he can forgive fifty (Luke 7:41,42).
But you said before, that the little sinners must stand by until the great ones have received their grace, and that is discouraging! I answer, there are two sorts of little sinners—such as are so, and such as feign themselves so. There are those that feign themselves so, that I intended there, and not those that are, indeed, comparatively so. Such as feign themselves so, may wait long enough before they obtain forgiveness.
But again, a sinner may be comparatively a little sinner, and sensibly a great one. There are, then, two sorts of greatness in sin—greatness by reason of number; greatness by reason of thoroughness of conviction of the horrible nature of sin. In this last sense, he that has but one sin, if such an one could be found, may, in his own eyes, find himself the biggest sinner in the world. Let this man or this child, therefore, put himself among the great sinners, and plead with God as great sinners do, and expect to be saved with the great sinners, and as soon and as heartily as they. Yea, a little sinner, that, comparatively, is truly so, if he shall graciously give way to conviction, and shall, in God's light, diligently weigh the horrible nature of his own sin, may yet sooner obtain forgiveness for them at the hands of the heavenly Father, than he that has ten times his sins, and so cause to cry ten times harder to God for mercy.
For the grievousness of the cry is a great thing with God; for if he will hear the widow, if she cries at all, how much more if she cries most grievously? (Exo 22:22,23). It is not the number, but the true sense of the abominable nature of sin, that makes the cry for pardon lamentable. 30 He, as I said, that has many sins, may not cry so loud in the ears of God as he that has far fewer; he, in our present sense, that is in his own eyes the biggest sinner, is he that soonest findeth mercy. The offer, then, is to the biggest sinner; to the biggest sinner first, and the mercy is first obtained by him that first confesseth himself to be such an one.
There are men that strive at the throne of grace for mercy, by pleading the greatness of their necessity. Now their plea, as to the prevalency of it, lieth not in their counting up of the number, but in the sense of the greatness of their sins, and in the vehemency of their cry for pardon. And it is observable, that though the birthright was Reuben's, and, for his foolishness, given to the sons of Joseph, yet Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the Messiah (1 Chron 5:1,2). There is a heavenly subtilty to be managed in this matter. 'Thy brother came with subtilty, and hath taken away thy blessing.' The blessing belonged to Esau, but Jacob by his diligence made it his own (Gen 27:35). The offer is to the biggest sinner, to the biggest sinner first; but if he forbear to cry, the sinner that is a sinner less by far than he, both as to number and the nature of transgression, may get the blessing first, if he shall have grace to bestir himself well; for the loudest cry is heard furthest, and the most lamentable pierces soonest.
I therefore urge this head, not because I would have little sinners go and tell God that they are little sinners, thereby to think to obtain his mercy; for, verily, so they are never like to have it; for such words declare, that such an one hath no true sense at all of the nature of his sins. Sin, as I said, in the nature of it, is horrible, though it be but one single sin as to act; yea, though it be but a sinful thought; and so worthily calls for the damnation of the soul. The comparison, then, of little and great sinners, is to go for good sense among men. But to plead the fewness of thy sins, or the comparative harmlessness of their quantity before God, argueth no sound knowledge of the nature of thy sin, and so no true sense of the nature or need of mercy.
Little sinner! when therefore thou goest to God, though thou knowest in thy conscience that thou, as to acts, art no thief, no murderer, no whore, no liar, no false swearer, or the like, and in reason must needs understand that thus thou art not so profanely vile as others; yet when thou goest to God for mercy, know no man's sins but thine own, make mention of no man's sins but thine own. Also labour not to lessen thy own, but magnify and greaten them by all just circumstances, and be as if there was never a sinner in the world but thyself. Also cry out, as if thou wast but the only undone man; and that is the way to obtain God's mercy.
It is one of the comeliest sights in the world to see a little sinner commenting upon the greatness of his sins, multiplying and multiplying them to himself, till he makes them in his own eyes bigger and higher than he seeth any other man's sins to be in the world; and as base a thing it is to see a man do otherwise, and as basely will come on it (Luke 18:10-14). As, therefore, I said to the great sinner before, let him take heed lest he presume; I say now to the little sinner, let him take heed that he do not dissemble; for there is as great an aptness in the little sinner to dissemble, as there is in the great one. 'He that hideth his sins shall not prosper,'31 be he a sinner little or great (Prov 28:13).
Eighth, Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners? Then this shows the true cause why Satan makes such head as he doth against him.
The Father and the Holy Spirit are well spoken of by all deluders and deceived persons; Christ only is the rock of offence. 'Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling-stone and rock of offence' (Rom 9:33). Not that Satan careth for the Father or the Spirit more than he careth for the Son; but he can let men alone with their notions of the Father and the Spirit, for he knows they shall never enjoy the Father or the Spirit, if indeed they receive not the merits of the Son. 'He that hath the Son, hath life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not life,' however they may boast themselves of the Father and the Spirit (1 John 5:12). Again, 'Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son' (2 John 9). Christ, and Christ only, is he that can make us capable to enjoy God with life and joy to all eternity. Hence he calls himself the way to the Father, the true and living way (John 14:6). For we cannot come to the Father but by him (Heb 10:19,20). Satan knows this, therefore he hates him. Deluded persons are ignorant of this, and therefore, they are so led up and down by Satan by the nose as they are.
There are many things by which Satan has taken occasion to greaten his rage against Jesus Christ. As, first, His love to man, and then, the many expressions of that love. He hath taken man's nature upon him; he hath in that nature fulfilled the law to bring in righteousness for man; and hath spilt his blood for the reconciling of man to God; he hath broke the neck of death, put away sin, destroyed the works of the devil, and got into his own hands the keys of death; and all these are heinous things to Satan. He cannot abide Christ for this. Besides, He hath eternal life in himself, and that to bestow upon us; and we in all likelihood are to possess the very places from which the Satans by transgression fell, if not places more glorious. Wherefore he must needs be angry. And is it not a vexatious thing to him, that we should be admitted to the throne of grace by Christ, while he stands bound over in chains of darkness, to answer for his rebellions against God and his Son, at the terrible day of judgment. Yea, we poor dust and ashes must become his judges, and triumph over him for ever: and all this long32 of Jesus Christ; for he is the meritorious cause of all this.
Now though Satan seeks to be revenged for this, yet he knows it is in vain to attack the person of Christ; He [Christ] has overcome him; therefore he [Satan] tampers with a company of silly men; that he may vilify him by them. And they, bold fools as they are, will not spare to spit in his face. They will rail at his person, and deny the very being of it; they will rail at his blood, and deny the merit and worth of it. They will deny the very end why he accomplished the law, and by jiggs, and tricks, and quirks, which he helpeth them to, they set up fond names and images in his place, and give the glory of a Saviour to them. Thus Satan worketh under the name of Christ; and his ministers under the name of the ministers of righteousness.
And by his wiles and stratagems he undoes a world of men; but there is a seed, and they shall serve him, and it shall be counted to the Lord for a generation. These shall see their sins, and that Christ is the way to happiness. These shall venture themselves, both body and soul, upon his worthiness. All this Satan knows, and therefore his rage is kindled the more. Wherefore, according to his ability and allowance, he assaulteth, tempteth, abuseth, and stirs up what he can to be hurtful to these poor people, that he may, while his time shall last, make it as hard and difficult for them to go to eternal glory as he can. Ofttimes he abuses them with wrong apprehensions of God, and with wrong apprehensions of Christ. He also casts them into the mire, to the reproach of religion, the shame of their brethren, the derision of the world, and dishonour of God. He holds our hands while the world buffets us; he puts bear-skins upon us, and then sets the dogs at us. He bedaubeth us with his own foam, and then tempts us to believe that that bedaubing comes from ourselves.33
Oh! the rage and the roaring of this lion, and the hatred that he manifests against the Lord Jesus, and against them that are purchased with his blood! But yet, in the midst of all this, the Lord Jesus sends forth his herald to proclaim in the nations his love to the world, and to invite them to come in to him for life. Yea, his invitation is so large, that it offereth his mercy in the first place to the biggest sinners of every age, which augments the devil's rage the more. Wherefore, as I said before, fret he, fume he, the Lord Jesus will 'divide the spoil' with this great one; yea, he shall divide the spoil with the strong, 'because he hath poured out his soul unto death, and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors' (Isa 53:12).
Ninth, Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners? Let the tempted harp upon this string for their help and consolation.
The tempted, wherever he dwells, always thinks himself the biggest sinner, one most unworthy of eternal life. This is Satan's master argument; thou art a horrible sinner, a hypocrite, one that has a profane heart, and one that is an utter stranger to a work of grace. I say this is his maul, his club, 34 his masterpiece; he doth with this as some do with their most enchanting songs, sings them everywhere. I believe there are but few saints in the world that have not had this temptation sounding in their ears. But were they but aware, Satan by all this does but drive them to the gap out at which they should go, and so escape his roaring. Saith he, thou art a great sinner, a horrible sinner, a profane-hearted wretch, one that cannot be matched for a vile one in the country. And all this while Christ says to his ministers, offer mercy, in the first place, to the biggest sinners. So that this temptation drives thee directly into the arms of Jesus Christ.
Were therefore the tempted but aware, he might say, 'Ay, Satan, so I am, I am a sinner of the biggest size, and therefore have most need of Jesus Christ; yea, because I am such a wretch, therefore Jesus Christ calls me; yea, he calls me first; the first proffer of the gospel is to be made to the Jerusalem sinner; I am he, wherefore stand back, Satan; make a lane, my right is first to come to Jesus Christ.' This now would be like for like. This would foil the devil; this would make him say, I must not deal with this man thus; for then I put a sword into his hand to cut off my head.
And this is the meaning of Peter, when he saith, 'Resist him steadfast in the faith' (1 Peter 5:9). And of Paul, when he saith, 'Take the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked' (Eph 6:16). Wherefore is it said, Begin at Jerusalem, if the Jerusalem sinner is not to have the benefit of it? And if I am to have the benefit of it, let me call it to mind when Satan haunts me with continual remembrance of my sins, of my Jerusalem sins. Satan and my conscience say I am the biggest sinner:—Christ offereth mercy, in the first place, to the biggest sinners! Nor is the manner of the offer other but such as suiteth with my mind. I am sorry for my sin; yea, sorry at my heart that ever sinful thought did enter, or find the least entertainment in my wicked mind: and might I obtain my wish, I would never more that my heart should be a place for ought but the grace, and spirit, and faith of the Lord Jesus. I speak not this to lessen my wickedness; I would not for all the world but be placed by mine own conscience in the very front of the biggest sinners, that I might be one of the first that are beckoned, by the gracious hand of Jesus the Saviour, to come to him for mercy.
Well, sinner, thou now speakest like a Christian; but say thus, in a strong spirit, in the hour of temptation, and then thou wilt, to thy commendation and comfort, quit thyself well. This improving of Christ, in dark hours, is the life, though the hardest part of our Christianity. We should neither stop at darkness nor at the raging of our lusts, but go on in a way of venturing, and casting the whole of our affairs for the next world at the foot of Jesus Christ. This is the way to make the darkness light, and also to allay the raging of corruption.
The first time the Passover was eaten was in the night; and when Israel took courage to go forward, though the sea stood in their way like a devouring gulf, and the host of the Egyptians follow them at the heels; yet the sea gives place, and their enemies were as still as a stone till they were gone over (Exo 12:8; 14:13,14,21,22; 15:16).
There is nothing like faith to help at a pinch; faith dissolves doubts as the sun drives away the mists. And that you may not be put out, know your time, as I said, of believing is always. There are times when some graces may be out of use, but there is no time wherein faith can be said to be so. Wherefore, faith must be always in exercise. Faith is the eye, is the mouth, is the hand, and one of these is of use all day long. Faith is to see, to receive, to work, or to eat; and a Christian should be seeing, or receiving, or working, or feeding all day long. Let it rain, let it blow, let it thunder, let it lighten, a Christian must still believe. At 'what time,' said the good man, 'I am afraid, I will trust in thee' (Psa 56:2,3).
Nor can we have a better encouragement to do this than is, by the text, set before us; even an open heart for a Jerusalem sinner. And if for a Jerusalem sinner to come, then for such an one when come. If for such an one to be saved, then for such an one that is saved. If for such an one to be pardoned his great transgressions, then for such an one who is pardoned these to come daily to Jesus Christ too, to be cleansed and set free from his common infirmities, and from the iniquities of his holy things. Therefore, let the poor sinner that would be saved labour for skill to make the best improvement of the grace of Christ to help him against the temptations of the devil and his sins.
Tenth, Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners? Let those men consider this that have, or may, in a day of trial, spoken or done what their profession or conscience told them they should not, and that have the guilt and burden thereof upon their consciences.
Whether a thing be wrong or right, guilt may pursue him that doth contrary to his conscience. But suppose a man should deny his God, or his Christ, or relinquish a good profession, and be under the real guilt thereof, shall he, therefore, conclude he is gone for ever? Let him come again with Peter's tears, and no doubt but he shall obtain Peter's forgiveness; for the text includes the biggest sinners. And it is observable, that before this clause was put into this commission, Peter was pardoned his horrible revolt from his Master. He that revolteth in the day of trial, if he is not shot quite dead upon the place, but is sensible of his wound, and calls out for a chirurgeon, shall find his Lord at hand to pour wine and oil into his wounds, that he may again be healed, and to encourage him to think that there may be mercy for him; besides what we find recorded of Peter, you read in the Acts, some were, through the violence of their trials, compelled to blaspheme, and yet are called saints (Acts 26:9-11).
Hence you have a promise or two that speak concerning such kind of men, to encourage us to think that, at least, some of them shall come back to the Lord their God. 'Shall they fall,' saith he, 'and not arise? Shall he turn away, and not return?' (Jer 8:4). 'and in that day will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted. And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation; and the Lord shall reign over them in Mount Zion—for ever.' What we are to understand by her that halteth, is best expressed by the prophet Elijah (Micah 4:6,7; Zeph 3:19; 1 Kings 18:21).
I will conclude, then, that for them that have halted, or may halt, the Lord has mercy in the bank,35 and is willing to accept them if they return to him again. Perhaps they may never be after that of any great esteem in the house of God, but if the Lord will admit them to favour and forgiveness—O exceeding and undeserved mercy! (See Ezekiel 44:10-14). Thou, then, that mayest be the man, remember this, that there is mercy also for thee. Return, therefore, to God, and to his Son, who hath yet in store for thee, and who will do thee good.
But, perhaps, thou wilt say, He doth not save all revolters, and, therefore, perhaps not me. Answer. Art thou returning to God? If thou art returning, thou art the man; 'Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings' (Jer 3:22).
Some, as I said, that revolt, are shot dead upon the place; and for them, who can help them? But for them that cry out of their wounds it is a sign that they are yet alive, and, if they use the means in time, doubtless they may be healed.
Christ Jesus has bags of mercy that were never yet broken up or unsealed. Hence it is said, he has goodness laid up; things reserved in heaven for his. And if he breaks up one of these bags, who can tell what he can do? Hence his love is said to be such as passeth knowledge, and that his riches are unsearchable. He has, nobody knows what; for nobody knows who! He has by him, in store, for such as seem, in the view of all men, to be gone beyond recovery. For this, the text is plain. What man or angel could have thought that the Jerusalem sinners had been yet on this side of an impossibility of enjoying life and mercy? Hadst thou seen their actions, and what horrible things they did to the Son of God; yea, how stoutly they backed what they did with resolves and endeavours to persevere, when they had killed his person, against his name and doctrine; and that there was not found among them all that while, as we read of, the least remorse or regret for these their doings; couldest though have imagined that mercy would ever have took hold of them, at least so soon! Nay, that they should, of all the world, be counted those only meet to have it offered to them in the very first place! For so my text commands, saying, Preach repentance and remission of sins among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
I tell you the thing is a wonder, and must for ever stand for a wonder among the sons of men. It stands, also, for an everlasting invitation and allurement to the biggest sinners to come to Christ for mercy. Now since, in the opinion of all men, the revolter is such an one; if he has, as I said before, any life in him, let him take encouragement to come again, that he may live by Christ.