Written by, by James Ussher
Edited and adapted for thought and sense
“Again he limits a certain day, saying in David, to day after so long a time, as it is said, to day if you will hear his voice harden not your hearts.” –Hebrews 4:7
I HAVE entered on these words in the other university on a day of public humiliation, as being suitable to the occasion…
Forasmuch as “God’s judgments are abroad upon the earth,” and hang over our heads, the only means to prevent and remove both temporal and eternal, is our speedy conversion and return unto God, else “He will whet his sword, bend his bow, and make it ready” to our destruction. God did bear a deadly hatred against sin in the time of the psalmist, and so he doth still, for his nature cannot be changed. If we return not, we are but dead men. The eternal weight of God’s wrath will be our portion, both here, and in the world to come, if we repent not.
In the words there are three observable points, though not expressly named, yet if we weigh the context, sufficiently implied.
1. Continuance in sin brings certain death, it hinders us from entering into God’s rest, and out of it, there is nothing but death: For on sin God’s issues judgments on particular nations, and persons.
2. If particular nations, or persons turn away from their evil courses, no hurt shall come near them, or if temporal calamities surprise them, they shall be made beneficial unto them.
“God takes no delight in the death of a sinner,” nor that he should despair of his mercy: but would have us turn out of the broad way, which leads to destruction.
3. It behooves every one speedily to set about the work of conversion. Esteem not this therefore a vain word. I bring you those things, whereon your life depends. Obeying it, you are made for ever, neglecting it, you are undone for ever. Unless you embrace this message, God will bend his bow, and make ready his arrow against you, or rather the arrows which he hath drawn to the head, he will let fly upon you.
Know therefore, “That continuance in sin brings certain death.” There will be no way of escaping, but by repentance, by coming in speedily unto God.
The words of this text are taken from Psalm 95. “Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, and as in the temptation in the wilderness.” If when God calls us, either to the doing of this, or leaving that undone, yet we are not moved, but continue in our evil ways. What is the reason of it? It is because we harden our hearts against him. The Word of God; which is “the power of God to salvation, and a two-edged sword to sever between the joints and the marrow.” The strength of the Almighty encounters with our hard hearts, and yet they remain like the stony and rocky ground: whereon though the word be plentifully sown, yet it fastens no root there, and though for a season it spring, yet suddenly it fades and comes to nothing. We may haply have a little motion by the word, yet there is a rock in our souls, a stone in our hearts, and though we may sometimes seem to receive it with some affection, and be made as it were sermon-sick, yet it holds but a while, it betters us not: Why? because it is not received “as an in grafted word.”
Therefore, saith St. James, “Receive with meekness the in grafted word.” Let the word be in grafted in thee; one sprig of it is able to make thee grow up to everlasting life.
Be not content with the hearing of it, but pray God it may be firmly rooted in your hearts; this will cause a softening. “To-day if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” against Almighty God. If you do, expect him also to come against you in indignation. Hearken what he saith by his prophet: “I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees, that say in their heart the Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil.” Mark, “I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish those that are settled on their lees.”
When a man is thus settled and resolved to go on in his sins, to put the matter to the hazard come what will come, there is a kind of atheism in the soul.
For how does he reply, when God tells him by his minister that he is preparing the instruments of death against him, Do you think us such fools to believe it? What does this but provoke God to “swear that we shall never enter into his rest.” What is the reason of this? It is because men are not shifted, they have no change, they are settled on their lees. “Moab hath been at ease from his youth, he hath been settled,” and hath not been emptied “from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity.” Consider we whether our security comes not from the same cause: we have not been emptied from vessel to vessel, we have always been at rest. Why have we so little conversion? There are two things hinder it: the hardening of a man’s heart against the word: and our settling ourselves on our lees. When we have no change in our condition, we are secure, we never see an evil day. That makes us say with the sensualists in the prophet, “To-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.” And this is that, which slays the foolish person: “Woe to them that are at ease.” It were better for thee to be emptied from vessel to vessel, to go into captivity.
For as long as a man continues thus in an unregenerate condition, he can look for nothing but troubles; certain judgments must necessarily follow, and as sure as God is in heaven, so sure may they expect misery on earth:
…and they shall receive the eternal weight of God’s wrath, treasured up against the day of wrath: therefore there is a necessity of our conversion, if we will keep off either temporal or eternal wrath. Our Savior makes it the case of all impenitent sinners, to be liable to wrath: one judgment befell the Galileans, another those on whom the tower of Si loam fell: but what saith our Savior: “Suppose, you that these were greater sinners above all the men of Jerusalem? I tell you nay, but except you repent you shall all likewise perish.” All, every mother’s son here present, if you turn not from your sinful courses, God will meet with you one time or other, if you harden your hearts against him be sure. “Who ever hardened his heart against God and prospered?”
As long as a man is in this condition, his state is woeful As many as are in the state of unregeneracy, are under the power of Satan.
Mark the apostle’s words: “In meekness instruct those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth. And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” The state then of the hardened and settled on their lees, is as of a bird in a cage, taken alive, at the will of the Fowler So it is here, as long as we continue obstinate, and hardened, we are taken alive at Satan’s will, we are at his disposing. While we are at liberty, we are waylaid by his nets and traps, and taken, we are at his pleasure: as long as we are hardened in heart, we are in the Devil’s cage: true repentance is that, whereby alone we purchase our freedom, whereby we recover ourselves; and therefore in Rom. chap. 2 ver. 5 hardness of heart and impenitency signify the same thing: “After thy hardened and impenitent heart, thou treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath.”
Mark then: what is a hard heart? It is an impenitent heart. Dost thou harden thy heart? Then know that for the present thou art a dead man.
If notwithstanding all God’s threats out of his word, thou art not a jot moved, thou art dead whilst alive, as “the woman that lived in pleasure.” And if thou continues so, thou treasures up wrath against the day of wrath, and the just revelation of God’s judgments. God’s word is the especial means to recover thee. A man that is in a swoon, they rub him to recover him, because there is life in him; but if dead, strong waters, or any thing else cannot restore him. Examine thyself then, does the working of the word rub, and gall thee? It is a sign there is life in thee; but if it make no impression, it moves thee not, it is a sign of a dead heart. Consider then the danger of this condition for a man to resolve on his evil courses, never purposing to alter matters. It exceedingly hastens God’s judgments.
Though God threatens us, yet if we have but the grace to look about us, and remember ourselves: if God do but cause us to consider we have to deal with a merciful Father, and make us meet him by humiliation, then though our sins were as scarlet, yet submitting ourselves to our judge, living as obedient subjects, the storm shall pass from us: so that this is the second point.
Notwithstanding God threatens us, yet if he gives us but grace to repent, and bethink ourselves, let our sins be never so great, we may be sure of mercy.
O that we could see with what a gracious God we have to deal! Canst thou but humble thyself? All these things shall speak peace unto thee. As an impenitent sinner is under the power of Satan, and liable to all misery: so contrarywise whoever returns and seeks the Lord, is sure to be under his wings, and free from all evil. Think thou that God makes use of threatenings for thy hurt? No, he deals not with us as an angry judge, but as a compassionate father: men will take an enemy always at an advantage, when they may do him most hurt. God’s terrors overtake us, he threatens us, that he will do this and this, that we may prevent it. He knows that unless his terrors awake us, we will rest secure. Before he smites us, he tells us; “He will whet his sword: He hath bent his bow, and made it ready: He hath prepared his instruments of death.” He could shoot thee presently, and instantly run thee through, but he threatens thee, that so he may not strike thee. “Non to vult percutere qui tibi clamat, observa; He that saith: Look to yourself, he hath no intention to strike thee.” See what the prophet Amos denounces from the Lord: “I have given you cleanness of teeth, I have withheld rain, I have smitten you with blasting and mildew, I have sent amongst you the pestilence, yet have you not returned unto me. Therefore thus will I do unto thee O Israel, and because I will do thus unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.” What judgments have befallen us, have befallen us for our own use, if so be we will be warned by them. The reason why God saith, he will overthrow us, is not because he means to do it, but that we may prevent it by repentance. Look into Jeremiah, chap. 3 ver. 1 and see what wonderful passages are to this purpose: there is a law case: “If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, shall he return unto her again? Shall not that land be greatly polluted? But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers.” And in the twentieth verse: “As a wife treacherously departs from her husband, so have you dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel.” And yet see God’s unspeakable mercy: “Return again unto me.” And twenty-third verse: “Return ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backsliding: turn to me, and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you. Only acknowledge thine iniquity that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God.” See God supports us the worst and vilest of all, and yet as it were entreats us to return. See then the conclusion of the second point; how, if God give us but grace to repent, let our former evils be what they will, the danger is past, the terror I mean of eternal destruction; so that you may say, and not in Agag’s delusion, the bitterness of death, the second death, is past.
You have seen how dangerous a thing hardness of heart is, how it brings certain death: and that if we have the heart to repent, we are safe. As to make it appear in an instance. It is not the falling into water, but the lying under it that drowns a man.
Art thou fallen into sin? only lift up thy head: if thou canst be but thus happy, the promise of salvation belongs to thee.