Taken and adapted from, “Farewell Sermons of Some of the Most Eminent of the Nonconformist Ministers” Sermon written and given in August 24, 1662, by Edmund Calamy.
[Many of the best sermons that I recall are often the Pastor’s last sermon, especially if he knows that it is to be his last sermon. And the sermon tends to be even more especially poignant, if it is a sermon delivered when the pastor, and or the congregation are in dire straits, or both. Interestingly, many of these sermons were delivered on a single day; the twenty-fourth of August, in the year 1662. It was on that day the act requiring a perfect conformity to the “Book of Common Prayer” and to the rites and ceremonies of the church officially took place.
The effect of that enactment was the silencing of nearly two thousand five hundred ministers, the death of three thousand nonconformists, and the ruin of sixty thousand families. Such was the result of the restoration of Charles the Second.
In each of the sermons I have examined, there are a number of common threads, and as you read them you can feel the sense of a heightened tension; the minister pours out his heart both to God, –for the people, and also pours out his heart to his flock, –on behalf of God. Ministers are often said to preach their heart, and in no other sermon that a minister preaches is this more evident. For in a final sermon there is always pain, the travail of knowing that he is about to lay down his tools, and in these cases, the travail that he, and perhaps he flock also, will most likely may lay down their life as well.
As we walk through this sermon of the great nonconformist, Edmund Calamy, I want you to picture him, preaching this sermon on that hot summer morning, on August 24, 1662. Here is a simple but learned man, with a simple church, being launched into the unknown, the unknown of persecution, pain, death, and terrible want. Here, Calamy is getting his church ready, his family… and himself. Here he is putting up his petition unto God. And here, he is trying to comfort, exhort, and make ready his flock. It is his final words. What will he say? What passage will he use? Look with me as Calamy puts the final stones of caution in place and prepare his people for persecution. –MWP]
And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait; let us fall now into the hand of the Lord, (for his mercies are great) and let me not fall into the hand of man.
–2 Sam. 24:14
IN which words we have three parts:
I. David’s great perplexity and distress, ” I am in a great strait.”
II. David’s resolution.
1. Affirmative, “Let us fall into the hand of the Lord.”
2. Negative, “Let me not fall into the hand of man.”
III. We have the reasons of David’s choice, “for the mercies of God are great.” The mercies of wicked men are cruel; ” therefore let me not fall into the hand of men:” but the mercies of God are many, and great ; therefore ” let us now fall into the hand of God.”
1. For the first, that is, David’s great distress, wherein we must speak—
1. To the distress itself: Then
2. To the person thus perplexed :” I am in a great strait;”
David a great man, David a godly man.
1. In the perplexity itself we shall consider,
2. The reality of this perplexity.
3. The greatness of it.
1. For the reality of it.
After David had sinned in numbering the people, God sends the prophet Gad to him, and puts three things to his choice, as you may read in verse 12. God was determined to make David smart for numbering the people, but leaves it to David’s liberty, whether he would have seven years famine, or three months to flee before his enemies, or three days pestilence. This was a posing question, and David had cause to be in a great strait, for these objects are not amiable in their own nature, they are objects to be avoided and declined; in the first view of them they seem to be equally miserable, therefore David had cause to say he was in a strait.
2. This perplexity was not only real, but exceeding great;
“I am in a great strait;” and there were two things made this so great.
1. The greatness of the punishments proposed, famine, sword, and plague; these are the three brooms with which God sweeps mankind from off the earth; these are God’s three iron whips, by which he chastises sinful man ; these are the three arrows shot out of the quiver, of God’s wrath, for the punishment of man; they are, as one calls them, tonsura humani generis. In Revelation 6, you shall read of four horses, when the four first seals were opened, a white horse, a red horse, a black horse, and a pale horse. After Christ had ridden on the white horse, propagating the gospel, then follows the red horse, a type of war; then the black horse; a hieroglyphic of famine; then the pale horse, the emblem of pestilence. Now God was resolved to ride on one of these horses, and David must choose upon which God should ride: this is a great strait. Let me present David’s lifting up his eyes to Heaven, and speaking to God thus, “O my God, what is this message thou hast sent me? Thou offerest me three things: I am in a strait I know which to refuse, but which to choose l know not. Shall the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, shall this land endure seven years’ famine, and be turned into a wilderness, and de-peopled? And shall I, whose hands thou hast taught to fight, and whose fingers to war, shall I that have subdued all mine enemies, shall I in my old age, and all my captains, fly three months before our enemies, and be driven to caves and rocks to hide ourselves? O thou my God, who art my refuge, shall I and my people be a prey to the pestilence, that walks in darkness and destruction, that walks at noon-day? O my God, I know not what to do, I am in a great strait.”
2. The second reason why this strait was so great, was, because of the guilt of sin that lay on David’s spirit; for David knew that this severe message was the fruit of the sin he committed in numbering the people.
But you will say, Why was it a sin in David to number the people? Moses had often numbered the people, three times, and it was not counted sin. Josephus answers, the sin of David was, because he did not require the half shekel, which he was to have had from all that were numbered. Exodus 30: 12, 13.
Others say he sinned in numbering all ages, whereas he was to number but from twenty years: but these are conjectural reasons. I conceive the sin of David was, because he did it without a lawful call, and for an unlawful end: Sine causa legitima: he sinned in the manner rather than in the matter; for there was no cause for him to number the people but curiosity, and no end but vain glory. “Go through all the tribes of Israel, and number the people, that I may know the number of my people,” v. 2. David’s heart was lifted up with pride, and creature-confidence, and he begins to boast of the multitude of his people, and to trust in an arm of flesh: therefore God sends the prophet to David, to prick the bladder of his pride; as if God should say, I will teach you to number the people by lessening the number of your people.
Now the burden of his sin did add much to the burden of this heavy message: verse 13. “After David had numbered the people, his heart smote him:” the message smites him, and his heart smites him; ” and he said, I have sinned greatly in that which I have done: now I beseech thee take away the iniquity of thy servant, for I have done very foolishly.” If David had been to suffer this great punishment out of love to God, or for a good conscience, he would not have been so distracted. There are two sorts of straits in scripture; some suffer for God and a good conscience, and there are straits suffered for sin.
1. There are straits suffered for God and a good conscience, Heb. 11:36, 37. Those martyrs there were driven to great straits; but these were straits for God and a good conscience, and these straits were the saints’ greatest enlargements, they were so sweetened to them by the consolations and supporting’s of God’s spirit, a prison was a paradise to them, Heb. 10: 34. They look joyful at the spoiling of their goods, Acts 5: 41. “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing, that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.”
Straits for a good conscience are the greatest blessings, therefore St. Paul gloried in his strait; “Paul a prisoner, etc.”
2. There are straits suffered for sin, and these are envenomed by the guilt of sin: sin puts poison into all our distresses and perplexities. Now such was the strait into which David was now driven; it was a strait caused by sin, and that made it so unwelcome and uncomfortable: so that from hence I gather this observation:
Doctrine. “That sin and iniquity brings persons and nations into marvelous labyrinths and perplexities; into true, real, and great molestations; and a man free from sin, is free in the midst of straits; a man guilty of sin, is in a strait in the midst of freedom.”
After Adam had sinned in eating the forbidden fruit, the whole world was a prison to him; Paradise itself was a hell to him, he knew not where to hide himself from the presence of God. After that Cain had murdered his brother Abel, he was brought into such a strait, that he was afraid that every one that met him would slay him. Alas, poor Cain! How many was there then in the world? We read, but his father and mother, yet such was his distress that he cries out, everyone that met him would slay him, Gen. 4: 14. Into what a strait did sin bring the old world? The deluge of sin, brought a deluge of water to drown them. Into what a strait did sin bring Sodom and Gomorrah? The fire of lust reigning in Sodom and Gomorrah, brought down fire from heaven to destroy them. Sin brings external, internal, and eternal straits upon persons and nations.
1. Sin brings external straits; sin brings famine, sword, and plague; sin brings agues and fevers, gout and stone, and all manner of diseases: yea, sin brings death itself, which is the wages of sin. Read Lev. 26, and Deut. 23, and you will see a black roll of curses, which were the fruit of sin. Sin brought Sion into Babylon; and when the Jews had murdered Christ, forty years after they were brought into that distress, when the city was besieged by Titus Vespasian, that they did eat one another, the mother did eat her child, that whereas David had a choice which of the three he would have, either famine, plague, or sword, the poor Jews had all three concentrated together in the siege. Sin brings all manner of external plagues.
2. Sin brings persons and nations into internal straits: sin brings soul-plagues, which are worse than bodily plagues: sin brings hardness of heart, blindness of mind, a spirit of slumber, a reprobate sense: sin brings a spiritual famine upon a land; it brings a famine of the word, Amos 8: 11. Sin causes God to take away the gospel from a people; sin brings internal plagues. Sin awakens conscience, and fills it full of perplexities. Into what a state did sin drive Judas after he had betrayed Christ? Into what a state did sin drive Spira? St. Paul gloried in his tribulations for God; but when he speaks of his sin, he cries out, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
David, a valiant man, when he speaks of sin, says, “they are too heavy a burden for him to bear.” “A wounded conscience who can bear?” says the wise man.
3. Sin brings eternal straits. O the strait that a wicked man shall be brought into at the great and dreadful day of judgment, when all the world shall be on fire about him! When he shall call to the mountains to hide him, and to the rocks to cover trim from the wrath of God; then will he cry out with David, “I am, O Lord, in a great strait.” And when the wicked shall be condemned to hell, who can express the straits they then shall be in? “Bind them hand and foot, and cast them into everlasting darkness,” Mat. 25. When a wicked man shall be bound with everlasting chains of darkness, then he will cry out, “I am in a great strait.”
Consider what the evil rich man said to Abraham; he desires that Lazarus might but dip the tip of his finger in water, and that he might cool his tongue, not his whole body, but his tongue; but that would not be granted.
It is impossible the tongue of man should set out the great straits the damned suffer in hell, both in regard of the greatness and everlastingness of them. This is all I shall say for the explication.
Use 1. I chiefly aim at the application. Does sin bring nations and persons into external, internal, and eternal straits? Then this sadly reproves those that choose to commit sin to avoid perplexity. There are thousands in England guilty of this, that to avoid poverty, will lie, cheat, and deceive, and to gain an estate will sell God and a good conscience, and to avoid the loss of estate and imprisonment, will do anything; they will be sure to be of that religion which is uppermost, be it what it will.
Now give me leave this morning to speak three things to these sort of men, and O that my words might prevail with them!
1. Consider it is sin only that makes trouble deserve the name of trouble; for when we suffer for God’s sake, or a good conscience, these troubles are so sweetened by the consolations of heaven, that they are no troubles at all: therefore in Queen Mary’s days the martyrs wrote to their friends out of prison, ” If you knew the comforts we have in prison, you would wish to be with us.” “I am in prison before I am in prison,” saith Mr. Sanders.
Famous is the story of the three children: they were in a great strait when cast into the fiery furnace; ” Bind them hand and foot, and cast them into the furnace;” but when they were there, they were unbound, Dan. 3: 25. But said Nebuchadnezzar, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? And lo I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” I have often told you, when three are cast into the fire for a good conscience, God will make the fourth’. Therefore, I say, straits and sufferings for God are not worth the name of straits. David was often driven into straits, I Sam. 30:6. He was sore distressed when his town was burnt, and his wives and children taken captives by the Amalekites: aye, but that was a distress of danger, not of sin; therefore he encouraged himself in the Lord his God. Jehoshaphat was in a great strait, 2 Chron. 20: 12, -“We know not what to do,” said he; this was a strait of danger, not caused by his sin ; and God quickly delivered him: but the strait that David was in, was caused by his sin, and that made it so bitter. I am loth to enlarge here: St. Paul was in a great strait, Phil. 3:23, but this was a blessed strait, an evangelical strait. Said St. Chrysostome, “He knew not whether to die for his own sake, or to live for the church’s sake, were best:” he was willing to adjourn his going to heaven for the good of the people of God. Nay, Christ was in a strait, Luke 12: 15. ” I have a baptism to be baptized withal, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished?” I am to shed my blood for my elect; this is the baptism he speaks of.
This was a strait of dear affection to the elect of God: all these were blessed straits: but now straits caused by sin, these are embittered and envenomed by the guilt of sin, and sense of God’s wrath. It is sin that makes straits deserve the name of straits; therefore you are spiritually mad that commit sin to avoid straits.
2. There is more evil in the least sin, than in the greatest outward calamity whatsoever: this the world will not believe; therefore as Austin once said, “That a man ought not to tell a lie, though he might save all the world from hell: for there is more evil in one lie, than there is good in the salvation of all the world.” I have often told you the story of St. Austin: said he, “If hell was on one side, and sin on the other, and I must choose one, I would choose hell rather than sin: for God is the author of hell, but it is blasphemy to say he is the author of sin.” There is a famous story of Charles the Ninth, king of France, he sent a message to the prince of Conde, a zealous protestant; gives him three things to choose, either to go to mass, or to be put to death, or to suffer banishment all his life long: said he, Primum, Deojuvante, nunquam eligo: ” The first (God helping) I will never choose : I abhor the idolatry of the mass; but for the two others, I leave it to the choice of the king to do as he pleases: there is more evil in the least sin, than the greatest misery.”
3. The third thing I would have you consider, that whosoever goes out of God’s way to avoid danger, shall certainly meet with greater danger. Balaam went out of God’s way, Numb. 22: 22, and God sent an angel with a drawn sword, and he riding upon an ass, verse 26. The angel stood in a narrow place, where was no way to go from the right hand or from the left: if his ass had not fallen under him, he had been run through by the sword of the angel. Jonah, for fear of the king of Nineveh, went out of God’s way, but he met with a mighty tempest, he met with a whale. What do you do when you commit sin? You make way to be cast into the eternal prison of hell; you destroy your precious souls, to save your perishing bodies.
Use 2. If sin be the father and mother of all perplexity and distresses, then I beseech you, let us above all things in the world abhor sin: all the curses of the Bible are all due only to a sinner; and all the curses not named in the Bible : for that is observable, Deut. 28: 36, every plague that is not written in the book shall light upon him: there are strange punishments to the workers of iniquity, Job 31:3. Is not destruction to the wicked, a strange punishment to the workers of iniquity? Since it brings the sinner to little ease: little ease at death, little ease at the day of judgment, and little ease in hell, tribulation and anguish: the word in the Greek is apallotpiosis, little ease to every soul that doth iniquity. O my beloved, will you promise me to look upon sin, and consider it in all its woeful consequence, as the father, mother, and womb, out of which come external, eternal, and internal straits? More particularly there are twelve sins I especially command you to take heed of and avoid.
1. Take heed of covetousness: the love of the world will pierce you through with many sorrows? The love of money is the root of all evil; the love of the world drowns men in perdition.
2. Take heed of the sin of pride; into what a woeful strait did pride bring Haman! God crossed him m what he most desired; God made him hold the stirrup, while Mordecai rode in triumph; and God hanged him on the gallows which he had made for Mordecai.
3. Take heed of drunkenness; look not on the wine when it gives its color in the cup, &c. Drunkenness will bring you into scares, it will bite like a serpent, and sting like an adder.
4. Take heed of disobedience and rebellion against the commandments of God; it brought Jonah to the three nights and three days in the whale’s belly.
5. Take heed of fornication and adultery, and all uncleanness; this brought Samson to a woeful strait; this brought David and Solomon into great perplexity.
6. Take heed of oppression, and all acts of injustice; this brought Ahab into great straits, insomuch that the dogs licked his blood.
7. Take heed of unnecessary familiarity with wicked men: this brought Jehoshaphat into a great strait.
8. Take heed of misusing the prophets of God; this made God destroy the children of Israel without remedy. 2 Chron. 36: 15, 16.
9. Take heed of coming profanely to the Lord ’s Table: this brought the church of Corinth into great distress, insomuch as the apostle saith, “For this cause many among you are sick, and many weak, and many fallen asleep.”
10. Take heed of loathing the manna of your souls; this brought the children of Israel into woeful misery, that God destroyed all their carcasses in the wilderness, save Joshua and Caleb.
Take heed of slighting the gospel; this brought Queen Mary’s persecution, and many godly and learned men fled for religion’s sake out of the land; and unfruitfulness under the gospel in King Edward the Sixth’s time, brought the persecution in Queen Mary’s time.
11. Take heed of losing your first love; that makes God threaten to take away his candlestick
12. Take heed of profaning the Christian Sabbath, which is much profaned everywhere; a day that Christ by his resurrection from the dead hath consecrated to be kept holy to God. Certainly if the Jews were so severely punished for breaking the Sabbath, which was set apart in memory of the creation, surely God will severely punish those that break the Sabbath, set apart in memory of Christ’s resurrection. May be some will say, I have committed many of these sins, but am not brought into any strait. Remember, it was nine months after David had numbered the people before he was in this strait; but as sure as God is in heaven, sin will bring straits sooner or later; though one sin a hundred years, yet shall he be accursed; may be thy prosperity makes way for thy damnation; and this is thy greatest distress, that thou goest on in sin and prosperity.
Use 3. If sin brings a nation into marvelous labyrinths, learn what great cause we have to fear that God shall bring this nation into great distress, because of the great abominations that are committed in the midst of it. Our king and sovereign was in a great strait in the days of his banishment, “but God hath delivered him.” God hath delivered this nation out of great straits; but alas, we requite God evil for good, and instead of repenting of old sins, we commit new sins. I am told there were new oaths invented, oaths not fit to be named in any place, much less here. Certainly the drunkenness and adultery, the oppression and injustice, the bribery and Sabbath-breaking, the vain and wicked swearing and foreswearing, this nation is guilty of, must of necessity provoke God to say of us, as he did of them in Jer. 15: 29. “Shall I not visit for these things, saith the Lord? Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?” God will not only punish us, but be avenged on us. There is no way to avoid a national desolation but by a national reformation.
Lastly, Learn what cause you of this congregation and parish, have to expect that God should bring you into great straits, because of your great unthankfulness and unfruitfulness under the means of grace, you that have so long enjoyed the gospel; you have had the gospel in this place in great abundance; Dr. Taylor he served an apprenticeship in this place; Dr. Stoughton served another apprenticeship, and I through divine mercy, have served three apprenticeships and half another amongst you; you have had the spirit of God seven and thirty years in the faithful ministry of the word, knocking at the door of your hearts, but many of you have hardened your hearts. Are there not some of you, I only put the question, and you begin to loath the manna of your souls, and begin to look back towards Egypt again? Are there not some of you have itching ears, and would fain have preachers that would feed you with dainty phrases, and begin not to care for a minister that rips open your consciences, speaks to your hearts and souls, and would force you into heaven by frightening you to put off your sins?
Are there not some of you, that by often hearing sermons, are become sermon-proof, that know how to sleep and scoff away sermons? I should be glad to say, there are but few such; but the Lord knows there are too many that by long preaching, get little good by preaching, insomuch that I have often said it, and say it now again, there is hardly any way to raise the price of the gospel-ministry, but by the want of it.
And that I may not flatter you, you have not profited under the means you have enjoyed, therefore you may justly expect God may bring you into a strait, and take away the gospel from you: God may justly take away your ministers by death, or other ways. Have you not lost your first love? Why did God take away the gospel from the church of Ephesus, but because they lost their first love? Are you not like the church of Laodicea, that was neither hot nor cold? Therefore God may justly spew you out of his mouth.
What God will do with you I know not; a few weeks will determine: God can make a great change in a little time; we leave all to God; but in the meantime let me commend one text of scripture to you, Jer. 13: 16; “Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness.” Verse 17. “But if you will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride, and mine eyes shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the Lord’s flock is carried away captive.”
Give glory to God by confessing and repenting of your sins, by humbling your souls before the Lord, before darkness come, and who knows but this may prevent darkness?