Taken and adapted from, “THE RETURNING BACKSLIDER” A Commentary upon the whole X. Chapter of the Prophecy of the Prophet HOSEA.
Written by Richard Sibbes,
Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips. 3 Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses. We will never again say ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.” —Hosea 14:2-3.
THE words, as we heard heretofore, contain a most sweet and excellent form of returning unto God,
…for miserable, lost, and forlorn sinners; wherein so far God discovers his willingness to have his people return unto him, that he dictates unto them a form of prayer, ‘Take with you words, and turn to the Lord; say unto him, Take away iniquity.’ Wherein we see how detestation of sin must be as general as the desire of pardon, and that none heartily pray to God to ‘take away all iniquity’ who have not grace truly to hate all iniquity. ‘And do good to us,’ or do graciously to us; for there is no good to us till sin be removed. Though God be goodness itself, there is no provoking or meriting cause of mercy in us. But he finds cause from his own gracious nature and bowels of mercy to pity his poor people and servants. It is his nature to shew mercy, as the fire to burn, a spring to run, the sun to shine. Therefore, it is easily done. As the prophet speaks, ‘Who is a God like unto thee?’ Micah 7:18.
Where we come to speak of the re-stipulation, that we may offer the fruit of our lips.’ Where God’s favor shines, there will be a reflection. Love is not idle, but a working thing. It must render or die. And what doth it render? Divers sacrifices of the New Testament, which I spoke of; that of a broken heart; of Christ offered to the Father, to stand betwixt God’s wrath and us; ourselves as a living sacrifice; alms-deeds and praise, which must be with the whole inward powers of the soul.
‘Praise is not comely in the mouth of a fool,’ saith the wise man, nor of a wicked man. Saith God to such, ‘What hast thou to do to take my words in thy mouth, since thou hatest to be reformed, and hast cast my words behind thee?’ Ps. 50:16, 17. There are a company who are ordinary swearers and filthy speakers. For them to praise God, James tells them that these contrary streams cannot flow out of a good heart, James 3:10, 11. Oh, no; God requires not the praise of such fools.
I gave you also some directions how to praise God, and to stir up yourselves to this most excellent duty, which I will not insist on now, but add a little unto that I then delivered, which is, that we must watch all advantages of praising God from our dispositions. ‘Is any merry? Let him sing,’ saith James, 5:13. Oh! it is a great point of wisdom to take advantages with the stream of our temper to praise God. When he doth encourage us by his favors and blessings, and enlarge our spirits, then we are in a right temper to bless him. Let us not lose the occasion. This is one branch of redeeming of time, to observe what state and temper of soul we are in, and to take advantage from thence. Is any man in heaviness? He is fit to mourn for sin. Let him take the opportunity of that temper. Is any disposed to cheerfulness? Let him sacrifice that marrow, oil, and sweetness of spirit to God. We see the poor birds in the spring-time, when those little spirits they have are cherished with the sunbeams, how they express it in singing. So when God warms us with his favors, let him have the praise of all.
And here I cannot but take up a lamentation of the horrible ingratitude of men, who are so far from taking advantage by God’s blessings to praise him, that they fight like rebels against him with his own favors. Those tongues which he hath given them for his glory, they abuse to pierce him with blasphemy; and those other benefits of his, lent them to honor him with, they turn to his dishonor; like children who importunately ask for different things, which, when they have, they throw them to the dog. So favors they will have, which, when they have obtained, they give them to the devil; unto whom they sacrifice their strength and cheerfulness, and cannot be merry, unless they be mad and sinful. Are these things to be tolerated in these days of light? How few shall we find, who, in a temper of mirth, turn it the right way?
- But to add some encouragements to incite us to praise God unto the former, I beseech you let this be one, that we honor God by it. It is a well-pleasing sacrifice to him. If we would study to please him, we cannot do it better than by praising him.
- And it is a gainful trading with God. For in bestowing his seed, where he finds there is improvement in a good soil, with such a sanctified disposition as to bless him upon all occasions, that there comes not a good thought, a good motion in the mind, but we bless God who hath injected such a good thought in our heart; there, I say, God delights to shower down more and more blessings, making us fruitful in every good work to the praise of his name. Sometimes we shall have holy and gracious persons make a law that no good or holy motion shall come into their hearts, which they will not be thankful for. Oh! When God sees a heart so excellently disposed, how doth it enrich the soul! It is a gainful trade. As we delight to bestow our seed in soils of great increase, which yield sixty and an hundredfold, if possible, so God delights in a disposition inclined to bless him upon all occasions, on whom he multiplies his favors.
- And then, in itself, it is a most noble act of religion, it being a more base thing to be always begging of God; but it argues a more noble, raised, and elevated spirit, to be disposed to praise God. And it is an argument of less self-love and respect, being therefore more gainful to us. Yea, it is a more noble and royal disposition, fit for spiritual kings and priests thus to sacrifice.
- Again, indeed, we have more cause to praise God than to pray; having many things to praise him for, which we never prayed for. Whoever prayed for his election, care of parents in our infancy, their affection to us, care to breed and train us to years of discretion, besides those many favors daily heaped upon us, above all that we are able to think or speak? Therefore, praise being a more large sacrifice than prayer, we ought to be abundant in it. For those that begin not heaven upon earth, of which this praise is a main function, they shall never come to heaven, after they are taken from the earth; for there is no heavenly action, but it is begun upon earth, especially this main one, of joining with angels, seraphim, and cherubim, in lauding God. Shall they praise him on our behalf, and shall not we for our own? We see the choir of angels, when Christ was born, sang, ‘Glory be to God on high, on earth peace, and goodwill towards men,’ Luke 2:14. What was this for? Because Christ the Savior of the world was born; whereby they shew that we have more benefit, by it than they. Therefore, if we would ever join with them in heaven, let us join with them upon earth. For this is one of the great privileges mentioned by the author to the Hebrews, unto which we be come to, ‘communion with the spirits of just men made perfect, and to the company of innumerable angels,’ Heb. 12:22, 23. We cannot better shew that we are come to that blessed estate and society spoken of, than by praising God.
- And lastly, if we be much in praising God, we shall be much in joy, which eases misery. For a man can never be miserable that can be joyful; and a man is always joyful when he is thankful. When one is joyful and cheerful, what misery can lie upon him? Therefore, it is a wondrous help in misery to stir up the heart to this spiritual sacrifice of thanksgiving by all arguments, means, and occasions. Our hearts are temples, and we are priests. We should always, therefore, have this light and incense burning in our hearts, as the fire did always burn on the altar in Moses’s time, that we may have these spiritual sacrifices to offer continually. Where this is not, the heart of that man or woman is like ‘the abomination of desolation,’ Dan. 12:11, which, when the daily sacrifice was taken away, was set up in the temple. And certainly where there is not praising of God, the heart is ‘an abomination of desolation,’ having nothing in it save monsters of base lusts and earthly affections.
Question. But how shall we know that God accepts these sacrifices of praise?
Answer. How did he witness the acceptation of those sacrifices under the old law? ‘By fire from heaven,’ Judges 6:21; 1 Kings 18:24, et seq. This was ordinary with them. So, if we find our hearts warm, cheered and encouraged with joy, peace, and comfort in praising God; this is as it were a witness by fire from heaven that our sacrifices are accepted. Let this now said be effectual to stir you up to this excellent and useful duty of thanksgiving, without multiplying of more arguments, save to put you in mind of this, that as we are exhorted to ‘delight ourselves in the Lord,’ Ps. 37:4, one way, among the rest, to do it, is to ‘serve him with cheerfulness.’ It is an excellent thing to make us delight in God, who loves a cheerful giver and thanksgiver. ‘That we may offer the fruit of our lips.’ But to proceed.
After this their solemn covenant and promise of yielding praise to God, that if he would forgive all their sins, and do good to them, then he should have the best they could do to him again: praise here is a promise of new obedience, which hath two branches,
- A renunciation of the ill courses they took before. ‘Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; neither will we say any more to the works of our hands, Ye are our gods.’
- Then there is a positive duty implied in these words, ‘For in thee the fatherless finds mercy.’ Whereof, the one springs from the other; ‘Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride upon horses; neither will we say any more to the works of our hands, Ye are our gods.’ Whence comes all these? ‘For in thee the fatherless finds mercy.’ Thou shalt be our rock, our trust, our confidence for ever. What will follow upon this? ‘Assyria shall not save us any longer; we will not ride upon horses,’ etc. For we have pitched and placed our confidence better; on him in whom ‘the fatherless finds mercy.’
‘Assyria shall not save us.’ The confidence which this people had placed partly in Assyria, their friends and associates, and partly in their own strength at home, now promising repentance, they renounce all such confidence in Assyria, horses and idols. ‘Assyria shall not save us,’ etc.
First, for this, ‘Assyria shall not save us,’ that is, the Assyrians, whom they had on the one side, and the Egyptians on the other: it being, as we see in the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, ordinary with God’s people, in any distress, to have recourse to the Assyrians, or Egyptians, as if God had not been sufficient to be their rock and their shield. We see how often the Lord complains of this manner of dealing. ‘Woe unto them that go down into Egypt for help, and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many,’ etc., Isa. 30:2, and 31:1. The prophets, and so this prophet, are very full of such complaints: it being one of the chief arguments he presses, their falseness in this, that in any fear or peril, they ran to the shelter of other nations, especially these two, Egypt and Assyria, as you have it, ‘Ephraim feeds on wind, and follows after the east wind; he daily increases lies and desolation, and they do make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried into Egypt,’ Hosea 12:1, that is, balm, who had this privilege above all other nations, to abound in precious balms; which balm and oil they carried into Egypt, to win their favor against the Assyrians. Sometimes they relied on the one, and sometimes on the other, the story and causes whereof were too tedious to relate. Wherefore I come to the useful points arising hence. ‘Assyria cannot save us’
- That man, naturally, is prone to put confidence in the creature.
- That the creature is insufficient and unable to yield us this prop to uphold our confidence.
- That God’s people, when they are endowed with light supernatural to discern and be convinced hereof, are of that mind to say, ‘Assyria shall not save us.’
But, to make way to these things, we must first observe two things for a preparative.
Doctrine. First, That reformation of life must be joined with prayer and praise. There was prayer before, and a promise of praise; but, as here, there must be joined reformation of their sin. That it must be so, it appears, first, for prayer. It is said, ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear my prayer,’ Ps. 66:18. And for praise, ‘The very sacrifice of the wicked (who reforms not his ways) is abominable,’ Prov. 15:8. So that, without reformation, prayer and praise is to no purpose. Therefore it is brought here after a promise of praise. Lord, as we mean to praise thee, so we intend a thorough reformation of former sins, whereof we were guilty. We will renounce Assyria, and confidence in horses, idols, and the like. Therefore let us, when we come to God with prayer and praise, think also of reforming what is amiss. Out with Achan, Josh. 7:19. If there be any dead fly, Eccles. 10:1, or Achan uncast out, prayer and praise is in vain. ‘Will you steal, lie, commit adultery, swear falsely, and come and stand before me,’ saith the Lord, by the prophet Jeremiah, Jer. 7:9. Will you offer to pray to me, and praise me, living in these and these sins? No; God will abhor both that prayer and praise, where there is no reformation. ‘What hast thou to do to take my name in thy mouth, since thou hatest to be reformed, and hast cast my words behind thee, saith God,’ Ps. 50:16, where he pleads with the hypocrite for this audacious boldness in severing things conjoined by God. Therefore, as we would not have our prayers turned back from heaven, which should bring a blessing upon all other things else: as we would not have our sacrifices abominable to God, labor to reform what is amiss, amend all, or else never think our lip-service will prove anything but a lost labor without this reformation.
A second thing, which I observe in general, before I come to the particulars, is,
Doctrine. That true repentance is, of the particular sin which we are most addicted to, and most guilty of. The particular sin of this people, whom God so instructs here, was their confidence in Assyria, horses, and idols. Now therefore repenting, they repent of the particular, main sins they were most guilty of; which being stricken down, all the lesser will be easy to conquer. As when Goliath himself was stricken down, all the host of the Philistines ran away, 1 Sam. 17:51. So when Goliath shall be slain in us, the reigning, ruling, domineering sin, and the rest will easily be conquered.
Use. Therefore let us make a use of examination and trial of our repentance. If it be sound, it draws with it a reformation; as in general, so especially of our particular sins. As those confess and say, ‘Above all other things we have sinned in this, in asking a king,’ 1 Sam. 12:8. We were naught, and had offended God many ways before; but herein we have been exceeding sinful, in seeking another governor, being weary of God’s gracious government over us. So a gracious heart will say, I have been a wretch in all other things, but in this and that sin above all other. Thus it was with the woman of Samaria, when she was put in mind by Christ of her particular grand sin, that she had been a light woman, and had had many husbands, he whom she lived with now not being her husband, John 4:18. This discovery, when Christ touched the galled part, did so work upon her conscience that it occasioned a general repentance of all her other sins whatsoever. And, indeed, sound repentance of one main sin will draw with it all the rest. And, for the most part, when God brings any man home to him, he so carries our repentance, that, discovering unto us our sinfulness, he especially shews us our Delilah, Isaac, Herodias, our particular sin; which being cast out, we prevail easily against the rest. As the charge was given by the king of Aram against Ahab, ‘Fight neither against great nor small, but only against the king of Israel,’ 2 Chron. 18:30; kill him, and then there will be an end of the battle. So let us not stand striking at this and that sin (which we are not so much tempted to), if we will indeed prove our repentance to be sound; but at that main sin which by nature, calling, or custom we are most prone unto. Repentance for this causes repentance for all the rest; as here the church saith, ‘Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses,’ etc.
It is a grand imposture, which carries many to hell; they will cherish themselves in some gross main sin, which pleases corrupt nature, and is advantageous to them; and by way of compensation with God, they will do many other things well, but leave a dead fly to mar all; whereas they should begin here especially.
Doctrine. That naturally we are apt and prone to confidence in outward helps and present things. This came to our nature from the first fall. What was our fall at first? A turning from the all-sufficient, unchangeable God, to the creature. If I should describe sin, it is nothing but a turning from God to one creature or other. When we find not contentment and sufficiency in one creature, we run to another. As the bird flies from one tree and bough to another, so we seek variety of contentments from one thing to another. Such is the depravity of our nature since the fall. This is a fundamental conclusion. Man naturally will, and must, have somewhat to rely on. The soul must have a bottom, a foundation to rest on, either such as the world affords, or a better. Weak things must have their supports. As we see, the vine being a weak thing, is commonly supported by the elm, or the like supply. So is it with the soul since the fall. Because it is weak, and cannot uphold nor satisfy itself with itself, therefore it looks out of itself. Look to God it cannot, till it be in the state of grace; for being his enemy, it loves not to look to him or his ways, or have dealing with him. Therefore it looks unto the creature, that next hand unto itself. This being naturally since the fall, that what we had in God before when we stood, we now labor to have in the creature.
- Because, as was said, having lost communion with God, somewhat we must have to stay the soul.
- Secondly, Because Satan joins with our sense and fancy, by which we are naturally prone to live, esteeming of things not by faith and by deeper grounds, but by fancy. Now, fancy having communion with sense, what it discovers and presents for good and great, fancy makes it greater. And the devil, above all, having communion with that faculty of fancy, and so a spirit of error being mixed therewith, to make our fancy think the riches of the world to be the only riches; the greatness and goodness of the creature to be the only greatness and goodness; and the strength thereof the only strength. This spirit of error joining with our own spirits, and with the deceit of our natures, makes us set a higher value on the creature, enlarges and enrages the fancy, making it spiritually drunk, so as to conceive amiss of things.
Use. Briefly, let us take notice of our corruption herein, and be humbled for it; taking in good part those afflictions and crosses which God sends us, to convince and let us see that there is no such thing in the creature as we imagined; because naturally, we are desperately given to think that there is somewhat more therein than there is. Now affliction helps this sickness of fancy, embittering unto us all confidence in the creature. Therefore it is a happy and a blessed thing to be crossed in that which we over-value, as these Israelites here did the Assyrians and the Egyptians: for being enemies, they trusted in a ‘broken reed,’ 2 Kings 18:21, as we shall see further in the second point.
Doctrine. How these outward things cannot help us. How so prone we are to rely upon them, they are in effect nothing. They cannot help us, and so are not to be relied upon. ‘Assyria shall not save us.’ Indeed it will not, it cannot. These things cannot aid us at our most need. So that that which we most pitch upon, fails us when we should especially have help. Some present vanishing supply they yield, but little to purpose. They have not that in them which should support the soul at a strait, or great pinch, as we say.
Reason. The reason is largely given by Solomon in the whole book of Ecclesiastes, ‘All is vanity and vexation of spirit,’ Eccles. 1:14. There is a vanity in all the creatures, being empty and not able to support the soul. They are vain in their continuance, and empty in regard of their strength. They are gone when we have need of them. Riches, as the wise man saith, are gone, and have wings to fly away, in our most need, Prov. 23:5. So friends are fugitive good things, being like to the brooks mentioned in Job, 6:15: which when in summer there is need of, then they are dried up, and yet run over-brimming in winter, when there is no need of them. So, earthly supports, when there is no need of them, then they are at hand; but when we have most need of them, are gone. ‘They are broken cisterns,’ as the prophet calls them, Jer. 2:13. Cisterns, that is, they have a limited capacity. A cistern is not a spring. So all their support, at the best, is but a bounded and a mixed sufficiency; and that also which will quickly fail: like water in a cistern, which if it be not fed with a continual spring, fails or putrefies presently. Likewise these outward things are not sufficient for the grievance; for being limited and bounded, the grievance will be above the strength of the creature; which though sometime it be present and do not fail, yet the trouble is such, that it is above the strength of the creature to help. So that for these and the like respects, there is no sufficiency, nor help to be expected from the creature. ‘Assyria shall not save us.’ He is not a sufficient ground of trust. Why?
- He is but a creature.
- He is an enemy.
- He is an idolater.
So that, take him in all these three relations, he is not to be trusted.
- He is a creature. What is a creature? Nothing, as it were. Saith the prophet, ‘All creatures before him are as nothing, and as a very little thing.’ And what it is, when he pleases, he can dissolve it into nothing, turn it into dust. Man’s breath is in his nostrils, Isa. 2:22. ‘All flesh is grass, and all his glory as the flower of grass,’ Ps. 103:15. If a man trust the creature, he may outlive his trust. His prop may be taken from him, and down he falls. Assyria must not be trusted, therefore, as a creature, nor as a man, for that brings us within the curse. Thus saith the Lord, ‘Cursed be the man that trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm,’ etc., Jer. 17:5. So trusting in the creature not only deceives us, but brings us within the curse. In that respect, Assyria must not be trusted.
- But Assyria likewise was an enemy, and a secret enemy. For howsoever the ten tribes unto whom Hosea prophesied were great idolaters, yet they were somewhat better than Assyria, who was without the pale of the church, and a wholly corrupted church. Therefore, they were enemies to the ten tribes, and, amongst other reasons, because they were not so bad as they, nor deeply enough dyed with idolatry.
Many think they may comply with popery in some few things, to gain their love, and that there may be joining with them in this and that; but do we think that they will ever trust us for all this? No; they will always hate us, till we be as bad as they, and then they will despise us, and secure themselves of us. Therefore, there is no trusting of papists, as papists; not only creatures, but as false, and as enemies. For this is the nature of wicked men. They will never trust better than themselves, till they become as bad as they are, after which they despise them. Say they, Now we may trust such and such a one; he is as bad as we, he has become one of us. Which is the reason why some of a naughty disposition take away the chastity and virginity of men’s consciences, making them take this and that evil course, and then they think they have such safe, being as bad as themselves. Wherein they deal as Ahithophel’s politic, devilish counsel was, that Absalom should do that which was naught, and then he should be sure that David and he should never agree after that, 2 Sam. 16:21; and that then by this discovery the wicked Jews, set on mischief, might secure themselves of Absalom. So they, now that they join with us, God will forsake them; we shall have them our instruments for anything. First, they would have the ten tribes as bad as they, and then give them the slip whensoever they trusted them.
- Again, neither were they to be trusted as idolaters, to have league and society with them. There may be some commerce and traffic with them, but amity and trust, none. Assyria and Egypt were horrible idolaters, and therefore not to be trusted in that respect. As we see the prophet in this case reproved good Jehoshaphat, when he had joined with wicked Ahab, king of the ten tribes, ‘Shouldst thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? Therefore wrath is upon thee from before the Lord,’ 2 Chron. 19:2. So we see it is a dangerous thing to be in league with idolaters, even such as the ten tribes were, who had some religion amongst them. This good king was chidden for it.
‘We will not ride upon horses.’ What kind of creature a horse is, it is worth the seeing. What a description God gives of him, that we may see what reason the Spirit of God hath to instance in the horse. Saith God to Job, ‘Hast thou given the horse strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? The glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paws in the valley, and rejoices in his strength: he goes on to meet the armed men. He mocks at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turns he back from the sword. The quiver rattles against him, the glittering spear and the shield. He swallows the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smells the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting,’ Job 39:19–21. A notable and excellent description of this warlike creature. And yet for all this excellency, so described by the Spirit of God, in another place the psalmist saith, ‘A horse is a vain thing for safety, neither shall he deliver any by his great strength,’ Ps. 33:17. ‘Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God,’ Ps. 20:7. So in another place, ‘The horse is prepared against the day of battle, but victory is of the Lord,’ Prov. 21:31.
How oft have you in the Psalms that proud warlike creature disparaged, because naturally men are more bewitched with that than with any other creature. If they have store of horses, then they think they are strong. Therefore God forbids the king ‘to multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end he should multiply horses,’ etc., Deut. 17:16, because God is the strength of his church, when there is no multitude of horses. You see it is a bewitching creature, and yet a vain help. A place like this we have, Isa. 2:7, complaining there of the naughty people which were among the Jews, at that time as bad as the Israelites. Saith he, ‘Their land also is full of silver and gold; neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots.’ What, is there a fault in that? No. Luther saith, ‘Good works are good, but the confidence in them is damnable.’ So gold and silver, horses and chariots, are good creatures of God. But this was their sin, confidence in these things. ‘There is no end of their treasures.’ If they had treasure enough, they should do well enough. ‘Their land also was full of horses.’ Was this a fault? No; but their confidence in them. They thought they were a wise people to have such furniture and provision of munition for war. But God was their king, and the chief governor of his people; and for them to heap up these things, to trust over-much in them, it was a matter of complaint. ‘Their land also is full of idols.’
Thus you see there is no confidence to be put neither in the one nor the other, neither in the association of foreign friends, who will prove deceitful, ‘reeds of Egypt,’ that not only deceive, but the splinters thereof fly about, and may run up into the hand. Such are idolaters and false friends, deceitful and hurtful. Nor in home. There is no trust in horses, munition, or such like. What doth this imply? That to war and have provision in that kind is unlawful and unnecessary, because he finds fault here with horses and the like? No; take heed of that; for John Baptist, if the soldier’s profession had been unlawful, he would have bid them cast away their weapons; but he bids them ‘do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely,’ etc., Luke 3:14. And God would never style himself ‘the Lord of hosts, and a man of war,’ Isa. 42:13, and ‘he that teaches our hands to war, and our fingers to fight,’ Ps. 18:34, unless it were good in the season. Therefore war is lawful, seeing in the way to heaven we live in the midst of enemies.
Therefore it is but an anabaptistical fancy to judge war to be unlawful. No, no; it is clean another thing which the Holy Ghost aims at: to beat back carnal confidence. For it is an equal fault to multiply help and to neglect them. Either of both are fatal many times: to multiply horses, trusting in them, or to spoil horses and other helps vainly, so to weaken a kingdom. Therefore there is a middle way for all outward things, a fit care to serve God’s providence, and when we have done, trust in God without tempting of him; for to neglect these helps is to tempt him, and to trust in them, when we have them, is to commit idolatry with them. Beware of both these extremes, for God will have his providence served in the use of lawful means. When there is this great care in a Christian commonwealth, there is a promise of good success, because God is with us. Otherwise, what is all, if he be our enemy? So we see the second point made good, that these outward things of themselves cannot help. Therefore comes this in the third place:—
Obs. That when God alters and changes and moulds anew the heart of a man to repentance, he alters his confidence in the creature. A Christian State will not trust in Assyria, nor in horses. It is true both of State and persons. The reason will follow after in the end of the verse, ‘For in thee the fatherless finds mercy.’ Because, when a man hath once repented, there is a closing between God and him, and he sees an all-sufficiency in God to satisfy all his desires. Therefore he will use all other things as helps, and as far as it may stand with his favor. For he hath Moses’s eye put in him, a new eye to see him that is invisible, Heb. 11:27, to see God in his greatness, and other things in their right estimate as vain things. What is repentance but a change of the mind, when a man comes to be wise and judicious, as indeed repentant men are the only wise men? Then a man hath an esteem of God to be El-Shadai, all-sufficient, and all other things to be as they are, uncertain; that is, they are so today, as that they may be otherwise to-morrow, for that is the nature of the creatures. They are in potentia, that is in a possibility to be other things than they are. God is always, ‘I AM,’ always the same. There is not so much as a shadow of changing in him. Wherefore, when the soul hath attained unto this spiritual eyesight and wisdom, if it be a sinful association with Egypt or Assyria, with this idolater or that, he will not meddle; and as for other helps, he will not use them further than as subordinate means. When a man is converted, he hath not a double, not a divided heart, to trust partly to God and partly to the creature. If God fail him,* he hath Assyria and horses enough, and association with all round about. But a Christian he will use all helps, as they may stand with the favor of God, and are subordinate under him. Now for trial.
Quest. How shall we know whether we exceed in this confidence in the creature or not?
Sol. 1. We may know it by adventuring on ill courses and causes, thinking to bear them out with Assyria and with horses. But all the mercenary soldiers in the world, and all the horses at home and abroad, what can they do when God is angry? Now, when there is such confidence in these things as for to out-dare God, then there is too much trust in them. That trust will end in confusion, if it be not repented of, for that lifts up the heart in the creature. And as the heathen man observes, ‘God delights to make great little, and little great.’ It is his daily work to ‘cast down mountains, and exalt the valleys,’ Isa. 40:4. Those that are great, and boast in their greatness, as if they would command heaven and earth, God delights to make their greatness little, and at length nothing, and to raise up the day of small things. Therefore the apostle saith, ‘If I rejoice, it shall be in my infirmities,’ 2 Cor. 12:9, in nothing else; for God delights to shew strength in weakness.
Sol. 2. By security and resting of the soul in meaner things, never seeking to divine and religious helps when we are supplied with those that are outward. For these people, when they trusted to Assyria and Egypt, those false supports and sandy foundations, they were careless of God, and therefore must trust in somewhat else. Wherefore, if we see a man secure and careless, certainly he trusts too much to uncertain riches, to Assyria, to Egypt, to friends, or to outward helps. His security betrays that. If a man trust God in the use of the means, his care will be to keep God his friend by repentance and daily exercises of religion, by making conscience of his duty. But if he trust the means and not God, he will be careless and weak in good duties, dull and slow, and, out of the atheism of his heart, cry, Hush! If God dos not help me, I shall have help from friends abroad, and be supported with this and that at home, horses and the like, and shall be well.
Use 1. Let us therefore enter into our own souls, and examine ourselves, how far forth we are guilty of this sin, and think we come so far short of repentance. For the ten tribes here, the people of God, when they repented, say, ‘Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses.’ He speaks comparatively, as trusted in. Therefore, let us take heed of that boasting, vain-glorious disposition, arising from the supply of the creature. Saith God, ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom; neither let the mighty man glory in his might: let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he understands and knows this, that I am the Lord, which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth,’ etc., Jer. 9:23, 24. Let a man glory that he knows God in Christ to be his God in the covenant of grace; that he hath the God of all strength, the King of kings and Lord of lords to be his: who hath all other things at his command, who is independent and all-sufficient. If a man will boast, let him go out of himself to God, and plant himself there; and for other things, take heed the heart be not lift up with them.
- Consider what kind of thing boasting is. It is idolatry, for it sets the creature in the place and room of God.
- And it is also spiritual adultery, whereby we fix our affections upon the creature, which should be placed on God; as it is in James, ‘Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?’ etc., James 4:4.
- Habakkuk calls it drunkennness, Hab. 2:4, 5, for it makes the soul drunk with cattishness and conceitedness, so as a man in this case is never sober, until God strip him of all.
- And then again, it puts out the eye of the soul. It is a kind of white, that mars the sight. When a man looks to Assyria, horses, and to outward strength, where is God all this while? These are so many clouds, that they cannot see God, but altogether pore upon the creature. He sees so much greatness there, that God seems nothing. But when a man sees God in his greatness and almightiness, then the creature is nothing, Job 42:6. But until this be, there is a mist and blindness in the eye of the soul.
And when we have seen our guiltiness this way (as who of us in this case may not be confounded and ashamed of relying too much on outward helps?), then let us labor to take off our souls from these outward things, whether it be strength abroad or at home. Which that we may do, we must labor for that obedience which our Savior Christ exhorts us unto in self-denial, Mat. 16:24, not to trust to our own devices, policy, or strength, wit, will, or conceits, that this or that may help us, nor anything. Make it general; for when conversion is wrought, and the heart is turned to God, it turns from the creature, only using it as subordinate to God. We see, usually, men that exalt themselves in confidence, either of strength, of wit, or whatsoever, they are success less in their issue. For God delights to confound them, and go beyond their wit, as we have it, Isa. 30:3. They thought to go beyond God with their policy, they would have help out of Egypt, this and that way. Oh, saith the prophet, but for all this, God is wise to see through all your devices; secretly hereby touching them to the quick, as sottish persons, who thought by their shallow brains to go beyond God. You think religious courses, and the obedience God prescribes to you, to be idle, needless courses; but, notwithstanding, God is wise. He will go beyond you, and catch you in your own craft. ‘Therefore, the strength of Pharaoh shall be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion,’ Isa. 30:3. Thus God loves to scatter Babel’s fabrics, Gen. 11:8, and holds that are erected in confidence of human strength against him. He delights to catch the wise in their own craft, to beat all down, lay all high imaginations and things flat before him, that no flesh may glory in his sight. There is to this purpose a notable place in Isaiah: ‘Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks,’ Isa. 50:11. For they kindled a fire, and had a light of their own, and would not borrow light from God: ‘Walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled.’ But what is the conclusion of all? ‘This shall ye have of mine hand.’ I dare assure you of this, saith the prophet. ‘You shall lie down in sorrow.’ Those that walk by the light and spark of their own fire, this they shall have at God’s hands: ‘they shall lie down in sorrow.’
Let us therefore take heed of carnal confidence. You have a number who love to sleep in a whole skin, and will be sure to take the safest courses, as they think, not consulting with God, but with ‘flesh and blood.’ It might be instanced in stories of former times, how God hath crossed emperors, and great men in this kind, were it not too tedious. But for present instance, you have many who will be of no settled religion. Oh, they cannot tell, there may be a change. Therefore they will be sure to offend neither part. This is their policy, and if they be in place, they will reform nothing. Oh, I shall lay myself open to advantages, and stir up enemies against me. And so they will not trust God, but have carnal devices to turn off all duty whatsoever. It is an ordinary speech, but very true, policy overthrows policy. It is true of carnal policy. When a man goes by carnal rules to be governed by God’s enemy and his own, with his own wit and understanding, which leads him to outward things, this kind of policy overthrows all policy, and outward government at length. Those that walk religiously and by rule, they walk most confidently and securely, as the issue will shew. Therefore, consider that, set God aside, all is but vanity. And that,
First. In regard they do not yield that which we expect they should yield. There is a falsehood in the things. They promise this and that in shows, but when we possess them, they yield it not. As they have no strength indeed, so they deceive.
Second. Then, also, there is a mutability in them; for there is nothing in the world but changes. There is a vanity of corruption in them. All things at last come to an end, save God, who is unchangeable.
Third. Then again, besides the intrinsic vanity in all outward things, and whatsoever carnal reason leads unto, they are snares and baits unto us, to draw us away from God, by reason of the vanity of our nature, vainer than the things themselves. Therefore take heed of confidence in anything, or else this will be the issue: we shall be worse than the things we trust. ‘Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity,’ Eccles. 1:1; and man himself is lighter than vanity, saith the psalmist, Ps. 62:9. He that trusts to vanity, is worse than vanity. A man cannot stand on a thing that cannot stand itself,—stare non stante. A man cannot stand on a thing that is mutable and changeable. If he doth, he is vain with the thing. Even as a picture drawn upon ice, as the ice dissolves, so the picture vanishes away. So it is with all confidence in the creature whatsoever. It is like a picture upon ice, which vanished with the things themselves. He that stands upon a slippery thing, slips with the thing he stands on. If there were no word of God against it, yet thus much may be sufficient out of the principles of reason, to shew the folly of trusting to Assyria, and horses, and the like.
Let this be the end of all, then, touching this carnal confidence: to beware that we do not fasten our affections too much upon any earthly thing, at home or abroad, within or without ourselves. For ‘God will destroy the wisdom of the wise,’ 1 Cor. 1:19. Let us take heed, therefore, of all false confidence whatsoever. Let us use all outward helps, yet so as to rely upon God for his blessing in the use of all. And when they all fail, be of Jehoshaphat’s mind: ‘Lord, we know not what to do,’ 2 Chron. 20:12. The creature fails us, our helps fail us; ‘but our eyes are upon thee.’ So when all outward Assyrias, and horses, and helps fail, despair not; for the less help there is in the creature, the more there is in God. As Gideon with his army, when he thought to carry it away with multitudes, God told him there were too many of them to get the victory by, lest Israel should vaunt themselves of their number, and so lessened the army to three hundred, Jud. 7:2; so it is not the means, but the blessing on the means which helps us. If we be never so low, despair not. Let us make God ours, who is all-sufficient and almighty, and then if we were brought a hundred times lower than we are, God will help and raise us. Those who labor not to have God, the Lord of hosts, to go out with their armies, if they had all the Assyrias and horses in the world, all were in vain. It was therefore a good resolution of Moses. Saith he to God, ‘If thy presence go not with us, carry us not hence,’ Exod. 33:15. He would not go one step forward without God. So, if we cannot make God our friend to go out before us, in vain it is to go one step forward. Let us therefore double our care in holy duties, renewing our covenant with God, before the decree come out against us. The more religious, the more secure we shall be. If we had all the creatures in the world to help us, what are they but vanity and nothing, if God be our enemy! These things we know well enough for notion; but let us labor to bring them home for use, in these dangerous times abroad. Let us begin where we should, that our work may be especially in heaven. Let us reform our lives, being moderately careful, as Christians should, without tempting God’s providence, using rightly all civil supports and helps seasonably, and to the best advantage; for, as was said, the carelessness herein for defense may prove as dangerous and fatal to a State, as the too much confidence and trust in them.