"Blessed are the people that know the joyful Sound! They shall walk, O Lord, in the Light of thy Countenance: In thy Name shall they rejoice all the Day, and in thy Righteousness shall they be exalted." Psalm 89:15,16
I have often wondered at the hardiness of those writers, who have presumed to affirm, that the gospel, or message of free and full salvation by the blood and righteousness of God's co-eternal Son, was unknown to those who lived under the legal dispensation.
Nothing can be more untrue. We may as reasonably affirm, that the sun did not shine during the legal dispensation. And as it was the same sun, which now shines, that then illuminated the world; so it was the self same sun of righteousness, who now rises upon the souls of his people with healing in his beams (Mal. 4:2), that then shone upon God's elect, visited them with the irradiations of his love, and saved them by faith in his own future righteousness and atonement. Unto us, saith the apostle, is the gospel preached, as well as unto them (Heb. 4:2) And again, These all did in faith, having seen the promises afar off; and were persuaded of them (were assured of interest in them), and embraced them (Heb. 11:13). So that we may confidently affirm, concerning all God's enlightened people who lived before the Messiah's incarnation, that like Abraham (John 8:56), they saw the day of Christ in perspective, and rejoiced in the believing anticipation of that blessed sight.
As the depravation of human nature is intrinsically the same, in all ages; and as men, in and of themselves, were neither better nor worse, during the Mosaic economy, than they have been ever since, and are at this day; it follows, that, the disorder must be the self same, the remedy likewise must be the same; and, of course, that there are not two ways of salvation, one for the believing Jews, and another for the believing Gentiles; but that our Lord's declaration ever did, and ever must, stand good, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh to the Father, but by me (John 14:6). Suppose we carry our appeal to this psalm, for the truth of the observation here made? What do you think David sings of, in the text? Certainly he sings of those supernatural comforts imparted by the Holy Ghost, and which, the psalmist knew, would be procured, for all the elect, by the blood of Christ. Hence, he likewise celebrates the praises of that righteousness, in which, and in which alone, the redeemed of the Lord are exalted to a state of communion with God, and to the inheritance of the saints in light.
No wonder, therefore, that a psalm, so richly fraught with evangelical truth, should open in a strain of praise and thanksgiving to that God of all grace, whose love to his people embraced them without beginning, and shall follow him without end. I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness, to all generations (Ps. 89:1). Now, do you think that David did not enjoy, what has since been called, the full assurance of faith? O can you imagine, that David was unacquainted with what has since been termed, the doctrine of final perseverance? Certainly, he was led into the clear perception of both these truths; else, he could not have said, I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; not only today, and tomorrow, if I live; not only this year, and the next, if I live; nor only through life, but when I come to die; and not only when I pass through the streams of death, but when I am landed safe on the other side; the high praises, of his mercy and faithfulness, shall be ever in my mouth. David was egregiously mistaken in his views, if what some blasphemously affirm to be true, that "he, who is a child of God today, may be a child of the devil tomorrow." You must either deny that the psalmist wrote under the unerring guidance of God's Spirit; or you must admit, that the final preservation of God's renewed people is a doctrine of God's book.
But it is not enough for true believers to be sensible of the mercy of the Lord, and of the perpetuity of his grace: they wish to diffuse the savour of his name far and wide, and to realize David's resolution, with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations. Some, who know the truth, shun to declare it, and are afraid to speak out; they hide Christ's mark in the palm of their hands, instead of wearing it on their foreheads; and wrap up their Christianity in a cloke of secrecy; as if they deemed it their highest dishonor, to be seen with Christ's livery on their backs. On the contrary, such believers as are strong in faith, giving glory to God, instead of sneaking to heaven through bye-ways and private roads, concealed in a covered litter, with the curtains drawn close about them; rather wish to go thither over the public road of a declared profession, in an open chariot so as to be seen and known of all men. But ministers of the gospel, above all mankind beside, should, with their mouths, make known God's faithfulness; and, instead of desiring to slink into heaven at the back-door, (if any such door there be), march publicly, with colors flying, and with sound of trumpet, to the great gate of the celestial city, and labor to carry thither as many souls with them as they possibly can. Hence, they must be urgent and importunate, in season and out of season; reproving, rebuking, and exhorting, with all long-suffering and doctrine (2 Tim. 4:2): the ministry of the word being the principle reaping-hook, which God's Spirit makes use of, to cut off the poisonous excrescences of self righteousness, to cut down the baneful weeds of practical licentiousness, and to gather elect sinners to the sanctifying and saving knowledge of himself. Let it, however, be observed, that the ministerial calls and exhortations of God's ambassadors, urged and addressed, as well to the awakened as the unawakened; do by no means imply, that, in the divine intention, grace is universal, as the Arminians talk: nor that man, by a proper use own salvation. No. Quite the contrary. A fisher, who stands upon the shore, and plunges his net into the sea at large, is not so frantic as to think of catching all the fishes in the sea, though he offers the net indefinitely, and without exception. So when a Christian minister spreads the gospel-net, he preaches to all that come within the sphere of his address; not with an expectation of catching all, but of catching as many as God shall please; knowing that it is the Holy Spirit alone, who can drive souls into the net, and effectually catch them for Jesus Christ.
What was it, which made David so desirous to sing of the mercies of the Lord? What was it that warmed and emboldened him, at all events, to make known Jehovah's faithfulness, from one generation to another? It was the glorious gospel of the blessed God, seen in the light of the Spirit, and experienced through the influence of grace. Here is the reason of David's zeal: for I have said, mercy shall be built up for ever, thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens. What is this mercy, that is built up for ever; but the glorious and the gracious scheme, the glorious and the gracious fabric of our salvation, founded in the eternal purpose of God, carried into execution by the labors and the death of Jesus Christ, and then applied and brought home to the heart by the illuminating and converting power of the Holy Ghost? This is that mercy, which is built up for ever. It was planned, from everlasting: and will know no ruin or decay, through the illimitable line of eternity itself. Who is the builder of this fabric? Not man's free-will. Not man's own righteousness, nor wisdom. Not human power, nor human skill. Every true believer will here join issue with David, that it is God, and God alone, who builds up the temple of his Church; and who, as the builder of it, is alone entitled to all glory.
The elect constitute and form one grand house of mercy: and house, erected to display and to perpetuate the riches of the Father's free grace, of the Son's atoning merit, and of the Holy Ghost's efficacious agency. This house, contrary to the fate of all sublunary buildings, will never fall down, nor ever be taken down. As nothing can be added to it (Eccl. 3:14), so nothing can be diminished from it. Fire cannot injure it: storms cannot overthrow it: age cannot impair it. It stands on a rock (Matt. 7:25; 16:18), and is immovable as the rock on which it stands: the three-fold rock of God's inviolable decree, of Christ's finished redemption, and of the Spirit's never-failing faithfulness. God is neither an unwise, a feeble, nor a capricious architect. He does not form a wretched scheme, liable to be frustrated, and which will hardly hang together at best: but all is well ordered; all is everlasting; all is sure; and nothing consigned to after-thought or peradventure. God having irreversibly drawn his plan, and Christ having completely accomplished the redeeming work assigned him; the sacred Spirit has only to breathe upon the hearts of his people in effectual calling, give them faith, imbue them with inward holiness, preserve and increase the holiness he communicates, lead them forth in the paths of outward duty and obedience, exercise them with desertions, visit them with his comforts, keep them from falling, or restore them when fallen, seal them to the day of Christ, and carry them safely through death to heaven.
Thus, mercy shall be built up for ever. And as surely as this book is the book of God; as surely as the Spirit of God inspired it, and inclined David to write these words; so surely is that a truth, which the words themselves convey. No part of salvation is left at sixes and sevens; but the whole is a plan, which does honor to infinite wisdom; a plan, conceived and hid (Eph. 3:9) in the all wise mind of God from eternal ages, but afterwards externally made known in the written word, or gospel of grace; and savingly unfolded in the souls of men, when the blessed Spirit begins to turn us from darkness to light, and from the power of satan unto God (Acts 26:18).
I was, yesterday, at some little distance from town; and received a very refined entertainment, in going over a most superb and elegant mansion, which, both within and without, exhibited such a combination of magnificence, beauty, and perfection of taste, that I could not help feeling a curiosity to know, how long that masterly edifice was in building? And, on being informed, that it was both founded and finished within the compass of ten months only; I could not help observing, to some friends who were with me, that if human art and human hands could rear so transcendent a fabric as this, in so short a space; why should we think it strange, that Jesus Christ was able to finish, and that he actually did finish, the fabric of man's salvation in a course of three and thirty years?
Blessed be God, our salvation is a finished work. It neither needs, nor will admit of, supplement. And here, let us remember, that, when we talk of a finished salvation, we mean, that completer and infallibly effectual redemption, accomplished by the propitiatory merit of Christ's own personal obedience and of Christ's own personal sufferings; both one and the other of which have that infinite perfection of atoning and of justifying efficacy, that it is utterly out of our power to add anything to the merit or validity of either. Every individual of mankind, for whom Christ obeyed, and for whom he bled, shall most certainly be saved by his righteousness and death, not one of the redeemed excepted; seeing Christ has paid completely paid, the debt of perfect obedience and of penal suffering: so that divine justice must become unjust, ere it be possible for a single soul to perish for all or any of those debts which Christ took upon himself to discharge, and which he has absolutely discharged accordingly.
Arminianism cannot digest this grand Bible truth. Hence, that poor, dull, blind creature, bishop Taylor, tells us, somewhere, if I mistake not, that "We are to atone for our great sins, by weeping; and for our little sins, by sighing." If our sins have no other atonement than this, we shall go on weeping, and wailing, and gnashing our teeth, to all eternity. But thanks to divine grace, the work of atonement is not now to do. Christ has already put away our sins, by the sacrifice of himself (Heb. 9:26). We are acquitted from guilt, and reconciled to God, not by our own tears, but by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, as of a lamb without spot or blemish (1 Peter 1:19): not our own sighs, and tears, and sorrows; but the humiliation, the agony, the bloody sweat, and the bitter death, of him who did no sin, of him who was found in fashion as a man, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:8); these, and these alone, are the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2). And as surely as Christ obeyed, as surely as Christ expired, as surely as he rose again, as surely as he intercedes for all the people of his love; so certainly will they all, first and last, be enabled to sing of his faithfulness, to all generations; and of that mercy which shall be built up for ever in their full, free, and final glorification.
This is farther confirmed, by those words of the psalmist, thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens. As much as to say, "When all thy chosen, redeemed, and converted people are assembled round thy throne; then thou wilt, in the very heavens, give an everlasting proof of thy everlasting faithfulness." So far will God be, from leaving his people to perish in their passage through the wilderness of life, or through the river of death; that he will present them, all, faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy (Jude 24). God loves his jewels too well, and Christ bought them with too much attention, either to throw them away, or to lose them at last. No: they shall be made up (Mal. 3:17); their number shall be accomplished; and in their glorification will the whole Trinity be glorified.
Now, after surveying some of the branches, let us look at the grand root from whence they spring. Having taken a cursory view of these streams, by which the Church of God is enriched unto salvation; let us endeavor to contemplate them in their great source and head. That you will find, in verse the third; where God the Father says, I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, thy seed will I establish forever, and build up thy throne to all generations. Do you suppose, that this was spoken to David, in his own person only? No, indeed: but to David as the anti-type, figure, and forerunner of Jesus Christ. Hence the Septuagint version renders it, I have covenanted with my elect people, or with my chosen ones: with them in Christ, and with Christ in their name. I have sworn unto David my servant, unto the Messiah, who was typified by David; unto my co-eternal Son, who stipulated to take on himself the form of a servant; thy seed, all those whom I given to thee in the decree of election, all those whom thou shalt live and die to redeem, these will I establish forever, so as to render their salvation irreversible and inadmissible; and build up thy throne, thy mediatorial throne, as king of saints, and covenant head of the elect, to all generations: there shall always be a succession of favored sinners to be called and sanctified, in consequence of thy federal obedience unto death; and every period of time shall recompense thy covenant sufferings, with an increasing revenue of converted souls, until as many as are ordained to eternal life (Acts 13:48) are gathered in.
Observe, here, that, when Christ received this promise from the Father, concerning the establishment of his (i.e. of Christ's) throne to all generations; the plain meaning is, that his people shall be thus established: for, consider Christ in his divine capacity as the Son of God, and his throne was already established, and had been from everlasting; and would have continued to be established without end, even if he had never been incarnate at all. Therefore, the promise imports, that, Christ shall reign, not simply as a person in the Godhead (which he ever did, and ever will, and ever must); but relatively, mediatorially, and in his office character, as the deliverer and king of Zion. Hence it follows, that his people cannot be lost: for he would be a poor sort of king, who had, or might have, no subjects to reign over. Consequently, that throne of glory, on which Christ sits, is already encircled in part, and will at last be completely surrounded, and made still more glorious, by that innumerable company, that general assembly, and Church of the firstborn, who are written in heaven (Heb. 12:23): for the remission of whose sins, his blood was shed; for the justification of whose persons, his righteousness was wrought; for the preservation of whom, in a state of grace, his intercession is still carried on in heaven; and to recover and retrieve whom from the personal dishonors of sin, the Holy Spirit comes down, and takes up his abode in their hearts, nor will ever cease from his gracious guardianship, until he has sanctified them into the kingdom of God.
Well may the Psalmist add, and the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O Lord; thy faithfulness also in the congregation of saints. What are we here, to understand, by the heavens? I should suppose, the primary inhabitants of heaven; namely, the angels of light. Electing goodness, redeeming mercy, sanctifying grace, and preserving power, so beneficently exhibited in the salvation of fallen man, are wonders even to the very angels themselves. But are angels the only beings, who shall wonder at this display of love? No: thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints. In the congregation of believing saints below, and of glorified saints above. For saints and angels, in the great result of things, when the transactions of grace and providence shall be unfolded and clearly laid open to the delighted view; at that august period saints and angels, the redeemed and the unredeemed (but both elected, the one as well as the other) spirits that were always unembodied, and saints whose souls were for a time dislodged from the body in consequence of original sin, but who shall receive their bodies again in the resurrection of the just; all these, when they stand and shine above, shall join in casting their crowns, and in striking their golden lyres to the praises of him who has loved his people, and redeemed them unto God by his blood (Rev. 5:9).
Time will not allow me to consider, as I designed, all the preliminary verses which lead to the text. Enough, I hope, has been observed, to justify the declaration with which the text begins: Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound! Awfully intimating, that there are some, who sit within the sphere of this joyful sound, but who know it, feel it, and enjoy it not. It is, to them, a sound, and no more than a sound. But the blessedness results, to those who know the joyful sound: and whose believing souls can say the free blessings of the gospel are all our salvation, and all our desire.
It is a very common thing, when we talk of knowing the things that belong to our spiritual and eternal peace, for unconverted people to cry out, Oh, how presumptuous, to take God at his word, and to believe and be sure that there shall be a performance of the things which are spoken and promised by the Lord (Luke 1:45). Thus when God avers to the penitent sinner, I even I am he that blotteth out thy transgressions, for my own sake, and will not remember thy sins (Isa. 43:25); it is not humility, but presumption itself, and the very quintessence of unbelief, that bids us put a negative on God's solemn asseveration, and induces us to question whether he will indeed make good his promise. I am firmly of opinion, that the man who reads and professes to believe the Bible, must have a large stock of assurance, in the worst sense of the word (i.e. of audaciousness and effrontery), if he ventures to deny, that assurance, in the best sense of the word, or a clear perception and conviction of interest in God's pardoning love, is the possible privilege of Christ's converted people. These will certainly concur with David, in pronouncing them blessed who know the joyful sound: who know it when they hear it, and who know it for themselves: whose hearts have been ploughed up by the Spirit of God, to receive the gospel seed; and in whom it springs into righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost (Rom. 14:17). This, and this alone, comes up to the full idea of knowing the joyful sound. Hence we may learn who the persons are, that know it indeed. Not Church of England people, in exclusion of others; not members of the Church of Scotland; nor, in short, the partizans of any one denomination in particular. But the many individuals, who, through grace, are enabled to know the joyful sound, are those whom God takes out of all these and other denominations, to be a people for his name (Acts 15:14): to wit, the elect of every age, place and party. All God's converted, all his repenting, all his believing, all his obeying people, through the whole extent of the earth, from under one end of the heavens to the other; all whose hearts, are touched by the attractive power of his divine Spirit; are the people that know the joyful sound.
The joyful sound of what? Of that free grace, which it is the business of God's ministers to proclaim, saying, Peace, peace, to him that is far off, and to him that is near (Is. 57:19). That joyful sound, which says, Ho, every one (without exception of time, or place, or person) Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters (Isa. 55:1) of life, joy, and salvation. But observe, that even this is not an universal call. God forbid that I should be misunderstood, by any who hear me this day. Do not imagine that I am hoisting the Arminian colors, and hanging out the false Arminian flag. No, by no means. I suppose, there is hardly a more indefinite call, in all God's word, than that which I quoted last. But then, take notice, it is addressed only to those, that thirst: i.e. to those, who so far know the joyful sound, as to wish for an experimental participation of the blessings it proclaims. It would be frivolous, to call them to the waters who do not thirst. It would be ridiculous mockery, would we invite the dead to sit down at table, and lay a plate and knife and fork before them, and ask them why they will not eat? The plain fact is, they cannot eat, or drink. They must be made alive, ere they can have so much as an appetite to either.
There is a passage, very frequently, but very idly, insisted upon by the Arminians; as if it were an hammer, which would, at one stroke, crush the whole fabric of free grace to powder. The passage is, Why will ye die. O house of Israel? (Ezek. 18:31). But is so happens, that the death, here alluded to, is neither spiritual death, nor eternal death: as abundantly appears from the whole tenor of the chapter. The death, intended by the prophet, is a political death; a death of national prosperity, tranquillity, and security. And the sense of the question is, fairly and precisely, this: What is it, that makes you in love with captivity, banishment, and civil ruin? Abstinence from the worship of images might, as a people, exempt you from those calamities, and once more render you a respectable nation. Are the miseries of public devastion so very alluring, as to attract your determined pursuit? Why will ye die? Die as the house of Israel; and considered as a political body? Thus reasonably did the prophet argue the case. Adding, at the same time, this no less reasonable declaration: As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth. Wherefore, turn yourselves, and live ye. Which imports these two things: 1. That the national captivity of the Jews added nothing to the happiness of God. It brought him no accession, either of profit or pleasure. And I should wonder much, if (philosophically speaking) anything whatever could add to the divine felicity, which is already infinite; and consequently insusceptible of augmentation. 2. That, if the Jews turned from idolatry, and flung away their images; they should not die in a foreign hostile country, but live peaceably in their own land, and enjoy their liberties as an independent people.
And now what has all this to do with the blessings of grace and glory! No more than it has to do with Gog and Magog. Would it not be very absurd, if I was to stand in a church-yard, and say to the dead bodies there interred, Why will ye die? Nor, in my idea, would it be less so, were I to ask a spiritually dead sinner, why wilt thou die? Alas, he is dead already: and to put such a question to one in such a state, would be, in reality, to ask a man, who is already fallen in Adam (as every man is), why wilt thou fall in Adam? Let Arminians rant in this manner, if they think fit. They shall, for me, have all the ranting, unenvied and unrivalled, to themselves. I think, it will not bear water.
Quite a different thing is the joyful sound of gospel grace. It imparts life to the dead, and health to the living. You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). And, says God, concerning his quickened Church, I will [not, tantalize her with an empty offer; but actually] bring it health and cure (Jer. 33:6). Regeneration gives spiritual life, and sanctification gives spiritual health to the soul. How is spiritual health evidenced to ourselves and others? Not by lolling in the elbow chair of sloth: but by abounding in the work of the Lord. For, however some people may call us Antinomians (as Christ himself and the apostles were so (Matt. 11:19; Rom. 3:8) called before us, by the unblushing Pharisees of that age), and falsely accuse our good conversation (1 Pet. 3:16) as though we were enemies to the moral law; we are so far from it, that (I aver it boldly, and let any contradict me if they can). We, who believe salvation to be the absolute gift of grace, are the only people that asset the due honors of the law, and establish its authority on an unshaken basis.
1. We assert its honors, by considering it as a transcript of God's own holiness; as absolutely perfect, in all its requisitions; as the invariable standard of moral excellency; as the sublime rule, by which Christ himself adjusted his own matchless obedience; and as the school-master, which, in subserviency to the Holy Spirit's influence, prepares us (by the severity of its discipline) for the reception of Christ, and for hearing, to good purpose, that sound of gospel grace, which is joyful to those only, whom the law, thus viewed, has (Gal. 3:24; Rom. 3:20) instrumentally convinced of sin.
2. We establish its (Rom. 3:31) authority, by grafting our obedience to it upon the never-dying principle of (1 Cor. 13:8; Matt. 27:40) love to Christ; by aiming at practical conformity to its precepts, as the grand visible evidence of our part in God's election and in the Messiah's (1 Pet. 1:2) redemption; by believing and asserting, that it still remains in full force, and will so remain while the sun and moon endure, as the rule of our moral walk; and by beseeching God the Holy Ghost to (Heb. 8:10) write it upon our hearts accordingly. For, whatever is absolutely, of moral obligation, is and must be, in its very nature, irrepealable.
Thus does the joyful sound proclaim the majesty, and even add to the sanctions, of the moral law. To fulfill the whole righteousness of that law, and to endure its awful penalty, as a covenant of works, the Son of God Most High bowed the heavens and came down. To make his ransomed people love that law, as a directory of conduct; and to make them actually transcribe its maxims into their lives, as a medium of their conformity to God; the uncreated Spirit descends upon their souls as a dove, and works in them both to will and to do.
But still we must consider the law as in the hand of (1 Cor. 9:21) Christ: and remember, that the love of God, graciously shed (Rom. 5:5) abroad in the heart, is that only acceptable principle, from which believers act.
Now, that joyful sound, which the people are pronounced blessed who know, consists, greatly, in what the word of God brings to light, concerning (Eph. 3:11) that eternal purpose in Christ Jesus our Lord. For, notwithstanding the endeavors of some, to misrepresent that great and precious truth, as a gloomy uncomfortable doctrine; they, whose eyes God has enlightened, and they whose hearts God has touched, know that it is not a gloomy, but a joyful sound: and all their hearts desire is, O that I might with more unclouded faith, behold my name shining in the Lamb's Book of Life! Christ himself, that great preacher of predestination, and who certainly was a competent judge of the question in hand, considered election as an heart reviving doctrine: or he would have never commanded his disciples to rejoice because their names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20). Whoever professes to preach the gospel, without taking absolute election into the account, that minister turns his back upon the tree of life, quenches one of the capital lights which he ought to elevate on a candlestick, and withholds from his people the very root and essence of the joyful sound.
What is free remission of sin, through the precious blood and atonement of Jesus Christ; what is unconditional and irreversible justification, through Christ's righteousness imputed; what is that truth, which tells us, that the Spirit of Christ is the renewer, the inhabitant, the illuminator, and the everlasting comforter of God's children; what is that word which assures us, that the Lord will not turn away from the people of his love, nor suffer them finally to turn away from him, but that he will seal them his forever, and preserve them through life and death to glory, through every step they take upon earth is paved with snares, and, if left to themselves a moment, down they must fall into the nethermost hell; what is the continued advocacy of Christ, whereby he wears his priesthood upon his throne, and intercedes for his militant people, so that, while they are travelling, or fighting, or fainting, he is praying, by the perpetual presentation of himself before God, as a Lamb newly slain; what are the promises which relate to the succor, support, and deliverance of the soul, in death; which ensure a bodily resurrection to glory, honor, and immortality; and which ascertain the endless beatification of soul and body together, in the kingdom of God; what, I say, are all these, but so many parts and branches of the joyful sound? And a joyful sound it is. God make it such to us.
Was the matter left in the hand of our free-will, the joyful sound would soon darken into a dismal one. We should never come into a state of grace, at all. And, if God was to put us into it, and then resign us to our own management, we should quickly make shipwreck of everything. Adam, in the state of innocence, did not probably, stand twenty-four hours. And how should the believer, who is in a mixed state of sin and grace, and in whom are (Songs 6:13) the company of two armies, flesh and spirit, at perpetual war with each other; how could such a person possibly continue, even for four-and-twenty minutes, if the same Almighty love, which put him into the covenant, did not keep him in it?
A good man, of the last century, says, and with great truth, "the strongest believer of us all is like a glass without a foot, which cannot stand one moment longer than it is held." And our Lord had a similar view of the matter, when he declared, that he holds all his sheep (John 10:28; Deut. 33:3) in his hand: as much as to say, was I to leave you for an instant, down you would fall: therefore I hold you fast, and none shall pluck thee out of my hand.
O, how comfortable is it, when the Lord makes these truths known, by his Spirit, to the heart! How blessed are the people, that thus know the joyful sound! Who can see that God has loved them in his Son; who can feel that Christ died for them, to be their everlasting peace; who are satisfied, that their peace is not now to make, but was completely made and sealed, by the precious blood of his cross, sweetly assured, that the Holy Spirit, who has begun to show them the great things of Christ, will go on more clearly to show them that he will never leave them nor forsake them, in life, in death, nor even at their journey's end! This is that joyful sound, which God enables his people to know. And what is the consequence of knowing it?
Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound. Wherefore are they blessed or happy? And in what does their blessedness consist? They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance. As much as to say, we need but know this joyful sound to be happy. We need but know what it is to be loved, chosen, redeemed, and sanctified from among men; and then that knowledge will cause us to (Hab. 3:19) walk upon our high places, and to triumph in the name of the Lord our God. We shall bask in the smile, we shall enjoy the sunshine of God's countenance upon our souls.
What is the meaning of that phrase, they shall walk in the light of thy countenance? Suppose any great personage was to patronize some obscure man, and favor him with his peculiar intimacy and friendship. It would, in that case, be natural for us to say, "such a person is greatly countenanced by this or that nobleman." So, here: They shall walk in the light of thy countenance: i.e. they shall be, sensibly, in the favor of God. They shall enjoy comfortable communion and fellowship with God. They shall have a satisfactory persuasion, that the Lord is at peace with them, through the blood of Christ; and at (Rom. 5:1) being justified by faith, they also are, on their part, at peace with the Lord. They (Rom. 5:11) receive the atonement (for the true business of faith is, not to make atonement, but simply to receive and rest upon Christ's atonement, already made, and which faith itself does not render more efficacious than it intrinsically is). Sometimes the tide of assurance rolls in so richly upon the soul, as to rise quite (if I may so speak) to high-water mark, and not to leave so much as the shadow of a doubt upon the mind. When it is thus with the believer, he may be eminently said to walk in the light of God's countenance. Faith looks (Heb. 6:19) within the veil. The interposing scene opens. We almost hear the angels sing. We almost see the souls of the glorified do homage to grace, and throw their crowns at the divine footstool. We almost behold the King of saints (Isa. 33:17) in his beauty, shining as (Rev. 5:6) the Lamb in the midst of the throne. Precious moments these! But soon, the scene closes. We descend from the mountain top, and find ourselves again in the valley.
If God, however, has not yet given you any assurance of his love, do not imagine, that you are, therefore, an alien and an outcast. For, I imagine, that God's countenance, or favor, and the light of his countenance or the clear and comfortable knowledge of his favors are two distinguishable things. God may bear a favor to us, he may love us, and be resolved to save us; and yet not indulge us with the immediate light of his countenance. But of one thing, I am as clearly positive, as that I am now preaching in the Lock Chapel: namely, that none, whose hearts are at all wrought upon by the finger of God's Spirit, can sit down, quite easily and contentedly, without wishing to experience what the light of God's countenance, means. Their desire is to know it, to walk in it, and to walk worthy of it.
Have you never observed, after the sun has been shining, perhaps for hours together, a diffusing mist has arisen from the earth, or a floating cloud has interposed in the sky, and shaded the grand luminary from your view? Yet, in reality, the sun still shone as before, though your sensation of its lustre was suspended. Thus in the darkest seasons of spiritual distress, God's countenance, or favor, is still toward you for good; and shines, not only with inextinguishable, but also with undiminishable intenseness. Is it not, however, a most desirable felicity, to see and to feel the light of his face, beaming full upon us, as the sun when it goeth forth in its might? (Judges 5:31). This is what the apostle means, where he says: God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give us the of the knowledge of the glory of God [i.e. to enlighten us into the knowledge of the Father's glorious grace, as exhibited], in the person [and as displayed in the finished salvation] of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). And this is, likewise, what the psalmist means in the text: They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance.
Do you ask, "How is this happy communion with God to be attained?" I answer: that it is not of human attainment, but of the Holy Spirit's vouchsafement. Whence David, elsewhere, prays; Lord lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us (Ps. 4:6).
Do you further ask; "How this sweet illumination and fellowship are to be sought, and cultivated, and cherished?" I answer: that the wisdom, and the will of God, and that orderly linking of one blessing with another, which he has established in his covenant of grace, all concur to assure us, that if we wish to enjoy the unintercepted rays of his presence within, we must cultivate holiness, abound in good works, be much in God's company, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, drink continually at the fountain of his written word, and converse frequently, and compare experiences, with others of God's children; more especially, with such of them as are either eminently lively, or remarkably exercised with desertions: such conversations are always profitable, and often make (Luke 24:32) our hearts burn within us, while we mutually unfold the Scriptures, and (Mal. 3:16) speak one to another, concerning (Acts 1:3) the things which pertain to the kingdom of God. The sick and the dying beds of Christ's people are, in a very eminent degree, schools of instruction and consolation. I have often gone to them, as cold, (spiritually speaking) as a stone: and returned from them, half as warm as an angel.
In one word: communion with God requires, that we be found in all the means of grace, and in the way of universal duty: and that we shun, as we would poison or the plague, whatever tends to cast a damp upon our intercourse with the Holy Ghost, to tarnish our graces, or darken our evidences. Was you to find, that even the crossing of a straw was conducive to bring a cloud upon your soul, and to obstruct your fellowship with God; it would be as much your duty to abstain from crossing that straw, as if thou shalt not cross a straw was one of the ten commandments. But, in all these respects, every man must judge for himself in particular. God has, generally, connected good with good, and evil with evil. If, therefore, you are suffered to be off your guard, and off your watch; though you cannot (if you are a true believer) so fall, as to break your neck; yet, you may break your limbs, in such a manner, as to go halting to the day of your death. The Lord graciously "strengthen such as do stand," and effectually "raise up them that fall;" by making both these and those more ardently and more practically careful than ever, to walk in the light of his countenance! For, surely, next to the love of God's heart, believers value the smiles of his face: from which, as from the agency of the sun, arise the buddings of conscious joy; the leaves of unsullied profession; the variegated blossom of holy tempers; and beneficent fruits of moral righteousness.
They are totally mistaken, who suppose, that the light of God's countenance, and the privileges of the gospel, and the comforts of the Spirit, conduce to make us indolent and unactive in the way of duty. The text cuts up this surmise, by the roots. For, it does not say, they shall sit down in the light of thy countenance; or, they shall lie down in the light of thy countenance; but they shall walk in the light of thy countenance. What is walking? It is a progressive motion, from one point of space, to another.
And the self-same light of God's countenance in which you, O believer, are enabled to walk, and which at first gave you spiritual feet wherewith to walk, will keep you in a walking and in a working state, to the end of your warfare. So that your path shall, under the shinings of his Spirit, (for we can do nothing, but as he vouchsafes his grace from moment to moment), wax brighter and brighter, to the perfect day (Prov. 4:18). The truly righteous shall hold on in his course; and he that hath clean hands, shall grow stronger and stronger (Job 17:9). Nor shall they only walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance; they shall also, at times, even run, and not be weary (Isa. 40:31): namely, when they are eminently drawn of God. Draw us, and we will run after thee (Songs 1:4).
Though God finds all his children stillborn, or spiritually dead, before he has quickened them by his own effectual power and grace; yet he makes them alive, in order that they may live, afterwards, to his honor and glory (1 Pet. 2:9). He lifts up the light of his countenance, upon the human mind; with a view, comparable to that, for which he causes the light of the natural sun to rise upon the world. To what end does the sun shine upon us in a morning? Not that we may continue to close our eyelids, and press all day, the bed of indolence: but that we may up and be doing. And why does the light of God's Spirit shine inwardly upon his people? That they may arise and walk in the light of his countenance, and work the works of God, while it is day, (John 9:4), as Jesus Christ gave them example: walk becomingly of him, who has called them to glory and virtue. For, it is not holy talking, but holy walking, that proves us to be children of God.
Yet, after we have done as much, and have walked as far in the ways of God, as his grace has enabled us; what is the subject matter of our confidence and rejoicing? Not ourselves, nor our own performances; but the free mercy of the Father, and the all-perfect merit of him that died and rose again. As good Mr. Hervey asks, "Can our charitable deeds expiate our innumerable offences? As soon might a drop of fresh water correct and sweeten the unfathomable brine of the ocean. Can our defective performances satisfy the demands of a perfect law, or our wandering devotions screen us from the displeasure of an injured God? As well may our unlifted hand eclipse the sun; or intercept the lightening, when it darts through the bursting cloud. We can be reconciled to God, only by Jesus Christ." It is the sweet employ of faith, to do as many good works as she can; and to renounce them, as fast as she does them: saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee?
Thus, we learn, from the text, that the self-same people, who walk in the light of God's countenance, and are active in the observations of moral duty, have, when they have done all, something infinitely better to rejoice in and to rely upon, than the sanctity of their walk, and the various duties which they perform. In thy name, not in their own rectitude, shall they rejoice, all the day: and in thy righteousness, not in their own doings, shall they be exalted. During the day of sublunary life, they shall sing, with the apostle, God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14): and when, having breathed their last on earth, they fly to the coast of immortality; they are then just beginning, and shall (after the final audit) be completely, and everlastingly, exalted to the kingdom of God, in and through the alone imputed righteousness of their Saviour, their surety, and their head.
By the name of Christ, in which the elect are here said to rejoice, I understand Christ himself: the blessed person, signified by that name. Who is the brightness, the emanation, or forth beaming ray, of the Father's glory (Heb. 1:4): and is, by virtue of that eternal and incomprehensible derivation, God of God; Light of Light; very God of very God; begotten, not made; co-equal partaker of one substance [i.e. of the same numerical nature and essence] with the Father: and by whom all things were made.
In his name, i.e. in the divinity of his person, and in his offices as mediator; in his finished atonement, in the perfect righteousness of his obedience, and in his never failing intercession for the elect; it is the privilege of the humble, the contrite, the feeble, the tempted, and of the fallen (if returning) believer, to rejoice: because it was for such men, and for their salvation, that this adorable Being came down from heaven, and poured out his soul unto death.
Do not imagine, that David was an Antinomian, because he makes no mention of good works, as objects of joy and dependence. True it is, that he does not say, "Saints shall rejoice in their faithfulness, in their affected mortifications, or even in those works that spring from genuine grace." No: not in these, but in his name, shall the Gentiles trust (Matt. 12:21), and of his only righteousness shall they make their boast. Inherent graces and personal duties are the ornaments, but neither the foundation, nor the pillars, of God's mystic temple.
As Christ's righteousness is the only merit, that can exalt us to the presence and to the kingdom of God; so that doctrine alone is to be considered as evangelical, which depresses the righteousness of man, and exalts the righteousness of Christ: leading us to trust, not on what we do, but singly on what he has done and suffered for us. The business of the law is, to knock us down from the pedestal of self-confidence, and to grind us small; as Moses ground to powder, as dispersed, the materials of the Israelitish Idol. The business of grace is, to lift us from the dust, to settle us upon Christ the rock of ages, to put a new song of free salvation into our mouths, and to order our goings in the path of God's commandments. This it is (even the power of the Holy Ghost, who first breaks us in pieces by the hammer of the law, and then puts us together anew by the grace of the gospel) that enables us to rejoice in the name of Christ all the day. Not that a believer's rejoicing is uninterrupted, from the time of his conversion, until the moment of his arrival in heaven: for the elect have their weeping, as well as their triumphant, seasons; and their pilgrimage is wisely chequered and diversified, both with joys and sorrows that the world knows not of. The meaning therefore, of the text, is; that a sinner is no sooner born again, than Christ, and Christ alone, becomes the object of that sinner's dependence: who can thenceforth say, with Dr. Watts,
"While Jews on their own works rely,
And Greeks of wisdom boast;
I love th' incarnate mystery,
And there I fix my trust."
The converted sinner having thus, through the good hand of God upon him, fixed all his hopes on Jesus Christ the righteous, travels the residue of his way, leaning on the merits of the (Songs 8:5) beloved mediator: and is, finally, exalted to the actual participation of the celestial inheritance above, in and by virtue of that divine righteousness, which God the Son wrought out, which God the Father imputes, which God the Spirit applies, and felt emptying faith receives.
The learned and evangelical Mr. Thomas Cole, a renowned and useful minister of Christ in the last century, had an observation or two, in his last illness, full to the sense of the cause with which the text concludes; in thy righteousness shall they be exalted. "It would be miserable dying, if we had not something, every way adequate to the demands of the law, to ground our hopes of eternal life upon. We have an abundant entrance into the kingdom of God, by the way of Christ's righteousness. The devil, and the law, may meet us: yet cannot hinder us from entering into heaven by that righteousness. We shall be sure to meet with the devil with conscience, with wicked men, and with the law of God, in our way to heaven: and we can deal with none of them, but by that righteousness which hath satisfied all. Let us bring that along with us, and they will all flee before it. If a sinner comes in his own righteousness; shut him out, sayeth God; so sayeth conscience; so sayeth the law. But, when one comes, clothed with the righteousness of Christ; let him in, sayeth God; so sayeth conscience; so sayeth the law: and let the devil say a word to the contrary, if he dare.
"I should not dare to look death in the face, were it not for the comfortable assurance, which faith gives me of eternal life in Christ Jesus; and for the comfortable and abundant flowings in of that life. It is not what I bring to Christ, but what I receive from him. The beginnings of which I see springing up into life eternal.
Some persons think to lick themselves whole, by their own moral righteousness; but it is the ready way, to die in horror of conscience.
If you want the manifestation of the pardon of any sins carry them to free grace; which, having blotted them out, knows how to give you a sense of it. The gospel of our salvation is a gospel of free grace: and they that would have it otherwise, may gather up what they can, and go boasting to heaven's gates; but they will be turned back again."
And how was this great man of God supported by Christ's righteousness, when in the immediate view of death? Learn what that righteousness can then do for us, by the following memorable speech, which he addressed to one of his visitants: "You are come to hear my last dying groans: but know, when you hear them, that they are the sweetest breath I ever drew since I knew Christ Jesus.
O thou blessed Son of God, exalt us in thy righteousness, and shake us out of our own! Ye, that hear me this day, which, O which, are you for? For being found and exalted in Christ's obedience? Or for inheriting perdition and damnation in your own? God enable you, and cause you, to choose the good part!
To cut off, as far as man can do it, all the pleas of proud, self-righteous unbelief, let me conclude with two or three pertinent remarks.
1. Why is the gospel news of salvation called the joyful sound? Not, indefinitely, a joyful; but peculiarly, and exclusively of all other schemes whatever, the joyful sound?
Because it is the vehicle of making known to us, that God is love, and that he has (in the blood and righteousness of Christ) opened a channel for his love to exert itself in the salvation of the unworthy. The lost are found: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the leprous are cleansed, the dead are made alive, and all, without money, and without price (Isa. 55:1).
2. Have you any part or lot in that blessedness, of which the text speaks? Any comfortable views, or hopes of interest in God's election, and in Christ's propitiation, and in the Spirit's renewing grace? Ask and it shall (not be sold to you for your works, and for your imaginary fulfillment of pretended conditions; but a sense of interest shall) be given you: seek, in the alone name and for the alone righteousness sake of Christ, and ye shall find the mercies you want: knock, but let it be with an empty hand, at the door of divine clemency; and it shall be opened unto you. For every one, that asks, receives; and he that seeks, finds; and to him that knocks, it shall be opened (Matt. 7:7,8). As surely as God draws you to Christ: so surely will Christ, at his own set time, make you a sharer in the blessedness of them that know the joyful sound.
3. You, who have believed with your hearts unto righteousness (Rom. 10:10), give God the whole glory; and pray that you may continually have more enlivening views of that imputed righteousness, on which he has caused you to trust. As, on one hand, nothing can warrant and animate your joy; so, on the other (to use the expression of a good man now with God), "Nothing can effectually kill sin; but a clear beholding of Christ's righteousness." Cleave to this sure and stedfast anchor, and you will finally rise superior, both to the waves of affliction, and to the mud of your own lusts and corruptions.
4. Make it your predominant object of ambition, to walk in the light of God's countenance. If you are blessed with his smile, no matter though the whole creation were to frown.
5. But whether you walk in light or darkness, in comfort or distress, remember that you have nothing but the name, the covenant, the person, and the work of Christ, to rejoice in and to depend upon. We, says the apostle, are the circumcision, who worship God the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
6. Know from whence all your spiritual and eternal exaltation arises. Not from yourselves, in any respect, nor in any degree. Free-will, until sanctified by regeneration, is a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint. And works, "done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of his Spirit, are," as our Church justly pronounces them to be, "sinful and displeasing to God." Nay, even the best works we can perform after conversion, fall immensely short of what God's law requires; in point both of matter and of manner, of quantity and quality, of number, extent purity, and weight. What, then, would become of us, if it was not for Christ's righteousness? St. Paul himself, with all his matchless retinue of holy works and useful labors, must have sunk, even from the scaffold of martyrdom, into the nethermost hell. Blessed, therefore, be the free grace of God, for that precious word of infallible promise, in thy righteousness shall thy people be exalted!
7. What is it, which made, and will forever continue to make, Christ's righteousness so infinitely meritorious and efficacious? The divinity of his person. All the created beings in the universe, whether angelic or human, unfallen, fallen, or restored; would never, by their utmost endeavors united, be able to furnish out and make up a righteousness of sufficient value to claim the favor of God upon the footing of justice and merit, or to present any one of the chosen seed blameless before the burning eyes of infinite sanctity. Such power belongeth only to the righteousness of the God-man Jehovah incarnate. Nothing but that all-perfect and everlasting merit, which is the complex result of his obedience and of his sacrifice, can exalt and retrieve us to the dignity and felicity of heaven.
The divinity of Christ can hardly receive stronger proof from Scripture, than that which our text supplies. For the whole two verses, which have been the subject of our meditation this morning, are a solemn address to the Messiah; not as man with God, or as the eternally and the only begotten of the Father. Let us give the text a short review, and we shall immediately perceive, that it is neither more nor less than a devotional application, explicitly directed to the second person of the Trinity: an application, formed in the strictest terms of worship, even of worship absolutely and properly divine; and which cannot, without the most gross and damnable idolatry, be offered to any being inferior to God himself.
Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound of salvation by thee: They shall walk, O Jehovah, in the light of thy countenance: in thy name shall they rejoice all the day; and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.
Now, what would you think of the man that was to offer such an address, as this, to the highest archangel in heaven? And what was David, if he could solemnly and deliberately pen this address, to a created intelligence; and cause it to be publicly sung by the Levites and chief singers of Israel, and even leave it on record for the seduction of posterity? And at a time, too, when the Jewish nation were particularly careful to execrate and shun everything that had the least tendency to idolatry? Either Christ is truly God, or David was the sacrilegious worshipper of a false one.
If, therefore, any of you should be beset by the cunning craftiness of men who lie in wait to deceive: should you meet with such as tell you, that Christ is not Jehovah, or very and eternal God; recollect if no other passage of Scripture, yet these two verses and their context: which will, alone, at anytime suffice to put to flight the sophistry of the aliens.
Can we be exalted in the righteousness of a creature? Would God the Father accept, and command us to trust in, the atonement of a finite being? By the same rule, we might (with the impudent Papists) trust in the supposed merits of the Virgin Mary, or of St. anybody else. And by the same rule, we might descend a step lower, and (with the still more impudent Pelagians) trust in our own supposed merits, and burn incense to the withered arm of our own blasted free-will. In short, there is no end to the horrible impieties, which flow from trampling the divinity and the righteousness of Christ under foot.
Moreover, if Christ was not God over all, blessed forever; each individual of mankind, who trusts in the Messiah's merits, would come within the circuit of that tremendous malediction denounced by the lips of him who is able to save and to destroy. Thus saith Jehovah, cursed be the man, that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from Jehovah: for he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh, etc. (Jem. 17:5,6). Faith in Christ would be the most damning sin under the cope of heaven, and God's law would pronounce us accursed, for relying upon him; if he were not as absolutely Jehovah as the Father. And I must add, that this awful text concludes equally strong against Pharisees of all sorts and sizes, who trust either in angels, or in departed spirits, or in their own wretched selves, for any part of salvation, whether little or much. Christ alone is to be trusted in, for pardon, for justification, for everlasting life, and for the whole of our safety and felicity, from beginning to end. Whence it is immediately added, in the above chapter of Jeremiah, Blessed is the man that trusteth in Jehovah, and whose hope Jehovah is. For he [i.e. the man that trusts and hopes in Jesus only] shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit (Jer. 17:8).
I perceive, the elements are upon the sacramental table. And I doubt not, many of you mean to present yourselves at that throne of grace, which God has mercifully erected in the righteousness and sufferings of his co-equal Son. O, beware of coming with one sentiment on your lips, and another in your hearts! Take heed of saying, with your mouths, "We do not come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness; while, perhaps, you have, in reality, some secret reserves in favor of that very self-righteousness, which you profess to renounce; and think that Christ's merit alone will not save you, unless you had something or other to make them effectual. O be not so deceived; for God will not thus be mocked, nor will Christ thus be insulted, with impunity. Call your works what you will, whether terms, causes, conditions, or supplements; the matter comes to the same point, and Christ is equally thrust out of his mediatorial throne, by these or any other similar views of human obedience. If you do not wholly depend on Jesus, as the Lord your righteousness (Jer. 23:6); if you mix your faith in him with anything else; if the finished work of the crucified God, be not, alone, your acknowledged anchor and foundation of acceptance with the Father, both here and ever; come to his table, and receive the symbols of his body and blood, at your peril. Leave your own righteousness behind you, or you have no business there. You are without the wedding garment; and God will say to you, Friend, how camest thou here? If you go on, moreover, to live and die in this state of unbelief; you will be found speechless and excuseless, in the day of judgment: when the slighted Saviour will say to his angels, concerning you, bind him, hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness; for many are called, but few chosen (Matt. 22:12,14).
On the contrary, you, who can sincerely say, "We do not come to thee trusting in our own righteousness," but feel and confess ourselves to be "unworthy of so much as gathering up the crumbs under thy table; in thee alone do we seek to be justified, and in thee alone do we (Isa. 45:25) glory; let such "draw near, with faith, and take this holy sacrament to their comfort." The Lord enable you to bring your sins, and your duties, and yourselves, and your all, to the great propitiation! May he wash us in his own blood, clothe us with his own righteousness, and seal us an holy people to himself by his Spirit! Then shall we be acceptable guests at his table below; and ripen fast, for the house of glory above; while this is all our plea, and all our song, Lord I am not worthy to come under thy roof, nor that thou shouldest come under mine; but the (Rev. 5:12) Lamb that was slain is worthy; and my every particle of hope centers in him, in his covenant, in his obedience, cross, humiliation, and exaltation. For the sake if his agonies, take away my iniquities. For the sake of his righteousness, receive me graciously. And in the mantle of his imputed merit may I be (Phil. 3:9) found; living, dying, at the judgment bar, and to all eternity.