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this and that; here is victory and success; here is wealth and peace;but here is not Christ.
That this was Abraham's condition appears from verse 2 of that chapter; where God having told him that he was his shield, and his exceeding great reward, he replies, “ Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless ?” As if he should have said, Lord God, thou toldest me when I was in Haran, now nineteen years ago, that in me and“ my seed all the families of the earth should be blessed,” Gen. xii. 3,—that the blessed, blessing seed, should be of me: but now I wax old, all appearances grow up against the direct accomplishment of that word; and it was that which, above all, in following thee, I aimed at: if I am disappointed therein, what shall I do? and what will all these things avail me ?—what will it benefit me to have a multitude of earthly enjoyments, and leave them in the close to my servant ?
I cannot but observe, that this sighing, mournful complaint of Abraham, hath much infirmity, and something of diffidence mixed with it. He shakes in the very bottom of his soul, that improbabilities were growing up, as he thought, to impossibilities against him in the way of promise. Yet hence also mark these two things: First, That he doth not repine in himself, and keep up his burning thoughts in his breast, but sweetly breathes out the burden of his soul into the bosom of his God. “ Lord God,” saith he, “what wilt thou give me, seeing I childless ?” It is of sincere faith, to unlade our unbelief in the bosom of our God. Secondly, That God takes not his servant at the advantage of his complaining and diffidence; but lets that pass, until having renewed the promise to him, and settled his faith, then he gives in his testimony that he believed God. The Lord overlooks the weakness and causeless wailings of his, takes them at the best, and then gives his witness to them.
This, I say, was the promise whereof we spake,—that he should have a seed of his own,“ like the stars that cannot be numbered,” Gen. xv. 4, 5. And herein are contained three things.
1. The purely spiritual part of it, that concerned his own soul in Christ. "God engaging about his seed, minds him of his own interest in that seed which brings the blessing. Jesus Christ, with his whole mediation, and his whole work of redemption, is in this promise, with the enjoyment of God in covenant, “as a shield, and as an exceeding great reward."
2. The kingdom of Christ, in respect of the propagation and establishment of it, with the multitude of his subjects,—that also is in this promise.
3. The temporal part of it,-multitudes of children to a childless man, and an heir from his own bowels.
Now this promise, in these three branches, takes up your whole interest, comprises all you are to believe for, be you considered either as believers or as rulers. As believers :—so your interest lies in these two things: That your own souls have a share and portion in the Lord Christ; and that the kingdom of the Lord Jesus be exalted and established. As rulers:—That peace and prosperity may be the inheritance of the nation, is in your desires. Look upon this in subordination to the kingdom of Christ, and so all these are in this promise.
To make this more plain, these being the three main things that you aim at, I shall lay before you three promises, suited to these several things, which, or the like, you are to view in all your actings, all staggering at them being from unbelief.
The first thing you are to believe for, is the interest of your own souls in the covenant of grace by Christ. As to this, I shall only point unto that promise of the covenant, Heb. viii, 12," I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”
The second is the establishment of the kingdom of Christ, in despite of all opposition. And for this, amongst innumerable (passages], take that of Isa. lx. 11, “Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought: for the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish.'
The quiet and peace of the nation, which ye regard as rulers, as it stands in subordination to the kingdom of Christ, comes also under the promise; for which take that of Jer. xxx. 20, 21.
These being your three main aims, let your eye be fixed on these three, or the like promises; for in the demonstration and the use of the point I shall carry along all three together, desiring that what is instanced in any one may be always extended to both the others. II. What is it to stagger at the promise?" He staggered not,” où
“” διεκρίθη, , “he disputed not." Avanpívojan is, properly, to make use of our own judgment and reason in discerning of things, of what sort they be. It is sometimes rendered, “to doubt,” Matt. xxi. 21, “ If ye have faith” (xad se od dvarpidñre), “and doubt not:" that is, not use arguings and reasonings in yourselves concerning the promise and things promised. Sometimes it simply denotes to discern a thing as it is so the word is used, 1 Cor. xi. 29, Alaxpivw To Gâlea, "Discerning the body.” In the sense wherein it is here used, as also Matt. xxi. 21, it holds out, as I said, a self-consultation and dispute concerning those contrary things that are proposed to us. So also Acts x. 20, Peter is commanded to obey the vision, undev diaxpivójesvos, “nothing doubting.” What is that? Why, a not continuing to do what he
is said to have done, verse 17, “He doubted in himself what the vision he had seen should mean;" he rolled and disputed it in his own thoughts; he staggered at it.
To stagger, then, at the promise, is to take into consideration the promise itself, and withal, all the difficulties that lie in the way for the accomplishment of it, as to a man's own particular, and then so to dispute it in his thoughts, as not fully to cast it off, nor fully to close with it. For instance, the soul considers the promise of free grace in the blood of Jesus,-looks upon it,—weighs as well as it is able the truth of God, who makes the promise, with those other considerations which might lead the heart to rest firmly upon it; but withal, takes into his thoughts his own unworthiness, sinfulness, unbelief, hypocrisy, and the like,—which, as he supposes, powerfully stave off the efficacy of the promise from him. Hence he knows not what to conclude. If he add a grain of faith, the scale turns on the side of the promise; the like quantity of unbelief makes it turn upon him; and what to do he knows not; let go the promise he cannot, take fast hold he dares not; but here he staggers and wavers to and fro.
Thus the soul comes to be like Paul, in another case, Phil. i. 23. He considered his own advantage on the one side by his dissolution, and the profit of the churches by his abiding in the flesh on the other; and taking in these various thoughts, he cries out he is in a strait;-he staggered, he was betwixt two, and knew not which to choose: or as David, 2 Sam. xxiv. 14, when he had a tender of several corrections made to him, says, “I am in a great strait;"—he sees evil in every one, and knows not which to choose.
A poor creature looking upon the promise sees, as he supposes, a steadfast closing with the promise, that there lies presumption; on the other hand, certain destruction if he believes not. And now he staggers,—he is in a great strait: arguments arise on both sides, he knows not how to determine them; and so, hanging in suspense, he staggereth. Like a man travelling a journey, and meeting with two several paths that promise both fairly, and he knows not which is his proper way; he guesses, and guesses, and at length cries, Well, I know not which of these ways I should go; but this is certain, if I mistake, I am undone: I'll go in neither, but here I'll sit down, and not move one step in either of them, until some one come that can give me direction. The soul very frequently sits down in this hesitation, and refuses to step one step forward, till God come mightily and lead out the spirit to the promise, or the devil turn it aside to unbelief.
It is as a thing of small weight in the air: the weight that it hath carries it downwards; and the air, with some breath of wind, bears it up again, so that it waves to and fro: sometimes it seems as though it
would fall by its own weight; and sometimes again, as though it would mount quite out of sight; but poised between both, it tosseth up
and down, without any great gaining either way. The promise draws the soul upward, and the weight of its unbelief sinks it downward. Sometimes the promise attracts so powerfully, you would think the heart quite drawn up into it; and sometimes again unbelief presses down, that you would think it gone for ever;—but neither prevails utterly, the poor creature swags between both. This is to stagger. Like the two disciples going to Emmaus, Luke xxiv. 14, “They talked together of the things that had happened,”-debated the business; and, verse 21, they gave up the result of their thoughts. They “trusted it had been he that should have redeemed Israel.” They trusted once; but now, seeing him slain and crucified, they know not what to say to it.
. What then? do they quite give over all trusting in him? No, they
, cannot do so, verses 22–24. Certain women had astonished them, and affirmed that he was risen; yea, and others also, going to his grave, found it so. Hereupon they have consultation within themselves, and are sad, verse 17;—that is, they staggered, they were in a staggering condition; much appears for them, something against them, --they know not what to do.
A poor soul, that hath been long perplexed in trouble and anxiety of mind, finds a sweet promise,—Christ in a promise suited to all his wants, coming with mercy to pardon him, with love to embrace him, with blood to purge him,--and is raised up to roll himself in some measure upon this promise. On a sudden, terrors arise, temptations grow strong, new corruptions break out,—Christ in the promise dies to him, Christ in the promise is slain, is in the grave as to him; so that he can only sigh, and say, I trusted for deliverance by Christ, but now all is gone again; I have little or no hope,-Christ in the promise is slain to me. What then? shall he give over? never more inquire after this buried Christ, but sit down in darkness and scrrow? No, he cannot do so: this morning some new arguments of Christ's appearance again upon the soul are made out; Christ is not for ever lost to him. What does he, then? Steadfastly believe he cannot,totally give over he will not; he staggers, --- he is full of self-consultations, and is sad. This it is to stagger at the promise of God.
I come now to prove, that notwithstanding any pretences whatever, all this staggering is from unbelief.
The two disciples, whom we now mentioned, that staggered and disputed between themselves in their journey to Emmaus, thought they had a good reason, and a sufficient appearing cause of all their doubtings. “We hoped,” say they, “ that it was he that should have redeemed Israel” What do they now stand at? Alas! the “chief priests and rulers have condemned him to death, and crucified him,"
Luke xxiv. 20. And is it possible that deliverance should arise from a crucified man? This makes them stagger. But when our Saviour himself draws nigh to them, and gives them the ground of all this, he tells them it is all from hence,—they are “foolish, and slow of heart to believe,” verse 25. Here is the rise of all their doubtings, even their unbelief. Whilst you are slow of heart to believe, do not once think of establishment.
Peter venturing upon the waves at the command of Christ, Matt. xiv., seeing “the wind to grow boisterous," verse 30, he also hath a storm within, and cries out, “Lord, save me!” What was now the cause of Peter's fear and crying out? Why, the wind and sea grew boisterous, and he was ready to sink;—no such thing, but merely unbelief, want of faith, verse 31. “O thou of little faith,” saith our Saviour, “wherefore didst thou doubt?” It was not the great wind, but thy little faith that made thee stagger. And in three or four other places, upon several occasions, doth our Saviour lay all the wavering and staggering of his followers as to any promised mercy upon this score, as Matt. vi. 30, viii. 26.
Isa. vii., Ahaz being afraid of the combination of Syria and Ephraim against him, received a promise of deliverance by Isaiah, verse 7 Whereupon the prophet tells him, and all Judah, that “ if they will not believe, surely they shall not be established,” verse 9. He doth not say, If Damascus and Ephraim be not broken, you shall not be established; no, he doth not stick there. The fear that you will not be established ariseth merely from your unbelief;—that keeps you off from closing with the promise, which would certainly bring you establishment.
And this is the sole reason the apostle gives why the word of promise, being preached, becomes unprofitable, even because of unbelief: it was not“ mixed with faith,” Heb. iv. 2.
But these things will be more clear under the demonstration of the points, which are two.
1. When a man doubts, hesitates, and disputes, any thing in himself, his reasonings must have their rise, either from something within himself, or from something in the things concerning which he staggereth ;-either “certitudo mentis," “ the assurance of his mind," or “certitudo entis,” the “certainty of the thing itself,” is wanting. He that doubteth whether his friend in a far country be alive or not, his staggering ariseth from the uncertainty of the thing itself; when that is made out, he is resolved, as it was with Jacob in the case of Joseph. But he that doubteth whether the needle in the compass, being touched with the loadstone, will turn northward, all the uncertainty is in his own mind.
When men stagger at the promises, this must arise either from