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GOD'S PRESENCE WITH A PEOPLE THE SPRING OF THEIR
“And he went out to meet Asa, and said unto him, Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah
and Benjamin; The LORD is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you.”— 2 CHRON. xv.
It will not, I am sure, seem strange to any, that I have taken a text to preach on, in a day of humiliation, out of a thanksgiving sermon, such as this discourse of Azariah seems to be; if they shall but consider the suitableness of the instruction given therein to any great and solemn occasion, whether of humiliation or rejoicing. The words, indeed, are the sum of all directions that in such cases can be given, the standard of all rules and exhortations wherein any nation or people, in any condition, are or may be concerned ;-so plainly measuring out our fate and lot, the event and issue of our affairs, with all the great undertakings of the people of God in this nation, that of themselves I hope they will make some passage to the hearts of them to whom the inferences from them shall this day be applied.
In the foregoing chapter we have an account of a great victory that Asa and the people of Judah, fighting in faith and with prayer, obtained against the huge host of the Ethiopians, with the abundant spoils which they took and carried away thereupon. In their triumphant return to Jerusalem the Spirit of God stirs up a prophet to go out and meet them, to give them an account of the rise and cause of their success, and direction for their future deportment under the enjoyment of such mercies and deliverances. The Lord knows how apt even the best of men are to forget the spring of their mercies how negligent in making suitable returns, by a due improvement of the advantages put into their hands, unto the Lord of all mercies; therefore are they in all seasons to be minded of their proper
interest and duty.
This is done in my text to Asa and Judah by Oded; and I desire in my sermon that it may with the same spirit and the same success be done by me unto you. The words I intend principally to insist on, having the same thing for substance three times repeated in them, the opening of the first clause, with the general tendency of the whole, will suffice as to their exposition, and the grounding of that general proposition which I shall improve. Two things are, then, principally to be inquired into:
First. What it is for God to be with any people.
And according to the analogy of these two, the following assertions, of seeking the Lord, and forsaking him, will be easily understood. For though the words differ in expression, yet they are all of the same way of assertion. They are three hypothetical propositions, or promissory assertions on supposition :-“ If you abide with the Lord, he will be with you;” “If you seek the Lord, he will be found of you;" “ If you forsake the Lord, he will forsake you.” The same matter is trebled, for the fuller and surer confirmation of the thing asserted;-only, whereas the last proposition supposeth a thing possible, -namely, that they might forsake the Lord,
the first supposes a thing present; and therefore it is so expressed, "whilst you are with him,”-because they had abode with God in their late war and trial.
Before I enter upon the opening of the words themselves, I cannot pass by the earnest preface of the prophet, “Hear ye me, 0 Asa." He saw the people, upon their success, taken up with many thoughts, thinking of many businesses, full of many contrivances,-one imagining one thing, another another; all of them, it may be, how they should use and improve their peace and success to their advantage, interest, profit, or security. Or the princes and rulers, as it is probable and usual in such cases, might be considering how to carry on their victory, how to make the best advantage of it, in their dealing with neighbouring princes and nations, in making peace or war. In the midst of these thoughts the prophet meets them, and diverts them, with all earnestness, to things quite of another nature, and of unspeakably greater importance and concernment to them. “Hear ye me," saith he; it is not your own counsel nor your own valour that hath brought about this great work, this mighty victory; the Lord himself hath done it, by his presence with you. It is not of any concernment unto you what other nations do, or may do; but the presence of God concerns you alone to look after.
Observation. The great concernment of any people or nation is, to know that all their prosperity is from the presence of God amongst them, and to attend to that which will give continuance thereunto.
You may tire yourselves in the imaginations and contrivances of your own hearts, and lay out your thoughts and time about things that will not profit nor advantage you;-this is your interest, this is your concernment, “Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin.” Of this proposition afterwards.
For the words themselves, the first thing proposed to be inquired into for their explanation is this,
FIRST, What is it for God to be with a people?
God may be said to be with men, or present with them, in sundry respects.
i. He may be said to be with them in respect of the omnipresence of his essence.
So he is naturally and necessarily present with all creatures,-indistant from them, present with them. The ubiquity and immensity of his essence will not allow that he should be distant from any thing to which he hath given a being. “The heaven, even the heaven of heavens, cannot contain him," 1 Kings viii. 27. Doth he not fill heaven and earth? Is he a God at hand only, and not afar off, as to the ends of the earth? This presence of God with all things David emphatically declares, Ps. cxxxix. 7–12. But it is not that that is here intended;—that is universal, to all creatures, -natural and necessary; this, especial, to some,—voluntary, and of mercy;—that, of nature and essence; this, of will and operation.
2. God may be said to be with one in respect of personal union. So he was with, and only with, the man Jesus Christ, Acts x. 38, Oeds ho hes' autoū, “God was with bim;" that is, in personal union, the human nature being taken into subsistence with the Son of God.
3. God is present or with any in respect of the covenant of grace. He is with them to be their God in covenant;—the tenor whereof is, that he will not leave them, nor shall they forsake him; he will be for them, and they shall be for him, and not for another. He is with them for all the ends of mercy, love, kindness, pardon, salvation, that are proposed and exhibited in it. But neither is this the presence of God here intended, though this be something that flows from it and does attend it. For,
(1.) That presence of God with his people hath not such a conditional establishment as this here mentioned. It stands on other terms and better security than that here proposed; it hath received an eternal ratification in the blood of Christ, is founded in the immutable purpose of grace, and is not left to the conditionality here expressed, as we shall see afterward.
(2.) The presence here mentioned respects the whole body of the people, all Judah and Benjamin, in their national state and consideration, unto whom, as such, the effectual covenant of grace was never extended; for they were not all Israel who were of Israel.
(3.) The presence here promised respects immediately the peculiar end, of blessing the whole people with success in their wars and undertakings;—so the occasion of the words and the context, with regard to the following discourse, do undeniably evince. It is not, then, this presence of God only that is intended; though, as it will afterward appear, it is not to be separated from it.
4. There is a presence of God in respect of providential dispensations. And this is twofold:
(1.) General ;-ordering, disposing, guiding, ruling all things, according to his own wisdom, by bis own power, unto his own glory. Thus he is also present with all the world; he disposes of all the affairs of all the sons of men as he pleaseth;—sets up one, and pulls down another; changes times, seasons, kingdoms, bounds of nations, as seems good to him. The help that is given to any, he doth it himself. The shields of the earth belong unto God; he works deliverance in the earth, even among them that know him not. And the evils,
, desolations, and destruction, that the earth is full of, are but the effects of his wrath and indignation, revealing itself against the ungodliness of men.
He is thus present with every person in the world; holds his breath and all his ways in his hand; disposes of his life, death, and all his concernments, as he pleaseth. He is present in all nations, to set them up, pluck them down, alter, turn, change, weaken, establish, strengthen, enlarge their bounds, as he sees good; and the day is coming when all his works will praise him. Neither is this here intended;-it is necessary, and belongs to God, as God, and cannot be promised to any; it is a branch of God's natural dominion, that every creature be ruled and disposed of, agreeably to its nature, unto the end whereunto it is appointed.
(2.) Special ;-attended with peculiar love, favour, good-will, special care towards them with whom he is so present. So Abimelech observed that he was with Abraham, Gen. xxi. 22, “God is with thee in all that thou doest," --with thee to guide thee, bless thee, preserve thee, as we shall see afterward. So he promised to be with Joshua, “I will be with thee,” chap. i. 5; and so he was with Gideon, “The LORD is with thee," Judges vi. 12,—to bless him in his great undertaking; and so with Jeremiah," I am with thee," chap. xv. 20. This is fully expressed, Isa. xliii. 1, 2, “I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.”
And this is the presence of God here intimated,--his presence with the people as to special providential dispensations, as is manifest from the whole discourse of the prophet; and wherein this consists, shall be afterward at large declared.
SECONDLY, What is a people's abiding with God?
1. In personal obedience, according to the tenor of the covenant. This is not here intended, but supposed. There is no abiding in any thing with God where there is not an abiding in this thing; yet this, as I said, is not here principally intended, but supposed ;--something farther is intended; for, as hath been declared, it is national work and national abiding that is intended. So that,
2. There is an abiding with God in national administrations;— this is a fruit of the other, in those who are called to them. And that this is principally here intended is evident from that use that Asa made of this information and exhortation of the prophet. He did not only look to his personal walking thereupon, but also immediately set upon the work of ordering the whole affairs of the kingdom so as God might be glorified thereby. How this may be effected, shall at large afterward be declared. What hath already been spoken may suffice for a foundation of that proposition which I shall this day insist upon; and it is this,
Observation. The presence of God with a people, in special providential dispensations for their good, depends on their obediential presence with him in national administrations to his glory: “The LORD is with you, while ye be with him.”
For the explication of this proposition some few things are to be premised :
1. The presence of God with his people as to special grace in the covenant, and his presence with them as to special assistance in providence, proceed on very different accounts.
(1.) They have a very different rise. The foundation and principal law of special grace, dispensed in the covenant, is this,—that some sinned, and another was punished. So it is laid down expressly, Isa. liii. 6, “ All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all;"
;”—2 Cor. v. 21, “He was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him;”—Gal. iii. 13, 14," a curse for us, that the blessing of faithful Abraham might come on them that believe. 1 Pet. ii. 24, This is the great and sovereign principle of the covenant of grace, that a commutation should be made of persons, as to punishments and rewards; that sinners should be provided of a substitute,—one that should undergo the punishment due to them, that they might go free, and procure a reward for them who could procure none for themselves.
Now, the supreme and sovereign law of providential dispensations is utterly diverse and alien from this of the covenant of grace. This you have asserted, Ezek. xviii. 20, “ The soul that sinneth, it shall