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is it to spare rebels that were under his feet ! “If a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away?” 1 Sam. xxiv. 19: But God, when we were all at his mercy, spared and saved us.
Besides, rebels sometimes solicit the favour of their prince by their acknowledgments, their tears and supplications, the testimonies of their repentance; but man persisted in his fierce enmity, and had the weapons of defiance in his hands against his Creator ; he trampled on his laws, and despised his Deity; yet then the Lord of hosts became the God of peace.
In short ; there was nothing to call forth the divine compassion but our misery: the breach began on man's part, but reconciliation on God's. Mercy opened his melting eye, and prevented not only our desert, but our expectation and desires. The design was laid from eternity. God foresaw our sin and our misery, and appointed a Saviour“ before the foundation of the world,” i Pet. i. 20. It was the most early and pure love to provide a ransom for us before we had a being; therefore we could not be deserving, nor desirous of it; and after we were made, we deserved nothing but damnation. aces were
2. The grace of God eminently appears in man's recovery, by comparing his state with that of the fallen angels who are left under misery. This is a special circumstance that magnifies the favour; and to make it more sensible to us, it will be convenient briefly to consider the first state of the angels, their fall, and their punishment.
mer God, in creating the world, formed two natures capable of his image and favour, to glorify and enjoy him, angels and men ; and placed them in the principal parts of the universe, heaven and earth. The angels were the eldest offspring of his love, the purest productions of that supreme light: man in his best state was inferior to them, Psalm viii. 5. A great number of them kept not their first state of integrity and felicity. Their sin is intimated in scripture ; « Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil,” 1 Tim. iii. 6; that is, lest he become guilty of that sin which brought a severe sentence on the devil. The prince of darkness was blinded with the lustre of his own excellencies, and attempted upon the regalia of heaven, affecting an independent state. He disavowed his Benefactor, enriched with his benefits : and, in the same moment, he, with his companions in rebellion, was banished from heaven. “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgment,” 2 Pet. ii. 4. Mercy did not interpose to avert or suspend their judgment; but immediately they were expelled from the divine presence. A solemn triumph in heaven followed : “ A voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants. And I heard as it were the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” They are now the most eminent examples of revenging wrath. Their present misery is inuspportable, and they expect worse. When our Saviour cast some of them out of the possessed persons, they cried out, “ Art thou come to torment us before the time ?" “ Miserrimum est timere cum speres nihil ;" it is the height of misery to have nothing to hope, and something to fear. Their guilt is attended with despair. They are in “everlasting chains;" he that carries the keys of hell and death” will never open their prison. If the sentence did admit a revocation after a million of years, their torment would be nothing in comparison of what it is; for the longest measure of time bears no proportion to eternity, and hope would allay the sense of the present sufferings with the prospect of future ease: but their judgment is irreversible ; they are under the “ blackness of darkness for ever.” There is not the least glimpse of hope to allay their sorrows, no starlight to sweeten the horrors of their eternal night. They are “servi peenæ," that can never be redeemed. It were a kind of pardon to them to be capable of death ; but God will never be so far reconciled, as to annihilate them. His anger shall be accomplished, and his fury rest upon them, Ezek. iii. 5. Immortality, the privilege of their nature, infinitely increases their torment, for when the understanding, by a strong and active apprehension, hath a terrible and unbounded prospect of the continuance of their sufferings, that what is intolerable must be eternal, this inexpressibly exasperates their misery: there wants a word beyond death to set it forth.
This is the condition of the sinning angels, and God might have dealt in as strict justice with rebellious man.
It is true, there are many reasons may be assigned, why the wisdom of God made no provision for their recovery.
(1.) It was most decent that the first breach of the divine law should be punished, to secure obedience for the future. Prudent lawgivers are severe against the first transgressors, the leaders in disobedience. He that first presumed to break the sabbath, was by God's command put to death ; and Solomon, the king of peace, punished the first attempt upon his royalty with death, though in the person of his brother.
(2.) The malignity of their sin was in the highest degree ; for such was the clearness of the angelical understanding, that there was nothing of ignorance and deceit to lessen the voluntariness of their sin. It was no mistake, but malice. They fell in the light of heaven, and rendered themselves incapable of mercy: as under the law, those who sinned “ with a high hand,” that is, not out of ignorance or imbecility, to please their passions, but knowingly and proudly despised the command, their presumption was inexpiable; no sacrifice was appointed for it. And the gospel, though the declaration of mercy, yet excepts those who sin the great transgression against the Holy Ghost. Now of such a nature was the sin of the rebellious angels, it being a contemptuous violation of God's majesty, and therefore unpardonable. Besides, they are wholly spiritual beings, without any allay of flesh, and so fell to the utmost in evil, there being nothing to suspend the entireness of their will ; whereas the human spirit is more slow by its union with the body. And that which extremely aggravates their sin is, that it was committed in the state of perfect happiness; they despised the full fruition of God. It was, therefore, congruous to the divine wisdom, that their final sentence should depend upon their first, election : whereas man's rebellion, though inconceivably great, was against a lower light and less grace dispensed to him.
(3.) They sinned without a tempter, and were not in the same capacity with man to be restored by a Saviour. The devil is an original proprietor in sin, it is of his own, John vii. 44. Man was beguiled by the serpent's subtilty. As he fell by another's malice, so he is recovered by another's merit.
(4.) The angelical nature was not entirely lost. Myriads of blessed spirits still continue in the place of their innocency and glory, and for ever ascribe to the great Creator that incommunicable honour which is due to him, and perfectly do his commandments. But all mankind was lost in Adam, and no religion was left in the lower world.
Now, although in these and other respects it was most consistent with the wisdom and justice of God, to conclude them under an irrevocable doom, yet the principal cause that inclined him to save man, was mere and perfect grace. The law made no distinction, but awarded the same punishment: mercy alone made the difference; and the reason of that is in himself. Millions of them fell sacrifices to justice, and guilty man was spared. It is not for the excellency of our nature, for man in his creation was lower than the angels; nor upon the account of service, for they, having more eminent endowments of wisdom and power, might have brought greater honour to God; nor for our innocence, for though not equally, yet we had highly offended him; but it must be resolved into that love which passeth knowledge.” It was the unaccountable pleasure of God that preferred babes before the wise and prudent, and herein grace is most glorious. He in no wise took the nature of angels, though immortal spirits; he did not put forth his hand to help them, and break the force of their fall; he did nothing for their relief, they are under unallayed wrath: but he took “ the seed of Abraham,” and plants a new colony of those who sprung from the earth, in the heavenly country, to fill up the vacant places of those apostate spirits. This is just matter of our highest admiration, why the milder attribute is exercised towards man, and the severer on them! Why the vessels of clay are chosen, and the vessels of gold neglected! How can we reflect upon it without the warmest affections to our Redeemer? We shall never fully understand the riches of distinguishing grace, till our Saviour shall be the Judge, and receive us into the kingdom of joy and glory, and condemn them to an eternal separation from his presence.
THE GREATNESS OF THE DIVINE MERCY IN REDEMPTION.
THE next circumstance to be considered in the divine mercy is the degree of it; and this is described by the apostle in all the dimensions which can signify its greatness. He prays for the Ephesians, that they “may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge,”
Ephes. iii. 18. No language is sufficient to express it: if our hearts were as large as the sand on the sea shore, yet they were too strait to comprehend it. But although we cannot arrive at the perfect knowledge of this excellent love, yet it is our duty to study it with the greatest application of mind ; for our happiness depends upon it; and so far we may understand it, as to inflame our hearts with a superlative affection to God. And the full discovery, which here we desire and search after, in the future state shall be obtained by the presence and light of our Redeemer.
Now the greatness of the divine love in our redemption appears by reflecting on,
I. The mighty evils from which we are freed.
II. The means by which our redemption is accomplished.
III. The excellent state to which we are advanced by our Redeemer.