Epistles of Faith
William Huntington (1745-1813)
I RECEIVED yours; and in compliance with your request, and the request of some others, I will skew mine opinion, by publishing my thoughts on the obscure parable, and submit them to the judgment of the wise; hoping that, as God blessed the: preaching of them, he may also bless the reading of them. If they meet with the approbation of God, and are of use to those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth, I shall not grudge my labour: and, as to what Arminians, or any other set of enemies to the truth. may say against them, I care nothing about; for the good word of such is both a bad omen and a scandal to a servant of Christ; seeing that the master hath pronounced a wo to us when all men speak well of us, for so did their fathers, in heresy, of the false prophets of old.
Matt. 18., beginning at Verse 23-35.
"Therefore is the kingdom of heaven," &c. By the kingdom of heaven, or kingdom of God, is sometimes meant, the dominion or reign of grace in the heart: "The kingdom of God is within you" Sometimes it signifies ultimate glory: "Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world." But here it signifies the gospel of Christ: "Go thou, and preach the kingdom of God." Go thou, and preach the gospel, or tidings, of the kingdom, the glory and majesty of the King of kings; set up his standard to rebels; enforce his laws; describe his throne; skew the dominion of his grace, his hereditary right to government; and proclaim his universal empire, and eternal reign; together with the real happiness of all leis loyal subjects; the righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, in which this kingdom consists; the honour and glory which are freely bestowed on all who come over to his standard, submit to his sceptre, take his yoke upon them, equip with his weapons, and, in his armour, engage in the fight of faith. "The kingdom of heaven"
"Is likened unto a certain king which would take account of his servants." The certain king is God the Saviour, who is king of Zion, and king of glory. By his servants are meant chiefly the elect, who are called a seed that shall serve him; and shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation, Psalm xxii. 30. Some refuse his service, and continue to be the servants of sin; but, "The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee [Christ] shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted," Isa. lx. 12. But the elect are not left to their own will to make such a choice; they are made willing, in the day of his power, to cast off the yoke of sin and Satan, and to serve the Lord Christ; and they are to call no man Master but him; and those who serve him, them will the Father honour. Not but what all the human race are his servants, for he hath power over all flesh; and, though they reject his service, yet they are accountable to him, as their maker and preserver; and it is he who will pay them their wages for their bad service: "The wanes of sin is death." But then, these are not meant here; for he will not call these to an account, or reckon with them, till the day of judgment. This king would
"Take an account of his servants." That is, he would bring them to books by the ministry of the word. When the book of the law is handled lawfully, its spiritual meaning discussed, and its vast demands enforced; if God send it with power to the sinner's heart, sin revives, and by the law sin becomes exceeding sinful, and the sinner himself appears a transgressor of every precept: this stops his mouth, and brings him in guilty before God. When the book of life is explained, and by the Spirit of God applied, the sinner is brought in guilty of the damning sin of unbelief; and that, as an unbeliever, he makes God a liar: he appears a rebel against the king of Zion, a profaner of his name, an enemy to his religion, and a slighter and contemnor of the offers of grace. When the book of God's remembrance is set forth, and that God will never forget any of their works, but make them give an account of all that is more than yea, yea, or nay, nay; their sins appear in the light of God's countenance, and are set in order before the sinner's face; and when the book of conscience is appealed to, and thoughts begin to accuse, and conscience to do his office, the poor wretch begins to tremble; he feels himself at his Lord's bar, and in his powerful hand; and then, by the ministry of the word, "He is convinced of all, he is judged of all; and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth," I Cor. xiv. 24, 25. This brings the sinner to books; he sees what an infinite account stands against him, and what a sin-avenging God he is accountable to.
"And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him which owed him ten thousand talents." When the word of God began to be preached, and sinners began to be convinced of their sins, and convicted for them, and forced, by their distress, to fall down and worship God, and sue for pardon; one was brought, not by an arm of flesh, much less by fire and sword, as Papists would compel them to come in, but he was brought by the power of the word and Spirit of God; and driven by a sight and sense of his lost estate, and the anguish and agonies of his soul, to fall down before God; for at such times God comes nigh to the sinner to judgment, Mal. iii. 5, or to reckon with him. So here one was brought
"Which owed him ten thousand talents." What a talent is, I shall not inquire, for I know that these talents are sins, or transgressions of the law; which law demands of the sinner perfect and perpetual obedience; and, in case of failure, Justice says, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay;" and demands satisfaction by eternal suffering: not only a beating with many stripes but a binding over, and a casting into, the prison of hell; and declares he shall not come out thence till he has paid the very last mite, which never can be paid; for suffering in hell never can make satisfaction, any more than rotting in a gaol can pay a thousand pounds and therefore, when the gulph is fixed, he can never cone from thence. "They that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth"
When the Saviour brings in the parable of the creditor and his two debtors, he there says one owed five hundred pence, and the other, fifty; and neither had any thing to pay, Luke, vii. 41. Mary Magdalene seems to be pointed at as the five hundred penny debtors; and Simon, according to his own thoughts of himself, as the fifty. But this sinner owed ten thousand talents: he was more in arrears than Mary, who was possessed with seven devils; or Simon the pharisee, which sect were farther from the kingdom of heaven than publicans or harlots. Which gives me some room to suspect that this ten thousand talents' debtor had been, not only a law sinner, but a persecutor of the saints, and a desperate opposer of the gospel; and, perhaps, a busy one in putting Christ to death; which, if done against conviction, bordered upon the great transgression. However that be, he owed ten thousand talents; which shews the infinite account which stands against some sinners who, for many years, have been treasuring up wrath against the nay of wrath. And, indeed, who can count the thoughts of his own heart, which are evil, only evil, and that continually? his errors, his lies, oaths and curses? with all his words that are more than yea, yea, or nay nay, his lascivious looks, his filthy acts; together with all the deeds done in the body? If the Palmist cried out, and said, "Innumerable evils have compassed me about; mine iniquities have taken bold upon me, so that I am not able to look tip: they are more than the hairs of mine head; therefore mine heart faileth me," Psalm xl. 12; what may this debtor say? The Redeemer proclaims, "I have blotted out, as a cloud, thy transgressions; and, as a thick cloud, thy sins." And I am sure this black scroll may well be compared to a thick cloud; and a dreadful storm it must discharge, in the great day, to an unpardoned sinner, when the heavens shall reveal his iniquity, Job xx. 27; and this cloud rains all its snares, attended with fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup, Psalm xi. 6.
"But, forasmuch as he had nothing to pay." Which no man hath. The law calls for holiness; but man's conception is in sin; he is shapen in iniquity; his birth, heart and life, body and soul, are nothing but sin; the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. The law calls for love to God; but, "The carnal mind is enmity against him, and not subject to his law; nor, indeed, can be." Therefore as every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is evil, and that continually, he can no more cease to do evil by his own power, or learn to do good, than an Ethiopian can change his skin, or a leopard his spots. And, therefore,
His lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. "This shews that, as he had sold himself to work wickedness, and indeed we have all sold ourselves for nought, the lord commanded him to he sold: which is to skew us, that the commandment of the law is such, as not only delivers the sinner to the judge, and by the judge to be cast into prison; but it delivers him tip to the devil and his angels, to be tormented by the same devils that he yielded himself a servant to obey. The soul that sinneth shall not only die, the wages of sin being death, but, as he sold himself to the devil, to do his works, Justice sells him to his old master to receive his torments, as a part of his wages under the curse of the law and the wrath of God And, not only himself, was to be sold,
"But his wife and children, and all that he had." By his wife, &c.. is shown, that a desperate sinner often endangers his whole family; especially one who is an opposer of, of an open enemy to, Christ and his gospel. By the law, God visits the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate him, Exod. xx. 5. A fire not blown shall consume such an unpardoned sinner; and it goes ill with him that is left in his tabernacle, Job xx. 26. All the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods; "They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit," Numb. xvi. 33. An awful instance is that of Achan: "And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan, the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tents, and all that he had; and they brought them unto the valley of Achor, and they stoned him with stones, and burnt them with fire," Josh. vii. 24, 25. The account of Ahithophel, and his type Judas, is awful upon this head; "Let his days be few, and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg; let them seek their bread also out of desolate places. Let the extortioner catch all that he path; and let the stranger spoil his labour. Let there be none to extend mercy unto him I neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children. Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out. Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the Lord, and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out. Let them be before the Lord continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth. Because that he remembered not to skew mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy man, that he might even slay the broken in heart. As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him," Psalm six This commandment of selling him, and his wife and children, and all that he had, is to skew that body, soul, wife and family, if grace prevent not, are often endangered by a desperate sinner, and God may in justice condemn a whole ungodly family with a wicked Hither, for a wife and family are parts of a man's self; and, "All have sinned;" and death is the wages of sin. Then what an awful portion does a vile persecutor, an extortioner, a seducing heretic, and a grinder of the face of the poor, entail upon himself and his offspring, if grace prevent not! Cain left an ungodly race for the deluge; and profane and murdering Esau left a fraternity that are to be called, "The border of wickedness;" as that was the boundary of all sin, and was to meet with its just punishment only there; "And the people against whom the Lord lath indignation for ever," Mal. i. 4. "The servant, therefore,"
Fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord have patience with me and I will pay thee all." This is the way of every sinner, more or less, when the snares of death and the pains of hell invade him. He finds the law calls for works; and to work he promises to go, for this is the way that seems right unto a man, though the end thereof be the ways of death. He promises not only to keep the law in future, but, by superabounding acts of obedience, or works of supererogation, over and above the law's requirements, to blot out the ten thousand talents which are behind; whereas man cannot speak a good word, nor think a good thought, nor raise one affection, to God, nor entertain one thought worthy of him. He is dead in sin, dead in law, and dead in soul, to God. The wrath of God is upon him, for the sentence of death and damnation took place for the first offence; "He that offends in one point is guilty of all." And, as he is spiritually and legally dead, so are his acts of obedience; they are called dead works; nor can a man serve the living God till the blood of Christ lath purged his conscience from these, Heb. ix. 14.
However, he craves nothing of his Lord but patience, and he will pay him all; though we ail know that neither the acts nor the promises of a felon under sentence of death stand for any thing, for such an one hath forfeited his life by his wickedness already; and the law will not let him loose again, nor revoke the sentence that is passed upon him, for such an one is not to be trusted. And sure I am that God putteth no trust in his servants, and his angels he charged with folly.
This is the way of every awakened sinner when the law arrests him: though all may not express the same words, yet all go the same way to work; for by the light of nature we know of no other. But, alas! the sinner can never raise his heart or affections to engage in the business, though the fears of death and pains of hell drive him to the task: the strong man still keeps the palace, and holds his possession of the heart, and will in spite of him; and, though he draw near to God with his mouth, and honour him with his lips, yet his heart is far from him. And Therefore, instead of blotting out the old score, he runs deeper (lady in arrears; for the law requires perfect obedience, and love with all the heart, and all the soul, and all the mind, and all the strength; and, when all this is done, he is but an unprofitable servant; he has done no more than what is his duty to do. But one act of obedience, with all the heart, never was performed by any sinner living in a state of nature, nor ever will be, nor can be; for without Christ man can do nothing, John xv. 5. And, supposing he could give the law the obedience it requires, and pay off the old score also, the law never promises eternal life in glory, nor can the law give it: "By the deeds of the law shall no flesh living be justified," nor shall any man living by it be saved. Life in glory is not to be earned; it is, "Not of works, lest any man should boast;" it is of grace, and no more of works. It is God's good pleasure to give us the kingdom, not to sell it; much less barter it for dead works, or a little eye-service performed by a child of wrath in hypocrisy, and extorted from him by the fear of damnation.
"Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt." Self-moving love and grace in God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is the moving cause and grand source of all our salvation, hopes, and happiness, both in this life and in that which is to come. He loosed him from the galling yoke of the law, and the bondage of it, and from the awful arrest of divine Justice. He loosed him from the bondage of slavish fear, Heb. ii. 15; from the cords of his sins, Prov. v. 22; and brought his soul out of prison, Psalm cxlii. 7; enlarged his contracted bowels, 2 Cor. vi. 13: and set his spirit at liberty, 2 Cor. iii. 17. And they who are thus loosed on earth, in heaven are loosed, Matt. xvi. 19; and if the Son make them free, then are they free indeed, John viii. 36; and are no more children of the bondwoman, but of the free, Gal. iv. 31. They have got a free spirit, which is to abide with them for ever. The Spirit is an eternal gift, promised in the everlasting gospel; secured to us by the everlasting covenant; received of the Father by the Covenant Head, and freely given to all the elect, to produce in us the freedom that the Saviour proclaimed; and he never shall be taken away from Christ, nor from his seed. "The Lord loosed him,"
"And forgave him the debt." Which the Saviour might in justice do; not only because, as Jehovah, he had power upon earth to forgive sins, and because he became the surety of elect, and a surety of the better covenant. As we were under the law, so he was made of a woman, and made under the law; and, as the children were flesh and blood, himself likewise took part of the same: "The Word was made flesh;" and he became man, for man; and was circumcised, and became a debtor to fulfil the whole law, in man's room, and in man's nature. He stood in man's shoes, Ruth, iv. 7; and became a debtor in man's stead, to restore that which he took not away, Psalm lxix. 4, as became a surety for debts, Prov. xxii. 26. A debtor he was to the law, to pay it a perfect obedience; not a jot shall pass from the law till all be fulfilled; and a debtor to Justice, to give an account of our crimes; and make his soul an offering for sin, by dying in our room, and submitting to death, the penalty due to us all. This debt was exacted, and restitution was made: the Father laid upon him the iniquity of us all; and he bare our sins in his own body on the tree, the just for the unjust; and thus. "He was made sin for us," as a surety is made debtor, "who knew no sin;" as a surety who contracts no debt himself, but pays another's, "that we might be made the righteousness of Cod in him." Thus the surety might justly loose the prisoner, and discharge the debtor, seeing himself stood answerable for all. "He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it;" and smart he did, "For it pleased the Lord to bruise him," and it is by his stripes that we are healed.
"But the same servant went out," &c. A pardoned sinner, who is brought out of prison, and made free, is said to enter into the joy of his Lord. He dwells in the presence of God, and finds that in his favour there is life; and, while he abides sensibly in his love, he dwelleth in God, and God dwelleth in him; and communion and fellowship with the Father and the Son is a heaven upon earth. The pardoned soul is all love, meekness, humility, and devotion, while he abides in the cleft of the Rock; and, by a sensible abiding in the true Vine, he brings forth much fruit; and with Peter, says, "It is good to be here!" knowing that there is both food and safety. His fruit is sweet to the believer's taste; and, "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it, and is safe" But .the sheep of Christ go in and out, and find pasture; in by faith, out by infidelity; in by the Spirit, out by the flesh; in to be fed, out to be tried. The latter of which seems to be the wretched case here. The same servant went out; out from the comfortable presence of God, from the light of his countenance; from fellowship with him; from a sense of his love, and an heart-felt union by it. From the enjoyment of his favour, he left his first love, wandered from his resting place, and fell from his comfortable standing. Sin got between God and his soul, for nothing else can keep us out of his presence; and when sin is committed, and guilt contracted, then the accuser has got something to work upon. Sin hardens the heart, benumbs the conscience, stupifies the soul, disarms it of filial fear and spiritual tenderness; it divests the mind of its liveliness and activity, and exposes the believer as one that walks naked, stripped of his ornaments, and especially that of a meek and quiet spirit; and many see his shame, which cuts his pride, and disgraces his former bright character. Many young and weak believers see the change; and, finding no simplicity nor savour about him, are apt to shun him; and he who was aforetime as a tabret, becomes a by-word of the people, Job xvii. 6. He perceiving this, grows peevish, fretful, and stubborn he murmurs and complains, and aims at exalting himself. But all in vain; God resisteth the proud; and, while he regards these things in his heart, God will not hear his prayer. Thus the foolishness of a man perverteth his way, and leis heart fretteth against tile Lord; and be that thus perverteth his ways shall be known, Prov. x. 9. Which, when known and come abroad, many young Christians shun him; lightly esteem him; and, at times, are apt to speak too freely of his gloomy countenance, unsavoury conversation, deadness in prayer, &c. &c. which, when he hears of, he cannot endure. And which seems to be the case here: for when he
"Went out, he found one of his fellow-servants, which owed him an hundred pence; and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest." He found one of his fellow-servants; one employed in the same spiritual service, and belonging to the same royal Master; who had the same cross to carry, the same self to deny, the same work of faith. labour of love, and patience of hope, to do, as he had; and therefore a fellow-servant, employed in the same business, and an equal in the family; and, consequently, his fellow in union, and communion, and in the fellowship of the gospel.
"Which owed him an hundred pence." Which had trespassed, of transgressed against him, by speaking evil of him, or lightly of his profession; seeing his zeal, life, power, comfort, and diligence, were apparently withered; or had injured him in any other way: which, when compared to his transgressions against God, is no more than an hundred pence is to ten thousand talents of gold.
"He laid hands on him, and took him by the throat." A real child of God, when backslidden, and at a distance from God; when his liberty is abused, and he is again entangled either with sin or with the yoke of bondage; filled with the burning rage of cruel jealousy, inwardly chafed in his mind at the felicity of others, and envying their happiness, knowing how it was with him in months past, is, as to his own. sensations, little better than Saul, when God departed from him, and answered him neither by dream, vision, nor prophet. The wife of Zebedee's request for her two sons to sit at the right and left hand of the Saviour in his kingdom, kindled such a flame in the hearts of the other ten. that they were moved with indignation against the two brethren, Matt. xx. 24. And, when indignation is conceived against a man, and begins to move him. it is no wonder if the constrainin01 power of God does not stop the motion, if he takes him by tile collar What is man, when left to himself, with sin conceived, and the arm of God withdrawn? He will say all men are liar,, curse the day of his birth, and wish the womb had been always big with him. Such a deserted and dejected soul, if he is capable of saying to God, I do well to be angry: or to the Almighty himself, "Wilt thou be altogether unto me as a liar, and as waters that fail?" it is no marvel if he spares not his brother's throat in the day of vengeance; saying,
"Pay me that thou owest." "I insist upon the utmost satisfaction. You have injured me, offended me, trespassed and transgressed against me, and have done me wrong. I insist upon your being separated from the communion of the saints, or proceeded against to the utmost severity of Zion's laws." We are not told what this offence was, nor the particular branch of satisfaction demanded; but it is plain the latter servant had trespassed against him, by the hundred pence that were owing, which he appears to be conscious of. As soon as the former servant collared him, a conviction of his fault, and of his having done him wrong, brought him to an acknowledgment of his debt, and a promise of satisfaction.
"And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all." It was a conviction of his having done his fellow wrong, and a sight of the rage and anger that is wrong haul worked him up to, that caused him to fall at leis feet; and there appears also a consciousness in this humble suppliant that his enraged brother was a child of God, though now in a deserted state: else, A righteous man falling down before the wicked is a troubled fountain, and a corrupt spring." It is clear he had done him wrong; that the hundred pence were due; and it is clear that he was guilty, by his acknowledging the debt, and promising restitution which there is nothing said to contradict; nor is there any thing said in commendation, or in justification of his conduct. He was blame-worthy, as he gave the first offence, and his conscience smote him for it; and, as he was the offender, it was his place to have returned to his brother, and say, I repent: which he had not done; for the injured party found him. However, he fell at his feet, and owned his fault; and addressed him in the same words that he had formerly used at the foot of his Maker,
Saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. "Lay by thy anger, and have patience with me till I may consul the brotherhood, and receive advice what method to pursue in order to make restitution, which shall be done to your utmost satisfaction;" "I will pay thee all," all that God the Saviour requires in such a case, which was as much as an offending brother could say or do to an offended one. But he found the words of the wise man true, "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city; and their contentions are like the bars of a castle," which will terminate in the bars of a prison in this matter. This was the case: there was no scaling this wall of prejudice, consequently the city of the heart could not be won or gained; he would neither surrender, submit, give ear, nor come to any terms; neither the bended knee, the confession, nor the promise, moves him: for,
"He would not; but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt." Which spews how pride may influence, and the devil stiffen, a backslider in heart left to himself He would neither accept his fellow-servant's person, his confession, his bended knees, nor his promise of payment, nor exercise any patience towards him; but went from him, in ail his rage and fury, bent upon some satisfaction which Christ does not require in such cases; for this was the all that the other promised to pay, which this lofty, stubborn child, refused to accept. "He would not; but went"
"And cast him into prison," &c. By prison, is often meant spiritual bondage. "Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name." Christ was sent to open blind eyes, and to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sat in darkness out of the prison-house, Isaiah, xlii. 7. The prison appears to me to be this: he left his fellow-servant under a sense of his having given the first offence, or of contracting the hundred penny debt, which the other had a right to demand, and which he had a just right to pay. Secondly: this brother was smote, or stung, with a consciousness of this; and, as he could reflect that the offended fellow-servant was a pardoned sinner as well as himself, and had been loosed from the bondage of sin and the law as well as he, his guilt for giving the first offence stuck close to his conscience; and his not succeeding in obtaining forgiveness of his fellow. laid him open to the buffetings of Satan, on account of the guilt he had contracted, or the woe he had incurred, by giving the first offence. This, under the buffetings of Satan, brought him into bondage, or spiritual imprisonment; and, as he could not obtain forgiveness, the Devil worked him up into the same prejudice, envy, and hatred, against his fellow-servant, that the other had against him; which is death to all comfort, and that which slays the silly one. This, with the tattling of other, in process of time, brought him both into legal and devilish bondage, and made him as inflexible and unrelenting as the other; saying, "I have been to him, and confessed my fault; begged his pardon; offered restitution; and all this upon my knees; and he would not hear me, nor accept me. I will bow no more, nor sue for-peace or reconciliation any more." Still the sense of his giving the first offence, and of the other's being a pardoned sinner, who was loosed or made free as well as himself, grinds him, as between the upper and nether millstone; like Samson, who ground in the prison under a sense of sinning away his strength, and exposing his soul to the insults of the Philistines; till, in process of time, this suppliant servant got as stubborn and as deep in the mud as the other in the mire, and as fast bound in spiritual bondage, or imprisonment, as the unrelenting one. So he was to pay the debt, by suffering in spiritual bondage, what the other refused to forgive, according to the requirement of Zion's laws.
This conduct of the unforgiving servant offending many in the family, (who justified the submissive conduct of the repenting one,) moved them to agree and carry this matter to the throne of grace, and to beg direction of God: as it seems, according to the scriptures, to be a singular case; and that which puzzled them most was, that both were pardoned sinners, and freeborn children of the freewoman; which, when they had properly considered, and heard deliberately the matter on both sides, they agreed to take it to God himself.
"So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done." When the other servants of the household saw the conduct of both; the submission of the offender, and the unrelenting spirit of the offended; they were grieved at it, or very sorry. They saw what was done: how the one gave the offence, and what it was; the acknowledgment of it, the humble submission used to gain the injured party, and the promise of restitution, or payment of all; and how the other collared him, refused his request and promise both, and went and cast him into prison; which was a widening the breach on both sides. And as some would vindicate the conduct of each; some the former, as the party offended, and blame the other for the offence; and some the latter, for his refusing to make a second offer, after the first had been rejected; avid, knowing that such a breach might make a division in the whole family, and be bitterness in the end on both sides;
"They were very sorry." Sorry that such a breach should be made where concord ought to reign, especially under the government of a man of peace; and knowing that such a cavity opened, not only disturbs the peace of a congregation, but opens the mouths of the uncircumcised, pleases the Devil, stumbles the weak, and grieves the souls of the just, they all agreed;
"And they came and told their lord all that was done." They laid this singular case before the Lord. As the household of faith could do nothing in it, they carried it to the lord of the household, where the inflexible is sure to meet with a more severe trial. "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged [by the Lord]; but when we are judged we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world," 1 Cor xi. 31, 32. The Lord observes the case; takes notice of the conduct of both parties; hears the prayers of the sorrowful fellow servants; grants their request; and takes the matter in his own hands, by calling the inflexible servant to his bar, whose judgment is always according to truth.
"Then his Lord after that he had called him said unto hint O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me." When his lord, the same lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, who had formerly loosed him, and forgave him the debt,
"Called him." Summoned him by a terrible impulse, and brought him, under horrible sensation, to the bar of equity; erected his tribunal in the court of his own conscience, and appeared in terrible majesty there, as King of Zion, who has his throne and keeps his court there: and a backsliding, stubborn, perverse servant, may well say, as others have done, "Thou writest bitter things against me;" and again "Shewest thyself marvellous upon me." "Fearfullness and trembling are fallen upon me." "My flesh trembleth because of thee, and I am afraid of thy judgments," Psalm cxix. 120. And well he might; for, "The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: whoso provoketh him to anger, sinneth against his own soul." If the Psalmist would have judged himself, he would not have been judged; but, as he neglected that, God by the prophet sets him on the throne, chews him the rich man's cruelty in stealing an ewe lamb, and pleads the poor man's cause who had been robbed of it; calling the old man of sin, or the lust of the flesh, the wayfaring man, who had eaten the lamb; and, when David had passed the sentence of death upon the rich man, God applied the sentence to the judge himself. "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged;" but, if not, God does it as here. And in proceeding against him,
"He said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me." "O thou wicked servant!" as he now was a base backslider, a stubborn sinner against light and love, ungrateful to his God, and unmerciful and cruel to his fellow-servant. And no wonder, therefore, that the Lord calls him wicked servant, when he was made so inflexible by a wicked spirit; even as Simon was pushed on by Satan when he began to rebuke the Lord himself; who turned and said, "Get thee behind me, Satan," which, I think, is a more terrible appellation than wicked servant. Judas, for his thievery and hypocrisy, is called a Devil; Peter, for his rebukes, is called Satan; and they told Job that his wickedness was great, and his iniquities infinite, Job xxii. 5. And thism an, for his ingratitude and unmercifullness, is called a wicked servant; which wickedness is aggravated by the pardon he had formerly received from the Lord: and indeed, if he had not been a pardoned sinner, he could not have been a fellow-servant in a gospel sense, but must have been a servant of sin and Satan; and then the other had not been justified in falling down before him.
"I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me." Not that his desires were the cause of pardon, for God forgives sins for Christ's sake, and Christ pardons for his great name's sake; but this desire of his is brought in against him, because he refused to pardon the small offence of his brother, when he came to sue for one at his feet with the same desire, and in the same words; which the Lord now enforced with a close appeal to his own conscience, saying,
"Shouldst not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?" "Shouldst not thou?" "I forgave thee ten thousand talents, which would have exposed thee to everlasting burnings, because thou desiredst me; and couldst thou overlook or forgive an hundred pence, when implored of a fellow-worm with a suppliant knee? Could not my pity on thee move thee to compassion?" This reasoning together, shews that the trial was held at the bar of equity, and not at the bar of judgment; nor will the Lord use such expostulations with reprobates, but make the heavens reveal their iniquity, and the earth rise in judgment against them; set their sins before their eyes; make conscience do his office, and appear himself a swift witness against them; appoint them their portion, and fix their doom at once: which is not the case here, although it be said,
"And his Lord was wroth." Not in a vindictive way, for, "God has not appointed us to wrath," but in a fatherly way: it is not the wrathful indignation of the judge, but the wrath and displeasure of a father; for God cannot be perjured in his oath. "For as I have sworn that the waters of Noah shall no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I will not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee." "I will not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee.' "I will neither appoint thee to vindictive wrath, nor rebuke thee with flames of fire," Isaiah lxvi. 15. And I have sworn to this. Nor can God be thus wroth with us; for we are redeemed from the curse of the law, and delivered from the wrath to come.
But the wrath here intended is the great heat of fatherly displeasure: as it is written, "For the Lord hath called thee, as a woman forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer," Isaiah liv. 6-8. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses; and the Lord met him, and sought to kill him, Exod. lv. 14, 24. And again, "For I will not contend for ever; neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made. For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on forwardly in the way of his heart." And now mind what follows; "I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him, and to his mourners. I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; and I will heal him," Isaiah lvii. 16-19. If the Lord was wroth with Zion, his own spouse, although he had with everlasting kindness gathered her out of the world, and was wroth with his son Ephraim for the iniquity of his covetousness, why should we wonder at his being wroth with this unmerciful servant? Elihu told Job that judgment was before him; that he had fulfilled the judgment of the wicked; that judgment and justice took hold on him; and bade him beware, because there was wrath, lest the Lord took him away with his stroke," Job xxxvi. 17, 18. Thus it appears that this wrath is fatherly anger, which endureth but a moment. "In his favour is life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." "Though thou wast angry with me,' says Zion, "thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortest me," Isaiah xii. 1. Thus the Lord was wroth,
"And delivered him to the tormentors." Mark that! His Lord still, though he delivered him to the tormentors; not to be tormented in hell, for pardoned sinners, made free indeed, never go there; God himself has pronounced the man blessed whose iniquity is forgiven, and whose sin is covered; and to whom the Lord will not impute sin, such are blessed with faithful Abraham, and it cannot be reversed. God has blessed them, and declared that he will bless those that bless them, and curse those that curse them: and, if he will curse those that curse them, he will not curse them himself; for against such there is no law, and upon such there is no more curse. The Lord does not cut this servant asunder; nor say, Depart from me! nor, Go, ye cursed! Nor does he appoint him his portion with hypocrites and unbelievers; nor deliver him to the officer to be cast into prison, not to come out thence till the utmost mite is paid.
"But he delivered him to the tormentors." He delivered him to be tormented, or tempted, and buffeted by devils; as Peter was left in Satan's sieve, who desired to have him that he might sift him as wheat; and the Lord left him there, that he might know what self-confidence would do for him: but the Saviour had prayed before that Peter's faith might not fail. The incestuous person was delivered unto Satan, 1 Cor. v. 5; and the devil shewed him no favour. "Sufficient," with the apostle, "to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many; so that, contrariwise, ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him; lest, perhaps, such a one should be swallowed up with over much sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you, that ye would confirm your love towards him. To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgive any thing, to whom I forgive it, for your sakes forgive I it, in the person of Christ; lest Satan [the tormentor,] should get an advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices," 2 Cor. chap. ii. Thus be was delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus, as it really was, when Paul forgave him in the person of Christ. And if this incestuous person met with forgiveness, so did the unmerciful one, who is the subject of this parable. By the tormentors, therefore, is meant the buffetings or temptations of devils: as it is written, "And they brought unto him [Jesus] all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those that were possessed with devils, and those that were lunatic," Matt. iv. 24. This servant might have other torments besides the buffetings of Satan; and think he had, because he is delivered to the tormentors; not iii the singular, but plural number, more than one; and he might be smitten also with bodily affliction, which is called a tormentor; as the centurion told the Lord, "My servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented," Matt. viii. 6. He might also be left with his life hanging in doubt before him, given up to a spirit of bondage, and remain under dreadful apprehensions of wrath to come: as Job felt it, when not only Satan had killed his children, and servants, and cattle, and smote Job with sore boils; but the arrows of God were within him, and the terrors of God set themselves against him. These things will fill a man with all manner of torments: For he that feareth, hath torment, 1 John iv. 18. If the fiery darts of Satan, bodily affliction, the horrors of hell, and the fears of damnation, got hold of him, he was in the hands of the tormentors with a witness; and there he continued,
"Till he should pay all that was due unto him." The difficulty lies in finding out what this sum is that is due from a pardoned sinner. The Saviour, in one of his parables, represents God as the creditor; Mary Magdalene as a five hundred penny debtor; and Simon as owing fifty pence; but this man was ten thousand talents deep. The law's requirements are, perfect obedience, as hath been observed; and, in case of failure, transgressions bind us over to punishment in the prison of hell. But Mary was forgiven, and this man was forgiven. The surety took their debts upon himself, and answered for them. Mary loved much; which love casts out legal fear, and removes the bondage of the law and this man was loosed, or made free, from the bondage and the demands of the law. His surety appeared in his name, as the son of man; in his nature, the Word was made flesh; in his shoes, to answer for his brother's debts; in his law-place, he was made under the law; a debtor in his room; made sin for us, who knew no sin; and he magnified the law, and made it honourable. He glorified his Father upon earth; he bore our sins in his own body on the tree; he made an atonement for us, and removed the iniquity in one day; blotted out our transgressions as a cloud, and as a thick cloud our sins; and God is well pleased for his righteousness sake, and says he will remember our sins no more, and, when they are sought for, they shall not be found, for there shall be none; "For I will pardon those that reserve." For, "This is the covenant that I will make with them," saith the Lord: "I will put my laws in their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities I will remember no more." So that, where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sins, Heb. x. 16-18; for against such there is no law. And sin is not to be imputed to the surety, and, after satisfaction made, be again imputed to the debtor: this would be terrible proceedings among men; and far be it from God that he should do wickedly, Job xxxiv. 12; and from the Judge of all the earth that he should do wrong, Gen. xviii. 25. Nevertheless, he was delivered to the tormentors,
"Till he should pay all that was due unto him." All that was due unto his lord, who had loosed him, and forgiven him the debt. That the elect, as well as others, are debtors to God by the law, has been proved; for every man, by nature, is a debtor to do the whole law, Gal. v. 3; and that a pardoned sinner is loosed from that obligation, has been proved also: because he doth not work for life, therefore the reward is reckoned to him of grace, not of debt. Yet we are debtors still. If Christ delivers me from the legal yoke, he tells me to take his yoke upon me. If I am loosed from the bondage of the law, yet bound in the bundle of life to the Lord, 1 Sam. xxv. 29; whose bonds I must not break, nor cast his cords from me, Psalm ii. 3. If I am delivered from the covenant of works, I am under the covenant of grace; and, though redeemed from under the law of Moses, yet I am under the law of faith, and receive grace for obedience to that law, Rom. i. 5; and by this law I am still a debtor; and much is due to the ever-blessed surety; for, as Paul says to Philemon, "Albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides." If Philemon owed Paul his own self, because he was the instrument of his conversion; what may Christ claim, who redeemed us from everlasting death; and says we are not our own, we are bought with a price, and therefore must glorify him in our bodies and souls, which are his?
"Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh; for if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shad live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God, Rom. viii. 12-14. here the apostle brings in the hints debtors, not to the law in the members; for if ye live after the flesh ye shall die, but debtors to the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus; to mortify the deeds of the body by the Spirit, and to be led by him, as the sons of God.
The saints are debtors also to their neighbours in the flesh, to do good unto all men; that is, temporal good; and to hold forth the word of life, or tell what God hath done for us, if opportunity offers; or to give a reason of our hope, if they ask a reason of it "I am a debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the wise and to the unwise; so that, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also."
We are likewise debtors to those from whom we received the word of the Lord, or from whom it sounded out to us: " It hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain e9ntribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily, and their debtors they are; for if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things."
We are debtors also unto all brethren in the faith by the ties of the brotherly covenant; and are bound to love one another, as Christ hath loved us. "Owe no man any thing, but to love one another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law," Rom. xiii. 8. "Owe no man any thing;" owe him no grudge; and, it you can help it, owe him no money, for, "The borrower is servant to the lender," Prov. xxii. 7. Be not ye the servants of men. But the debt of love, let that stand; that is always owing, and always due.
Thus we are debtors, by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, to live after the Spirit, to mortify the deeds of the body by the Spirit, and to be led by him. We are debtors to the wise, and to the unwise; debtors to minister carnal things to them of whom we have reaped spiritual things; and debtors to all saints, to love them for Christ's sake. These things Christ, by the law of faith, requires; and they are due unto him; and, when done, they are done unto him. Whatsoever good a man doeth, it is done to the Lord, and not to man, for of the Lord he shall receive the reward. Whatever is done to the least of Christ's brethren, is done unto him; and whatsoever is not done for his sake, or in his name, or to his brethren, is not done unto him. These debts of love and forgiveness the Saviour was discoursing upon when he made application by this parable. "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother; but, if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And, if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but, if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican." Separate him from communion and fellowship, and deal with him as you would with an heathen; yet remember he is called a brother. So they dwelt with the incestuous person, till God inclined them to forgive, and receive him upon his repentance. "Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, 1 say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven." Then begins the parable which is an application of the doctrine.
And, according to the above account, both these fellow-servants had done wrong. He that owed his fellow-servant the hundred pence had done his brother wrong; he had not paid the debt of love, but had failed in a hundred instances; and it was his duty to have returned, and confessed his fault to him, and say, I repent; which he did not. The injured party, when he had found him, should have told him his fault; and, when he acknowledged it, to have received him, forgiven him, and have had the honour of gaining his brother; which he did not. But, as the other acknowledged the offence, and begged pardon on his knees, he was in this act to be justified, but not in giving the first offence; for, in order to teach him to bridle his tongue in future, this offended brother was permitted to cast him into prison, till he should pay all that was due unto him, though he was exceedingly wrong in so doing, and for which himself was delivered to the tormentors till he should pay all that was due unto his lord; due to his per son, as his lord; due to him in his members; and to them for his sake, and that in obedience to the law of faith. Thus the Lord God of recompenses will surely requite, Jer. li. 56.
He was left in the hands of the tormentors till his proud stomach was brought down, his lofty spirit humbled, his consequence exposed, his pride blasted, his stubborn soul crippled, and his inflexible heart broken; and, when the terrors of God and the fiery assaults of Satan had withered trim, he wag obliged to sue at the throne of grace for forgiveness; while God., conscience, and scripture, all with one voice, cried out. Forgive; forgive! "Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven," Luke, vi. 37. "But, if you do not forgive, neither will your Father, which is in heaven, forgive your trespasses."
Alas! how many strange watchmen have we got in our day, who are monopolizing the gospel, and limiting the Almighty to walk in their steps; for they dare to oppose those whom he sends, unless he will condescend to submit to their humour, and do his work by them. But, if the leadings of Providence break through their bounds, and he thinks proper to make choice of a Peter's mouth, that by him this or that soul should hear the word, and believe, they conceive prejudice against him, which, in process of time, amounts to envy, before which none can stand: and it would be well if it stopped there, that it might only slay the silly one; but the Devil sends such about them as God hates, I mean those that sow discord among brethren: these. like Saul's courtiers, who informed him against David, push him on, in defence of his own honour, till the hatred conceived, which is murder, must be discharged by the tongue in an open pulpit; which finishes the conception, and produces death. And sometimes the Devil and hypocrites will drive such a servant on till he will charge truth itself with errors, obscure a plain text, and belly a faithful witness of Christ publicly, in order to stop or hinder the work of God by a supposed rival, and to keep his own reputation from sinking: which only serves to discover the distance at which he stands from God, and the wretched spirit that ferments him. "Whose hatred is covered by deceit, [when it breaks out.] his wickedness shall be shewed before the whole congregation," Prov. xxvi. 26. Such an one walks naked, and the discerning soul sees his shame, which makes him desperate against his rival, and awfully rebellious against his God. A man thus left of God, and fermented by Satan, sticks at nothing: be will evade every ray of divine light, and pervert the clearest text, rather than appear to justify any doctrine that is maintained by the object of his envy; yea, set himself against the everlasting gospel, the eternal power of the Holy Ghost, and his own conscience, rather than be supposed to have erred, to have done wrong, or spoken wrong. This slackens the girdle of truth, and the Spirit of bondage comes on; the word of Christ's patience withdraws, and vain jangling succeeds; the man drops both his shield and buckler, loses sight of the mystery of faith, and a sense of the dew of Hermon; and, ere he is aware, he is found among the rebellious in a dry land. Such an one is like a wild bull in a net: he is full of the fury of the Lord, and the rebuke of his God, Isa. li. 20. Every effort that such a man makes to keep up his reputation meets with some rebuke or reproof; disappointment upon disappointment succeeds "God resisteth the proud, but he giveth grace to the humble." Let such a man promise himself what he may, it is always frustrated. If he decrees a thing, it is not established unto him; nor does the light shine upon his ways, Job xxii. 28.
Let him do what he will for God while anger against his fellow servant rests in his bosom, it is not accepted: "Go thy way," says God, "first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift," Matt. v. 24. Let such an one preach, pray, confess, weep, or do what he will, God resists him; there is no access to God, nor communion with him. Let him appear ever so zealous in the pulpit, ever so affectionate to the people, caution them, warn them, weep over them, suckle them, swaddle them, invite them, woo them, entreat them, or whatever he may, he does not partake of the Altar, for still the language of God and conscience is, "Go thy way, be reconciled to thy brother, and then offer thy gift." Nor shall he ever be honoured till he is humbled, for before honour is humility: nor shall he ever find access to God as a reconciled Father till he has acknowledged his offence, and is reconciled to his brother. God will stick to his text while he sticks to his pride: "With the froward thou wilt skew thyself froward;" and, He that is cruel troubleth his own flesh." Thus pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall: which makes terrible work for conscience; and to be put lower in the presence of the prince is a terrible mortification to pride. This is being in the hands of the tormentors. His soul is at a distance from God, and is resisted by him: he is buffeted by Satan, ground by envy and malice, in bondage to the law, and swarming with concupiscence; his life hanging in doubt, and tormented with servile fear; hoodwinked by the old veil, confused in his judgment, fettered in his speech, straitened in his spirit, callous in his heart, sinking in his reputation, with a blight upon his joys, and a blast upon his labours while God owns and honours the injured brother, who is the object of his indignation which enflames his rebellion till his heart fretteth against the Lord. Such an one may sometimes be found among the tombs, but never on the mount; for honour shall never uphold any but the humble in spirit, Prov. xxix. 23.
Thus it appears that this parable, which the Arminians have laid in the way of thousands as a stumbling-block, affords no help to their cause, nor any proof in favour of their notion of finally falling from grace; seeing the apostles themselves were threatened with the same punishment, by the tormentors, as the Saviour's application shews.
"So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you." You disciples and faithful followers; you apostles, who are to have your names engraven on the twelve foundations of the heavenly Jerusalem, as the grand Sanhedrim of the spiritual Israel; whom I have chosen out of the world, and bid rejoice because your names are written in heaven; you to whom. I have given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and promised you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the Devil, and nothing shall by any means hurt you; yea, you who shall have an hundred fold in this life, and in the world to come life everlasting; you whom I leave pronounced clean through the word that I have spoken; and have promised that where I am, there you shall also be; and that I go to prepare mansions for you, and will come again and receive you to myself; in short, you who are to be saved with an everlasting salvation, and glorified with eternal glory, shall be delivered, by my heavenly Father, to the tormentors, as this man was."
"If ye, from your hearts, forgive not every one his brother their trespasses." Before, it is said, his lord was wroth; which is manifestly Christ, for we are under the law of the Spirit of life to Christ: and here it is said, So shall my heavenly Father do to every one of you, &c. Which shews that, when the Saviour is wroth with any of his seed, his Father visits their sins with the rod, and their iniquities with scourges. Or, it may denote that, when the Saviour is thus provoked to wrath, his intercession shall not ward off the rod of affection when the folly of a stubborn child calls for it. Or, it skews that Christ and his Father act in conjunction; "For what things soever the Father doeth, those also doeth the Son likewise," John v. 19. Hence observe, that forgiving a brother is heart-work. If ye
"From your heart, forgive not every one his brother their trespasses." It is often done in word, when the heart is not concerned; as Saul forgave David, saying, "Is it thy voice? Return, my son David, for thou art more righteous than I:" but, while the evil spirit is still upon him, the breach is sure to open again, and he appears a second time in arms, to take away his life. So some forgive their brethren in word, when in company with others who enforce it, only for fear of their refusal bringing the whole blame upon themselves, and sinking them and their reputation deeper in the eyes of their friends. But this is only hypocritical and partial; it is loving in word only; the old leaven is still working at the bottom, which soon breaks out again. Envy must be removed before the breach can be closed; for a gap within will soon make a Pharez without: "A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit." And if any thing makes a breach in the spirit, it is envy and hatred against a brother; which, in God's account, is murder and, therefore, all pretensions to love, and to good works, are no setter in the sight of God, than Cain's offering; for he is still a wicked servant, and, "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination: how much more, when he bringeth it with a wicked mind!" Prov. xxi. 27.
My friends, he ye, each of you, careful not to give the first offence, for the wo is to him. Thou mayest act upon the defensive when they become thine enemies without cause, and vindicate thy faith and thy conduct with truth. Nor are we to give up any part of the gospel of Christ to gratify the humour of any: we are to contend earnestly for the faith, to be valiant for the truth, and to keep the good thing committed to us by the Holy Ghost, that dwelleth in us. This ground must be maintained, and every enemy to it opposed. But, there is a way for thee to escape this snare of the fowler, which is envy against a brother: and, consequently, thou wilt escape the punishment executed by the tormentors: First, as was before observed, Give no just offence either to Jew or Gentile, or to the church of God, unless it arises fur the gospel's sake; when this is the case, God is to be obeyed rather than man: Secondly, Defend thy faith, experience, and conduct, as far as truth and conscience will carry thee; which is every Christian's duty: Thirdly, Gain a brother, if thou canst, without nursing his pride or his errors, without bowing to his folly, and without sacrificing any branch of the mystery of the gospel; for we are not to give up the word nor to nurse the devil in him. We are to give no place to the devil, nor to suffer sin on a brother, nor to fall down before the wicked; but to rebuke the devil, if he comes even in Peter, with a "Get thee behind me, Satan!" If he sins against thee openly, to the injuring of thy reputation, as a saint or servant of the Lord, thou mayest rebuke him before all, that others may fear, 1 Tim. v. 20; for, "Open rebuke is better than secret love." But if, by his errors, his fleshly savour, his conduct in life, and his malice against the saints of God and the power of religion, he appears to be an enemy to the truth, he is not a brother, but an hypocrite. God hath made it manifest that he is not of us. "He that is of God heareth God's word:" he that hears it not, is not of God; nor he that loveth not his brother. He that keepeth Christ's sayings, he it is that loveth him. And, if a man hath not the doctrines of Christ, the same hath not God; nor is he to be received into our houses, nor into the church; much less into the perfect bond of love, which is the bond of the covenant." By their fruits ye shall know them:" not by their external fruits only, for a Pharisee who is a painted sepulchre, may in appearance outstrip Jeremiah in the dungeon, or Job in the stocks; one is at war with the world, the flesh, and the devil, while the other is in alliance with them, but by the fruits of the Spirit, and the good treasure of experience and truth that comes out of a good heart, as well as by their life and conduct; and by the fruits of their ministry, if they are preachers; or seals to it, or souls converted to God by them; as Paul says, "Salute Epenetus, who is the first-fruits of Achaia unto Christ," Rom. xvi. 5. By their fruits ye shall know them."
Furthermore, when thou findest that prejudice is conceived, indulged, nursed, and encouraged, against thee, see that thou draw not forth thy breast to nurse their offspring, nor Harbour their infant at thy door. If prejudice operates upon thy mind, and the devil labours to fix it upon thee, take it to God; inform him of it; confess it; pray him to remove it; and to give thee an heart to love thine enemy, and a spirit of prayer to pray for him, and prevalency at a throne of grace to prevail with God in his behalf, considering thyself also in the flesh: this shall please God better than a bullock that hath horns and hoofs. Pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you," is enforced by the Saviour himself.
If a brother in church communion sin against thee privately he is to be told his fault. If be sins against thee openly, to the injury of your character, reputation, or usefulness, deal faithfully with him in open rebuke. If he opposes Christ, or his gospel, confute him; the month of a gainsayer is to be stopped: and, if God doth not bless it to his conviction, he will bless it to his confusion, in discovering the rottenness of his heart, that others deceived by him may fly from his shadow. This faithful dealing is better than the flattery, deceitful fawning, or candour, of hypocrites; which consists chiefly in defending the unconverted, justifying the wicked, levelling the walls of Zion, stabbing the power of religion, and uniting Christ and Belial, believers and infidels, together. But, if they are false brethren, deal accordingly Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit;" and this is done when his folly is answered with wisdom, and exposed by truth. When we are commanded not to answer a fool according to his folly, lest we be like unto him, it means, we are not to answer his vanity with vanity, nor his folly with foolishness; for that makes us appear like unto him. The wise man must make use of wisdom if he contends with a fool; whether he rage or laugh; and then he will always differ widely from him. In short, deal faithfully with all men, and thou wilt have the approbation of God, conscience, and scripture, however men may disapprove; yea, and of the children of grace, too: for, though reproof be grievous to him that forsaketh the way, yet he that reproveth him (when the reproof is seconded by humbling grace, and his pride and stubbornness are dissolved) snarl find more favour in his eyes than he that flattereth with his lips, Prov. xxviii. 23.
There are some to be found in the churches, whether `arse brethren or true it is sometimes hard to tell, who are unstable in all their ways; always biased by the last report, whether true or false; always carried away with the last acquaintance, and wonderfully ravished with every new doctrine, or new observation, whether right or wrong. These, receiving every report. and being easily deceived, are always imposed upon; and are sure never to want tattling visitors: and, when once an evil report of another is brought to such, whether it has any foundation or not, they immediately become your enemies, and spare neither your grace, character, ministry, nor usefulness. These are not the excellent of the earth, nor such as excel in virtue; therefore thou art not obliged to take all thy delight in them, but, contrariwise, make them no part of your privy council: keep them objects of your love, and subjects of your prayers; but make them neither bosom friends nor companions in travail, for thou mayest gain such a brother and lose him an hundred times in a week; yea, two or three such intimates as these will cut you out work enough to employ you all the year round, only by going from John Nokes to Thomas Stiles, to prove or disprove every tale of a tub; which ill becomes the real saint, who ought to mind his business, his Saviour, and his conscience; knowing that it is his witness, and that of his own conscience, which must buoy him up, and bear him out, if ever he end in peace, or stand before the Son of Man with boldness. Furthermore, if such do you any act of kindness, it shall afterward be thrown in your teeth, and proclaimed to the wide world, without considering that he who sows spiritual things has a right to reap carnal things. Such, if they are benefactors, soon repent of their liberality; forfeit the enjoyment of the blessing promised to the secret and cheerful giver; and make their bounty a matter of reproach, to injure the work and workman of God. I would sooner have three such friends as Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, who were confederate with Abraham, Gen. xiv. 24, than have confederacy with a hundred such Israelites as Reuben, who are unstable as water, and excel in nothing but childish things.
To conclude, my friends: the only happiness upon earth, is union with Christ; and to abide in him is to abide in safety. Neither prejudice nor envy can strike a lasting root in a mind that is truly heavenly, nor brow or flourish in a soul that abides sensibly in Christ Jesus. It is the silly one that is slain by it; and, where it captivates a saint, it proclaims him at a distance from his God: the more he nurses it, the more fuel he adds to his future furnace of affliction; and, perhaps, at last, he may he ranked among those who are saved by fire. If ever thou findest it working in thy- mind, never come from thy knees without a stroke at that; and every temptation that nurseth pride, or moves thee to prejudice, fall to praying for the object that Satan moves thee to hate. To be led by the temptation is giving place to the devil; to act counter to it, is to improve it to the honour of God, and the confusion of the adversary. I have found a heaven upon earth in praying for those who, without cause, have offended and injured me. I have met with the sensible approbation of God to my heart; and my prayer has procured an answer to my own bosom, whether it was heard in their behalf or not: and God, that searches the heart, best knows who they are that, in their heart, forgive their brethren their trespasses. God turned the captivity of Job when he prayed, though his prayer was put lip for his friends; when, in very deed, they had behaved themselves more like enemies than friends; for they had not spoken the things that were right, even of God; nor had they convinced, though they had all condemned, Job.
Be cautioned not to disclose all the secrets of thine heart to every one that says a confederacy! neither cast your pearls before swine; nor frequent the houses of gossiping professors, where the life and power of religion are wanting, where no unity of judgment, nor union of soul are to be found, and where nothing but tattling and tale-bearing abound. Such are Solomon's woodpile, where strife is generally kindled; and, where there is no tech wood, the fire goeth out. You will find that the objects of their hatred and raillery are, in the general, such as God loves; and their hatred is raised by the knowledge, honour, and power, that attend the just; which lays their superficial profession and hypocritical hopes in the dust. A bosom friend in soul union, whom God has made manifest in your conscience, and who is in your heart to live and die with; who is sound in faith, steady in his profession; harmonious in his confession, consistent in his life, dead to the world and alive to God, diligent in the means, experienced in his heart, and savoury in his conversation; is a friend and a brother indeed! and, when thou findest such an one, stick by him: two or three such as he, at a throne of grace, are terrible as an army with banners. I have known many an hypocrite plucked out of his profession, and cast without the pale of the church; all his schemes blasted; his heart discovered; the prejudiced weakling undeceived; the breach that he had made closed; the object of his hatred exalted; and all this in answer to a few petitions put up by-two or three in private, while he himself never knew who dealt the blow. It was this sort of work, iii the hand of Mordecai and Esther, that hung Haman at his own expense, and brought Herod to his death by worms: and it was a few fellow-servants telling their lord of the conduct of this unmerciful servant, that engaged the Lord to deliver him to the tormentors. This is the way: and blessed is the man who lets all his requests be made known unto God; for, he may say, as Paul did, "I can do all things through Christ strengthening me."
Commit thy way to the Lord, and in all thy ways acknowledge him; and he shall establish thy thoughts, and direct thy steps. Be not like the horse, or the mule, that have no understanding; and he will guide thee with his eye, and steer thee over many a trap and snare which thou wilt be ignorant of till he discover them to thee. Do nothing without thy God; nor scrape acquaintance with every one who makes a profession, or speaks well of the minister that was sent with the first tidings of peace to thy soul. The Devil has introduced many a child of his with this compliment of the season; and it has served as a key to pick the pockets of the simple in the end. If a man live near to God, and is alive to him, and enjoys a good conscience before him, his feelings, under the influence of the Spirit, will he tender; and such are more discerning, more acute, and more susceptible, than those whose joys are withered, and whose love is cold. Nor will God let such souls, who depend hourly upon him, make a covenant, like the princes of Israel, with every pretended pilgrim that comes with his old sacks, clouted shoes, and mouldy bread, under the pretence of being foreign ambassadors, and coming because of the naive of the Lord our God, Josh. ix. 4, 5, 7; when they were only hypocrites, with lies in their mouths, come to save their lives; and took God's name in their lips to cover their guile; and were cursed, and set to the drudgery of hewing of wood and drawing of water for their pains. It is no wonder the princes were deceived, when they asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord.
If thou livest in communion and fellowship with the Lord, he will both keep thee and guide thee; he will bar thy heart against those whose hearts are barred against him, and draw thine affections forth to those that love him.; and often turn a pretender inside out before thee, and so exhibit him, as thou wilt see through him as through a glass lanthorn. Like Simon Magus, he shall bolt out something that will be sufficient to convince thee he is in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.
Thus, my friends, have I complied with your request; and that the publication and perusal of this Epistle may be a blessing to you, and to thousands, is the desire and prayer of,Dear Brethren,
Your willing servant in Christ,
And for his sake,Winchester Row, Paddington.