Christians A Chosen Generation, A Royal Priesthood, A Holy Nation, A Peculiar People
Not dated. Five sermons.
1 Peter 2:9
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Subject: That true Christians are: I. A chosen generation. II. A royal priesthood. III. A holy nation. IV. A peculiar people.
THE apostle in the preceding verses speaks of the great difference between Christians and unbelievers, on account of their diverse and opposite relations to Jesus Christ. The former have Christ for their foundation, they come to him as a living stone, a stone chosen of God, and precious; and they also as living stones are built up a spiritual house. The Christian church is the temple of God, and particular believers are the stones of which that temple is built. The stones of Solomon’s temple, which were so curiously polished and well fitted for their places in that building, were a type of believers. And Christ is the foundation of this building, or the chief corner stone. On the contrary, to the latter, to unbelievers, Christ, instead of being a foundation on which they rest and depend, is a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense. Instead of being a foundation to support them and keep them from falling, he is an occasion of their stumbling and falling.
And again, to believers Christ is a precious stone: “Unto you therefore which believe, he is precious.” But to unbelievers he is a stone that is disallowed, and rejected, and set at nought. They set light by him, as by the stones of the street. They make no account of him, and they disallow him. When they come to build, they cast this stone away as being of no use, not fit for a foundation, and not fit for a place in their building. In the eighth verse the apostle tells the Christians to whom he writes, that those unbelievers who thus reject Christ, and to whom he is a stone of stumbling, and rock of offense, were appointed to this. “And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient, whereunto also they were appointed.” It was appointed that they should stumble at the word that Christ should be an occasion not of their salvation, but of their deeper damnation. And then in our text, he puts the Christians in mind how far otherwise God had dealt with them, than with those reprobates. They were a chosen generation. God had rejected the others in his eternal counsels, but themselves he had chosen from eternity. They were a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people.
As God distinguished the people of Israel of old from all other nations, so he distinguishes true Christians. It is probable the apostle had in his mind some expressions that are used in the Old Testament, concerning the people of Israel. Christians are said here to be a chosen generation, according to what was said of Israel of old. Deu. 10:15, “Only the Lord thy God had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day.” Christians are here said to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, agreeable to what was said of old of Israel, Exo. 19:5, 6, “Now, therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine. And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.”
But there is something further said here of Christians than there of Israel. There, it is promised to Israel that if they obey, they shall be a kingdom of priests. But here, Christians are said to be a priesthood of kings, or a royal priesthood. They are a priesthood, and they are also kings.
I propose to insist distinctly upon the several propositions contained in the words of the text.
I. True Christians are a chosen generation. Two things are here implied.
First, that true Christians are chosen by God from the rest of the world, to be his.
Second, that God’s people are of a peculiar descent and pedigree, different from all the world besides.
First, true Christians are chosen by God from the rest of the world.
God does not utterly cast off the world of mankind. Though they are fallen and corrupted, and there is a curse brought upon the world, yet God entertained a design of appropriating a certain number to himself. Indeed all men and all creatures are his, as well since as before the fall. Whether they are elected or not, they are his. God does not lose his right to them by the fall, neither does he lose his power to dispose of them: they are still in his hands. Neither does he lose his end in creating them. God has made all things for himself, even the wicked for the day of evil. It possibly was Satan’s design, in endeavoring the fall of man, to cause that God should lose the creature that he had made, by getting him away from God into his own possession, and to frustrate God of his end in creating man. But this Satan has not obtained.
But yet in a sense the wicked may be said not to belong to God. God doth not own them He has rejected them and cast them away. They are not God’s portion, they are Satan’s portion. God has left them, and they are lost. When man fell, God left and cast off the bulk of mankind. But he was pleased, notwithstanding the universal fall, to choose out a number of them to be his, whom he would still appropriate to himself. Though the world is a fallen world, yet it was the will of God still to have a portion in it, and therefore he chose out some and set them apart for himself, Psa. 4:3, “But know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the Lord will hear when I call unto him.” God’s portion is his people, and Jacob is the lot of his inheritance, Deu. 32:9. Those who are God’s enemies, and to whom he is an enemy, are still his. But those who are his friends, his children, his jewels, that compose his treasure, are his in a very different manner. God has chosen the godly out of the rest of the world to be nearly related to him, to stand in the relation of children, to have a property in him, that they might not only be his people, but that he might be their God. He has chosen these to bestow himself upon them. He has chosen them from among others to be gracious to them, to show them his favor. He has chosen them to enjoy him, to see his glory, and to dwell with him forever. He has chosen them as his treasure, as a man chooses out gems from a heap of stones, with this difference: the man finds gems very different from other stones, and therefore chooses, but God chooses them, and therefore they become gems, and very different from others, Mal. 3:17, “And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.” Psa. 135:4, “For the Lord hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure.” God has chosen them for a most noble and excellent use, and therefore they are called vessels unto honor, and elect vessels. God has different uses for different men. Some are destined to a baser use, and are vessels unto dishonor. Others are chosen for the most noble use, for serving and glorifying God, and that God may show the glory of divine grace upon them.
Several things may here be observed concerning this election of God, whereby he chooses truly godly persons.
1. This election supposes that the persons chosen are found among others. The word election denotes this: it signifies a choosing out. The elect are favored by electing grace among the rest of mankind, with whom they are found mixed together as the tares and the wheat. They are found among them in the same sinfulness, and in the same misery, and are alike partakers of original corruption. They are among them in being destitute of anything in them that is good, in enmity against God, in being in bondage to Satan, in condemnation to eternal destruction, and in being without righteousness. So that there is no distinction between them prior to that which the election makes. There is no respect wherein the elect are not among the common multitude of mankind, 1 Cor. 4:7, “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?” 1 Cor. 6:11, “And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” And therefore,
2. No foreseen excellency in the elected is the motive that influences God to choose them. Election is only from his good pleasure. God’s election being the first thing that causes any distinction, there can be no distinction already existing, the foresight of which influences God to choose them. It is not the seeing of any amiability in them above others, that causes God to choose them rather than the rest. God does not choose men, because they are excellent, but he makes them excellent, and because he has chosen them. It is not because God considers them as holy that he chooses them, but he chooses them that they might be holy, Eph. 1:4, 5, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” God does not choose them from the foresight of any respect they will have towards him more than others. God does not choose men and set his care upon them because they love him, for he has first loved us, 1 John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins;” verse 19 (1 John. 4:19), “We love him, because he first loved us.”
It is not from any foresight of good works that men do before or after conversion. But on the contrary, men do good works because God has chosen them, John 15:16, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” Nor did God choose men, because he foresaw that they would believe and come to Christ. Faith is the consequence of election, and not the cause of it, Acts 13:48, “And when the Gentiles heard this they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life, believe.” It is because God has chosen men, that he calls them to Christ, and causes them to come to him. To suppose that election is from the foresight of faith, is to place calling before election, which is contrary to the order in which the Scripture represents things, Rom. 8:30, “Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” It is not from the foresight of any, either moral or natural qualifications, that God chooses men, nor because he sees that some men are of a more amiable make, and better natural temper or genius, nor because he foresees that some men will have better abilities, and will have more wisdom than others and so will be able to do more service for God than others, nor because he foresees that they will be great and rich and so possessed of greater advantages to serve him, 1 Cor. 1:27, 28, “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world, to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world, to confound the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world, and things despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.” Nor is it from any foresight of men’s endeavors after conversion, because he sees that some whom he chooses will do much more than others to obtain heaven. But God chooses them, and therefore awakens them, and prompts them to strive for conversion. Rom. 9:16, “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” Election in Scripture is everywhere referred to God’s own good pleasure, Mat. 11:26, “Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” 2 Tim. 1:9, “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”
3. True Christians are chosen of God from all eternity, not only before they were born, but before the world was created. They were foreknown of God, and chosen by him out of the world, Eph. 1:4, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love.” 2 Tim. 1:9, “According to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus, before the world began.”
4. God in election set his love upon those whom he elected, Rom. 9:13, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Jer. 31:3, “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.” 1 John 4:19, “We love him because he first loved us.” A God of infinite goodness and benevolence loves those that have no excellency to move or attract it. The love of men is consequent upon some loveliness in the object, but the love of God is antecedent to, and the cause of it. Believers were from all eternity beloved both by the Father and the Son. The eternal love of the Father appears in that he from all eternity contrived a way for their salvation, and chose Jesus Christ to be their Redeemer, and laid help upon him. It is a fruit of this electing love that God sent his Son into the world to die, it was to redeem those whom he so loved. 1 John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” It is a fruit of the eternal, electing love of Jesus Christ, that he was willing to come into the world, and die for sinners, and that he actually came and died, Gal. 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” And so conversion, and glorification, and all that is done for a believer from the first to the last, is a fruit of electing love.
5. This electing love of God is singly of every particular person. Some deny a particular election, and say that there is no other election than a general determination, that all that believe and obey shall be saved. Some also own no more than an absolute election of nations. But God did from all eternity singly and distinctly choose, and set his love upon, every particular person that ever believes, as is evident by Gal. 2:20, “Who loved me and gave himself for me.” God set his love from eternity upon this and that person, as particularly as if there were no other chosen than he. Therefore it is represented as though they were mentioned by name, that their names are written in the book of life, Luke 10:20, “Notwithstanding, in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” Rev. 13:8, “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
6. In election, believers were from all eternity given to Jesus Christ. As believers were chosen from all eternity, so Christ was from eternity chosen and appointed to be their Redeemer, and he undertook the work of redeeming them. There was a covenant respecting it between the Father and Son. Christ, as we have already observed, loved them before the creation of the world. Then he had their names, as it were, written in a book, and therefore the book of life is called the Lamb’s book, Rev. 21:27, “And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” And he bears their names upon his heart, as the high priest of old did the names of the tribes of the children of Israel on his breastplate. Christ often calls the elect those whom God had given him. John 17:2, “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” In the 9th verse, “I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.” In the 11th verse, “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.”
This part of the subject may suggest to us the following reflections.
(1.) God’s thus electing a certain definite number from among fallen men from all eternity, is a manifestation of his glory. It shows the glory of the divine sovereignty. God hereby declares himself the absolute disposer of the creature. He shows us how far his sovereignty and dominion extend, in eternally choosing some and passing by others, and leaving them to perish. God here appears in a majesty that is unparalleled. Those who can see no glory of dominion in this act, have not attained to right apprehensions of God, and never have been made sensible of his glorious greatness. And here is especially shown the glory of divine grace: in God’s having chosen his people to blessedness and glory long before they are born, in his choosing them out of the mass of mankind from whom they were not distinguished, and in his love to them being prior to all that they have or do, being uninfluenced by any excellency of theirs, by the light of any labors or endeavors of theirs, or any respect of theirs towards him.
The doctrine of election shows that if those who are converted have earnestly sought grace and holiness, and in that way have obtained it, their obtaining it is not owing to their endeavors, but that it was the grace and mercy of God that caused them earnestly to seek conversion, that they might obtain it. It shows also that faith itself is the gift of God, and that the saints persevering in a way of holiness unto glory, is also the fruit of electing love. Believers’ love to God is the fruit of God’s love to them, and the giving of Christ, the preaching of the gospel, and the appointing of ordinances, are all fruits of the grace of election. All the grace that is shown to any of mankind, either in this world, or in the world to come, is comprised in the electing love of God.
(2.) If believers are the chosen of God, here is a great argument for their love and gratitude towards him. The consideration of the miserable condition in which God found you, and in which he left others, should move your hearts. How wonderful that God should take such thought of a poor worm from all eternity! God might have left you as well as many others, but it pleased the Lord to set his love upon you. What cause have you for love and thankfulness, that God should make choice of you, and set you apart for himself, rather than so many thousands of others!
God has chosen you not merely to be his subjects and servants, but to be his children, to be his particular treasure. He has chosen you to be blessed forever in the enjoyment of himself, and to dwell with him in his glory. He has given you from all eternity to his Son, to be united unto him, to become the spouse of Christ. He has chosen you that you might be holy and without blame, that you might have your filth taken away, and that you might have the image of God put upon you, and that your soul might be adorned, to be the bride of his glorious and dear Son. What cause for love is here!
(3.) If believers are a chosen generation, let all labor earnestly to make their election sure. If true Christians are chosen of God, this should induce all earnestly to inquire whether they are true Christians. 2 Pet. 1:5-7, “And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity.”
Second, true Christians are a distinct race of men. They are of a peculiar descent or pedigree, different from the rest of the world. This is implied in their being called a generation. There are three significations of the word generation in the Scriptures. Sometimes it means, as is its meaning in the common use, a class of persons among a people, or in the world, that are born together, or so nearly together, that the time of their being in the different stages of the age of man is the same. They shall be young persons, middle aged, and old together. Or they shall be together upon the stage of action. All that are together upon the face of the earth, or the stage of action, are very often accounted as one generation. Thus when God threatened that not one of the Israelites of that generation should see the good land, it is meant, all from twenty years old and upwards.
A second meaning is, those who are born of a common progenitor.
A third meaning of the word in Scripture, is, a certain race of mankind, whose generation and birth agree, not as to time, but as to descent and pedigree, or as to those persons from whom they originally proceeded. So it is to be understood, Mat. 1:1, “This is the book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham;” that is, this is the book that gives an account of his pedigree. And this meaning, viz. those who are of the same race and descent, must be given to the word in the text. The righteous are often spoken of in Scripture as being a distinct generation, Psa. 14:5, “There were they in great fear: for God is in the generation of the righteous.” Psa. 24:6, “This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob.” Psa. 73:15, “If I say, I will speak thus: behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children.”
That the godly are a distinct race appears evident, since they are descended from God. They are a heavenly race, and they are derived from above. The heathen were wont to feign that their heroes and great men were descended from the gods, but God’s people are descended from the true and living God, without any fiction, Psa. 22:30, “A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.” That is, a seed, a posterity, shall serve him, and it shall be accounted to the Lord for his posterity or offspring.
Now the people of God may be considered as descending from God, and as being his posterity, either remotely or immediately.
1. They are remotely descended from God. The church is a distinct race that originally came from God. Other men are of the earth, they are of earthly derivation, they are the posterity of men, but the church is the posterity of God. Thus it is said, Gen. 6:2, “That the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.” The sons of God were the children of the church, of the posterity of Seth. The daughters of men were those that were born out of the church, and of the posterity of Cain, and those that adhered to him.
It was God that set up the church in the world, and those who were the first founders of the church were of God, and were called specially the sons of God. Seth was the seed that God appointed, Gen. 4:25, “And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth. For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.” Adam, in Luke’s genealogy of Christ (Luke 3:38, “Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God,”) is called the son of God, possibly, not only because he was immediately created by God, but also because he was from God, and was begotten by him. As he was a good man, and was the founder of the church of which Christ himself became a son. He was the first in line of the church, and as such he was from God. When the church was almost extinct God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, and afterwards out of Haran. Abraham was one immediately from God, and all God’s people in all succeeding ages are accounted as the children of Abraham. God promised Abraham that his seed should be as the stars of heaven, and as the sand on the seashore, meaning primarily not his posterity according to the flesh. John the Baptist said, God is able of the stones to raise up children unto Abraham. Those are the seed of Abraham, as we are taught in the New Testament, that are of the faith of Abraham. Christians, as well as Jews, are the seed of Abraham, Gal. 3:29, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” So the church is the seed of Jacob, who is called God’s son, Hos. 11:1, “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” All God’s people are called Israel, not only his posterity according to the flesh, but proselytes of old, and Gentile Christians now under the gospel. The sincerely godly, and they only, are the true Israel.
So the people of God are descended from God the Father originally, as they are descended from Christ the Son of God. Christians are called the seed of Christ, Gal. 3:29, “And if ye be Christ’s,” etc. They are, as it were, his posterity. Christ calls them his children, Heb. 2:13, “Behold I and the children which thou hast given me.” So that if we trace the pedigree of God’s people up to their original, they will be found to be descended from God: they are of heaven, they are not of this world. Other men are of the earth, and are earthly, but these are heavenly, and are of heaven. The wicked are called the men of this world, Psa. 17:14, “From men which are thy hand, O Lord, from men of the world which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes.” The first beginnings of the church were from God, the great founder of the church. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and those men, who under him have been founders, were of God, were of him. God chose them, called them, and created them for this purpose. Since which, God’s people are descended one from another; the church is continued and propagated, as it were, by generation. If there were no ordinary and stated means made use of for the continuing and propagating the church, it would not be so. But God’s people are made the instruments of one another’s conversion, by begetting one another’s souls. The church is continued by itself instrumentally through all generations, the people of God are begotten through the education, instruction, and endeavors of those who were God’s people before. Therefore the church is represented in Scripture as being the mother of its members, Gal. 4:26, “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” Believers are the children of the church, as they are often called, Isa. 49:20, “The children which thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the other, shalt say again in thine ears, the place is too strait for me; give place to me, that I may dwell.” Isa. 54:1, “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.” And many other places.
God’s people are often, through their education and instruction, the spiritual parents of those of whom they are the natural parents. The ministers of the Word and ordinances are spiritual fathers. The apostle tells the Christian Corinthians, that he had begotten them through the gospel.
2. God’s people are immediately begotten of God. When they become saints, they are born again, and they have a new nature given them. They have a new life begun, and they are renewed in the whole man by a new generation and birth wherein they are born of God, John 1:12, 13, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” They are born of the Spirit of God, John 3:8, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” God is said to have formed the church from the womb, Isa. 44:2, “Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee: Fear not, O Jacob my servant; and thou, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.”
This truth also may suggest to us a few profitable reflections.
(1.) Christians ought to bear with one another. It appears from what has been said that they are all of one kindred, that they have a relation to other Christians which they have not to the rest of the world, being of a distinct race from them, but of the same race one with another. They are descended all along from the same progenitors; they are the children of the same universal church of God; they are all the children of Abraham; they are the seed of Jesus Christ; they are the offspring of God. And they are yet much more alike, than their being of the same race originally argues them to be: they are also immediately the children of the same Father. God hath begotten all by the same Word and Spirit. They are all of one family, and should therefore love as brethren, 1 Pet. 3:8, “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another; love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous.”
It is very unbecoming those who are God’s offspring, to entertain a spirit of hatred and ill will one towards another. It is very unbecoming to be backward in helping and assisting one another, and supplying each other’s wants, much more, to contrive and seek one another’s hurt, to be revengeful one towards another.
(2.) Let Christians take heed so to walk that they may not dishonor their pedigree. You are of a very honorable race, more honorable by far than if you were the offspring of kings, and had royal blood in your veins. You are a heavenly offspring, the seed of Jesus Christ, the children of God. They that are of noble race are wont to value themselves highly upon the honor of their families, to dwell on their titles, their coats of arms, and their ensigns of honor, and to recount the exploits of their illustrious forefathers. How much more careful should you be of the honor of your descent: that you in nothing behave yourself unworthy of the great God, the eternal and omnipotent King of heaven and earth, whose offspring you are!
There are many things that are very base, and too mean for such as you. Such are a giving way to earthly-mindedness, a groveling like moles in the earth, a suffering your soul to cleave to those earthly things which ought to be neglected and despised by those who are of heavenly descent, an indulgence of the lusts of the flesh, suffering the soul to be immersed in filth, being taken up with mean and unworthy delights common to the beasts, being intemperate in the gratification of any carnal appetite whatsoever, or a being much concerned about earthly honor. It is surely a disgrace to them, who are accounted to God for a generation, much to care whether they are accounted great upon this dunghill. So it is unworthy of your noble descent to be governed by your passions: you should be guided by higher principles of reason and virtue, and an universal respect to the glory and honor of God.
But Christians should seek after those things which will be to the honor of their birth, after spiritual wisdom, and knowledge of the most worthy and noble truths. They should seek more and more an acquaintance with God, and to be assimilated to him, their great progenitor, and their immediate Father, that they may have the image of his excellent and divine perfections. They should endeavor to act like God, wherein they are capable of imitation of him. They should seek heavenly-mindedness: those noble appetites after heavenly and spiritual enjoyments, a noble ambition after heavenly glory, a contempt of the trifles and mean things of this world. They should seek after those delights and satisfactions that can be enjoyed by none but heavenly minds. They should exercise a spirit of true, universal, and disinterested love and confidence, and Christian charity. They should be much in devotion, and divine contemplation.
(3.) We see here a reason why Christians are of so different a nature and temper from the rest of the world. The truly godly are very different in their disposition from others. They hate those things that the rest of the world love, and love those things for which the rest of the world have no relish, insomuch that others are ready to wonder that they should place any happiness in a strict observance of the self-denying duties of religion. They wonder what delight they can take in spending so much time in meditation and prayer, and that they do not place happiness in those things which themselves do, 1 Pet. 4:4, “Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot; speaking evil of you.” But the reason is, they are of a different race, and so derive different dispositions.
It is ordinary to see those who are of different families, of a different temper. The natural temper of parents is commonly in some degree transmitted to their posterity. Indeed, all agree in many things, for all are of the same blood originally. All are descended from the same Adam, and the same Noah. But Christians are born again of another stock, different from all the rest of the world. Therefore they are of a temper by themselves, wherein none of the rest of the world agree with them, Rev. 1:6, “And hath made us kings and priests unto God, and his Father: to him be glory and dominion, for ever and ever.”
II. True Christians are a royal priesthood.
The two offices of king and priest were accounted very honorable both among Jews and heathens. But it was a thing not known under the law of Moses, that the same person should sustain both these offices in a stated manner. While Moses himself is said to have been king in Jeshurun, yet his brother Aaron was the high priest. Those who were kings by divine appointment in Israel were of another tribe from the priesthood, viz. the tribe of Judah. Before the giving the law we have an instance of one who was both king and priest, viz. Melchizedek, Gen. 14:18, “And Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine; and he was the priest of the most high God.”
Therefore, in some of the prophecies of Christ, it is spoken of as a remarkable thing of him, that he should be a priest after the order of Melchizedek, Psa. 110:4, “The Lord hath sworn and will not repent; thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek.” The same again is prophesied of as a wonderful thing by Zechariah, that he should be a priest upon a throne, Zec. 6:13, “Even he shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” In this respect the gospel dispensation differs from the legal, that it reveals the compatibility of the two offices. One person, Jesus Christ, is antitype of both kings and priests, under the law. As it is the will of Christ, who became in all things like unto us, that his disciples should in many things become like unto him, so it is in this among others. As Christ is the Son of God, so those that are Christ’s are the children of God. As Christ is the heir of God, so as Christ liveth, it is his will that they should live also. As Christ rose from the dead, so it is the will of Christ that his saints should rise also. As Christ is in heaven in glory, so it is the will of Christ that they should be with him where he is. So as Christ is both King and Priest, so shall believers be made kings and priests. What is said in the text is either with respect to what they now are, or what they shall be hereafter. The apostle says, “ye are a royal priesthood;” that is, ye have those honors in reversion. Christians are kings here, as a king who is in his minority, who though the crown is his right, has not yet come actually to reign. They are indeed in an exalted state while here, but not as they will be hereafter. Christians while here are indeed priests, but not as they will be. Christians are called kings and priests here, in this world, Rev. 1:6, “And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father.” But in Rev. 5 the saints in heaven speak of this as the consequence of their glory and exaltation, Rev. 5:9, 10, “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests; that we should reign on the earth.”
First, Christians are kings.
When Christians are called kings, the Scriptures include both what they actually have in this world, and what they have in a future state. The reward which our Lord Jesus promised to his disciples was a kingdom, Luke 22:29, “And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me.” Christians, having this promise, are therefore heirs of a kingdom here, which they are hereafter to receive, Jam. 2:5, “Hearken, my beloved brethren; hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?”
The reward of the saints is represented as a kingdom, because the possession of a kingdom is the height of human advancement in this world, and as it is the common opinion that those who have a kingdom have the greatest possible happiness. The happiness of a kingdom, or royal state, for which it is so much admired by mankind, consists in these things:
1. The honor of a kingdom.
2. The possessions of kings.
3. The government or authority of kings.
Now with respect to each of these, the happiness of the saints is far greater than that of the kings and greatest potentates in the world.
1. True Christians will be advanced to honors far above those of earthly kings. They will have a vastly higher dignity than any princes. If these are nobly descended, it is not so great an honor as to be the sons of God. If they are nobly educated, and have their minds formed for government, and have princely qualifications, these qualifications are not so honorable as those with which God endows his saints, whose minds he fills with divine knowledge, and gives them true and perfect holiness. Princes appear honorable from their outward enjoyment of honor and dignity, their royal robes, their stately palaces, and their splendid equipage. But these are not so honorable as those white robes, those inherent ornaments, with which the saints shall appear in heaven, with which they “shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” What is a king’s palace to those mansions in heaven, that Christ prepares for his saints? The honor of the creature consists in likeness and nearness to the Creator in heaven. The saints shall be like him, for they shall see him as he is. They shall be most near to him, and shall be admitted to a most intimate fellowship.
2. The saints shall have greater and more extensive possessions than any earthly monarch. One reason for which the state of kings is admired is their wealth. They have the most precious things laid up in their treasures. We read of the peculiar treasure of kings, Ecc. 2:8, “I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts;” that is, the peculiar treasure of other kings. David conquered and subdued many kings, and spoiled their peculiar treasure, which fell to his son Solomon.
But the precious treasures of kings are not to be compared to those precious things which Christ will give his saints in another world: the gold tried in the fire that Christ has purchased with his own blood, those precious jewels, those graces and joys of his Spirit, and that beauty of mind with which he will endow them. King’s possessions are very extensive, especially were they thus when kings were generally absolute, and their whole dominions, their subjects and their fortunes, were looked upon as their possessions. But these fall short of the extensive possessions of the saints, who possess all things. They are the heirs of God, and all that is God’s is theirs so far as it can contribute to their happiness, Rev. 21:7, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.” 1 Cor. 3:21, 22, “Therefore let no man glory in men, for all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours.”
3. The saints shall also be advanced to the authority of kings. Christ has appointed to them a kingdom, and in that kingdom they shall reign. It is promised concerning the saints, that they shall reign, Rev. 5:10, “And hath made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” Rev. 22:5, “And there shall be no night there: and they need no candle, neither light of the sun, for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.” It is evident that they shall have a kingdom with respect to rule and government, as appears, Rev. 2:26, 27, “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over all nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.” But we must see that we rightly understand this. They shall not be appointed by God as sovereigns of the world, without any superior to direct them. Neither shall they be properly deputies or viceroys, as king Agrippa and some other kings were the deputies of the Roman emperors. But they shall reign in fellowship with Christ as joint heirs. They shall reign in the same kingdom with him, and shall have the happiness of having things done according to their will as much as if their own wills were paramount. Christ wills their will. All things will be disposed in the best manner for them, and to promote their happiness. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne; even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”
The reigning of the saints will consist partly in judging. For the saints shall judge the world, angels and men with Christ, Mat. 19:28, “And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” 1 Cor. 6:2, 3, “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life!” How earnestly do men seek a kingdom! What fatigues, what dangers, what bloodshed, will they not encounter! In seeking conversion, you seek a kingdom. You who are poor, you who are children, have opportunity to obtain a kingdom, to advance yourselves to higher dignity, to more substantial honors, to greater possessions, to more precious treasures, to be clothed in robes of richer splendor, and to fill a loftier throne, than those enjoyed by the greatest earthly monarchs. It is a crown that you are to run for, an incorruptible crown, to be given you by the Great King of heaven, and to be worn by you as long as his throne shall endure. What encouragement is here afforded to the saints under afflictions and reproaches. What are they, to the worth and honor of a heavenly kingdom? When you shall have a crown of glory placed on your head, and be seated on Christ’s throne, and shine forth as the light, and are seated at his royal banquet, then you will suffer no more forever. All trouble, all reproach, shall be driven away; you will be too high to be reached by the malice of men and devils, and shall soon forget all your sorrows.
Second, true Christians are priests of God. The priesthood under the law was a very honorable and sacred office, Heb. 5:4, “And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” It was on account of this honor that those proud men, Korah and his company, envied Aaron; and God asserted and vindicated Aaron’s right to it, by causing his rod to bud.
It was an honor which, before the giving of the law, when every particular family was wont to offer sacrifices for themselves, the firstborn used to claim, and therefore the birthright was so much esteemed and valued. Therefore Jacob had such a desire of having the birthright of his brother Esau, and Esau’s despising of it is spoken of as a great instance of his profaneness. A priest is said to be a chief man among his people, Lev. 21:4, “But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself.” Because the office of the priesthood was so honorable, it is noticed as a wicked contempt of it in several wicked kings, that they made of the meanest of the people priests. The office was so honorable, that a king, Uzziah, coveted the honor of it, and it is mentioned as an instance of his pride that he did so, 2 Chr. 26:16, “But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense.” And it was a very sacred office, and that above all other offices. Therefore those things were forbidden the priest that were lawful for all others, such as to be defiled for the dead, or to take to wife one that is put away from her husband, and the reason is given, Lev. 21:6, “They shall be holy unto their God, and not profane the name of their God, for the offerings of the Lord made by fire, and the bread of their God, they do offer; therefore they shall be holy. They shall not take a wife that is a whore, or profane, neither shall they take a woman put away from her husband; for he is holy unto his God. Thou shalt sanctify him therefore, for he offereth the bread of thy God, he shall be holy unto thee: for I, the Lord, which sanctify you, am holy.”
Jesus Christ is the only proper priest that is to offer sacrifices, and make atonement for sin, under the New Testament. He was the priest of whom all the priests of old were typical. But yet all believers are herein in a measure conformed to their head, and assimilated to him. The priesthood now is no longer confined to one family, to Aaron and his sons, but all the true Israel are priests. Every true Christian has a work and office that is as sacred as that of the priests was under the law, and everyone is advanced to a like honor, and indeed to a greater. But how every true Christian is a priest of God will appear in the following things.
1. Every true Christian is allowed as near an access to God, and as free a use of the sacred things, as the priests were of old. God under the law dwelt in the tabernacle and temple, that were the symbol of his presence, and those places were holy. The seed of Aaron might go into the holy place to minister before the Lord, but if any other came nigh, he was to be put to death, Num. 3:10, “And thou shalt appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall wait on their priest’s office: and the stranger that cometh nigh, shall be put to death.”
But now all are allowed to come nigh, we are all allowed a free access to God, to come with boldness and confidence. God’s people are not kept at such a distance now as they were under the law. The church then was in its minority, and the heir, while a child, differs nothing from a servant. The servant is not allowed the free access of a child, he is kept more at a distance with fear and dread. Agreeably to the nature of that dispensation, there were not those special discoveries of the grace and love of God that are now made, and which invite rather than forbid near access.
When God was wont to appear to the children of Israel, it was more with terror and manifestations of awful majesty, and not so much with the discoveries of grace as now. When God appeared on mount Sinai, it was in flaming fire, and with thunder, and lightning, and earthquakes. But in how different a manner did he appear, when he appeared in the person of Christ, with mildness, and gentleness, and love! There is much the same difference between us and them with respect of the liberty of access to God, as there was between the liberty of access of the children of Israel at mount Sinai, and the liberty which Christ’s disciples had of approach to him when he was upon earth. At mount Sinai, only Moses and Aaron, and Nadab and Abihu, were allowed to come up into the mount, and none but Moses was to approach nigh, Exo. 24:1, “And he said unto Moses, Come up unto the Lord, thou and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship ye afar off.” But if any other presumed to touch the mount, God would break forth upon him. But Christ’s disciples used daily to converse with him, as an intimate friend, Heb. 12:18, “For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest.” Yea, Christians are now allowed as near an approach unto God, as the high priest himself, who was allowed a much nearer approach than any of the other priests. God’s dwelling place was the temple, but more especially was it in the holy of holies, in the mercy seat between the cherubim. There was a veil which separated that part of the temple from the rest, and no one might ever enter that veil but the high priest, and that but once a year, not oftener, upon pain of death, Lev. 16:2, “And the Lord said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place, within the veil before the mercy-seat, which is upon the ark, that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy-seat.” The way into the holiest of all was not as yet made manifest, but now it is, Heb. 9:7, 8, “But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people. The Holy Ghost thus signifying that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as yet the first tabernacle was standing.”
But now we are all allowed as near an access to God as the high priest only was under the law, and with more freedom, for he might approach but once a year. But Christians may approach boldly at all times through the blood of Christ, without any danger of dying, Heb. 4:16, “Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” The throne of grace and the mercy seat are the same thing. “Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” That access into the holiest of all was allowed to all under the gospel, and at any time. It is signified by the rending of the veil, upon the death of Christ, for then was that blood shed by which we have access, Mat. 27:50, 51, “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.”
But especially will the access of saints in another world be much more near and familiar than that of the high priest. They shall not only enter into the holy of holies, but shall dwell with God in it, for heaven is the holiest of all. They shall then dwell in God’s presence, they shall see his face, which no man can see and live.
In this world, though there is greater liberty of access than there was of old, yet still Christians are kept at a great distance from God in comparison of what they will be in heaven, where they shall be admitted even to higher privileges than Moses in the mount, when he besought God to show him his glory. They shall then see with open face, and shall know as they are known.
2. Christians are a priesthood with respect to their offerings to God. The principal part of the work of the priests of old was to offer sacrifice, and to burn incense. As the priests of old offered sacrifice, so the work of Christians is to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God, 1 Pet. 2:5, “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” And here,
(1.) Christians offer up their own hearts to God in sacrifice: they dedicate themselves to God, Rom. 6:13, “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” The Christian gives himself to God freely as of mere choice. He does it heartily; he desires to be God’s, and to belong to no other. He gives all the faculties of his soul to God. He gives God his heart, and it is offered to God as a sacrifice in two ways.
Of these, the first is when the heart is broken for sin. A sacrifice, before it can be offered, must be wounded and slain. The heart of a true Christian is first wounded by a sense of sin, of the great evil and danger of it, and is slain with godly sorrow and true repentance. When the heart truly repents, it dies unto sin. Repentance is compared unto a death in the Word of God. Rom. 6:6-8, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Gal. 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” As Christ, when he was offered, was offered broken upon the cross. So there is some likeness to this, when a soul is converted: the heart is offered to God slain and broken, Psa. 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
The second way is when a Christian offers his heart to God, flaming with love. The sacrifice of old was not only to be slain, but to be burnt upon the altar. It was to ascend in flame and smoke, and so to be a sweet savor to God.
That fire upon the altar was a type of two things: it was a type of the fire of the wrath of God, and it was also a type of the fire of the Spirit of God, or of divine love. The Holy Ghost is often compared to fire. With respect to the former, Christ alone is the sacrifice offered in the flame of God’s wrath. But with regard to the latter, the hearts of the children of men are offered in the flame of divine love, and ascend up to God in that flame. This divine love is fire from heaven, as the fire upon the altar of old was. When a soul is drawn to God in true conversion, fire comes down from God out of heaven, in which the heart is offered in sacrifice, and the soul is baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
In many of the sacrifices that were offered, only the fat about the inwards was burnt upon the altar, which fat of the inwards thus rising in flame, represented the offering of the soul. It is that which God looks at. It is that which must be offered in sacrifice to God. Especially hereafter, when the saints will be made priests in a more glorious manner than at present, will they offer up their hearts wholly to God in the flame of love. They shall, as it were, all be transformed into love, as burning oil is transformed into flame, and so, in that flame, shall they ascend up to God. Their souls will be as the angels, who are as a flame of fire not only for activity in God’s service, but for love too. They shall be a flame ever burning, which shall burn longer than the fire upon the altar in Israel, that never went out, from the time that fire came down out of heaven in the wilderness, till the carrying away into Babylon.
(2.) This spiritual priesthood offers to God the sacrifice of praise. Many of their sacrifices under the law were sacrifices of peace offerings, which were mostly for thanksgiving and praise. But the spiritual sacrifice of the hearty and sincere praises of a saint, are more acceptable to God than all the bulls, and rams, and he-goats that they offered. The heartfelt praises of one true Christian are of more account with God than all those two and twenty thousand oxen, and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep, which Solomon offered to God at the dedication of the temple, as a sacrifice of peace offerings. Praise is called a sacrifice, Heb. 13:15, “By him, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name.” Psa. 50:13, 14, “Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay thy vows unto the Most High;” verse 23 “Whoso offereth praise, glorifieth me; and to him that ordereth his conversation aright, will I show the salvation of God;” Psa. 69:30, 31, “I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs.” Praises are therefore in Hosea called calves of our lips, because they are like calves offered in sacrifice, Hos. 14:2, “Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously; so will we render the calves of our lips.” Only true Christians offer those sacrifices. However hypocrites pretend to praise God, and to offer thanksgiving to him. Yet they, being insincere, offer not sacrifices with which God is well pleased. They offer not spiritual sacrifices, and therefore they are not of the spiritual priesthood. In heaven especially are the saints a holy priesthood upon this account, whose work it is forever to offer these sacrifices to God, who cease not day nor night to praise God and sing forth their ardent joyful hallelujahs. They sing a new song, a song that never will end, and never will grow old.
(3.) The next sacrifice which is offered by this spiritual priesthood, is obedience, sincere obedience. The sacrifices under the law did not only represent Christ’s satisfying for sin by suffering, but they also represented Christ’s obeying in suffering. For the sacrifices under the law were not only for propitiation, but they were for purchasing benefits, and so typified not only the satisfaction, but merit, which was by obedience, Psa. 40:6-8, “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire: mine ears hast thou opened; burnt-offering and sin-offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart.” And though the obedience of saints has no merit, yet it is pleasing and acceptable to God. It is as a sweet-smelling savor, and is compared to sacrifices, and preferred before them, 1 Sam 15:22, “And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” Christians, by offering obedience to God in their lives and conversation, do what the apostle calls offering their bodies to be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, as their reasonable service (Rom. 12:1). They offer their bodies, that is they dedicate their bodies to holy uses and purposes. They yield their members as instruments of righteousness unto holiness. The soul, while here, acts externally by the body. And in this Christians serve God. They yield their eyes, their ears, their tongues, their hands, and feet, as servants to God, to be obedient to the dictates of his Word, and of his Holy Spirit in the soul.
(4.) Another sacrifice which we shall mention as offered by this spiritual priesthood is charity, or expressions of Christian love in gifts to others. If the gift flows from a spirit of Christian love although it be but a cup of cold water, it is an acceptable sacrifice to God. And indeed whatsoever is given for a pious use, if it be to promote religion, and uphold the public worship of God, or to benefit a particular person, if it be done from a good spirit, it is a Christian sacrifice, Heb. 13:16, “But to do good, and to communicate, forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
But sacrifices of this kind may principally be ranked under two heads, of which the first is:
Liberality to ministers of the gospel. The priests of old lived upon the sacrifices that were offered to God, and what is now offered to ministers for their comfortable and honorable support Christ looks upon as offered to himself. “He that receiveth you, receiveth me.” Mat. 10:40. Thus Paul says of those things that were sent him by his hearers, that it was a sacrifice acceptable and well pleasing to God, Phil. 4:14, etc. “Notwithstanding ye have well done that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now, ye Philippians, know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphiroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God.”
The second is bounty to the poor. Christ accepts what is done to them as being done to himself, Mat. 25:40, “And the King shall answer, and say unto them, Verity I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” This God prefers before the legal sacrifices. Hos. 6:6, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings.”
(5.) Another offering of this priesthood to God is the prayer of faith. Though this is rather compared to incense in Scripture than to a sacrifice, yet it is equally an evidence of their priesthood. Incense was that sweet confection which we read of, Exo. 30:34, “And the Lord said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices, with pure frankincense; of each shall there be a like weight.” These they were wont to burn upon the censer as they offered it, which made a most fragrant smell. That incense is a type of the merits of Jesus Christ, and seems also to be a type of the prayers of God’s people in faith of the former. It was the custom, when the priest in the temple was burning incense, for the people to be praying without, Luke 1:10, “And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.” And gracious prayer is compared to incense, Psa. 141:2, “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” The prayer of faith is as a fragrant savor to God, through the merits of him towards whom that faith is exercised.
1. Here are great motives for all earnestly to seek that they may become true Christians. It is a great honor to be priests of God. It was a great honor of old to be a priest under the law. It was a greater in some respects than to be a king, because they were nearer to God, and they in their work were more immediately concerned with him: it was a more holy and divine office. But more honorable is it to be of the spiritual priesthood. The access to God is nearer, and an infinitely greater privilege. Especially is the access to God which they will have in another world, where they shall see God, and shall converse with Christ as a man with his friend. If ever a king was ambitious of the honor of the legal priesthood, surely you may well desire the spiritual, which is an eternal priesthood.
Consider that you are capable of receiving this priesthood. Of old, those who were not of the posterity of Aaron, were incapable of the priesthood. It was in vain for them to seek it, but it is not in vain for you to seek this spiritual priesthood. Consider also that you have a call to it, you have warrant sufficient. It would be a dreadful presumption for you to seek this honor if you had not a call to it, Heb. 5:4, “No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” But you are called, and now it would be presumption and profane contempt in you to refuse it: to refuse such an honor as God offers you. Take heed, therefore, that there be not among you any profane person as Esau, who for a morsel of meat sold his birthright, and sold the priesthood that belonged to it. Take heed that you do not sell this spiritual priesthood for a morsel of meat, or for the trifles of this world, that you are not more concerned about a little worldly pelf or vain glory, than about that which is so sacred and honorable.
For direction, that you may be one of this spiritual priesthood, seek of God his holy anointing, that is that God would pour out his Spirit in his sanctifying influences upon you. The priests of old were consecrated by the holy anointing oil, Exo. 29:7, “Then shalt thou take the anointing oil, and pour it upon his head, and anoint him.” Exo. 30:30, “And thou shalt anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office.” If you are here separated for this holy station and service, you must have that holy anointing of the Spirit of God, typified by the oil that was poured upon Aaron’s head. The holy anointing oil of God must be upon you.
2. Let all who profess themselves Christians take heed that they do not defile themselves and profane their sacred character. There was great strictness required of old of the priests, lest they should defile themselves and profane their office, and it was regarded as a dreadful thing to profane it. So holy a God hath threatened in the New Testament, that “if any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy.” 1 Cor. 3:17. As Christians are here called the temple of God, so it is said, in the fifth verse , “Ye are a spiritual house, an holy priesthood.” Avoid the commission of all immoralities, or things that have a horrid filthiness in them, things that will dreadfully profane the sacred name by which you are called, and the sacred station wherein you are set.
Take heed especially of lascivious impurities. Such things were looked upon as defiling the holy office of the priesthood of old, insomuch that if but a daughter of a priest was guilty of whoredom, she was to be burnt. Remember Hophni and Phineas, how sorely God dealt with them for profaning their office by their impurities, and with good Eli, that he was no more thorough to restrain them. God brought a curse upon the whole family which never was removed. God took away the priesthood from him, and took away the ark of the covenant from him and from Israel, and delivered it into captivity, and fulfilled his threatening, that there should not be an old man of his house forever.
Take heed of every sin: an allowing any sin whatever is a dreadful presumption of your holy character.
3. See that you well execute your office. Offer up your heart in sacrifice. Get and keep a near access to God. Come with boldness. Offer up a heart broken for sin; offer it up flaming with love to God; offer praise to God. Praise God for his glorious excellency, and for his love and mercy. Consider what great things you have to praise God for: the redemption of Jesus Christ, his sufferings, his obedience, and the gift of that holiness, which makes you like unto God.
Be ready to distribute, willing to communicate, and do good. Consider it is part of your office thus to do to which you are called and anointed, and as a sacrifice well-pleasing to God. Pity others in distress and be ready to help one another. God will have mercy and not sacrifice.
And be much in offering up your prayers to God, and see that all your offerings are offered upon the right altar, otherwise they will be abominable to God. Offer your hearts to God through Jesus Christ. In his name present the sacrifice of praise, obedience, charity, and of prayer on the golden altar perfumed with the incense of Christ’s merits. Your reward will be to have this honor in heaven, to be exalted to that glorious priesthood, to be made a priest unto God forever and ever.
III. True Christians are a holy nation. And here I shall briefly show,
First, how they are a distinct nation.
Second, how they are holy.
First, Christians are a distinct nation.
1. The saints are all of the same native country. Heaven is the native country of the church. They are born from above. Their Father, of whom they are begotten, is in heaven. The principles that govern their hearts are drawn from heaven, since the Holy Ghost, whose immediate fruits those principles are, is from heaven. The Word of God, which is the seed by which they are begotten, is from heaven. The Bible is a book, as it were, sent down from heaven. The saints in this world are not in their native country, but are pilgrims and strangers on the earth. They are near akin to the inhabitants of the heavenly world, and are properly of that society, Heb. 12:22, 23, “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” Heaven is a country that much better suits their natures than this earth, because it is their native climate. When they are in heaven, they breathe their native air: in heaven is their inheritance. Heaven is the proper country of the church, where the greater part of the church is, and where they all will be, and where is their settled abode. From thence all that are now upon earth are derived, and thither they will return again. Though they are for a little while dwelling at a distance from their native country, yet they are of the same nation with those who now dwell there.
2. All Christians speak the same language. They all profess the same fundamental doctrines. They hold fast the form of sound words that was once delivered to the saints, 2 Tim. 1:13, “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” They all use the same language to God in prayer and praise. They express the same humility and repentance in confessing their sins, the same adoration and admiring sense of God’s glory and excellency, the same humble submission and resignation, and the same thankfulness. In like manner do they show forth God’s praises, expressing the same faith and humble dependence in the mercy of God, and the same love and longing desires after God. The saints in all ages speak the same language with David and the saints of old. The Spirit of God teaches the saints the same language in their prayers. Their prayers are the breathings of the same Spirit.
Indeed the saints while in this world are but learning the heavenly language, and therefore speak it but imperfectly, and with a stammering tongue and with a pronunciation that in many things resembles their old language. The tongues of the saints are renewed in their conversion. Thus the conversion of the Gentiles is represented by their having a new language, Zep. 3:9, “For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.” And in this sense is that also to be understood, Isa. 19:18, “In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the Lord of hosts: one shall be called, The city of destruction.” As it is said of the new song which the saints sing, that no man could learn that song but those that are redeemed from the earth, so no man can learn that language but those who are of this holy nation.
3. They are under the same government. The Christians are one society, one body politic, and therefore, as here the church is represented by a nation, so oftentimes is it called a city. They are subject to the same King, Jesus Christ. He is the head of the church, he is the head of this body politic. Indeed all men are subject to the power and providence of this King. But those who are in his kingdom of grace, all acknowledge the same King, own his rightful sovereignty over them, are willing to be subject to him, to submit to his will, and yield obedience to his commands, Psa. 110:3, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.”
They are all governed by the same laws, and all subject themselves to the same rules. The commands of God that are obeyed by the saints, are the same all over the world. There is the same method of government. There are the same means of government, the same outward and visible means, the same officers, gospel, and gospel ministers, in like manner appointed and sent forth by the head of the church, the same visible order and discipline appointed for all. And there are the same inward and special means of government. Christ governs his people in a peculiar manner. He immediately influences their will and inclinations, and powerfully brings them to a compliance with God’s commands and rules. They are a society united in the same public interest and concerns. It is by the same covenant and promises that they have their inheritance, and that they hold their title to their enjoyments, as a people of the same nation hold their temporal rights by the same rule, and citizens hold their rights by the same municipal laws. The prosperity of this society tends to the advantage of the interests of the particular parts. A Christian has the same reason to be concerned for the flourishing of the church, and the advancement of religion, as a particular subject has for the flourishing of the nation or kingdom. When the church is in flourishing circumstances, the souls of particular saints are like to be flourishing. When the church is in low languishing circumstances, particular souls are generally the same. When iniquity abounds, the love of many waxes cold. As it is the interest of every subject to have the nation flourish, so it is the interest of every Christian to have the church to flourish. So Christians have the same common enemies that seek their hurt and overthrow. He that is an enemy to one saint as a saint, is an enemy to all. They are jointly called to resist the same powers of darkness. The church here upon earth is as an army that goes forth under Jesus Christ, the Captain of their salvation, to resist the common adversary.
Be exhorted to join yourself to this nation. As it was of old, those who were of other nations, if they were brought to the acknowledgment of the God of Israel, and to the true religion, and were circumcised, were received as being of the nation of Israel, and were accounted as those that were descended from Abraham and Jacob. So now is there free liberty to any to come and join themselves to this nation, and they shall be received and admitted to the same rights and privileges, and be in all respects treated as the same people. And especially those now under the gospel are invited to come. Let them be who they will: they may come and join this people and be welcome. There is no wall of partition to separate this people from others, to exclude those of other nations. The gates of the new Jerusalem are always open to receive all whose hearts incline them to come. And here consider,
(1.) There is no nation under so happy a government as this. The Lord Jesus Christ is their King, and he is a most glorious King. He is the eternal and infinitely glorious Son of God. He is a most wise prince, he knows how to govern, and he perfectly understands how best to promote the interest of his people. He is a most merciful and gracious King, who greatly loves his people, and most earnestly and faithfully seeks their interest. His people are redeemed with his own blood, and he will surely seek their welfare. And he is a most powerful prince. He is able to defend his people against all their enemies.
This nation is governed by most wise and righteous laws. As it was said of Israel of old, Deu. 4:8, “What nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?” so and more eminent is it true of the spiritual Israel, since the law of God has been set forth to us in a far more clear and lovely light, by the rules and precepts of the gospel. The manner of Christ’s government in the kingdom of his grace is most excellent, and different from that of all other kings. For he governs by the powerful influence of his Spirit upon the heart, whereby he sweetly inclines them to a willing and chosen subjection to him.
This nation is a free people. The happy government under which they live is most consistent with freedom. It does not in the least infringe upon the liberty of the subject, there is nothing like slavery in the kingdom of God. The law of this nation is a law of liberty. Those that are sinners, are slaves: they are slaves to their lusts, slaves to Satan, slaves to the cruelest of masters. But they whom the Son makes free, are free indeed. The subjects of the heavenly King are all as free under his government as a man’s children are in their father’s house. The government is a paternal government. The King looks upon all his subjects as children.
Under so happy a government are this nation. Be persuaded therefore to join yourself to them, and be of them, Psa. 144:15, “Happy is that people that is in such a case. Yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord.” Psa. 33:12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.”
(2.) There is no nation that dwell in such love and peace as this holy nation enjoys. The happiness of a people very much consists in its peace: a nation is never more miserable than when it is rent by civil wars, or disturbed by intestine broils. Nothing tends more to the happiness of the people than when they are all united as brethren, and with one heart seek the good of one another, and the community.
But no nation enjoys so much happiness of this kind as this holy nation. The Lord Jesus Christ, who is the King of his people, is the Prince of peace. His kingdom is a kingdom of peace. Every member of this society has in his heart a principle of peace and love. Love is the bond of perfectness that unites the members of this society together. They all have a disposition heartily to seek and promote each other’s good.
(3.) This nation have for their settled abode a most glorious land. The heavenly Canaan is their land: it is a land that God has desired, and that he has blessed above all lands. There is no land so fertile of excellent fruits, so full of delights. There grows the tree of life in plenty, and there flows the river of the water of life. There is no curse, nothing that hurts or offends. This is a delightful garden, this is the paradise of God. Hearken, therefore, consider of the blessedness of this people. Is it not well to be one of them? I would now invite you in the name of Christ, as Moses invited his father-in-law to join himself to that nation, Num. 10:29, “And Moses said unto Hobab, the son of Raguel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel.”
Second, Christians, as a nation, are holy. Their holiness is relative, and it is also inherent.
1. Christians are a holy nation by a relative holiness, as they are set apart by God for a divine and holy use. So things are often called holy in Scripture. The utensils of the tabernacle and temple are in this sense called holy. The priests’ garments are called holy, the places of worship appointed of God in the Old Testament are called holy, because they were set apart by him for a holy use and service.
Things thus set apart are said to be sanctified. Thus Jeremiah is said to have been sanctified, before he came forth out of the womb, Jer. 1:5, “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee; and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” God sanctified, that is, God set him apart for this holy use and service, to be a prophet to the nations, as Paul says of himself, Gal. 1:15, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace.” So the people of Israel of old seem to be called a holy nation, Deu. 7:6, “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.” Not that they were a holy people by inherent holiness, for God often tells them that they are a stiff-necked people. But God had called and separated them from other nations to be the keepers of the sacred oracles, and for other purposes.
So the saints are a nation that God has set apart for a sacred use. He has set them apart to serve and glorify him, and to show forth his praise: to be vessels for their Master’s use, to see the manifestations of God’s glory, and eternally to ascribe the glory due to his name.
2. They are holy by inherent holiness.
(1.) By holiness of heart.
(2.) By holiness of life. *1*
IV. True Christians are God’s peculiar people.
First, true Christians are God’s peculiar people with respect to the value which he sets upon them. He values one true Christian more than all the wicked in the world. God puts a high value upon his saints: they are his jewels. God’s high value of them appears in all the ways wherein persons are wont to show the great regard which they have for any possession. God keeps them as the apple of his eye, he will by no means lose one of his saints, not one of all the number shall fail. He will suffer no one to do them harm, his almighty power is thoroughly engaged for them to defend them.
The life, the happiness, and the welfare of the saints are precious in God’s sight. He shows the higher value that he sets upon the godly than others, by giving the wicked for them, making them subservient to them, and destroying them when they stand in the way of the welfare of the godly, Pro. 21:18, “The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright.”
Whenever the life or welfare of the wicked stands in the way of the welfare of the righteous, God is wont to procure the welfare of his people, though it be at the expense of the lives and welfare of never so many, Pro. 11:8, “The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead.” Thus God manifested how much he valued the patriarchs. Though there were but very few of them, yet even kings were rebuked for their sakes, Psa. 105:12-15, “When they were but a few men in number: yea, very few, and strangers in it. When they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people. He suffered no man to do them wrong; yea, he reproved kings for their sakes; saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.” So he showed how he valued the children of Israel, in that he gave nations for them, Isa 43:3, 4, “For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior; I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honorable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.”
When the Egyptians stood in the way of the welfare of the church, God brought plagues upon them one after another, wherein he sorely distressed them. When their lives stood in the way, God destroyed all the first-born of Egypt; and when Pharaoh and his host sought their destruction, he drowned them in the Red sea, and when the nations of Canaan stood in their way, God destroyed them. He destroyed many of them miraculously, by sending hailstones from heaven upon them. God will sooner at one blow destroy all the wicked of the world than that one of his saints should be lost. There are many great men of the world (kings and princes, men of great power and policy, men of noble blood and honorable descent, men of great wealth, men of vast learning and knowledge in the world), that are honored, make a great figure, and great account is made of them in the world, who are wicked men and reprobates. They all are not of so great value in God’s sight as one true Christian, however humble his birth and low his standing; however poor, or ignorant, or unknown.
God has shown how highly he values his saints by several remarkable providences. He has often changed and intercepted the course of nature for their sakes. Nothing except God himself is more constant and unchangeable than the course and laws of nature. But yet so much doth God value his saints, that he did not think the procuring of their welfare too slight an occasion for stopping the sun in his course.
But above all has God shown how great a value he sets upon his saints, by the great price which he has paid for them, the blood of his own Son. God values every saint so highly that he bought him with the blood of his own dear Son. There is no price of gold or silver that can be compared with the price of the blood of Christ.
Second, they are his peculiar people with respect to the mercy that he bestows upon them. God bestows many mercies upon ungodly men. He is kind to the evil and the good, to the just and the unjust. He is good to wicked men in preserving their lives, in providing for their subsistence, and in giving them many comforts. Wicked men receive a great deal of goodness from God which they have cause to admire, and be thankful for every day, and but few live any considerable time who are not the subjects of special influences of God’s goodness to them in deliverance from trouble and danger. He heaps temporal good things upon them, he gives them wealth, and case, and honor, and great prosperity. He distributes the world among them, and they show their great ingratitude in that, notwithstanding all God’s bounty to them, they will not learn righteousness, Isa. 26:10, “Let favor be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord.” Thus Samuel reproves Saul for his great ingratitude, that he took no more notice of the great kindness of God to him, 1 Sam. 15:17, “And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast not thou made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the Lord anointed thee king over Israel?” So there are many other wicked men that are advanced to the state of princes and nobles.
But God bestows more goodness upon one godly man than upon all the ungodly in the world. Put all their preservations, all their deliverances, all their wealth, all their comforts that have been heaped upon them by providence together: those things are but trifles that God bestows on ungodly men. But they are peculiar blessings which he bestows on the righteous. They are precious things that God has in reserve for his own favorites, in comparison of which all earthly treasure is but dirt and dross. As for the saints, Christ has died for them. They have all their sins pardoned, they are delivered from a hell of eternal misery, they have a title to eternal life bestowed upon them, they have God’s own image conferred on them, they are received into favor, and will enjoy God’s everlasting love.
Third, they are God’s peculiar people with respect to the interest which he has in them. God has a peculiar interest in godly men. They are his peculiar property: they are his as they are redeemed by him, and as they have given themselves to him. God has an interest in godly men’s hearts. They have a true love and respect to him, and they have true honor to him. God has a greater interest in their hearts than anything else: greater than the dearest friend on earth, greater than the world or any earthly enjoyment. They prefer God before all other things, and they preserve the throne of their hearts for God. They are of a spirit to exalt him as the greatest and highest, to love him as the most excellent, to praise him as the most gracious and merciful.
God has not interest in the hearts of natural men. Many of them seem to show respect to him outwardly. The Pharisees of old pretended to an extraordinary devotion, to a great love to God. And many hypocrites in these times come before God as his people come. They seem as though they delight to draw near to God, and make a high profession of religion, but God has indeed no interest in their hearts. They give him the outward appearance: they give him the words of their lips, but their hearts are far from him. It is from respect to something else, and not to him. They have not the least love to God.
But God has an interest in the hearts of true Christians: however small and inconsiderable it is in comparison of what it ought to be, yet they are of a spirit to prefer God above all. He has an interest in them, and they offer up their bodies a living sacrifice to him. They serve and actively glorify him, with their bodies and with their spirits. God is glorified in wicked men, as they are occasions of the manifestations of his glory, or as he glorifies himself in them, but Christians devote themselves to serve and glorify God. Though it is but a small interest that God has in the hearts of Christians in this world in comparison of what ought to be, yet he has a greater interest in one godly man than in all the ungodly and hypocrites that are in the world.
Fourth, they are God’s peculiar people, with respect to the complacence which he has in them. God takes delight in his saints, Psa. 11:7, “For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness: his countenance doth behold the upright.” God doth as it were rejoice over a convert, he delights in beholding that beauty and those ornaments of mind which he has given him. God takes delight in the graces of a godly man’s heart, and he delights in the good works and religion of the Christian, Psa. 37:23, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in his way.” God takes delight in the godly man’s prayers, Pro. 15:8, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.” He takes more delight in the sincere humble devotion of one true saint, than in all the moral virtue and outward religion of all the natural men in the world. If the wicked that are rich should offer to God ten thousand sacrifices, or if they should devote ever so much of their substance to religious uses, if they should give all their goods to feed the poor, it would not be so acceptable to God as one cup of cold water given by a saint with a spirit of true charity. Ungodly kings may do much in many respects for religion. They may build stately churches for the worship of God, and they may encourage religion in their dominions by their power and influence. Cyrus, a heathen prince, restored the state of the Jews. But God has a greater delight in the sincere worship and love of one poor, obscure Christian, than in all that is done throughout the globe by irreligious kings and princes.
Hence it may well be expected of such as profess hopes of their being true Christians, that they should live after a peculiar manner, and be devoted to God for his use. There should be a great difference between their way of living and that of other men. Godly men should not be hurried away by the general example. If any evil practice is become a common custom, it may well be expected of those who profess themselves godly, that they should stem the stream of common custom and example, though they are despised for it.
Men are ready often to plead for their neglect of such and such duties, and the commission of such evils, that it is a common custom. “Who is there,” say they, “but what does so? I should be singular if I did otherwise.” But if evil things are common, God may well expect of them that their way should be singular and peculiar, for Christians are a peculiar people. There should be a difference, and a great difference, between them and the generality of the world. If their neighbors, and relations, and companions, fall in with the common custom, that is evil, yet they should be peculiar, and stand alone.
It may well be expected that they should go further than other men in doing their duty, and practicing the Christian religion. For instance, it is a common thing for men when they are affronted, or injured by their neighbors, to entertain a spirit of revenge, to drink in a spirit of ill will against their neighbor, and to wish him hurt. But Christians should be peculiar. They should forgive those that injure them, and not entertain any spirit of ill will to them upon that account.
It is common for men when injured, to endeavor to retaliate upon those that injure them in some way or other, either by acting or talking against them. But those who call themselves godly, should choose no kind of revenge, Mat. 5:38, 39, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” The generality of men will love their friends, and hate their enemies. It is very rare that it is otherwise. Men pretend that they do not hate their enemies, but they really do in their hearts. But Christians should be peculiar in this matter, and their way should be different from the way of the world. For they are a peculiar people, and they should love their enemies from their hearts, and do good to them that hate them. However rare it is that there is any such thing, yet such a rare thing very well becomes God’s peculiar people, Mat. 5:43-45, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you: that ye may be the children of your Father which is in, heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”
It is a rare thing for persons to accustom themselves to great self-denial. Many will indeed deny themselves something for the sake of their duty, but if it very much crosses their interest, there are few that will be stedfast in their duty. But it may well be expected, that you should greatly deny yourself for the sake of God and Christ, and so be peculiar in this matter.
Self-interest governs the generality of men. They will mind their own interest rather than anything else. But it may well be expected of those who profess godliness, that they should show themselves peculiar in this matter, and that they should sacrifice their private, separate interest to the glory and honor of God, and to the public good. Most men will content themselves and quiet their consciences by avoiding the more gross acts of sin, by avoiding an outward gratification of lusts. But it becomes Christians to distinguish themselves here, and avoid sinning so much as in their thoughts, not to indulge any lust so much as in their imagination.
It is a shame to professors of godliness that their light shines no brighter before men, that there is no more appearing in them of an amiable Christian spirit, and that they do not seem to shine any brighter in their outward conversation than many other men that do not make the profession that they do. Many such men seem to be as exact, and as careful to avoid sin, and to deny themselves, as they. Yea, many, perhaps, that for the outward practice of some particular virtues, shine brighter than they, are more liberal and kind, more courteous and obliging in their behavior.
It is expected of those that are of this peculiar people that they should do more than others, Mat. 5:46, 47, “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?” Let me then apply this subject immediately to those who are present.
I. Here is a powerful argument to persuade those of you who are impenitent to become godly: that if you will forsake your sins, and with all your heart turn to God, you shall become of the number of God’s peculiar people. You shall have the same privileges with those that have been mentioned. You will immediately upon your conversion become one of those that God sets such a high value upon. If you are assured of your conversion, you may withal be assured that God, the supreme Lord of heaven and earth, sets a higher value on you than upon all the reprobates in the world, that God has set so high a value upon you that he has given the blood of his own Son for your ransom.
If you do savingly turn to God, you will receive from God mercies and blessings greater in value than all the wealth and outward prosperity of all the ungodly men in the world. Put all the honor and all the wealth of the great men of the world together. Put all that the kings of the earth possess, their treasures and revenues, their dominions and power, their stately seats and palaces, their costly robes and dainties, together, and they will not amount to so great things as God will bestow upon you.
If you will turn from your sins and come to Christ, the great God will accept of you, and delight in you: you then will have those spiritual ornaments that will be more amiable in the sight of God, than all the learning, and knowledge, and morality of all the ungodly men in the world.
If you continue in a natural condition, God will make no account of you, instead of being as his jewels, you will be esteemed as vile and refuse, and fit for nothing but to be trampled under-foot. Instead of being gold, you will be esteemed as dross, Jer. 6:30, “Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the Lord hath rejected them.” Hereafter you will be thrown away as being good for nothing, you will be esteemed nothing worth, as is represented in that parable, Mat. 13:47, etc. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Yea, you shall not only be cast away as good for nothing, but shall be cast out as filth into the great receptacle of the filth of the world. You will be cast into a furnace of fire, as barren branches are gathered up and burnt, John 15:6, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” Or as barren trees are cut down and cast into the fire, Mat. 3:10, “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees; therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.” As the tares were gathered together in bundles and burnt, you will be looked upon as fit for nothing else but to be destroyed, 2 Pet. 2:12, “But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not, and shall utterly perish in their own corruption.”
Instead of bestowing such peculiar mercies upon you, you in a little time will be stripped of all mercy. God will not have mercy on you, but your miseries will be as dreadful as those mercies that God bestows on his saints are valuable. They are but trifles that wicked men have bestowed upon them while in this world, in comparison of what the righteous shall have. The blessings of one righteous are more in value than the enjoyments of all the wicked. But hereafter wicked men will not have those. They will have nothing but the fiery wrath and indignation of God for their portion.
While you are in a natural condition, instead of your being God’s peculiar ones with respect to the interest which God has in your heart, the devil has the greatest interest in your heart. He has the government and possession there. Therefore you are, and will be, the devil’s people, those that he claims, and those that will certainly fall to his share, at least if you continue in such a condition. Instead of being one in whom God has peculiar complacence, he has no pleasure in you. When you pretend to worship him, he has no delight in your hypocritical prayers and services, but they are an abomination to him.
II. If you are true Christians, then let God be peculiar with you.
1. Let God be your peculiar portion. If you are one of his peculiar people, he is so. All who are God’s people have chosen him for their God and portion. Do this more, and more, and more. Let all other things be lightly set by, and treated by you with neglect, in comparison of God.
Let God be the object of your peculiar value and esteem. If God has made you one of those on whom he sets a peculiar value, you who are a poor worthless worm. If he has set such a value upon you, as to purchase you with the price of the blood of his Son, who are in yourself a filthy, despicable creature, how much more reason is there that you should peculiarly value God, who is so great and glorious! It is fitting that this value should be mutual, and it is fitting that it should be in an answerable degree.
It will be but a little thing for you to esteem God above all in comparison of what it is for God so to prize his saints. See to it therefore, that there be nothing that stands in any competition with God in your esteem. Value him more than all riches; value his honor and glory more than all the world. Be ready at all times to part with all things else, and cleave to God. Let God be your peculiar friend, and value his friendship more than the respect and love of all the world. When you lose other enjoyments, when you lose earthly friends, let this be a supporting, satisfying comfort to you, that you have not lost God.
2. Let God be your peculiar confidence. There is great encouragement in this doctrine for you to make him so, and reason to enforce it as your duty. God expects that those who are his peculiar people should put their trust in him, and well they may do so. For God has a peculiar favor for them, and is peculiarly careful and tender of them. Be sensible, therefore, that it is unbecoming any, but especially those who are so near to God, and so favored by him, to trust in their own righteousness, or in any arm of flesh. The peculiar people of God should not trust in themselves, they should not trust in friends, they should not trust in great men, they should not trust in their estates, or in any worldly enjoyment as expecting happiness from it, but alone in the Lord God. He ought to be their refuge and hiding-place. In time of trouble they should hide themselves under the shadow of his wings.
3. Make God the peculiar object of your praises. The doctrine shows what great reason you have so to do. If God so values you, sets so much by you, has bestowed greater mercies upon you than on all the ungodly in the world, is it too little a requital for you to make God the peculiar object of your praise and thankfulness? If God so distinguishes you with his mercy, you ought to distinguish yourself in his praises. You should make it your great care and study how to glorify that God who has been so peculiarly merciful to you. And the rather because there was nothing peculiar in you, distinguishing you from any other person, that moved God to deal thus peculiarly by you. You were as unworthy to be set by as thousands of others that are not regarded of God, and are cast away by him forever.