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tent souls, so sorrow is the porch and inlet to joy; none are exalted, but they that are first cast down; none bring forth the blessed babe of joy, but such as travail. in the pangs of sorrow, John xvi. 21. The painter can with a touch of his pencil turn a mournful into a smiling face: thus saith David, "Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness."-Psalm XXX. 11.
Thirdly, Let us ascertain the reasons why it is so fit that God's Israel or professing people should thus lament after the Lord, when God's ark is in a state of obscurity or his ordinances obstructed. In confirmation of this point, I must demonstrate, that they must lament after the ark of the Lord; and especially after the Lord of the ark.
1. God's Israel or professing people, must lament after the ark, that is, the ordinances of the Lord, when in a state of obscurity, or obstructed.
(1.) Because the ark or ordinances of the Lord are a people's greatest glory, their beauty, strength, and honour. Wherein is Israel better than other nations, but by having ordinances of God among them; Psal. cxlvii. 19, 20, "He shewed his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel; he hath not dealt so with any nation;" as if he had said, this, this is that which exalts Israel above all other kingdoms, that they have the visible tokens of God's presence, which is a people's only glory; so saith the apostle, Rom. ix. 4, "To the Israelites pertain the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises." This is Israel's heritage, their patrimony, and a rich one it is hence when the ark was taken, Phinehas's wife breathed her last, with that doleful lamentation, "The
glory is departed from Israel, for the ark of God is taken," 1 Sam. iv. 21.
(2.) Because the obscuring, tarnishing, and obstructing of ordinances is a heavy judgment, worse than all other plagues, both absolutely considered in itself, and comparatively, if it be compared with other judgments. God threatens to do by Jerusalem, as he did by Shiloh, Jer. vii. 14; how that was the context shews. And Ezek. xxiv. 21, "I will profane my sanctuary, the excellency of your strength." Many other threats speak God's hot displeasure in this case, and the evil is greater, because it reacheth to the soul, which is the best part of man. Hence Amos viii. 11, 12, "Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will send a famine in the land," (which surely is a dreadful judgment, worse than the sword, Lam. iv. 9. But what famine?) "Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord;” this, this is the sorest judgment; this judgment on the soul is the soul of judgments, when poor sinners are exposed inevitably to die and be tormented in hell without means or remedy. "Where no vision is the people perish," Prov. xxix. 18. Hos. iv. 6, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge."
(3.) Because there is much advantage in the enjoyment of ordinances. Herein consists the kingdom of heaven; so the preaching of the gospel is frequently called; and this word is the word of the kingdom, and gospel of the kingdom, because it is an introduction or means to introduce persons into the kingdom of grace, and then of glory. That is a dreadful threatening, Matt. xxi. 43, "Therefore shall the kingdom of God be taken from you, and be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." If any ask me, as Rom. iii. 1, 2, “What advantage hath the Jew?" or the
professing Christian under the gospel dispensation? "or what profit is there of circumcision, or of spiritual privileges? I answer, "much every way, chiefly because that unto them have been committed the oracles of God, and so salvation is of the Jews;"* as our Lord saith: even so those that have gospel ordinances, have great helps for the conversion, edification, and salvation of their souls; for Christ hath set up his ensign among them for souls to flock unto.† These are wells of salvation, a feast of fat things, breasts of consolation, where souls may milk out, and be abundantly delighted; here are the keys of the kingdom, by means of which heaven gates stand open continually; the door of faith, the ministration of the Spirit, the day of salvation, &c.‡ And is not all this worth lamenting after the Lord to enjoy? if not, what is?
(4.) Because this is the character and disposition of a child of God, to lament after the ark and ordinances of God. "I have," saith David, "loved the habitation of thy house," Psal. xxvi. 8. Therefore he makes this his unum magnum one thing, which he desires of the Lord, "to dwell in the house of the Lord," Psal. xxvii. 4. Two things excite a Christian spirit to lament after God for the ark:
First, He hath a gracious principle, an enlightened eye to see what others cannot discern; the Christian calls such a place Beer-la-hai-roi, as Hagar did, Gen. xvi. 14, "The well of him that liveth and seeth me." So the Christian sees God's way in the sanctuary; there he beholds the beauty of the Lord. The Psalmist saith, "They have seen thy goings, O God,
even the goings of my God, my King, in the sanctuary." Yea, the devout soul hath an appetite and taste suitable to what he meets with in the ordinances of God, faith, love, desire, and joy; as new born children have a natural instinct directing them to their mother's milk for conservation of life; so 1 Peter ii. 2, the saints "as new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow thereby." The law of God engraven in their hearts, corresponds with the word they hear explained by ministers: Christ within them, (by his Spirit and graces) as the hope of glory, prompts them to a love to Christ, and a longing after him in the holy supper, and all his other institutions.
Secondly, Add to this, the frequent experiences the believing soul hath had of the sweetness of divine grace in ordinances, which cannot but excite in him strong desires after similar enjoyments; Psal. lxiii. 1, 2, "My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee, in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is, to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary." So Song ii. 3, 4, "I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste; yea, he brought me into his banquetinghouse, and his banner over me was love." No wonder if she was so distressed when she wanted him. This leads me to observe,
2. That Christians should lament after the God of ordinances, or God in ordinances; so saith the text, "The house of Israel lamented after the Lord." Why?
(1.) Because God is infinitely more worth than all ordinances; his presence is prizable for itself. The ark is but to be esteemed for his gracious presence; "In his favour is life," Psal. xxx. 5. "His lovingkindness is better than life," Psal. lxiii. 3. This is the * Psal. lxviii. 24.
marrow of heaven, the want of this is hell. "Woe also be to them when I depart from them," Hos. ix. 12: and this the child of God knows.
(2.) God purposely withdraws that men may lament after him; as when a mother steps out of a child's sight, and when she seems to be gone, the child raises a cry after her; Hos. v. 15, "I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face; in their affliction they will seek me early."
(3.) Because sincere lamenting after the Lord may occasion his return; he purposely hovers, waits and expects, that his people may call him back by their prayers, entreaties, humiliation; not as though God were moved, or changed by men's mournful complaints and outcries, but that such an earnest lamenting qualifies the subject, capacitates for mercy, and puts souls into the condition of the promise. Jer. xxix. 12, 13, "Then shall ye call upon me, and shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you, and ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart."
(4.) God blesseth his people usually in and by ordinances, with his best blessings, Psal. cxxxiii. 3, “There the Lord commands the blessing, even life for ever more." Eph. i. 3, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places,* things, or means in Christ." It would be needless to reckon up all the blessings our dear Lord conveys to his people by ordinances, and for which it becomes us to lament after the Lord, in his appointments; (for now I join them together.)
[i.] Sometimes God gives outward blessings with his ark. So the Lord blessed the house of Obed-edom, * Ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις.