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moth is but finite; but betwixt God and us the distance is infinite. And therefore, no wonder that beholding the glorious perfections of God, we dwindle into nothing in our own eyes, and say with Abraham, Gen. xviii. 27, “Behold now, we have taken upon us to speak unto the Lord, which are but dust and ashes ;" and cry out with Solomon, 1 Kings viii. 27, "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven, and heaven of heavens, cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?" Remember, ye saints that though God has laid by his enmity, he retains his sovereignty over us; and therefore it is admirable condescension, that he is pleased to allow us to see him, and to enjoy holy familiarity with him. Consider,
2. That it is the same God who is such a severe and dreadful avenger of sin; Psalm v. 5, "The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity." Hab. i. 13, "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity." This same God who allows his covenant-people a sight of his glory, and a holy familiarity with him on the mount of ordinances, is he who thurst Adam out of paradise,-drowned the old world,-rained fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah. He who gives some the cup of salvation at his table, is the same who makes others of their fellow-creatures drink the wine-cup of his fury. He who makes some feast in his presence, is the same from whose presence others shall be punished with everlasting destruction.
II. To show that it is a wonder of grace that sinful creatures, in their solemn approaches to God, and when they are thus favoured, come off safe. This will appear if we consider,
1. The infinite holiness and spotless purity of that God before whom the sinful creature appears. He is glorious in holiness, and fearful in praises, Exod. xv. 11. Even angelical purity is dim in his light, and is a sort of impurity, when compared with the infinite holiness of God, Job xv. 15. Even they are chargeable with folly in his sight; potential folly, (though not actual), a kind of imperfection inseparable from the nature of the creature, in any state whatsoever; Job iv. 18, "Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and all his angels are charged with folly." (Hebrew, He puts, chargeth). And therefore, even the confirmed angels cover their feet with their wings, Isa. vi. 2, as if they would tell us that perfect created holiness is but a dark and smoky light before uncreated holiness. Shining holiness in some of the saints on earth, has a damping power with it. The very sight of one that convincingly walks close with God, is enough to strike a damp on the heart of a
loose professor or apostate. How much more may the sight of infinite holiness strike the most spiritual saints to the ground! Consider,
2. That the best carry a sinful nature even up into the mount with them. Paul, rapt up to the third heavens, brought a sinful nature down with him again, an evidence he had carried it up, 2 Cor. xii. 7. Look on thyself, O saint! in thy nearest approaches, and thou wilt see the humbling sight, a sinful heart, life, and lips, Isa. lxiv. 6; sin woven into thy very nature, and mixed with thy flesh and blood, making a vile body, Phil. iii. 21; sunk into the marrow of thy spirit, and diffused through thy whole soul. And then canst thou cease to say, as in Lam. iii. 22, "1t is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not." Is it not a wonder of grace, that hell, so near heaven, has not sunk with its own weight? Consider,
3. That sinful creatures never miss to leave the marks of their foul feet, even when they are on holy ground. Rom. vii. 21 “I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me." Peter falls a-roving even on the mount, Luke ix. 33. Even in the greatest light which ever shone about the saints, they never wrote a line so fair, but there was a blot in it. The sacrifices were carried up to the mount with the nobles, for God knew they would need them even there. And if ye will look back to your carriage, when at a communion table, you will see such mismanagements, as may make you wonder that he laid not his hand upon you. Consider,
4. The particular jealousy which God has manifested about his worship. Therefore Joshua told the people, chap. xxiv. 19, “Ye cannot serve the Lord: for he is an holy God: he is a jealous God: he will not forgive your transgressions, nor your sins." And he himself declared, "he would be sanctified in them that come nigh him, and before all the people he will be glorified," Lev. x. 3. And upon this he wrote a commentary, with flaming evidence, in the blood of Nadab and Abihu, even two of these on whom he laid not his hand at this time. A slip in the holy ground is most dangerous and provoking in its own nature. To affront a king in his palace, his presence-chamber, or on his throne, stirs up his anger with a peculiar keenness. How dear did the men of Bethshemesh pay for a look, 1 Sam. vi. 19; Uzzah, for a touch, 2 Sam. vi. 6, 7; Annanias and Sapphira, for a word, Acts v. Now, who is able to stand before the piercing eye of his jealousy? Is it not a wonder of his grace, that the fire of his indignation burns not up sinful creatures in their solemn approaches to him? Consider,
5. That there is a solemn awfulness about the very ordinances of
grace, which the sinner could not bear if he were not supported, Dan. x. 8, 9-19. Psalm lxviii. 35, "O God! thou art terrible out of thy holy places." Jacob understood this when he had one of the most comfortable sights which ever mortal had: Gen. xxviii. 17, "And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." The very throne of grace stands on justice and judgment, which are its habitation, Psalm lxxxix. 14. (Hebrew, its base); the covenant founded on blood, the blood of his own Son. All our mercies from the throne are dyed red in the blood of a Mediator. Thou canst not have a gracious look from the throne, but through the Redeemer's wounds; nor a pardon, but what is written with his blood. So that such sights are sufficient to make one faint away, if they are not supported by grace. Consider,
Lastly, That the emanations of the divine glory would overwhelm sinners, burst the earthen vessels, if a gracious God did not graciously support them. Some have felt this, when they have been made to cry to the Lord to hold his hand, for the earthen pitchers were able to hold no more. We know not what spirit we are of. It is our mercy we see but through a glass darkly, and not face to face now; for flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, 1 Cor. xv. 50. The flesh and blood of a giant would not be able to bear that glory now. And therefore, it is observed as an instance of his goodness, Job xxvi. 9, "He holdeth back the face of his throne, and spreadeth his cloud upon it."
We now go on,
III. To explain how it comes to pass that the safety of God's people, when thus favoured, is secured. It is so,
1. Because they are God's covenant-people by marriage with his Son. They are married to Christ, and the Son of the Father's bosom is their husband. He has all freedom in his Father's house, and so it cannot be a strange house to them. Where he sits, his spouse may stand safely at his hand: Psalm xlv. 9, "Upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir." They have freedom in the house of God, in the right of their Husband. He has brought them up into his chariot of the covenant; and this has access to drive up into the mount, while it procures all safety to those who are in it, "being paved with love," Song iii. 9, 10.
2. Because they come up under the covert of the Redeemer's blood, Heb. xii. 22-24. By faith, they have the propitiation, whereby God is atoned, and becomes their friend, Rom. iii. 25. The flesh of a slain Saviour is a sufficient screen from divine wrath, and his red garments from the canopy under which they may safely feast while on the mount. Their safety is secured,
3. Because God looks on them as in his own Son, and not as in themselves; and so after a sort he overlooks their infirmities : Numb. xxiii. 21, "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel." He looked on them in Adam, their first representative, and so drove them out of his presence; but now he looks upon them in Christ as their head, and so brings them in again. And, O! but they look fair in him, each one resembles the son of a king. In Jesus they are complete, Col. ii. 10; Song iv. 7, "Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee." They are safe,
4. Because, though they be unclean creatures, they come up into the mount, to bathe in the fountain opened there, for sin and for uncleanness, Zech. xiii. 1. They come to the blood of sprinkling. A physician will not drive away his patient, because his running sores drop in his chamber. I will bear with this, says he, for the poor man has come to get himself healed. Their safety is secured,
Lastly, Because it is the end of the covenant, to bring them to God. Jacob might well promise himself to see Joseph, when the waggons were come from him for that very end, to bring him to him, Gen. xlv. 27, 28. The covenant looks very very low, as low as the earth, to secure the believer's daily bread, Isa. xxxiii. 16. Nay, in the bowels of the earth, to bring forth his dead body, mouldered in ashes: "I am the God of Abraham." Nay, as low as hell: "And thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell," Psalm lxxxvi. 13. And it looks very high, to bring the believer up into the midst of the mount of enjoyment with God in ordinances, nay, to the top of the mount, to bring them to where the Lord of glory dwells, where they shall see him as he is: Isa. xxxiii. 17, "Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty they shall behold the land that is very far off."
It only remains, that,
IV. We make some improvement of this subject.
1. Let us, then, never more think lightly of solemn approaches to God, whether in private or in public ordinances. O! it is sad to think of our rashness in venturing on holy duties, not considering that in these we sist ourselves in the awful presence of God: Eccl. v. 1, "Keep thy foot when thou goest into the house of God, and be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools." Whenever we are to go to God, we should consider where we are going, put off our shoes, for the place is holy. Were we thus frequently exercised, we would have more access to God in our ordinary approaches.
2. Let this commend Christ and the covenant to us, especially to those who stand off from him and his covenant. It is in the Mediator the sinner may meet with God in peace; for Jesus is our
peace, Eph. ii. 14. It is within the bond of the covenant, he is safe from avenging wrath. There is no safety without it, God will be a consuming fire to all who live and die out of Christ and the covenant.
Hearken, ye careless spectators, and be wise at length. Are you resolved to have no part in Christ and the covenant, that ye keep so far from the place of his feet, and the seal of his covenant. Consider, you also must come before God. You must die and come before the tribunal. Could you secure yourselves a place to be mere onlookers, when the rest of the world are dying about you; and when the world shall stand before the judgment-seat, then perhaps you might be allowed to be mere spectators on such an occasion as this. But it will not be so. You must take your part with the rest. And what will it be to get the first sight of your Judge then, with whom you might have been accepted, but would not? Consider, if it be a matter of such awful solemnity to approach the throne of grace, what will it be to stand before the throne of avenging justice? If it be so solemn to come up into mount Zion, where communion is to be had with God in Christ, what will it be to come to mount Sinai, where there is such blackness, darkness, and tempest, as will confound the adversaries of the Lord? Bless not yourselves that you have not gone up into the mount, for monuments of justice you shall be, if you be not thus monuments of grace.-Consider, what madness is it to lift up the heel against God, the weight of whose hand can crush you as a moth. Would it not be your wisdom to lie down among the dust of his feet, to approach him through his Son, and in the way of his covenant, trembling, if so be that he may be pleased to stretch out the golden sceptre, and save your life? Nay, come forward yet, strive to take hold of an offered Christ and covenant. Let not his terrors deter you from him. As the lepers at the gate of Samaria did, so reason ye.
3. Let us praise him for this, that upon us he has not laid his hand; that we have not left a name to the place, Perez, from the Lord's making a breach upon us; but that we may set up a pillar here, and call it Ebenezer. There has been strange fire offered to the Lord here this day; wrong touches given to the ark; unworthy communicating, faithless, fearless, stupid, confused, and hypocritical managements; who dare say they have made no stumble on the mount? The bread and wine in the sacrament have as deep relative holiness as the ark had; but had spectators and communicants been taken up as hot for their profane looking to the one, as the men of Bethshemesh were for their looking to the other, there had been a sad sight among us ere now. Glory be to our gracious God, that on us he hath not laid his hand.