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2. That they would be sensible of their misery, implied in the expression, " in their affliction they shall seek me.” Their calamity was brought upon them, before God had torn them, and left them. But in their pride and perverseness, they were not well sensible of their own miserable condition, as this prophet observes in chapter vii. 9..
3. That they should be sensible of their need of God's help, which is implied in their seeking God's face, and seeking him early; that is, with great care and earnestness. Before, they would not seek God; they were not sensible of their helplessness, as we learn in the verse but one preceding the text.“ When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his wound, then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to king Jacob.” But as we are there told, he could not heal him, nor cure his wound. And notwithstanding all the help he could afford, God wounded him, tore him as a young lion; and, as he declares, would leave him, and he should cease going to any other, and should be sensible that no other could heal, and accordingly come to him for healing.
Doctrine. That it is God's manner to make men sensible of their misery and unworthiness, before he appears in his mercy and love to them.
I. That it is ordinarily thus with respect to the bestowment of great and signal mercies.
II. That it is particularly so with respect to revealing his love and mercy to their souls.
I. This is God's ordinary way before great and signal expressions of his mercy and favour. He very commonly so orders it in his providence, and so influences men by his Spirit, that they are brought to see their miserable condition as they are in themselves, and to despair of help from themselves, or from an arm of flesh, before he appears for them, and also makes them sensible of their sin, and their unworthiness of God's help. This appears from the account, which the scriptures give us of God's dealings with his people. Joseph before his great advancement in Egypt must lie in the dungeon to humble him, and prepare him for such honour and prosperity. The children of Jacob, before Joseph reveals himself to them, and they receive that joy and honour and prosperity, which were consequent thereupon, pass through a train of difficulties and anxieties, till at last they are reduced to distress, and are brought to reflect upon their guilt, and to say, that they were verily guilty concerning their brother. God humbled them in his providence, and then an end was put to all their difficulties, and their sorrow was turned into joy upon Joseph's revealing himself to them. Jacob, before he hears the joyful news of Joseph's VOL. VIII.
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being yet alive, must be brought into great distress at the parting with Benjamin, and supposed loss of Simeon. He was reduced to great straits in his mind. He says in Genesis xlii. 36. “ All these things are against me.” But soon after this he had these gladsome tidings brought to him, “ Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt.' And to confirm it, he sees the waggons and the noble presents, which Joseph sent to him : so that he was now brought to say, enough; Joseph my son is yet alive. I will go and see him before I die." And so with the children of Israel in Egypt. Their bondage must wax more and more extreme. Their bondage had been very extreme. But yet Pharaoh gives commandment that more work should be laid upon them, and the taskmasters tell them they must get their straw where they can find it ; and nothing of their work should be diminished. And quickly upon this was their deliverance. So when the children of Israel were brought to the Red Sea, the Egyptians pursued them, and were just at their heels, and they were reduced to the utmost distress, they see that they must assuredly perish, unless God work a miracle for them ; for they were shut up on all sides : the Red Sea was before them, and the army of the Egyptians encompassing them round behind. And they cried unto the Lord. And then God wonderfully appeared for their help, and made them pass through the Red Sea, and put songs of deliverance into their mouths.
So before God brought the children of Israel into Canaan, he led them about in a great and terrible wilderness through a train of difficulties and temptations for forty years, that he might teach them in their dependence on him, and the sinfulness of their own hearts. Deut. xxxii. 10. “ He found bim in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.” God brought them into those trials and difficulties in the wilderness to humble them, and let them see what was in their hearts, that they might be convinced of their own perverseness by the many discoveries of it under those temptations, and so that they might be sensible that it was not for their righteousness that God made them his people, and gave them Canaan, seeing it was so evident that they were a stiff-necked people. Deut. viii. 2, 3. “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord, doth man live.” And 15, 16, 17. “ Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of Aint ; who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at the latter end; and thou say in thine heart, my power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth.” And so we have examples of this from time to time in the history of the Judges. When Israel revolted, God gave them into the hands of their enemies. He let them continue in their hands, till they were reduced to great distress, and saw that they were in a helpless condition, and were brought to reflect on themselves, and to cry onto the Lord. And then God raised them up a deliverer. And when they cried unto God, he would not deliver them till he had humbled them, and brought them to own their unworthiness, and to own that they were in God's hands. Judges x. beginning with the 10th verse. “And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, saying, we have sinned against thee, both because we have forsaken our God, and also served Baalim. And the Lord said unto the children of Israel, did not I deliver you from the Egyptians, and from the Amorites, from the children of Ammon, and from the Philistines? The Zidonians also and the Amalekites, and the Maonites did oppress you ; and ye cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand. Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods; wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go, and cry unto the gods, which ye have chosen ; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation. And the children of Israel said unto the Lord, we have sinned; do thou unto us whatsoever seemeth good unto thee ; deliver us only, we pray thee, this day. And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the Lord; and his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.” And this is the method in which God declared from the beginning he would proceed with his people. Lev xxvi. 40, &c. “ If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me; and that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity; then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land. The land also shall be left of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them; and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity; because, even because they despised my judgments, and because their soul abhorred my statutes. And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God.” It is God's manner, when he will bestow signal blessings in answer to prayer, to make men seek them, and pray for them with a sense of their sin and misery. As 1 Kings viii. 38, 39. “What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house ; then hear thou in heaven, thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest ; for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men.” By knowing the plague of their own hearts is meant both their sin and misery. Being sensible of their misery is included, as is evident from the manner of expressing the same petition of Solomon's prayer, as it is related in 2 Chronicles vi. 29. “Then what prayer or supplication soever shall be made of any man, or of all thy people Israel, when every man shall know his own sore and his own grief.” By which is probably meant his misery and his sin, which is the foundation of it. Paul gives us an account how God brought him to have despair in himself before a great deliverance, which he experienced. 2 Corinthians i. 9, 10. " But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God, which raiseth the dead; who delivered us from so great a death.” How did Christ humble the woman of Canaan, or bring her to the exercise and expression of a sense of her own unworthiness before he answered her, and healed her daughter! When she continued to cry, after he answered her not a word, and seemed to take no notice of her, and his disciples desired him to send her away, and when she continued crying after him he gave a very humbling answer, saying, it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. And when she took it well, as owning that being called a dog was not too bad, and owning that she was therefore unworthy of children's bread, she only sought the crumbs, then Christ answered her request. And the experience of God's people in all ages corresponds with those examples. It is God's usual method before remarkable discoveries of his mercy and love to them, especially by spiritual mercies, in a special manner to humble them, and make them sensible of their misery and helplessness in themselves, and of their vileness and unworthiness, either by some remarkably humbling dispensation of his providence or influence of his Spirit. We are come now,
II. To show particularly that it is God's manner to make men sensible of their misery and unworthiness before he reveals bis saving love and mercy to their souls. The mercy of God, which he shows to a sinner when he brings him home to the Lord Jesus Christ, is the greatest and most wonderful exhibition of mercy and love, of which men are ever the subjects. There are other things, in which God greatly expresses his merey and goodness to men, many temporal favours. The mercies already mentioned, which God bestowed upon his people of old : his advancing Joseph in Egypt, his deliverance of the children of Israel out of Egypt, his leading them through the Red Sea on dry land, his bringing them into Canaan, and driving out the heathen from before them, his delivering them from time to time from the hands of their enemies, were great mereies ; but they were not equal to this of bringing his people from under the guilt and dominion of sin. Several of them were typical of this ; and as God would thus prepare men for the bestowment of those less mercies by making them sensible of their guilt and misery, so especially will he so do, before he makes known to them this great love of his in Jesus Christ. When God designs to show mercy to sinners, it is his manner thus to begin with him.
He first brings them to reflect upon themselves, and consider and be sensible what they are, and what condition they are in. What has already been said proves this. There is a harmony between God's dispensations. And as we see that this is God's manner of dealing with men when he gives them other great and remarkable mercies and manifestations of his favour, it is a confirmation that it is his method of proceeding with the souls of men, when about to reveal his mercy and love to them in Jesus Christ.
1. God makes men consider and be sensible of what sin they are guilty. Before, it may be, they were very regardless of this. They went on sinning, and never reflected upon what they did ; never considered or regarded what or how many sins they committed. They saw no cause why they should trouble their minds about it. But when God convinces them, he brings them to reflect upon themselves; he sets their sins in order before their eyes. "He brings their old sins to their minds, so that they are fresh in their memory-things which they had almost