Sermon CXXV. The True Christ no New Christ.*
Heb. xiii. 8.
Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
MY friends, we live in changeable times, amidst this changeable world. Many, now-a-days, are tempted to change their mind and manners, to change their principles and practice, from better to worse; and the changes amongst many ministers and professors are very strange and alarming. Outward changes are passing over us all every day. Yesterday is gone, and we will never see it again; this day is going. Where shall we get an unchangeable ground to build upon, and to take rest to our souls in, amidst all changes both of our outward lot and inward frame? Why, here it is, Christ the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
The words may be considered, 1. In themselves.
2. In their connexion.
If you view them in themselves, you have therein a description of our glorious Redeemer, who is here described, (1.) In his office, he is JESUS, a Saviour. (2.) In his unction, he is CHRIST, the Anointed, and appointed to this saving work. (3.) In his Identity and Immutability, he is the SAME ; and this sameness of Christ is described under a threefold period, past, present, and
* This sermon was preached on Monday, August 9th, 1742. after the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord's supper at Abbotshall.
to come; 1. The same yesterday; 2. The same to-day; 3. The same for ever. Of which more afterwards.
Again, if we view these words in their connexion, we find indeed there is no particle of connexion or relation in this text, to direct us to the dependance of it upon that which goes before or follows ; yet the very subject matter of it evidently shews, that it hath a fit reference both to the verse before and to the following. In the former verse, the Hebrews are directed to follow the faith of their spiritual guides which had been before them; and this verse lays down a forcible reason to move them thereunto, and the reason is taken from the object of their faith, namely, CHRIST, who remains still the same object of faith; and therefore it behoves those that survive the believers now gone to glory, to follow that same faith, which objectively is Christ Jesus, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. In the following verse we are dehorted from following diverse and strange doctrines; and a strong reason to enforce that dehortation is laid down in this verse, namely, That Jesus Christ, who is the foundation and substance of all sound doctrine, continues always the same, so as they have no cause to be carried about with diverse and strange doctrines. I propose, then, to consider this text, not only in itself, but in its connexion; and shall endeavour to explain it, in the prosecution of this doctrine.
OBSERV. That it is always necessary, especially in shaking times, wherein faith is endangered, by new and strange doctrines, to know and believe that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
The view of Christ's immutability in himself, and in his truth, without variation, will influence Christian stability in the faith, without wavering. It is a proper mean of stability in the faith, in shaking times to consider, that Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. You may read some parallel scriptures for confirming and establishing your faith of this doctrine. See what a time it was with the Psalmist, Psalm cii. 8, 9, 10. Mine enemies reproach me all the day; and they that are mad against me, are sworn against me. For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping, because of thine indignation and thy wrath; for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down. Then see what consideration he is led to, verse 12, 13. But thou, O Lord, shalt endure for ever, and thy rememberance unto all generations. Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion; for the time to favour her, yea, the set time is come. And, ver. 25. -- 28. Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure ; yea, all of them shall wax old as a garment, as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end. The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee. To this purpose, see Isaiah li. 7, 8. See also Lam. v. 16, -- 19. Again, how is John comforted and supported in the time of his banishment, and in the prospect of perilous times coming upon the church, but with this name of Christ in other words? Rev. i. 8. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, faith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
The method I propose for handling this subject, through divine aid, is the following.
I. We would shew the import of this immutable sameness and identity that is ascribed unto Christ here; or, what is imported in his being the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
II. Inquire wherein, or in what respects he is the same.
III. Speak of the necessity of knowing this, especially in shaking times, wherein the faith of many is endangered by new and strange doctrines; or, why it is necessary, then especially, to know and believe that he is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
IV. Make application of the whole subject.
I. As to the import of this name here given to Christ,
which is also, to the same purpose, given him, Heb. i. 10, 11, 12. Here, in the text, you have three distinctions of time, wherein Christ, is said to be the same,
viz. Yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
I. The same yesterday. This word is sometimes taken, properly, for the day immediately before; as when it is said, John iv. 52. Yesterday, at the seventh hour, the fever left him; and Acts vii. 28. Wilt thou kill me, as thou didst the Egyptian yesterday. Sometimes figuratively, for the time past, whether it consists of many days or years, as when it is said, Micah ii. 8. Even of late my people is risen up as an enemy. OF LATE, in the margin it is yesterday; that is, some time ago. Sometimes it signifies of old, whether as to time or eternity; thus, Isaiah xxx. 33. Tophet is ordained of old ; in the margin it is yesterday. Hence he is the same yesterday. Under this may be comprised all the time wherein Christ stayed upon earth; all the time from his incarnation till that present time wherein the apostle wrote; all the time wherein Christ was typified in the Mosaical rites, to that wherein these were abolished ; all the time that hath past from the first promise made of Christ, Gen. iii. 14-15.; all the time from the beginning of the world to this day, yea, and eternity itself, as it consists in the expression of from, everlasting; for, Micah v. 2. His goings forth were of old from everlasting. Prov. viii. 23. I was let up from everlasting.
2. The same to-day. This is the next distinction, and signifies the present time, to distinguish it from the former times. Thus yesterday may signify former times, before Christ was exhibited in the flesh; and to-day, the time since his incarnation; for the word to-day is not always strictly meant of a set day, consisting of twelve or twenty-four hours, but may have a long date; as when the Psalmist had said, Psalm cxv. 7. To-day if ye will hear his voice: the apostle, who lived above a thousand years after him, applies that to his own times, Heb. iii. 13. Exhort one another daily, while it is called to-day. Christ is the same yesterday under the Old-Testament, and the same to-day in the New-Testament dispensation; the same from the beginning to his incarnation, and the same from thence to the end of the world; and so,
3. The same for ever; that is, even in the largest sense, from everlasting to everlasting he is the same. His throne is for ever and ever; and of his dominion there is no end. Change of time, past, present, and to come, makes no change in him ; for he is the same. Thus Christ is here set out, as in Rev. i. 4. Which is, and which was, and which is to come.
4. To each of these relates this sameness and identity. The word rendered the same, signifies he himself; and implies, that he is ever himself, without any alteration or change, pointing out his immutability. There is no tautology or vain repetition in these words, though each of them point at his immutability; for, his being the same yesterday, points out his eternity before time; the same for ever points out his perpetuity to everlasting. Christ, who is the good old way, is also the new and living way, and will always be the way of the redeemed.
His eternal deity is here pointed out, being not only, as God, without beginning and without end, but also without possession: Christ Jesus, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. What is that, but just I am that I am; yesterday I am; Before Abraham was, I am? I am yesterday, I am to-day, I am for ever; intimating, a perpetual continuing to be the same. Thus, Isaiah xli. 4. I the Lord the first, and with the last, I am he; or, as some translate it, I am the same; for it is the same word, both in the Hebrew and the Greek, that is there translated he, and here translated the same. See James i. 17. With whom there is no variableness, nor shadow of turning; no shew or appearance of alteration.
II. The second thing proposed was, To shew wherein he is the same. And,
1. He is the same to-day, yesterday, and for ever, in respect of his divine essence; for, From everlasting to everlasting he is God, Psalm xc. 2. See Heb. i. 11, 12. They shall perish, but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment, and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed : but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.
2. He is the same immutably in his counsels. We read, Heb. vi. 17- of the immutability of his counsel. Psalm. xxxiii. 10. The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought; he maketh the devices of the heathen of none effect. The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations. Prov. xix. 21. There are many devices in a man's heart, nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.
3. He is the same in his attributes. Psalm cxviii. 1. His mercy endures for ever. Psalm cxvii. 2. His truth endures for ever. Thus his love is everlasting love, Jer. xxxi. 3.; and his righteousness endures for ever, Psalm cxi. 3. And so it may be said of all his other attributes and properties.
4. He is the same in his word, Isaiah xl. 6. compared with 1 Pet. i. 25. All flesh is grass, &c. but the word of the Lord endures for ever. This is manifest both in the law, Not one tittle shall fail, Luke xvi. 17.; and in the gospel, which is therefore called the everlasting gospel, Rev. xiv. 6.
5. He is the same in his bonds, whereby he binds himself to us in the new covenant. As the covenant is an everlasting covenant, so these bonds of his promise and oath are unalterable, inviolable, and immutable, called the two immutable things, by which it is impossible for him to lie, Heb. vi. 18.
6. He is the same for ever in his divine personality. Indeed the Word was made flesh, John i. 14. and he took on him our nature, which he did in the fullness of time, Gal. iv. 4.; and he made himself of no reputation, or brought himself to nothing, Phil. ii. 6, 7.: therefore immutability, attributed to Christ, is properly meant of his divine nature, which was noways altered by assuming the human nature; for he became man, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God; so as he remained in his divine nature, when he was incarnate, the very same he was before, without addition, diminution, or alteration; yet, even in regard of his human nature, being raised from the dead, he dies no more, Rom. vi. 6. He continues for ever, and ever lives, Heb. vii. 25. and he lives for evermore, Rev. i. 18. And hence,
7. He is the same for ever, in his Mediatorship, and in his mediatorial offices. In his Prophetical office he is stiled an everlasting light, to instruct and direct his people, Isaiah Ix. 17. 20. In his Priestly office he is called a Priest for ever, Psalm cx. 4.; and it is said, He ever lives to make intercession; and it is called an unchangeable priesthood. In his Kingly office he is the same for ever; thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever, Heb. i. 8. As King, he shall reign for ever and ever; and there shall be no end of his kingdom, Luke i. 33. The government is on his shoulders, Isaiah ix. 6.
8. He is always the same in the merit, virtue, and efficacy of what he did and suffered for our redemption. In this respect he is called the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. The virtue of his blood was the same before it was shed, for the remission of the sins of believers of old, as it is since it was shed. Hence he is the same object of faith, yesterday, to-day, and for ever. John iii. 14. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up. Verse 15. That whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Verse 16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life. He ever was, is, and will be, the same mean of salvation: There is no other name given under heaven, among men, whereby we can be saved, but the name of Jesus, Acts iv. 12. He ever was, is, and will be, the same foundation to his church; Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ, 1 Cor. iii. 11.
9. He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, in the identity and sameness of the faith of all true believers in all ages. Abraham's faith was such a faith as that of Christians is, and their faith such a faith as his was: see Rom. iv. 12. and Gal. iii. 7, 8. And, being the same in respect of his people's faith in him who is the head, that body of his people, whereof he is the head, must continue for ever. If the head is for ever, the body must be for ever; and on this ground it is that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church, Matth. xvi. 18.
10. He is always the same in his truth, in opposition to all error, and diverse or strange doctrines. This seems especially to be here intended, as appears by the preceding and succeeding contexts, Follow their faith who were your guides, says the text before; Be not carried about with diverse and strange doctrines, say the following words. The doctrine of faith is still the same; and therefore diversity and strangeness of doctrine is opposed to the identity and sameness of Christ, whose truth is still the same in all respects. 1. It hath still the same centre, Jesus Christ, in whom all the lines meet, John xvi. 6. 2. It hath still the same worth and value, so as they that buy the truth may never sell it. 3. It hath still the same nature. Truth is still truth, and cannot be a lie. 4. It hath still the same sound, which is sweet and joyful; and, Blessed are the people that hear the .joyful sound." 5. It hath still the same virtue when known, namely, to set at liberty: Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. 6. It hath still the same relation to God, who is the God of truth; to Christ, who is the way and the truth ; and to the Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth. 7. It hath still the same end and tendency, to declare, when it is asserted, the glory of the God of truth, and to shew forth his perfections. 8. It hath still the same immutable duration in Christ, who is the truth, and who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
III. The third head proposed, is to speak of the necessity of knowing and believing this, That Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, at all times, when faith is endangered by diverse and strange doctrines. Here I would shew, 1. The necessity of it at all times. 2. The special necessity of it at such a shaking time.
1st, The necessity of knowing and believing this at all times, That Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. And,
1. It is necessary for distinguishing Christ from all creatures, and from all idols of the nations, and from all false Gods and false Christs. Thus, Isaiah xli. 4. he is distinguished from all such by this name; I the Lord, the first, and with the last, I am he: and Isaiah xliv. 6. Thus saith the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts, I am the first, and I am the last, and besides me there is no God.
2. It is always necessary for evidencing Christ to be the true God: Mal. iii. 6. I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye the sons of Jacob are not consumed. To be the eternal and unchangeable God, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; and so for shewing his blood to be of infinite value, as being the blood of God, so as we may have boldness, in all our approaches to the holiest by the blood of Jesus.
3. It is necessary for strengthening our faith in all his divine properties, promises, and former works. In the view of this immutable name, The same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, we may say, as Psalm xc. 1. Thou, Lord, hast been our dwelling-place in all generations; why ? From everlasting to everlasting thou art God. We may, in the view of this, assure ourselves, that all the promises are in him Yea, and in him Amen, to the glory of God, because he is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. We may learn hence contentment, since he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what men shall do unto me, Heb. xiii. 5, 6.
4. It is necessary for instructing us in the special use of God's former dealings with men, namely, in the like good ways of the Lord, to expect the like blessings; and, in the like evil ways, to expect the like judgments, because the Lord is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. He is ever of the same mind. What in former times was right in his eyes, and acceptable to him, is still so. Thus, Rom. iv. 23, 24. Now, it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe in him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. What formerly offended him, and provoked his wrath, doth so still, 1 Cor. x. 5--22.
5. It is necessary for assuring us of his continual and perpetual care of his church, Matth. xxviii. 20. He hath said, Lo, I am with you always to the end of the world; and he will make it good; for, he is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. It may assure us also of the church's continuance: his church is built upon a rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, Matth. xvi. 18. There is no enchantment against Jacob, nor divination against Israel.
6. It is necessary for encouraging us at all times against all attempts of enemies, present and to come. Why, God hath said of him, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool, Psalm cx. 1. He will break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel, Psalm ii. 9. In vain do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing. In vain do they set themselves, and take counsel together against the Lord and his Anointed, &c. Enemies present, and enemies to come, shall be dashed in due time; for he is still present, and still to come, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
2dly, I would shew the necessity of knowing and believing this, especially in shaking times, wherein diverse and strange doctrines appear. Why the need of taking a view of Christ, as the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, in such a time, may be evident in the following respects.
1. By viewing that Christ is immutably the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. In times of error and delusion we come to see the difference between truth and error, truth and deceit; for, whenever Christ is discerned in this name, we are brought to understand sound and saving doctrine, from that which is unsound, new, and strange; in regard, as Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, so truth is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. It is one entire system, and cannot be divided, one part of it from another, at any time; whereas diverse doctrines, spoken of verse 9. may be known by their diversity, or dividing of one piece of truth from another, to be unsound, unsafe, and unlike to Christ, who is always the same. In time of error and delusion, then, a view of Christ, as immutably the same, is needful for making the truth evident, as a quite different thing from that which is new, strange, and uncouth.
2. A view of Christ, as immutably the same, is needful, at such seasons, for establishing in the faith of the truth, and continuing in the faith, grounded and settled, and not being moved away from the hope of the gospel, Col. i. 2, 3. by whatever shaking wind: for a view of Christ, as the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, and of his truth, as still the same, as ever it was, this natively moves the believing soul to have the same love to truth as ever, the same esteem of the truth as ever, the same delight in the truth as ever, and the same zeal and concern for the truth as ever; because Christ, and his truth, is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
3. A view of Christ, as immutably the same, is needful, in such a time, for correcting our inconstancy, our levity in departing from the truth, and not cleaving to it, but being easily seduced and drawn aside, like those whom the apostle calls children tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, Eph. iv. 14. A view of Christ, and his truth, as immutably the same, tends to correct this; for this levity then appears to be an affronting of the truth of Christ, as if it were not the same; an affronting of Christ, as if he were not the same Christ that he was ; and an affronting of ourselves as changeable creatures, unlike to him, who is invariably the same.
4. The view of Christ, and his truth, as immutably the same, is needful, in such a season, for shewing the falsehood and damnable tendency of new and strange doctrine; for if God, and Christ, and truth, be still the same, then a new and strange God, is a false God; a new and strange Christ, is a false Christ; a new and strange doctrine, is a false doctrine. A God that we had not yesterday, is a false God ; a Christ that we had not yesterday, is a false Christ. Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; therefore a Christ that was not yesterday, as well as to-day, is a false Christ. A doctrine that was not to be found in our Bible, nor taught us in the word formerly, is a false doctrine. Hence the apostle exhorts, Col. ii. 7. To be rooted and built up in Christ, and established in the faith, as we have been taught. The damnable nature of such doctrine you may see, 2 Pet. ii. 1, 2. But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction: and many shall follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom, the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. There is no false doctrine broached, nor delusive spirit appearing, but, according to that prophecy, it will find many favourers, followers, and entertainers thereof. This made Paul to say, when he saw the levity and inconstancy of people, I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that hath called you, to another gospel. O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, &c. Having begun in the Spirit, are you made perfect in the flesh ? There is in seducers, a bewitching diabolical spirit, that makes them restless in leading others into destruction with them ; so the Scribes and Pharisees compassed sea and land to make proselytes: they were blind leaders of the blind: though they were blind, yet they would be leaders. Now, a view of Christ, and his truth, as immutably the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, is needful, for shewing the damnable nature of these new and strange doctrines, which are doctrines of devils, directly opposite to the true Christ, who is the only Saviour and Deliverer; whereas every new and false Christ, is a seducer and destroyer of immortal souls.
5. The view of the immutability of Christ, and his truth, as one and the same always, shews that diverse doctrines must be delusive, though men are apt to be carried about therewith; for, whereas the doctrine of truth is one, and clear, and firm, and stable, the doctrines of men and devils are not one, but divers, various, ambiguous, deceitful, inconstant, and unstable, and even inconsistent with one-another. Man being full of vain inventions, there is no certain rule to be found but in God's word; hence we are called to try the spirits, whether they be of God; and for this end we need to pray for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, without which we may be soon drawn into one or other of these diverse doctrines.
6. The view of the immutability of Christ, and his truth, is needful for shewing, that new and strange doctrine must be delusive. Things are called strange that are not usual, or that have not been heard of before ; but in the church of God, and amongst God's people, that is called strange which is not grounded on God's word; for the word of God is that upon which the church of God grounds all her doctrine, and acknowledges none for sound, but that which is contained therein, founded thereon, and raised therefrom. Thus the fire, that Nadab and Abihu offered before the Lord, is called strange fire, because it had no warrant from God's word. Thus the doctrines the apostle here warns the Hebrews against, under the name of strange doctrine, are such as have no warrant from the word of God, and which the church of God had neither acknowledged nor received.
Now, the immutability of the truth being known, makes it evident, how all diverse and strange doctrines, doth impeach some divine truth or other; how the broachers of them ruin immortal souls, and bring upon themselves swift destruction; for Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, is here set in opposition to diverse and strange doctrines, intimating, that men cannot be saved in any religion, as some dream; for if Christ and his unchangeable truth be rejected, and diverse and strange doctrines be embraced, damnation, instead of salvation, will be the end, however right they may reckon their new way: There is a way that seemeth right to a man : but the end thereof are the ways of death, Prov. xiv. 12.
IV. The fourth thing proposed, was the application. Is Christ the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever? Hence see,
1. The great disconformity between CHRIST and us ; he is still the same, but we are still changing and varying. We see, Hosea vi. 4. how God complains of us, O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee ? For your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew, it goeth away. But what is the way to be fixed in the faith, and fixed in the love of Christ ? Even to know and believe how fixed, and firm, and immutable he is. The ground of faith is unchangeable; but the rise and spring of our unbelieving doubts, and jealousies, and waverings, is our apprehending, upon every turn, of the wheel of providence, as if Christ were another thing than he was; as if he were changed in his love, as we are in our outward frame, and he in his outward dispensations.
2. Hence see the root of error in principle, about CHRIST in his kingdom and government. As the Sadducees erred about the resurrection, not knowing the power of God; so many in our day err about the kingdom and government of Christ in Zion, not knowing the scriptures, nor the immutability of Christ, that his throne is for ever and ever, and that his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation, Dan. iv. 34. -But men are apt to think him changeable like themselves, and so think his government in Zion is 'arbitrary and ambulatory. Hence Christ, as a King, is treated with contempt and mockery. Men put a crown of thorns still yet upon his head, instead of a crown of glory and honour; a reed into his hand, instead of a sceptre.
3. Hence see the excellency and extent of the object of faith. The true Christ is so glorious and excellent, that he cannot be seen but by that faith which is of divine operation. They that see the true Christ, (and, O Sirs, try your faith by this) they see one who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Oh! What delusive sights of Christ do many now see! They see a beautiful and glorious person presented to their imagination, or to their bodily eye*. What a devil, instead of Christ is this!
* We had occasion formerly, p. 372, 423, to lay open what our Author here, and in what follows, alludes unto. By the time this sermon was preached, the matter was become serious ; the noise of it had spread abroad, both far and near. The promoters and opposers of this work, had taken the field; and if human testimonies and popular approbation, were admitted sufficient evidences to support a supernatural work of the Spirit, this doubtless would have been a genuine work of God. A human work needs to be supported by a human testimony ; but a divine work carries its own evidence along with it, and requires nothing less than a divine testimony. Mighty stretches were made by the promoters of this extraordinary work, to prove its authenticity; Narratives of its extraordinary quality were given; Attestations of its genuine nature were published, &c. And in defending the bodily agitations, and visionary representations, with which this work was attended, the favourers of it were left to vent, and afterwards to defend, some very strange positions; such as, “That we cannot think upon any thing invisible, without some degree of imagination; that images of spiritual things must be represented to our fancy; that we can have no thought of God or Christ, without some degree of imagination; that imaginary ideas of Christ, as man, are consistent with faith, &c."-- If the reader incline to see these, and many other absurd propositions refuted, and the whole nature of this work laid fully open; and the arguments adduced to support it, unhinged, he may consult MR. FISHER's Review of that extraordinary work, and our Author's elaborate Treatise, intitled, FAITH NO FANCY; or, a Treatise of Mental Images.
But, true faith is the evidence of things not seen, and the substance of things hoped for. The faith that sees Christ truly, sees both what is past, and present, and to come; a Christ yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
4. Hence see the picture of a false Christ. Every new Christ, that was not seen in the Bible yesterday, is a false Christ. New and strange sorts of convictions are to be suspected. If, instead of convictions, we hear of convulsions, bitter outcryings, frights, faintings, and foamings, how delusive is the work! New and strange conversions are to be suspected. If, instead of conversions, we hear of sudden consolations by voices, visions, revelations, impulses, and impressions, what delusive work is this! If they are not Bible-convictions, Bible conversions, and such as the saints of God, of old and of late, have experienced according to the Scriptures, then they bear the image of a false Christ; for the true Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. His word is an immutable rule whereby to try the spirits; therefore, To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this, it is because there is no light in them. His word is the same as it was, his Spirit is the same, and his work, upon all that are effectually called, is still the same substantially, because he is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Therefore, work of a different kind shews forth but a false Christ.
5. Hence see, if it be so needful to know and to believe this immutability of Christ, especially in shaking times, when faith is endangered by new and false doctrine, what need there is, at this very day, to be established in the faith of this truth, that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. At this day the faith of many is endangered, and diverse and strange doctrines are appearing on the field. Many errors have been broached in our day, such as those of Arians, Deists, Arminians, Socinians, Pelagians, & c. But never, I think, did Satan appear as an angel of light, so evidently, as in a delusive spirit that is now spreading through the land. But whatever glorious shew and appearance of religion it makes, if it can be proved, that the language and tendency of it is, Let us go after other Gods, Deut. xiii. 2.; if it lead people to diverse and strange doctrines, and to a new and strange God, a new and strange Christ, that ye never heard of in the Bible, then the delusion and diabolical tendency of it may appear; so as all ought to beware of being carried about with such strange doctrines, that stand so directly opposite to him who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Here, according to the view I have of that matter, I shall shew you in eight or ten particulars, what another God, and what another Christ is appearing in the delusive spirit of this time, (brought in by the instrumentality of the foreigner*, of whom we had once some grounds for very favourable thoughts and expectations, till we understood him more fully, and found him in several respects, a stranger to our God, and setting up another God.) Why!
(1.) Our God is, according to Psal. cxxvi. 3. a God that hath done great things for us, and particularly by calling us to and working for us, a glorious work of reformation; bringing us out of antichristian Babylon, and helping us to make a happy secession from the church of Rome; for the defence of which glorious reformation, we now own our secession from such as are razing it. But the delusive spirit of the times leads people to another God, a new God, that is calling us off from this reformation-work, and all contending or witnessing for it, and would have it tumbled down as a Babel-building.
(2.) Our God is a God that invested Christ with
* The person intended here, can be no other than Mr. Whitfield, who was the principal promoter of this strange work.
the government of the church, that hath put the government upon his shoulders, and anointed him King in Zion, Psalm ii. 6.; and made him head of the body, the church visible on earth, as well as invisible. But the new god, that now appears, is a god that robs Christ of his government in the visible church, and seeks to destroy the ancient order and discipline thereof. But, with relation to this,
(3.) Our God is a God that planted a hedge about his vineyard, Isa. v. 2. and fenced it with a hedge of government, and walls of discipline. But the new God, that appears in the strange doctrine that is spreading, is for pulling down the hedge. The present delusive spirit is the instrument of God's wrath against a barren apostate church, by which God is saying, as verse 5. And now, go to, I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedges thereof, and it shall be eaten up; I will break down the walls thereof, and it shall be trodden down: and I will lay it waste, &c. God says this wrathfully, in his indignation: but the delusive spirit says it doctrinally, and by way of approbation, making the sin of such as pull down these hedges, to be but a small matter, and what the Lord's people have little reason to be concerned about, being none of their sins, or among the least of them, as some express it. Whereas, every deeply awakened and humbled soul will see, and suspect itself to be the Achan that troubles the camp, and provokes God to leave ministers and judicatories to spoil his vineyard.
(4.) Our God is a God that calls us, Song ii. 15. to take the foxes, (the great ones, and even) the little foxes that spoil the vines; for our vines have tender grapes. To take and try those that say they are apostles, and are not, and to find them liars, Rev. ii. 2.; to refute and reject them: a God that says, A heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject. But the new and different god, that the strange doctrine of the times brings in, is a god that cries up a boundless toleration of all sects, and a liberty of conscience to, and communion with all sorts of heretics, especially if they have but the denomination of Christians.
(5.) Our God is a God that hates covenant-breaking and perjury; and who, after he hath published to us his covenant of grace and mercy, warrants us to shew our gratitude unto him by a covenant of duty and service, whether personal or natural. If a person vow his service to the Lord, as David did, saying, I have sworn, and will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments. God hates his breaking of that vow, saying, If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. If a church or nation vow and swear that they will serve the Lord, and cleave unto him, as Israel did, Deut. xxix. 12, 24, 25. God hates apostasy from such a solemn profession, and threatens a sword to avenge the quarrel of his covenant. But it is a new and a strange God that seeks to have the most solemn covenants broken, and thinks nothing of involving the land in national perjury: but if our God be the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, he is the same God that he was this time hundred years, when he signified his acceptance in our covenanting-days, by a remarkable out-pouring of his Spirit, and the same Spirit will not seal contraries.
(6.) Our Lord, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, leads his people that are converted, to an espousing of, and an establishment in the present truth, 2 Pet. i. 12.; and to the keeping the word of his patience, and the testimony of the time; and to an opposition to the defections and corruptions of the times : see Rev. ii. 10. 2 John ver. 8, 10, 11. But we hear the new and strange way, that the delusive spirit of the times leads the converts unto, is even the greatest aversion from, and opposition to the testimony of the time: and to that which hath been the word of Christ's patience, given to us in this land since our reforming days. A vile reproach is indeed cast upon us, as if we would allow none to be true converts, but those that follow us; nor nothing to be the work of God, but what is wrought amongst us; nor none to be true Christians but such as join in with (what they call) our Testimony. Meantime, I know no testimony we have, but what is for and in favours of that work of Reformation, which the Lord's people in Scotland have this hundred years been calling the work of God, and if this present work, which is called also the work of God, be standing in opposition to that work of God, then surely we may say, that old work and this new work cannot both be the work of God.
(7.) Our God and Christ, that we have been acquainted with by the word, leads us to discountenance those ministers who run without being sent, and that are evidently erroneous; he calls us to beware of their leaven; and to cease from hearing them, Prov. xix. 27.; and to mark them that bear down the work of God, and carry on the defections of the day, and walk disorderly. But the false spirit of the day leads people to favour and own them as much, if not more, than even those that are contending for the faith.
(8.) The true Christ is a Christ whose voice was not heard in the streets in a noisy manner, and whose kingdom comes not with observation, outward shew, or ostentation. But the new Christ, now upon the field, is with such a noise, that all the supposed convictions and conversions are instantly known and noised abroad, as if some outward motion were among the true marks of inward conviction; and as if heart-conversion to God were become as visible and evident to men, in a moment, as different postures and gestures of the body are to the eyes of men. Alas! what delusions are these, if this be the case !
(9.) The true Christ is he that comes in, the still, calm voice of the gospel, which alone is the power of God to salvation and conversion, while therein is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith, Rom. i. 16,17. But the new Christ, the false Christ of our day, appears, as it were in a whirlwind, driving poor people out of their wits and senses, beating down their bodies with pains and convulsions, distempers, and distractions, and then sounding into their ear some sudden comfort; for he that, as an angel of darkness, frighted and terrified them, can as soon, as an angel of light, flatter and befool them, even with false-applied scriptures, to cheer up their spirits, and cherish their delusive assurance that all is well.
(10.) The true God is a God of order. The true Spirit of Christ is an orderly Spirit, teaching us by his sent servants, and saying, How can they preach, except they be sent? Rom. x. 15. But the new God, the new Christ, the new Spirit that is spreading, stirs up private persons; yea, even young boys, to preach, exhort, and expound scripture publicly, and so to prostitute the sacred office of the ministry; and, so far as the devil gets leave, would make void and unnecessary that regular call and ministerial mission that God hath appointed in his word, declaring, that no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that was called of God, as was Aaron, Heb. v. 4.
Other particulars might be added; but these are sufficient to shew, that the delusive spirit, that is now-a-days going abroad, and spreading through the whole land, is leading people to another God, another Christ, than we or our fathers worshipped, and not the same God and the same Christ that we and they learned from the scriptures to worship and serve. The temptations of the day lead men, they say, to Christ; but it is to another Christ, or else (which is blasphemy to suppose) to think that Christ was another thing than he was, another person, another Saviour, another sort of a Lord and King than he was of old. But the best antidote against such false Christs, and strange doctrines, is the faith of our text, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. People have need therefore to continue in the faith they have been taught, Col. ii. 7; and to remember the advice Paul gives to Timothy, 2 Tim. iii. 12, 13, 14. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived ; but continue thou in the things which thou hast learned, and hast been assured of, and knowing of whom thou hast learned them. And the advice given, 2 John ver. 8. Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought; or, as it may be read, which ye have gained.
6. Hence see, in the sixth place, how valuable the truth ought to be unto us, since the view of Christ, as the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, is given us as an antidote against all error, and against being carried about with diverse and strange doctrines. When we are like children running here and there, tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, and carried about therewith, we forget that Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. We ought to be established in the faith of the truth, in the faith of all scripture truth, because the word of the Lord endures for ever. But, more particularly,
(1.) In the faith of the present truth. The present truth in the apostle's time, was the truth of Christ's being come in the flesh: for that was the truth then most controverted; and if a man brought not that truth along with him, he was reckoned a deceiver and Antichrist, even though he should have preached never so many excellent truths, that were not then controverted, 2 John ver. 7, 10. For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh: this is a deceiver and an antichrist. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him, God speed. The present truth, in our time, is the truth that is opposed and controverted in our time: if a man be not faithful to that, he will never be faithful in his generation; yea, if a man come and preach never so many excellent truths, that are not controverted, he is but a deceiver and an antichrist, if he bring not the present truth, that the devil and the world are contradicting and opposing: but if, instead of bringing the present truth, such as that of Christ's headship and government in Zion, he shall bring the very opposite, and be a contradicter and opposer of the present truth, then we are to look upon him as an antichrist and a deceiver, with a witness.
(2.) We ought to be established in the faith of the least truth, if any thing can be called little truth; the smallest we can think of is an invaluable treasure. Little truths are like the little pinnings of a wall, they are as necessary as the great stones; for take away the little pinnings, and you loose and dissolve the whole building. There is a close connection between every truth; they are linked and chained together; and you cannot loose one link, but you break the whole chain. They who are not zealously concerned for the least truth, will have no zeal for any truth at all; if they be unfaithful in a little, they will be unfaithful in much.
7. If Christ and his truth be the same yesterday, today, and for ever; then see how highly reprovable they are, that are not the same men they were, with reference to all the present truths of the times. Some that have made as splendid a profession of cleaving to all the reformation-principles of this church, that we in this land are solemnly sworn to maintain, they are not now of the same mind; they have not the same sentiments, the same profession, the same favour to the truth, that they had. Why, what can be the reason? It may be said, That either they have gone out from us, because they were not of us, 1 John ii. 19; or, they have forgotten that Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. The devil hath put another Bible in their hand, and so another Christ in their head. But let old truths, sirs, be highly valued, and not thrown aside for new appearances: for, the good old way is the new and living way; and the old and new way is the everlasting way. What was truth formerly, is truth presently, and will be truth perpetually; for, Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. But let none be stumbled at the truth, though they should see tall cedars falling into error: for, the Spirit speaketh expressly, that, in the latter days, some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils, 1 Tim. iv. 1. Therefore be not soon shaken in your minds, by whatever spirit, word, or letter.
8. If Christ be still the same, then the followers of Christ should study a sameness among themselves, such as is recommended and enjoined, 1 Cor. i. 10. Phil. ii. 2. iv. 2. There ought to be an identity and sameness amongst all the friends of that Jesus, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Why, all true believers have the same spiritual meat and drink; for they did all eat the same spiritual meat, and drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ, 1 Cor. x. 3, 4. They have all the same Spirit, and the same anointing that teaches all things. There are diversities of gifts, and degrees of graces, but the same Spirit; and they are said to have all the same Spirit of faith, 2 Cor. iv. 13.; and should, as members of Christ, have the same care one of another.
9. If Christ be the same to-day, as well as yesterday, the same presently as he was formerly; then let him be your present choice, your present portion, your present help in trouble, your present resting-place; and see your present duty towards him, to glorify him on earth, by witnessing for him, and confessing him before the world. Why hath he had witnesses for his name in all ages, and some at this day, and will have some in generations to come? Because he is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. O sirs, study you to be standing witnesses for this immutable Jesus.
10. If he be the same for ever, as well as yesterday and to-day, then see ground for faith and hope for the future. O what ground of comfort is here to believers, against all future changes, that Christ is unchangeably the same. You may not only look back, believer, and reflect upon such and such a Bethel-visit he made you: whatever changes have befallen you since that time, yet you may be sure he is the God of Bethel; he is the same at your worst, that you found him at your best: but you may look forward, and be sure that he will be the same for ever. And as there is no alteration in Christ's heart or disposition in heaven, from what he had upon earth; Eph. iv. 10. He that descended, is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things; so his mind will be for ever the same. Fear not future events, whatever is to come. His name is, Which was, and is, and is to come. Is death to come? so is Christ. Is judgment to come? so is Christ. Is eternity to come? so is Christ. Happy to all eternity is the believer in Christ; for, he is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. The promises of the covenant stand fast in him, who is always the same. It was made in him before the world, and will be established for ever.
11. See matter of dread and terror to all the despisers of Christ, and his cause and truth. He that is the same for ever, in his promise to believers, is the same for ever in his threatening to unbelievers. He that is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, hath said, He that believeth not shall be damned. Behold, ye despisers, wonder and perish. The same Jesus that died at Jerusalem, and is published in this gospel, is to come again to judgment: Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up unto heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven, Acts i. 11. His immutable word of truth hath certified your everlasting ruin. The irrevocable sentence will pass against you, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. And the wrath of the eternal God, and the immutable Jesus, will not be for a day, but wrath, like himself, the same for ever.
12. Hence see an evidence of true and saving faith. It is a faith of the same sort with the faith of the redeemed in former ages; the same with the faith of those that are away to glory, Whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation, say the words immediately preceding our text. It is a faith that follows the footsteps of the flock; a faith that looks to Jesus as still the same, and finds him invariably the same, whenever it renews its acting upon him: though sometimes he may shut the door upon you, for your trial, or chastisement, or humiliation; yet, whenever he opens the door, and lets you in to him, you find him always the same Jesus; and that his word is the same, his love the same, his covenant the same, his promises the same, his blood the same, in its virtue and efficacy; his righteousness ay the same for your acceptance; his fullness constantly the same for your supply; his sweetness perpetually the same to endear your heart to him; his brightness always the same to display the glory of God. And here is the relief that faith gives amidst all fears and faintings: He is God and changes not; therefore you are not consumed. He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.--Is this the faith you have? Indeed the more you live by faith upon his immutability, the more immutable and immoveable will you be: They that trust in the Lord shall be like mount Zion, that cannot be removed, but abideth for ever. It is a firm faith that stands here.
In a word, here is a foundation for the faith and hope of all the sinners who hear this gospel, and would be saved from the wrath of him that lives for ever and ever; and would wish to be blessed and happy in him for ever. O come to him before you go away from this place. He is the best match, for time and eternity, that ever you heard tell of; and every word in the text is an argument and encouragement to come to him.
1. He is a Jesus, a Saviour, to save you from your sins, and from the wrath to come he is able to save you. And this name Jesus imports an answer to all objections you can make by unbelief, your sinfulness, guiltiness, deadness, stupidness, or be what it will that troubles you ; if you would be saved from all these evils, a Jesus is offered to you. O sirs, will you have him?
2. Consider he is Christ, anointed of God to save, having his Father's commission; he comes in his Father's name and authority; Him hath God the Father sealed.
3. He is Jesus Christ the same; he is immutable and unchangeable. Many changes pass over you, and many sinful changes always to the worse; and the last change, by death, is at hand. Would you be secured in an unchangeable Saviour, fixed upon a rock that is immutable? O sirs, here it is!
4. He is the same yesterday, the same from eternity, being set up from everlasting; the same from the beginning of time; the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world; the same Jesus that was promised immediately after the fall; the same Jesus that, in the fullness of time, assumed our nature, and was made of a woman, made under the law; the same Jesus Christ that died at Jerusalem, and rose again, and ascended to heaven ; the same Jesus that was the object of the faith of all the Old or New-Testament saints that are now in glory, and have believed in him to everlasting life; and therefore the fit object of your faith.
5. He is not only the same yesterday, but the same to-day; and therefore, to-day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart. His days are endless, but you have no day but this to reckon upon; yea, not an hour but this, that you know of; nay, not a moment, not a now, but this present now: Now is the accepted time. Yesterday is gone for ever from you, and this day is going; Ye know not what a day may bring forth. But since he is the same as he was yesterday, and you will not be the same to-morrow that you are to-day; you will neither be in the same place, nor in the same case, nor have the same offer; it may be, therefore, now or never must you close with him.
6. Consider he is the same for ever; and therefore, if you receive him to-day, you shall enjoy him for ever. You shall find him an everlasting Father, and an unalterable friend. He will be the same to you that he hath been, and will be to all that ever came to him. He will be your everlasting righteousness, everlasting strength, everlasting light, everlasting life, and everlasting all. Neither death, judgment, nor eternity, will make a change upon him. No change in your lot or frame afterwards shall ever make him alter his mind, or his love towards you. You will be happy for ever, because he is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.-- May the Lord draw you to him!