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COURTEOUS READER, One reason which moved me to write and print this little book was, because, though there are many excellent heart-affecting discourses in the world that tend to convert the sinner, yet I had a desire to try this simple method of mine; wherefore I make bold thus to invite and encourage the worst to come to Christ for life.
The nation doth swarm with vile ones now , as ever it did since it was a nation. My little book, in some places, can scarce go from house to house, but it will find a suitable subject to spend itself upon. Now, since Christ Jesus is willing to save the vilest, why should they not, by name, be somewhat acquainted with it, and bid come to him under that name?
A great sinner, when converted, seems a booty to Jesus Christ; he gets by saving such an one; why then should both Jesus lose his glory and the sinner lose his soul at once, and that for want of an invitation?
I have found, through God’s grace, good success in preaching upon this subject, and perhaps, so I may by my writing upon it too. I have, as you see, let down this net for a draught. The Lord catch some great fishes by it, for the magnifying of his truth. There are some most vile in all men’s eyes, and some are so in their own eyes too; but some have their paintings, to shroud their vileness under; yet they are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do; and for all these, God hath sent a Savior, Jesus; and to all these the door is opened.
Wherefore, prithee, profane man, give this little book the reading. Come; pardon, and a part in heaven and glory, cannot be hurtful to thee. Let not thy lusts and folly drive thee beyond the door of mercy, since it is not locked nor bolted up against thee. Manasseh was a bad man, and Magdalene a bad woman, to say nothing of the thief upon the cross, or of the murderers of Christ; yet they obtained mercy; Christ willingly received them.
And dost thou think that those, once so bad, now they are in heaven, repent them there because they left their sins for Christ when they were in the world? I cannot believe, but that thou thinkest they have verily got the best on’t. Why, sinner, do thou likewise. Christ, at heaven gates, says to thee, Come hither; and the devil, at the gates of hell, does call thee to come to him. Sinner, what sayest thou? Whither wilt thou go? Don’t go into the fire; there thou wilt be burned! Don’t let Jesus lose his longing, since it is for thy salvation, but come to him and live.
One word more, and so I have done. Sinner, here thou dost hear of love; prithee, do not provoke it, by turning it into wantonness. He that dies for slighting love, sinks deepest into hell, and will there be tormented by the remembrance of that evil, more than by the deepest cogitation of all his other sins. Take heed, therefore; do not make love thy tormentor, sinner.
The words were spoken by Christ, after he rose from the dead, and they are here rehearsed after an historical manner, but do contain in them a formal commission, with a special clause therein. The commission is, as you see, for the preaching of the gospel, and is very distinctly inserted in the holy record by Matthew and Mark. ‘Go - teach all nations,’ etc. ( Matthew 28:19) ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature’ ( Mark 16:15).
Only this clause is in special mentioned by Luke, who saith, that as Christ would have the doctrine of repentance and remission of sins preached in his name among all nations, so he would have the people of Jerusalem to have the first proffer thereof. Preach it, saith Christ, in all nations, but begin at Jerusalem.
The apostles, then, though they had a commission so large as to give them warrant to go and preach the gospel in all the world, yet by this clause they were limited as to the beginning of their ministry; they were to begin this work at Jerusalem. “Beginning at Jerusalem.’
Before I proceed to an observation upon the words, I must, but briefly, touch upon two things: namely, First, Show you what Jerusalem now was.
FIRST, Jerusalem is to be considered either, First, With respect to the descent of her people; or, Second, With respect to her preference and exaltation; or, Third, With respect to her present state, as to her decays.
Secondly , As to her preference or exaltation, she was the place of God’s worship, and that which had in and with her the special tokens and signs of God’s favor and presence, above any other people in the world. Hence, the tribes went up to Jerusalem to worship; there was God’s house, God’s high-priest, God’s sacrifices accepted, and God’s eye, and God’s heart perpetually ( Psalm 76:1,2, 122; 1 Kings 9:3). But, Thirdly , We are to consider Jerusalem also in her decays; for, as she is so considered, she is the proper object of our text, as will be further showed by and by.
Jerusalem, as I told you, was the place and seat of God’s worship, but now decayed, degenerated, and apostatized. The Word, the rule of worship, was rejected of them, and in its place they had put and set up their own traditions: they had rejected, also, the most weighty ordinances, and put in the room thereof their own little things ( Matthew 15; Mark 7). Jerusalem was therefore now greatly backslidden, and become the place where the truth and true religion were much defaced.
It was also now become the very sink of sin and seat of hypocrisy, and gulf where true religion was drowned. Here also now reigned presumption, and groundless confidence in God, which is the bane of souls. Amongst its rulers, doctors, and leaders, envy, malice, and blasphemy vented itself against the power of godliness, in all places where it was espied; as also against the promoters of it; yea, their Lord and Maker could not escape them.
In a word, Jerusalem was now become the shambles, the very slaughtershop for saints. This was the place wherein the prophets, Christ, and his people, were most horribly persecuted and murdered. Yea, so hardened at this time was this Jerusalem in her sins, that she feared not to commit the biggest, and to bind herself, by wish, under the guilt and damning evil of it; saying, when she had murdered the Son of God, ‘His blood be on us, and on our children.’ And though Jesus Christ did, both by doctrine, miracles, and holiness of life, seek to put a stop to their villanies, yet they shut their eyes, stopped their ears, and rested not, till, as was hinted before, they had driven him out of the world. Yea, that they might, if possible, have extinguished his name, and exploded his doctrine out of the world, they, against all argument, and in despite of heaven, its mighty hand, and undeniable proof of his resurrection, did hire soldiers to invent a lie, saying, his disciples stole him away from the grave; on purpose that men might not count him the Savior of the world, nor trust in him for the remission of sins.
They were, saith Paul, contrary to all men: for they did not only shut up the door of life against themselves, but forbade that it should be opened to any else. ‘Forbidding us,’ saith he, ‘to speak to the Gentiles, that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway’ ( 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; Matthew 23:35; Matthew 15:7-9; Mark 7:6-8; Matthew 3:7-9; John 8:33,41; Matthew 27:18; Mark 3:30; Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:33,34; Matthew 27:25; Matthew 20:11-16).
Nay, what world, what people, what nation, for sin and transgression, could or can be compared to Jerusalem? especially if you join to the matter of fact the light they sinned against, and the patience which they abused.
After all their abusings of wise men, and prophets, God sent unto them John Baptist, to reduce them, and then his Son, to redeem them; but they would be neither reduced nor redeemed, but persecuted both to the death.
SECOND, I come not to show you what it was to preach the gospel to them. It was, saith Luke, to preach to them ‘repentance and remission of sins’ in Christ’s name; or, as Mark has it, to bid them ‘repent and believe the gospel’ ( Mark 1:15). Not that repentance is a cause of remission, but a sign of our hearty reception thereof. Repentance is therefore here put to intimate, that no pretended faith of the gospel is good that is not accompanied with it; and this he doth on purpose, because he would not have them deceive themselves: for with what faith can he expect remission of sins in the name of Christ, that is not heartily sorry for them? Or how shall a man be able to give to others a satisfactory account of his unfeigned subjection to the gospel, that yet abides in his impenitency?
Wherefore repentance is here joined with faith, in the way of receiving the gospel. Faith is that without which it cannot be received at all; and repentance that without which it cannot be received unfeignedly. When, therefore, Christ says, he would have a repentance and remission of sins preached in his name among all nations, it is as much as to say, I will that all men everywhere be sorry for their sins, and accept of mercy at God’s hand through me, lest they fall under his wrath in the judgment; for, as I have said, without repentance, what pretense soever men have of faith, they cannot escape the wrath to come. Wherefore Paul said, God commands ‘all men everywhere to repent,’ (in order to their salvation): ‘because he hath appointed a day, in the which he shall judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained’ ( Acts 17:31).
And now, to come to this clause, ‘Beginning at Jerusalem’; that is, that Christ would have Jerusalem have the first offer of the gospel. 1. This cannot be so commanded because they had now any more right, of themselves, thereto, than had any of the nations of the world; for their sins had divested them of all self-deservings. 2. Nor yet because they stood upon the advance-ground with the worst of the sinners of the nations; nay, rather, the sinners of the nations had the advance-ground of them: for Jerusalem was, long before she had added this iniquity to her sin, worse than the very nations that God cast out before the children of Israel ( 2 Chronicles 33). 3. It must, therefore, follow, that this cause, ‘Beginning at Jerusalem,’ was put into this commission of mere grace and compassion, even from the overflowings of the bowels of mercy; for indeed they were the worst, and so in the most deplorable condition of any people under the heavens. f3 Whatever, therefore, their relation was to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob — however they formerly had been the people among whom God had placed his name and worship, they were now degenerated from God, more than the nations were from their idols, and were become guilty of the highest sins which the people of the world were capable of committing. Nay, none can be capable of committing of such pardonable sins as they committed against their God, when they slew his Son, and persecuted his name and Word.