National Sins and National Judgments
A sermon by John Owen
Preached April 11, 1679.
“For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory. The show of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves.” — Isa. iii. 8, 9.
First, Here is a confluence of sins delighted in.
Secondly, Here is a concurrence of various judgments unregarded. In the ninth chapter of this prophecy, the prophet enumerates, from the 13th verse to the end of the chapter, all sorts of judgments and indications of the continuance of God’s displeasure, concluding every one of them with this: “For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still;” and it will end in their utter destruction.
Thirdly, Here are the preparative causes of ruin, that which would dispose Jerusalem and Judah to ruin and destruction. There are five of them reckoned up in this chapter:—
1. When God takes away the good, the sober, the understanding part of a nation, and leaves a nation very thin of such kind of persons: Verses 1–3, “Behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water, the mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, the captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator.” When God makes a nation thin of such persons, it is a preparation and disposition to their ruin.
2. Weakness in their government is another preparation and disposition: “And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them,” verse 4.
3. Horrible disorder in the minds of men, and contempt of God’s order, that should be among them: “And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable,” verse 5.
4. When there is great oppression and persecution: “As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them,” verse 12. And what did they do? “Ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts,” verses 14, 15.
5. And, lastly, there is horrible pride, and especially the pride of vain and foolish women; which the prophet insists upon from verse 16 to the very last words of the chapter, and concludes, “Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground.”
This is the end of it all. So that you have an account of what are those causes whereon God in his word doth pronounce cities and nations to be ruined and destroyed, even then when they stand in their fullest security, in their own opinion.
Now, the inquiry is, how those things are with us. I told you I would do no more than speak a word or two for the present occasion: and I shall speak that which I do believe; and if you do so too, it may be it may be your mercy. But it is a hard thing to believe London is ruined and England fallen, when we have peace and enjoy all things; but if we speak it in pride, it will be harder how to avoid it.
First, Is there not a confluence of all sorts of sins among us whereof mankind can contract guilt, especially of those sins upon the commission of which God pronounces a nation ruined, — atheism and profaneness, blood and murder, adultery and uncleanness, and pride? When these sins are predominant in a nation that makes profession of the knowledge of God, God himself saith, and we may say, that nation is ruined. Those things have prevailed among us.
Then let us mourn over those sins as we ought to do. Have we done so in this congregation? Hath it been done in any congregation in England as it ought? Hath it been done in private, in our retirement, to mourn over that confluence of sins that hath prevailed and spread itself over the nation till it hath reached to the very neck? We have not done it to this very day. There is not the least attempt for any reformation. Do we think in such a day as this is a little prayer is enough to save a dying nation? There is nothing seriously done to work that reformation without which London will be undone and England will fall, and there will be no deliverance. It is all one whether you will believe it or no, but the word of God abides for ever.
Secondly, A concurrence of judgments was the second thing we showed you from the words, — a concurrence of judgments unregarded; — a confluence of sins delighted in, and a concurrence of various judgments unregarded.
Judgments are of two sorts, — temporal and spiritual.
1. Temporal judgments are of two sorts. They are either monitory tokens of God’s displeasure, or they are actual punishments. All these various judgments have been upon us.
(1.) We have had monitory tokens of God’s displeasure: [1.] Signs in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; — things that ought not to be despised. Our Saviour hath warned us to expect and look for them before the general dissolution. They have been monitory judgments. [2.] God is making the nation thin of persons ancient, honourable, counsellors, the wise. He threatens to do this. They are persons rarely to be found, who are the stay and staff of a nation. It is a monitory judgment, and so laid down by the prophet. [3.] The strange and unaccountable differences and divisions that are in the minds and affections of men. Multitudes in these nations stand at this day with their swords in their hands, ready to sheathe them in the bowels of their neighbours; Ephraim against Manasseh, and Manasseh against Ephraim, — one part of the nation against another, and another against them, ready to destroy one another. [4.] And, lastly, the warnings God hath given us of making us base and dishonourable, which I will not insist upon. We have had these monitory judgments.
(2.) We have had judgments which consist in punishments, — the plague, the fire, the sword, great distresses and poverty, that are come upon the nation; enough to make the hearts of men to tremble, but that we are grown hard like the nethermost millstone, and are sensible of nothing at all. I say these judgments and warnings of God are generally disregarded.
I would but ask two things, to see if by them we can evidence the contrary, notwithstanding all the judgments that we talk of:—
[1.] Who is the man, where is the person, that hath made any abatement in any thing of the world, — in love to the world, in conformity to the world, in the pursuit of any lust? Show me the man who, upon the account of these judgments in the world, hath made any abatement.
[2.] Show me the person who can by experience show that he hath by fear been moved to provide an ark for himself and family, any other ark besides present circumstances, — so much wealth, enjoyment, peace and quiet? Who is the person that hath provided an ark for himself and his family? Let us talk what we will, unless we make a visible abatement in conformity to the world, and labour to provide an ark, we disregard the judgments of God.
2. There are spiritual judgments also; and they are found among us, — (1.) In God’s taking from us so many faithful labourers in the dispensation of the gospel, in the midst of their days and strength, as he hath done of late years in this nation. (2.) And in driving the remnant of his faithful ministers, many of them, into corners, where they are not able to serve the interest of Christ and the nation by promoting and furthering its return unto God: and thereby that which would have been the greatest mercy that the nation can be partaker of, the greatest means of the preservation of it and deliverance from ruin, is made the greatest means of the restraining and shutting up their ministerial abilities and graces; which I shall not now enlarge upon. (3.) There is another part of these spiritual judgments, and that is the general security that is come upon all sorts of men, according to the variety of their degrees, in being overtaken with the present temptations of the day. These judgments are upon us unregarded.
Thirdly, Another thing in the text is the preparation and disposition that are in a nation to ruin. But I shall not speak unto them; they are visible and known unto all.
But you will say, ‘When God doth thus in his word declare that a nation is fallen and ruined by such causes, is there no hope but that it must be ruined, that destruction must overtake it?’
I answer, — 1. There is no hope at all while that place, that nation, continues in those ways and sins whereby God declares that they are ruined. A nation cannot be saved abiding in those ways which are the causes of its ruin, which God declares to be the causes of it. And let men have what expectations they will, please themselves as they will, I neither can desire nor will look for deliverance for a nation while it continues in those sins against which God pronounces judgments.
2. I do acknowledge it is frequent with God to declare a nation ruined with respect of merit, and yet to prevent their ruin with respect to the event. They may be delivered from that state and condition, and so be saved. The case is stated, Jer. xviii. 7, 8, “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom to pluck up and pull down, and to destroy it: if that, nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil. I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them” God declares what they do deserve, but yet they may never feel it as to the event. Wherefore it is not in vain that we have designed to seek the Lord this day. There is room yet left to deal with God about London, about the nation, though plainly in the word they are declared to be under ruin.
But it will have no success without these three things:—
1. That there be a visible reformation, — I will not say a conversion, but a visible reformation, — vigorously attempted in and upon the body of the people.
2. Unless those who truly fear the Lord do mourn over the sins of the people continually. And, —
3. Unless they are fervent in their prayers for their deliverance.
It doth not stand with the honour of God, the glory of his righteousness, holiness, word, and truth, to save this nation without these things; — without an attempt at visible reformation of the body of the people; without his own people mourn over the ins of the nation, and abide in fervent prayer for that end. Without these, as Jeremiah the prophet told the Jews, chap. xxxvii. 10, “Though ye had smitten the whole army of the Chaldeans that fight against you, and there remained but wounded men among them, yet should they rise up every man in his tent, and burn this city with fire;” So I say of our Chaldeans at this day: If half of them were executed, and the other half wounded, they should rise up and smite this city, unless we turn thus unto God.
We are called to consider the sins of the nation, and to deplore its state and condition upon the account of those sins. That is our present work; and these plain things God hath directed me unto from the reading of these words.
I will add a little more, for the further opening of the words. There is in them a summary declaration of the causes of this state and condition: “Because,” saith he, “their tongue and, their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory. You may range all sins under these two heads — men’s tongues and their doings; for their tongues and their doings have been against the Lord.
There is a particularly ruining provocation, when men set their tongues against the Lord. It a great sign, of he approaching, ruin of a people and nation when men set their tongues against the Lord. He puts a special mark upon that. I shall only name the things whereby men set their tongues against the Lord, keeping themselves to that one thing, by such ways as will certainly prove ruining.
There are these ways whereby men set their tongues against the Lord:—
1. By blasphemy. And thereof there are two branches:— (1.) Cursed oaths; (2.) Atheistical discourses. Whether they are found among us or no let every one judge as he hath experience.
Men set their tongues against the Lord especially by blaspheming the Spirit of Christ and the gospel. I do acknowledge that this is a sin which our Lord Jesus Christ as it were separates from all other sins, reserving it unto spiritual and eternal judgment; but it hath influence also on temporal judgments.
2. By mocking at all those judgments: “Where is the promise of his coming?” where is this talk that hath been among the prophets, among professors, for so many years, of judgment coming? “for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were.” They scoff at the word of God with reproachful terms.
When these are the things whereby men’s tongues are set against God (I do not speak of the sins of the tongue in general, but of those sins whereby the tongue is peculiarly set against God), we shall do well to inquire whether any such things are found among us or no.
This comprises the whole remainder of outward sins against the Lord. I shall not need to speak unto them; I shall only touch upon the aggravations:—
1. The first aggravation of these sins, that makes them ruinous, is when they rise to such a degree as that they are a “provocation unto the eyes of God’s glory.”
The “eyes of God’s glory” intend two things, — First and principally, His holiness: “He is of purer eyes than to behold evil,” Hab. i. 13. The eyes of God’s glory are the purity of his holiness. Secondly, God’s omnisciency and omnipresency. His eyes are not eyes of flesh. He sees and knows all things by the infinite immensity of his own presence. Sins committed in an especial manner against the eyes of God’s glorious holiness and his omnisciency will always have special influence into the ruin of Jerusalem and of Judah.
What are the sins that have a special opposition unto the eyes of God’s glory as it denotes his holiness? I answer, —
All sorts of uncleanness, — adultery, fornication. Uncleanness is in a peculiar manner opposed unto the holiness of God. We are to inquire whether there have been any overspreading of such abominations in the nation wherein we live. If there have, there have been provocations unto the eyes of God’s glory. Every impure lust in the heart is provoking to the eyes of God’s glory; every uncleanness wherewith the land is defiled, upon this account, because of its contradiction unto the pure and holy nature of God, is provoking unto the eyes of God’s glory.
2. When men are bold in sin, — which brings along with it contempt of God’s omnisciency and omnipresency, — it is a provocation unto the eyes of God’s glory.
There are two ways whereby men do manifest themselves bold in their sins; and they are both mentioned in the text:— (1.) By appearing under all demonstrations of outward pride, while they are filled with inward filth and laden with guilt; a thing that God doth greatly abhor. “The show of their countenance doth witness against them.” We live in days wherein the nation is overwhelmed with the guilt of sin, and full of all manner of iniquities and defilements. They do compose all their garbs and ways unto pride. And, (2.) They reject the ways of God. They contemn God and man when they have all that guilt upon them.
3. The last aggravation whereby men provoke the eyes of God’s glory is when they declare their sin as Sodom.”
How is it to “declare their sin as Sodom?” (1.) When men will confer and talk together about the vilest sins and wickednesses. So did they in Sodom; they got together to act wickedness. Time was when profaneness and atheism were not grown to that boldness as now they are. They covered their sin. But now men and women will consult together, talk and advise together, about their sins, how and what way they shall commit them. (2.) When they will come unto that impudence, not only to confer about their sins, but so as to make them a scoffing and a laughing matter.
Let us consider whether there be not those abominations among us against which the wrath of God is revealed from heaven. These are the aggravations the prophet gives of the sins of Jerusalem and of Judah, upon the account whereof he pronounces the one to be “ruined,” and the other to be “fallen” from her strength and beauty. The judgment he passes upon all is, “Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves.”
I shall close all with a word or two of use:—
First, If this be the deplorable state and condition of the nation wherein we live, let us endeavour, by all ways and means that lie in us, to retrieve the nation out of this state and condition, every one acting unto the utmost of his power to turn men from their evil ways, that God may repent him of the evil that he hath purposed against this nation.
Secondly, If they will not be healed, let our souls mourn in secret for them, and let us do something to help the poor dying nation. There is not one of you but may do much towards the saving, of this nation, by mourning in secret because of the abominations that are committed in it, whereby we have provoked the eyes of God’s glory.
Thirdly, Take heed that we do not partake in any of their sins, that we make no approach unto them, lest we partake of their plagues There is no greater duty incumbent at this day on persons that fear God than this one, to be cautious of making approaches towards any persons or people against whom God hath declared that he hath a controversy with them.
Fourthly, Prepare to meet the Lord in the way of his judgments. God is righteous in all his ways, when he shall bring the scourge upon the nation, and it “shall be spoiled as Shalman spoiled Betharbel in the day of battle,” Hos. x. 14.
Lastly, Give glory unto him for all the appearances of sovereign grace and mercy in preserving this nation from that late horrid design and plot, which might have swallowed us up unless God himself had immediately interposed.
There are three or four things I would mention, that I have upon my thoughts:—
1. The open discovery of the profaneness and villany of their hearts, in striving to hide from God and man the wickedness they had contrived, by adding a new wickedness unto it, which they had not thought of, — the murdering of that innocent person.411 God left them to discover the wickedness and profaneness of their hearts, that they would cover one sin with another, and God should not look through it.
2. The wisdom and justice of God, in making that which they concluded the means of hiding their plot from the eyes of men prove upon the matter the means of discovering it unto all men. They behaved themselves subtilely, but the hand of God was upon them; there was “digitus Dei” plainly in the case. Their great design was, by the murder of that gentleman to conceal all. Saith God,’ I will discover all by the murder of that person.’
3. See the hand and glory of God in this also. You are directed unto it this day, that though their wickedness and malice continue, God hath taken away their hearts. If wisdom and courage had not been taken from them, they might have ruined this nation; but God hath taken away their hearts, and so long we shall be safe enough.
4. In this glorious act of God there is a spirit poured out upon the commonalty of this nation above their light and above their principles; which is the immediate hand of God: for every man’s spirit follows his light and principles, but here it is beyond their light and principles. Therefore glorify God in this, and let it encourage us to be instant in prayer day and night for this poor nation, the laud of our nativity.