God Sends Temporal Judgment

God Sends Temporal Judgment

William Gouge
A Plaister for the Plague (1631)
§ 1-10 & 49.

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 45 Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces. 46 And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague is begun. 47 And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people. 48 And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed. 49 Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah. 50 And Aaron returned unto Moses unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the plague was stayed. (Numbers 16:44-50)

§. 1. Of the Resolution of the whole History (Num. 16:44-50).

In this history we have a plaster [wound dressing] for the Plague, such a plaster as hath its probatum est [which has been proven]. For this plaster being applied to the Plague, “the Plague was stayed (v. 48).
. . .

§. 2. Of the exposition and observations of Numbers 16:44.

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
(Num. 16:44).

This first particle AND, being a copulative, knitteth this upon the former history, as a consequence justly following thereon. Now in the former history the sin of the people is laid down. For after that the Lord had manifested his fierce wrath against Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, with those that took part with them, by causing the earth to swallow up some of them alive, and by sending forth a fire to consume other of them, the people that saw these fearful spectacles of God’s vengeance, were so far from fear and trembling, as most audaciously, and presumptuously they murmured and gathered themselves together against Moses and Aaron, as the other, who were before destroyed, had done. Hereby the Lord was provoked to add, to the former judgments, the Plague here noted in my text. So as they added sin to sin: and the Lord added judgement to judgement. For their sin therefore the Lord plagued them. For by the multiplication of sin, they grew into a greater contempt than before.

The title here given to God, and translated, the LORD, is God’s proper name Jehovah. [1]

God’s speaking, here mentioned, implieth an extraordinary manifestation of his mind; and that so evidently as a man doth when he speaketh to another, and thereby declareth his meaning.

The person to whom he spake was Moses: even he who was made both a prince and prophet to that people. [2]

Three especial observations are here most remarkable:

I. Judgments are consequences of sin. The inference of this Plague upon the people’s sin gives evidence hereto. § 3-7.

II. God foretells what he intends against sinners. For God’s speaking here mentioned was a foretelling of that he intended against the rebellious Israelites. § 8.

III. God reveals his mind to his Ministers. Moses to whom God here speaks was his Minister. His Minister to govern, and to instruct his people. § 9-10.

§. 3. Of judgments as consequences of sin.

I. Judgments are consequences of sin. Take a view of the judgments recorded in Scripture, and you may easily find sin to be the cause of all. The first that ever was inflicted on a creature was the casting down of angels into hell (2 Peter 2:4). But these are expressly said to be angels that sinned. The next was on the Serpent, to whom the Lord thus said, “Because thou hast done this thou art cursed” (Gen. 3:14). In like manner to Adam,Because thou hast eaten, etc. cursed, etc.” (Gen. 3:17). Thus the general deluge of the world (Gen. 6:5), the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:20), the plagues of Egypt (Ex. 3:9), the judgments in the wilderness (Heb. 3:17), in the time of the Judges (Judges 2:20), and afterwards, were all for sin. But not to insist on more particulars in a case so clear, the Wiseman expressly saith, “wickedness overthroweth the sinner” (Prov. 13:6). He that acknowledgeth this, commendeth the justice of God.

The kind of Job’s afflictions.

Obj. Sore judgments fell upon Job, yet were they not consequences of sin.

Ans. 1. Surely Job was not free from all sin: “For there is no man that sinneth not” (1 Kings 8:46). Before sin seized on man, he was free from all judgement: and as free shall he be, when again he shall be without sin. Therefore Saints in their afflictions have confessed their sins, for which they knew they were deservedly and justly humbled.

2. Distinction must be made betwixt judgments. Some are for evidence, proof, and exercise of such graces as God hath endued men withal (1 Peter 1:7; James 1:3, cf. § 49). Others are for punishments of sin: and they either to bring a sinner to repentance (2 Chron. 33:12), or to make him an example of just vengeance (Jude 7). The judgments which befell Job were of the first kind. The judgement intended in the point in hand are of the latter kind.

Why judgments follow sin.

The direct contrariety that is betwixt sin and God’s purity, on the one side: and God’s holy jealousy, and perfect hatred of sin, his impartial justice, his truth in executing what he threateneth, his care to keep others from being infected, his wisdom in stopping the mouth of such as are punished, and the many ill consequences that might follow upon sin’s impunity, on the other side: as they hold judgments from such as by their impenitency pull them not upon their own pates [heads], so they hasten judgments on notorious sinners.

§. 4. Of the sins that cause judgement.

Search out cause of judgement.

1. The charge which God gave to Joshua (when he and the men of Israel with him fled before the men of Ai) to search out and take away from among them the accursed thing [Joshua 7:13], affordeth a direction very pertinent to the point in hand: which is, when we see any judgment hanging over our heads, or feel it fallen upon us, to search narrowly and thoroughly after the cause of that judgement. Nothing doth usually so bring men’s sins to mind and memory, as judgments. Instance the example of Joseph’s brethren, “And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.” (Gen. 42:21). The Prophet therefore that penned the Lamentations, upon the grievous judgments that had fallen upon the Israelites, giveth this advice. “Let us search and try our ways” (Lam 3:40). Upon a like occasion, which was a manifestation of God’s displeasure by visible judgments, the Apostle giveth this advice, “Let a man examine himself” (1 Cor. 11:31).

What sins especially to be thought causes of judgement.

If the judgments be public, it will be useful in our search to proceed after this manner:

1. Observe what are the most common and public sins of that place or people where the fire of God’s wrath appeareth. These were the sins which God himself did as it were with the finger thus point out to his Prophet, Seest thou not what they do in the Cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem?

2. Mark how far such sins are winked at, and tolerated by Magistrates and Ministers. For this provoketh God to take the sword into his own hands; whence proceed public and fearful judgments. Instance Eli’s case.

3. Consider how far the contagion of those public sins spreadeth it self. For when the infection of a sin is diffused all abroad, far and near, the Lord is forced to send some public judgement, thereby, as it were with a fire to purge the air. All Israel have transgressed (saith Daniel) therefore the curse is poured upon us.

4. See how far they that profess Religion do yield to the corruption of the times. For these by their sins much incense God’s wrath, because they especially cause the name of God to be blasphemed. Witness David. The commixtion of sons of God with daughters of men caused the Deluge.

5. Especially let every one examine himself, and search out his own sins: and take due notice how far he hath followed the sway of the times, and yielded to the iniquity thereof. Every one ought most to suspect himself: and to fear lest his sins among and above others, have incensed the fire of God’s wrath. Every one (if he take due and thorough notice of himself) may know more evil of himself, than he can justly suspect of others. For men know their own inward parts: their very thoughts and imaginations: in which respect though others commit more outward gross enormities than themselves, yet they are privy to such a sea of corruptions in themselves, that they have every one cause to say, “Of sinners I am the chief.

§. 5. Of the courses to be taken when sin is found out.

2. Since the cause of judgement being by such searching found out, we may not suffer them to remain, and continue to inflame God’s wrath. But as we desire to have that fire go out, so we must pull away this fuel. So long as fire hath fuel to work on, it will not go out, but rather be more and more hot.

How God’s wrath may be slaked.

Now, fuel is pulled away from God’s wrath,

1. When the soul is pricked, and pierced with sin—when godly sorrow is wrought in the heart. Such a sorrow as was wrought in the Corinthians (2 Cor. 7:9).

2. When upon that touch of heart, true confession of sin is made to God. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us our sins.” (1 John 1:9). Nathan on this ground pronounced pardon to David (2 Sam 12:13).

3. When upon such confession the mind is otherwise disposed than it was before—loathing the sins which before it loved. As she that made a towel of her hair, which had before been laid out to proclaim her lust (Luke 7:38).

4. When that loathing works a true and resolved purpose never to return to those sins again. As he that said, “I will take heed unto my ways” (Psal. 39:1).

5. When this purpose for the more sure performing of it, is ratified by solemn promise, vow and covenant. Hereof we have a worthy pattern of the Jews in Nehemiah’s time (Neh. 9:38).

6. When faithful endeavour is answerable to such purposes, promises, vows and covenants: as he that said, “Thy vows are upon me, O Lord: I will render praises unto thee” (Psal. 56:12). As the bond of a creditor to whom a man that means honestly is bound, so lies on the debtor, that he is not quiet till it be discharged, so was the vow which he had made to God, upon him.

7. When above all, remission and reconciliation is heartily sought of God, and stedfastly believed. This is principally intended by the atonement hereafter to be spoken of.

§. 6. Of the cases wherein we must seek to slake God’s wrath.

The foresaid course for averting judgement is to be taken,

1. When the fire of God’s wrath flameth about our ears, and hath consumed many before our eyes, as the Plague did in David’s time (2 Sam. 24:15).

2. When there is but a smoke which sheweth that fire is kindled though it flame not forth: as when Moses heard God say, “Let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, &c.” (Ex. 32:10). Threatenings of judgment are to God’s wrath, as smoke is to fire. Such smoke made the Ninevites repent (Jonah 3:5).

3. When we observe causes that may kindle and inflame Gods wrath to abound, as all manner of notorious sins. They were the sins of the people which made Christ weep over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). By them he gathered that heavy vengeance must needs fall upon her.

4. Though we apparently see no flame, nor smoke, nor notorious cause: yet when we have just cause to suspect and fear all, or any of these. Thus it is noted of Job, that “when the days of his children’s feasting were gone about, he sent and sanctified them, &c. For Job said, it may be that my sons have sinned, &c.” (Job 1:5). Because he suspected that they might have provoked God’s wrath, he used means to pacify the same.

§. 7. Of putting away sin for removing judgment.

The fore-mentioned point concerning the removing of God’s judgments doth now in particular, and after an especial manner concern us, who are even in the flame of the fire of God’s wrath. [3] And thereupon assembled together by fasting and prayer after a more than ordinary manner to seek grace and favour of God. That so this day of humiliation may prove a day of reconciliation. For this end we are this day to enter into a solemn covenant with God: and as we desire to have this hot fire of the Plague extinguished or at least slaked, so to remove the causes which have kindled the same, so far as we can find them out.

When the Jews after the captivity on a day of fast entered into a new covenant with God (Ezra 10:3; Neh. 9:2), they put away their strange wives and children, because in taking them they sinned, and to hold them had been to continue in sin. In like manner, though we be wedded to our sins as to wives, and our sins be as dear as wives and children can be, yet must they be put away: else nor our persons, nor our prayers, nor any services that we perform, can be acceptable to God. Sins retained are as that bitterness which was on the waters in Marah (Ex. 15:23), which made them that they could not be drunken: and as that heaviness on the axe head which made it sink in the water (2 Kings 6:5): and as that thick cloud, whereof the Prophet thus saith, “our prayer cannot pass through it” (Lam. 3:44). Yea as those wild gourds which brought death into the pot (2 Kings 4:39). But faith and repentance are as the tree which was cast into the waters and made them sweet: as the stick which being cast into the water made the iron swim: as the wind which driveth away a thick cloud; and as the meal which made the pottage wholesome. Wherefore as we desire to have our persons, prayers, and other services acceptable to God, and the fierceness of this pestilence to assuage, yea this and other judgments to be removed, let us take away the cause of all: let us put away our sins. The cause being taken away, the effect will quickly follow.

§. 8. Of Gods foretelling judgments.

II. God foretells what he intends against sinners. This he did by preparing an Ark before the Flood came (Gen. 6:14): by sending Lot into Sodom before it was consumed (Gen. 19:1): by sending Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh before his land was plagued (Ex. 5:1): and by raising up Prophets, and sending them time after time to the Israelites (2 Chron. 36:15).

This God doth to draw men, if it be possible, to repen­tance: as Hezekiah and his people (Jer. 26:18-19); and the King of Niniveh with his people, were wrought upon by this means, and judgement prevented (Jonah 3:5): or else to make men the more inexcusable, and to justify God’s severity against men; and to give evidence that the judgments which fall on men come not by chance, but from God.

1. God’s patience.

1. Hereby have we evidence of God’s long-suffering. He thinks not of wrath till he be exceedingly provoked. Therefore he is said to be “slow to anger” (Jonah 4:2). And when he is provoked to take vengeance, he threatens before he strikes. For “he doth not afflict willingly” (Lam. 3:33). He says it, and swears it, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek. 33:11). And well we may believe him that he is so slow to take vengeance: for vengeance is to him “his strange work, his strange act” (Isa. 28:21)—a work and act whereunto he is in a manner forced—which he would not do, if otherwise he could maintain his ho­nour. They therefore on whom judgment falleth, have cause to confess unto God, and say, “O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces: for we have not hearkened, &c.” (Dan 9:7).

2. Hardness of man’s heart.

2. This manner of God’s proceeding with sinners gives demonstration of the hard and impenitent heart of man, that will not be brought to yield. Fitly is such an heart styled “an heart of stone” (Ezek. 11:19). For a stone may be broken to pieces, yea beaten to powder, but never will it be made soft: so such men’s hearts may be confounded with Gods judgments, but will never be mollified nor made pliable to his will. If threatenings—or predictions of judgments—could work on such, God would never work his strange work. Judgments are foretold to come, that people repenting, judgments might not come, which yet will come as they are foretold if people continue in sin. Read and consider Jeremiah 26:18-19.

§. 9. Of Gods making known his mind to his Ministers.

III. God reveals his mind to his ministers. So he did to Noah (Gen. 6:13), Abraham (Gen. 18:17), Moses (Ex. 3:8), and other his Prophets. To omit other particulars, in this case it is thus indefinitely said, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret to his servants the Prophets.” (Amos 3:7).

Not for their own sakes only doth God manifest his purpose to his ministers, but that they may declare to others what is made known to them. On this ground saith the Lord to his Prophet, “Hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me” (Ezek. 3:17). Now by this means of manifesting his mind, the ministry of man, God sheweth his providence and prudence.

God’s providence and prudence in man’s ministry.

1. His Providence, in ordaining such a means as is fittest for man’s infirmity. For man can best endure man to speak unto him, and to declare what is meet for him to know. When God himself delivered his ten Oracles to the people, they were so affrighted, as they said unto Moses, “speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (Ex. 20:19). Yea when Zachariah, an ancient Priest, saw an angel that brought unto him a gladsome message, “he was troubled and fear fell upon him” (Luke 1:12).

2. His Prudence, in ordaining so mean a means as will make trial of man’s respect to God. Whether he will give credence and yield obedience to God’s Word, because it is God’s Word, for the Lord’s sake, rather than for the messenger’s sake. For this are the Thessalonians commended, “because when they received the word of God which they heard of men, they received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God” (1 Thes. 2:13).

Respect to be shewed to God’s ministers as to God.

O let us in like manner testify our acknowledgement of God’s providence and prudence, in receiving, as from God that which by his ministers is delivered unto us. Thus shall we testify such respect to God, as will make him to give evidence of his good respect to us.

§. 10. Of the grounds that Ministers now have to foretell judgments.

Obj. Ministers have not now such certain knowledge of God’s mind, as of old the Prophets and Apostles had, to whom God did immediately and infallibly make known his mind.

Answ. We have “a more sure word,” namely “the holy Scriptures,” which are “given by inspiration of God” (2 Pet. 1:19; 2 Tim. 3:16). These shew what sins do most offend God, and what do soonest pull down vengeance from God, upon the committers of them. So as when ministers see such sins impudently and impenitently committed, they may well infer that God purpo­seth to send some judgement to such a people. To this purpose is it that the Apostle reckoneth up sundry sins that the Israelites committed in the wilderness, and judgments that followed thereupon, that we should not sin as they did, and “fall after the same ensample of unbelief” or disobedience (1 Cor. 10:6; Heb. 4:11).

On this ground many ministers well noting the sins of these times, did foretell that God would bring on this city a Plague or some other judgement. And in the beginning of the year many did particularly foretell the Plague itself. Their threatening was little regarded. Little or no amendment followed thereupon—now therefore is the Plague among us.

Now that the Plague is begun, let us (my brethren) be admonished to repent: and as a fast is proclaimed [4], so let us keep it after a right manner, humiliation of soul, and contrition of spirit: renting our hearts, turning to the Lord: fasting from sin as well as from food. Prepare to meet thy God O England. This beginning of the Plague is a real demonstration of a greater Plague yet to come. If by more than ordinary humiliation and conversion God’s wrath be not pacified, this Plague is like to be greater than ever was before in our own, or our fathers’ days; even such an one as shall make this city empty: and make the ears of such as hear of it to tingle again. “The Lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8).
. . .

§. 49. Of afflictions as effects of wrath or love.

Quest. Are not diseases, and other kinds of judgments sometimes sent for trial, and for other like ends, which are demonstrations of the wisdom, love, and care of God towards his people, as well as in wrath and vengeance to destroy them.

Answ. We must distinguish,

1. Betwixt particular or private afflictions, and general or public.
2. Betwixt kinds of public and general afflictions.
3. Betwixt the persons on whom calamities are brought, being of different dispositions though they be mixed together in the same place for cohabitation.
4. Betwixt the cause of a judgement, and the effect and fruit of it.

1. Particular and private afflictions are oft in love—by reason of God’s wise and tender care over his children—inflicted on them. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” (Heb. 12:6). And God chasteneth us for our profit. (Heb. 12:10). [5] But we read not of any public and general judgment, which came not from the wrath of God. Many instances of the affirmative, that they were effects of wrath, were given before: and the Scripture affordeth many more: but not one to the contrary.

2. There are common calamities that fall on all of all sorts: and there are other more special, that are intended only against professors of the true Religion: as persecutions made by enemies of the Gospel. These may be for trial, to their honour that suffer (1 Pet. 4:12-13). But a plague is not of that kind.

3. When public and general judgments come from wrath against sinful nations, cities, and other societies, there may be some righteous ones mixed among those wicked ones. And by reason of that mixture they may taste of the bitterness of that cup that is given to the wicked to drink. Yet the Lord can so sanctify that common judgement to the Saints that partake thereof, as that which is an effect of wrath to others, may be a fruit of God’s love to them. Thus a plague may be sent in wrath against a society, and yet therein God’s love be manifested to his Saints, either in preserving them from it, or taking them by it to heaven. In relation to such persons we may truly say that whether God send famine, or war, or any other trouble, he doth it of his goodness and love.

4. A judgement may at first be in wrath inflicted: and yet upon the sense of the smart thereof people may be so humbled, and brought to such repentance, as the nature of that judgement be altered, and prove to be an evidence of God’s love. Yea such reformation may be wrought thereby, as that calamity (though general and extraordinary) prove very profitable, and an evidence of God’s fatherly care over such a people whom he hath so purged. Instance that fearful judgement that was laid on Israel in Manasseh’s time (2 Chro. 33:11 ff). This latter fruit of God’s love maketh not against the former evidence of his wrath. For on such occasions God is said to repent him of the evil which he hath sent. He was angry: but his anger is turned into favour.

The conclusion then remaineth true, that a plague (as first sent to a people) is an evidence of God’s wrath.

[1] See the Churches Conquest on Ex. 17:15. §. 72.

[2] See the Churches Conquest on Ex. 17:9. §. 9.

[3] The second of July 1625 was the first day appointed for a public fast when there died in that week 405 of the Plague.

[4] A public fast was proclaimed to be kept weekly every Wednesday while the Plague continued.

[5]  See the profitable ends of afflictions in The Whole Armor of God, on Eph. 6:11. §. 2. & Eph. 6:15. §. 13.


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