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LUKE x. 20.
Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject
to you ; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.
Right Honourable, Worshipful, and Beloved Auditors,
If any of you shall say, upon the hearing of my text, that I have chosen a subject unsuitable to the occasion, and that a “ rejoice not” is out of season on a day of such rejoicing, they may, I hope, be well satisfied by that time they have considered the reason of these words, as used by Christ to his disciples, and the greater joy that is here commanded, and so the reason of my choice.
When Christ had sent forth his seveuty disciples to preach the gospel through the cities of Judea, and to confirm it by miraculous cures, for which he endued them with power from
, above, upon their return they triumph especially in this, that “ the devils themselves were subject to them through the name of Christ.” (Ver. 17.) A mercy which Christ is so far from extenuating that, 1. He sets it forth more fully than they, (ver. 18,)“I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” 2. He promised them yet more of it, “ giving them power to tread on serpents, and on scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and that nothing should by any means hurt them.” 3. He rejoiceth in spirit, and thankfully acknowledged it to the father himself, (Ver. 21.) And yet he seems here to forbid them to rejoice in it, commanding them another joy. What! was it not a mercy to be rejoiced in? Or is there any contradiction in the words of Christ? Neither: he doth not absolutely forbid them to rejoice in it; but he saw that their corruption took an advantage by it, to puff them up with pride and vain glory, and that they savoured it too carnally, and were much taken with it, as it was a visible triumph and honour to themselves the instruments, and too much overlooked the end and use of it. Christ
therefore aggravateth the mercy in its proper notion, as it was to the honouring of the father and himself, and the advancement of his kingdom, and the saving of men's souls, by the confirmation of the gospel, and the fall of Satan. But the shell or grosser substance of the mercy applied to a wrong end, and by corruption made another thing, being deprived of its proper soul, this Christ admonisheth them to keep out of their estimation and affection. He meeteth his returning messengers rejoicing too much in themselves: and this proud, inordinate, selfish joy is it that he would take from them by his caution or prohibition, “ In this rejoice not.” But that they may see that he doth not envy them their comforts, he showeth them cause of a greater joy, which he alloweth and commandeth them, as more suitable to his ends and their felicity : But rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
For better understanding of this you may observe; 1. What matter of joy the subjection of the devils might afford them. 2. What manner of joy they were affected with, which Christ forbad them. 3. What manner of joy it is that Christ alloweth them, when he seemeth to restrain it wholly to their heavenly interest.
I. No doubt, to have the devils subject to them wats a great mercy, in which they might rejoice. For, 1. It was the gift of Christ : and all is perfumed that hath touched his hand. Nothing but good can come from him that is so good, by wi ay of gift.
2. It was a gift foretold by the prophets, as reserved for the gospel time, that is eminently called the kingdom of God: and an extraordinary gift in respect to the precedent and subsequent generations. It was no usual thing for men to exercise such authority over the very devils, as to command them to come forth, and to heal the bodies that they had long afflicted.
3. It was a victory over the strongest enemy, that can make more effectual resistance than the most numerous armies of poor mortals, and would laugh at your horse and arms, your fire and sword, your greatest cannons : and cannot be expugned but by the power of the Almighty. A stronger than he must come upon him, and bind him, and cast him out of his possession, before he will surrender the garrison, goods, and prisoners, which he hath held in peace, (Luke xi. 31, 22.)
4. It was a victory over the most subtle enemy, that is not conquerable by any stratagems of human wit.
5. It was a victory over the most malicious enemy, that sought more than the subversion of men's temporal peace, and by afflicting the body intended the hurting of the soul.
6. It was a conquest of him that had long possession, and one way or other kept in bondage the prisoners that justice had subjected to his rage.
7. It was a victory exceeding honourable to Christ, whose very messengers, by his name alone, could make the powers of hell submit. He that refused to be made a king, as having not a kingdom of this world, (John xviii. 36,) and that had not a place to lay his head on; (Matt. viii. 22 ;) commanded him that had presumed to tempt him with all the kingdoms and the glory of the world! (Matt. iv, 8, 9;) and that not only by the bare word of his mouth, but by the word of his meanest, most despised messengers; which made the people stand amazed, saying, what manner of man is this?
8. It was a victory tending to the successes of the gospel, to convince the unbelieving world, and so to enlarge the kingdom of Christ, and to save the people's souls.
9. And also from so great a work it was no small honour that accrued to the instruments: an honour which, in its proper place, they might lawfully regard.
10. And all this was aggravated by the congruency of the mercy to the low, despised condition of the instruments, (and of Christ himself,) when they were destitute of all common advantages and means, for the carrying on of so great and necessary a work, surpassing all the strength of flesh: how seasonable was it that the Omnipotency of heaven should then appear for them, and thus engage itself for their success. So that in all this you may easily see that here was abundant matter for a rational, warrantable joy to the disciples.
II. But where then was their fault? And what was that joy which Christ forbad them? Answer. Having already told you in general, I shall tell you more particularly. 1. They looked too much at the matter of dominion over the subjected and ejected devils and relished most delightfully the external part. As the Jews looked for a Messiah that should come in grandeur, and bring the nations under his dominion ; so the disciples that had yet too much of these conceits began to be lifted up with the expectation of some earthly glory, when they saw the powers of hell submit, and Christ thus begin with the manifestation of his omnipotency. But the great end of these miracles they too much overlooked : they too much left out of the rejoicings the appearances of God, the advantages of faith, the promotion of the spiritual kingdom of Christ, and the greater mercies of the gospel, as to themselves and others.
2. They took too great a share of the honour to themselves, being more affected to see what great things they were made the instruments to accomplish, than what honour did thereby accrue to God and benefit to man; and thus, while they arrogate too much to themselves, and withal too much overlook those higher, greater mercies, to which all their miracles were but means, they deservedly fall under Christ's reproof; and he is employed in the cure of their diseased joys, by amputation of the superfluities, and rectifying the irregularities, and supplying the defects, lest Satan should take possession of their souls, by carnality, selfishness, and pride, when they thought they had conquered him, by dispossessing him of men's bodies.
III. By this you may understand what joy it is that Christ alloweth and commandeth them.
1. As to themselves, to kill their pride, and to increase their kindly joy and thankfulness, and to advance their estimation of the riches of the gospel, and rectify their judgment of the work and kingdom of their Lord, he calls them to mind that higher mercy, which is worthy of their greatest joy. An interest in heaven is another kind of mercy than healing the sick, or casting out devils here on earth.
2. In reference to his honour, he would have them first look at the greatest of his gifts, and not forget the glory which he finally intends them, while they are taken up with these wonders in the way; for his greatest honour ariseth from his greatest mercies.
3. As to the degrees of their rejoicing, he would not have them give the greater share to the lesser merey, but to rejoice so much more in their heavenly interest, as that all other joy should be as none in comparison of it: so that this “Rejoice not in this," &c. is as much as if he had said, 'Let your rejoieing in this power over the devils be as nothing in comparison of your rejoicing that your names are written in heaven.' Just as he forbiddeth care and labour for these earthly things, when he saith, “ Care not what ye shall eat,” &c.; (Matt. vi. 25;) “Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you.' (John vi. 27.) Our care and labour for earthly things must be nothing, in comparison of the care and labour we are at for hea
ven: and so our joy, in the greatest of these outward mercies, should be as nothing, in comparison of our joy in higher things.
4. As to the nature and order of the thing, he alloweth them no joy in this, or any temporal or created thing whatsoever, but as it proceedeth from God, and tendeth to him as our ultimate end. We must not rejoice in our victories over Satan, or any other enemy, for itself, and as our end, but as it is a means to the glory of God and men's salvation. In all which, it is evident that Christ doth but regulate and advance their joy, and calleth them first to rejoice in that which is their end and all, and animateth all their lower mercies; he then alloweth and requireth them to rejoice, even in this, which he seemed to forbid them to rejoice in, viz., that the devils were subject to them, so they do it in due subordination to its end.
The only difficulty in the preceptive part of the text is, what is meant here by the “Writing of their names in heaven.” In a word, the meaning is, that they are "fellow citizens of the saints, and of the household of God;" and having a room among the saints on earth, have a title to the celestial glory. As in some well-ordered cities there were rolls kept of the names of all the citizens, or freemen, as distinct from all the inferior, more servile, sort of subjects ; and as muster-rolls are kept of the listed soldiers of the army, so all that are saints are enrolled citizens of heaven, that is, are the heirs of the heavenly felicity.
We are decreed to this state before the foundations of the world; we are redeemed to it by the death of Christ; but we are not actually entered into it till we are sanctified by the Holy Ghost, and heartily engaged to God the Father, Son, and Spirit, in the holy covenant.
The doctrine of the text is contained in this proposition To have our names written in heaven is the greatest mercy, and first, and chiefly, and only for itself to be rejoiced in ; which so puts the estimate on all inferior mercies, that further than they refer to this they are not to be the matter of our joy.
Though we had seen the devils subjected to our ministration, departing from the possessed when we command them in the name of Christ, and the bodies of the afflicted miraculously relieved; yet all this were not, comparatively, to be rejoiced in, not as separated from our title to the heavenly glory.
When I have, first, given you the reasons of the prohibition -“Rejoice not in this," and then of the command—“But ra