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Upon a Rock
It is the saying of the moralists, that accidents which befall men have a double handle by which they may be apprehended. So as they be rightly taken they become less burdensome and unpleasant, and also of use and advantage to those that sustain them (like bitter herbs that are by the skill of the physician turned into wholesome medicine).
The same may be said of this present subject, that it hath a double aspect under which it may be represented to our consideration, each of which will suggest thoughts far differing from one another, and yet both have their rise from Scripture.
Does not God bid us look uno the rock from when we are hennaed to the pit whence we are digged? [Isaiah 51:1] And then what can it hold out to our view but the misery of our natural condition, our deadness, deformity, barrenness, and intractableness to any good? Is it not the complaint of the best that there are hearts are stony & rocky, and that they are apt to stand it out with God and not to yield to the work of his grace? Is there any evil that in their account is more insuperable than a flinty heart?
When Moses, who had faith to work many miracles, most distrust but when he was to make the Rock to yield water? [Numbers 20:11] And yet is it not the promise of God to take away the stony heart and to give a heart of flesh? [Ezekiel 11:19] And is it not that which I beg, that God would mollify both my natural and acquired hardness and preserve me from judicial hardness; that so I may not resist Pharaoh-like his [God’s] messages, his miracles, his judgments, and his mercies, and worse instead of better.
I would that God might be a Rock to me; but I would be as wax to unto him, that so I might be apt to receive divine impressions from him. It is my sin to be as a rock to God, inflexible and sooner broken than bent. But is my unspeakable comfort to think that God will be a Rock to me, who stand in continual need of his aide and power, to uphold me, who, if it I be not built upon him, cannot subsist. And, if I be not hid in him can have no salvation.
I cannot therefore but give some scope and line to my thoughts, that I amy the better take the honey and sweetness that drop form this metaphorical name of God, who is often styled in Scripture, the Rock of Israel, the Rock of Ages, the Rock of Salvation. But here I must use the help of the schools, who rightly inform us, that we anything of the creature is applied to God, it must be via remotions, by way of remotion; and via eminentiae, by way of transcendent eminency.
First, by way of remotion: All defects and blemishes whatsoever are not in the least to be attributed unto him who is absolutely perfect. As heralds say of bearings, the resemblance must be taken from the best of their properties, not the worst. Is a rock deformed and of unequal parts? God if the first of beauties, as well as of being, and all his attributed are equally infinite. His justice is as of large an extent as his mercy; and his wisdom as his power. Is a Rock insensible of the straits of those that fly unto to it for succor? So is not God, who is both a Rock and Father of Mercies: who can read the expression of his tenderness and note be affected?
How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?
how shall I deliver thee, Israel?
how shall I make thee as Admah?
how shall I set thee as Zeboim?
mine heart is turned within me,
my repentings are kindled together. [Hosea 11:8]
Is the strength of a Rock intransigent, and fixed in itself, not communicating its virtue to what lies upon it? So is not the strength of Israel [God], who is a living and not a dead rock; and gives both life and power to those that united to him.
I can do all things (as Paul says) through Christ strengthening me. [Philippians 4:13]
Is a rock barren and can yield no food, though it afford shelter? So is not God who is a full storehouse as well as a free refuge; a sun as well as a shield.
Secondly, by way of eminency: all perfections whatsoever, either for degree or kind, which put a worth or value upon the creature are to be found infinitely more in God. Is a Rock strong, and dashing to pieces all resistance made against it? God is incomparably more: He (as Job says) is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered? [Job 9:4].
Is a rock durable, and not subject to change by the many revolutions of Ages that pass over it? God is far more immutable, his years are throughout all generations: he is the same yesterday, and today and forever: In the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength. [Isaiah 26:4]
Is the shadow of a great rock desirable in a weary land, to bear off the scorching of the sun and to revive the fainting traveller? What a covert and hiding place then is God against all storms and heats whatsoever, raised either by the rage of men or by the estuation [agitation] of a troubled conscience, and fomented by the malice of Satan?
Is a rock of an awful aspect for its height and apt to work upon the heard of them that looks down from the top of it? How great then is God whose glory is above the heavens? Whose faithfulness reaches unto the clouds, whose righteousness is like the great mountains, and whose judgments are a great deep?
And now methinks I may say to my soul, as David did unto who, Why art thou downcast O my soul? And why are thou disquieted within me? [Ps. 43:5]
Cannot God keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on him? Is not he a very present help in times of trouble? What evil can befall me, under which his everlasting arms cannot support me? What sea of trials can overwhelm me when God shall set me upon a rock that is higher than I? As I myself cannot climb it, so neither can my enemies’ power ever reach it.
A believer can only be wounded by his own fears; as the diamond is only cut by its own dust. Peter sunk not till his faith failed him: if his confidence had risen as the wind and billows did blow, he would have greatly honored his Lord, as his Rock, upon whom he was built, and have been highly commended by him as he was for the good confession he made of him.
But, O blessed Savior,
If Peter cry out, Save Master I perish!
How much more shall I, who fall far short of his little faith?
And am apt to fear, not only in the deeps seas, but in the shallow brooks:
Not only when the waves roar, but when the petty streams murmur?
Do thou therefore, holy Lord,
Teach me to know what a Rock thou art
And cause all thy glory to pass before me
As thou didst before Moses
That so I may see every attribute of thine
As so many clefts in the Rock
To which I may run in time of danger
And rejoice to find how I am compassed about,
With thy power, wisdom, faithfulness, goodness,
From when more sure comfort will arise,
Than if a numerous host of angels should pitch their tents round about me.