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The Right Manner of Worship and Drawing Nigh Unto God
By Jeremiah Burroughs
"Then Moses said unto Aaron, It is what the Lord spake saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace" Leviticus 10:3
These words are the speech of Moses to Aaron, his brother, endeavoring to quiet and comfort his heart, which was (no question) exceedingly troubled by that great and sore affliction that was upon him in the strange death of his two sons, Nadab and Abihu. The story is this: after Aaron's sons were consecrated to the priestly office, coming to attend their office the very first day after their consecration to offer incense to God, they ventured to offer incense with strange fire, with other fire than God had appointed.
Upon that, the fire of God's wrath broke out upon them and slew them both presently in that very sanctuary before all the people. It was a solemn time, being the beginning of the solemn consecration of the priesthood. Upon this, the spirit of Aaron could not but be exceedingly troubled to see his two sons thus struck. Now Moses comes to him and says, "This is what the Lord spoke, 7 will be sanctified in them that draw nigh Me, and before all the people I will be glorified'" And upon this, Aaron held his peace.
We read that once fire came down from heaven in a way of mercy to consume the sacrifices, but now fire comes down from heaven in a way of judgment to consume the sacrificers, Nadab and Abihu. They were Aaron's sons, the sons of a godly man, the sons of the High-Priest. They were his eldest sons, for Aaron had other sons besides Nadab and Abihu. He also had Eleazer and Ithamar, but these were his eldest sons. They were two young men. They were struck in the very prime of their age. They were two that were newly consecrated in the priests office, for so you find in the 9th chapter. They were two men of renown in the country and before all the people of Israel, two men that God had greatly honored theretofore, as you shall find in the beginning of the 24th chapter of Exodus.
This Nadab and Abihu were men of great reputation and great renown whom God honored in former times. When God called Moses and Aaron to come up to Him with the elders, He singled out Nadab and Abihu among the rest and named them. He said, "Come up unto the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and 70 of the elders of Israel." Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu alone are named, and then 70 of the elders in general, but Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, as if these were the four eminent men of renown among all the people of Israel. He named none of the 70 elders but these two, besides Moses and Aaron. Therefore, these two that were consumed by strange fire were renowned men and newly consecrated into their office.
What was their sin?
Their sin was offering strange fire, for the text says that they offered strange fire which God had not commanded them. But had God ever forbidden it? Where do we find that God had ever forbidden them to offer strange fire or appointed that they should offer only one kind of fire? There is no text of Scripture that you can find from the beginning of Genesis to this place where God had said in so many words expressly, "You shall offer no fire but one kind of fire." And yet here they are consumed by fire from God for offering strange fire.
I find in Exodus 30:9 that they were forbidden to offer strange incense, but I do not find that they were forbidden to offer strange fire. In Lev.6:13, and divers verses in that chapter, we find that God had appointed that they should constantly keep the fire on the altar burning and never let it go out. It seems that it was God's intention that they should make use of that fire and that fire only. God would have them to pick out His meaning. God sent fire down from heaven upon the altar.
In the latter end of the 9th chapter, God sent down fire from heaven and gave them a charge to keep that fire on the altar constantly and never to let it go out. So that it seems that God would have them to pick out His meaning that because He had sent down fire from heaven upon the altar and gave them power to keep it constantly, God would have them understand, therefore, that what incense or sacrifice He would have the use of should be only that fire and no other. It should be noted, though, that God never did say to them directly in these words, "You shall make use of this fire and no other," but God would have them to understand this. That's their sin, therefore, in offering strange fire.
Now fire comes from the Lord and consumes them. Some think this fire came from the altar, but surely it could not be any ordinary fire that consumed Nadab and Abihu at this time, for you shall find in the next verse that the bodies of Nadab and Abihu were not consumed by the fire. No, not their clothes, either. They were killed by the fire, and yet their clothes were whole. Therefore it was not an ordinary fire. It was some celestial fire that struck them and slayed them, for so the text says in verse 4, "Come near, carry away our brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp, and so they went and carried them in their coats out of the camp." So that their clothes and bodies were not consumed, only they were killed by the fire. They were struck with a sudden death, and that in the presence of the Lord, such a death as God had never threatened in the Word before.
God had never threatened the priests and said, "If you offer strange fire, you shall be consumed by fire," but yet God smites them with death by fire. They did not have time to seek God, no, not so much (as we used to say) as to say, "Lord, have mercy on me." They had no time to promise amendment at all.
Now upon this heavy judgment, the heart of Aaron could not possibly be anything but very troubled. Yea, and the spirit of Moses, too, for Moses was their uncle. They could not but be exceedingly grieved. But Moses, being the brother of Aaron, and seeing his spirit (no question) exceedingly troubled, being under such a sad affliction, and that such a godly man as Aaron was should have such a sad judgment befall his children, Moses comes and speaks comfortably to him and labors to support his spirit.
How does he do it? He did not come as you ordinarily used to visit your brethren, "Oh! You must be content with this!" No, but he comes and applies the Word of God, and shows how God must be sanctified. And by that, he comes to quiet the heart of his brother, Aaron. "This is that which the Lord has spoken, "Moses said. He seeks to stay the heart of his brother with that which God spoke.
But where do we find that God spoke this?
It's hard to find in any Scripture these words before this time, and therefore Augustine thinks it was only the word God had spoken, but not written. And so they had it from hand to hand by tradition as they did many other things, like the prophecy of Enoch that the Apostle Jude speaks of. You do not find it written in the Book of God, and yet the Apostle speaks of it, so that indeed it was from hand to hand. Yes, and we find it in the New Testament also. Paul speaks of a thing that Christ was to have said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." You do not find it recorded in the gospels that Christ said so.
So this is that which the Lord said, though it was not written from the beginning of Genesis to this very place. Otherwise, though it is not recorded in expressed terms, yet something is recorded to the same purpose and effect. And so it may seem to have a reference to that Scripture in Exodus 29:43. There we have a Scripture which comes as near to it as any I know of, "...there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by My glory." That's as much as saying, "/ will be sanctified by those that come near Me." In those that come to worship Me in My tabernacle, I will be sanctified in all things that concern My worship.
I will be sure to be sanctified there. "I will be sanctified." I will be hallowed. It is the very same word that you have in the Lord's Prayer, "Hallowed be Thy name," only that's the Greek word and this is the Hebrew. But if you would translate this word into Greek, you must translate it by the same word that Christ spoke when He taught His disciples to pray, "Hallowed be Thy name." Hallowed and sanctified are all one. "Lord, let They name appear to be holy."
"I will be sanctified," that is, I will have My name appear to be holy. I will be made known unto My people, and to all the world, that I am a holy God. That's the meaning of "I will be sanctified." I will be known to all the world as a holy God.
"And before all the people I will be glorified." So it is in the latter part of the verse. It is as if God should say, "I account it to be My glory that I should be manifested to be holy before all the world."
"I will be sanctified." That is, I will have My people to demean and carry themselves so as to hold forth their acknowledgment of My holiness so that by their carriage I may appear to be a holy God. I will be sanctified by them, or otherwise, if they shall not in an active way sanctify My name, that is, if they shall not demean themselves so as to hold forth the glory of My holiness, then I will be sanctified upon them. I will demean and carry Myself towards them so that by My actions upon them I will make it appear what a holy God I am.
So God is sanctified two ways. One is by the holiness of His people in their carriage towards Him, holding forth the glory of God's holiness. So you have it in 1 Pet. 3:15, "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts." The saints sanctify God in their hearts when they fear God as a holy God and reverence Him and love Him as a holy God. They sanctify Him in their lives when their lives hold forth the glory of God's holiness. Then God is sanctified.
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But then if we do not do so, God sanctifies Himself in ways of judgment upon those that do not sanctify His name in ways of holiness. Thus you have it in Ezek.28:22, "And say, thus saith the Lord God, Behold I am against thee, O Zidon, and I will be glorified in the midst of thee, and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall have executed judgment in her, and shall be sanctified in her." And this is all one with "I will be glorified in the midst of them." And in Ezek.38:16 and 23 you have verses to the same purpose, "And thou shall come up against My people of Israel, as a cloud to cover the land: it shall be in the latter days: and I will bring thee against My land, that the heathen may know Me, when I shall be sanctified in thee, O God, before their eyes, (v.16) Thus will I magnify Myself, and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord." (v-23) In the way of the execution of judgment, thus I will sanctify Myself, so I will be sanctified in those that draw nigh unto Me.
"In those that are nigh Me." Nigh ones, it may be read, that is, especially the priests that approached God, Ezek.42:13. They approach God especially, but it is meant generally of all those that shall have to deal in My worship. Whosoever shall come to Me, let them look to it. They must sanctify My name, they must so demean themselves in My worship as to hold forth My name to be holy. Otherwise, I will manifest Myself against them in the ways of judgment, for I will appear to be a holy God. I will have the glory of My holiness one way or another in those that come near Me.
It is as if God should say, "Though it's otherwise with men, they indeed will be ready to favor those that are near them. But I will not do so."
Men will sooner pass by the offenses of those that are near them than those that are not. Suppose that a stranger were to commit an offense. You would be severe towards him. But suppose that it were one of your own children or kinsmen, what would you do then? Do we not see that men will rather favor then-own kindred than strangers, though the offense is the same? "But I will not do so," says God.
Suppose it is one of your own family. Will you not be ready to excuse them? Suppose it were your own child that should commit such an offense. Oh! What friends would you make to take him off of punishment? Though men would do so towards their own, yet be bitter and severe towards strangers, yet it will not be so with God. "Let those that are near to Me look to it, I will be sanctified by them. I will be sanctified in those that draw near to Me."
Now upon this, when Moses said that God would be sanctified in those that draw near Him, it was as if he had said, "Aaron, though I confess the hand of God is heavy upon you this day, yet it is fit for you to submit to God. It is fit that God should be glorified whatever becomes of you. You are dear to God, but God's name is dearer to Him than you are. Whatever the lives of your sons were, yet it is fit that God should be honored and His name sanctified whatever becomes of your sons or your comforts, and, therefore, let your heart be quieted. You have had a great loss and affliction upon you, but God has had glory. God has glorified Himself.
"How has God glorified Himself? Very much by this way, for God by this way has done an act to make all the people of the land fear Him, to cause them to worship Him with all reverence. All the people of the land, seeing such a judgment as this and hearing of it, will learn forever to fear and reverence this God. They will say, 'How shall we appear before this holy God? We need to take heed in His presence and worship Him according to the way that He would be worshipped.'" It is as if Moses should say, "This honor that God has by this means in the hearts of His people, you should account it a greater good than the lives of your children, whatever they are." This is the scope of Moses' speech to Aaron.
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Now upon this the text says, "Aaron held his peace." He was silenced. It may be before that he was expressing himself in grief and sorrowing much in words, but now he was quiet and had nothing to say. He, by his silence, acknowledged that his children were dear to him, but it is fit that God should be glorified whatever becomes of his children. And therefore, Aaron held his peace.
But the word that is translated "holds his peace" has more in it than mere silence, for the Hebrews have another word to signify mere silence of speech. But this signifies a staying of the heart, that it does not proceed in any trouble of spirit, a silence in the very heart. It is a staying of it, a staying of the motions of the heart.
I find the same word to be used in Scripture when Joshua said to the sun, "Stand still, stay thyself on Gibeon," Joshua 10:12. It is the same word that is here translated, "And Aaron held his peace." That is, he was stayed from further vexing or troubling of himself, of being disquieted. Whereas his heart was in a strong, violent motion, now Moses' speech stopped him and gave a stop to his heart to make it stand still in a wonderful manner, as the sun did when Joshua spoke to it and it stood still. It is as if the Lord should have said to his heart, "Aaron, your heart is in a mighty strong motion, but consider that I must be sanctified in those that draw near Me, and let all those motions of your heart be stopped and quiet."
Thus now you see the meaning of the Scripture, and the scope of it. Now in this Scripture you have these three special and notable points:
1. That in worshipping God, there is a drawing nigh unto Him.
2. That when we do draw nigh to God, we should take our heed to ourselves that we sanctify God's name.
3. If we do not sanctify God's name in our drawing nigh to Him, then certainly God will sanctify His own name upon us.
These are the three points that I intend to handle, and especially the second to handle largely among you. I confess upon another occasion, in one sermon, I have spoken out of these words, but now I intend not only in general to show you how you should sanctify God's name in worship, but likewise in the particular acts of worship: as sanctifying His name in prayer, in receiving the Sacrament, in hearing the Word, in the several chief parts of worship how His name should be sanctified. In all these you draw nigh unto God. And for that end, I have pitched my thoughts upon this Scripture. But before I come to these three great points that are the principal points in the words read to you, I shall take up divers other notes of observation that lie up and down, as it were, scattered, that are of great use and will help us further to make use of this Scripture in the other points that I shall come to afterwards and handle more largely.
The first note is this: That in God's worship, there must be nothing tendered up to God but what He has commanded. Whatsoever we meddle with in the worship of God must be what we have a warrant for out of the Word of God.
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This speech of Moses' is upon the occasion of the judgment of God upon Aaron's sons for offering strange fire. They offered fire that God had not commanded. Hence I say that all things in God's worship must have a warrant out of God's Word. It must be commanded, it's not enough that it is not forbidden. I beseech you to observe it. It is not enough that a thing is not forbidden, and what hurt is there in it? But it must be commanded. I confess that in matters that are civil and natural this may be enough. If it is only according to the rules of prudence and not forbidden in the Word, we may make use of this in civil and natural things. But when we come to matters of religion and the worship of God, we must either have a command or something out of God's Word drawn from some command wherein God manifests His will, either by a direct command, or by comparing one thing with another, or drawing consequences plainly from the words.
We must have a warrant for the worship of God. One would have thought that these priests offering incense to the true God, what hurt was there in taking other fire? But there was no command for it, and therefore it was not accepted. It's true that there are some things in the worship of God that are natural and civil helps, and there we do not need to have a command. For instance, when we come to worship God the congregation meets. They must have a convenient place to keep the air and weather from them. Now this is only a natural help, and so far as I use the place of worship as a natural help, I need have no command. But if I will put anything in a place beyond what it has in its own nature, there I must look for a command, for if I account one place more holy than another, or think that God should accept worship in one place rather than another, this is to raise it above what it is in its own nature.
So when any creature is raised in a religious way above what it has in it by nature, if I do not have Scripture to warrant me, I am therein superstitious. It is a very useful rule to help you. If any creature that you make use of in a way of religion beyond what it has in its own nature, if you do not have some warrant from the Word of God (whatever specious show there may be in it) it is superstition.
There was a place that was holy, but then it had an institution from God. And so for garments, to use those that are decent, the light of reason is enough. But if I put anything upon them beyond what there is in them in their own nature, as heretofore in a surplice, what! Did that have any more decency in its own nature, or was it not only man' s institution? Now when a man shall put a religious respect upon a thing by virtue of his own institution, when he does not have a warrant from God, that is superstition! We must all be willing worshippers, not will-worshippers.
We must come freely to worship God, but we must not worship God according to our own wills. Therefore, whatever we do in the worship of God, if we do not have a warrant for it, when this is said, "Who required this at your hands?" it will stop our mouths another day.
In Matthew 15:39 we read, "In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men." In vain. It is a vain thing to worship God when there is nothing but a commandment of man for this worship. If you would worship God, you must have a commandment of God for the worship. And in Is.29:13, there is a place to the same purpose that shows how the Lord is offended with any man that shall teach His fear by their own precepts, "Wherefore the Lord said, forasmuch as this people draw near Me with their mouth, and their lips do honor Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear towards Me is taught by the precepts of men."
Mark it. Now if this is so, the Lord have mercy upon us in this thing. You have cause to be humbled, every one of you, I believe, in some degree of other; this congregation very much, and most other congregations that have had the fear of God taught them by the precepts of men.
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How many things have there been in the worship of God that you can show no warrant for in the Word? A great many things are merely men's inventions. However they are now cast out, because authority came and cast them out, and so you submitted to it. But that's not enough for you to submit to it because authority would have it so. You ought to be humbled before God for all your will-worship, for all your yieldings to anything in the worship of God that was taught by the precepts of men.
You see how severe God was to Nadab and Abihu for just taking other fire than that which God had appointed, though there was no direct command against it. If the Lord has spared you and not manifested any displeasure upon you, you have cause to acknowledge God's mercy, and to be humbled for all your false worship. Certainly God expects this land to be humbled for its will-worship, otherwise we sow among thorns. All the reformation that is among us is meaningless if there is not a humiliation before for all our false worship. It is not enough that we set up now the true worship of God, but we must be humbled for our false worship. And that's the first note, that in the worship of God there must be nothing but what God commands.
The second note is this: In the matters of worship, God stands upon little things.
Such things as seem to be very small and little to us, yet God stands much upon them in the matter of worship, for there is nothing wherein the prerogative of God more appears than in worship. Princes stand much upon their prerogatives. Now God has written the law of natural worship in our hearts. But there are other things in the worship of God that are not written in our hearts, that only depend upon the will of God revealed in His Word, which would not be duties except that they are revealed in His Word. And these are of such a nature as we can see no reason for them except this, that God would have them. As now, there are many kinds of ceremonies to manifest honor to princes that have no reason at all, but merely because it is a civil institution so appointed. So God would have some ways of honoring Himself that the creature should not see the reason for, but merely the will of God to have them so.
Now God stands much upon little things, though men would think it a little matter whether this fire or that fire, and will not this burn as well as that? But God stands upon it. And so for the ark. When Uzza did but touch the ark when it was ready to fall, we would think it no great matter, but one touch of the ark cost him his life. There is not any one small thing in the worship of God but God stands mightily upon it.
In the matter of the Sabbath, that's His worship. For a poor man to gather a few sticks, what great matter is it? But God stands upon it. And so when the men of Beth-shemesh did but look upon the ark, it cost the lives of fifty thousand threescore and ten men. If it is a matter of a holy thing that concerns His worship, He would not have it abused in anything. Let us learn to make conscience of little things in the worship of God and not to think, "Oh, how nice such are, and how precise and nice in such small things!" You do not understand the nature of Divine worship if so be that you are not nice about it. God is nice and stands upon little things in the matter of His worship.
The third note is this: That there are no privileges or dignities of men that can secure them from God's stroke.
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First Moses, the man of God, was their uncle. Aaron, that great instrument of God's glory, was their father. They were men that were newly consecrated to the priest's office. They were renowned, men that God put much glory upon, yet if they will venture to offend God in this little thing, God's wrath breaks out upon them and kills them presently. Let us take heed, then, of venturing, and do not think that any services that we have done heretofore can bear us out. If the greatest cannot be borne with all their privileges, how dare we poor worms venture upon the displeasure of God? You that are a worthless creature, of no use at all in the world, do you dare provoke this God, when the Lord is so angry with men that are of great use and service as to let out His wrath upon them suddenly?
If you should see a prince not spare his favorite or his nobles that are about him, but upon one offense (that we think is but a little offense) the prince's anger should be so much against them as to cost them their lives, what cause is there for poor people to tremble, then, when they have done that which may incur the anger of their prince? You see, all outward privileges and greatness will not excuse a man from the stroke of God's justice. It should not excuse from the stroke of man's justice. It's true that among men poor people go to it if they offend, but if great men offend, they escape. But it is not so with God, for Nadab and Abihu were great and renowned men.
The fourth note is this: That the more the dignity of men is, the more is their danger if they do not look to it. This note I gather from hence, that Nadab and Abihu were the two eldest sons of Aaron, and we find in the Scripture that Eleazer and Ithamar, the two other sons of Aaron, escaped and were not thus consumed. Why? Because the two elder sons had the dignity and privilege to come and offer the incense, and, having greater dignity than the younger but not being careful to behave themselves as they ought to do, the Lord smote them and the younger escaped.
And so, many times, those that are in a meaner condition escape while those that are in a higher condition are struck. Let men that are in a higher condition look to themselves, for their danger is greater. And you that are in a meaner condition, do not envy those that are in a higher, for you may be more safe in that mean condition which you are in than they are in theirs.
The fifth note is this: That the beginnings of things of high concernment sometimes meet with great difficulties and interruptions. This note I gather from hence, that Nadab and Abihu were struck at the very beginning of their priesthood. Now suppose there were a new public office erected in a commonwealth that concerned the public good of the kingdom, and in the very first erecting of the office, there falls out some hideous accident that rang throughout the whole kingdom, as if God from heaven had done something against them in that office.
Suppose that the first time the judges were to come to the bench, God struck them dead from heaven at the very bench. It would be a mighty matter to darken the glory and honor of that office. So one would think that it should have been a mighty matter to have darkened he glory and the honor the priesthood always. But God does not stand upon that. Many times the begin-lings of great things are darkened by sad accidents, and, therefore, let us not be offended though we see some sad accidents fall out at the beginnings of great things, for though accidents fall out sadly at first, yet God may prosper it afterwards as He did the priesthood.
The sixth note is this: That those who enter into public places, and especially such places as concern he worship of God, need to have the fear of God much upon them when they first enter into those places. Now this would be a very good point if I were o preach to an audience of ministers. You see that the Lord smote Nadab and Abihu for this little miscarriage as we would think) at their first consecration. And hat's a sixth note which especially concerns ministers, and therefore I will pass over it.
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The seventh note is this: that we have, and that is very useful for us all, is this: God would have us all to pick out His mind from dark expressions in His Word.
Though He does not express His will fully and in expressed terms, yet if there is anything in His Word thereby we may come to gather the mind of God, God expects that we should gather His mind out of His Word. If we do not, it's at our own peril.
You will say, "How could they have known that it was God's mind that they should not offer any fire but that on the altar?"
They should have reasoned thus with themselves, "Has God let fire come down from heaven upon the altar, and has He commanded that it should be preserved on the altar for His service? Surely this must be God's mind, then, that we should make use of this fire rather than any other fire."
God expects that they should have reasoned thus, but because they did not pick out God's mind by reasoning after this manner, therefore the hand of God came out upon them. They offended, and it may be that it was through ignorance, but it was at their peril. If they were ignorant of the mind of God when it might be known, though it was only darkly revealed and had to be picked out from several places compared together, it was at their peril.
It is a point that we have a great deal of need for, for this is the vain heart of man, that if there is anything that God would have that is not suitable to his own ends, he will stand wrangling against it and objecting against it. "How does it appear," he will say, "can you bring expressed Scripture for it? Bring me expressed Scripture in words to prove it and then I will believe it. And so he will stand out until you bring so many words of Scripture that forbids such a thing or commands such a duty.
Now brethren, if you are of the temper that you will directly expressed words of Scripture for, you may run at your own peril into woeful dangers, into woeful sins. Know that God has so revealed a great part of His mind as it is only to be known by gathering one thing from another. And God expects this from you, that, if upon examination of Scripture, one thing appears more likely to be His mind and will than another, you are bound to go that way which is more likely.
I have told you before that in matters of worship we must have warrant from the Word, but it does not follow that we must have a direct, expressed warrant in everything. As it is many times in some kind of picture, the great art is in the cast of the looks. You cannot say it's in the drawing of this line or the other line, but altogether. It is the cast of the looks that causes the beauty of the picture. So in the Scripture you cannot say that this one line or the other line proves it, but let them all be laid together and there will be a kind of aspect of God's mind. We may see that this is the mind of God rather than the other and we are bound to go that way.
Now so far Nadab and Abihu might have seen that they should rather have taken fire off the altar than any other fire, but they presumed because they did not have expressed Word. You can see that it was to their peril. Oh, take heed of standing out and wrangling against what is required because you do not have expressed words. The Lord has laid things so, and especially in the New Testament, for the ordering of the church in the New Testament. You do not have expressed commands for an abundance of things, but sometimes you have an example in some things, and not always a clear example, either. But compare one thing with another, and that which seems to be nearest the mind of God should be enough of a bond to tie us to go according to what the mind of God seems most probably to be in the Scripture. A humble heart will soon be convinced when another man is not.
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We find clearly that such things as are most suitable to men's own ends, a little matter will serve to persuade men to it, though one might argue against it. I could easily show it, but I do not think it is so convenient in the pulpit to meddle with such things as these are. Those things which are suitable to men's own ends and ways they will close with, but other things that cross the flesh, that are most opposed to looseness and would bring men most under the government of Christ, those things men stand out against. They must have clear and expressed words, expressed and clear warrant out of the Word in so many terms or otherwise, by no means, will they so much as yield to it. That's a point that, if God would but settle it upon our hearts, might be of very great use. A gracious heart will see the truth through a very little crevice. But it is marvelous to consider what a task it is to convince man of some part of God's will before he is humbled and how easy it is to convince a man after he is humbled.
The eighth note is this: That sinners may meet with some judgments of God that were never threatened in His Word.
God never threatened beforehand and said, "Whosoever offers strange fire, I will consume them with fire from heaven." But they meet with a judgment that was not threatened. Consider this. It may be when we come and speak out of the Word and show you plainly how God threatens such and such sins, you are afraid then. But know that if you venture upon ways of sin, you may meet with dreadful judgments executed that never yet were threatened. Besides all those judgments that are threatened in the Book of God, you may meet with judgments unheard of, unexpected. As God has mercies beyond what He has expressly revealed in His Word, "...for never was it heard since the beginning of the world what God has laid up for them that love Him," so God has judgments beyond what is in His Word.
Sometimes when the ministers of God open the threatenings that are in God's Word, you think that they are terrible, but know that God, in the treasury of His judgments, has more dreadful things than what have ever been revealed in His Word. Therefore, learn to tremble not only at what is revealed in God's Word against your sin, but tremble at what there is in that infinite justice, power, and wisdom of God to find out and execute upon sinners. For you who are sinners, and especially if you are bold and presumptuous sinners, you may expect to meet with whatever evil an infinite wisdom is able to devise and that an infinite power is able to bring upon you. You commit such and such a sin. Perhaps you do not know of any particular judgment that is threatened against it, but think thusly: "I who provoke God by my sins, what may I look for? It is more than I know to the contrary, but that whatsoever the infinite wisdom of God is able to find out, and whatever misery I am capable of, that the Lord may bring upon me." Consider this and take heed of sin.
The ninth note is this: That God is very quick with some in the ways of His judgment.
It may be that He may spare others for a long time, but concerning you He may say, "You shall not offend twice." If you will venture the first act, God may strike you with death. He did so here with Nadab and Abihu, for they were but newly consecrated. I find by the interpreters that they were to be in consecration for seven days, and this was the first day that they came to their place. And in the very first act that they did, God smote them. Let us tremble. The Lord is quick towards some, He is patient towards others, but do not presume that because He is patient to others. He may take you in the very first act of your sin and be quick with you.
The tenth note is this: That the holiness of a duty will never bear a man out in the miscarriages of a duty.
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This was a holy duty. They were the true priests of God, they came to offer incense to the true God. It was right incense that they offered. There was only this one miscarriage. They did not have the same fire that God would have them have. For this miscarriage God came upon them, and all the good there was in the duty would not bear them out.
Consider this, you that perform many holy duties. Take heed of giving way to yourselves in any miscarriage. Do not think that because your duties are very good and holy, that by doing them you may venture upon a mixture. Take heed of mixing any evil, any miscarriage in a holy thing. Though you have performed a thousand holy duties, yet it will not bear you out in the miscarriage of them.
The eleventh note is this: That the Lord is very terrible out of His holy places.
The note is the same that you have in Ps.68:35, "The Lord is terrible out of His holy places." When we have to deal with God, who can stand before this holy God? "Our God is a consuming fire." The Lord manifests Himself here most dreadfully to strike with fire these two priests, as in Ezek.9:6, "Begin at My sanctuary," says God. God is terrible, terrible towards those that shall dare to approach Him and yet are wicked or ungodly in their approaching. He is terrible to those that are near to Him. God would have us all to tremble at His presence.
The twelfth note is this: God's judgments are often very suitable to men's sins.
Here they sinned by fire and they are consumed by fire. They offended by strange fire and God strikes them by a strange fire. Oftentimes the judgments of God are very suitable to the sins of men. As here by fire, so another time we find it by water. Pharaoh sins by drowning the infants of the people of Israel in the waters, and God drowns him in the sea. "If you will be drowning by water, you shall have water enough," said God. And so here, "If you will be meddling with strange fire, you shall have strange fire," said God.
God many times proportions judgments to sinners that His righteousness might the more appear. Those very creatures in which we sin, many times God makes them, or others of the same kind, to be the executioners of His wrath. So it was with the Jews. They would sell Christ for 30 pieces of silver, and 30 of them were sold for a penny afterwards. And so the story of Adoni-bezek in the first of Judges, who was so cruel in such a way as to cut off the thumbs and toes of kings. Even so he was served in the like kind. It's ordinary for men that are of cruel, fiery spirits to meet with cruel, fiery spirits, too.
And I would apply it in this particular. You that are stout children to your parents, if God lets you live, you may meet with the very same in your children. And when you that are parents meet with stubborn children, you should reflect, "Does not God come righteously upon me?" And you that are servants, you are stout to your masters, when you come to have servants, they will be so to you. Perhaps you were unfaithful to your governors. When you come to have servants, it's a thousand to one that they will be so to you. Now you should strike your hand upon your heart and say, "It's just with God that it should be so, and that He should come upon me in my own kind."
The last note is this: They offered strange fire. Let's take heed, all of us, how we bring strange fire into God's service.
Bring strange fire into God's service, what's that?
I find divers writers speaking upon this. Ambrose said that lusts and covetousness are this strange fire.
That which I would have you consider is this: above all strange fire, take heed of the strange fire of passion and anger, and especially in the worship of God. At any time when you find your hearts heated and fired with anger, when you are about to worship God, remember this Scripture. Nadab and Abihu were consumed by God, with fire from God, for coming into God's presence with strange fire!
Perhaps your hearts have been burning hot with I passion when you have been coming into God's | presence. You are to pray with fervency, for so the Scripture says. We are indeed to be heated in prayer by the Holy Ghost in our hearts, but certainly not to come with the fire of passion and anger. "Lift up your hands without wrath and doubting" If you have been passionate, and your hearts have been heated that way, be sure to get your hearts cold before you go to prayer. And so when you come to hear the Word, if your hearts have been heated with passion, be sure you get them cold before you come to hear the Word. "Receive with meekness the ingrafted Word that may save your souls."
And so when you come to the Lord's Supper, take heed of coming with wrath and malice, for then you come but to offer strange fire. It's a special consideration for ministers that come to preach. They should take heed of bringing strange fire into their pulpits, that is, of venturing their own passions. That has been a rule that I have been convinced of since I knew anything of preaching. That man who is appointed to reveal God's wrath needs to conceal his own wrath. That's certainly a rule for all preachers, for the Lord sends His preachers to make known His wrath against men's sins, but now the more they make known His wrath, the more they should conceal their own. And so, by that means, when they come in the most open way to manifest God's wrath, the more their preaching would be accepted.
Now it's true that a carnal heart would be ready to think that when a preacher speaks out of true zeal to God, he will be ready to say that he is aiming at him. Take heed of that. I believe you have had but little occasion of such a temptation in this place. But however, this I know: it is the duty of the ministers of God to be sure to bring nothing but the fire of the Spirit of God, the fire that they have from the altar, their tongues being touched with one of these coals. They should not come with their own passions to further the righteousness of God. No, the wrath of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.