Judges 13:23      No.1

But his wife said unto him, If the Lord were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands, neither would he have showed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these.
[preached Sunday morning 17 March 1765]
From the death of Joshua to the time of Samuel, the state of the Israelites was in frequent disorder.  When the Elders who had seen the works of the Lord were dead, and a new generation sprung up, they soon forgot his goodness and joined themselves to idols.  This brought them into trouble, their enemies had rule over them, and they groaned under oppression.  When they cried to the Lord he was mindful of his covenant, and raised up Judges for their deliverance.  While these judges lived, and the sense of the mercies received was new upon their minds, they were in some degree obedient – but they soon turned aside again.  We might well wonder at their obstinacy if we ourselves were not verily guilty in the same way – for has it not been so with us again and again?  When the Lord slew them then they sought him and so do we, but when he gives us ease and peace, we are too prone to tread in their steps.  And as he visits us with new troubles when we refuse to be instructed by the former, so he dealt with them.  It is said in the beginning of the chapter that they again did evil in the sight of the Lord and he delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for 40 years.  We do not find that this long bondage had brought them to a general repentance, but he remembered them in mercy, and was pleased to provide them a deliverer again.
But in these times of wickedness when almost every man did that which was right in his own eyes, there were some exceptions.  The Lord had a little remnant.  We have here an account of one pair – Manoah and his wife – who were worshippers of the God of Israel, and as they honoured him, he was pleased to honour them.  An angel, perhaps the great Angel of the Covenant, appeared to the woman with a promise that she should have a son who should save his people from the hands of their enemies, and gave her several directions concerning the manner he should be brought up for this great service.  The woman communicated the glad tidings to her husband, who it seems was a religious man, a man of prayer – for he prayed to the Lord and was answered; according to his desire the angel appeared again, confirmed his message, and stayed with them till they had prepared an offering.  When the fire was kindled, the angel ascended in the flame.  This full proof that he was a heavenly messenger struck them with awe – they fell upon their faces – and Manoah in the first emotions of his fear cried out, We shall surely die. [1]  But his wife said unto him, If the Lord had been pleased, etc.
One observation easily offers from this passage before I proceed to my main design.  How comfortable and useful it is when married persons are partners in faith, can communicate their experiences, and assist each others with their prayers and advice.  You that have this privilege be thankful for it and prize it, and those of you whose hearts the Lord has touched and have your choice yet to make be careful that if you see fit to change your condition, you choose one who may be a help and not a hindrance to you in the ways of God.  Be not unequally yoked; if you are, you will surely smart for it.  This woman had a husband to whom she could freely open her mind; he readily understood her and knew how to improve what she had told him, so that by his prayers they obtained the favour of a second visit from the angel.  Again, when he was disheartened by fear and unbelief, his wife could assist him with a seasonable word of comfort.  If you marry in the Lord you will have this benefit.  If otherwise, how will your heart be burdened when at one time perhaps you attempt to tell your companion what you feel of the Lord’s goodness to your soul, or at another time in an hour of distress you would seek relief by imparting your complaints to the person nearest to you, but in either case you will meet no other return than misapprehension, disgust and contempt.  How cutting was it to David when his wife who lay in his bosom reproached and despised him for his zeal to God.  How bitter to Job, when she who ought to have comforted him under his troubles could give him no better advice than, Curse God and die. [2]
The encouragement that Manoah received from his wife is generally suited to the use and comfort of all believers when subject to doubts and fears about their state.  And this is the use I propose to make of it.  It goes upon this supposition – that there are certain tokens of favour, and beginnings of a good work, which those who receive, may humbly and warrantably conclude from them, that he will show them mercy to the end.  The words contain:
  1. A humble acknowledgement that they were obnoxious to his justice.  If the Lord had been pleased to kill us, he justly might, for we are sinners, and live in a sinful land.  When his judgments fall upon others, we can give no more reason why we should escape, but that so it has pleased him.
  2. A comfortable appeal form his justice to his mercy, from a consideration of what he had done – in showing them such things, at such a time, and accepting an offering at their hands.
Dismissing what is personal in the passage, I shall speak to it so as I hope to suit the case of some among you, under the following particulars:
  1. What those things are which none can see except the Lord shows them.
  2. What is the offering which those who have seen [3] these things are enabled to offer, and which the Lord graciously accepts.
  3. That those who perish in their sins and whom [he] is pleased to kill at last notwithstanding any seeming professions they have made, never had a true sight of these things, nor ever made such an offering to the Lord.  Consequently:
  4. Those who have thus seen and thus offered, have sufficient warrant to conclude from their own experience, that the Lord by thus dealing with [them], has declared that his good pleasure concerning them is not to kill them, but to preserve them alive to be monuments of his grace and mercy forever.
This is the sum of what I design, but perhaps I shall not preserve just this order.  But while I mention the things which the Lord shows his people, and those which he enables them to offer, I shall point out under each particular, the difference between a true spiritual work, which will abide forever, and the counterfeit appearances of it – and likewise endeavour to prove that each discovery, and offering of this sort, where it is real and spiritual, is a good argument that the Lord will not be pleased to kill us.  So the [first] two heads contain the doctrine I shall enlarge on, and the other two will come in occasionally by way of application.
1. The things which are only seen where the Lord shows them are such as these:
  1.1 The sinfulness of sin.  Some knowledge of sin as evil and dangerous is common enough.  Few are without checks of conscience at times.  But a spiritual conviction of sin as exceeding sinful can only be wrought by the Spirit of God.  Common and passing convictions are defective several ways as:
    1.1.1 They do not go to the root – an evil, defiled nature – but rather fix on outward, sudden and occasional sins.
    1.1.2 They are not governed by the Rule – the Word, the Law of God.  This is very broad, and takes in many things which men will never acknowledge to be sinful till the Lord convinces them.  And it is spiritual, a judge of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  We are prone to call evil good and good evil.
  But when the Spirit of God leads the sinner to look in the Word as in a glass, when he sees sin in his heart and life, in his word and thoughts, in his prayers and tears, when he considers at one time the extent of the law, at another time of its penalty and sanction, when he looks back to his past life and inward upon his present frame, and sees nothing but abominations, when he thinks how his sins are numerous, aggravated, committed against the goodness, patience, majesty and holiness of God, and that the just, deserved consequences of these things is death, then sin appears sinful indeed.  And this view is greatly increased when the soul begins to understand something of the doctrine of Christ crucified – and without this conviction it never can be understood.
Now according to my proposed method I am to observe:
1. That if any after some appearances of conviction return back to the love and practice of sin, there is reason to think the Lord never showed them its sinfulness in this manner.  For the effect of such conviction is:
  1.1 to dread sin – as the greatest evil.
  1.2 to loathe it – from its opposition to the will of God.
  1.3 to be unable to find any relief from it – till such time as there is hope of pardon by the blood of Jesus.
  Here there is a glass for you to judge of yourselves – if you was once uneasy but are now at peace – though you have not had the witness of God’s Spirit with yours – if you take delight habitually in what is sinful – if you have gone back like a dog to his vomit [4] – if you are not humbled under a sense of your indwelling corruption, looking to Jesus, and striving in his name against what he hates – depend upon it, you have not yet seen either sin or yourselves in the light of God’s Spirit.  You are much to be pitied – you may have seen enough to make you miserable not to make you happy – enough to condemn you out of your own mouths, but not enough to urge you to flee for refuge to Jesus.  But:
2. If you see and feel yourself such a sinner, feel your guilt, your slavery – if your soul can find no rest without pardon, can see no hope but in Jesus – if you desire nothing in comparison with the favour of God – I may assure you this is a token for good.  If the Lord had been pleased to kill you he would not have shown you this.  This mourning is the way to comfort – these tears lead to joy.  For:
  2.1 In this state of mind, the thoughts of Christ must be precious to you.  Though as yet you perhaps dare not call him your own, you know there is no salvation in any other.  You are glad to hear there is a Saviour, and your soul goes after him – O that I knew where to find him. [5]  And can you think he has raised these desires in you, on purpose to disappoint you? What then would become of his faithful promise, I love them that love me, etc? [6]
  2.2 Are not the promises all made to those who are poor and of a contrite spirit, and tremble at God’s word – to the weary and heavy laden, to mourners, to them that hunger and thirst after righteousness – and is not this your very case?  Surely then with regard to this one point of the sinfulness of sin and your share in it, you may say, If the Lord … he would not have showed me this thing, especially (as it is added) at this timeIn this day of general wickedness, when so many glory in their shame, turn their backs upon the Gospel, or abuse it to licentiousness, what has made you to differ, for differ you certainly do – at least in your knowledge of your disease and in your desire of a remedy.
I can proceed no farther at present.  May the Lord enable you to give him the praise of what he has begun, and to wait closely upon him for grace to persevere.  He that has shown you, will show you more.  He that has wounded will heal.  He that has stirred you up to seek him, will be found of you, for he has never said to any praying soul, Seek ye my face in vain. [7]

 [1] Judges 13:22 And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God.
[2] Job 2:9 Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.
[3] ms repeats ‘those who have seen’
[4] Proverbs 26:11 As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.
[5] Job 23:3 Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!
[6] John 14:21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
[7] Isaiah 45:19 I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.

Cowper & Newton Museum, John Newton's notebook N17

Marylynn Rouse, 17/02/2021