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William Sclater on Roms 2:4-5

January 12, 2009

Sclater

There follows now a denunciation of certain and most severe judgment upon hypocrites, and is disposed very fitly unto a Rhetorical Dialogue, and communication. Wherein first he preoccupies the foolish thoughts of these hypocrites, after resolves of the certain issue, on this manner.

Tell me hypocrite, think you that when God’s judgment is against all that do such things, you shall amongst all be exempted? or that you shall escape the judgment of God? what madness is this? when as other men’s facts escape not your censure, which are but a man, you should thing your own evil deeds should escape the judgment of GOD; or how else? think you that because the Lord has hitherto forborne you, and heaped his blessings upon you, therefore he approves your courses? and sends these as testimonies of your righteousness? here see how ignorantly you abuse, and mistake the end and use of God’s bountifulness; which tends indeed, to bring you to repentance, no way either justifies your courses, or secures you from future judgment. The resolution follows: well how ever it be, whether one or other, this I am sure of, you by your hardness and unrepentance heart, heaps upon upon yourself a treasure of wrath,against the day of wrath, &c., this the disposition of the Text; in the words may be observed: first, an expressing of a secure hypocrite’s thoughts, with a confutation of them annexed: secondly, a denunciation of certain and most heavy judgment to be inflicted, and impenitency: secondly, the same pointed at, in the day of wrath, &c.

Vers. 3.
Obser.

Thinking thou this that thou shall escape?

Where first note, the fond perversion of a foolish hypocrite, thinking that though all other men’s sins be punished, yet he alone may escape God’s wrath: the Prophet Isaiah thus brings in these men triumphing we have made a Covenant with death, and with hell we are at agreement, though a scourge run over, and pass through, it shall not come to us; for we have made falsehood our refuge, and under vanity we hid [Isa. 28:15]: so little thing they of God’s impartial justice, all-seeing providence, and irresistible power.

Application.

And is not this conceit of our own people? still promising themselves impunity, even in those sins for which God’s wrath even in this world lights on some of the children of disobedience? how many drunkards see we clothed with rags? adulterers filled with rottenness, and brought to a morsel of bread? Robbers trussed at the gallows? Usurers plagued in their posterity, &c., and yet for all that, men living in the same sins, think they can escape the same judgment of God. The heathen could say and truly, Rex Jupiter omnibus idem; and here the Apostle, with God there is no respect of persons.

A second fond thought of a hypocrite here mentioned, is this; that as he escapes man’s judgment, so he may God’s; and things all well so man justify him, &c. But how vainly, the Apostle here shows by their own fact; reasoning from the less to the greater, you a man as another, judge the facts of others, and nothing can pass your censure, how then can you think that you can escape the strict censure and judgment of the Lord Almighty: John John’s speech is not much unlike, 1 Joh. 3:20. Compare it.

Vers. 4.

Or despisest thou, &c.

They are said to despise God’s bounty and patience, because they abused it to another end, then it tended unto: for whereas it was vouchsafed unto them to bring them to amendment of life, they abused it, as an occasion to encourage them in their sins.

Obser.

So usual is it with ungodly men, to abuse God’s goodness and patience to impenitency: because sentence is not executed speedily against an evil work, therefore the heart [Ecc. 8:11; Psal. 50:21]: for hence they gather, as Atheists, that God regards not the things done on earth, and count hell and judgment but a fable [2 Pet. 3:4], or else that their courses, though ungracious, are well-pleasing to him [Psal. 50:21], that thus multiplies his blessing upon them in their profaneness.

Application.

Now brethren, consider whether this practice of profane men, be not evident among us? marvelous has God been in his mercies toward us in this kingdom; giving peace within our walls, and plentiousness within our palaces, our tens have chased our enemies hundreds, our hundreds their thousands; hitherto he has made us the head, and our enemies the tail: defeating their policies, turning their mischiefs, devised for us, upon their own own heads: multiplied our kingdoms increased our friends; in a word, what could he have done more for us, that he has not done? And what has all this bounty of our gracious God wrought amongst us, but even a blessing of ourselves in our wickedness, and an adding of drunkenness to thirst; yea, with the wise this goes for current, God has blessed our government with peace, &c., therefore amongst us nothing needs reformation.

And for particulars, how often is the reason heard from them, thus and thus long have I lived in this course (as Preaches says) of sinning, but I see not but God has blessed me as well as the precisest of them all, &c. Now understand (you unwise among the people) must all needs be well, because God forebears to punish? or shall we therefore continue in our sins, because God continues his mercy towards us? God Forbid. Other reasons there of of God’s bounty and patience; it may be for the greater good duties he has winked at the less infirmities [Exod. 1:20-21]: It may be the dressers of the barren fig tree, have obtained respite of our cutting down [Luke 13:6]: It may be sins, though heinous enough amongst us, have not yet come to their full ripeness [Gen. 15;16]: perhaps a remnant there was yet to be gathered from amongst us, &c. however, this once I am sure of, God’s patient forbearance, and rich bounty, are no argument of man’s innocency, nor tend always to countenance received courses, but give occasion to alter acustomed evils; and to show God’s loathness to destroy, if man were not to loath to forgo his sins.

But what odious contempt of God’s grace is this, for a man to take occasion by God’s bountifulness to continue and increase his sin? In things of this life we hold it detestable, if a servant should thus reason from his master’s bounty; he deals thus and thus liberally with me, he has advanced me from nothing to this estate wherein now I am, &c., therefore I care not how I provoke him, &c., how unworthy should we deem him, to have kindness continued unto him? Joseph reasons contrarily [Gen. 39:9-10], and yet how frequent are such reasoners from God’s mercy to our unfaithfulness? well this once I dare say, there cannot be a surer evidence of a graceless heart, then this to abuse God’s lovingkindness; and God’s children I know reason otherwise [Psal. 130:4; Hos. 3:5], they fear the Lord and his goodness; fear to offend him in regard of his goodness: but let us now see the attributes given to God, with their Epithet, as also the end of the them.

The attributes are three: first bountifulness; it is that holy inclination to the nature of God, to expose himself to the use of his creatures, and to communicate his blessings unto them [Acts 14;17]: secondly, patience and forbearance, whereby he tolerates the ungracious behavior of men, as it is anthropopathos, given unto God, not without some burden [Isa 1:24]: long-suffering, whereby he defers the fierceness of his wrath, that it break not out to our destruction: see examples in the old world [Gen. 6:3], in the Amorites [Gen. 15:16], in Jerusalem, Matt. 23:37, in our own kingdom.

The Epithet is riches of patience, &c., that is plentifulness, and abundance of bounty [Rom. 10:12; Eph. 2:7; Exod. 34:6], &c., plenteous in goodness and truth.

Now brethren which is there of us, that cannot from experience acknowledge this riches of God’s bounty, long suffering and patience? and feeling subscribe to that description the Lord makes of himself [Exod. 34:6]: “The Lord, the Lord strong, and merciful, and gracious, slow to anger, abundant in goodness and truth:” whether we respect his dealing with our Nation in common, or his gracious beneficence and patience, vouchsafed to our particular selves: what Nation is there under heaven to whom the Lord has come so near, and he has done to us in all things that we call unto him for? what a long Jubilee has our land had? when as our neighbor Nations have been wearied with bloody wars, and scares received any other dew then the blood of the inhabitants. What plenty of all things? what liberty of the Gospel? notwithstanding, our many provocations of the eyes of his glory by our crying sins? come to our personal kindnesses that we have all tasted, and that long-suffering and forbearance the Lord has shown us; what a course of sinning ran we along in before our calling? walking according to the course of the world, and after the Prince that rules in the Air, even the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience [ Ephes. 2:2]. And who of us can say, that the Lord has been hasty? or extreme to mark, or punish our doings amiss? Now it were well with us if the Lord’s rich bounty and forbearance had had that use in us, for which he has vouchsafed it unto us: see we what it is.

The end of it is (though profane men through willful ignorance mistake it) to lead us to repentance, and amendment of life [2 Pet. 3:9]: not as Epicures think, as if the Lord regarded not the evils done upon the earth [Psal. 33:11], or liked their wickedness [Psal. 50:21]: or had forgotten the truth of his promise, as those mockers dream [2 Pet. 3:4]: but hereby to give space of repentance [Apoc. 2:21]: and to allure to amendment of life [2 Pet. 3:9]: as a kind father deals with an ungracious child, often admonishing, sometimes seasonably correcting, sometime using fatherly connivance, never neglecting supply of necessities; yea, bountifully providing, and bestowing all favors, in hope at length by kindness to overcome, and make the heart melt for disobedience; with such cords of love, does our heavenly Father draw us: Hos. 11:4.

Use 1.

And happy we, if we thus use God’s bounty, and suffer ourselves to be lead to repentance. Joseph could make this use of his master’s bounty [Gen. 39:809]; my master has dealt thus kindly with me, committed all things to my trust, advanced me to the highest dignity, and a place of command in his family, kept nothing from me but thyself, his wife, how then can I commit this great wickedness, &c., why do not we reason thus from the rich kindness, and superabundant bounty of our gracious God? and surely thus I presume God’s children reason. But to see the frowardness of profane worldlings, in turning the graces of God into wantonness [Jude 4]: how often hear we this Apology returned, when all other defenses fail? God is merciful, Christ died for us, &c, But what? because God is merciful, will you be sinful; because Christ died for you, will you by profaneness crucify him afresh? and tread under your foot the blood of the Testament, whereby you were sanctified? Oh, says the Apostle, I beseech you by the mercies of God, give up your body a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God [Rom. 12:1]: and consider, that Christ died to redeem you from your vain conversation [1 Pet. 1:18]: and gave himself for you, to purge you, to be his peculiar people, zealous of good works [Tit. 2:14]: and remember, what the proverb has; Patientia laesa fit furor: there is no wrath so justly, or furiously outrageous, as what rises from patience long and obstinately abused.

Use 2.

Now something else we may learn, from the riches of God’s patience, and long-suffering: and that is, as good children, to tread in the steps of our heavenly Father [Col. 3;13]: and as ourselves taste of God’s goodness towards us, so to practice the like towards our brethren: such effect has the experimental and feeling knowledge of God in all his; themselves are transformed into the same image of God, from glory to glory: therefore see how the Apostle urges this to a Minister [2 Tim. 2:24-25]; to bear and tolerate the evil men: proving if God at any time (mark that, at any time), will give them repentance; and to all Christians, to bear each other burdens [Gal. 6:2]: beloved that hot-spur spirit, of calling for fire from heaven for every disobedience, we know how it was reproved [Luk. 9:54]: and let us ever (having an eye to the rich patience of our gracious God, provoked by us every day); lean to tolerate the froward infirmities of our ignorant brethren with meekness: instructing, rather than by rashness of zeal rejecting them.

Vers. 5.

Now follows the issue of this patience and bounty of  the Lord contemned; “thou after the hardness and heart that cannot repent treasurest to thyself,” &c.

The fruit and issue of this condemning God’s goodness, and refusal to be lead thereby to repentance, is double; and the very thought thereof dreadful.

First, in that hereby hardness over-grows the heart and casts it into an indisposition, and almost an impossibility of repenting: woeful experience of many at this days shows it [Ephes. 4:19]: and this befalls us, partly through a natural effect of that sin, especially custom of sin: and it is well observed by Divines both Popish and Protestant, that every sin has in it, not only anomie and guilt, but brings with it maculam, a spot: that is, not only a blemish to the soul, but as some interpret, a stronger inclination to the practice of the same sin, then was before in the soul: use of swearing makes swearing habitual, and every new oath is as oil to the tongue, makes it more glip in the fleet utterance of profane oaths, and custom is turned into another nature: Jer. 13:23. partly, through spiritual desertion, God is thereby provoked to deprive us of his grace, and gives us up to the power of Satan, and swing of our own lusts, Rom. 1:24, Eze. 24:13.

Now brethren, I would to God these disparate dalliers with the Lord’s rich mercy had grace to lay this to heart; those I mean, that throw off all exhortations to present repentance, with this, “time enough yet,” and “repent when we are old,” and that devilish proverb, young Saints, old devils: a people rise in all places, who as though they had repentance in a string could perform it when please them, put off all from day to day, age to age, til at length their case grows desperate; of youth they say, it must have his swing: when man-age [manhood] comes, marriage will bring to  stayedness, &c., so still delay from youth to man-age to marriage, from marriage to old age, from old age to dotage, from dotage to death, from death to the devil; that is the end of most of them. In bodily diseases we are wise, and ever hold speediest curies safest, because by experience we see inveterate diseases, having gotten into the habit of the body, are seldom or never removed: who are we not as wise for our soul, seeing as frequent experience has taught, a black-moor may as soon change his skin, and a leopard change his spots, anything throw off his mature, as a sinner accustomed to do evil, can learn to do well [Jer. 13:23]? mark how continuance in sin hardens the heart, hardness brings indisposition to repentance; God justly leaving them to perish in their filthiness, that have neglected the season of his gracious visitation; that one place, Eze.24:13, read often and diligently, and know whose mouth has spoken it, that no deceitfulness of sin bewitch you.

Use 2. The Apostle upon this ground advises, that we should every [one] of us, in a brotherly care each of other, daily exhort one, and while is it called “today,” let any of us be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin [Heb. 3:13]: and though it be true, that ordinate charity begins at ourselves, yet shall it be inordinate self-love, so to regard our own, as to neglect our brothers salvation: It was the Lord’s charge to his people, that they should help even an enemy’s Ass lying under his burden, and reduce his Ox or Ass going astray [Exo. 23:5]: Has God care of Oxen? or says he it is not altogether for our sakes [1 Cor. 9:9]? surely he that would have us bring back an Ox from going astray, would he not much more have us turn our brethren from going astray, and deliver their souls from death [James 5:19]? and if an Ass, overladen with his burden, must be succored, much more our brethren pressed with the burden of their sins. It was a profane speech of Cain, “Am I my brother’s keep?” [Gen. 4:9]. Surely the Lord has made us every one keepers, and guardians each to other: perhaps also with that fearful momento [Reg. 20:36], that our life shall go for their lives, if through our own default they be lost: see Paul’s reason [Heb. 3:13] why this must be done daily, and while it is called “today”, lest, &c.

Proceed we now to the second fruit and issue of such delays, and abusing of God’s grace to wantonness, “thou treasurest up to thyself wrath,” &c. The speech is metaphorical, and may thus be unfolded; that as it is the course of the world, to lay up for a time to come that wealth whereof they have no present use; and still to be adding to their heap as means of increase offered, so does the man that abuses God’s bounty and rich patience, by adding to his sins not the present smart, yet afterward he has the full measure thereof poured upon him: if not in this life, yet in that day of wrath, and declaration of the just judgment of God; understand this not of a sinner’s intention, but of the event.

here then we see a second mischief, issuing and ensuring upon contempt of God’s bounty, and increase of our sins; what brings it, but a heavier weight of vengeance upon ourselves, when the Lord begins to enter into judgment with us? The heathen man excellently expressed this, Lente gradu ad vindictans sui, &c. God’s wrath comes slowly to inflict vengeance, but makes amends for delay, with the weight of vengeance; slow he is to wrath, but when he comes he pays home: we foolishly flatter ourselves in our wickedness, because the Lord does not presently strike in our wickedness, because the Lord does not presently strike us; when all this while the Lord is but fetching his blow, and the higher he lifts, the heavier it lights. The Prophet David has excellently expressed this dealing of the Lord, in delaying his vengeance [Psal. 7:12-13]: where he compares the Lord to a man of War, that meaning to make his sword drunk with the blood of his enemies, takes some time to scour up his sword, and to sharpen both edge and point, that it may pierce the better; to an Archer, that before he goes out to strike his prey, first bends his bow, makes ready his arrows, takes time to fit them to the string, and when he means not to miss his mark, holds up long to the level, draws far, where he means to pierce deep: so is the  so the Lord, while we think him negligent, but whetting his sword, that he may wound the deeper; stands long at level, because he will certainly hit, and not miss; draws far, even to the head, that his arrows may pierce, even through the thickest skin and callum of the soul: many such like comparisons the Scripture is full of, evincing the point now in hand; that though the Lord delay, yet he neglects not; and therefore delays, that when he strikes, he may pay home.

Use.  Oh consider this that you forget GOD, lest he tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver you [Psal. 50:22]: know, the long-suffering of God brings salvation [2 Pet. 3:15], if you have grace to be led thereby to repentance; or otherwise heavier damnation, if you abuse it to impenitency. Never did people taste more of God’s patience, and merciful forbearance, then that of Israel: never any drank deeper of the cup of his indignation: witness those irreparable ruins of their City and Temple, and that horrible blindness whereinto they are justly plunged: examples are infinite in this kind, and would God the desperate amongst us had grace to consider it: But to hear the wretched resoluteness of hopeless men, whose heart rues not; all is but damnation; damned, they know they shall be, and as good take pleasure here, &c. Now had they eyes to see that which I persuade myself their hearts are sometimes afraid to hear, what this is to be damned: could they thus speak, or practice? to be separate from God, and his Christ for ever, to be cast out into the Devil? Again, this though it be true that damnation belongs to every impenitent sinner, yet are there degrees of torment in hell, proportioned to the number and measure of transgressions here committed [Luke 12:47]: and if they will needs to hell, whether the Lord will or no [Eze. 18:31], yet let them labor to abate something of the weight, and horror of their unspeakable torments. The time of his vengeance follows.

Obser
.

In the day of wrath.]  Where might be observed, that what sins escape here unpunished, shall at that day receive their full vengeance.

And let it stay us from doubting God’s care of things here done [Psal. 37:1-2], in respect of his long patience shown on the wicked: though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and GOD prolongs his days; yet shall a day come when anguish and sorrow shall oppress them that have not feared the Lord.

Obser.

But further here note the Epithets or titles given to that great day of the Lord’s judgment; it is called first, a day of wrath: first, in respect of the wicked, to whom indeed it will prove a black day, and a day of terror, though to God’s children it be a day of redemption [Luk. 21:28]: secondly, in opposition to the time of this life, that is indeed a time of grace, and day of salvation, wherein the Lord offers mercy and salvation to all those in the Church, that will accept it, leaving no place for grace, though sought with tears, wen once this season is over-slipped.

Use.

And let it teach us, whiles the time of grace lasts, to labor for reconciliation with God: and now while the Lord will be entreated, to supplicate unto our judge: reading the places of this purpose [Matt. 7:22; Luk. 13:25; Matt. 25:11-12], me thinks I see the behavior, and fruitless importunity of these despisers of God’ grace in these days of mercy; running, like men distraught, to the mountains to fall on them, and to the hills to cover them, from the presence of the Lamb, and him that sits upon the Throne; begging and yelling with the voice of Dragons for mercy, mercy, Lord, Lord, open unto us, to a judge in that day justly inexorable, I say again, justly inexorable, as whose many loving invitations by temporal mercies, earnest beseechings by his ministers to accept reconcilement, often knocking at the door of their conscience by his Spirit for entrance, they have scornfully and so proudly rejected. Oh that men would consider, that one tear or sigh of a penitent heart, might here more prevail for attainment of mercy, then all their bitter and importunate yellings in that day of God’s wrath.

Obser.

The second Epithet, here given to that great day of judgment is this; it is called a day of declaration, or revelation of the just judgment of God; that is to say, of God’s just proceedings in adjudging some to life and salvation, others to ceaseless and endless torments. This judgment is here secretly passed in foro conscientia, for both here do God’s children receive sentence of absolution from sin, in justification and assurance of life eternal, given them by God’s Spirit: and the wicked men, here have their woeful doom in their own consciences [Tit. 3:12], but this judgment is here secret, and the equity thereof, not so sensibly perceived: but at that day the Lord shall reveal, how justly he has accepted the one to salvation, rejected the other to damnation, when by their works, their faith, or infidelity shall be discovered.

Use.

So that we may here see, how frivolously vulgar Papists reason, in behalf of their Purgatory, if every soul, at death, goes either to hell or to heaven, and be placed in that state wherein it shall abide unchangeably for ever, what needs a day of judgement? Ans. Though souls departing from the body, go presently to their final an unchangeable either weal or woe, yet general judgment is needful, for manifestation of God’s just proceedings in this particular, and to us secret judgment, passed in men’s conscience in this life, executed on their souls immediate upon their death.

Wiliam Sclater, A Key to the Key of Scripture, or An Exposition with Notes upon the Epistle to the Romanes. 2nd ed. (London: Printed by T.C. for Nicolas Fussell and Humphrey Mosley, and are to be sold at the Ball in Paus Church yard, near the Great North Doore, 1629), 167-177. [Some spelling modernized. Some text reformatted. Scripture verses cited inline. Underlining added.]

[Brief Biography from the Web:

William Sclater (1575 – 1627), Church of England clergyman

William was baptised at Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire on 25th October 1575. He was the son of the rector, Anthony Sclater (1519/20 – 1620) and his wife Margaret Loughborowe. William went to Eton College and in 1593 was admitted to King’s College, Cambridge. Three years later he became a fellow and in 1598 graduated with a BA and in 1601 proceeded MA.

His career was subsequently as follows:

  • 1601 Sclater started preaching in Walsall, Staffordshire. He controversially refused to wear the surplice
  • 1604 presented to the vicarage of Pitminster, near Taunton, Somerset
  • 1606, even though serving as rural dean, he was still in trouble for nonconformity
  • 1608 he proceeded BD
  • 1609 was urging other moderate puritans to conform
  • 1611 published the sermon The Key to the Key of Scripture
  • 1612 published the sermon The Ministers’ Portion
  • 1617 proceeded to DD
  • 1619 made chaplain and prebendary of Bath and Wells by Bishop Arthur Lake
  • 1619 presented with the living of Lympsham, Somerset by Lord Poulett (he also retained Pitminster, which he left in the care of a curate)
  • 1623 published the sermon The Question of Tithes

Sclater was a staunch Calvinist and was highly esteemed by leading west-country puritans such as Sir John Horner and Sir John Bampfield. In 1621 Richard Barnard listed Sclater as one of his thirty-four godly ministers to whom he dedicated his clerical manual, The Faithful Shepherd.

In his personal life: He married his first wife (name unknown) in 1609 and through this marriage he had two sons and five daughters. In the 1620s he married his second wife, Marie or Mary, from Mells, Somerset and the couple had one daughter. His eldest son, William, was responsible for postumously editing many of his works. Sclater died in Pitminster in 1627.]

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