The Church of Jesus Christ
THE CHURCH COMPARED TO A BRUSH ON FIRE
" And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a Bush,
and he looked, and behold, the Bush burned, and was not consumed," &c., Exod. iii. 2
According to Ainsworth, and divers other expositors, by the Bush is meant the Church of God in great affliction, the severe trials of God's people being often set forth in the holy scriptures by Fire, by a flame of Fire, and sometimes by a smoking furnace; as in Abraham's vision, Gen. xv. 17, "And behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp, that passed between the pieces." By the smoking furnace was signified to Abraham, Israel's great affliction in Egypt; and by the lamp, the law of God that afterwards was given ; or, as some understand it, the lamp of deliverance, or that salvation God would work, for them, &c., for that the salvation of God is like to a lamp that burneth, Isa. lii. 1.
Quest. Why is the Church of God compared to a Bush, to a burning Bush ? The scripture usually sets out the Church by things whose natures or qualities are excellent, things that are of great worth, &c. And why should she be compared to a Bush, to a bramble-Bush ? for so Ainsworth and others read it.
Answ. Some of the reasons of it, according to our weak judgments, are hinted in the following parallels.
I. So likewise the Church of God was then, and is now, a thing of small value, of little or no esteem in the eyes of wicked men; it was no more regarded by proud Pharaoh, and many of the Egyptians, than a sorry bramble-Bush. Hence the apostle speaketh of the Church, as being very contemptible in the sight of men. " We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day," 1 Cor. iv. 13.
II. So the true Church of God is not clothed with outward beauty, nor arrayed in purple and scarlet, decked with gold, precious stones, and pearls, like the mother of harlots, Rev. xvii. 4, but seemeth low, base, and contemptible to a carnal eye, her beauty being all hidden: " The king's daughter is glorious within," Psal. xlv. 13. And it is from hence the world values her no more. As Christ made himself of no reputation, Phil. ii. 7, so the Church for a while remaineth among men in a like state ; no carnal eye that seeth her, doth at all desire her.
III. So the people of God, considered abstractively, as they are in themselves, what are they ? What worth or excellency is in them ? All the beauty and glory of the Church is from Christ. They are naturally vile sinners, and are called thorns, briars, and pricking brambles, Mic. vii. 4 ; and though converted and changed by the power of God's grace, yet there remaineth something still of the old man and evil nature in them. And God, in other places of scripture, where he compareth them to a vine, to Lilies, to a Garden, to golden Candlesticks, &c., speaks of them with respect to what they are by his special grace in Christ Jesus. But here, in comparing them to a Bush, he hath respect, as we conceive, to what they are in themselves, and by nature, to set forth their own unworthiness, that so he might thereby raise Moses' wonder, to see the mighty condescension of the blessed God, in having regard to a poor and undeserving people, to dwell in them, and in keeping and preserving them in the midst of such fierce and cruel enemies, when a small spark might easily consume and destroy them in an instant, but that he stretcheth forth his glorious arms of grace and divine power for their succour and relief.
IV. The Church of God is the chief place for the saints of God to dwell or make their abode in, who in the song of songs are called birds : " The time of the singing of birds is come," &c., Cant. ii. 12. Which saith Reverend Mr. Ainsworth, signifies the saints, who feeling the comforts of God's Word and Spirit, do sing the praises of God, with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. " They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing for the majesty of the Lord ; and from the uttermost parts of the earth we have heard songs, even glory to the righteous," Isa. xxiv. 16. And indeed in our judgment the godly are compared to birds principally upon this consideration, i. e., in respect to their singing, which is laid down in several places of scripture as an undoubted duty; I wish that Christians, who are not in the practice thereof, would consider of it. But to proceed, how safe is the bird, when she getteth into the Bush ? so are the saints, when they are got into the Church; God being a wall of Fire round about her, and her defence and glory on every side, Zech. ii. 5.
V. So it is a strange sight, a prodigy, a mercy to a wonder, enough to astonish all true thinking Christians, to see the Church of God, the unworthy, frail, polluted, weak, and declining Church, as set on Fire, yea, all on a flame, as it were, many fires being kindled on her by wicked adversaries, and yet she is not consumed! How many plots and hellish contrivances were there on foot against poor Israel in Egypt ? First; they made a law, that the midwives should kill all their men-children, when they did their office. Secondly; when that would not take, because the midwives feared God, and saved the men-children alive : " They feared God, it is said, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded," &c., Exod. i. 17. Then they thought of another way, another plot was set on foot, a new fire, as it were, was kindled, which was, to cast all the men-children into the river " And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive," Exod. i. 22: Hence poor Moses was cast into the flags, who afterwards was an instrument in the hand of God, by working many signs and wonders, and appeared to help and deliver Israel, one that Pharaoh little thought of. Thirdly; but this not taking so effectually neither, they were most cruelly oppressed by hard servitude, and forced to make their full tale of bricks, and yet straw is denied them; which made the lives of God's people bitter unto them. Fourthly, and lastly; When they desired liberty to go and worship God, this was denied them, by no means would Pharaoh consent to it, but made his hands heavier and heavier upon them. Thus were they in the Fire and furnace of affliction, and yet graciously preserved, notwithstanding their enemies were so many, so cruel, and so mighty above them. And this was that great sight that God in a figure showed to Moses; and this great sight is to be seen at this day, in this and other nations. 0 what hellish plots and contrivances have been on foot for many years last past, especially for the space of two or three years! How many Fires have been kindled to consume the poor Church of God in England, and other adjacent nations! What plots and sham-plots have the Popish enemies set on foot, since the time that Dr. Oates first discovered the grand and hellish intrigue. And yet how wonderfully hath God wrought to save us to this day, notwithstanding we are an unworthy people, and as little deserving this divine favour, in ourselves, as ever any were, who ever lived in any age of the world ! The strange and perfidious actings of the enemy to destroy us, and the strange and wonderful workings of divine Providence to preserve us, have been so admirable, that succeeding ages, who shall read the history of these times, will doubtless, scarcely believe them, but rather conclude they are mere romances.
VI. So such as roughly and unadvisedly touch and handle the Lord's people, do but prick and wound themselves thereby; as most plainly appeared in the case of Pharaoh, and the Egyptians. What became of them ? Those that afflict God's people, shall be afflicted, nay, wounded. " And I will undo all that afflict thee," Zech. iii. 19. God knoweth how to make Jerusalem a burthensome stone for all people : " All that burthen themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the earth should be gathered together against it," Zech. xii. 3. Hence Christ gave persecuting Saul warning of the danger: " It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks," Acts ix. 5. Those that kick against God's Church, do but kick against the pricks; they do but hurt, wound, and undo themselves thereby. As for disparities, they are many, and so obvious to all, that I shall pass them by; for though the Church of God is here represented by a bramble-Bush, yet she is in Christ's sight as a lily among thorns ; and her worth and glory through the Lord Jesus is so great, that she very far surpasseth all the people and families of the earth. Nothing of all created things doth Christ think good enough to set forth and illustrate the beauty and excellency of his Church and people by, however unworthy she is in her own sight, or in the eyes of the sinful world..
I. Admire the grace and love of God, the Almighty Jehovah, that inhabiteth eternity,
that he should out of his abundant favour, good will, and his great condescension, dwell in a poor bramble-Bush! who is able to conceive this rich and undeserved favour.
II. It also informeth us, how it comes to pass that the poor saints and Church of God are preserved to this day: it is because God is among them. God dwelleth in the Bush:
the Lord dwelleth in Sion, to comfort, revive, uphold, save, and deliver her in the day of trouble.
III. It may serve to humble us, and lay as low in our eyes. What are the best of God's people, by nature, and in themselves, but as a Bush, briar, or thorny hedge ? it is God who hath made us to differ from others.
IV. It may deter the wicked, and for ever be a warning to them, to forbear persecuting God's people; for that it will prove at last to their utter ruin; they kick but against the pricks.
V. Remember the good will of him, and seek his blessing, that dwelt in the Bush.
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