Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.—Rom. 8.33

[A Sermon on Isaiah 57:13,14, by James Guthrie.]
Backsliding and Defection
Isaiah lvii. 13, 14.
Preached before the Sectaries,
April 21st 1651.

By the Reverend Mr. JAMES GUTHRIE, Minister of the Gospel at Stirling, and Martyr for Jesus Christ.

Edinburgh, Printed by Thomas Lumisden and John Robertson, for George Paton Book-seller in Linlithgow, 1739.

Mr. Erskine’s PREFACE.


THE following Sermon of the famous Mr. James Guthrie was preached about Ten Years before his Death, viz. Anno 1651, when the Sluice was newly opened by the Publick Resolutions for that Current of Defections from the Covenanted Reformation, which has been running ever since with an impetuous Current.

Oliver Cromwel at the same Time had invaded Scotland, granted his Toleration, and overrun the Land with his Armies of Sectarians, Part of which kept Garrison in the Town of Stirling. Against all which Evils, you will find him faithfully witnessing, even in the Face of the usurping Enemy.

How quick-sighted this Seer in our Israel was, as to the Event of these Things, appears from his Paper lately reprinted, entitled, Some Considerations contributing unto the Discovery of the Dangers that threaten Religion and the Work of Reformation in the Church of Scotland, &c. which are in our Day exactly come to pass.

Stirling, June 25th


A SERMON preached by Mr. James
Guthrie, before the Sectaries, April
21st 1651,

On Isaiah 57.13,14.

When thou criest, let thy Companies deliver thee: but the Wind shall carry them all away; Vanity shall take them: but he that putteth his Trust in me, shall possess the Land, and shall inherit my holy Mountain: And shall say, Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the Way, take up the Stumbling-block out of the Way of my People.
FROM the Beginning of the Chapter unto the End of the 13th Verse there is a most sad Contest with this People, because of some Things they were guilty of. First, Their Sins are charged on them, and they are threatened with Judgment. The Sins charged on them are three; (1.) Their rejecting, despising, and mocking the Word of the Lord. (2.) Their Idolatry, upon which they were mad. (3.) Their making their Addresses to foreign Kings and Nations, with whom God had forbidden them to associate in their Distresses. This is prosecute and amplified from the 3d to the 12th Verse. Next, The Threatenings of Judgment pronounced against these Sins are three: The first is a Discovery of their Iniquity and Hypocrisy, verse 12, I will declare thy Righteousness and thy Works, for they will not profit thee: That is, Thou thinks thou art righteous, and thy Works good; but I will bring forth thy Vileness and Naughtiness, and {4} make them appear before the World. (2.) That, tho’ they trusted in their Righteousness and Works, they should not profit them. (3.) He does in a more peculiar Way threaten their Association and Conjunction with his Enemies, verse 13, When thou criest, let thy Companies deliver thee. There are two Parts of the Threatening that hold forth two Judgments. 1st is, Because of their Sin, the Lord will refuse to help them, and let them alone with the Help that they have chosen to themselves; When thou prayest to me, let the Assyrians and Egyptians that thou hast sought unto in Distress help thee; seeing thou hast chosen them, I will own thee no more.

Doctrine 1. Observe, "That for a People that profess the Lord, to make use of forbidden Helps in the Day of their Distress, it is so far from adding to their Strength, or being a Mean of it, that it makes them more weak," Isa. 8.9, Associate yourselves, and ye shall be broken in Pieces. And Chapter 31.3, When the Lord shall stretch out his Hand, both he that helpeth shall fall, and he that is holpen shall fall down, and they all shall fall together. And this Sin is often threatened with us. Now, that the making use of forbidden Help does weaken, and not strengthen a People, appears from these Grounds; (1.) Because it makes the Lord shut out the Prayers of his People; as in the Text, When thou criest, let thy Companies deliver thee. And Jer. 30.15, Why criest thou for thy Affliction? thy Sorrow is incurable. And this being one of the great Sins the People were guilty of, Judges 10.14, when they cry to God, he bids, Go get you to the gods whom you have served, and let them deliver you. (2.) Because such a Sin as this doth {5} rob a People, professing to be for God, of his Help and Strength: For God will not join nor associate with his Enemies; we are Fools if we think he will. He that has said, Say ye not A Confederacy, will he himself say a Confederacy?

Use. To bewail and lament before the Lord the present Condition of our Land. It is so publick, that it cannot nor needs be concealed; and the concealing of it is but to increase the Provocation. That, in our Distress, our Judicatories should have taken such Resolutions as involve in the Guilt of making use of forbidden Help, this is a high Provocation; and to us it may be said, as Jer. 2.18, What hast thou now to do in the Way of Egypt? After the Lord has often smitten us before for this Sin, and by many Demonstrations testified his Anger against it, in such a Time, how high a Provocation is it, if we look but with any Measure of Attention? It is often challenged as a grievous Sin. But, why does he so often challenge this Sin? (1.) Because it takes along with it a most eminent Breach of Covenant with God and his People, wherein they are bound in Covenant together, he to own them for his People, and they to own him for their God: And then, that they will associate with forbidden Help, is a Breach of Covenant, and Kind of giving up with the Lord. All Conjunctions in War take along with them the same common Friends and Enemies. (2.) Because it is most dishonourable to God before the World. What greater Affront can be put on the Lord, than to say, He cannot defend his People without the Help of his Enemies? (3.) It is a clear Evidence of Diffidence and Distrust, and Introduction to many other grievous Transgressions; therefore we have {6} much Ground to bemoan and bewail our Condition.

2. The other Part of the Judgment is his setting himself against these Powers to whom they had their Recourse for Help. The Wind shall carry them all away, Vanity shall take them. It implies, that a sudden Destruction shall come against them, and that it shall be easily and speedily done.

Doctrine 2. Observe, "That, when the Lord has a Controversy with an earthly Power, it is a most easy Thing for him to bring them down," Psalm 68.1,2, Let God arise, and his Enemies shall be scattered, and they that hate him shall flee before him. As Smoke is driven away, and as Wax melteth before the Fire, so the Wicked perish at the Presence of the Lord. The Reason is, the high, mighty, transcendent Power of the Lord, before whom all Nations are but as a Drop of a Bucket, and as the Dust in the Balance, Vanity, and lighter than Vanity, Isa. 40. And, if so, we need not so much be afraid of any earthly Power, that lay to themselves Grounds of Controversy with God; which has been the Ruin of most of the Powers that have been since the Beginning of Time. Now, there are sundry Grounds of Controversy, that Powers lay to themselves, that provoke the Lord to carry them all away as the Wind.

1st, When Powers corrupt the Word and Ordinances of God. This was that Ground of Controversy, which the Lord had not only against all the Kings of Israel, and for which he destroyed them, but also against many of the Kings of Judah, which brought them to Ruin.

2dly, When Powers become Persecutors and {7} Oppressors of his People. And this was the Ground of Controversy, which brought down the Four great Monarchies, and many great Kingdoms. (2.) When Men, tho’ they seem to employ their Power for the Lord, yet do not so indeed, but, when the profess to be establishing the Lord’s Interest, are but establishing their own. And this Ground of Controversy brought down the House of Jehu, who had a particular Command to destroy Ahab and his House: And tho’ Ahab deserved all that came on him, yet because Jehu had not the Lord’s Interest before his Eyes, but his own, down must he go. Therefore all Powers had need to look to these Things.

In the next Place, to the End of the Chapter we have a most comfortable Cluster of sweet and gracious Promises to the Lord’s poor People, in this sad Day of their Distress. We shall take them up on these Three; (1.) There is a Promise of their possessing the Land of Canaan, in the End of verse 13. (2.) A Promise of their Delivery and Return from Captivity, and bringing back to their own Land, verse 14, with the taking off any Objections their weak Hearts might have formed, verses 15-18. (3.) A Promise of their Peace, verse 19, from which the Wicked are excluded, verse 20. The first Promise is, concerning their possessing the Land of Canaan, and inheriting of his holy Mountain, and the Ordinances of God there: And withal, these to whom thir [these] Promises are to be made good are described; He that puts his Trust in me, excluding these that make use of unwarrantable Means and forbidden Help.

Observe, "That Faith, or Believing, or Trusting in the Lord, is the most perfect and complete {8} Way of entitling a Man to the Right of any Thing that can be in the Lord; and yet we are far from thinking, that no Man has Right to any Thing he possesses, except he be a Believer." For clearing whereof, we would distinguish, (1.) A threefold Dominion or Right. The first is physical, so to speak; And is founded only on set physical Power: And so the Robber has Dominion of an honest Man’s Purse which he has taken, and has this Sort of Right and Interest in it. And this is a Dominion and Right, that many Powers from the Beginning of the World have had only Possession of, by a domineering Power; and it is the Cause why God hath brought down so many Powers: And whatever Power it be, that credits itself on no better Foundation but mere Power, may expect to be brought down by the Lord. The second is a moral Dominion or Right, founded on the common Right of Providence;1 which is intimate in the Lord’s sending Adam to till the Ground, and work and win his Living; and more clearly to Noah, Gen. 9. And this is the Dominion and Right that these have to the Things they enjoy, that are not Believers, and yet are not unjust Possessors of what they have. This moral Right, which is founded on that Donation which God has given in common to all the Sons of Men, and the simple meddling with and enjoying of the Things of this World, is not a Sin to natural Men; and therefore, whoever take these Things from them in an unwarrantable Way, they sin against God. The third is a spiritual Dominion and Right; and this is {9} most complete, perfect, and absolute, when, by being ingraft in Christ by Faith, they become one with him, and Fellow-heirs of that Sovereignty and Dominion which he has over the Creatures. And this is the Right that Faith gives the Believer, and that which the Text holds forth.

Use 1. If ye would comfortably secure to yourselves any Thing you have, possess it by Believing. This one Thing sweetens all Enjoyments, quiets the Heart, and answers all Objections that Satan or the Conscience can bring against the Possession of Things.

Use 2. It is the strongest Ground to make sure any Thing thou hast: Therefore it is said here, When the Wicked cry, he will send them to their Companies for Deliverance; but they that trust in him, shall possess the Land: As if he had said, They that make use of forbidden Help, shall not be delivered; but they that trust in the Lord, tho’ they have no apparent Help at all, they shall possess the Land. The Reason is, because Faith engages all that is in God, to be employed for his People, and whatever is theirs.


THE second Promise is concerning their bringing back from Captivity: And shall say, that is, he, or the Lord, shall say. God is brought in speaking as a Man that has already brought forth his People from Babylon, and as one in their Journey, with them, to carry them to the promised Land; and therefore this is a Direction from the Lord’s own Mouth, that any Impediments that are in his People’s way may be removed. Cast ye up, cast ye up; a Phrase borrowed {10} from these that level Ways before Armies: When they meet with Passes that cannot be win through, they cast up Mounts, or make up Bridges, and make the Way smooth and plain for an easy Passage. Therefore it follows, Prepare ye the Way, take up the Stumbling-block out of the Way of my People.

Observe, "That it is the Desire, nay, the Commandment of the Lord, to all who have to do with his People, that they should remove all Stumbling-blocks out of their Way, in the Day that he is to work Salvation for them." Isa. 62.10, Go through, go through the Gates, prepare ye the Way of the People, cast up, cast up the high Way, gather out the Stones, &c. for Zion’s Salvation cometh. And there are several Reasons that move God to lay this on all those that have to do with his People; I shall only name Three.

Reason 1. The tender Regard and compassionate Respect which he has to his People. And hence flows that comfortable Word, Zech. 4, Who art thou, O Mountain, before the House of Zerubbabel? thou shalt be made a Plain.

Reason 2. The Lord knows the Weakness and Faint-heartedness of his People, and that they had much need of a prepared Way.

Reason 3. Because he knows the Enmity of the World against his People, and how many Instruments there are to cast Stumbling-blocks in the Way of his People.

Use. To lay before us how great Guilt lies on many in these Lands. In this Respect, how many have been so far from taking Stumbling-blocks out of the Way of God’s People, that they have put many in their Way? And tho’ there be Degrees {11} of Guilt in all the three Kingdoms in this Respect, yet all are in a great Measure guilty of casting Stumbling-blocks in the Way of one another, and in the Way of the Delivery of God’s People. We shall begin with ourselves, and it becomes us well: And, not to speak of all, I shall only name three Stumbling-blocks which have been laid by this Land in the Way of God’s People’s Deliverance. The 1st is, The reiterated owning of a malignant Party’s Quarrel and Interest, once and again; which has been to many a great Stumbling-block, that a People, covenanting with God against the very Thing, should have so often relapsed in this Sin. 2dly, Our Want of Tenderness to separate betwixt the Precious and the Vile, in the Ordinances of God, and in the Matter of Employment and Trust. We have a Rule indeed, which, if it were followed, would remove this Block; but our Practice has not been conform to our Rule, and that has been Matter of Stumbling. 3dly, The untender, nay, the profane, godless, insolent Carriage of many in our Armies in England, was a great Stumbling-block to many good People there, and made them, we conceive, disgust and shudder at the very Government itself; and this is one of the Sins, for which God is reckoning with Scotland at this Time. Lament for it before God, that Stumbling-blocks should have been laid in the Way of those that belonged to the Lord.

I come next to speak somewhat of the Stumbling-blocks that have been laid in the Way of God’s People by the Party that now prevails in the Land; and so much the rather, that it may be there are several of them at this Time hearing {12} me. The Party that is now amongst us wonders why we stand at such a Distance from them: And, if ye ask the Question why it is so, here is an Answer, Because they cast so many Stumbling-blocks In our Way; and I shall name some few to you.

1. And the first is, their untender Respect (to call it no worse) to the Oath of the Covenant. We speak not now of the Particulars contained in the Covenant, but of the Oath and Tie itself, that sacred and religious Tie of a solemn Oath, which we and they took upon ourselves with Hands lifted up before God, Angels, and Men: It is to us a great Stumbling-block, that there should be so great Untenderness among those Men in that Respect. We acknowledge, Scotland, and many in Scotland, are guilty of many Breaches of that Covenant; yet we have taken always along a religious Respect to that solemn Tie, and many in the Land have mourned for the Breaches of it: But among these Men that have invaded us, and now are among us, this sacred Tie of the Covenant is not only laid aside, but slighted, despised, ill spoken of. How many stumbling Oppressions have we had from England, in relation to the Covenant? Has it not been called an abominable Nehushtan, and the Abomination of Desolation? And tho’ this has been published by some, yet, for ought we know, it has not been reproved or censured by any; And, is not this one great Stumbling-block?

2. The second is, the Change of the Civil Government. And, in reference to this, we desire not to be mistaken, as if we said Civil Government were unalterable in any Respect, or upon any Reason: We know several Sorts of Civil {13} Government are lawful. Neither upon this Ground do we say that it is proper to Scotland to assume any Jurisdiction or legislative Power in these Things which concern England. But is it not a Matter of Stumbling, that a Civil Government so long established, and for the Maintenance of which the lawful Civil Power of these Lands have made so many Declarations, tied themselves by solemn Oath and Covenant (tho’ conditionally I confess) and the Maintenance and Preservation whereof was one Mean of preserving Peace betwixt the Nations; that, notwithstanding of all this, such a Government should have been so soon altered, without holding forth to the Consciences of the People of God convincing and satisfying Reasons for so doing (and we think we may say, without Prejudice to Truth) not so much by Consent, as by Constraint?

3. A third Stumbling-block is in reference to what concerns Religion (and it is the main one) which has several Branches. And, (1.) That tho’ the Lord has assisted England to put down the Popish, Prelatical, and Malignant Party, and to take away these Corruptions that the People of God in that Land were affected withal; yet to this Day we know not what is set up instead thereof, either in Doctrine, Worship, Discipline, or Government, but a high Toleration of all Things contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We know, no godly Man is so strict, as not to allow any Forbearance that ought to be to another godly Man: But, oh that a Toleration of Error should ever be heard of among the People of God! If it be Truth, Toleration is too little for it; but, if it be Error, Toleration is too much. And, is it any Wonder this be a Stumbling-block {14} to us? (2.) A second Branch is in reference both to the Ministry and Ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. [1.] In reference to the Ordinance of the Ministry itself. Is there not a too great Inclination in many of these Men against the very Ordinance? Are there not many Things spread abroad to that Purpose, to make it contemptible? And do not many Practices confirm the Truth of this? And, however they will grant a Ministry may be allowed for Order’s Cause in the Church, yet they do not look upon it as a standing Ordinance of JESUS CHRIST for the edifying and perfecting of his Body, as the Apostle speaks, Eph. 4. And hence, [2.] The other Stumbling-block is a Contemning and harsh Dealing with Ministers themselves, and so harsh in some Places, that we cannot see how it can be vindicate from a Persecution. And, is it any Wonder this be to us a Stumbling-block? (3.) A third Branch of this is in reference to the Lord’s Sabbaths. We have not indeed found much Reproof-worthy since they came to this Place, but many Practices and Things which are publick enough hold forth an Indifference in many of these Men, of keeping or not keeping the Lord’s Day. And when all these Things are put together, Toleration, Contempt of the Ministry and Ministers, misregarding of the Lord’s Day; Is it any Wonder this be one great Stumbling-block? Where Toleration of all Religions is, true Religion cannot long endure.

4. The fourth Stumbling-block is their unjust Invasion of us. And, when we speak of this, give us Leave to look upon the Grounds of Invasion, and consider of them, not as they flow from any particular Man’s Judgment, but as the {15} Powers of their Land have condescended upon them, and published them to the World and to us, in their Declaration of the Parliament and Army; and next, as these Grounds are owned in the Beginning of the Invasion. And so, taking them, give us Leave to say, They are not such as will conclude a just and necessary War. (1.) The first Ground is, That the Kingdom was invaded by us in the Year 1648, or rather by Duke Hamilton’s unlawful Engagement. And we need to say the less to this, because we believe there are many of themselves so rational, as to acknowledge they lay not much Weight on it; and I may say, That, if all that love our Lord Jesus Christ in Scotland had no more Guilt than can be justly charged on them in respect of that Engagement, we might go to our Grave in Peace without a Challenge. That Engagement was our Affliction, but not our Sin. For the second Ground is a Purpose that was on Foot in this Land to invade England; and for this we shall not contend whether there were Likelihoods or Presumptions of any Purpose of that Kind, that might have made wise and discerning Men apprehend and fear such a Thing, or might have been probable Grounds for such a Fear; but sure we are, whatever the Likelihoods or Presumptions of such a Purpose may do in reference to carnal Wisdom and Policy, yet they will never be just Grounds of War to such as walk by the Word of God, Conscience, and Piety. There ought to be just Grounds for a War, that brings so many Calamities on the People of God, not only Oppression and Spoliation [plundering] of their Goods, but the shedding of the Blood of Thousands, and the shedding of the Blood of the Saints, the {16} most precious Blood God has in the World. Ought not such a War to be founded on Grounds warranted by the Word of God? There ought to be not only Likelihoods and Presumptions, but Grounds demonstrative and uncontrovertibly clear before the World, of such a War: And whether the Purpose of the honest People of God was to have invaded them yea or not, we leave it to their Conscience to judge as before the Lord. Is it then any Wonder that the Lord’s People in this Land be stumbled at their Way, that has so many Stumbling-blocks in it? And O, that they would think on it as Duty lying on them to remove these Stumbling-blocks, lest, if they do it not, God himself, who is here engaged to take such out of the Way of his People, do it upon their Cost and Expenses!

F I N I S.


1. Here see, that Dominion is not founded on Grace.