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quick upon his mind, with the terrors of the Almighty fresh upon his conscience, must needs carry about him all the dejection, poorness, and lowness of spirit before God, that we can imagine in a małefactor convict, and ready to suffer before men. His heart fails and sinks, and is utterly at a loss where and upon what bottom to fix. Only he knows that the hands of mercy are not tied, nor the bowels of divine goodness wholly shut up against sinners; and that, as it is enough to rescue him from despair, so on the other side it is far from ministering to confidence and ostentation.
This is properly the person who works out his salvation with trembling and continual fears; as knowing that corrupt nature has treasured up fuel enough in his breast for the wrath of God to feed upon for ever : between which and himself nothing can interpose, but the free, unmerited relentings of the divine compassion; which like the wind blows where it lists, and lays itself out upon whom it will, as being above the claim and challenge of any sinner under heaven, whose title lies clear and questionless to nothing but the curse. Now the sense of a great misery impendent upon a man, naturally casts his mind into a depressed and an abject posture. For what person living can be bold, free, and cheerful, who knows that he lives every minute upon courtesy, that he breathes by the connivance of his great Judge, and a suspension of that sentence that the law has already pronounced, and justice may execute when it pleases. Such must needs look upon themselves as lost and undone by nature: and those, whose eyes God has never yet opened to see themselves in such a woful, forlorn estate, but have passed
their days with a blind assurance, void of the least grudging, doubtful, or suspicious thought about the safety of their spiritual condition, are not yet arrived to that poorness in spirit that all must come to, before they arrive to heaven.
For indeed it would be but salvation and redemption thrown away, for Christ to save any, who are not convinced that they are ruined without Christ. None shall enter the gates of heaven, whose fears and apprehensions have not sometimes placed them upon the brink of hell.
For the vastness of such a change is that which sets a price and a crown upon mercy; and the apprehended nearness of utter perdition, that which enhances and endears salvation.
Having thus shewn the nature of this poverty of spirit, and that both negatively, by distinguishing it from what it is not, as also positively, by declaring wherein it does consist ; I proceed now to the next thing, which is to shew, by what means this frame of spirit is to be obtained.
As for the cause from whence it must flow, that is evident without inquiry. For being a supernatural grace, it springs not from the stock of nature, but descends from above, from that eternal Spirit, that is the author and giver of every good and perfect gift. Reason is too weak a principle to discourse a man into so excellent a disposition. A disposition that holds no intercourse with the flesh and the world, but raises the mind to such desires, such ways and courses of acting, as not only transcend, but also thwart and oppose all his earthly affections. But still, though the Spirit be the only productive cause of this evangelical virtue, yet there are certain means to be used by us, with the use of which he
concurs in the production of it; for God will treat us like rational agents, and not like senseless logs, requiring us to bear an active share in the promoting and carrying on of that great affair of our eternal happiness. Now there are three ways, by which, through the concurrence of the Holy Ghost with our endeavours, we may at length bring ourselves to this blessed poorness of spirit, a quality of so much value in the eyes of our Saviour, of so much worth and weight in the balance of the sanctuary.
1. The first is a frequent, deep, and serious considering of the relation we stand in towards God. The contemplation of which will shew us that unmeasurable distance that is between him and us. It will convince us what nothings we are in comparison of him, that first raised us out of nothing. When we consider the unlimited perfections of his nature, we shall find our thoughts even swallowed up, and our understandings dazzled, as not being able to fathom so great an abyss, or to behold so radiant a brightness. And this must needs dash all esteem of ourselves, and bring us out of love with our own little supposed excellencies. He that accustoms himself to meditate upon the greatness of God, finds those questions continually rising and stirring in his heart, How shall dust and ashes ever be able to stand before him ? how shall weakness and imperfection enjoy that nature that it is at a loss even to think of, and never contemplates upon, without amazement? The creature never appears so pitiful and inconsiderable, as when it views itself with one eye, and its Creator with the other.
Every thing is more apparent as it stands com
pared with its opposite. Man is but a weak and a contemptible thing at the best; but much more contemptible, if compared to an angel, and yet infinitely and inconceivably more despicable must he be, if compared to God. A glowworm signifies little if compared but to a candle; but set it before the stars, consider it in emulation with the sun, and the ruling lights of heaven, and what a silly, ridiculous thing must it appear !
While men consider nothing but themselves, they may grow proud and conceited: for little things may be valued by those who never saw greater. He that never saw the day, may admire and dote upon his lamp. But consideration and experience of great things reduces and degrades little petit matters to their own proper dimensions. Those that measure themselves by themselves (says the apostle) are not wise. For when we make a thing its own measure, it is impossible to discover any defect in it. But bring it to another thing that excels and outshines it, and then we shall quickly see how much a tree is taller than a shrub, and a royal palace greater and nobler than a country cottage.
Men are enamoured with their own reason; but let them compare it with omniscience, and it is nothing. They perhaps value themselves upon their dominion over these inferior things; but what is all their grandeur to the royalty and universal empire of Providence ? what is their policy to the wisdom of him that governs the world, and charges the very angels with folly? It is impossible for a man that frequently and seriously thinks of God, to value himself.
Now to these considerations we may add that also
of our unprofitableness to God. For by all that we either are or do, we can contribute nothing to that immense fulness that is in him. And if it were possible that some emolument might rise to him from our services, yet it were infinitely needless; for what want could there be in all-sufficiency? what need could his ocean have of the drops of our bucket? Thou desirest not sacrifice, says David. And God himself gives the reason why he does not, in Psal. 1. 9, 10, 12, I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee : for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. We need not ply his altar with sacrifices, or spread a table before the Almighty, as if he ate the flesh of bulls, or drank the blood of goats. It is like that in the Jewish economy many were so stupid and gross in their opinions of God, as to think that they gave him a repast, and a large meal in all their burntofferings : for certain it is that many of the heathens thought so. And therefore God upbraids them with those absurd discourses, by vouching his dominion over all the stores of nature, by which, if he had thought fit, he could easily have supplied himself, without the ministry of any of the sons of men. Now what those absurd persons thought of their sacrifices in relation to God, the same nowadays think many of the Christians of their prayers, their services and religious works, that from these is imported so large a revenue to the divine honour, that God is much the better and the richer for them, and could not maintain his glory to the same height in the want of them. This is the philosophy of the