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How many, and how various, are the avenues by which distress creeps into the life of the believer, from the dark and mysterious dealings of God with his people, would be difficult to ascertain. But the mere outlines are enough.
Bereaving Bereaving providences; straitened, and difficult circumstances: the thwarting those desires, which seemed to promise much glory to God, and great improvement to ourselves: sudden, and unexpected breaches in our persons, or in our families; the being deeply drenched in want, and poverty, while beholding the rioting excesses of the sensual; these, and the like exercises, for the trial of faith, in a gracious soul, sometimes induce great sorrow of heart. And especially, if in either of those cases, the mind is directed to connect, some past transgression, with the present affliction, as the cause. Both together, bear hard upon the soul, and induce a faintness, and trembling, which I presume, many too well know, to need my explaining. David, whose instance serves as an illustration, upon most occasions of the lives of the faithful, and whose whole history indeed, is but as a book of experiences, to this purpose, furnisheth a proof of the kind, I am now speaking of; and thousands beside David, I believe, have been brought nearly, by similar events like him, to the brink of apostacy. He tells us that his own personal sorrows, while viewing at the same time the prosperity of the ungodly, made him cherish hard thoughts of God.
is good to Israel. Yet in his dispensations, he could not at the first view of things, reconcile it to himself. As for me (says he) my feet were almost gone, my steps had well nigh slipt. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw their prosperity. There are no bands in their death: their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men: they prosper in the world: they increase in riches. But (says David) as for me all the day long have I been plagued and chastened every morning. *
These few instances, will I hope be enough, (for your time will not favor the adding more) by way of explaining the doctrine contained in the former part of our text: that the life of the faithful is accompanied with much fainting.
I pause one moment, over what hath been said, before I enter upon the second part, of our subject; just to request, every deeply exercised soul who hears me, and whose heart perhaps, in the very moment I am speaking, is faint by reason of discouragements, no longer to wonder, at his faintings, when he sees so much cause for it, in his sins. If grace be so weak, and corruption so strong; let it rather excite your wonder, and at the same time, become the strongest of all motives, to call up your praise, that a soul, sifted like yours, in the sieve of so many, and mighty adversaries, and shaken and tossed about so violently, as you are, should not long since have fallen to the ground. If a spark of grace lives in a sea of such corruption; If a taper, so feeble, and of such small glimmering, still burns, and be kept in, notwithstanding the rudest winds are blowing upon it, from every quarter; doth it not lead you to see, and ought it not induce you as thankfully to acknowledge, that divine strength, is manifested in creature weakness?,
And if this important lesson, be taught you, by the Holy Ghost, in the experimental teachings, of your own heart, which is the best of all schools, your sharpest exercises, will ultimately prove, your sweetest comforts. For what furnisheth subject of prayer now, will hereafter produce cause of praise. Faint you may be : but lost you never can. How shall he sink, under whom, are the everlasting aris? And in the mean time, let that sweet promise, be your comfort; He that goeth forth and weepeth bearing precious seed shall doubtless come again with rejoicing. *
I proceed now, to the second object which I proposed to accomplish, namely, to shew, that however faint, the believer is, yet is he still pursuing, and through grace, is enabled to hold on, and hold out, against all opposition, to the attainment of the prize of the high calling of God which is in Christ Jesus.
It is the very distinguishing character of the life of grace, that God the Holy Ghost, carrieth it on in the heart of the truly regenerated believer, amidst a thousand difficulties. It appears to the man himself, upon numberless occasions, as if his hopes were all over, and his expecta
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* Psalm 126. 6.