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with God in thed, you may bear and not be aware coldness and
fortable to you, even when you do indeed desire communion with God in them. You may hear the most delightful evangeli. cal truths opened, you may hear the privileges of God's children most affectionately represented, and not be aware that you have any part or lot in the matter; and from that very coldness and insensibility may be drawing a farther argument, that you have nothing to do with them. And then your heart may meditate terror*, and under the distress that overwhelms you, your dearest enjoyments may be reflected upon as adding to the weight of it, and making it more sensible, while you consider that you had once such a taste for these things, and have now lost it all. So that perhaps it may seem to you, that they who never felt any thing at all of religious impressions, are happier than you, or at least less miserable. You may perhaps in these melancholy hours, even doubt, whether you have ever prayed at all, and whether all that you called your enjoyment of God, were not some false delight, excited by the great enemy of souls, to make you apprehend that your state was good, that so you might continue his more secure prey.
$. 5. Such as this may be your case for a considerable time; and ordinances may be attended in vain, and the presence of God may be in vain sought in them. You may pour out your soul in private, and then come to public worship, and find little satisfaction in either ; but be forced to take up the Psalmist's complaint ; My God, I cry in the day-time, but thou hearest not ; and in the night season, and am not silentt; or that of Job, Behold I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive him ; on the left hand where he doth work, but I. cannot behold him ; he hideth himself on the right hand that I cannot see himf. So that all, which looked like religion, in your mind, shall seem as it were, to be melted into grief, or chilled into fear, or crushed into a deep sense of your own unworthiness; in consequence of which, you shall not dare so much as to lift up your eyes before God, and be almost ashamed to take your place in a worshipping assembly among any that you think his servants. I have known this to be the case of some excellent christians, whose improvements in religion have been distinguished, and whom God hath honoured above many of their brethren in what he hath done for them, and by them. Give me leave therefore, having thus described it, to offer you some plain advices with regard to it; and let not that be imputed to enthusiastic fancy, which proceeds from an intimate and frequent
on the li himself ore d like religion
* Isai. xxxii, 18.
+ Psal. xxii. 2.
Job xxiii. 8, 9.
view of facts on the one hand, and from a sincere affectionate desire, on the other, to relieve the tender pious heart in so desolate a state. At least I am persuaded, the attempt will not be overlooked or disapproved by the great shepherd of the sheep*, who has charged us to comfort the feeble-mindedt.
$. 6. And here I would first advise you most carefully to enquire, Whether your present distress does indeed arise from causes which are truly spiritual? Or whether it may not rather have its foundation in some disorder of body, or in the circumstances of life in wbich you are providentially placed, which may break your spirits and deject your mind? The influence of the inferior part of our nature, on the nobler, the immortal spirit, while we continue in this embodied state, is so evident, that no attentive person can, in the general, fail to have observed it; and yet, these are cases in which it seems not to be sufficiently considered ; and perhaps your own may be one of them. The state of the blood is often such, as necessarily to suggest gloomy ideas even in dreams, and to indispose the soul for taking pleasure in any thing: and when it is so, why should it be imagined to proceed from any peculiar divine displeasure, if it does not find its usual delight in religion? Or why should God be thought to have departed from us, because he suffers natural causes to produce natural effects, without opposing by miracle to break the connection ? When this is the case, the help of the physician is to be sought, rather than that of the divine, or at least, by all means, together with it ; and medicine, diet, exercise and air, may, in a few weeks, effect that, which the strongest reasonings, the most pathetic exhortation or consolations, might for many months have attempted in vain.
$. 7. In other instances, the dejection and feebleness of the mind may arise from something unconfortable in our worldly circumstances; these may cloud as well as distract the thoughts, and imbitter the temper, and thus render us in a great degree unfit for religious services or pleasures; and when it is so, the remedy is to be sought, in submission to divine providence, in abstracting our affections as far as possible from the present world, in a prudent care to ease ourselves of the burden so far as we can, by moderating unnecessary expences, and by diligent application to business, in humble dependance on the di. vine blessing; in the mean time, endeavouring by faith to look up to him, who sometimes suffers his children to be brought into
* Heb, xiii. 20.
+ 1 Thess. v, 14.
such disficulties, that he may endear himself more sensibly to them by the method he shall take for their relief.
§. 8. On the principles here laid down, it may perhaps appear, on enquiry, that the distress complained of, may have a foundation very different from what was at first supposed. But where the health is sound, and the circumstances easy ; when the animal spirits are disposed for gaiety and entertainment, while all taste for religious pleasure is in a manner gone ; when the soul is seized with a kind of lethargic insensibility, or what I had almost called, a paralytic weakness, with respect to every religious exercise, even though there should not be that deep terrifying distress, or pungent amazement, which I before represented as the effect of melancholy; nor that anxiety about the accommodations of life, which straight circumstances naturally produce: I would in that case vary my advice, and urge you, with all possible attention and impartiality, to search into the cause which has brought upon you that great evil under which you justly mourn. And, probably, in the general, the cause is sin: some secret sin which has not been discovered or observed by the eye of the world; for enormities that draw on them the observation and censure of others, will probably fall under the case mentioned in the former chapter, as they must be instances of known and deliberate guilt. Now the eye of God hath seen these evils which have escaped the notice of your fellow-creatures; and in consequence of this care to conceal them from others, while you could not but know they were open to him, God has seen himself in a peculiar manner affronted, and injured, I had almost said insulted by them : and hence his righteous displeasure. Oh! let that never be forgotten, which is so plainly said, so commonly known, so familiar to almost every religious ear, yet too little felt by any of our hearts, Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you that he will not hear*. And this is, on the whole, a merciful dispensation of God, though it may seem severe; regard it not therefore, merely as your çalamity, but as intended to awaken you, that you may not con. tent yourself, even with lying in tears of humiliation before the Lord, but, like Joshua, rise and exert yourself vigorously, to put away from you that accursed thing whatever it be. Let this be your immediate and earnest care, that your pride may be humbled, that your watchfulness may be maintained, that
your affections to the world may be deadened, and that on the whole, your fitness for heaven may in every respect be increased. These are the designs of your heavenly Father, and let it be your great concern to co-operate with them.
$. 9. Receive it therefore on the whole, as the most important advice that can be given you, immediately to enter on a strict examination of your conscience. Attend on its gentlest whispers. If a suspicion arises in your mind, that any thing has not been right, trace that suspicion, search into every secret folding of your heart; improve to the purposes of a fuller discovery, the advice of your friends, the reproaches of your enemies ; recollect for what your heart hath smitten you at the table of the Lord, for what it would smite you, if you were upon a dying bed, and within this hour to enter on eternity. When you have made any discovery, note it down, and go on in your search, till you can say, these are the remaining corruptions of my heart, these are the sins and follies of my life; this have I neglected ; this have I done amiss. And when the account is as complete as you can make it, set yourself in the strength of God to a strenuous reformation, or rather begin the reformation of everything that seems amiss as soon as ever you discover it ; Return to the Almighty and thou shalt be built up; and put iniquity far from thy tabernacle then shalt thou have thy delight in the Almighty, and shalt lift up thy face unto God. Thou shalt make thy prayer unto him and he shall hear thee, thou shalt pay thy vows unto him, and his light shall shine upon thy ways*.
$. 10. In the mean time be waiting for God with the deepest humility, and submit yourself to the discipline of your heavenly Father, acknowledging his justice, and hoping in his mercy; even when your conscience is least severe in its remonstrances, and discovers nothing more than the common infirmi. ties of God's people ; yet still bow yourself down before him, and own, that so many are the evils of your best days, so many the imperfections of your best services, that by them you have deserved all, and more than all that you suffer; deserved, not only that your sun should be clouded, but that it should go down and arise no more, but leave your soul in a state of everlasting darkness. And while the shade continues, be not impatient. Fret not yourself in any wise, but rather with a boly calmness and gentleness of soul, wait on the Lordt. Be willing to stay his tiine, willing to bear bis frown, in humble
hope that he will at length return and have compassion on you*. He has not utterly forgotten to be gracious, nor resolved that he will be favourable no moret. For the Lord will not cast off for ever; but though he cause grief, yet will he hade compassion according to the multitude of his merciest. It is comparatively but for a small moment that he hides his face from you; but you may humbly hope, that with great mercies he will gather you, and that with everlasting kindness he will have. mercy on youş. The suitable words are not mine, but his; and they wear this, as in the very front of them, “ That a soul, under the hidings of God's face, may at last be one whom he will gather, and to whom he will extend everlasting favour.”
$. 11. But while the darkness continues, “ go on in the way of your duty.” Continue in the use of means and ordinances . read and meditate: pray, yes, and sing the praises of God too, though it may be with a heavy heart. Follow the footsteps of his flock|l; you may perhaps meet the shepherd of souls in doing it. Place yourself at least in his way. It is possible you may by this means get a kind look from him ; and one look, one turn of thought which may happen in a moment, may as it were create a heaven in your soul at once. Go to the table of the Lord. If you cannot rejoice, go and mourn there. Go and mourn that Saviour, whom by your sins you have pierced; go and lament the breaches of that covenant, which you have there so often confirmed. Christ may perhaps make himself known unto you in the breaking the bread**, and you may find, to your surprise, that he hath been near you, when you imagined he was at the greatest distance from you ; near you, when you thought you were cast out from his presence. Seek your comforts in such employments as these ; and not in the vain amusements of the world, and in the pleasures of sense. I shall never forget that affectionate expression, which I am well assured broke out from an eminently pious heart, then almost ready to break under its sorrows of this kind ! “ Lord, if I may not enjoy thee, let me enjoy nothing else, but go down mourning after thee to the grave !” I wondered not to hear, that almost as soon as this sentiment had been breathed out before God in prayer, the burden was taken off, and the joy of God's salvation restored.
$. 12. I shall add but one advice more ; and that is,“ That
Isai, liv. 7,8.
* Jer. xii. 15.
Cant. i. 8.
f Psal. lxxvii. 7, 9. Lam. iii. 31, 32.