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power of temptation, subtilty of lusts, neglect of watchful, ness, by one means or other, iş surprised in the sins, or ways that he had relinquished, or is turned aside from the vigour of that course wherein he was engaged, he may be exposed not only to great despondencies, but also be overtaken with secret resolves to give over contending, seeing it is to no more purpose, nay, to no purpose, and that God regards him not at all, Take an instance or two in each kind.
twai The first we have in Job in the extremity of his trials and terrors from the Lord. See among other places, chap. x. 3. Is it,' saith he to God, 'good for thee that thou shouldest oppress, that thou shouldest despise the work of thy hands ?' Ah poor worms, with whom have we to do? who shall say unto a king, Thou art wicked, and to princes, ye are ungodly? And will ye speak to him, who respecteth not the person of princes, nor regardeth them more than the poorest in the earth? And see what conclusions from such thoughts as these he doth infer, chap. xiv. 15–17. Thou numberest my steps : dost thou not watch over my sin ? My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and thou sowest up my iniquity,' He chargeth God to be his enemy, one that watched for all opportunities and advantages against him, that seemed to be glad at his halting, and take care that none of his sins should be missing when he intended to deal with him. Had this indeed been the case with him, he had perished unto eternity, as elsewhere he acknowledged.
Of the other, we have an instance in the church, Lam iii. 18. • I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord.' Present grace in spiritual strength, and future expectation of mercy are all gone. And what is got by this? Secret hard thoughts of God himself are hereby inge, nerated, as ver. 8. 'When I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayers:' ver. 44. • Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayers should not pass through.' These things are grievous unto God to bear, and no way useful to the soul in its condition. Yea, they more and more unfit it for every duty that may lie in a tendency to its relief and deliverance.
So was it with Jonah, chap. ii. 4. 'I said, I am cast out of thy sight;' all is lost and gone with me, as good give over as contend, I do but labour in vain; perish I must as one cast out of the sight of God. The like complaints fell also from Heman in his distress; Psal. Ixxxviii.
The general who heard one of his soldiers cry out upon a fresh onset of the enemy, Now we are undone, now we are ruined; called him a traitor, and told him it was not so, whilst he could wield his sword. It is not for every private soldier on every danger to make judgment of the battle. That is the work of the general. Jesus Christ is the captain of our salvation,' he hath undertaken the leading and conduct of our souls through all our difficulties. Our duty is to fight and contend; his work is to take care of the event; and to him it is to be committed.
That then you make a due use of this rule, keep always in your minds these two considerations.
1. That it is not for you to take the judgment of Christout of his hand, and to be passing sentence upon your own souls. Judgment as to the state and condition of men is committed unto Christ, and to him it is to be left. This we were directed unto in our first rule, and it is of special use in the case under consideration. Self-judging in reference unto sin, and the demerit of it, is our duty. The judging of our state and condition in relation unto the remedy provided, is the office and work of Jesus Christ, with whom it is to be left.
2. Consider that hard thoughts of what God will do with you, and harsh desponding sentences pronounced against yourselves, will insensibly alienate your hearts from God.
may be when men's perplexities are at the height, and the most sad expressions are as it were wrested from them, they yet think they must justify God, and that they do so accordingly. But yet such thoughts as those mentioned, are very apt to infect the mind with other inclinations. For after awhile they will prevail with the soul to look on God as an enemy, as one that hath no delight in it; and what will be the consequence thereof is easily discernable. None will continue to love long, where they expect no returns. Suffer not then your minds to be tainted with such thoughts; and let not God be dishonoured by any such expressions as reflect on that infinite grace and compassion which he is exercising towards you.
The tenth rule. Duly improve the least appearances of God in a
way of grace or pardon.
If you would come to stability, and a comforting persuasion of an interest in forgiveness by the blood of Christ, improve the least appearances of him unto your souls, and the least intimations of his love in pardon, that are made unto you in the way of God. The spouse takes notice of her husband, and rejoiceth in him, when he stands behind the wall, when he doth but look forth at the window, and shew himself at the lattice, when she could have no clear sight of him; Cant. ii. 9. She lays hold on the least appearance of him to support her heart withal, and to stir up her affections towards him. Men in dangers do not sit still to wait until something presents itself unto them that will give assured deliverance; but they close with that which first presents itself unto them, that is of the same kind and nature with what they look after. And thus God doth in many places express such supportments as give the soul little more than a possibility of attaining the end aimed at. As Zeph. ii. 3. • It may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord's anger :' and Joel ii. 14. · Who knoweth but he will return and leave a blessing? It may be we shall be hid; it may be we shall have a blessing. And this was the best ground that Jonathan had for the great undertaking against the enemies of God; 1 Sam. xiv. 6.' It may be God will go along with us.' And to what end doth God at any time make these seemingly dubious intimations of grace and mercy ? is it that we should by the difficulty included in them, be discouraged and kept from him? Not at all; he speaks nothing to deter sinners, especially distressed sinners, from trusting in him. But his end is that we should close with, and lay hold upon, and improve, the least appearances of grace, which this kind of expressions do give unto us. When men are in a voyage at sea, and meet with a storm or a tempest which abides upon them, and they fear will at last prevail against them ; if they make so far a discovery of land, as that they can say, It may be there is land, it may be it is
such a place where there is a safe harbour ; none can positively say, it is not; there lies no demonstration against it. In this condition, especially if there be no other way of escape, delivery, or safety proposed to them, this is enough to make them to follow on that discovery, and with all diligence to steer their course that way, until they have made a trial of it unto the utmost. The soul of which we speak is afflicted and tossed, and not comforted. There is in the intimation of grace and pardon intended, a remote discovery made of some relief. This may be Christ; it may be forgiveness. This it is convinced of; it cannot deny but at such or such a time, under such ordinances, or in such duties, it was persuaded that yet there might be mercy and pardon for it. This is enough to carry it to steer its course constantly that way; to press forward unto that harbour which will give it rest. How little was it that David had to bring his soul unto a composure in his great distress, 2 Sam. xv. 25, 26.
If,' saith he, 'I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again, and shew me the ark, and the place of his habitation; but if he thus say, I have no delight in thee, behold here am I, let him do unto me as seemeth good unto him.' He hath nothing but sovereign grace to rest upon, and that he gives himself up unto.
Faith is indeed the soul's venture for eternity. Something it is to venture on, as to its eternal condition. It must either adhere unto itself, or its own vain hopes of a righteousness of its own; or it must give over all expecta. tion and lay down in darkness; or it must shut out all dreadful apprehensions of eternity, by the power and activity of its lusts and carnal affections ; or it must, whatever its discouragements, be, cast itself upon pardon in the blood of Jesus Christ. Now if all the former ways be detestable and pernicious, if the best of them be a direct opposition unto the gospel, what hath the soul that inquires after these things to do, but to adhere unto the last, and to improve every encouragement, even the least to that purpose ?
As a close unto these general rules, I shall only add this last direction : consider in particular where the stress and hinderanee lies, that keeps you off from peace, through an established persuasion of an interest in evangelical pardon. Do not always fluctuate up and down in generals and uncer
tainties ; but drive things unto a particular issue, that it may be tried whether it be of sufficient efficacy to keep you in your present entanglements and despondencies. Search out your wound, that it may be tried whether it be curable
Now in this case we cannot expect that persons should suggest their own particular concerns, that so they might be considered and be brought unto the rule; but we must ourselves reduce such distresses, as may, or do, in this matter befall the minds of men, unto some general heads, and give a judgment concerning them according to the word of truth. Indeed particular cases, as varied by circumstances, are endless ; nor can they be spoken unto in this way of instruction and direction; but they must be left to occasional considerations of them, as they are represented unto them who are intrusted to dispense the mysteries of God. Besides, many have laboured already in this matter, and their endeavours are in, and of, general use; although it must be said, as was before observed, that special cases are so varied by their circumstances, that it is very rare that any resolutions of themi are every way adequate and suited unto the apprehensions of them that are exercised with them. I shall therefore cali things unto some general heads, whereunto most of the objections that distressed sinners make against their own peace, may be reduced ; and leave the light of them to be applied in particular, unto the relief of the souls of men, as God shall be pleased to make them effectual.
Second general head of the application of the truth insisted on. Grounds
of spiritual disquietments considered. The first, afflictions. Ways and means of the aggravation of afflictions. Rules about them.
That which now lieth before us, is the second part of the second general use educed from the truth insisted on. Our aim is to lead on souls towards peace with God, through a gracious persuasion of their interest in that forgiveness which is with him. And it consists, as was declared, in a consideration of some of those disquietments which befall the minds of men, and keep them off from establishment in this matter.