CHAP.  5.

Eight Conclusions more drawn from the afore-mentioned places.

5. IN times of trial.

Thou seest sometimes a father setting down his little one upon its feet to try its strength, and whether it be yet able to stand by itself or no; but withal he holds his arms on both sides to uphold it, if he see it incline either way, and to preserve it from hurt. Assure thyself thy heavenly Father takes care of thee with infinitely more tenderness in all thy trials, either by outward afflictions or inward temptations. “Though thou shouldst fall, yet shalt thou not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholdeth thee with his hand” (Psalm xxxvii, 24). Never did goldsmith attend so curiously and punctually upon those precious metals he casts into the fire, to observe the very first season, and be sure that they tarry no longer in the furnace than the dross be wasted, and they be thoroughly purified and fitted for some excellent use, as our gracious God lovingly waits to take thee out of trouble and temptation when the rust is removed from thy spiritual armour, thy graces shine out, and thou art heartily humbled and happily fitted to do him more glorious service for the time to come? I mean when he bath attained the end which he mercifully intended in love and for thy good.

[[254]] 6. In thoughts of our unworthiness.

David commanded Joab and the other captains “to entreat the young man Absalom gently for his sake” (2 Sam. xviii, 5). A rebellious, traitorous son up in arms against his own father, gracelessly and unnaturally thirsting, out of a furious ambitious humour, to wring the regal sceptre out of his hand, and to set the imperial crown upon his own head. How dearly and tenderly then will the Father of mercies deal with a poor humbled soul that sighs and seeks for his favour infinitely more than any earthly treasure, or the glory of a thousand worlds!

7. I will suppose thou hast broke some special vow (which were a grievous thing) made before the sacrament upon some day of humiliation, or such other occasion, and so forfeited thyself, as it were, and thy soul into the hands of God's justice, to be disposed of to the dungeon of utter darkness, if thou wert served as thy sin bath deserved. And thereupon thou art much afflicted and sore troubled in mind, to have suffered thyself to be so sottishly ensnared again in such a disavowed sin, against so strong a purpose. But here consider whether thou, being a father, wouldst take the forfeiture of a bond, and advantage of breaking day, especially full sore against his will, from thy dearest child, entreating thee to regard him kindly. Much, nay infinitely less will thy heavenly Father deal hardly with thee in such a case, if thou complain at the throne of grace with a grieved spirit, renew thy covenant, and tell him truly that thou wilt, by the help of the Holy Ghost, guard thy heart with a narrower watch and stronger resolution for the time to come. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John i, 9); and in such a case we have ever a blessed “advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John ii, 1).

8. A father sometimes threatens and offers to throw his little one out of his arms; but upon purpose only to make him cling closer unto him. Our heavenly Father may seem to cast off his child, and leave him for a while in the hands of Satan for inward temptation, or to the rage of his bloodthirsty agents for outward persecution: but it is only to draw him nearer to himself by more serious seeking and sure dependence in the time of trouble, and that with the hand of his faith he may lay surer hold upon his all-sufficiency.

And the child, especially if of riper age and wiser thoughts, laughs perhaps in the father's face, dreads no danger, dreams not of being hurt: and what is the reason, think ye? Only because he knows he that holds him is his father. So thy heavenly Father holds thee as it were over [[255]] hell in some strong temptation, upon purpose to terrify thee from tampering so much with the devil's baits; so that thou seest nothing about thee for the present but darkness and discomforts, and the very horrors of eternal death ready to take hold of thee; yet for all this, upon the ground of this loving, gracious resemblance, thou mayest be comforted and cry confidently with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job xiii, 15); with David, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Psalm xxiii, 4). “Who is among you,” saith the Prophet (Isaiah 1, 10), “that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.”

9. A son, by the seduction of some dissolute and drunken Belials is drawn into lewd and licentious company, and so plunges presently overhead and ears into pestilent courses; falls unhappily to swaggering, drinking, gaming, the mirth and madness of wine and pleasures; and at length to express to the life an exact conformity to that complete character given in the book of Wisdom[1] of the professors of good-fellowship ( as they call it) and epicurism, both for pursuit of sensual delights and persecution of true professors, whereby he wastes his patrimony, cuts the heart of his parents, and wounds his conscience. His father mourns and grieves, consults and casts about with all love and longing for his recovery and return. At length, out of sense and conscience of his base and debauched behaviour, vile company, dishonouring God, banishing good motions, “he comes to himself,” entreats his father upon his knees with many tears that he would be pleased to pardon what is past, receive him into favour again, and he will faithfully endeavour to displease him no more, but redeem the loss of the former with the improvement of the time to come. How willingly and welcomely think you would such a father receive such a son into the bosom of his fatherly affection, and arms of dearest embracement. And yet so, and infinitely more, is our heavenly Father merciful and melting towards any of his relapsed children, returning unto his gracious throne with true remorse and hearty grief for so going astray; which is an incomparable comfort in case of backsliding, which yet God forbid.

10. A father indeed will lay heavier burthens upon his son now grown into years and strength, and puts him to sorer labour and harder tasks; but while he is very young he is wont to forbear him with much tenderness and compassion; because he knows he is scarcely able to carry [[256]] himself out of the mire. Even so, but with infinitely more affectionateness and care, watchfulness and love, doth our heavenly Father bear in his arms and forbear a babe in Christ. See Isa. xl, 11. This may be a very sweet and precious cordial to weak consciences at their first conversion, who when they cast their eye upon the heinousness and number of their sins, the fiery and furious darts of the devil, the frowns and angry foreheads of their carnal friends, the world's lowering and enmity, the rebelliousness and untowardness of their own hearts, pressing upon them all at once, and so considering that “refraining from evil, they make themselves a prey,” are ready to sink and faint, and fear that they shall never hold out. For they may hence ground upon it, being upright-hearted, and believing that God, who knows their weakness full well, “will not suffer them to be tempted above that they are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that they may be able to bear it.” So that over all these adversaries arid ungodly oppositions they shall most certainly be more than conquerors.

11. When thou art dejected in spirit, and walkest more heavily, because thou comest short of stronger Christians in all performances, services, duties, and fruitful walking, and thereupon sufferest slavish doubts and distrusts, lest thy groundwork be not well laid, and beat back and bar out all spiritual joy and expected contentments in thy Christian course; I say then, and in such a case, suppose a father should call unto him in haste two of his children, one of three years old, the other of thirteen: they both make all the haste they can, but the elder makes much more speed, and yet the little one comes on waddling as fast as it can, and if it had more strength it would have matched the other. Now would not the father accept of the younger's utmost endeavour according to its strength, as well as of the elder's faster gait, being stronger? I am sure he would; and that with more tenderness too, and taking it in his arms to encourage it. And so certainly will thy heavenly Father deal with thee in the like case about thy spiritual state, being true-hearted, and heartily grieving, praying, and endeavouring to do better.

12. Suppose a child to fall sick in a family. The father presently sets the whole house on work for the recovery of its welfare. Some run for the physician, others for friends and neighbours; some tend it, others watch it; all contribute their several abilities, endeavours, and diligence to do it good; and thus they continue in motion, affection, and extraordinary employment about it, far more than about. all the rest that are well, until it recover. With the very [[257]] same but incomparably more tender care and compassion will thy heavenly Father visit thee in all thy spiritual maladies and sicknesses of soul. The whole blessed Trinity is stirred, as it were, extraordinarily, and takes to heart thy troubles at such a time. Even as a shepherd takes more pains and exercises more pity and tenderness about his sheep when they are out of tune. See Isa. xl, 11; Ezek. xxxiv, 16; upon which places hdar the paraphrase of a blessed divine: “The Lord will not be unfaithful to thee if thou be upright with him, though thou be weak in thy carriage to him; for he keeps his covenant for ever; ' and therefore in Isa. xl, the Lord expresseth it thus: You shall know me as sheep know their shepherd, and I will make a covenant with you,' and thus and thus I will deal with you. And how is that 1 Why the covenant is not thus only—as long as you keep within the bounds and keep within the fold, as long as you go along the paths of righteousness and walk in them; — but this is the covenant that I will make: 1 will drive you according to that you are able to bear. If any be great with young, I will drive them softly; if they be lame that they are not able to go, saith he, I will take them up in mine arms and carry them in my bosom.' If you compare with Ezek. xxxiv, you shall find there he puts down all the slips we are subject to (speaking of the time of the gospel, when Christ should be the shepherd), he shows the covenant that he will make with those that are his. Saith he; 'if anything be lost,' if a sheep lose itself, this is my covenant, I will find it; ' if it be driven away by any violence of temptation, 'I will bring it back again:' If there be a breach made into their hearts by any occasion through sin and lust, I will heal them and bind them up.' This the Lord will do; this is the covenant that he makes.” But I was telling you the whole blessed Trinity grieves (if I may so speak) after a special manner in all the spiritual troubles especially of all those who are true of heart. God the Father's bowels of mercy yearn compassionately over thee when he sees thee spiritually sick. The distressed and disconsolate state of thy soul, puts him into such melting and affectionate pangs as these: “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted; behold, 1 will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires,” &c. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned,” &c. (Isa. liv, 11; and xl, 1, 2.) Jesus Christ, out of his own experience, knoweth full well what it is to be grievously tempted, what it is to have the most hideous [[258]] thoughts and horrible injections thrown into the mind that can be possibly imagined; nay, that the devil himself can devise. See Matt. iv, 6, 9. What a hell it is to want the comfortable influence of the Father's pleased face and favour. See Matt. xxvii, 46. And therefore he cannot choose but be “afflicted in our afflictions;” and very sensibly and sweetly under-hearted in all our spiritual troubles. They pity most in our sicknesses, who have felt the same themselves. “In that he himself suffered and was tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Heb. ii, 18). As for the blessed Spirit, it is his proper work, as it were, “to comfort them that mourn in Zion; to give unto them beauty for ashes; the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” And yet besides all this, thy heavenly Father, in the distress of thy soul, sets also on work the church of God about thee; faithful ministers to pray for, and prepare seasonable and sound arguments, reasons, counsels, and comforts out of God's blessed book, to support, quicken, revive, and recover thee all they can; private Christians to commend thy case unto the “throne of grace and mercy;” and that extraordinarily with mightiness of prayer upon their more solemn days of humiliation.

Thus, and in the like manner, peruse all the compassionate passages of the most tender-hearted parents to their best-beloved children in all cases of danger and distress; and so and infinitely more tenderly will our heavenly Father deal with all that are upright-hearted in all their troubles, trials, and temptations. For the dearest love of the most affectionate father and mother to their child is nothing to that, which he bears to those that fear him (Isa. xlix, 15; Psalm ciii, 13; Dent. viii, 5),

[1] Wisd. ii, 6, &c.; xii, &c.