CHAP. 12.

Four Cases more of the former Malady.

3. For trial, quickening, and exercise of spiritual graces, that they may put forth themselves with more power, improvement, and illustriousness. The cold comfort of a desertion in this case being unto them as water cast upon the smith's forge to make some of them especially to burn inwardly, as it were, with more intensity and heat, and all afterward to break out and flame more gloriously. There are many gracious dispositions and endowments in the Christian's heart which would never see the light, at least with such eminency, were it not for this darkness. The brightness of lamps languishes in the light, but they shine clear in the dark: the splendour and beauty of the stars would never appear were there no night. “Ye have heard of the patience of Job,” saith James (chap. v, 11); and we read also of his excellent faith, when he said, “Though he slay the, yet will I trust in him” (Job xiii, 15); but [[335]] we had neither heard of nor admired the one nor the other, had he not been afflicted both with outward troubles and inward terror. It is the highest and most heroical act of faith, and it is improved to the utmost, and shown to be armour of proof, to “trust in the name of the Lord and to stay upon our God when we walk in darkness and have no light” (Isa. l, 10). God is best pleased and most honoured when we rest upon him without any sensible comfort. I make no doubt but that admirable ejaculation of Job, “Though he slay me,” &c., did hold scale in God's acceptation with all those innocencies, integrities, and gracious conformities to his holy law (blessed fruits, I confess, of his invincible faith) enumerated chap. xxxi; nay. did incomparably overweigh them. Abraham's believing against hope was far above and of infinitely more worth with God than the sacrifice of his son, or all his other glorious services. it is no such great matter or mastery to be confident when we are encouraged and hired, as it were, with joy and peace in believing; but to stick to Christ and his sure word when we have against us sense and reason, flesh and blood, fears and feeling, heaven and earth, and all creatures, that is the faith indeed, there is its excellency, there is the true and orient sparkling and splendour of that heavenly jewel. That prayer is truly fervent, fullest of spirit, and enforced with most unutterable groans, which is poured out for the recovery of God's pleased countenance after it bath been turned away from us for a time. That love is most industrious and mighty, groweth strong as death and into a “most vehement flame,” which is enkindled in the upright soul, when her dearest love is departed in respect of feeling and fruition. Oh! then she prizeth and praiseth his spiritual beauty and excellency as one exceedingly “sick of love,” &c., grieves and laments extremely as you may see, Cant. v, 6-11. “I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone; my soul failed when he spake. I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer. The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smot, me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him that I am sick of love. What is thy beloved more than another beloved, O thou fairest among women? What is thy beloved more than another beloved, that thou dost so charge us? My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand. Ills head is as the most fine gold,” &c. That thankfulness which springs from a sensible [[336]] reenjoyment of Jesus Christ, and return of the sense of the savour of his good ointments into the soul, bath far more heart and life than the free and full possession of all the visible glory and outward comfort of the whole world could possibly put into it. That joy which makes our hearts leap within us upon the regaining of the wonted workings of grace, and our heavenly feelings, is much more joyful than either that which followed the first taste, or the after-free enjoyment of them. Excellent and extraordinary good things tasted and lost, beget a far greater sense of their sweetness and comfort upon their recovery than if they had been either never tasted or never lost. That sun-shine is most fair and amiable which breaks out after some boisterous storm, or great eclipse. Restitution to sense of grace after some despairful sadness for God's departure, may produce a deeper impression of spiritual pleasure in the recovered patient, than the first plantation of it. Thus doth our gracious God, who when he pleases can bring light out of darkness, life out of death, something out of nothing, heaven out of hell, even come nearer unto us by departing from us. By the dead winter-time of a spiritual desertion he may bring, by his blessed hand of mercy and quickening influence, more strength, activeness, lively exercise, and excellency into our graces and sweetest fruits thereof.

4. The Christian as he grows in knowledge, grace, spiritual abilities, forwardness, fruitfulness, and further from his new birth, except he be very watchful over his heart, much practised in the exercises of humiliation, often exercised in the school of afflictions, terrified sometimes with hideous injections, and walk humbly with his God, shall have, by a sly and insensible insinuation, privy pride to grow upon him, confidence in his own strength, too much attribution to the means, a self-conceit of an independent standing upon his own bottom, as it were, and by the power of his present graces; and therefore our wise God doth sometimes take a course to take down his self-confidence by withdrawing his countenance, and to humble his spiritual presumption with a spiritual desertion; I mean, by taking from him the sense of grace and feeling of his favour, by cutting off, as it were, for a time those streams of comfort which were wont to distil upon his soul by use and ordinary influence of the means, meditation, prayer, conference, public ministry, sabbaths, sacraments, days of humiliation and such like, doth mercifully force him to have recourse unto at length, with much longing and thirst, and to repose upon with more reverence and acknowledgment, the everlasting fountain and founder of all graces, comforts, compassions, and life; [[337]] even his own glorious, merciful, and almighty self. See this in the beginning of the third chapter of the Canticles. At the latter end of chap. ii, the Christian soul is sweetly crowned with a glorious overflowing confluence of all spiritual consolations, rapt extraordinarily with unutterable and joyful ravishment of spirit upon the nearer embracement of her dearest spouse, and more sensible grasping of refreshing graces. She lies so peacefully in his arms of mercy, and under the banner of his love, that she sweetly sings unto herself, “lily beloved is mine, and I am his.” But in the beginning of the third (for the days of God's child, after conversion, are like the days of the year; some fair and shining, some tempestuous and cloudy; some happy with heavenly honey dews, as it were, of unspeakable joy and inconceivable peace, others more dismal and disastrous, if I may so speak, for want of an amiable aspect from the throne of grace); I say, a little after, the case is fearfully altered with her: for she lies struggling and distressed in the irksome and comfortless desolations of a spiritual desertion. Her spouse is gone, the very heart and life, all her lightsomeness in this world and in the world to come. No sense now of the “savour of his good ointments;” no feeling of the assurance of Isis favour; nothing left of all that former heaven, but only a sad and woeful heart, which had been happy. In this rueful case, she casts about for recovery of her wonted comfort; assays those means which were accustomed to convey unto her with joy fresh streams and strength from time to time “out of the wells of salvation.”

First. She seeks her spouse and former refreshings of spirit by secret prayer, meditation, experimental considerations, calling to mind former assurances of his love, reflecting upon the footsteps of a saving work, unfeigned change and sweet communion with him aforetime, and other silent self-inquisitions and inward exercises of the heart. “But she found him not.” (ver. 1.)

Secondly. She inquires abroad, and hath recourse unto godly Christians, especially such as have been most exercised and best acquainted with trials, temptations, and mysteries of the holy way; to see if she can get any comfort, any new hold and hope by their counsel, prayers, instructions out of their own experience (for in such cases God's children may and ought to confess their sins and God's dealing with them one unto another, and pray one for another). But she finds none (ver. 2).

Thirdly. She addresses herself and resorts to faithful ministers, God's public agents in the church, about the [[338]] affairs of heaven and salvation of souls, to receive from them some light and direction to regain her love; but it will not yet be (ver. 3). No comfort comes by all or any of these means; no feeling of God's favour and former peace for all this various and solicitous seeking and pursuit. For God may sometimes purposely restrain his quickening influence from the means, and recall as it were to the wellhead those refreshing rivers of comfort, which ordinarily flow through his own holy ordinances as so many blessed conduits of grace into humble hearts; that we may fetch them more immediately from the fountain, the boundless sea of all heavenly treasures and true peace, and so with more humility, sense of self-emptiness, reverence, and praise, acknowledge from whence we have them.

“It was but a little that I passed from them,” saith the deserted soul, “but I found him whom my soul loveth” (ver. 4). When no means would bring him, but that she had passed through the use and exercise of them all, and he would not be found; he after, at length, comes upon his own compassionate accord, and enlightens her dark and disconsolate state with the shining beams of his glorious presence, and fills her plentifully with joy and believing again; that so no use, variety, and excellency of means, but his own free mercy and goodness, might be crowned with the glory of it.

Let every Christian, by the way, take notice of and treasure up this point; it may serve him in some spiritual extremity hereafter. God may sometimes withdraw and delay his comfort, to draw his children through all the means, which when they have passed without prevailing, he after (and immediately when he so pleases) puts to his helping hand, that they may not attribute it to the means, though never so excellent, but to the mercies of God, the only well-spring both of the first plantation, continuance, and everlastingness of all spiritual graces and true comforts in all those happy ones which shall be saved.

Why doth the Lord let us use all the means, and yet not find him in them?

That we may know he only cometh when he will, nothing moving him but his own good pleasure.

Fifthly. The world sometimes, that mighty enemy to the kingdom of Christ, aided underhand by the covetous corruption of our false heart and the devil's craft (for ordinarily in all assaults and overthrows Satan is the bellows, the world the wildfire, our corruptions the tinder, and the precious souls of men those goodly frames which are fearfully set on fire and blown up), doth wrestle so desperately [[339]] even with some of Christ's champions, that surprising their watch, cooling the fervour of their first love, and stealing away by little and little their spiritual strength, it supplants them at length and throws them upon the earth; whereon it labours might and main to keep them down and doating, that so they may root in the mud and mire thereof, to the great disgrace of divine pleasures, their high and excellent calling, and so raising the spirit of railing in unregenerate men to cast unworthy aspersions upon the glory of profession, for their sakes. Nay, too often by its subtle insinuations and syren's songs, it lulls them so long upon her lap that they are cast into a heavy slumber even of carnal security. And that so deep and dangerously, that though the Lord Jesus, the beloved of their soul, cry aloud in their ears by the shrill and piercing sound of his spiritual trumpeters', and by the more immediate and inward motions of his Holy Spirit, entreat them fairly upon all loves for his own dear passion's sake, and all those bloody sufferings, to shake off that carnal drowsiness, and to delight again in God; to let the earth fall out of their minds, and again to mind heavenly things — “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night” (Cant. v, 2): — Yet for all this, full loath they are to leave their beds of ease, and therefore frame many shifts, excuses, and delays to pass by and put off these compassionate calls of love and merciful importunities “I have put off my coat, how shall I put it on? 1 have washed my feet, how shall I defile them?” (ver. 3.) Whereupon their blessed spouse, so unworthily repelled with some notorious unkindness and ingratitude, scattering only in their hearts some sense and glimmerings of his spiritual sweetness and beauty, to breed the more shame and sorrow for so foul neglect, departeth from them for a time, withdraws the life and lightsomeness of his gracious presence, hides, as it were, in an angry cloud, the comfortable beams of his former favour, and so leaves them to the darkness of their own spirits, and in the comfortless damp of a justly-deserved desertion, that thereby they may be schooled to prize Jesus Christ before gold and silver, and to prefer, as is most meet, one glimpse of his pleased face before the splendour of all earthly imperial crowns; to listen with more reverence, cheerfulness, profit, and holy greediness to his heavenly voice in the ministry of the word, and to make more dear account of godly comforts when they shall recover and re-enjoy them. For the purpose we may find (Cant. v) the Christian soul laid too soft and lazily upon the bed of ease and earthly-mindedness, and slipt into a slumber of security [[340]] and self-love (Cant v. 2). Her well-beloved knocks and calls upon her; nay, bespeaks and entreats upon all the terms of dearest love, and for his painful sufferings' sake, to rise and open unto him. But she most unworthily puts him off with some slight excuses and delays of sloth (Cant v. 3); whereupon he drops into her heart some taste of his “sweetest ointments,” to set her affections on edge and eagerness after him (Cant v. 4, 5), and so departs and leaves her in sad and solitary grief for driving away her dearest, by such intolerable unkindness and shameful neglect (Cant v.6); which perplexity and trouble of spirit for his departure begets in her a great deal of zeal, fervency, and patience to follow after him (ver. 7, 8), an extraordinary admiration of his amiable excellencies and heavenly fairness (Cant v. 10, &c.), and no doubt a far nearer embracement and dearest esteem of him upon his return, and enjoyment of a more full, blessed communion with him again (Cant. vi, 3).

Sixthly, The graces of salvation are the most precious and costly things that ever issued out of the hands of God by creation. The dearest of his infinite mercies, the heart's blood of his Son, the noblest work of his blessed Spirit, do all sweetly concur movingly, meritoriously, efficiently to the production of them. No marvel then though it be right pleasing unto God that such rare and inestimable jewels should be rightly prized and holden in highest esteem by those that have them; that they should still appear and present themselves to those souls wherein they shine in their true excellency, orient fairness, and native beauty. Now privation of excellent things hath special power to raise our imaginations to a higher strain of estimation of them, and to cause us at their return to entertain them with much more longing, far dearer apprehensions and embracement. Absence and intermission of the most desirable comforts add a great deal of life to the love of them, and weight of preciousness to their valuation. The goodness of whatsoever we enjoy is better perceived by vicissitude of want than continual fruition. Sleep is more sweet after the tediousness of some wakeful and wearisome nights; liberty and enjoyment of the free air and faces of men after restraint and imprisonment; the glory and fairness of the sun after a black day or boisterous storm, &c. So God's favourable aspect is much more acceptable after an angry tempest and hiding his face for a season, and the graces of salvation far more amiable and admirable to the eye of his humbled child, after the darkness of a spiritual desertion. Wherefore our gracious God doth many times in great mercy and wisdom deprive his dearest servants for a time of the [[341]] presence of their spouse, the assurance of his love, and sense of those graces, that the absence thereof may represent the glory of such an incomparable happiness and those heavenly pearls more to the life; and discontinuance of their enjoyment may inflame and affect their hearts with more holy greediness and eager pursuit after them, and stir up in them that height of esteem and heat of love, which may in some good measure be answerable to their invaluable excellency and sweetness. Such a dullness of heart, deadness of affections, and declination to the world, may grow sometimes upon a good man, that he may find little more contentment in communion with Jesus Christ than in the prosperity of his outward affairs, which is infinitely unworthy a heir of heaven. But now in such a case, let God make him but to repossess the iniquities of his youth, and fight against him with all his terrors for a while, and the same man with all his heart will prefer the reconciled face of God and peace of conscience, before the sovereignty and sole command of all the kingdoms upon earth. While we have a free and uninterrupted recourse unto the throne of grace, we are apt to undervalue and to conceive of that mighty grace of prayer, but as of an ordinary gift; but if once the Lord please to leave us to that confusion and astonishment of spirit, that our ejaculations do sadly rebound upon our heavy and unheated hearts without answer or encouragement from heaven, we shall easily then acknowledge the spirit and power of prayer to be one of the fairest flowers in the garland of all our graces, the very arm of God to do miracles for us many times, and ever to settle our troubled souls in sweetest peace and patience amidst the greatest pressures and persecutions, either cf hellish or earthly enemies.