CHAP. 15.

Two Helps for the curing of a Man troubled with the former Malady.

THUS having discovered the cases and causes of spiritual desertion, I come now to the comforts and the cure.

I. And let us first take notice of a double desertion First. Passive, when God withdraws himself from us. Secondly. Active, when we withdraw ourselves from God. And they are both twofold: —1. Temporary; and 2. Final.

1. Passive desertion temporary: as in David (Psalm lxxvii); Heman the Ezrahite (Psalm lxxxviii); Job; both the Glovers; Mrs. Brettergh; Mr. Peacock; and many more of God's children.

2. Final: in many after a woeful and wilful abuse of many mercies, means of salvation, and general graces. As Saul, Judas, &c.; such as have outstood all opportunities and seasons of grace; and all those, Prov. i, 24.

(1.) Active desertion temporary; as Solomon, &c.

(2.) Final; as in those, Heb. x.

Now in the present point I understand only a passive  temporary desertion; and therefore in that man who is truly engrafted into Christ by a justifying faith, and regenerated, who can never possibly either forsake finally, or be finally forsaken of God. Of whom Hooker thus speaks[1]:— “Blessed for ever and ever be that mother's child whose faith bath made him the child of God. The earth may shake; the pillars of the world may tremble under us; the countenance of the heaven may be appalled; the sun may lose his light, the stars their glory; but concerning the man [[353]] that trusteth in God, if the fire hath proclaimed itself unable as much as to singe a hair of his head; if lions, beasts ravenous by nature and keen with hunger, being set to devour, have, as it were, religiously adored the very flesh of the faithful man; what is there in the world that shall change his heart, overthrow his faith, alter his affection towards God, or the affection o: God to him?” My, and besides, since I only understand a temporary passive desertion, I must suppose it in him also, who sees full well and doth acknowledge from whence lie is fallen, is very sensible of his spiritual loss, afflicted much with the absence of the quickening and comforting influence of grace, and grieved at the heart-root that he cannot do God service, and perform holy duties with that life, power, and light-someness as he was wont; and thereupon resolves to give no rest unto his discontented soul from cries, complaints, and groans, until God's face and favour be turned towards him again, arid bring with it former feelings and fruitfulness, now so highly prized and heartily prayed for; which blessed behaviour doth clearly show him to differ from the backslider, a truly miserable and right woeful creature indeed, who insensibly falls from his forwardness, first love, intimate fellowship with the saints, all lively use and exercise of the ordinances and divine duties, and yet is never troubled to any purpose, neither doth challenge nor judge himself for it at all. For we are to know, that the presence of spiritual weaknesses, decays, and wants, and absence of due dispositions, accustomed feelings, and former abilities of grace, only then argue a backslider, and are evil signs of a dangerously declining soul, when they are willingly carried without remorse, or taking much to heart without any eager desire or earnest endeavour after more heat and heavenly-mindedness. A Christian may be without God's gracious presence and comfortable exercise of grace in present feeling, and yet no forsaker of God; but rather left of him for a time (his heavenly wisdom for some secret holy ends so disposing), while by grieving, striving, and strong desires, he unfeignedly thirsts after and seriously pursues his former acceptation and forwardness. Here then is comfort: God hath hid his face from thee for a season, and thou art left to the darkness and discomforts of chine own spirit, and thereupon art grievously dejected, thinkest thyself utterly undone; yet take notice, that in a spiritual desertion properly so called, thou dost not willingly forsake God, but God forsakes thee; or rather, as divines truly speak, seems to forsake thee; for lie deals with thee in this case as a father [[354]] with his child, who sometimes on purpose, still loving him extremely, hides himself from him, as though he were quite gone, to make it discover and manifest its love unto him by longing, seeking, and crying after him; and that for excellent ends, and ever for thy endless comfort:—First, to try whether thou wilt trust in him though he slay thee, as Job did. Every cock-boat can swim in a river, every sculler sail in a calm. In ordinary gusts, any man of meaner skill and lesser patience can steer aright and hold up the head; but when the black tempest comes, a tenth wave flows, one deep calls another, when the tumultuous darkness of the sky, the roaring of the restless element represents terrible things, and heaven and earth are blundered together, as it were, with horrible confusion; when nature yields, spirits faint, hearts fail; then to stand upright and unshaken; then to say with David, “I will not fear though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled; though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah: “I say, that is the man who is sound at the heart-root indeed, and steel to the back; and then is the invincible might and incomparable valour of faith made known with a witness, whoever bath God's sure word for the compass, and the Lord Jesus at the helm. Then doth this glorious grace shine and triumph above nature, sense, reason, worldly wisdom, the arm of flesh, and the whole creation. In such desperate extremities, and sorest trials, it shows itself like the palm tree that yields not to the weightiest burthens; the sheet-anchor that holds when other tacklings break; the oil, that ever over-swims the greatest quantity of water we can pour upon it. And with this improvement of the extraordinary power of faith, God is exceedingly well pleased and highly honoured. Secondly. To enure thee to patience, obedience, and submission to his blessed will in everything, even extremest sufferings if he so please. Thirdly. To work in thee a deeper detestation of sin and further divorce from the world. Fourthly. To quicken, improve, and exercise some special graces extraordinarily. “Thou didst hide thy face,” saith David, “and I was troubled. Then I cried unto thee, O Lord,” &c. (Psalm xxx, 7, 8.) Then was the spirit of prayer put to it indeed, and so was the grace of patience, waiting, and the like. Fifthly. To cause thee to prize more dearly and to keep more carefully, when it comes again, God's glorious presence, and the quickening influence of his grace and comfort. We never apprehend the worth and [[355]] excellency of anything so well as by the want of it. The uninterrupted and secure enjoyment of the best things, and even those that please us best, without vicissitude and interchange, is wont to breed such cheapness and satiety, and so dulls the soul's appetite, that it is neither so affected with their precious sweetness, nor thankfully ravished with the present possession of them as it ought. Health is highly valued when sickness hath made us sensible of such a jewel; we relish our food extraordinarily when we have fasted longer than ordinary; rest refreshes us most when our bodies have been tired and over-travelled. Sixthly. To make thee conformable in some measure to Christ's immeasurable spiritual sufferings. Seventhly. To manifest and make illustrious his mightiness and mercy in thy deliverance, and the power of Christ's resurrection.” “Wilt thou show wonders to the dead I” saith Heman, “Shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah.” (Psalm lxxxviii). Those whom the merciful hand of God hath lifted up out of the depth of a spiritual desertion, will easily acknowledge it as omnipotent a work and wonder, as to pull out of the mouth of hell, and raise the dead men out of the grave. Eighthly. To represent unto thee the difference of thy condition in this life and that which is to come. This is our time of nurture, not of inheritance. Here we walk by faith, not by sight. We live by faith, not by feeling. In this vale of tears we are killed all the day long. But heavenly glimpses of unspeakable and glorious joy, and spiritual ravishments of soul, are seldom and short; their fulness and constant fruition is reserved for the next life. Here we are trained, as it were, in a spiritual warfare against the world, the flesh, and the devil-; we are exercised unto new obedience by manifold crosses, troubles, and temptations. Satan is sometimes set upon us to afflict us with his own immediate hellish suggestions. Sometimes our own sins grievously affright us with renewed representations of horror. Sometimes our own God frowns upon us himself with his displeased and angry countenance; and in love leaves us awhile to the terrors of a spiritual desertion. He sometimes lays his visiting hand upon our bodies, and casteth us down upon our beds of sickness; sometimes he sends heavy crosses upon our outward states, and breaks the staff of our prosperity. Continually, almost, he suffers many malicious curs to bark at us with slanders, lies, disgraceful imputations, and all the enemies of grace to pursue us bitterly with much malice and disdain. Thus are we trained and entertained in this-world; our crowning comes in the world to come. Ninthly, To cause thee to have recourse with [[356]] more reverence, thirst, and thankful acknowledgment to the well-head of refreshings. If God once withdraw the light of his countenance and comfortable quickening of his Spirit, we shall find no comfort at all in any creature, no life in the ordinances, no feeling of our spiritual life, and therefore we must needs repair to the ever-springing fountain of all-sufficiency, &c.—Which blessed ends and effects, when the good hand of our God hath wrought, he will as certainly return as ever the sun did after the darkest midnight, and that with abundance of glory, and sweetness proportionable to the former dejection and darkness of our spirits. The lowest ebb of a spiritual desertion brings the highest tide of spiritual exaltation, as we may see before in Mrs. Briettergh and Mr. Peacock.

2. What is the reason that thou art so sad and sore afflicted for the absence of thy beloved, and with want of the wonted gracious and comfortable workings of the Spirit? It is because thou hast formerly grasped the Lord Jesus sweetly and savingly in the arms of thy soul, been sensibly refreshed with the savour of his good ointments, ravished extraordinarily with the beauty of his person, dearness of his blood, riches of his purchase, and glory of his kingdom, and hast heretofore holden him as the very life of the soul, and chiefest and only treasure; ejaculating with David unfeignedly from the heart-root, “Whom have I in heaven but thee I and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee” (Psalm lxxiii, 25). Earth is a hell and heaven no heaven without Jesus Christ. 1 say, the present grief that thy well-beloved is now gone. argues evidently this former enjoyment of his gracious presence:— and then build upon it as the surest rock. Once Christ's, and his for ever. The gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Rom. xi, 29): “whom he loveth once he loveth unto the end” (John xiii, 1): he is no changeling in his love, “I am the Lord,” saith he, “I change not: therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Malachi iii, 6). Once elected, ever beloved; once new-born, and born to eternity: if once the sanctifying Spirit bath seized upon thee for Jesus Christ, thou art made sure and locked fast for ever in the arms of his love with everlasting bars of mercy and might from any mortal hurt and adversary power. Thou mayest then cast down the gauntlet of defiance against the devil and the whole world; and take up with Paul that victorious challenge unto all created things — “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, not powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate [[357]] me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He may hide his face from thee for a while; but thou hast his own sure and inviolable word from his own mouth, that he will return and with “everlasting kindness have mercy on thee.” He may frown upon thee, I confess, for a season, and so fright thee with his terrors as though in thy present apprehension thou wert a lost man; but he never will, he cannot possibly forsake thee finally. “I have sworn once by my holiness that 1 will not fail David” (Psalm lxxxix, 35). And in the meantime thy former feelings of the motions of the Spirit and grace do give clear evidence and assurance that spiritual life is still resident in thy soul, though run as it were into the root, and though its more lively operations and effects be suspended for a time. The woman that hath once felt the child stir in her womb, is most assured that she is with child, that an immortal soul and natural life is infused into it by the omnipotent hand of God, though at other times she perceive no motion at all. It is so in the present point; and thy grieving also, groaning, and panting after Christ, is an unanswerable argument that thou art alive spiritually. Lay the weight of the whole world upon a man that is stark dead, and he can neither stir, cry, nor complain.

[1] In his Sermon on Hab. i, 4: Of the certainty and perpetuity of the Faith in the Elect.