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or rending of garments, or knockings of breast, or lying in sackcloth and ashes; but only a penitent confession availing for the expiation of so grievous crimes.
Thou art deceived, if thou thinkest God delights in the misery and afflictedness of his creature. So far only is the grief in his dear ones pleasing unto him, as it may make for the health of their souls, in the due sensibleness of their sin, in their meet capacity of mercy.
I do not, with some Casuists, flatter thee with an opinion of the sufficiency of any slight attrition, and empty wishes that thou hadst not sinned. Doubtless, a true contrition of spirit and compunction of heart are necessarily required to a saving repentance; and these, wert thou but an indifferent censurer of thine own ways, thou couldst not chuse but find within thyself: why else is thy countenance so dejected; thy cheeks pale, and watered so oft with thy tears; thy sleeps broken; thy meals stomachless? wherefore are thy so sad bemoanings, and vehement deprecations?
But, after all this, be thou such as thou accusest thyself, defective in the measure of thy repentance; dost thou rest contented in this condition? dost thou not complain of it, as thy greatest misery art thou not heartily sorry, that thou canst be no more sorry for thy sin? Comfort thyself, my son: even this, this alone is an acceptable degree of repentance. Our God, whose will is his deed, accounts ours so. What is repentance, but a change of mind from evil to good? And, how sensible is this change! that thou, who formerly delightedst in thy sin, now abhorrest it, and thyself for it; and art yet ambitious of more grief, for being transported into it!
Let not the enemy of thy soul, who desires nothing more than to make thee perfectly miserable, win so much of thee, as to render thee unsatisfied with the measure of that penitence, which is accepted of thy God: rather, turn thine eyes from thy sins; and look up to heaven; and fasten them there, upon thine all-sufficient Mediator, at the right-hand of Majesty; and see his face smiling upon thine humbled soul, and perfectly reconciling thee to his Eternal Father; as being fully assured, that, being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God; Rom v. 1, 2.
Complaint of the want of faith, satisfied.
"YEA, there, there," thou sayest, " is the very core of all my complaint. I want that faith, that should give me an interest in my Saviour; and afford true comfort to my soul, and boldness and access with confidence to the Throne of Grace; Eph. iii. 12. I can
sorrow; but I cannot believe. My grief is not so great, as my infidelity. I see others full of joy and peace in believing; Rom. xv. 3: but my earthen heart cannot raise itself up to a comfortable apprehension of my Saviour: so as, methinks, I dwell in a kind of disconsolate darkness, and a sad lumpishness of unbelief; wanting that lightsome assurance, which others profess to find in themselves."
Take heed, my son, lest, while thou art too querulous, thou prove unthankful; and lest, whilst thine humbleness disparages thyself, thou make God a loser. Many a man may have a rich mine lying deep in his ground, which he knows not of. There are shells, that are inwardly furnished with pearls of great price, and are not sensible of their worth. This is thy condition: thou hast that grace, which thou complainest to want. It is no measuring of thyself by sense, especially in the time of temptation. Thou couldst not so feelingly bemoan the want of faith, if thou hadst it not.
Deny it, if thou canst :-thou assentest to the truth of all the gracious promises of God: thou acknowledgest he could not be himself, if he were not a true God; yea, truth itself: thou canst not doubt, but that he hath made sweet promises of free grace and mercy to all penitent sinners: thou canst not but grant, that thou art sinful enough to need mercy, and sorrowful enough to desire and receive mercy: canst thou but love thyself so well, as that, when thou seest a pardon reached forth to thee to save thy soul from death, thou shouldst do any other than stretch forth thy hand to take it? Lo, this hand stretched forth is thy Faith, which so takes spiritual hold of thy Saviour, that it calls not thy sense to witness.
As for that Assurance thou speakest of, they are happy, that can truly feel and maintain it; and it must be our holy ambition, what we may, to aspire unto it: but that is such a height of perfection, as every traveller in this wretched pilgrimage cannot, while he is in this perplexed and heavy way, hope to attain unto.
It is an unsafe and perilous path, which those men have walked in, who have been wont to define all faith by assurance. Should I lead thee that way, it might cost thee a fall. So sure a certainty of our constant and reflected apprehension of eternal life, is both hard to get, and not easy to hold unmoveably; considering the many and strong temptations, that we are subject unto, in this vale of misery and death. Should faith be reduced unto this trial, it would be yet more rare than our Saviour hath foretold it: for, as many a one boasts of such an assurance, who is yet failing of a true faith, hugging a vain presumption instead of it; so many a one also hath true faith, in the Lord Jesus, who yet complains to want this as
Canst thou, in a sense of thine own misery, close with thy Saviour? canst thou throw thyself into the arms of his mercy? canst thou trust him with thy soul; and repose thyself upon him for forgiveness and salvation? canst thou lay thyself before him, as a miserable object of his grace and mercy? and, when it is held forth
to thee, canst thou lay some, though weak, hold upon it? Labour, what thou mayest, for further degrees of strength daily set not up thy rest in this pitch of grace: but cheer up thyself, my son; even thus much faith shall save thy soul. Thou believest; and he hath said it, that is Truth itself; Ile, that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting life; John iii. 36.
Complaint of the weakness of faith, satisfied.
"I KNOW," thou sayest, "that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners: and that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have eternal life; John iii. 15: neither can I deny, but that, in a sense of my own sinful condition, I do cast myself, in some measure, upon my Saviour, and lay some hold upon his all-sufficient redemption: but, alas, my apprehensions of him are so feeble, as that they can afford no sound comfort to my soul.”
Courage, my son were it that thou lookedst to be justified and saved by the power of the very act of thy faith, thou hadst reason to be disheartened with the conscience of the weakness thereof; but, now that the virtue and efficacy of this happy work is in the object apprehended by thee, which is the infinite merits and mercy of thy God and Saviour, which cannot be abated by thine infirmi ties; thou hast cause to take heart to thyself, and cheerfully to expect his salvation.
Understand thy case aright. Here is a double hand, that helps us up towards heaven: our hand of faith lays hold upon our Saviour; our Saviour's hand of mercy and plenteous redemption lays hold on us our hold of him is feeble and easily loosed; his hold of us is strong and irresistible. Comfort thyself, therefore, in this, with the blessed Apostle: when thou art weak, then thou art strong; when weak in thyself, strong in thy Redeemer. Shouldst thou boast of thy strength, and say, Tush, I shall never be moved; I should suspect the truth and safety of thy condition: now thou bewailest thy weakness, I cannot but encourage and congratulate the happy estate of thy soul. If work were stood upon, a strength of hand were necessary; but, now that only taking and receiving of a precious gift is required, why may not a weak hand do that as well as a strong? as well, though not as forcibly. Be not, therefore, dejected with the want of thine own power; but comfort thyself in the rich mercies of thy Blessed Redeemer.
Complaint of inconstancy and desertion, answered.
Now thou sayest, "Sometimes, I confess, I find my heart at ease, in a comfortable reliance on my Saviour; and, being well resolved
of the safety of my estate, promise good days to myself; and after the banishment of my former fears, dare bid defiance to temptations: but, alas, how soon is this fair weather over! how suddenly is this clear sky over-clouded, and spread over with a sad darkness, and I return to my former heartlessness!"
Didst thou conceive, my son, that grace would put thee into a constant and perpetual invariable condition of soul, while thou art in this earthly warfare? Didst thou ever hear or read of any of God's prime Saints upon earth, that were unchangeable in their holy dispositions, while they continued in this region of mutability?
Look upon the man after God's own heart. Thou shalt find him, sometimes, so courageous, as if the spirits of all his Worthies were met in his one bosom: how resolutely doth he blow off all dangers, trample on all enemies, triumph over all cross events! another while, thou shalt find him so dejected, as if he were not the man. One while, The Lord is my shepherd; I shall lack nothing; Ps. xxiii. 1: another while, Why art thou then so sad, my soul; and why art thou so disquieted within me? xlii. 14. One while, I will not be afraid for ten thousands of the people, that have set themselves against me round about; iii. 6. another while, Hide me under the shadow of thy wings, from the wicked, that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about; xvii. 8, 9. One while, Thy lovingkindness is before mine eyes, and I have walked in thy truth; xxvi. 3: another while, Lord, where are thy loving-kindnesses? lxxxix. 49. Yea, dost thou not hear him, with one breath, professing his confidence, and lamenting his desertion? Lord, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong: Thou didst hide thy face, and I
was troubled: Ps. xxx. 7.
Look upon the Chosen Vessel, the great Apostle of the Gentiles. One while, thou shalt see him erecting trophies in himself, of victory to his God; In all these things, we are more than conquerors, through him that loved us; Rom. viii. 37: another while, thou shalt find him bewailing his own sinful condition; O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Rom. vii. 24. One while, thou shalt find him caught up into the third heaven; and there, in the paradise of God: another while, thou shalt find him buffeted by the messenger of Satan; and sadly complaining to God, of the violence of that assault.
Hear the Spouse of Christ, whether the Church in common or the faithful soul, bemoaning herself; 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; Cant. v. 6.
Thus it will be with thee, my son, while thou art in this frail flesh. The temper of thy soul will be, like her partner, subject to vicissitudes. Shouldst thou continue always in the same state, I should more than suspect thee. This is the difference betwixt nature and grace: that nature is still uniform, and like itself; grace varies, according to the pleasure of the giver: The Spirit breathes
when and where it listeth; John iii. 8. When therefore the gracious spirations of the Holy Ghost are within thee, be thankful to the infinite munificence of that Blessed Spirit; and still pray, Arise, O north, and come, thou south wind, blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out; Cant. iv. 16. But, when thou shalt find thy soul becalmed, and not a leaf stirring in this garden of thine, be not too much dejected with an ungrounded opinion of being destitute of thy God. Neither do thou repine at the seasons or measures of his bounty that most Free and Infinitely-Beneficent Agent will not be tied to our terins; but will give what, and how, and when he pleaseth. Only do thou humbly wait upon his goodness, and be confident, that he, who hath begun his good work in thee, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ; Phil. i. 6.
Complaint of unregeneration and deadness in sin, satisfied. "IT is true," thou sayest, "if God had begun his good work in me, he would, at the last, for his own glory's sake, make it up: but, for me, I am a man dead in sins and trespasses; neither ever had I any true life of grace in me: some shew, indeed, I have made of a Christian profession; but I have only beguiled the eyes of the world with a mere pretence, and have not found in myself the truth and solidity of those heavenly virtues whereof I have made a formal ostentation."
It were pity, my son, thou shouldst be so bad as thou makest thyself. I have no comfort in store for hypocrisy: no disposition can be more odious to the God of Truth; insomuch as, when he would express his utmost vengeance against sinners, he hath no more fearful terms to set it forth, than I will appoint him his portion with the hypocrites; Matt. xxiv. 51. Were it thus with thee, it were more than high time for thee to resolve thyself into dust and ashes; and to put thyself into the hands of thine Almighty Creator, to be moulded anew by his powerful Spirit; and never to give thyself peace, till thou findest thyself renewed in the spirit of thy mind; Eph. iv. 23.
But, in the mean while, take heed lest thou be found guilty of mis-judging thy own soul, and mis-prising the work of God's Spirit in thee. God hath been better to thee, than thou wilt be known of thou hast true life of grace in thee; and, for the time, perceivest it not. It is no heed to take of the doom thou passest upon thyself, in the hour of temptation. When thy heart was free, thou wert in another mind; and shalt, upon better advice, return to thy former thoughts. It is with thee, as it was with Eutychus, that fell down from the third loft, and was taken up for dead; yet, for all that, his life was in him. We have known those, who have lain long in trances, without any perception of life: yea, some, as that subtle Johannes Duns Scotus, have been put into their graves, for