« السابقةمتابعة »
delivered from his suffering, doth ofttimes little think what a treacherous heart he hath, and how little he may retain of all this sense of sin or duty, when he is delivered, and that he will be so much worse than he seemed or promised, as that he may have cause to wish he had been afflicted still. O how many sick-bed promises are as pious as we can desire, that wither away and come to almost nothing, when health hath scattered the fears that caused them! How many with that great imprisoned Lord, do, as it were, write the story of Christ upon their prison walls, that forget him when they are set at liberty! How many are tender-conscienced in a low estate, that when they are exalted, and converse with great ones, do think that they may waste their time in idleness and needless scandalous recreations, and be silent witnesses of the most odious sins from day to day; and pray God be merciful to them when they go to the house of Rimmon; and dare scarcely own a downright servant, or hated and reproached cause of God! O what a preservative would it be to us in prosperity, to know the corruption of our hearts, and foresee in adversity what we are in danger of! We should then be less ambitious to place our dwellings on the highest ground, and more fearful of the storms that there must be expected. How few are there (to a wonder) that grow better by worldly greatness and prosperity! Yea, how few that hold their own, and grow not worse! And yet how few are there (to a greater wonder) that refuse, or that desire not this perilous station, rather than to stand safer on the lower ground! Verily, the lamentable fruits of prosperity, and the mutability of men that make great professions and promises in adversity, should make the best of us jealous of our hearts, and convince us that there is greater corruption in them, than most are acquainted with, that are never put to such a trial. The height of prosperity shews what the man is indeed, as much as the depth of adversity.
Would one have thought that had read of Hezekiah's earnest prayer in his sickness, and the miracle wrought to signify his deliverance, (2 Kings xx. 2, 3. 9,) and of his written song of praise, (Isa. xxxviii,) that yet Hezekiah's heart should so deceive him, as to prove unthankful? You may see by his expressions, his high resolutions to spend his life in the praise of God, "The living, the living, he shall praise
thee, as I do this day: the fathers to the children shall make known thy truth. The Lord was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the Lord!" (Isa. xxxviii. 19, 20.) Would you think that a holy man, thus wrapt up in God's praise, should yet miscarry, and be charged with ingratitude? And yet in 2 Chron. xxxii. 25, it is said of him, "But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore there was wrath upon him and upon Judah and Jerusalem.” And God was fain to bring him to a review, and humble him for being thus lifted up, as the next words shew, (ver. 26.) "Notwithstanding Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart." O sirs, what Christian that ever was in a deep affliction, and hath been recovered by the tender hand of mercy, hath not found how false a thing the heart is, and how little to be trusted in its best resolutions, and most confident promises! Hezekiah still remained a holy faithful man; but yet thus failed in particulars and degrees. Which of us can say, who have had the most affecting and engaging deliverances, that ever our hearts did fully answer the purposes and promises of our afflicted state! and that we had as constant sensible thanksgivings after, as our complaints and prayers were before! Not I; with grief I must say, Not I, though God hath tried me many a time. Alas, we are too like the deceitful Israelites, (Psal. lxxviii. 34.) " When he slew them, then they sought him; and they returned and inquired after God: and they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their Redeemer. Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues: for their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant. Prosperity oft shews more of the hypocrisy of the unsound, and the infirmity of the upright, than appeared in adversity. When we feel the strong resolutions of our hearts to cast off our sin, to walk more thankfully and fruitfully, and accurately with God than we have done, we can hardly believe that ever those hearts should lose so much of those affections and resolutions, as in a little time we find they do. Alas, how quickly and insensibly do we slide into our former insensibility, and into our dull and heavy fruitless course, when once the pain and fear is gone! And then when the
next affliction comes, we are confounded and covered with shame, and have not the confidence with God in our prayers and cries as we had before, because we are conscious of our covenant-breaking and backsliding; and at last we grow so distrustful of our hearts, that we know not how to believe any promises which they make, or how to be confident of any evidence of grace that is in them; and so we lose the comfort of our sincerity, and are cast into a state of too much heaviness and unthankful denial of our dearest mercies: And all this comes from the foul, unexpected relapses, and coolings, and declinings of the heart that comes not up to the promises we made to God in our distress.
But if exaltation be added to deliverance, how often doth it make the reason drunk, so that the man seems not the same! If you see them drowned in ambition, or worldly cares or pleasures; if you see how boldly they can play with the sin, that once they would have trembled at; how powerful fleshly arguments are with them; how strangely they now look at plain-hearted, zealous, heavenly Christians, whose case they once desired to be in; and how much they are ashamed or afraid, to appear openly for an opposed cause of Christ, or openly to justify the persons that he justifieth, as if they had forgot that a day is coming, when they will be loath that Christ should be ashamed of them, and refuse to justify them, when the grand accuser is pleading for their condemnation! I say, if you see these men in their prosperity, would you not ask with wonder, Are these the men that lately in distress, did seem so humble, penitent, and sincere: that seemed so much above these vanities: that could speak with so much contempt of all the glory and pleasures of the world: and with so much pity of those vertiginous men, that they now admire?'
O what pillars have been shaken by prosperity! What promises broken! What sad eruptions of pride and worldliness! What openings and sad discoveries of heart, doth this alluring, charming trial make! And why is it that men know not themselves when they are exalted, but because they did not sufficiently know themselves when they were brought low, nor suspected enough the purposes and promises of their hearts, in the day of their distress!
4. We would little think, when the heart is warmed and raised even to heaven, in holy ordinances, how cold it will
grow again, and how low it will fall down! And when we have attained the clearest sight of our sincerity, we little think how quickly all such apprehensions may be lost; and the misjudging soul, that reckons upon nothing but what it sees, or feels at present, may be at as great a loss, as if it had never perceived any fruits of the Spirit, or lineaments of the image of God upon itself. How confident upon good grounds, is many an honest heart of its sincerity! How certain that it desireth to be perfectly holy! 1. That it would be rid of the nearest, dearest sin. 2. That it loves the saints. 3. That it loves the light of the most searching ministry. 4. And loveth the most practical, sanctifying truths. 5. And loves the ministry and means that have the greatest and most powerful tendency to make themselves more holy (all of which are certain evidences of sincerity). How clearly may the heart perceive all these, and write them down; and yet ere long have lost the sight and sense of them all, and find itself in darkness and confusion, and perhaps be persuaded that all is contrary with them! And when they read in their diary, or book of heart-accounts, that at such a day in examination they found such or such an evidence; and such a one at another; and many at a third; yet now they may be questioning, whether all this were not deceit, because it seems contrary to their present sight and feeling; for it is present light that the mind discerneth by, and not by that which is past and gone, and of which we cannot so easily judge by looking back. They find in their accounts, At such a time I had my soul enlarged in prayer; and at such a time I was full of joy; and at another time I had strong assurance, and boldnesss with God, and confidence of his love in Christ, and doubted not of the pardon of all my sins, or the justification or acceptance of my person: But now, no joy, no assurance, no boldness, or confidence, or sense of love and pardon doth appear; but the soul seemeth dead, and carnal, and unrenewed: As the same trees that in summer are beautified with pleasant fruits and flowers, in winter are deprived of their natural ornaments, and seem as dead, when the life is retired to the root. The soul that once would have defied the accuser, if he had told him that he did not love the brethren, nor love the sanctifying word and means, nor desire to be holy, and to be free from sin, is now as ready to believe the accusation, and will sooner believe the tempter than the
minister that watcheth for them, as one that must give account. Yea, now it will turn the accuser of itself, and say as Satan, and falsely charge itself with that which Christ will acquit it of. (And must Christ be put to justify us against ourselves, as well as against Satan!) The same work that a well composed believer hath in confuting the calumnies of Satan, the same hath a minister to do in confuting the false accusations of disturbed souls against themselves. And how subtle! how obstinate and tenacious are they! As if they had learned some of the accuser's art; such as the uncharitable and malicious are against their neighbours, in picking quarrels with all that they say or do, in putting the worst construction upon all, in taking every thing in the most uncharitable sense, in aggravating the evil, and extenuating the good, in feigning things against them that they are not guilty of, and denying or hiding all that is commendable; just such are poor disquieted souls against themselves: so unjust, and so censorious, as that if they dealt as ill by others, they would have the more cause for some of these accusations of themselves.
And there is not a soul so high in joy and sweet assurance, but is liable to fall as low as this. And it makes our case to be much more grievous than otherwise it would be, because we know not ourselves in the hour of our consolations, and think not how apt we are to lose all our joy, and what seeds of doubts, and fears, and grief, are still within us, and what cause we have to expect a change. And therefore when so sad a change befalleth us, so contrary to our expectations, it surpriseth us with terror, and casteth the poor soul almost into despair. Then crieth the distressed sinner, • Did I ever think to see this day! are my hopes and comforts come to this! Did I think so long that I was a child of God, and must I now perceive that he disowneth me! Did I draw near him as my father, and place my hope in his relief; and now must my mouth be stopped with unbelief, and must I look at him afar off, and pass by the doors of mercy with despair! Is all my sweet familiarity with the godly, and all my comfortable hours under the precious means of grace, now come to this! O how the poor soul here calls itself O vile apostate, miserable sinner! O that I had never lived to see this gloomy day! It had been bet