HEAVEN ON EARTH
Thomas Brooks, 1667
Containing several weighty propositions concerning assurance.
I.The first proposition that I shall lay down concerning assurance is this, That God denies assurance for a time to his dearest and choicest ones, and that upon many considerable grounds.
(1.) As, first, for the exercise of their grace. A gracious soul would always be upon mount Tabor, looking into Canaan; he would always be in his Father's arms, and under his Father's smiles; he would always be in the sunshine of divine favor; he would always have the heavens open, that be might always see his Christ and his crown; he would with Peter be always upon the mount; he is loath to walk through the valley of darkness, through the valley of Baca. As the king of Sodom said once to Abraham, "Give me the people, and take the goods to yourself," Gen 14:21. Just so, gracious souls are apt to say, "Give me joy, give me peace, give me assurance; and take trials, afflictions, and temptations to yourselves!" But really—what use would there be of the stars, if the sun did always shine? Why, none. Why, no more use would there be of your graces, if assurance should be always continued; therefore the Lord, for the exercise of his children's faith, hope, patience, etc., is pleased, at least for a time, to deny them assurance, though they seek it by earnest prayer, and with a flood of penitent tears. If saints should always have assurance, they would be too apt to say, 'it is good for us to be here.'
(2.) The Lord denies assurance to his dearest ones, that he may keep them in the exercise of those religious duties that are most costly and contrary to flesh and blood—such as mourning, repenting, self-judging, self-loathing, self-abhorring, and self-searching; as Lam 1:16, "For these things I weep: my eye, my eye runs down with water, because the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me." Lam 3:2-3, "He has led me, and brought me into darkness, not into light. Surely against me he is turned; he turns his hand against me all the day." Lam 3:17, "And you have removed my soul far off from peace: I forgot prosperity." Now, what this sad dealings of God puts the church upon you may see in Lam 3:40. "Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord." That is, "Bring back my soul," or "fetch again my soul," that is comfort, refresh, and rejoice me as in former times. These two Hebrew words are joined together, to intimate to us that diligent, narrow, and accurate inquiry that they should make into their ways, to search as men do into the bowels of the earth, for the discovery of rich mines and treasures.
And if you look throughout the book, you shall find the church much in self-examining, self-judging, self-loathing, etc., upon this ground, that God had hidden his face, and drawn a curtain between him and them, and stood at a distance from them, and would not speak comfortably and friendly to them.
Now, if you ask me why God will put his children upon those duties of religion which are most costly and contrary to flesh and blood? I answer,
1. That his strength and power may appear in their weakness, 2 Cor 12:7-9.
2. To discover not only the reality—but also the strength of their graces. A little grace will put a man upon those religious duties that are easy and pleasing to flesh and blood, and rather profitable and pleasurable; but it must be strength of grace that puts man upon those services that are costly and cross to the old man.
3. That they may be more fully and eminently conformable to Christ their head, who, from first to last, who, even from the cradle to the cross—was most exercised in those duties and services that were most costly and cross to flesh and blood, as is most evident to all who study the writings of the Holy Spirit, more than the writings of men.
4. Because in the performance of such duties they do in a more singular way bear up the name and credit, the honor and glory of God, Christ, and the gospel in the world. The very world will cry out, "Ah, these are Christians indeed!"
5. Because the more they are in the exercise of such duties, the greater at last will be their reward, Heb 11:7.
6. That Satan's plots and designs may be the better prevented, and the wicked world more justly condemned, who do not only despise the hardest duties of religion—but also neglect the easiest, Matt 25:4-6.
(3.) The third reason why God denies assurance to his most precious ones, is that they may be the more clearly and fully convinced of that exceeding sinfulness and bitterness that is in sin, "Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord your God and have no awe of me," declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty." Jeremiah 2:19.
"Ah Lord," says the soul which is sighing and mourning under the lack of assurance, "I see now that sin is not only evil—but the greatest evil in the world, in that it keeps me from an assurance of my interest in you, who is the greatest good in the world, and from an assurance of that favor of yours—which is better than life, and from the light of your sweet countenance—which is better than food, and wine, and oil; and from those joys and comforts—which can only make a paradise in my soul, Psalm 4:7; Psalm 63:3-4. Ah, Lord! now I find sin not only to be bitter—but to be the very quintessence of bitterness. Ah! no bitterness so bitter as sin—which keeps my soul from that sweet assurance, which is not only the top and crown of mercy—but also the sweetener of all mercy, misery, and glory. Oh what unspeakable evil do I now see in that evil which keeps me from the most desirable good! Oh what bitterness do I now find in that which Satan, the world, and my own deluded heart, told me I should find sweetness in? Ah, now I find by experience, that to be true, which long since the faithful messengers of the Lord have told me; namely, that sin debases the soul of man, that it defiles and pollutes the soul of man, that it renders the soul most unlike to God, who is the optimum maximum—the best and greatest; who is omnia super omnia—all, and above all; and renders it most like to Satan, who is a very sea and sink of sin! Ah, now I find by experience, that sin has robbed the soul of the image of God, the holiness of God, the beauty of God, the glory of God, the righteousness of God, and that keeps the soul from wearing this golden chain of assurance!"
"The deceitfulness of sin." Hebrews 3:13. Sin has its original from a deceitful subtle serpent, and is the ground of all the deceit in the world, and is the great deceiver of souls. Yes, sin is peccatum est Deicidium—sin is a killing of God. "But they kept shouting--Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" Luke 23:21
(4.) A fourth reason why God denies assurance to his dearest ones, is, because they seek assurance more for themselves—than they do for his honor and glory; more that they may have joy without sorrow, comfort without torment, peace without trouble, sweet without bitter, light without darkness, and day without night—than that God may be exalted and admired, and his name alone made great and glorious in the world. The glory of God must consume all other ends, as the sun puts out the light of the fire.
Many Christians are like the bee which flies into the field to seek honey to eat—but brings it not into the master's hive. So they seek for assurance, that they may feed upon that sweet honeycomb, more than to fill their Lord and master's hive with thanks and praise.
That servant who minds his wages more than his work—must not wonder if his master is slack in paying; no more should he who minds his comfort more than obedience, who minds assurance more than divine honor—wonder that God delays the giving in of assurance, though it be sought with many prayers and tears. He who is most tender for God's honor, shall find by experience that God is most mindful of his comfort. God will not see that soul sit long in sackcloth and ashes, who makes it his business to set God up upon his throne. He who minds God's glory more than his own good, shall quickly find that God will even obscure his own glory to do him good. If we are not lacking in giving God glory—he will not long be lacking in giving us joy.
It was a notable saying of Nazianzen, "Let me be cast into the sea, let me lose my peace—rather than the name of Christ should suffer;" so tender was he of the honor and glory of Christ.
(5.) A fifth reason why God denies assurance to his children, is, That when they have it, they may the more highly prize it, the more carefully keep it, the more wisely improve it, and the more affectionately and effectually bless God for it. None sets such a price upon light, as he who has lain long in a dungeon of darkness. Just so, none sets such a price upon assurance, as those children of light who have walked most in spiritual darkness. Ah! how sweet was the light to Jonah, that had been in the belly of hell, Jon 2:2. Just so, is assurance to those who, through slavish fears and unbelief, "have made their beds in hell," as the psalmist speaks, Psalm 139:8. Gold which is fetched from afar, and dearly bought—is most esteemed. Just so, is that assurance which costs the soul most pains and patience, most waiting and weeping, most striving and wrestling—is most highly valued, and most wisely improved. Socrates prized the king's countenance above his coin, his good looks above his gold. Just so, do saints prize assurance above all worldly enjoyments.
As, by the lack of temporals—God teaches his people the better to prize them, and improve them when they enjoy them. Just so, by the lack of spirituals—God teaches his people the better to prize them, and improve them when they enjoy them. Ah! how sweet was Canaan to those who had been long in the wilderness! How precious was the gold and earrings to Israel, who had been long in bondage in Egypt; and the gifts and jewels to the Jews that had been long in bondage in Babylon! Just so, is assurance precious to those precious souls who have been long without it—but at last come to enjoy it, Num 14:33-34; Exod 11; Ezra 1.
After the Trojans had been sailing and wandering a long time in the Mediterranean Sea, as soon as they espied land—they cried out with exulting joy, "Italy, Italy!" Just so, when poor souls shall come to enjoy assurance, who have been long tossed up and down in a sea of sorrow and trouble—how will they with joy cry out, "Assurance, assurance, assurance!" "The longer I wait for the empire," said the emperor's son, "the greater it will be." Just so, the longer a saint waits for assurance, the greater at last it will be.
(6.) The sixth reason why God denies assurance to his dearest ones, at least for a time, is, That they be kept humble and low in their own eyes; as the enjoyment of mercy gladdens us—so the lack of mercy humbles us. David's heart was never more humble, than when he had a crown only in hope—but not in hand. No sooner was the crown set upon his head, but his blood rises with his outward good, and in the pride of his heart be says, "I shall never be moved," Psalm 30:6.
Hezekiah was a holy man, yet he swells big under mercy. (2 Chron 32. The whole chapter is worthy of reading.) No sooner does God lift up his house higher than others—but he lifts up his heart in pride higher than others. When God had made him high in honors, riches, victories, yes, and in spiritual experiences—then his heart flies high, and he forgets God, and forgets himself, and forgets that all his mercies were from God's free mercy, that all his mercies were but borrowed mercies. Surely, it is better to lack any temporal mercy—than a humble heart; it is better to have no temporal mercy—than lack a humble heart. "As I get good by my sins, so I get hurt by my graces," said Mr. Fox, they being accidental occasions of pride to him. Augustine says that the first, second, and third virtue of a Christian—is humility.
A little, little mercy, with a humble heart—is far better than the greatest mercies with a proud heart. I had rather have Paul's poor coat with his humble heart—than Hezekiah's lifted-up heart with his treasures and royal robes. Well, Christians, remember this, God has two strings to his bow; if your hearts will not lie humble and low under the sense of sin and misery, he will make them lie low under the lack of some desired mercy. The lack of assurance tends to bow and humble the soul, as the enjoyment of assurance does to raise and rejoice the soul; and therefore do not wonder why precious souls are so long without assurance, why Christ's chariot, assurance, is so long a-coming, Judg 5:28. God has two hands—a hand open and a hand shut; and he makes use of both to keep souls humble.
(7.) The seventh and last reason why God denies assurance, for a time, even to his dearest ones, is, That they may live clearly and fully upon Jesus Christ, that Jesus Christ may be seen to be all in all. It is natural to the soul to rest upon everything below Christ; to rest upon creatures, to rest upon graces, to rest upon duties, to rest upon divine manifestations, to rest upon celestial consolations, to rest upon gracious evidences, and to rest upon sweet assurances. Now the Lord, to cure his people of this weakness, and to bring them to live wholly and solely upon Jesus Christ, denies comfort, and denies assurance, etc., and for a time leaves his children of light to walk in darkness. Christians, this you are always to remember, that though the enjoyment of assurance makes most for your consolation; yet the living purely upon Christ in the lack of assurance, makes most for his exaltation. There s no Christian compared to him who, in the lack of visible divine consolations—can live upon an invisible God; who in thick darkness—can live upon God as an everlasting light. All good is in the chief good. Christ is all things to Christians. He is—bread to feed them, a fountain to refresh them, a physician to heal them, a rock to shelter them, a light to guide them, and a crown to crown them!
He is happy that believes upon seeing, upon feeling—but thrice happy are those who believe when they do not see; who love when they do not know that they are beloved; and who in the lack of all comfort and assurance, can live upon Christ as their only all. [Heb 11:27; Isa 60:19; Mic 7:7-9; John 20:28-29] He who has learned this holy art, cannot be miserable; he who is ignorant of this are cannot be happy.
II.The second proposition is this, That the Scripture has many sweet significant WORDS to express that well-grounded assurance by, which believers may attain to in this life.
Sometimes it is called a persuasion.
(1.) There is a natural persuasion: natural principles may persuade a man that there is a God, and that this God is a great God, a beauteous God, etc.—but this will not make a man happy;
(2.) there is a moral persuasion;
(3.) there is a traditional persuasion;
(4.) there is a divine persuasion which flows from divine principles and causes.
"For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39.
It is rendered a clear and peculiar manifestation of Christ to the soul, John 14:21-24.
It is often rendered, to know, as 1 John 3:14,19,24, and 1 John 5:13,19, etc.
But the word that the Scripture does most fully express this by full assurance. That is, when the soul, by the Spirit and word, is so fully persuaded of its eternal happiness and blessedness, that it is carried, like Noah's ark, above all waves, doubts, and fears; and, Noah-like, sits still and quiet; and can, with the apostle Paul, triumph over sin, hell, wrath, death, and Satan.
This is sometimes called "full assurance of understanding;" sometimes it is called "full assurance of hope;" and sometimes it is called full assurance of faith;" because these are the choice and pleasant springs from whence assurance flows, Col 2:2; Heb 6:11,18-19; Heb 10:22.
Now though this full assurance is earnestly desired, and highly prized; and the lack of it much lamented; and the enjoyment of it much endeavored after by all saints—yet it is only obtained by a few. Assurance is a mercy too good for most men's hearts; it is a crown too weighty for most men's heads. Assurance is optimum maximum—the best and greatest mercy; and therefore God will only give it to his best and dearest friends.
The emperor Augustus in his great feasts, gave trifles to some—but gold to others. Just so—honors, riches and worldly pleasures are the trifles which God gives to the worst of men. But assurance is that "tried gold," Rev 3:18, that God only gives to tried friends. Among those few who have a share or portion in the special love and grace of God, there are but a very few who have an assurance of his love. Most saints, I believe, can give a loud testimony to this truth. I shall rejoice when their experiences shall confute it.
It is one mercy for God to love the soul; and another mercy for God to assure the soul of his love. God writes many a man's name in the book of life, and yet will not let him know it until his hour of death—as the experience of many precious souls does clearly evidence. Assurance is a flower of paradise that God sticks but in a few men's bosoms. It is one thing to be an heir of heaven—and another thing for a man to know or see himself an heir of heaven. The babe may be heir to a crown, a kingdom—and yet not understand it. Just so many a saint may be heir to a crown, a kingdom of glory—and yet not know it. As the babes which passes the pangs of the first-birth do not presently cry, "Father, father;" so the newborn babes in Christ, who have passed the pangs of the second-birth, do not presently cry "Abba, Father;" they do not presently cry out, "Heaven, heaven is ours! Glory, glory is ours!" Rom 8:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2.
III.The third proposition is this, That a man may have true grace—who has no assurance of the love and favor of God, or of the remission of his sins and salvation of his soul.
A man may be truly holy—and yet not have assurance that he shall be eternally happy. A man may be God's—and yet he not know it; his estate may be good—and yet he not see it; he may be in a safe condition—when he is not in a comfortable condition. All may be well with him in the court of glory—when he would give a thousand worlds that all were but well in the court of conscience. The blind man in the Gospel called his faith—unbelief.
The Canaanite woman showed much love, wisdom, zeal, humility, and faith; yes, such strength of faith as makes Christ admire her, and yield to her, grace her, and gratify her; and yet she had no assurance that we read of, Matt 15:22,29.
So Paul, speaking of the believing Ephesians, says, "In whom you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also, after you believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise." Eph 1:13.
First, they heard the word; and then
secondly, they believed; and then
thirdly, they were sealed; that is, fully assured of a heavenly inheritance, of a purchased possession.
So 1 John 5:13, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." So Isa 50:10, "Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God." So Mic 7:8-9, "Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the Lord's wrath, until he pleads my case and establishes my right. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness."
Asaph was a very holy man, a man eminent in grace; and yet he was without assurance, as may be seen at large, Psalm 77. Heman, doubtless, was a very precious soul, and yet from his youth up, he was even distracted with terrors, Psalm 88. There are thousands of Christians who are in a state of grace, and shall be saved—who lack assurance and the proper effects of it—as high joy, pure comfort, glorious peace, and vehement longings after the coming of Christ. [Isa 8:17; Isa 49:14-16; Isa 54:6-11]
Assurance is requisite to the well-being of a Christian—but not to the being in a state of grace. It is requisite to the consolation of a Christian—but not to the salvation of a Christian. It is requisite to the well-being of grace—but not to the mere being of grace. Though a man cannot he saved without faith—yet he may be saved without assurance. God has in many places of the Scripture declared, that without faith there is no salvation—but God has not in any one place of the Scripture declared, that without assurance there is no salvation. God never said, "Except you be assured I will pardon you—I will never pardon you; except you are assured I will save you—I will never save you." This is language God never spoke; and why, then, should men speak it?
A man must first be saved before he can be assured of his salvation, for he cannot be assured of that which is not. And a man must have saving grace before he can be saved, for he cannot be saved by that which he has not. Again, a man must be ingrafted into Christ, before he can be assured of forgiveness or salvation—but this he cannot be before he has faith, therefore—there may be grace where there is no assurance. Christ went to heaven in a cloud, and the angel went up to heaven in the smoke and flame of the sacrifice; and so I doubt not but many precious souls do ascend to heaven in clouds and darkness, Acts 1:9; Judg 13:20.
Now a man may have grace, and yet lack assurance; and this may arise from these causes.
(1.) First, From his caviling spirit, and from his siding with the old man against the new, with the flesh against the spirit, with corruption against grace, with the house of Saul against the house of David, with the work of Satan against the work of God. Sin is Satan's work; grace and holiness are God's work; yet such is the weakness, yes, madness of many poor souls, that they will fall in and side with Satan's work, rather than with God's, against their own souls. Cease caviling, you weak soul, and say, "O Lord, forgive what I have been, correct what I am, direct what I shall be."
Ah! Christians, will you condemn that judge for injustice and unrighteousness, who shall open his ears to the complaints of the plaintiff—but stops his ears against the answers of the defendant; and will you not condemn yourselves for that you do with both ears hear what sin and Satan has to say against the soul—but have not one ear open to hear what the Spirit, what grace, what the new man, what the noble part of man, what the regenerate man, can say for the justification, satisfaction, and consolation of the soul.
Just before John Prostiborski was laid on the rack, he, with a heroic indignation, cut out his tongue, and cast it away. Being demanded why he did so, set down his answer with a quill on the wall: "I did it because I would not be brought by any tortures, to say anything that is false." Ah! caviling souls, I had almost said that you were better cut out your tongues than allow them to be caviling against the grace of God, the image of God, which is stamped upon you.
Let me tell you, O you caviling soul! that it is your wisdom and your duty to remember that command of God, which does prohibit you from bearing false witness against your neighbor. That same command does enjoin you not to bear false witness against the work of grace upon your own heart, against the precious and glorious things that God has done for your soul. And you should make as much conscience of bearing false witness against anything the Lord has wrought in you, and for you, as you do make conscience of bearing false witness against your neighbor. It cannot but be sad with the soul—but be night with the soul—when it makes much conscience of the one, and no conscience of the other.
Many heathens have been so loving and faithful one to another, that they would rather die, than they would bear false witness one against another. How dare you then, caviling souls, to bear false witness against your own souls, and the gracious work of the Lord upon them! If this is not the way to keep off assurance, and keep the soul in darkness, yes, in a hell—I know nothing.
(2.) In the second place, a man may have grace, and yet lack assurance; which may arise in from the exceeding littleness and weakness of his grace. [Matt 14:30-31; Mark 9:24] A little candle yields but a little light, and a little grace yields but a little evidence. Great measures of grace carry with them great and clear evidences—but little measures of grace carry with them but little evidence. Some stars are so small that they are scarce discernible. Just so, some saints' graces are so small, that they can hardly see their graces to be graces. A little fire will yield but a little heat; a little grace will yield but a little comfort, a little evidence. A little grace will yield a man a heaven hereafter—but it is a great deal of grace that must yield us a heaven here. A little stock will bring in but a little profit; a little grace will brink in but a little peace. A little jewel yields but a little luster; no more does a little grace. This is the reason why Christians who have but a little grace, have but a little of the shine and luster of assurance; they have but little spiritual joy and comfort.
Yet that the spirits of weak Christians may not utterly faint, let me give them this HINT, namely—that the weakest Christian is as much justified, as much pardoned, as much adopted, and as much united to Christ—as the strongest Christian. The weakest Christian has as much interest and propriety in Christ, as the highest and noblest Christian who breathes; though he cannot make so much advantage and improvement of his interest and propriety as the strong Christian, who has a greater degree of grace.
The babe in the cradle has as much propriety in the father as he who is grown up to ripe years, though he cannot make such improvement of it as the other. A child's hand may receive a pearl, as well as the hand of a giant. Just so, may a weak faith receive Christ—as well as a strong faith.
Hierom observes upon the beatitudes, that there are many of the promises made to weak grace: Matt 5:3-4,6, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: blessed are those who mourn: blessed are those who hunger and thirst." Weak saints, remember this: the promise is a ring of gold, and Christ is the precious tried stone in that ring; and upon that stone must you rest, as you would have grace to thrive, and your souls to be safe and happy. Weak souls, remember this: as Joseph sent chariots to bring his father and his brethren to him, Gen 45, so God would have your weak graces to be as chariots to bring you to himself, who is the nourisher, strengthener, and increaser of grace. He who makes his graces to be servants and handmaids to convey him to Christ, the fountain of grace—he shall find the greatest sweetness in grace, and the greatest increase of grace.
(3.) Thirdly, A man may have true grace, and yet lack assurance, and this may arise from the resurrection of old sins. Ah! when those sins which were long since committed, and long since lamented, and long since loathed, and long since crucified; when those old sins, which has cost a soul many prayers and many tears, and many sighs, and many groans, and many complaints, when those sins which have been long buried shall be again revived, and meet the soul, and stare upon the soul, and say to the soul, "We are yours, and we will follow you; we are yours, and we will haunt you!" Ah, how will this cause a man's countenance to be changed, his thoughts to be troubled, his joints to be loosed, and his heart to be amazed!
David and Job meeting with the sins of their youth, long after they were lamented and pardoned, makes their hearts startle and tremble, Psalm 25:7; Job 13:26. Upon the new risings of old sins, the soul begins to question all, and thus to expostulate the case: "Surely my estate is not good, my pardon is not sealed; if it is, why are these sins revived, and remembered? Has not God engaged himself in the promises of grace, that those sins which are pardoned, shall never be remembered? Isa 43:25; Jer 31:34, and surely if these sins are not pardoned, I have reason to fear that others are not pardoned; and if my sins he not pardoned, how shall I escape being destroyed? Surely my repentance was not sound, my sorrow was not sincere; the blow, the wound I gave sin, was not mortal. If it was sincere, how does it come to pass, that it now meets me like an armed enemy?" Thus, these new risings of old sins keeps many a man's soul and assurance asunder.
(4.) Fourthly, A man may have grace and yet lack assurance, and this may arise from his falling short of that maturity which the word requires, and that other saints have attained to. "Ah!" says such a soul, "surely I have no grace! Oh how short do I fall of such and such righteous rules, and of such and such precious Christians! Ah! how clear are they in their light! How strong are they in their love! How high are they in their attainments! How are their hearts filled with grace, and their lives with holiness! All their motions towards God, and towards man, speak out grace, grace; they pray indeed like saints, and live indeed like angels"
Now many poor souls, comparing themselves with the perfect rule of righteousness found in Scripture, and with those who are in the highest forms in Christ's school, and who are the noblest and choicest patterns for purity and sanctity, and finding such a vast disproportion between their hearts and the rule, between their actions and lives, and the actions and lives of others—they are apt to sit down saddened and discouraged. Remember this—though your consolation depends upon degrees of grace, yet your salvation depends upon the truth of grace.
Suetonius reports of Julius Caesar, that seeing Alexander's statue, he fetched a deep sigh, because he at that age had done so little. Just so, many precious souls sit down sighing and weeping—that they have lived so long, and done so little for God, and for their own internal and eternal good. This wounds and sinks their spirits, that they are so unlike to those in grace, whom they desire to be like unto in glory; and that they are so far below such and such in spirituals, whom they are so far above in temporals.
(5.) Fifthly, A man may have true grace and yet lack assurance, and this may arise from that smoke and clouds, those fears and doubts which corruption raises in the soul. Just so, that the soul cannot see those excellent graces which otherwise might be discerned. Though there may be many precious gems and jewels in the house, yet the smoke may hinder a man from seeing them sparkle and shine. So though there may be many precious graces in the souls of saints, yet corruption may raise such a dust, such a smoke in the soul, that the soul is not able to see them in the beauty and glory. The well of water was near Hagar—but she saw it not until her eyes were opened by the Lord, Gen 21:19-20. So grace is near the soul, yes, in the soul sometimes, and yet the soul does not see it, until God opens the eye and shows it. "The Lord was in this place," says Jacob, "and I knew it not," Gen 28:16. So many a precious soul may say, grace was in my heart, and I knew it not, I saw it not.
Blessed Bradford in one of his epistles says thus, "O Lord, methinks I feel it so with me, sometimes as if there were no difference between my heart, and the heart of the wicked; my mind is as blind as theirs, my spirit as stout, stubborn, and rebellious as theirs, and my thoughts as confused as theirs, and my affections as disordered as theirs, and my services as formal as theirs," etc. Ah, Christians! have not many of your souls found it so? Surely yes! No wonder then, that though you have grace, yet you have not seen it sparkling and shining in your souls; as some have thought that their fields have had no corn, because they have been so full of weeds; and that their heap has no wheat, because nothing has appeared but chaff; and that their pile has no gold, because it has been covered with much dross. So some have thought that their hearts have been void of grace, because they have been so full of fears and doubts. Peter at one time believes and walks, at another time he doubts and sinks, Matt 14:30. Abraham believes and offers up Isaac at one time, he fears and falls at another time. "Say you are my sister, lest they kill me," Gen 20:2. So David and Job, they had their shufflings, tremblings, faintings, shakings, and questionings, Psalm 116:11; Psalm 31:22. It is not always high water with saints, sometimes they are reduced to a very low ebb. The best of saints are like the ark, tossed up and down with waves, with fears and doubts; and so it will be until they are quite in the bosom of Christ.
(6.) Lastly, A man may have grace, and yet not see it, yet not know it; and this may arise from his non-searching, his non-examining, his non-ransacking, of his own soul. There is gold in the mine, and men might find it, if they would but dig and search diligently after it. Worthless daisies grow in sight upon the surface of the earth—but the precious and richest rarities are hidden within the bowels of the earth. You are wise, and know how to apply it.
There is grace in the heart, and you might see it, if you would but take the candle of the Lord, and look narrowly after it. Look! as many a man upon a diligent search may find his temporal estate to be better than he fears; so many choice souls upon a diligent search may find their spiritual estate to be far better than they conceived or judged it to be. Therefore souls, cease from complaining, cease from rash judging and dooming of yourselves to hell, and be diligent in inquiring what the Lord has done, and what the Lord is a-doing, in you and for you. Compare the books together, compare his working upon you and others together. What! Have you no light, no love, no longings, no hungerings, no thirstings after God? What! Have you no sighing, no complaining, no mourning, under the sense of sin, and under the lack of divine favor? Surely if you search, you will find some of these things; and if you do, prize them as jewels that are more worth than a world. God will not despise "the day of small things," [Zech 4:10] and will you? Will you, dare you, say that that is little, which is more worth than heaven? The least spark of grace shall at last be turned into a crown of glory! Well! remember this, that as the least grace, if true and sincere, is sufficient to salvation, so the sense of the least grace should be sufficient to your consolation.
IV.The fourth proposition is this, namely, That God may deny assurance long, and yet give it in to his children at last, after patient waiting. God appears to David, and brings him out of "a horrible pit and sets his feet upon a rock, and puts a new song into his mouth," Psalm 40:1-4.
After the church in the Canticles had run through many hazards and hardships, many difficulties and dangers, she finds "him whom her soul loved," Song 3:5.
The prophet sits down and bewails his sad condition thus: Psalm 69:3,20, "I am weary of my crying; my throat is dried: my eyes fail while I wait on my God. And I am full of heaviness; and I looked for some to take pity—but there was none; and for comforters—but I found none." Yes, but at last God appears, and then says he: "I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving," Psalm 69:30.
Job sighs it out: "I go east, but he is not there. I go west, but I cannot find him. I do not see him in the north, for he is hidden. I turn to the south, but I cannot find him." Job 23:8-9. But after this sighing, he sings it out: "But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold." Job 23:10. Experience does abundantly evidence, that this is the manner of God's dealing with abundance of those precious souls of whom this world is not worthy. I could say much to this point from my own knowledge—but I must forbear lighting a candle to see the sun at noon.
Mr. Frogmorton was as holy and as choice a preacher as most was in England in those days, and he lived seven and thirty years without assurance, and then died, having assurance but an hour before he died. He died in full assurance of the justification of his person, the remission of his sins, and the salvation of his soul. God denied assurance a great while to Mr. Glover, though he sought it with many prayers and tears; and yet when he was in sight of the fire, the Lord shined forth in his favor so sweetly upon him, that he cries out to his friend, "He is come, he is come!" So Mrs. Katherine Bretterge, after many bitter conflicts with Satan the day before she died, she had sweet assurance of that unshakable kingdom, of those incorruptible riches, and of that unfading crown of righteousness.
I have read of three martyrs that were bound and brought to the stake, and one of them falls down upon the ground, and wrestles earnestly with God for the sense of his love, and God gave it him then at that instant, and so he came and embraced the stake, and died cheerfully and resolutely a glorious martyr.
Now God does delay the giving in of assurance to his dearest ones, and that partly to let them know that he will be waited on, and that assurance is a jewel worth waiting for. The least smile from God when our hour-glass is running out, will make our souls amends for all their waiting.
And partly that we may know that God is free in his workings, and that he is not tied to any preparations or qualifications in the creature—but is free to come when he will, and go when he will, and stay as long as be will, though the soul sighs it out, "How long, Lord, how long will it be before my mourning is turned into rejoicing?"
Again, God delays the giving in of assurance, not because he delights to keep his children in fears and doubts, nor because he thinks that assurance is too rare, too great, too choice a jewel to bestow upon them; but it is either because he thinks their souls do not stand at a sufficient distance from sin; or because their souls are so taken up and filled with creature enjoyments as that Christ is put to lodge outside; or else it is because they pursue not after assurance with all their might; they give not all diligence to make their calling and election sure; or else it is because their hearts are not prepared, are not low enough, for so high a favor. [Isa 59:1-2; Jer 5:25; Luke 2:7; 2 Pet 2:5]
Now God's delaying assurance upon these weighty grounds should rather work us to admire him, to justify him, and quietly to wait for him—than to have any hard thoughts of him, or to think it unkind in him, or impatiently to say, "Why is his chariot so long a-coming?" Judg 5:28.
V.The fifth proposition is this, That those choice souls who have assurance may lose it, they may forfeit it. The freshness and greenness, the beauty, luster, and glory of assurance may be lost.
It is true, believers cannot lose the root of grace; yet they may lose assurance, which is the beauty and fragrancy, the crown and glory of grace, 1 John 3:9; 1 Pet 1:5. These two lovers, grace and assurance, are not by God so nearly joined together but that they may by sin on our side, and justice on God's, be put asunder. The keeping of these two lovers, grace and assurance, together, will yield the soul two heavens, a heaven of joy and peace here, and a heaven of happiness and blessedness hereafter; but the putting these two lovers asunder will put the soul into a hell here, though it escape a hell hereafter. This Chrysostom knew well, when he professed that the lack of the enjoyment of God would be a far greater hell to him than the feeling of any punishment. It is very rare, for a soul that ever had a well-grounded assurance not to experience this truth sooner or later. A separation between the body and the soul will not so torment the soul as separation between grace and assurance.
As you would keep your Christ, as you would keep your comfort, as you would keep your crown, keep grace and assurance together, and neither by lip nor life, by word nor works, let these be put asunder. It is possible for the best of men so to blot and blur their evidences for felicity and glory, as that they may not be able to read them nor understand them. They may so vex and grieve the Spirit either by gross enormities, or by refusing his comforts and cordials, or by neglecting or slighting his gracious actings in themselves, or by misjudging his work, as calling faith fancy, or sincerity hypocrisy, etc., or by fathering those brats upon him that are the children of their own distempered hearts, as that he may refuse to witness their interest in him, though he be a witnessing Spirit, and refuse to comfort them, though he be the only Comforter. The Holy Spirit is a very sensitive being.
The best believer may have his summer-day turned into a winter-night, his rejoicing into sighing, his singing into weeping, his wedding-robes into mourning garments, his wine into water, his sweet into bitter, his manna, his angels' food, into husks, his pleasant grapes into the grapes of Sodom, his fruitful Canaan, his delightful paradise, into a dry and barren wilderness. Look! as faith is often attended with unbelief, and sincerity with hypocrisy, and humility with vainglory, so is assurance with fears and doubts.
Blessed Hooker lived near thirty years in close communion with God, without any considerable withdrawings of God all that while; and yet, upon his dying bed, he went away without any sense of assurance, or discoveries of the smiles of God, to the wonder of the expectation of many precious souls.
Look! as many a man loses the sight of the city when he comes near to it, so many a choice soul loses the sight of heaven, even then when he is nearest to heaven. Abraham, you know, had assurance in an extraordinary way concerning his protection from God; and yet says Abraham, "Say you are my sister; for otherwise they will kill me," Gen 12:13, and Gen 20:2. Ah! how had the freshness, the greenness, the beauty and glory of his assurance worn off—that he should, out of slavish fears, expose his wife to other men's lusts, and himself and others to God's displeasure; that he should wound four at once, the honor of God, his wife's chastity, his own conscience, and Pharaoh's soul.
David, you know, sometimes sings it out sweetly: "I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." Psalm 18:1-2. At other times you have him sighing it out: "Why are you cast down, O my soul? why are you disquieted in me? why have you forgotten me?" Psalm 42:5. "For your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down upon me. Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin. My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly. I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning. My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body. I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart." Psalm 38:2-6. "You hid your face, and I was troubled," Psalm 30:7. "Restore to me the joy of my salvation, that the bones that you have broken may rejoice," Psalm 51:12.
His heart was more often out of tune than his harp. He begins many of his psalms sighing, and ends them singing; and others he begins in joy, and ends in sorrow. So that one would think, that those psalms had been composed by two men of a contrary temperaments. Yes, it is very observable, that though David had assurance in an extraordinary way that he should be king, being anointed by that great prophet Samuel, yet the luster and glory of this assurance wears off; and he, overcome by slavish fears, cries out, that "All men are liars," (even Samuel as well as others), and that "he shall one day perish by the hand of Saul." It is true, says David, I have a crown, a kingdom in a promise; but I must swim to the crown through blood, I must win the crown before I wear it; and the truth is, I am likely to die before I attain it. Yes, and after he was king, when king Jesus did but hide his face, he was sorely troubled; so that neither his glorious throne, nor his royal robes, nor his golden crown, nor his glistering courtiers, nor his large revenues, nor his cheerful temper, nor his former experiences, could quiet him or satisfy him when God had turned his back upon him. Look! as all candles cannot make up the lack of the light of the sun, so all temporal comforts cannot make up the lack of one spiritual comfort.
So Job sometimes sings it out, "My witness is in heaven, and my record is on high; and my Redeemer lives," etc., Job 16:19, and Job 19:25. At other times you have him complaining, "The arrows of the Almighty stick fast in me, and their poison drinks up my spirit," Job 6:4; "The terrors of God set themselves in array against me." And Job 29:2-5, you have him sighing it out thus: "Oh that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me; when his candle shined upon my head, and when by his light I walked through darkness; as I was in the days of my youth, when the secret of God was upon my tabernacle; when the Almighty was yet with me!" etc. "The whole life of a good Christian is an holy wish," said one.
Now, by all these clear instances, and by many other saints' experiences, it is evident that the choicest saints may lose their assurance, and the luster and glory of it may decay and wither. What the soul should do in such a case, and how it should be recovered out of this sad state, I shall show you towards the close of this discourse.
VI.The sixth proposition is this, That the certainty and infallibility of a Christian's assurance cannot be made known to any but his own heart. He can say as the blind man once said, "This I know, that once I was blind—but now I see," John 9:25. Once I was a slave—but now I am a son; once I was dead—but now I am alive; once I was darkness—but now I am light in the Lord; once I was a child of wrath, an heir of hell—but now I am an heir of heaven; once I was Satan's slave—but now I am God's freeman; once I was under the spirit of bondage—but now I am under the spirit of adoption—which seals up to me the remission of my sins, the justification of my person, and the salvation of my soul. [Rom 8:6,11,13; Eph 5:8, and Eph 2:3; John 8:36; 2 Cor 3:17; Gal 1:1,13; Eph 1:13-14] All this I know, says the assured saint; but I cannot make you know it certainly and infallibly if you would give me a thousand worlds. Can you compass the heavens with a span, or contain the sea in a nutshell? Only then may you fully evidence your assurance to others.
What I have found and felt, and what I do find and feel, is wonderfully beyond what I am able to express. I am as well able to count the stars of heaven, and to number the sand of the sea, as I am able to declare to you the joy, the joy, the unconceivable joy, the assurance, the glorious assurance, that God has given me.
Severinus, the Indian saint, under the power of assurance, was heard to say, O my God! do not so over-joy me; if I must still live, and have such consolations, take me to heaven, etc. So say souls under the power of assurance: Lord! we are so filled with joy and comfort, with delight and content, that we are not able to express it here on earth; and therefore take us to heaven, that we may have that glory put upon us, that may enable us to declare and manifest those glorious things that you have wrought in us.
Parents do by experience feel such soundings, such meltings, such rollings, such sweet workings of their affections and hearts towards their children, that for their lives they cannot to the life describe to others what it is to be a father, to be a mother; what it is to have such depths of affections towards children. Assurance is that white stone that none knows but he who has it: Rev 2:17, "To him who overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows, but he who receives it." White stones were in great use among the Romans.
(1.) In white stones they used to write the names of such as were victorious and conquerors. Just so, in that text, "To him who overcomes, will I give a white stone."
(2.) They used to acquit the innocent in courts of justice, by giving them a white stone; and so here the white stone points out absolution and remission. They gave black stones to note their condemnation.
(2.) They used to give a white stone to those who were chosen to any places of honor. Just so, the white stone of assurance is an evidence of our election, of our being chosen to an unshakable kingdom, incorruptible riches, and an unfading crown of righteousness. And thus much for this sixth proposition, namely, that the certainty and infallibility of a Christian's assurance cannot be made known to any but his own heart, Heb 12:28; Matt 6:20; 1 Pet 1:4.
VII.The seventh proposition is this, That there are some special seasons and times, wherein the Lord is graciously pleased to give to his children a sweet assurance of his favor and love, and they are these that follow.
I. First, Sometimes, I say not always, at first conversion, the Lord is pleased to make out sweet manifestations of his love to the penitent soul. When the soul has been long under guilt and wrath, when the soul has been long under the frowns and displeasure of God, and has long seen the gates of heaven barred against him, and the mouth of hell open to receive him; when the soul has said, 'Surely there is no hope, there is no help, surely I shall lose God, Christ and heaven forever!' then God comes in and speaks peace to the soul, then he says, "I will blot out your iniquities for my name's sake, and will remember your sins no more!" Isa 43:25. "Hark, soul, hark!" says Christ, "My thoughts are not as your thoughts, nor my ways as your ways. My thoughts towards you are thoughts of peace and thoughts of love. Hark, soul! here is mercy to pardon you, and here is grace to adorn you; here is righteousness to justify you; here is eyesalve to enlighten you, and gold to enrich you, and white raiment to clothe you, and balm to heal you, and bread to nourish you, and wine to cheer you, and happiness to crown you, and myself to satisfy you!" Ah, souls! have not some of you found it so? surely you have. [1 Cor 1:30; Rev 3:18; Isa 25:6]
God deals sometimes with rebellious sinners, as princes do with those who are in open rebellion against them. You know princes will put such rebels hard to it: they shall fare hard, and lie hard; chains, and racks, and what not, shall attend them; and yet after the sentence is passed upon them, and they are upon the last step of the ladder of life, and all hope of escape is gone, then the prince's pardon is put into their hand. So the Lord brings many poor souls to the last steps of the ladder, to a hopeless condition, and then he puts their pardon into their bosoms; then he says, "Be of good cheer, I have received you into favor, I have set my love upon you, I am reconciled to you, and will never be separated from you."
You know how God dealt with Paul: after he had awakened and convinced him, after he had unhorsed him and overthrown him, after he had amazed and astonished him—then he shows himself graciously and favorably to him, then he takes him up into the third heaven, and makes such manifestations of his love and favor, of his beauty and glory, of his mercy and majesty, as he is not able to utter!
So upon the prodigal's return, the fattened calf is killed, and the best robe is put upon his back, and the ring is put on his hand, and shoes on his feet, Luke 15:22-23. Some understand by the robe, the royalty of Adam, others, the righteousness of Christ; and by the ring, some understand the pledges of God's love, rings being given as pledges of love; some the seal of God's Spirit, men using to seal with their rings. I think in this parable God sets forth his goodness and our happiness in restoring to us more by the death of the second Adam, than we lost by the sin of the first Adam.
Among the Romans, the ring was an ensign of virtue, honor, and nobility, whereby those who wore them were distinguished from the common people. I think the main thing intended by all these passages, is to show us, that God sometimes upon the sinner's first conversion and returning to him, is graciously pleased to give him some choice and signal manifestations of his love and favor, of his goodwill and pleasure, and that upon these following grounds:
(1.) The first ground, That they may not be swallowed up of sorrow, under the pangs and throes of the new birth. An awakened conscience is like Prometheus's vulture, it lies ever gnawing. Ah! did not the Lord let in some beams of love upon the soul, when it is Magormissabib, a terror to itself; when the heart is a hell of horror, the conscience an Aceldama, a field of black blood; when the soul is neither quiet at home nor abroad, neither at bed nor board, neither in company nor out of company, neither in the use of ordinances nor in the neglect of ordinances; how would the soul faint, sink, and despair forever! But now when it is thus night with the soul, the Lord sweetly comes in and tells the soul, that all is well, that he has found a ransom for the soul, that the books are crossed, that all debts are discharged, and that his favor and love upon the soul is fixed, Job 33:24. And so God by his sweet and still voice, speaking thus to the soul, quiets and satisfies it, and keeps it from sinking and despairing.
(2.) The second ground. God gives in assurance sometimes at first conversion, that he may the more raise and inflame their love and affections to him. Ah! how does a pardon given when a man is ready to be condemned, draw out his love, and raise his affections to that prince that shows affections of mercy, when he is upon the brink of misery! So when a poor sinner is upon the last step of the ladder, upon the very brink of hell and misery, now for God to come in and speak peace and pardon to the soul, ah! how does it inflame the soul, and works the soul to a holy admiration of God, and to a spiritual delighting in God!
King Antigonus, pulling a sheep with his own hands out of a dirty ditch, drew his subjects exceedingly to commend him and love him. So King Jesus, pulling poor souls out of their sins, and as it were out of hell, cannot but draw them to be much in the commendations of Christ, and strong in their love to Christ. Christ has nothing more in his eye, nor upon his heart, than to act towards his people in such ways and at such seasons as may most win upon their affections. And therefore it is, that sometimes he gives the strongest consolation at first conversion.
(3) The third ground, Christ sometimes at first conversion grants to his people the sweetest manifestations of his love, that they may be the more active, fervent, abundant, and constant in ways of grace and holiness. He knows that divine manifestations of love will most awaken, quicken, and engage the soul to ways of piety and sanctity.
Look! What wings are to the bird, oil to the wheels, weights to the clock, a reward to the coward, and the loadstone to the needle—that are the smiles and discoveries of God to a poor soul at his conversion. The manifestations of divine love puts heat and life into the soul, it makes the soul very serious and studious how to act for God, and live to God, and walk with God. "Ah!" says a soul under the beams of divine love, "it is my food and drink, it is my joy and crown to do all I can, for that God who has done so much for me—as to know me in darkness, and to speak love to me when I was most unlovely; to turn my mourning into rejoicing, and my hell into a heaven."
(4.) The fourth ground. Christ sometimes at first conversion gives his people the sweetest manifestations of his love, to fence and fortify them against Satan's fiery temptations. Before Christ shall be led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, the Spirit of the Lord shall descend upon him like a dove, and he shall hear a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," Matt 3:16-17. Beloved is an emphatical word here, and signifies that infinite affection, delight, and content that God the Father did take in Christ—that so he may be strong in resisting, and glorious in triumphing over all the assaults and temptations of Satan, Eph 6:16. So many times at first conversion, the Lord makes out sweet manifestations of his love to the soul—that so the soul may stand fast, and not give ground, and in the sense of divine love may so handle the shield of faith, as to quench all the fiery darts of the devil.
The Lord knows that when he sets upon the delivering of a poor soul from the kingdom of darkness, and translating it into the kingdom of his dear Son—that Satan will roar and rage, rend and tear, as he did him, Mark 9:25-26, "When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. 'You deaf and mute spirit,' he said, 'I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.' The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said—He's dead." No sooner did Jesus Christ look with an eye of love, pity, and compassion upon the boy—but the devil in his rage and wrath falls a-renting and tearing of him, as mad dogs do things they fasten upon. This poor child had never so sore a fit, as now he was nearest the cure.
When rich mercy and glorious power is nearest the soul, then Satan most storms and rages against the soul, Col 1:13. Pharaoh in his furious and violent pursuing after Israel, when he saw that God would bring them from under his power, was a type of Satan. The more the affections of Christ do work towards a sinner, the more furious will Satan assault that sinner. Therefore divine wisdom and goodness does the more eminently shine in giving the poor soul some sight of Canaan, and some bunches and clusters of of that land, upon its first coming out of the wilderness of sin and sorrow.
But that no soul may mistake this last proposition, give me leave to premise these TWO CAUTIONS.
[1.] The first caution. That God manifests his love only to some at their first conversion, not to all. Though he dearly loves every penitent soul, yet he does not manifest his love at first conversion to every penitent soul. God is a free agent, to work where he will, and when he will, and to reveal his love how he will, and when he will, and to whom he will. It is one thing for God to work a work of grace upon the soul, and another thing for God to show the soul that work. A man may enjoy the warmth and heat of the sun, when he cannot see the sun. Just so, a man may have grace when he cannot see that he has grace.
God oftentimes works grace in a silent and secret way, and takes sometimes five, sometimes ten, sometimes fifteen, sometimes twenty years; yes, sometimes more, before he will make a clear and satisfying report of his own work upon the soul. Though our graces be our best jewels, yet they are sometimes, at first conversion, so weak and imperfect, that we are not able to see their luster. The existence of grace makes our estates safe and sure, the seeing of grace makes our lives sweet and comfortable.
[2.] The second caution. A man may at first conversion have such a clear glorious manifestation of God's love to him, and of his interest in God, and his right to glory, that he may not have the like all his days after. I have conversed with several precious souls who have found this true by experience, and upon this very ground have questioned all, and strongly doubted, whether that they have not taken Satan's delusions for divine manifestations.
The fattened calf is not slain every day, the robe of kings is not every day put on every day. Every day must not be a festival day, a marriage day; the wife is not every day in the bosom, the child is not every day in the arms, the friend is not every day at the table—nor the soul every day under the manifestations of divine love.
Jacob did not every day see the angels ascending and descending; Stephen did not every day see the heavens open, and Christ standing on the right hand of God; Paul was not every day caught up to heaven, nor was John every day enrapt up in the Spirit. No saint can every day cry out, I have my Christ, I have my comfort, I have my assurance. Job had his harp turned into mourning, and his organ into the voice of those who weep, Job 30:31. The best of saints are sometimes put to hang their harps upon the willows, and cry out, "Has God forgotten to be gracious, and will he be favorable no more?" Psalm 137:2; Psalm 77:7-9.
II. There is a second special season or time wherein the Lord is pleased to give to his children a sweet assurance of his favor and love, and that is, when he intends to put them upon some high and hard, some difficult and dangerous service. Oh then he gives them some sweet taste of heaven beforehand; now he smiles, now he kisses, now he embraces the soul, now he takes a saint by the hand, now he causes his goodness and glory to pass before the soul, now he opens his bosom to the soul, now the soul shall be of his court and counsel, now the clouds shall be scattered, now it shall be no longer night with the soul, now the soul shall sit no longer mourning in the valley of darkness, now Christ will carry the soul up into the mount, and there reveal his glory to it, that it may act high and brave, noble and glorious in the face of difficulties and discouragements. Divine love has a compulsive faculty, it is very powerful to put the soul upon acting in the highest and hardest services for Christ.
Christ did intend to put Peter, James, and John upon hard and difficult service, and therefore brings them up into a high mountain, and there gives them a vision of his beauty and glory; there they see him transfigured, metamorphosed, or transformed; there they see his face shining as the sun, and his raiment glistering, Matt 17:1-6. In the mount he shows them such beams of his deity, such sparkling glory, as did even amaze them, transport them, and astonish them; and all this grace and glory, this goodness and sweetness Christ shows them, to hearten and encourage them to own him and his truth, to stand by him and truth, to make him and his truth known to the world, though hatred, bonds, and contempt did attend them in so doing.
Thus God dealt with Paul before he put him upon that hard and dangerous service that he had cut out for him, Acts 9:1-23. He takes him up into heaven, and sheds abroad his love into his heart, and tells him that he is a chosen vessel; he appears to him in the way, and fills him with the Holy Spirit, that is, with the gifts, graces, and comforts of the Holy Spirit, and straightway he falls upon preaching of Christ, upon exalting of Christ, to the amazing and astonishing of all who heard him. And as he had more clear, full, and glorious manifestations of God's love and favor than others, so he was more frequent, more abundant, and more constant in the work and service of Christ than others, 2 Cor 11:21-33.
And this has been the constant dealing of God with the patriarchs, as with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, etc., and with the prophets, as with Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc. It is sufficient to point at these instances, they are so notoriously known to all who know anything of the scripture in power. As he in Plutarch said of the Scythians, that although they had no music nor vines among them, yet, as better things, they had gods. So the saints, though they may lack this and that outward encouragement in the service of God, yet they shall enjoy his presence, that is better than all other things in the world.
When he has put them upon weighty services—he has shed abroad his love into their hearts, he has set his seal upon their spirits, and made them to know that he has set them as a seal upon his hand. He has assured them of his countenance, and of his presence, and of his assistance. He has told them, though others should desert them, yet he will stand by them, and strengthen them, and support them, and uphold them with the right hand of his righteousness. He has told them that his power should be theirs to defend them, and his wisdom should be theirs to direct them, and his goodness should be theirs to supply them, and his grace should be theirs to heal them, and his mercy should be theirs to pardon them, and his joy should be theirs to strengthen them, and his promise should be theirs to cheer them, and his Spirit should be theirs to lead them. And this has made them as hold as lions, this has made them steadfast, and stand close to the work of God in the face of all dangers and difficulties; this has made them, with stout Nehemiah, scorn to desist or fly from the work of the Lord; this has made their bows to abide in strength, though the archers have shot sore at them. Now there are considerable reasons why God is pleased to give his children some sweet tastes of his love, some assurance of his favor, when he puts them upon some hard and difficult service, and they are these that follow.
(1.) The first reason, That they may not faint nor falter in his service—but go through it resolutely and bravely, in the face of all difficulties and oppositions. When God put Joshua upon that hard service of leading and governing his people Israel, he assures him of his love and of his presence: "I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous." Joshua 1:5-6 And this makes him hold on and hold out in the service of the Lord bravely and resolutely, in the face of all discouragements: "Choose whom you will serve, whether your fathers' gods or the gods of the Amorites; but as for me, and my house, we will serve the Lord," Josh 24:15. So when the Lord put Paul upon such service that occasioned bonds and afflictions to wait for him in every city, Acts 20:23, he gives him a taste of heaven beforehand, and lifts up the light of his countenance upon him, and this makes him resolute and bold in the work of the Lord. Now Paul will not consult with flesh and blood, Gal 1:15-17; now it is not reproaches, nor stripes, nor prisons, nor whips, nor perils, nor deaths, that can make him look back, having put his hand to the Lord's plough. Oh! the beamings forth of divine love upon his soul filled him with that courage and resolution that, with Shammah, one of David's worthies, he stands and defends the field, when others fall, and fly, and flee the field, 2 Tim 4:16-17.
(2.) The second reason: God gives his people some tastes of his love, some sense of his favor, when he puts them upon hard and difficult services, because otherwise he would not only act below himself, as he is a wise God, a faithful God, a powerful God, a merciful God, a righteous God, etc.—but also act below his poor weak creatures. And to imagine that ever the great God will act below the wisdom of those who are foolish, is the greatest madness and blasphemy in the world. For what husband will put his wife, what father will put his child, what master will put his servant, what captain will put his soldier, what prince will put ambassadors, upon hard and difficult services—but they will smile upon them, and speak kindly to them, and make large promises to honor their persons, and kindly to accept, and nobly to reward their services, etc. Surely none. And will God? Will God, who will not give his glory to those who have the most glorious beings, allow his glory to be clouded and eclipsed by the prudent actings of weak worms? Surely not! Isa 42:8, and Isa 48:11.
(3.) The third reason: God lifts up the light of his countenance upon his people when he puts them upon hard and difficult services, that they may never repent of listing themselves in his service. Ah! did not the Lord warm the hearts of his people with the glorious beams of his love, when he puts them upon hard work—they would be ready, when they meet with oppositions and hazards, to give up all, and to sit down lamenting and repenting that ever they were engaged in his service. They would be as peevish and froward as Jonah, and with him venture drowning, to throw off God's service. Ah! but now the Lord, by letting his goodness drop upon their hearts, and by putting a pledge-penny into their hands—he causes them to go cheerfully on in his work, without sighing or repenting. The kisses and embraces of God do put such life, such spirit, such mettle into their souls, as makes them bid defiance to the greatest dangers, and as crowns them conquerors of the greatest difficulties. Ah! says a soul that has walked some turns in paradise, What is dross to gold! what is darkness to light! what is hell to heaven! No more are all difficulties and oppositions to me, who has found the sweetness of divine grace, and have had the happiness to lie in the bosom of God!
Diocletian, the worst and last persecutor in all the ten persecutions, observed, "that the more he sought to blot out the name of Christ, the more it became legible; and the more he sought to block up the way of Christ, the more it became passable; and whatever of Christ he thought to root out, it rooted the deeper, and rose the higher in the hearts and lives of the saints, among whom he had scattered the beams of his love and the rich pearls of his grace." Such souls as have once been in the arms of God, in the midst of all oppositions, they are as men made all of fire walking in stubble; they consume and overcome all oppositions; all difficulties are but as whetstones to their fortitude. The moon will run her course, though the dogs bark at it. Just so, will all those choice souls who have found warmth under Christ's wings, run their Christian race in spite of all difficulties and dangers. The horse neighs at the trumpet, the leviathan laughs at the spear. Just so, does a saint, under the power of assurance, laugh at all hazards and dangers which he meets with in the Lord's service. The sense of God's love and goodness makes him to triumph over the greatest difficulties.
(4.) The fourth reason, and lastly: God gives his people some tastes of his love when he puts them upon hard and difficult services, that the mouths of the wicked may be stopped. Should God lay heavy burdens upon his people's shoulders, and not put under his fingers to give some ease; should God double their quota of brick, and yet deny them straw; should God engage them against a potent enemy, and then desert them; should God send them upon some weighty embassage, and not give proportionable encouragements to them—what would the world say? Exod 32:12; Num 14:12-16. Would they not say that he is a hard master, and that his ways are not equal? Would they not say, Verily they are liars who say he is glorious in power, and wonderful in counsel, and infinite in mercy, and admirable in goodness, and rich in grace, and unsearchable in his understanding? For surely were he, he could not, he would not, put his children upon such hard and dangerous services—but he would own them, and stand by them; he would assist them, and smile upon them; he would be as careful to bring them bravely off, as he has been ready to bring them freely on. Oh! he could not see them in garments rolled in blood—but his affections would yearn towards them, and he would arise, and have mercy on them.
III. Then, thirdly, WAITING times are times wherein God is pleased to give his people some secret tastes of his love, and to lift up the light of his countenance upon them: "I waited patiently for the Lord," says David, "and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he has put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God," Psalm 40:1-3. After God had exercised David's patience in waiting, he sweetly breaks in upon him, and knocks off his bolts, and opens the prison doors, and takes him by the hand, and leads him out of the horrible pit of confusion, in which he was, and causes his love and goodness so to beam forth upon him as causes his heart to rejoice, and his tongue to sing.
So after devout Simeon had waited for the consolation of Israel, that is, for Christ's coming, the Holy Spirit falls upon him, and leads him to a sight of Christ in the temple, and this makes the good old man sing, 'Now, let your servant depart in peace,' Luke 2:23-33. Ah! says Simeon, I have lived long enough! now I have got Christ in my heart, and Christ in my arms, who is my light, my life, my love, my joy, my crown; let me depart, according to your word.
Ah! saints, I appeal to you, have not many of you found by experience the sweet breathings of Christ upon you, even while you have been waiting at the door of mercy? while you have been weeping and waiting, has not the Lord Jesus come in and said, "Peace be to you! Waiting souls, be of good cheer, it is I! Be of good cheer, your sins are pardoned!" Surely you have.
Has not God made that word good unto you, "Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart: wait, I say, on the Lord." Psalm 27:14. Yes! And has he not made that good to you, "They shall not be ashamed, who wait for me." Isa 49:23; These words, "shall not be ashamed," in the Hebrew dialect, do not simply import that such shall not be brought to shame, or shall not perish—but that he shall be advanced to great dignity and glory, to everlasting happiness and blessedness; that is, they shall not be deceived, or disappointed of their hopes and expectations, that wait for me. Yes! And have you not found that word made sweet to your souls, "Therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious: blessed are all they that wait for him"? Yes!
And has not the Lord made that word good to you, "The Lord is good unto those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him." Lam 3:25. Yes! Waiting souls, remember this assurance is yours—but the time of giving it is the Lord's; the jewel is yours—but the season in which he will give it is in his own hand; the gold chain is yours—but he only knows the hour wherein he will put it about your necks. Well! wait patiently and quietly, wait expectingly, wait believingly, wait affectionately, and wait diligently, and you shall find that scripture made good in power upon your souls, "Yet a little while, and he who shall come will come, and will not tarry," Heb 10:37. He will certainly come, he will seasonably come, he will suddenly come. Well! I will say but this—if assurance of God's love be not a jewel worth a waiting for, it is worth nothing.
IV. Fourthly, SUFFERING times are times wherein the Lord is pleased to give his people some sense of his favor. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven!" Matthew 5:11-12. When they are in sufferings for righteousness' sake, for the gospel's sake—then usually God causes his face to shine upon them. Now they shall hear best news from heaven—when they bear worst from earth. God loves to smile most upon his people when the world frowns most. When the world puts their iron chains upon their legs, then God puts his golden chains about their necks. When the world puts a bitter cup into their hands, then God drops some of his honey, some of his goodness and sweetness into it. When the world is ready to stone them, then God gives them the white stone. When the world is a-tearing their good names, then he gives them a new name, that none knows but he who has it, a name that is better than that of sons and daughters. When the world cries out, "Crucify them, crucify them," then they hear that sweet voice from heaven, "These are my beloved ones, in whom I am well pleased." When the world clothes them with rags, then the Lord puts on his royal robes, and makes a secret proclamation to their spirits, "Thus shall it be done to the men whom the King is pleased to honor." When the world gives into one hand a cup of water, God gives into the other a cup of nectar, a cup of ambrosia. When the world gnashes upon them, and presents all tortures before them, then the Lord opens paradise to them, as he did to Stephen.
When Paul and Silas were in prison for the gospel's sake, then God fills them with such unspeakable joy, that they cannot but be singing when others were sleeping, Acts 16:23-24. God turns their prison into a palace, a paradise, and they turn his mercies into praises. Paul and Silas found more pleasure than pain, more joy than sorrow, more sweet than bitter, more day than night—in the prison. God will make some beams of his goodness and glory to break through stone walls, to warm and glad the hearts of his suffering ones.
'Methinks,' said one, 'I tread upon pearls,' when he trod upon hot burning coals: and 'I feel no more pain than if I lay in a bed of down;' and yet he lay in flames of fire.
When John was banished into the isle of Patmos, "for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus," Rev 1:9-10, then he is filled with the Spirit, and has the choicest manifestations, and the most glorious revelations that ever he had all his days. Now God makes him one of his court and counsel, and tells him what glorious and mighty things shall be in the latter days. Now he is in a spiritual rapture and ecstasy, and carried above himself, and above all outward things, to attend those glorious visions that God would make known to him.
It was God's lifting up the light of his countenance, which made the martyrs to sing in the fire, to clap their hands in the flames, and to tread upon hot burning coals as upon beds of roses. This made one say, when he felt the flame come to his beard, "What a small pain is this, to be compared to the glory to come? What is a drop of vinegar put into an ocean of wine? What is it for one to have a rainy day, that is going to take possession of a kingdom?" The smiles of God made another to sing under dreadful sufferings, "I am a Christian!" In Tertullian's time, the persecuted Christians sang, "Your cruelty is our glory!"
This made a French martyr to say, when the rope was about his fellow's neck, "Give me that golden chain, and dub me a knight of that noble order!" This made another to desire, when he was to die, the favor of having his chains buried with him, as the ensigns of his honor.
This made Basil say, "Fire, sword, prison, famine—are all a pleasure, a delight unto me." This made Paul to rattle his iron chains, and to glory in it, more than worldly men glory in all their outward glory.
This made Theodoret to complain, that his persecutors did him wrong, when they took him off the rack, and ceased tormenting of him; for, said he, "All the while I was on the rack, methought there was a young man in white, an angel stood by me, who wiped off the sweat; and I found a great deal of sweetness in it, which now I have lost."
Sufferings are the ensigns of heavenly nobility. No wonder then that the saints are so joyful under them.
To conclude, the smiles of God upon the prisoners of hope, is that which makes them more cheerful and delightful in their sufferings, than Jesus Christ was in his.
When Faninus, an Italian martyr, was asked by one, why he was so merry at his death, since Christ himself was so sorrowful: "Christ," said he, "sustained in his soul all the sorrows and conflicts with hell and death, due to us, by whose sufferings we are delivered from sorrow, and fear of them all; and therefore we have cause of rejoicing in the greatest sufferings."
Now there are these special reasons to be given, why the Lord is pleased in suffering times to visit his people with his loving-kindness, and to lift up the light of his countenance upon them.
(1.) The first reason. That their patience and constancy under suffering may be invincible. God knows right well, that if his left hand in suffering times be not under his people, and his right hand over them, if he does not give them some sips of sweetness, some relishes of goodness, they would quickly grow impatient and inconstant. Oh, but now the smiles of God, the gracious discoveries of God—makes their patience and constancy invincible, as it did Vincentius, who by his patience and constancy angered his tormentors; therefore they stripped him stark naked, whipped his body all over to a bloody gore, sprinkled salt and vinegar over all his wounds, set his feet on burning coals, then cast him naked into a loathsome dungeon, the pavement whereof was sharp shells, and his bed to lie on a bundle of thorns. All which this blessed martyr received, without so much as a groan, breathing out his spirit in these words, "Vincentius is my name, and by the grace of God I will be still Vincentius, in spite of all your torments." Persecution brings death in one hand and life in the other; for while it kills the body it crowns the soul.
The most cruel martyrdom is but a detour to escape death, to pass from life to life, from the prison to paradise, from the cross to the crown.
We may see, by an eye of faith, the blessed souls of suffering saints fly to heaven, like Elijah in his fiery chariot.
John Huss, martyr, had such choice discoveries of God, and such sweet influences of the Spirit, as made his patience and constancy invincible. When he was brought forth to be burned, they put on his head a crown of paper, painted over with ugly devils; but when he saw it, he said, "My Lord Jesus Christ, for my sake, did wear a crown of thorns; why should not I then for his sake wear this light crown, be it never so ignominious? Truly I will do it, and that willingly." And as they tied his neck with a chain to the stake, smiling, he said, "That he would willingly receive the same chain for Jesus Christ's sake, who he knew was bound with a far worse chain for his sake." Well! remember this, their names who by a patient suffering are written in red letters of blood in the church's calendar—are written in golden letters in Christ's register, in the book of life.
(2.) The second reason. A second reason why the Lord lifts up the light of his countenance upon his people in suffering times, and that is, for the confirmation of some, for the conversion of others, and for the greater conviction and confusion of their adversaries, who wonder, and are like men amazed, when they see the comfort and the courage of the saints in suffering times. Paul's choice conduct in his bonds, was the confirmation of many. "Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly," Phil 1:14. And as the sufferings of the saints do contribute to the confirmation of some, so by the blessing of God they contribute to the conversion of others. "I beseech you," says Paul, "for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds," Philem 10. It was a notable saying of Luther, "The church converts the whole world by blood and prayer." They knew it could be but a short journey between the cross and paradise, between that short storm and an eternal calm.
Basil affirms, "that the primitive saints showed so much heroic zeal and constancy, that many of the heathen turned Christians." Just so, that choice spirit which the saints have showed in their sufferings, when Christ has overshadowed them with his love, and "stayed them with flagons, and comforted them with apples," Song 2:5, has maddened, grieved, vexed, and extremely tormented their tormentors. It would be too tedious to give you an account of all particular persecutors in this case, whom the courage, faith, and patience of the saints have tired out and made weary of their lives, and also bred wonder and astonishment in beholders and readers.
Lactantius boasts of the braveness of the martyrs in his time: "Our children and women, not to speak of men, do in silence overcome their tormentors, and the fire cannot so much as fetch a sigh from them."
Hegesippus reports an observation of Antoninus the emperor, namely, "That the Christians were most courageous and confident always in earthquakes, while his own heathen soldiers were at such times most fearful and dispirited." Certainly no earthquakes can make any heartquakes among the suffering saints—so long as the countenance of God shines upon their face, and his love lies warm upon their hearts. The suffering saint may be assaulted—but not vanquished; he may be troubled—but can never be conquered; he may lose his head—but he cannot lose his crown, which the righteous Lord has prepared and laid up for him, 2 Tim 4:7-8.
The suffering saint shall still be master of the day; though they kill him, they cannot hurt him; he may suffer death—but never conquest. "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death," Rev 12:11. They love not their lives—who love Christ and his truth more than their lives; they slight, despise, and despise their lives, when they stand in competition with Christ. In these words you see that the saints by dying do overcome: "They may kill me," said Socrates of his enemies, "but they cannot hurt me." A saint may say this and more. The herb heliotropium does turn about and open itself according to the motion of the sun. Just so, do the saints in their sufferings, according to the internal motions of the Sun of righteousness upon them. 'O Lord Jesus,' said one, 'I love you more than all goods, more than all my friends, yes, more than my very life.'
(3.) The third reason, A third reason why the Lord causes his goodness to pass before his people, and his face to shine upon his people in suffering times, and that is, for the praise of his own grace, and for the glory of his own name. God would lose much of his own glory, if he did not stand by his people, and comfort them and strengthen them, in the day of their sorrows. Ah, the dirt, the scorn, the contempt, that vain men would cast upon God, Exod 32:12; Num 14:13. Look! as our greatest good comes through the sufferings of Christ—so God's greatest glory that he has from his saints comes through their sufferings!
"If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you," 1 Pet 4:14. It makes much for the glory of God, that his people are cheered and comforted, quickened and raised, spiritualised and elevated—in the day of their sufferings. Oh the sight of so noble a spirit in the saints, causes others to admire God, to lift up God, to fall in love with God, and to glorify God; for owning his people, and for being a light to them in darkness, a joy to them in sorrow, and a palace to them in prison. [Dan 3:28-30; Dan 6:25-27]
God is very sensible of the many praises and prayers that he would lose, did he not cause his love and his glory to rest upon his people in suffering times. There is nothing that God is so tender of—as he is of his glory; and that his heart is so much set upon—as his glory; and therefore he will visit them in a prison, and feast them in a dungeon, and walk with them in a fiery furnace, and show kindness to them in a lion's den, that everyone may shout and cry, Grace, grace! [Isa 48:11; Gen 39:20; Dan 6:10; Zech 4:7] God loves to act in such ways of grace towards his suffering ones, as may stop the mouths of their enemies, and cause the hearts of his friends to rejoice.
IV. BELIEVING times are times wherein the Lord is graciously pleased to lift up the light of his countenance upon his people.When his children are in the exercise of faith, then the Lord is pleased to make known his goodness, and to seal up to them everlasting happiness and blessedness: Eph 1:13, "In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation—in Him when you believed—were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit;" or in whom believing you were sealed, that is, as you were in the very exercise and actings of faith upon the Lord Jesus Christ, the Spirit of the Lord made sure, and sealed up to you your adoption, your reconciliation, your pardon, and everlasting inheritance.
He who honors Christ by believing, by fresh and frequent acts of faith upon Christ, him will Christ certainly honor and secure by setting his seal and mark upon him, and by assuring of him of an unshakable kingdom, incorruptible riches, and an unfading crown of glory. Ah Christians! you wrong two at once, Christ and your own souls, while you thus reason: "Lord, give me first assurance, and then I will believe in you and rest upon you;" whereas your great work is to believe, and to hold on believing and acting of faith on the Lord Jesus, until you come to be assured and sealed up to the day of redemption. This is the surest and shortest way to assurance.
That is a remarkable passage of the apostle in Rom 15:13, "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit." "The God of hope," says the apostle, "shall fill you with all joy and peace in believing." That is, while you are in the exercise and actings of faith, the God of hope shall fill you with that joy that is "unspeakable and full of glory," and with that "peace that passes understanding." It signifies to be filled with joy and peace, as the sails of a ship are filled with wind.
Faith is the key which unlocks paradise, and lets in a flood of joy into the soul. Faith is an appropriating grace, it appropriates all to itself; it looks upon God, and says with the psalmist, "This God is my God forever and ever," Psalm 63:1, and Psalm 48:14. It looks upon Christ and says, "My beloved is mine, and his desires are towards me," Song 7:10. It looks upon the precious promises and says, These "precious promises" are mine, 2 Pet 1:4. It looks upon heaven and says, "Henceforth is laid up for me a crown of righteousness," 2 Tim 4:8; and this fills the soul with joy and peace. Faith has an influence upon other graces, it is like a silver thread that runs through a chain of pearl, it puts strength and vivacity into all other virtues. It made Abraham to rejoice; and it made Noah sit still and quiet in the midst of a deluge.
Faith is the first pin which moves the soul; it is the spring in the watch which sets all the golden wheels of love, joy, comfort, and peace a-going. Faith is a root-grace, from whence springs all the sweet flowers of joy and peace. Faith is like the bee, it will suck sweetness out of every flower; it will extract light out of darkness, comforts out of distresses, mercies out of miseries, wine out of water, honey out of the rock, and meat out of the eater, Judg 14:14. 1 Pet 1:8, "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy." Upon the exercise of faith, their hearts are filled with joy, with unspeakable joy, with glorious joy. Faith sees in Christ, a fullness of abundance; and this fills the heart with glorious joy.
Ah, Christians! believing, believing is the ready way, the safest way, the sweetest way, the shortest way, the only way to a well grounded assurance, and to that unspeakable joy and peace which flows from it, as the effect from the cause, the fruit from the root, the stream from the fountain. There is such assurance, and such joy that springs from the fresh and frequent actings of faith, that cannot be expressed, that cannot be painted. No man can paint the sweetness of the honeycomb, the sweetness of a cluster of Canaan, the sweetness of paradise, the fragrancy of the rose of Sharon. As the being of things cannot be painted, and as the sweetness of things cannot be painted—no more can that assurance and joy which flows from believing be painted or expressed; it is too great and too glorious for weak man to paint or set forth. There is in Christ not only the fullness of a vessel—but the fullness of a fountain; and this makes the heart of a saint leap, when he sees it by an eye of faith.
When Abraham believed in hope against hope, Rom 4:18, and when in the face of all dangers and difficulties, he put forth such noble and glorious acts of faith, as to conclude that "the Lord himself would provide a lamb for a burnt-offering," Gen 22:8, and that "in the mount he would be seen," Gen 22:14; God is so taken with the actings of his faith and the effects of it, that he swears by himself, that "in blessing he would bless him;" that is, I will certainly bless him, and will bless his blessing to him; "and in multiplying, he would multiply his seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore," Gen 22:17. Now the angel of the Lord, namely, the Lord Jesus, as his own words show, Gen 22:12,15-16, calls unto Abraham, out of heaven, not once but twice; and now he shows his admirable love in providing a ram, even to a miracle, for a burnt offering. "The Lord will provide," should be every saint's motto in straits and troubles.
And thus you see that believing times are times wherein the Lord is graciously pleased to reveal his love, and make known his favor to his people, and to look from heaven upon them, and to speak again and again in love and sweetness to them.
V. Hearing and receiving times, are times wherein the Lord is graciously pleased to cause his face to shine upon his people.When they are a-hearing the word of life and a-breaking the bread of life, then God comes in upon them, and declares to them that love that is better than life: Acts 10:44, "While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word." As Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit, that is, the graces of the Holy Spirit, namely, the joy, the comfort, the love, the peace, etc., of the Holy Spirit, fell upon them. So in Gal 3:2, "This only would I learn of you, received you the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" By the Spirit here, Calvin and Bullinger and other expositors, do understand the joy, the peace, the assurance that is wrought in the heart by the hearing of faith, that is, by the doctrine of the gospel; for in these words of the apostle, hearing is put for the thing heard, and faith for the doctrine of the gospel, because the gospel is the ordinary means of working faith. "Faith comes by hearing," says the apostle, Rom 10:17.
So 1 Thess 1:5-6, "For our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit." In these words you have a divine power attending Paul's ministry, a power convincing, enlightening, humbling, raising, delighting, reforming, renewing, and transforming of those who heard him. Also you have the sweet and blessed testimony of the Spirit attending his ministry, and assuring them of their effectual calling and election, upon whom the word came in power, and raising up their spirits to joy in the midst of sorrow.
Ah! you precious sons and daughters of Zion, who have sat waiting and trembling at Wisdom's door, tell me, tell me—has not God rained down manna upon your souls while you have been hearing the word? Yes! Has not God come in with power upon you, and by his Spirit sealed up to you your election, the remission of your sins, the justification of your persons, and the salvation of your souls? Yes, without controversy, many saints have found Christ's lips, in this ordinance, to drop honey and sweetness, marrow and fatness.
And as Christ in hearing times, when his people are a-hearing the word of life, does lift up the light of his countenance upon them. Just so, when they are a-receiving the bread of life, he makes known his love to them, and their interest in him. In this feast of fat things, the master of the feast, the Lord Jesus, comes in the midst of his guests, saying, "Peace be here."
This ordinance is a cabinet of jewels; in it are abundance of spiritual springs, and rich mines, heavenly treasures. Here the beams of his glory do so shine, as that they cause the hearts of believers to burn within them, and as scatters all that thick darkness and cloud that are gathered about them. When saints are in this wine-cellar, Christ's banner over them is love; when they are in this Canaan, then he feeds them with milk and honey; when they are in this paradise, then they shall taste of angels' food; when they are at this gate of heaven, then they shall see Christ at the right of the Father; when they are before his mercy-seat, then they shall see the affections of mercy rolling towards them. In this ordinance they see that, and taste that, and feel that of Christ—which they are not able to declare and manifest to others. In this ordinance saints shall see the truth of their graces, and feel the increase of their graces, and rejoice in the clearness of their evidences. In this ordinance Christ will seal up the promises, and seal up the covenant, and seal up his love, and seal up their pardon sensibly to their souls.
There are many precious souls who have found Christ in this ordinance, when they could not find him in other ordinances, though they have sought him sorrowingly. Every gracious soul may say, 'I believe life eternal—but I receive, I eat life eternal.' Many a cold soul has been warmed in this ordinance, and many a hungry soul has been fed with manna in this ordinance, and many a thirsty soul has been refreshed with wine upon the lees in this ordinance, and many a dull soul has been quickened in this ordinance. In this ordinance, weak hands and feeble knees have been strengthened, and fainting hearts have been comforted, and questioning souls have been resolved, and staggering souls have been settled, and falling souls have been supported.
I do not say that ever a dead soul has been enlivened in this ordinance, this being an ordinance appointed by Christ, not to beget spiritual life where there was none—but to increase it where the Spirit has formerly begun it. Every wicked soul who takes the cup may say, 'the cup of life is made my death,' 1 Cor 11:27.
Ah, Christians! if you will but stand up and speak out, you must say, that in this ordinance, there has been between Christ and you such mutual kisses, such mutual embraces, such mutual opening and closing of hearts, as has made such a heaven in your hearts as cannot be expressed, as cannot be declared. Christ in this ordinance opens such boxes of precious ointment, as fill the saints with a spiritual savor; he gives them a cluster of the grapes of Canaan, which makes them earnestly look and long to be in Canaan. The Christians in the primitive times, upon their receiving the sacrament, were accustomed to be filled with that zeal and fervor, with that joy and comfort, with that faith, fortitude, and assurance—which made them to appear before the tyrants with transcendent boldness and cheerfulness. Now there are these reasons why God is pleased to lift up the light of his countenance upon his people, when they are a-hearing the word of life, and a-breaking the bread of life.
(1.) The first reason. That they may highly prize the ordinances. The choice discoveries which God makes to their souls in them, works them to set a very high price upon them. Oh! says our souls, we cannot but prize them—for what of God we have enjoyed in them, Psalm 84:10-11.
Many there are that are like old Barzillai, who had lost his taste and hearing, and so cared not for David's feasts and music, 2 Sam 19:32, seq. So many there are that can see nothing of God, nor taste nothing of God in ordinances: they care not for ordinances, they slight ordinances. This age is full of careless Gallios, Acts 17, who care nothing for these things.
Oh! but souls who have seen, and heard, and tasted of the goodness of the Lord in ordinances—they dearly love them, and highly prize them! "I have esteemed your word," says Job, "above my necessary food," Job 23:12. And David sings it out: "The law of your mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver" [Psalm 119:72]. Luther prized the word at such a high rate that he says he would not live in paradise, if he might, without the word—but with the word he could live in hell itself, Psalm 27:4.
(2.) The second reason. God lifts up the light of his countenance upon his people in ordinances, that he may keep them close to ordinances and constant in ordinances. The soul shall hear good news from heaven when it is waiting at wisdom's door, Prov 8:34-35. God will acquaint the soul with spiritual mysteries, and feed it with the droppings of the honeycomb—that the soul may cleave to them as Ruth did to Naomi, and say of them as she said of her: "Where these go, I will go; where these lodge, I will lodge," Ruth 1:15-17; and nothing but death shall make a separation between ordinances and my soul.
After Joshua had a choice presence of God with his spirit in the service he was put upon, he makes a proclamation, "Choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my family, we will worship the Lord." Josh 24:15. Let the outcome be what it will, I will cleave to the service of my God; I will set my soul under God's care, I will wait for him in his temple, Mal 3:1; I will look for him in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, Rev 2:1; I have found him a good master; I will live and die in his service; I have found his work to be better than wages; I have found a reward, not only for keeping—but also "in keeping his commandments," as the psalmist speaks, Psalm 19:11. The sweet views and visits, the choice hints, the heavenly fellowship which has been between the Lord Jesus and my soul, in his service—has put such great and glorious engagements upon my soul that I cannot but say with the servant in the law, "I love my master, and I will not leave his service, because it is well with me; my ear is bored, and I will be his servant forever," Exod 21:5; Deut 15:16-17.
(3.) The third reason why the Lord causes the beams of his love, and the brightness of his glory to shine forth upon his people in ordinances is, To fence and strengthen their souls against all those temptations that they may meet with from Satan and his instruments, that lie in wait to deceive, and by their cunning craftiness endeavor with all their might to work men first to have low thoughts of ordinances, and then to neglect them, and then to despise them.
Now the Lord by the sweet discoveries of himself, by the kisses and love-tokens that he gives to his people in ordinances, does so endear and engage their hearts to them, that they are able not only to withstand temptations—but also to triumph over temptations, through him who has loved them, and in ordinances manifested his presence, and the riches of his grace and goodness, to them. The sweet converse, the blessed turns and walks, which the saints have with God in ordinances, makes them strong in resisting, and happy in conquering of those temptations that tend to lead them from the ordinances; which are Christ's banqueting-house, where he sets before his people all the dainties and sweets of heaven, and bids them eat and drink abundantly, there being no danger of surfeiting in eating or drinking of Christ's delicates. Truly, many a soul has surfeited of the world's dainties, and died forever; but there is not a soul that has had the honor and happiness to be brought into Christ's banqueting-house, and to eat and drink of his dainties—but they have lived forever. Chrysostom says, that by the sacrament of the Lord's supper, we are so armed against Satan's temptations, that he flees from us as if we were so many lions which spit fire.
(4.) The fourth reason why the Lord is pleased to give his people some sense of his love, and some taste of heaven in ordinances, is, That he may fit and ripen them for heaven, and make them look and long more after a perfect, complete, and full enjoyment of God. Souls at first conversion are but rough-cast—but God, by visiting of them, and manifesting of himself to them in his ways, does more and more fit those vessels of mercy for glory, Isa 64:5. Ah! Christians, tell me, do not those holy influences, those spiritual breathings, those divine incomes—which you meet with in ordinances, make your souls cry out with David, "As the deer pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, even for the living God! When shall I come and appear before the presence of God?" Psalm 42:1-2.
So in Psalm 63:1-2, "O God, you are my God, early will I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you in a dry and thirsty land, where there is no water: to see your power and your glory, so as I have seen you in the sanctuary." (The Greeks derive their word for desire from a root that signifies to burn. Now, if one should heap ever so much fuel upon a fire, it would not quench it—but kindle it the more. So nothing can satisfy the desires of a saint but a full celestial enjoyment of God.) In these words you have David's strong, earnest, and vehement desires; here you have desire upon desire; here you have the very flower and vigor of his spirit, the strength and sinews of his soul, the prime and top of his inflamed affections—all strongly working after a fuller enjoyment of God.
Look! as the espoused maid longs for the marriage day; the apprentice for his freedom; the captive for his ransom; the condemned man for his pardon; the traveler for his inn; and the mariner for his haven. Just so, does a soul, who has met with God in his ordinances, long to meet with God in heaven. It is not a drop, it is not a lap and away, a sip and away—which will suffice such a soul. It is not drops—but swimming in the ocean, which will satisfy a soul that has looked into paradise. That soul will never be quiet, until it sees God face to face, until it is quiet in the bosom of God. The more a saint tastes of God in an ordinance, the more are his desires raised and whetted, and the more are his teeth set on edge for more and more of God.
Plutarch says, that when "once the Gauls had tasted of the sweet wine which was made of the grapes of Italy, nothing would satisfy them but Italy, Italy." So a soul that has tasted of the sweetness and goodness of God in ordinances, nothing will satisfy it—but more of that goodness and sweetness. A full enjoyment of God is the most sparkling diamond in the ring of glory. A little mercy may save the soul—but it must be a great deal of mercy which must satisfy the soul. The least glimpse of God's countenance may be a staff to support the soul, and an ark to secure the soul, and a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide the soul; but it must be much, very much of God, which must be enough to satisfy the soul.
(5.) The fifth reason. The fifth and last reason why the Lord is graciously pleased to give his people some sense of his love, and some assurance of his favor in ordinances, is, That they may have wherewithal to silence and stop the mouths of wicked and ungodly men, whose words are stout against the Lord; who say, it is in vain to serve God, and what profit is there in keeping his statutes and ordinances, and in walking mournfully before the Lord Almighty? Mal 3:13-14. Now the Lord causes his face to shine upon his people in ordinances, that they may stand up, and bear him witness before the wicked world, that he is no hard master, that he reaps not where he sows not. The saints, by the gracious experiences that they have of the sweet breathings of God upon them in ordinances, are able to confute, muzzle, halt, or button up the mouths of vain and wicked men, who say unto the Lord, "Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of your ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?" Job 21:14-15.
In ordinances he kisses them, and there he gives them his love, and makes known his goodness and glory—that his children may, from their own experiences, be able to confute all the lies and clamors of wicked men against God and his ways. And blessed be God, who has not left himself without witness—but has many thousands who can stand up before all the world and declare, that they have seen "the beauty and glory of God in his sanctuary," that they have met with those joys and comforts in the ways of God, that do as far surpass all other joys and comforts, as light does darkness, as heaven does hell, that they have met with such heart-meltings, such heart-humblings, such heart-revivings, such heart-cheerings—as they have never met with before, in all their days.
Ah! say these souls, "One day in his courts, is better than a thousand" years elsewhere, Psalm 84:10. Oh we had rather with Moses lose all, and be whipped and stripped of all—than lose the sweet enjoyments of God in ordinances. Oh in them, God has been light and life, a joy and a crown to our souls. God is tender of his own glory, and of his children's comfort; and therefore he gives them such choice aspects, and such sweet visits in ordinances, that they may have arguments at hand to stop the mouths of sinners, and to declare from their own experience, that all the ways of God are ways of pleasantness, and that all his paths drop fatness, Prov 3:17; Psalm 65:11.
And thus much for the reasons, why God lifts up the light of his countenance upon his people in ordinances. Before I pass to the next particular, it will be necessary that I lay down these CAUTIONS, to prevent weak saints from stumbling and doubting, who have not yet found the Lord giving out his favors, and making known his grace and love, in such a sensible way to their souls, in breaking the bread of life, as others have found.
(1.) The first caution. Now, the first caution I shall lay down is this, That even believers may sometimes come and go from this ordinance, without that comfort, that assurance, that joy, that refreshment that others have, and may meet with. And this may arise, partly from their unpreparedness and unfitness to meet with God in the ordinance, 2 Chron 30:19-20; 1 Cor 11:20-34; and partly from their playing and dallying with some bosom sin; or else it may arise from their not stirring up themselves to lay hold on God, as the prophet Isaiah complains, "No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins." Isa 64:7.
Or else it may arise from the Spirit's standing at a distance from the soul. It may be, O soul, that you have set the Comforter, the Spirit a-mourning; and therefore it is, that he refuses to comfort you, and to be a sealing and witnessing Spirit unto you. You have grieved him with your sins, and he will now vex you by his silence; you have thrown the cordials away; you have trampled his manna under your feet; and therefore it is that he has veiled his face, and changed his countenance and demeanor towards you. You have been unkind to the Spirit; and therefore he behaves towards you as an enemy, and not as a friend, Psalm 77:2; Gen 31:5.
(2.) The second caution is this, That though God does in this ordinance withhold comfort and assurance from you, yet you must hold on in the duty, you must wait at hope's hospital. At this heavenly pool, you must lie—until the angel of the covenant, the Lord Jesus, comes and breathes upon you; at these waters of the sanctuary you must lie—until the Spirit moves upon your soul. You must not neglect your work—though God delays your comfort. You must be as obedient in the lack of assurance, as you are thankful under the enjoyment of assurance. The longer mercy is a-coming, the greater, the sweeter, and the better usually it is when it comes. Many a child has got a Benjamin's portion, a Hannah's portion, a double portion—by waiting. Just so, has many a saint got a worthy portion, a double portion of comfort and assurance—by waiting. Accordingly, wait patiently, and work heartily.
Laban often changed Jacob's wages, yet Jacob never changed nor neglected his work. Though God should change your wages, your comforts into discomforts, your spring into an autumn, etc., yet you must never change nor neglect your work, which is obeying, believing, and waiting—until God, in his ordinances, shall lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and turn your night into day, and your mourning into rejoicing. God is the same, and the commands of the gospel are the same; and therefore your work is the same, whether it be night or day with your soul, whether you are under frowns or smiles, in the arms or at the feet of God.
(3.) The third caution is this, Many of the precious sons and daughters of Zion have had and may have so much comfort and sweetness, so much life and heat, so much reviving and quickening, so much marrow and fatness in this ordinance—as may clearly evidence the special presence of God with their spirits. And yet, they would give a world, were it in their power, for those strong comforts and full assurance, that others enjoy in this ordinance. In this ordinance, Christ looks upon one and kisses another; he gives a nod to one, and his hand to another. Some in this ordinance shall have but sips of mercy, others shall have large draughts of mercy; some in this ordinance shall see but the back-parts of Christ, others shall see him face to face, Lam 1:16; to one he gives silver, to another he gives gold; to one he gives but a glass of consolation, to another he gives flagons of consolation, Song 2:5; some shall have but drops, others shall swim in the ocean; some shall have a large harvest, others shall have but a few gleanings, and yet they, if rightly valued, are more worth than a world.
The Sun of righteousness is a free agent, and he will work and shine forth as he pleases, and on whom he pleases. Who are you who dare say to Christ, "What are you doing?"
Remember—the least star gives light, the least drop moistens, the least pearl sparkles, and the least particle of special grace saves.
Ah! Christians, you may not, you must not say, We have not met with Christ in the sacrament, because we have not met with joy and assurance in the sacrament; for you may enjoy very much of Christ in that ordinance, and yet not so much as may boil up to full assurance, and make you go away singing, "My beloved is mine, and I am his," Song 2:16. We may enjoy the warmth and heat of the sun, when we cannot see the sun. Just so, souls may enjoy much of Christ, by holy influences, in the sacrament, when they cannot see Christ in the sacrament.
VI. Sixthly, Times of personal AFFLICTIONS are times wherein the Lord is graciously pleased to vouchsafe to his people sweet manifestations of his love and favor. When his hand is heavy on them, then he lifts up the light of his countenance upon them: Psalm 71:20-21, "Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again." So Psalm 94:19, "When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul."
Ah, Christians! has not God by all afflictions lifted up your souls nearer heaven, as Noah's ark was lifted up nearer and nearer heaven by the rising of the waters higher and higher? The ball in the emblem says 'the harder you beat me down in afflictions, the higher I shall bound in affection towards heaven and heavenly things.' Just so, afflictions do but elevate and raise a saint's affections to heaven and heavenly things.
When Munster lay sick, and his friends asked him how he did and how he felt himself, he pointed to his sores and ulcers, whereof he was full, and said, "These are God's gems and jewels, wherewith he decks his best friends; and to me they are more precious than all the gold and silver in the world."
Afflictions are blessings. God's corrections are our instructions, his lashes our lessons, his scourges our schoolmasters, his chastisements our corrections. And to note this, the Hebrews and Greeks both express chastening and teaching by one and the same word, because the latter is the true end of the former. The proverb is, 'Pain gives wisdom; and vexation gives understanding.' I bless God I know several precious souls of whom this world is not worthy, who have found more of God in afflictions than in any other gracious dispensation. Manasseh got more by his iron chain than ever he got by his golden crown.
Ah, you afflicted sons and daughters of Zion, have you not had such sweet discoveries of God, such sensible demonstrations of his love, such affections working in him towards you? Have you not had such gracious visits, and such glorious visions—which you would not exchange for all the world? Yes! Have you not had the precious presence of God with you, quieting and stilling your souls, supporting and upholding your souls, cheering and refreshing your souls? Yes! And have you not had the Lord applying precious promises, and suitable remedies, to all your maladies? Have you not found God a-bringing in unexpected mercy in the day of your adversity, suitable to that promise, Hos 2:14, "I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably to her" (or, I will speak earnestly to her heart, as the Hebrew reads it)? Yes!
Have you not found that God has so sweetened and sanctified afflictions to you, as to make them a means to discover many sins which lay hidden, and to purge you from many sins that cleaved close unto you, and to prevent you from falling into many sins which would have been the breaking of your bones, and the loss of your comfort? Yes! Have you not found that you have been like the walnut tree, the better for beating; and like the vine, the better for bleeding; and like the naughty child, the better for whipping? Yes! Musk, says one, when it has lost its sweetness, if it be put into the sink among filth, it recovers it. So do afflictions recover and revive decayed graces.
Have you not found afflictions to revive, quicken, and recover your decayed graces? Have they not inflamed that love that has been cold, and put life into that faith that has been dying, and quickened those hopes which have been withering, and put spirit into those joys and comforts which have been languishing? Yes! Oh, then, stand up and declare to all the world that times of affliction have been the times wherein you have seen the face of God, and heard the voice of God, and sucked sweetness from the breasts of God, and fed upon the delicates of God, and drunk deep of the consolations of God, and have been most satisfied and delighted with the presence and incomes of God.
When Hezekiah in his greatest affliction lamentingly said, Isa 38:9-20, "I shall go mourning to my grave, I shall not see the Lord in the land of the living. He will cut me off with pining sickness, he will break all my bones. Like a crane, or a swallow, so did I chatter; I did mourn as a dove; my eyes fail with looking upward. O Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me." So now God comes in a way of mercy to him, and prints his love upon his heart: Isa 38:17, "You have in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption;" or rather, as the Hebrew reads it, "You have loved my soul from the grave, for you have cast all my sins behind your back." Ah, says Hezekiah, I have now found that in my afflictions, your affections have been most strongly carried towards me, as towards one whom you are exceedingly taken with. Oh, now you have warmed me with your love, and visited me with your grace; you have made my darkness to be light, and turned my sighing into singing, and my mourning into rejoicing.
So when Habakkuk's belly trembled, and his lips quivered, and rottenness entered into his bones, and all creature comforts failed, yet then had he such a sweet presence of God with his spirit, as makes him to rejoice in the midst of sorrows: "Yet," says he, "I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation," Hab 3:16-18. And thus you see it clear, that in times of affliction God makes sweet manifestations of his love and favor to his children's souls.
VII. Seventhly, PRAYING times are times wherein the Lord is graciously pleased to give his people some sweet and comfortable assurance of his love and favor towards them. Prayer crowns God with honor and glory that is due to his name; and God crowns prayer with assurance and comfort. Usually the most praying souls are the most assured souls. There is no service wherein souls have such a near, familiar, and friendly fellowship with God, as in this of prayer; neither is there any service wherein God does more delight to make known his grace and goodness, his mercy and bounty, his beauty and glory, to poor souls, than this of prayer. Bernard, a man very much in prayer Lord, said. 'I never go away from prayer without you.'
The best and the sweetest flowers of paradise, God gives to his people when they are upon their knees. Prayer is the gate of heaven, a key to let us into paradise. When John was weeping, in prayer doubtless, the sealed book was open to him. Many Christians have found by experience, praying times to be sealing times, times wherein God has sealed up to them the remission of their sins, and the salvation of their souls. They have found prayer to be a shelter to their souls, a sacrifice to God, a sweet savor to Christ, a scourge to Satan, and an inlet to assurance. God loves to lade the wings of prayer with the choicest and chief blessings. Ah! how often, Christians, has God kissed you at the beginning of prayer, and spoke peace to you in the midst of prayer, and filled you with joy and assurance, upon the close of prayer!
Dan 9:17-24, is full to the point in hand; I shall only cite the words of the four last verses: "And while I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin, and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God; yes, while I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of evening oblation. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give you skill and understanding. At the beginning of your supplications, the commandment came forth, and I am come to show you, for you are greatly beloved; therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision." In these words you see, while Daniel was in prayer, the Lord appears to him and gives him a divine touch, and tells him that he is "a man greatly beloved," or as the Hebrew has it, "a man of desires, that is, one that is very pleasing and delightful to God."
So Acts 10:1-4. "At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!" Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked. The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God." Praying Cornelius, you see, is remembered by God, and visited sensibly and evidently by an angel, and assured that his prayers and good deeds are not only an odor, a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable and well pleasing to God—but also that they shall be gloriously rewarded by God. So when Peter was praying, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and had his mind elevated, and all the faculties of his soul filled with a divine revelation, Acts 10:9-16.
Just so, when Paul was a-praying, he sees a vision, Acts 9:11-16, Ananias a-coming and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight. Paul had not been long at prayer before it was revealed to him, that he was a chosen vessel, before he was filled with the voice and comforts of the Holy Spirit. Just so, our Savior was transfigured as he was praying, Matt 17:1-2. Thus you see, that praying times are times wherein the Lord is graciously pleased to lift up the light of his countenance upon his people, and to cause his grace and favor, his goodness and kindness, to rest on them, as the spirit of Elijah did rest on Elisha, 2 Kings 2:15.
OBJECTION. But some may object and say, We have been at the door of mercy, early and late, for assurance, and yet we have not obtained it; we have prayed and waited, and we have waited and prayed, we have prayed and mourned, and we have mourned and prayed, and yet we cannot get a good word from God, a smile from God; he has covered himself with a cloud, and after all that we have done, it is still night with our souls; God seems not to be at home, he seems not to value our prayers; we call, and cry and shout out for assurance, and yet he shuts out our prayer; we are sure that we have not found praying times to be times of assurance to our souls, etc., Lam 3:8. Now to this objection I shall give these answers:
ANSWER 1.First, That it may he you have been more earnest and vehement for assurance, and the effects of it, namely, joy, comfort, and peace—than you have been for grace and holiness, for communion with God, and conformity to God. It may be your requests for assurance have been full of life and spirits; when your requests for grace and holiness, for communion with God, and conformity to God, have been lifeless and spiritless. If so, no wonder that assurance is denied you. Assurance makes most for your comfort—but holiness makes most for God's honor. Man's holiness is now his greatest happiness, and in heaven man's greatest happiness will be his perfect holiness. Assurance is the daughter of holiness; and he who shall more highly prize, and more earnestly press after the enjoyment of the daughter than the mother, it is not a wonder if God shuts the door upon him, and crosses him in the thing he most desires. The surest and the shortest way to assurance is to wrestle and contend with God for holiness. When the stream and cream of a man's spirit runs after holiness, it will not be long night with that man; the Sun of righteousness will shine forth upon that man, and turn his winter into summer, and crown him with the diadem of assurance, Mal 4:2. The more holy any person is, the more excellent he is. All corruptions are diminutions of excellency. The more mixed anything is, the more it is abased, as if gold and tin be mixed; and the more pure it is as mere gold, the more glorious it is.
Now the more divinely excellent any man is, the more fit he is to enjoy the choicest and highest favors. Assurance is a jewel of that value, which he will bestow it upon none but his excellent ones, Psalm 16:3. Assurance is that tried gold, which none can wear but those who win it in a way of grace and holiness, Rev 3:18. It may be, if you had minded, and endeavored more after communion with God, and conformity to God, you might before this time have looked upward, and seen God in Christ smiling upon you, and have looked inward into your own soul, and seen the Spirit of grace witnessing to your spirit that you were a son, an heir—an heir of God, and a joint heir with Christ, Rom 8:15-17. But you have minded more your own comfort than Christ's honor; you have minded the blossoms and the fruit—assurance and peace—more than Christ the root; you have minded the springs of comfort, more than Christ, the fountain of life; you have minded the beams of the sun, more than the Sun of righteousness; and therefore it is but a righteous thing with God to leave you to walk in a valley of darkness, to hide his face from you, and to seem to be as an enemy to you.
Answer 2.But secondly, I answer, It may be you are not yet fit for so choice a mercy, you are not able to bear so great a favor. Many heads are not able to bear strong waters. Why, the very quintessence of all the strong consolations of God are wrung out into this golden cup of assurance; and can you drink of this cup, and not stammer nor stagger? Believe it, assurance is meat for strong men; few babes, if any, are able to bear it, and digest it. The apostle says, Heb 5:12,14, that "strong meat belongs to those who are of full age" (or that are comparatively perfect, or full-grown), "even those who, by reason of use" (Greek, by reason of habit, which is got by continual custom and long practice), "have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." The Greek word properly signifies such an exercise as wrestlers, or such as contend for victory, do use, which is with all their might and strength, being trained up unto it by long exercise.
It may be, O complaining Christian, that you are but a babe in grace, 1 Cor 3:1-3; perhaps you are not yet got beyond the breast, or, if you are, yet you are not past the spoon. Ah! Christian, if it be thus with you, cease complaining of lack of assurance, and be up and growing; be more aged in grace and holiness, and you shall find assurance growing upon you. Divine wisdom sparkles much in this, in giving milk to babes—who are more carnal than spiritual; and meat, that is assurance, to strong men—who have more skill and will, who have a greater ability and choicer faculty to prize and improve this jewel assurance than babes have. The Hebrew word signifies both weight and glory; and truly, glory is such a weight, that if the body were not upheld by which glorious power that raised Jesus Christ from the grave, if it were not born up by everlasting arms—it were impossible that we could bear it, Deut 33:27. Now assurance is the top of glory, it is the glory of glory. Then certainly they had need be very glorious within—who shall be crowned with such a weight of glory as assurance is, Psalm 45:13. Well I remember this, it is mercy to lack mercy until we are fit for mercy, until we are able to bear the weight of mercy, and make a divine improvement of mercy.
Answer 3.Thirdly, You must distinguish between delays and denials. God may delay us, when he does not deny us; he may defer the giving in of a mercy, and yet, at last, give the very mercy begged. Barren Hannah prays, year after year, for a mercy. God delays her long—but at last gives her her desire; and the text says expressly, that her countenance was no more sad, 1 Sam 1:18. After many prayers and tears, the Lord comes in, and assures her, that she should have the desire of her soul; and now she mourns no more—but sits down satisfied, comforted, and cheered. After much praying, waiting, and weeping, God usually comes with his hands and heart full of mercy to his people. He loves not to come empty-handed, to those who have sat long with wet eyes at mercy's door.
Christ tries the faith, patience, and constancy of the Canaanite woman, Matt 15:21-29; he deferred and delayed her, he reproached and repulsed her; and yet at last is overcome by her, as not being able any longer to withstand her importunate requests. "O woman, great is your faith; be it unto you, even as you will." Christ puts her off at first—but gives in to her at last; at first a good word, a good look is too good for her—but at last good words and good looks are too little for her: "Be it unto you, even as you will." At first Christ carries himself to her as a churlish stranger—but at last as an amorous lover. Though at first he had not an ear to hear her, yet at last he had a heart to grant her, not only her desires—but even what else she would desire over and above what she had desired.
God heard Daniel at the beginning of his supplications, and his affections of love were working strongly towards him—but the angel Gabriel does not inform Daniel of this until afterwards, Dan 9:15-25. Praying souls, you say that you have prayed long for assurance, and yet you have not obtained it. Well, pray still. Oh pray and wait, wait and pray; "the vision is for an appointed time—but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry," Hab 2:3. God has never, God will never—fail the praying soul; in the long run, you shall be sure to obtain that assurance that will richly recompense you for all your praying, waiting, and weeping; therefore hold up and hold on praying, though God does delay you, and my soul for yours, you shall reap in due season such a harvest of joy and comfort, as will sufficiently pay you for all your pains, Gal 6:9.
Shall the farmer wait patiently for the precious fruits of the earth, James 5:7; and will not you wait patiently for assurance, which is a jewel more worth than heaven and earth? Praying souls, remember this. It is but foolishness to think that men shall reap as soon as they sow—that they shall reap in the evening when they have but sowed in the morning. Titus Vespasian never dismissed any petitioner with a tear in his eye, or with a heavy heart; and shall we think that the God of compassions will always dismiss the petitioners of heaven with tears in their eyes? Surely no.
VIII. Eighthly, Sometimes before the soul is deeply engaged in sore conflicts with SATAN, the Lord is graciously pleased to visit his people with his loving-kindness, and to give them some sweet assurance, that though they are tempted, yet they shall not be worsted; though they are tried, yet they shall be crowned, 1 John 10:28; though Satan does roar as a lion upon the soul, yet he shall not make a prey of the soul; for the Lion of the tribe of Judah will hold it fast, and none shall pluck it out of his hand, Rev 5:5.
God first fed Israel with manna from heaven, and gave them water to drink out of the rock, before their sore fight with Amalek, Exod 17:8, etc. Before Paul was buffeted by Satan, he was caught up into the third heaven, where he had very glorious visions and revelations of the Lord, even such as he was not able to utter, 2 Cor 12:1-8. Before Jesus Christ was led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, to question and doubt of his Sonship, he heard a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased:" Matt 3:17. The Spirit of the Lord did first descends upon him as a dove, before Satan fell upon him as a lion. God walks with his people some turns in paradise, and gives them some tastes of his right-hand pleasures; before Satan, by his tempting, shall do them a displeasure, Psalm 16:11. But I must hasten to a close of this chapter; and therefore,
IX. Ninthly, and lastly, After some sharp conflicts with Satan, God is graciously pleased to lift up the light of his countenance upon his people, and to warm and cheer their hearts with the beams of his love: Matt 4:11, "Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered unto him." When Christ had even spent himself in fighting and dueling, in resisting and scattering Satan's temptations, then the angels come and minister cordials and comforts unto him. So after Paul had been buffeted by Satan, he heard that sweet word from heaven, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness," 2 Cor 12:7-10, which filled his heart with joy and gladness. The hidden manna, the new name, and the white stone, is given to the conqueror, Rev 7:17; to him who has fought "with principalities, and powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places," Eph 6:12, and has come off with his garments dipped in blood.
After the Roman generals had gotten victory over their enemies, the senate did use not one way—but many ways, to express their loves to them. So after our faith has gotten victory over Satan, God usually takes the soul in his arms, and courts it, and shows much kindness to it. Now the soul shall be carried in triumph, now the royal chariot attends the soul, now white raiment is put upon the soul, Rev 3:5, and Rev 7:9; now palms are put into the conqueror's hands, now the garland is set upon the conqueror's head, and now a royal feast is provided, where God will set the conqueror at the top end of the table, and speak kindly, and carry it sweetly towards him, as one much affected and taken with his victory over the prince of darkness.
Conflicts with Satan are usually the sharpest and the hottest; they spend and use most the vital and noble spirits of the saints; and therefore the Lord, after such conflicts, does ordinarily give his people his choicest and his strongest cordials.
And thus, by divine assistance, we have showed you the special times and seasons wherein the Lord is graciously pleased to give his people some tastes of his love, some sweet assurance, that they are his favorites, that all is well, and shall be forever well between him and them; and that, though many things may trouble them, yet nothing shall separate them from their God, their Christ, their crown. As many have found by experience.