1. For clearing of the case, we shall show how probably it is brought on.2. How Christ is life to the soul in such a case as this.3. How the believer is to make use of Christ for the life, in this case; and, 4. Further clear the matter, by answering a question or two.
As to the first, such a distemper as this may be brought upon the soul,
1. Through some strong and violent temptation from without, meeting with some evil disposition of the heart within, and so surprising and overpowering the poor soul, as we see in David and Peter.
2. Through the cunning and sleight of Satan, stealing the believer, that is not watchful enough, insensibly off his feet, and singing him asleep by degrees.
3. Through carelessness, in not adverting at first to the beginnings and first degrees of this deadness and upsitting, when the heart beginneth to grow formal and superficial in duties, and to be satisfied with a perfunctorious performance, without life and sense.
4. Through torturing of conscience, in light and smaller matters; for this may provoke God to let conscience fall asleep, and so the soul become more untender, and scruple little, at length, at great matters; and thus deadness may come to a height, God ordering it so, for a further punishment to them, for their untenderness and uncircumspectness.
5. Through their not stirring up themselves, and shaking off that spirit of laziness and drowsiness, when it first seizeth upon them; but, with the sluggard, yet another slumber, and another sleep, and a folding of the hands to sleep.
6. Continuing in some known sin, and not repenting of it, may bring on this distemper, as may be observed in David.
As to the second particular, Christ is life to the soul in this case; in that,
1. He keepeth possession of the soul; for the seed remaineth, the root abideth fast in the ground; there is life still at the heart, though the man make no motion, like one in a deep sleep, or in a swoon, yet life is not away.
2. He in due time awakeneth, and rouseth up the soul, and so recovereth it out of that condition, by some means or other, either by some alarm of judgment and terror, as he did David; or dispensation of mercy and tenderness, as he did Peter; and usually he recovereth the soul,
(1.) By discovering something of this condition, by giving so much sense and knowledge, and sending so much light, as will let the soul see that it is not well, and that it is under that distemper of lifelessness.
(2.) By the discovering the dreadfulness of such a condition, and how hazardous it is to continue therein.
(3.) By putting the soul in mind, that he is the life and the resurrection; and through the stirring up of grace, causing the soul to look to him for quickening and outgate.
(4.) By raising up the soul at length out of that drowsiness, and sluggish folding of the hands to sleep, and out of that deep security, and putting it into a more lively, vigilant, and active frame.
As to the third, the believer that would make use of Christ, for a recovery out of this condition, would mind those duties:
1. He would look to Christ, as the light of men, and the enlightener of the blind; to the end, he may get a better and a more thorough discovery of his condition; for it is half health here to be sensible of this disease. The soul that is once brought to sense, is half recovered of this fever and lethargy.
2. He would eye Christ as God, able to cause the dead and dry bones to live, as Ezek. chap. xxvii.; and this will keep from despondency and despair; yea, it will make the poor believer conceive hope, when he seeth that his physician is God, to whom nothing is impossible.
3. He would look to him also, as head and husband, and life to the poor soul that adhereth to him; and this will strengthen his hope and expectation; for he will see that Christ is engaged (to speak so) in point of honour, to quicken a poor dead and lifeless member; for the life in the head is for the good of the whole body, and of every member of the body, that is not quite cut off. And the good that is in the husband is forthcoming for the relief of the poor wife, that hath not yet got a bill of divorce. And Christ being life and the Life, he must be appointed for the relief, the quickening and recovering from death of such as are given to him, that they may be finally raised up at the last day; he must present all his members lively in that day.
4. He would by faith wrap himself up in the promises, and lie before this Sun of Righteousness, till the heat of his beams thaw his frozen heart, and bring warmth into his cold and dead soul, and thus renew his grips of him, accepting of him as the Life, and as his life. Christ himself tells us, John xi.40, that this is the Father's will, that hath sent him, that every one that seeth the Son, and believeth on him, might have everlasting life, and he will raise him up at the last day. Faith closing with him, as it was the mean of life at first, so it will be the mean of recovery out of a dead distemper afterwards.
5. He would mourn for such sins and provocations, as he discovereth in himself to have caused and brought on this distemper. Repentance and godly sorrow for such evils, as have sinned Christ and life away, is a way to bring life back again.
6. He would be sure to harbour no known sin in his soul, but to set himself against every known evil, as an enemy to the life and recovery which he is seeking.
7. He must wait on Christ his life, in the appointed means; for that is the will of the Lord, that he should be waited upon there, and sought for there. There is little hopes of recovery for such as lay aside the ordinances. Though the ordinances without him cannot revive or quicken a poor soul, yet he hath condescended so far as to come with life to his people in and through the ordinances, and hath appointed us to wait for him there; we must be willing to accept of all his condescensions of love, and seek and wait for him there, where he hath said he will be found.
8. In going about those ordinances of life, he would beware of putting them in Christ's room, i.e. he would beware of thinking that ordinances will do his business; as some ignorantly do, who think that by praying so often a-day, and reading so much, and hearing so much, they shall recover their lost lively frame, when, alas! all the ordinances, without him, signify nothing. They, without him, are cold and lifeless, and can never bring heat and warmth to a cold soul. It is he in the ordinances whom we are to seek, and from whom alone life is to be expected, and none else.
9. Though life lieth not in the ordinances as separated from Christ, and life is to be expected from him alone, yet he would beware of going about the ordinances in a careless, superficial, and indifferent manner: for this will argue little desire after life, and will bring on more deadness. The ordinances then should be gone about seriously, diligently, and with great carefulness, yea, with such earnestness as if life were not about the ordinances at all. This is the right way of going about the ordinances.
10. He must in all this wait with patience, without fretting or quarrelling with him for his delaying to come. He must wait with much humility. It becometh not him who hath, through his folly, sinned life away, to quarrel now with God, because he restoreth him not again to life at the first asking. He may be glad if at length, after long seeking, waiting, and much diligence, he come and restore to him the joy of salvation, and if he be not made to lie as bedrid all his days, for a monument of folly in sinning away his life, strength, and legs as he did.
11. He must beware of giving way to any thing that may increase or continue this deadness; such as untenderness in his walk, unwatchfulness, negligence, and carelessness; and especially he must beware not to provoke God by sinning against light.
12. He would also beware of limiting the Lord to any set measure of life and strength: for it becometh not beggars to be carvers, far less such beggars as through folly have sinned away a good portion. It was not for the prodigal to seek a new patrimony, after he had dilapidated the former; it might suffice him to be made as a servant.
13. He would use well any small measure of life he getteth, for God and his glory; getteth he but one talent, he should use it that he may gain thereby: we say, use limbs and have limbs, use strength and have it. This will be the way to get more.
14. He would be taking on the vows of the Lord, and that in the Lord, to walk more watchful in time coming, charging all within and without not to stir or provoke the Lord to depart further or to scare him from coming to the soul.
As to the last particular,
If it be inquired, 1. What can that soul do that is not sensible of this deadness and weakness?
Ans. Though there be not any real sense and feeling of this condition, yet there may be a suspicion that all is not right; and if this be, the soul must look out to Christ for the life of sense and for a sight of the provocations that have brought on that condition. He that is the Life must recover the very beginnings of life; and when the soul winneth to any real apprehension and sense of this deadness, it must follow the course formerly prescribed for a recovery.
2. But it will be asked, how can a soul act faith in such a case? And if it cannot act faith, how can it come to Christ and make use of him?
Ans. It is true, while the soul is in that case, it cannot act a strong and lively faith; yet it can act a weak and a sickly faith; and a weak faith and a sickly faith can lay hold on an enlivening Christ, and so bring in more strength and life to the soul. If the soul be so weak as that it cannot grip, yet it can look to him that can quicken the dead and hath helped many a poor soul before out of a dead condition: or if it cannot do so much as look, yet it may give an half-look, and lie before him who waiteth to be gracious; and sustain itself if it can get no more, with a maybe he shall come.
3. But further, it may be asked, what can the soul do, when, after all this, it findeth no help or supply, but deadness remaining, yea, and it may be, growing?
Ans. The soul in that case must lie at his door, waiting for his salvation, and resolving, if no better may be, to die at his door, and leave no approved means or commanded duty unessayed, that it may recover its former vigour, activity and strength. And while the believer is waiting thus, he is at his duty; and this may yield him peace, and he may be sure that he shall never be ashamed, Psalm xxv.3; lxix.6. Isa.1.18.