They go on in the confession of their sins. Many a man hath soon done with that a general notion of sin is the highest advancement in repentance that many attain to. You may see here sin and judgment mixed in thorough other(315) in their complaint. They do not so fix their eyes upon their desolate estate of captivity, as to forget their provocations. Many a man would spend more affection, and be more pathetic in the expression of his misery, when it is pungent, nor he can do when he speaketh of his sins. We would observe, from the nature of this confession, something to be a pattern of your repentance. And it is this. When the Spirit convinceth, and men are serious in repentance, then the soul is more searching, more universal, more particular in acknowledgment of sins. These are characters of the Spirit's work.
First, The Spirit discovereth unto men, not only sin, but the loathsomeness of sin, its heinous nature, how offensive it is to God's holy eye. Many of you know abundance of evil deeds, and call them sins, but you have never taken up sin's ugly face, never seen it in the glass of the holy law, uncleanness itself, because you do not abhor yourselves. Poor and low thoughts of God make mean and shallow thoughts of sin. You should be as Job, vile, chap. xl.4, and abhor yourselves in dust and ashes, chap. xlii.6. As God's holiness grew great in your eyes, sins uncleanness would grow proportionably, Isa. vi.3, 5. And here your repentance halteth in the very entry.
But, secondly, The Spirit discovereth not only the uncleanness of men's natures, and leadeth them up to original corruption, but the Spirit also leadeth men along all the streams, not only those that break out, but those which go under ground, and have a more secret and subtile conveyance. It concludeth not only open breaches of the command under filthiness, but also all a man's own righteousness, though never so refined, it concludeth it also a defiled garment, so that the soul can look no where but see sin and uncleanness in its ornaments and duties. And thus it appeareth before God without such a covering, openeth up its soul, hideth not sin with the covering of duties, but seeth a necessity of another covering for all. Now, therefore, let the most part of you conclude, that you have never yet gotten your eyes open to see sin or confess it, because when you sit down to count your sins, there are many things that you call not sin, -- you use not to reckon your praying and repentance among sins. Nay, because you have so much confidence in your repentance and confession, you have never repented. You must see a necessity of a covering of Christ's righteousness above all, faith in Jesus must cover repentance and itself both, with the glorious object of it. But, alas! how soon are many at an end of confession! some particular gross actions may come in remembrance, but no more. Sum up all your confessions, they have never yet pitched on the thousandth part of your guiltiness, no, not in kinds, let be in number.
But, thirdly, The spirit convinceth spiritually and particularly both, it convinceth of spiritual sins, as we last said, of the iniquity of holy things, and especially of the most substantial duties, faith and prayer, John xvi.8, 9. There are not many of you have come this length, to see your want of prayer. No, your own words do witness against you, for you use to say, I pray day and night, I believe in God with all my heart. Now therefore, out of your own mouth shall you be condemned. When the Spirit convinceth you of sin, you will see no faith, no prayer at the first opening of the eyes. But I add, there is no true confession but it is particular: the Spirit useth not to bewilder men's spirits in a general notion only, and a wide field of unknown sins. And such are many of your convictions. You mourn for sin, as you say, and yet you cannot condescend on a particular that burdeneth your conscience; you grant you have many sins, but sit down to count them, and there is a short count of them. Now, do you not reflect back upon former humiliations in public, and former acknowledgments of sins in private? Do you not yet return upon your own hearts to lay home this sad challenge, I have never repented, I do not yet repent? Must not all your solemn approaches be iniquity and abomination, while your souls are not afflicted for sin, while you can see so few sins? The fasting days of Scotland will be numbered in the roll of the greatest provocations, because there is no real and spiritual conviction of sin among us, custom hath now taken away the solemnity, and there remaineth nothing but the very name. Is this the fast that the Lord chooseth? No, believe it, this shall add to your provocation, and rather hasten lingering judgment than keep it off. We would beseech you this day, pray for pardon of former abused fasts. If you had no more to mourn for, this might spend the day and our spirits both, and exhaust all our present supplications -- even the wall of partition that stands between God and Scotland, which all our former solemn humiliations hath built up, a great deal higher than other sins could reach.
"There is none that calleth upon thy name." Did not this people make many prayers (Isa. i.15), before the captivity? And did they not cry, which noteth some fervency in it, and fast, a little before it in Jeremiah's time, (chap. xi.11, and xiv.12,) and in the time of it, Ezek. vii.18, Mic. iii.4, Zech. vii.3? How, then, is it that the prophet, now on the watch tower, looking round about him to take up the people's condition, and being led by the Spirit so far as to the case of the captives in Babel, can find no prayer, no calling? And was not Daniel so too? Dan. ix.13. Lo, then, here is the construction that the Spirit of God putteth on many prayers and fastings in a land, "There is none calleth on thy name," there is none that prayeth faithfully and fervently, few to count upon that prayeth any. It may be there are many public prayers, but who prayeth in secret, and mourneth to God alone? There are many prayers, but the inscription is, "To the unknown God," to a nameless God; your praying is not a calling on his name, as a known God and revealed in the word.
This, then, we would say unto you, that there may be many prayers in your account, and none in God's. There are many prayers of men that God counteth no more of than the howling of a dog.
First, The cry of men's practices is often louder than their prayers, and goeth up to heaven, that the cry of prayer cannot be heard. When men's conversation is flat contrary to their supplications, supplication is no calling on his name, but charming rather. Sodom's abominations had a cry up to God, Gen. xviii.21. So Abel's blood had a cry for vengeance, which Cain's prayers could not outcry. Thus the Lord would not hear many prayers, Isa. i.15, because hands and practices were polluted. You that know no worship of God, but in such a solemn duty, your religion is summed up and confined within the limits of temple worship, family exercise, and prayer, certainly the rest of your conversation must speak more. God will not hear but such as worship him and do his will, John iv.23. Your prayer is a dark parable, if your conversation expone(316) it not. This I speak for this end, to put many of you out of your false ground of confidence. You have nothing but your prayers to trust unto, and for your conversation, you never go about it effectually to reform it, but go on in that which you pray against. We declare unto you the truth, your prayers are abomination, Prov. xxviii.9. The wicked may have prayers, and therefore think not to please God and flatter him with your mouths, when your conversation is rebellion. Since you hear not him in his commands, God will not hear you in your petitions, Prov. i.24, 28. You stopped your ear at his reproof, God will stop his ear at your request. If you will go to heaven by your own righteousness, I pray you follow more after it, make the garment more to cover your nakedness: the skirt of a duty is not sufficient.
Secondly, When iniquity is regarded in the heart, and idols set up in God's place, God will not own such a worship, but sendeth a man to the idols he serveth, Psal. lxvi.18; Ezek. xiv.9, 4. Do you not often pray to God against a corruption, when your heart cleaveth unto it, and what your mouth saith, your heart contradicteth? Light and conscience often extort a confession of beloved sins, while the temper of the heart hath this language, Lord, grant not my request. And therefore, if there be a prayer for pardon of guilt, yet there is no thorough resolution to quit the sin; and as long as a soul is not resolved to quit the sin, there can be no ingenuous confession of it, and no prayer for removing the guilt can be heard. You cannot employ Christ in his office of mediatorship as a Priest to intercede and offer sacrifice for sin, unless you as sincerely employ him as a Sanctifier and Redeemer; and therefore prayer that separateth Christ's offices, and calleth not on whole Christ, calleth not on his name, for his name is Lord Jesus Christ. How can the Lord be inquired of by such a one who cometh to mock him, putteth up an idol in the heart, and yet prayeth against it, or some other sin, while he is not resolved to quit it? Shall God be resolute to help, when we are not earnest in seeking it? No wonder God answer you according to the idol; no wonder you be given up to serve idols, and your sin grow upon you as a plague for your hypocrisy. When you engage your heart too much to any creature, and come to pray and inquire of the Lord in your necessity, shall it not be righteousness with him, to send you to your god? "When thou criest, let thy companies deliver thee," Isa. lvii.13. O man, cry unto thy bosom-idol, and let it help thee, since thou trustest to it, and spendest thy heart upon it! Deut. xxxii.37, 38, "Where is the God that drank the wine of your offerings, and did eat the fat of your sacrifices?" Where is the creature that you have made your heart an altar to, to send up the flames of your choicest thoughts and affections to it? Let this rise up, and help you now, saith the Lord. Therefore we exhort you, if you would have your prayers a delight, be upright in the thing you seek, and see that you entertain no known sin, give it no heart-allowance.
Thirdly, There are many prayers not heard, not known, because the mouth out-crieth the heart. It is the sacrifice of the contrite heart that God despiseth not. The prayers of this people were such, (Isa. xxix.13,) -- they drew near with the mouth, but the heart was far away. It is worship in spirit and truth that God loveth, John iv.23. Since prayer is a communion of God with the creature, a meeting of one with God, and speaking face to face, God, who is a Spirit and immortal, must have a spirit to meet with, a soul to speak to him. Now, do you not find your hearts gadding abroad even in duty? Is it not most about your corns and lands in the time of solemn worship? Therefore God getteth no more but a carcase to keep communion with: he may have as much fellowship with the stones of the wall, and timber of the house, as he can have with your ears and mouths, while you remove your hearts to attend other things. And I would say more, -- if your mind be present, yet your heart is gone; sometimes, yea often, both are gone abroad. Sometimes the mind and thought stayeth, but the affection and heart is not with it, and so the mind's residence is not constant. Your thought may come in as a wayfaring man, but tarrieth not all night, dwelleth not. Now speak to it, even Christians, may not your prayers often have a contrary interpretation to what they pretend? You pray so coldrifely(317) and formally, as God will interpret, you have no mind to it: we ask as we seemed indifferent whether our petition be granted or not. Should the Lord be affected with your petitions, when you yourselves are not affected much? Should his bowels of zeal sound within him, when yours are silent? It is fervent prayer availeth much, James v.16. A heart sent out with the petition, and gone up to heaven, cannot but bring back an answer. If prayer carry not the seal of the heart and soul in it, God cannot own it, or send it back with his seal of acceptation.
Fourthly, Many prayers are not calling on God's name; and no wonder that when people pray, yet the Spirit says, "None calleth on thy name;" for prayer is made, as to an unknown God, and God is not taken up according to his "name," which are his glorious attributes, whereby he manifesteth himself in his word. To call on God's name, is so to pray to God as to take him up as he hath revealed himself. And what is the Lord's name? Hear himself speak to Moses, Exod. xxxiii.19, and xxxiv.6, 7, "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. Keeping mercy for thousands: forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty." Now, to call on this name is for the soul, in prayer, to have a suitable stamp on it: every attribute of God taking deep impression in the heart, and so God's name to be written on the very petitions; and shortly, we may say, the spirit should have the impression of God's greatness and majesty, of his goodness and mercy, of his terribleness and justice. This is the order in which God proclaimeth his name. In the entry, the supplicant should behold the glorious sovereignty and infinite distance between God and the creature, that he may have the stamp of reverence and abasement upon his spirit, and may speak out of the dust, as it becometh the dust of the balance and footstool to do to him who sitteth on the circle of the heaven as his throne. And this I must say, there is little religion and godliness among us, because every man is ignorant of God. Even God's children do more study themselves, and their condition, than God's greatness and absoluteness. Who searches God's infiniteness in his word and works till he behold a wonder, and be drowned in a mystery? O but the saints of old did take up God at a greater distance from the creatures; they waded far into this boundless ocean of God's Majesty, till they were over head and ears, and were forced to cry out, "Who can find out the Almighty to perfection?" All these are but parts of him, his back-parts. There is more real divinity and knowledge of God in one of Job's friends' discourses, one of David's prayers, than now in twenty sermons of gracious men, or many prayers or conferences of saints. But withal you must study his goodness and mercy, and this maketh up the most part of his name. The definition of God hath most of this, so that it may be said truly, that mercy is his delight. Mercy, as it were, swelleth over the rest: God were not accessible, unless mercy did temper it. Behold then greatness to humble, and goodness to make bold, that you may have access. As greatness should leave the stamp of reverence on your petitions, so should mercy and goodness imprint them with faith and confidence; and that the rather, because as Christ is said to be the Father's face, and the image of his person, (2 Cor. iv.6. and Heb. i.3,) so may he be called the Father's name, and so doth God himself call him, Exod. xxiii.20, 21, The angel that went before them in the wilderness, whose voice they ought to obey, his "name is in him;" and this angel is Christ Jesus, Acts vii.37, 38. So then Christ Jesus is God's name. God, as he revealeth himself in the word, is "God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself," 2 Cor. v.19. And therefore, Christians, you ought to pray always in Christ's name, and this is to call on his name. Not only encourage yourselves to come to God, because of a mediator, because he is God in Christ, but also offer up all your prayers in the name of Jesus, that his name called on them may sanctify them, otherwise your affectionate prayers cannot be acceptable to God, for he loveth nothing but what cometh through the Son. Prayer must have an evil savour, when it is not put in the golden censer that this angel hath to offer up incense with the prayers of the saints. And likewise you would know God's justice and wrath, that you may serve in fear and trembling: and when trembling is joined with the rejoicing of faith, this is acceptable service. You ought to fear to offend his holiness, while you are before him. Let God's terribleness have a deep impression on your spirit, both to make sin bitter, and to make mercy more sweet. Thus should prayer ascend with the seal of God's attributes, and then it is a calling on his name. Now, is there any calling on his name among us? Who maketh it his study to take up God in his glorious names? Therefore you call not on a known God, and cannot name him. Now, all of you take this rule to judge your prayers by. Think you not that you make many prayers? You both think it and say it, as you use to say, I pray both day and night. Nay, but count after this rule, and there will be found few prayers in Scotland, albeit you reckon up both private and public. Once scrape out of the count the prayers of the profane and scandalous, whose practice defileth their prayers; and again, blot out the prayers of men's tongues and mouths when hearts are absent, and again, set aside the formal, dwyning,(318) coldrife, indifferent supplications of saints, and the prayers that carry no seal of God's name and attributes on them, prayers made to an unknown God, and will you find many behind? No, certainly, -- any of you may take up the complaint in behalf of the land, "There is none that calleth on thy name," or few to count upon. You may say so of yourselves, if you judge thus, -- I have almost never prayed, God hath never heard my voice; and you may say so of the land. This would be a well-spent day, if this were but our exercise, to find out the sins of our duties in former humiliations; if the Spirit did so convince you as to blot out of the roll of fasts all the former. If you come this length, as to be convinced solidly that you have never yet prayed and mourned for sin, -- I have lived thus long, and been babbling all this while, I have never once spoken to God, but worshipped I know not what, fancied a God like myself, that would be as soon pleased with me as I was with myself, -- if the Lord wrought thus on your hearts, to put you off your own righteousness, you should have more advantage in this, than in all your sabbaths and fasts hitherto.
Although the Lord's hand be upon them, and they "fade as a leaf," and are driven into another land, yet none calleth on his name. This maketh the complaint more lamentable, and no doubt is looked upon as a dreadful sign and token of God's displeasure, and of sorer strokes. Daniel, an eye witness, confirmeth this foretold truth, chap. ix.13, "All this is come upon us, yet have we not made our prayers to the Lord our God." Well may the Lord make a supposition and doubt of it, Lev. xxvi.40, 41. After so many plagues are come on, seven added to seven, and again seven times more, and yet they will not be humbled, and when it is even at the door next to utter destruction and consumption, he addeth, "If then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they take with the punishment of sin," &c. We need ask no reason of this, for "bray a fool in a mortar, his folly will not depart from him," Prov. xxvii.22. Poor foolish man is a foolish man, folly is born with him, folly is his name, and so is he. He hath not so much wisdom as to "hear the voice of the rod, and him that appointeth it." Poor Ephraim is an undaunted heifer. Nature is a "bullock unaccustomed with the yoke," and so it is chastised more and more, Jer. xxxi.18. Man is like an untamed beast, as the horse, or as the mule. Threatenings will not do it, "God speaketh once, yea twice, and man perceiveth it not," Job xxxiii.14. God instructeth by the word, and men receive no instruction; all the warnings to flee from the wrath to come are as so many tales to make children afraid. He saith in his heart, "I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my own heart." Since, therefore, he will not incline his ear to the word, God sendeth his rod to seal the word, and yet men are so wild that they fight with God's rods, and will not submit to him; a yoke must be put on Ephraim, a bridle in men's mouth, Psal. xxxii.9. They will put God to more pains than speaking, and it shall cost them more pain; for he that will not be drawn with the cords of a man, love and entreaties, must be drawn with the cords of a beast, and yoked in a heavy yoke. Yet men are unruly, and the yoke groweth the heavier and sorer that they strive to shake it off. An uncircumcised heart cannot be humbled, -- "How can the leopard change his spots? no more can my people return to me," Jer. xiii.23. It is strange that a people so afflicted will not take with the punishment of their iniquity, but will say in their heart, Wherefore come these things upon me? But here it is, how can an uncircumcised heart be humbled? God may beat on men with rods as on a dog, but he will run away from him still the more, Isa. ix.13. Nay, it may be there will be more stirring after God, and more awaking by the first stroke of affliction, than when they are continued and multiplied. The uncouthness of rods may affect people something, but when his hand lieth on but a little, custom breedeth hardness, and more and more alienateth spirits from him.
Now we need no more to seal this truth, but our own experience. I think never people might speak more sensibly of it. It hath been the manner of the Lord's dealing with us, to use fair means to gain us, to threaten before he laid on, to give a proclamation before his stroke, and yet it hath been our manner from our youth up to harden ourselves against him, and go on in our own way. Therefore hath the Lord, after long patience, laid on sad strokes, and smitten us, yet have we not turned to him. It may be, when the chastisement was fresh and green, some poured out a prayer, and in trouble visited God, (Isa. xxvi.16,) but the body of the land hath not known him that smote them, and never ran into their hiding place, but the temptation of the time, like a flood, hath carried them away with it. And for the Lord's children, how soon doth the custom of a rod eat out the sense of it, and prayer doth not grow proportionably to the Lord's rods. The Lord hath expected that some might stand in the gap and intercede, yet few or none called on his name. General corrections of the land hath made general apostacy from God, not a turning in to God; so that we may say, we never entered a furnace, but we have come out with more dross, contracted dross in the fire. Men's zeal and tenderness hath been burnt up, reprobate silver may God call us. We have had so much experience of the unprofitableness of former afflictions, that we know not what the Lord shall do with us. We think it may be the Lord's complaint of Scotland, "Why should you be afflicted any more? you will revolt more and more," Isa. i.5. What needeth another rod? You are now all secure, it is true, because you are not stricken; nay, but what needeth a rod? For it cannot awake you, -- all the fruit of it would be, not to purge away sin, but to increase it. General judgments will prove general temptations, and will alienate you more from me, and make you curse God and the covenant. And indeed, the truth is, we know not what outward dispensation can fall on that can affect this generation, we know not what the Lord can have behind that can work on us. Judgment hath had as much terror, mercies as much sweetness, and as much of God in the one and the other, as readily hath been since the beginning of the world. Only this we know, all things are possible to him which are impossible to us, and if the Spirit work to sanctify the rod, a more gentle rod shall work more effectually; his word shall do as much as his rod.
The case we are now into is just this -- "None calleth on thee." It is a terrible one, whether our condition be good or bad outwardly. Our peace hath put us asleep, and the word cannot put men to prayers. Now, the Lord hath begun to threaten, as you have been still in fear of new troubles, and a revolution of affairs again, yet I challenge your own consciences, and appeal to them, -- whom hath the word prevailed with to put to prayer? Whom hath the rumour of approaching trouble put to their prayers? Whose spirit hath been affected with God's frowning on the land? And this yet more aggravateth your laziness, in the time that God doth show terrible things to his people in Ireland, giveth them a cup of wormwood, and to drink the wine of astonishment, are not you yet at ease? When your brethren and fellow-saints are scattered amongst you as strangers,(319) yet your hearts bleed not.
Well, behold the end of it, -- your case is a sad prognostic of the Lord's hiding his face and consuming us; nay, it is a sure token that his face is hid already. When Job's friends would aggravate his misery, they sum it up in this, "thou restrainest prayer from God." It is more wrath to be kept from much praying, not to be scattered, from your own houses. Therefore, if you would have the cloud of God's anger, that covereth the land with blackness, go over you, and pour out itself on others; if you would prevent the rod, hearken to the word, and stir up yourselves to much prayer, that you may be called his remembrancers. O how long shall prayer be banished this kingdom! The Lord's controversy must be great with us, for since the days of our first love there has been great decay of the spirit of prayer. The children of God should be so much in it, as they might be one with it. David was so much in prayer, as he in a manner defined himself by it, Psal. cix.4, "I give myself unto prayer." In the original, there is no more but "I prayer." I was all prayer. It was my work, my element, my affection, my action. Nay, to speak the truth, it is the decay of prayer that hath made all this defection in the land. Would you know the original of many a public man's apostacy and backsliding in the cause of God, what maketh them so soon forget their solemn engagements, and grow particular, seeking their own things, untender in seeking the things of God? -- would you trace back the desertion up to the fountain-head? Then come and see. Look upon such a man's walking with God in private, such a man's praying, and you shall find matters have been first wrong there. Alienation and estrangement from God himself, in immediate duties and secret approaches, hath made men's affections cool to his interest in public duties. And believe it, the reason why so few great men or none are so cordial, constant, and thorough in God's matters is this, -- they pray not in secret; they come to parliament or council where public matters concerning the honour of God are to be debated, as any statesmen of Venice would come to the senate. They have no dependence on God to be guided in these matters; they are much in public duties, but little in secret with God. Believe it, any man's private walking with God shall be read upon his public carriage, whether he be minister or ruler.
There is yet another thing we would have you consider, to endear this duty unto you, and bind upon your consciences an absolute necessity of being much in it, and it is this. Prayer and calling on his name is often put for all immediate worship of God, especially the more substantial and moral part of service. This people was much in ceremonials, and they made these their righteousness; nay, but there was little secret conversing with God, walking humbly with him, loving him, believing in him. Well, then, prayer is, as it were, a compend and sum of all duties; it contains in it, faith, love, repentance; all these should breathe out in prayer. In a word, if we say to you, be much in prayer, we have said all, and it is more than all the rest, because it is a more near and immediate approach to God, having more solid religion in it. If you be lively in this, you are thriving Christians; and if you wither here, all must decay, for prayer sappeth and watereth all other duties with the influence of heaven.
"That stirreth up himself to take hold on thee." This expresseth more of their condition under the rod, and while God was threatening to depart and leave them. None took so much notice of it, as to awake out of his dream, to take a fast hold of God. It was but like the grip a man taketh in his slumbering, that he soon quitteth in his sleep; none awaketh himself, as a bird stirreth up itself with its wings to flight; none do so spread out their sails to meet the wind. This importeth a great security and negligence, a careless stupidity. To take hold, to grip strongly and violently, importeth both faith acted on God, and communion with God; so that the sense is, nobody careth whither thou go, -- there is none that stirreth up himself to take violent hold of thee. Men lying loose in their interest, and indifferent in the one thing necessary, do not strongly grip to it. Nobody keepeth thee by prayer and intercession; so that there is no diligence added to diligence, there is no stirring up of ourselves in security.
First, When the Lord seemeth to withdraw, and when he is angry, it is our duty to take hold the more on him; and not only to act faith, and call on him by prayer, but to add to ordinary diligence, -- it should be extraordinary.
I. Then, I say, when the Lord is withdrawing and seemeth angry, we ought not to withdraw from him by unbelief, but to draw near, and take hold on him. And the Lord giveth a reason of this himself, Isa. xxvii.4, 5, "because fury is not in me." It is but a moment's anger, it is not hatred of your persons but sins, it is not fury that hath no discretion in it, no difference between a friend and an enemy; it is but at least a father's anger, that is not for destruction but correction. The Lord is not implacable. Come to him and win him, -- "Let him take hold of me, and let him make peace with me, if he will make peace." He is a God whose compassions fail not; and so he is never so angry, but there is room left for manifestation of mercy on those that come to him. God's anger is not an humour and passion as ours is, he can take the poor child in his arms, admit it into his bosom, when outward dispensations frown. Men's anger is like the sons of Belial, briers and thorns, that none may come near to, lest they be hurt; but God angry, is accessible, because his anger is still tempered and mixed with clemency and mercy; and that mixture of mercy is so great and so predominant in all his dispensations here, that they being rightly understood, might rather invite to come, than scare from it. There is more mercy to welcome, than anger to drive away. Look upon the very end and purpose of God's hiding himself, and withdrawing, -- it is this; that we may come and seek him early, Hosea v.15. When God is angry, mercy and compassion principleth it, for anger is sent out to bring in wanderers. His anger is not humour, but resolute and deliberate, walketh upon good grounds, because David in his prosperity missed not God. When all things went according to his mind, then he let God of where he will; therefore, the Lord in mercy must hide his own heart with a frowning countenance, and cover himself with a cloud, that David may be troubled, and so take hold on God, Psalm xxx.7, 8. Since, then, this is God's purpose, that you may come nearer to him, and since he goeth away that you may pursue; certainly he will never so run away as you may not find him out, nor will he run farther nor he strengtheneth thee to pursue him; thus, Psalm lxiii.8, God was flying and David pursuing; nay, but the flyer giveth legs to the pursuer, he upholdeth him, as it were against himself: so did the angel strengthen Jacob to overcome himself. Now, shall it not be pleasant to God, that you lay hold on him as your own, even when he seemeth to be clothed with vengeance, seeing he changeth his outward countenance for this very end? He seemeth to go, that you may hold; because when you think he stayeth, you hold not; as the child, while the nurse is near, will look about it, and take hold of any thing; but when she withdraweth, the child cleaveth the faster to her.
But, II. We ought to stir up ourselves more now than any other time: times of God's withdrawing calleth for extraordinary and doubled approaches. So Hos. v.15, "They will seek me early." And therefore the Lord's children in Scripture have made great advantage of such dispensations. The truth is, as long as we are well dealt with, security creepeth on, and religion is but in a decaying condition. Duties are done through our sleep; we are not as men awaking and knowing what we do, and whither we go. But when the Lord beginneth to trouble us, and hides his face, then it is time to awake out of sleep, before all be gone: and there ought to be, 1. More diligence in duties and approaching to God, because your case furnisheth more matter of supplication; and as matter of supplication groweth, prayer should grow. If necessity grow, and the cry be not according to necessity, it is ominous. And therefore David useth to make his cry go up according to his trouble. In a prosperous condition, though every thing might call a tender-hearted loving Christian to some nearness to God; yet ordinarily, if necessity press not, prayer languisheth and groweth formal. Sense of need putteth an edge on supplication, whereas prosperity blunteth it. The heart missing nothing, cannot go above sublunary things; but let it not have its will here, and the need of heaven will be the greater. Now I say, if you sit so many calls, both from a command, and from your own necessities, you do so much the more sin. Affliction will make even a hypocrite seek him, and pour out a prayer and visit him, Psalm lxxviii. and Isa. xxvi. And if you do not take advantage of all these pressures, you must be so much the more guilty; and therefore God, as it were, wondereth at their obstinacy, "They return not to him that smiteth them!" All this is come upon us, yet have we not prayed. And, 2. It is sent for that end, that you may be more serious; and therefore you ought so much the more to awake, to lay hold on him. This is the way the Lord useth with his secure and wandering children, Psalm cxix.67. For the Lord findeth us often gripping too strongly to a present world, and taking it in our arms, as if we were never to part with it. Men's souls cleave to outward accommodations; therefore the Lord useth to part us and our idol, that we may take hold of him the faster. It is union with himself that is our felicity, and it is that which God most endeavoureth. When he removeth beloved jewels, it is because they were a stumbling-block, and divorced the soul from God: when he seemeth to withdraw himself his going proclaimeth so much, oh! follow, or perish.
III. It is a very dangerous thing when he withdraweth and you follow not, when he is angry and you care not, do not fly in to make peace with him. Certainly his anger must wax hotter, and desertion will become a spiritual plague; rods must be tempered with much bitterness. What mixture of mercy can be in such a dispensation, where the fruit of it is to harden? But if the Lord's hardest dealing wrought you to more nearness and communion with himself; then certainly you have a fair advantage against the present trouble, and you have your cup mixed. You shall at length bless God for such dispensations; they may be reckoned for good to you.
Next, there ought to be more exercise of faith, and laying hold of the grounds of consolation in God in such a time.1. For as difficulties grow, faith should fortify itself against them so much the more. The greater the storm be, it should fly the more into the chambers. Faith in the time of a calm day getteth no trial; faith bulketh much(320) because it hath not much to do. But except there be some fresh and new supplies, it cannot hold out in a temptation. But it is a singular proof of a noble and divine faith, -- that it can lay hold on him and keep him when he would go, -- that can challenge kindness on a miskenning Jesus,(321) -- that can stand on the ground of the promises when there is not a foot-breadth of a dispensation to build on. While all things go with you ye have no difficulty to maintain your faith; nay, but when the Lord seemeth to look angry, then awake and gather strength, and take hold on his strength. Look what is in your condition or his dispensation, what is good or ominous, then take hold on the other hand on him, and look what is in him to answer it, and swallow it up. Ye ought to be well acquainted with the grounds of consolation that are in God, in the worst case, and then ye might lay hold on him though he seemed a consuming fire. It is then a time that calleth most for securing your interest in him, a time when there is no external advantage to beguile you, a time when the only happiness is to be one with God. Therefore the man who, in such calamities and judgments, is not awakened to put his eternal estate out of question, he is in a dangerous case. For, do not most part drive over their days, and have no assurance of salvation, they dare not say either pro or contra. It may be, and it may not be. And this is the length that the most part come, -- a negative peace; no positive confidence; no clear concluding, on sure grounds, an interest. Always ye are most called to this, when God afflicteth the land or you: if ye do not then make peace it is most dangerous.2. The Lord loveth faith in a difficulty best, -- it is the singlest and the cleanliest, it is that which most honoureth him, and glorifieth his truth and faithfulness, and sufficiency and mercy; for then it is most purely elevated above creatures, and pitcheth most on God; and therefore bringeth men to this, "No help for my soul, but thou art my portion." And this commendeth God most when he is set alone. Prosperity bringeth him down among creatures, and secure faith maketh little distinction; but awakening faith grippeth strongly and singly, putteth God alone.
Secondly, Oftentimes, when God is departing, none stirreth up himself to lay hold on him. Although there may be praying and doing of many duties, yet there is nothing beyond ordinary. The varieties and accessions of new grounds of supplications doth neither make greater frequency nor more fervency. This our experience may clear unto us both in duties and faith.
I. There is very little diligence in seeking of God in the way and means appointed, even when God seemeth to bid farewell to the land, and go away. Nobody cometh in as an intercessor. Men keep on their old way of praying, and never add to it, come what like. Who is it that riseth above his ordinary, as the tide of God's dispensation is? There ought to be such an impression made by the changes of God's countenance as might be read on the duties of his people. There should be such a distance between your ordinary and such times as between a sleeping man and a waking man, that whatever your attainment of access to God be, ye might stir up and go beyond it according as matters call. Will God count your public fasts a performance of this duty? Alas, we fast sleeping, and none stirreth up himself to these things! Is there any difference betwixt your solemn humiliation and another Sabbath? And is there any difference between a Sabbath and a week-day, save the external duty? Is not this palpably our case? Is there any wakening among us? No, security is both the universal disease and complaint; and it is become an incurable disease since it became a complaint. Doth any of you pray more in private than he used? Or what edge is on your prayers? Alas! the Lord will get good leave to go from us; it feareth me that we would give Christ a testimonial to go over seas. Hold him, hold him! Nay, the multitude would be gladly quit of him, -- they cannot abide his yoke, his work is a burden, his word is a torment, his discipline is bands and cords; and what heart can ye then have to keep Christ? What violence can ye offer to him to hold him still? All your entreaties may be fair compliments, but they would never rend his garment.
II. There is no up-stirring to faith among us, and laying hold on Jesus Christ, albeit all his dispensations warn us that it is now high time. There are not many who are about this point, effectually to stir up their faith or to secure their interest. Think ye that conjectures will carry you through difficulties? The multitude think they believe much, but any temptation proveth their mistake. The most part of Scotland would deny God and his Son Jesus Christ, if they were put to it. Always it is a time ye would not lie out from your stronghold, -- faith only uniteth you to Christ, and if ye would be kept in any trial, stir up faith.
Thirdly, Prayer and faith, diligence and laying hold on God, must go together and help one another. Not calling on his name, and not laying hold on him go together, and have influence one upon another.
I. Faith hath influence on prayer. Laying hold on God in Christ will make right calling on his name, it learneth men how to call God, to call him Abba, Father. Faith useth to vent itself in prayer. I say, much consideration of God, and claiming into him, and to the grounds of confidence in him, must both make prayer acceptable, and carry the stamp and impression of God's name, or Christ's name, on it, and also make much prayer: for when a soul hath pitched on God as its only felicity, and thus made choice of him, it findeth in him all sufficiency, all things for all things. There is no necessity, but it findeth a supply in his fulness for it; and therefore it applieth a man to the fountain, to draw out of the wells of salvation. There is nothing can be so sweet and refreshing as for such a soul to pour out itself every day in him, to talk with him face to face. Faith engageth the heart to come to God with all things; whereas many difficulties would have been, and the secure or unsettled heart would have gone as many different ways to help them. Faith layeth hold on God, knoweth but one, and bringeth all here; and therefore access to God is a fruit of it, access unto the grace wherein we stand by faith. And again, how can prayer be acceptable as long as faith doth not principle it? It is but like a beast's groaning under a burden. Laying hold on God himself makes a man's duties acceptable, because he speaks and asks; believing that he shall receive, he trusteth God and doth not tempt him. Where lively faith is not entertained there cannot be much affection which is the oil of the wheels. There may be in some bitterness of spirit much vehemency; but that is not a pure flame of divine love that burneth upward to him; and it is soon extinguished, and lasteth no longer nor present sense, and then the soul groweth harder, as iron that had been in the fire.
II. When there is not much prayer and calling, faith cannot lie strong and violent; for prayer is even the exercise of faith, if you wear out of that, faith rusteth. There may be much quietness with little prayer, but there cannot be much, and strong and lively faith, for where it getteth not continual employment it fags. And indeed prayer is a special point of holding God fast, and keeping him, therefore join these, if ye would thrive in anyone of them. Your unbelieving complaints are not prayers and calling on his name, because they are not mixed with faith. As the apostle said of the word, so may it be said of prayer, -- your prayers are not profitable, are not heard, because not mixed with faith. Ye use to doubt, that ye may be fervent, to question your interest, that ye may stir up your spirits to prayer. But alas! what a simple gross mistake is that? Poor soul, though thou get more liberty, shall it be counted access to God? Though you have more grief, and your bitterness doth indite more eloquence, shall God be moved with it? Know ye not that you should ask without wavering, and lift up pure hands without wrath and doubting? And yet both are there.
Fourthly, The duty we are called to in such a time when God is angry, is to lay hold on him. We would speak a word more of it. We ought to hold a departing Lord, by wrestling with him in supplication, not to let him depart till he bless, Hos. xii.3, 4. The application of Jacob's victory over the angel is thus, "Turn ye to the Lord, and wait on him," &c. How had Jacob power over the angel? By supplication and weeping, so that prayer is a victory over God, even the Lord God of hosts. We ought, as it were, to strive against outward dispensation, when it saith, He is gone, when our condition saith, He is gone, or going, we ought to wrestle with it. No submission to such a departing, I mean, no submission that sitteth down with it, and is not careful how it be. Now this time calleth you to such an exercise. The Lord seemeth to be angry with us. There is a strong cloud over the land, and like to pour down upon us -- the Lord is drawing a sword again, and beginning now to lay on. Many threatenings would not put us to supplication. Now, what will the laying on of the rod do? If the former days be returning wherein ye saw much sorrow, is it not then high time for the Lord's remembrancers, and for the Lord's children to wrestle with God? As Esau was coming on Jacob, so hath God armed men, and such desperate men, as he hath made a rod to us before. If we be twice beaten with it, it is very just, for before we did not seek in to him who smote us.(322) You would know this, that the Lord is but seeking employment, and if ye would deal with him, ye may make advantage of the present and future calamities. And look to this laying hold on him, this is the chief thing ye should now heed. It is God himself that should be your principal object. Praying should be a laying hold on God, it should meet with himself. For the most part in the time of prosperity, we cannot meet with God singly, we have so much to do with creatures, we keep trysts so punctually with them, so that we cannot keep with God. We have so many things in our affections and thoughts, that God cannot get place, he cannot get us at leisure for the throng of our business, we lose God by catching at shadows. Well then, we are called in such a time of difficulty to come in to God himself, to draw by the vail of ordinances, that we may have communion with God himself. And this is right praying, when the soul getteth such immediate access to God, as it were, to handle him, and see him, and taste him, to exercise its senses on him. Ordinances have been of a long time a covering of his face, and he useth not now to unvail himself in the sanctuary, and let us see his glory God is departed from preaching and praying, and the solemn meeting, so that we meet not with God, -- we lay hold on a shadow of an outward ordinance, but not on God himself. Therefore, Christians, make advantage of this time. You may be brought to want ordinances, then lay hold on himself who is the substance and marrow of them. You may be denuded of outward comforts and accommodation here, then lay hold on himself in much prayer. If affliction would blow away the cloud on his face, or would scatter our idols from us, and make us single alone with God, as Jacob was, it were well sent.
II. Your exercise should be to take hold on God by faith. 1. Ye would make peace with God, be much in direct acts of apprehending God himself in Jesus Christ. And this is according as ye take up yourselves with your own misery and necessity. Do but travel continually between your own misery and something answerable in God.
The first thing we would have you do, now when God frowns upon us, is to find out your own lost condition, and how great strangers you have been to him, even when ye have approached in many ordinances, and find a necessity of making peace with God and atonement. Now from this day hold on Christ, as the hope set before you. Look upon that in him which will answer all your necessities, and be suitable to them. It is not matters of outward lot that should go nearest your heart. Let the world go where it will, that which concerneth you most in such a time, is the securing of your soul, for if you lose it, what gain you? what keep you? Your houses, and lands, and lives may be in hazard, nay, but one thing is more worth than all these, and in more hazard. Begin at spiritual things, and ask how matters stand between God and thee.
2. Not only would ye be much in immediate application unto Jesus Christ, but ye would so take hold of him, as ye may be sure ye have him. Make peace, and know that ye have made it, and then shall ye be kept in perfect peace. You would never rest until you can on solid grounds answer the question. And this duty is called for from you at such a time, for "the just shall live by faith," in a troublesome time, Hab. ii.4. And as ye ought to keep and hold fast confidence and not cast it away in such a time, so should ye all seek after it. Do not only rest in this, -- I know not but I may belong to Christ, I dare not say against it. O no, Christians, you should have positive clear grounds of assurance "I am his, and he is mine," "I know that my Redeemer liveth," "God is my portion." And if ye conclude this solidly, I defy all the world to shake and trouble your peace this is perfect peace, "peace, peace," double peace. How can ye choose but be shaken at every blast of temptation, when you are not thus solidly grounded, when you hold not at your anchor?
And, 3. Having thus laid hold on Christ as your own, lay hold on all in him as yours, and for your use. Whatever difficulty the present time or your own condition afford, search but as much in God as may counterbalance it. Answer all objections, from his mercy, goodness, power, wisdom, unchangeableness, and this shall be more nor the trouble. God himself laid hold upon, and made ours, is more nor removing a temporal calamity. It is an eternal weight, to weigh down all crosses and disappointments. For what can present things be? Is there not in the favour of his countenance that which may drown them in oblivion? Are ye like to sink here? Is not God a sure anchor to hold by? And if ye do not this, your trouble is nothing in respect of the danger of your soul. Secure and loose lying out of God, not putting this matter to a full point, is worse nor all your outward fading. Therefore, we exhort you in the Lord's name, to fly into this name of the Lord, as a strong tower to run to and be safe. When the Lord seemeth now to be angry with us, run not away from him, though he should yet clothe himself with vengeance as a garment.
But, first, O ye poor people, who have never asked this question, whether have I any interest in Jesus? ask it now, and resolve it in time. If trouble come on, if scattering and desolation come on, and our land fade as a leaf, certainly the Lord's anger will drive you away, What will ye do in the time of his indignation? All of you, put this to the trial, -- how matters stand between God and you.
And, secondly, If ye find all wrong, do not sink in discouragement, all may be amended, while it is seen wrong in time. Nay, God taketh away outward accommodation, to make you more serious in this. And it is the very voice of rods, -- every one fly into your hold, every one make peace with me. You may take hold, and do it feckfully.(323)
Thirdly, You who have fled to Jesus, take more hold of him, you are called also to renew your faith, and begin again. Make peace with God, let your confidence be kept fast, and thus shall ye be immoveable, because he changeth not. God will not go from you if ye believe -- hold him by faith. Christ could not do great things in Galilee because of their unbelief, and so he departed from them. As unbelief maketh an evil heart to depart from the God of all life and consolation, so doth it make God depart from us. But faith casteth a knot upon him (to speak with reverence), it fasteneth him by his own word and promise, and he cannot go by it. It is a violent hand laid on God. "I will not let thee go till thou bless me."
Fourthly, Faith and prayer, or holding of God, by believing in him, and much employing him needeth much stirring up unto, and awaking. "That stirreth up himself to take hold on thee." Security is the moth of both these, and eateth out the life of faith and supplication; it maketh prayer so coldrife that it cannot prevail, and faith so weak that it cannot use violence.
I. Security apprehendeth no evil, no need. A secure condition is a dream that one is eating and yet his soul is empty. Look how the people of Laish were quiet and secure, apprehending no evil; destruction cometh then on as an armed man. Always it is much necessity that administers fuel to a man's faith and supplication. David says, (Psal. xxx.7,) "I said in my prosperity, I shall not be moved." Nay, but many say in adversity, and cry Peace, peace, where no peace is. Security pleadeth innocency, and then believeth immunity. "I am innocent, therefore shall his anger turn away," Jer. ii.31. Security applieth not sin, and so refuseth the curse of sin and wages of it. And thus is a man in his own eyes a lord, and then he will come no more to God, Jer. ii.31. It is almost impossible to awake men, by general judgments, to apprehend personal danger, and men never stir out of their nest till it be on fire. We can behold, or hear of our neighbours, spoiling and violence done to them, but till the voice of a cry be heard in our own streets and fields, nobody will take the judgment to themselves. It is well said, that which is spoken to all, is spoken to none, so what is done to all in general, is done to none. The voice of a general rod speaketh not particularly, and maketh not men apprehensive of sad things, and thus men are not pressed unto prayer -- are not put out of themselves, it is only necessity that saps the roots of it, and makes it green.
II. Security is lazy and not active, putteth not forth its hand to work, and so dieth a beggar, for only the hand of the diligent maketh rich. Laying hold on God is a duty that requireth much spirit in it; men do not grip things well in their slumbering. There is no duty that needeth so spiritual and lively principles. If a man do not put on such a piece of resolution and edge upon him, he cannot come to the wrestling of prayer and violence of faith. Although the exercise and acting of grace dependeth more upon the Spirit of God's present influence, than upon the soul of man, yet this is the way the Lord communicateth his influence, by stirring up and exciting the creature to its duty, as if it could do it alone. Grace is one thing, and the stirring up of it is another thing. For when we lie by and sleep over our time, and go not about the matter so seriously as it were life and death, it is but a weak hold we can take of God. According to the measure of a man's apprehending necessity, and according to the measure of his seriousness in these things, so will the hand of faith grip, and lay hold with more or less violence. As a man drowning will be put from sleeping, and when one is in extreme hazard all his strength will unite together in one to do that which at any ordinary time it could not do, so ought it to be here. A Christian assaulted with many temptations should unite his strength, and try the yondmost.(324) O but your whole spirits would run together, to the saving of yourselves, if ye were very apprehensive of necessity! The exercise of faith is a dead grip, that cannot part with what it grippeth. Therefore, 1. We must say to you, it is not so easy a thing as you believe, to lay hold on God, -- there must be stirring up to it. And when the Lord speaketh of our stirring ourselves, certainly he meaneth this likewise, that he must stir us, ere we stir ourselves.2. Above all, be afraid of a secure condition: it is the enemy of communion with God and spiritual life. Therefore, look about you, and apprehend more your necessity, and then give no rest and quietness to yourself, till you have employed and engaged him, be as men flying to lay hold on the refuge set before you.3. It must be a time of little access to God, and little faith, when we are all secure, and nobody goeth about religion as their work and business. We allow ourselves in it, therefore, we do exhort yon, first, To purpose this as your end to aim at, and purpose by God's grace to take more hold of God. There is little minding of duty, and that maketh little doing of it. Once engage your hearts to a love and desire of more of this, come to a point of resolution, I must know him more, and trust more in him, be more acquaint with him. And, secondly, Put yourselves in the way of duty. It is God that only can stir you up, or apply your hearts to the using of violence to God, but ye would be found in the outward means much, and in these ways God will meet with you, if you wait on him in them.
"For thou hast hid thy face from us." Here is the greatest plague, a spiritual plague. The last verse was but the beginning of sorrows, "We all do fade," &c. But lo, here the accomplishment of misery, God hiding his face, and consuming them in the hand of their sins.
First, The Lord's hiding of his face, and giving up a people to melt away in their sins, punishing with judicial blindness and security, is the worst judgment, it filleth the cup full. This complaint goeth on still worse, and certainly it is worse nor their fading as a leaf and exile out of their land. It is not without reason, that great troubles and afflictions are so expressed, "Thou didst hide thy face," as David said, "Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled," importing as much, as it is not trouble that doth trouble, but God's hiding of his face that maketh trouble. It is in so far trouble, as it is a sign of his displeasure, and as the frowns of his countenance are upon it, therefore, the saints, aggravating their affliction, say, "Thou hidest thy face." You know the face is the place wherein either kindness or unkindness appeareth. The Lord's countenance, on face, is a refreshful sweet manifestation of himself to a soul, it is the Lord using familiarity with a spirit, and this made David more glad than corn and wine. Now, the hiding of the face, the withdrawing of his countenance, is, when the Lord in his dispensation and dealing doth withhold the manifestation of himself, either in life or consolation, when he covereth himself with clouds round about, that neither can a soul see into the backside of it -- into his own warm heart, nor can the sun beams shine through to quicken and refresh the soul. The Lord draweth over his face a vail of a crossing dispensation, or such like.
There is a desertion of the soul in the point of life and spiritual action, and there is a desertion in regard of consolation. The varieties of the Lord's desertions run upon these two. As a Christian's life is action or consolation, and the Lord's influence is either quickening or comforting, so his withdrawing is either a prejudice to the one or the other. Sometimes he goeth "mourning all the day," nay, but he is "sick of love," sometimes he is a bottle dried in the smoke, and his moisture dried up. The Christian's consolation may be subtracted, and his life abide, but he cannot have spiritual consolation, if he be not lively. This life is more substantial, -- comfort is more refreshful, -- life is more solid, -- comfort sweet, that is true growing solid meat, this but sauce to eat it with.
The hiding here meant is certainly a spiritual punishment. The Lord denying unto this people grace to understand the voice of the rod, -- he appearing as a party against them, -- leaving them to their own carnal and lazy temper, and thus they lay still under God's displeasure. Now, there is nothing like this.
I. Because it is a spiritual punishment, and estates are not to be valued and laid in the balance with the soul. Albeit men are become so brutish as to abase their souls, and prostitute them to any thing, yet all a man hath is not considerable to it.
II. It is a more excellent thing that is removed by it, -- "In his favour is life," -- all felicity and happiness is in God's countenance. If a man have not this, what hath he else? Losses are according as the thing is. Nay, but here is more, -- "My Lord is taken from me, my God hath forgotten me." And indeed, if man's true happiness be in communion with God, certainly, any interruption coming in must be sad, and make a man more miserable than the world knoweth. There is a greater emphasis in that word, "Thou hast hid thy face," than if he had said, all the world hideth their face and maketh a scorn of us.
Therefore, first, Know what is the worst thing of the times. Many of you think sword and pestilence, and the burdens of the time, the worst things, and if you were now to complain, the saddest complaint would be, -- affliction is laid on our loins. But know this, if your cities were desolate, if your land were made a wilderness, and we captives in another land, there is yet a worse thing than all these, and think you not this strange? Nay, I say, there is something worse already in us, that we know not of, and it is this -- "Make the hearts of this people hard." A spirit of slumber and deadness from the Lord upon the land, there are multitudes he will never show his face unto, it is still vailed from them, and they know him not. Ye that think all were well if ye had peace and prosperity, and know no hiding of God's countenance -- no anger but when he striketh; certainly you know not what his countenance is by all these things men neither know love nor hatred.2. Whatever calamity come upon you outwardly, deprecate most spiritual plagues and God's deserting. If you have God's countenance, it may make you glad in much sadness. You would be most careful lest any partition-wall came in lest his countenance change on you, if you grieve his Spirit and break his heart. Seek to have his face to shine, and this shall be a sun with healing under his wings. O but Christ's countenance is comely, when it is seen without clouds! but often it is overclouded with much provocation.
Secondly, The Lord's hiding of his face hath influence on the temper of spirits and disposition in duties. The truth is in general, "In him we live, and move, and have our being," and more especially, in many things that are spiritual, we are of our selves able to do nothing. The creature's holiness, and especially our life, is but as the rays that the Sun of righteousness sendeth forth round about him, and if any thing come between it evanisheth. As the marygold that openeth its leaves when the sun riseth, and closeth when it goeth down again, so exactly doth our spiritual constitution follow the motions of his countenance, and depend wholly on them. "Thou hidest thy face, and they are troubled," Psal. xxx 7. The Lord needeth no more but discountenance us, and we are gone.
Always, I. Be more dependent creatures. We use to act as from habits within, without any subordination to the Lord's grace without us, but we find that our sufficiency is not of ourself. How often doth your spiritual condition change on you in an hour? You cannot command one thought of God, or act from any habit of grace, even then when you can bring forth other gifts in exercise. Ye find that grace findeth more difficulties, more interruptions, -- therefore learn to attend the changes and motions of his countenance.
II. When you find your heart dead, and you concluded under an impossibility of taking hold of God in a lively manner, then, I pray you, look unto the Lord's suspending of his influence, and let your whole endeavours be at the throne of grace to help it. It will not be your own provoking of yourself to your duty, but you must put yourself upon God, that he may cause his face to shine.
III. Though the Lord's hiding his face be often a cause of our deadness, and his desertion maketh all to wither, yet we have often a culpable hand in it, and he hides his face being provoked so to do. One thing we may mention, grieving of the Holy Ghost whereby we are sealed, quenching the motions of the Spirit, maketh the Spirit cover his face with a vail and hide it. There is here ordinarily a reciprocal or mutual influence. Our grieving him makes him withdraw his countenance, and his withdrawing his countenance maketh us to wither and grow barren.
IV. The most sure and infallible token of the Lord's hiding his face, is security, and a spirit of deadness and laziness, when folk go about duties dreaming, and do all as it were through their sleep. Therefore we may conclude sad things on this land, that the Lord hideth his face from us. And therefore arise, and do not settle and quiet yourself in such a condition. The Lord is angry, needeth any more be said? No more needeth to kind children, but the rod must follow this to make anger sensible.