1. See what are the several steps and degrees of this distemper.
2. Consider what the causes hereof are.
3. Shew how Christ is life to a soul in such a case; and,
4. Give some directions how a soul in that case should make use of Christ as the Life, to the end it may be delivered therefrom.
And, first, There are many several steps to, and degrees of this distemper. We shall mention a few; as,
1. When they cannot come with confidence, and draw out of him by faith, what their soul's case calleth for; they cannot "with joy draw waters out of the wells of salvation," Isa. xii.3; but keep at a distance, and entertain jealous thoughts of him. This is a degree of unbelief making way for more.
2. When they cannot confidently assert and avow their interest in him, as the church did, Isa. xii.2, saying, "Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid, for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation."
3. When they much question, if ever they have indeed laid hold on Christ, and so cannot go to him for the supplies of their wants and necessities.
4. When, moreover, they question if they be allowed of God, and warranted to come to him, and lay hold upon him; yea, and they think they have many arguments whereby to maintain this their unbelief, and justify their keeping a-back from Christ.
5. Or, when, if they look to him at all, it is with much mixture of faithless fears that they shall not be the better, or at least doubting whether it shall be to their advantage or not.
6. This unbelief will advance further, and they may come to that, not only to conclude, that they have no part or portion in him, but also to conclude that their case is desperate and irredeemable; and so say there is no more hope, they are cut off for their part, as Ezek. xxxvii.11, and so lie by as dead and forlorn.
7. Yea, they may come higher, and vent some desperate thoughts and expressions of God, to the great scandal of the godly, and the dishonour of God.
8. And yet more, they may come that length, to question all the promises, and to cry out with David, in his haste, Psalm c.11, that "all men are liars."
9. Yea, they may come to this, to scout the whole gospel to be nothing but a heap of delusions, and a cunningly-devised fable, or but mere notions and fancies.
10. And at length come to question, if there be a God that ruleth in the earth.
These are dreadful degrees and steps of this horrible distemper, and enough to make all flesh tremble.
Let us see next whence this cometh. The causes hereof we may reduce to three heads:
First. The holy Lord hath a holy hand in this, and hath noble ends and designs before him in this matter; as,
1. The Lord may think good to order matters thus, that he may magnify his power and grace, in rescuing such as were returned to the very brink of hell, and seemed to many to be lost and irrecoverably gone.
2. That in punishing them thus, for giving way to the first motions of unbelief, he might warn all to guard against such an evil, and not to foster and give way to groundless complaints, nor entertain objections, moved against their condition by the devil.
3. To warn all to walk circumspectly, and to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, not knowing what may befall them ere they die.
4. To teach all to walk humbly, not knowing what advantage Satan may get of them eve all be done; and to see their daily need of Christ to strengthen their faith, and to keep their grips of him fast.
5. So the Lord may think good to dispense so with some, that he may give a full proof of his wonderfully great patience and long-suffering in bearing with such, and that so long.
6. As also to demonstrate his sovereignty, in measuring out his dispensations to his own, as he seeth will most glorify himself.
Next, Satan hath an active hand in this; for,
1. He raiseth up clouds and mists in the believer, so that he cannot see the work of God within himself, and so is made to cry out, that he hath no grace, and that all was but delusions and imaginations, which he looked upon as grace before.
2. He raiseth up in them jealousies of God, and of all his ways, and puts a false gloss and construction on all which God doth, to the end he may confirm them in their jealousies, which they have drunk in of God.
3. Having gained this ground, he worketh then upon their corruption with very great advantage; and thus driveth them from evil to worse, and not only to question their perfect interest in Christ, but also to quit all hope for the time to come.
4. This being done, he driveth the soul yet farther, and filleth it with prejudices against God and his glorious truths; and from this he can easily bring them to call all in question.
5. Yea, he will represent God as an enemy to them; and when this is done, how easy it is with him to put them on desperate courses, and cause them to speak wickedly and desperately of God.
6. And when this is done, he can easily darken the understanding, that the poor soul shall not see the glory of the gospel, and of the covenant of grace, nor the lustre and beauty of holiness: yea, and raise prejudices against the same, because there is no hope of partaking of the benefit thereof; and so bring them on, to a plain questioning of all, as mere delusions.
7. And when he hath gotten them brought this length, he hath fair advantage to make them question if there be a God, and so drive them forward to atheism. And thus deceitfully he can carry the soul from one step to another.
But, third, there are many sinful causes of this within the man's self; as,
1. Pride and haughtiness of mind, as thinking their mountain standeth so strong, that it cannot be moved. And this provoketh God to hide his face, as Psalm xxx.
2. Self-confidence, a concomitant of pride, supposing themselves to be so well rooted that they cannot be shaken, whereas it were better for them to walk in fear.
3. Want of watchfulness over a deceitful heart, and an evil heart of unbelief, that is still departing from the living God, Heb. iii.12. It is good to be jealous here.
4. Giving way to doubtings and questionings too readily at first. It is not good to tempt the Lord by parlying too much and too readily with Satan. Eve's practice might be a warning sufficient to us.
5. Not living in the sight of their wants, and of their daily necessity of Christ, nor acting faith upon him daily, for the supplying of their wants. And when faith is not used, it may contract rust and be weakened, and come at length not to be discerned.
6. Entertaining of jealous thoughts of God, and hearkening too readily to any thing that may foster and increase or confirm these.
7. Not delighting themselves in, and with pleasure dwelling on, the thoughts of Christ, of his offices, of the gospel and promises; so that these come at length to lose their beauty and glory in the soul, and have not the lustre that once they had; and this doth open a door to much mischief.
8. In a word, not walking with God according to the gospel, provoking the Lord to give them up to themselves for a time.
We come now to the third particular, which is, to shew how Christ is Life to the poor soul in this case. And for the clearing of this, consider,
1. That Christ is "the author and finisher of faith," Heb. xii.2; and so, as he did rebuke unbelief at the first, he can rebuke it again.
2. That he is the great prophet clearing up the gospel, and every thing that is necessary for us to know, bringing life and immortality to light by the gospel, 2 Tim. i.10, and so manifesting the lustre and beauty of the gospel.
3. He bringeth the promises home to the soul, in their reality, excellency, and truth, being the faithful witness and the amen, Rev. iii.14, and the confirmer of the promises, so that they are all yea and amen in him, 2 Cor. i.20. And this serveth to establish the soul in the faith, and to shoot out thoughts of unbelief.
4. So doth he, by his Spirit, dispel the mists and clouds which Satan, through unbelief, had raised in the soul.
5. And thereby also rebuketh those mistakes of God, and prejudices at him and his ways, which Satan hath wrought there, through corruption.
6. He discovereth himself to be a ready help in time of trouble, and the hope and anchor of salvation, Heb. vi.19; and a priest living for ever to make intercession for poor sinners, Heb. vii.25.
7. And hereby he cleareth up to the poor soul a possibility of help and relief; and thus rebuketh despair or preventeth it.
8. He manifesteth himself to be the marrow and substance of the gospel: and this maketh every line thereof pleasant and beautiful to the soul, and so freeth them from the prejudices that they had at it.
9. So in manifesting himself in the gospel, he revealeth the Father, that the soul cometh to "the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ," 2 Cor. iv.6. And this saveth the soul from atheism.
10. When the soul cannot grip him, nor look to him, yet he can look to the soul, and by his love quicken and revive the soul, and warm the heart with love to him, and at length move and incline it sweetly to open to him; and thus grip and hold fast a lost sheep, yea, and bring it home again.
But what should a soul do in such a case? To this, (which is the fourth particular to be spoken to), I answer,
1. That they should strive against those evils formerly mentioned, which procured or occasioned this distemper. A stop should be put to those malignant humours.
2. They should be careful to lay again the foundation of solid knowledge of God, and of his glorious truths revealed in the gospel, and labour for the faith of God's truth and veracity; for till this be, nothing can be right in the soul.
3. They should be thoroughly convinced of the treachery, deceitfulness, and wickedness of their hearts, that they may see it is not worthy to be trusted, and that they may be jealous of it, and not hearken so readily to it as they have done, especially seeing Satan can prompt it to speak for his advantage.
4. They should remember also, that it is divine help that can recover them, and cause them grip to the promises, and lay hold on them of new again, as well as at first, and that of themselves they can do nothing.
5. In using of the means for the recovery of life, they should eye Christ, and because this eyeing of Christ is faith, and their disease lieth most there, they should do as the Israelites did who were stung in the eye with the serpents, -- they looked to the brazen serpent with the wounded and stung eye: so should they do with a sickly and almost dead faith, grip him, and with an eye almost put out and made blind, look to him, knowing how ready he is to help, and what a tender heart he hath.
6. And to confirm them in this resolution, they should take a new view of all the notable encouragements to believe, wherewith the whole gospel aboundeth.
7. And withal fix on him, as the only "author and finisher of faith."
8. And, in a word, they should cast a wonderfully unbelieving and atheistical soul on him, who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working, and is wonderful in mercy and grace, and in all his ways. And thus may he at length, in his own time, and in the way that will most glorify himself, raise up that poor soul out of the grave of infidelity wherein it was stinking; and so prove himself to be indeed "the resurrection and the life, to the praise of the glory of his grace."
We come now to speak to another case, which is,