1. Shew some of the consequences of the Lord's hiding his face, whereby the soul's case will appear.2. Shew the reasons of this dispensation.3. Shew how Christ is life to the soul in this case; and, 4. Point out the soul's duty; or how he is to make use of Christ for a recovery.
As to the first, we may take notice of those particulars:
1. They complain of God's hiding of himself, and forsaking them, Ps. xxii.1, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" and Ps. xiii.3, "How long wilt thou forsake me?" &c.
2. They cry out for a blink of his face, and get it not; for he hath withdrawn himself, Ps. xiii.1, "how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?" Heman, Ps. lxxxviii., cried out night and day, but yet God's face was hid, ver.1, 9, 14. The spouse seeketh long, Cant. v.; see Ps. xxii.1, 2.
3. They are looking for an outgate, but get none. And "hope deferred maketh their heart sick," Prov. xiii.12.
4. They are in the dark, and cannot tell' why the Lord dispenseth so towards them; "Why," said Heman, Ps. xviii.14, "castest thou off my soul? why holdest thou thy face from me?" They cannot understand wherefore it is. So Job cried out, "shew me wherefore thou contendest with me," Job x.2.
5. They may also be walking, in the mean while, without light or counsel, so as they shall not know what to do. "How long shall I take counsel in my soul," Ps. xiii.2.
6. Moreover, they may have their heart filled with sorrow; as we see, Ps. xiii.2, "having sorrow in my heart," said David. He also saith, Ps. xxxviii. that his sorrow was continually before him, ver.17; and Ps. cxvi.3, "I found trouble and sorrow."
7. They may be so, as the sweet experience of others may yield them no supply of comfort at present, Ps. xxii.4-6, "Our fathers trusted in thee," said David, "and thou didst deliver them; they cried to thee, and were delivered; they trusted in thee, and were not confounded." But that gave him no present ease or comfort; for immediately he addeth, ver.6, "but I am a worm and no man, a reproach of men," &c.
8. Yea, all their own former experiences may yield them little solace; as we see in the same place, Ps. xxii.9, 10, compared with ver.14,15, "Thou art he," says he, ver.9, "that took me out of the womb," &c. And yet he complains, ver.14, "that he was poured out like water, and his bones out of joint, that his heart was melted in the midst of his bowels," &c.
9. They may be brought near to a giving over all in despondency, and be brought, in their sense, to the very dust of death, Psal. xxii.16.
If it be inquired, why the Lord dispenseth so with his own people?
We answer, and this is the second particular, that he doeth it for holy and wise reasons, whereof we may name a few; as,
1. To punish their carelessness and negligence; as we see he did with the spouse, Cant. v.
2. To chastise them for their ill-improving of his favour and kindness when they had it; as the same passage evidenceth.
3. To check them for their security and carnal confidence, as he did David, Psal. xxx.6, 7, when he said his mountain stood strong, and he should never be moved. Then did the Lord hide his face, and he was troubled.
4. To try if their obedience to his commands be pure and conscientious, and not in a sort mercenary, because of his lifting up upon them the light of his countenance; and to see if conscience to a command driveth them to duty, when they are in the dark, and have no encouragement.
5. To put the graces of the Spirit to trial and to exercise; as their faith, patience, hope, love, &c. Psal. xiii.5, 6, 22, 24.
6. To awaken them from their security, and to set them to a more diligent following of duty; as we see in the spouse, Cant. v.
7. To sharpen their desire and hunger after him, as this instance cleareth.
Even in such a case as this, Christ is life to the soul, which is the third particular,
1. By taking away the sinful causes of such a distance, having laid down his life and shed his blood for the remission of their sins, so that such a dispensation is not flowing from pure wrath, but is rather an act of mercy and love.
2. By advocating the poor man's cause in heaven, where he is making intercession for his own, and thereby obtaining a delivery from that condition, in God's own time, even the shining again of his countenance upon them.
3. By keeping life in, as to habitual grace, and by breathing thereupon, so that it becometh lively, and operative even in such a winter day.
4. By supporting the soul under that dispensation, and keeping it from fainting, through the secret influences of grace, which he conveyeth into the soul; as he did to the poor woman of Canaan, Matth. xv.
5. By setting the soul a-work, to use such means as God hath appointed for a recovery; as, to cry, to plead, to long, to wait, &c. "Their heart shall live that seek him."
6. By teaching the soul to submit to and acquiesce in what God doth, acknowledging his righteousness, greatness, and sovereignty; and this quietness of heart is its life.
7. By keeping the heart fast to the covenant of grace; so that whatever come, they will never quit that bargain, but they will trust in him though he should kill them; and they will adhere to the covenant of grace, though they should be dragged through hell.
8. At length when he seeth it fit and convenient, he quickeneth by drawing back the veil, and filling the soul with joy, in the light of God's countenance; and causing it to sing, as having the heart lifted up in the ways of the Lord.
As to the last particular, concerning the duty of a soul in such a case; we say,
1. He should humble himself under this dispensation, knowing that it is the great God with whom he hath to do; and that there is no contending with him; and that all flesh should stoop before him.
2. He should justify God in all that he doth, and say with David, Psal. xxii.3. "But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel."
3. He should look upon himself as unworthy of the least of that kind: "I am a worm," said David, Psal. xxii.6, "and no man."
4. He should search out his provocations, and run away to the fountain, the blood of Christ, that these may be purged away, and his conscience sprinkled from dead works, and his soul washed in the fountain opened to the house of David for sin and for uncleanness.
5. He must also employ Christ, to discover to him more and more of his guiltiness, whereby he hath grieved the Spirit of God; and as sins are discovered to him, he would repent of them, and run away with them to the blood that cleanseth from all sin. This was Elihu's advice to Job, chap. xxxiv.31, 32. "Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne chastisement, I will not offend. That which I see not, teach thou me; if I have done iniquity, I will do no more."
6. He should grip to Christ in the covenant, and rest there with joy and satisfaction; he should hold that fast that he may ride out the storm in a dark night; "though he make not mine house to grow," said David, 2 Sam. xxiii.5; yet this was all his salvation and all his desire, that he "had made with him an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure." The spouse took this course, when she could not get a sight of him whom her soul loved, Cant. vi.3, and asserted her interest in him; "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine."
7. He should be entertaining high and loving thoughts of God, commending him highly, let his dispensations be what they will. So did the spouse, Cant. v.10, 16.
8. He should earnestly seek after him. The spouse did so, Cant. v.6. The discouragement she met with at the hands of the watchmen, did not put her off her pursuit, ver.7, but she continued, yea, was "sick of love;" ver.8; and her looks had a prevailing power with him, as we see, Cant. vi.5, where the bridegroom uttered that most astonishing word, "Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me."
9. This new manifestation which he is seeking for, must be expected in and through Christ, who is the true tabernacle, and he who was represented by the mercy-seat. He is the only trusting-place; in him alone will the Father be seen.
10. He should also look to him for strength and support, in the mean time; and for grace, that he may be kept from fainting, and may be helped to wait till he come, who knoweth the fittest season wherein to appear.
But it will be said, what if, after all this, we get no outgate, but he hideth his face still from us?
I answer, such should know, that life is one thing, and comfort is another thing; grace is one thing, and warm blinks of God's face is another. The one is necessary to the very being of a Christian, the other not, but only necessary to his comfortable being; and therefore they should be content, if God give them grace, though they miss comfort for a time.
2. They should learn to commit that matter to Christ who knoweth how to give that which is good and best for them.
3. They should be hanging on him for strength and for duty; and in his strength setting about every commanded duty, and be exercising faith, love, patience, hope, desire, &c.
4. Let the well-ordered covenant be all their salvation, and all their desire; and though they should not get a comfortable blink of God's face, so long as they were here, yet holding fast this covenant, they should at length be saved souls, and what would they have more? and when they get this, what will they miss?