1. THERE is a case which often occurs in the Christian life, which they who accustom themselves much to the exercise of devotion have been used to call the "hiding of God's face." It is a phrase borrowed from the word of God, which I hope may shelter it from contempt at the first hearing. It will be my business in this chapter to state it as plainly as I can, and then to give some advice as to your own conduct when you fall into it, as it is very probable you may before you have finished your journey through this wilderness.
2. The meaning of it may partly be understood by the opposite phrase of God's "causing his face to shine upon a person, or lifting up upon him the light of his countenance." This seems to carry in it an allusion to the pleasant and delightful appearance which the face of a friend has, and especially if in a superior relation of life, when he converses with those whom be loves and delights in. Thus Job, when speaking of the regard paid him by his attendants, says, "If I smiled upon them, they believed it not, and the light of my countenance they cast not down," (Job 29:24) that is, they were careful, in such agreeable circumstances, to do nothing to displease me, or (as we speak) to cloud my brow. And David, when expressing his desire of the manifestation of God's favor to him, says, "Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon me;" and, as the effect of it, declares, "thou hast put gladness into my heart, more than if corn and wine increased." (Psa.4:6,7) Nor is it impossible, that, in this phrase, as used by David, there may be some allusion to the bright shining forth of the Shekinah, that is, the lustre which dwelt in the cloud as the visible sign of the divine presence with Israel, which God was pleased peculiarly to manifest upon some public occasions, as a token of his favor find acceptance. On the other hand, therefore, for God "to hide his face," must imply his withholding the tokens of his favor and must be esteemed a mark of his displeasure. Thus Isaiah uses it, "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear." (Isa.59:2) And again, "Thou hast hid thy face from us," as not regarding the calamities we suffer, "and hast consumed us because of our iniquities." (Isa.64:7) So likewise for God "to hide his face from our sins?" (Psa.51:9) signifies to overlook them, and to take no farther notice of them. The same idea is, at other times, expressed by "God's hiding his eyes," (Isa.1:15) from persons of a character disagreeable to him, when they come to address him with their petitions, not vouchsafing, as it were, to look toward them. This is plainly the scriptural sense of the word; and agreeably to this, it is generally used by Christians in our day, and every thing which seems a token of divine displeasure toward them is expressed by it.
3. It is farther to be observed here, that the things which they judge to be manifestations of divine favor toward them, or complacency in them, are not only, nor chiefly of a temporal nature, or such as merely relate to the blessings of this animal and perishing life. David, though the promises of the law had a continual reference to such, yet was taught to look farther, and describes them as preferable to, and therefore plainly distinct from "the blessings of the corn-floor or the wine-press." (Psa.4:7) And if you whom I am now addressing do not know them to be so, it is plain you are quite ignorant of the subject we are inquiring into, and indeed have yet to learn the first lessons of true religion. All that David says, of "beholding the beauty of the Lord," (Psa.27:4) or being "satisfied as with marrow and fatness, when he remembered him upon his bed," (Psa.63:5,6) as well as "with the goodness of his house, even of his holy temple," (Psa.65:4) is to be taken in the same sense, and can need very little explication to the truly experienced soul. But those who have known the light of God's countenance, and the shinings of his face, will, in proportion to the degree of that knowledge, be able to form some notion of the hiding of his face, or the withdrawing of the tokens he has given his people of his presence and favor, which sometimes greatly imbitters prosperity; as, where the contrary is found, it sweetens affliction, and often swallows up the sense of it.
4. And give me leave to remind you, my Christian friend, (for under that character I now address my reader) that to be thus deprived of the sense of God's love, and of the tokens of his favor, may soon be the case with you, though you may now have the pleasure to see the candle of the Lord shining upon you, or though it may even seem to he sunshine and high noon in your soul. You may lose your lively views of the divine perfections and glory, in the contemplation of which you now find that inward satisfaction. You may think of the divine wisdom and power, of the divine mercy and fidelity, as well as of his righteousness and holiness, and feel little inward complacency of soul in the view: it may be, with respect to any lively impressions, as if it were the contemplation merely of a common object. It may seem to you as if you had lost all idea of those important words, though the view has sometimes swallowed up your whole soul in transports of astonishment, admiration, and love. You may lose your delightful sense of the divine favor. It may be matter of great and sad doubt with you, whether you do indeed belong to God; and all the work of his blessed Spirit may be so veiled and shaded in the soul, that the peculiar characters by which the hand of that sacred Agent might be distinguished, shall be in a great measure lost; and you may he ready to imagine you have only deluded yourself in all the former hopes you have entertained. In consequence of this, those ordinances in which you now rejoice, may grow very uncomfortable to you, even when you do indeed desire communion with God in them. You may hear the most delightful evangelical truths opened, you may hear the privileges of God's children most affectionately represented, and not be aware that you have any part or lot in the matter; and from that very coldness and insensibility may be drawing a farther argument that you have nothing to do with them. And then "your heart" may "meditate terror," (Isa.33:18) and under the distress that overwhelms you, your dearest enjoyments may he reflected upon as adding to the weight of it, and making it more sensible, white you consider that you bad once such a taste for these things, and have now lost it all. So that perhaps it may seem to you, that they who never felt any thing at all of religious impressions, are happier than you, or at least are less miserable. You may, perhaps, in these melancholy hours, even doubt whether you have ever prayed at all, and whether all that you called your enjoyment of God, was not some false delight, excited by the great enemy of souls, to make you apprehend that your state was good, that so you might continue his more secure prey.
5. Such as this may be your case for a considerable time; and ordinances maybe attended in vain, and the presence of God may be in vain sought in them. You may pour out your soul in private, and then come to public worship, and find little satisfaction in either, but be forced to take up the Psalmist's complaint, "My God, I cry in the day-time, but thou hearest not; and in the night-season, and am not silent;" (Psa.22:2) or that of Job, "Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him." (Job 23:8,9) So that all which looked like religion in your mind, shall seem as it were to be melted into grief or chilled into fear, or crushed into a deep sense of your own unworthiness; in consequence of which, you shall dare not so much as lift up your eyes before God, and be almost ashamed to take your place in a worshipping assembly among any that you think his servants. I have known this to be the case of some excellent Christians, whose improvements in religion have been distinguished, and whom God hath honored above many of their brethren in what he hath done for them, and by them. Give me leave, therefore, having thus described it, to offer you some plain advice with regard to it; and let not that be imputed to enthusiastic fancy which proceeds from an intimate and frequent view of facts on the one hand; and from a sincere affectionate desire on the other, to relieve the tender, pious heart, in so desolate a state. At least I am persuaded the attempt will not be overlooked or disapproved by "the great Shepherd of the sheep," (Heb.13:20) who has charged us to "comfort the feeble-minded." (1 Thes.5:14)
6. And here I would first advise you most carefully to inquire whether your present distress does indeed arise from causes which are truly spiritual, or whether it may not rather have its foundation in some disorder of the body, or in the circumstances of life in which you are providentially placed, which may break your spirits and deject your mind. The influence of the inferior part of our nature on the nobler, the immortal spirit, while we continue in this embodied state, is so evident, that no attentive person can, in the general, fail to observe it: and yet there are cases in which it seems not to be sufficiently considered; and perhaps your own may be one of them. The state of the blood is often such as necessarily to suggest gloomy ideas, even in dreams, and to indispose the soul for taking pleasure in any thing; and when it is so, why should it be imagined to proceed from any peculiar divine displeasure, if the soul does not find its usual delight in religion? Or why should God be thought to have departed from us, because he suffers natural causes to produce natural effects, without interposing, by miracle, to break the connection? When this is the case, the help of the physician is to be sought, rather than that of the divine; or at least, by all means, together with it; and medicines, diet, exercise and air, may in a few weeks effect what the strongest reasonings, the most pathetic exhortations or consolations might for many months have attempted in vain.
7. In other instances, the dejection and feebleness of the mind may arise from something uncomfortable in our worldly circumstances. These may cloud as well as distract the thoughts, and imbittter the temper, and thus render us in a great degree unfit for religious services and pleasures; and when it is so, the remedy is to be sought in submission to Divine Providence, in abstracting our affections as far as possible from the present world, in a prudent care to ease ourselves of the burden so far as we can, by moderating unnecessary expenses, and by diligent application to business, in humble dependence on the divine blessing; in the mean time, endeavoring, by faith, to look up to him who sometimes suffers his children to be brought into such difficulties, that he may endear himself more sensibly to them by the method he shall take for their relief.
8. On the principles here laid down, it may perhaps appear, on inquiry, that the distress complained of may have a foundation very different from what was at first supposed. But where the health is sound, and the circumstances easy; when the animal spirits are disposed for gayety and entertainment, while all taste for religious pleasure is in a manner gone; when the soul is seized with a kind of lethargic insensibility, or what I had almost called a paralytic weakness with respect to every religious exercise, even though there should not be that deep terrifying distress, or pungent amazement, which I before represented as the effect of melancholy, nor that anxiety about the accommodations of life which strait circumstances naturally produce; I would in that case vary my advice, and urge you, with all possible attention and impartiality, to search into the cause which has brought upon you that great evil under which you justly mourn. And probably, in the general, the cause is sin -- some secret sin, which has not been discovered or observed by the eye of the world; for enormities that draw on them the observation and censure of others, will probably fall under the case mentioned in the former chapter, as they must be instances of known and deliberate guilt. Now the eye of God hath seen these evils which have escaped the notice of your fellow-creatures; and in consequence of this care to conceal them from others, while you could not but know they were open to him, God has seen himself in a peculiar manner affronted and injured, I had almost said insulted by them; and hence his righteous displeasure. Oh! let that never be forgotten, which is so plainly said, so commonly known, so familiar to almost every religious ear, yet too little felt by any of our hearts, "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear." (Isa.59:1,2) And this is, on the whole, a merciful dispensation of God, though it may seem severe, regard it not, therefore, merely as your calamity, but as intended to awaken you, that you may not content yourself, even with lying in tears of humiliation before the Lord, but, like Joshua, rise and exert yourself vigorously, to "put away from you that accursed thing," whatever it be. Let this be your immediate and earnest care, that your pride may be humbled, that your watchfulness may be maintained, that your affections to the world may be deadened, and that, on the whole, your fitness for heaven may in every respect be increased. These are the designs of your heavenly Father, and let it be your great concern to cooperate with them.
9. Receive it therefore, on the whole, as the most important advice that can be given you, immediately to enter on a strict examination of your conscience. Attend to its gentlest whispers. If a suspicion arises in your mind that any thing has not been right, trace that suspicion, search into every secret folding of your heart: improve to the purposes of a fuller discovery the advice of your friends, the reproaches of your enemies; recollect for what your heart hath smitten you at the table of the Lord, for what it would smite you if you were upon a dying bed, and within this hour to enter on eternity. When you have made any discovery, note it down; and go on in your search, till you can say these are the remaining incorruptions of my heart, these are the sins and follies of my life; this have I neglected; this have I done amiss. And when the account is as complete as you can make it, set yourself in the strength of a God, to a serious reformation; or rather begin the reformation of every thing that seems amiss, as soon as ever you discover it; "return to the Almighty, and thou shalt be built up; put iniquity far from thy tabernacle, and then shalt thou have thy delight in the Almighty, and shalt lift up thy face unto God. Thou shalt make thy prayer unto him, and he shall bear thee; thou shalt pay thy vows unto him, and his light shall shine upon thy ways." (Job 22:23,26,27)
10. In the meantime, be waiting for God with the deepest humility, and submit yourself to the discipline of your heavenly Father, acknowledging his justice, and hoping in his mercy; even when your conscience is least severe in its remonstrances, and discovers nothing more than the common infirmities of God's people; yet still bow yourself down before him, and own that so many are the evils of your best days, so many the imperfections of your best services, that by them you have deserved all, and more than all that you suffer: deserved, not only that your sun should be clouded, but that it should go down, and arise no more, but leave your soul in a state of everlasting darkness. And while the shade continues, be not impatient. Fret not yourself in any wise, but rather, with a holy calmness and gentleness of soul, "wait on the Lord." (Psa.37:8,34) Be willing to stay his time, willing to bear his frown, in humble hope that he will at length "return and have compassion on you." (Jer.12:15) He has not utterly forgotten to be gracious, nor resolved that "he will be favorable no more." (Psa.77:7,9) "For the Lord will not cast off for ever; but though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies." (Lam.31:32) It is comparatively but "for a small moment that he hides his face from you;" but you may humbly hope, that with great mercies he will gather you, and that "with everlasting kindness he will have mercy on you." (Isa.54:7,8) These suitable words are not mine, but his; and they wear this, as in the very front of them, "That a soul under the hidings of God's face may at last be one whom be will gather, and to whom he will extend everlasting favor."
11. But while the darkness continues, "go on in the way of your duty." Continue the use of means and ordinances: read and meditate: pray, yes, and sing the praises of God too, though it may be with a heavy heart. Follow the "footsteps of his flock," (Cant.1:8) you may perhaps meet the Shepherd of souls in doing it. Place yourself at least in his way. It is possible you may by this means get a kind look from him; and one look, one turn of thought, which may happen in a moment, may, as it were, create a heaven in your soul at once. Go to the table of the Lord. If you cannot rejoice, go and mourn there. Go and "mourn for that Savior whom," by your sins, "you have pierced:" (Zech.12:10) go and lament the breaches of that covenant which you have there so often confirmed. Christ may perhaps make himself known unto you "in the breaking of the bread," (Luke 24:35) and you may find, to your surprise, that he hath been near you, when you imagined he was at the greatest distance from you; near you, when you thought you were cast out from his presence. Seek your comfort in such enjoyments as these, and not in the vain amusements of this world, and in the pleasures of sense. I shall never forget that affectionate expression, which I am well assured broke out from an eminently pious heart, then almost ready to break under its sorrows of this kind: "Lord, if I may not enjoy thee, let me enjoy nothing else; but go down mourning after thee to the grave!" I wondered not to hear, that, almost as soon as the sentiment had been breathed out before God in prayer, the burden was taken off, and "the joy of God's salvation restored."
12. I shall add but one advice more, and that is, that "you renew your application to the blood of Jesus, through whom the reconciliation between God and your soul has been accomplished." It is he that is our peace, and by his blood it is that "we are made nigh:" (Eph.2:13,14) it is in him, as the beloved of his soul, that God declares he is well-pleased; (Matt.3:17) and it is in him that "ye are made accepted, to the glory of his grace." (Eph.1:6) Go therefore, O Christian, and apply by faith to a crucified Savior: go, and apply to him, as to a merciful high-priest, "and pour out thy complaint before him, and show before him thy trouble:" (Psa.142:2) Lay open the distress and anguish of thy soul to him, who once knew what it was to say, (O astonishing, that he should ever have said it!) "My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt.27:46) Look up for pity and relief to him, who himself suffered, being not only tempted, but, with regard to sensible manifestations, deserted, that he might thus know how to pity those that are in such a melancholy case, and be ready, as well as able, "to succor them." (Heb.2:18) "He is Immanuel, God with us," (Matt.1:23) and it is only in and through him that his Father shines forth upon us with the mildest beams of mercy and of love. Let it be therefore your immediate care to renew your acquaintance with him. Review the records of his life and death; and when you do so, surely you will feel a secret sweetness diffusing itself over your soul. You will be brought into a calm, gentle, silent frame, in which faith and love will operate powerfully, and God may probably cause "the still small voice" of his comforting Spirit to be heard, (1 Kings 19:12) till your soul burst out into a song of praise, and you are "made glad according to the days in which you have been afflicted." (Psa.90:15) In the mean time, such language as the following supplication speaks, may be suitable.
An Humble Supplication for one under the Hidings of God's Face.
"Blessed God! with thee is the fountain of life' and of happiness. (Psa.36:9) I adore thy name that I have ever tasted of thy streams; that I have ever had the peculiar pleasure arising from the light of thy countenance, and the shedding abroad of thy love in my soul. But alas! these delightful seasons are now to me no more; and the remembrance of them engages me to pour out my soul within me.' (Psa.42:4) I would come, as I have formerly done, and call thee, with the same endearment, my Father and my God;' but alas! I know not how to do it. Guilt and fears arise, and forbid the delightful language. I seek thee, O Lord! but I seek in vain. I would pray, but my lips are sealed up. I would read thy word, but all the promises of it are veiled from mine eyes. I frequent those ordinances which have been formerly most nourishing and comfortable to my soul, but, alas! they are only the shadows of ordinances: the substance is gone: the animating spirit is fled, and leaves them now, at best, but the image of what I once knew them.
"But, Lord, hast thou cast off forever, and wilt thou be favorable no more?' (Psa.77:7) Hast thou in awful judgment determined that my soul must be left to a perpetual winter, the sad emblem of eternal darkness? Indeed, I deserve it should be so. I acknowledge, O Lord! I deserve to be cast away from thy presence with disdain, to be sunk lower than I am, much lower: I deserve to have the shadow of death upon my eyelids,' (Job 16:16) and even to be surrounded with the thick gloom of the infernal prison. But hast thou not raised multitudes, who have deserved, like me, to be delivered into chains of darkness,' (2 Pet.2:4) to the vision of thy glory above, where no cloud can ever interpose between thee and their rejoicing spirits? Have mercy upon me, O Lord! have mercy upon me!' (Psa.123:3) And though my iniquities have now justly caused thee to hide thy face from me,' (Isa.59:2) yet be thou rather pleased, agreeably to the gracious language of thy word, to hide thy face from my sins, and to blot out all my iniquities.' (Psa.51:9) Cheer my heart with the tokens or thy returning favor, and say unto my soul, I am thy salvation!' (Psa.35:3)
"Remember, O Lord God! remember that dreadful day, in which Jesus thy dear Son endured what my sins have deserved! Remember that agony, in which he poured out his soul before thee and said My God! My God! why hast thou forsaken me?' (Matt.27:46) Did he not, O Lord! endure all this, that humble penitents might, through him, be brought near unto thee, and might behold thee with pleasure, as their Father and their God? Thus do I desire to come unto thee. Blessed Savior, art thou not appointed to give unto them that mourn in Zion, beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness?' (Isa.61:3) O wash away my tears, anoint my head with the oil of gladness, and clothe me with the garments of salvation.' (Isa.61:10)
"'O that I knew where I might find thee' (Job 23:3) O that I knew what it is that hath engaged thee to depart from me! I am searching and trying my ways.' (Lam.3:40) O that thou wouldst search me, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts;' and if there be any wicked way in me,' discover it, and lead me in the way everlasting;' (Psa 189:23,24) in that way in which I may find rest and peace for my soul,' (Jer.6:16) and feel the discoveries of thy love in Christ!
"O God! who didst command the light to shine out of darkness,' (2 Cor.4:6) speak but the word, and light shall dart into my soul at once! Open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.' (Psa.51:15) shall burst out into a cheerful song, which shall display, before those whom my present dejections may have discouraged, the pleasures and supports of religion.
"Yet, Lord, on the whole, I submit to thy will. If it is thus that my faith must be exercised, by walking in darkness for days, and months, and years to tome, how long soever they may seem, how long so ever they may be, I submit. Still will I adore thee as the God of Israel,' and the Savior, though thou art a God that hidest thyself.' (Isa.45:15) Still will I trust in the name of the Lord, and stay myself upon my God,' (Isa.1:10) trusting in thee, though thou slay me,' (Job 13:15) and waiting for thee, more than they that watch for the morning, yea, more than they that watch for the morning. (Psa.130:6) Peradventure in the evening time it may be light' (Zech.14:7) I know thou hast sometimes manifested thy compassion to thy dying servants, and given them, in the lowest ebb of their natural spirits, a full tide of divine glory; thus turning darkness into light before them.' (Isa.42:15) So may it please thee to gild the Valley of the Shadow of Death' with the light of thy presence, when I am passing it, and to stretch forth thy rod and thy staff to comfort me,' (Psa.23:4) that my tremblings may cease, and the gloom may echo with songs of praise! But if it be thy sovereign pleasure, that distress and darkness should still continue to the last motion of my pulse, and the last gasp of my breath, O let it cease with the parting struggle, and bring me to that light which is sown for the righteous, and to that gladness which is reserved for the upright in heart;' (Psa.97:11) to the unclouded regions of everlasting splendor and joy, where the full anointings of thy Spirit shall be poured out upon all thy people, and thou wilt no more hide thy face from any of them!' (Ezek.39:29)
"This, Lord, is thy salvation for which I am waiting,' (Gen.49:18) and whilst I feel the desires of my soul drawn out after it, I will never despair of obtaining it. Continue and increase those desires, and at length satisfy and exceed them aim through the riches of thy grace in Christ Jesus . Amen."